In this blog, I am going to be focusing on Bonhoeffer’s dissertation, Sanctorum Communio. However, before that I am going to discuss Bonhoeffer because I believe in order to understand Sanctorum Communio, one must understand from which Bonhoeffer was at in his spiritual path. The spiritual development and growth in a theologian is just as important as their actual writings.  The reason this is so is that when we contribute to the theological discussion our writings as theologians will often reflect our path unto the point where we are. Sanctorum Communio was the first theological writing.  It was his dissertation he wrote when he only twenty-one when he wrote it.[1]  He wrote other pieces, which also reflect his path at various movements.  This includes Acts and Being, which was after Sanctorum Communio, but he had just begun his “vicariate”.[2]  This was his first writing that was not under the supervision of Academics.  The writing reflects a great deal, of probably what he was going through in his professional life.  He was beginning his ministry but still was working in the way of the academic life. Therefore, he quarrels with transcendental and ontological philosophic ideas.[3]

After attending seminary in New York, he went from being a nationalist to being a pacifist. Taking to heart the Sermon on the Mount.  I believe this is when you see a fire sparked in Bonhoeffer.  He begins to really look and study the bible instead of just studying and understanding what others have said theologically in the bible.  This engagement with the primary text allows him to analyze and add to the discussions of theology.  I believe this is when he starts to develop his own personal confessions in regards to how the church should be and what it is.  He worked within the Confessing Church movement in Germany trying to provide churches with the alternative to being Pro-Nazi.[4] The movement of the Nazi’s was to remove the church from its Jewish Heritage.  It essentially ignored the roots of its faith. This movement of towards being a confessing church separates themselves and the confession at the heart of the church.[5]  Bonhoeffer states in The Confessing Church that essentially the confessing church is the confession to believing in their Lord and being against their Lord’s enemies.[6]  He in this writing was going against the original teachings of his background in the Lutheran Church and was calling for the Christian Church in Germany to stand out and separate from others and remain true to the beliefs of the original church free of political and social influences.

In Sanctorum Communio, Bonhoeffer takes sociological principles and applies them to the concept of Church.  He then struggles with the concept of “the person” in his dissertation.  Bonhoeffer continues on to state that we must study the person and community in the Christian church in order to understand the concept of God.[7] This relationship of community and person is important because during this time Bonhoeffer was a Nationalist, which was preached by the Lutheran Church as being part of God.[8]  I believe he continued this in his writing of Christology in 1933 when he discusses the concept of the Church being a body and about Christ when the “Word became flesh”. [9][10] The idea of speaking about Christ means to keep silent is contrary to Christ teachings.  Christ speaks and declares that he will make the disciples fishers of men.[11] Therefore, part of this proclamation is that they are to speak about Christ and his teachings in order to teach the Gentiles how to worship him and God.  Therefore not to speak about Christ is speaking about Christ is contrary to what Jesus commanded us to do.  However, maybe it is because Mans words fail to encompass the true meaning of what Christ was teaching and therefore silence ensures that we let the Word of God speak for itself.

I believe that a theme that Bonhoeffer struggled with throughout many of his writings was the social nature of man, its identity and how it was reflected in the Church.  Essentially, we are made from God we are created in his image and likeness.  Therefore, the question I struggle with in Sanctorum Communio is the concept of the social nature of the church and God’s need for it.  Is there a social nature in God?  Would you consider the Trinity a social group?  Because we are taught that, there is only one God.  Therefore singular and one.  A group consists of two or more.  Just as Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to spread the Word of God, he sent groups of people out.  God does not have a peer and therefore is single.  Therefore, a social group cannot exist in God.  So is this why God requires and yearns for our interaction with him is because of our ability to create groups and be social?  Surely not. I also struggled with the fact that Bonhoeffer said, “it is in relation to persons and personal community that the concept of God is formed”.[12]  Therefore, what happens if there is no relations to persons or personal community of the church?  Is there no God?  This then ignores Genesis 1-3 which God on his own created the heavens and the earth. There was no one, no persons or community to think up God and create him to create us.  I find this to be a weakness in Bonhoeffer’s early work that he struggled to place the human nature of social groups in the confines of the Supreme Being and the church.  God is independent of social groups and therefore absent of human existence God is always there.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer and De Gruchy John W., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: witness to Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). P. 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. p. 8.

[4] Ibid. p. 20

[5] Ibid. 136

[6] Ibid. p. 141

[7] Ibid. p. 45

[8] Ibid. p. 15

[9] Ibid. p. 17

[10] Ibid.

[11] Matt. 4:19 KJV

[12] Dietrich Bonhoeffer and De Gruchy John W., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: witness to Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). P. 45.


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