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What is the “Doctrine of Discovery”?
First of all, it is not a Christian doctrine – this term is used in its legal sense. This is already confusing for some people. There is no Christian teaching by this name, and anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching of the last 125 years knows the value of universal human dignity, religious freedom, opposition to slavery, etc. It comes as no surprise then that most Catholics, most Christians, and even those in positions of authority in the Church, might have no idea what you were talking about if you raised the question.
In full disclosure, I do not recall ever hearing the term “Doctrine of Discovery” before this year. It probably came across my radar in the last couple years but did not catch my attention since I am neither a legal scholar nor an historian of European imperialism per se.
In primary school history classes I remember learning about the Age of Discovery; the European maltreatment, enslavement, and even genocide of indigenous peoples; the Papal Line of Demarcation that assigned points west to Spain and points East to Portugal; and so on. So, the idea is not entirely new, but it did come as some surprise when a Canadian friend asked if Pope Francis was planning to rescind the doctrine.
From the beginning it struck me as a bit fishy – certainly there is, nor was there ever, any Catholic doctrine known by such title. It is rather a reference to U.S. legal doctrine, an 1823 codification of international law and European mores that
…gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it, not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell. (US Supreme Court, Worcester v. State of Georgia, pg 31, US 544)
What has that to do with the Catholic Church?
More broadly, it has come to be understood to mean, basically, “finders keepers” – and only if the finders were European. Though the term, and the concept, of a “doctrine of discovery” was coined by John Marshall during the legal preceding quoted above, protests today focus on the “Judeo-Christian” and papal origins of the body of decisions and laws that came to be associated with the idea. For example, the opening paragraph of the site www.doctrineofdiscovery.com:
Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.
The papal bulls that contributed to this line of thinking – and its consequence of unjust and inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples by European explorers – are generally cited to be the following:
Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1452) – Issued in an effort to gain Portuguese support in defense of Constantinople against the Ottoman Empire, it offered Portugal exclusive land and trading rights in newly-discovered parts of West Africa, granting him permission to seize lands of and enslave any local “Saracens, pagans, and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ”.
Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex (1455) – Confirmed the Portuguese rule over the African coast, and forbade other nations from engaging in trade with the Saracens (Generally, Muslims. Specifically, it seems, the Seljuk [Turkish] empire, as distinct from “Moors”, Berbers of North Africa and the Fatimid Caliphate).
Alexander VI Borgia, Inter Caetera (1493) – Issued immediately after Christopher Columbus returned from the West Indies, established the Line of Demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese exploration 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Azores. The purpose of the bull was to spread Christianity to the natives there, who were thought to be positively disposed based on reports from Columbus, and its intent seems to be to regulate missionary activity in the Americas, rather than land rights.
The Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), conducted without any participation from the papacy, moved the line of demarcation west a few hundred miles and was clearly more focused on land claims. This was eventually ratified by Julius II in 1506.
There is no question that Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other explorers invented justifications for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and the conquering of their lands (inasmuch as the land would be said to ‘belong’ to anyone), for example, by claiming that non-Christians could not own land, or could be enslaved, using as justification portions of the above bulls.
Over the next three centuries, European powers expand and develop these conjured excuses to lay claim to the New World and its resources. The American republic takes the ball and runs with it, yelling “Manifest Destiny!” Over these centuries, the loss of human life, of property, and the degradation of humanity is long, it is horrific, and it is utterly unchristian.
Modern interest in the “Doctrine of Discovery”
LexisNexis turns up under 1000 references to the ‘doctrine of discovery’ going back to 1949, and almost all of these are legal cases, law reviews, or legal news outlets. It is only recently that it seems to have become an item for attention in religious circles, and is of particular interest in Canada, who often takes the lead in addressing past or present injustices against First Nations.
Since 1984, there have been petitions to the popes to “rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”. As we will soon see, when there is a cause du jour, memories are short – but first the current context of the cause.
It seems recent interest has been sparked by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, originating in a 1998 Statement of Reconciliation between ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians’, which sought to “put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”
In December 2015, the Commission published its Final Report, and a set of Calls to Action. Articles §48 and §49 call on all religious denominations and faith groups to formally adopt and comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to formally “repudiate concepts such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”
Pre-emptive responses came from a number of groups, such as the Society of Friends (2013), the World Council of Churches (2012), the Unitarian Universalist Association (2012), and the Anglican Church of Canada (2010).
In 2013, several Catholic organizations petitioned the pope to formally revoke the bulls mentioned above, which are claimed to provide the basis for the “doctrine of discovery”. This included Pax Christi International and representatives of more than 40 religious congregations. In May of 2016 there was called a Long March on Rome to ask Pope Francis to revoke the “Papal Bulls of Discovery” [sic].
It was already two months too late, however. The Catholic Church in Canada also complied with the Commission’s request, and issued a formal rejection of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and a number of related ideas condemned as “errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’”. (CCCB, The Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Catholic Church: A Catholic Response. 19 March 2016)
But what about the calls on the pope to revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493?
Well, it seems he already has.
Or rather, his predecessors have, several times, over the last 500 years. At least, the ideas have been repudiated, rejected, and expunged from Church teaching.
Already there were objections to and retractions of these claims within the Church at the time they were being made by “Christian” monarchies and their explorers, for example:
Francisco de Vitoria, On the Indians (1532) – who used ‘the law of the nations’ (international law) and Inter Caetera to argue that “the barbarians [sic] possessed true public and private dominion. The law of nations expressly states that goods which belong to no owner pass on to the occupier/discoverer, but since the goods in question here had an owner, they do not fall under this title ‘by right of discovery.’”
In fact, the first petitions to the pope to repeal the teachings of these papal bulls were not in 1984, but 450 years earlier. They received a powerful response.
Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537) – Begins by declaring unequivocally that God so loved the whole human race that he gave all people the ability to know God and come to faith in God. It then responds directly to the claims – not present in previous papal teaching – that the native peoples were subhuman and that they could be enslaved or their property stolen. In fact, he refers to this idea as a lie perpetuated by Satan! In a clear and authoritative revocation of anything to the contrary previously promulgated:
We define and declare . . . that . . . the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession [dominio] of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.
That is about as clear as it gets, and those key words “we define and declare” put this at a rather higher level of authority than the so-called ‘bulls of discovery’. The Church had already rejected the core ideas of the doctrine of discovery three hundred years before anyone would even call them that.
Moreover, there are multiple papal and conciliar documents that reject the ideas, in whole or part, of the so-called ‘doctrine’. These include, but are not limited to:
1537 – Paul III, Sublimus Dei
1591 – Gregory XIV, Bulla Cum Sicuti
1639 – Ruling of the Inquisition against slavery
1741 – Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum
1839 – Gregory XVI, In Supremo Apostolatus
1890 – Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae
1963 – John XXIII, Pacem in Terris
1965 – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes; Dignitatis Humanae
Finally, just in case those were not clear enough, popes have explicitly asked forgiveness of indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in supporting imperialism during the age of discovery, most notably:
1992 – John Paul II in Santo Domingo – on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing there, confessed and begged forgiveness for the sins of the Church and the Spanish conquistadors.
2000 – John Paul II during the Great Jubilee, in Rome – during a mass of reconciliation, asked forgiveness for any Catholics in history who “had violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and for showing contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”.
2015 – Francis in Bolivia – “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against Native peoples during the so-called conquest of the Americas”
To be sure, it never hurts to repeat oneself. Just in case you were not heard the first time. Or the last time. God knows that if the people you agree with do not know they agree with you, the people who disagree might also be in the dark.
From Long March to Rome
A month into my fellowship at Tantur, and though time is flying, it has proved to be just what I needed – an escape from the work and distractions of Rome. Not that the last three weeks have been without concerns, as violence has escalated in and around Jerusalem. Thankfully, Tantur is safely removed from the areas of tension, and spending the day in the library and at my desk is easy to do. There have been some exceptions worth sharing, however.
I arrived in the middle of the High Holy Days, between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the latter of which coincided this year with the beginning of Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice/Time of the Hajj).
Tantur is at the southern end of Jerusalem, about 8km from the Old City, and just under a kilometer north of the checkpoint into Bethlehem. (It is another 3.5km to the Church of the Nativity).
On Yom Kippur a group of us walked into the old city, stopping at St. Clare Monastery on the way. The Poor Clares here arrived from France in 1884. A glimpse into their life can be found online here.
On arrival in the Old City we went first to vespers with the German Benedictine monks at the Abbey of the Dormition, on Mount Zion, just next to the Tomb of King David and the Cenacle (the Upper Room of the Last Supper). Through the construction of the abbey took place from 1900-1910, with the first monks arriving in 1906, the history of the community starts with the 19th century immigration of Germans into Jerusalem, culminating in the 1898 visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II. During his tour, the Kaiser dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City and donated the land for the Abbey to the German Association for the Holy Land.
After vespers we wend our way down to the Kotel (the Western Wall), just in time to get settled before the shofar (ceremonial ram’s horn) sounded, marking the end of the day of fasting and the beginning of a celebration. This was one of the most moving spiritual experiences, watching the joy and celebration. I had not arrived in the Holy Land expecting this to be on my to do list, but now I can cross off something that belongs up there with Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s, as far as lifetime religious experiences go. It has made me realize that any “bucket list” i might keep for myself begins with unique spiritual religious places/times. Appropriate, then, that my time here begins with Yom Kippur at the Wall and will end after Christmas in Bethlehem.
Quickly added to the list was the opportunity to celebrate Sukkot – the Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles – with a friend from Hebrew University. A rooftop Sukkah and a cozy company of guests from both Israel and the U.S. made for a real welcome to this place. I imagine the cultural equivalent to be Thanksgiving – you know you have been welcomed as friend and family when you have this gift!
Summer has come and gone, and I find myself checking off something that has been on my “Bucket List” for nearly two decades: Living and research at Notre Dame’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.
I arrived in the Jerusalem late Sunday night, after what felt like a week in transit via Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Amsterdam and Rome. My first thought, as the Nesher shuttle drove under Montefiore Windmill, is that time flies and I can hardly believe it has already been 5 years since my first visit to the Holy Land. That was a 9-day seminar with the Russell Berrie Fellowship, at the Shalom Hartman Institute.
Today, I embark on a 3-month dissertation writing fellowship at Tantur. It has taken three years of working multiple part time jobs (university teaching, research assistant, study abroad residence manager, spiritual advisor, international program staff) to get to the point I could take a few months ‘off’ and actually work full time on my dissertation. I am looking forward to it, but I confess it takes a couple days to adjust to having so much time to work on the one thing I never seem to have time for!
Thankfully, Tantur has a library of about 60,000-70,000 volumes on hand, with emphasis on ecumenism and patristics. [By comparison, the Centro Pro Unione in Rome has about 24,000; the World Council of Churches library at Bossey has about 100,000.] The library resources suffered some during the Second Intifada (c2000-2005), and is in the midst of updating its collection – a project I have been asked to help with while I am here, as part of my Fellowship.
The roots of the institute go back to the Second Vatican Council and encounters between Paul VI and ecumenical observers, who dreamed of an international theological institute for ecumenical research and life. The famous 1964 meeting of Paul VI and Athenagoras in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives sparked the notion that this would be the obvious place for such an institute to be established.
Before long, Paul VI entrusted the vision to none other than Notre Dame’s president, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. As he looked around Jerusalem, he seemed to find the perfect spot.
Tantur is located on 36 acres of hilltop olive trees, vineyards, and pine. Overlooking Bethlehem, Gilo, and Bayt Jala, a short drive south of Jerusalem and with the mountains of Jordan visible on a clear day, the location has been understandably described as “strategic”. Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, this was Jordanian territory, and is ‘east’ of the Green Line but west of the border fence surrounding Bethlehem.
The property itself belonged to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, at least since 1869, when it was administered by the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire’s branch of the SMOM. During the Ottoman era, they operated a hospital on this site. Apparently, though, there are ties to this land with the order dating back to their first arrival here – in 1099, with the first crusade.
Fr. Hesburgh convinced Paul VI to purchase the property from the Order in 1966, for $300,000, just a few months shy of the Six Day War. The initial cost of building the center was estimated at $1 million, for which Fr. Ted looked to the generosity of I. A. O’Shaughnessy (known on campus for having donated the funds for the Arts and Letters College). Notre Dame leased the property from the Vatican in 1967, but building had to wait during the conflict, after which Israel now controlled the territory. By the time the center was constructed in 1971, the cost had doubled. The first year of operation was 1972.
Anticipating the renewal of the Vatican lease of Tantur to Notre Dame for another 50 years, starting next year, the University has approved a strategic plan that would propel the Institute to its next phase. The original vision of a resident community of scholars has ebbed and flowed, and most of the people who come through do so either for sabbatical or short term programs, in addition to ND’s study abroad programs in the spring. There are currently three of us considered resident Fellows or Scholars: A Church of England priest, a Jewish biblical scholar, and myself. There is also one seminarian intern/program assistant. There are about twenty people here on a three-month sabbatical/continuing education program, mostly Catholic priests (with two Anglicans). It is easy to envision something like the Lay Centre in Rome as a model for the community life here, with a more explicit focus on ecumenical dialogue.
I had finished most of this post at the end of my first full day here; this morning (Yom Kippur/ Eid al-Adha) I heard the news of the shooting death of a 19-year old university freshman at a security checkpoint from a Mennonite peace worker. It is a somber reminder that even as I am here to get away from the distractions of the world to write and research, and as quiet and peaceful as things appear from this hilltop retreat, the complexities of the situation here, and the tragedies, require our prayer for peaceful resolution. And deeper understanding. I am no expert, and I hope the next three months bring me to a deeper understanding and solidarity with my brothers and sisters here – Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian.
Audience with representatives of
Churches and Ecclesial Communities
and of other Religions
(Reposted from Vatican Radio) On Wednesday, March 20 2013, Pope Francis received several dozen representatives of the various Christian Churches and other world religions, who attended the Pope’s inauguration.
Among them were several leaders from the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Oriental Churches, the Anglican Communion, and various Protestant churches, including the Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist churches. Representatives from the Jewish and Muslim faiths were also present.
Please find below Vatican Radio’s translation of the Pope’s discourse:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First of all, heartfelt thanks for what my Brother Andrew* told us. Thank you so much! Thank you so much!
It is a source of particular joy to meet you today, delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West. Thank you for wanting to take part in the celebration that marked the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter.
Yesterday morning, during the Mass, through you , I recognized the communities you represent. In this manifestation of faith, I had the feeling of taking part in an even more urgent fashion the prayer for the unity of all believers in Christ, and together to see somehow prefigured the full realization of full unity which depends on God’s plan and on our own loyal collaboration.
I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year during which my venerable Predecessor, Benedict XVI, with true inspiration, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, that I wish to continue and which I hope will be an inspiration for every one’s journey of faith, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, thus proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards what for every Christian represents the essential: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation. This effort to proclaim this eternal treasure of faith to the people of our time, lies at the heart of the Council’s message.
Together with you I cannot forget how much the council has meaning for the ecumenical journey. I like to remember the words that Blessed John XXIII, of whom we will soon mark 50 years since his death, when he gave his memorable inauguration speech: “The Catholic Church therefore considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Christ Jesus invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice. She rejoices in peace, knowing well that she is intimately associated with that prayer “.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be intimately united to our Saviour’s prayer at the Last Supper, to his invocation: ut unum sint. We call merciful Father to be able to fully live the faith that we have received as a gift on the day of our Baptism, and to be able to it free, joyful and courageous testimony. The more we are faithful to his will, in thoughts, in words and in deeds, the more we will truly and substantially walk towards unity.
For my part, I wish to assure, in the wake of my predecessors, the firm wish to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue, and I thank you, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, for the help it continues to offer in my name, for this noble cause. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to bring my cordial greetings to the Churches and Christian communities who are represented here. And I ask you for a special prayer for me so that I can be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.
And now I turn to you, distinguished representatives of the Jewish people, to whom we are bound by a very special spiritual bond, from the moment that, as the Second Vatican Council said, “thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets”.(Decree Nostra Aetate, 4). I thank you for your presence and trust that with the help of the Almighty, we can continue that fruitful fraternal dialogue that the Council wished for. And that it is actually achieved, bringing many fruits, especially during the last decades .
I greet and thank cordially all of you, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; firstly the Muslims, who worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon Him in prayer. I really appreciate your presence, and in it I see a tangible sign of the wish to grow in recipricol trust and in cooperation for the common good of humanity.
The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this I wish to repeat this: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this is attested evident also in the valuable work undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Church is equally aware of the responsibility that each of us bring towards our world, abd to the whole of creation, that we must love and protect. And we can do a lot for the good of the less fortunate, for those who are weak and suffering, to promote justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.. But above all, we must keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and must not allow the vision of the human person with a single dimension to prevail, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and to what he consumes: this is one most dangerous threats of our times.
We know how much violence has been provoked in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we feel the need to witness in our societies the original openness to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart. In this we feel the closeness also of those men and women who, while not belonging to any religious tradition, feel, however the need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.
Dear friends, thank you for your presence. To all, I offer my cordial and fraternal greetings.
*My Brother Andrew – that is, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, Successor of Andrew, the brother of Peter.
On Monday, Nov 5, the Social Sciences Faculty of the Angelicum hosted a lecture on Christians in the Middle East, as a kickoff event for their new Al Liqa’ Project.
History Prof. Habib Charles Malik of the Lebanese American university offered his reflections and recommendations on the Christians of the Middle East focused on the events between the Arab Spring, and the release of the Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which was delivered during Pope Benedict’s Apostolic visit to Lebanon in September.
Prof. Malik began with the state of the question. There are about 12 million Christians in the middle East he estimates, not counting Latin immigrants, which include about 8 million Copts in Egypt, another 3 million in the Levant – Melkites, Maronite, Syriac, Greeks, Armenians, Latins and Protestants – and the Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, a population that has been decimated since the U.S.-lead invasion of 2003. There remain less than a million.
Emigration out of the region has been going on since the advent of the 21st century, due laregely to attacks on the communities. During the raging civil war in Syria, he describes both sides – the Alawite Shi’a administration and the Salfist Sunni insurgents (and others) – as targeting Christians and attempting to pin the attacks on the opposing forces. They have become the primary targets of opportunity.
Malik was critical of the Arab Spring as a misnomer – the so-called Facebook generation of young democracy-minded types had not held together beyond the revolutions, and instead we have what he suggested to be called a ‘Salafi Spring.’ Tunisia is one of the few places he sees a genuine road to democracy, though throughout the region, the moderate Sunni voices are too often weak and unheard – and often in just as much danger as the Christians of the region, if they speak up against extremism.
Middle Eastern Christians are caught in the middle of several conflicting and potentially destructive polarities in the region:
- Sunni vs. Shiite: With a rough north-south border running through Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the most explosive region of volatility around this divide is in Syria, with a small Alawite (Shi’a) administration and a larger Salafi (Sunni) insurgency.
- Arab vs. Persian: Centered around Saudi Arabia and Qatar on one side and Iran on the other, with corollary polarities between Turkish and Israeli interests.
- Salafi and Jihadist vs. Despotic Regimes – The false sense of security under a ruthless dictator should not be preferred over the uncertain volatility of the powers emerging from the revolutions.
- Sino-Russian vs. Euro-American interests in the region, often complicated by western neglect or ignorance of culture, religion, and society in the area couple with agendas more concerned with petroleum and other natural resources than with human rights and religious freedom.
Given this, many of the region’s Christians have trepidations about the Arab Spring, fearing that it will bring not a transition to greater democracy, but simply create an extended power vacuum that could be manipulated by militant extremists.
But not all of Prof. Malik’s talk painted such a gloomy picture. There was an enthusiastic and grateful welcome of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which Pope Benedict delivered in Beirut six weeks ago. There is, as always, a desire to be better understood by the west in general, the Latin Church, and by the Holy See. Many see Pope Benedict has grasping many of the complexities and delicacies of Christianity in its birthplace, and see in the exhortation recognition of the historic, current and eschatological dimension of the predicament of indigenous Christians, while outlining their unique responsibilities as Christians in the midst of the world of Islam.
He did suggest a few critiques, or observations for improvement, in the exhortation:
- The frequent use of Lebanon as a role model, he says, seems to be putting the cart before the horse. The potential is there, certainly, but there is still a long way to go.
- The high praise of the Middle East Council of Churches ignores the record of nearly exclusive focus on Palestine and missed opportunities in other areas
- Interreligious dialogue needs to be a dialogue of truth and charitable but honest witness, not of the common platitudes he sees throughout
- Finally, the pleas for a healthy secularity may resonate with a Eurocentric West, but make no sense in Islam where there is no differentiation between the realms of sacred and secular authority. This kind of language might just push Christians out of the area to seek the kind of healthy secularity to be found in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“How can the Christians navigate between the depressing realities of the Arab upheavals and the hope offered to them in the Apostolic Exhortation? How can they internalize and employ the latter to overcome the anticipated negative fallout from the former?” Some thoughts and recommendations presented by Prof. Malik:
- The Church and the world press need to continue to put pressure by shining light on even the smallest abuses. Even dictators don’t like bad press.
- The international community must insist that new states’ constitutions include religious liberty and hold them accountable.
- The litmus test of the Arab Spring is and will be the treatment of religious minorities. Need to consider a ‘federalism’ option.
- People of the region must actively promote rights and ’universal liberal values’
- They need the encouragement and support of the Christian World
- Inspiration from the Year of Faith and the carefully selected opening mass reading of Mark 8-27-35, with its focus on ecumenism as a witness of unity in the face of interreligious dialogue and as a prerequisite for survival and evangelization.
- Let Maronites take a lead, from their relative stability, but open more to the Anglo-Saxon world, as they have been to the Francophone
- Unhindered pilgrimage access to the Holy Places is still not guaranteed for the Christians of the middle east, as it is for those from anywhere else. This ought to change
If you haven’t read this yet, a very helpful and concise review of LDS scripture.
The Bible plus:
The four books of Mormonism
A Latter-day Saint friend of mine once invited an evangelical coworker to church. The coworker found much that was familiar in the LDS service: hymn singing, an informal sermon style, robust fellowshiping and scripture-driven Sunday school. But then came the moment when the Sunday school teacher, after beginning with Genesis, said “Let’s now turn to the Book of Moses” and began reading: “The presence of God withdrew from Moses . . . and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.’” I am told that the visitor reflexively searched through his Bible before he realized that he’d never heard of such a book, though of course the story of the burning bush was familiar. And while he didn’t mind the sentiments expressed in the words he’d heard, he knew that they were not in his Bible.
This mix of the familiar and the strange is a common experience for any who have spent even minimal time with the Latter-day Saints. The greatest contributing factor to this mix is Mormonism’s dependence on and sophisticated redaction of the Bible. All of Mormonism, even its most unfamiliar tenants, rests in some element of the biblical narrative. Academics would explain this in terms of intertextuality, noting that the meanings of Mormonism, even its unique scriptures, are achieved within the larger complex of the Christian canon. You don’t need to be a scholar to recognize this. You need only open and read the first words you see in any one of Mormonism’s unique scriptures.
The Latter-day Saint canon consists of four books: the Bible and three other texts—the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Each reads very much like the Bible in type and breadth of thematic concerns and literary forms (history, law, psalm). Even the rhetorical stance of each canon is biblical: God is speaking to prophets faced with temporal crises of spiritual significance. In terms of the authority granted these four texts, all have equal weight, including both Bible testaments, as historical witnesses to God’s promise of salvation, enacted by covenant with the Israelites and fulfilled in the atonement of Jesus Christ as the only begotten of the Father.
The LDS Church’s confidence in the authority and historicity of the Bible is mitigated only by scruples regarding the Bible’s history as a book. The Bible is “the word of God insofar as it is translated correctly.” The other three Latter-day Saint scriptures are also believed to be historical witnesses to God’s promise of salvation. Considered translations by or direct revelation to Joseph Smith, the church’s founding prophet, they are considered correct in their representation of God’s will and word, though they possibly contain flaws resulting from “the mistakes of men.” What follows is a brief description of these three texts and a few examples of how they reshape Christian tradition and influence Latter-day Saint belief and practice.
The Book of Mormon is the narrative of a prophet-led people’s experience with God over a thousand-year period, beginning with the flight of two Israelite families from Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE on the eve of Babylonian captivity. The people of God eventually create a complex civilization in the Western Hemisphere. The story is a cautionary tale of cycles of conversion and backsliding. It concludes in approximately the fourth century CE with an account of wickedness and consequent destruction. The climax of the narrative occurs midway with the appearance of Jesus Christ immediately after his resurrection to a chastened remnant in the Americas who are taught by him to repent, embrace the gospel and establish a church. Thus, the Book of Mormon not only echoes the narrative style and certain contents of the Bible, such as the Beatitudes, but also functions as second witness to the Bible’s testimony that Jesus is the source of salvation for all.
The Book of Mormon clearly deviates from Christian tradition by not limiting Christ’s ministry to a particular people and time. The rejection of such limitations is one of the book’s main points. The claim that “we need no more Bible” is made the object of God’s rebuke: “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? . . . because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another.” Clearly, the Book of Mormon’s purpose is not only to second the biblical witness but also to evidence the ongoing revelation of the gospel. Notwithstanding its orthodox representation of that gospel, the Book of Mormon takes a position on certain historic theological questions. For example, while teaching the reality and catastrophe of the Fall, the prophets of the Book of Mormon reject notions of human creatureliness and depravity. Humans are not utterly foreign to God’s being. They are inherently made capable of acting for good, though only through Christ’s sacrifice is this capacity liberated from the enslaving effect of the Fall on human will. It is “by grace we are saved after all we can do.” Thus in Mormonism God’s economy of salvation is broad, though not universal in its promise of glory. Humans are prone to sin, free to reject grace and may fall from grace. Nevertheless, grace is freely given to those who in faith repent.
The LDS Church’s third canonical text, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, is composed of revelations received largely by Joseph Smith between 1830 and 1844. Essentially a book of order and doctrine, it is the most discursive of the church’s scriptures. Again, much is familiar to non-Mormons, such as believer’s baptism, confirmation through the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and affirmations such as “justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true. “ Less conventional but still acceptable is the book’s emphasis on sanctifying endowments of heavenly power “through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ . . . to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds and strengths.” For example, the D&C contains a version of the catalogue of the gifts of faith in 1 Corinthians, all of which are embraced within Mormonism.
LDS Church offices, too, are initially familiar: deacon, teacher, priest, elder and bishop. But the church’s charismatic offices, such as high priest, apostle and prophet, are unfamiliar in a modern context. Particularly indicative of the canon’s sanctification of the Christian life is the D&C’s provision for an ordained priesthood of all believers authorized to perform every ordinance as well as all pastoral and preaching duties.
The D&C contains a number of teachings, especially related to temple worship, that are unique to the Latter-day Saints. Space permits discussion of only one: saving ordinances, such as baptism and confirmation, performed not only for the living but also by proxy for the dead. D&C 124 describes this practice and provides a good illustration of the way in which the LDS Church’s canon leverages biblical concepts to create beliefs outside the tradition as if from within it. This text explicitly roots baptism by proxy for the deceased in Matthew 16’s reference to authority that can “bind” heavenly possibilities by earthly acts. It further grounds the doctrine in 1 Corinthians’s rhetorical question: “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”
D&C 124 claims that the answer to Paul’s question comes as deeply from within the tradition as does the question itself. First, it refers to Malachi’s promise that Elijah would come to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” Smith claimed that Elijah had returned in 1836 to restore the heavenly keys to such a turning of hearts, an event recorded in D&C 110. This turning—or, as Smith termed it, binding—of the generations by sanctifying covenants with God animates the church’s genealogy program, as well as its practice of sealing marriages for eternity.
Second, the biblical imperative of Hebrews 11 is cited in D&C 124 to show the necessity of this sacramental work on behalf those who died without the gospel: “For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” Though Latter-day Saints believe that the deceased may reject grace and nullify the sacraments performed on their behalf, providing the option is the duty of the faithful to those who were without the gospel in this life.
Innumerable examples can be given of Mormonism’s canonical similarities and dissimilarities with traditional Christianity. By employing both biblical forms and hermeneutic, Latter-day Saint scripture is profoundly adaptive of historic Christianity’s theological traditions. To fully understand this phenomenon, however, one more aspect of Mormonism’s extended canon needs to be considered. Notwithstanding the D&C’s tendency to discourse, the most powerful force at work in Latter-day Saint differentiation is the narrative function of its canon. The Pearl of Great Price is the obvious case in point, though in a more subtle way it is true of the Book of Mormon as well.
The Pearl of Great Price is a compendium of several writings attributed to Joseph Smith’s revelatory powers. The two largest portions are called the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham. Both books include a retelling of the creation story. Most significantly, this retelling includes an event before creation in which God met with his children regarding the next step in their existence. This step required the gift of more expansive powers of agency in order to learn by experience to distinguish good from evil, thus enabling human progress to higher levels of being.
The event is characterized by two contrasting concepts of how earthly existence should be ordered. The contender for one concept insisted on the use of force to ensure that humans made the right choice. The other advocated God’s original plan that offered salvation from wrong choices through sacrificial atonement. This advocate further agreed to be the sacrifice, leaving the glory to God. As you no doubt have guessed, the first contender is Lucifer, who rebelled against God, lost whatever light his name suggests and became the devil. The second petitioner became God’s only begotten son, and by virtue of his redemptive power became in all ways like God the Father.
God’s challenge to Job’s memory and his call to Jeremiah, as well as Isaiah’s lament and Paul’s dictum in Romans, may supply biblical evidence for the premortal existence of humankind. But canonization of a Bible-like narrative that directly counters the theological tradition of creation ex nihilo is one of the most provocative aspects of Mormonism. Some non-Mormons have been so provoked as to accuse the Latter-day Saints of believing the devil is a brother of Jesus in the sense that they share the same nature and power. This could not be further from the church’s canon and teachings regarding the divinity of Christ. Regardless, the belief that sacred history extends to a premortal existence for human life and to events before creation has a definitive affect on Mormons’ self-understanding and their sense of time and eternity. It is fundamental to their answer to the classic existential question, Where did we come from?
The two other questions that preoccupy religious thought are why are we here and where are we going, and the Saints’ extended canon tackles these questions as well. As noted by the Sunday school teacher mentioned earlier, the Pearl of Great Price contains an account of Moses’ theophany on Mount Horeb. The prophet is depicted as having been amazed at his nothingness after being shown the earth and its inhabitants. But he is not so dumbfounded that he fails to ask God why these creations exist, and he receives this answer: “There is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
This short verse defines God in terms of his capacity to “bring to pass” or engender in his children the quality of the life he possesses—“immortality and eternal life.” The verse contravenes centuries of Christian theological anthropology that insists there is an unbridgeable ontological gulf between God and humankind. Or, in more technical terms, traditional Christianity teaches that God’s nature is fundamentally unrelated to human nature—the one uncreated, the other created. The Latter-day Saint canon asserts to the contrary that God is best understood by his fundamental relatedness, his fatherhood.
The effect of this view on the Latter-day Saints’ identity is probably immeasurable. They believe that God has known them, as he said to Jeremiah, before they were in the womb and that they are, if faithful, predestined for glory in Pauline terms. When things get tough, as in the case of Job, the Saints are to remember the time when “the morning stars sang together” about what they believe was a loving Father’s plan for their ultimate glory. On the basis of these alternative accounts of creation and Moses’ theophany, Latter-day Saints believe that the truest measure of God’s greatness is his generativity, not his sovereignty or prescient omniscience that predestines outcomes. Thus, when they voice their Christian perfectionism in terms of becoming like God, Latter-day Saints are not aspiring to power over others. As we have seen, the primordial event in their canon’s salvation history uses Lucifer’s fate as a warning against such aspiration. Rather, they understand their divine potential in terms of parenting, even the promise of an endowment of sanctifying grace that enables the faithful to facilitate spiritual, not merely physical, birth. To obtain such generativity is, for Latter-day Saints, why humans exist, and it constitutes the deep doctrinal stratum of what is typically seen as merely a sentimental attachment to family.
As for the third existential dilemma—where we are going—Latter-day Saint scripture elaborates on John 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 to affirm a variety of degrees of glory to which virtually all of God’s children will be raised after judgment. D&C 76 is the most complete discourse on this subject, and it incorporates the Pauline metaphors of sun, moon and stars to describe the varieties of glory in the afterlife. The effect is, in part, to counter the idea of a one-size-fits-all heaven capable of accommodating the varieties of human desire and action. Rather, it is hell that lacks diversity, accommodating only “those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him . . . crucified him unto themselves and put him to open shame.” The rest of humanity “shall be brought forth . . . through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made. And this is the gospel, the glad tidings.” Thus, in Latter-day Saint eschatology there are many degrees of glory or “mansions” (to use John 14 KJV, since it better conveys the idea of glory than does the NIV’s “rooms”), but hell is an undiversified site with a narrowly defined population. As a consequence of these scriptural differences, Latter-day Saints do not judge religious differences as meriting consignment of people to hell, nor do they threaten nonbelievers with such a fate.
Narrative remains the preferred method of conveying Latter-day Saint teachings, however—even in eschatological matters. D&C 138 contains an account of Christ’s visit to the world of spirits mentioned in 1 Peter. It describes Christ being greeted joyfully by the righteous who had been waiting for the day of his triumph over death. But the focus of the story is on Jesus’ concern for the unjust, who also awaited their fate, and on how he chose “from among the righteous . . . messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.” This passage clearly relates to the Saints’ sense of duty to prepare for the possibility that some will accept the gospel after death. But more significantly, for believing readers D&C 138’s elaboration on 1 Peter satisfies questions about God’s justice in a world where few have known of Jesus and many are so burdened by temporal cares that they cannot hear his message. Ultimately, these two sections of the D&C, coupled with the expanded canon’s expansive view of the scope of the atonement and the power of Christ’s resurrection, are a source of great personal assurance to the Saints about everyone’s destiny because God’s saving work is ongoing.
Each year in a repeating four-year cycle, one of these canonical texts is the subject of the LDS Church’s Sunday school curriculum for youth and adults. Members are expected to read the designated scripture from beginning to end. Each book of scripture is considered as essential as any other, though the Bible is given two years of this cycle, one for each testament. The Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham are treated seamlessly within the Old Testament curriculum, as was done the day my friend brought his coworker friend to class. There is no canon within a canon—only a single history of God’s efforts to be heard in all places and by every generation.
Mormons are not theologians or even particularly doctrinaire; they are primarily narrativists. They inhabit the world of the book. They read themselves into the salvation history it tells and orient themselves to the horizon created by its promises. In sum, Latter-day Saint scriptures play a definitive role in the lives of believing readers, informing them of who they are in relation to God, why they are here and where it is possible for them and their loved ones to go. In respect to this world and the next, the Saints’ scriptures give them a distinctively positive sense of human potential based on God’s capacity and desire to save them and everyone else, as it says in the Book of Mormon, “through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”
Some of this was new, some not, but all quick interesting bits worth sharing…
Who was the first Jew named in recorded history known to have been named at circumcision? John the Baptist.
Who was the first Jew in recorded history to read from the Torah at a synagogue? Jesus of Nazareth.
Rabbis are not ordained, at least not ordained priests, though several will use this terminology of ordination. According to one of my colleagues, the last Jewish ordination took place in 425 AD.
There is a Jewish priesthood, the Kohanim, who do not necessarily have any leadership role in the community; Rabbis are in a way the successors of the Pharisees – learned lay leaders. (I need to find more about this, but I think there may be a parallel suggesting a descriptor of Lay Ecclesial Ministers as something like Christian Rabbis? Something to mull over…)
There is evidence of women in roles basically like Rabbis as early as the 16th and 17th century, called Rabaneet (which could also indicate the wife of a rabbi) and Tanaiit (feminine form of Tanaiim). The discussion, offered by one of the Jewish presenters, made me think of the arguments about Episcopa Theodora, (episcopa meaning bishop’s wife, or a woman with jurisdiction of a bishop) depicted in mosaic at the Basilica of Santa Praessade here in Rome.
One participant asked then, if Rabaneet was the name of a Rabbi’s wife, what do you call the name of a (female) Rabbi’s husband? From the back of the room came the answer: “Lucky!”
Cantors are taking on more and more pastoral roles, it is not just about leading music and chant in worship. Likewise, there is a phenomenon even in some orthodox communities of having a kind of recognized lay ministry outside of the rabbinate – so where rabbis are only men, women can still take a leadership role. (This one also has my gears turning…)
There are 68 different Hebrew translations of the Lord’s Prayer.
Learning about Ourselves while Learning about Each Other: Proposals for Jewish and Catholic Education, by Lawrence Shiffman and Joseph Sievers is something worth reviewing for anyone in catechesis, ministry formation, or dialogue.
American vs Italian ecclesial approaches reflected
This was the second such emerging leadership conference sponsored by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The first took place in 2009 at Castel Gandolfo.
There were only a few participants from the first event at this one, intentionally. Speaking with a couple of the Catholic participants of both meetings, some observations on the differences (and how they relate to the difference of Italian and American Catholicism) came up.
At that first meeting, virtually all the Catholics invited were members of the Focolare movement. This time, we had much better representation across the board, but it is a ‘tell’ of the Italian approach of the first one and a more American (and German?) approach at the second.
The Italian church is the birthplace of the lay movements, and here, often, the active lay person – the ‘serious’ Catholic – is a member of a movement. But it is like being part of a political party too, people size you up immediately based on which movement you belong to, or pigeonhole you a little too quickly. “Oh, you’re into ecumenism, you should be in Focolare”, “Peace and Justice is your thing? Go to Sant’Egidio”, “You’re wearing a double breasted clerical suit, your hair is parted just so, and you do not read theology published after 1938? You must be a Legionnaire.” And so on.
The American context however, is a much livelier and generally healthier parochial-diocesan Church. While there is certainly too much polarization generally imported from the general culture, American Catholics tend not to belong to lay movements, or if they do, they tend to be extracurricular to their main parochial and diocesan life and activity. Think Knights of Columbus, Cursillo, and even the Charismatic movement. Instead we encourage people to be engaged in parish life, diocesan visioning, and lay volunteer ministries. A healthy diocesan vocations program encourages lay ecclesial ministry alongside its diaconate and presbyterate programs. A US Catholic who is active in a movement but not in a parish is seen, if anything, as a little suspect, rather than as super committed, where in Italy it seems almost the reverse.
Since the Jewish participants were Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, representing a variety of organizations and movements, it seems much better that the Catholic Church be represented in all its diversity too!
Report on New York: Cardinal Dolan
Cardinal Dolan highlighted five issues where Catholic-Jewish dialogue could concentrate: the human aspect, cultural challenges, theological issues, pastoral issues, and religious freedom/human rights. When asked which of the human rights issues he saw as the most important, he replied, ‘immigration’.
In the five boroughs that make up New York City are about 1.5 million Jews, and nearly twice as many Catholics, out of a total population of just over 8 million.
One of the funniest moments was when the Cardinal admitted that the portrait of Pope Benedict hanging in the room, over the papal chair used during the apostolic visit of 2008, was purchased by Cardinal Egan over ebay a few weeks before the pope’s arrival, because it was discovered they did not have one handy. (Not sure that should be taken too seriously!)
One of the most interesting, for a Catholic ecumenist, was when his diocesan ecumenical officer noted that with the upcoming consolidation of New York area seminary programs, they will finally be requiring courses on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue for all presbyteral and diaconate candidates, as required by the 1993 Directory. Better late than never!
Russell Berrie Foundation
On Friday, for lunch, I traveled out to Teaneck, NJ, to meet with officers of the Russell Berrie Foundation, which so generously supplied my Fellowship in Rome and underwrites the John Paul II Center where I now work. We also were joined by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the center here, and we spent two hours debriefing the week’s program and structure, the experience of the dialogue and the setting, and then turned to the current state of Jewish Catholic relations (and a little U.S. politics, just to catch me up.)
It was nice to make the connections, and see some key people there outside of Rome. I am always impressed, and grateful for their generous involvement in Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Shabbat services at Central Synagogue
On Friday evening a few of us took up the invitation of one of the participants, Andrea, who is studying to become a Cantor, to join her at the synagogue where she would be singing.
The service was breathtakingly beautiful, reverential, and joyfilled. There was no question of the presence of the Spirit in that place. The first impression truly was the happiness, the genuine joy of all involved in worship. Three points in particular stood out.
First, the music. Granted, we may have been biased, knowing our friend was singing, but it was truly outstanding. Andrea also sang the reading from the torah scroll, which was enchanting.
The clergy, rabbis and cantors, throughout the service each had a role and shared as often as not, it never felt as if one person only was leading the service, but the whole team. If lex orandi, lex credendi applies in Judaism as well, the ‘ecclesiology’ expressed here was healthier than many churches I have been to! And they were the first we noticed to seem truly at peace, and filled with joy, to be here welcoming in the Sabbath.
The procession of the Sefer Torah, after being removed from the ark (tabernacle), was a brilliant demonstration of both. With great reverence and joy, lively music, and smiles, the scroll was brought around the sanctuary, giving everyone a chance to touch it with their prayer books, before being brought up to the bimah (altar) for the proclamation. It made such a counterpoint to the Eucharistic processions of Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi, the most obvious comparable ritual, which are so often somber and solemn. Both so reverent, yet so very different in emotive response.
Friends and Fun
Before the conference, some of us coming from Rome stayed at Alma Matthews House, run by the United Methodist Women, serves as a residence and meeting venue for non-profit organizations. Beautifully situated in the West Village, it was a wonderful place to stay that I would highly recommend for anyone staying in Manhattan on Church business. You just have to be there somehow connected to a non-profit.
After the conference, some of us stayed at Leo House, a Catholic guest house in Chelsea I was introduced to last year. The facilities and neighborhood are not quite as nice as those at Alma House, but there is a chapel on site and a good breakfast buffet. They are planning major renovations, however, and I suppose after those it will be of a similar standard. The hospitality at both places was appreciated!
During the week itself, our last night at the Isabella Freedman center, we had a campfire, and I got to instruct David (Mexico), Eveline (Netherlands), and others on proper S’Mores techniques, having finally discovered a truly unique American food.
I had the opportunity to meet up with my college roommate, Liam, as he joined some of the participants for dinner and a night of showing us around the city that never sleeps. Probably our favorite stop of the evening was the inelegantly named “Burp Castle”. Billing itself as a “Temple of Beer Worship” murals inside depict monks and mendicants in various scenes with their brews. A rotating tap of monastic and other import brews is excellent, and the rule of the house is that a certain level of quiet must be maintained to appropriately enjoy the beer, and conversation, without getting drowned out. No music, and the bartender actually shushed people regularly. Not unlike the ambiance of the Sistine chapel, but with beer. Never enough time, but I am so grateful to get an evening with a longtime friend, and introduce him to others who mean so much to me!
On Saturday, another local friend, Courtney, gave a walking tour of southern manhattan, showed us the 9-11 memorial site, and brought us up north for an excellent Mexican dinner and broadway show. Only a pity she left for home before she could join us spend the rest of the evening on a rooftop terrace bar just under the Empire State Building.
Two friends in particular i missed were Sr. Lorelei Fuchs, SA and Rabbi Robbie Harris, for scheduling reasons or my own disorganization and procrastination. Next year in Jerusalem… or New York!
That being said, i established new contacts, discovered energetic your leaders from both religions, i now count several new friends… and not just on Facebook.
Catholics and Jews: Our Common Values, Our Common Roots
Second Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference
My first chance to participate in a national ecumenical conference was almost exactly ten years ago, in May 2002. Five years later, I was invited to present in a plenary session at the 50th Anniversary of Faith and Order in the US, at Oberlin. Last week, I gave my first plenary presentation at an international, Vatican-sponsored interreligious dialogue.
Forty scholars and religious leaders under the age of forty, from a dozen countries, were gathered at the invitation of the Holy See’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC). The nexus of these two groups is the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC). The bulk of our meeting took place at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in northwest Connecticut, with a day of meetings in New York City. Before and after, a few of us were able to enjoy the city itself, for some informal sharing and reunions – already, five of the other participants were friends or colleagues from Europe and the States.
As is usually the case with such things, the best dialogue and exchange tended to happen between the official agenda, as good as it was. But the former is always inspired by the latter, and this was a good model for developing leadership in dialogue for the reason that it allowed the ‘emerging leadership’ to actually engage in the conversation. The leaders of the two delegations, Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, president of IJCIC, and Fr. Norbert Hofmann, SDB, secretary of the Holy See’s Commission, were present throughout the conference but aside from their role in introducing the history and context, largely stepped back and served as advisors and guides.
Contrast this to other experiences of academic conferences where the ‘emerging generation’ of ecumenists, religious leaders, et al., are invited to attend and even give a presentation on topic, but the conversation is still largely dominated by established authorities, and may be about the dialogues, but does not allow for an actual dialogue to take place. To put it another way, the agenda of this conference was modeled after an official dialogue at the highest level, in many ways, including the topical presentation of papers on both sides on a given issue, discussion and break out groups.
The schedule also managed very well to provide the necessary background for those who were new to dialogue, as well as keep things interesting for the veterans among us. Some of the Jews present had never heard of Nostra Aetate, and some of the Catholics had not known about Dabru Emet. Others, like the Russell Berrie Fellows in attendance, had made a study of the dialogue and already were familiar with a wide range of thought on the dialogue.
Our first day was basically introductory, with presentations on the Commission, IJCIC, and the ILC and an opening presentation on “The Rise and Development of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity” by Prof. Schiffman. There were three major elements of the recurring agenda, which were the plenary presentations, the working groups, and the resource sharing workshops.
The plenaries were the official presentations, consisting of two 30-45 minute presentations, one Catholic and one Jewish, followed by between 30 – 60 minutes of questions and discussion, depending on the length of the presentations.
The first plenary was “Catholic-Jewish Relations post-Vatican II” with presentations by Rabbi A. James Rudin and Fr. Lawrence Frizzell. On day two, the second plenary was “Men, Women, and the Family” offered by Dr. Adena Berkowitz and Fr. W. Jerome Bracken, CP. The third plenary explored “Religion in Public Culture”, with yours truly for the Catholics, and Marc Stern, Esq., of the AJC for the Jewish side.
The working groups followed explored pre-determined themes of the conference, and met twice. People could stay with the same group both times, or rotate. These explored the themes of Justice and Charity; Religious Prejudices and Responses to Hate Crimes; Religion and Secular Society; the Role of Religious Leadership. I was asked to facilitate the last, along with a young rabbi serving as university chaplain at Leeds in the UK, though to be honest, there was not a lot of facilitating needed with this group!
The resource sharing workshops were opportunities for participants to raise issues and share from their own experience. As an example, Eveline van der Ham and David Angeles-Garnica, with the help of Andrea Ponzone, led a presentation on their experience at the Lay Centre, “Living in interfaith community” which they summed up with three key points: pray together, play together, and ‘prost’ together.
We spent one long day in Manhattan, dressed in business garb at nearly 100 degrees, I was reminded how much more manageable this is when nearly every building and form of transport is well air conditioned, a luxury not often found in Rome!
Our first appointment was with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, at his residence, and with his ecumenical/interreligious officer. His eminence came in and was literally kissing babies (well, the one baby present), and shaking hands (of literally everyone in the room). “He’s the Bill Clinton of the Catholic Church” was whispered in one corner, so stereotypically the American politician, presented 15 minutes of remarks without notes and with lots of enthusiasm. We were also given a short tour of the cathedral, including a visit to the crypt and the tomb of Ven. Fulton Sheen.
We then travelled to Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship, and met with Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Prof. Burt Visotzky (Midrash), and David Wachtel, the head of the rare books collection, which includes manuscript letters from Maimonides, and part of the Gutenburg bible, among so many other truly rare Hebrew texts. It was encouraging to hear Prof Visotzky even mention this year’s John Paul II Lecture given by Cardinal Koch in Rome.
After this we visited a reform synagogue known for its outreach work, Congregation Rodeph Sholom and north america’s first jewish congregation, the Sephardic orthodox congregation Shearith Israel, better known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue.
That’s just the official program… more to come, from Shabbat services to S’mores-making lessons.
In the midst of last week’s events surrounding the Fifth Annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, delivered at the Angelicum by Cardinal Kurt Koch, i was asked to stay on another year as the graduate assistant at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum. So, another year in Rome, at least!
Coincident with the big event – that being the lecture not my assistantship renewal – the Center rolled out a new website, that will continue to expand its content: http://jp2center.org/
While my academic focus has remained ecumenical, the interreligious piece, especially with the Abrahamic faiths, has grown ever entwined in every aspect of my life. It is hard to believe how much time has passed in Rome already, but there is always more to see and do. Please check out the website, and also the Center’s Facebook page.