Bonhoeffer on the Practice of Spiritual Disciplines

In his exposition of Jesus’ words in  Matthew 6:16-18 in Nachfolge (“Discipleship”), Bonhoeffer has this to say about the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines such as fasting:

Jesus takes for granted that disciples will keep the pious practice or exercise of fasting. The life of a disciple requires the strict practice of austerity. The only purpose of such practices is to make disciples more willing and more joyous in following the designated path and doing the works required of them. The selfish and lethargic will, which resists being of service, is disciplined; the flesh is chastened and punished. The practice of austerity makes me fell the estrangement of my Christian life from the world. A life which remains without any ascetic discipline, which indulges in all the desires of the flesh as long as they are “permitted” by the justitia civilis [civil order], will find it difficult to enter the service of Christ. Satiated flesh is unwilling to pray and is unfit for self-sacrificing service (158)

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    I am far too self-indulgent and feel I can comment little on a life which denies indulgence to my shame. That being said, I am not at all sure that I would wish to use the words ‘austerity’ or ‘ascetic discipline’ as words for denying self or denying the flesh. Self-denial is just that – a denial of ‘self’ as lord of my life with a view to enthroning Christ and his will.

    There is something ‘hair-shirt-like’ about Bonhoeffer here. It is almost an RC denial for denial’s sake or for the sake of some spiritual ‘effect’ this denial has. I am not at all sure this is the biblical model or motive. If we ‘fast’ (not a common thing in the epistles) it is with a view to freeing up time for activities like prayer etc and does not seem to be an end in itself (1 Cor 7).

    Humbler and simpler lifestyles I am sure many of us should pursue (leaving aside issues of austerity and ascetic discipline) but not because a humbler and simpler lifestyle is intrinsically godly nor because there is a spiritual value in a simple lifestyle as such but because we live for another world and wish to give our resources to the cause of that world and Kingdom.

    I think of Paul’s texts concerning ascetic practices that… these are of no use in curbing the flesh

    and

    …though I give away all I have and give my body to be burned and have not love, I have nothing.

    Bonhoeffer seems in danger here of identifying ‘the flesh’ with ‘the human body’.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    I am far too self-indulgent and feel I can comment little on a life which denies indulgence to my shame. That being said, I am not at all sure that I would wish to use the words ‘austerity’ or ‘ascetic discipline’ as words for denying self or denying the flesh. Self-denial is just that – a denial of ‘self’ as lord of my life with a view to enthroning Christ and his will.

    There is something ‘hair-shirt-like’ about Bonhoeffer here. It is almost an RC denial for denial’s sake or for the sake of some spiritual ‘effect’ this denial has. I am not at all sure this is the biblical model or motive. If we ‘fast’ (not a common thing in the epistles) it is with a view to freeing up time for activities like prayer etc and does not seem to be an end in itself (1 Cor 7).

    Humbler and simpler lifestyles I am sure many of us should pursue (leaving aside issues of austerity and ascetic discipline) but not because a humbler and simpler lifestyle is intrinsically godly nor because there is a spiritual value in a simple lifestyle as such but because we live for another world and wish to give our resources to the cause of that world and Kingdom.

    I think of Paul’s texts concerning ascetic practices that… these are of no use in curbing the flesh

    and

    …though I give away all I have and give my body to be burned and have not love, I have nothing.

    Bonhoeffer seems in danger here of identifying ‘the flesh’ with ‘the human body’.

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