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Stellvertretung as Vicarious Suffering in Dietrich Bonhoeffer



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Randall, Samuel 


Stellvertretung represents a consistent and central hermeneutic for Bonhoeffer. This thesis demonstrates that, in contrast to other translations, a more precise interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s use of Stellvertretung would be ‘vicarious suffering’. For Bonhoeffer Stellvertretung as ‘vicarious suffering’ illuminates not only the action of God in Christ for the sins of the world, but also Christian discipleship as participation in Christ’s suffering for others; to be as Christ: Schuldübernahme. In this understanding of Stellvertretung as vicarious suffering Bonhoeffer demonstrates independence from his Protestant (Lutheran) heritage and reflects an interpretation that bears comparison with broader ecumenical understanding. This study of Bonhoeffer’s writings draws attention to Bonhoeffer’s critical affection towards Catholicism and highlights the theological importance of vicarious suffering during a period of renewal in Catholic theology, popular piety and fictional literature.

Although Bonhoeffer references fictional literature in his writings, and indicates its importance in ethical and theological discussion, there has been little attempt to analyse or consider its contribution to Bonhoeffer’s theology. This thesis fills this lacuna in its consideration of the reception by Bonhoeffer of the writings of Georges Bernanos, Reinhold Schneider and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Each of these writers features vicarious suffering, or its conceptual equivalent, as an important motif. According to Bonhoeffer Christian discipleship is the action of vicarious suffering (Stellvertretung) and of Verantwortung (responsibility) in love for others and of taking upon oneself the Schuld that burdens the world.





Plant, Stephen


Stellvertretung, vicarious suffering, Georges Bernanos, Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Reinhold Schneider, Fyodor Dostoevsky


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge