Münster (dpa) - It was in the last days of World War II. The 16-year-old Johann Baptist Metz erred with a message through the night to the command post. When he returned to his company the next morning, he found "only dead, all dead, overrun by a combined fighter-bomber and tank attack."

Metz later remembers "nothing but a silent scream". This experience becomes the germ of the New Political Theology. Its founder becomes one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century. On Monday he died at the age of 91 years in Münster, as the University of Münster announced on Tuesday.

"All great religions are focused on a mystique of suffering," said Metz. He was extremely allergic to any attempt to think about God without remembering the victims of the story. Such a suppression he also accused his teacher Karl Rahner. With a "transcendental-idealistic" frame of thought, Rahner, like many of his colleagues, had hidden the horrors of Auschwitz theologically. The question of justice for the innocent sufferers has been invoked by the Church in the question of the salvation of sinners.

Against internal church resistance Metz introduced in 1968 the neo-Marxist, ideology and socio-critical approaches of the philosophy Ernst Bloch and the "Frankfurt School" (Horkheimer, Adorno) in theology. His demand for a "subjectification" of Christians was gratefully taken up and continued by the liberation theologians in Latin America.

Against a privatization and bourgeoisification of the faith Metz emphasized the political responsibility of the Christians. He also adhered to mysticism, prayer, obedience and tradition. A key concept of his theology: the "compassion", the suffering sensitivity for others, the compassion of God, even the passion for God.

Metz was born on 5 August 1928 in a still largely closed Catholic world in Auerbach in Upper Palatinate. In 1954 he was ordained a priest. From 1963 to 1993 he taught at the University of Münster, where he lived until his death.

Does religion make you happy? Metz doubted. He was skeptical of the spiritual promises of self-discovery, which - for example in the books of the Benedictine priest Anselm Grün - also find a rousing sales among non-Christians. For Metz, religion was not consolation, but an irritating interruption of fact, a narration of tales of suffering, a cry for God.

Against the evolutive assumption of an endless time in which everything is indifferent and the victims do not receive justice, he adhered to the biblical horizon of a strictly limited time. He accused the Prefect of the Roman Congregation of the Faith and later Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, of "halving Christianity." The Jewish-apocalyptic spirit of Christianity had been supplanted by a Greek-metaphysical spirit. "The God of Jesus Christ is not an eternal Platonic idea," emphasized Metz.

In 1979 Ratzinger, as Archbishop of Munich, prevented the appointment of the uncomfortable reformer to the University of the Bavarian state capital. This did not detract from the worldwide influence of political theology - and in the end it found the papal blessing: Francis has confirmed Metz's "Option for the Poor" in the official church. Much of what Metz wrote back in the 1970s (for instance, "the kingdom of God is not indifferent to world trade prices") reads like an anticipation of today's papal criticism of the world economic system. Even many who are unaware of it, feed on this spiritual heritage, which remains effective as an important corrective.

Biography and bibliography