Holy Week is a good time to meditate on his classic book The Crucified God. The God we see on the cross is the Crucified God. Jon Sobrino tells a powerful story about a copy of The Crucified God being found in the blood of one of his martyred colleagues in San Salvador. I was in Thailand giving a course in Christology, and so did not meet the same fate. Now, it happened that, after the murders, those who committed them dragged the corpse of one of the six victims, Juan Ramon Moreno, back into our house. And in the bumping and pushing, there fell from the bookcase a book — one book — that would lie there covered in blood.
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There is hardly a reading list for theology students on which the name of this German theologian does not feature prominently. And Britain features prominently in the life of the year-old, who, at the beginning of this month, delivered the Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey.
His grandfather was a freemason and grandmaster of a lodge. By the time he was sent to take instruction in preparation for confirmation — the rite of passage into adulthood at age 14 — the Nazis were in power, and the pastor who instructed him and his peers was a German-Christian sympathiser who told the boys that Jesus was an Aryan, really.
He was planning to study mathematics. His childhood and youth were, in many ways, typical of his generation. Their world was secular, and was interrupted only when war broke out in In , Moltmann received his call-up papers, and, in July of that year, he experienced the firestorm: the destruction of Hamburg, an important port and industrial centre. In the last months of the war, Germany was already in chaos: the war was lost, and allied troops were on German territory.
Moltmann was duly taken prisoner, and, as he relayed to the audience at Westminster Abbey, the next morning one of the soldiers brought him a mess tin of baked beans. For me, they taste of life. After six months in a prisoner-of-war POW camp in Ostende, in Belgium, the prisoners were loaded on a ship. The war in Europe had ended, and they assumed that they were on their way back to their home cities in Germany, Hamburg, or Bremerhaven, perhaps.
In the morning, they were allowed to go on deck, and, to their surprise and perhaps shock, what they saw was Tower Bridge. From London, they were taken to a POW camp in Scotland, and Moltmann and his comrades were sent to work building roads near Kilmarnock. Moltmann has often spoken about how he and his fellow prisoners — former enemies, after all — experienced the hospitality of the local populace as incredibly kind and yet deeply shaming.
Altogether he would spend three years in Britain. As the Cold War began, and the attitudes of the Western Allies towards Germany changed, education programmes for young Germans were set up.
Young German POWs were able to complete their schooling and to qualify for university entrance. Watched by an armed British officer, Moltmann was taken south to Nottinghamshire, to a camp near Mansfield. He later described the time spent at Camp Norton as the most intellectually intense and rich time of his life. Here, he studied his first semester of theology before eventually returning to Germany in April On many occasions, he has ascribed the latter to the fact that, on a journey with fellow students to Copenhagen, he had met a young theology student, Elisabeth Wendel, well known in her own right as a theologian and one of the pioneers of feminist theology.
The former is certainly no surprise: Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, like her husband, was an ambassador of theology from other parts of the world to Germany.
THE ability to speak for oneself in theology, for many different voices to be heard, and to be heard authentically has been a constant in the many theological conversations that he has been involved in over the years. Thinking and speaking for oneself is still important to the nonagenarian. What would he say to young people now, perhaps those setting out to study theology?
Seek adventures in other countries, and work through them theologically. Take the earphone plugs out of your ears and sing, yourselves; switch off your smartphones and start to think for yourselves. Here, he worked as an ordinary professor for systematic theology from until his official retirement in Once again, perhaps the prophet is not without honour, save in his own country.
Long before his contemporaries, he was aware of, and entered into dialogue with, theologians from other parts of the world. He was the first to introduce German Protestant theologians to the political theologies of Asia and Latin America.
I ask him where this journey began, and he talks about his regular visits to Korea, beginning in He also mentions Nicaragua, where he helped to found the first Protestant university, in Managua. While his work in the early years of his career had largely been historical, and focused on theology in the Dutch and German Reformed tradition, by the s he was becoming increasingly interested in developing a theology that engaged with the questions of the present day.
But it was an encounter with the Jewish Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, the author of The Principle of Hope , that sparked what was to become an epoch-making theological work — a departure that gave Moltmann his own voice and continues to be his subject today.
It marked a new beginning for a theology that was public and political, confident and credible, in calling people together to work for the common good. Where the United States, full of the optimism of the Kennedy era, saw cause for hope that new beginnings were possible, even in the Church, the Stasi sensed danger.
The book was duly banned, and Moltmann was barred from lecturing in the GDR for the next ten years. But the rest, as they say, is history; and, among the readers of copies of Theology of Hope smuggled behind the Iron Curtain were the pastors whose invitations to open conversations about the future of the planet and prayers for peace sparked the peaceful revolution of In the s, Moltmann was writing for a world that had lost its innocence: in Germany, through the experience of the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust — for Moltmann, as for most of his generation, this is still very present; and for the world, through the possibility of a nuclear holocaust.
The human race had entered its own endtime. At its heart is not Marxism, but messianic hope. Life, for Moltmann, is not an accident of nature, and, therefore, he holds that we must create a culture that recognises the common life of humankind. This, for him, is not merely Christian brotherhood, but is to be extended to all people. Human life not only implies the gift of life, but also the responsibility of being human.
Life must be lived both privately and publicly. I ask him who his conversation partners would be now, after the end of the Cold War and the discreditation of Marxism. Beyond Germany, this is, perhaps, the book that has had the most profound impact. The Crucified God was an attempt to speak about God in the wake of Auschwitz, after the death of God. In the preface to the 40th-anniversary edition, he tells of a letter that he received in from the American theologian Robert McAfee Brown, about the murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in San Salvador.
One of the soldiers who had dragged the bodies of the martyrs through the Jesuit study house at the University of Central America, in San Salvador, had knocked a book off the shelf in the study of Jon Sobrino, the only surviving member of the community because he was out of the country at the time of the massacre.
The book, stained with the blood of one of the slain priests, Juan Moreno, and now under glass at the memorial, was El Dios Crucificado. The reality of violence and cruelty demanded an answer.
Where is God? But it is in his encounters with theologians from the wider Christian Church, in the ecumenical movement, that much of his theology was shaped. Nearly all of them were translated into English by Margaret Kohl, who made a substantial contribution in her own right by enabling consistency of language and terminology. As a theologian, this German professor is a citizen of the world, and yet Britain retains a special place in his life and in his heart.
More than 70 years later, he still speaks warmly about the hospitality of the farmers of Kilmarnock. In his view, it retained an innocence that his home country lost in the face of the atrocities of the Second World War and the Holocaust.
Maybe this was the polite answer of a guest, although when I asked him about his impression of Britain today, he mentioned ever greater divides within society and the threat that the Union could break up. None the less, this guest has gained a firm place in the theological canon of his former captors, and his theology of hope still strikes a chord. Dr Natalie K.
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Transcript: Emergent theological conversation with Jürgen Moltmann 1B
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El Dios Crucificado
Turns out I did find some time to transcribe the second part of the podcast, the discussion with Moltmann following his short biographical presentation. The audio can be found here. Moltmann: Well, do good, love the beauty of nature, and follow your instinct for adventures of life. Goethe was certainly convinced that God is present everywhere and everything is divine.
El Dios crucificado
Listening for God’s eternal ‘Yes’