John T. Pawlikowski, "Christology after the Holocaust," Encounter 59 (Summer 1998) 345-368.



Abstract by Jerry Darring


Pawlikowski develops the same thesis which he had proposed in his 1984 paper, "The Holocaust and Contemporary Christology," but he carries it further and adds a review of subsequent development in Christological thought among contemporary theologians. He points out that a theology that presents the Christ Event as displacing the Jewish People is no longer acceptable.

The Holocaust resulted not just from classical Christian anti-Semitism but also from a number of modern ideologies, including deism, the French encyclopedists, Feuerbach, the Young Hegelians, evolutionary scientists, and Nietzsche. The Nazi ideology that emerged from all this sough to liberate humanity from all previous moral ideals and codes.

Pawlikowski asserts that there are two required responses in light of the Holocaust. The first is a Christology of divine vulnerability. Theologians such as Franklin Sherman, Marcel Dubois, O.P., Clemens Thoma, and Douglas John Hall work with setting the reality of the Holocaust within the theology of the cross. This theology of divine vulnerability is found especially in Jurgen Moltmann, who wrote that it would be futile to theologize after the Holocaust "were not God himself in Auschwitz, suffering with the martyred and murdered." These theological attempts have been criticized by theologians such as A. Roy Eckardt and Francis Fiorenza, but Pawlikowski feels that the notion of divine vulnerability is meaningful "if it is integrated into a larger whole" (p. 359). That "larger whole" would include a rejection of the notion of a "commanding God" and the turning towards a "compelling God," a God that heals and strengthens us so that we no longer need to assert our humanity through destructive use of human power.

Pawlikowski now turns to the other required response to the Holocaust, a Christology of witness. Johannes Metz insists that post-Holocaust theology must be centered around discipleship. After reviewing the perspectives of theologians such as James Moore, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and Rebecca Chopp, Pawlikowski concludes that "Christology needs to become more than a theoretical affirmation of human dignity," that there must be an "identification with, and support of, the victims of oppression through personal and political means" (p. 366).