East German student of Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger believed “God has become speakable.”
Eberhard Jüngel, the leading Protestant theologian to emerge out of Stalinist East Germany, died on Tuesday at age 86.
Jüngel’s work was never popularized, and he was overshadowed in some ways by his peers and colleagues—notably Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Küng, and the future Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger. As a philosophical theologian, his scholarship could seem “out of joint,” one scholar noted, with contemporary concerns and popular trends.
But the theologians who did discover Jüngel were often drawn in by 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 faith.
“God’s being-as-object,” Jüngel wrote, “consists in the fact that God as God has become speakable. And the knowledge of God consists in the fact that the God who as God has become speakable comes to speech in that ‘he is considered and conceived by men.’ This event, in which the God who as God has become speakable comes to speech in human words, is faith.”
His passing was mourned by his former students in Germany, including the Protestant bishop and popular religion columnist Petra Bahr.
“Scholars of heaven, brace yourselves,” Bahr wrote on Twitter. “There will be long nights.”
Jüngel was born in December 1934 in Magdeburg, about halfway between Hanover and Berlin, immediately after Adolf Hitler consolidated power. Jüngel’s childhood was dominated by World War II. Then in 1945, Magdeburg was liberated by US soldiers. When the Allied …