28.10.2016, University of Lund Paneldiscussion: archbishop Antje Jackelén, professor Wolfgang Thönissen, Eero Huovinen. Moderator: Sinikka Neuhaus

The title for our discussion is a question: Whose history?

I understand the question in the way, that we have to ask, who is the owner of history? Who has history in his or her hands? The archbishops? The professors? The politicians? Those who have money? The men or the women?

Is it in principal possible, that somebody can be an owner of history? Or is history something which can never be acclaimed to be one’s own?

History is something that belongs to the past. Like an arrow which has been shoot, like a word which has been said, it cannot be called back. History simply is as it was.

Leopold von Ranke has said that we have to understand history “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist”. On one hand I’m aware of the hermeneutical difficulties of his idea, but on the other hand there is an important core in his philosophy of history.

We modern people like to emphasize our ability to interpret history in our own way, to find new insights, to tell the old story for our time. There is something true in this intention. It may be that we do not always see the important aspects of history. That’s why I understand the necessity of reinterpreting history.

On the other hand we have to be self-critical and ask ourselves, whether we speak more about our own favorite ideas or about history as such.

After the Enlightenment the so called anthropological shift has very widely influenced especially our Western philosophy and theology. It seems that we all want to look at the world and at the heavens through our own eyeglasses. The truth depends on our own presuppositions of knowledge. Immanuel Kant is a church father of modern Protestantism. It is impossible to know something about the ideas and truths as such (Ding an sich).

So it is very natural and modern to ask: whose history? There is no history as such, only my and your interpretation.


Although I’m a little bit critical with the development after the Enlightenment, I have to admit, that the temptation to own history is not a new phenomenon for humankind. Let’s take only one example, and once again from the title of our discussion.

Reformation turned out very soon to be a battle about owning history. Only some months and some years after the 95 thesis of Martin Luther the battlefield was divided into two opposite parties. On one side was the Pope and his divisions, on the opposing side was Luther and other reformers. Who was the owner of the truth? Who presented the right interpretation of the Christian faith? Whose history?

When we look at the centenaries in 1617, 1717, 1817 and 1917, it is quite easy to see, how much the battle was influenced by the question: whose history? The other party was heretic, we have the truth. Do we Lutherans own history? Or the Catholics?

The question whose history is a question of power. We or you? It is quite easy to see how the aspect of power leads into split, polarization, division and separation. The question whose history has walked hand in hand with the split of the Western Christian Church.


In the last 50 to 70 years we have seen signals from an other atmosphere between the churches. Since the sufferings of the second world war, since the birth of ecumenical movement (we are in Lund!), since serious theological research and since the Second Vatican Council we need not to ask who is the owner of history. History is our common task. We have to seek the truth together.

That was the main idea of the Lutheran – Roman Catholic document “From Conflict to Communion”. I’m here in Lund only to promote this title and slogan: From Conflict to Communion. This title can be of help in everyday life, in the working life, in families, in politics, in relations between generations and between genders, and – last but not least – between the churches.

Instead of speaking who is the owner of history it is more fruitful to speak how we can find a way from conflicts to communion. This intention is not a new one. Already apostle Paul was aware of that, when he said:

“I appeal to you… in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? (1. Cor. 1:10-13)

I will end with a quote from our document. The words are originally said by the pope John XXIII. He said: “The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.”