Johannes Metz
Colleen E. Chinn

One of the most influential theologians on the subject of political theology, Johann Baptist Metz, was born on August 5, 1928, in the small town of Auerbach in the upper Palatinate (Schuster 3). What is important to know about his development as a person and a theologian is that he was student of Karl Rahner, one of the leading theologians of the twentieth century. Influenced greatly by him throughout his life and career, Metz became a Roman Catholic diocesan priest who has been actively teaching in Germany. As such, “he is the Ordinary Professor of Fundamental Theology, Emeritus, at Westphalian Wilhelms University in the northern German town of Muenster” (The Metz Page). Metz has taught theology for most of his life and has developed striking ideas that influence all the people of the church in many aspects of their lives.

The term 'political theology' can be a bit confusing without understanding its roots. Instead of referring to politics as we see them in modem corporate America today, politics in this case is understood in the broader sense of the word polis, the society as a whole. “Political Theology is a theology of the polis, a theology which examines social structures, cultural movements, and economic philosophies in the penetrating light of the gospel. While this may have implications in the narrower political sense, its overall vision is broader and more profound” (Ormerod 117). Basically, Metz feels it is his job to continually examine the scriptures and his surroundings in order to put the church on a constant path of renewal. In fact, Metz believes that a theologian should focus on three specific duties: to protect the narratives from distortion; to decode dogmas into practical, understandable material; to use methods of inquiry that highlight the political aspects of religion in their lives (The Metz Page).

Overall, it is easy to see from his writings that Metz is a literary genius. “As a master of language, Johann Baptist Metz knows that words not only point out, but also conceal things. He breaks through the weave of words with questions” (Schuster 4). His words are very prophetic and passionate, but his language comes across as flowingly simple and understandable. He has greatly affected the world of theology in general by his writings, and in ways the entire church. Metz hopes that the church will continue strongly on its way and sticks to his role by following his duties and working to improve society as a whole.

In his early years of work, Metz's attempts at political theology were seen as a bit optimistic in that they give a positive analysis of the process of secularization. “Secularization, the process whereby various spheres of human activity, such as government and legal systems, were moved out of the 'divine' sphere and into the human or secular sphere, was seen as liberative of human freedom and hence as being in accord with the dynamism of the gospel” (Ormerod 118). Basically, he was saying that the method of making things have less to do with the church and more to do with the secular world is a good thing because it calls for freedoms that may not have been previously allowed, and freedom is a major theme in the scriptures. Later on in his life, Metz tended to adopt a more negative view and gained a greater appreciation of apocalyptic, the coming of Christ. Even on this subject, what he wants to point out most is how as 'disciples of Christ' we have taken on a lax attitude regarding the eventual coming of the kingdom to earth.

Metz's political theology is a theology of conversion. It is “an attempt, within the paradigm of liberation theology, to formulate the conditions of possibility for the human subject, Christianity, and theology through the memory of suffering” (Chopp). In his eyes, we are to be constantly renewed and energized within our church, which should also be in a continuous state of conversion. But through this he is seeking a fundamental justification for Christianity. “Metz claims that Christianity cannot be justified in a purely theoretical way, but is primarily justified in its praxis, its committed responsible action. Human persons are not just hearers of the word, but also doers of the word” (Ormerod 119). We are to understand that we, the people of the church, are the ones responsible for this constant state of conversion and renewal.

What we take away most from the theology of Fr. Johann Baptist Metz is that the church is in need of its people and it is our responsibility through the existing social and religious spheres of life to ensure its continual conversion and further existence as the light of the world.

Works Cited
  • Rebecca S. Chopp, The Praxis of Suffering. Orbis Books, 1987.
  • “The Metz Page.” Gonzaga University,
  • Bruce T. Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000
  • Neil Ormerod. Introducing Contemporary Theologies: The What and the Who of Theology Today. Australia: E.J. Dwyer, 1990
  • Ekkehard Schuster and Reinhold Boschert-Kimmig. Hope Against Hope: Johann Baptist Metz and Elie Wiesel Speak Out on the Holocost. New York: Paulist Press, 1999

    Johannes Metz, “The Church and the World in the Light of a 'Political Theology'”
    Chapter 5 of Theology of the World, New York: Seabury Press, 1973

    Abstract by Bradley P. Bergan

    Chapter V of Metz' book seeks to reflect on “the meaning and the task of “political theology” and examine the relationship “between Church and world in the light of this “political theology” (107).

    In this chapter, Metz defines the general theology of the church since medieval times through the age of Enlightenment to the present as focusing on a theology that has had the tendency to privatize, to focus on the individual rather than society as a whole and the individual's role in society. Metz believes that political theology is “a positive attempt to formulate the eschatological message under the conditions of our present society” (107). Metz expands this argument by saying that religion should not be at odds with society. It should not be Church vs society. Rather, the Church should be asking itself how its theology relates to the present world. Metz claims that the Age of Enlightenment, a time when the individual and individual thought was raised to a high level, the message of the Church lost something. The idea of Church as community and faith as a communal endeavor got lost. “The message was 'privatized” and the practice of faith reduced to the timeless decision of the person” (109). Metz thinks the gospel message was lost in this privatizing of faith and that it influenced the idea of political theology. Metz says, with emphasis, “The deprivatizing of theology is the primary critical task of political theology” (110).

    The task of political theology in Metz' estimation is to “determine anew the relation between religion and society, between Church and societal “publicness,” between eschatological faith and societal life.. .” (111) Metz observes that the Church cannot proclaim the gospel message apart from the realities of the world in which we live. He says the gospel message cannot be individualized or privatized because, “It is impossible to privatize the eschatological promises of biblical tradition: liberty, peace, justice, reconciliation” (114). Metz upholds the view that the Church itself must be a church within society, working with society and criticizing it when necessary (115). The Church does not exist for herself, Metz declares in this chapter, but rather, the Church as an institution must realize the realities of the society in which she is situated. The Church “does not serve her own self-affirmation, but the historical affirmation of the salvation of all men. The hope she announces is not a hope for herself but for the kingdom of God” (116).

    Metz thinks the Church must find ways of living this gospel mission in the midst of society, not out of society or in her own world. And he states further that it is the Church's mission to ensure that the individual is protected “against being taken as a number on a human-progress-computer card” (118). Metz' political theology declares that love is the predominant factor in all the Church does and says and teaches and acts, without becoming a political power herself. Because the task of the Church is to be about the work of salvation for all people in all times, she cannot be a political power herself or do her work through political power. However, at the same time, Metz asserts that there have been times when “her criticism of the powerful of this world was too weak, or came too late... (119). Finally, while Metz declares that the Church must act in the world and respond to the problems of society today with the gospel message of love, the Church must be prepared to call upon “non-theological resources. The Church must receive such data in order to fulfill her mission to the world, which is not merely, not simply, to reproduce herself (121).

    Metz argues that the Church cannot ignore problems in the world such as racism, war or injustice. The Church must be a force for reform of these institionalized evils in society. The Church must use the gospel message of love, which does not change, even when society changes and be a force for love in the world. Metz concludes by saying, if the Church fails to advocate for freedom for all in our world, then “the danger of losing freedom Justice, and peace is, indeed, so great, that indifference in these matters would be a crime” (124). What he is saying is that, in essence, for the Church to advocate an individualistic approach to faith, rather than an approach that is in keeping with the gospel message, would make the Church as bad as any societal institutions that restrict the freedom of persons.

    Johannes Metz, Theology of Joy
    Abstract by Sarah Jane Laurence

    Metz became editor of a series of collections of essays called Concilium. Each issue discusses a different theological idea. The collection entitled Theology of Joy discusses joy, pain and anguish. Appearing before the selected text there is always an introduction by Metz that sums up the ideas presented in this volume. He also presents his own ideas in the end of this small article.

    He begins by addressing that idea that fundamental theology is an attempt to put into words a new experience. One tries to give sympathy and critical expression to a new and inarticulate mood. Political theology is based on the exploratory method of fundamental theology. Its aim is to make true the dangerously liberating memory of Jesus Christ alive for all people.

    The purpose of the issue Metz said iss to be a sort of paradigmatic solution that helped clear up the topic of joy versus mourning; cheerfulness versus melancholy; and lastly humor. He divides the issue into four sections. The first is an overview of the present situation and the different perspectives one can take. The second section works with the principles and uses modem analysis to understand the meaning and definition of joy and sorrow for God. The third section focuses on how to motivate with joy especially in small communities. The fourth section is a general statement about joy.

    After explaining the setup of the issue, Metz attempts to provide his personal opinion of joy in the last three pages of his editorial. He states that Christian joy is not merely a natural optimism about existence, nor can it be discussed as a theory, nor can it be stimulated artificially. It often seems that Christianity to date has talked more about sadness and depression than it has talked about the power one possesses when the Christian holds joy in his heart. He states that Christian joy is a willingness to recognize that in this broken world there is a reason for thankfulness. But its willingness to accept it is in no way denying the existing earthly conditions. One attempts to change the lives of others by giving them a reason to be thankful. Christian love is the foundation for joy. Joy without particular interest is self-deception; love without friendliness of joy degenerates into mere domination with a veneer of morality. To preserve this love/joy relationship one must become like a child.

    A Johannes Metz Bibliography
  • Poverty of Spirit. New York: Newman Press, 1968
  • Theology of the World. New York: Seabury Press, 1973
  • Followers of Christ: The Religious Life and the Church. New York: Search Press Ltd., 1978
  • Meditations on the Passion: Two Meditations on Mark 8:31-38. New York: Paulist Press, 1979
  • Faith in History & Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology. New York: Seabury Press, 1980
  • The Courage to Pray. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1981
  • The Emergent Church. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1981
  • Solidarity and Modernity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995
  • Faith and the Future: Essays on Theology, Solidarity, and Modernity. With Jurgen Moltmann. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995
  • A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity. NY: Paulist Press, 1998