A Silent Cry – Johann Baptist Metz’s WWII Story

Johann Baptist Metz

“Metz is always good for a surprise”
-Jürgen Moltmann

Until now, my (very limited) exposure to Johann Baptist Metz has been pretty much entirely second hand. I have known that, along with Jürgen Moltmann and Dorothee Sölle, Metz is considered to be something of a founder of what is called “political theology”. John Cobb interacts with these three theologians almost exclusively in his book, Process Theology as Political Theology, which is available to read online in its entirety via Religion Online. For these three theologians (all of whom come from Germany and are members of the generation that was coming of age under the Nazi regime), the events of WWII had a framing effect on their theological development.

As Dorothee Sölle put it:

As I reflect on my generation and those who belong to it, I think first of the central event of German history in this century. This is perhaps even also the most central event to have played an essential part in my intrinsic development, this legacy of gas, violence, war and murder. I have never understood how a theology after Auschwitz can be precisely the same as before.
How I Have Changed, p. 22

Probablly only because of my ignorance about Metz, I did not realize that he has a horrific story of being conscripted into then German Army at a very young age, much like Jürgen Moltmann was. Also like Moltmann, he found himself to be one of the last men standing in his company when many of his friends and classmates were killed in battle. Here is how Metz relays this story in his entry to How I Have Changed:

Towards the end of the Second World War, at the age of sixteen, I was snatched out of school and conscripted into the army. After a hasty training in the barracks at Würzburg I arrived at the front, which by that time had already advanced over the Rhine into Bavaria. My company consisted solely of young people, well over a hundred of them. One evening the company commander sent me with a message to battalion headquarters. I wandered during the night through shattered, burning villages and farmsteads, and when next morning I returned to my company I found only the dead: dead bodies, overwhelmed by a combined fighter-bomber and tank attack. I could only look into the still, dead faces of all those with whom on the previous days I had shared the anxieties of childhood and the joys of youth. I cannot remember anything but a silent cry. I can still see myself there today, and my childhood dreams have collapsed before that memory. A great gap had been torn in my powerful Bavarian Catholic socialization with its well-knit trust. What happens if one does not go to a psychologist, but into the church, and if one cannot be talked out of such unreconciled experiences either by the church or by theology, but together with them wants to believe and together with them wants to talk about God?
How I Have Changed, p. 31

I’m struck by the similarities between Metz and Moltmann in their stories. I enjoyed his contribution to the conversation in How I Have Changed, and hope to pick up one of his more serious theological works in the near future.

The best place to go to hear Moltmann’s story in detail is his autobiography, A Broad Place. For the abbreviated version, listen to the first episode of the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009 (mirror over on the PostBarthian here)

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