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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

6 - Human sociality and Christian community

from Part two - Major themes in Bonhoeffer's theology


Bonhoeffer provided the title of this chapter in his doctoral dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, when he said that theological doctrines such as creation, sin and revelation can only be fully understood in terms of sociality. If the venerable English word 'sociality' does not spring to our lips in everyday speech, that reflects the degree to which practical and philosophical individualism pervades modern Anglo-Saxon culture. But to use 'sociality' as a fundamental category to describe Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology is not simply to distinguish German from American and British culture. The reason is essentially theological: 'the concepts of person, community and God are inseparably and essentially interrelated'.

This means that articulating a Christian understanding of human sociality is an inner-theological task. What 'person' and 'community' mean is a question of theological anthropology. It is not as if one could take an already developed interpretation of human social existence and then simply pour Christian content into it. For there are many different systems embedding competing world views: in the modern world, theories of social contract, civil rights, utilitarianism and Marxism have powerfully shaped economic and political systems, and the mentality and mores of whole populations. Similarly, philosophy from Aristotle to the Stoics and up to Idealist epistemology and Hegelianism have all developed views of human persons and social life.