A response to Fr John A. Coleman's essay "Inter-Religious Dialogue: Urgent Challenge and Theological Land-mine"

A friend referred me to a recently published essay by Jesuit Fr John A. Coleman, Professor of Social Values at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar in Perth where he holds the St Thomas More College Chair of Jesuit Studies (jointly sponsored by the University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame Australia).

The essay is to be found in the latest edition of ACU’s Australian Ejournal of Theology.

There are several important points in this essay, but also I had, as is my want, some criticisms. So, in the interests of dialogue, I emailed Fr Coleman with some reflections. I thought I would share these with you, dear Reader, in case you are interested in these sorts of things.

Dear Fr Coleman,

I have just read your essay “Inter-Religious Dialogue: Urgent Challenge and Theological Land-mine” published in the Australian Ejournal of Theology.

I wish to say that I appreciate your critique of the three “overarching theories” of world religions. I have long been uncomfortable with all of the Exclusivist, Inclusivist and Pluralist paradigms, and you have shown clearly how each in fact hinders dialogue rather than helps it.

I appreciate too your comparison of the current debate to the Jesuit/Dominican debate on Grace and Freedom, and your point that we could perhaps find a workable solution to the current debates by adopting a similar “both/and” rather than “either/or” approach to God’s universal will for salvation and Jesus’ unique mediatorship of salvation.

Thank you also for reminding me of the relationship between Danielou and Ratzinger. This is in fact a documentable relationship – they were both founders of the Communion school, for one thing, but for another Ratzinger often refers to Danielou in his writings. I do not know whether you could find a similar documentable relationship between the theology of John Paul II and Rahner. The positions of these two may seem similar in many ways, but I am not aware of the late holy father footnoting Rahner in support of any of his statements in the same way Ratzinger regularly does of Danielou.

It is in reference to this latter point that I feel uncomfortable with one aspect of your paper. You consistently refer to the declaration Dominus Iesus as an example of the personal theology of Joseph Ratzinger (now gloriously reigning as Benedict XVI, of course!) when in fact it was the work of a group of theologians (your own quotation from James Frederichs notes this better than you do), an official statement of the Congregation of the Document, and a document which was authorised by John Paul II himself. That should raise some questions.

I think you would have gained a far more accurate idea of Ratzinger’s personal position if you had actually referred to his personal writings on the matter (which, not incidentally, are more clearly reflected in BXVI’s magisterium than is Dominus Iesus). I am thinking of the essays included in the collections “Truth and Tolerance” (published 2003), “Many religions, One Covenant” (pub 1999), and in particular his 1998 essay “Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations” (published in Communio in 1998). The latter especially, I think, shows Ratzinger to be much more open to interreligious dialogue than you portray him to be by taking Dominus Iesus as representative of his theology. The influence of Danielou, take note, is still very strong in these writings – yet Ratzinger goes much further than Danielou in the final analysis towards an acceptance of the value of Interreligious dialogue. In particular, I think Ratzinger would share with you the need to value dialogue in itself, and a desire to go beyond “overarching theories” based on soteriology. His discussion of the two major ways of being “religious” (mystical and theistic) is much more “pluralist” than Danielou’s theology.

Just one other point. I regularly find (in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue) that a hermeneutic of suspicion is applied to Dominus Iesus which it might not merit. It helps if we take it as a document addressed to Catholics, and not to the wider religious world. It is entirely (perhaps one sidedly) preoccupied with the dangers of pluralist theologies such as that of Hicks. This explains why it hardly offers an “invitation” to interreligious dialogue. We fall into difficulty if we take it to refer to more than it understands itself to refer to.

In this respect, one discrepancy I noted in your essay was this sentence:

“On the other, those who insist, as Dominus Jesus does, that there is no “economy of the eternal Word that is valid also outside the Church and unrelated to her” ( # 9 ) may be conflating, unjustifiably, the church, as such, and the reign of God ( which while related to the church is not entirely co-extensive with it).”

What Dominus Iesus was rejecting was that there could be any valid “economy of the eternal Word” external to the Church which was at the same time “unrelated to it”. In bringing up the very important and oft’ repeated assertion that “the Church is not entirely co-extensive with” the Kingdom of God while at the same time always related to it, you in fact yourself show that Dominus Iesus does not conflate “unjustifiably, the church, as such, and the reign of God”. In saying that there is no “economy of the eternal Word” which is both external to and unrelated to the Church, Dominus Iesus is simply saying (as it says elsewhere in the document) that the Church and the Kingdom cannot be completely separated from each other.

These criticisms not withstanding, I thank you for this insightful essay which I have added to my collection of essays on the subject.

Every best wish for your work in the new year.

David Schütz

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to A response to Fr John A. Coleman's essay "Inter-Religious Dialogue: Urgent Challenge and Theological Land-mine"

  1. Ches says:

    Did he reply?

  2. Schütz says:

    Yes, Ches, and here it is with his permission:

    Dear David Schutz,

    Thank you for your helpful comments. The essay was originally a public lecture at Notre Dame U in Freemantle when I was the Thomas More Chair at the University of Western Australia. I only wish I had had your comments before I published it. It is not, of course, my own field as such ( I do social ethics and sociology of religion) but I wanted to venture into it. I have actually read a wonderful explanation of both the uniqueness of Christ as mediator and the relativity ( but not relativeness) of Christian language by Robert Bellah in a reflection on H. Richard Niebuhr’s book on Monotheism.. It appears in the Bellah reader which I am reviewing. Like your comments, I feel my essay would have been improved if I had read the Bellah piece previously. But I will save your remarks for any further treatment of the topic. Best wishes.

    [NB. The Bellah essay to which he refers may be accessed at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=241

  3. Schütz says:

    Fr Coleman also directed me to his blog articles on the America Magazine blog, to which he is a contributor. You can read some of them here: http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/blog.cfm?blog_id=2&category_id=4A036CBE-3048-741E-7E219DA621BAC8D7

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *