God cares what our beliefs are

Christian inspiration for a culture of dialogue and encounter

Lecture at the congress “Spaces of Dialogue. The Christian inspirations of the culture of encounter "
Lublin, October 15, 2020

Kurt Cardinal Cook


Thank you very much for the kind invitation to give the opening lecture at your congress, which is dedicated to the demanding topic: “Spaces of Dialogue. The Christian inspirations of the culture of encounter ”. When it comes to encounter and dialogue, and if you let a theologian and bishop speak in the first place, it can be assumed that the most fundamental form of dialogue will be in the foreground of reflection, namely the dialogue between man and God.


1. Inner-divine dialogue in the Trinitarian community

As Christians we are of course convinced that our dialogue with God can only be our answer to that dialogue which God himself first conducts with us humans and which we call "revelation". It is of fundamental importance that in the Christian faith the concept of revelation primarily describes the act in which God shows himself to us humans and promises himself to us as love, and not the objectified result of this act. The Christian faith understands the revelation of God not simply to be the communication of truths, but rather the personal approach of God himself to us humans, his personal communication with us and his historical actions in which his truth is revealed. Because God is a being of covenant, relationship and dialogue, as the Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the divine revelation "Dei verbum" describes the revelation of God as a holistic process: to reveal and to make known the mystery of his will (cf.Eph 1, 9): that through Christ, the Word made flesh, people have access to the Father in the Holy Spirit and can partake of the divine nature (cf.Eph 2:18; 2 Pet 1, 4). In this revelation the invisible God (cf. Col 1, 15; 1 Tim 1, 7) speaks to people out of overflowing love like friends (cf. Ex 33, 11; Jn 15, 14-15) and associates with them (cf. . Bar 3, 38) to invite and receive them into his community. "[1]

But as Christians we have to dig deeper. God is a God of relationship and dialogue because there is an even more elementary dialogue, namely the dialogue that takes place within God himself. For in the Christian understanding God is not the lonely being in heaven; rather, it is in itself a lively exchange and an invigorating dialogue. God is in the highest degree a being of relationship, encounter and dialogue. That is probably why the most beautiful names for God are all relational names, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is relational in such a radical sense that he not only has relationships, but is relationship in himself. Because we Christians believe in the three-one God. This means that in the Three-One God, unity and diversity live together, and God meets us as an eternally loving dialogue between people of equal value. Both moments are of the same origin, namely both the unity of the people and their permanent difference:

The Christian belief in the three-one God confesses on the one hand that there is living space for the other in God himself. For the Father is different from the Son, and the Son is different from the Holy Spirit. In the divine trinity there lives an original and wonderful multiplicity and diversity of persons. The Christian Church has therefore condemned modalism, according to which the one divine being shows itself in only three different ways, namely modes, as heresy. For God is in himself a difference in the difference between people.

On the other hand, the difference between the persons of father, son and spirit does not include any superiority or subordination in the divine trinity. Because Father, Son and Holy Spirit live on the same plane of being. In God there is consequently an original and beautiful unity in the essence of the three persons. The Christian Church has therefore condemned subordinatianism, according to which the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father, as heresy. For God is in himself a living community of the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


2. The human being as a dialogical living being

If we consider both essential determinations of the mystery of the divine trinity together, then the God revealed in the Christian faith is originally unity and difference, communion and difference. The unity in God proves to be unity through loving dialogue. This Christian understanding of God has liberating consequences for the understanding of man who is called to be in God's image. If God is in itself loving dialogue, then we humans on earth can only be images of the Triune God if we become and are humans of dialogue. If the dialogue partners in the inner divine life are on the same level of being, then we humans are only images of the Triune God if we enter into dialogical communication with one another. And if the Triune God is originally unity and diversity, then we humans only prove to be images of God if we live in balance between communion and difference.

The most elementary consequence of the trinitarian mystery of God for Christian anthropology is that it is not just the individual person who is the image of God, but the community between people, as the priestly account of creation expresses very nicely: “God created man in his image; he created him in the image of God. Male and female he created them ”(Gen 1, 26). If we take this message seriously then there is in the biblical view "the" People not at all. Rather, man only exists in a very concrete way as man and woman, and the sexual differentiation in human existence is part of the creation-related determination of man, so much so that it is included in a theological definition of man.

Only in the togetherness and togetherness of man and woman does man find his goal and is he in the image of God. Because according to the Yahwist account of creation, God himself made the statement: “It is not good that man remains alone. I want to give him help that corresponds to him ”(Gen 2:18). In this sensitive and sympathetic statement it is justified that God created Eve for Adam in Paradise. When Adam recognized Eve modeled by God, he exclaimed with joy: “At last this is bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh. Her name should be woman; for she was taken from man ”(Gen 2:23). Woman and man are therefore those two poles in the ellipse of human existence in which they are equal, precisely in that they are different from one another; and they are different from one another, so that they will always be aware that they need one another. They are created to complement one another, as the Scriptures again see this as rooted in God's creation: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and binds himself to his wife, and they become a Meat ”(Gen 2:24). With this "becoming one flesh" is not simply meant a biological reality, but the existential togetherness and for one another of woman and man, in which you and I by no means dissolve, but in which that new unity arises, which is only love can cause. Man and woman are exemplary and representative of the community of people among one another who are called to be living beings of dialogue and encounter.


3. Freedom of communication in dialogue

The question therefore arises as to how a true dialogue between people takes place. If such a dialogue is based on the community and interrelationship of the dialogue partners who are equal but different, a true dialogue only takes place where it takes place between convictions and where both dialogue partners have something to say to each other and are willing to share the truth search and find. Such a dialogue is therefore only possible in the living space of freedom in the sense of respect for the other, precisely in his otherness. It presupposes a symmetrical relationship between the dialogue partners or, to use Otto F. Bollnow, the "anticipation that the two partners will be ready to speak to one another in full openness on the level of fundamental equality and freedom" [2]. On the other hand, the equality and reciprocity required in dialogue in no way mean leveling the convictions of the two partners; rather, they belong to the method of true dialogue and encounter.

Dialogue and encounters only meet their demands if they are carried out in a spirit of substantial tolerance. This is because substantial tolerance differs significantly from a purely formal tolerance that dominates today's disputes, which immediately accuses all differences as discrimination and only allows equality to apply, with the consequence that tolerance ultimately only appears possible and practicable where the question is raised is suspended according to the truth, on the false assumption that convictions held with certainty of truth would endanger peace among people. [3] A "dialogue", however, which would be conducted between partners who do not themselves represent clear positions and who are indifferent to the truth to be sought does not deserve the honorary title of "dialogue". Substantial tolerance, on the other hand, respects existing differences and, precisely through their perception, leads to unity and peace. Pope Francis has therefore recalled an important principle that there can be no dialogue without identity, but only a “sham dialogue, a dialogue in the clouds”: “You cannot have a dialogue if you do not start from your own identity . "[4]

If one takes the principle of equality and reciprocity in dialogue just as seriously as the identity of the partners, which is a prerequisite in every true dialogue, then every real dialogue is tantamount to walking a tightrope between extremes: On the one hand, there is a "dialogue" that involves finding Truth is not interested and oriented, very quickly into the deadly boredom of indifference. On the other hand, every “dialogue” leads to the fanatical narrow-mindedness of intolerance when one partner claims absolute truth for himself and denies the other truth. Both extremes - indifference and fanaticism, indifference and intolerance - represent the opposite of a true dialogue. In contrast to both extremes, a true dialogue is characterized by the fact that it takes place in freedom between convictions and precisely serves freedom and peace. Because whoever is convinced “that the truth has its own radiance” [5] will refrain in dialogue from wanting to assert oneself and exerting pressure on others. Rather, he firmly believes that truth works through conviction alone.

The success of a true dialogue therefore requires a clear distinction between the power of persuasion and the power of persuasion: the attempt and temptation to persuade another person has the aim of imposing one's own point of view on the other person and is therefore always authoritarian and totalitarian. In contrast, the art of convincing turns out to be a liberal invitation to the partner to take up communication and enter into an invigorating dialogue. It goes without saying that only the second alternative, namely convincing, can correspond to human dignity and the Christian gospel.


4. Dialogue as the essential accomplishment of the Church

Against the background of these fundamental considerations, it should be clear that the principle and method of dialogue are not simply a fad in the Church today, but constitute the innermost essential element of the Church, as Pope Paul VI did. in his entry encyclical “Ecclesiam suam” expressed: “The Church must come to a dialogue with the world in which she lives. The Church makes herself a word, a message, a dialogue. ”[6] With this, Pope Paul VI. pronounced what the Second Vatican Council intended and what is said, especially at the beginning of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in today's world, “Gaudium et spes” when it says that “after a deeper clarification of the mystery of the Church “The Second Vatican Council“ no longer addresses itself without hesitation just to the children of the Church and to all who call on Christ's name ”,“ but to all people simply with the intention of showing everyone how the Church is present and active the world today understands ”[7]. With this programmatic advertisement, the Pastoral Constitution not only introduces its basic theme of the mission of the Church in the world, but also shows the fundamental connection with the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church “Lumen Gentium”, which is set out in numbers 14 to 16 that the mission of the Church is realized, as it were, in concentric circles: The Church first turns her attention to the “Catholic believers”, then to all “those who are part of the honor of the Christian name through baptism”, and finally to those “who Have not yet received the gospel ”.

This clearly signals that the church wants to be in dialogue with all people: in dialogue with the various classes and missions in its own church, in dialogue with other Christian churches and ecclesial communities, in dialogue with other religions, in dialogue with the different worldviews and ethics, in dialogue with the sciences and in dialogue with the different areas of life in today's society. Out of these different directions of dialogue, I only want to briefly refer to the ecumenical dialogue that the Catholic Church has been cultivating since the Second Vatican Council and in which Pope Saint John Paul II “is one of the main signs and at the same time one of the proofs of renewal of the Church ”, as he has already known in his“ Study on the Realization of the Second Vatican Council ”[8], which he wrote for the implementation of the Council in the diocese of Krakow entrusted to him at the time.

What was briefly outlined earlier as the essence of every interpersonal dialogue applies all the more to ecumenical dialogue, which deals with questions of faith and Christian life. In this regard, the Decree of the Second Vatican Council on Ecumenism "Unitatis redintegratio" emphasizes that "each speaks with the other on the level of equality", and it brings about the necessary interrelationship that must exist in a true ecumenical dialogue, to the formula “par cum pari agat” [9]. The Council thus adopted a formula that is already to be found in the “Instructio Ecclesia catholica” published by the Holy Officium in 1949, which states that “each of the two parties, Catholic and non-Catholic, should be based on equality (par cum pari) “should discuss questions of faith and ethics and explain the teaching of his creed.

That is twofold. On the one hand, it is clear that ecumenical dialogue is based on the common Christian heritage and is consequently a dialogue between brothers and sisters. In the promulgated text of the Ecumenism Decree, therefore, no longer speaks of a “Catholic ecumenism”, as in the scheme “De oecumenismo” from 1963, but of “Catholic principles of ecumenism”. Because the council did not want to provide the ecumenical movement, which arose within non-Catholic Christianity, with its own ecumenism, as it were a Catholic special path, but was convinced that there can only be an ecumenism which the council expressly refers to “influence the grace of the Holy Spirit ”[10]. On the other hand, it is just as evident that the ecumenical dialogue in no way questions the religious identity of the dialogue partners, but rather presupposes it. For as long as the restoration of Christian unity has not yet been achieved and as a result there is still no really sustainable common understanding of the goal of ecumenism, every church and ecclesial community assumes its ecumenical responsibility on the basis of its own beliefs.In this sense, the Catholic Church expects the bishops, who are primarily responsible for ecumenical concerns in their local churches, to promote ecumenism “as it is understood by the church” [11] The World Council of Churches can also be based on the same conviction to lead, insofar as membership in this council does not mean having to question one's own understanding of faith and truth, nor does it imply that all member churches of the council are recognized as churches in the full sense.


5. Different forms of ecumenical dialogue

If one takes the principle “par cum pari” just as seriously as the respective identity of the partners, the basic principle of ecumenical dialogue is revealed, which does not simply consist in an exchange of thoughts, ideas and theories, but much more fundamentally in the mutual exchange of gifts. Such an exchange is of course, as Pope Francis emphasizes, not just about “receiving information about others in order to get to know them better”, but about “receiving as a gift what the Spirit has sown in them that is also intended for us ”. Because no church is so rich that it does not need to be enriched by others; and no church is so poor that it cannot make its own contribution to the ecumenical community. Through such an exchange of gifts, therefore, the Holy Spirit can “lead us more and more to truth and to good” [12]. So that such an exchange of gifts can be successful and the ecumenical concern can be perceived by all baptized, the ecumenical dialogue takes place in different forms.

In the first place is the Dialogue of love, brotherhood and friendship. This form of ecumenical dialogue has rediscovered “brotherhood” among Christians and Christian communities, which Pope John Paul II counted among the most important fruits of ecumenical endeavors in his encyclical on the commitment to ecumenism “Ut unum sint” [ 13]. Because the numerous encounters, the various conversations and the reciprocal visits between the different churches and ecclesiastical communities have created a network of friendly relationships that represent the solid foundation for all further ecumenical relationships. One should think, for example, of the beautiful tradition of mutual visits by representatives of the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome at the respective patronage festivals or on particularly important occasions. The dialogue of love serves above all for reconciliation between the churches, which is concretized in requests for forgiveness for sins committed in the past and is often combined with expressive gestures that can be a better language than many words.

While the dialogue of love is mainly led by those responsible in different churches, the Dialogue of life all believers. The dialogue of life finds its starting point and point of reference in the reflection on the new life that was given to the Christian in baptism in the name of the Triune God and in which a fundamental, if not yet full, unity is already given. With regard to the dialogue of life, the "Directory for the Practice of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism" emphasizes that the contribution that Christians make "in all areas of human life" in which "the desire for salvation" manifests itself, it is more effective "if they do it together and if you can see that what they do is a common thing". The essence of the dialogue of life is that Christians do “everything together” “as far as their faith allows them” [14].

The dialogue of life is concretized in the pastoral dialogue, namely in the common concern for people in today's life situations. The pastoral concern for people who live in churches that are still separate from one another but in a common marriage deserves special attention. Pastoral cooperation between Christians and churches implies above all a common witness to the truth of the Gospel and its message of the presence of God in the world, to which Pope Benedict XVI. has repeatedly pointed out: "Our first ecumenical service at this time must be to jointly bear witness to the presence of the living God and thus to give the world the answer it needs." [15] This is naturally associated with this witness to God Pastoral advocacy for human beings as God's creatures and likenesses, specifically the advocacy for the inviolable dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.

Hence it is only a small step to the figure known as practical dialogue which includes that in view of the elementary challenges in today's world one should do everything together that one can do together. Joint action by Christians and church communities is particularly important in view of the major questions and problems of our time, such as taking sides for the poor and for the preservation of creation, promoting peace and social justice, helping with the great refugee problem, the defense of religious freedom and the right to life in all its phases and dimensions and the protection of the social institutions of marriage and the family. Also and above all the ever increasing globalization must be a further motive for Christians and churches to consolidate and intensify ecumenical cooperation in the service of the holistic well-being of the human family.

The is proving to be very important for making progress on the path to unity cultural dialogue. Because we know from ecumenical research that cultural factors have always played a decisive role in the various divisions in the history of the Church. In western and eastern Christianity, for example, the gospel of Jesus Christ was actually received in different ways from the beginning and lived and passed on in different traditions and cultural forms. With these differences, the ecclesiastical communities in East and West lived in communion in one Church in the first millennium. However, they have become more and more estranged from each other and have become less and less able to understand each other. [16] Such cultural factors have largely contributed to the later division in the Church between East and West. Given the great importance that cultural factors have played in church divisions, the ecumenical challenge is to learn about the cultures of other Christians and churches in order to better understand the ways in which they think and live the gospel of Jesus Christ . Through such a cultural dialogue, the insight can grow that Christians who live in different ecclesial communities share the same faith, but express it in different ways and according to the respective cultural talents of the peoples and their traditions.

The previously mentioned forms of ecumenical dialogue form the indispensable prerequisite and the organic living space for the Dialogue of Truth, namely the theological examination of those factors that are the causes of the still existing church divisions. Such dialogue of truth is necessary to move closer to the ecumenical goal of unity. Because unity can only be found in the common knowledge and acknowledgment of the truth of faith. There can be no unity without the truth of belief. The Catholic Church has conducted and continues theological dialogues of this kind with almost all Christian churches and ecclesial communities since the Second Vatican Council. Many positive fruits could be harvested from them, as presented, for example, by Walter Cardinal Kasper in his book "Harvesting the Fruits" [17]. With all these positive results, however, it cannot be concealed that the actual goal of the ecumenical movement, namely the restoration of the unity of the church, or the full ecclesial community, has not yet been achieved, but takes much more time than at the beginning of the ecumenical movement has been hoped for. Towards this end, the dialogues of truth must continue to work with passion and patience.

Finally, the most elementary figure must not be forgotten, namely the spiritual dialoguewhich the Second Vatican Council called "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" [18]. It found its visible expression early on in the fact that at the beginning of the ecumenical movement there was the introduction of the week of prayer for Christian unity and that it was an ecumenical initiative from the start. It was the prayer for the unity of Christians that opened the way for the ecumenical movement, which at its core was a prayer movement. This form of spiritual dialogue originally goes back to the Upper Room, where Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples. The prayer for the unity of Christians proves to be the most basic form of ecumenism even today. Because with the prayer for unity, we Christians express our conviction of faith that we humans cannot make unity and also cannot decide on its concrete form and its timing. We humans can divide; this is shown by history and - unfortunately - also by the present. On the other hand, we can only receive unity from the Holy Spirit, who is the divine source and driving force of unity. The best preparation for receiving unity as a gift from the Holy Spirit is to pray for unity.

With this we return to the starting point of our explanations, namely to the insight that the original and deepest form of all dialogue is the dialogue between man and God, and even before that, God’s dialogue with us human beings, with whom he invites us, one living with him Maintain dialogue. Because the more we delve into the dialogical nature of God, as it appears in his trinitarian mystery, the more we ourselves become people and Christians who are capable of dialogue. In this I see the essential Christian inspirations for a culture of dialogue and encounter. With this conviction, I wish you all the best for this important congress for church and society.




[1] Dei verbum, No. 2.

[2] O. F. Bollnow, The Double Face of Truth (Stuttgart 1975) 66.

[3] Cf. K. Koch, Secular Tolerance and Christian Faith, in: Ders., Confrontation or Dialogue? Focal points of today's proclamation of faith (Freiburg / Switzerland - Graz 1996) 123-147.

[4] Francis, address at the meeting with the leaders of other religions and other Christian denominations in Tirana on September 21, 2014.

[5] Francis, op.

[6] Paul VI., Ecclesiam suam, no. 65.

[7] Gaudium et spes, No. 2.

[8] K. Wojtyla, Sources of Renewal. Study on the Realization of the Second Vatican Council (Freiburg i. Br. 1981) 284.

[9] Unitatis redintegratio, No. 9.

[10] Unitatis redintegratio, No. 1. Cf. also No. 4.

[11] Canon 383 - § 3 CIC 1983.

[12] Francis, Evangelii gaudium, no.246.

[13] John Paul II, Ut unum sint, nos. 41-42.

[14] Directory for the Implementation of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, No. 162.

[15] Benedict XVI., Address in the ecumenical service in the church of the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt on September 23, 2011.

[16] See Y. Congar, Quarrelsome Christendom. Where did East and West separate (Vienna 1959).

[17] Cardinal W. Kasper, Harvesting the Fruits. Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue (London - New York 2009).

[18] Unitatis redintegratio, No. 8.