Where We Dwell in Common: The Quest for Dialogue in the Twenty-First Century
Almost everyone condemns suttee as murder, but Benedict interestingly traces the crime to a degeneration of misunderstood symbols. Catholics too do well to remember how abominations occur when we misuse symbols, taking them literally and without a sense of history. Whether Benedict means also to criticize Sakti, the divine feminine, is unclear; we might expect him to do so, but in fact he does not.
Especially here, actual dialogue is needed if we are to say more.
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Mystical monism, the belief that material and spiritual reality form one substance or being, is of course central to Hinduism. For the monist, life is transitory, persons come and go in different bodies, there is no absolute or enduring value to any particular human person. At the same time, the assumption that Hinduism is incompatible with a successful modern life was a truism often used to justify empire, and it must be treated with suspicion today. At the same time-and more powerfully-Hindu believers may find infinite value in every being, alive or inanimate.
In short, we must pay much closer attention to what Hindu mystics and theologians have actually said. His reflections on the Christian-Jewish relation alone merit separate study. Of course, we also need to do more than read books; the written word is only part of how a cardinal or a pope affects the life of the church and its performance in the wider world. Unsurprisingly, he reminds us of who we are as Christians; unexpectedly, he helps free us from some of the habitual illusions by which the modern West, church included, has colonized the globe for its own purposes.
In these essays Benedict does not set out a program for how India or any other civilization is to be reconsidered in a search for truth that commences after a thorough critique of the West.
But he opens a door, provoking us to learn in a fresh way. No and yes. My visitors were wrong if they were imagining that the pope and I were plotting to subvert Hinduism and convert the unsuspecting. There is no evidence in these writings that Benedict has any such plan; I would in any case never accept a mission to subvert and convert. It has to do with an honest search shared by believers who already, by grace, know the truth but who also, by grace, are unafraid to look deeper and learn still more.
In this dialogue, we need to say who we are, honestly and in light of our faith, but we need also to have real questions.
We are not telling the other person something that is entirely unknown to him The reverse is also the case: the one who proclaims is not only the giver; he is also the receiver; rather, we are opening up the hidden depth of something with which, in his own religion, he is already in touch. Francis X.
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Please email comments to letters commonwealmagazine. Dialogue Not Monologue. By Francis X. Jewish-Christian Relations. Share Share Twitter Print. Published in the issue:. Also by this author Even the Pagans Do That. Related Jewish-Christian Relations. Pope Benedict XVI. By John Cotter.
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Facebook Twitter RSS. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five, NY. Development by Deck Fifty Design. In their view, the restoration and preservation of the apostolic church required them to break away from the institutional church of their day. Continuity was sought not through the succession of bishops, but rather through faithfulness to the apostolic witness of Scripture and by identification with people and movements. For example, the Waldensians and the Franciscans were considered by the Anabaptists as faithful representatives of true Christianity throughout the course of their long history.
One of the results of the division among Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, given the approach to judicial matters and punishment at that time, was persecution and martyrdom.
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It introduced a type of society where one specific Christian confession Catholic, Lutheran, and later Reformed became the established religion of a given territory. This type of society, the so-called confessional state, was characterized by intolerance towards persons of other Christian confessions. Due to this specific and particular political situation, martyrdom became a common experience for Christians of all confessions, be it Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican or Anabaptist.
Mennonites suffered greatly in this period, both in Protestant and in Catholic states. Many governments did not tolerate Radical Reformation dissidents, including pacifist Anabaptists. According to recent estimations, approximately 5, persons were executed for their religious beliefs in the course of the sixteenth century.
Of these, between 2, and 2, were Anabaptist and Mennonite men and women, the majority of them in Catholic territories, who were convicted of heresy.
In some countries the persecution of Mennonites would last for centuries. In some states they were discriminated against and subjected to social and political restrictions even into the twentieth century, especially because of their principled attitude of conscientious objection. For Anabaptists and Mennonites, discipleship indeed implied the openness to oppression, persecution, and violent death. The danger of persecution and martyrdom became a part of the Mennonite identity.
Catholics never suffered any persecution at the hands of Mennonites. In some territories where the Reformed and Lutheran confession was established, and also in England after the establishment of the Church of England, Catholics were subject to persecution and to the death penalty. A number of them, especially priests, monks and nuns, were brutally martyred for their faith. Persecution of Catholics and violation of religious freedom continued in some countries for centuries. For a long while, the practice of the Catholic faith was not allowed publicly in England and in several Lutheran countries such as in Scandinavia and in the Dutch Republic.
Catholics were able to practice their faith openly in these countries only by the end of the eighteenth or the beginning of the nineteenth century. In some cases discrimination against the Catholics lasted into the twentieth century.
During those restrictive years, both Catholics and Mennonites in several countries were constrained to live a hidden life. When conflict occurs within an institution and separation ensues, discourse easily takes on the nature of self-justification.
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As Mennonites and Catholics begin discussion after centuries of separate institutional existence, we need to be aware that we have developed significant aspects of our self-understandings and theologies in contexts where we have often try to prove that we are right and they are wrong. We need tools of historical research that help us to see both what we have in common as well as to responsibly address the differences that separate us.
Mennonites now have almost five centuries of accumulated history to deal with, along with a growing experience of integration into the established society. Catholics, on the other hand, increasingly find themselves in situations of disestablishment where they are faced with the same questions as Mennonites were facing as a minority church in an earlier era.
These facts could help both traditions to be more open to the concerns of the other, and to look more carefully at the fifteen centuries of commonly shared history as well as the different paths each has taken since the sixteenth century. Our shared history of fifteen centuries, built upon the foundation of the patristic period, reminds us of the debt that Western Christianity owes to the East, as well as of the rich and varied theological, cultural, spiritual and artistic traditions that flourished in the Middle Ages. Less polemical and less confessional historical perspectives demonstrate that there were many different theologies and approaches among the Reformation dissidents.
Present day Mennonites find their origins in the non-violent Anabaptist groups of Switzerland, southern Germany and the Netherlands.