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Who is Bernhard Welte?

April 19, 2010 3 comments

His is not a name you hear often in the English-speaking academy.  And yet, Bernhard Welte was a fairly prominent philosopher and theologian living in Germany during the second-half of the twentieth century, who has been the focus of several book-length studies elsewhere.  Anthony Godzieba’s Bernhard Welte’s Fundamental Theological Approach to Christology. New York: Peter Lang, 1994 is the notable exception to this non-Anglophone rule.   

The main reason for this neglect is that most of Welte’s work remains untranslated.  His collected writings have only recently appeared in German (Herder, 2006).  But two of the pieces which do exist in English–“God in Heidegger’s Thought.” Philosophy Today 26.1 (Spring 1982): 85-100 and “Search and Find: An Address on the Occasion of Martin Heidegger’s Funeral.” Universitas 19 (1977): 301–may give you a sense of his potential significance. 

In short, as Bernhard Casper (the editor of much of Welte’s work) suggests in the introduction to Briefe und Begegnungen (Klett-Gotta, 2003), Welte may be one of the key sources for understanding the religious implications of Heidegger’s philosophy in the future.  This seems plausible not only because Heidegger himself has acknowledged that Welte was a faithful interpreter of his thought but also because Heidegger entrusted Welte with the task of saying a few words at his own Christian (!) burial.  Thus, the thinker of the “being-toward-death” resolutely selected Welte to mark the occasion of his “ownmost possibility.”  The philosopher who in later work turned to language as the “house of Being” invited Welte’s words to shelter his own being-laid-to-rest. 

Welte reads Heidgger piously–as a religious seeker, as a reverent person who gave utmost respect to the “high God” and who obeyed with great rigor the biblical prohibition of idolatry.  And this is what makes Heidegger’s evident endorsement of Welte so remarkable.  Is there more piety in Heidegger than his Nietzscheanism would lead one to suppose?  But even so, the question remains whether such a “religious” Heidegger has much to offer a Christian theological tradition with which he seemed quite disenchanted.  In sum, more work needs to be done to determine (1) whether Welte got Heidegger right and (2) what difference this makes.