Spiritual Care

Written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Reviewed By John W. De Gruchy

While all of Bonhoeffer’s major works have been translated into English, and many other languages besides, many English readers of Bonhoeffer’s writings are unaware that there is a great deal which is yet untranslated. Indeed, the forthcoming new German edition of his collected works will run into 16 volumes, and the proposed English translation will introduce English readers to much of interest and significance. Jay Rochelle’s translation of Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde lectures on Seelsorge is a foretaste.

Bonhoeffer prepared and presented these lectures during the same period that he was working on his well-known Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Spiritual Care is of the same genre, and in fact complements the other two volumes. Bonhoeffer is here pastor of the pastors, seeking to help them fulfil their parish responsibilities. Spiritual Care is, in the best sense of the word, a book of practical theology. That is, it provides a theological foundation for pastoral care, especially in the second chapter on ‘Law and Gospel in Spiritual Care’, and on that basis Bonhoeffer deals with some very practical aspects of the pastor’s work. Technique is useful, and Bonhoeffer’s has some very basic suggestions in this regard, but the aim of pastoral care is discipleship rather than personal well-being. We need to be reminded that the work of the ordained minister is not that of the religious counsellor or psycho-therapist, but the proclamation of the gospel, and that this is at the heart of pastoral care.

John W. De Gruchy

University of Cape Town, South Africa