Church on Trial. The Defense Speaks
It is charged with being intolerant and violent, in the name of God. But a document of the international theological commission is turning the accusation around. It is the dictatorship of relativism that wants to ban faith from civil society
by Sandro Magister
ROME, January 21, 2014 – “Heresy” and “dogma.” The two words in the Church that almost no one dares to say anymore – all the more so in this season of “mercy” – suddenly came back to the forefront on January 16, in their full meaning and in the most official form, on the front page of “L’Osservatore Romano.”
“As far as the Christian faith is concerned, violence in the name of God is a heresy pure and simple”: this is what the editorial in the pope’s newspaper calls the “unmistakable thesis” of the document of the international theological commission made public that same day.
And vice versa: “Scrupulous respect for religious freedom stems from that which is most dogmatic in the idea of God that the Christian faith has to offer.”
The international theological commission, instituted after Vatican Council II, is an arm of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, is headed by its prefect, and is made up of thirty theologians of various nations, appointed by the pope “ad quinquennium.”
The document made public on January 16 was ordered by Benedict XVI in 2008, in the context of his dialogue with contemporary culture, in order to reopen within it a pathway toward God, the true God. It was crafted over five years by 10 members of the commission, including the Chinese Salesian Savio Tai Fai Hon, today the secretary of “Propaganda fide,” the Swiss Dominican Charles Morerod, today the bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, and the Italian Pierangelo Sequeri, a leading representative of the theological school of Milan.
For now the complete text of the document is available only in its Italian version – elegant and incisive as rarely happens with theological texts, thanks to the pen and the mind of Sequeri, even if here and there it is not easy to read – while in eight more languages an introductory summary is ready, with the complete translation still to come:
The title provides a glimpse of the document’s motivation: to fight the widespread idea that monotheism, faith in the one God, is synonymous with obscurantism and intolerance, is an indestructible seed of violence . And therefore is to be banned from civil society.
Jews, Muslims, Christians are the target of this typically relativistic theorem, which demonstrates that it intends to replace monotheism with a moderate “polytheism” deceptively presented as peaceful and tolerant.
Jews are charged with having faith in a vindictive God “of wrath and war,” that of the Old Testament, and this is imputed to them with a preconceived hostility that the document says is present “even in sophisticated culture” (one recent example of this theological anti-Judaism is provided in Italy by Eugenio Scalfari, the ultra-secularist “interviewer” of Pope Francis.
Held against the Muslims – with the reinforcement of the facts – is “the order of Muhammad to defend the faith by means of the sword,” as Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos had denounced in his dialogue with the Persian sage made known around the world by Benedict XVI in the Regensburg lecture of September 12, 2006. And it is curious that, on the same day as the release of the document of the thirty theologians, a 36-page document appeared on the Huffington Post written by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the destruction of the Twin Towers and a detainee at Guantanamo, which cites Benedict XVI in order to refute the idea that the Quran legitimizes the use of force as a means for religious conversion, and justifies the attack of September 11, 2001 as an exclusively political revolt of the oppressed against the oppressor:
But Christians are the main enemy to be overthrown, in present-day anti-religious polemics. And it is here that the document brings into play the concepts of heresy and dogma.
The mere thought – it affirms – that the Christian vision associates faith with violence is consummate heresy. While it is an irrevocable dogma that “the Son, in his love for the Father, draws violence upon himself, sparing friends and enemies, or rather all men,” and therefore, with his ignominious death confronted and overcome, “he annihilates in a single act the power of sin and the justification of violence.”
The document is rich with argumentation and effective both in its “pars destruens,” where it unveils the flimsiness of the modern condemnation of monotheism, and in its “pars construens,” where it highlights the Trinitarian nature of Christianity, which distinguishes it from the other forms of monotheism and is the basis of “the irrevocable seriousness of the Gospel interdict with regard to all contamination between religion and violence.”
The document is not silent about Christian concession to religious violence in history. But it urges the recognition of the present time as the “kairòs,” the decisive moment, of an “irreversible departure” of Christianity from such violence.
A departure that must hold true as a sign for all men of any creed. Because “it must be clearly recognized, by all religious communities and by all those responsible for their oversight, that recourse to violence and terror is certainly, and in all evidence, a corruption of religious experience.”
And the same must hold true for those who “pursue the mortification of religious witness on the basis of economic and political interests speciously disguised, for the sake of the masses, under the highest humanitarian aims.”
The document ends with a touching reference to those persecuted on account of the faith:
“The time of persecution must be borne, in anticipation of the conversion hoped for all. For this patience, for this forbearance, for this tenacity of the ‘saints’ in bearing the tribulation of the time of waiting, we owe a debt of gratitude to many brothers and sisters persecuted for their Christian identity. We honor their testimony as the decisive response to the question about the meaning of the Christian mission on behalf of all. The era of a new attentiveness toward the relationship between religion and violence among men has been opened by their courage. We must take care to be worthy of it.”
The editorial of “L’Osservatore Romano” in which the secretary of the international theological commission, Serge Thomas Bonino, presents the document:
The presentation of it made in “Avvenire” by one of the drafters of the document, the theologian Pierangelo Sequeri:
> Nel monoteismo cristiano c’è l’antidoto alla violenza
And also on “Avvenire,” Sequeri’s commentary on the accusations of Eugenio Scalfari against the “evil” God of the Old Testament:
The article by Scalfari that is the object of the controversy, in “La Repubblica” of December 29, 2013:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.