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Jesus for you: a feminist reading of Bonhoeffer's Christology.

In a previously published essay I outlined how I see Dietrich Bonhoeffer's spirituality related to his upbringing as a dominating, aggressive self and how naive reading of his work can prove disastrous when uncritically applied to people in very different social locations, such as women in abuse. (1) In the present essay I move on to explore how Bonhoeffer's strong Christology in particular speaks to women in abuse and others with degraded self-conceptions. This essay derives from several overarching questions having to do with Bonhoeffer's own spiritual experience of Jesus Christ, his articulation of this experience in formal Christology, and the conversation arising when this Christology encounters people living in power relations different from those that shaped Bonhoeffer.

So: What is the transformation Bonhoeffer experienced in his encounter with Jesus Christ? What are the contours of redemption women trapped in the shadows of reality need? And how--both with and against the grain of his legacy--can Bonhoeffer's Christology provide an authentically Lutheran spirituality of transformation for people in social locations very different from his own?

I attempt here to bring together into one conversation Bonhoeffer's Christology and the psychological and spiritual needs of women in abuse. Such a specification in no way limits the relevance of this inquiry to victims or survivors of abuse. But women in abuse represent an extreme instance of the selfhood that characterizes many women to some degree, as well as those men who have internalized familial or social rejection into the self-silencing, self-attacking submission characteristic of soluble selves. Thus, the essay may prove germane to central aspects of the experience of a wide audience. We see revealed the recurring biblical motif of the paradoxical and surprising centrality of precisely those persons regarded (by their oppressors, by society, and even by themselves) as marginal, failed, invisible, or worthless.

That the experience of battered women could shed new light on the teachings of the great Bonhoeffer in ways that prove illuminating for many beyond themselves may seem improbable. Yet, were he alive today, Bonhoeffer might be among the first to acknowledge the Christian mystery at work here: that attention to these bruised and bleeding bodies and spirits, despised and rejected by the powerful, both radically contextualizes (or even subverts) the best wisdom of the wise, and in fact reveals the very heart of God for the world. (2) I begin with an overarching critique of Bonhoeffer's notions of the relation between self and other; this will make possible a more nuanced exploration of his Christology.

Self and other

Various scholars have commented on the striking other-orientation in Bonhoeffer, finding it a salutary Christian alternative to the self-indulgent pieties of American consumerism and privilege, and locating him within a developing tradition of philosophical alterity manifest also in such thinkers as Adorno and Levinas (3) as well as in subsequent liberation theology. (4) From the beginning of his writings Bonhoeffer identifies the "other" (whether divine or human) as the experienced locus of transcendence, drawing a person's attention away from one's own self as "totally claimless," sterile, and isolated to find authentic life and reality in surrender to the "absolute demands" of the other. (5) From the philosophical categories of Sanctorum Communio, through the powerfully enacted surrender to Christ in Discipleship and to the human other in confession and service in community (Life Together), he continued to develop this motif of the priority of the other over the self for Christian maturity. And at the end of his life, even as he was beginning to notice problems with this "unconditional surrender" of self to other, nevertheless the dominant tone of his writings in this regard is still that of the sheer joy and freedom he experiences in radical self-surrender, a process simultaneously sacrificial and redemptive. That is, in one's own becoming a "person for others" one participates in the very being and mystery of Jesus Christ himself, the consummate person for others. Thus for him
a transformation of all human life is given in the fact that "Jesus is
there only for others." His "being there for others" is the experience
of transcendence. It is only this "being there for others," maintained
until death, that is the ground of his omnipotence, omniscience, and
omnipresence. Faith is participation in this being of Jesus
(incarnation, cross, and resurrection). Our relation to God is not a
"religious" relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being
imaginable--that is not authentic transcendence--but our relation to God
is a new life in "existence for others," through participation in the
being of Jesus. (6)

This statement from August 1944 could stand as a summary of his lifelong reflection on and practice of the transcendence of the other and the transparency to Jesus Christ thereby disclosed.

We find similarly moving reflections in these late writings on the relative place of the self as well, showing again how for Bonhoeffer this focus away from the self and toward the needs of others draws him into the heart of the paschal mystery itself:
It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation
in the sufferings of God in the secular life. That is metanoia: not in
the first place thinking about one's own needs, problems, sins, and
fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus
Christ, into the messianic event (Isaiah 53) ... living unreservedly in
life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and
perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of
God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the
world--watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that
is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a human being and a Christian
(cf. Jeremiah 45!). (7)

Clearly this is the way of life for him; and to turn away from it, in self-protective repudiation of the other, would mean a denial of Jesus Christ himself and thus of one's own authentic existence. For him, to the end, the overall shape of sin ultimately remained the same: the selfish denial of the transcendent claims of the other.

Yet, as difficult as it is to dispute the Christian truth of these assertions, these faith statements emerge not from some universally valid human reality but from a specific psychosocial stance: that of the separative self, the traditionally socialized male. In contrast, Carol Gilligan's studies at Harvard have revealed a very different configuration of human selfhood and reality. In longitudinal studies of girls growing into adolescence, she and her colleagues noted pervasive problems having more to do with a silencing of oneself, and over-orientation to others' judgments, than with the ignoring of others that Bonhoeffer so feared in himself. (8) As psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin asserts,
The complement to the male refusal to recognize the other is the woman's
own acceptance of her lack of subjectivity, her willingness to offer
recognition without expecting it in return.... The female difficulty in
differentiation can be described almost as the mirror image of the
male's: not the denial of the other, but the denial of the self. (9)

Thus, while many Christian women throughout the past half-century have found powerful resonance with Bonhoeffer's prison writings, being drawn into participation in the very being of Jesus through attention to the sufferings of God in others, even these lovely writings assume a stance all too familiar to women in abuse. For them, "being there for others" manifestly fails to redeem. It is not a window opening into the experience of transcendence. Instead, this focus on others and their needs, desires, and demands to the exclusion of oneself is the shape of an excruciating life, indeed the pattern of sin. (10) What for Bonhoeffer was the liberating experience of surrender, joy, and solidarity with others is for these women a grinding day-to-day suffocation. (11) Not taking one's own sufferings seriously is for them the hallmark of daily life. It is what makes continued submission possible, but it is in no way a path to freedom and life in Jesus Christ. Quite the opposite: What feels liberating and lifegiving to Bonhoeffer merely seals the prison doors for his abused sisters in Christ. For them, what is revolutionary, breathtaking, and truly illuminative of reality would be a spirituality that in equally compelling terms invites them to "be there for themselves" and asserts that such unheard-of presence to themselves is precisely their means of participation in Jesus who is there for them. And what opens those prison doors for Christian women in abuse is the obverse of Bonhoeffer's, namely, to learn at last, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to cease denying themselves, to take with ultimate seriousness the sufferings of God in their own flesh and hearts, and to tune out the overwhelming clamoring needs and demands of the abuser.

I earlier suggested that Bonhoeffer, writing from the perspective of the separative self, knew well the lonely emptiness and rages of the dominating ego manifested in its extreme form in abusers. I suggested that this is the voice that needs to be "turned down" for both abusers and victims: for abusers or others in positions of privilege or dominance in learning to look away from their own egos and attend to others (here Bonhoeffer can be helpful to them), and for victims in learning similarly to look away from the abuser's demands, to see and attend to themselves. (12) In both cases, all attention is initially focused on the abuser's face and voice; in both cases, both parties learn to turn away from this and attend for the first time also to the victim--here, the woman as primordial "other" (13)--and find God there.

The question underlying this shift is, therefore, What happens when the "other," the "non-self," is oneself? When soluble selves read Bonhoeffer, I suggest, they do not find their position reflected in that of the "self" he assumes but in the "other." Thus they must often learn to substitute "self" for "other" and "other" for "self" in his writings in order to make the redemptive move analogous to his--that is, in their case from focus on the abuser/other to focus on oneself. (14)

For women taught their entire lives that their goodness and survival depend on their focus on others and service to them, this shift in attention toward the self feels terrifying and impossible, if not downright un-Christian. We see how important, then, the development of a powerfully Christian alternative to spiritualities of self-renunciation is, as well as the capacity for mature discernment of the sufferings and life of God courting our attention in any given context, even if those sufferings are one's own and not only those of others. For many women in abuse, "watching with Christ in Gethsemane" might turn out to have a great deal to do with learning not to turn away from oneself toward others but, contra Bonhoeffer, to begin to take seriously their own sufferings, perhaps for the first time. I am suggesting that, for them, precisely that "is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a human being and a Christian."

The work of Christ

As is well known, Bonhoeffer's spirituality is highly christocentric. A crucial element of any Christology is of course its conception of Jesus' redemptive work, (15) which Bonhoeffer treats under the heading of Stellvertretung, or "vicarious representative action." This term describes for him both Jesus' role and how Christians are to imitate him. Just as Jesus was the "person for others," so the Christian is to be a person for others, and "the church is the church only when it exists for others." (16) Christians are to be Christ's Stellvertreter (representatives) in similarly self-sacrificial devotion to others; for Bonhoeffer, this is a central means of participation in Jesus' own cruciform life in the world. In a context where, by 1940, even the Confessing Church was struggling for its own survival rather than speaking out on behalf of the Jews and other Nazi victims, Bonhoeffer considered such ecclesial focus on self-preservation a sign of badly skewed vision, a striking failure to discern and participate in the form of Christ in the world. It is precisely this shape of Jesus' own life poured out for the world that underlies Christians' Stellvertretung and Bonhoeffer's risky move in solidarity with victims of Nazi evil into the conspiracy opposing Hitler. In his Ethics he writes,
Jesus--life, our life--the Son of God who became human, lived as our
vicarious representative [Stellvertreter]. Through him, therefore, all
human life is in its essence vicarious representation.... His entire
living, acting, and suffering was vicarious representative action
[Stellvertretung]. All that human beings were supposed to live, do, and
suffer was fulfilled in him. In this real vicarious representative
action, in which his human existence consists, he is the responsible
human being par excellence. Since he is life, all of life through him is
destined to be vicarious representative action. (17)

Thus Bonhoeffer sees the primary significance of the outpouring of Jesus' life in being a model for our lives of similarly devoted love toward others and action on their behalf. This allows him to restate at the end of his life themes first sounded in Sanctorum Communio. For he goes on immediately to write, "Vicarious representative action and therefore responsibility is possible only in completely devoting one's own life to another person. Only those who are selfless live responsibly, which means that only selfless people truly live." (18)

All we know about the very different context of women in abuse indicates that this Christology is not adequate for them. Selflessness and surrender, Christlike martyrdoms in imitation of Jesus' suffering for and with others, only reinforce the cycle of abuse and are far from redemptive. The new translation of Stellvertretung may well use the term "vicarious representative action," but in regard to Jesus' work very little emphasis for Bonhoeffer falls on its truly vicarious nature. His interest is in developing the implications for Christians of their own vocation to Christlike action in the world. This is obviously in no way unbiblical; yet by his great emphasis on Jesus as essentially "for others," making us "persons for others" as well, he tends to overlook Jesus as, crucially, for me. The pro me-ity of Lutheran christological spirituality is not entirely absent from Bonhoeffer's thinking, but it clearly takes a back seat. He seems to speak from a place already among the inner circle and is interested then in how he, with Jesus, should relate to others.

Again, this is to my mind an instance of Bonhoeffer's gendered tendency to locate himself and his presumed audience as selves, rather than others. For those who have been forced into the "other" location, however, the description of Jesus as the person for others could read differently. That is, it could mean that he is fundamentally "for me as an 'other.'" When Bonhoeffer is read against the grain, when Jesus' focus on others turns out to include oneself, the significance of this other-centeredness of Jesus is not first that it requires one's own ongoing other-focus like his. Rather, for those who are "others" it points out Jesus' great love of oneself, his embrace of one's own alienated or suppressed self through every dimension of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus' unceasing devotion makes a person no longer merely "other" but a holy center able by grace to receive him and the outpoured life he offers.

For women in abuse, then, a liberating christological spirituality of Stellvertretung must include the truly vicarious aspect of Jesus' life and death. Prior to any statements about enacted responsibility toward others, Jesus is simply gift, "for me." The full pro me-ity of Jesus' attention enacts spiritually what the patient-focus of truly healing therapeutic relationships does psychologically: both create the attentive and unwavering focus of transformative "holding space." (19) First and foremost, contra Bonhoeffer here, the life and death of Jesus are not merely a model to follow on behalf of others, keeping women (or anyone) continually crucified and focused on their oppressors' needs. Jesus' death is once and for all, completely vicarious in its redemptive power. This death ends death and bursts forth into resurrection. These wounds heal wounds and do not inflict them. This One for others is, always, for me, and the blood and water flowing from his body, his heart, are meant to birth and nourish, not to justify continuing hemorrhage. Marginalized and rejected, Jesus himself becomes "other" in solidarity with all "others," in order to redeem each one for holy new self-centering, for conformation to one's own authentic being in him, for selfhood that is able to love in freedom and abundance.

This is very far from the complete surrender of oneself that Bonhoeffer names as the heart of Christian Stellvertretung, the radical selflessness long associated with his courage and martyrdom and taught widely in his name. Yet, interestingly, in the very next paragraph of the Ethics, after Bonhoeffer states that Stellvertretung consists of "completely devoting one's own life to another person," he makes a striking assertion. For the first time in his published writings he posits two ways the relation between self and other can go awry: one may "absolutize either my own self or the other person." (20) The first of these, of course, is the problem Bonhoeffer has deplored in himself for years, against which so many of his writings inveigh. But the second is new here and quite revolutionary. He is asserting the equal dangers that can result from the absolutizing of another person-the very problem that befalls soluble selves. He goes on to assert that in this case
the welfare of the other person for whom I am responsible is made
absolute while ignoring all other responsibilities. This leads to an
arbitrariness in my action which makes a mockery of my responsibility
before God, who in Jesus Christ is the God of all people. (21)

Bonhoeffer is beginning to name the possibility that complete surrender to other people may actually not be such a good idea in all circumstances. That is, he suggests that even "responsibility" can betaken too far if a single commitment or relationship throws out of balance a person's obligations to the full scope of his or her responsibilities, including (one might suggest) one's own health, vocation, desires, conscience, and worth. This echoes the Harvard researchers' findings that just such an imbalance characterizes the lives of contemporary U.S. adolescent girls, who learn to overvalue relationships (especially the romantic type) at the cost of connection to their own bodies, selves, and voices. (22)


Such an imbalance in favor of one overblown responsibility signals for Bonhoeffer the neglect of one's ultimate responsibility to God, who is the God of oneself as well as of the other person. Over-responsibility toward a particular person or situation therefore is a form of idolatry, attempting to set up an absolute principle (i.e., an abstraction) and denying the ever-shifting concreteness of well-discerned vocation in every new situation. He goes on to say that, whether a person absolutizes one's own ego or another person, "the origin, essence, and goal of responsible life is denied in both cases, and responsibility [itself] has become a self-made, abstract idol." (23)

This is an important distinction to be heard among those for whom responsibility has indeed become an idol, those whose devotion to an abusive other blinds them to the profound costs for themselves and others of such overresponsibility and distracts them from the fearsome yet liberating necessity of discerning God's call to them and their true responsibilities. In other places, Bonhoeffer's ethics of responsibility can sound like an echo of the self-abnegating focus on others that often marks women's lives, especially in situations of abuse. These words, therefore, come as an important caveat that one's ultimate responsibility, always, is to the living God, to whose call even the most central responsibilities must yield. And they make possible an embrace of responsibility that takes seriously all the interwoven obligations and relations of a human life, learning to weigh them against one another in an ongoing process of balance and discernment according to the ultimate responsibility of faithfulness to God.

I have hypothesized that it was Bonhoeffer's own movement out of safety and privilege that made possible his increasing awareness of the needs of the self toward the end of his life, along with the dangers of some of the more one-sided formulations of his earlier career. We see this in the passage above, where the responsible life of Stellvertretung comes into clearer focus late in his life within this new, broader awareness of abuses against both others and oneself. The same tentatively emerging awareness appears in regard to the vicarious nature of Jesus' own suffering. In Bonhoeffer's last writing preserved before his arrest, an unfinished circular letter to the scattered Finkenwalde community, he seems to perceive for the first time the danger of seeing Stellvertretung solely as a Christ-shaped model for our own parallel action:
... we must guard ourselves against confusing ourselves with Christ.
Christ endured all suffering and all human guilt himself in full
measure--indeed, this was what made him Christ, that he and he alone
bore it all. But Christ was able to suffer along with others because he
was simultaneously able to redeem from suffering. Out of his love and
power to redeem people came his power to suffer with them. We are not
called to take upon ourselves the suffering of all the world; by
ourselves we are fundamentally not able to suffer with others at all,
because we are not able to redeem.... We are called only to gaze full of
joy at the One who in reality suffered with us and became the Redeemer.
Full of joy, we are enabled to believe that there was and is One to whom
no human suffering or sin is foreign and who in deepest love
accomplished our redemption. Only in such joy in Christ the Redeemer
shall we be preserved from hardening ourselves where human suffering
encounters us, and from becoming resigned under the experience of
suffering. Only to the extent we believe in Christ, to the extent
we ... to Christ. (24)

A great myth that keeps people in abusive relationships is that the suffering endured is somehow holy, even redemptive, in its Christlikeness. Bonhoeffer's reflections here are important in helping people release that misconception: Only Jesus is God, not I. For those struggling to love an abuser, these words can release them from the temptation to be the Messiah trying to redeem the beloved's agony by suffering it with or even somehow for him or her. Instead, Bonhoeffer gives permission to let Jesus be the one to go deep into the abuser's heart and pain, for he is the only one whose mitleiden (compassionate shared suffering) can ever, however slowly and mysteriously, prove redemptive. This frees the partner to let go, to release the impossible responsibility of the other's salvation, and to turn for salvation to this same com/passionate One. There a woman in abuse can meet at last the One who is truly present for her; and there she can begin, in time, to discern the deeper contours of her own authentic responsibility to herself, to others, and to God.

I have argued that Bonhoeffer's implicit view of human selfhood and its characteristic forms of sin, and thus his view of Jesus' redemptive work, emerge from a social location of privilege. He writes for those who, like himself, are in positions of dominance and whose sins are those of domination; for them, Jesus liberates from the tyranny of violation and frees them to take notice of others, to be "persons for others" in sacrificial and transforming ways. Such configurations of self, sin, and redemption are hardly universal. To preach them as such, even (or especially) in the name of Bonhoeffer, does incalculable damage in obscuring the ways the Spirit might be desiring to move in persons whose selves and needs are very different. Because Bonhoeffer is such an important Lutheran conversation partner, I am committed to a more careful retrieval of his life and legacy. Using his own insistence on discernment anew in every new situation, I find him an incarnational Lutheran pray-er committed to resisting evil and helpful as a resource even against his own blind spots and those of the tradition. Bonhoeffer really is a treasure of our heritage. A reading that takes account of his biases, even as it appreciates his gifts, will let his legacy shine with the liberating presence of Jesus Christ for our time as well.

The term translated "suffer with" here is mitleiden, the verbal form of the German word for compassion, Mitleid. Bonhoeffer is creating a juxtaposition between leiden and mitleiden that is beautiful and crucial to his meaning. I originally translated mitleiden with "have compassion." This carries the implied connection to Mitleid-as-compassion and also echoes the use of Leiden (suffering) in Jesus' own Passion: so, "passion/compassion" for leiden/mitleiden. But this translation does not encompass the other primary, and more literal, meaning of mitleiden, namely, "to suffer with." This carries Bonhoeffer's meaning better, that Jesus is the only one who can truly "suffer with" others because he is the only one who can redeem them. Our compassion, he asserts, while essential, is not able to reach the level of shared suffering that alone is redemptive.

Lisa E. Dahill

Trinity Lutheran Seminary

1. "Reading from the Underside of Selfhood: Bonhoeffer and Spiritual Formation," in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, ed. Elizabeth A. Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 249-66.

2. It is no coincidence that Bonhoeffer's love and grasp of this mystery deepens precisely as he himself moves into the place of the marginalized, the captive, the tortured--as he too learns the revelatory power of the "view from below" ("After Ten Years," Letters and Papers from Prison [hereafter LPP], enlarged edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald Fuller et al. [New York: Macmillan, 1971], 17). Perhaps sensing his own imminent relegation to this position, but clearly growing in his sense of its central hermeneutical significance for Christians, Bonhoeffer wrote in this essay, shortly before his imprisonment, "We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more [fruitful] principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune."

3. See, e.g., Wayne Whitson Floyd Jr., Theology and the Dialectics of Otherness: On Reading Bonhoeffer and Adorno (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988); Lori Brandt Hale, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Question of the Other," paper presented to the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, Berlin, August 2000; Tiemo Rainer Peters, "Der andere ist unendlich wichtig. Impulse aus Bonhoeffers Ekklesiologie fur die Gegenwart," in Die Prasenz des verdrangten Gottes: Glaube, Religionslosigkeit und Weltverant-wortung nach Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. Christian Gremmels and Ilse Todt (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1987), 166-84; Elias Bongmba, "The Priority of the Other: Ethics in Africa: Perspectives from Bonhoeffer and Levinas," in Bonhoeffer for a New Day, ed. John de Gruchy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 175-89; and David F. Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), which draws together themes of self and other from Levinas, Jungel, and Ricoeur; see especially the chapter "Polyphonic Living: Dietrich Bonhoeffer," 241-65. An interesting subject to explore would be the shifts in usage between the (predominantly male) postmodern and/or Christian language of the newly "decentered" self; feminist and other attempts to reclaim notions of "self-centering" for those who have traditionally struggled with all too fragmented selves; and Bonhoeffer's own key notion of "Christ the Center," developed most fully in his Christology lectures (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke [DBW] 12, ed. Carsten Nicolaisen and Ernst-Albert Scharffe-north (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1997), 279-348). A recent overview of these motifs especially in feminist writings, making prominent use of the image of the "center," is Lucinda A. Stark Huffaker, Creative Dwelling: Empathy and Clarity in God and Self, AAR Academy Series, ed. Barbara A. Holdrege, no. 98 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998).

4. On Bonhoeffer's importance for subsequently emerging liberation theology, see Gustavo Gutierrez, "Theology from the Underside of History," in The Power of the Poor in History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983), 169-221; G. Clarke Chapman Jr., "Bonhoeffer and Liberation Theology," in Ethical Responsibility: Bonhoeffer's Legacy to the Churches, ed. John D. Godsey and Geffrey B. Kelly (New York and Toronto: Edwin Mellen, 1981), 147-95; and Julio de Santa Ana, "The Influence of Bonhoeffer on the Theology of Liberation," The Ecumenical Review 28 (1976): 188-97.

5. Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, ed. Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English (hereafter DBWE), vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 54. In language typical of the studies of Bonhoeffer and alterity, for instance, Hale writes, "Bonhoeffer ... embraces the recognition that both divine and human otherness ... genuinely transcend the subject, the 'I'" ("Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Question of the Other," 4). Also, the Editor's Introduction to Sanctorum Communio asserts: "The other transcends the self in ethical encounter--indeed, the human You is a form and analogy of the divine You in precisely this present otherness. This personal-ethical model of transcendence ... is found throughout Bonhoeffer's theology" (p. 5f.).

6. LPP 381.

7. LPP 361f. (July 18, 1944) and 370 (July 21, 1944).

8. Cf. Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls' Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992). See also Gilligan et al., Making Connections (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); Gilligan et al., Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance (Binghamton, NY: Haworth, 1991); and Jill McLean Taylor, Gilligan, and Amy M. Sullivan, Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).

9. Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 78; emphasis added.

10. For an overview of contemporary Christian feminist thinking on the subject of sin, especially as to its characteristically female manifestations, see Mary Elise Lowe, "Woman Oriented Hamartiologies: A Survey of the Shift from Powerlessness to Right Relationship," Dialog: A Journal of Theology 39/2 (Summer 2000): 119-39; and Brita Gill-Austern, "Love Understood as Self-Sacrifice and Self-Denial: What Does It Do to Women?" in Through the Eyes of Women: Insights for Pastoral Care, ed. Jeanne Stevenson Moessner (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 304-21.

11. Bernice Martin, "Whose Soul Is It Anyway? Domestic Tyranny and the Suffocated Soul," in On Losing the Soul: Essays in the Social Psychology of Religion, ed. Richard K. Fenn and Donald Capps (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 69-96. Janet Jacobs explores the "endangered" self with particular attention to women suffering violence in "The Endangered Female Self and the Search for Identity," in The Endangered Self, ed. Richard K. Fenn and Donald Capps (Princeton, NJ: Center for Religion, Self, and Society, 1992), 37-46.

12. Cf. Dahill, "Reading from the Underside." To use the language of Sanctorum Communio (65-80), the abuser needs to grow in the direction of the "openness" of the self toward others, while the abuse victim needs to learn to recognize and protect her own "closedness."

13. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 1952).

14. For instance, in a 1932 essay Bonhoeffer writes (in English--the "man" language is his own): "Man 'in' and 'after' the fall refer[s] everything to himself, puts himself in the center of the world, does violence to reality, makes himself God, and God and the other man his creatures" (DBW 10:425). A person reading Bonhoeffer against the grain, substituting "other" for his use of "self" categories and vice versa, reads of the paradigmatic sin of submission: "Woman 'in' and 'after' the fall refer[s] everything to the other, puts the other in the center of the world, does violence to reality, makes the other God, and God and oneself the other's creatures." The fact that such a sentence reads as an obvious overgeneralization (how can one possibly speak of "woman" as a single category?) highlights again the even greater magnitude of Bonhoeffer's original generalization intending to speak for all people (as "man").

15. The other primary heading of traditional Christology is the person of Christ. Although I do not develop this topic here, it is crucial as well for feminist appropriation of Bonhoeffer's spirituality. See my dissertation, "Reading from the Underside of Selfhood: Bonhoeffer and Spiritual Formation" (Princeton Theological Monograph Series [Pickwick Publications/Wipf & Stock], in press), chap. 5, section C.1. On Bonhoeffer's Christology generally see Hans-Jurgen Abromeit, Das Geheimnis Christi: Dietrich Bonhoeffers erfahrungsbezogene Christologie, Neukirch-ner Beitrage zur systematischen Theologie, vol. 8 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991); Andreas Pangritz, "'Who Is Jesus Christ for Us Today?'" in The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. John W. deGruchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 134-53; Harry Aveling, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christology," Colloquium 16/1 (October 1983): 23-30; and John A. Phillips, Christ for Us in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

16. LPP 382.

17. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss et al., DBWE vol. 6 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 258f.

18. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 259. The earlier translation used the language of complete "surrender" of one's self to another. The German term here is Hingabe, or "giving oneself over" [to another person or reality]; dictionary definitions include also "dedication," "devotion," "sacrifice," or "self-abandon/ment."

19. On the image of "holding space," see, e.g., D. W. Winnicott, "The Capacity to Be Alone," in The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment (New York: International Universities Press, 1965).

20. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 259; emphasis added.

21. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 259. This sentence follows his description of the evil that results from an absolutizing of one's own ego, which "leads to violation and tyranny" against others. The word translated "violation" here is the German Vergewaltigung, which literally means "rape." In my earlier essay I traced this use of the language of rape in Bonhoeffer to describe the sins of domination he considers paradigmatic.

22. Cited in note 8. See also Lori Stern, "Disavowing the Self in Female Adolescence," Women and Therapy 11/3-4 (1990): 105-17.

23. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 259.

24. Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, DBWE 16, ed. Mark S. Brocker, trans. Lisa E. Dahill (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 378. The letter breaks off at this point.
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Author:Dahill, Lisa E.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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