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Misunderstandings About Interreligious Dialogue (Part 1 of 2)

Interview With Ilaria Morali, Specialist in Theology of Grace

ROME, JAN. 15, 2005 (Zenit) - The idea of dialogue with other religions needs some clarifications, says theologian Ilaria Morali.

A specialist in the theology of grace, and a lecture in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University, Morali teaches courses on salvation, non-Christian religions, and interreligious dialogue.

In this interview with us, Morali discusses what the Second Vatican Council stated about dialogue with other religions, and makes distinctions between doctrinal documents and pastoral texts.

A lay Catholic, Morali gives particular importance to the declaration "Dominus Iesus," published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000, to remind mankind that Jesus Christ is the only valid mediator for salvation.

Q: The first time the term "dialogue" is found in a document of the magisterium is on Sept. 19, 1964. Can we say that, from that moment, a doctrine of dialogue began?

Morali: Paul VI's encyclical "Ecclesiam Suam" was promulgated on Aug. 6, 1964, and was distributed to the Fathers, who participated in the Second Vatican Council, on Sept. 15.

Note, when we speak today of dialogue we understand it almost exclusively as interreligious dialogue. But in a more complete and balanced view, as proposed by Paul VI, it is only one aspect of dialogue between the Church and the world.

In relation to interreligious dialogue, Paul VI's encyclical came therefore at a crucial moment between the institution of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, which took place in May 1964, now known as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the promulgation of "Lumen Gentium," the dogmatic constitution on the Church, on Nov. 21, 1964.

This occurred one year before the publication of the "Nostra Aetate" declaration on Oct. 28, 1965, and the "Ad Gentes" decree of Dec. 7, 1965. "Lumen Gentium" is, therefore, the first magisterial document that presents a whole number, 16, dedicated to non-Christians.

We can say therefore that a doctrine of dialogue took shape in its essential principles with "Ecclesiam Suam," promulgated when No. 16 of "Lumen Gentium" was already in the final phase of its writing. There is, therefore, a privileged relation between the teaching on dialogue, proposed by Paul VI, and the doctrine of "Lumen Gentium" on Christians.

To understand the magisterial idea of dialogue in Paul VI, I would mention, in sum, at least three important points.

In the first place: Paul VI believed that reflection on dialogue must be preceded by reflection on the conscience of the Church. The faithful must be conscious of the vocation received at baptism. To forget such dignity acquired by grace means to lose sight of one's own identity.

In the second place: The paradigm of dialogue that the Church establishes with the world, and therefore also interreligious dialogue, is the "colloquium salutis" [dialogue of salvation] established by God in Christ with humanity. The Church must allow herself to be inspired by this model in her approach to the world.

In the third place: This interest is translated in apostolic concern and missionary action. Dialogue is precisely the name that Paul VI attributed to the impulse of interior charity, which tends to become an exterior gift of charity. Historically this is the first definition of dialogue by the magisterium and the Pope presented it immediately after the quotation of Matthew 28:19 on the missionary mandate.

I think, really, that a "doctrine" of dialogue began to exist 40 years ago. Doctrine in the sense of a "normative teaching" of the magisterium that establishes precise limits to the definition and the practice of dialogue and, if forgotten, runs the risk of entering a view of dialogue that is different from that of those who introduced it in the ecclesial vocabulary.

Q: What must be recalled of Vatican II in this connection?

Morali: The conciliar reflection 16 of "Lumen Gentium" gravitates around the affirmation that non-Christians can attain eternal salvation and that such salvation is realized through grace that operates in persons.

A careful description is given in this number of God's action in the innermost conscience of men who are ignorant of the Gospel. I would like to remind that no mention is made of the other religions as mediations of grace or ways of salvation.

I add that "Lumen Gentium," 16, remained as constant reference in the writing of the rest of the documents that subsequently would address the topic of non-Christians: the "Nostra Aetate" declaration and the "Ad Gentes" decree.

I would like to make one final observation, in relation to the value of "Nostra Aetate."

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