Blog Template Theology of the Body: Cardinal Arinze on Other Religions

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cardinal Arinze on Other Religions

I was so disheartened a few months ago while sitting on a hiring committee at my school. We were evaluating candidates for the relevant chair in evangelism and international missions, and the candidate was a Nigerian Anglican priest. Great! ...I thought... after weeks of candidates who stuttered over the relationship of ecclesiology to mission, at last we would get something decent from a representative of The Hope of the Anglican Communion: an orthodox Nigerian man who knew what it meant to share the Gospel in the hostile context of Islam and shamanism...

Not so. The good Nigerian stuttered over ecclesiology with the best of them. He hinted at his disapproval of his conservative archbishop. And then, the clincher:

MM: Fr., if you do not believe in proclaiming the Gospel to Muslim friends, do you at least pray for their conversions?

Fr. Nigerian: (sputtering) Oh, God no. OF COURSE NOT! I can't imagine.

So it was a relief to hear from another sort of Nigerian when His Eminence Cardinal Arinze lectured for the University of Dallas a few weeks ago. Apart from the fact that I could have listened to his rich accent for a long, long time, His Eminence's talk acheived what so much modern theology fails at: the presentation of clear, healing, invigorating, wisdom in an area where it is most needed. In the absence of a transcript or even careful notes (I was jotting things down on my IPhone) I'll reconstruct here what I can remember of Arinze's proposal for the grammer of Catholic dialogue with other traditions.

1. Pluralism, as relativism's presumed agnosticism, is the opposite of a respectful acceptance of the plurality of religious traditions, in which real people faithfully believe stuff. Thus real inter-religious dialogue requires the maintenance of a clearly defined, recognized, and presented-at-the-outset Catholic identity by which to engage the real identity of the other. This kind of stance requires and produces real friendship, wherein each may freely work for the conversion of the other, while honoring the elements of holiness and truth wherever we find them- the hallmark of the Holy Spirit Himself- among the nations. (His light has enlightened every person...)

2. Inter Religious dialogue is located in theory and practice under the rubric of evangelism for the Catholic. Our dialogue with other religions is an inextricable aspect of our larger missionary movement, which has its apex in the bold proclamation of the Gospel. Until proclamation is possible, we engage in dialogue for the goal of sharing our faith clearly. We see God in Jesus of Nazareth, and to confess this in joyful gratitude is not pride; we proclaim Him because we can do nothing less. We exist as Christians in the world in order to evangelize. (Amen. Dialogue has a purpose. Small talk is for cocktail parties, not the Apostolic Church.)

3. To reduce world religions to mandate for mere friendliness is to denigrate the faith claims of real people to glib hypotheses. This is disrespectful! We must not neglect the intelligence and freedom of other religions by proposing that their faith claims are merely empty slogans for "something that we all share in common." (Amen. In reality, we have so little in common that we are more like strangers than friends to one another. But having so recognized, we are all the more free to behave like Christians towards the stranger- with love and hospitality.)

4. And finally, Jesus is the Way to the Father. He is not just a complementary revelation. God really has nothing else to say. And, the Church is His plan of salvation.