The Structure of Metzs Fundamental Theology with a Practical Intent

These concerns pull in different directions, a fact that goes a long way to explain the tensions in Metz's thought. Yet there is an underlying coherence that can be disclosed by considering the genre, determinative question, and doctrinal locus of his theology. First the genre. Metz calls his a "practical fundamental theology," or a "fundamental theology with a practical intent"(Metz 1980: ix, 49, inter alia). A brief historical detour into the recent history of Roman Catholic theology can help illuminate what he means by this. Fundamental theology took over many of the functions in Roman Catholic theology that philosophical theology and apologetics had carried out in neoscholasticism. In the latter, the purpose of philosophical theology and apologetics was to defend the reasonableness of the assent of faith to those truths of revelation that provide the starting points for the construction of the various dogmatic treatises. They did this by demonstrating the existence of the ultimate object of faith (proofs for the existence of God), and by arguing for the reasonableness of the assent of faith in general, and then to the truths of scripture and tradition in particular. The latter was done in large measure by appeal to New Testament miracles and to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Jesus and in the church. Thus, the reasonableness of assenting to this content was defended on grounds external to the intelligibility of that content itself, the elaboration of which was left for the subsequent work of dogmatic theology.

Karl Rahner self-consciously violated this stringent division of dogmatic (viz. systematic) from fundamental theology, and Metz carries that transgression of disciplinary borders over into his own work. Rahner argued that contemporary philosophical pluralism, the "knowledge-explosion" in general, and the impact of modern biblical scholarship combine to make the neoscholastic project untenable in fact, regardless of whether it was ever tenable in principle. Consequently, a successful justification of faith (the task of fundamental theology) would have to draw on the contents of faith, rather than leaving them to subsequent elaboration in systematic theology. This does not entail an exhaustive consideration of a given doctrine, but an investigation on a "first level of reflection." The "new fundamental theology" would elaborate doctrinal contents to the extent necessary for showing how they could cohere with, bring to words, and concretize the modern person's experience of his or her identity, especially as it is threatened by guilt and by the final, always imminent, limit-situation of death. Such an approach derives its persuasive power from its ability to illumine and empower the life of everyday Christians by grounding that life in the mystery of God's presence in the world (Rahner 1978: 3-14; 1982: 123-8).

Metz has high praise for this approach, describing Rahner's theology as a narrative theology that attempts to give a "theologically fleshed out account of life in the light of contemporary Christianity" (Metz 1980: 224; 1977: 200)} Yet, whereas Rahner had taken the endangered identity of the subject as an individual to be the arena within which to demonstrate the truth and relevance of Christian faith, Metz argues that the arena must be expanded to include the individual's constitutive social and political embeddedness:

In the entire approach of a practical fundamental theology it would be necessary to open this [Rahner's] biographical way of conceiving dogmatic theology to that theological biography of Christianity in which the dual mystical-political constitution of Christian faith - that is to say, its socially responsible form - would be taken even more seriously and became the motive force for theological reflection. (Metz 1980: 224; 1977: 200)

Rahner, then, conceives of the field within which theological discourse can find some purchase as mapped out by the "mystical-existential" character of human being. This presupposes a theology of grace in which the existential riches and challenges of human life are ultimately destined to be illumined by, taken up into, and fulfilled by the divine life, a destiny that entails reinterpreting and reorienting them even now. The consequence for theological method is that theological discourse can be grounded and justified by showing how it can make sense of and empower human existence at the level of this mystical-existential circumincessio, and thus at a deeper level than straightforward empirical accounts. Metz agrees, but insists that the existential-biographical framing of human existence is too narrow. It needs to be complemented, corrected, or even subsumed by a political account that stresses more radically the ways we are constitutively related to one another, not just in "I-thou" relationships of personal encounter with the other, but in and through ambivalent historical traditions and conflict-ridden social institutions (now on a global scale).

This account of Metz's approach provides an initial indication of what he thinks makes it a political theology. In his view, theology should address believers at those points at which their identity as persons is most threatened by the social and political catastrophes of history. "Political" denotes a basic dimension of human existence in which persons are constituted by historical traditions and social structures that connect them to the lives and experiences of other persons, both present and past. The political "problem" which correlates to Metz's understanding of fundamental theology arises when our tacit conviction that this dimension "make sense" is threatened, or the pain and guilt of our own complicity (conscious or anonymous) in structures which have brought about (and continue to bring about) the annihilation of others becomes too intense, causing us to withdraw from this dimension into a privatized existentiality or a still-privatized "I-thou." It is at this point that Christianity shows its "political" character: "Christian faith, if I understand it correctly, is just the capacity to affirm and live an endangered identity. This is the precise point at which faith and history are bound together" (Metz 1986: 181, emphasis added).

Second, this comparison with Rahner sheds some light on why Metz does not engage in detailed analyses of specific doctrines and develop arguments for specific praxes in particular social settings, a point on which he has been widely criticized (e.g. Browning 1991: 67f.; Chopp 1986: 79-81). Metz's "practical fundamental theology" will appeal to specific doctrines, rather than attempting to justify the hope that Christians have purely by means of philosophical argument or a sociological-historical "metatheory." Yet Metz is convinced that Christianity's crisis cannot be met in the first instance by a more sophisticated elaboration of its doctrines or a detailed "plan" for their application (as important as these might be), without a basic defense of their cognitive-transformative trustworthiness for Christian believers in danger of losing the sense that they are "good news" in the modern world. Metz's theology is an attempt "at a first level of reflection" to demonstrate the truth and transformative power of Christian faith, but now within the arena of historical catastrophes and political struggle rather than that of the individual's attempt to make sense of his or her own existence.

Finally, the comparison suggests another way of illuminating Metz's procedure. A fundamental theology of the type described above cannot succeed unless it is able to arouse in its audience that fundamental uneasiness with one's identity that provides the angle of vision from which the truth and relevance of Christian faith is to be displayed. Crudely put, Christian faith cannot be proposed as "the answer," unless a "question" is first aroused and articulated in its hearers. This is not necessarily an easy task. The question can lie deeply buried under everyday concerns, especially in technicized cultures that reserve all important questions to the sciences and drown all others in a tidal wave of information and entertainment. In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger discussed the ways that "forgetfulness of being," or the covering over of the question of being in favor of questions about beings, makes it impossible genuinely to do metaphysics, to disclose the meaning of being. Rahner, who attended Heidegger's seminars from 1934 to 1936, took over this awareness of the challenge facing any fundamental discipline (be it fundamental ontology or fundamental theology). The fundamental question for Rahner has to do with the cohesiveness and authenticity of the vast constellation of everyday decisions that over time make up the "answer" that one gives with one's life to the "question" of one's being (Rahner 1978: 90-116). Do these decisions really belong to me, or are they results of the anonymous pressure of "the they"? The point, let it be noted, is not, however, to "answer" the question or to integrate it into a system. Rather, the question is to be continually opened up anew and allowed to irritate human awareness, thus enabling true thinking, rather than the shallow instrumental-technical thinking that characterizes modern society.

Metz too is concerned that a certain crucial question is taboo in modern societies. Its repression makes it impossible creatively to face the issues raised both by the Enlightenment project and, at a deeper level, by Christian faith. We have already encountered this question and its privileged locus. It is a question that, Metz tells us, forced itself on him in the light of the third remembrance cited above: the remembrance of Auschwitz.

As I became conscious of the situation "after Auschwitz" the God question forced itself on me in its strangest, most ancient, and most controversial version: that is, in the form of the theodicy question, not in its existential but, to a certain degree, its political garb: discourse about God as the cry for the salvation of others, of those who suffer unjustly, of the victims and the vanquished in our history. (Metz 1998: 55)

This question about the salvation of history's vanquished ones "leverages" a genuine justification of Christian faith ("on a first level of reflection") by opening a clearing where the mystery of God can be encountered in the dense and ambiguous forest of our histories and political involvements. It is a political issue; it concerns the fate of others, and the ways that social-political structures implicate me in what happens to them. Metz applies Kant's well-known claim that a fully worked out answer to the question "For what may I hope?" comprises the philosophy of religion. Metz emends as follows: "A basic form of Christian hope is also determined by this memory. The question 'What dare I hope?' is trans formed into the question 'What dare I hope for you and, in the end, also for me?'" (Metz 1987: 40). It is a question of hope, and of a threatened hope, but now worked out in terms of what threatens the other. It is a question with a deep social-political tone. Elsewhere he elaborates on this social rendering as the only framework within which Christian faith can provide an "answer" to the human predicament:

[Jesus'] images and visions of the Reign of God - of a comprehensive peace among men and women and nature in God's presence, of a home and a father, of a kingdom of peace, of justice and of reconciliation, of tears wiped away and of the laughter of the children of God - cannot be hoped for with only oneself in view and for oneself alone ... In believing that others can rely on them, in communicating them to others and hoping them "for others," they belong to oneself as well. Only then. (Metz 1998: 164f.)

As with the fundamental question in transcendental ontology (Heidegger) or transcendental fundamental theology (Rahner), Metz's question is not posed in search of a conceptual-systematic "answer." Metz's purpose is continually to arouse the question in human subjectivity, so as to initiate the person into a mode of life which is itself an authentic "response" to the question: a Job-like spirituality of lamentation and complaint.

In taking up once again the theme of theodicy in theology I am not suggesting (as the word and its history might suggest) a belated and somewhat obstinate attempt to justify God in the face of evil, in the face of suffering and wickedness in the world. What is really at stake is the question of how one is to speak about God at all in the face of the abysmal histories of suffering in the world, in "his" world. In my view this is "the" question for theology; theology must not eliminate it or over-respond to it. It is "the" eschatological question, the question before which theology does not develop its answers reconciling everything, but rather directs its questioning incessantly back toward God. (Metz 1998: 55f.)

If this be the "question" that eventually emerges as determinative for Metz's theology, it is evident why his theological itinerary has always included a critique of the ways that theologies privatize the Christian message. Only if the remembrances of historical catastrophe are not conjured away by theology but are "taken into the Church and into theology" to orient our belief and our talk about God can the endangered character of human identity-in-history become the arena in which Christian faith and action prove themselves true, relevant, and trustworthy, and this dimension be saved and reaffirmed as fundamental to human being. It also becomes clear why his concern has increasingly focused on the way that European culture has abandoned Enlightenment aspirations for a world organized according to universal norms of justice, in which individuals take responsibility for themselves and for their histories. He worries that this great utopian vision, ultimately inspired, in his view, by Christian values, is threatened with exhaustion:

Do we not see in our social context a new and growing privatization, spread through a gentle seduction by our modern culture industry? Is there not a kind of weariness with being a subject; trained to fit in, do we not think in terms of little niches? Is there not a growing spectator mentality with no obligation to perceive critically, a rather voyeuristic way of dealing with social and political crises? Are there not in our secularized and enlightened world signs of a new, to some extent, second immaturity [Unmündigkeit] . . . ? (Metz 1998: 105)

Unmündigkeit clearly alludes to Kant's definition of Enlightenment as that state in which humans emerge from immaturity or tutelage, making use of their reason (at least in arguments in the public sphere) to take charge of history and render it more human. In Metz's view, if the concerns and anxieties that accrue to achieving such a demanding - indeed, perhaps unreasonable - ideal can be soothed and anesthetized by late modern culture, it is not only the end of the Enlightenment project, but a disaster for a Christianity whose authentic sense can only be disclosed against the backdrop of those concerns and anxieties. That is why theology must continually raise the "theodicy question," and why the remembrances of history's catastrophes are indispensable to it.

The theodicy question was described above as an "eschatological question, the question before which theology does not develop its answers reconciling everything, but rather directs its questioning incessantly back toward God." This brings us to the doctrinal focus of Metz's theology: eschatology. While Metz has been concerned from early in his career to demonstrate Christianity's constitutive concern for the world and its history, the way he argued this concern theology shifted dramatically in the 1960s. From a focus on incarnation as the proper doctrinal locus in which to work out the autonomy proper to the world, he turned to eschatology as the proper way to understand the openness of the future and Christians' obligation in faith to participate in history's movement into that open horizon. His meeting with Ernst Bloch in June of 1963 gave decisive impetus to this shift. Bloch, who was so formative for Jürgen Moltmann, had a similar impact on Metz. Eschatology, that area of theology that emphasizes history's orientation toward a future that can only be glimpsed now "as in a mirror, darkly," became the sphere within which Metz argued for the church's need to respect and foster the legitimate autonomy of the world as it was drawn toward its future eschatological consummation. But, as arguments over what Jesus meant by the imminence of the reign of God have dramatically illustrated, there is more than one way to make a theology "eschatological," and Metz's movement in this regard, seen against an ecclesiological backdrop, is instructive.

Metz's initial appropriation of eschatology had clear ecclesiological implications. He reconfigured the revisionary Marxist deployment of the theory and practice of "ideology critique" to work out an understanding of the church as the "institution of critical freedom." The church is to safeguard the openness of historical processes from the endemic human temptation to freeze them into ideological absolutes that then underwrite the kind of violence so horrifically characteristic of the twentieth century. It does so by means of an insistence on the sovereignty of the God of the future, which relativizes every particular human project in history (Metz 1969: 107-24). While he never disavowed this notion of "the eschatological proviso," it becomes notably absent in his later work. As always, it is his sensitivity to what "endangers" the political dimension of human subjectivity (as defined above) that lies behind this shift.

As the sixties came to a close and gave way to the more placid seventies, Metz began to diagnose modernity's deepest malady not as a susceptibility to ideologically charged paroxysms of violence, but (as we have already seen) a growing apathy, a "weariness with being a subject." Insofar as, for Metz, being a subject means taking responsibility for oneself and for those others with whom one is always already involved in history and society, what this weariness means is an increasing inability and/or unwillingness to intervene actively in social and political processes that determine what it means to be persons - most seriously, to be precise, processes that determine who will count as persons. Metz worries that our sense for the endangered character of human becoming in history has been numbed. We are more informed than ever about catastrophes in our world, but less and less moved to act: "Catastrophes are reported on the radio in between pieces of music. The music plays on like the 'passage of time' rendered audible, rolling mercilessly over everything, that nothing can interrupt. 'When atrocities happen it's like when the rain falls. No one shouts "Stop it!" anymore' - Bertolt Brecht" (Metz 1980: 170f. 1977: 150).

Metz's aphorism is taken from his tribute to Ernst Bloch in a set of 35 theses entitled "Hope as Imminent Expectation, or the Struggle for Lost Time: Untimely Theses on Apocalyptic" (Metz 1980: 169; 1977: 165). These theses express Metz's continual concern with time and temporality. This concern eventually sent him back to his early engagement with Heidegger - now, however, not as a source for a Christian existential anthropology, but as the twentieth-century thinker who most understood that modernity has covered over the temporality of human existence. However, while Metz highlights Heidegger's prescience in pointing out our exhausted and dysfunctional dealings with temporality, Metz contends that, rather than turning to the pre-Socratics, "he would have done better to look at the apocalyptic traditions" (Metz and Wiesel 1999: 29). Metz shifted to a strongly apocalyptic form of eschatology.

Metz contends that the backdrop to our deadened sense of time's passage is the modern symbol of evolution, a mythical universalization of the empirical concept, according to which everything passes away, and nothing genuinely new can "interrupt" the course of history. It is the dominance of this mythic symbol that paralyzes human hope and action on behalf of the victims of history, and therefore needs critique and "correction" by an apocalyptic escha-tology. Metz advocates apocalypticism for its capacity to energize a life full of hope in the God who can interrupt history, who sets bounds to history. Such an apocalyptic hope nourishes political hope and action on behalf of others:

A passionate expectation of the "day of the Lord" does not lead to a pseudo-apocalyptic dream-dance in which all the claims made by discipleship would be dissipated or forgotten. Neither does it lead to that unreflective fanaticism that cannot see in prayers of longing and expectation anything other than transparent forms of evasion or self-deception. Imminent expectation does not allow discipleship to be postponed. It is not the apocalyptic sense for life that makes us apathetic, but the evolutionistic! It is the time symbol of evolution that paralyzes discipleship. Imminent expectation, on the other hand, proffers perspectives on time and expectation to a hope that has been evolutionistically anaesthetized and seduced. . . . Apocalyptic consciousness . . . stands under the challenge of practical solidarity with "the least of your brothers," as it is called in the little apocalypse of Matthew's Gospel. (Metz 1980: 176f.; 1977: 156)

This appeal to apocalypticism does not, therefore, culminate in an attempt to calculate the time and events of the last day. It is, rather, a rhetorical device to inspire hope and creative political action. It does so by countering the deadened sense of time and history that, in Metz's view, engenders both fatalistic apathy and desperate fanaticism (see Ashley 2000). Since this hopeful orientation toward the future is always a hope for the other, even for one's enemy, Metz insists that it does not engender a violent praxis demonizing and seeking the annihilation of the other, but rather a patient, albeit apocalyptically insistent praxis that bears suffering and disappointment, continuing a struggle for the full humanity of all persons no matter what the cost: "Discipleship in imminent expectation: this is an apocalyptic consciousness that does not cause, but rather accepts suffering - resisting both apathy and hatred" (Metz 1980: 176; 1977: 156). Eccle-siologically rendered, this apocalyptic eschatology leads not to a focus on the church as the "institution of critical freedom," with its indispensable contribution to history of the eschatological proviso, but to an emphasis on those groups (often small, controversial, and marginalized) in the church that keep this unreasonable (on modern terms) apocalyptic hope alive. This emphasis is particularly evident in Metz's reflections on the place of religious life in the church (Metz 1978; 1998: 150-74).

Let us close with the particular spirituality that Metz associates with this apocalyptic eschatology. An apocalyptic hope in a God "for whom not even the past is fixed," which measures its actions accordingly, is sustained by a certain mystical disposition that Metz calls "Leiden an Gott." I have translated this "suffering unto God" in order to draw the connection with that other active disposition that Metz names "Rückfragen an Gott," going back to God with one's questions. Leiden an Gott is not a passive acceptance or endurance, as alternative translations such as "suffer from God" or "suffer God" might suggest. It is an active stance whose exemplars are Job and the Jesus of Mark's passion account - crying out to God and calling God to account. This spirituality can endure the remembrance of suffering, and act out of that remembrance no matter how hopeless such action seems, because it hopes for God's promised response, and calls God to make good on that hope. It is "a God-mysticism with an increased readiness to perceive, a mysticism of open eyes that sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and - convenient or not - pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who is a friend to human beings" (Metz 1998:

163). When Metz speaks of the dual mystical-political character of Christian faith, it is this that defines the mystical complement to the political stance that acknowledges the other in his or her alterity, and, above all, acts politically out of compassion for the other's suffering (Metz, forthcoming 2003).

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