Dilatato Corde 8:1
January – June, 2018
Terrence Merrigan & John Friday, editors
Charles L. Cohen, Paul F. Knitter, & Ulrich Rosenhangen, editors
Although the titles are similar, these are two quite different books. The Future of Interreligious Dialogue offers various perspectives—Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu—on the origin, implementation, impact, and challenges of Nostra ætate.
The Past, Present, and Future of Theologies of Interreligious Dialogue, on the other hand, is a collection of essays by thirteen Christian theologians, ten of them affiliated with Catholic academic or religious institutions, who mainly reflect on the Christian theologies, giving less attention to the way interreligious dialogue has been and is being carried out. The book is divided into three sections: “The Reappropriation of the Christian Doctrinal Tradition”; “The Appeal to (Religious) Experience”; and “The Acknowledgment of Otherness.”
Because of my involvement with Monastic Interreligious Dialogue—“monastic” being interpreted broadly to include that form of experiential dialogue “where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 42)—I was especially pleased to see that The Past, Present, and Future of Theologies of Interreligious Dialogue devoted one of its three sections to “(religious) experience.” To my disappointment, however, I discovered that in this section there is not a single reference to any of the major Catholic figures, past or present, who have dedicated themselves to the “dialogue of religious experience,” some of them having engaged in profound spiritual dialogue with Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims even before the Roman Catholic Church officially recognized and encouraged such engagement. In the essays and in the comprehensive bibliography of the 450 works that are cited in these essays, one searches in vain for a reference to Thomas Merton OCSO, Henri Le Saux OSB (Swami Abhishiktananda), Sara Grant RCSJ, Louis Massignon, Enomiya Lasalle SJ, Ramon Panikkar, Bede Griffiths OSBCam, Christian De Chergé OCSO, Vincent Shigeto Oshida OP, Edmond Pezet SAM, Serge Beaurecueil OP, Pascaline Coff OSB, Cornelius J. A. Tholens OSB, Betina Bäumer, Pierre de Béthune OSB, Timothy Wright OSB, or Fabrice Blée—to mention only those individuals who have been or are among the better known practitioners and exponents of interreligious dialogue at the level of religious/spiritual experience. One is left with the impression that the contributors to this volume approach this form of interreligious dialogue principally as a theoretical proposal that needs theological vetting before it can be put into practice, rather than as a practice that is already well established but, like all spiritual practices, develops and—when necessary—is corrected through theological reflection and evaluation.
That having been said, the essays provide observation and analysis of past and present theologies of interreligious dialogue along with proposals future theological development that are deserving of reflection and consideration. For example, How can one maintain fidelity to the doctrinal traditions of Christianity while being open to religious traditions that contradict (or appear to contradict) these doctrines? What does it mean for Christians to recognize and engage with the fact of religious diversity? How can interreligious dialogue take into account and appropriately respond to ritual as well as doctrinal differences?
The bibliography has some questionable ways of referring to authors and their works. If one did not know better, one would conclude that Cardinal Walter Kasper was the author of Dominus Iesus (the reference is actually to an on-line version of a talk that Cardinal Kasper gave on that document). In the bibliography Pope Benedict XVI appears as “Papa Benedetto XVI,” whereas in the index he is referred to as “Benedict
XVI, Pope.” The pages indicated there have references to works he wrote before his election to the papacy (when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) as well as the letter he wrote in 2008, which was published in the newspaper Corriere della Sera as “Papa Benedetto VXI, ‘Lettera a Marcello Pera.’” The brief index consists mainly of the names of the authors who are already listed in the bibliography. There are significant omissions and unnecessary inclusions; for example, Nostra ætate, which is referred to in several of the essays, though rarely cited, is not included, but the Natyasastra is, though this work is only referred to in one of the essays.
The second book,The Future of Interreligious Dialogue is the fruit of a conference sponsored by the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The participants were asked to “examine Nostra ætate from different religious, theological, and cultural vantage points [and to] evaluate its historical significance, offer a critique of its content, assess where it may have brought interreligious dialogue in the present, and suggest ways of improving such efforts in the future” (p. 5). The Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu authors who contributed to this volume do just that. While recognizing, as Charles L. Cohen points out in the “Introduction,” that Nostra ætate constituted a milestone in interreligious dialogue, these authors also point out that milestones “do not move; they only demarcate a point left behind en route.” Moving forward needs to involve more than recognizing “rays of truth” in other religious traditions; ideally, it will allow those rays to penetrate and shed light on one’s own religious tradition—even to illuminate its darker recesses.
The perspectives of various religious traditions (Christian and others) on Nostra ætate are preceded by John Borelli’s superb chapter on the “Origin, History, and Vatican II Context” of the document and a chapter by Paul F. Knitter, “Nostra ætate: A Milestone in the History of Religions: From Competition to Cooperation” in which he proposes that the document “opens up whole new directions—not primarily, in its doctrine about the meaning of other religions, but rather in its ethics about how Christians should interact and relate to followers of other religions” (p. 45). He concludes by proposing that Pope Francis points the way in his encyclical Laudato Si.
I noted above that I was disappointed not to find any references in The Past, Present, and Future of Interreligious Dialogue to the pioneers and contemporary practitioners and scholars of interreligious dialogue at the level of spiritual experience, many of whom were and are monks and nuns. On the other hand, Sallie B. King’s chapter on “Buddhism and Christian in a Globalizing and Supplementing World” in The Future of Interreligious Dialogue points to Monastic Interreligious Dialogue as providing a model of spiritual dialogue between Buddhists and Christians. She writes,
Is there a way to do for the laity what the church via DIMMID has done for the monastics: to give one’s blessing to the journey and then to offer guidance, support, and a  context for understanding what laypeople might find in their journeys of discovery in Buddhist spirituality? (p. 280).
One minor complaint I have about the book has more to do with its editing than its content. Every time the word “men” or “man” appears in a citation—usually from Nostra ætate— where the context makes it clear that the word is to apply to all human beings, the editors follow it with “[sic].” (I could not help wondering why a [sic] does not follow citations that refer to “God Himself.”) There are other less obtrusive and less annoying ways of dealing with exclusive language: make your own translation, or provide an introductory note to explain that when the conciliar documents were written (or, more correctly, when they were translated into English), “man” and “men” were still commonly used in an inclusive sense. This is what was done in a footnote to a quotation from an address Swami Vivekananda gave at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 in which he speaks of “the different paths which men take”:
Though Swami Vivekananda, a product of his times, did not use gender-inclusive language, he certainly intends to refer to all people—all of humanity—here. The original Sanskrit term being translated here, manushya, refers to human beings, and need not be read as referring exclusively to the male gender” (p. 256, n. 20).
Could not the same observation be made of the use of “homo” in the documents of Vatican II?
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