PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
God the Trinity and the unity of humanity -
Christian monotheism and its opposition to violence
INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION
The theological reflection presented here seeks to investigate various aspects of Christian discourse about God which, in the modern context, require specific theological clarification. The immediate reason for this clarification is the theory, variously argued, according to which there is a necessary link between monotheism and the wars of religion. Discussion of this connection has demonstrated a number of misunderstandings of religious doctrine, to such an extent as to obscure authentic Christian thought about the one God.
The purpose of this reflection can be summed up in a two-fold question: (a) How can Catholic theology respond critically to the cultural and political opinion which sees an intrinsic link between monotheism and violence? (b) How can the purity of religious faith in the one God be recognized as the principle and source of love between human beings?
Our reflection takes the form of a reasoned testimony, not an apologetic argument. The Christian faith, in fact, sees the incitement of violence in the name of God as the greatest corruption of religion. Christianity reaches this conviction from the revelation of God’s own life, which is brought to us by Jesus Christ. The Church of believers is well aware that witnessing to this faith demands a permanent readiness for conversion: which also implies a certain parrhesia, a courageous frankness in self-criticism.
In Chapter I, we seek to clarify the theme of religious “monotheism” as it is understood in various contexts of modern political philosophy. We are aware of the evolution that has resulted in a highly differentiated spectrum of theoretical positions nowadays, ranging from the classical background of so called humanistic atheism to more recent forms of religious agnosticism and political laicism. Our reflection seeks first of all to show that the notion of monotheism, which is certainly significant in the history of our culture, is nevertheless too generic when it is used as an indication of equivalence between the historical religions which confess the oneness of God (namely Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Secondly, we formulate our critical reservations with regard to a cultural simplification which reduces the alternatives to a choice between a necessarily violent monotheism and a presumptively tolerant polytheism.
In this reflection, we are sustained throughout by the conviction, which we believe is shared by the vast majority of our contemporaries, both believers and non-believers, that inter-religious wars and also wars in the name of religion are simply senseless.
As Catholic theologians, we then seek to illustrate, on the basis of the truth of Jesus Christ, the relationship between the revelation of God and a non-violent humanism. We do so by reconsidering various aspects of Christian doctrine particularly helpful for illuminating the modern discussion: regarding the proper understanding of the Trinitarian confession of the one God, and regarding the implications of the revelation of Christ for the redemption of the bond between human beings.
In Chapter II, we interrogate the biblical witness, with particular attention to the issue of its “difficult pages”: in other words, those in which the revelation of God is involved with forms of violence between human beings. We seek to identify the reference points which the same scriptural tradition highlights - within itself – for the interpretation of the Word of God. On the basis of that investigation, we offer an outline of an anthropological and Christological framing of developments of interpretation that were driven by the actual historical circumstances.
In Chapter III, we propose a deeper understanding of the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, as the key to the reconciliation of human beings. Oikonomia is essential here in the determination of theologia. The revelation inscribed in the event of Jesus Christ, which universally manifests the love of God, enables the religious justification of violence to be neutralised on the basis of the Christological and Trinitarian truth of God.
In Chapter IV, we strive to illustrate the approximations and philosophical implications of thought about God. Various points of discussion with modern atheism, broadly channelled into the theses of a radical anthropological naturalism, are considered first of all. Then – also for the benefit of interreligious comparison with regard to monotheism – we offer a sort of philosophical-theological meditation on the integration of the revelation of the intimately relational disposition of God and the traditional conception of God’s absolute simplicity.
Finally, in Chapter V, we summarise the specifically Christian elements which determine the Church’s task of witnessing to the reconciliation both of God and humanity and of human beings with one another. Christian revelation purifies religion, by restoring to the latter its fundamental role in the human search for meaning. For that reason, in our invitation to reflection we are very conscious of the particular need - especially in today’s cultural context – always to treat together the theological content and the historical development of the Christian revelation of God.
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