Bethge on Bonhoeffer’s Relationship to Barth
"In the relations between the two men four phases can be distinguished, which can be summarized roughly as follows:
Whatever the implications of Bonhoeffer’s earlier or later criticisms of Barth may be, in all four phases he wanted them to be regarded as coming from inside and not outside the Barthian movement. In the bitter secession of former Barthians from the movement he did not wish to be identified with men like Gogarten or Brunner, and he joined vigorously in attacking them. This is very evident in the second and third phases."
- The phase of Bonhoeffer’s unilateral knowledge of Barth through the latter’s writings, beginning in 1925. In 1927 and 1929 Bonhoeffer, excited by and grateful for the Barthian message, while holding fast to the principle of finitum capax infiniti, raises a number of theological-epistemological questions directed at Barth. These, however, as formulate in Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, do not become fully known to Barth until after Bonhoeffer’s death.
- The phase of eagerly sought meetings between 1931 and 1933. Bonhoeffer hopes for Barth’s support in his concern for the concrete ethical commandments of the Church, but does not receive it in the form that he desires.
- The phase of theological differences, accompanied by a very close alliance in church politics. Bonhoeffer attempts to think through the Articles of Justification and Salvation independently of Barth, but with the continued hope that he might be able to have him as an ally occasionally. Barth has reservations; only after Bonhoeffer’s death does his The Cost of Discipleship receive Barth’s special praise.
- The period of indirect new questions in the letters from prison of 1944. IN these there occurs almost incidentally the ominous term ‘revelationary positivism’, which Barth could not accept and liked least of all in Bonhoeffer’s work.