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Christ Alone - and the Others


From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 18/2011, P. 187 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Everybody talks about the necessary interreligious and intercultural dialogue. But the Christians seem inhibited, bewildered, intimidated.


The superior general of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius, Bishop Bernard Fellay, whose excommunication was revoked by Pope Benedict XVI, has sharply criticized the beatification of John Paul II. His entire term of office would be appreciated by this liturgical-canonical act, since the beatification pertains also to his "most scandalous activities". According to the leader of the Lefebvre followers, these include the Pope's confession in the Holy Year 2000 of serious failings and deep wrongs in the church throughout history. Also the world peace prayers of Assisi are an abomination. At the much-noticed meeting of representatives of religions in 1986, John Paul II had prayed "together with many idolaters." In remembrance of the first meeting 25 years ago, now in autumn a third "Assisi abomination" is about to happen, to which Pope Benedict XVI had promised his coming. There would be cause to fear, so Fellay, that also this time Benedict XVI would not tell the representatives of false religion that only the Catholic faith leads to salvation. In order to rid the church of the current evils, Fellay called upon the Catholics to pray twelve million rosaries until Pentecost.


Many Religions of Mankind

On the one hand, the recent statement of the traditionalists' leader raises fears that the Vatican's secret negotiations with the Pius Brothers, which are since autumn 2009 continuing - with the theological public excluded, will hardly result in their recognition of the Second Vatican Council. But on the other hand, this outrageous word also relentlessly reveals the actual historical break and the liberating epochal change in the view on salvation within the Catholic Church. Despite all the beneficial theological developments, there remains basically a paradox: How can professing the one and sole Redeemer and Saviour Christ intellectually and spiritually be connected honestly with the fact that there are so many religions and claims to truth, and that evolution long before the Incarnation of the Son of God and Son of Man - in a more than hundred thousand-year-long history of Homo sapiens - saw so many forms of venerating the Most Sacred come and go. This diversity in the divinely ordained development of creation can hardly be judged to be as such contrary to God's will. Or was God so mistaken with his revelation in the work of his Creation? In view of the claim to exclusivity of Christianity one could ask why the eternal Word of the Father did not come much earlier into world and time, although the brain of the modern homo sapiens was sufficiently complex for it. Why this "hesitation"? If we really take the historicity of the Jesus-Christ-event from birth to resurrection seriously, and do not - in order to get rid of it - transfer it as a myth into timelessness, we must accept that the history of Christianity and of its historical impact, is still very young, not 2000 years old. What is that - compared with the immense former times and the times that are still lying ahead of humankind, which continues changing - also religiously! The facts urge humility.

Pope Benedict XVI, as one hears, was as the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith not very happy about the by his predecessor wanted course of the "Assisi-Event". For the meeting in autumn, he has now proposed some changes, in order to avoid the appearance of syncretism and probably also to be a little accommodating towards the demands of the traditionalists. So, the next peace meeting of religious leaders should rather be akin to a public rally than to a liturgical or quasi-liturgical event. The public appearance of the participants should rather happen in silence. By praying separately in quiet meditation, they should represent their desire for peace. In addition, this time also non-believers are formally invited. This again mitigates the sacred aura of the celebration and gives the whole also a secular aspect.


The Continuous Search

The meeting is officially announced as a "day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world." It remains open whether the respective self-commitments and statements reach the religious and spiritual depth and density which John Paul II at that time had in mind. A merely more or less secular peace demonstration, as one can find it in each camp of multicultural "anti-globalization activists", cannot really be the object of such a special meeting of religions.

It is interesting that the papal Assisi initiative here and there seems to rub off even on mere secular events. Thus, the international equestrian event "Horses & Dreams" in Hagen near Osnabrück for the first time is opened with a celebration of the religions. At the jumping and dressage horse show organized by Paul Schockemöhle, 2.000 athletes and guests from more than thirty nations want to send a signal of peace and understanding beyond religious boundaries. This is a remarkable turnaround, after at major sporting events the trend was to propagate Neopaganism, as a kind of substitute religion, by staging increasingly pompous quasi-religious rituals. Does the real peacemaker, the reverence for the Holy, for the religion of others come back by human competition, by sports and games in the public cult stages? A little peace, a little more peace through spiritual remembrance of the peace-making power of religion?



In "Stimmen der Zeit" (April), the Regensburg theologian Wolfgang Beinert has recalled the topicality of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). Fundamentalists would continue fundamentally protesting against this document, which got the second most votes against - after the Declaration on Religious Freedom - by the council fathers. "In view of the "clash of civilizations" (Samuel P. Huntington) the Declaration is gaining more and more importance for far-sighted Christians."

According to Beinert, the Declaration dared indeed - in comparison with previous views - to take a tremendous new approach. The Council did not focus on the earthly impartation of salvation - as e.g. through the sacraments of the Catholic Church - but the universal salvific will of God. "The fact that people find salvation is not created by them but by God's grace." What is important is not the individual conviction, but the relation to the truth, which can only be accorded to man via an ongoing search process. This occurs under the natural conditions and conditionalities of creation, in particular language, language development, and development of thought. According to biblical understanding, God reveals Himself in the Logos, whom we from a Christian perspective identify with Christ. "Behind every word of God His love for Creation is hidden. Every revelation aims at salvation. ... Seen in this way, every religion is an address of God to the people."


Words, Knowledge, and Witness

Language is never perfect. Language has its limits. That's why the impartation of truth via religious systems can always be only imperfect. Communication means approach, translation - even there where it is about the Most Sacred. It is an infinite process, where the "word" does not only mean rational talk. According to Beinert it includes all the cultural expressions of communication: art, painting, music, dance ... God has no choice but to make use of the cultures of humankind. God comes to us via culture - with all the communication problems inherent in every culture. Beinert explains this by using the example of missionary translation work, as e.g. the translation of biblical texts into a different language. Here it becomes soon clear: "The words are not conterminous. Perhaps there is in the other language no term for the noun that has to be translated or it means something quite different. And what if on the other side not even the matter exists, the term of which has to be translated into the foreign language?"

Also the self-revealing God is basically faced with this problem. "Besides, he has another much more serious difficulty, which is constitutive for him. He is an absolute and strict mystery. The communication between us and him is therefore by definition imperfect, because he is per se (hence not only for the people in this world) incomprehensible and ineffable ... Our knowledge of the influence of language on thought is still in its infancy. It is possible that the conception of God is also dependent on it." The historicity of speech, thought, perception and feeling causes the historicity of truth, which always exists only in the plural of truths. This is by no means sheer relativism. And it does not mean that all religions are seen as equally valid. But no knowledge is certain once and for all. Religious knowledge, too, develops from knowledge to knowledge - but never out of a tabula rasa, without presuppositions, out of nothing. It applies also to religion: From nothing nothing can come. There is no understanding without prior understanding, which as a new preunderstanding is the springboard to further understanding.

The ancestors of our faith are the witnesses of faith: they help us to become ancestors of the faith of those who tomorrow bear witness. Tradition means a handing down and developing of what we have received, open to the future, despite all human imperfection. Truth grows through truth.

Christians should not stifle their Christian faith in a false traditionalism. But they should also not - inhibited, confused, intimidated - talk their religious traditions down. Especially in the intercultural and interreligious dialogue, they should not put their light, which is Christ, under a bushel. What is needed are witness, attitude, arguments. Understanding is based on knowledge and not on ignorance. Those who have to say nothing and not want to stand up for something need not be surprised if in the end decisions are made above their heads. Religion does here in no way differ from politics. Mental laziness and weak convictions do not create tolerance but encourage intolerance.

To connect the truth of the faith of others with the truth of one's own faith and make it connectable as truth for others - this is the real intellectual challenge of the faith in Christ. This is a perpetual, always unfinished process. It is no coincidence that already the author of John's Gospel recognized and proclaimed Christ as processual, as dynamic Logos, as "Way, Truth and Life." The confession of one's faith in Christ manifests itself as Christ Process. Beinert formulates it like this: "However, since the God-man Christ is the truth, and truth is therefore personal, it can not be possessed by the church like a thing; it is always greater than any human knowledge, even than that of the church-people. Her claim to absoluteness does then not rest in itself; it is not an absolute claim to perfection but, in the ideal case, a relative one. Besides, criterion for evaluating the others is no longer her dogma, but the true and holy things which could be found definitely there, but certainly also with the others and perhaps only with them. The truth-rays are not generated by the Church lamps but by Christ, who - according to the dogmatic constitution on the church "Lumen Gentium" - is the "Light of nations". At that moment, the positivity of religion comes to light."

Since the history of the Christian mission was too long connected with the history of imperialism, namely the colonial subjugation of nations and peoples, the Christian confession and witness was brought into disrepute. Even many Christians are therefore afraid to openly bear witness of what they have recognized and accepted for themselves as religious truth. But patting each other's back of the type "I'm okay, you're okay" does not get us anywhere.

In the liberal theological journal Concilium (March 2011), the American theologian Catherine Cornille who is teaching in Boston calls for more honesty: "But the ultimate goal of interreligious dialogue is the pursuit of truth, or growth in the truth. ... But while knowledge and understanding is the highest goal of the study of religion, dialogue is about the possibility of mutual fecundation, of reciprocal inspiration, indeed, of transformation. ... Witnessing thus constitutes an essential component of all interreligious dialogue. It requires commitment to a particular religion, and a genuine conviction of the validity and truth of its teachings. ... Witnessing may take the form of rational argumentation, apologetics, or personal testimony to the transformative spiritual power of particular teachings within one's own life and experience. But it always involves a desire to share and convince the other of the truth of one's own beliefs and practices." This includes humility before other people - and before God. The foreign reality can then become a mirror for my own, a motivation to reflect on one's own faith and to understand it better.


The door to the soul

In the European context of sustainable secularization, where the vast majority of the Baptized alienated from their own religion, the interreligious dialogue becomes more and more a challenge to the intra-religious dialogue, namely how Christians not only account to Christians for their faith, but how baptized people are able to inspire other baptized to start searching for their personal truth in Jesus Christ. To convert others always begins by one's own conversion.

The depression, resignation and fear of the disciples is not counteracted by the risen Christ by dogmatic treatises, educational formulas or instructions for imparting knowledge of faith but by very simple gestures and words. The door opener to the soul is according to Luke and John the greeting "Peace be with you!" The simple promise of peace, a kind of prayer for peace, revives the paralysed spirit. Pope John Paul II has rediscovered this sign of the Easter period of the early Christians as a paschal sign of the times for the multi-religious Today. He has thus caused offence, especially in his own ranks. And rightly so. For the Risen Christ - so the conclusion of John Paul II - is not the minister for satisfying the religious bliss of groups within the church. Christ alone means: Our Lord and Brother Christ is also the Christ of the others, as the Christ of the always surprising, unexpectedly new Other Reality - universal, cosmic, evolutionary. The icon of the invisible, unknown God continues moving the language - from Alpha to Omega. Language, however, only develops by speaking.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'