Friday, July 13, 2007

St. Louis IX on Interreligious Dialogue

There is much talk on religious dialogue these days, especially in light of the CDF document on Lumen Gentium and the Motu Proprio's eliciting of (in my opinion, misplaced) concerns by Jews worried about anti-Semitism. All of the groups offended by the Vatican recently have made the claim that the Church's statements are destroying the unity and togetherness that has been built up since the Second Vatican Council.

This begs the question, what are we uniting around? What is the source of our togetherness? What is the point of having any "religious dialogue" if we are not going to boldly proclaim our faith? In the old days, the Church spoke of evangelizing the nations. Now, the word "evangelization" has been robbed of so much of its content that it hardly means anything anymore other than being a "living witness" and totally leaves out the notions of proclamation, apologetics, argumentation and conversion. There is no point having dialogue with Jews, Muslims or Protestants unless our goal (in the end) is to show them the truth, goodness and beauty of the Catholic faith.

Here is a famous old story told by the great medieval saint, King St. Louis IX of France (1215-1270) about interreligious dialogue between a Jew and a rugged old knight, as found in the Life of St. Louis by Joinville:

"King Louis also spoke to me of a great assembly of clergy and Jews which had taken place at the monastery of Cluny. There was a poor knight there at the time to whom the abbot had often given bread for the love of God. This knight asked the abbot if he could speak first, and his request was granted, though somewhat grudgingly. So he rose to his feet, and leaning on his crutch, asked to have the most important and learned rabbi among the Jews brought before him. As soon as the Jew had come, the knight asked him a question: 'May I know, sir,' he said, 'if you believe that the Virgin Mary, who bore our Lord in her body and cradled Him in her arms, was a virgin at the time of His birth, and is in truth the Mother of God?'

The Jew replied that he had no belief in any of those things. Thereupon the knight told the Jew that he had acted like a fool when -neither believing in the Virgin, nor loving her- he had set foot in that monastery which was her house. 'And by heaven', exclaimed the knight, 'I'll make you pay for it!' So he lifted his crutch and struck the Jew such a blow with it near the ear that he knocked him down. Then all the Jews took to flight, and carried their sorely wounded rabbi away with them. Thus the conference ended.

The abbot went up to the knight and told him he had acted most unwisely. The knight retorted that the abbot had been guilty of even greater folly in calling people together for such a conference, because there were many good Christians there who, before the discussion ended, would have gone away with doubts about their own religion through not fully understanding the Jews.

'So I tell you,' said the king, 'that no one, unless he is an expert theologian, should venture to argue with these people. But a layman, whenever he hears the Christian religion abused, should not attempt to defend its tenets, except with his sword, and that he should thrust into the scoundrel's belly, and as far as it will enter."

Now, whatever we may think today about sticking swords into people's bellies, notice the wise words of the knight in the third paragraph. The knight says that the abbot was wrong in even calling such an interreligious meeting, because (a) Christians hearing it would be liable to call their own faith into doubt (b) they would gain no real understanding of the Jewish faith, and (c) though Louis did not mention it, I would say that the Jews would not have converted anyway. This insight is so true! How many Jews, Muslims or Hindus have converted to Catholicism because of interreligious dialogue? None. But how many Catholics have had their faith shaken, watered down, or thought it was okay to mix religious practices with non-Catholics because of this "dialogue"? Their number is legion.


Anonymous said...

Considering this little anecdotes come from an era where much worse things were done to Jews than hitting them over the head with a cane, I'm going to take it's overall message with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ulysses:

Considering that since the death of Christ, the only unifying characteristic of the Jews is their rejection of Him, and their unrelenting attacks on the Catholic Church, testified through Scripture and History, I'll take your comment with a grain of salt - to be trodden underfoot as having lost its savor.

The point is not to be nice or tolerant.

The point is to save souls.

Giving Jews, Atheists, Protestants, Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists comfortable and respectable forums from which they can cast aspersions and doubts about the One True Faith, and the Catholic Church, out side of which no one can be saved, is foolish. And in my mind, a crutch upside the head of those who participate is a kindness. The abbot merited this chastisement many times more than the Rabbi who received it.