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By Jonathan D. Sorum, Greenfield Lutheran Church, Harmony, Minnesota

Luther was foundational for Bonhoeffer. When he met incomprehension abroad, it was because he was speaking from within his vision of Luther, a theological framework alien to most of his ecumenical colleagues. When he met bitter opposition at home, it was because his opponents believed that Bonhoeffer's vision of Luther betrayed Luther's central concerns. When, after his death, his interpreters have claimed him for the most varied theological movements and trends, 1 it is because they have mostly failed to comprehend his vision of Luther, the theological paradigm that was integral to him as a theologian and Christian. THE MISSING CENTER Justification of the ungodly by faith alone in Christ alone is central to Bonhoeffer. Virtually all responsible interpreters have noted the importance of Bonhoeffer's christology and the close connection between christology and ethics in his theology. But what they have often failed to see is that christology and ethics are integral to each other within the framework of justification by faith alone, as Bonhoeffer learned that doctrine from Luther.2 ^or example, Bonhoeffer has been characterized as a Bultmannian by Ronald Gregor Smith, Secular Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); as a pioneer of the exit from the bourgeois church into a new socialist world by Hanfried Mller, Von der Kirche zur Welt (HamburgBergstedt: H. Reich Evang., 1961); as a (failed) Kierkegaardian by Klaus M. Kodalle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Zur Kritik seiner Theologie (Gtersloh: Gtersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1991); as a prophet for conservative evangelicals against "modernism" by Georg Huntemann, The Other Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Re-assessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, trans. Todd Huizinga (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993); as a forerunner of liberation theology by G. Clarke Chapman, Jr.; "Bonhoeffer: Resource for Liberation Theology," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 36:4 (Summer 1981) 225-42; and, most infamously, as a herald of the so-called "Death of God" by Thomas J. J. Altizer and Willian Hamilton, Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1966). 2 Some interpreters have seen this clearly. In "Dietrich Bonhoeffer Luther-Rezeption und seine Stellung zum Luthertum," in Die lutherischen Kirchen und die Bekenntnissynode von Barmen: Referate des Internationalen Symposions auf der Reisenburg 1984, eds. W. D. Hausschild, Georg Kretschmar and others (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984) 210, HansWalter Krumwiede writes: "The Pauline-Reformation doctrine of justification is not merely a traditional monument of the faith for Bonhoeffer; he adopts it substantially and it is a

Jonathan D . Sorum Without justification by faith alone, chnstology and ethics are mediated by an active imitatio Christ is at most the pattern or example to which those who follow Christ are to strive to conform their lives One gets the impression from many Bonhoeffer interpreters that the Christ they find in Bonhoeffer is one who led the way into a new kind of existence "for others" and merely invites us to do the same Not surprisingly, this "new existence" usually turns out to more or less reproduce the interpreter's own political views, whether Marxist, liberationism existentialist, traditionalist, or liberal In whatever terms it is described, however, this new existence presents itself as law, a standard that we must actively strive to attain In the last resort, such interpreters leave us on our own to attempt to live u p to their vision of Christ, a Christ who remains absent, impotent, and ultimately irrelevant Bonhoeffer was completely captivated by God's act of justifying the ungodly in Jesus Christ Bonhoeffer developed the themes that have excited so many of his interpretersthemes such as the sociality of Chnst, costly grace, the view from below, the ultimate and the penultimate, the world come of age, and rehgionless Christianityprecisely on the basis of his understanding of Luther's doctrine of justification The foundation of any adequate understanding of Bonhoeffer is therefore a thorough grasp of his interpretation of Luther And Bonhoeffer found his way to Luther very early as he absorbed the lessons of his Berlin teachers on the one hand, and of Karl Barth on the other BONHOEFFER'S WAY BETWEEN HIS TEACHERS AND BARTH In his evaluation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's doctoral dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, Reinhold Seeberg wrote, "He is striving to stake out his positions independently " 3 While gratefully borrowing from both the liberal tradition of his Berlin teachers and Karl Barth's revolt against that tradition, Bonhoeffer went his own way, a way that he believed encompassed the main concerns of both and at the same time avoided their senous deficiencies Bonhoeffer conceived of this third way as an attempt to recover Luther What Bonhoeffer affirms in the liberal tradition is its loyalty to the world and respect for what exists He shares the Ritschhan rejection of metaphysics taken over by his teachers, such as Harnack, Holl, and Seeberg He, like them, did not wish to make claims about God that would somehow devalue the reality of the empirical That one must always have one's feet ftrmly planted on the earth was always basic 4 for Bonhoeffer fundamental elementin my view, the fundamental elementof his theology" (Note In this and all subsequent quotes from German originals, the translations are mine Much of the Bonhoeffer scholarship in German is, of course, untranslated, as is much of Bonhoeffer's work itself Moreover, many of the present English translations of Bonhoeffer's works are clearly inadequate The forthcoming English translation of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke should remedy this situation ) DBW 9, 175 In this article, the following abbreviations are used for works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer GS for Gesammelte Schriften, ed Eberhard Bethge, 6 vols (Munich Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1955-74), DB W for Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, 16 vols (Munich Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1986) 4 Bonhoeffer adopted the expression "ground under one's feet" as a basic ethical theme from Harnack and combined it with the figure of Antaeus, the mythical giant who lost his power when his feet were not on the earth See DB W 10, 286, 2

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER But Bonhoeffer came to believe that his teachers could only affirm the world by, in effect, denying God. 5 The result was the eclipse of the doctrine of justification by faith among them. 6 Harnack had reduced Christianity to a kind of nomism. In his case, Christianity is merely a teaching, without the necessity of the presence of God. 7 Seeberg, though a "conscious Lutheran" who asserted that religions cannot be explained rationally, but only in connection with revelation, thought that faith has to be shown as fulfilling a need of the human spirit. 8 Holl asserted that the new thing in Christianity is the God sinner relation. But according to him, Jesus is merely the one who teaches the justification of the ungodly. So even Holl did not give u p the liberal image of Jesus as at bottom merely a teacher of truths about God. 9 And for Holl, the knowledge of sin was essentially the same as knowledge of grace.10 All of these shared the basic conviction that Christianity supplies the completion or fulfillment of something given in human existence, such as religion, personality, or the moral life. The result of this conception was a dual ethic which could never in principle be resolved into a unified one. Each individual is in control of deciding when to follow the dictates of culture and when to follow the new ethic offered by Christianity. The only unity is in the individual Christian. But where does the human goal end and the Christian one begin? The ultimate basis of the premature solutions of this dichotomy is the contradiction between human individual autonomy and the heteronomy of Christianity. On the one hand, how can there be a God who is truly God and yet does not annihilate human freedom? On the other hand, how can human beings be truly autonomous and free without annihilating God's freedom? The likely solution is that God finally becomes nothing more than the fulfiller of human needs, a concept of God that eventually falls prey to the Feuerbachian claim that God is nothing but a projection of the ideal human, that is, an extension of the human self, so that God is completely dissolved into humanity's claims about itself.

Bonhoeffer's evaluates the work of his teachers in his lectures entitled, "Die Geschichte der systematischen Theologie des 20. Jahrhunderts," (1931-32) in Gesammelte Schriften (hereafter GS) ed. by Eberhard Bethge (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1958-1972) vol. V, 181-227. The editor states that the text of these lectures, reconstructed from student notes, is the best attested of all the Berlin lectures: "One may assume with some certainty that here one encounters the authentic voice of Bonhoeffer." (181) The following paragraphs are largely based on these lectures. 6 Bonhoeffer correlates the Alleinwirksamkeit of God (God acting alone without human cooperation) and justification by faith. See, e.g., his paper at Union Seminary "Charakter und ethische Konsequenzen des religisen Determinismus," DBW 10, 411. 7 GS III, 197-201. 8 GS III, 201. 9 GS V, 203. 10 Bonhoeffer thought that Holl and Tillich shared this position. The boundary in Tillich's "boundary situation" is defined by the limit of human possibilities. Those who take upon themselves the radical "No" to their existence at this boundary find themselves simultaneously in the "Yes." "This identityit can also be found in Karl Hollmust be shattered. It means a self-empowered co-opting of God's act of grace." (GS V, 223) For Bonhoeffer the boundary between God and humans is never the limit of human possibilities, but is defined, with Barth, by the concrete presence of God in Jesus Christ.

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Barth, taking Feuerbach to heart, made God the central theme of theology, sharply distinguishing God from humanity and the world so that God in God's freedom becomes the real theme of theology again. In a review of Karl Heim's book, Glaube und Denken (1932), Bonhoeffer reveals the extent of his agreement with Barth. Heim had accused Barth of trying to make God an object of thought, with the result that his theology is a last effort to secure himself against God and God's entry into human life. On the contrary, Bonhoeffer wrote, Barth's whole theological program aims precisely to guard against this danger. Barth knows that only the Holy Spirit can speak the concretissimum and that every concretum of human words remains abstractum if it is not spoken by the Holy Spirit himself.11 In his evaluation of Barth's theology in his Berlin lecture on the history of systematic theology in the twentieth century, Bonhoeffer pointed out that Barth's beginning point was neither the World War nor the cultural crisis, but rather a new coming to the Word. His theology arose, not from the trenches, but from a village pulpit, from the struggle to hear the Word between God and the devil. God himself must speak on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Bonhoeffer stood side by side with Barth reckoning on a God who is truly God, whose utter actuality humans could never hope to usurp, though they sinfully try. When Barth speaks of transcendence, he means something entirely concrete, [nlamely the humbling of the human being who must speak God's Word and yet only speaks about God. A human being cannot be in control over God. Instead, a human being's word is bound to an act of God that precedes it, and therein also follows it. In Tillich and in the Youth Movement transcendence is an enlarging of perspectives; in Barth it is the God who brings to decision, the God who comes as opposed to the God who merely exists. God is neither far nor near; he is the one who comes.12 The Barthian revolution is truly theological. "The turning point is therefore not an event of history in general, but instead occurs within theology as such: one wishes once again really 'to speak rightly of God.' " 13 And to speak rightly of God means to stand back and let God speak God's justifying Word. Bonhoeffer writes of Barth. "Here we are dealing with a theology that wants to thoroughly understand the sola fide again, which therefore is based on predestination, and which therefore makes use of a dialectical form of speech." 14 Barth aims to recover the Pauline and Reformation theme of justification by faith alone. Only on that basis can one then consider what the world and human existence are all about. From the beginning Bonhoeffer is also critical of Barth. Barth's understanding of ethics as demonstration guards the divine transcendence: he refuses to let God be subsumed into human religious and moral striving. But in doing so, Barth is unable to bring Christian existence down to earth. His extreme actualism cannot articulate a being of God that would be the basis of the earthly existence of God's people. So although Barth has restored God and God's actual Word to the center of GS GS i3 GS U GS

III, 156. V, 217. V, 21617. V, 225-26.

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER theology, he has done so at the expense of not taking the world as seriously as the liberals did. Consequently, the church's message is essentially other-worldly and therefore ineffectual. God and humans are not in the same world; hence, there is a chasm between dogmatics and ethics. The liberals have only ethics (the world) and cannot make dogmatics (God) intelligible and Barth has only dogmatics (God) and cannot make ethics (the world) intelligible. So both fail to adequately elucidate the place where God and the world are both real. But Luther was not caught in such a bind. For Luther, God is truly God, not by being made distinct from the world but by going deeply and unreservedly into the world. The Word and Sacraments set Christians in a "Christmas world," a world in which God is truly present, present in the church itself: "The congregation is the present Christ himself."15 The church's life in the world is not its efforts to imitate God and somehow attain to the character of God's life, that is, its own grasping for divinity in actual opposition to God. The church's life is truly God's life by virtue of the imputation, the word of justification, which is the gift to it of God's earthly existence in Jesus Christ. So dogmatics and ethics are one. Bonhoeffer concludes his lecture on systematic theology in the twentieth century as follows, "Luther could write The Bondage of the Will and the pamphlet on usury 16 at the same time. Why can't we do that anymore? Who shows us Luther?" 17 Luther could do both dogmatics and ethics at the same time. Precisely God's being God (and it is deeply in the flesh on the cross that God achieves being God to his fallen creatures) is what gives to believers the gift of concrete, bodily existence in this world, the gift that also gives the foundation of the whole world's reality. Bonhoeffer seeks to follow Luther. Bonhoeffer's way between his teachers and Barth is not some compromise between the two, but a third way, the way of Martin Luther. Any understanding of the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer must begin with an understanding of his understanding of the theology of Martin Luther, for Bonhoeffer's task was nothing else than to "show us Luther."18 THE "HOLY CIRCLE": BONHOEFFER'S EARLY UNDERSTANDING OF LUTHER Bonhoeffer staked out his basic position as an interpreter of Luther while still a student. His early understanding of Luther is evident in a paper he wrote in Karl Holl's Luther seminar in 1926 entitled "Luthers Anschauungen vom Heiligen GS III, 226. Still thinking in the categories of Akt und Sein in this lecture in 1932, Bonhoeffer states what could be taken as a definition of his theological task: "It is to the shame of presentday Lutherans that it simply does not occur to them to define the Lutheran understanding of revelation in opposition to the Catholic notion of substance on the one side, and the actualism of the Reformed on the other." GS V, 226. 16 Bonhoeffer evidently means Luther's "Von Kaufshandlung und Wuchen," WA 15,293-313, ET: 'Trade and Usury/' ed. Walther I. Brandt, trans. Charles M. Jacobs and Walther I. Brandt, in Luther's WorL, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962) 233-72. This pamphlet was written in 1524, the year before The Bondage of the Will. i7 GS V, 227. 18 In 1933 Bonhoeffer recommended that the young theologian should go back to the sources, "to the real Bible, to the real Luther" (GS III, 247), revealing that the "real Bible" and the "real Luther" were closely related in his mind, perhaps virtually equivalent.

Jonathan D. Sorum
Geist nach den Disputationen von 1535-1545 herausgegeben von Drews."19 A close reading of this paper reveals Bonhoeffer in the process of formulating the nucleus of his own theological position as he found his way between Barth and his teachersin this case, Hollto an understanding of Luther that undergirded all his subsequent theological work. Bonhoeffer based his essay, in part, on two of Holl's essays, The Reconstruction of Morality and What Did Luther Understand by Religion?70 Holl interpreted Luther in terms of a religion of conscience. According to Holl, Luther discerned the basic immorality of the Roman Catholic conception of morality. Since Augustine, the church had understood the moral life as that which established one's relationship with God. The purpose for doing good was to acquire merit, either for salvation itself or else for a higher level of salvation. But Luther's conscience would not let him believe that he could ever make any claim on God through his own miserable works. He experienced the claim of God on him as sheer duty, which must be offered with a will wholly oriented toward God in love and faith, without any selfish motives at all. In the midst of his despair, Luther made the great discovery that morality is not the basis of religion (right relationship to God) but rather that religion is the basis of true morality. The certainty that one is forgiven by God creates a new feeling within one that leads to freely and joyfully loving God and the neighbor without any selfish ulterior motives at all. One is freed from individualistic self-seeking in the moral life to a life of service within the community. Thus, the message of justification is the only basis of true morality. Holl's interpretation of Luther aimed to be profoundly theocentric. The commandmentparticularly the First Commandmentas the demand for a total submission to God out of a pure duty to God that is free of all self-seeking is the foundation of transcendence, the assurance that one is truly dealing with God, not with a projection of oneself, and that the forgiveness of sins is not a mere wishfulfillment of the ego.21 The very fact that God does not withdraw the commandment from the guilty sinner reveals that God still wishes to be in relationship to the sinner, and the sinner under judgment lays hold of the commandment itself as the implicit forgiveness of sins, in a real sense wielding God against God. Precisely in thus giving all glory to God in Anfechtungen (spiritual trial), holding God to God's own primal will for communion with the creature for God's sake, without any

DBW 9, 355-410. The original German versions are in Karl Holl, Gesammelte Aufstze zur Kirchengeschichte I: Luther, 2d and 3d expanded and improved ed. (Tbingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1923) 1110,155-287. ET: The Reconstruction of Morality, ed. James Luther Adams and Walter F. Bense, trans. Fred W. Meuser and Walter R. Wietzke (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1979) and What Did Luther Understand by Religion? ed. James Luther Adams and Walter F. Bense, trans. Fred W. Meuser and Walter R. Wietzke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977). 21 This comes out particularly clearly in Holl's reply to Gogarten's critique of his Luther interpretation, printed in translation as an appendix to What Did Luther Understand by Religion, 11-20. There, Holl writes, "If it [the gospel J did not lay hold of him as a divine imperative, Luther would be suspicious of himself lest his whole faith in the forgiveness of sins should have originated merely in his own will to live rather than to perish" (114). See also Holl, What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 49.

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER benefit in sight for the self, the self gives God his right and becomes conformed to Christ in the true God-relationship. Despite his intentions, however, Holl's position is still essentially anthropocentric. The continuity between the old and new existence is in the inward experience of believers. Luther's merit, according to Holl, is to have shown the true earnestness of human religion in general, which is founded on the consciousness of one's duty to fear and love God completely free of any thought of seeking after one's own blessedness. The knowledge of the forgiveness of sins places religion on its true basis by transforming the despairing conscience into the joyful conscience, which becomes the new will that responds to God's grace in joy and gratitude. The will suffers a complete transformation with the reception of the gospel, but it is a transformation that is completely intelligible in immanent terms and can be fully described psychologically. The human self retains its continuity throughout and Christianity is explicated in terms of its needs and aspirations. So Holl has not really advanced fundamentally beyond the liberal theology from which he sprang, and from which he was consciously trying to distance himself after World War I. Christ recedes far into the background in Holl's conception of Luther. As we have seen, Bonhoeffer later judged that in Holl's version of Luther Christ is at bottom merely a teacher, the one who reveals that God wills to be gracious to sinners. 22 Indeed, Christ seems almost superfluous in Holl's schema, since in Anfechtungen, when Christ appears as judging law-giver, one has to go beyond Christ to the primal God-relationship given in the First Commandment, and there lay hold of God as gracious. So despite his more radical understanding of sin, Holl has not really moved beyond the liberal conception of Christ as essentially a teacher, whose teachings can be detached without harm from his person, and whose person is therefore ultimately unimportant to faith.23 By the time the young Bonhoeffer wrote his paper for Holl's seminar he had come under the influence of Barth and these last two pointsHoll's anthropocentric reliance on human religion as the foundation for understanding Christianity and his devaluing of Christwould surely have become objectionable to him. Bonhoeffer

See the 1930 Berlin lecture, "Die Frage nach dem Menschen in der Gegenwrtigen Philosophie und Theologie," DBW 10, 371, where Bonhoeffer makes this point. Holl responded to Gogarten's similar critique of his position in a lengthy footnote in What Did Luther Understand by Religion, 51-53, n. 28. His main point is that Christ's main function is to reveal the Father's will, both the depths of the moral demand and the radicality of the offer of forgiveness. "What ultimately matters, therefore, is how the Father is disposed" (53). If this is true, then it is hard to see how Christ is finally more than a teacher. 23 Holl's conception of Christ in Luther is quite confusing and contradictory, which is not surprising given the extreme christocentrism that most interpreters now find in Luther. On the one hand, Holl is not unhappy to report that Luther often verges on the heresies of subordinationism and monophysitism (of the human nature), which seems to accord with a view of Christ as merely a teacher or, at best, a revealer in his human life of the will of God. See What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 78, n. 49. On the other hand, in his reply to Gogarten Holl vehemently rejects the accusation that he equated the divinity of Christ with Christ's perfect human compliance with the divine imperativewithout, however, explaining what he does believe about the divinity of Christ in Luther. See "Gogarten's Understanding of
Luther," in What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 116.

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could not be satisfied with Holl's "psychologism " For Bonhoeffer, the conscience could not possibly be the bridge to the transcendent, much less its guarantor In that case, the human religious impulse would be entirely in control But it is this very impulse, the whole moral and religious selfincluding even the conscience that perceives the sinfulness of human striving after blessednessthat must come to an end with the actual coming of God ^ Some of Holl's critiques of the nascent dialectical theology nevertheless would always find echoes m Bonhoeffer In his reply to Gogarten's attack on his Luther interpretation, Holl asks how a gospel that is totally alien to human moral and religious experience can reach people m their concrete lives "How do we get from the testimony of theology (and preaching) to conviction 7 " 2 6 Bonhoeffer will never ask the question in terms of the famous "point of contact," as Holl does here, but he will never be content to say that one must preach the Word of God in defiance of earthly reality and simply wait for God to unilaterally work the miracle of faith Holl further accuses Gogarten of subscribing to the old Melanchthoman Lutheran Orthodoxy, in which Christ is merely the one who covers the believer's sin as faith lays hold of his atoning work Holl insists that Luther believes that Christ is also "alive and at work in the hearts of believers" so that the "one with whom Godout of free gracehas entered into relationship will actually become righteous in this relationship " 2 7 He goes on almost prophetically to attack Gogarten's virtual detachment of "secular matters" from any moral standards given in revelation, a fatal move that a decade later would lead many leading German Protestants, Gogarten among them, into the arms of the Nazis Barth, of course, did not fall into this trap His refusal to separate faith in Christ from obedience to Chnst made him the theological leader of the resistance to the Naziftcation of the church and a bitter opponent of Gogarten and his kind Bonhoeffer stood firmly with Barth in the church struggle Yet he would always until the end of his life have reservations The "Notiz zu Luthers Romerbriefvorlesung" (DBW 9, 324), which most likely stems from his time as a student, underscores Bonhoeffer's rejection of psychologism, most especially in his interpretation of Luther "Theological logic has the intention of freeing itself from psychologism, it does not speak of sin and revelation as the content of consciousness, but as what is given in revelation recognizing that which is spoken in revelation and the authorities " Sin, he remarks, must also be believed Bonhoeffer is here rejecting the Troeltschian religious apnon, the law of consciousness that is actually expressed in religious life which provides the basis for determining the truth of religion, and also for the purification and development of naturally occurring psychological religion See DBW 9, 324, 3 See Barth's critique of religion, The Epistle to the Romans, trans Edwyn Hoskyns (London Oxford University Press, 1933) 44,48-49, 67 and throughout In The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans Douglas Horton (Gloucester, MA Peter Smith, 1978) 196, Barth expresses this most pungently "There are those to whom Schleiermacher's peculiar excellence lies in his having discovered a conception of religion by which he overcame Luther's socalled dualism and connected earth and heaven by a much needed bridge, upon which we may reverently cross " This may go back to Melanchthon, but not Luther "The very names Kierkegaard, Luther, Calvin, Paul, and Jeremiah suggest what Schleiermacher never possessed, a clear and direct apprehension of the truth that man is made to serve God and not God to serve man " 26 Holl, "Gogarten's Understanding of Luther," in What Did Luther Understand by Religion7115 27 Holl, "Gogarten's Understanding of Luther," in What Did Luther Understand by Religion7 117
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BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER about Barth's ability to articulate a concrete ethic on the basis of his fundamental theological position. Clearly Holl's protests are a consistent theme in Bonhoeffer's career, preventing him from ever becoming a true Barthian (to say nothing of falling in with Gogarten's brand of Neo-Lutheranism) even as he deeply identified himself with Barth's protest against liberal theology. Bonhoeffer, then, had to find his own way to Luther, and this student essay reveals how he combined Holl's interpretation with basic insights from Barth in order to do just that. As one would expect in such an immature work, the combination of the two positions is sometimes crude, in some places amounting to little more than a juxtaposition of the two. Yet, Bonhoeffer's original position does emerge with some clarity, and it was this position that formed the foundation of all his future work. Bonhoeffer follows Holl's conception quite closely in much of his exposition of Luther. He reports that Luther teaches that the Holy Spirit "in majesty," working through the preaching of the law, gives the realization that the commandments are to be followed out of the will of the one commanding, but humans can only follow them out of their own will. With this realization, the whole weight of sinfulness falls upon a person and one realizes for the first time what conscience is. This is not a merely subjective psychological experience, but a truly objective collision between God as God and the human. Those with a secure conscience cannot hate and blaspheme God, that is, the true God, since they only have their own false god. When those undergoing Anfechtung (spiritual trial) come to believe that it is the true God who is after them, the way is open to their consolation. The Spirit in majesty is the Holy Spirit, and as such, cannot let the person be destroyed, but as the burden of sin is laid upon the person, the Holy Spirit removes it again. The person believes in the fact that this burden is removed and gains the evangelica desperatio. Hatred for God becomes love for God and the person attains to the fulfillment of the law and is righteous and holy before God. This new self, however, is righteous and holy precisely as sinner. [A]nd as certainly as he [the believer] is righteous before God, just as certainly is he still a sinner in this world; as certainly as the Spirit is in him, just as certainly is he also in the flesh; and a mighty battle rages between the two colossal powers."28 Since even Christians remain in the power of sin and cannot not sin, they must repeatedly turn from despair and give God the glory as children, not as slaves, and grasp in faith the forgiveness of sins by the working of the Holy Spirit. This is evangelical repentance, in which Christians continually only make a beginning at living in faith, only to fall into sin again. The foundation of this struggle and repentance is the certainty that Jesus has won the victory. Apart from this certainty, the struggle against sin is not even joined; indeed, a person cannot even admit to being a sinner, much less hate his or her sin. "For Luther it is precisely sinful human beings in their sinfulness who are in a state of grace." 29 The more the Spirit's power grows in the believer, the deeper the knowledge of sin. The greatest danger to the
28 29

DBW 9, 385. DBW 9, 388.

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believer is to be overwhelmed by sadness over one's sin, for such sadness is itself sin, virtually the essence of sin The work of the gospel is certainty with regard to God's will for one, doubt is the work of the law The whole ministry of the Spirit leads to a yearning for the Last Day, when faith will be seeing and when believers will be able to bear the vision of the Spirit in glory because their hearts are entirely cleansed Bonhoeffer, however, breaks with Holl at the crucial point by introducing Barth's eschatological discontinuity between the old self and the new self But for Bonhoeffer the discontinuity is not based on the abstract otherness of Barth's God, the discontinuity is based on the substitution of a totally new self for the old sinful self, and this new self is none other than Christ himself, God who is pro me In contrast to Holl, Bonhoeffer's Luther interpretation is chnstocentnc (and, one might add, therefore truly theocentnc ) It is not the self's perception of the awesomeness of the moral demand before God but rather ChnstGod deep in the flesh under the crossthat secures transcendence The self dies and is replaced by Christ In this early writing, Bonhoeffer expresses his christology in terms of the Holy Spirit as gift, as Christ The Holy Spirit as gift produces faith Like can only be grasped by like Faith grasps God, not in his absolute essence, in which he cannot be grasped, but as gift, that is, as Christ In the faith worked by the Holy Spirit, I grasp subjectively that Chnst's death and resurrection are for me, not merely objective historical events As such, I possess Christ as gift In fact, Christ is in me as faith is m me, and Christ lives, dies, etc, in me "He [Luther] could equally well say I believe, I have the Holy Spirit, I have Christ ',30 In this way, a "holy circle" comes into being Bonhoeffer borrows this concept of a "holy circle" from Barth and his colleagues 31 In his student paper, "Referat ber historische und pneumatische Schriftauslegung,"32 Bonhoeffer describes the circle m "spiritual" interpretation If it really is God who speaks m the Bible, then it cannot be humans who hear, but again God who hears The object of knowledge must make the knowing subject as the organ of knowing in the act of knowing In this way, God "becomes" Holy Spirit Like can only be known by like, God only by God Spiritual understanding is not to be identified with a prion insight, as, for example, when mathematical axioms are held to be self-evident In that case an a prion spmtual structure of human beings is assumed that in spintual understanding is first created by God For God can only be grasped out of God's Spirit Spintual understanding is therefore experience of the most remarkable kind, and not a pnon Only here does enlightenment occur, without which everything amounts to nothing ^ The holy circle undermines the religion of conscience Holl finds m Luther, for the conscience cannot be the organ that apprehends revelation The conscience must DBW 9, 373 Holl, in Luther, 567, alsofindsa hermeneu heal "circle" in Luther "One must have the Spint in order to understand the Word, but conversely, it is the Word alone that mediates the Spirit " But Holl does not develop this systematically, and instead explains it in terms of Dilthey's hermenutica] circle (See below ) 32 DBW 9, 309-314, 33 DBW 9, 314
31 30

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER come to an end with the coming of God's Spirit. But Bonhoeffer parts company with Barth by grounding transcendence, not in the abstract distinction of Creator, the "Wholly Other," from creation, but in the Creator's unreservedly going into creation to take the place of sinners. In this way, the young Bonhoeffer could describe the concrete existence of the new self in the world (which was difficult for Barth but not for Holl), while at the same time asserting its radical discontinuity with the old (which was impossible for Holl but absolutely necessary for Barth). Therefore, Bonhoeffer can take over Holl's description of Luther's concept of the new self, but what Holl interprets psychologically, Bonhoeffer interprets eschatologically The Holy Spirit is not to be identified with a feeling in response to God's forgiveness "that springs u p out of the innermost depths of personal being." 34 The Holy Spirit takes the place of that "personal being" in the coming of the Word of justification. But the Holy Spirit is not simply to be identified with the Word, as if one could possess the Spirit by possessing the Word. In that case, the self would be intact and have the Word at its disposal. Instead, the Holy Spirit comes through the Word. As Bonhoeffer writes, "To be sure, the Word is accessible to me and its content can be grasped intellectually, but its power to relate its content to me is hidden from m e . . . In order to acquire faith from the Word, I need spiritual understanding." 35 To apprehend the Word as "for me"what Bonhoeffer calls "spiritual understanding"is the sovereign work of the Spirit. The Spirit working in the Word must become the receptor of the Word as well as the proclaimer. In order for this to happen, the Word, as the Word of the crucified Christ, must go into the sinner and take the sinner's place as the one who is for the sinner. Faith, reception of the Word of justification, is in no sense one's own work, "but instead is purely the work of the Spirit (passio)."36 The self contributes nothing at all, not even its own deepest and purest apprehension of the legal demand. The self dies. The gospel is not the mere satisfying of the legal demand, thereby in effect ratifying it as still binding and securing the continuity of the legal self. If that is so, then Christ is not lord; the self remains lord, the self whose needs Christ servesin this case, the need to satisfy the law. But Christ abolishes the whole legal schema, including the legal self, and takes its place. My new existence is Christ's existence in the world, and not my own at all. Bonhoeffer therefore concludes that Luther's view of spiritual understanding has nothing to do with Dilthey's (and Holl's) psychological interpretation, which posits a different kind of "circle."37 In Dilthey's hermeneutical circle, one brings one's own consciousness to a text, which then critiques it. One then brings this modified consciousness to the text, which then critiques it further. In this way, one ^Holl, What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 53, n.28. DBW 9, 395-6. Holl wrote in the margin at this point, "What is spiritual understanding? Personal relationship, relationship to the conscience." 396, n. 181. 36 DBW 9, 396. 37 "Dilthey expounded the psychological interpretation of the general phenomenon of spiritual understanding; with regard to Luther's view of the Holy Spirit under consideration here, it is without interest." DBW 9, 397. Cf. "Referat ber historische und pneumatische Schriftauslegung," DBW 9, 315: "It belongs to the essence of the Word that is expresses a relation to its content, but its relation to the Spirit is not one of necessity."


Jonathan D. Sorum
hopes eventually to share at least approximately in the same experience that the author had. In his earlier essay on spiritual interpretation, Bonhoeffer had pointed out that in Dilthey's hermeneutic the interpreting "I" can never quite come to the content of the text, but always remains essentially aloneand in control: "Even the most sympathetic interpreter understands out of his or her own "I;" faith, which is God's will itself, understands out of the content [of the text itself.]"38 But in Luther, according to Bonhoeffer, faith is not the self extending beyond itselfand behind the Wordto gain the experience of certainty, joy, and gratitude that is supposedly the true meaning of the message of the gospel. Instead, the self comes to an end in "spiritual understanding." It dies, and something entirely new comes on the scene, the Word that takes the place of the sinner. God is not just the object of faith, but also the subject. The conscience, the whole moral and religious self, is "out of the loop," so to speak. Far from being the locus of the union of divine and human freedom in the transformed will, the self is at an end. If the self dies, then the certainty of faith, the certainty of having the Holy Spirit, must find its ground outside the self, in Christ. In what is surely a critique of Holl, Bonhoeffer points out that a good conscience, even a Christian's good conscience, is thoroughly ambiguous; it cannot supply the "proof" of faith. So what can supply the proof of faith? Where is this union of divine and human freedom outside the self that grounds the certainty of faith? The answer is surprising. Bonhoeffer discovers that instead of directing people to look within themselves to their consciences for certainty, Luther directs people to look outside themselves to their works. Faith will produce acts of love, which will testify to the authenticity of one's faith, both to oneself and to others. But since these works remain marred by sin, how can they be the basis of certainty that one has the Holy Spirit? Bonhoeffer answers: [TJhose who truly believe have the strength to believe that even their impure and imperfect works please God and are pure and perfect in his sight, and therefore they become certain through their works. But it is insofar as they believe that they become certain through their works, through which faith is first to be made certain?9 So one becomes certain through one's works in that one regards them in faith as Christ's works. We are back to the holy circle. Faith can only become certain out of faith, like can only grasp like. "God is because I believe him and I believe him because he is. I have the Spirit because I believe that I do and because I have the Holy Spirit, I believe in him." 40 If the Holy Spirit is always subject, there is no room for any independent human subject; the coming of the Holy Spirit means the death of the self. Faith believes that the one who is working in one is the very Spirit of Christ. Here we stand at a crucial place in Luther's concept of the Christian life for Bonhoeffer, the place that explicates the concrete nature of the Christian life. This is the foundation upon which Bonhoeffer will later build with such imagination
38 39

DBW 9, 313-14. DBW 9, 393. (Bonhoeffer's emphasis.)

DBW 9, 393.

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER and insight. The death of the self in faith is an entirely concrete happening. This is so because faith is the laying hold of the concrete, earthly life of Jesus, an alien existence, not a continuously existing self appropriating for itself the "knowledge" of the forgiveness of sins and thereby acquiring new affections of certainty and gratitude (a so-called "new self") that become the motives for true good works. God has led and still leads a concrete life in the world defined once and for all by Jesus' going under sin, being accounted a sinner for the sake of humanity. Therefore, in finally going into the actuality of their sinful lives, humans go into God's life. They lose all claim on their works, even the claim that might accrue to their credit for agonizing over their sins to the point of paralysis. Their whole identity is to be sinners borne by Christ. When they claim their works in all their sinfulness and impurity, yet believe that these works are pleasing to God, they are claiming their identity as sinners, yet believing that they are pleasing to the God who justifies the ungodly. In effect, in grasping one's works in faith as utterly sinful one grasps Christ who became utterly sinful for humanity's sake, trusting in him as the one who alone is righteous. Faith is therefore a concrete action in the world, not an inward experience that transforms one's dispositions. The locus of the union of human and divine freedom is not in the transformed will, but in one's actions, in the movement into one's own sinful existence, where one is borne by Christ. In claiming one's self as sinful, one loses oneself and has only Christ. The old self is dead. The life of the Christian is truly new, an eschatological existence, precisely as existence under the cross that does not any more seek to climb out of the place that Christ took for sinful humanity. What comes to expression in the world in the Christian's works is Christ's own life, with its downward movement toward the cross, in place of the life of the moral and religious person, with its upward movement toward glory. In terms of law and gospel, Bonhoeffer's christocentric view leads him to see both law and gospel revealed in Christ, for it is only in Christ that the law becomes pure accusing voice, so that it can no longer be confused with the gospel, as it would seem to be for Holl. Acceding to the law as pure accusing voice is precisely what the sinful human can never do, for the sinful human must always have some hope that somehow the law can be fulfilled, if only through having the accounts squared by being forgiven by God so that this forgiveness can be the basis of a "reconstruction of morality." We see here that Holl himself, as long as he held onto the legal schema, could not completely excise self-seeking from it, for one could only give all glory to God for God's sake alone for one's own sake alone. The legal schema, no matter how refined, is essentially egoistic. But for Bonhoeffer, the believer grasps his or her sinfulnessthe law purely as accusing voicein grasping Christ as the one who became a sinner for the believer. One's whole identity, as saint and as sinner, is given in the imputation. This faith is what, for the first time, gives one one's reality as a sinner without any hope at all of rescuing oneself from sin within the framework of the legal schema. To grasp Christ in faith is to grasp one's sinfulness as mediated by Christ, not as mediated by one's own conscience. Deeds done in faith, then, are deeds done without any hope of merit at all, not because they are done out of a joyous and thankful conscience, but because faith refers them entirely to Christ. To go into one's sinful existence as that sinfulness is mediated to one by

Jonathan D. Sorum
Christ is to live Christ's own life on earth, the life of the one who went under sin for our sake. The Christian life is therefore both entirely concrete and entirely new. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL BOUNDARY In this way, the eschatological boundary, the boundary between the old and the new, between this age and the age to come, appears entirely within this world and within history in the works of believers entered into in faith. Believers are not left to wonder where the norms of this world leave off and the norms introduced by Christianity begin. The boundary between the old and the new does not appear where the inadequacy of the old comes into view and the self must turn to God for divine help. Christianity is not about supplementing, strengthening, or even transforming the self so that it can reach its goal of righteousness and communion with God. Christianity is about the substitution of Christ for the totally sinful self. The boundary between the old and the new appears in this world where one claims one's sinfulness in its totality as it is given in Christ and thereby exhibits the bodily, concrete life of Christ within the world. The believer leaves behind the norms of this world entirely and lives Christ's own life in this world, completely free from the law. The eschatological boundary appears in the world where human beings, in faith in Christ, are completely emptied and die to themselves and the world in their works. These works of the believer are therefore not at all works of the self; they are identical to God's unilateral act for the world at the cross of Jesus Christ. So at the very beginning of his theological development, Bonhoeffer defines the boundary between God and the world as a monergism of the Spirit as understood within the context of Luther's doctrine of justification. God is his theme, first and foremost, and God as truly God, as the one who acts alone in his creating and redeeming Word.41 The Spirit of God, coming in the Word, for the first time brings the individual human being into existence before God as a will opposed to God

Bonhoeffer repeatedly returns to this theme. In a paper he wrote for Deimann, he remarks that both Paul and John teach the total inability of human beings to save themselves. In a very early sermon (DBW 9, 485-91), Bonhoeffer states that the Pharisees forgot that God is God and humans are humans and God stands over and against the whole human, body and spirit. He was especially at pains to stress this point with Americans. In the lecture, "Charakter und Ethische Konsequenzen des Religisen Determinismus/' (1931) (DBW 10, 411) Bonhoeffer asserted that belief that God works alone to save humanity, without human cooperation, and belief in justification by faith are the same. He goes on to say that in contrast to religious determinism, in which good and evil are always already subsumed in an a priori synthesis within the idea of God, in Christian faith there is no interpretation of the world ahead of time according to an idea of God, but rather a questioning of the human and his or her situation before God. The human does not know the answer ahead of time, but waits for an answer from God himself. God and human being stand as person and person over and against one another. God alone works in freedom. The human remains fully in the almighty power of God. This, Bonhoeffer maintains in DBW 10, 413-14, is the main point of Luther's Bondage of the Will. See also "Concerning the Christian Idea of God," DBW 10, 423-33, in which Bonhoeffer makes this point in a presentation of the Barthian position to his American fellow students. This is true of the later Bonhoeffer as well. Hans Pfeifer, in his article "The Forms of Justification: On the Question of the Structure in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology," in A Bonhoeffer Legacy: Essays in Understanding, ed. A. J. Klassen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) 15, writes, "No other current ethical concept goes as far as Bonhoeffer's ethics in trying to avoid any trace of synergism."

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER but who is a new self in the certainty of Christ's death and resurrection for me, a certainty based on the fact that the Holy Spirit alone is at work in justification, indeed, that the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is the new self. The true boundary between the old and the new is drawn as God gives himself over as invincible gift to be the believer's own identity. BONHOEFFER'S BASIC PARADIGM This understanding of the cross as the eschatological boundary is the basic paradigm of all of Bonhoeffer's later theology. It differs fundamentally from the basic paradigm underlying most theology, which we may summarize in general terms as follows: 1. God is God by virtue of an a priori distinction between God and creation. The beginning point of theology is some understanding of the world; God is posited as in some way other than that world, even if closely identified with it. 2. God's work in some way effects the healing of a fallen creation. This healing may be understood in primarily individualistic terms (e.g., the salvation of the soul) or primarily social terms (e.g., the establishment of the kingdom of God). In either case theology describes some defect in human selves and how that defect is to be remedied. 3. The human will is free with regard to its relationship with God. There always remains some substrate of good within the self, however feeble, that can respond to the remedy that God offers and make it effective in the life of the self. 4. Any God that theology posits is a threat to human freedom, the very freedom that posits this God in the first place. So the conflict between God's freedom and ours remains an unsolvable puzzle that can finally only be finessed or ignored. 5. The Christian life is (at least ideally) a process of the defect gradually diminishing in a person (or a community of persons) the more the remedy is allowed to work. It is evident that this paradigm describes the basic outline, not only of the medieval Christianity criticized by the Reformation, but also of much of presentday Christianity in all its variety. Bonhoeffer's basic paradigm, on the other hand, parallels Luther's in protest against both medieval and modern Christianity. His paradigm is as follows: 1. God is not defined abstractly in distinction from the world, but concretely as fully in the world without remainder in the life and death of the human being Jesus Christ. The only God we know is the human being Jesus, who was born, who suffered, and who died for us. This christology, which he expounds at length in his 1933 christology lectures, is basic for all his writings. 2. The theme of theology is not the healing of the self, but the death of the self. The "holy circle" indicates that Christ takes the place of the believer. Faith is a complete orientation of the self toward Christ, so that Christ is the believer's true self. The concept of Stellvertretung ("substitution") stands at the very center of Bonhoeffer's theology because his understanding of Luther's teaching on justification by faith always stands at the center of his theology. It is the key to Bonhoeffer's ground-breaking work on ecclesiology and theological anthropology in Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, his two dissertations. "Christ existing

Jonathan D . Sorum as congregation" is Bonhoeffer's way of describing the justified community whose person is the Christ-person. Bonhoeffer's most extensive reflections on the death of the self are in The Cost of Discipleship, where he struggles to break free entirely from the "psychologism" of his teachers by means of his concept of "following" (Nachfolge). Life Together reports Bonhoeffer's experience of life together in a community of the Word that understood itself as "Christ existing as congregation." The critique of "religion" and the attempt at a non-religious interpretation of Biblical concepts in Letters and Papers from Prison is Bonhoeffer's final and sharpest critique of the Christianity that tries to palm itself off as the answer to the various "religious needs" that human beings supposedly have. Bonhoeffer claims that the "world come of age" can get along very well without this Christianity's nostrums, finally forcing Christianity to abandon the religious guise it has worn for so long and reclaim its identity at the cross of Jesus, where all religious claims die and believers are forced down into the world, without (the religious) "God," but with Jesus, there to watch with him and share in his bearing of the sufferings of the world. The death of the self with Jesusthe actual death of the self, not the mere humbling of the self or the death of the self in some other merely metaphorical senseis at the core of Bonhoeffer's theology. 3. The human will is not free to accede to what God has done in Christ, but is bound to refuse it. The confession that one will inevitably and incorrigibly refuse Christ is integral to faith, which clings to Christ alone, and not to itself at all. Faith as non-reflexive regard for Christ is truly the death of the self and all claims the self makes for itself. The doctrine of human free will with regard to salvation necessarily reduces Christianity to an active imitatio, even if the extent of the imitatio is merely to "accept" the offer of God's grace. Even the slightest concession to "free will" at this point gives up everything. That God works all in all without human cooperation is always fundamental to Bonhoeffer. It is precisely in weakness at the cross that God is truly God, the one who works all in all. Therefore, Bonhoeffer's doctrine of predestination never lapses into a fatalism. It is not an abstract doctrine that obviates the need for any others (you are either predestined or not and there is nothing you can do about it either way). Bonhoeffer understood predestination in the spirit of Luther's Bondage of the Will: as the final nail in the coffin of the sinful self anxiously trying to secure its own election. The predestining God has revealed his decision for the believer in the proclamation of the cross as invincibly for the believer. God's unilateral decision puts an end to living out of one's possibilities and marks the beginning of living out of the actuality of the present and living God. 4. God's freedom and human freedom co-inhere. The conflict between the two disappears because true human freedom only appears with the believer's new identity as Christ given in the Word of justification. The believer for the first time has the freedom to enter into his or her actuality as sinner even as Christ must be all in all for the believer in the Word of justification, the only one who works in the believer from beginning to end. 5. The Christian life is a repeated giving up of the idea of advancing in righteousness understood as a quality of the self in order instead to grasp Christ in faith as one's only righteousness. The self is Christ. The moment of human freedom

BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER in the word of justification is to claim one's works as utterly sinful and yet to dare them in the faith that the Holy Spirit is working in them. If any good is to happen through me, God will have to do it! Note carefully the fundamentally different imitatio that comes into view here. It is not an active imitatio that strives to attain a standard set before it, but a passive imitatio whose content is precisely the giving u p of such striving. It is the coming to expression in the life of believers of the very life of Christ himself. Believers lose themselves in looking to Christ alone and in this way they are the very body of Christ. Their works, instead of being that which constitutes their identity, are lost to them. They never truly know what God is doing in them. But what others observe and experience in them is the very love of Christ. Bonhoeffer's most extensive completed work, The Cost of Discipleship, is his explication of this new imitatio to a church for which the Christian life had become little more than assent to the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. Following Jesus is entering into Jesus' own existence in this world, living his life instead of a life one manufactures for oneself with works of the law. The Christian life is being borne by him, being justified by faith in him alone, being persecuted by an evil world for his sake, and being preserved in hope of a resurrection like his. It is the passive suffering of grace, in which the very resurrection life of God becomes evident in the life of believers under the cross. With the five points of this paradigm firmly in mind, even the most obscure and fragmentary of Bonhoeffer's writings become clear. From an early age, Bonhoeffer took seriously God's actual presence in the world in Jesus Christ as the one who justifies the ungodly. His whole theological production reflects his efforts to elucidate this God's coming and presence as it had to be expressed differently in different contexts. At the same time, his understanding of the issues involved deepened, not just through theological reflection, but through following the way of Christ himself, especially after about 1932.42 If we do not fail to remember the essential structure of Bonhoeffer's theology, that christology and ethics are mediated only through justification by faith, then we can avoid the many false starts and dead-ends that have marred Bonhoeffer interpretation and begin to understand and appropriate his witness to Jesus Christ in our own context.


In his biography of Bonhoeffer, Bethge speaks of Bonhoeffer "becoming a Christian" about this time. See Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, trans. Eric Mosbacher and others (New York: Harper & Row, 1970) 153-56.

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