Dialogue and Proclamation
I first taught theology in a Seminary where it sometimes seemed that the governing orientation was provided by the verse of chapter 16 of St. Matthew: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
I then taught for a number of years in a School of Theology where the text of choice was from chapter 4 of St. Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to preach glad tidings to the poor.”
Both texts are important (though one may, indeed, debate their relative significance); both must be attended to since they form part of the authoritative canon of Scripture. But the danger arises for all of us when we, in effect, create a canon within the canon: selecting only texts which appeal, discarding those with which we do not “resonate.”
Analogously, one might say the same when appeal is made to the documents of Vatican II.
I tell my current students (those who hopefully will find their way beyond the polarized disputes of the post-Vatican II generation) that, in interpreting the Council, they must seek to do justice to the full range of the Council’s documents. And that they must pay special heed to the four “Constitutions” to discern the Council’s comprehensive, that is catholic, vision.
Of course, no one of us finite creatures can possibly say everything at once. Nor should one thwart individual concerns and charisms. But if teachers and preachers take their bearings exclusively from Gaudium et Spes or focus uniquely upon Sacrosanctum Concilium, without struggling to appropriate how one complements and completes the other, they risk paying insufficient justice to the Council’s integral vision.
So, I would contend, legitimate appeal to Nostra Aetate, when discussing the crucial issue of dialogue between Catholicism and the non-Christian religions, cannot abstract from the affirmations and perspectives provided by the four Constitutions. I refer in particular to the golden thread which unites them: the confession of the salvific uniqueness of Jesus Christ and of his paschal mystery.
Abstraction from context becomes even more egregious when one cites with approbation the following stirring declaration of Nostra Aetate:
The catholic church rejects nothing of those things which are true and holy in these religions. It regards with respect those ways of acting and living and those precepts and teachings which, though often at variance with what it holds and expounds, frequently reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens everyone.
This is certainly a striking and significant assertion of the Council. But the next sentence (too often omitted by proponents of dialogue) affirms:
Yet, without ceasing, it preaches, and is bound to preach, Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14, 6), in whom people find the fulness of religious life and in whom God has reconciled all things to himself.
In sum, here as elsewhere, we must strive to hold in tension the Catholic “both/and:” both dialogue and proclamation, both respect and conviction.