Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s philosophical acumen is evident in his academic dissertations, Act and Being and Sanctorium Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church* where he gives a masterly analysis of the relationship between Kantian transcendental idealism, Heideggerian phenomenology and the social ontology of the church. But Bonhoeffer’s theological analysis necessarily took a concrete turn when the Germany was confronted by an existential threat as Hitler began to impose an idolatrous ideology (National Socialism) aimed at building a homogeneous collectivity of single-minded obedient citizens. The Nazi regime proceeded to arrogate power to appoint leaders for the German Evangelical Church, control of its finance and governance structures. Any church which resisted would have its pastors arrested and its property confiscated.
[* Karl Barth described Bonhoeffer’s book Sanctorium Communio as a miracle and gave it the highest praise. “I openly confess that I have misgivings whether I can even maintain the high level reached by Bonhoeffer, saying no less in my own words and context, and saying it no less forcefully, than did this young man so many years ago”]
Never is freedom valued more than when it is forcibly taken away. Bonhoeffer himself experienced the blunt instrument of political tyranny when his radio address warning Germany not to be seduced by the idolatrous cult of the Fuhrer was abruptly cut off the air. The proclamation of German transcendental idealism about the sovereign ego and the supreme freedom of man sounded hollow when the social institutions of freedom and justice were being hijacked by totalitarianism. Bonhoeffer therefore asserted that the ontological foundation of freedom rests on authentic human relationships based on mutual recognition. Continue reading “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Freedom under Tyranny”