Truth, Dialogue, Bridge Building
A rather robust and on the whole not at all disappointing speech from Pope Francis yesterday in front of the diplomatic corps. The text is everywhere.
Whilst we Catholic bloggers are obviously not grading Popes’ speeches, this is the beginning of a Pontificate which might well become rather disquieting. It is, therefore, natural that his public utterances are now watched with particular – actually, anxious – attention.
My take on the speech follows. If you want to read it, fine. If you think Popes’ speeches must not be commented on, click away now. Your comment will be thrashed.
So there we are.
1. No ad libitum additions. This being a speech in front of diplomatic corps, adding them might have been a bit too much spontaneity. Or it might be that the Pontiff prefers to reflect well in advance on all he wants to say. This is probably the wisest course of conduct, as spontaneous language may lack the clarity of a prepared speech.
2. No trace of Liberation Theology. The mention of poverty seems to me perfectly in line with Catholic teaching; the Pope also makes reference to spiritual poverty; he even brilliantly links it to the “tyranny of relativism”. A Pope is, as he is Pope, obviously concerned with poverty. In fact, I don’t think many Popes weren’t: Pope Leo X perhaps, and a handful of others like him. As long as this does not become a criticism of Capitalism qua capitalism, or a programmatic stance to remake the planet and human nature with it, I think every Catholic should be pleased; nay, relieved.
3. “There is no true peace without truth!” A beautiful, beautiful statement, and possibly the main message this speech wanted to send out. Everything is based on Truth, and whoever betrays the Truth in the assumed interest of peace is, in fact, betraying both and achieving none.
4. “Pontiff means bridge builder”. Well, yes and no. Pontiff comes from the Latin Pontifex, the highest religious office among the Romans. The spiritual origin of this word are lost in the night of time – like many Roman religious customs and names: the Romans clung to their religious traditions so stubbornly that names were kept even after their meaning was lost -. At University, we were taught whilst the exact origin of the name is unknown, the most likely explanation is that in the very beginning what we today called “technology”, or “technical knowledge”, had a sacred meaning, as in those societal structures they were linked with higher wisdom. Pons facere might therefore well have referred to the “technology of bridge building”, a wisdom considered sacred and therefore in the hand of the Roman clergy, with their head aptly called the “bridge builder”, the Pontifex. Whilst Pope Peter is obviously free to take this word as an inspiration of what he wants to do, it does not seem correct to say or imply past generations have seen the role of the Pontiff as the one of “bridge builder” in the sense of “facilitator of dialogue”, unless of course we talk here of pure evangelisation work. The “bridges” of past Popes were meant to transmit Truth from one shore to the other. Which leads us nicely to the next point,
5. “Dialogue”. It is not entirely clear to me how the bridge building and the dialogue can be squared with wanting to base everything on Truth. If everything is based on Truth, “dialogue” also is. But then it’s not “dialogue” in the V II sense anymore, but pure, unadulterated, unapologetic evangelisation work. Did the Pontiff mean “dialogue” in this sense? I hope so, and his former extolling that peace must be based on Truth seems to enforce the point. Can the “dialogue” be understood in the (spirit of) V II sense of “I am OK where I am, you are OK where you are”? Methinks, he who wants it will be able to read the reference in this way, too. Still, we must be clear before V II “dialogue” was basically seen as evangelisation work: you talk to everyone because everyone needs the Truth.
6. St. Francis. Last time I looked, St. Francis’ “dialogue” with Islam took the form of Crusade and call to conversion. That’s the thing with the Truth, you see.
7. “Dialogue with Islam”. Dialogue with the Islamic world, surely? That is, with Muslims? What I know of Islam excludes that there may ever be any form of “dialogue” with Islam as religion. Like Catholicism, Islam is based on a set of beliefs that does not admit any negotiation and is, therefore, not a possible subject of any “dialogue”. Richard Lionheart certainly “dialogued” with Saladin, but it was not a dialogue between Christianity and Islam, which is intrinsically impossible. Christianity wants the death of Islam, Islam wants the death of Christianity. It’s as simple as that. Christ didn’t say “I am the way, the Dialogue and the Life”. From the Truth of Christ it necessarily follows that Islam has, qua Islam, no right of existence.
Assuming it was here meant “dialogue with Muslims of good will”, and assuming it is the same dialogue Richard had with Saladin (a practical approach to practical problems, not a negotiation on Truth or an acceptance of Lie) I think the dialogue certainly has its own place. If I want to have a Cathedral built in Kuwait City, I will need to dialogue. If I want to explore Sunday festivities for Christians living in Muslim countries, I will have to dialogue. But again, this “dialogue” can only ever be in the service of evangelisation with peaceful means. Still, this was a speech in front of diplomats, so peace and dialogues were naturally to be stressed.
I am, as already stated, relieved. But I also am a mistrustful guy, and the last fifty years have taught me to mistrust V II Popes, none of whom can be defined as “orthodox” by any pre-V II, that is, correct, standard of the word. Therefore, I will wait to see how seriously this Pope takes the concept of Truth, and how much in his mind “dialogue” is, as it necessarily must be, the servant of Truth.
The touchstone of this will be in the new Pope’s approach to “ecumenism”. If his ecumenism will be of the “Assisi meeting” style, we will know Truth is sacrificed to “dialogue”. If he, on the other hand, will always be attentive to stress that everything, even the modern religion of “peace”, must be based on Truth, then I’d say this Pontificate might well surprise us.
It is important that we keep Francis in our prayers.