Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.
Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:
Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)
Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.
Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).