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Archbishop Michael Miller - Catholic Education and Interreligious Dialogue

11/29/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Archbishop Michael Miller's Perspective on "Nostra Aetate"

ROME, NOV. 29, 2004 (Zenit) - Archbishop Michael Miller, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, delivered an address last month on the Second Vatican Council declaration "Nostra Aetate" at the Lay Center at Foyer Unitas. Below is an excerpt.

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Catholic Education and Interreligious Dialogue 40 Years After "Nostra Aetate"

The Lay Center at Foyer Unitas
27 October 2004

At the outset I would like to thank Dr. Donna Orsuto for her very kind invitation which gives us the opportunity to share and discuss with you a topic of vital interest not only to the Church but also to contemporary politics: interreligious dialogue and the reception of "Nostra Aetate" in the world of Catholic education, especially that in institutions of higher learning.

Identity of institutions

I would like to address more explicitly a question that is at the back of many a mind, even if not articulated; that is, how does interreligious dialogue contribute to strengthening the Catholic identity of an academic institution? This question arises because "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" gives great prominence to affirming the university's Catholic identity, insisting that "everyone in the community helps ... towards maintaining and strengthening the distinctive Catholic character of the institution" (No. 21; cf. Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, No. 135). It stands to reason, then, that the fostering of interreligious dialogue must spring from "a common dedication to the truth, a common vision of the dignity of the human person and, ultimately, the person and message of Christ which gives the Institution its distinctive character" ("Ex Corde Ecclesiae," 21).

In other words, authentic interreligious dialogue must further, not dilute, the specifically Catholic identity of an institution of higher learning. Some in the Academy, albeit I think a minority, are uncomfortable with the coupling of "Catholic identity" and "interreligious dialogue" and so have done little to implement the teaching of "Nostra Aetate." For them such an undertaking is taken as "a sign of weakness or even a betrayal of the faith."1

Despite this objection, however, a very good argument can be made to show that, in point of fact, a university's Catholic identity is strengthened when it fosters interreligious dialogue, especially by introducing students to knowledge of other religions and encouraging professors to engage in it through their research. Indeed, it is more necessary today than ever for the university community to promote the firm Catholic conviction of the common vocation of humanity and the one divine plan of salvation in Christ who "is united in a certain way with everyone" ("Gaudium et Spes," 22).

4 questions

I would suggest to you that even an intermediate judgment on the extent to which the world of Catholic education has "received" Nostra Aetate could well be based on the answers given to how it has implemented the four forms of dialogue frequently mentioned in various magisterial documents: the dialogue of life, of action, of theological exchange and of religious experience.2

Dialogue of life and witness

The "dialogue of life" is an attitude and way of acting, a spirit guiding conduct. It entails what "Nostra Aetate" recommended as the precondition of all dialogue; Christians should carry it out "while witnessing to their own faith and way of life" (No. 2). Within the university, as elsewhere, it implies "concern, respect, and hospitality" toward those of other religions. A Catholic university or school, which receives students of all faiths, should leave room for "the other person's identity, modes of expression and values" ("Dialogue and Mission," No. 29). How well is this lived in our Catholic institutions? Are they truly open to others, ready to receive the "other" as a gift?

This dialogue of life also entails that Catholics in our educational institutions should bear witness to others in their daily life of their human and spiritual values and so help non-Christians to live in fidelity to the authentic values which they embrace.

Dialogue of action

A second measure which can be used is the "dialogue of action" or "dialogue of works," what "Nostra Aetate" referred to as the need to "preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values" (No. 3). This form of dialogue moves from attitude to cooperation, especially in areas of promoting the common good: issues of integral human development, justice, peace, human rights, and so on. "Dialogue and Mission" says that this "level of dialogue is that of deeds and collaboration with others for goals of a humanitarian, social, economic, or political nature which are directed toward the liberation ...

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