The tension between “risk” and “guilt” in the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exploration of responsible life


  • Karola Radler Stellenbosch University



This article discusses the two definitions for a responsible life and action that the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides in his book Ethics, which suggest that accepting Schuld – taking on guilt, debt, or an obligation – seems to override the risk involved in responsibility. A comparison of Stellvertretung, Schuldübernahme, and Zurechnung of the German codified civil law and their dogmatic intricacies shows that Bonhoeffer adopted jurisprudential thought into his theology of acting responsibly through taking on Schuld in accordance with Jesus Christ, the incarnated God who once existed in human reality and acted on the cross as Stellvertreter for humanity. Embracing elements of the sub-constitutional German civil law tradition of the bourgeois liberal-democratic movement of the 19th century served Bonhoeffer to emphasize, as part of his resistance to a dehumanizing totalitarian political system, an independent private space of freedom that is removed from the public sphere.






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