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    Gerhard Lohfink: Champion of Community

    We don’t follow Jesus alone.

    By Timothy J. Keiderling

    June 4, 2024

    Gerhard Lohfink, Catholic priest, theologian, prolific author, Plough contributor, and friend, died on April 2, 2024.

    After receiving a doctorate in theology from the University of Würzberg in 1971, Lohfink taught at the University of Tübingen. In 1987 he decided to leave his professorship and move to join a group of like-minded Catholics living in community in Bad Tölz, Germany.

    Several years after he joined the community, he began to write theological works again. In all, he published twenty-two books. He was at work on an autobiographical manuscript, “Why I Believe in God,” less than a month before his death from a severe illness.

    black and white photo portrait of a man

    Gerhard Lohfink, ca. 2000. Photograph from Wikipedia (public domain).

    I will always be grateful to Lohfink for his friendship. In 2019 I spent five months as a guest of the small house community of which he was a member. Over our daily dinners we would talk about theology and life. We’d then wash the dishes together and continue the conversation. Sometimes he would invite me to join him on his long walks or to visit his favorite churches; other times, we’d sit and pore over texts in his office. When I last spoke with him, in January 2024, his health had deteriorated significantly, but he still spoke with the same quiet charisma and fire about his latest book project.

    Lohfink’s greatest insight – the one that determined the trajectory of his life – was that following Jesus can only be done with others. This comes to expression in many of his works. In a piece he contributed to the Plough anthology Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, he writes:

    Christian faith, just like Jewish faith, subjects all of life to the promise and claim of God. Its nature is such that it interpenetrates all aspects of the lives of believers and gives them a new form. Of itself it demands that social relationships must change and that the material of the world must be molded. Faith desires to incorporate all things so that a “new creation” can come to be.

    At the same time faith tends toward a more and more intensive communion among believers, for only in the community, the place of this communion, only in the place of salvation given by God can the material of the world really be molded and social relationships really transformed. It would therefore be essential to Christian faith that individual believers should not live alongside one another in isolation but should be joined into a single body. It would be essential that they weave together all their gifts and opportunities, that in their gatherings they judge their entire lives in light of the coming of the reign of God and allow themselves to be gifted with the unanimity of agape. Then the community would become the place where the messianic signs that are promised to the people of God could shine forth and become effective.

    From Gerhard Lohfink, Does God Need the Church? (Liturgical Press, 1999). Used by permission.

    Contributed By TimothyKeiderling Timothy J. Keiderling

    Timothy J. Keiderling is a PhD student and a member of the Bruderhof.

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