I have three books I’m using at the same time to get a wholistic view of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Of course the Biography, Revised Edition, 2000, by Eberhard Bethge.
Bonhoeffer: A Theology of Sociality, Revised Edition, 1999, by Clifford J. Green
and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Life in Pictures, Centenary Edition, 2006, Bethge and Gremmels.
The book by Clifford Green is indispensable for following Bonhoeffer’s writings as they develop and intersect. I can’t see understanding Sanctorum Communio or Act and Being without this book. That’s not to say I am not going to actually read SC or AB too! I’ve just received the complete edition of SC through the public interlibrary loan. This is one of the greatest things about life in Chicago! Not only does the system have most everything a student could want, if they don’t have it you can order it and have it shipped to the location nearest you! Just make sure you have the ISBN number and insist only on that particular edition. This time I received SC within two weeks. I’ll be taking it with on vacation.
Chapter 3 “Assistance Pastor in Barcelona: 1928”
After his dissertation Bonhoeffer took an assistant pastor’s position in Barcelona. Bethge relates the effect the removal from Berlin had on Dietrich:
“He is extricated from the academic world he’d become accustomed to.
His family communications aren’t as frequent. The next step toward the “unsheltered” life he’d wished for. “Far from oppressing him this conflict between aspiration and realization spurred him on.”
I’m impressed with the detail available for Bonhoeffer’s time in Barcelona. There are more personal reflections, letters home and lecture notes here than with the trip to America which follows. I love the reflections on witnessing the High Mass at Sacre-Coeur Basilica:
“The people in the church were almost all from Montmartre, prostitutes and their men went to the Mass and submitted to all the ceremonies. . . one saw. . . how close, through their fate and guilt, these heavily burdened people stood to the essence of the Gospel. I’ve believed for a long time that Tauentzienstrasse in Berlin would be an extremely fruitful field for church work. It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer or prostitute than a vain person. Nothing goes more against prayer than vanity.”(pg. 100)
It seems that the young assistant had to work to not be a nuisance to the head pastor. Everything Bonhoeffer did to increase membership in the church and connect with people the pastor took offense at. This chapter illustrates Dietrich’s desire to give of himself and meet the felt needs of parishioners. Here was this little expatriate community of Germans who didn’t really know why they needed the Church, and Bonhoeffer figured that instead of biding his time and being lazy he was going to do his best to show them the kind of faith he had worked so hard to develop in his writing theory.
As I said earlier the notes from some of his Barcelona lectures are amazing! One in particular caught my eye. I had to read and reread it again and again. Though it is cryptic, and Bethge indicates he thought Dietrich went too far in this instance, I must say I heartily agree!
“The germ of hubris is contained in religion and morality. . . thus the Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, however paradoxical that may sound.” (pg. 117)
These little ideas contain so much and could go any which way.