Eberhard Jüngel, the leading Protestant theologian from Stalinist East Germany, died on Tuesday at the age of 86.
Jüngel’s work was never popularized and it has been eclipsed in some ways by his peers and colleagues, including Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Küng, and future Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger. As a philosopher theologian, his scholarship could seem “unbalanced,” one scholar noted, with contemporary concerns and popular trends.
But the theologians who discovered Jüngel were often drawn to his dense arguments and intense focus on God’s self-revelation, the centrality of the Trinity in understanding God, and the importance of the doctrine of justification by justification. faith.
“The being-object of God,” writes Jüngel, “consists in the fact that God as God has become speaking. And the knowledge of God consists in the fact that the God who, as God has become speaking, comes to the word in that he is “considered and conceived by men”. This event, in which the God who, as God has become speaking, expresses himself in human words, is faith.
His passing was mourned by his former students in Germany, including Protestant bishop and popular religion columnist Petra Bahr.
“Heavenly scholars, hang in there”, Bahr wrote on Twitter. “There will be long nights.
Jüngel was born in December 1934 in Magdeburg, halfway between Hanover and Berlin, immediately after the consolidation of power by Adolf Hitler. Jüngel’s childhood was dominated by World War II. Then in 1945, Magdeburg was liberated by American soldiers. However, when the Allied powers shared responsibility for defeated Germany, Magdeburg was handed over to Russian forces. The country split and East Germany aligned with the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin.
As a teenager, Jüngel struggled with the totalitarian state. He wanted to explore intellectual horizons and that was forbidden to him.
“Socialist ideals were implemented by a kind of power politics,” he later said. “We can discuss the ideals of socialism. But it also implies the possibility of arguing against them. And precisely, that was not authorized.
Jüngel’s only reprieve was the Protestant church. In church he was allowed to think, explore, debate, and discuss ideas. The church became the only place he could seek the truth.
Jüngel decided he wanted to become a pastor and theologian.
The decision surprised her mother, who was slightly pious and taught her four children to pray at the appropriate times, but didn’t think ministry was a good career choice. It baffled his father, who was not a Christian and only ridiculed theology, Jüngel said. The Christian Century in 1990.
The decision also angered people at school. When Jüngel was 18, he was denounced as an “enemy of the republic”, along with a group of Christian colleagues, and expelled from school. He was not allowed to take the exam to enter university. Instead, Jüngel enrolled in a religious school in Berlin.
Later, when he and other postwar theologians debated whether theology should be political, Jüngel would revisit this experience.
“The political relevance of the Christian faith, from start to finish, lies in its ability and obligation to speak the truth,” he said. “The political activity demanded of the Church aims above all to help the cause of truth. “
Jüngel studied theology in East Berlin, pursuing a doctorate. In 1957, he managed to leave for an illegal year abroad. He traveled to Switzerland to study with the theologian Karl Barth and made regular trips to Friborg, where he studied with the philosopher Martin Heidegger.
He was deeply influenced by the two men.
Heidegger, he says, taught him that philosophy must be theological.
“Towards the end of his life,” writes Jüngel, “I had a conversation with Heidegger about the relation between thought and language, and I asked him if it was not the fate of thought to be unterwegs zu Gott (on the way to God). He replied, “God, this is the most worthy object of thought. But that’s where the tongue breaks.
Jüngel agreed on the importance of thinking about God, but rejected the idea that it is impossible to articulate. While it is true, he believed, that humans cannot understand God through their own intellectual powers, God had been revealed to mankind. Barth taught him to focus his mind on Jesus.
“I was challenged to think of God from the event of his revelation, and that means from the event of his coming into the world,” Jüngel said.
The young theologian returned to Berlin and completed his doctorate in 1961. He immediately began teaching. The Protestant bishop appointed him a lecturer at the religious school when the Berlin Wall divided the city and students in the East were separated from classrooms and teachers in the West.
He turned his attention to the philosophical problem of human understanding of God. Some German theologians of the time argued that God could only be known subjectively, through human experience. They argued that God is fundamentally pro nobis (for us), and theologians should not describe the divine as an independent reality. Others retorted that God is objective and, in essence, pro se (for himself), and theologians are wrong when they make God too accessible.
Jüngel rejected both of these positions, pointing out that God is most fully revealed in Jesus’ crucifixion. In this historic event, God was fully pro se and pro nobis, with the truth of one fulfilling the truth of the other.
“Jüngel envisions the cross as the supreme act of relationship: the relationship of God the Father to God the Son in the power of the Spirit, and the relationship of the Triune God to sinful humanity,” wrote theologian John Webster . “Although God always comes” from himself, to himself and by himself “, he nevertheless comes” to the world and to humans. ” In fact, God comes “as the mystery of the world, showing himself as the Human God.'”
In 1969, Jüngel left East Germany and went to the University of Tübingen, near Stuttgart. The university was then considered to be the center of the universe of academic theology. Jürgen Moltmann had just been appointed professor of systematic theology and published his founding work, Theology of Hope. Joseph Ratzinger held a chair in dogmatic theology and was intimately involved in Vatican Council II, addressing the relationship of the Catholic Church with the modern world.
Jüngel became a close friend of Moltmann and Hans Küng, although he only briefly interacted with Ratzinger. He enjoyed entertaining theologians in his apartment filled with books on a hill overlooking Tübingen and talking theology late into the night.
Jüngel was a popular teacher, filling university lecture halls. He said he thought it was because he was “a good comedian,” but also noted that many of his students came out of his classes confused. Real thinking, he said, echoing Heidegger, is no easy task.
“Theological thinking is something like an adventure,” he told a graduate student, “not because you don’t know where it’s going – you know, you know where you’re from, you know where you are. come on, there is an alpha and an omega, but you have to find your way between the two, and it’s an adventure in theology.
Jüngel’s last major theological intervention came in the late 1990s, when he led the opposition to an ecumenical accord between Lutherans and Catholics. Jüngel urged German churches to reject the document, or at least recognize that there was no consensus on justification by faith.
A few years later, Jüngel published a book on justification, calling it a cornerstone of Christian theology.
“At the heart of the Christian faith,” he wrote, “is a declared belief in Jesus Christ. But this confession also has a center, a living hearth, which makes the confession of Christ something which vitally concerns my own existence. That heart of the heart of the Christian faith is the belief in the justification of the sinner. “
Jüngel remained in Tübingen until 2003, when he retired. He then accepted a position at a research institute at the University of Heidelberg, a few hours north, and in 2007 accepted the Hans-Georg Gadamer Chair in Theology.
He continued to read and write theology, but also had more time for hikes and police shows. Jüngel never married and did not have children. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made public.