Dialogue and Proclamation Part 1
Vatican II came out with very revolutionary documents at that time. Remember that it was a transition period of the Church towards modernity and so it was marked by different frames of thinking—some “old school” and some more modern. One of the fascinating documents is Nostra aetate which discussed the links between the Church and other religions. Much later, after Vatican II, Pope JPII wrote his document on mission, Redemptoris missio. The document, Dialogue and Proclamation (DP), reflects on the sense of mission taking cue from Vatican II and after.
We are in a pluralist world today and interdependence is more and more a reality. Religious pluralism cannot anymore be neglected. With the trends in mission many Christians have started asking questions about mission and the place of dialogue in it. Is dialogue still necessary? Does it replace proclamation? In fact there are those who even ask if it is even necessary to lead people to the Church. So it is a felt need of the authors of DP to address these questions (#6). Pope JPII mentioned that dialogue is an element of mission; proclamation in another element. Do we choose one over the other? Do we drop them altogether? DP wants to address this question.
The DP lays out its terminologies (#8-12).
Evangelization means bringing the Gospel to…well, everyone. This is mission of the whole Church. Proclaim to the world Jesus Christ and his message.
Inter-religious dialogue means relationships with other religions for mutual deepening and enriching; deepening each other’s religious convictions.
Proclamation is explicitly communicating the Gospel. It is an invitation made to people to adhere to Christ, be baptized and join the Church. Later on there is catechism.
Conversion means a movement towards God with the desire to submit oneself to God. This includes change in religion—embracing the Christian faith.
Religion and religious tradition means the Abrahamic religions, the Asian religions, the “traditional religions”. The document DC does not include here the “New Age” trends.
The document, DP, says that we approach other religions with respect. The religions witness to efforts to seek answers for deep life questions. For us Christians, following Vatican II, we engage in dialogue holding our faith in Christ; we hold our faith in Christ as Saviour of all; we hold our faith that the Holy Spirit guides all to be associated with the Paschal mystery of Christ (#15). Continuing the insights of Vatican II—which are rooted in Tradition—we view other religions as having the “rays of truth” in them; that God has given wealth in the hearts of people including their religious traditions.
The active mission of the Church is to lead other religions “to their perfection” (#18). The terminology here can provoke controversy, but for the moment let us leave it as that. Much later—until today—this concept of “perfecting other religions” will no longer be used. But let us dialogue first with the document.
What does this perfection entail? All will be brought to perfection in God, the devil will be confused and happiness will be installed. In other words: salvation (#18).
Now DP is using the classical frame of thinking. There is only one history of salvation which finds its accomplishment in Christ (#19-21). Jesus himself may seem to have focused on the “lost sheep of Israel” but he opened up, too, horizons of universal character. In his own self—in his own Person—the Kingdom has “erupted”, so to speak. Jesus incarnated the Kingdom (#22). This message of the Kingdom was for all—hence universal. All aspirations of people—everywhere—will find fulfillment in the Kingdom (#22).
Church Fathers continued this thinking and saw in nations the “Seeds of the Word”; that God has manifested—through incompletely—in the nations, including thus in other religious traditions. Full revelation, said Church Father, will happen in Christ one day (#24-25).
This is our faith. The Church magisterium follows the same line of thinking. As we read the texts of Ad gentes, Evangelii nuntiandi and Redemptoris missio, this is clear. The Church has not deviated an inch from this line. Even the most progressive of Asian theologians and bishops, which we hopefully can look at, toe the same line.
Pope JPII, says DP, has offered a theological base for dialogue. All humanity, for Pope JPII, is one family with one common origin. All humans are image of God. All have a common destiny which is to find fullness in Christ. There is only one divine plan centered on Christ. Through the incarnation he united all humanity. The Holy Spirit is active in other religions (#28).
We may be aware of this; but not people of other religious traditions. People there who lead good lives and obey their conscience respond to the call of God—somehow. Hence they are saved in Christ. The Holy Spirit spreads his graces among us, Christians, but it can be more difficult for people of other religions to see the graces. People in those traditions may have well developed their practices and the Holy Spirit is somehow there with them (#29-30).
The document DP then tells us that the reality is clear—there are other religions and those religions are positive and must be respected. But it is also clear that there are incompatibilities between our Christian ways and the ways of other religions (#31). Here then is where dialogue comes in.
Dialogue is a way by which others and us—we—all look at the contents of our religious beliefs (#32). Where is the Church in this? Following Vatican II, the document DP states that the Church is sacrament of salvation. She was assembled by Christ—she is an ekklesia—an assembly. As sacrament the Church is sign of God’s plan. She is called on mission to precisely tell the world. Tell the world about Christ and the Kingdom—all of which in God’s plan (#32-33).
At this point, the document DP turns very Church based. Kingdom and Church are inseparable. (The Church is not the whole of the Kingdom Vatican II has clarified this.) The Church is seed of the Kingdom (#34) and that the Kingdom is somehow present in the Church.
Other people of other religions are ordained towards the Church because the Kingdom is present in the Church. Now that the Church is “seed” of the Kingdom she has the mission to let that seed grow. This explains too the orientation of other religions to the Church.
Of course, assumes the document DP, other religions contain the Kingdom too—in the hearts of people there. People there can live fully gospel values; they are open to the actions of the Holy Spirit. Well, as the document DP adds, the Kingdom present in other religions is so incomplete, it is so “grey” yet. Full realization and accomplishment of the Kingdom will happen later. Meanwhile it is very present in the Church while incompletely present outside (#35).
Before we start tapping our own shoulders we are reminded by the document that the Kingdom is not fully transparent among us. Even we, ourselves, need constant reform and renewal (#36). This does not mean dropping our task of mission—we move on (#37).
Now we situate dialogue in this ecclesiological viewpoint. God offers salvation to all humanity and the Church is faithful to this initiative. The Church then enters into dialogue. We all—humanity—need salvation. We all seek for God. But we, this time Christians, we have a more visible view of the Kingdom. The Church is seed! Our desire is to share this and engage in dialogue (#38). We collaborate with God in the plan of salvation. Hopefully the Church can unite with others. Hopefully the Church can share this message of salvation even if proclamation is not possible (#39). Dialogue, which is not explicit proclamation, is itself within the mission of salvation (#39).
Yes, of course, dialogue is more than being friends with others, it is more that mutual understanding, it is also self-deepening. By self-deepening we each respond to the personal call of God and we each respond to God’s self-giving in Christ through the Holy Spirit (#40). Hence dialogue itself aims to a conversion to God (#41). It is a conversion within one’s own religious tradition. Just pause and think about this. Somehow it is revolutionary. Although we notice how the document tends to be “ecclesiocentric” (orienting everyone to the Church), it opens the door to recognizing how within a religious tradition one can move to God.
Alright, there can be a moving out from one religion to another; but this is not forced. In dialogue we respect each other’s decisions are we recognize possible contradictions. The document, however, returns to a Church based thinking by saying that all humanity seeks for the truth especially about God and the Church. When people see this truth of God and the Church they will embrace this truth and stay faithful to it (#41). The document DP states, however, that truth is not our possession; we do not own it. Truth is a Person to whom we let ourselves be possessed.
Pause for a while and note that this is not proclamation. Hence, it presupposes that when in dialogue we are simply motivated by a desire. But our main action is characterized by mutual understanding and deepening of each other within each other’s tradition. Dialogue, says the document DP requires openness and a welcoming of differences and even contradictions. It is, however, resolved to engage in the service of the truth and we, in dialogue, are resolved to be transformed by encountering others (#47). “Purification” must happen to us too (#49).
Nobody is asked to abstract from his/her own religious convictions. If there is a deepening in one’s own tradition this means, for us Christians, deepening our own faith in Christ as unique mediator. As we deepen in our own tradition we keep in mind that God manifests his own mysterious ways within other religions (#48).
Now the document gives us a picture the forms of dialogue; we are today so familiar with them (see #42): dialogue of life, dialogue of action, dialogue of theological exchange and dialogue of religious experience.
The document also discusses obstacles to dialogue (see #51). One may have insufficient roots in one’s own religious tradition and have insufficient knowledge of other religions. There can be cultural differences—such a language. Past historical wounds can be disturbing. We may not be clear with the terms such as “conversion”, baptism”, etc. There can be suspicion, etc.
Are we, however, expecting results in dialogue? We would like to see results but, as the document states, we are asked to simply take God’s initiative seriously. Just as God took the initiative to enter into dialogue with humanity in Christ we take the initiative to engage in dialogue (#53).
Dialogue and Proclamation Part 2
Now what about direct explicit proclamation? It is a command of Jesus. There are nuances in reporting that command. Each gospel author has his perspective (#55-56). All in all, however, there is always the command to proclaim. It is a mission to the Apostles and the Church and it has been receive by Christ from his Father. Of course Jesus did this proclamation not just by words but by action, miracles and witnessing too. His life and his message were united.
What about the Church? She has to proclaim. She has to announce. She has to continue what Christ had started; she being seed of the Kingdom (#59). In the Acts we see Peter making his predication—his proclamation. So too we read about Paul who sees himself as “Apostle by vocation” and given the charge to proclaim the gospel (see Rom.1/1-5). Then too we read from John and here in John we really see the continuity of mission from the Father to Jesus (#60-62).
The Church proclaims and her proclamation may have different angles: emphasis on Kingdom, Good News of the Kingdom, Good News from God. In the bottom of Church proclamation is the preaching about Jesus. Just as Jesus proclaimed the words of God, the Apostles and the Church proclaim Jesus (#63).
The document, DP, has a very high regard for Church proclamation. The document says that this proclamation has power; it is alive and effective; it purifies and it is source of truth that liberates (#63). Proclamation invites people to become disciples of Christ in the Church; this is a sacred duty (#76). Without this, evangelization stays incomplete.
The Holy Spirit has his role. His presence is very crucial for the Church. The Church relies on the Holy Spirit (#64). Why this reliance? The document tells us that the Holy Spirit makes the receivers of Church proclamation open and welcoming—they can welcome the Good News (#64). Even if the proclamation is not so “extraordinary” the Holy Spirit, at a precise moment, can move hearers and bring them to accept the message (#65).
Proclamation is urgent. It cannot be done away with. The Church still has the task to proclaim (#66). Proclamation is not optional precisely because of the command of Jesus. It is unique and cannot be replaced (#60). As we have seen also in Evangelii nuntiandi, proclamation is what make people adhere in faith. If people do not hear how can they believe explicitly? Of course to proclaim is to announce salvation in Jesus Christ (#61).
Proclamation presupposes that the Holy Spirit is a work among those who will hear the proclamation. We saw this with the encyclical of Pope JPII in which he said that the Holy Spirit has a “preparatory” work. Here in this document, DP, this is re-affirmed. Even before actual missionary work the Holy Spirit is already at work (#68). People of other religions may already be touched by the Holy Spirit and, without being aware, they may already be associated mysteriously with the Christ’s Paschal mystery (#68). In situations where people are ripe for listening and welcoming the Gospel the Church must go to those people and encounter them (#76).
So the Church follows the divine pedagogy, discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading her. She discerns. It took time for people to understand what Jesus was saying then. It took time for them to see his true identity. Today those who want to be his disciples pass through the same gradual itinerary. The proclamation of the Church will be gradual and patient too, respecting the freedom of those who will receive her proclamation (#69).
The document DP discusses some qualities of proclamation of the Gospel (#70). We can indicate an interesting characteristic: proclamation is also dialogical (#70.5). The receiver of the proclamation is not a passive listener. The “Seeds of the Word” is in his/her heart. The Church must recognize the gradual process that occurs within the hearer.
There are difficulties in proclamation; there are obstacles just as in dialogue (see #73-74). We can mention the problem of pluralism. In a pluralist context there is the danger of being indifferent and there is the danger of relativism.
But then in situations where proclamation is really impossible—perhaps due to political reasons—the Church still accomplishes her mission through her presence, witnessing and through her engagement in human development. She is also doing mission already through dialogue. Maybe she is not proclaiming openly, but she is on mission (#76).
Church mission might be perceived to be simply an invitation to discipleship with Jesus. This, says the document DP, is not enough. The document says that including in the task of proclamation is solidarity with people, dialogue, collaboration with addressing needs of people, witnessing to the Gospel, inculturation (#75).