Friday, September 23, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary : Author's Preface & Chapter 1

Author's Preface


Moltmann begins his book Man with a statement of intent. He means to "portray what it is to be human." But what is man? "Nothing less is meant by the key-word `man'," he writes, "than the public history of men's questioning and seeking, of their failures and humiliations."

But when do we start asking such questions? Where are the answers found, and how can they be evaluated? How can he hope to even begin such a task, especially since there is not place of objectivity since he himself is a man? Such presumption, he continues, is worth it because he, "sees in God the worth of the question-able being which we all are, and therefore sees theology as providing the theme for anthropology."[1]

Moltmann says that it is important to "explore ways for man to become man," because humanity itself is changed by its coming into self-knowledge. [2] There is a value, he says, in the questioning; this against temptations to skepticism. The questioning relationship between God and man, a relationship of such closeness that, "a book about `Man' will inevitably slip into being a book about God," means skeptical limitations are undone. It "makes much open to question which we regard as unquestionable and obvious, and much else again full of hope which we regard as hopeless.[3]

Chapter 1: What is man?


Who are we? Where do I stand myself?


The question “Who am I?” arises from every encounter a human being has with the exterior world, and indeed, from even his own consciousness. He must ask the question, for he must live, yet there is no ‘getting behind’ the self for proper observation. The answer dwells, then, in hypothetical infinity. Yet, if it wasn’t so, then the self would die, for “as we experience being human, we experience it as a question, as freedom and as openness.” Being human, then, “is an experiment in which we ourselves are taking part and are at risk”(2).  Observation will give no answer. At the same time, there can be no direct encounter. The solution cannot be sought through a total unveiling of the mystery of who we are. Rather, it exists upon a balance between mystery and revelation; “between the fundamental self-questioning of man and the answer by means of which he takes control of himself”(3).  The self is a limit and an openness, both of which must be respected.

This is true socially, politically, historically as well as individually.[4] Historical answers, especially when they are temporally successful, offer both a useful basis for social life and openness toward future fulfillment. Even in this context, however, no real answer to the question “Who am I?” can find a solution. Yet, there is an avenue available through comparison with others.

A. The question arises from the comparison of man with the animals


Biological anthropology begins when the question “Who am I?” is sought by comparison of human beings with animal life. Such a comparison leads to one certain result: human beings are strangers in the world.[5] Unlike the environmental and instinctive ‘fit’ animals display, human beings are a species displaced upon the globe. “His task,” writes Moltmann, “is to find what his nature is”(5). Education is how human beings live in their environment, and that is the source of imagination, creativity, culture and, above all, language. “He is in a very real sense both a creator and the creation of his language. He catches in the net of language a world which is open to him and overflowing with stimuli”(7).[6] Through reason, and through action, human beings set themselves apart from the animal world for freedom.[7] Still, the question is not exhausted, but moves on to other comparisons.

B. The question arises from the comparison of men with other men


Cultural anthropology begins when the question “Who am I?” is sought by comparison of human beings with one another in the context of families, tribes, and nations.  Moltmann contrasts two historical strategies in which human beings have sought to live together.

The first strategy is derived from the belief in common innate ideas of the reason.  This idea, this humanitas - the likeness and unity of all people on the basis of a common nature – contrasts with an anxious ethnocentrism that pits one against another.  Unfortunately, humanitas came to divide people into the educated citizen and the unrefined barbarian; the pantheist and the polytheist.[8]

The second arises from the Judeo-Christian belief in one God, maker and judge of all people.  “The expectation of the coming kingdom of God unites all the individual destinies of men and the histories of the nations into a common world history.”(9)  Though it has taken many centuries to see anything approaching a common history, this strategy for unity has always had one significant advantage: the inclusion of difference underneath the umbrella of future history.  Not homogenous but pluralistic community.

Enlightenment anthropology combined these two strategies and produced the constitutions of modern states.  Such constitutions described human beings not as they were, but, instead presented, “a challenge, and a concrete expression of Utopia.”(10) Their visions of hope and freedom have charmed the whole world, and become dreams not easily forgotten.[9]

There is no doubt that cultures are different and historically conditioned.  Cultural anthropology studies them, then, in the discipline of ethnology.  It can also, however, attempt to advance, to humanize human kind.  This desire, humanitas, is a messianic hope for the fulfillment of humanity’s humanity.  Taken together, “it belongs fundamentally to man’s nature that he both is man [ethnology] and has to be man [humanitas]”(11).[10]

Cultural anthropology’s answer to the question “What is Man?” is culture, defined as the soul’s attempts to understand itself.  Through transitory cultural images which arise from out of an inner, amorphous, “creative germ-cell” and vary across history and geography, humanity “attempts constantly to complete itself.”  This desire, culture, attempts to close up (limit) the openness of biological incompleteness.  To the origin of this openness, this incompleteness, cultural anthropology cannot speak.  The question is not exhausted, but moves on to other comparisons.

C. The question arises from the comparison of man with the divine



Religious anthropologies such as those found in theology, metaphysics and poetry arise from religious statements about the fate and destiny of humanity.  “In the presence of the gods man recognizes his own non-divinity, his lowliness, and his earthiness”(12).  Here, however, the question, “What is man?” takes on a new context.  Here it is understood as a question asked of human beings by God.  It is not a question human beings ask, but one that is posed by the experience of suffering.  People are put into question here like they are in no other sphere.  “Here the question ‘What is man?’ can no longer be answered objectively with reference to his soul, his deficiencies, or his creative power.  It becomes concentrated into the person question, ‘Who am I, my God, before you?’”(14)  Against such mystery, humanity hopes for revelation which is a hope for the answer of the self.  “It is only in the coming of God himself, who endlessly puts this life in question, that the revelation of the secret of man can be hoped for”(15).[11]  It is the depth of the heart, with its subsequent existential crisis, that begets religious anthropology.  Still, religious anthropology is not specific to Christianity.  To ask about Christian anthropology is to go still further.  For the Christian, the question is still not exhausted.

D. Ecce Homo! Behold the man!


For the Christian, the question, “What is man?  Who am I?” arises not from a comparison with animals, with other men, or even with the numinous, but out of a call, “at the point at which man in his life is charged with something impossible by the call of God.”  “The divine calls, which demands of him a new being, places him at an insuperable distance from himself, and involves him in a change of identity.”(16)  In short, the Bible does not answer the existential question, but gives meaning to existence by opening up the future through the promise of a God who goes with and before.  People ask about limitations, God’s presence offers infinite possibilities.  Jesus Christ is the figure of this new way forward.  Christ is true God and true man, into his future goes all human questioning.  Jesus’ identification with the outcast, with the non-human, makes them human.  His is a humanization of all people.  “In this crucified Jesus men have again and again been able to see themselves in the course of history”(19).  The crucified Christ unifies all people, because all are the same under the knife-edge of suffering.  “God became man in order out of proud and unfortunate gods to make real men.” (Luther)  “Christian anthropology is an anthropology of the crucified Lord”(20).  It does not overcome other forms of anthropology, nor is overcome.  It is the challenge for liberation cast up against all form of safe pretence, deceit and deception.  It is the rescue of humanity from man.

Go to to chapter two.






[1] Moltmann, then, is not an empiricist. He agrees with Heidegger’s criticism of objectivity. The escape from the solipsistic tradition of radical doubt and skepticism began when Descartes attempted to remove all a priori and replace them with the cogito and ended in Meditation 3 when he made God (logos) foundational for knowledge again. Kant had the same problem, albeit in a far more sophisticated manner. After brilliantly codifying his categories, he could never answer the question of how it is possible for one who is subject to the categories to step outside them, to transcend them, in order to describe them? Heidegger, following Husserl’s phenomenological lead, brushes aside the attempt and regains Plato’s original insight: the philosopher is one who contemplates the relations of the higher forms. Except, for Heidegger, there is no world of the forms. Instead, he sets about exploring the existential structures of Da-Sein, which is not the absolute ego vs. the world, I-It, but the transitive self in a field of relatedness. Furthermore, from the perspective of human beings “thrown” into the world, God is the only non-subjective point, I-Thou.

[2] How is humanity changed?

[3] [Thom] I couldn't help but contrast this with Calvin's Institutes 1.1, in which Calvin says that wisdom consists entirely of two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves. I wonder, though, at Calvin’s sentence, "it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we [human beings] possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone." Moltmann does not reflect such a metaphysic. When Moltmann treats of human being-ness it is examined upon its own bottom and not against the negative spaces of God. Yet, both men come to the same, hopeful end (God the Creator), as Calvin writes, “Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.” (1.1.1) A final question: Does Moltmann interrogate anthropology to discover God or to discover the quality of life before God? Hopefully, the answers should present themselves as the theologian begins to answer the question, "Why do human beings question their own humanity?"

[Alan] It does seem that his anthropology starts from below rather than, like Calvin's, from above. But I do wonder if he is fully consistent with his premises. Moltmann makes the crucified Lord the critical criterion for his theology, but it seems in Man the cross is at best a challenge rather than determinative of his conclusions. (Am I correct in assuming that his chapter on the anthropology of the crucified Lord comes last?) [Furthermore, there is a strong resemblance to] Karl Rahner's theological anthropology. For instance, Rahner writes the following about the transcendent structure of knowledge:

"In spite of the finiteness of his system man is always present to himself in his entirety. He can place everything in question. In his openness to everything and anything, whatever can come to expression can be at least a question to him. In the fact that he affirms the possibility of a merely finite horizon of questioning, this possibility is already surpassed, and man shows himself to be a being with an infinite horizon. In the fact that he experiences his finiteness radically, he reaches beyond this finiteness and experiences himself as a transcendent being, as spirit. The infinite horizon of human questioning is experienced as a horizon which recedes further and further the more answers man can discover.” (Foundations, pp 31-32)

[As in Moltmann, t]here is limited openness to everything (the infinite) in how humans constantly question reality to grow in knowledge. Rahner later will assert that the infinite horizon is God, that the structure of transcendental experiences masks the natural revelation of God (p 170) and that philosophical proofs for the existence of God are merely secondary thematizations of a more basic transcendental experience (pp 68-71). I wonder how much of Rahner does Moltmann explicitly cite? And perhaps more interesting is how much of Rahner is hidden in Moltmann's thought?

[4] Cf. JM member Mike Gibson, “The church, then, corresponds to the reality of Christ’s resurrection, whereby the resurrection as the reality of the future, and as the beginning of the resurrection and new creation, means that the church herself is an echo of the resurrection, a community of those living in the beginning of the resurrection of the dead.” draft chapter. “The Redemption of Time in the Church of the Risen Christ” pp. 12ff. available in the /Files section by permission of the author.

[5] Existentialist ideas of “Alienation.”

[6] Culture in general and language in particular are tools used to further the quest for self-realization.


[7] Karl Rahner understands freedom as fundamental power to decide about and actualize the self.

[8] Moltmann describes the Western humanitas tradition as a category of law in the lecture “Who is Man?” In this lecture, he says that the adoption of the idealism of humanitas has led to “humanitistic suicide caused by despair resulting from man’s impossible dream. And since the bourgeoisie has been the bearer of that ideal humanism for 200 years, we may also talk then of a self-destruction of the bourgeoisie.” Human Identity in Christian Faith Raymond Fred West Memorial Lectures on Immortality (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974): 2, 5. The two positions, humanitas as gospel-openness and humanitas as law seem at odds, and, as of this note, I’m not sure how to reconcile them. Some investigation as to whether he treats humanitas in God for a Secular Society would be helpful.

[9] “Bloch's practice of ideological criticism discerns emancipatory utopian dimensions even in ideological products, ferreting out those aspects that might be useful for radical theory and practice.” Douglas Kellner, “Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique,” Illusions [e-zine] accessed February 9, 2004. cf. Kellner and Harry O’Hara, “Utopia and Marxism in Ernst Bloch,” New German Critique 9 (Fall 1976). Ernst Bloch. The Spirit of Utopia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. “Since Christian ideology .. always defined what was best in the human social structure, as the embodiment of what the concept of utopia means as the "Kingdom of God" on earth, a recapturing and re-creation of Eden itself as social form, any political ideology that advocates motion toward the "best" necessarily can be, even must be, defined as Christian at some level of its articulation. The classless state of pure democracy in Marxian ideology cannot be distinguished effectively from what anyone else would call the re-creation of the Garden of Eden in purely political and social forms.” Frederick Martin, “Ernst Bloch: ‘The Spirit of Utopia’,” [article on-line] accessed February 9, 2004.

[10] Ethnology as limit; humanitas as openness.

[11] Rahner’s “self-transcending being.”