A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity

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A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity. By Johann Baptist Metz. Edited and translated, with an introduction, by J. Matthew Ashley. New York: Paulist Press, 1998. 212 pp. $19.95 (paper).

Johann Baptist Metz turns seventy this year and the translation of these recent essays is a suitable way for English readers to celebrate the occasion. The essays, with a very helpful introduction by the translator, were published in various German sources in the early 90s (with one exception). They reprise the main themes of Metz's earlier works from Theology of the World through Faith in History and Society and The Emergent Church, with greater clarity and intensity.

Perhaps most illuminating is the autobiographical note "In Place of a Foreword," in which Metz tells of being taken out of school when he was sixteen, drafted into the army and, after a brief period of training, sent to the front. One evening his company commander sent him with a message back to battalion headquarters. After wandering all night through destroyed, burning villages and farms, he returned in the morning to his company and found them all dead. "I could see only dead and empty faces, where the day before I had shared childhood fears and youthful laughter. I remember nothing but a wordless cry. Thus I see myself to this very day.... What would happen if one took this sort of remembrance not to the psychologist but into the Church?" (pp. 1-2). He goes on to say that this memoria passionis, the remembrance of the suffering of others, is the leitmotiv of his theological project.

Hence, the theme of the memory of suffering, of the suffering of others including those in the past, of "suffering unto God," runs throughout the essays. Thus, also does the "catastrophe of Auschwitz" and the "church after Auschwitz" become another dominant theme. This memory of the suffering of others contributed to his turning from the transcendental Thomism of Karl Rahner, his mentor and "father in faith," to his own version of political theology. Ashley aptly points out Metz's "alternative set of existentialia""What if the reality that contextualizes and threatens modern belief is not just, or even primarily, that of secularization and unbelief, but the horrifying worldwide prominence of inhuman suffering, the existence of crucified peoples? …