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Interview with Jurgen Moltmann (80)

by Jurgen Moltmann Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 at 1:58 AM

Hope is a power in this life to begin life again, to be reborn in an affirmation of life from deep depression.. Hope continues like a star over our life.. We developed political theology to break through this prison `religion is a private matter'.


[This interview published 4/5/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Often described as the greatest living Protestant theologian, Moltmann is the author of many books including “Theology of Hope,” “The Crucified God” and “God in Creation.”]

[Professor Moltmann was born on April 8, 1926 in Hamburg. He studied evangelical theology in England and in Gottingen after his return to Germany. From 1952 to 1958 he was a pastor in Bremen. He was professor of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen for nearly 30 years. His work “Theology of Hope. Justification and Consequences of Christian Eschatology” has been translated in eight languages. Moltmann utilized Bloch’s work “The Principle Hope” for his own theology of God’s reign. Since 1952, professor Jurgen Moltmann has been married to the theologian Dr. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel and has four daughters. The important churchman came to faith through his experiences in the 2nd World War.]

Q: Eschatology, in Greek the doctrine of the last things, is the dominant theme in your works. This is a difficult and mysterious term. Can you explain it in a few words?

Moltmann: For me, eschatology is the expectation of God’s coming in this world to establish his reign and perfect all the longings and desires of humanity. Eschatology is not the negative expectation of the end but the positive expectation of the perfection of all we experience and ask of God in a fragmentary way here.

Q: You chose eschatology as the heart of your theological program. For you, eschatology means hope. You are the inventor of “theology of hope” so to speak. What is the core of the theology of hope?

Moltmann: Christian hope is set between the remembrance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and expectation of the future new world. The symbol of hope is on one side of the horizon. The horizon of expectation of life becomes bright when we speak of the resurrection. On the other side is the symbol of hope, birth. When a woman expects a child, we say: “She has good hope.” Rebirth of life and resurrection from the dead are the terms of the theology of hope.

Q: For many people, imagining the Last Judgment and the resurrection of the dead is hard. What happens after death? Where is a person after his or her death until the so-called Last Judgment? These questions are not easily answered.

Moltmann: We speak today of resurrection in death, not of a time between our death and the universal resurrection of the dead. This resurrection in death becomes clear through Christ’s word on the cross. Christ says to the dying one next to him: Today you will be with me in Paradise, today not in three days or at the end of the world. Therefore I say we will be resurrected immediately after death and come to eternal life through the judgment. This doctrine of resurrection in death really comes from Luther but is shared by many catholic theologians today like for example Karl Rahner. Thus we should not ask how long will the night of our death last until the Last Judgment since the Last Judgment comes right after death.

Q: Until your invention of “theology of hope,” eschatology was exclusively oriented in the life to come. You transport it in worldliness. Am I right? What are the consequences?

Moltmann: Hope is a power in this life to begin life again, to be reborn in an affirmation of life from deep depression. At the same time, hope is a comfort in the world to come beyond death. These are not contradictions. The more hope gives strength in this life, the more comfort it gives in the life to come.

Q: A person can conceive temporal infinity just as little as spatial or dimensional infinity. Can a person grasp these things with his or her limited intellectual power? What is time? What is eternity?

Moltmann: For me, time is the promise of eternity and eternity is the fulfillment of time. Eternity is fulfilled life. Eternity is not timelessness; that would be a false infinity or endlessness. Endlessness has nothing to do with qualitative finiteness. We no longer go back to Plato when we speak of eternity but to Boethius: eternity is fulfilled life in which nothing is desired any more.

Q: More than 35 years have passed since the publication of your successful work “Theology of Hope.” Has anything changed in principle in your understanding?

Moltmann: Hope only changes when it is either deeply disappointed or fulfilled. As long as hope is neither disappointed nor fulfilled, hope continues like a star of promise over our life. When one considers the history of the world or one’s own biography, one could say: Poland was neither lost nor won, Europe was neither lost nor won. Thus we live in hope and in the power of hope.

Q: The thinking of the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch and his famous principle of hope are concretely reflected in your theology of hope. What connects the perspectives?

Moltmann: Ernst Bloch’s “Principle of Hope” is really a brilliant theory of Jewish messianism. Bloch once asked: Why do Christians have no hope? The Bible is full of messianic passages that should lead Christians to their hope. The eschatological conscience came into the world through the Bible, Bloch said. That fascinated me. When I met him the first time, I asked him: Mr. Bloch, are you an atheist? He replied: I am an atheist for God’s sake! That is a thought-provoking sentence. His Marxism never moved me deeply.

Q: You are friends with the important catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz and are regarded as his protestant counterpart. Isn’t the catholic theologian’s “political theology” also the intent of your “theology of hope”?

Moltmann: Yes. I am very thankful to Johann Baptist Metz for our friendship and common interest through so many years. “Political theology” was our answer to the failure of the churches and Christendom in Auschwitz. Why did the church fail? There were many heroes in the church. Why were the churches silent? Many reasons could be named. Probably the most important reason is religion was said to be a private matter that has nothing to do with politics. We developed political theology to break through this prison “ religion is a private matter.”

Q: You speak of Auschwitz. Do you know the saying: after Auschwitz, no one can believe in God?

Moltmann: Yes, I have heard that but it is wrong. A Jewish friend said to me: “We cannot give Hitler a posthumous victory by not believing in God any more! Hitler wanted to achieve this with Auschwitz: to destroy faith in the God of Israel, not only the Jewish people.” Theology after Auschwitz is like a theology after Golgotha. We must take this seriously. Theology after Auschwitz is a theology of the cross. If the disciples after Golgotha could speak of God, we can also speak of God after Auschwitz.

Q: Your great work on theology of the cross is titled “The Crucified God.” Is there a tension between your “theology of hope” and your “theology of the cross”?

Moltmann: No. The origin of Christianity is Christ’s cross and Christ’s resurrection, Good Friday and the theology of Easter. I had to return to the other side of the theology of hope, namely the theology of the cross. In the cross, we see the pain of God’s love to us that went so far to share our pains and our sorrows to lead us to victory.

Q: You are intensely involved in the ecumenical dialogue, particularly between Jews and Christians. How do you judge the present state of the ecumene? Where do you see the convergences between Protestants and Catholics?

Moltmann: I came to the ecumene in the prisoner of war camp. When I was a Christian and came to faith, I found a community of Christians. Whether someone was catholic, evangelical, Lutheran or Free Church was unimportant. The question was: Are you a Christian or not? The ecumenical community of all Christians in sufferings and persecution was the origin of the ecumene. In Germany, the first ecumenical bonds arose in the time of the common persecutions by the Nazi dictatorship. We should always come back to this. The concrete person is the focus, not questions of ecumenical conferences, theology or bishops. The more Christendom becomes a minority in a multi-religious society, the more we must come to each other. At the moment, the state of the ecumene is different than I experienced it when I joined the ecumenical movement 40 years ago. Today the different profiles of Lutherans and Catholics, diversity in community, is strongly emphasized while in the past community in diversity was stressed. I hope this will lead us inexorably to one another. Regardless of whether we are Protestants or Catholics, we are Christians first of all.

Q: You also made important contributions to the Christian doctrine of creation. Does this doctrine contribute to the protection of nature and an ecological ethic? What is this contribution?

Moltmann: Apart from theology of creation, I see a contribution firstly in a new spirituality of nature. The mystical writings of Hildegaard von Bingen or Ernesto Cardenal’s “Cantico Cosmico” show that we have a deep spirituality of community with nature in our tradition. Mysticism is not oriented in the life to come. Rather true mysticism sees God in all things and all things in God and thus apprehends all things in reverence before God. The second contribution consists in a culture of life encouraged again and again by John Paul II. In a time when death has become so general and killing so easy, we need a strong culture of life grounded in love for life.

Q: “Trinitarian theology” is another great theme that has captivated you. This is also a very difficult subject for laypersons.

Moltmann: “Trinitarian theology” may be difficult but Christian faith from the beginning has been a trinitarian faith. In community with Jesus, God’s Son, I pray “Abba,” dear Father and expect the power of life, the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus Christian faith from the beginning has been oriented in God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit as the spirit of life. We experience this whenever we believe in the Christ community in God. This is very simple but can be expressed in a more complicated way. Trinitarian thinking is simple: I live in God and God lives in me whenever I live in love. This mutual indwelling of God in us and we in God is trinitarian thinking. Trinitarian thought is grounded in love.

Q: That does not sound so hard now. Would a person have less difficulty with faith if more proofs of God’s presence were effectively visible, as St. Thomas demanded?

Moltmann: Would you love your wife more if you could demand more proofs? No. Not needing proofs is part of love. Trust must be a complete trust. Proofs are part of control. God is our hope. Still we have the feeling we are God’s hope on this earth. God hopes in us. We are God’s utopia.

Q: What are the great dangers and what are the chances of our time?

Moltmann: The great danger is nihilism. We must hear and watch all this misery in the newspapers and on television and can do nothing. Then we sink into apathy. This new nihilism seems to me the great danger. Life is no longer lived rightly, we could say with Albert Camus. The chances of our time are greater than we expected. Who could have expected the collapse of the Soviet Union and the whole eastern bloc? No one. Who could have expected Germany’s reunification? Who could have expected that the apartheid system in South Africa would collapse without great bloodshed? No one. In our time, we have experienced so many signs and wonders that should inspire us to greater hope in the future rather than depression and fear of the future.

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