In 1997 when the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, of which I was the first director, started negotiations over a closer relationship with the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague, I was invited to a consultation of people working in the field of Ecumenical Theology. I have never been sure if there was some missing communication, or whether it was a kind of test, but I found, on my arrival, that I was expected to deliver one of the main papers. I did not have anything prepared. However, as the setting was relatively informal, I was able to change the topic to what I was currently thinking about and working on. After the presentation I was asked to publish my presentation. The article “Applying Hermeneutical, Phenomenological and Epistemological Methods in Contemporary Ecumenical Theology”1 is the written form of my unexpected lecture from 1997. It has been translated into English by Tim Noble, and only slightly adjusted for this volume.2
Ecumenical Theology needs to work with the denominational mentalities of churches and their members to help expand their awareness and give them a more grounded knowledge of other Christian traditions. It has to teach them to interpret these traditions in ways that would be fair both to the historical contexts in which these traditions arose and to the current needs challenging them and causing them to be grasped always anew. The historical aspect has been well attended to as theology has learned to work with the notion of development and as it has adopted the historical critical method. In this text, however, I will return to the question of the methods which would be most adequate for interpreting the interaction of Ecumenical Theology with the current challenges: how to do justice to that which can mutually enrich us without claiming ownership of it; how to come to terms with what in the traditions is negative and not life-giving; which criteria to use for evaluating the traditions. The list is obviously not exhaustive; these are only a few fundamental points. In this chapter I will concentrate on three current methods, the use of which can be beneficial for responding to these tasks. These are the hermeneutical, phenomenological and epistemological methods.