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Reports from European Theologians


Reports from European Theologians

  1. Prof. Dr. Gunter Prüller-Jagenteufel, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

  2. Dr. Stephen Bullivant, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, UK

  3. Prof. Jan Jans, Tilburg University, Tilburg, Netherlands 

  4. Prof. Dr. Martin M. Lintner, Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule, Brixen, Italy


Prof. Dr. Gunter Prüller-Jagenteufel University of Vienna Vienna, Austria

INSeCT Regional Report: Europe

To report on the state of (catholic) theology in Europe is a complex matter, because there are different developments going on, some of them even contrary to the others.

At first we have to realize that Europe is divided into 3 confessional regions:

  1. the mainly catholic centre and southwest of Europe (Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Southern Germany, Austria, eastern part of Switzerland, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia etc.);

  2. the mainly protestant north of Europe (Northern Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Scandinavia; western part of Switzerland, etc.)

  3. the mainly orthodox east of Europe (Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine etc.)

Among the catholic countries there are about 5 different regions to be named, where we find different traditions in philosophy and theology. We may roughly characterize as follows:

  1. Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.) The philosophy of enlightenment does not play a big role here (similar to eastern European countries; which explains the tendency of the catholic church of that region to seek ecumenical contacts to the orthodox church). Theology in these regions seems to be strongly connected with the institutional church (at least on the surface) and reflects still the “traditional” (i.e. neo-scholastic) way.

  2. Central-Western Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, etc.) Here theology is strongly influenced by the philosophy of enlightenment, especially by German philosophy of the 19th and early 20th centuries, also from French philosophy of the late 20th The ecumenical dialogue is directed mainly at the protestant churches, hence the theology has accepted and integrated quite some ideas and perspectives that used to be considered as “typically protestant” in pre-ecumenical times.

  3. France is a matter sui generis. I am sorry I cannot give any sufficient information, but I myself am not a French speaker and the colleagues I asked have not been answering. But as far as I know there is a strong tendency in pastoral theology to connect to the heavily secularized society of France (“proposer la foi”).

  4. English Speaking Western Europe (Ireland, United Kingdom) Here Catholicism stands traditionally in opposition to the Anglican churches and has developed a rather traditional outlook. But since ecumenism is strong and the theological discourse with US theologians day-to-day practice the English theology is evolving manifold – from very orthodox to very progressive. A good witness for the broad centre mainstream is the magazine “The Tablet”.

  5. Central-Eastern Europe (former Communist Countries) Theology in these countries has experienced quite some development since the fall of the communist regimes in 1989. But in many countries the bishops – and more or less also the theology professors – still live in a mindset of strong opposition against “the world” and have a fairly conservative, sometimes even Pre-Vatican-II stand vis-à-vis “the world”, which is considered mainly as atheist and decadent. So church and theology more or less still do not resemble a “house of glass” (John Paul II) but rather an anti-modernist fortress.

Thus is the background to understand the short answers to the questionnaire:

1. In the last decade or so, what is one theological development in your region and/or country that you consider promising?

Really promising is an ongoing and increasing readiness for dialogue among theologians, especially between theologians of different Christian churches, but also between theologians and church leadership (Rome, bishops). This dialogue has been very difficult, sometimes even impossible, between the middle of the 1980s and the early 2000s.

At the same time the pluralism within catholic theology grows; this leads to a growing gap between the different theological disciplines as well as within those disciplines. Bible studies, dogmatics, ethics etc. are so diverse within themselves that it is pretty hard for one theologian to be in theological dialogue with a colleague who represents another theological approach. The respective “schools” could be named as follows: (1) “historical-hermeneutical”, (2) “analytical-scholastical” and (3) “phenomenological-poetical”. But there is also hope, because we can see already some efforts of bringing these schools together for fruitful dialogue. We still cannot know the result; but if these attempts fail European theology might fall apart into different sectors that cannot understand each other any more – just like the Dominican and the Franciscan Theologies in the late Middle Ages.

In countries where Theology is situated in state universities (mainly the German speaking countries, but also Poland, Czech Republik, Hungary etc.) there is also the necessity of redefining the relationship between Catholic theology, other Christian theologies and relig