Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 7: October 2002
Letter to Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on the Spirituality of Dialogue
On March 3, 1999, Cardinal Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, wrote a letter to the presidents of national bishops’ conferences soliciting their reflections and suggestions on the subject for an "eventual document on the Spirituality of Dialogue". The excerpts from the letter that follow emphasize that for Catholics, exchange of ideas or opinions ("dialogue") among different religions must always be based firmly on the fundamental truth of the Christian faith. Syncretism, the effort to combine different religions or religious practices, or to eliminate distinctive doctrines, is a view completely alien to authentic interreligious dialogue and ecumenism. – Editor
In October 1998 the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue took the Spirituality of Dialogue as the theme of its Plenary Assembly. At the end of the Assembly the Members thought it would be useful to share some of the reflections with our brothers in the episcopate around the world. They asked me to write to you to report on some of the considerations put forward during our meeting, and to request your reaction in view of an eventual document from our Council.
2. God is love and communion
God is love and communion. As Saint John tells us, God is love (cf 1 Jn 4:16). The mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity reveals to us that the Eternal Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and this mutual love of the Father and the Son is the Person of the Holy Spirit. Moreover the Father communicates Himself entirely to the Son who is God from God, Light from Light. The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son is together with the Father and the Son one God who is communion in the depth of His mystery. This Trinitarian mystery of love and communion is the eminent model for human relations and the foundation of dialogue.
3. God communicates himself to mankind
Out of His bountiful love God decided to communicate Himself to the human beings that He had created. The Only-Begotten Son of God took on human nature in order "to gather the scattered children of God" (Jn 11:52), to restore communion between humanity and God, to communicate divine life to people and finally to bring them to the eternal vision of God.
The Incarnation is the supreme manifestation of God’s saving will. It is the way chosen by God to go in search of the human being, damaged and estranged from God by original sin, as the shepherd goes in search of the lost sheep. Incarnation means, on the one hand, that the Son of God assumed all that is positive in human nature. On the other hand, it takes the form of kenosis [self-emptying]. As Saint Paul writes to the Philippians: "Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:5-8). This was the way chosen in the divine plan to reestablish communion between mankind and God, to recapitulate all things so that finally "God may be all in all" (I Cor 15:28; cf. Eph 1:15). So when Christians meet other believers, they are called to have the mind of Christ, to follow in His footsteps.
5. Christian identity in dialogue
The Christian who meets other believers does so as a member of the Christian community of faith, and therefore as a witness to Jesus Christ. It is important that the Christian should have a clear religious identity. Interreligious dialogue does not demand that the Christian should set some elements of Christian belief or practice aside, putting them as it were between parentheses, much less putting them in doubt. On the contrary, other believers want to know clearly whom they are meeting.
It is our firm conviction that God wants all persons to be saved (cf I Tim 2:4) and that God can give his grace also outside the visible boundaries of the Church (cf LG 16; Redemptor Hominis 10). At the same time the Christian is aware that Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, is the one and only Savior of all humanity, and that only in the Church which Christ founded are to be found the means of salvation in all their fullness. This should in no way induce the Christian to assume a triumphalistic attitude or to act out of a superiority complex. On the contrary, it is with humility and with a desire for mutual enrichment that one will meet with other believers, while holding firmly to the truths of the Christian faith. Interreligious dialogue, when conducted in this vision of faith, in no way leads to religious relativism.
6. Proclamation and dialogue
In dialogue the Christian is called to be a witness to Christ, imitating the Lord in His proclamation of the Kingdom, His concern and compassion for each individual person and His respect for that person’s liberty. There is a need to rediscover the close connection between proclamation and dialogue as elements of the evangelizing mission of the Church (cf Dialogue and Proclamation 77-85). It will be seen that these elements are not interchangeable, nor are they to be confused, yet they are indeed related (cf Redemptoris Missio 55). Proclamation aims at conversion in the sense of free acceptance of the Good News of Christ and becoming a member of the Church. Dialogue, on the other hand, presupposes conversion in the sense of a return of the heart to God in love and obedience to His will, in other words, openness of the heart to the action of God (cf. The Attitude of the Church toward the Followers of other Religions 37). It is God who attracts people to himself, sending His Spirit who is at work in the depths of their hearts.
9. Nourished by prayer and sacrifice
This spirituality is nourished by prayer and sacrifice. Prayer links the Christian with the goodness and power of God without whom we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:5). Without God’s life-giving action, mere human activity is not able to effect any permanent spiritual good. Sacrifice strengthens prayer and promotes communion with others. Christians learn from their faith to love other believers even when the latter apparently do not reciprocate, or at least not immediately. The teaching of Christ is that we must love with detachment, that we should be ready to walk the extra mile, that we should not look for revenge if we suffer wrong-doing but rather seek to overcome evil by good. This is a sign not of weakness, but of spiritual strength.