August 10, 2008

Silence & Confession, A Reflection on Bonhoeffer

To kick off my study of Bonhoeffer, I've begun with Christ the Center. Already he has laid out some powerful ideas in just the introduction. The hinge of scholarship revolves around Christ for Bonhoeffer because Christ is the Word. But the study of christology does not revolve around the "how" question such as how is Christ God and man, but rather the "who?" questions.

So the very beginning of any scholarship begins not with what, why, or how, but "who?". The beauty in his existential thought reveals itself when he says that Christ is not known through his works as Schleiermacher proposes, but his works are known through the very person of Christ. Christ is known when he reveals himself in the noncompulsive silence of prayer.

In Life Together by Bonhoeffer, one of the most important aspects of community is confession; but I didn't quite understand why a Protestant theologian would emphasize confession so strongly until I read his analogy that in confessing our sins to one another we are authentically revealing ourselves. We cannot be forced to reveal ourselves, and neither can Christ.

As Filipina theologian Melba Maggay says:
Prayer is not a pious instrument by which we move God to baptize our enterprises; it is entering the strength of him who moves history and binds the powers that be. via
Prayer is not the place where we come to control Christ, but where Christ can if he wills to reveal himself and answer the question of "who?". The encounter with Christ is unavoidable since, as Bonhoeffer says, Christ is alive therefore "there are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus; man must die or he must put Jesus to death." Unfortunately, I believe the natural reaction of most of us is to put Christ to death.

I also wonder if Bonhoeffer isn't helping the church to understand how to be the listener when the other confesses their sins. Too often we act as if we are the forgivers or if our wise words can fix the person opening themselves to us, but maybe the most appropriate response is silence for in silence between two people Christ can speak or we can hear the words to repeat from the very source that defeats the powers that be.

We gain access to Christ in the "attempt to be in the place where the Person reveals himself in his own being, without any compulsion. That is the place of prayer to Christ. Only by the Word freely revealing himself is the Person of Christ available and with that also his work."


Anonymous said...

Good post...good topic.

To your statements about Bonhoeffer, Protestantism, and confession:
1. He was regularly accused in the practices at Finkenwald of being "too Catholics," even by his students (at the beginning).
2. Bonhoeffer misreads Aquinas at points, per his inherited Lutheranism, and offers what he believes to be "Protestant" doctrines, which are in truth very similar to Aquinas.
3. Bonhoeffer is obcessed with the "real/conrete" and with the nature of the Church. The Church must be where the two coinhere. Thus, Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology is highly important. The Church is always "Christ-existing-as-community" (read that the Church is the locus of revelation,for DB). The Church is literally the Body, thus what is bound in the Church is bound in reality. Confession is the revealing of the human being, in the brokeness, for the sake of the truth which sets us free to live in concrete obedience to God for the world. Confession is the revelation of the human as human and in so doing the revelation of Christ as the forgiveness of God.

JoeBumbulis said...

Thanks Chris, I really appreciate your comments. I miss being able to have these conversations in person, but was hoping you'd interact as I post about DB.

So is it his Lutheranism that is influencing this thought on confession or Aquinas. Was he an Aquinas scholar or did he just draw from him on certain points?

As for the church being the place of revelation, that's a really huge statement. I'm excited about digging into his ecclesiology.

Oh, and I don't think obcess is a word there my friend :)

Anonymous said...


1. I cant spell. I don’t know if I care enough to change. How is that for confession?

2. Too the question about Lutheranism and Thomas: He was not a Thomist, nor a Thomistic scholar. He, often reading Thomas through Luther, misunderstands him. It is my contention and Dr. Brewer agreed that Luther did not fairly treat Thomas. At times Luther intentionally misrepresents Thomas, and at others does not comprehend that Thomas was converting Aristotle and not parroting him.
What I was aiming at, was that due to Bonhoeffer's inherited misunderstandings of Thomas usually comes to conclusions he feels are quite different from Thomas, but indeed are not.

3. Confession's objective power has everything to do with the fact that the Church is the manifestation of Christ-existing-as-community, thus can reveal true forgiveness as humanity, caught in sin (which was, and is, an unpopular assertion)admits their status, and the church via Christ's continuing presence mediates forgiveness.

4. Ecclesiology is the key to all Bonhoeffer’s thought. Even his often misunderstood Letters and Papers. See his two dissertations for the foundation. In fact, Barry Harvey suggests, that it was only when Bonhoeffer was isolated from the community of saints (with the SS shutting down Finkenwalde) that his fall into violence against Hitler was possible. Only when Bonhoeffer, ceased to gather to the place where Christ is spoken and enacted, was he able to carry out violence. So goes life.