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An Interview with Tomáš Halík, Author of “The Afternoon of Christianity”

Tomáš Halík is a Czech Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, theologian, and scholar. He is a professor of sociology at Charles University in Prague, pastor of the Academic Parish of St. Salvator Church in Prague, president of the Czech Christian Academy, and a winner of the Templeton Prize. He is the author of many books, including Touch the WoundsFrom the Underground Church to Freedom, and I Want You to Be. His books have been published in twenty languages and received many awards, including the Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards in Philosophy and in Religion. The University of Notre Dame Press is thrilled to publish his newest book, The Afternoon of Christianity: The Courage to Change (March 2024). He recently answered some of our questions about his research and writing processes.

Photo credit: Martin Beck

How did you first get the idea to write The Afternoon of Christianity?

Ten years ago, while preparing for C. G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion course at Charles University in Prague, I was intrigued by the comparison of the development of individual human life with the course of the day. The founder of depth psychology compared childhood and youth to the morning, after which comes the “midday crisis” (midlife crisis), followed by the afternoon of life, the opportunity for spiritual maturity. Each period has its own spiritual challenges.

It occurred to me to apply this metaphor to the history of Christianity. The premodern era is the “morning,” a time of building institutional and doctrinal structures. Modernity, the time of secularization, the shattering of traditional religiosity, is the “midday crisis.” This crisis is also the “dark night,” a time of purification and deepening of faith. Secularization did not mean the end but the transformation of religion.

Postmodernity, the post-secular age, is an opportunity for the self-transcendence of Christianity, for a deepening of spirituality, for a mature faith capable of accepting the paradoxes of human existence.

What can readers find in your book that will resonate with them in our current political and cultural landscape?

I offer an answer to the question of what kind of renewal and revitalization contemporary Christianity needs in order not only to overcome the present crises of the Church, but also to contribute to overcoming the crisis of the process of globalization, to the formation of a “civitas oecumenica,” a culture of sharing and respect. I offer a “kairology”—a theological hermeneutic of the “signs of the times”, especially of the crises of the change of civilizational paradigms. Such a time we are living right now.

How did you research for this book?

I was compelled to re-immerse myself in the history of Christianity and sociological and theological reflections on the changes in the contemporary religious scene. I took advantage of two study fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and study and lecture tours in a number of European countries, the USA, South America, Australia, Africa and Asia. Everywhere I met with theologians, sociologists, and church leaders, and in dialogue with them, I tried to broaden my European perspective.

What did you learn while writing it?

I realized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, especially between theology, sociology, and psychology. There is a need to develop a “public theology” that fulfills the prophetic task of “reading the signs of the times” in a way that is understandable outside ecclesiastical and academic circles.

In what way is the book that you wrote different from the book that you initially set out to write?

I realized that Pope Francis’s call for a synodal reform of the Church marks an opportunity to begin a new epoch in the history of Christianity, an “afternoon.” To do so, however, many of Pope Francis’s prophetic intuitions need further reflection and deepening.

Who are some of your most important theological influences?

Among the classics of modern theology are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Edward Schillebeecx. Today I am more inspired by philosophers of religion—Richard Kaerney, Charles Taylor, Jean Luc-Marion. And my constant guides are the existentialist thinkers from Kierkegaard to Simone Weil.

What was your writing schedule like while working on this book?

Every year, I spend several weeks in absolute solitude in a forest hermitage near a contemplative monastery. I spend all my days in contemplation, and writing is a kind of prayer for me. In recent years I have also been writing on the terrace of my friends’ house on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. During the academic year, during my duties at the university and in the academic parish in Prague, I can past articles and lectures, but not books.  

Who would you like to read The Afternoon of Christianity and why?

Anyone who thinks about the future of our civilization and realizes that we need not only technological advances but take care of the spiritual quality of life.

What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading a book of interviews by a young Czech philosopher with a number of writers, scientists, and philosophers.

What project are you working on next?

I have just finished the book Letters to the Pope, which is a kind of sequel to The Afternoon of Christianity. I am writing to the Pope, who appeared to me in a dream, and telling him my dreams for the future of Christianity and humanity.

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