Theology of Mishap

Professor Jakub Schwarz Trojan and his Theology of Mishap

 

 

In the same year when the Roman Catholic theologian Oto Mádr published his article on the ‘theology of the dying Church’ (1977), Jakub Schwarz Trojan, a protestant pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (a mainstream protestant church in the Czech Republic), published his own reflection of the ‘dying Church’.

Jakub Trojan was born on 13th May 1927 in Paris, where his parents arrived two years previously to ‘gain experience’. He grew up in Czechoslovakia from 1929 onward. According to an old Evangelical tradition, he adopted his wife’s maiden name as a second surname after being wed in 1950. One of his grammar school classmates was Ladislav Hejdánek, Czech philosopher and a proponent of Charter 77. On graduating from grammar school, he enrolled in the College of Economics. Between 1946 and 1950 he was a member of the Academic YMCA and one of the organisations’ last secretaries. He was conscripted shortly after getting married and served three years with Auxilliary Technical Battalions (the so-called PTP, pomocné technické prápory in Czech and Slovak).[1]

Trojan belonged to an informal group of young pastors known as the ‘New Orientation’ (Nová orientace) group, who were critical of some aspects of the Communist regime:

“I was, you could say, one of the founding members of Nová orientace. It was a rather unusual movement. In short, it was an attempt to put across the idea that The Gospel teaches us basic responsibility for our personal lives and for public matters. And it is important to take an interest in public matters even under a Communist regime. That was, naturally, dangerous in two ways. Firstly, in relation to the regime and secondly in relation to the Church leadership, which, being under considerable pressure especially during the normalization period,gradually reduced the diversity of faith to merely attending church service. It sometimes issued warnings against ministers leading young people and tried to prevent them from giving pastoral guidance, especially to the less active members of the community. They urged ministers to limit their work to their own congregation and not to overdo pastoral activities in hospitals. According to the Church leadership, zealous activity always attracted unwelcome attention of the authorities, namely the StB (the secret police – trans.), and that meant trouble. We defied that principle in Nová orientace. We told ourselves: No, we are responsible to God and people for the quality of public life, for the government we have, and for the way the community is governed. That is why we must always take part in dialogue and introduce the stimulus of the Gospel everywhere. I really did that. I used to go to meetings of the local council in Kdyně and even presented proposals. Some were accepted, though the councilors must have been uncomfortable with the fact that they were presented by a minister of the church.”[2]

In one of his studies, he reflects: “The New Orientation, which comprised the largest number of Chartists (ministers and laity), became influential for the youngest generation within the church, a fact which made the secret security police quite nervous, according to their records. On the other hand, approximately ten percent of the clergy became collaborators with the secret police, representing only a slightly smaller amount than those in the Catholic church.”[3]

Trojan found himself in trouble due to having conducted the funeral service of Jan Palach, the university student who set himself on fire right at the well-known Wenceslas Square in Prague in January 1969 to protest about the public acquiescence in the ‘normalization’immediately becoming an important symbol of resistance. Palach was a member of Trojan’s congregation, so Trojan was accused of having influenced the student to immolate himself.

In his appeal, Trojan accused the churchgoers of taking one of two unsatisfactory paths. Either they adapted uncritically to society or they withdrew from any public activity and assumed a ghetto mentality.[4]

Later he became one of the first signatories of the Charta 77 declaration. Because of his views, state banned him from serving as a pastor in 1974. Due to that, Trojan subsequently had to work as a common laborer and later as an accountant.

 

“Teologie průšvihu”
(Theology of Conflict / Mishap / Trouble)

Starting in the early 1970s, the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia devoted enormous effort to pushing the churches from public sphere back into their church buildings, parish houses and meeting rooms, forbidding any activity by which they might be able to influence events in society. In his 1977 essay titled Christian Existence in the Socialist Society or the Theology of Conflict[5] (or theology of mishap/trouble) tried to analyze this uneasy situation and to find a way how to live the Christian life and preserve the Church during the time of oppression by the regime.

By means of this essay, Trojan wanted to present his first signal and attempt to formulate an ‘Eastern’ counterpoint to liberation theology. A theological reflection of Christian practice within a totalitarian socialist State. His essay is based on the fact of the ‘breakdown of the folk church’ and the growing ‘self-preservation of the church’, ‘the will of the organism to survive’.[6]

According to Trojan’s reflection, the Church becomes a minority; it loses its privileged position in the power mechanism of the state; is pushed out to the margins of social life; its self-confidence and social prestige is falling; the social function of the priest is being questioned; worship attendance and the number of active members are decreasing; the tension between the proclaimed message of the churches and the real life of its members is growing; parochial ecclesiastical structures are collapsing and this reveals a crisis of worship and sacraments, catechesis and confirmation; the churches maintain a defensive and moralistic attitude towards the gradual secularization of society and they are helplessness in relation to the youngest generation.[7]

One of the natural solutions of this situation would be an escape into a ghetto – and it was in fact quite usual within Protestant churches. But professor Trojan warned of ‘self-preserving convulsions’ that would focus Christian Church on itself and would deprive it of any witness involvement in the society – as if it was possible to ‘become a church first’ and ‘not to confront the matters, that are not under the church competencies’.

In opposition to this view, Trojan raises his own thesis that ‘we are becoming a Church only in constantly testifying amidst coercion of the man, ignorance towards the law, denial of God, manipulation of the weak.’[8] For Christian Church, to escape is never a solution.

Trojan writes, that ‘there is no so-called mission of the Church that could only be carried out in the closed congregation of the church. The essence of the biblical message can only be formulated in an inclusive way, that is to say, within the perspective of the humanity of all mankind, with the view of fulfillment in Christ.’[9] This dialogical openness is crucial and typical of all the members of the ‘New Orientation’ group. Especially in the situation of oppression, the church is called to be a prophetic voice of truth in society.

Trojan’s theology of mishap is based on ‘the knowledge, that without a risky clash with the power on the level of public protest or responsible engagement (…) it is impossible to verify the substance of biblical truth. Without it, the truth does not become the reality of personal life. It is a motif of conflict, in the focus of which the power of God’s reality (truth) is revealed to a human being. Otherwise – from the position of external observers and fearfully adapting to the circumstances – it remains closed for the man, even if he terminologically ‘glimpsed’ it and pronounced it.’[10]

Theology of mishap is certainly a distinct form of the theology of endangered (‘dying’) Church, and the idea of the extinction of the local church is not alien to it. This type of ‘genitive theology’ draws attention to anonymous relationships in a society behind which the power of the mighty ones needs to be understood by reflection, it is necessary to analyze and gradually find defensive procedures against these pressures.

‘Jesus’ way of communication with the mighty of his times, with the sacred institutions of Israel, with the customs and habits of his contemporaries, reveals the significance of the theology of mishap. Jesus refuses to live with his disciples in seclusion, in a separated community. But he also refuses to adapt to the conditions, as they are based on the ideological and self-governing side of the representatives of power within the contemporary Judaism. There is a third way: from inside, but with an external impact, aligning both on individual and institutional level with all those who represent contemporary society (see, for example, the struggle for the true meaning of Sabbath keeping). And it is often an extraordinarily sharp conflict, in which “a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”’[11]

As professor Trojan wrote us in personal communication ‘…in the Czech word ‘průšvih’ (mishap / trouble) feelings are not at the first place, but objective state of relationships: to get into a mishap, to be in a mishap, meant to have an extraordinary difficulty, to get into serious problems. The core of such a problem is in the forefront, the feelings are secondary. A mishap at the same time signalizes that this situation arises from a conflict, in which the power ruling over the whole society is involved as well, at least to some extent. Sometimes the power aspect totally prevailed, sometimes it went along a mishap. In case of non-conformist movements such as the New Orientation, the first alternative prevailed: The Communist regime was not willing to tolerate any type of opposition.’

Conclusion

To conclude: Jakub Trojan’s theology of mishap describes his own search of the way how to live a Christian life during the time of oppression. He does not see the solution in escape into the ‘holy ghetto’, but not even in compromises with the totalitarian regime. His approach is trying to find a new way in openness, authenticity of life, inclusive attitude, dialogue and sometimes also in a risky clash with those in power through public protests or other types of critical activities. On this journey they can easily enter into a conflict with the ‘guardians of the existing rules’. Only such mishap, conflict, confrontation of the weak with the mighty reveals dimensions that were unseen before. It is an accompanying phenomenon of both personal and societal metanoia that we seek.

[1] Memory of Nations: The Gospel teaches us basic responsibility for our personal lives and for public matters. Available online: http://www.pametnaroda.cz/witness/index/id/24.

[2] Memory of Nations: The Significance of Nová orientace. Available online: http://www.pametnaroda.cz/witness/clip/id/24/clip/113/#en_113

[3] TROJAN, S. The Position of the Church Throughout the Changes in Czechoslovak Society, in: Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe 14/1 (1944), p. 35.

[4] RAMET, S. P. Protestantism and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia: The Communist and Post-Communist Eras (Christianity Under Stress Series Vol 3), p. 89.

[5] http://scriptum.cz/soubory/scriptum/studie/studie_1977_049_ocr.pdf

[6] TROJAN, J. S. Křesťanská existence v socialistické společnosti aneb teologie průšvihu, in: Studie 49 (1977), pp. 67-86.

[7] TROJAN, J. S. Křesťanská existence v socialistické společnosti aneb teologie průšvihu, in: Studie 49 (1977), p. 69.

[8] Ibid., p. 68.

[9] Ibid., p. 69.

[10] Ibid., p. 80.

[11] Ibid., p. 80.