Theology of Hope

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"Theology of hope" is the name of a movement that gained international attention in 1964 with the publication of Theologie der Hoffnung by Jürgen Moltmann, a Reformed theologian who became a teacher at the University of Tübingen. Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg and Roman Catholics Johannes Metz and Karl Rahner have since allied themselves with the movement.

Ernst Bloch, Philosophy of Hope. The name and movement were inspired by the philosophy of hope of the East German Marxist Ernst Bloch, especially in his three-volume Das Prinzip Hoffnung (1959). That work made Moltmann realize that hope in the future of history was a thoroughly biblical principle left undeveloped in Christian theology. He concluded that a theology based on that hope would remain faithful to the biblical message and yet speak meaningfully to modern man, since it shared with him his alienation from the past and his instinctive drive for meaning from the future. Moltmann sought to integrate three basic themes: the theology of eschatolo gy of Karl Barth, Otto Weber, Hans-Joachim Iwand, Gerhard von Rad, and Ernst Käsemann, to which he had been introduced during his studies at the University of Göttingen (194857); the theology of the apostolate of J.C. Hoekendijk and especially of Arnold van Ruler (both of whom Moltmann studied, 195658), who made history meaningful in Christianity by combining with eschatology a social and political mission to the world as preparation for the kingdom of god; and Bloch's philosophy of hope based on Hegel and Marx, which would serve largely as a philosophical and conceptual system of historical process useful for elucidating the biblical revelation.

Bloch, a Jew, was himself fundamentally inspired by the Judeo-Christian revelation transmitted to him through the theology of Thomas Münzer and Joachim of Fiore, which he interpreted in "left-wing" Aristotelian-Marxist categories. Bloch once summarized his whole philosophy as "S is not yet P"; by this he meant that subject is not yet predicate, or being is not yet what it can be. He saw being as essentially dynamically oriented toward its essence or utopia, i.e., what it is capable of becoming when its potentialities reach fulfilment. This drive entails a dialectical process of history, now largely conducted by man, where the "not-yet" of the futurum is educed purely from the latencies and tendencies of creative matter. The present is the "front-line" between the unfinished past, transcended because it is not yet the "kingdom of freedom," and the "kingdom" or the "home of identity," where man and nature will be perfectly reconciled. History is the open-ended "exodus" of the "not-yet" of being-matter, striving to overcome the possibility of falling into Nothingness by realizing the All. The objectively real possibilities of the future reside in the "core" of matter yearning to be set free. It is this yearning that Bloch finds expressed in the data of man's fantasies and daydreams, in his basic hunger and love drives, in his literary, musical, and religious utopias. The ontological substratum pervading all these, however, is hope. Christianity has finally brought it to light as the human-eschatological messianic drive inherent in all reality. Bloch is grateful to Jesus and Christianity, he says, for turning the transcendent God into a vacuum and replacing Him with the human messiah and ultimately with the undiscovered hidden future realization of man and the world in "eschatological brotherhood." Christ left behind a community of love to act as a steward of the messianic hope by serving as the building material and city of the future kingdom.

Jürgen Moltmann. In spite of Bloch's heavy influence, there remain a number of radically dissociating elements in Moltmann's thought. While Moltmann's theology of hope is essentially rooted in the perception that, from beginning to end, "Christianity is eschatology, is hope" (Theology of Hope 16), his systematic expression of the contents of this perception belies accommodation with Bloch and process theology. Like Bloch, Moltmann speaks of the future as the "mode of God's being." Unlike Bloch, Moltmann roots the nature of this future in the God who really exists "ahead of us in the horizons of the future opened to us" by his history of promise. Unlike Bloch, Moltmann speaks of the future as adventus (parousia ) Dei, the arrival from ahead of us of "the God of the coming kingdom," whose reality, glory, and divinity are made known from the experience of his future in its transforming effect upon the past and the present. History is not built upon utopian wish-fulfilment of what can emerge from the "eternal process of the becoming and begetting of being," but is the continuing anticipation, in the past and the present, of the "not-yet"the radically "new" and transforming future "which is neither in its reality nor in its potentiality already in existence" (Future of Hope 1015). Whereas futurum can never be completely new, adventus is full of the infinite possibilities possible only to God and thereby pointing always toward Him. It thus creates an ever-advancing "front-line" between the past that is "obsolete and passing" (the Old) and that which has never before been (the New).

Christian eschatology speaks of the future of God only from its reality-prolepsis in Christ's death and resurrection. In that event, God anticipated His future kingdom of life out of death and thereby created history as the time of hope. The glory of resurrection, however, shines forth in history from the crucified Christ and only there. The cross of Christ thus becomes the historical form of the resurrection and the kingdom of life with God becomes the future hope of the cross "until he comes." Since Christ rose from the dead, his death on the cross marks God's final judgment upon all that contradicts the future of freedom. Christ's present reign takes place in the historical dialectic of the cross-resurrection event that already mediates to the godless and godforsaken world under the conditions of the present liberation from enslavement to sin and death.

The "front-line" of the future of new life occurs in history wherever the power and significance of the Christ event continue to be mediated to a dying world. This takes place in the proclamation of the Gospel, which, as Word-prolepsis of the eschatological hope of the kingdom to the poor, mediates hope itself. The sacrament of hope is further mediated to history in the creation of the Christian community of hope wherever, as the new People of God, it overcomes contradiction with the future kingdom it manifests. Hope is, finally, present wherever, as "creative, battling, and loving obedience" (Future of Hope 38) it transforms personal life and social, political, and cosmic orders in anticipation of the coming new world. Thus, in a mission of service to the world in the spirit of Christ's "self-renouncing love," the Christian extends into the world the power of hope as the ontological force of the kingdom in history.

Hope is thus the power of faith that sets history in motion and gives it all its vitality. What is grounded in faith becomes effective through hope in the form of love of all reality in the service of its new birth. In its own way, Moltmann's theology of hope replaces a static metaphysics of being with a dynamic "metaphysics" of the Christ event, whose branches are visible in more recent developments in political and liberation theology.

Karl Rahner. Theology of hope finds expression in more recent writings of Karl Rahner, who endeavors to extract hope from its subordinate position to faith and love in traditional scholastic theology by seeing it as an enduring power of dispossession of self in radical self-commitment to the absolutely uncontrollable and utterly incalculable transcendence of the God of truth and love. This eschatological hope is that by which the individual knows that the promise of salvation, definitively offered to all in Christ's radical act of hope on the cross, is concretely conferred upon the individual as the promise of his salvation. On the basis of Lumen gentium 35, Rahner argues that this hope in the absolute future of God must express its self-dispossession outwardly in the "permanent transformation of the framework of secular life" (Theological Investigations 10, 256). In its continually revolutionary attitude toward petrified historical and social structures, Christian hope in practice obeys God's command to hope in his absolute future, sets out ever anew in an exodus toward that future, and sustains the future by making it real.

Vatican Council II gave official sanction to the "Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church," the title of Lumen gentium ch. 7. The Church is seen as carrying on the mission of preparing for the "promised restoration" that has "already begun in Christ" and is "already anticipated in some real way" in the "imperfect holiness" of the Church (Lumen gentium 48). The "joys and hopes" of this age are the "joys and hopes of the followers of Christ" (Gaudium et spes 1) until "there is a new heaven and a new earth" (Lumen gentium 48). The "children of promise" are obliged to express their hope in the glory to come "in their daily social and family life" by continually turning it toward God and wrestling it from the forces of evil (ibid. 35). In their service to the total human community in every temporal labor and joy, the faithful "consecrate the world itself to God" and "lead their brother men to that King whom to serve is to reign" (ibid. 3436).

See Also: eschatology (in the bible); progress; theology and history.

Bibliography: e. bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (3 v. Frankfurt 1967); Man on His Own, tr. e. b. ashton (New York 1970); A Philosophy of the Future, tr. j. cumming (New York 1970). c. e. braaten, The Future of God (New York 1969). w. h. capps, Time Invades the Cathedral (Philadelphia 1970). m. d. meeks, Origins of the Theology of Hope (Philadelphia 1970); Theology of the World, tr. w. glen-doepel (New World 1969). j. moltmann, Theology of Hope, tr. j. w. leitch (New York 1967); Religion, Revolution, and the Future, tr. m. d meeks (New York 1969); "Theology as Eschatology," The Future of Hope ed. f. herzog, (New York 1970) 150; Hope and Planning, tr. m. clarkson (London 1971); The Experiment of Hope, tr. m. d. meeks (Philadelphia 1975). w. pannenberg, "The God of Hope," tr. g. h. kehm, in Basic Questions in Theology, 2 (Philadelphia 1971) 234249. k. rahner, Theological Investigations, 10, tr. d. bourke (New York 1973) 235289. o. weber, Grundlagen der Dogmatik, 2 v. (Neukirchen/Moers 195562).

[m. r. tripole]