The Theological Foundations of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Christian-Muslim Relations (1)

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Abstract

This article first presents the Secretariat for Non-Christians/the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue that Pope Paul VI founded in 1964. Then it deals with the theological foundations that have been laid for Christian-Muslim relations in the pontifical council's recent official documents (1966-2005), and shows that the classical doctrine of the trinitarian nature of God is the cornerstone on which the theology of the Secretariat for Non-Christians/the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue rests. This trinitarian dimension will be a major challenge to the 21st century theology of religions.

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The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is some 43 years old. On 19 May 1964, Pope Paul VI created the Secretariat for Non-Christians (SNC), (Secretariatus pro non christianis) as a department of the Roman Curia, "to search for the method and the ways of opening a suitable dialogue with non-Christians. It should strive in order that non-Christians come to be known honestly and esteemed justly by Christians, and that in their turn non-Christians can adequately know and esteem Christian doctrine and life". (2) This happened during the Second Vatican Council.

The Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of 1967 defined the structure of the secretariat as follows: president; secretary; under secretary; head of office for Islam; (3) some officials; members chosen among bishops from different parts of the world; and consultants appointed by Pope Paul VI for a period of five years. The consultants are nominated by the pope from among the specialists of various religions, of missiology, and of other relevant disciplines. In the structures there are regular meetings with the consultants. The first meeting took place in January 1965. (4) Then there are correspondents, whom the Secretariat for Non-Christians hopes episcopal conferences will nominate in such a way that there will be a priest in each diocese or country who is well informed about the secretariat's developments, problems, needs and challenges. (5)

In 1971, two new sections were added to the secretariat: one for traditional religions; another for Asian religions. On 22 October 1974, Pope Paul VI established the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims within the ambit of the Second Vatican Council in order to facilitate encounters of a religious character with Muslims. (6) The commission was attached to the Secretariat for Non-Christians. (7) The president of the secretariat became the commission's president, the secretary became the vice-president of the commission, and an official of the secretary became the secretary of the commission. There was also a group of specialists. It can be said that by the end of 1974, ten years after its creation, the secretariat had reached its full stature. (8)

In 1988, the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonua (9) of Pope John Paul II gave a new name to the dicastery: The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), (Pontificium concilium pro dialogo inter religiones). (10) The new name says what the department is set up to promote, whereas the former title led some people to think that the secretariat (Secretariatus pro non christianis) was also the Secretariat for Non-Believers. It can be said that the task of the PCID is to promote and carry out serious, objective and scientifically sound studies of other religions so that Christians might arrive at a clearer understanding of the content and practice of other faiths. The preparation of Christians for dialogue has always been one of the secretariat's primary tasks. Additional tasks are to encourage Catholic communities around the world to see the importance of dialogue, to understand its role in Christian faith, and to be stimulated, despite obstacles and initial reservations, to establish good, cordial relations with other religious believers. (11) As a result, the staff participate in various activities organized by local churches. …