Friday, October 20, 2006

Sanctorum Communio, reflections on Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his first (of two!) dissertations (at age 21!!!) for his Ph.D on "Santorum Communio," the Sacred Community, the sanctified community. For him, the community, and the communion of Christians was essential for the Christian life. In the collection of his Letters and Papers from Prison, he offers many reflections on community...

From a letter to his parents – 14 June 1943
“I have also been considering again the strange story of the gift of tongues. That the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, as a result of which people can no longer understand each other, because everyone speaks a different language, should at last be brought to an end and overcome by the language of God, which everyone understands and through which alone people can understand each other again, and that the church should be the place where that happens – these are great momentous thoughts.” (Letters and Papers from Prison, 53)

The first reflection describes communion as the place where we can finally hear and listen to one another ... this truly happens only through the action of God. There is something deeply helpful and also challenging here. True communion may not really be possible without the gift of God's grace ... we work for it, and we approach it, but can we ever really know it?

to his parents – 13 Sept 1943
“It is a strange feeling to be so completely dependent on other people; but at least it teaches one to be grateful, and I hope I shall never forget that. In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. Its very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe to others.” (Letters and Papers from Prison, 109)

We don't really like to feel dependent, and Bonhoeffer knew dependence more than most ... living in prison. Dependency reminds us that all we have is gift, and that we must bind ourselves to one another in order to survive. I wonder how we help remind people of their communal lives and the ways in which we all are dependent upon one another.


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