Father André Scrima on Interdenominational Dialogue and Interreligious Openness
2. A Fresh Perspective
How can we truly realize the ‘theological’ (or spiritual) value of other religions, recognizing their self-expressed reality, while at the same time professing the conscious and lucid faith in Christ, the ‘unique and total revelation’ of God?
- The first level is the difficulty of accepting and explaining the possibility that another religion may have a living and true communication with the living and unique God.
- Closely related to this first level is the one that implicitly determines it: once the uniqueness of the Christian faith is established, the other religions, whatever they may be, can only be totally or partially rejected, with respect to their claims to the truth.
- Here, we are again faced with the aporia that blocked the meeting between Christianity and other religions, apparently leaving the door open, on the Christian side, only for the path to conversion and the recognition of the established ‘orthodoxy’.
- It is clear, however, that such positions are increasingly difficult to advocate as such. For historical and cultural reasons, first of all; then due to a kind of inner calling marks any genuine theological or spiritual experience which, in the name of the Truth from which it hails, can never stop in its path and cannot refuse to look for an answer if an open, renewed question awaits for one. The road is therefore open (Scrima 2004a, pp. 80–81).
At the end of a Sunday conference, with many secular people in attendance, where Djalal-od-Din Rumi and Ramakrishna had also been discussed, a monk stood up and said: “Forgive me. You quote a Muslim, someone else quotes a Hindu. But what are we doing here then?” And Father Benedict Ghiuş answered very simply: “If God said that at the end of time, He would take all of the sheep, how can I rule them out? How can I reject someone who talks about Him like that? How can I not listen to him?”
[T]he uninhibited observance of other traditions is not necessarily a symptom of a superficial commitment to one’s own tradition. On the contrary, only the firmness of faith, only the clarity of the option for a given tradition, allows the casual evaluation of others. An authentic Christian, sure of his way, has the right to quote the hadiths of the Prophet, without losing his soul in so doing…
Spirituality exerts a critical function on religion and the world, not direct, intentional, and even less violent, but an organic critique, by the simple fact of being present as a carrier of an experience and a spiritual attitude.
If we think of the easiness with which a religious “orthodoxy” (the meaning of the faith) is translated into “orthopraxy” (a code of socio-ritual practices) we will not be surprised that fanaticism insinuates itself even where no one would suspect it.
the obligation to perceive the other as a believer, in other words, related to a “different” spiritual identity than mine. This would inevitably seem to threaten my own religious identity, to take me away from myself and my specific place insofar as I am transported to the other and to his theology of the absolute. It is clear that in our immediate cultural structure there are, whether we are aware of them or not, “bars” that act as a reflex of self-defence and at the same time as an impulse to erase the other in their thetic specificity.
We are all inclined, in a psychological rather than an intellectual (theological) way, to refer to uniqueness in an intramundane-type hierarchy where it simply becomes the superiority which expects obedience from others.
if Christ is the one whose mystery is that He came from the Father and returned to Him, remaining until the end of time in a state of openness towards all of creation (Rev. 5: 6), it is therefore indisputable that He is presenting man and the world with a horizon of inclusion, not rejection. For us to base a behaviour of exclusion of others on the very truth of Christ would hence be contradictory, if we think about it earnestly.
In faith one cannot say: yes, I am open to God, but under no circumstance to the ideas of others about Him […]. Openness does not mean adherence to the position of the other, it means at least listening to him, acknowledging him. It means not killing him in the name of faith, not destroying him by refusing to know him, to listen to him.
2.1. Converting Each Other to Unity
if Christian unity had (before ruptures and crystallizations) and always has an essential meaning beyond the natural, it is precisely the acceptance of diversity, the communion in spirit and in love with the one who is not like me. I would even speak of a “jubilation” of the meeting with the “other”, the one “not like me” … In this way, I add, the oppressive weight of the false feeling of superiority, of other complexes, of moralism in particular, is removed’.
It is imperative to overcome the confusion (perpetuated by inertia) between unity and uniformity. The latter—a kind of entropy of the spirit—is almost spontaneously the unanimous way of conceiving and accepting unity: the other is like me; the “burden” (if not the scandal) of difference is excluded.
Not so much the open conflict or the latent theological incompatibility between East and West, but rather a pluralism of theological formulations, a pluralism that knows no reduction to uniformity. Only when uniformity begins to prevail do theological positions become ruthless by adding an emotional charge.
Just as the Church is constituted by the communion of the living and free persons saved in Christ, set free to serve Him, so the local Churches each have a personality and an individuality which make the abstract universality of the Church a concrete universality.
Being aware of the issue of unity and working towards it is comparable to succeeding in “transcending” the Church, or rather its rigid limits […]. In order to find the deep essence of the Church, we must constantly overcome the definitions of the Church, because they hide its living mystery from us. The mystery of the Church is first addressed to man and through him to human institutions, and not vice versa.
But what is the sign of superiority? The one whereby I claim to be the only representative of Christianity, by exclusion, and not by inclusion?
Why should he exist? I am enough: the foundation […] of inter-Christian proselytism. Every time we make use of it, we fall from Christ. Self-discovery [consists] in the presence of the other.
This is also due to the fact that the two dialogue partners, who are so close in essential matters, but who experience this resemblance differently, are no longer aware of the original unity that underlies the diversity of their form of expression.
Dialogue is an aspiration, a possibility, maybe a hope. In fact, it is not, in itself, a solution, an easy technique that offers, quasi-mechanically, presumptions of solution at the end of its application.
Orthodoxy does not seem to correspond to the conditions of dialogue (objective knowledge of the other, […] curiosity, desire to come out of oneself), often due to historical vicissitudes, it is present before Catholicism as a suitable interlocutor (transmitting in spirit the matter of theology), of the World Council of Churches (testifying to the sources of the mystery), always attentive to the essence of dialogue. It knows that a communication only makes sense in an orderly way, completed by communion or even—because Christ loved us first—founded, rooted in communion.
to die for the other in order to be reborn with him; to become the other, to no longer be afraid of him, to no longer be distrustful.
make room in us, in prayer, in our meditation and conformation, to the other. […] We must rejuvenate our Christianity, enter the Church of the other, pray together, without complexes, with gravity and maturity.
2.2. In the Limitless Expansion of the Spirit
Almost undoubtedly (but always camouflaged) Christianity is thus conceived as a religion of exclusion. Moral superiority “belongs” to it essentially; the others are not on the same level, they are not “compliant”, they are not “good”. It is the surest way to turn away from the Spirit of Christ.
Christ cannot be caught, perceived, understood except by the one in a state of itinerance, in the limitless expansion of the Spirit […] He is the stranger who is no longer reduced to any kind of location: in time, in space, in established categories. The absolute stranger, Christ is at the same time absolute presence, absolute contemporaneity”.
The spectacle of religious diversity therefore offers us a good noetic support to meditate and “realize” to some extent the impossibility of circumscribing the divine in a form, a figure, a definition, also to “soften” the limitations of our finite condition, and to overcome our almost irrepressible tendency to enclose God in our concepts, in our language, in a certain identity.
the unprecedented opening of the careful desire to receive the unpredictability of God, free from any enclosure, including that of an earthly Jerusalem. To acknowledge that we are all equidistant to God from now on, that the open-being (l’être-là) of the other is the inalienable place where God Himself can appear.
The universe is now torn apart in as many horizons as there are beings. Each is a unique, partially exclusive perspective, where depth is obtained and paid for with narrowness. […] I do not therefore propose my truth as universal. I put it unconditionally only in so far as it is for me the only means of attaining that which transcends all truth, that is, in so far as I may go beyond it, through it.
Have I the right to define Christ, to keep Him in my poor contours, to possess Him and to project onto Him things derived from the smallness of a life that He has come to raise, to “open”, not to close?.
We are all equidistant from God, for God is a circle whose centre is nowhere and everywhere at once […] Religion wants to make God too present. You fill up the world with Godhead and do not have room for emptiness, for the void must be explored with faith.
It would be enough to reconnect with the origin places of our faith (which, as such, are not chronological in nature, but ontological and spiritual) to recognize that the historical fact of the Incarnation with all its concreteness of events is not so determinant as we believe due to acquired habits. Was not the intervention of a meta-historical “factor’, the Holy Spirit, absolutely necessary to recognize and accredit the historically recorded person of Jesus Christ? Also, very briefly: the historical factor is not decisive in terms of faith in God, God himself is the one who opens and carries the perceptible element in history to the horizon of actual divine significance.
To enlarge the space of God and at the same time to confront His unexpectedness, coming perhaps also from Himself, but through the intercession of others. We would thus be situated far from any easy concordism (Christ and Krishna, the Gospel and the Upanishads, etc. “are the same thing’), far from any syncretism, it goes without saying, being compelled to discover not “the same thing”, but the Same One, only differently: here lies the whole noetic and existential difference.
From the perspective of the full truth of the eschatological Christ, the One who is still expected to come and be revealed as the fulfilment of times, the Christian community in historical itinerance does not have to judge the intrinsic truth of other religious traditions, whose content of meaning and value also belongs to the same eschatological revelation.
We do not offend at all of the eschatological Christ, it seems to us, on the contrary, by recognizing the spiritual veracity and therefore the character of efficacy, according to their specific ways, of the great religious traditions we have hitherto called, veracity and efficacy which they have […] by what they receive as divine influx.
Leave all of the diversity in the world for that posthumous day of history […] when there will be a possible judgment on the whole. And then, at this Judgment, neither one nor the other will suffer because of the confusion that would have plucked the wheat together with the weeds.
3. A Brief Overview of Scrima’s Theology of Religions
affirm that God in His benevolence desires and unceasingly works for the salvation of the world. It is the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower all human beings to overcome the limitations of their created nature moving towards unity and relationality. […] Yet, how and in what specific ways the Holy Spirit is mystically present to those who live outside of the distinctive boundaries of the Church cannot be fully explained or discerned. The incomprehensibility of God’s active presence in the world beyond the boundaries of the Church is a sign of God’s unconditional freedom and providential love.
for the root-cause of pluralism itself, for its significance in God’s own plan for humankind, for the possibility of a mutual convergence of the various traditions in full respect of their differences, and for their mutual enrichment and cross-fertilization.
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The intended pun is a reference to the floods of that autumn.
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Boicu, D. Father André Scrima on Interdenominational Dialogue and Interreligious Openness. Religions 2021, 12, 309. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050309
Boicu D. Father André Scrima on Interdenominational Dialogue and Interreligious Openness. Religions. 2021; 12(5):309. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050309Chicago/Turabian Style
Boicu, Dragoş. 2021. "Father André Scrima on Interdenominational Dialogue and Interreligious Openness" Religions 12, no. 5: 309. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050309