Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Dialogue and Proclamation" a Decade Later: A Retreat?

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Dialogue and Proclamation" a Decade Later: A Retreat?

Article excerpt


May, 2001, marked the tenth anniversary of the publication of "Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflection and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Issued jointly by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, its stated goal was the "further consideration" of dialogue and proclamation in the evangelizing mission of the Church (no. 3). (1)

On September 5, 2000, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church." Its stated purpose was "to recall to bishops, theologians and all the Catholic faithful certain indispensable elements of Christian doctrine" (no. 3). (2)

Although issued from different offices and for different reasons, both documents address interreligious dialogue. It is the contention here that they do so in markedly different tones and that "Dominus Iesus" marks a halt in the line of progression in interreligious dialogue that began in "Nostra aetate," continued in "Redemptoris missio," and climaxed in "Dialogue and Proclamation." I will illustrate these differences in tone by comparing blocks of text from the two documents, centering around three key points: (1) theological faith and belief, (2) the Holy Spirit and soteriology, and (3) the reign of God and the church. I begin with a brief sketch of the development of interreligious dialogue as seen in some key documents of the Roman Catholic Church.

I. Documents from 1965 to 1990

The 1965 Vatican II declaration, "Nostra aetate," is the watershed in Roman Catholic relations with non-Christian religions. In two short sentences from that declaration the Church reversed ages of contempt it had heaped upon non-Christian religions: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life, the precepts and doctrines which ... often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men" (no. 2). (3) Furthermore, the Council admonished Christians "that through sincere and patient dialogue they themselves might learn of the riches which a generous God has distributed among the nations" ("Ad gentes," no. 11). (4)

Pope Paul VI expanded on the Council's breakthrough. One such instance of this was in "Evangelii nuntiandi." Written in 1975, the apostolic exhortation said that the spiritual life of non-Christian religions "of innumerable human communities finds valid expression. In these we hear re-echoed ... the voices of those who for a thousand years have sought God in a manner which, while imperfect, has always been sincere and upright. These religions ... have taught generations of men how to pray" (no. 53). (5) That statement, just ten years after "Nostra aetate," shows remarkable progress in interreligious matters, given the Church's historic attitude toward non-Christian religions.

However, it has been the pontificate of John Paul II that has created and sustained the greatest change in interreligious matters to date. His numerous travels to historically non-Christian lands and his meeting and prayer with leaders of non-Christian religions have shown that interreligious dialogue is a priority for this pope. From his first encyclical, "Redemptor hominis" (March 4, 1979), John Paul II has opened his pontificate to non-Christians. In that encyclical he wrote that non-Christian religions were "a belief that is also an effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body" (no. 16). (6) At his talk in the Roman synagogue in April, 1986, the pope reiterated St. Paul's Letter to the Romans that the Jews are "beloved of God," who indeed has called the Jews to an "irrevocable calling." (7) Speaking before the Roman Curia in December, 1986, with regard to the World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi, where non-Christians joined the pope in praying for peace, he said, "We can indeed maintain that every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person. …

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