Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. John C. Robertson
This thesis is offered as a study of Heinrich Ott's theological programme. Our intention is to show that Ott's development is motivated throughout by a hermeneutical and ontological impulse. His goal is hermeneutical in that he intends to translate the biblical vision of reality into contemporary and relevant thought forms. His goal is ontological because he also believes that any such translation must be shown as articulating reality as such (i.e., being). This, he argues, is crucial, if the Gospel is to be shown as the most comprehensive account of human experience possible.
The study is also shaped by our conviction - a belief shared by Ott - that a genuine theology must meet two basic requirements: be worthy of the content of scripture and relevant to contemporary humanity. We apply this test of theological adequacy to Ott's own programme.
The study is divided into three major parts. Part One examines Ott's search for a universal theological ontology in dialogue with Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Martin Heidegger. At this stage, Ott's programme is essentially Barthian. Karl Barth is considered by many to be the greatest theologian of this century. His theology is characterized by its theocentric emphasis and by a thoroughgoing conviction that humanity's knowledge of God cannot be attained apart from revelation. It is Ott's belief that by aligning Heidegger with Barth, he can overcome the anthropocentric restrictions in Bultmann's ontology and move toward a hermeneutical ontology that is more in keeping with scripture. Part Two examines and assesses the critical response to Ott's alignment of a Heidegger and Barth and Ott's response to it. We argue that Ott's alignment leads to an abstract objectivism that fails to relate theological statement to secular and human experience. We show, moreover, that his failure to distinguish properly between philosophy and theology leaves the impression that the contents of theology are determined by Heidegger's philosophy.
Part Three examines Ott's willingness to abandon the Barthian premise that theology must properly begin by taking for granted the existence of God. Since belief in God is no longer a generally credited fact, Ott acknowledges that theology must now show how it is that God is present in our ordinary and secular experience. Ott turns, then, to a theology of showing and pointing in which existential interpretation is now made the exclusive horizon of theological statement. Here we detect a discernible shift toward the theology of Rudolf Bultmann. The shift toward Bultman is qualified, however, via Ott's appeal to the universalist Christology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ott turns to Bonhoeffer in order to break free of the exclusivist tendencies in Barth's and Bultmann's Christologies (i.e., to show Christ as present to those outside the Church). Part Three concludes with an examination of Ott's existential interpretation of the personal reality of God.
We conclude that Ott's theology - while true to the contents of scripture - still falls short of the contemporary situation. He continues, in effect, to take God's existence too much for granted, the consequence being that he fails to convince those who do not already believe. We affirm, however, that Ott's theology is a major step in the right direction. He clearly shows that the hermeneutical and ontological question is an inevitable issue for the kind of theology that would be true to scripture and speak to our current situation.
O'Connell, Colin Brian, "A Study of Heinrich Ott's Theological Development: Hermeneutical and Ontological Programme" (1988). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2022.