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It was only well into the 20th century that my own Church, the Catholic Church, preceded by a number of Protestants who were concerned to overcome the many divisions among themselves, became positively disposed to the ecumenical movement, that is, the effort of Christians to find theological common ground. And it was only at the Second Vatican Council that the Catholic Church officially addressed in a positive way its relationship to other world religions, beginning with Judaism.

They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and mighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead.


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For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting par. It was not as concerned immediately with the relationship between Christianity and other world religions. As a consequence, the first conversations to begin in earnest after the Council were those with other Christians—with the goal of finding common theological ground.

Interreligious conversations were not as widespread at first. The Catholic Church in the west did however put its greatest energy in the s and s into its dialogue with the Jews. But that dialogue has been especially difficult, not only because of the long and sad history of conflict between Christians and Muslims and because of western colonial practices, but also more recently because of the political policies, the U.

The terrorist attacks on September 11th, made it clear to me that the Catholic Church had to join with Muslims to build bridges of communication, trust, mutual understanding and cooperation between the Muslim world and the west. It was at that time especially that I realized that this relationship had to be one of the important areas of research for the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. I also believed that it would prove fruitful, even if difficult given the political realities of the day, to include Jewish scholars in all these conversations.

About twenty years ago, I wrote a short article that was published in a journal read by over , teachers who taught religion in Catholic high schools throughout the United States. That article sketched four possible ways to think about interreligious dialogue. I stated that both of these approaches, for what I hope are obvious reasons, were unacceptable. Nevertheless, let me make those reasons explicit: first, absolutism is unacceptable since all three Abrahamic religions acknowledged that sincere believers of the other Religions of the Book could be saved.

Second, a thorough going relativism is unacceptable because it is just another form of absolutism. I then described my two other positions. I used rather awkward ways of naming those two positions. As a consequence, my emphasis for them was on dialogue—getting to know and understand what other believers affirmed as true before making any judgments about the validity of their beliefs.

I thought then and still believe that it is premature to attempt to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of other religious traditions unless one spends a great deal of time tying to understand them. So far, I have described two lessons about interreligious dialogue.

Minor in Catholic Studies: Department of Religious Studies - Northwestern University

First, a positive Catholic dialogue with Islam is historically only very recent. I think there is a third point about interreligious dialogue that needs to be emphasized.


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  • It is possible, however, for me to have a dialogue with Muslims and Jews. In other words, the inter-personal dimensions of interreligious dialogue are very important. Friends share everything, including hurts. And historically, we Christians and Muslims have many hurts which we need to confess and for which we need to repent.

    They thought they could create public and private dimensions of life. The public dimension—the dimension of reason—is concerned with government, economy, education and the military. Governments were responsible for justice, religions for charity. I must confess that I do not think this separation between private religion and public life makes much sense.

    While I believe in the separation of religion and the state, I do not believe that religious influence belongs only in the private sphere. Religions, for example, also need to address issues of the justice, including the economy and the military.

    Islam, Judaism, and Christianity - A Conversation

    There is no reason, I might also add, that religious people should not be able to influence the forms and practices of government. Note, I said influence, not control. Again, I believe in the separation of religion from the state, but not the separation of religious influences from public life. This brings me to my fourth and last point about interreligious dialogue. Most of the hurts that we have inflicted upon each another come from pathologies, personal, religious and political.

    Our pathologies interrelate. Pathologies have long histories and very imaginative memories. The situation of the Palestinian suicide bombers is pathological: young people in the prime of their lives blowing themselves up. They have grown up in a pathological situation of oppression and occupation—a policy that has itself grown out of another pathology—the fear endemic in Israeli society. But then you ask: well, where does that come from?

    The reaction of the state of Israel following the truly pathological holocaust. But where does that come from?

    The pathology of Nazism. And that? The leftovers of World War I, the resentment born of the humiliation of the German people, and the long history of anti-Semitism in Christian Europe. There is a history of interacting pathologies.

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    In the face of all such pathologies, John Paul II sought the purification of memories, and did so by preparing for the year 2, by making public statements of repentance for the wrongs that Christians have done over the centuries—sins against other Christians, against believers in other religions, for intolerance and violence in the service of truth. The failure to witness faithfully weakens whatever proclamation we who are Christians attempt to make. Perhaps then, as my fourth and last point about interreligious dialogue, we would all do well to remember that genuine repentance—not just in how we think but also in how we have acted towards each other—will do much to advance mutual understanding.

    Allow me now to turn to the second part of my presentation. It is commonly said that the truly wise person knows that he does not know. A person who displays intellectual humility is not presumptuous, rash or arrogant. Nicholas actually borrowed the term from Augustine, who in turn probably borrowed it from Socrates.

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    The very wise Solomon declared that all things are difficult and cannot be explained in words Eccl. Likewise, the very profound Aristotle, in the First Philosophy, asserts that with things most evident by nature we encounter the same difficulty as a night owl trying to look at the sun. If all this is true, since the desire in us for knowledge is not in vain, surely then it is our desire to know that we do not know.

    If we can attain this completely, we will attain learned ignorance.

    For nothing more perfect comes to a person, even the learned, the more one knows that one is ignorant. It is toward this end that I have undertaken the task of writing a few words on learned ignorance. How should we understand this paragraph from Nicholas? Could it not also lead to despair about ever reaching any reliable knowledge about God? These are very real questions. Thomas Aquinas as they explore the disparate positions of Mormons and Catholics on the nature of God and the premortal life of spirits.

    Transubstantiation—the miraculous change of bread and wine into the body, blood, and soul of Christ during the Mass—is at the heart of Catholic worship.

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    Catholicism in Dialogue: Conversations Across Traditions

    Alonzo then addresses the cooperation of the living and the dead from a Mormon perspective, both in proxy temple ordinances and personal spiritual experiences. If any criticism is to be leveled at this remarkable book, it might be one of structure. Stephen begins the discussions in all but one chapter, followed by a response from Alonzo, then back to Stephen, and so forth. He introduces the topic, outlines doctrinal differences, and suggests points of intersection where Catholics could learn valuable lessons from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Because the format places him in the respondent position, however, some of his arguments acquire an apologetic cast. It is precisely this critical similarity with Catholicism that justifies a more equal structure in introducing and responding to discussion points. Had the roles of the authors been shared more equally, Alonzo might have had even more opportunities to commend aspects of Catholicism for the consideration of his Mormon readers. The text mentions the beloved and recently canonized Mother Teresa and quotes from the great Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross, but among the laudatory ranks of Catholic saints, Mormons will also be interested in zealous missionaries, like the sixteenth-century Jesuit St.

    Francis Xavier or St. Damien De Veuster, a nineteenth-century missionary priest, who sacrificed his life to minister in the Hawaiian leper colony of Kalaupapa. Incidentally, Father Damien was joined by another man who volunteered to live and die among the lepers—the Mormon Jonathan Napela, who would not abandon his wife after she had contracted the disease. A people who appreciate soul-enlarging art, music, and drama as much as Mormons do could learn much from Catholicism, which has inspired some of the most profound sacred paintings, sculptures, oratorios, hymns, and mystery plays in Christian history.

    This stirring book will both direct readers to the singular precepts of their own faiths and also broaden their perspective on truths they hold in common. Elliott D.

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    His research focuses on the devotional function of late medieval and early modern art. In particular, he is interested in art and liturgy, representations of the Eucharistic Christ and the Virgin Mary, and the visual culture of the great mendicant and monastic orders. See Dallin H. Skip to main content.

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