Analysis: Is What Unite Us Greater than What Divides Us?

Filed under DICI, From Rome, web, Year 2009

All observers noted it, the pope himself stated it several times, the part given to interreligious dialogue during his visit in the Holy Land was predominant. At the end of his stay, at the airport of Tel Aviv, Benedict XVI declared: “This land is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.” Back in Rome, when he reviewed his visit, he stated: “All believers must leave behind them prejudices and the desire to dominate, and practice, all together, the fundamental commandment: to love God with all one’s heart, and his neighbor as oneself.” For Jews, Christians, and Muslims are called to bear witness, “in order to honor, by deeds, the God to whom they pray with their lips.” Is it the same God?

Can we, without jeopardizing the profession of the Catholic Faith, insist upon what brings us close to Jews and Muslims, while leaving in the dark what separates us from them? It may not be pointless to recall here three answers given to this question. The first emanates from progressivist historian René Rémond, the second from Thomistic philosopher Louis Jugnet, and the third from St. Augustin.

René Rémond, who can hardly be suspected of traditionalist leanings, recognizes that there is a risk of syncretism in his book Christianity under Accusation (Le christianisme en accusation – Desclée De Brouwer, 2000, p. 45-46): Since the last council, “non-Christian traditions are no longer assimilated to error. Hence the classical schema which for so long had preserved the cohesion of the Catholic people burst into pieces: the clear-cut and absolute opposition between truth and error. Besides, the Church adopts the same attitude in the domain of ecumenism: if she still speaks of Christian unity as an ideal to be reached, it no longer strives to bring the various Christian denominations in her fold. She is no longer ‘unionist’ (…) Today this concept of ecumenism has even been extended to other religions. The common opinion is not far from the idea that the various traditions have all the same worth. So why not go to seek elsewhere, in a kind a journey or as a spiritual tourist, what is lacking to us? This can lead to a kind of syncretism…”

Louis Jugnet in Note on the Possession of Truth (Note sur la possession de la vérité), a text written long before today’s interreligious dialogue, stated: To say that we possess the truth, “does not mean that outside of the doctrine we propound everything is false in the opposite doctrines. (…) Catholic theologians do in no wise deny that there are some truths in Protestantism, Judaism, Brahmanism. But the question raised is quite different. It is a question of knowing whether these truths are, so to speak, at ease, in liberty and at home in the opposite doctrines. Now, our opinion is that these truths only have a partial, fragmentary, and incomplete part to play, and they are wrapped up in blatant errors which warp them and falsify their genuine scope. Hence, what dominates in a false doctrine, and by which it risks to be utterly disastrous, is the spirit of this doctrine, a spirit of error and negation.” And Louis Jugnet supports his reasoning upon the following example: “Judaism and Islam always insist upon God’s unity (which is a truth), but they do so purposely, and unilaterally so as to exclude the Christian dogma of the Trinity.”

This caused St. Augustine to say, not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus-Christ: “In many things they are with me, in a few things not with me; but in those few things in which they are not with me the many things in which they are will not profit them.” (In Ps. 54, §19, quoted by Leo XIII in his encyclical of June 29, Satis Cognitum, on the unity of the Church.) This quote of the Bishop of Hippone is also found in the study From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy sent to all the cardinals by Bishop Bernard Fellay in January 2004, and to which, to this date, none has given a theological answer. Doubtless the issue of interreligious dialogue (and ecumenism) will be one of the major topics of the doctrinal discussions between the Holy See and the Society of Saint Pius X announced by the decree of January 21, 2009, which calls them “necessary.”

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