Disruption of the Word: revelatory community in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reception of G.W.F. Hegel
Robinson, David Scott
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Many scholars identify the phrase ‘Christ existing as community’ as a pivotal expression in the theological and ethical works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Although it is acknowledged that Bonhoeffer adapts the phrase from G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), the two figures have not been brought together in a sustained critical treatment. This gap in scholarship can be partly attributed to Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran polemic against philosophical idealism for its susceptibility to the ‘incurvature’ of human reason, while Bonhoeffer’s political acts of resistance seem to further distance him from Hegel, an alleged proponent of state ‘absolutism’. The primary aim of this thesis is to challenge such surface contradictions by providing a nuanced account of Bonhoeffer’s reception of Hegel as he pursues their common interest in the ‘revelatory’ quality of a particular faith community. I argue that Bonhoeffer’s eclectic use of his source material is rooted in the awareness that Hegel derives core aspects of his logic from theological claims. Such philosophical derivation can lead to estrangement with its doctrinal origin, which Bonhoeffer identifies in Hegel’s ‘docetic’ distinction between idea and appearance in the coming of Jesus Christ, as well as in Hegel’s diminishment of the ‘confessing’ identity of the church vis-à-vis the state. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer also sees much of value in Hegel’s thought, from the socialising notion of ‘objective Geist’ to a trenchant characterisation of the ‘cleaving’ mind. A secondary aim of the thesis is to present Bonhoeffer’s variations on Hegel as a promising resource for theologians in light of a pervasive ‘idealist’ legacy in modern theology. To that end, this thesis provides a vital precedent for investigation into how faith and reason are socially composed, how a sacramental event might be conveyed conceptually, and what forms of recognition exist between the state and religious bodies.