Dialogue at the deepest levelClifford Longley
- 22 March 2008
A decade on, the objection of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to theologian Jacques Dupuis' views on religious pluralism still resonates. Here, Clifford Longley introduces a newly released conversation between Fr Dupuis and the Austrian Cardinal Franz König, both now dead, which throws new light on that watershed moment for the Catholic Church and its relations with other faiths
Nothing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) caused more consternation, indeed, in some circles, resentment, than his treatment of the late Fr Jacques Dupuis SJ. Dupuis was part of the theological inner circle in Rome, a distinguished professor at the Gregorian University, and also a frail and much loved doyen of a generation of post-Vatican II progressive theologians.
At Cardinal Ratzinger's instigation, the CDF had raised objections to Depuis' most famous book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, published in 1997. It did not accuse him of heresy but of ambiguity. Dupuis was familiar with Asian religion and was a member of the Indian Province of the Society of Jesus. His method was to apply one of the fresh insights of Vatican II concerning the spiritual value of non-Christian religions to the Indian context.
Pope Benedict XVI's great dread was, and still is, relativism. He opposed it at the CDF, and he opposed it when he addressed the cardinals before the conclave that went on to elect him as Pope. Most recently, he addressed the issue when he spoke to Dupuis' own order, the Jesuits, at their thirty-fifth General Congregation last month.
To him, relativism is most dangerous not when it sets forward a series of explicit propositions which could be examined, but when it infects, so to speak, the mindset of Catholics without them knowing it. They might continue to say "the Catholic faith is true" while meaning "but not uniquely true". And this was at the heart of the then Cardinal Ratzinger's objection to Dupuis' book. He appeared to have argued, on the basis both of the Vatican II decree in religious liberty and of some remarks by Pope John Paul II, that "salvific truth" could also be found in Islam and Hinduism. Whether he had or not, or whether he was right or not, this is not the place to discuss.
But that is the context in which Dupuis called on Cardinal Franz König, retired Archbishop of Vienna, at his home in 2003. They had a long conversation, the 5,000-word transcription of which has now been released. It was taped and later transcribed by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, The Tablet's correspondent in Vienna, who was present at Cardinal König's invitation. The conversation offers a fascinating insight into thinking about one of the most important matters of our time - the dialogue between faiths.
There is undoubtedly a formidable theological case against Dupuis' argument, as well as for it. The central question is the place of Christ in the scheme of salvation. How far can Karl Rahner's doctrine of "the anonymous Christian" be used to explain God's use of other religions in order to enlighten their adherents who reject or do not know Christ, yet who are still saved in Christ's name? How far, indeed, before the doctrine at the heart of the Christian faith succumbs to relativism?
Some will argue that the conversation does not show Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) in a particularly good light, though of course he has had no chance to comment on it. It came about because, after the CDF action against Dupuis' book, Cardinal König had written to The Tablet defending him and by implication counter-attacking Cardinal Ratzinger. The latter responded in kind, saying he had read König's Tablet article "with astonishment and sadness". The Vienna cardinal wrote once more, in a conciliatory spirit. (It is notable that this controversy has been conducted largely in English, which was the language of Father Dupuis' book - and of course the language used in intellectual circles in India.)
In due course, Fr Dupuis decided to talk to Cardinal König - they had never met. By now in his mid-nineties, König was the most august of all the retired cardinals in the Catholic Church: it was he, indeed, who in 1978 identified and supported Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as the future Pope John Paul II. He was also a great friend of The Tablet and its then editor, John Wilkins. One reason for Fr Dupuis' visit to Vienna was to persuade König to write an article for The Tablet on Catholic relations with other religions, following on the exchanges of the previous decade.
Given Fr Dupuis' long experience of India it was natural that their conversation should acknowledge the problems faced there by the Church. At the time the Indian Government was the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, which was wary of Christian intentions, as the transcript records:
Dupuis: They have become very suspicious, you see. And so as soon as you speak of proclamation they see it as proselytism. Proclamation has become a very bad word for them ... Genuine interreligious dialogue, that is, without any ulterior motives, is the only way to make contact.
König: The thing is that the word "dialogue" has become so hackneyed, burnt out as it were. It seems to be a catchword these days. I think one would have to explain very carefully what genuine dialogue involves. It is a matter of getting closer to the truth by asking one another questions and by diminishing false truths.
Dupuis: Does everyone in Rome want that kind of dialogue?
König: They should since the Second Vatican Council. The Church used to be far too afraid of questions and therefore - especially in the 100 or so years before Vatican II - one-sidedly emphasised norms and regulations and failed to appreciate the dynamism of genuine questions and seeking new approaches to ancient truths. It thought it had a fixed answer ready for everything and questions were therefore unnecessary.
Dupuis: That sometimes still seems to apply ...
König: The Council changed all that. We no longer - less today than ever - believe that there is no truth outside the Church. We have become a little more humble. God alone is the final truth. We seek God's truth in our fellow human beings, who are all his creatures through dialogue ... Did the Pope [John Paul II] just a fortnight ago, when he met the Indian bishops in Rome, did he mention this problem of using the word "proclaim"?
Dupuis: He again insisted on proclaiming Jesus Christ. Bishop Rodericks, who is bishop emeritus of Jamshedpur - he's a Jesuit and a dear friend of mine - came to see me when the Indian bishops were in Rome and he told me about their meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger and their meeting with the Pope. He said they both insisted on proclaiming Jesus Christ. And Rodericks said to the Holy Father, "You must see this in the Indian context, you cannot proclaim straight away - directly, as it were. You have to make your message acceptable through Christian witness first."
Dialogue must be theologically founded. An open theology of dialogue must recognise the real values - the elements of divine truth and grace - which are found in the other religious traditions, and that is where the CDF is still very much behind the times ... Take the first Assisi [interreligious Prayer for Peace] meeting in 1986. The Pope, Cardinal Etchegaray and all those responsible insisted that they went to Assisi together to pray, but they emphasised afterwards, "We did not pray together." Really praying together with non-Christians - was not possible, it was said. At the second meeting in Assisi they prayed separately - even more separately in 2002 than in 1986.
König: Could we perhaps take Assisi - the 1986 meeting - as a starting point in the article and begin by pointing out that there are lot of things behind Assisi?
Dupuis: The 1986 Assisi meeting was most important but ...
König: Cardinal Ratzinger was against it.
Dupuis: Yes, Cardinal Ratzinger was against it. But I just want to go back to what the Indian bishops said ... The bishops say: "A third form of dialogue goes to the deepest levels of religious life and consists in sharing in prayer and contemplation ... Since in a very real and fundamental manner we are one with the whole of humanity, it is not only our right but our duty to worship him together with others." And "with others" means very clearly also with non-Christians.
When the Pope [John Paul II] talks of evangelising in India it must first be made clear that he primarily means interreligious dialogue. But in the CDF declaration"Dominus Jesus", at the end, when they speak of interreligious dialogue they still pooh-pooh it, as it were - they don't make much of it. The last part of "Dominus Jesus" says something to the effect that while interreligious dialogue is part of the Church's evangelising mission, the Church must be primarily committed to proclaiming the truth - and there we are again with the chief emphasis on proclamation.
König: But what sense would dialogue have then? Genuine dialogue must be honest. There must be no ulterior motives. Of course, each partner has an aim. It's not meant to be a pointless chat, after all. The aim is to convince one's partner of the soundness of one's arguments. But the opposite also applies. One must equally be prepared to allow oneself to be convinced of the soundness of one's partner's arguments - one must want to gain an insight into them. Dialogue is not an attempt to persuade or convert - the aim is to get to know your partner and why he or she believes what they do.
Dupuis: But for Rome the all-important thing is proclamation. And they quote Pope Paul VI, who in his apostolic exhortation "Evangelli nuntiandi", does say that evangelising is essentially proclaiming and that if there is no proclamation there is no evangelisation.
König: My impression is that, at the beginning, Pope John Paul II was very close to your position but that later he gradually allowed himself to be corrected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Dupuis: Yes, yes. This Pope has played a very important role in stressing the travels of the Holy Spirit - the universal travels of the Holy Spirit ...
König: Yes, I see it that way too ...
Dupuis: ... not only in the religious life of individual Christians ...
König: ... but also in communities ...
Dupuis: ... and also in cultures and in other religions. He believes the Holy Spirit is present in Hinduism ...
Dupuis: ... and in Islam and Buddhism.
Dupuis: My question is what is the Holy Spirit doing there? Is this not what the Council meant when it spoke of those elements of truth and grace in other religions?
König: Yes, that is the point ...
[After discussing the climate in Rome, which neither of them found favourable because "even important people cannot contradict the CDF", they returned to the theology of interreligious dialogue.]
König: Fr Rahner called the idea of dialogue and religion the "supernatural existential", you remember.
Dupuis: Yes, of course. I was actually very much inspired by Rahner - although I go beyond him.
König: If I said religion belongs to, or is a part of, human existence, would you say that was the same as what Rahner says when he talks of a/the "supernatural existential"?
Dupuis: I think so. Rahner's "existential" means that man is already always in Creation itself ...
König: Of course that is already the second step of the explanation.
Dupuis: That means - and I develop that also - that salvation history doesn't start with Abraham. It starts with Creation. And throughout human history God has been seeking [strongly emphasised] the human beings he created and therefore there is Divine Revelation - the Divine Act of Salvation - throughout human history. But of course this line is not accepted by everybody.
König: And all this is a very important question for Europe. What is the meaning of Revelation - what is the meaning of religion? The European way of practising religion - of religious belief - has undergone so many changes over the ages.
Dupuis: "Dominus Jesus" is a big step back. They [the CDF] say that Revelation in Jesus Christ is complete, final, definitive and all the rest but that is impossible ... [voice rising] the New Testament says that God will be fully revealed at the end of time.
Dupuis: What is true is that Revelation in Jesus Christ is unsurpassed and unsurpassable as Divine Revelation in history ...
König: Of course we have to accept that Revelation in Jesus Christ is finished but the thing is - have we understood it all correctly? We must go on discussing this extensively and continue to try and clear up points that are not yet clear. As I see it, although Divine Revelation is finished, isn't there perhaps a possibility that some people may yet get special, personal, new insights - a mixture of Revelation and interpretation, a sort of inspiration?
[The two men discussed further the specific problems of Christianity in Asia - and in Rome - and the need for a theological approach that did not alienate other religions from the start.]
And finally, Cardinal König remarked: "I think it's time for a glass of wine - we've had a long day. And don't worry, I'll do my best to write on all this."
He never did. He died eight months later, aged 97 in March 2004. Jacques Dupuis died unexpectedly in December 2004. Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope in April 2005. He has been staunch in his critique of the problems besetting Catholicism. Last month he told Fr Dupuis' order that the greatest challenge to those committed to the service of faith and the promotion of justice is to oppose such overriding cultural trends as "subjectivism, relativism, hedonism and practical materialism". During his address the Jesuits gave him three standing ovations.