Nature, Presuppositions and Limits of the Dialogue with Non-Christians

Author: Cardinal Paolo Marella


Cardinal Paolo Marella

For the opening of the academic year, 1968-1969, at the Pontifical Urbanian University, "De Propaganda Fide", His Eminence Cardinal Paolo Marella, President of the Secretariat for non-Christians, gave the following inaugural lecture:


It is a real pleasure and coveted honour for all old "Minutante" (minute writer) of Propaganda Fide, today President of the Secretariat for non-Christians, to have been invited to address this Pontifical Urbanian University at the opening of the academic year.

This shows not only the harmony that exists between the Secretariat and the S. Congregation for the evangelization of peoples—a harmony which the Holy Father recently mentioned with satisfaction when speaking to our Consultants,

—but also the vital connection existing between the motherly cares of the Church, which the Council has presented to the world in the functions of witness, dialogue, service and sanctification. And it is just in the perspective of this multiple and organic activity that I intend to set forth, on this solemn occasion, some considerations on the dialogue with non-Christians, as it is conceived and represented by the Office of which I am in charge.

The existence and the aims of the three Secretariats in the renewed Roman Curia are well known. Each of them has its own field of action which is outlined in the encyclical "Ecclesiam Suam", each its own foundations, its own method of work suggested by the concrete circumstances and by the purpose it aims at.

The specific and formal object of the activity of the "Secretariat for non-Christians" is—in the Pope's own words—"homo religiosus", the real foundations of a human brotherhood, this man who, "by internal instinct", is deeply inclined towards God and looks for Him, also unconsciously, "not by corporal steps "—St. Thomas says—, "but by affection of the mind", through cultural and religious forms which "though differing in many particulars from what the Church holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflects a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men" (1).

The Secretariat proposes, therefore, to make known to Christians "what treasures a bountiful God has distributed among the nations of the earth" (2) and at the same time "to radiate the light of the knowledge of God's glory, the glory on the face of Christ" (3).

It could be said, in simpler words, that the activity of the Secretariat aims at drawing closer to one another, on the plane of knowledge and friendship, the disciples of Christ and the followers of other religions, in order to facilitate deeper knowledge and mutual understanding.

Respect and appreciation of the values present in culture and in religions is certainly not new in Christian tradition. Its course could be described starting from the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament themselves. The double tendency of ancient apologetics is, in fact, well known to students of the history of Christianity. On the one hand it aimed at refuting and dispelling many forms of paganism, showing their absurdity; but it was equally ready, on the other hand, to recognize merits and values, to point out spiritual intuitions and achievements in the pre-Christian world, in the framework of a providential pedagogy and preparation for the Gospel (4).

Long reflection on the biblical and patristic tradition will still be necessary, however, in order to find a style of approach and encounter with non-Christians that will embody the ideal of the "scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven", foreseen by Jesus, who "brings out from his storeroom things both new and old" (5).

Certainly, if we look at the recent history of the mission and of the expansion of the Christian message in the world, we not infrequently note in Christians a certain contamination of the colonial mentality, or almost a mental inadequacy in the technical and practical approach to non-Christians. It must be recognized, however, that, in practice as well as in the teachings and directives on the mission given by the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, the principles and the forms of dialogue, of respectful, conscious and brotherly approach, were always present. The names of Mitteo Ricci, the prince of adaptation in the framework of Confucianism and Chinese traditions, of Roberto De Nobili, who worked in India as a Christian "guru" and a Western "sannyasi", of Alessandro Valignano who had a deep understanding of the sentiments and heart of the Japanese, adopting their ceremonial and literary forms, stand out in the history of the Church as testimonies of a method and a behaviour that is in keeping with the laws of the history of salvation, and is inspired by the model of God himself.

It was the Holy Father who pointed to God's action of salvation as the original model of the relationship of the Church with men, and who summed up the various aspects of this relationship in the now famous term, dialogue. "The, revelation-Paul VI Wrote in the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam—that is the supernatural relationship that God himself took the initiative in setting up with mankind, can be represented by a dialogue, in which the Word of God is expressed in the Incarnation and then in the Gospel....The history of salvation narrates this long and varied dialogue that sets out from God and weaves a varied and wonderful conversation with man..." (6).

These clear directives of the Pope's fall within the framework of the teachings of the Council, develop them and bring out their underlying meaning. In the climate of the Council, the seeds sown in preceding decades have ripened, and the fruits were harvested of so many studies and researches on the human person, on the relationship between the natural and the supernatural, on the value of earthly realities, on the history of religions. Thanks to the unhoped for contribution of this last subject, which was born just over half a century ago, with anti-Christian and sometimes irreligious intentions and premises, it has been possible to recognize, in the words of the Council, the elements "of truth and grace'' to be found among non-Christians, the "seeds of the Word which lie hidden in them", the "true and holy" things which "often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men" (7). Nor did the Council Fathers confine themselves to affirmations of principle; especially in the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and even more so in the Declaration Nostra aetate, they went into particulars, giving precise and specific examples: the sense of "God" and of the "sacred" in the primitives; meditation on the mystery of the Divine and the search for salvation in Hinduism; the perception of the. inadequacy of the world and meditation in Buddhism; faith in a merciful and almighty God in Islam (8).

Outlook and Conformity with the Gospel

All this has brought about an "essential renewal", a "great inner upheaval" in the Church, to use the words of Jacques Maritain, the Peasant of the Garonne. "It consists—according to this Christian philosopher—in a change of attitude and a shifting of values which takes place in the depth of the soul... and which concerns first of all a way of. seeing these non-Christians, before God, and a way of loving them more, in more real and deep conformity with the spirit of the Gospel... loving them, that is, because they are potential members of Christ, of that Truth incarnate which they do not know and which is actually denied by the errors they profess" (9). It does not seem exact, on the contrary, to affirm, as some people do, that with the Council a "Manichean" conception of the world was replaced by the vision of a humanity in state of growth (10). The Church has always believed and preached, in conformity with the evangelical parable, that the seed of weeds is everywhere mingled with good grain, and that the two cities in which, according to St. Augustine in "De Civitate Dei", mankind can be summed up, "fecerunt itaque civitates duas amores duos" (11), "are not delimited by visible frontiers, nor do they coincide with the visible order of the world": "perplexae quippe sunt istae duae civitates invicemque permixtae" (12). It is undeniable, however, that in the opinion of many people, until a short time ago, there was little recognition of the existence of spiritual values in non-Christians, which attitude was shared by them with equal firmness and spontaneity: for centuries, and up to today, the Moslem world has believed, for example, that there is no possibility of salvation outside Umma, the Moslem community (13).

The Council, therefore, giving, in the Constitution "Lumen Gentium", an authoritative interpretation of "No salvation outside the Church" as "The Church, sacrament of salvation", has re-awakened the conscience of the Church towards the world of non-Christians; and, stressing a strong element present in biblical Revelation and patristic Tradition, has firmly proclaimed the universal action of God in history, his "constant care" for mankind, accompanied by the "enduring witness to himself" and by the "illumination of the Word" (14), affirming that God's plan of salvation—" universale Dei propositum pro salute generis humani"—carried out invisibly even before the coming of the Church "through those multiple endeavours, including, religious ones, by which men search for God, groping for him that they may by chance find him, though he is not far from any one of us" (15).

No Council had ever stated this so clearly in the past. Vatican I had asserted the capacity of man to ascend to God by means of the natural light of reason ("naturali rationis lumine"); Vatican II took a step forward in the great line of Revelation and of Christian Tradition: it affirmed a real knowledge of God, a genuine religious experience, real values of grace, even though fragmentary and limited, in the contexture of the religious history of mankind.

"The Council had the courage—Father Goetz, a Jesuit, writes,—to express a positive judgment not only, like Vatican I, on man's capacity of knowing God, but on religious experience and on the response man actually makes to him in known societies. And it is particularly remarkable that the Council expresses this judgment in terms of experience of recognition of a presence and of life" (16).

Mission and Dialogue

We would like to ask ourselves now: What consequences did the Council draw from this recognition? What practical results, what new horizons did it point out to the Church on the basis of these achievements?

The Council affirmed and illustrated above all the missionary character of the Church, in fact, it identified the nature of the Church with the mission, which is nothing but the historical prolongation of the mission of the Word: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.... Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations." (17). These words may be written in golden letters on the frontal of Vatican II. The "Decree on the Church's missionary activity", in which the missionary consciousness of the Church reached the zenith of its historical development, testifies to this.

It seems, in fact, that the atmosphere of the Council contributed to arousing also the missionary consciousness of our separated Brothers. "The attitude of the Church to non-Christian religions—Dr. Visser't Hooft, former President of the World Council of Churches, writes in his book 'L'Eglise face au syncretisme: La tentation du melange religieux'—cannot but be that of a witness who declares to all men that Jesus is their Lord. If the Church were to stop paying this witness, it would lose its raison d'etre, since the essence of the Church is to proclaim these good tidings, and not to promote a certain form of spiritual experience, which would be added to those the world already possesses... The Church—the same author continues—has no need to apologize to men for having to preach that they need Christ or for inviting them to follow him. The real vocation of the Church is to announce the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There can be no restriction of this mission" (18).

Before these testimonies, the affirmation of those—there are actually very few of them in the Catholic field—who maintain that the mission of today has as its aim, not the proclamation of the Gospel to men and faith in Christ, the ideal for which St. Paul spent his life, "preaching the Gospel to the nations so that they may be saved" (19), but the mere promotion of the spiritual values of human religions (20), this affirmation seems disconcerting and anti-historical. Equally incomprehensible, and in any case unjustified, though no doubt is cast on the good faith of those concerned, is the opinion of those who declare that the age of missions is over, and that it has been followed by the age of coexistence, discussion arid dialogue (21).

Dialogue! It is the great, tremendous word of our times But can it be honestly affirmed that all those who utter this word understand it in the sense sanctioned by the Council and authoritatively illustrated by the Holy Father in the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam? Can there be an opposition. between. dialogue and mission?

I said that the Council, on the basis of the recognition of the spiritual values of non-Christians, strengthened and renewed the necessity of the "mission" of the Church. It is necessary to add that Vatican II, together with the mission, stressed the necessity of dialogue, but a dialogue that is not indifferent to the mission, and which in no case claims to impair it, take its place, or weaken it. It is easy to point out, and in fact it has already been remarked upon several times, that where the Council deals explicitly with the mission and with evangelization, as in the decree "Ad Gentes", it constantly stresses the necessity of dialogue; while vice-versa in documents dedicated to dialogue, as in the Declaration "Nostrae aetate", it resolutely affirms the necessity and the urgency of the mission. The Council of the Mission is, therefore, also the Council of Dialogue, and the Council of Dialogue is nothing but the same Council of the Mission.. What does this mean? That the Church, intends to join the mission and dialogue inseparably; that, in carrying out the mandate of evangelization and of the mission, the Church wishes to adopt the spirit and the style of dialogue. What this spirit and this style are, is illustrated by the Sovereign Pontiff in Ecclesiam Suam, where he affirms that "this form of relationship indicates an intention of politeness, esteem and sympathy on the part of those who set it up; it excludes sweeping condemnation, offensive and habitual polemics, the vanity of useless talk. If it certainly does not aim at obtaining the conversion of the interlocutor at once, because it respects his dignity and his freedom, it aims, however, at his advantage and would like to prepare him for a fuller communion of sentiments and convictions".

In the mind of the Council, therefore, the Christian is called upon, today more than ever, to carry out the mission in the spirit of dialogue, in a frank, brotherly way, with humility and courage, with unlimited fidelity and respect. The announcement of the Gospel, presented by the Church, is not an act of authority or superiority, but a respectful presentation, a sincere offer of God's love in Jesus Christ, which concerns everyone. "Both Christians and non-Christians—according to a happy expression of the Anglican theologian Dr. Stephen Niles—are like paupers and beggars before God: and this is what joins them in brotherhood; but the Christians know where to find food, and they can tell the others: and this is what distinguishes them" (22). Far from being an alternative to the mission, therefore, dialogue represents, on the contrary, its way and its method in the context of contemporary society, a method prompted not by an astute and ingenious tactic, but by a more conscious attempt to live up to the spirit of the Gospel, a more genuine imitation of God's action in history, "as well as by the maturity of man, both religious and non-religious, who has been taught by civil education to think, to speak, to negotiate with the dignity of dialogue", as the Pope says.

A Dialogue that is not yet a Mission

But in addition to this aspect of the dialogue, as a style and turn of mind that should permeate and renew the mission, the Church has become aware of the opportuneness and the urgency of carrying on a specific dialogue with non-Christians, a dialogue that is not yet a mission which is distinct from evangelization, but which collaborates in the plans of God by fostering understanding, communion, brotherhood and unity in the human family (23). It is this dialogue particularly, as a specific activity, that is represented by the existence of the Secretariat, which is closely connected with but distinct from the S. Congregation for evangelization. What it aims at is sincere, mutual knowledge, respectful, even reverent investigation of God's work in the world, the pursuit of brotherhood and variety in the human family.

An effort is made to reveal, reverently, the treasures of creation and of the action of God in souls that seek him; the knowledge that God has given men of himself, and the way in which they returned his offer, sometimes with heroism, sometimes, unfortunately, with refusal and in the aberrations of human freedom. It also endeavours to consider ethico-religious values in individuals and in religions, as being precious and authentic expressions of a people; to point out man's restlessness, his disappointments, his mistakes and the incessant attempts to solve, always precariously however, the problems of the ultimate and the immediate, of God and man. This is the multiple object of the dialogue that the Secretariat has in mind. The Holy Father summed it up concisely as follows, in the Audience granted to our Consultants on 25th September last: "May your action irradiate more and more in the world that light of God that shines on Christ's face, and may Christians learn in their turn to know and duly appreciate the treasures that God, in his bounty, has bestowed upon the nations" (24).

This dialogue, which seems to be distinct from the mission in its purpose and in its object, is, however, deeply imbued with the spirit of Christian witness. It must release all the power of irradiation present in the latter, opening, so to speak, new ways for grace filling up ditches, and opening up roads: taking away obstacles and stumbling-blocks, in accordance with the prophetic, Messianic words: Prepare the way for the Lord. "Thus you will make your personal contribution to God's plan in history—the Pope concluded in the above-mentioned address—with awareness on earth".

These words give some idea of the relationships between the "S. Congregation for the evangelization of peoples" and the "Secretariat for non-Christians", and of how two organisms far from annulling each other or being superimposed upon each other, pursue, with their own ways and methods, ends that are distinct, but which are integrated in the one and multiform plan of God. In other words, if the Secretariat distinguishes its nature and finality from the Congregation responsible for the Missions, nevertheless it collaborates with the latter, in the sector assigned to it, in order to attain the essential finalities of the Church. It can be said that it is a dynamic, vital relationship, always subject to study and revision, which must exist in an equilibrium that is sought and renewed every day, in the determination to avoid both separation and identification (25). And just as there is, in the Church, a day for reflection and prayer dedicated to the Missions, so some of us have launched the idea of setting apart a day for "dialogue", too, which prepares, extends, renews, integrates and even takes the place of the mission in places where, actually or juridically, the mission is impossible or premature (26).

(1) Oss. Rom. del 27 Sept. 1968; cfr. Nostra aetate, 2.
(2) Ad gentes, 11.
(3) 2 Cor. 4, 6.
(4) Cfr. M. Pellegrino, Gli Apologeti greci del II secolo, Roma, 1947.
(5) Mt., 13, 52.
(6) Cfr. AAS (1964), 637-655 passim.
(7) Cfr. Nostra aetate, 2; Ad gentes, 9, 11.
(8) Nostra aetate, 2, 3.
(9) J. Maritain, Le Paysan de la Garonne, Paris, 1966, p. ill
(10) Cfr. A. M. Henry in Dialogue d'aujourd'hui, mission de demain, Paris, 1968, p. 10-11.
(11) De civ. Dei, 24, 28.
(12) Ibid., 1, 35.
(13) Cfr. A. M. Henry, op. cit., p. 11.
(14) Dei Verbum, 3.
(15) Ad gentes, 3; cfr. Act. 17, 27.
(16) J. Goetz, in L'Eglise et les Religions (Studia Missionalia PUG), Roma 1966, p. 51.
(17) John 20, 21; Mt. 28, 19-20.
(18) W. A. Visser't Hooft, L'Eqlise face au syncretisme, Ginevra, 1964, p. 156
(19) Cfr. I Thess., 2, 16.
(20) Cfr. H. Halbfas, Fundamentalkatechetik, Stuttgart, 1968, p. 240 s.|
(21) Cfr. Kaj Baago, The post colonial crisis of Missions, in Intern. Review of
Missions 1966), 322-332.
(22) Cfr. H. W. Gensichen, Die christliche Mission in der Begegnung mit den Religionen, in Kirche in der ausserchristlichen Welt, Regensburg, 1967, p. 92.
(23) Cfr. P. Rossano, Il concetto e i presupposti del dialogo, in La formazione missionaria del popolo di Dio, Atti della VIII sett. di studi miss., Milano, 1968, p. 97-08.
(24) Oss. Rom., 27 Sept. 1968; cfr. Ad gentes n. 19.
(25) P. Rossano, Il Secretariato per i non-Cristiani e la Missione, in "Euntes docete" (1966), 265-271.
(26) Cfr. Secretariat for non-Christians, Guida at dialogo con le religioni, Brescia, 1968, p, 64-65.


Having sketched the nature and the forms of dialogue with non-Christians, we may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the common platform for a meeting of Christians with followers of non-Christian religions? On what framework is the multiple relationship of dialogue built up, beyond the divergences of doctrine and religious practice? We can say simply: all that is human, authentically human, all that germinates from the soil of creation, fertilized by light and divine grace; all that the genius of peoples develop and in which the light of the Word is reflected: this is the subject of "dialogue", the basis of encounter, the objective bond of brotherhood (27). And since every value finds its measure in man, created in the image and likeness of God, it is natural for the Christian to take as the meeting-point man, and more exactly, to use an almost technical expression, homo religiosus.

The foundation and basis of dialogue, is not, therefore, an immanent unity, a kind of common denominator of the various religions, as some people have been claiming since the age of Illuminism; nor is it a transcendental unity of religions, lying beyond the multiple and differentiated forms that appear in history, as gnostics of all times maintain; nor, again, a future unity of religions, pursued through a convergent evolution or through a combination and syncretism of the various religious forms of the earth. Such a combination would certainly not represent an enrichment for mankind, since it would be nothing but an agglomeration of contingent ideologies. It is true that this programme is supported by various eminent personalities of culture and contemporary history (28) who cannot forgive the Church, for, being the depository of an absolute and unchangeable mandate.

The Church does not dialogue or seek a meeting-point with philosophico-religious systems as such, but with men; men are sons of God, not religions in themselves. To underline the living, personal and concrete character of the dialogue with men of our time, the denomination "Secretariat for non-Christians" has been chosen in preference to that of "Secretariat for non-Christian religions".

Having pointed but that the foundation and basis of dialogue is naturally religious man, we pass on, to consider how to approach this man, how to set up a relationship with him that will facilitate mutual knowledge. and perfection, and lead to a deeper communion ofsentiments and convictions.

The bases of Encounter

The "Secretariat" has been thinking about this for some time. I can declare, however, that owing to the too short history of its existence, and the still too limited range of its experiences and possibilities, it has not been considered opportune up to the present time to propose a general Guide or Directory for dialogue, as has been done by the other Secretariats. But what cannot be done in an official and unitarian way, which would not be very useful anyhow, is being assiduously promoted in various ways, tactfully and in detail, on the plurality and mobility of the fronts along which the peaceful action of dialogue is being carried out. We are also convinced that the world of non-Christian religions is undergoing a process of rapid evolution at this time. For this reason, our Secretariat, making wide use of experiences and advice, after collecting a brief compendium of general indications, entitled "Vers la Rencontre des Religions—Suggestions pour le dialogue" (29), is preparing a series of special Guides, if I may use this term, that is, collections of detailed and timely suggestions for dialogue with the principal religions.

The one on African religions will be published shortly and, immediately afterwards in the following order, those on Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. We are aware, however, that however concrete such suggestions and indications are, they are bound to be found generical and somewhat abstract in actual practice: it will be necessary, in any case, to revise and adapt them to local situations, under the full responsibility of the Bishops. For this reason, all Bishops in Mission Countries are considered members of the Secretariat. The first among them is, of course, His Eminence the Prefect of Propaganda, which Congregation exercises a real and proper jurisdiction. In this way, the activity of our Office is differentiated both from the pastoral action to be undertaken on the spot, and from the direct action of research and scientific investigation of the specialized Institutes, though it is connected with them. Here we may mention the close collaboration between the "Scientific Missionary Institute" of this University and our Secretariat. Its work is one of mediation, reflection and stimulation. With the help of qualified Consultors and Correspondents, and of the Episcopal Conferences of every nation, we collect and diffuse, in our Bulletins and Supplements, the most reliable results of theological and scientific research, of ethnology and the sciences of religions, and make them available for the dialogue of the Church, introducing the essential themes of the Christian message and the highest values of humanity "into the circulation of human speech", to use a happy expression of Paul VI's. In any case the intention is to offer a service to the whole Church—the name " Secretariat" in itself indicates this—representing in a visible way the dialogue with non-Christians, to which the Holy Spirit calls the people of God today, and carrying out an action that illuminates, supports, stimulates, guides and, as far as possible, coordinates the dialogue "in this delicate field, where it is necessary to avoid all danger of. 'irenicism' and 'syncretism’, and to lay aside all false ideas of equivalence between the various religions".

The latter expression, clear words of warning, were uttered by the Pope himself in the above-mentioned audience to the Consultors of the Secretariat. I consider it a duty, therefore, to indicate briefly, before concluding this talk, what dangers are met with in carrying out the activity of dialogue, of rather, what enemies it has which, corrupting its nature and diverting its aims, prevent this topical and at the same time ancient function of the Church from developing and bearing fruit for the glory of God and for the spiritual good of mankind.

In the "dialogue with Non-Believers", recently published by the Secretariat bearing the same name, mention is very opportunely made, among other things, of "manipulation" as a means to attain particular political ends, as being obstacles and enemies of the dialogue with non-believers. What, we now ask, are the principal enemies of our dialogue, in the encounter with non-Christian religions?

Enemies of Dialogue

It can be affirmed, generally speaking, that the enemies of Dialogue are exclusivism and isolationism on the one hand, and the dilution of the true Faith on the other hand, whatever form it may take. Therefore, anyone who denies the existence of real, genuine values in non-Christian religions, and makes the extension of the grace of Christ coincide with the visible boundaries of the Church, considering the ethico-religious heritage of non-Christian humanity as a kingdom of darkness and error (30), is an enemy of dialogue.

Another enemy of dialogue is anyone who denies the existence, the goodness and the providential nature of the religious dimension in man, either on behalf of a faith, affirmed in contrast with nature and reason, or on behalf of an anti-clericalism, of scientist or Marxist origin, which considers religious expression as harmful alienation. It is clear that anyone following such principles corrodes the very foundations of interreligious dialogue, offending the great heritage of creation, through which the light of the divine image is reflected in man (31).

These enemies put a stop to dialogue in one direction. But there are a series of enemies, no less harmful, who put a stop to dialogue in the opposite direction. These enemies are called "syncretism" and "relativism", and today they are knocking insistently at the door of the Catholic world. The words of the Roman Senator, Symmachus, in his desperate attempt to save ancient paganism from being swept away by victorious

Christianity: "Uno itinere non potest pervenire ad tam grande secretum divinitatis" (32) (it is impossible to arrive at such a great secret of divinity by one path only), are once more re-echoing throughout the world, and not only on the lips of non-Christians. According to syncretism, historical revelation was not a unique phenomenon; there are many ways leading to the Divinity; all religious and dogmatic formulations are, by their very nature, provisional and relative; an attempt should, in fact, be made to harmonize the various religious beliefs to form one universal religion. "A little less missionary ardour and a little more illuminated scepticism might, do everyone good", wrote a famous lay exponent of Oriental philosophico-religious thought; and again: "The different religious traditions clothe the same Reality in various images, and their. visions can unite and fecundate one another... They represent different aspects of inner spiritual life, projections on the intellectual plane of the ineffable experience of the human spirit" (33).

This is the voice of syncretism. Well, when even Catholic authors affirm the identity or the deep connivance between Christianity and religions, beyond historical and theological formulations (34); when it is stated that the meeting with religions takes place beyond categorical differences, on the basis of the immediate and ineffable experience of ultimate Reality (35); when people indulge in theorizing about the reality of a Christian mystery, cosmic and omnipresent, in which the evolution of history is resolved (36); when the various religions of the earth are proclaimed "ordinary ways" of salvation and depositories of a similar, if not identical, divine revelation (37); when, religions are considered as being on an equal footing with the Revelation of the Old and New Testament (38); when it is declared that it is necessary to rediscover the essence of Christianity with a view to adaptation (39); when people superficially claim "the freedom to make mistakes" and not to bother with orthodoxy; when Dialogue is represented as freedom to jeopardize the Faith, can it still be maintained, we wonder, that we are in the line of Christian tradition, that we are following in the wake of the Council, that we are faithful to the "deposit" transmitted by the Apostles to the Church?

The Great Human Cultures

Today it is certainly right, necessary and urgent to promote a rapprochement of the evangelical message with all the great cultures; it is necessary, according to the Council and the Pontiffs, to expound Christian truths in a. way that is accessible to the intelligence of men of all traditions, it is necessary to give theology a universal dimension that will assume and exalt the genius of all peoples on the earth. But it is not legitimate to dilute the Christian message, dissolving its peculiar and constituent elements under the pretext of demythicization, adaptation and indigenization. It is not legitimate to compare, in liturgical celebration, the pages of the religious literature of peoples, noble and edifying though they be, with the "words and facts" (dicta et facta) of Divine Revelation (40). It is not legitimate to refuse to recognize the "novitas vitae" of the Gospel, the transcendent and eschatological character of the Good Tidings, the historical reality of the salvific event, of Christ crucified, sacrificing himself "once and for all" (41).

The first to be blamed will be the very Christian authors daring to do so, whom non-Christians would accuse of inconsistency and lack of sincerity. I would like to say, too, that the application of descriptions such as "implicit", "anonymous", or "unconscious" Christians to non-Christians offends their feelings and lays those who use them open to the charge of "spiritual annexation" (42).

These topics could be developed at length, but time and circumstances do not allow it; let it be enough to have mentioned these quagmires, in which dialogue may lose its way and sink.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamism

But since I am addressing young students of scientific and academic courses, I would like to say that the door leading to this slippery ground of syncretism and religionism, is youthful haste and superficiality, both in knowledge of Christianity and of non-Christian religions. Superficiality in knowledge of the history of salvation; insufficient scientific study of the Christian tradition and of the "cursus" of the evangelical message in history; the lack of a scrupulous philological and historical methodology in the study of other religions; want of scientific criticism shedding light on the significance and limit of knowledge of particular facts, often lead people to mistake shadows for reality, to ignore the specific nature of individual phenomena, to linger over exterior appearances, while it is necessary to know one's religious interlocutor from inside, in his historical and specific individuality, in the original dynamism of his movement of religious elevation.

Remember, young students, that superficiality, scientific and doctrinal improvisation, is a great enemy of dialogue. Who can say he understands adequately the historical event of Christ and the first development of the faith in history? Who can claim to know thoroughly, I do not say some sacred book of the Indian world, but the religious aspirations and convictions of Hinduism and popular Buddhism? Who can think he knows the faith of a Moslem? And how dare one repeat easily and superficially that it is necessary to dewesternize and dehellenize theology and Christology, without a thorough and reliable knowledge of what Greek thought is and what Christian tradition is? Do not the dogmas of creation, of the divine sonship of Christ, of his equality of nature with the Father, and the mysteries of eschatology and of future resurrection belong to the deposit of faith, which the Fathers and the first theologians had to safeguard, struggling against the hostility and incomprehension of certain movements of Greek thought? (43). The necessity that arises from the nature of dialogue, and which was sanctioned by the Council, of re-examining the heritage of Revelation and of adapting the presentation of the faith to the great religious cultures of mankind (44), does not mean that one must doubt the very meaning of the Christian message, in order to bring about an agreement with systems which, on an objective examination, are seen to be different and sometimes opposite. In a recent address, Paul VI admonishes with fatherly insistence: "The effort, in itself worthy of praise and understanding, to express the truths of the Faith in terms accessible to the language and mentality of our times has sometimes yielded to the desire for an easier success, by ignoring, toning down or distorting certain "difficult dogmas". The attempt, though rightful, is a dangerous one and should be favourably received only when in addition to presenting the doctrine in a more accessible form, it preserves its sincere integrity, excluding any calculated ambiguity. Let your talk be "yes, yes", or "no, no",—Lord says (45). Therefore, only he who remains fully faithful to the doctrine of Christ can be a sincere and efficacious man of dialogue. This doctrine is so human, so universal that it presents innumerable points of contact with the aspirations of all men; but at the same time it is so new, so extraordinary, so divine, that it presents itself in all its diversity and novelty to men, and calls upon them and demands from them a radical renewal, "a qualitative leap", a conversion to the new life.

With this evocation of the doctrine of Christ, the Son of man, who took our infirmities upon himself, who shared the joys and sorrows of men, to whom he brought "the grace and the truth of the invisible God", whom only he had seen, with the affirmation of the solidarity and the transcendency of the Church among men, I would like to close, ending with a brief portrait of the real man of dialogue.

The Man of Dialogue

The "man of dialogue" is one who has the patience to get to know his interlocutor thoroughly, who appreciates him, loves him, interprets his hidden aspirations, shares his passion for Truth and Good, is eager to walk with him to seek new elements of light and goodness together. One who, in pursuing this ideal, has the humble but firm awareness that he is the depository of a Message that is not in his power, and, trying to make it accessible to others, renews its formulations, leaving his own culture behind him, and entering the world of his interlocutor. One who is not a proud, unscrupulous manipulator of notions and essences, but who, recognizing the impassible boundaries of reality and of revelation, and the limits of his knowledge, is able to stop, wait and be silent, respecting the mystery. One who worships God's action among men, believes in the universal plan of salvation and, while he admires the light of the Word that illuminates every man, watches out for the tormenting enigma of evil, which lies in wait for all human expressions. One, finally, who, in the words of the Council, while recognizing, gathering and promoting all the spiritual and moral values of his interlocutor, offers him a living testimony of faith, hope and Christian charity.

(27) P. Card. Marella, Segretariato per i non-Cristiani, in Oss. Rom., 28 June (giugno) 1964; id. in Oss. della Domenica, 6 Dec. (dicembre) 1964.
(28) Cfr. S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western thought, London 1939; A. J. Toynbee; Christianity among the religions of the World, London 1958; W. E. Hocking, The coming World Civilisation, London 1958. Original French and English editions published by the Vatican Polyglot..
(29) Press. edizione italiana "Guida al dialogo con le religioni", Brescia 1968.
(30) Cfr. P. Hacker, in ZMR (1967), 259-263. This negative view is shared both by those who hold for "dialectical theology" and for the so-called theology of "the death of God".
(32) Cfr. Wisser't Hooft, op. cit., p. 26.
(33) S. Radhakrishnan, This is my Philosophy, New York 1957, citato in Relations among religions today, Leiden 1963, p. 131-134,
(34) Cfr. Kaj Baago, lc. cit., p. 322 sg.; H. Halbfas, op. cit., p. 236; B. Griffith, in The Clergy Monthly, 1968, n. 5, p. 220.
(35) Cfr. B. Griffith, Christian Ashram, London 1966, p. 22-223; K. Klostermaier, Christ und Hindu in Vrindaban, Koln 1968, p. 154-155; id. in Journ. of ecum. Studies, 1968, n. 1, p. 33; H. Le Saux, La rencontre de I'Hindouisme et du Christianisme, Paris 1966, p. 167.
(36) Cfr. R. Panikkar, Maya ed Apocalisse, Roma 1967, p. XXIII; id. in Kairos (1968), p. 118ss.; id. in Orient, juillet-aout 1967, p. 21ss.; H. Le Saux, op. cit., p. 96; A. Roper, The anonimous christian, New York 1966, p. 128.
(37) Cfr. R. Schlette, Die Religionen als thema der Theologie, Freiburg 1964 (ed. ital., Brescia 1968).
(38) Cfr. H. Halbfas, op. cit.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 December 1968, page 8
19 December 1968, page 8

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