Friday, December 21, 2012

Pope Benedict on Dialogue and Truth

The Holy Father addressed the Roman Curia this morning, an annual, programmatic speech of high importance. His very first Address to the Roman Curia in 2005 provided us with a new vocabulary of continued relevance: the hermeneutic of reform (continuity and discontinuity on different levels), and the hermeneutic of rupture.

Today he spoke of several things, focusing particularly on the family, and all of it very important reading. Generally speaking the text as a whole is addressing the problem--the tyranny--of the relativism of our time, a problem the Holy Father has addressed not only throughout his pontificate, but also in the funeral homily of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul.

I thought one particular point that is relevant for Church musicians was the section on interreligious dialogue. I take the Pope to be saying Christianity must stand for itself as not just one belief among many, but as the belief originating quite fully in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.
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.
While musicians are not often asked, in conversation, to defend Jesus Christ as the unique and universal hope of salvation, we are nonetheless in many cases responsible for choosing among hymn texts, some of which will speak of Jesus Christ quite clearly, and some of which will not. Can it be that some of our texts, in favor of ecumenical or even interreligious "sensitivity," disregard the singular importance of the Lord for our salvation?

Moreover, it seems to me that the Pope's thoughts are relevant when considering all kinds of dialogue, including our ongoing dialogues about the music that is appropriate for Catholic liturgy. We can be confident, and therefore positive, non-defensive, and firm.