Moltmann on Johann Baptist Metz and the New Political Theology

I first heard of Johann Baptist Metz via Moltmann’s engagement with him, as they have been frequent conversation partners and have written on similar themes. There are many paralel’s between Metz and Moltmann, both in their theology and their life stories. Metz made a contribution to How I Have Changed where he shares his chilling experience as a young Germwn soldier in World War II (one not unlike Moltmann’s own story). Out of their experiences, they both became “theologians after Auchwitz” which led Moltmann to develop The Crucified God and Metz to craft his own “new political theology”, exemplified in Theology of the World and elsewhere.

Below is a selection from Moltmann’s autobiography, A Broad Place, where he described his “ecumenical friendship” with Metz (who is Catholic) and their partnership together in developing political theology, often in conversation with various liberation theologians. With the exception of the last two sentences, this can also be found in the free preview via Google Books, which I used as my source (I don’t yet own a copy of this book, though I have read it). Many thanks to PostBarthian for helping me fill out the very small bit that was missing! 

Theologically, my beginnings in Tübingen were dominated by the development of the programme for a political theology. Johann Baptist Metz, professor of fundamental theology in Münster, had brought the designation into the public discussion, so as to break out of the narrows of bourgeois ‘religion as a private affair’ and the limitations of the personalist existentialist, and transcendentalist theology of that time. Metz belonged to ‘the anthropological turn’ in Karl Rahner’s theology, but he at once grasped the significance of the eschatological horizon of Christian theology. In his important essay of 1966, ‘Kirche und Welt im eschatologischen Horizont’ (Church and World in the Eschatological Horizon), he described the step he had taken in this direction as follows: ‘The attempt to read and understand the whole of theology as anthropology is an important achievement in present theological work. But this “anthropologically turned” theology remains in danger of becoming devoid of the world and devoid of history unless it is understood as being first and foremost eschatology. For it is only in the eschatological horizon of hope that the world appears as history.’ For this he also cited the Theology of Hope. But for me the key sentence was the following: ‘Every eschatological theology must become a political theology, as a theology critical of society.’ I gladly took up this directional thrust, because it corresponded very well with my own thinking; and so in those years there came to be a link between the theology of hope and political theology. Metz’s intention was not, as some people feared, to politicize theology; his aim was a ‘theology with its face turned towards the world’, ‘talk about God in our own time’. My concern was the prophetic Christian criticism of the idols of political religion and the arrogance of power; and hope for the victims.
As I have said, I first met Baptist Metz in 1966 at Ernst Bloch’s eightieth birthday in Tubingen. The ‘atheist for God’s sake’ brought about our ecumenical friendship. Later we were often apostrophized as ‘theological twins’. But we did not stop short at Bloch. At the deepest level, what led to the development of a political theology in those years was shock over the failure of the churches and the theologians in the face of the German crimes against humanity, symbolized by the name Auschwitz, a name that can never be blotted out. Why that appalling Christian silence? Had the bourgeois privatization of religion secularized the politics of our country so far that they fell into this abyss? Did conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism keep the Christians silent when the Jews were taken away? Was the misinterpreted Lutheran two-kingdoms doctrine responsible: ‘Christ for the soul – Hitler for the people’? As can be seen from our publications, talk about God ‘in our own time’ became talk about God ‘after Auschwitz’. For Metz, the consequence was the demand for a post-Enlightenment ‘anamnetic culture’ of ‘dangerous remembrances’ of suffering and the theodicy process of modern history. For me, what followed was a turn to a political theology of the cross. This began in 1969 with an essay titled ‘The Theological Criticism of Political religion’, and found fullest expression in 1972 in the book The Crucified God (ET 1974).
The name political theology was not our invention, however. It had an unfortunate earlier history. In 1922 and 1934 Hitler’s conservative Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-democratic constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt made it the slogan for the political dictatorship for which he had a predilection. ‘That one is sovereign who can declare the state of emergency,’ and the political state of emergency corresponds theologically to the miracle, he declared, in order to justify Hitler’s enabling law, which, however, was the very opposite of a miracle, being in fact a catastrophe. He found a theological justification for dictatorship with a political doctrine of sin: ‘Against absolute evil…there is only dictatorship’ – as if dictatorship were not itself absolutely evil! Whereas the anarchists cried with Bakunin, ‘Neither God nor state,’ Carl Schmitt, in the final apocalyptic struggle against these Antichrists, was ‘for God and state’. The subject of his political theology was state power, not the church. But Metz and I were thinking of the church and the political responsibility of Christianity. That was why Metz later called his theology ‘new political theology’. But although these differences are easily recognizable, they did not unfortunately prevent confusion at the time.
With a lecture on the theological criticism of political religion, I traveled up and down the country and spread my views in Germany, Sweden, Italy, England, and North America. Metz and I brought out a series called Gesellschaft und Theologie (Society and Theology), in which we made available to German readers among other things James Cone’s Black Theology (in 1971) and Gustavo Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation (in 1973), as well as Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell’s Menschenrechte für die Frau (1979). We very quickly came into lively contact with the liberation theology that was growing up in Latin America, with the rebellious black theology in the USA, and with the popular Minjung theology in Korea. We shared the forward hope of the new eschatology and political commitment to the liberation of the oppressed and the victims of institutionalized violence.
For Metz and myself these two factors have remained. What is a thing of the past, however, is the over-valuation of the political aspect as ‘the total’ (Carl Schmitt). The political and military East-West conflict ended in 1989, but its place was taken by the globalization of the economy and the total marketing of everything and every relationship. Whereas once politics deregulated the economy, today politics are regulated by the economy, for this has become trans-national, whereas politics are still persistently national. Theology ‘with its face turned towards the world’ must therefore also become an economic and ecological theology if it wishes to take on the forces of our time.
(A Broad Place, 155-158)

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