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Hans Waldenfels SJ

The Church in the Face of Islam

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 6/2009, P. 426-428
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

Felix Körner's book goes beyond the scope of a doctoral thesis {1}. His work is neither historically nor in principle scientifically structured. It is rather the fruit of his stay in Turkey lasting several years. His interlocutors were people in the street and university, religious Muslims. This led to the result that his work was not that much determined by book-learning but by the dealing with the questions of people who met him as man, priest and theologian. In this sense the book is strikingly moulded by listening and a life "in view of Islam".

It begins with an "introductory reflection" on "in view of". Körner has learned three things from Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Christian testimony has also in its form to correspond to its message. It cannot "be a prepared refutation of the world-view of other people". Controversial basic beliefs open up in which Islam contrasts with the specific Christian creed (16f.).

In the first chapter Körner describes the "stimulus", i.e. the conversation as basis of his writing. In concrete terms it is a 24-page booklet entitled "Invitation to the Christians for Right Guidance and True Salvation". Its author Ömer Öngüt (born in 1927) has written several books on Islamic topics comprehensible to the layman. In the booklet the teachings about Allah and the position of Jesus in Islam are brought up and then it deals with the reasons for the disbelief of the Christians and the occasions for turning to Islam. Körner has added the text in the appendix in annotated translation. For him it is an example of how at the level of believers who have not formally been trained in theology an interreligious dialogue, i.e. a "lay discussion" can be led (23). In a first theological examination of the "invitation" he makes three experiments: first the refutation, then the search for common ground, and finally a criterion is won from the arguments of "faith" (the concept of faith, however, is here rather implicitly taken for granted than clarified).

In the following chapters Körner approaches the situation in question from different directions. The second chapter "Ankara" offers an enormous amount of material that illustrates how today's Turkey notices Christianity. At the beginning there are 50 questions. Portrayals of Jesus in the press follow. Perceptions of Christianity and the Church are presented, as they can be found in magazines, newspapers and school books. The objection to the Christian mission in Friday sermons and political statements is documented. Finally, responses to the current pope and his visit to Turkey follow. The chapter ends with inquiries of the "Ankara School", i.e. of Turkish theologians of Christianity.

Then Körner turns to the dialogue efforts, resp. the dealing with Islam in the earlier history of theology. The third chapter is titled "Beginners. The Latin Christendom coram Islamo. Imagined dialogues."

 


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It deals with Petrus Venerabilis, Thomas Aquinas, Ramon Llull, Nikolaus von Kues, Pius II, and - somewhat unexpected - the contemporary Richard Heinzmann. Under the keyword "Weak Theology" the fourth chapter "Otherness" asks, "Do we believe in the same God?" After Aristotle's topic [rhetoric] and the current interest in Melchior Cano's "Loci", but especially in view of Rüdiger Bubner Körner pleads for further development and use of the topical approach. Here it is about a context-related thinking and the consideration of different viewpoints with which the ways of substantiation change; what gains in importance is giving testimony of the in each case different reality.

This leads Körner to his "approach" of a representation of Christianity in which the "testimony" becomes the leading category (chapter 5). He begins with an overview of the research into the concept of testimony. It starts with Johannes Beutler SJ, goes over Kienzler Klaus, Peter Hünermann, Edmund Arens and Ansgar Steinke to Karl Rahner SJ and ends with Körner's thesis supervisor Barbara Hallensleben. In her work he finds with regard to the Ignatian retreats good tips about the testimony of the individual. After that he develops his idea of six "notae theologiae", which he subsumes in an original way under the following keywords: 1. "giving testimony - the rationality of the individual"; 2. "confessing - the joining of the community"; 3. "substantiating - the weakness of the argument"; 4. "liberating - the widening of the perspective"; 5. "to be able to be converted - the unforeseeableness of history"; 6. "creating relationships - the task of communication". With these "notae" he fits the individual into the neighbourhood of the church, explains once again the limitations of a purely argumentative approach in order to gain room for the other person as well as for the situations in history in which then new relationships can come about and thus a new exchange. From it also a new understanding of rationality results.

On the basis of these "notae" Körner examines in the further chapters the Christian-Muslim dialogue. The sixth chapter "Answers" follows the direct dealings of theologians with Muslims. Körner explains it with the help of several "classics", among them John of Damascus and Manuel II Palaiologos, then some members of the Protestant Free Church and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, finally Catholic writers, the Jesuits Thomas Michel, Salah Aboujaoude and Christian W. Troll, and the Dominican and Bishop Pierre Claverie. Here it is always about a critical reading, which ultimately takes place in the light of the criteria developed by Körner.

Three "basic implications of the Christian faith conflicting with Islam" result from his studies: 1. "God puts his deity at stake in history", 2. "Man is too weak to live his destiny"; 3. "Perfect communion with God and autonomy are interdependent" (328). Körner avoids the theological jargon. He does deliberately not speak of the Jesus story, of Jesus the Son of God and of the Trinity but wants to reach the living implications in which people meet each other in agreement or disagreement. So he also avoids the recourse to traditional ways of a rather abstract synthesizing theology; it is almost completely missing in his literature.

What Körner calls the "basic implications of the Christian faith" has consequently to prove itself in actual life. He subsumes them under the central theme "Ancilla" (chapter 7) and then speaks of "Scenes from the Life of Mary" and "empirical ecclesiology".

 


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He explains them with the help of concrete people and events from his life: a Jew baptized in a Free Church in Turkey, the Pope's invocation of Mary in Ephesus and its Turkish translation, a conversation about the saints, an experience with the - "boring" - rosary prayer, a guided tour in a church ending before the image of Mary with the child and becoming an invitation to speak about the "strong weakness of children" (335). These few hints perhaps show that here also a new language is spoken.

The book ends with the summarizing chapter 8 "Anakephalaiosis". Körner does not explain this word, which in Eph 1:10 gets its early Christo-centric interpretation and culmination. He remains in the foreground with the "Summary", as it is rhetorically expressed by the ancient Greek "kephalaion" (= main, sum, summary). He works with concepts of "grasping": intervention [Eingriff], encroachment [Übergriff], attack [Angriff], term [Begriff], extending [Ausgriff]; he ends with "apology" and "theology" and wonders what they in the end achieve in the lay discussion which he wants (and has) to have with people. What remains is weakness, and it is for him the weakness that is shown by God Himself in His incarnation. Finally Körner reports of a conversation where he still owes the answer. A girl had asked him, "Why do Christians believe that Mary is in the Trinity? Does God have a wife?" Only after the conversation he knows, "I had only needed to say, 'Does God have a wife? He wants to choose every human being as His partner'. If we say yes, then God can come into the world. But this answer became clear to me only in retrospect. This opportunity elapsed unused. God has looked on his servant in her lowliness. There remains only the hope that God wants to work through his weak creatures" (347).

Such a book can only be written by someone who has deliberately got involved in the dialogue as a rotation of listening and speaking and who then in the true sense of the word is no longer attached to himself and gives a "share of himself to others" .

 

{1} Körner, Felix: Kirche im Angesicht des Islam. Theologie des interreligiösen Zeugnisses. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2008. 392 S. Br. 19,80.

 

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