Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, as well as a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism. He was hung for his part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This book contains the chapters of the systematic book of ethics that Bonhoeffer was PLANNING to write, and was able to conceal from the Gestapo when he was arrested in 1943.
It begins by stating that "the knowledge of good and evil shows that (we are) no longer at one with this origin." (Pg. 17) Conscience is even "farther from the origin than shame, it presupposes disunion with God and with man." (Pg. 24) By contrast, the Christian's freedom in Jesus "is not the arbitrary choice of one amongst innumerable possibilities; it consists on the contrary precisely in the complete simplicity of His actions, which is never confronted by a plurality of possibilities." (Pg. 30) Ultimately, he concludes, "Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt." (Pg. 121)
He suggests that "The point of departure for Christian ethics is the body of Christ, the form of Christ in the form of the Church, and the formation of the Church in conformity with the form of Christ." (Pg. 84) In a section on confession (Pg. 113-115), he acknowledges that the Church "has not striven forcefully enough against the misuse of this name for an evil purpose," "has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims," "has witnessed in silence the spoilation and exploitation of the poor," etc. Later, he states that "The problem of Christian ethics is the realization among God's creatures of the revelational reality of God in Christ." (Pg. 190)
He observes that "even when it is set free in Jesus Christ conscience still confronts responsible action with the law..." (Pg. 247) For Bonhoeffer, "the ethical is not essentially a formal rational principle but a concrete relation between the giver and receiver of commands." (Pg. 273) He adds, "God's command is the only warrant for ethical discourse." (Pg. 277) He asserts, "Either God does not speak at all or else He speaks to us as definitely as He spoke to Abraham and Jacob and Moses and as definitely in Jesus Christ as He spoke to the disciples..." (pg. 278), but concedes that "God makes his commandment heard in a definite historical form." (Pg. 278)
It is tragic that Bonhoeffer was not able to finish this work, which surely would have been his magnum opus. But what we DO have is nevertheless essential reading for any student of modern theology.