10 June 1929 – 13 February 2014
Professor Georg Huntemann was professor of Ethics (or moral theology) at the ETF from 1985 to 1995. His German courses were always quite something to experience and inspired many students. Huntemann was one of the founding fathers of the brand new university. It was in 1983 that the Flemish government officially recognized what at the time was a theological college, granting it university status. And so the ETF was born and began its journey towards scholarly depth and scientific status. Professor Huntemann was one of the first fully engaged professors. In addition, he was also professor at the Independent State Theological College in Basel, a faculty of theology in Switzerland similar to ours. There he also influenced many students who now serve as leaders.
Professor Huntemann was a pastor of the St Martins Lutheran Church in Bremen. The preaching of God’s Word remained his primary task throughout his lifetime. In everything he was a minister of the sacred Word (Verbi Divini Minister). This Word of God was always so much greater than fallible human words. However intellectually strong we may be, we are no more than humble servants, who are called by grace to speak on God’s behalf, Creator and Redeemer of the world. Theology is not the Word of God, it is only a confessing response to that Word.
Georg Huntemann studied theology in Hamburg, Erlangen, Zürich, Tübingen, Göttingen and Bern. He earned two doctorates. His knowledge of German theology was profound and phenomenal. But he was equally at home in philosophy. His interpretation of Martin Heidegger and Friederich Nietzsche was original and fresh. As is fitting for a European intellectual, he moved seamlessly between philosophy, the humanities, and theology.
Together with other theologians of his generation, he was shocked by the cultural revolution that Europe experienced in the nineteen-sixties. He fought the intellectual struggle with ‘Horizontalism’ in theology, feminism, and the eroticising of Western culture. One of his rather popular books carried the title, Gottes Gebot oder Chaos – was bringt Europas Zukunft? Der politische Auftrag des Christen in der sogenannten Wendezeit (1992).
For Huntemann, there was a substantial Jewish-Christian Western Europe, or as he often called it, the land of nightingales. The solution did not rest with an Evangelical flight to personal piety and distancing oneself from the world. His criticism of American TV evangelical piety is as sharp as that of the State Church that uncritically gave itself to the liberal spirit of the times. Christian preaching in this view is always politicized, basing itself on the Ten Commandments.
As far as the chaos in Europe is concerned, it touched me deeply that Georg Huntemann died on the day that Belgium, as the first country in the world, so freely legalized euthanasia for competent minors. In this way, Belgium sees itself as a leading country for the world. This arrogant self-assurance with which this belief in absolute moral freedom and individuality is accepted painfully shows how Europe has lost its moral roots. I remember how Huntemann often pointed to Catholic Belgium as a moderately conservative country in Europe. This is, regretfully, no longer the case.
This brings me to one of the most important characterizations of Huntemann’s style and method. Theology and Ethics are always contextual and prophetic. They are not abstract, but always a reaction to a concrete challenge in society. A great example of this approach was, for him, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Huntemann’s work on Bonhoeffer was refreshing and again challenging (The other Bonhoeffer: an Evangelical reassessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Baker 1993). According to him, the liberal liberation theology unjustly tapped Bonhoeffer as theirs. The true Bonhoeffer was much more conservative and faithful to scripture. But he was not static or dogmatic. Bonhoeffer confronted lax nominal Christianity that was blind to justice issues and the brutal persecution of Jews. Bonhoeffer knew early on the consequences of secularism. Secularism demanded a new reflection on Christian confession. In any case, there is no such thing as cheap grace. Just as with Bonhoeffer, Huntemann’s vision of the Christian faith was always combative, prepared for intellectual humiliation and even persecution.
Georg Huntemann’s deep appreciation for the Jewish character of the Christian confession was often misjudged. He was very much influenced by his mentor Hans Joachim Schoeps. In Huntemann’s fundamental work about ethics — Biblisches Ethos im Zeitalter der Moralrevolution (1999) — the universal meaning of the Noetic covenant and the Ten Commandments stand central. The Old Testament is likely the primary source for his entire oeuvre.
As his former student and colleague, I say farewell to my ‘Doktorvater,’ an old friend, fellow sojourner and soldier. I remember the long discussions during wonderful mealtimes, walks, sharp confrontations. Sometimes Professor Huntemann got so wound up in discussions that he lectured everyone in the restaurant. Good theology gains stature in confrontation. His words were always as sharp as a knife. Sometimes the drama took on Wagnerian proportions. But he never expected a slavish following. On the contrary, he sought out critical dialogue. Discussions were sometimes like a sword fight, lightly wounding one’s partner, leaving one better prepared for the next round. In the fire of the battle one was no longer a colleague or doctoral student, but a combatant and friend whom he fully trusted. Behind the mask of a dramatic robustness hid a vulnerable man with a great heart for God and his Church, a man overflowing with love and passion. I shall always remain thankful to professor Huntemann for all that I learned, and for his labour of love to make the ETF a beacon in a confused Europe.
Professor Dr. Patrick Nullens