Saturday, October 10, 2009

The over-arching principle of dialogue; or, why Jewish-Catholic dialogue in America is floundering

Back in 1964 (in the midst of the Second Vatican Council), Pope Paul VI wrote his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, "His Church" – that is, Jesus Christ's Church.  This encyclical mentioned dialogue between the Church and the world.  Pope Paul explained that there is "a series of concentric circles around the central point in which God has placed us." (ES 96)

One of these circles
is vast in its extent, yet it is not so far away from us. It is made up of the men who above all adore the one, Supreme God whom we too adore.

We refer to the children, worthy of our affection and respect, of the Hebrew people, faithful to the religion which we call that of the Old Testament. Then to the adorers of God according to the conception of Monotheism, the Moslem religion especially, deserving of our admiration for all that is true and good in their worship of God. And also to the followers of the great Afro-Asiatic religions.

Obviously we cannot share in these various forms of religion nor can we remain indifferent to the fact that each of them, in its own way, should regard itself as being the equal of any other and should authorize its followers not to seek to discover whether God has revealed the perfect and definitive form, free from all error, in which he wishes to be known, loved and served. Indeed, honesty compels us to declare openly our conviction that there is but one true religion, the religion of Christianity. It is our hope that all who seek God and adore Him may come to acknowledge its truth.

But we do, nevertheless, recognize and respect the moral and spiritual values of the various non-Christian religions, and we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals of religious liberty, human brotherhood, good culture, social welfare and civil order. For our part, we are ready to enter into discussion on these common ideals, and will not fail to take the initiative where our offer of discussion in genuine, mutual respect, would be well received. (ES 107-108)
What he is saying is that these other religions regard themselves as at least as good (if not better) than any other religion, and certainly they wouldn't promote among their own adherents the idea of seeking "the perfect and definitive" revelation of God.  The Catholic Church believes (and cannot believe otherwise) that "there is but one true religion, the religion of Christianity."  And she believes that dialogue with members of other religions can never be an excuse for us to fail to declare that conviction, that the Christian religion alone is true.

With that in mind, I think you should read this PDF ("Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission"), followed by this PDF (a response to rabbis who were offended by the first document) and this PDF ("Statement of Principles" on Jewish-Catholic dialogue).

What are we doing!?  Dialogue between Catholics and Jews is being systematically neutered by people who don't want to hurt feelings by making bold claims of objective truth.  The Catholic Church is convicted that her religion is the true one, God's perfect and definitive revelation of Himself and how He wishes to be served and loved.  Read the Acts of the Apostles:  see what Sts. Peter and Paul did to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, especially to Jews.  See what they risked!

And now we are supposed to accept that dialogue is not supposed to contain an invitation to baptism.  Really?  That's what the very first dialogue contained!
[Acts 2:14] But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. ... [36] Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ [Messiah], this Jesus whom you crucified."

[37] Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

[38] And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him."  [40] And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."

[41] So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Are we really going to abandon the Great Commission?  Is it no longer permitted to invite Jews to baptism?  This sort of thing really saddens me, that some Catholics in America have forgotten the essential evangelical character of the Christian religion.


Gretchen said...


For a unique view on this situation, there is a short book (available free online) by Fr. Elias Friedman, a Jew who became a Catholic priest, and who lived in Israel. His scholarly explication of the issues you bring up, as well as several others of vital importance, would give you a slightly different take on the subject. I know how busy you are, but I urge you to read "Jewish Identity" at

It is nothing short of amazing in its scope.

Anonymous said...

"Vaguely amusing to me is 'What he is saying is that these other religions regard themselves as at least as good (if not better) than any other religion, and certainly they wouldn't promote among their own adherents the idea of seeking "the perfect and definitive" revelation of God.'

If I am understanding you correctly, my read on that is that no religion would say something like "We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote... A free and responsible search for truth and meaning"

I would argue that it is quite possible to think your religion is the best choice without feeling it necessary to tell others it is the only choice. An anecdoate: the former DRE at my congregation was asked by her kid "which religion is the best?" Her explanation was that a religion is something like a language that one uses to speak to god, and that no one language is really better than any other.

I guess what I find important about religion is what your religion makes you do. As UU minister William Ellery Channing is quoted to have said, "May your life preach more loudly than your lips." I can't imagine what purpose telling someone "your religion is wrong" serves if we're all working on the same thing. What if I did believe god was the flying spaghetti monster, but I believe that I should do exactly the same good for humanity that other religions do? Ultimately, who cares?

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

First, here's another translation of that part of the document, which I think makes it a little more clear:

"Obviously we cannot agree with these various forms of religion, nor can we adopt an indifferent or uncritical attitude toward them on the assumption that they are all to be regarded as on an equal footing, and that there is no need for those who profess them to enquire whether or not God has Himself revealed definitively and infallibly how He wishes to be known, loved, and served. Indeed, honesty compels us to declare openly our conviction that the Christian religion is the one and only true religion, and it is our hope that it will be acknowledged as such by all who look for God and worship Him."

I will admit my analysis sounds very weird. I certainly didn't mean to imply that religions don't encourage their adherents to "search for truth and meaning" freely and responsibly. (Heh, having just come back from a fraternity reunion yesterday, our Preamble ends with: "to seek the truth and, knowing it, to give light to [others]."

But religions such as Judaism and Islam believe they have things right which others (including Christianity) have wrong. Others, I see, such as UU, simply believe they have things different.

Regarding the anecdote of the DRE, not all religions profess to speak to THE God. Also, it operates under the assumption that God does not care which religion ("language") you use to speak with Him; I don't start with that assumption. I could return with an anecdote which starts with a different assumption, that religion does matter: I show you a door and a bunch of keys, and ask you which key is best... the one that unlocks the door.

Not all religions seek to attain the same end, either. And Christians would certainly say that what you think about God is important. What is there about the FSM that would produce the same morality or way of life as God (as revealed through the Christian religion)? What I mean is, it's not an accident that the Church believes what it does about God AND does what it does for people... and not just doing "good for humanity", but good for each human.

St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, "Preach the Gospel always... use words if necessary," which is essentially what W.E. Channing said. The moral acts of a Christian, though, are not solely about the temporal result, they are also about the eternal cause. We don't serve one another just because we're all humans, we do it even moreso because Christ tells us to, and because in doing so we are serving Christ.