When Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned in the spring of 1943, he was still writing drafts of his Ethics. What might have been his magnum opus as a result remains a series of 13 manuscripts that Bonhoeffer himself had not yet arranged in any final form before his death. Themes joust with one another for prominence. A few, however, stand out, both for their distinctiveness and for their extension and development of conversations already begun.
One is the process of "formation" of Christians in community, that is to say, the conformation of Christians with Christ - incarnate, crucified, and risen. God's claim on creation is not partial - there is not one sphere of reality that belongs to God and another that does not. Rather, Christ was God's embrace of the entirety of created-and-fallen reality, reconciling the world to God despite anything that humanity may try to do to choose otherwise. We were created in and for relationship - with God and one another.38 Formation means to be molded into what we were made to be.
The church is to be the Stellvertreter for the world - taking on the guilt not just for its individual sins, but for those of a broken world, bearing them as its own. The church has failed to be the church whenever it has denied compassion to the outcast. In Bonhoeffer's words, "the church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven." The church has sinned against God each time it "has looked on while injustice and violence have been done, under the cover of the name of Christ." In its vocation of confessing and bearing the sins of the world, we hear not a statement of the heroic and saintly maximum that is required only in the extraordinary situation; it is a statement of the bare minimum of what is required in order to make one a Christian at all.
Previous themes from throughout his theological career reappear, now to be connected in new constellations of significance, each transformed into a more mature theological statement. "Christ existing as church community" becomes the church understood as that "section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form." The theme of creation, about which Bonhoeffer had maintained a "qualified silence" for almost a decade, due to the cooptation by "German Christians" of the language of "orders of creation" in order to give credence to its racist points of view, now reemerges under the heading of "Das natürliche Leben," "natural life." The "divine mandates" are heir to Bonhoeffer's concept of the "orders of preservation." And the concept of Stellvertretung, vicarious representative action, reappears as the heart of "the structure of responsible life."
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