At the age of 21 Dietrich Bonhoeffer successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church. (Click on the cover image at right for more information about the book.) Bonhoeffer’s biographer Eberhard Bethge notes that Karl Barth said of Bonhoeffer’s early work:
I openly confess that I have misgivings whether I can even maintain the high level reached by Bonhoeffer, saying no less in my own words and context, and saying it no less forcefully, than did this young man so many years ago.
I’ve been reading excerpts from Sanctorum Communio (translated into English), from The Bonhoeffer Reader. And… wow. It’s unbelievably good–and would be even if Bonhoeffer had written it years later, but it’s especially remarkable coming at the age of 21.
For now, one quotation will suffice. This is Bonhoeffer on the “vicarious representation” of Christ:
God does not ‘overlook’ sin; that would mean not taking human beings seriously as personal beings in their very culpability; and that would mean no re-creation of the person, and therefore no re-creation of community. But God does take human beings seriously in their culpability, and therefore only punishment and the overcoming of sin can remedy the matter. Both of these have to take place within concrete time, and in Jesus Christ that occurs in a way that is valid for all time. He takes the punishment upon himself, accomplishes forgiveness of sin, and, to use Seeberg’s expression, stands as surety for the renewal of human beings. Christ’s action as vicarious representative can thus be understood from the situation itself.