Two rules are generally regarded nowadays as fundamental for interreligious dialogue:
1. Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect it differs from evangelization, from mission;
2. Accordingly, both parties to the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does not place in question either for themselves or for the other.
These rules are correct, but in the way they are formulated here I still find them too superficial. True, dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual understanding – that is correct. But all the same, the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. Both sides in this piece-by-piece approach to truth are therefore on the path that leads forward and towards greater commonality, brought about by the oneness of the truth.
As far as preserving identity is concerned, it would be too little for the Christian, so to speak, to assert his identity in a such a way that he effectively blocks the path to truth. Then his Christianity would appear as something arbitrary, merely propositional. He would seem not to reckon with the possibility that religion has to do with truth.
On the contrary, I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity. To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.
Address to Roman Curia,
Reflection – ‘We do not possess the truth; the truth possesses us.’ The Pope hear sails into some of the truly tricky elements of inter-religious dialogue. We are not relativists. We do not believe that Catholicism is merely one religious path among many, all of equal value. We do believe it is true.
And yet this call to inter-religious dialogue, so vital in the world today wracked by war, violence, suspicion and hate, must be done with great respect for the beliefs of others, and the strong elements of beauty, truth, goodness present in every religion and every human heart.
It is this whole business of being possessed by the truth that is our surety in this work. In other words, ‘the truth’ is not in its essence some list of propositions or an ideology or debating points or a syllogism. It is a Person, and this is Jesus Christ who loves us and holds us in his care.
Because the truth that possesses us is that strong, that vital, that real—not some fragile certainty that we barely manage to hold onto, but a living communion of love—we don’t have to be afraid of other world views. We can listen with love to the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Jew. The love of Christ extends towards them, too, and if we are living in that love the very work of dialogue becomes deeply missionary, deeply evangelical, as Christ’s love enters the dialogue through our own interior dialogue with Him in the midst of it.