Ethics for this world

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer died on April 9, 1945, few would have predicted his influence on theology at the beginning of the 21st century. As word of his execution reached his friends and colleagues during the chaotic days at the end of the war in Europe, Reinhold Niebuhr praised Bonhoeffer’s courage, but noted that he had been “too busy in the affairs of a militant church to state his own position in many books.”

Niebuhr at that point knew little of what Bonhoeffer had left behind. His collected writings fill 16 large volumes in German, and a complete English translation of this critical edition is now under way. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer’s theological writing came to an unplanned and untimely end, and the book on ethics that he expected to be his most important work was left in fragments—13 manuscripts and 115 handwritten notes.

 

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