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Hans Waldenfels SJ

Dialogue in Friendship


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2012, P. 1 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Christianity makes two basic statements about God: First, God is Logos, Word, and this word became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, and secondly, God is communio, communion - in the words of Jesus - between Father and Son in one Spirit. As image of God also human beings are word and communion - to put it in modern language: There is communication between human beings, they are dialogical.

Over the centuries, the church has unfortunately rather lost this basic insight, in favor of strict systems of regulations and norms and hierarchical structures of domination. What prevailed in the Church was not freedom of speech but obedient silence and submission. The essay "Freedom of speech in the Church" (1953) by Karl Rahner SJ by no means met with undivided approval at that time. When after the Second Vatican Council "dialogue" became a keyword for dealings in a pluralistic society, in a posthumously published interview with Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, the Vienna correspondent of the "Tablet" ("Open to God - Open to the World. Church in Dialogue", 2006), Cardinal Franz König (1905-2004) asked to bear in mind: "The dialogue between the Church and the world can only be successful if also an internal church dialogue exists. However, this dialogue within the church nowadays seems unfortunately more and more often to wane." At stake is "ultimately the credibility of the Church."

In the article "Intercultural Friendship in early modern China" (2011), Michael Sievernich SJ reminds of the fact that the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, when he sought access to the Chinese people, recognized friendship as a possible way. The first book he wrote in Chinese 1595 in Nanchang was a collection of sayings and aphorisms about friendship, as they could be found plentifully in the Occident both in classical antiquity and the Christian late antiquity. Those who seek to win others and strangers as friends must meet them at eye level, gain their trust, prove themselves in truthfulness, loyalty and reliability. They will listen to them, without at once judging or declaring in advance that the others will not change and at the end everybody remains as she has been.

In the German church a dialogue process has begun - curiously less as an invitation but decreed. Bishops report to Rome, establish guidance and control groups, try from the outset to channel the "dialogue". Some tell in advance, what is pointless to be talked about, because in these matters nothing can and will change. You can feel fear, and lacking experience of trusting dealings with each other.



Would not a modest opening, and the clearly stated intention that one wants to listen initially, be an order of the day? Once again: How credible are we when we talk about interreligious and other dialogues, but are neither able nor willing to hold an open dialogue in our own house and are therefore also unable to conduct it?

Whenever Matteo Ricci speaks of friendship, he does not explicitly mention Jesus. But he writes, "A friend is nothing more than the half of me, and another ego. That's why it is necessary to treat a friend like oneself." But where the friend becomes the "other self", we are reminded directly of Jesus' words, "Ye are my friends" (Jn 15:14). Paul says that Christians have been "clothed" in Christ in baptism (cf. Gal 3:27). They should become "another Christ", so that they can eventually say like the Apostle Paul, "It is no longer I, but Christ living in me." (Gal 2:20).

The attitude of service is associated with friendship, as in the words of Jesus, "For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve" (Mk 10:45). And, "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:27). A dialogue can only succeed if the church acts as a community of servants, when we all meet each other at eye level, without the attitude of domination, and if there is between the dialogue partners an attitude of listening, of receiving and giving.

A learning process is still in store for the church as a whole. Peter's experience in the house of Cornelius gives still pause for thought, "While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners." (Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit was faster than the "pillars" of the church, but Peter and his companions understood the call of the hour, and obeyed the demand of the Spirit, "Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (10:47). Could not it be possible also today that the Holy Spirit opens rooms in the church, of which those who are in authority think they would not exist?

An elementary linguistic style belongs to friendship. It is noticeable that the tone in the church is now often aggressive, for example, in letters from readers in church and secular newspapers. There are often used insinuations. Who would today still say like in the early days of the Church, "See how they love one another"? In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) has recommended the following basic attitude, "In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor's proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity." (No. 22). A dialogue oriented towards the future can only succeed where the interlocutors take each other seriously in their thinking and willing, and meet in an attitude of respect, love and benevolence. This must also be valid within the church.


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