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The Sidic Review and the dialogue between the religions (1967- 2002)
There is a sense in which everything in SIDIC concerns dialogue. It came to birth as a result of the Vatican Council’s epoch making text Nostra Aetate which proved to be a turning point in the Church’s understanding of her own identity and relationship to the Jewish People and Judaism. Nearly forty years on it seems providential that its stormy passage at the Council and the controversy it aroused resulted in the document being called The Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions and included paragraphs on Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as well as the longer No.4 on Judaism.
Christians in general and indeed the whole Church had so much to unlearn and to learn about Judaism as well as the difficult duty to come to terms with their and its own guilt vis-à-vis the Jewish Community living in a Christian society that the early issues of SIDIC are concerned mainly with the Jewish-Christian Relationship. This is of course already a dialogue between different religions and the key to understanding the relationship to other religions. From its inception SIDIC focused on dialogue (understood as the relationship between God and human beings, the image of God and emerging from the Word).
The response to Nostra Aetate in the Church was encouraging and slowly Jews began to be able to trust its motives and intentions. However there were also set-backs. Christian reaction and the silence of the Hierarchy to the six-day war (1967) was disconcerting for Jews; unrest in the Church and outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Europe also called for action. However the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No.4) published in 1974 were excellent and clearly taught that dialogue meant “seeing the other as it explained itself” and not in our own terms or any inherited image. Since that time there has been a growth in understanding the implications and demands of dialogue and its necessity if there is to be any peace among the nations.
During the l970s awareness of growing Muslim communities from many countries settled in the West and this began to change European society. Problems in the Middle East alerted Jews and Christians to the need to understand and relate to this new element. These developments can be traced in SIDIC during the nearly forty years of its publication.
The Nineteen Seventies
Volume VIII: 3, 1975 includes a statement by Christian and Muslim leaders living and working in Israel protesting against the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s resolution about alleged desecration of Muslim and Christian shrines which their experience did not confirm.
A paper by Coert Rylaarsdam in Vol. X: 3, 1977 focused on religious pluralism in America, which is the place par excellence for cultural and religious pluralism with its plural roots and the right of everyone to belong and be “indigenous”.
Professor Tommaso Federici’s Study Outline on the Mission and Witness of the Church (SIDIC Vol. XI: 3, 1978) presented at the sixth meeting of the Liaison Committee of the R.C. Church and the Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations expressed the Church’s esteem for the values of other religions and her desire to know and dialogue with them. This paper explained the major breakthrough in the development of theology and the understanding of God’s action in human life and its religious expressions.
From l979 a growing interest in the dialogue between the religions can be discerned in the articles, documents and information which reflects a parallel movement in society. At the eighth International Liaison Committee between the R.C. Church and the Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations the subjects discussed were Religious Freedom and Education for Dialogue which is documented in Vol. XII: 3, l979. The joint statement of the Kennedy Institute on Jewish, Christian and Muslim Trialogue is published on p. 33.
The Nineteen Eighties and Nineties
During the l980s and 90s the movement of peoples and communities meant society became ever more pluralistic and interdependent. The increase in violence and the struggle for human rights among these new minorities led to the realisation that a humane future depended on a fairer and peaceful world. The world religions have a major part to play and SIDIC reflects this movement and shares in it.
Abraham, the Father of Believers whom Jews, Muslims and Christians claim as their common ancestor was the subject of No.1, 1982, Vol. XV. Under the heading “Perspectives” the burgeoning so-called Trialogue – J.C.M. and some of the ways it is pursued are described.
No.2, Vol. XVI, 1983 was entitled Witness – Jewish & Christian Aspects but an article by Penina Peli Contemporary Israeli Views on Gentiles and Interfaith Dialogue calls upon Israelis to “explore areas of mutual interest and together in a true spirit of brotherly love, seek solutions for some of the problems that plague modern society. “Christology”, though, is a problem “excluding the Jews from enjoying full divine favour”. Coes Schoneveld sees the major task of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as developing a self understanding that would recognise the validity of other religions, for their vocation is to establish righteousness and justice on earth.
VIOLENCE AND PEACE (No.1, Vol. XXI, 1988) contains articles important for the world community to which inter-religious dialogue aspires. One will be singled out here. Ernesto Balducci’s is concerned with the transition from a war to a peace culture which is imperative if humanity is to survive the cultural change the discovery of the atom heralded. Traditional ways of using the Bible (the ideological, moralistic, spiritual readings) are no longer adequate in this new situation – a new hermeneutic in line with this new twist in history in which a peace culture is the very condition of human survival is called for. Today the biblical commandment “Choose Life” concerns the organic life of the species. The dialogue between the world religions could prefigure this new unified humanity.
In the 1990s No.3 (Vol. XXV, 1992) was entitled THE STRANGER IN OUR MIDST. In the Bible as well as in the Rabbinic tradition the message, still relevant today, is clear – only love can make the prophetic dream of ultimate shalom a reality.
Jews, Christians and Muslims share a common faith in God, the same view of the world and human vocation within it and claim Abraham as father. Close relations could be expected but they are marked by ignorance and suspicion and sometimes hostility and violence. No.2 (Vol. XXVI, 1993) looks at this relationship and its challenge of past and present. Their relationship ought to be a model of inter-religious dialogue but instead it is a threat to world order. Initiatives to change this situation are recorded, among them the remarkable Neve Shalom (oasis of peace), the dream of the Dominican priest: Bruno Hussar. In this village of peace Jewish and Muslim families live and work for peace in Israel and organise a school for peace among the Jews and Muslims in Israel who share this longing.
Abraham J. Heschel was an outstanding teacher, scholar and mystic. Vol. XXVII: 3 reveals that he understood religious diversity as the will of God and saw pluralism as the struggle of society to welcome and esteem its richness. Dialogue between religions was absolutely organic to his thinking and flowed out of it. He is still a great teacher for today.
As well as charting the opportunities and limits of the dialogue between the religions, No.2 Vol. XXVIII, 1995 which commemorated the 30th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, looked at its history moving from the important and ever present struggle against anti-Semitism to the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions. We still have much to learn from the proto-schism in the context of the latter. Nostra Aetate is a document with a life and a history.
Vol. XXIII: 1, 2000 TRANSFORMATIONS THROUGH DIALOGUE. The outstanding example of this transformation is that between the Church and the Jewish People since the Second Vatican Council. Personal testimonies are recorded in this issue. The scholarly efforts of scholars are aimed at transforming a theology of supersessionism and substitution into esteem, appreciation and reverence. Education at all levels as well as dialogue remain the most powerful means to achieve this.
The Decalogue of Assisi for Peace which was proclaimed at the Day of Prayer for Peace by the representatives of different religious confessions was documented in Vol.XXXV: 2-3 (2002).
The dialogue between the world religions is relatively young. Its scope and implications are still being explored. However it has already moved from a simple talking together to a more demanding and profound level. Two names stand out in this regard – Martin Buber can perhaps be described as “the man of dialogue”. His writings and practice are well known. For him life is meeting the “other” in an “I-Thou” relationship. The second name, more recent than Buber, is Emmanuel Levinas. For him it is in the face of “the other” that the face of God is discovered. And it is in that “other” that revelation is discerned. Each of us is, in Levinas’ term, “hostage to the other”. In discovering this grave responsibility we are faced with the mystery of Revelation. Levinas found a parallel to this teaching in Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.
Although these two names do appear in SIDIC there has been no major article exploring their thought. Maybe this will be undertaken in a future issue.
It has been maintained that Abraham can be considered the model of inter-religious dialogue. In the Jewish tradition he is the destroyer of idols but he fed and welcomed the stranger. In doing so he welcomed the Lord his God (1)
* Mary Kelly is a Sister of Sion. She co-directed the Study Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations in London. From 1988 to 1997 she edited the English edition of SIDIC. She is presently part of the team of the Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter which was opened this year by the Sisters of Sion in London
1. Bereshit Rabba; Midrash ha Zohar.
Pierre François de Béthune osb. By Faith and Hospitality, Gracewing, Leominst