Part II: Participants. Tools, and Approach
2. The Participants
As we read in Part I- that interreligious dialogue is relevant is based on the command of Christ to His Body, the Church - the second point to establish is who is responsible?
Many Christians are under the erroneous impression that only those directly related to the Church’s mission (i.e. by vocation) are active participants. However, the Church includes all the faithful and the mission of proclaiming Christ is not delegated only to the work of missionaries and priests, but to all the faithful who are called to the same obedience to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) that men everywhere might know fully the salvation of God in Christ. Indeed, Pope Paul VI 1964 encyclical Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity”) exhorts the laity’s, “proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church…Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:3).”
According to Apostolicam Actuositatem the vocation of the laity to the apostolate is to share in the “priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ” placing them squarely in the midst of the mission of the Church in the world. In this we read the people of God are emboldened, but also responsible to act, for “On all Christians therefore is laid the pre-eminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world.” Interreligious dialogue is for every Christian every place and in every time.
3. The Tool: Knowledge
The third point to be established within the context of interreligious dialogue is that of knowledge. In order for the Church’s mission to succeed, it is imperative that the faithful be skilled in what the Church teaches. Think of knowledge here as the wattage of a light bulb, the greater the wattage, the brighter the light; the brighter the light, the greater the illumination and displacement of darkness. To be ignorant of Sacred Scripture and tradition is to falter when the opportunity to converse arises. Take a simple discussion over coffee between two colleagues, Nick and Tony. If Nick’s knowledge of Islam is equal to a 100-watt bulb, and Tony’s knowledge of Christianity is equal to a 7-watt bulb, how will Tony ever be able to illuminate Nick? It is not necessary for all the faithful to know in-depth the tenants of the world’s religions and philosophies, but it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the Church’s teaching in order not only to discern truth from error, but to enlighten the way of a non-believer.
The 1965 encyclical Gravissimum Educationis (“Declaration on Christian Education”) expresses clearly the importance of general education, pointing out “how extremely important education is in the life of man and how its influence ever grows to the social progress of this age.” Specifically, the document stresses Christian education for not only human maturity but to bear witness of God. Gravisimum Educationis states,
A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of the human person…but has as its principal purpose this goal that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced to the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that are of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness of the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society.
4. The Approach: Humility
We have established why, who, and with what, in the context of interreligious dialogue, and finally we address the approach. In the Message to Humanity, issued at the beginning of the Council, we witness from the very beginning an emphasis on human dignity, when it is stated,
As we undertake our work, therefore, we would emphasize whatever concerns the dignity of man, whatever contributes to a genuine community of peoples, ‘Christ’s love impels us,’ for ‘he who sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?’
In addition to knowledge, the tone of an inter-religious dialogue should be one that uplifts the dignity of the person created in the image of God. This tone may be achieved in humility and charity by emphasizing what may be true or positive about the other’s belief. Take for example the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34) where he found himself in the midst of a crowd who believed in so many gods that they had a special statue for the “unknown god” in case they excluded a divinity. Paul did not approach the people with condemnation, attacking them for their polytheism; rather he took advantage of their “religiousness” as an opportunity for dialogue. In doing so, he advanced the truth and opened a door for those who wanted to listen more.
Paul did not compromise the truth in recognizing this unknown god, nor did he wield it like a sword; he used it as a “common grounds” springboard to proclaim the Gospel. Likewise, we find in relation to other religions, “whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.” Truth is truth from God who illumines all men that they may have life and a foundation for a positive relationship that may lead to the Gospel. But we are also warned that, there are those who are
…deceived by the Evil One, [and] become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:21, 25). Therefore, to “promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16), the Church fosters the missions with care and attention. (Lumen Gentium)
In St. Peter’s Basilica, on October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with a speech full of hope a joy in reaffirming the teaching role of the Church in the world. Despite some very ugly decades in a newly modern world, Pope John XXIII was optimistic in his opening statement, “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world was at hand.”
The teachings of Vatican II did not displace the condemnation of errors in Vatican I, nor did it confirm “many ways” to God. What the Church teaches today is that the mission to spread the Gospel remains relevant, is the responsibility of all Christians, and should be carried out in knowledge wrapped in love and humility; the imitation of Jesus Christ. The exhortation to dialogue could not be better summed up that with the quotation from Nostra Aetate,
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love in the witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
That there remain today those who would disagree with Vatican II in general and the idea of interreligious dialogue in particular. For some, the council was not progressive enough, and for others, it was not conservative enough. At the end of the day, however, Vatican II speaks for itself in the final product. As Ralph McInerny, in his book What Went Wrong with Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained, states:
For in the end, it is the final document that trumps all earlier arguments and discussion. Once voted on and promulgated by the Pope, a conciliar document is no longer the victory of one side or the triumph of a faction: it becomes part of the Magisterium of the Church.
Catholics have a responsibility to accept the councils teaching; including that on interreligious dialogue. This can be made no more clearly than in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (891):
The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the Faith - he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to Faith or morals. The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an ecumenical council.