Dichotomy, Dynamism, and Development: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics

15 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2015 Last revised: 26 Feb 2015

See all articles by Matthew Cavedon

Matthew Cavedon

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: October 5, 2014


There is a tension between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics takes aim at the temptation to resolve that tension into dichotomy. Such a solution is unreal, he argues, because Christ is the foundation of both the present and the perfect. The universe is not the host to some dualistic struggle: it has perfect unity at its origin, Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer’s Christology does away with dichotomy in favor of dynamism between present conditions and what is to come. Integration in Christ is a traditional doctrine, and one Bonhoeffer creatively articulates.

The ethical result is singular focus on Christ and risk-bearing engagement with the world. Centering ethics entirely on Christ’s divine will, the believer is able to take responsible, entirely free action for the furtherance of love’s way in the world. The worldliness of this ethics successfully anticipated the worldliness of the Second Vatican Council and liberation theology.

However, Bonhoeffer’s singular focus on faith as the way to ethics makes it difficult to consider ethics in a world where Christians are not yet perfect in love, and the world is not yet entirely Christian. Catholic thinking about ethical development can correct this epistemological shortcoming while still recognizing the universe’s integration in Christ.

Keywords: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ethics, Catholicism, Christology, world, dualism, responsibility, freedom, Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner

Suggested Citation

Cavedon, Matthew, Dichotomy, Dynamism, and Development: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics (October 5, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2566396

Matthew Cavedon (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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