"The conversation that we are..." - Reflections on ecumenical hermeneutics

Pauw J.C. ; Smit D.J. (2003)


This contribution honours the memory of Hans-Georg Gadamer from a theological perspective. A first section reflects on the complex and often ambiguous nature of his relationship with theology and theologians, and with issues of faith and religion. Anecdotes and biographical information point to the seeming lack of interest, at least in contemporary theology, reflected in his work, but also to the warm reception that he continued to receive in theological circles, both with regard to his person and his work. A second section briefly illustrates how his description of the hermeneutical conversation is practically demonstrated in what is called ecumenical hermeneutics, and how many of the notions and convictions of contemporary hermeneutical theory have indeed become common in these circles. The official study document A Treasure in Earthen Vessels. An Instrument for an Ecumenical Reflection on Hermeneutics (1998, Faith and Order Paper No. 182) of the World Council of Churches is used to illustrate this. A third and final section underlines some of the formal similarities between this form of ecumenical hermeneutics and Gadamer's self-understanding of his own life project. It is argued that, whether his impact on the ecumenical church was direct or indirect, the matter-of-factness with which present-day ecumenism uses hermeneutical categories and convictions underscores Gadamer's own insight that "theologians see in my work a confirmation of their own needs.".

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