This concluding chapter traces how my relationship to the church in its various bodies developed from the time of my conversion to Christianity, back in Communist Czechoslovakia, to becoming a priest in the Hussite Church and later a Professor of Ecumenical Theology. Particular attention is given to the shifts in inter-church relations that I have experienced, and also to theological concepts that helped me in retrospect to understand these shifts, and deepened a desire for unity. The first version of the text was presented in Helsinki in 2016 at the nineteenth consultation of Societas Oecumenica, entitled Just Do It? Recognition and Reception in Ecumenical Relations, under the title “From Non-Recognition to Recognition: Ecclesial Perspectives”, and subsequently published in the conference proceedings.1 There are some adjustments in this version, as I try to spell out more explicitly also the relation to other religions and religiosities that Ecumenical Theology needs to take on board, as well as the intercultural dialogue in which it needs to engage.
To speak about a journey from non-recognition to recognition in the ecumenical, intercultural, and interreligious context has many facets. Some of them were already addressed in chapter one, while speaking about the aims and the tasks of Ecumenical Theology. Others came out when dealing with the particular examples. These included Jan Hus and the process of not only his recognition but also of recognizing the reasons behind conflicting symbolic images of Hus and their role in various religious and secular subcultures. It also covered recognition of what place and mission Eastern Orthodoxy can have in the West and recognition of new ecclesial divisions and unions, and of the various dimensions and stages of secularity that came out of the modern search for freedom and authenticity. It also involved recognition that the European religious terrain has significantly changed, as we saw in chapter eleven. And we need to learn to recognise not only the growing religious plurality, but also the changes in how people live religious lives or undertake religious search. In this concluding chapter I will offer a more personal account of how my notion of recognition of various others developed, and how the development shaped what I have seen as Ecumenical Theology.
Recognition is not the same as reception. We could say that recognition is the first step towards any genuine reception, yes, the first step, but also an ongoing companion, otherwise reception grows formal and becomes only receiving our image of the other or our image of the whole. With Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995), we could say that we need to recognise the other precisely as other, not to kill his or her otherness.2 This is true also about the collective others, such as church communities and denominations. Moreover, speaking from an ecclesial perspective, we need to recognise also all the phenomena which contribute to current improvement or deterioration of the intercultural and interreligious relations, of church unity and divisions, holiness and its opposites, catholicity and sectarianism, apostolicity and rootlessness. Without such recognition we would be moving in the realm of abstracts at the theoretical level and in the realm of illusions at the practical level. We need to recognise these very dualities: the holy—the not holy, the catholic—the sectarian, the apostolic—the rootless within ourselves and our various ecclesial homes, whether confessional or in our various diasporas and their amalgams.
I was a convert to Christianity as a young adult. So at the beginning the whole of the church was a problem for me. There were a number of things concerning the church I found repulsive then, and I still find repulsive. These included a certain caricature of humility, lies which are wrapped up in a pious vocabulary, a smell of decay, of life that has not been lived, of risks which were not taken, of projecting one’s responsibility onto God, of a ban on one’s creativity, a reduction of life to its ritual celebration, clericalism and authoritarianism, ambition disguised as a desire to serve, pomposity—or from the other end, glorification of misery. But, after my conversion to Christianity, the first important recognition was that the church is more than that, even if it is also that. The shift from NO towards the church into a qualified YES developed through various stages.
Borrowing terminology from Paul Ricœur (1913–2005),3 I will speak about the journey through the three stages: the “first naivety”, the pre-critical stage, which is dominated by the immediacy of belief, in this case, in the church as principally one, holy, universal (catholic) and apostolic community rooted in Christ and nourished by the life of the Spirit, and is accompanied by what is perceived by the unexperienced as a perfect recognition of where such a church is to be found. Then I will move to the “loss of naivety”, the breaking and disorienting stage, where, with the difficult spiritual and ecclesial experiences the time of reason comes back, the impact of the divisions of the church finally hits home, and various non-recognitions have to be encountered, existentially, theologically, spiritually. The third stage, called by Ricœur the “second naivety”, is a post-critical equivalent of the pre-critical immediacy of meaning. I will dedicate most of the time to this stage, unfinished as it is. Applying Ricœur’s insights, which I have been using for a long time,4 and still find helpful, to the ecclesial reading of the shifts from non-recognition to recognition, I will first look at the post-critical return of the church as one, universal, holy and apostolic community; then at genuine ecumenical relations as a case against supra-ecclesiality; at the challenge of multiple belonging; and finally, in the conclusion, I will comment on the nature of the connection between non-possession and hospitality at the heart of Christ-rooted, Spirited ecclesiality, out of which an ongoing recognition of others grows.