Ethics as Formation, by Dietrich Bonhoffer

‘The form of Christ is one and the same at all times and in all places. And the Church of Chrisrt is also one and the same throughout all generations. An yet Christ is not a principal in accordance with which the whole world must be shaped. Christ is not the proclaimer of a system of what would be good today, here and at all times. Christ teaches no abstract ethics such as must at all costs be put into practice. Christ was not essentially a teacher and legislator, but a man, a real man like ourselves. And it is not therefore His will that we should in our time be the adherents, exponents and advocates, but that we should be men, real men before God. Christ did not, like a moralist, love a theory of good, but he loved the real man. He was not, like a philosopher, interested in the “universally valid,” but rather in that which is of help to the real and concrete human being. What worried Him was not, like Kant, whether ‘”maxim of an action can become a principal of general legislation,” but whether my action is at this moment helping my neighbor become a man before God. For indeed it is not written that God became an idea, a principle, a programme, a universally valid proposition or a law, but that God became man. This means that though the form of Christ certainly is and remains one and the same, yet it is willing to take form in the real man, that is to say, in quite different guises. Christ does not dispense with human reality for the sake of an idea which demands realization at the expense of the real. What Christ does is precisely to give effect to reality. He affirms reality. And indeed, He is Himself the real man and consequently the foundation of all human reality. And so formation with Christ has this double implication. The form of Christ remains one and the same, not as a general idea but in its own unique character as the incarnate, crucified and risen God. And precisely for the sake of Christ’s form the form of the rel man is preserved, and in this way the real man receives the form of Christ.’ (Ethics, p. 86)


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