FIRST WE TAKE MANHATTAN,
THEN WE TAKE BERLIN:
BONHOEFFER’S NEW YORK
by Scott Holland
In Harlem, Bonhoeffer learned about
the improvisation of jazz, the contingency of the blues, and the
liberation of black spirituals. That's not all he learned.
SCOTT HOLLAND is a contributing editor
to Cross Currents.
They sentenced me to twenty years of
for trying to change the system from within.
I'm coming now
I'm coming to reward them.
First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin
. -- Leonard Cohen
By 1930 Dietrich Bonhoeffer had completed his doctorate at the
University of Berlin, Friedrich Schleiermacher's University. However,
by then, many had grown suspicious of Schleiermacher's Gefuhl,
that deep, romantic religious feeling that so characterized cultured,
nineteenth-century theological thought. Even Bonhoeffer had his
doubts, not because he lacked religious feeling, but because a certain
melancholia drew his gaze again and again to that ugly ditch another
nineteenth-century thinker called, "the infinite qualitative
difference between the human and the divine."
Bonhoeffer was the son of a liberal, humanistic, yet aristocratic
German home. This home was also well aquatinted with sorrow. Young
Dietrich had been deeply saddened by the death of his eldest brother
Walter in the First World War. Dietrich was given Walter's autographed
Bible at his confirmation. Another brother, Karl-Friedrich, had come
home from the Western Front wounded, cursing militarism and the
motherland, questioning God, and reading aloud to the family large
passages from Ludwig Feuerbach. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his
theological studies he learned of what theologian Karl Barth called a
"black day" in early August 1914 when ninety-three German
professors, some of them prominent theologians, announced their
support of the war policy of Wilhelm II. It seemed to Barth and
his circle that theology had become little more than a mirror of
nineteenth-century German culture.(1)
It is therefore not surprising that Bonhoeffer found himself
desiring something other, something different, something more. As he
pondered the ugly ditch of European history, it is not surprising that
early in his academic career he was drawn to Karl Barth's dialectical
construction of God: a God who is Wholly Other, Ganz Anders.
Like Barth, Bonhoeffer hoped that the vast distance between the human
and the divine could be measured although never shortened through
thick tomes of dogmatic theology. Yet even Barth knew that the angels
would one day laugh at such a theology.
At the time Bonhoeffer thought the ugly ditch of history that so
tormented his soul was the emblem of the infinite qualitative
difference between the human and the divine. Only later would he see
that he was looking deep into what Cornel West has called the gorge
caused by the tragedies and terrors of this ghastly century. Only
later would he understand that the Other has a human face. Only later
would he turn from normative ethics to aesthetics; only later would he
move from metaphysics, morality, and a dogmatics underwritten by a
positivism of revelation to a theopoetics. But that is later.
The University of Berlin was also the university of Karl Bonhoeffer,
Dietrich's father, the distinguished professor of psychiatry and
neurology and the most prominent psychiatrist in the city. Karl was
very disappointed by Dietrich's decision to become a Lutheran
pastor-theologian. Why would his gifted son choose a churchly vocation
that would likely promise an uneventful life? Bonhoeffer's dear friend
and biographer, Eberhard Bethge, answers the question this way:
"Dietrich became a theologian because he was lonely."(2)
The lonely theologian chose for his dissertation topic, Sanctorum
Communio -- The Communion of Saints. Bonhoeffer became an earnest
churchman and he believed in the communion of saints. His curiosity,
and his consciousness that the communion of saints was large, much
larger than the civil religion of German Christendom, led him to catch
a steamer named the Columbus, bound for America. After the Columbus
docked in New York, Bonhoeffer soon found his way up Broadway to 121st
Street and entered the gate of Union Theological Seminary, an
institution that had a reputation of being somewhat avant-garde, if
theology can ever be avant-garde!
Bonhoeffer came to Union as a post-doctoral student and teaching
fellow for the 1930-31 academic year. He came to do serious theology.
He did not understand at the time that it would be a poetics of place
and an entanglement with people that would produce this serious
theology. He didn't know then that the best theology is often that
which comes before the text and in front of the text. Walter Benjamin,
Jewish literary critic and philosopher, lived across town from the
Bonhoeffers in Berlin. Dietrich and Walter never met. If they had,
Benjamin would have likely told Bonhoeffer, "In the fields with
which we are concerned, knowledge exists only in lightening flashes.
The text is the thunder rolling along afterward."(3)
Like Benjamin, Bonhoeffer would later see that it was the literary
fragment -- the letter, the paper, the poem, the story, not the
systematic manuscript -- that best reflected traces of the lightening flash.
As a pastor-theologian, Bonhoeffer was eager to take a course from
the Detroit socialist preacher who had come to Union only two years
earlier. As a public intellectual and prophet to politicians, the
socialist preacher, Reinhold Niebuhr, taught "Applied
Theology." Bonhoeffer was prepared for Niebuhr's political
theology and American pragmatism but he was nevertheless surprised by
the syllabus Niebuhr distributed to the students. The course was
titled, "Ethical Viewpoints in Modern Literature." For
Bonhoeffer, it was the beginning of an ethics instructed by
aesthetics. Bonhoeffer did theology in conversation with James Weldon
Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, W. E. B.
Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folks, and the collected
poetry of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, poets of the Harlem
Renaissance. With an emerging analogical imagination, Bonhoeffer
entered the creative space between heaven and earth, nature and grace,
saint and sinner, self and other as he began to consider Niebuhr's
experiment of viewing theology and ethics as a kind of writing. This
was perhaps the first class in an American seminary to turn to
literature as a source for doing applied theology.
Not only did Bonhoeffer learn of another America through reading
the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, he began to ponder what the New
York black evangelist Tom Skinner was fond of calling "the
blackness of the Gospel." Countee Cullen's collection Copper
Sun was on the Union class syllabus and in the poem,
"Colors," Bonhoeffer read: "The play is done, the
crowds depart; and see/ That twisted tortured thing hung from a tree,/
Swart victim of a newer Calvary./ Yea, he who helped Christ up
Golgotha's track,/ That Simon who did not deny, was black."(4)
Reflecting years later on the poetry of Cullen, Bonhoeffer commented
on "the black Christ" being led into the field against
"a white Christ" by a young Negro poet revealing to us the
deep cleft in the church of Jesus Christ.(5)
Indeed, Cullen's narrative poem, "The Black Christ," has a
rather astonishing conclusion. As the story of a racist lynching
develops, the subject position of a black man who is lynched by whites
for his love of sensuality, the spring, and a white woman is assumed,
in the end, by Christ.(6)
As at least part of his quest for the communion of saints
Bonhoeffer formed several close friendships at Union. Here I can only
mention two of his good friends: Jean Lasserre, a French Reformed
pastor, and Franklin Fisher, an African-American divinity student.
Jean Lasserre was French Reformed yet almost Tolstoyan in his
religious and ethical vision. In terms of H. Richard Niebuhr's
classic typology of Christian religion, he fit the "Christ
against culture" paradigm. He was an unapologetic Christian
pacifist who identified the essence of the faith as ethical and
embodied concretely in discipleship, community, and peace. His book, War
and the Gospel, was published by the Mennonite Publishing House,
and its style and substance is reflected in Bonhoeffer's work, The
Cost of Discipleship: "When Jesus calls a man he bids him to
come and die." There is no cheap grace here, and little tolerance
for the plurality and ambiguity of human nature beyond the revelation
of God in Jesus Christ. Discipleship calls the true believer
to crucify the flesh and inhabit the strange new world of Jesus'
Sermon on the Mount.
Bonhoeffer was very drawn to Lasserre's ethical zeal. He had found
a true saint in Jean Lasserre. This unqualified call to the costly
grace and radical discipleship was for Bonhoeffer totally other, and
he liked it. Lasserre took Dietrich to see the film All Quiet on
the Western Front and it greatly disturbed him. He left the New
York theater shaken and more deeply committed to the path of Christian
pacifism.(7) Soon, Bonhoeffer
made a trip across America with Lasserre in an old Buick that ended at
an ecumenical peace conference in Mexico. There the Frenchman and the
German spoke together on discipleship and peace. Dietrich would never
When Dietrich's father learned of their planned trip across the
United States, he warned them not to stay in the City of New Orleans.
He knew of malaria on the Gulf Coast yet perhaps as a psychiatrist he
also knew what Tennessee Williams later would teach us. In the City of
New Orleans, there is a place where the line of the streetcar named
Desire intersects with the line of the streetcar named Cemeteries. To
understand this is to understand a great deal. Dietrich and Jean
didn't go to New Orleans but later, much later, Dietrich would
encounter the meeting of eros and thanatos, desire and death, and it
would do important things to his theology.
Franklin Fisher grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the son of a
Black Baptist minister who was also dean of the theology department of
Alabama's Selma University. Franklin, or Frank, as his friends called
him, did his B.A. at Howard College, now Howard University. There he
became interested in the Harlem Renaissance. He came to New York to
study theology, but also to explore Harlem, and he took his new German
friend Dietrich along with him. Bonhoeffer became a regular attender
of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church and for six months taught the
boys Sunday school class and helped with various youth clubs there.
Once, Pastor Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. yielded his pulpit to this
young, German Lutheran pastor.
At Abyssinian, Bonhoeffer sat under the ministry of Powell almost
weekly for over six months. Powell's culturally engaged sermons
blended the artful rhetoric and congregational, noncreedal style of
the black Baptist church with the best of American social pragmatism.
Powell had learned to appreciate John Dewey through their work
together at the NAACP. We have recently learned through the research
of Ralph Garlin Clingan that some of Bonhoeffer's theological
vocabulary was borrowed from the pulpit work Pastor Adam Clayton
Powell, Sr. For example, Powell complained that the problem of the
Euro-American church was "cheap grace."(8)
The problem of cheap grace -- grace without the price of following
after Jesus -- of course, became a central focus of Bonhoeffer's Discipleship.
The phrase, "world come of age," a familiar and frequently
debated concept in Bonhoeffer's prison letters was used by Powell in
his preaching: "The world come of age asks only one question:
What can you do to make the world happy? What can you do to uplift
Frank Fisher introduced Bonhoeffer to both sacred and secular
Harlem, not that the two could always be easily pried apart. As a
pastor, Bonhoeffer spoke of the Black church with uncharacteristic
feeling. As a classical pianist, Bonhoeffer was very interested in the
music. He found it strange and other yet he was fascinated by it. At
Harlem, it seems, Bonhoeffer began to learn about the improvisation of
jazz, the contingency of the blues, and the liberation of black
spirituals. Much later in his intellectual and spiritual development
he applied a musical rather than a biblical or ethical metaphor to the
task of theology: polyphany. Theology, Bonhoeffer suggested, is
neither a neat harmony nor a mere symphony, but it is a polyphony. A
polyphony in this context is a musical piece in which two or more
different melodies come together in a satisfying way. According to
Bonhoeffer, the church's cantus firmus, its fixed traditional
melody, must remain in place yet invite the addition and innovation of
other voices into the flow of the music. The introduction of this
metaphor into his theology marked a movement in his thought from the
imitation motif of The Cost of Discipleship or Nachfolge
to the more improvisational style of his later works, such as Ethics
and Letters and Papers from Prison.(10)
Bonhoeffer was intrigued by the music and culture of New York but
he hated its racism. He became a smart and sensitive critic of
American racism and this attention to racism seemed to deepen his
critiques of German anti-Semitism. He discussed this problem freely
with his brother Karl-Friedrich, who had studied at Harvard on a
physics fellowship. Karl-Friedrich concluded that the problem of
racism in the United States was so terrible that he could never
imagine raising a family in America. Hitler had of course not yet
ascended to power in Germany. Racism was the American problem
for any person of conscience, Dietrich's older brother concluded.
Dietrich seemed to agree. It was in New York that this German Lutheran
theologian first began to truly understand the issues of racism and
nationalism as serious theological problems.
Josiah Ulysses Young III has recently published the first
book-length study of Bonhoeffer and the problem of racism. No
Difference in the Fare brings Bonhoeffer's theology into very
creative conversation with African-American theology and culture.
Young shows how the attention to alterity, otherness or difference in
Bonhoeffer's theological work, contributed to a profound social
understanding of the relationship of the self to the other that
fostered respect in spite of radical difference.(11)
The other, Bonhoeffer suggests, in the I-Thou relationship presents us
with the same problem of cognition as does God. The Thou of the other
-- the neighbor, the friend, the stranger -- is analogous to the
divine Thou. Thus, one must resist projecting an easy sameness or
harmony upon the other and encounter or receive him or her as a
"Thou," outside of any centered or self-present conception
of the "I." This I-Thou or I-You encounter becomes crucial
not only for understanding the other but also for understanding the
self. Authentic relationality must be grounded in the recognition of
uniqueness and separateness, Bonhoeffer argues. He then asserts,
"The individual becomes a person ever and again through the
other, in the moment."(12)
Bonhoeffer's experience in Harlem helped him translate the heavenly
categories of transcendence into relational expressions of worldly
At the end of 1931 it was time for Bonhoeffer to return to his old
intellectual center: Berlin. So he packed up his books and Paul
Robeson records and returned home. For the next couple of years he was
a lecturer at Berlin as well as a chaplain and pastor. In 1933 Adolf
Hitler became Reich Chancellor of Germany with the support of many
German Christians. While other pastors were writing sermons and other
theologians were occupied with classical Christological questions,
Bonhoeffer went on the air and strongly criticized the rise of Fascism
in a radio address that was cut off by the authorities before it was
completed. He was the first pastor to offer such a public protest.
This was only the beginning of Bonhoeffer's troubles with the Reich,
and thus he found the invitation to leave Berlin to pastor the German
Lutheran congregations in London from 1933 to 1935 too inviting to
decline. He continued his resistance work in ecumenical circles there
while remaining in close contact with his colleagues and family in
By 1935 in Germany it was necessary for the Confessing Church
opposing Hitler to establish a seminary in exile. Bonhoeffer was
called from London by the Confessing Church to return to Germany and
head the resisting seminary at Finkenwalde. His book Life Together
recalls this experiment of viewing the church as an alternative,
counter-cultural community at a time when the German church and
society were marching to the music of the Nazism. Bonhoeffer's
students at Finkenwalde found his spirituality and theology
challenging yet wondered about his strange musical tastes as they
listened to the unfamiliar voice of Paul Robeson on the Victrola
lament, plead, and prophesy: "Go down. Go down Moses! Way down in
Egypt's land. Tell old, Pharaoh, Let my people go!"(13)
In April 1938, Bonhoeffer fell into deep despair when the majority
of Confessing Church pastors -- his students, friends, and colleagues
-- fearing for their lives and the lives of their families, took the
oath of allegiance to the Führer. Within two months there was Kristallnacht,
the night of broken glass, and all Jewish businesses were liquidated
by January. Hitler's totalitarianism now threatened all dissenters
with punishment or death. In the Spring of 1939 Bonhoeffer caught a
steamer back to New York, to the safety of Manhattan.
As he revisited New York, his Babylon, his Jerusalem, the world
came of age and in his words, he "gathered up the past." He
spent time with old friends and met new ones, including the poet W. H.
Auden. He spoke with them about the fate of the German Jews. He spoke
with them about the fate of all German people under Fascism, his
people. We have no record of his conversations with Auden but several
years later Auden wrote a poem dedicated to Bonhoeffer entitled,
We do know this was the year that Auden was questioning his own
politics and pacifism in face of the evolving European
totalitarianism. He was keeping a notebook of aphorisms and
reflections after his meditations on William Blake's The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell.(15)
Their conversation likely turned to models of resistance and to
pacifism. One must wonder if Auden didn't raise the Blakean question
of "fearful symmetry" with Bonhoeffer: "Did he who made
the Lamb make thee [the Tyger]?"(16)
Indeed, there was little tiger in the Jesus of Bonhoeffer's
Christology (and therefore neither in his theological anthropology)
and there was much of the obedient, sacrificial lamb. As the poet and
the pastor talked, one must wonder if Auden didn't confess to
Bonhoeffer privately what he said in public over a year later, "I
have absolutely no patience with Pacifism as a political movement, as
if one could do all the things in one's personal life that create wars
and then pretend that to refuse to fight is a sacrifice and not a
Friends at Union worked to secure Bonhoeffer teaching positions at
American colleges or seminaries so that he could remain in the United
States even as he pondered what has now become the classic question of
his life and witness, "Will the church merely gather up those
whom the wheel has crushed or will it prevent the wheel from crushing
them?" During the hot and humid July of 1939, his room at Union
cluttered with cigarette butts and mounds of spent papers from too
many unsuccessful writing attempts, Bonhoeffer decided to return to
Berlin to join the active resistance to Hitler and the Third Reich.
"Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian
chants!"(18) he would
declare. He concluded that he would have no right to take part in the
restoration of Germany after the war unless he shared with the people
in the trials of the country's most horrible time in history.
He would later write these words to Eberhard Bethge describing his
decision to enter fully and responsibly into the dramas of history on
behalf of the other:
There remains an
experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the
great events of history from below, from the perspective of the
outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed,
the reviled -- in short from the perspective of those who suffer. . .
This perspective from below must not become the particular possession
of those who are eternally dissatisfied; rather, we must do justice to
life in all its dimensions from a higher satisfaction, whose
foundation is beyond any talk of, "from below" or "from
above." This is the way in which we may affirm it.(19)
This movement in Bonhoeffer's thought, I would suggest, signals the
possibility of a transcendence without either classical metaphysics or
an orthodox positivism of revelation; it is at once both a worldly and
a spiritual transcendence. It is a naming of oneself and a rendering
of God in history "as another" in an improvisational ethics
called forth by the aesthetic encounter with the face of the other.
Paul Ricoeur's Gifford Lectures are quite helpful in unpacking this
point about alterity. Like Bonhoeffer, Ricoeur resists a Romantic
notion of self-consciousness or God-consciousness. Ricoeur, who was
himself a French prisoner of war from 1940 to 1945, contends that the
shortest path of the self to itself lies in the speech of the other.
Self-understanding therefore involves a long detour through narratives
and encounters with others, with self-consciousness as the final
destination, not the starting point.(20)
One can discern a movement in Bonhoeffer's religious and
intellectual formation from the mimesis of discipleship to a more
innovative poetics of obligation. In this worldly holiness Jesus truly
becomes "the man for others." There has been much debate on
precisely what Bonhoeffer really meant by his famous celebration of
the advent of "religionless Christianity,"(21)
but there is little disagreement that there was an aesthetic turn in
his life and work.(22) This
can be seen in the texts of Bonhoeffer written between 1939 and 1945:
the fragments of his incomplete Ethics which explore human
desire alongside of Christian duty, his drama and fiction from prison,
his love letters, and his many moving letters, papers, and poems from
prison. Defining aesthetics as the artful, sensuous perception of
reality, this turn is indeed striking and satisfying in Bonhoeffer's
final works.(23) This
aesthetic turn opened him to a faith that was polyphonic and
multi-dimensional. Bonhoeffer celebrated its multiplicity in a letter
us into many different dimensions of life at the same time; we make
room in ourselves, to some extent, for God and the whole world. . .
[Life] is kept multi-dimensional and polyphonous. What a deliverance
it is to be able to think, and thereby remain
This kind of artful thinking led Bonhoeffer's theological
reflections beyond the sacred text into the world of material culture.
As the Greek term aisthesis implies, aesthetics takes one
into the whole embodied realm of sensation and perception.(25)
Aesthetics signals the body's long rebellion against the tyranny of
static systems and totalitarian ideologies, even any attempted
totality of theology and ethics. I love this expression of
Bonhoeffer's incarnational desire from the Letters:
I should like to be
tired by the sun, instead of by books and thoughts. I should like to
have it awaken my animal existence-not the kind that degrades a man,
but the kind that delivers him from the stuffiness and artificiality
of a purely intellectual existence and makes him purer and happier. I
should like, not just to see the sun and sip at it a little, but to
experience it bodily.(26)
By 1943 Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been arrested and imprisoned for
his part in a plan to kill Hitler. He wrote one of the most important
theological fragments of the twentieth century in a lengthy letter
from Tegel Prison dated July 21, 1944. He confesses that in the
past year he has come to know and understand the "profound
this-worldliness of Christianity." He writes that the Christian
is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a
man-in-contrast to John the Baptist. He then makes another startling
contrast. He contrasts himself with his old friend Jean Lasserre:
I remember a
conversation I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French
pastor. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do
with our lives. He said he would like to become a saint (and I think
it's quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very
impressed but I disagreed with, and said, in effect, that I should
like to learn to have faith. For a long time I did not realize the
depth of that contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to
live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost
of Discipleship as an end of that path. Today I can see the
dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote. . .
I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment,
that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to
When Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned for his part in an
active plot to assassinate Hitler he had acted with the sense that he
was transgressing normative Christian morality on behalf of something
other. Participation in an act of violent resistance was far from the
biblical ethics of Christian pacifism that he and Lasserre had
preached in Mexico. Bonhoeffer came to understand that to love the
neighbor is to accept some responsibility for the neighbor's history.
He insisted that he accepted this responsibility as a man, not as a
saint, a priest, a righteous individual, or even a churchman. He
accepted it in face of historical ambiguity and infinite mystery. He
accepted it as one living and loving and thinking completely in this
blessed fallen world. He acted in a faith beyond ethical correctness
or dogmatic certitude.
Let me conclude this essay with one of his final poems. Art, like
its closest analogue religion, must be both world confirming and world
disconfirming. It must seek meaning and understanding by means of the
exception and not merely by means of the rule. It must confront one as
"other" yet also touch deeply some analogy of seeing,
hearing, feeling, or thinking because human consciousness requires the
art of connecting. It must probe both the dialectial imagination and
the analogical imagination. In Bonhoeffer's life art possessed the
sacramental power to turn theology into theopoetics:
WHO AM I?
Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which men tell
Or am I only what I know of myself,
Restless and longing and sick like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the
voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely
questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.(27)
On the 9th of April, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at
Flossenburg Concentration Camp only days before its liberation. He was
hanged by the Nazis. He was thirty-nine years old. I would like to
think that in the end there was no great chasm to cross. I would like
to think that in the end, in the dark beauty of worldly holiness, for
Bonhoeffer the Infinite and the intimate became one.(28)
1. [Back to text] The
Bonhoeffer-Barth relationship has often been discussed and debated in
the theological guild. The most comprehensive treatment may be found
in the new book by Andreas Pangritz, Karl Barth in the Theology of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).
2. [Back to text]
Eberhard Bethge's classic biography of Bonhoeffer has recently been
expanded by the author and released in a newly revised edition. Dietrich
Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).
Bethge's full statement on the lonely theologian is as follows:
"With some exaggeration, it might be said that because he was
lonely he became a theologian, and because he became a theologian he
was lonely" (37).
3. [Back to text]
Benjamin as cited in Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr., "Style and
the Critique of Metaphysics: The Letter as Form in Bonhoeffer and
Adorno," in Whitson and Charles Marsh, eds., Theology and the
Practice of Responsibility: Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Valley
Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1994), 239-51. Stanley Cavell
has recently commented on the philosophical or aesthetic importance of
Walter Benjamin in his refusal (or inability) to become a systematic
thinker. See Cavell, "Remains to be Seen: On The Arcades
Project," Art Forum (April 2000) 31-35.
4. [Back to text]
Countee Cullen, "Copper Sun," in Gerald Early, ed., My
Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (New
York: Anchor Books, 1991), 145.
5. [Back to text]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes,
1928-1936 (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 112.
6. [Back to text]
Countee Cullen, The Black Christ and Other Poems (New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1929).
7. [Back to text] The
best study of Bonhoeffer's movement to Christian pacifism is F. Burton
Nelson's "The Relationship of Jean Lassere to Dietrich
Bonhoeffer's Peace Concerns in the Struggle of Church and
Culture," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 8, nos. 1-2
(1985): 71-84. Another important treatment of Bonhoeffer's struggle
around peace and pacifism is Union Professor Larry Rasmussen's, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance (Nashville: Abingdon Press,
8. [Back to text]
Ralph Garlin Clingan, "Against Cheap Grace in a World Come of
Age: A Study in the Hermeneutics of Adam Clayton Powell, 1865-1953, in
His Intellectual Context." A Drew University Ph.D. dissertation (UMI
Microfilm 9732791, Ann Arbor, Mich. 1997).
9. [Back to text] Adam
Clayton Powell, Palestine and Saints in Caesar's Household
(New York: Richard and Smith, 1939), 187.
10. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer discusses his application of polyphony to theology, ethics,
and indeed life with great enthusiasm in his correspondence with
Bethge. See Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison,
Enlarged Edition (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 302-12. The theme of
improvisation (and polyphony) in music and how this musical method and
metaphor can inform other disciplines is explored in an important
special issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
58:2 (Spring, 2000).
11. [Back to text]
Josiah Ulysses Young III, No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich
Bonhoeffer and the Problem of Racism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1998). Bonhoeffer began the development of his theology and sociology
of the social category of the I-Thou relationship in his dissertation.
12. [Back to text]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: The Theological Study of
the Sociology of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998),
55-56. This is the first volume in the newly translated works of
Bonhoeffer, Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr., General Editor. This
philosophy of self and other of course makes one think of Martin
Buber's I and Thou. Those familiar with the philosophy of
Emmanuel Levinas will note possible correlations. See especially
Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1999).
13. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer wrote of his love of the Negro spirituals in No Rusty
Swords, 109. Then he observes in dismay, "Negro singers can
sing those songs before packed concert audiences of whites, to
tumultuous applause, while at the same time these same men and women
are still denied access to the white community through social
14. [Back to text]
See Edward Mendelson, Later Auden (New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 1999), 425-27.
15. [Back to text]
This "notebook" was later published as W. H. Auden, The
Prolific and the Devourer (Hopewell, N.J.: The Ecco Press, 1976).
16. [Back to text]
William Blake, The Complete Poetry and Prose, Newly rev. ed.,
ed. David V. Erdman with commentary by Harold Bloom (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1982), 24-25.
17. [Back to text]
Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer, x.
18. [Back to text]
Bethge, Bonhoeffer, 607.
19. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 17.
20. [Back to text]
Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1992).
21. [Back to text]
The most recent study of this theme is Ralf K. Wustenberg, A
Theology of Life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Religionless Christianity
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
22. [Back to text]
The most interesting piece I have seen on this aesthetic turn is
Carolyn M. Jones, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers
from Prison: Rethinking the Relation of Theology and the Arts,
Literature and Religion," Literature and Theology 9, no. 3
(September 1995): 243-59.
23. [Back to text]
Within the past year new translations of both Bonhoeffer's poetry and
fiction from prison have been published. See Edwin Robertson, ed. and
trans., Voices in the Night: The Prison Poems of Dietrich
Bonhoeffer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) and Clifford J.
Green, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Fiction from Prison
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), in the new series, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer Collected Works, vol. 7. Also see Ruth-Alice Von
Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz, eds., Love Letters from Cell 92: The
Correspondence Between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria Von Wedemyer
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1992).
24. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 310-11.
25. [Back to text] A
good discussion of the evolution of the term aesthetics and its use in
philosophy and theology can found in Richard Viladesau's new work, Theological
Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty and Art (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1999).
26. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 339-40.
27. [Back to text]
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 347-48.
28. [Back to text]
Special thanks is due here to my friend and editorial colleague
Catherine Madsen for insight into this graceful or theopoetic moment
in which "the Infinite and the intimate become one."