Becoming simple and wise: the place of moral discernment in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of Christian Ethics
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
Kaiser, Joshua Andrew
In this thesis I argue for the centrality of moral discernment in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of Christian ethics. I contend that a close reading of his understudied Ethics manuscript, ‘God’s Love and the Disintegration of the World’, not only reveals the importance of discernment, but also exposes a tension in his thinking between a simple, unreflective approach to God’s will and a rational, reflective mode of moral deliberation. At several points in the 1930s and early 1940s, his emphasis on simplicity seems to preclude the very idea of moral reflection; however, a closer inspection reveals that the two are not mutually exclusive. I argue that Bonhoeffer’s theology contains the necessary resources to incorporate, on Christological grounds, both simplicity and reflective moral deliberation into a coherent vision of moral discernment. Furthermore, I contend that this conceptual unity, premised on the relationship between Christ’s two natures, becomes efficacious in the lives of Christians through a process of conformation to the form of Christ, which includes as an essential element the disciplined practice of spiritual exercises. Finally, drawing on Bonhoeffer's entire corpus, I investigate the theme of God’s commandment, focusing in particular on simple obedience, and the concept of natural life, paying special attention to the shape of the created order. I conclude that simple obedience, while precluding self-centred moral reflection, nevertheless creates space for meditative reflection that understands reality through a Christological lens. In so doing, this meditative reflection finds its orientation in the natural, penultimate world, which serves as a crucial context and guide for those who want to become simple and wise.