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from prison

it’s been close to 10 years since i’ve read any bonhoeffer. and, i can’t really say that i’ve read him tonight. in fact, like most nights, i should be preparing class, preparing a conference presentation, or writing up an abstract for a collected essays (mary remind me and i will send you the call; it’s on early modern regions).

but tonight i caught the tale end of krista tippet and a conversation about bonhoeffer and thought i’d offer up some quotable quotes from a man in prison. (though i do hate to get rid of the two portraits)

29 May 1944
It has again brought home to quite clearly who wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), the God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize [God’s] presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved. That is true of the relationship between God and scientific knowledge, but it is also true of of the wider human problems of death, suffering, and guilt…God is no stop-gap; [God] must be recognized as the centre of life, not when we are at the end of our resources…recognized in life, and not only when death comes; in health and vigor, and not only in suffering; in our activities, and not only in sin…[Christ] is the centre of our life; and he certainly didn’t come to answer our unsolved problems…

27 June 1944
The difference between the Christian hope of ressurection and the mythological one is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way…The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from the earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?), he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in doing so is the crucified Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. This world must not be prematurely written off…

21 July 1944
...it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abondon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gesthemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and Christian (cf. Jer 45!). How can successs make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this kind?

someone recently mentioned cataphasis, and, at least, in these excerpts bonhoeffer is no apophatic. in these passages there is a faith that confidently speaks about knowing God and being a vessel for the incarnation… it’s curious that a man in prison, who, in another letter writes of his longing for sunshine and for animal pleasure (not of the kind that debases humans, he quickly qualifies, but the kind that gets the muscles moving), should speak so firmly of knowing God in the here, in the sufferings, the doings, the lives, in the interruptions of our day, in short, in society.

(proof positive of his being in prison and separated from those he loves, he doesn’t understand how the sight of one’s friend can be more frightening than an encounter with one’s enemy.)

i wonder, though, if there is an apophasis here as well…if in the living and the doing and the being Christ, if in the suffering and the standing witness, if all this throwing one’s self unreservedly into the arms of God has little to do with knowing and everything to do with being. not that being isn’t a form of knowing, but it is a form that cares less about doxas and more about glasses of water, loaves of bread, heartbreak, threadbare coats, family feuds, and things of a much more mundane nature than the correct configuration of the three in one.

my use of apophasis might be quite catachretic…it’s been known to happen, quite a lot.



1st response:

Where else but prison? (cf. The Stranger, Dostoevsky…)