Essays in Ecumenical Theology I

Aims, Methods, Themes, and Contexts

Series:

Ivana Noble

In the first volume of Essays in Ecumenical Theology Ivana Noble depicts differences between what she calls a sectarian outlook and one which engages in the search for common roots, dialogical relationships and shared mission in a world that has largely become post-Christian, but often also post-secular. Drawing on both Western and Orthodox scholarship, and expressing her own positions, Noble sketches what ecumenical theology is, how it is linked to spirituality, the methods it uses, how it developed during the twentieth century, and the challenges it faces. Specific studies deal with controversial interpretations of Jan Hus, Catholic Modernism, the problematic heritage of the totalitarian regimes, and responses to the current humanitarian crisis.

Series:

Ivana Noble

This first chapter is based on the text of a handout prepared for the very first lecture I gave at the newly founded Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Prague in 1995. The lecture was part of a course entitled “Introduction to Theological Thought”. I have decided to leave in the text the traces of the radicalism of my youth. I was 28 when it was written and the churches in the Czech Republic were, with much difficulty, emerging from the totalitarian mentality. Ecumenism, if it was to be more than formal belonging to the Ecumenical Council of Churches, was not welcome. A number of church representatives saw active and lived inter-church relations as a threat to the identity of their denomination.1 The decision to open the book with this particular text is not only because it is the very first of my studies which explicitly deals with the subject of Ecumenical Theology, but also because it stated a programme for Ecumenical Theology which I still find valid. The original title of the Czech text was “The Significance of Ecumenical Theology for the Life of the Christian and the Church”. It appeared in the textbook for students published by the Institute in 1996.2 The text has been translated into English by Tim Noble. This version also includes parts of the Introduction to the textbook, where the very concept of Ecumenical Theology is defined.3 The introductory section of the text and the subheadings have been substantially changed, but the rest of the text remains almost unaltered.

Series:

Ivana Noble

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.

Series:

Ivana Noble

This chapter offers a more detailed look at how, within the hermeneutics of Christian tradition, we can leave the central space for the subversion of ready-made schemes, for the divine Other as other. This subversion needs to be made present in human relations as well, including ecumenical, intercultural and inter-religious relations. Its aim is to purify, to convert and make space for a more grounded form of communion in process. In the following pages that subversion is called the apophatic way. While the concept is usually associated with Orthodox theology, here its more contemporary Western forms are also investigated. The text was first written as part of a research project investigating the relationship between Hermeneutics of Suspicion and the Apophatic Way,1 and presented at the third Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology conference in 2001, and subsequently published in the collective monograph which came out of the conference.2 This version of the text is expanded with the inclusion of Vladimir Lossky’s concept of apophaticism,3 which was influential in the French context in which all three Western thinkers who are examined operated. Otherwise there are only minor changes in headings and bibliography, and in the concluding part.

Series:

Ivana Noble

While the last chapter showed how apophaticism helps both the subversion of the ready-made schemes of our thinking about God and others, and thus makes space for broadening and deepening of communion, this chapter will consider how the question of normativity is asked within the kataphatic symbolic and narrative tradition, and how the normativity of tradition and the historical experience of lived traditions of faith coexist. Investigating normativity and the types of certainty it operates with, will show us in practice how epistemological method complements the hermeneutics of tradition. The text, one of the first results of a five-year research project I was engaged in, examining Orthodox theology and spirituality in the West,1 was first presented at the 8th Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology in 2011, and published as “History Tied Down by the Normativity of Tradition? Inversion of Perspective in Orthodox Theology: Challenges and Problems”.2 This chapter presents that text with some additions to the introductory part, some new or updated footnotes, and a slight change of the subheadings.

Series:

Ivana Noble

This chapter is the final one on the theme of Orthodox contributions to Ecumenical Theology. It is dedicated to Nikolai Berdyaev, Fr Sergius Bulgakov and Vladimir Lossky, and their visions of ecumenism, which drew on different sources and expressed different attitudes than those familiar from the Orthodox contribution to institutions such as the World Council of Churches or the Conference of European Churches. The chapter does not aim at placing one type of contribution over against the other, but rather to expand what it is that we reflect on theologically when we speak about a contribution of one Christian family tradition to the whole. There were three previous versions of the text. The first idea to explore these three alternatives was presented in my opening lecture at a conference on “Ecumenical Reception and Critique of Twentieth-Century Orthodox Theology in Exile and Diaspora”, held in Prague in May 2015.1 A second paper, dealing with some other aspects of the theme, was presented under the title: “On What Common Path Do We Embark When We Converse With Others? Three Different Visions of Ecumenism: Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Lossky” at a conference on “Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness: Possibilities and Limitations of Dialogue in Ecumenical and Interfaith Discourse”, at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge in September 2015. The third text, which included work from the previous two, was published as an article entitled: “Three Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism: Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Lossky”.2 This chapter is closest to the article, with some minor changes, so that it fits better with the other chapters of this collection.

Series:

Ivana Noble

Work done on interpreting the context, the historical figure and the symbolic meaning of Jan Hus is another particular example of how Ecumenical Theology works with the past, knowing that it cannot change it, but that it can contribute to changing its meaning for the present. This chapter presents a new text, partially drawing on the following previous studies: “Jan Hus: Reform of the Church through a Conversion of Its Members towards a Christian Spirit”;1 “The Ecumenical Re-evaluation of the Heritage of Jan Hus in the Czech Churches”;2 “Jan Hus in Ecumenical Discussion;”3 “Eschatological Elements in Hus’s Understanding of Orthopraxis”;4 and “Eschatological Elements in Jan Hus’s Ecclesiology and Their Implications for the Later Development of the Church in Bohemia”.5

Series:

Ivana Noble

Following on from the last chapter in which I examined the case of Jan Hus and how divisive memories could gradually be transformed into unifying memories, this chapter will explore relations between two ecclesial bodies harmed by a split during the period of the Modernist controversy. The example used, that of evolving Roman Catholic—Hussite relations, will illustrate how changes from estrangement to at least some forms of recognition have taken place and how they have stimulated desire for a communion of love. The chapter is partly based on a lecture I gave at a conference celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the encyclical Ecclesiam suam, held at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.1 That text has not been published before. The historical part of the chapter draws on an article “Various Christian Traditions in One Ecclesial Body”, in which I narrated the history of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church.2