'Dialog' has become one of those facile catchwords of the liberals that has become repellent to me - I shiver whenever it is said in their usual context. Especially with the advent of Bergoglio, who advocates perpetual dialog that never resolves anything because every reconciliation or synthesis between thesis and antithesis simply gives rise to a new thesis to be countered with another anti-thesis, etc, ad infinitum ad nauseam... Valli brings us a great reflection on this topic...
Dialog? No, thanks.
Dispute is better!
August 11, 2017
Today I wish to discuss "the inflation of dialog – when we are enjoined to 'open a dialog' with everyone, and if possible with all. When the subject we wish to 'dialog' about is not important as much as the relationship that we develop through dialog. The process itself is the goal".
This criticism of ecumenical dialog as an end in itself, and cultivated as a good in itself, beyond the question of which parties are in dialog, does not come from a representative of conservative Catholicism. Nor is he even Catholic. He is Jürgen Moltmann (Hamburg, 1926), the evangelical theologian who taught in Tuebingen and author of the famous B]Theologie der Hoffnung(Theology of hope), published in 1964.
His reflections on dialog are found in the article «La Riforma incompiuta. Problemi irrisolti, risposte ecumeniche
» (The unfinished reform: Unresolved problems and ecumenical responses), published in Concilium
(n.2, 2017, p.142), which is made even more interesting by the fact that Moltmann makes a distinction between 'dialog' and 'dispute'.
He writes: "Dialog in our day does not function for the truth" but rather for 'communion', and thus undergoes a kind of sugarcoating. The effort to avoid sharp differences leads to a flattening out, and theology suffers for it.
"In the past," writes the 91-year-old Moltmann, from long experience, " people lamented the litigiousness of some theologians (rabies theologicorum
), but now theology has become so innocuous that it barely merits public consideration".
In search of 'communion', all asperities have been planed down as to virtually disappear - and what remains is often merely an expression of mutual tolerance devoid of content, in which emotion has been substituted for the truth.
On the other hand, Moltmann is explicit in praise of 'dispute':
"We must learn once again to say NO. A controversy can bring truth to light much more than 'tolerant' dialog. We need a theological culture of dispute, conducted with resolve and respect, out of love for the truth. Without a profession of faith, theology is devoid of value, and theological dialog degenerates into a mere exchange of opinions".
The veteran theologian cannot be clearer, and it is significant that his revaluation of dispute – as against the inflation of dialog – comes in the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, which is taking place amidst multiple hymns to dialog and apparently little attention to the question of truth. "Do communion and truth no longer go hand in hand?," Moltmann asks.
"There is even proof," comments Suilvio Brachetta in Vita nuova
, the Catholic weekly of the Diocese of Trieste, "that the middle way has disappeared: discussions today are either dialog or polemics. There is hardly ever any constructive debate in order to demonstrate something. We attend relaxed meetings, with little scientific content, and participants oscillate between considering arguments serenely or the contentious impulses of those who seek to assert themselves with fire and fury. In general, people prefer monologues, because it does not have to be 'proven' at all costs – the speaker does not need to marshal counter arguments, but simply 'opposes' himself with his own monologue."
Observations we can all share, to which, however, Stefano Fontana, also in Vita nuova
, adds a further reflection: "Silvio Brachetta is right to say that any dialog without truth is a dead one and to praise the Protestant theologian Moltmann for saying so. But it must not be forgotten that the absolutization of dialog in the Church comes precisely from the penetration of the Protestant mindset into the Catholic Church".
"The question of Catholic abuse of dialog," writes Fontana, "is an old one. Already the pre-Vatican-II works of Karl Rahner laid down the foundations of dialog without content
. The conciliarism that followed Vatican II applied and developed the concept, misusing the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam
of Paul VI. It is true, that today 'dialog happens without its participants knowing what to dialog about', and yet, precisely with respect for the truth, we must not forget that this vice is owed to the penetration of Protestantism into the Catholic mind".
It is equally significant that the concern about dialog as an end in itself should be manifested today by a Protestant like Moltmann.
Fontana proceeds to a necessary analysis:
"Catholcic theology has always taught that faith has two aspects: fides qua, or one's personal act of faith, and fides quae, which is the revealed truth Catholics believe based on the authority of God who has revealed it. Luther separates the two aspects – or rather, he eliminates the second, since he believes that faith is nothing but a subjective relationship of the individual conscience with God.
It is a 'fiducial' faith, a blind faith, in which one places oneself in the hands of the Other without any substantial reason. Indeed, Protestant faith is a faith without dogmas, in which the Church is merely spiritual, made up of all those who entrust themselves in this fiducial manner to Christ. That is why, there is no Protestant unity based on a common confession of the same contents of faith, as the Church has always taught, starting from the Confessors of the faith, but unity is assumed from the coming together of single subjectivities in one act of faith. This subjective 'coming together' [con-venire] replaces the reasons themselves for agreeing [convenire].
The emphasis is displaced towards the action rather than on the contents of the action. That is why today, even in the Catholic Church, pastoral work 'as ecclesial action' precedes doctrine, of which it is independent, and indeed, reformulates doctrine. That is why at every ecclesial convention, there is an insistence on the beauty of 'coming together', even if the meeting actually hosts people who hold a thousand diverse dogmatic heresies. That is why they speak of a 'plural' or 'open' Church, in the terminology of Karl Rahner – who was Catholic in form but Protestant in substance – a church in which everyone, including heretics and atheists could be part. Fides quae is lost from sight, or at any rate, considered of secondary importance. Heresy becomes de-rubricized as simply a difference of opinion."
Fontana's reasoning is crystalline and does not need further explanations, but it is Fontana himself who actualizes everything he wrote by referring to an episode that has caused so much pain:
"In recent days, we witnessed the tragedy of little Charlie Gard. The men of the Church came on the scene too late, sputtered diverse opinions, the newspaper Avvenire diverted attention from the real issues and argued the exact opposite of what it said in 2009 for Eluana Englaro [Italian lady whose father succeeded in getting the hospice to cut off her life support because she had been 'nothing but a vegetable' for some time]
We are no longer even able to profess together the elementary principles of the natural moral law, let alone the Ten Commandments. On too many things, we allow the individual conscience to 'discern'. The Church of 'coming together' increasingly does not know what or Who it is that we should come together about – whether it is on the Christ of faith or the Logos who reveals the truth because he is the Truth, no longer seems to matter."
Fontana refers in his article to Paul VI's Ecclesia Suam
(1964) which can be effectively considered the origin of the 'dialogic turning point' in theology. Yet Papa Montini does not say in it that dialog is valuable in itself, but that we must dialog in order to convert others
, and although Romano Amerio in Iota Unum
spoke of the inconsistent and impossible equation "between the duty incumbent on the Church to evangelize the world and its duty to dialog with it", we must remember that Paul VI advocated a 'dialog of sincerity'
, and with regard to ecumenism, he said: "We are ready to study how to accommodate the legitimate wishes of our Christian brothers who are separated from us" because "nothing could be more desired by us than to embrace them in a perfect union of faith and charity" but "we must also say that it is not in our power to transgress on the integrity of faith and on the demands of charity".
Nor does Paul VI hesitate to warn against relativism, and yet his encyclical has been used abundantly in a relativistic sense. By eliminating all the points in which Montini stigmatizes "ambiguous compromise' as well as irenism and syncretism ("Our dialog cannot be carried out in weakness with respect to our commitment to our faith… Only whoever is fully faithful to the doctrine of Christ can be an fefective apostle"
), Ecclesiam Suam
has been reduced to the manifesto of a superficial and indistinct friendship between the Church and the world
, and as Brachetta rightly reminds us, we had to wait for Cardinal Ratzinger, with DOMINUS IESUS of 2000, to denounce that 'ideology of dialog' which, having penetrated into the Catholic Church, "would replace mission and the urgency of calling to conversion".
In short, despite the concerns of Paul VI, relativism did enter the Church and has used the idea of dialog in an exploitative way. That is why whoever has the truth at heart should take on Moltmann's proposition and re-value dispute, the lively exchange of opinions and controversy that calls for all arguments to be on the table.
But in order to dispute, one must be able to reason, and today, that is precisely the problem. Because our crisis of faith is perhaps, first of all, a crisis of reason. [And of common sense – because where reason implies a systematic marshaling of arguments to justify a position, common sense is an instinctive grasp of what is right.]
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/16/2017 4:47 PM]