Reviewed by Steven T. OSTOVICH College of St. Scholastica, DULUTH, MN 55811
Johann Baptist Metz is a Roman Catholic priest and founder of the most recent version of political theology. He retired as professor of fundamental theology from the University of Muenster, Germany and now is at the University of Vienna. This book contains essays and addresses by Metz dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s.
This is an important collection. Political theology and Metz have been undervalued in North America. In part this is due to poor translations of Metz's work in the past. These texts, in contrast, are well translated and make accessible Metz's creative and critical Roman Catholicism. The first two essays ("The New Political Theology: The Status Quaestionis" and "On the Way to a Postidealist Theology") outline his current program: changing church culture from Eurocentrism to a "polycentric world church"; raising the question what it means to do theology and especially theodicy "after Auschwitz"; and addressing what Metz sees as the danger of postmodern irrationalism. Most of the essays in this volume address at least one of these three concerns.
Nietzsche embodies what Metz disdains in postmodernism. Metz reads Nietzsche's notion of eternal recurrence as symptomatic of the flight from historical responsibility into concepts of time as evolutionary, infinite, and empty. Metz counters this with a recovery of time as eschatologically bounded. Metz also rejects Nietzsche's influence in reducing politics to power. Instead Metz frames politics as a praxis of Kantian practical reason. "Suffering" is the universal and therefore critically objective criterion of political reason. Suffering is historical and demands that reason be "anamnestic" or a "remembrancing" of the dead as well as criticism of the present and hope for the future. Anamnestic reason keeps political theology from regressing to the irrational ū"ecisionism" of Carl Schmitt, the Weimar and Nazi era German legal theorist whose "political theology" has haunted Metz. And the embodiment of anamnestic reason in the Church as an institution of social criticism keeps it from degenerating into the proceduralism of critical theory (especially Juergen Habermas). An area of concern here is that suffering as universal slips into the abstractness of Kantian transcendentalism. Metz tries to counter this by emphasizing the "negative universalism" of suffering as a concept. The question remains whether this critical trick learned from Theodor Adorno can be employed in the context of Kant's practical reason rather than Adorno's aesthetic judgment.
Also at the center of political theological activity is the confrontation with Auschwitz. The rupture of Auschwitz raises radical questions of Christian responsibility to the Jews as well as questions to God. Metz quotes Romano Guardini: "Why, God, the dreadful detour on the way to Heaven, the suffering of the innocent, why sin?" (69, 117). Questioning is the task of theodicy after Auschwitz. Metz maintains his longstanding criticism of theodicy-as-explanation and of attempts to reduce suffering to an inner-Trinitarian process, a suffering in God. Auschwitz leaves faith with a biblical and eschatological mysticism that takes the form of a "suffering unto God." And this too forces theology into the practice of "remembrancing."
A specific focus of this collection is the relation of Metz to his mentor Karl Rahner. In "Do We Miss Karl Rahner?" and "Karl Rahnerūs Struggle for the Theological Dignity of Humankind" Metz describes Rahner's "aggressive fidelity" to the Church and Rahner's taking seriously as theological the questions that arise from concrete human experience rather than limiting theology to a "systematically preestablished canon of questions" (113). At the same time Metz criticizes Rahner's theological anthropology as overemphasizing the transcendental quality of human subjectivity.
J. Matthew Ashley emphasizes Metz's Catholicism in his selection of essays for this collection. This is both a strength and a weakness of the book. Ashley's introductory essay creatively situates Metz in postconciliar theology using categories from the Modernist Friedrich von Hugel. This Catholic emphasis is important for understanding political theology. There is not enough evidence in this volume, however, of how Metz's thought has developed in conversation with liberation theology, with Protestants like Juergen Moltmann and Dorothee Soelle, with critical theory and the Frankfurt School, and most recently with Islam. Those interested in a fuller picture of political theology need to supplement this book with, for example, Francis Fiorenza's edition of works from Metz and Moltmann, Faith and the Future, and the forthcoming reader on Metz and political theology edited by John K. Downey.
Ashley's translations are very good, which is a major accomplishment given the notorious difficulty in rendering Metz's "poetic" German style in English. There are some awkward spots, but these are more than offset by translations that are inspired (for example, coining "remembrancing" to translate Eingedenken and staying with a literal "suffering unto God" for Leiden an Gott). This is a useful book for college libraries and for a general readership.