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.
The origins of this chapter go back to 2008, when as President of Societas Oecumenica I gave the opening lecture at its fifteenth academic consultation in Leuven. The title of the lecture and the main theme of the conference were identical, “Re-imagining Religious Belonging: Ecumenical Responses to Changing Religiosity in Europe”. Since that time religiosity in Europe has undergone further changes, and I have tried to integrate these in the current version of the text. The part on the changing context is completely rewritten, and other parts are significantly changed. The text as it stands also includes insights from two other lectures: one for the Table Society Europe on “Religious Search, Its Relation to Spirituality and to Religious Institutions in Contemporary Czech Society and Culture”, which I delivered in Prague in 2014, and which was never published, the other for the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI) 2017 in Berlin, entitled “Ecumenical Situation in Europe”, which is due to be published in a prepared collective monograph.
This chapter focuses on three areas of interest, relevant for current ecumenical theologians investigating changes in religious belonging in Europe, and the impact these changes have on the vision of Christian unity, as well as on the models of good relations with others who travel with us on the way marked by an explicit or implicit desire for God and responsibility towards neighbours.
First, there is our changing context. It includes the alienation of churches in our societies on the one hand, and on the other, a twofold return of religion: in a “wild form” of religiosity where the border line between religious convictions and superstition is often unclear and as a rehabilitation of formal commitment to Christianity as a shield against Islam.
This takes me to the second area of interest, a focus on symbolic mediation. We need to ask why our contemporaries who, though realising that their religious search needs roots, only exceptionally return to our churches like lost sheep. What do our Christian symbols mediate and what do they fail to mediate? To introduce the theme, I will bring into dialogue the liturgical approach to symbols of Alexander Schmemann (1921–1983) and the anthropological approach of Paul Ricœur (1913–2005). Schmemann’s claim is that symbols become alive in liturgy from where they get their meaning, and where an all-embracing vision of life unites the world, the church and the Kingdom, while Ricœur claims that our whole language is symbolic, and that religious symbols unite in themselves all the human notions of the holy, as well as the non-figurative non-semantic transcendent moment. At the end of this part I will ask what images of belonging mediated by Christian symbols in our various traditions are at the same time part of the life-experience of our contemporaries, and what images represent a forgotten memory in which there is a potential for change.
Finally, the third area of interest continues and deepens the theme of belonging. Taking on board the changes in our context, the losses and the new possibilities, we need to ask what they mean for a confessional Christianity, within which the ecumenical movement has functioned and indeed reached some levels of mutual recognition of divided churches as parts of one body, of mutual cooperation in mission and social work, of consensus in various doctrinal, legal and to a degree even liturgical issues. In this chapter I will further consider the theme by pointing out three problems associated with our confessional belonging. The first is related to the question: to whom do we belong? The second asks about what kind of multiple belonging we practice. And the third focuses on the question: where is permanency in our belonging? All three, I believe, represent a challenge to re-imagining the unity of the church, and place the task of seeking unity into a wider context of relations to the world and to the Kingdom. They have to be dealt with both truthfully to our life-experience and to the “Other” making claims to us in our traditions. In the conclusion I will list questions I see as vital in the different areas of my theme.
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. 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. 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), 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, 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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.