Johann Baptist Metz

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In 1944, as a sixteen-year-old member of the Wehrmacht, Johann Baptist Metz saw his entire unit killed in an air strike. He was later captured and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. The experience of the war, and the lessons of Hitler’s rise, would form the crucial background for his work as a theologian.  

After ordination in 1954, Metz completed his doctoral studies under the great Jesuit Karl Rahner. Though deeply shaped by Rahner’s application of Catholic faith to the modern world, Metz felt he did not go far enough. Metz pro- pounded a “political theology”—a prophetic response to the bourgeois “privatization of faith” that reduces discipleship to merely “believed-in discipleship.” This kind of political theology was not about power but about solidarity with the victims of history—a solidarity rooted in the “dangerous memory” of Jesus Christ. Such memory, he taught, inspires “subversive hope” and rebellion against suffering.  

Metz’s theology was crucially shaped by the need to account for the failure of Christians to respond adequately to the rise of Hitler. All Christian theology, he believed, must be “post-Auschwitz theology,” taking account not only of the suffering of the Jews but of the silence of Christians who were able to pray with their “backs turned” to the victims.  

Johann Baptist Metz died on December 2, 2019. 

The Christian is not only responsible for what he does or fails to do, but also for what he allows to happen to others.”  

—Johann-Baptist Metz  

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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