Authentic Transcendence

During his imprisonment Dietrich Bonhoeffer was trying to write a book. In his letters and papers from prison we only get a fragmentary and incomplete sense of what that book was about. But in some of his last letters Bonhoeffer had begun to sketch out the chapters for the book.

And in his notes for what would have been Chapter Two Bonhoeffer sketched out some thoughts about the nature of "authentic transcendence":
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. The transcendental is not infinite and unattainable tasks, but the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation...
Authentic transcendence is existence for others.

Authentic transcendence is the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation.

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3 thoughts on “Authentic Transcendence”

  1. So what does this have to do with transcendence? Is this actually a critique of transcendence? How does it function here? It seems like a stand-in word to keep this sounding Christian or theological or something. The closest I can come would be to relate this to the work of Emmanuel Levinas, but I don't quite understand that either.

  2. So, in my uniquely superficial fashion, I’ll take a stab at this. A synopsis online of Levinas’s essay entitled “On Escape” from 1935 breaks down his essential thoughts on transcendence –


    "He was less concerned than was Heidegger with the question of
    existence that opens up before us when, beset by profound anxiety, we
    experience the ‘dissolving’ of things in the world. Levinas's question was not:
    “Why is there Being instead of simply nothing?” His concern was to approach
    Being differently, through the (human) being for which the primary experiences
    of Being are of its embodied, but not physiological, existence. Unlike Heidegger, Levinas's approach gave
    priority to embodiment and its lived “moods,” as well as to humans' failed
    attempts to get away from the being that we ourselves are. “Escape,” he wrote,
    “is the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and
    unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I [moi] is oneself [soi-même].”

    It goes on to say basically that - “In the two, crossing
    dimensions of human life, [The sentient-affective] and [The intentional], our
    experience of Being comes to pass.” Levinas then poses the question –

    “Is the need for escape not the exclusive matter of a finite
    being?…Would an infinite being have the need to take leave of itself?” We are
    admittedly finite. But how do we know this, and from what perspective do we
    contemplate Being as finite? “Is this infinite being not precisely the ideal of
    self-sufficiency and the promise of eternal contentment?”

    Whether it is experienced by pleasure or suffering, “need” is the ground of our existence. That means that transcendence, in Levinas's understanding of it, is continually directed toward “something other than ourselves”
    – that which we need. And it suggests that the deep motivation of “need” is to get out of the being that we ourselves are—our situation and our embodiment. Levinas like Bonhoeffer is offering up a “counter-ontology”.
    The difference in the later case, is that the constructed sense of “Being” – viz: “Christ-likeness” that develops and manifests itself through “the renewing of our minds” – Romans 12:2 This is done through the power the of the Holy Spirit as an outside into the recipient, then…. a “transcendent” inside out experience for the converted
    believer – “it is no longer I that live, but rather Christ that lives in and through me” – Galatians 2:20. Taken a step even further, it’s an Ontology of being that identifies itself in the “needs” of the other. The self-sacrificial love
    of God demonstrated on The Cross, bears witness to this fact.

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