Bethge on Bonhoeffer’s Relationship to Barth

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 134.

"In the relations between the two men four phases can be distinguished, which can be summarized roughly as follows:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.
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."


Anonymous said…
Thanks for visiting my blog. As for your inquiries-

Had he remained at Wheaton, Mark Husbands would have supervised my thesis. Alas, Hope took him from us. He told me to ask either Lauber or Treier to supervise...I'm still working on the ever-elusive topic and will compile a working bibliography in the next month or so. What was your area of research while you were at Wheaton?

I checked out your post on reading Barth, and I find it quite helpful. Last spring we had a theology "field trip" to Garrett Seminary to hear John Webster speak on "mercy." At lunch afterwards, he encouraged us to jump in and read the primary sources and to worry about the secondary materials later. I've found that approach to reduce much anxiety on my part. I own the Cambridge Companion and Webster's Barth but haven't had the chance to read them yet. Dogmatics in Outline is next on my list.

Presently I'm tied up with the Summa (for class), but just before bed I've been reading the 1961-1968 Barth letters -- great, great stuff!

Finally, thanks for this post on Barth and Bonhoeffer. For the thesis, I'm planning on putting them in conversation with each other regarding aseity / promeity. We'll see what happens.
Thanks for stopping by, Barbara. It seems like there have been quite a few Wheaton theses on Bonhoeffer and Barth in the past few years. Mine was on the Eucharist.

Feel free to contact me via the e-mail listed on my blogger profile. I'm always interested in news from Wheaton. Do you hope to finally enter academia?
That's really interesting, WTM, particularly the observation that Bonhoeffer wanted to remain in the Barthian camp. I had not really heard much comment on that aspect in the past.
Glad to be of service, Tim! This Bethge biography is, as far as I know, the authority - and, weighing in at 800+ pages, it is likely to stay that way. I know exceedingly little about Bonhoeffer myself, and am breezing through this bio in an effort to become familiar.
Anonymous said…
wtm, My apologies for just now getting back to you. The issue of entering academia is one of great debate for me. In many ways, I'd love it. But presently I'm concentrating on whatever Aquinas reading is due for the next class, and thinking about my thesis. Beyond that, we'll see!
D Schneider said…
Could you provide me with a list of what you have published on DB? Is it restricted to your blog. Thanks, Dieter

I have only published concerning Bonhoeffer here on my blog. Here is a link to the full (albeit short) list of what I've said about him:

I have, however, written more on Bonhoeffer - specifically his ethics - in the course of my studies and, if you are interested, I would be happy to discuss such matters with you via e-mail. My address is given in the little bio at the top right of the blog.

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