Dilatato Corde 7:2
July – December, 2017
Michael Amaladoss
Opportunities and Challenges
Jonathan Y. Tan, editor
The great value of Interreligious Encounters is that it brings together “important (albeit hitherto inaccessible) papers and writings” (pp. xx) of one of India’s leading Catholic theologians, Michael Amaladoss SJ. His papers explore and respond to the challenges of religious pluralism and the diversity of theological positions and response to interreligious engagements. They were written between the years 2002-2011—one each from 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2011, and nine from a collection of essays published in Bangalore in 2008: Beyond Dialogue: Pilgrims to the Absolute. The editor does not indicate the source of chapter 10, “Changing Dialogue: From Religions to Ideologies.”
Following the editor’s preface on the author, there is an introductory essay, “A Call to Continuing Dialogue” that presumably was written by Amaladoss specifically for this volume. The previously published essays are then presented under two headings: “Rethinking Religious Pluralism: Opportunities and Challenges” and “Responding to Religious Pluralism.” The volume concludes with an epilogue, “Pope Francis and Dialogue.”
Michael Amaladoss’ approach to a theology of religions and the Church’s relation to other religions will be familiar to many readers of this journal. For this prolific Indian Jesuit, who will be 81 in December, a theology of interreligious dialogue has to be grounded not in a priori categories but in actual lived experience. From his earliest years he was immersed in the world of Hindu piety and practice (he grew up in a village in Tamil Nadu where only one other family was Christian). His initial and then subsequent contacts with the spiritual riches of India showed him that
Religious border seem to be porous . . . people can cross over to their religious experiences and integrate them with more or less success without losing their religious identity. This may seem a logical or philosophical impossibility. But it seems possible experientially. One could raise a question whether it is also a theological/religious impossibility. I do not think so (p. 148).
Because Amaldoss is so convinced that theological reflection on religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue must be grounded in an experiential knowledge of other religious traditions, he is critical of the oft-used trilogy of “exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism” to describe the different ways in which one religious tradition can relate to another. He puts it this way:
I think this paradigm is inadequate to explore a theology of religions. It is an abstract logical exercise [emphasis added] that equates religion with the way to salvation and then evokes different logical possibilities in a situation where there are many religions. It is a rational, essentialist, and philosophical view, not a theology (162f).
Theology, including a theology of religions, says Amaladoss, must begin with God. Salvation is from God and is offered to concrete human beings in their specific settings and in response to their specific concerns. In “Strangers No More,” a recent documentary film on DIMMID, Daniel Pont, monk of En Calcat (France) and former coordinator of the European sub-commissions for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, succinctly expresses this way of understanding the relationship of religions to the salvific will of God:
Visiting each other is always a bit disconcerting. It involves not only a physical change of place, but a spiritual change as well. Our vision of God is expanded (for me this is very important) when we hear others speak about God using different words and addressing a different mental framework, different cultural, philosophical, and anthropological a prioris. And yet, it is the same God who has spoken to all people out of love for them.[1]
Given Amaladoss’ methodological convictions, it is understandable that most of the essays in this volume are rooted in the religious landscape of India. However, the principles he draws on in responding to questions about religious identities, truth claims, and interreligious prayer can profitably be applied to other religious contexts.
In a preliminary “Acknowledgements” section, the editor indicates where and when the essays first appeared. However, it would have been helpful also to provide this information at the beginning of each chapter, and to offer explanatory comment for time-specific references. For instance, Amaladoss writes, “The United States . . . has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court” (p. 104). I would have liked to know what particular case or cases he is referring to. In another essay he writes, “The impact of a certain brand of Christianity on the recent elections in the United States is too well known to need comment.” It may be true that no comment is needed, but I would have liked the editor to specify which recent elections are being referred to.
To my mind, a more serious omission is the lack of attention to the “dialogue” between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Amalados that was amply reported on in the spring of 2014.[2] This omission is especially striking given the recent publication of two books that amply document the investigation by the CDF of two theologians who have written on religious pluralism: Peter Phan’s The Joy of Dialogue: A Personal Journey and Gerard O’Connell’s Do Not Stifle the Spirit: Conversations with Jacques Dupuis, both of which were reviewed in the previous issue of Dilatato Corde: Phan; O’Connell. In the “Editor’s Preface,” Jonathan Y. Tan writes,
Unfortunately, [Amaladoss’] highly nuanced position is not often appreciated by his detractors, which has resulted in the investigation of his writings by Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Amaladoss’s complete and unabridged response to the CDF is reproduced in this book as Chapter 15 (”Interreligious Dialogue Fifty Years after Vatican II”). In addition, the reader’s attention is also directed to the Epilogue, “Pope Francis and Dialogue,” where Amaladoss updates his discussion to take into account the new developments that have been ushered into the church by Pope Francis (p. xx).
However, it is difficult to understand how Chapter 15, which was originally published in 2008, can be read as a “complete and unabridged response to the CDF, which, according to Amaladoss’ religious superior, began its “dialogue” with him in 2013. The essay makes no reference the particular concerns the CDF expressed about his theological positions and how Amaladoss responded to them. The same holds true of the content of the epilogue on Pope Francis and dialogue.
One can understand the reluctance of Amaladoss to speak about an investigation (sorry; dialogue) that may be continuing. In fact, it may be that he was asked not to make any statements while the process is still ongoing. At any rate, it would be good to know the present status quaestionis.
[1] “La visite mutuelle, aller toujours les uns chez les autres, est toujours quelque chose de bouleversant, qui nous déplace physiquement, mais spirituellement aussi, et permet de déployer et d’élargir—pour moi c’est important—élargir notre vision de Dieu en entendant parler à d’autres que nous, à d’autres que des chrétiens, avec un autre langage, avec d’autres schémas mentaux, d’autres à priori culturels, philosophiques, anthropologiques. Et pourtant c’est ce même Dieu qui parle à tous les hommes parce qu’il les a aimés et donc il leur a parlé. »
[2] “Jesuit Father Joe Antony, acting provincial of the Madurai province to which Father Amaladoss belongs, told Catholic News Service May 14: ‘There has been no condemnation or censure, but for nearly two years there has been a dialogue between Father Amaladoss and the doctrinal congregation.’"
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