In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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. 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. 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. The introductory section of the text and the subheadings have been substantially changed, but the rest of the text remains almost unaltered.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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” 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.

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.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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, 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. This version of the text is expanded with the inclusion of Vladimir Lossky’s concept of apophaticism, 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.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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, 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”. This chapter presents that text with some additions to the introductory part, some new or updated footnotes, and a slight change of the subheadings.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: Ivana Noble

Religious life is never lived in isolation from the social, political and cultural settings in which the people who live it and the institutions which mediate it find themselves and to which they contribute. While the previous two chapters focused more on the inner dynamics within and among the ecclesial bodies, this chapter explores the outer dynamics of their engagement with society, and in particular with societies that have had a totalitarian past. The text is based on an article published in Political Theology in 2008 with the same name as the chapter, but it also draws on my other studies on the theme. The chapter focuses on Central Europe and in particular, though not exclusively, on the Czech Republic, where I best know the situation.

Dealing with the difficult memory of the Communist past involves considering both dysfunctions of memory as well as the successful ways of remembering. In this chapter I use examples to show how difficult the memories are of the past post-Communist societies with which churches, families and individuals are dealing. I then move to the negative examples of dealing with memory, to the dysfunctions, such as intentional or non-intentional replacement of memory by fiction, suppression of memory and inadequate and insufficient evaluation of the weight of its meaning. Then I look at the positive examples of witness to the complexity of the past, both from the side of the martyrs, as well as from the side of people who were caught in between bravery and fear. I am interested in the memory of individuals, of societies and of churches, and in particular, in their interaction.

Remembering and retelling the past is a complicated task in any setting, and it is doubly complicated when the members of the society, and thus also of the churches, have to deal with a totalitarian past. We never have at our disposal past events “as they really were”, as Leopold von Ranke once hoped for. And yet our roots and the roots of those who come after us are in what happened. Thus we have a responsibility towards ourselves and towards them not to kill the past. Our present options and future projects grow from that past and from it they open to the Spirit of life that is given to us in a double movement of anamnesis and epiclesis, remembering and invocation.

My angle of interpretation is theological. In other words, I consider the theme of memory and responsibility for a truthful attitude towards memory from within the doctrine on the Holy Spirit. It seems to me helpful to propose that the act of remembering becomes complete in invocation, when it thirsts and cries for the Spirit of freedom, the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit, to come, to heal, and to give a new future, to break the circle of the repetition of the same. This becomes particularly important, when I consider the common social, cultural and political situation in which the life of the churches was reshaped after 1989, and also how they responded to this new situation, this new challenge.

This chapter is divided into five parts. In the first, I show the nature of the difficult memories of Communism and sketch why both for the society at large and for the churches it has been so difficult to take responsibility for what happened. The second part looks at the problems of avoiding such responsibility by downplaying, denying or even falsifying the memory of the past, and by creating victimhood as a positive identity. In the third part I examine similar problems within the churches in more detail. The fourth part is dedicated to the positive examples of remembering, and in the conclusion I ask how these can help in regaining both responsibility for the past and hope for the future.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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. 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”. This chapter is closest to the article, with some minor changes, so that it fits better with the other chapters of this collection.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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”; “The Ecumenical Re-evaluation of the Heritage of Jan Hus in the Czech Churches”; “Jan Hus in Ecumenical Discussion;” “Eschatological Elements in Hus’s Understanding of Orthopraxis”; and “Eschatological Elements in Jan Hus’s Ecclesiology and Their Implications for the Later Development of the Church in Bohemia”.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: 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. 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.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I
Author: Ivana Noble

This chapter is based on a version of a paper “Theology after Totalitarian Experience” that I gave at a conference on Political Orthodoxy and Totalitarianism in a Post-Communist Era, organized by a number of Orthodox institutions in Sofia Cultural Centre in Helsinki from 28–31 May 2015. Having to speak on theology after the totalitarian experience in the Czech Republic brought me back to my earlier attempts to address this complicated heritage, to see how memories of the past impact on the present. I needed to find a new and different angle to treat the theme. Concentrating on the ways theology could serve as a critical conscience was helpful, provided I remained critical of the reductionist models of dealing with the past in the light of the present and included both the exemplary and the difficult stages of working through the experience and its impact, not denying that both theologians and the churches were also partly shaped by the totalitarian experience. This text has not been published yet, though an earlier and different version of the paper is included in the conference proceedings that are being prepared for publication.

Dealing with the totalitarian past may raise legitimate questions. Is the experience of totalitarianism fully behind? Can we judge it retrospectively? My approach to the theme, as presented in this chapter, assumes that we can analyse what happened to theology after the end of Communism, which is now one generation ago. At the same time, however, I am aware that ideologies offering total explanations of reality and a total control of our lives are not far away today. Currently the economically controlled orientation of European and American societies, rising nationalism and what is called “post-truth” politics are examples of that. This chapter may help in appreciating the interactions between the past totalitarianism and the ones currently creeping in, and the challenges theology needs to face both in relation to the totalitarian past and contemporary challenges.

Ideally theology is the conscience of the Church, her purifying self-criticism, her permanent reference to the ultimate goals of her existence. Deprived of theology, of its testimony and judgement, the Church is always in danger of forgetting and misinterpreting her own Tradition, confusing the essential with the secondary, absolutizing the contingent, losing the perspective of her life. She becomes a prisoner of her “empirical” needs and the pragmatic spirit of “this world” which poisons and obscures the absolute demands of the Truth.

In his essay “Theology and Eucharist” Alexander Schmemann reminds us that the voice of theology comes from within the church, and yet it is distinct from other voices. He sees the task of theology as being the church’s critical conscience, judging the empirical reality of the church and orienting the church towards her sources of faith and life. In this chapter I will locate this task within contextually understood theology, something Schmemann himself did not do. My questions will be how theologies in Central and Eastern Europe were shaped by the totalitarian experience and how theologians have responded, which issues they have needed to address and which attitudes they have adopted in order to break the continuation of the totalitarian mentality.

In: Essays in Ecumenical Theology I