Last Wednesday evening, Liz and I attended the inaugural Graymoor Lecture in a new series sponsored by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute (GEII) here in New York. GEII is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. The Friary is located at Graymoor, in Garrison, NY, about 40 miles north of New York City, but the GEII is appropriately located in the Interchurch Center, a few blocks from where Liz and I live. For about ten years, Liz was an Associate Director of the Institute.
Wednesday’s lecture was by Paul Knitter, a distinguished lay Roman Catholic theologian who since last January has been the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture at Union Theological Seminary. His topic was The Religions Today: Their Challenge to the Ecumenical Movement. What follows are some of the points I took from Knitter’s talk – I have not done justice to the coherence of his presentation and I have almost certainly distorted some of his points. One thing I have certainly left out is the consciously tentative manner in which Knitter was putting these ideas and questions forward.
In the ecumenical movement today, Christians by and large focus on the things we in the different traditions have in common rather than the things that divide us. Using the metaphor of we Christians living in a large ecclesial apartment house in a neighborhood with other religions, Knitter set out the proposition that if we want to get along with the other religions in our neighborhood, we Christians need to work out some internal issues.
Knitter presents three questions that other religions might ask us. Each of the three questions raises additional questions for us Christians.
First, can we be fellow neighbors? To truly answer this as Christians we need to ask are the many religions God’s will? Is religious pluralism more than just a matter of fact? Is it that diversity will not go away because it is not supposed to go away?
Second, can we be fellow peacemakers?
Both the violence of 9/11 and the violence after 9/11 are connected to religion. Religion is the match or the fuel that feeds violence. Can we Christians renounce both physical and religious violence?
People use violence to exploit or to defend against exploitation. It helps both the President of the United States and the Ayatollah to have God on their side.
There seems to be a direct link between claims to religious superiority and religious violence. We have to ask does the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus exclude other incarnations. Knitter says that Aquinas does not exclude other incarnations, although he did not affirm that there were any other incarnations either. This is particularly important in our intraChristian dialogue with evangelicals. Any questioning of the absoluteness of the revelation in Jesus Christ must be done in a way that does not diminish our witness to the universality of Jesus
Third, can we be fellow spiritual pilgrims? Can we engage in a communication in sacredness with other religions?
Is there a religious reality that transcends our own religious tradition? When we take religious pluralism seriously we are being offered an opportunity to learn more about God than we can in our Christian tradition alone. Edward Schillebeeckx has said that there is more truth in all religions than in one (including Christianity.)
If the uniqueness of Christ does not exclude the uniqueness of (say) Buddha, how do we listen? A relevant book is John S. Dunne’s 1978 book The Way of All the Earth. Can a Christian (or indeed any person) draw spiritual water from two different religious wells? How do we do that without diluting our own identity?
Knitter thinks the Holy Spirit can be of help here and notes that the Orthodox, “not encumbered by the filioque,” seem to have an easier time with this. The Incarnation can be thought of as specific and local. Thus the kenosis [Jesus' emptying of himself] means that Jesus forewent the transcendent, that is, anything but the limited and finite. A kenosis of the transcendent leaves open the possibility of another kenosis. (We do need to use our judgement and distinguish between good and bad elements in religion.)
The point about the Orthodox was confirmed by Metropolitan Mykhayil of the Ukranian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North and South America and the Diaspora (UAOC). Another account of the lecture can be found at the UAOC website. Here is a picture there of Liz and me listening to Dr. Knitter answering Metropolitan Mykhayil.
Now that I've gone personal, let me add that I had a chance to see some friends whom I haven't seen in a few years -- both Friars and Sisters of the Atonement.
Liz and I expect to hear Paul Knitter again in a couple of weeks when he addresses the Friends of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, and then again in February at his installation.
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