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Sidic: A Concrete Experience of Dialogue
In the following brief reflections, I want to try to catch the spirit of dialogue which profoundly animated the thirty-year long experience of the SIDIC association and review. Of course, I will not try to give an appraisal of this experience, as that would require more space, time and competence. Instead, I shall limit myself to the spirit of dialogue in order to see how it was articulated concretely at the very heart of this experience.
Dialogue is a concrete exercise which, in the acknowledgment of difference, makes a reciprocal relationship effective. An authentic relationship is established only by means of dialogue; this relationship in turn implies the acknowledgment and affirmation of difference, never its elimination. In this perspective, SIDIC’s experience in the context of Jewish-Christian dialogue had a significance all its own, because the underground but very clear goal was to form authentic dialogical personalities. Let us try to reflect on the philosophical-anthropological significance of this, which cannot be anything other than the spirit of dialogue which we mentioned above.
To qualify human subjectivity as ‘dialogical’ means that we give it an essential determination which is far from being commonly accepted and which defines the human person in his/her ontological structure. This means that human being has its own specificity to which the ontological categories are not immediately applicable, or at least that that which can be gathered from this is not immediately the living spiritual being which we call the human person.
In fact, in the word onto-logy itself, there is a dimension which makes human being paradoxical, in which is the “epiphanial” condition of the truth of being through its logos. Being, the truth of being, is manifested through that being, which is a logon echon, something which speaks. Is it possible to make of the human being a merely passive stage on which being is manifested, on which it is being itself which recites its part, which comes to manifestation? Taking human linguistics seriously means rethinking the ultimate with absolutely new categories which coincide with a new self-understanding.
The human person is someone who speaks, the being in whom the word is present as the objective sign of his/her spirituality. But the expression can also be presented in another form. The human person is someone who speaks, that is to say, a being who is endowed with a word, to whom the word was given as a dowry. The medial structure of the Latin verb (loquor) shows an extremely suggestive anthropological structure which allows us to assert: the word dwells within the human person. The word manifests a spiritual being who by his/her very constitution is open, or also, the word in the human person is the epiphany of a structure which in its origin is relational-communicative. But then language is seen as the horizon for the epiphanial event of truth. The word at the beginning, as the first principal, or, if you like, the primacy of the word means the transformation of the anthropological paradigm, the self-understanding which expresses itself, going from unrelated singularity to dialogical structure. The human person is someone who speaks as an I faced with a you.
Of course, in such a perspective it is also necessary to rethink the relationship between word and truth. If, in fact, the human word manifests the truth, such a manifestation and such a truth will always be subjective-personal, relational without being relative, and in this correlation, which is certainly the least immediate, the multiple models of discourse can be distinguished. The word as a manifestation of personal singularity personalizes the truth without relativizing it. In other words, an objective truth only exists in the subjectivity of its manifestation. This means that the finitude and the historicity of the human person make truth finite and historical without reducing it to history.
If the word dwells in the human person, as we said above, the human person receives a kind of investiture through the word which also enables him/her to understand his/her origin. Noli foras exire, in interiore homine habitat veritas. This expression of Augustine’s in De vera religione enables us to go back to that interior transcendence which dwells in the human person and which makes his/her word a sign of something which is over and beyond. In the interiority, in the transdescendence which opens up to the transascendence, it is possible to find the sources of the word’s truth. The human person as imago Dei, and in general, the sense of the metaphysical structure of the human being, is the place of the presence of truth. The truth of the word dwells in the interiority, but this is not an invitation to sterile, narcissistic self-contemplation; rather, as custodians, it makes us responsible for the truth. The word is always born of silence, of interior contemplation and together with listening to the word which comes from elsewhere.
To speak the truth is verum facere se ipsum. Communicated truth is, in its origin, lived truth, experienced truth. To live in truth. There is a fundamental ethical relationship without which there can be no authentic interpersonal relationship; otherwise the word will simply give support to the logical aberration of a persuasion, which then is ultimately instrumental in exercising power. The logic of the persuasion is the implicit admission of the limitation/negation of freedom and of the personal singularity of the one to whom the communication is addressed. What is the meaning of verum facere se ipsum if not the conformation of oneself to the logic of truth? Conformation is in turn a relational term which indicates that one places oneself face to face with; we cannot set ourselves up as an original model for ourselves; that would be a contradiction. But where can we find something which certifies the authenticity of the conformation? Briefly we can say: in being attentive to the differences, which is being available to receiving the sign of truth, which, once more, comes to us from elsewhere, from the other word or from the other.
The truth of the word is thus like a constant verification of the word’s truth and of ourselves. A very particular relationship is established by means of the structure of the ontological givenness by which the human person discovers himself/herself as the subject of a gift, the gift of the word, and the word is given as true being. To be true would mean giving the true word (the given word) as a double fidelity to truth and to the interlocutor.
But a truth of the word also exists. Here, the genitive has a subjective and an objective value. Truth speaks through the word of the human person who says the truth. Our speaking is always inserted into the continuity of a discourse which does not begin with ourselves. Every expression of the truth repeats the gesture of revelation, is an ongoing revelation. The true word is thus always revelatory, it opens up horizons of meaning which transcend mere information or communication. At this level, it is even possible to grasp the difference which exists between authentic communication and the empty chatter which in our day all too often replaces the substance of communicative messages.
The truth will make you free. This gospel expression becomes particularly significant for our reflection. There are free words insofar as they are true, and there are words which need to be liberated. The verification of the word consists in recuperating the ontological dimension of the person’s belonging to the truth. This original relationship can only develop as an ontology of the person who dwells in the truth, who inhabits the truth. Truth becomes authentically the person’s house, and language assumes a revelatory dimension which thus goes beyond the level of information, including the totalitarianism of ideology. To inhabit truth is equivalent to communicating in the truth/the truth. The impossibility of ‘appropriating to oneself’ the truth also shows the transcendence and the fullness of this revelation. In revelation as we think of it in the context of biblical religions, we take part in a way in which God lowers himself, God’s kenosis towards the human person. In the truth of revelation, it is the fullness which is discovered in history which becomes history, the word of God to the human person.
From the point of view of the ‘word of truth’, a very particular dialectic is established which we can sum up in three terms: language – experience – revelation. Thus, a language of experience and a language of revelation is given, but if we reverse the perspectives, also an experience of language as an experience of revelation, and finally, a revelation of language and a revelation of experience. Thus we can say that each one of us is always inserted in an infinite discourse which is the open discourse of the revelatory word and which happens through the true words which human beings address to one another reciprocally. But then there is a responsibility for the truth which is a responsibility for revelation, and this is testimony’s most authentic domain.
The word as testimony to the truth/in the truth. Truth can only be communicated if this is done in truth. What is the role of testimony, what is the logic in a dialogical-communicative context? Being servants of the truth means that what we communicate is not our own but is rather the giving of a gift received. No one can say my truth without automatically placing himself/herself in the perspective of an exclusive possession.
What does it mean to testify? Testimony is not simply a transitive act; rather, it is passive-active and can be active only if it proceeds from the original situation of passivity. I receive something which I in turn transmit. From the point of view of a nomadic anthropology which describes the human person as being on the way, testimony is situated in following a path which another began before me. Of course, it is precisely through my activity that I will be able to recreate the past which I receive, and thus I myself become a beginning. Every witness is the beginning of a path. Another element which seems important to me is, once again, the relational structure of the act of testifying. To testify means testifying to something before someone, for someone. One is not a witness for oneself, in a kind of self-persuasive narcissism. This means that the testimony creates a communicative relationship. If this does not happen, we are looking at a false testimony which rather, is a cause of disintegration. The pre-supposition for testimony thus consists in the will to offer something to someone.
So what does it mean to testify to the truth in the truth? Simply to create a true communication.
It is along these lines that the sense of dia-logue as service to the truth is strengthened. For this is born of the double awareness that something which does not belong to us is given to someone who is not myself, and nevertheless, this something and this someone are connected through me. To be communicatively bonded. Testimony expresses a fidelity which is translated into an ability for firm consistency without being transformed into arrogant closure. To be faithful in service means that it is also possible that one will have to rethink one’s own view of the truth which is purified through the fact that one gives it as a gift; or one can see it confirmed-reinforced by the agreement which communication brings about. In this perspective, fidelity to truth is particularly demanding, since it introduces a logic of free gift in a double direction: attentiveness to the truth and attentiveness which is concerned about the other/by the other.
There is a connection between the word and the truth, which at first sight, is external and inversely proportional, according to which the strength of the truth manifests the weakness of the word, while the strength of the word can become the weakness (concealment) of the truth. Only the true word is a strong and liberating word, while the strong word can degenerate into ideology, into sophistry, into absolute power. Perhaps it is not too much to see in this alternative a great challenge for our present time.
To return to our point of departure: SIDIC was all this, at least for me. I could not have written what I have written if, in the story of my life, there hadn’t been the enthralling experience of Jewish-Christian dialogue lived actively as a member of the SIDIC association and as director of the review with the same name.
* Emilio Baccarini teaches philosophical anthropology at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Tor Vergata University in Rome. He is the Direttore Responsabile of the Sidic Review.
Translated from the Italian by K.E.Wolff.