Johann Metz

The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop (Part 3: Metz)

This is part 3, continued from part 1 and part 2, of The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop: Oscar Romero, Johann Metz, and the Iconography of the Interruptive No. See part 4 for more.

Metz and His Form for Interruption
I am now going elaborate on Johann Metz, who has a theology parallel to Romero’s confrontation of bourgeois power. In this section I hope to lay the groundwork for synthesizing the thought of Metz with Romero’s life. With such an aim, I will touch on themes that constitute the interruption of oppression: the subject, narrative, dangerous memory and anamnesis, discipleship and solidarity, and apocalyptic hope. The structure of the argument will have three major foci: Anamnesis through dangerous memory from the Christi narrative; material space – discipleship and solidarity within the community and for others; and time – the apocalyptic-eschatological move and the hope it promotes.[28]

Metz has an intricate political theology that relies on intersecting themes and categories for its confrontation with evil and suffering. However, the point for Metz’s constructive work is the turn to the subject. His subject is not derived from or determined by a bourgeois philosophy, religion, or world; rather, it is determined first by God, and therefore it is inherently relational. Against the autonomous self, Metz asserts that religion is no mere addition to humanity, but instead “Men and women are called out of the pressures and anxieties of archaic societies; they are to become subjects of a new history” – the history of God that has been at work and will continue to be at work.[29] Thus, because religion “participates in [the] building up of one’s being a subject” into a new way of living, “it compels [religious people] over and again to be subjects in the face of that which most radically threatens that way of being.”[30] Already, in the turn to the subject, Metz is realizing a way of life that calls the subject to a measurement beyond his or her self, and to stay true to a telos. The importance of this new, transformed subject is that now the subject is given a strength to “remain a subject in the face of one’s enemies, in the face of the fear of losing one’s name, one’s identity, one’s very self.”[31] This implicitly begins the groundwork for a confrontation with power that would seek to destroy or usurp God, the subject, and the relationship between God and the subject.

For Metz, this subject is also constituted by narrative, memory, and solidarity.[32] Metz seeks to avoid the transcendentalism of his teacher, Karl Rahner, because while it may have answers, it does not dirty itself within history, and therefore within suffering existence.[33] Because Metz finds a transcendental anthropology lacking for determining identity, he moves to locating identity-forming reality within history: “the formation of identity always begins with the awakening of memory.”[34] The narrative that Metz speaks of for constituting the subject is a historically conscious, practical narrative.[35]

The narrative-practical Christianity of Metz also seeks to avoid a totalizing history; rather, it entwines salvation history with the histories of people, thus maintaining transcendence while immanent: “The individual histories are not devoid of a perspective on the history of salvation that has been narrated in advance; but the latter can very much take the individual histories into itself.”[36] In gathering up histories, within the universal invitation of salvation history, salvation history “makes…resistance indispensable.”[37] Thus narrative and memory “are the fundamental categories for getting a firm grip on one’s understanding of identity and for saving it in the midst of the historical struggles and dangers in which persons experience and constitute themselves as subjects.”[38] In short, story and memory of existence gives a platform for the subject to exist as determined by God.

But this narrative and memory is not for a few; instead, it is a universal call for solidarity.[39] The Gospel – the ability to be subject to God with other humans – is open to all. This universal but non-totalizing invitation is diametrically opposed to an exclusive, autonomous, and impoverished privatized-bourgeois determination of the subject. Metz sees the attempts at determination by the bourgeois as “atrophied remainders, warped images of that way of being a subject in God’s presence that a political theology describes and advocates: a way of being a subject in solidarity that is for everyone.”[40] For Metz, the bourgeois subject is a broken image of the true creator, while a political theology of the subject is empowering to the individual and the community at large.

Metz’s response against the bourgeois subject, in favor of the divinely determined subject, is a turn against pharisaical rigor for the radical life – an inane hypocrisy for dangerous love.[41] This radicalism has its root in remembered narrative located in the history of salvation. With the turn towards realizing salvation history against the status quo, we come to what Metz calls dangerous memory. Dangerous memory, for Metz, is a phrase designed to note the dangerous nature of both subversive narrative and what living the narrative would mean. For Metz the dangerous memory is specifically the remembering of past suffering and the dead.[42] This memory refuses to give into sweeping oppression out of sight; it refuses to let people remain invisible. In a bourgeois world, such memory challenges the structures at hand by first placing people in the view of the oppressed – in a form of solidarity with the oppressed.[43] In this way, dangerous memory exposes the narrative of monetary success and its bourgeois hope.[44] No longer do the unjustly rich and powerful rule the world; instead, the dangerous memory exposes the simulacra as subjects to God, rather than to themselves: “The faith of Christians is a praxis in history and society that understands itself as a solidaristic hope in the God of Jesus as the God of the living and the dead, who calls all to be subjects in God’s presence.”[45] Thus the memory of Christ as the “memoria passionis, mortis, et resurrectionis Jesu Christi” is in Metz’s words “a dangerous and liberating memory, which badgers the present and calls it into question…[and] compels believers to be in a continual state of transformation in order to take this future into account.”[46] This subversive memory, therefore, is characterized as “liberating” and “redemptively dangerous” by “introduc[ing] the remembered freedom of Jesus into contemporary society, its forms of consciousness, and its life praxis.”[47] For the Christian, the work of Jesus as the Word of God is the dangerous memory that exposed idolatrous, self-serving power.

Crucial for Metz is the relationship between dangerous memory and Anamnesis, Metz’s method for remembering Christ. It is not for Metz the Platonic notion outside of history, but instead, “is thought as memory, as historical remembrancing.”[48] Metz’s anamnesis is a remembering of Christo-salvation history within history and thus anamnesis grounds the possibility for discipleship in history. As already implied, this form of remembrance is formative for identity. Indeed, anamnesis is a reason how and why the dangerous life of Christ lives on. Simply stated, to rightly remember is to embody.

Discipleship itself, as a word, is infrequently used by Metz. Nevertheless, much of what Metz does write of – the formation of Christians and the church in the memory of Jesus as “always a journey, a following” – is discipleship.[49] This discipleship, is predicated on a messianic future, and specifically a messianic future not at the service of a bourgeois religion.[50] As hinted at earlier, a bourgeois religion seeks to obscure, and specifically for Metz, bourgeois religion attempts to temper the apocalyptic edges of hope and love inherent to messianic theology.[51] However, God has her own time and when combined with radical, authentic action, apocalypticism is constitutive for Metz’s sense of discipleship. In short, to understand God’s work in space (discipleship), the notion of God’s time within space must be addressed.

Primary to the affirmation of apocalyptic eschatology is the existence of time itself, and therefore the existence of expectation and hope around a future, in contrast to timeless, evolutionary progress where time is “an empty, surprise-free continuum, in which everything and everyone is grace-lessly encompassed.”[52] In evolutionary time, death reigns as timeless arbiter, but in the apocalyptic eschatology, Christianity finds its vibrant life where death does not win. For instance, discipleship is dependent on apocalyptic expectation: “It would not be possible to live a radical following of Jesus—that is, one that gets at the roots—‘if the time were not shortened.’ Jesus’ call, ‘Follow me!’ cannot be separated from Christians’ call, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’”[53] Key in this apocalyptic discipleship is a hope that takes on the role of imminent expectation and galvanizer. Faith places the Christian in the Christ life, love is the praxis of the Christ life, but it is hope that fuels the Christian life. God is the ruler of the living and the dead, and therefore hope genuinely grounds Christians in the stability of the creator, while the suffering and death encountered in discipleship loses its perpetual sting. Apocalyptic-eschatological theology therefore does more than inform Metz’s sense of history, it is divine salvation-history present in the world, over and against death.

With God as ruler over time and histories, God determines identity. As for the Christian identity, Jesus determines those who remember him. Both Jesus’ apocalyptic rule in time and his formation of a community – of a people in relationship together, modeled on the divine, kenotic Incarnation in material space – determine part of his legacy on Earth. Thus, in the transformation into Christ, for Metz, solidarity reigns as the defining relational category and praxis for Christian love. Metz then unites dangerous memory with the universal invitation of the Gospel in the Christ life to identify what Christological solidarity means: remembrance of the dangerous Christ life drives the Christian, with and for others, into remembering the suffering in lives past and the dead themselves. Thus active, formative remembrance of the downtrodden plays a primary role in the category of unity for Metz. The oppression and death of others define solidarity for Metz.

This solidarity also aims to maintain the dialectic between the universal and the particular inherent in the Christian life: Christological solidarity has the “the goal of protecting universalism from apathy and partial solidarity from forgetfulness and hatred.”[54] Thus solidarity in and through Christ, as humans are formed in his memory, reinforces or re-generates the local Christological community and the church universal. The remembrances of and the care for the oppressed are to operate both at one’s doorstep and across the world; in this local and worldwide church, the Christ narrative is remembered in community and carried on by the community. And in this solidarity, the community comes to life in a Christological fashion, maintaining the mystical and political aspects together transnationally; the body of Christ exists within space on its own Christological terms, not determined by colonial capitalism, the interests of the modern nation-state, or death itself. Thus apocalyptic discipleship notably “does not cause suffering, but shoulders it—defying apathy as well as hatred.”[55] In short, solidarity is a primary category for Christians to determine and constitute one another in mystical and political relationships according to the dangerous memory of Jesus.

Thus for Metz, with Christological discipleship at once both mystical and political, the Christological life is holistic, joining faith and action in a dialogical fashion. In fact the mystical and political must be affirmed together, or in Metz’s estimation, the imbalance results in “either the reduction of following Christ to a purely social and political dimension of behaviour or its reduction to private spirituality.”[56] The result in Metz’s conception of discipleship is a robust identity that locates the individual Christian and the church as a whole in the incarnated-cosmic Christ and his political-social location. Thus the embodiment of the Christ life by humanity within divine time, and therefore constituting the identity of the church in a cruciform life, recognizes that the “doctrines and creedal formulas would have to be understood as formulas in which this challenging remembrance is spelled out publicly.”[57] The conclusion of dangerous, mystical-political solidarity is: from the heart of the church explodes the freedom of Jesus into the present world through the witness of the church for divine life and against the mystical-political work of death.[58]

In sum, dangerous memory and anamnesis function in a way that encourages, and is in fact the method for, generation of the Christological life within people. Thus the Christ life is continually lived out on its own terms in space and time. The Christological community aims to achieve this divine life together, living out the divine understanding of space and time, rather than co-opted into the bourgeois calendar. For Metz, then, as the church embodies Jesus, it embodies a dangerous memory; this incarnating of Jesus gives the dangerous memory voice that transcends the silence of death. In short, the incarnation of dangerous memory gives a disruptive, or interruptive, politics to the present and future in light of the past and apocalyptic hope. The Christological community is quite simply a living interruption – the embodiment of the Christological No within the grand, incarnated Yes. Thus Metz is right in thesis seven: “The shortest definition of religion: interruption” because discipleship is indeed class treason.[59]

[28] These three foci work in a way that constitute Christian life in the world, but on this Christian bios its own terms. Quite simply, the Christian life has its own history and construction in space and time. With its own understanding of existence in the world already established, as derived from the rule of God, this theology then can be understood to politically engage the surrounding world without its core being determined by the world. This is not to say that Metzian theology does not have a dialogical relationship with the surrounding world, but that the Metzian theology is not parasitic on the existence of the world as it is today. Also, in an effort to simplify and synthesize Metz’s thought with respect to martyrdom, I have constructed the following schema to refer back to if need be (the bold are words actually used by Metz): idea forms identity, language, narrative, community → dangerous memory and Anamnesis (internal interruption occurs here) form basic communities by discipleship and solidarity → martyrdom confronts idolatrous power and its claim over life and death (external interruption). Suffering, hope, and love are not included, as are other very important themes, in the schema. I recognize this. The point of this schema is to show a very focused plot for how Metz can extend into martyrdom.

[29] Johann Metz, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. Matthew J. Ashley (New York, NY: Crossroad, 2007), 70.

[30] Ibid., 70-71.

[31] Ibid., 71.

[32] Ibid., 75-76.

[33] Ibid., 150-152.

[34] Ibid., 75.

[35] Ibid., 144-155.

[36] Ibid., 154.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] This reminds me of a quote from John Howard Yoder: “people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe.” “Armaments and Eschatology,” Studies in Christian Ethics 1 (1988): 58.

[40] Metz, Faith in History and Society, 58-59.

[41] Johann Baptist Metz, The Emergent Church, trans. Peter Mann (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1981), 8-9.

[42] Jon Sobrino understands this sense of dangerous memory: “Recalling Archbishop Romero, then, does not mean isolating him from the other martyrs of our country, or exalting him in such a way as to leave the others in the shade. No, to recall Archbishop Romero is precisely to recall so many others as well—so many prophets and martyrs, so many campesinos and Delegates of the Word, all of them preachers, by their deeds, of the living word of God. And above all, to recall Archbishop Romero means recalling thousands of innocent, defenseless, and nameless martyrs: it means recalling an entire crucified people, who names will never be publicly known, but who now are one with Archbishop Romero forever.” Witnesses to the Kingdom, trans. Robert R. Barr, 53.

[43] Metz, Faith in History and Society, 102.

[44] Ibid., 78-81.

[45] Ibid., 81. Italics original.

[46] Ibid., 88-89. Italics original.

[47] Ibid., 89. See also 105-110 and 169-185.

[48] Johann Baptist Metz, A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity, trans. J. Matthew Ashley (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998), 64.

[49] Johann Baptist Metz [Johannes B. Metz], Followers of Christ, trans. Thomas Linton (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1986), 39. Metz does, however, have virtually one chapter devoted to discipleship in The Emergent Church, 1-16.

[50] Metz, The Emergent Church, 2.

[51] Ibid., 4.

[52] Metz, Faith in History and Society, 159.

[53] Ibid., 163.

[54] Ibid., 210-211.

[55] Ibid., 163.

[56] Metz, Followers of Christ, 44.

[57] Metz, Faith in History and Society, 89.

[58] Ibid., 210.

[59] Ibid., 158. Metz, The Emergent Church, 14-16. Class treason is Metz’s phrase, but the logic is found in love: “When the paraxis of Christian love is placed under the sign of this obedience, which forbids us to confuse the mystery of God’s will with the quite non-mysterious will to self-preservation endemic to our familiar patters of life, then something of the messianic power of this love may be revealed. It strikes deep into our preconceived patterns and priorities of life. It has power to change hearts, power not to increase sufferings but to take them upon itself. It has the power to show unconditional solidiarity, to be partisan, yet without destructive hate which negates individual people. It combines within itself the program of holiness with that of militant love—even to the foolishness of the cross” Metz, The Emergent Church, 15.


4 thoughts on “The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop (Part 3: Metz)

  1. Pingback: The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop (Part 4: Romero and Metz) « flying.farther

  2. Pingback: The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop (Part 1: Introduction) « flying.farther

  3. Pingback: The Dangerous Jesus in the Martyrdom of an Archbishop (Part 2: Romero) « flying.farther

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