Sanctorum Communio by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Sanctorum Communio by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has as it’s subtitle “A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church.” This book is Volume 1 in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. He completed Sanctorum Communio (Latin for Communion of the Saints – or the church community) for his Doctor of Theology degree from Berlin University in 1927, from which he graduated summa cum laude.
Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation sets out the theology of sociality that informed all his work, engaging social philosophy and sociology to interpret the church as “Christ existing as church-community.” Here are the roots of his commitment to the confessing church and the ecumenical movement, and of his actions in the resistance movement for the sake of peace and Germany’s future.
Frankly, this book was very challenging to read. The book’s vocabulary was full of technical philosophical points of argument which I did not completely understand. I read the Logos edition of the book and the footnotes helped me understand the book’s flow. (It is amazing to read this and realize that Bonhoeffer was twenty-one when he finished this dissertation.) Yet Bonhoeffer knows about what he writes. He is well-versed in the arguments and points-of-view of the philosophers and theologians of his today.
I was continually challenged and impressed how much his words and his driving thought about “Christ existing as church-community” speaks to today’s problems. The book’s primary concern is a Christian’s interaction as a society in the local church community. Amazingly, this book speaks to today’s culture. In a world full of “selfies,” Bonhoeffer urges Christians to break out of this mold and be the church in community with one another. Christians today may know the quotable Bonhoeffer from his later more well-known works like Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. Below, I have listed quotes from this book which should inspire every Christian to live out their lives, not as “Lone Rangers” but as what Christ truly intended: church-community. Below are quotes from this book which I found the most insightful.
My real relationship to another person is oriented to my relationship to God.
God’s Love and The Church-Community (63)
The miracle of the Christian concept of community is that love for God involves submission, but that God’s love, in ruling, serves.
Society and Community (91)
…Society is essentially rooted in community.
God’s Love and the Church-Community (105)
all the community relations…can be imagined in a state of integrity…within the originally given religious and social community of love.
In other words, love is the basis of true community.
Love versus Selfishness (107)
The Church-Community and Service (141)
Whereas the previous spirit-form grew out of love, the fall replaced love with selfishness.
…the Christ who governs us leads us to serve each other.
Christ and The Church-Community (142)
Thus the church is already completed in Christ, just as in Christ its beginning is established.
The Holy Spirit and the Church-Community (143)
The Holy Spirit is the will of God that gathers individuals together to be the church-community, maintains it, and is at work only within it.
The Lord’s Supper and Church-Community (150)
Jesus says: just as I break this bread, so my body will be broken tomorrow, and as all of you eat and are filled from one loaf, so too will all of you be saved and united in me alone.
There is one loaf (one church community) and all of us in the community eat it together (as one). In the same way, we are saved and united (as one) in Christ.
The Cross and Loneliness and Isolation (151)
Serving the law leads Jesus to the cross, truly leads him into the most profound solitude that the curse of the law brings upon human beings.
Jesus goes to the cross and experiences the ultimate loneliness that the curse of the law brings to everyone.
Predestination and Election (165)
The predestinarian concept of the church is consequently only a part of the whole concept of the church, and is meaningful and Christian only in connection with the whole.
Predestination and election are for the church-community as a whole, not for individual Christians.
God’s Love versus Self-Love (167)
…what the New Testament calls love: the first, defined positively, is the love of God revealed in Christ; the second, defined negatively, is our self-love.
Love and Church-Community (202)
But the weapon of the Christian church-community is love.
Our age is not short on experiences, but on faith.
Bonhoeffer also shares a very important set of insights about the exclusive nature of Christian love (167-172):
1. Christian love is not a human possibility.
2. It is possible only through faith in Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)
3. Love, as a volitional act, is purposeful. (Luke 10:25)
4. It loves the real neighbor
5. That Christian love knows no limits. (1 John 5:16)
He also shares three great positive possibilities of acting for one another: (1) self-renouncing, active work for the neighbor, (2) intercessory prayer, (3) mutual forgiveness of sins (184).
Personally, I have made a goal to read through all of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works in succession. Already, he has challenged me in my theology and practice as a Christian husband, father, and pastor. This God-centered work challenges the world’s notion that we are individuals who do not need God or His church-community for help. I would encourage any Christian who wants to grow in their faith to read this book.