On the Intricacies of Dialogue - A Commentary:
Written by I. Shawn McElhinney
To tell the truth, it is very difficult to carry on a dialogue: Many dialogues, even of Plato are fictitious, juxtapositions of monologues. Each stays as they were. This is so often what happens at assemblies and congresses. The true dialogue demands an effort which is continual and almost heroic, which consists first in trying to see from the other's viewpoint. Leibniz, that mind so open and elastic, said that the position of the other is the true viewpoint of politics and morals, and this going out of oneself to adopt --if only for a moment--the point of view of one's interlocutor he calls quite simply: love. [Jean Guitton: Dialogues of Paul VI With Jean Guitton - on Guitton's understanding of the dialogue pg. 163 (c. 1967)]

This commentary will be on the principle of dialogue as expounded in Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam. The occasional translation glitches will be corrected with the proper words being put in brackets in the spot of the erroneous ones. (Except in restating certain points where the bracketed words will generally be adjusted to cohere with the commentary involved to the extent that this is necessary.) The pope's words will be in Georgia nine point font and bolded. The words of this writer will be in regular font.

Ecclesiam Suam

Encyclical Letter on the Ways in which the Church Must Carry Out its Mission in the Contemporary World
His Holiness Pope Paul VI
Promulgated on August 6, 1964

To our Venerable Brothers the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See. To the Clergy and Faithful of the Whole World, and to All Men of Good Will.

Venerable Brothers and Beloved Children: Health and Apostolic Benediction...

The address of this encyclical letter -the very first one issued by Pope Paul VI approximately a year after his ascention to the Apostolic throne- follows in the path set down by Pope John XXIII in the latter's last encyclical letter. For Pope John XXIII in issuing the Encyclical Letter Pacem et Terris (his "last will and testament" of sorts) explicitly addressed it beyond the clergy in communion with the Apostolic See to the Clergy and Faithful of the Whole World, and to All Men of Good Will. Pope Paul VI in issuing Ecclesiam Suam  followed this pattern as well in many of his subsequent magisterial pronouncements. (As Pope John Paul II himself has often done as well.) This kind of explicit looking beyond the bounds of the Catholic unity originated in 1963 and has not looked back since -though the popes have at times with more technical or targeted enunciations sometimes narrowed the scope of the audience a bit. (For example, Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Christi Matri and his Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adventiens; Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendour and his Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio.) The latter examples represent exceptions to the general rule nowadays though.

The term "dialogue" makes a brief appearance at the beginning of Ecclesiam Suam in the following passages which serve as a kind of "foreshadowing" if you will.

One part of this world, as everyone knows, has in recent years detached itself and broken away from the Christian foundations of its culture, although formerly it had been so imbued with Christianity and had drawn from it such strength and vigor that the people of these nations in many cases owe to Christianity all that is best in their own tradition-a fact that is not always fully appreciated. Another and larger part of the world covers the vast territories of the so-called emerging nations. Taken as a whole, it is a world which offers to the Church not one but a hundred forms of possible contacts, some of which are open and easy, others difficult and problematic, and many, unfortunately, wholly unfavorable to friendly dialogue.

It is at this point, therefore, that the problem of the Church's dialogue with the modern world arises. It will be for the Council to determine the extent and complexity of this problem and to do what it can to devise suitable methods for its solution. But the very need to solve it is felt by Us-and by you too, whose experience of the urgency of the problem is no less than Our own-as a responsibility, a stimulus, an inner urge about which We cannot remain silent. We have thought fit to put this important and complex matter before you in council, and we must do what we can to make ourselves better prepared for these discussions and deliberations. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §13-14 (c. 1964)]

The above paragraphs constitute a summary of the pope's view of the situation faced by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. One of the predominant tasks of this synod was to move the Church out of the garrison posture taken in the Counter-reformation period --a posture which intensified in its isolation after the French Revolution-- and situate her once again firmly into the role of engaging the modern world. This engagement was to be in as much a proactive role as a reactive one.

The landscape had in some ways changed drastically from the days when the Church withdrew from engaging the world. The most significant differences in that interim were (i) the increasing degree of literate people with secondary education (ii) the ever-increasing mobility as a result of technological advances as well as (iii) the ability for the average person to acquire information to an extent previously unheard of. In a sentence, the era of the illiterate, immobile many with few resources being at the obvious disadvantage of the literate, mobile, and heavily resourced few was over. And therefore, a paradigm shift had taken place that needed to be addressed. Pope Paul VI saw this problem early on -indeed as early as the 1930's when he was a member of the Roman Curia. As pope, he sought to address it through the ancient form of the dialogue.

To understand the significance of the term dialogue as it was frequently enunciated in the texts of the Second Vatican Council involves understanding the manner whereby Pope Paul had framed the concept in his first encyclical letter. The rest of this commentary will deal with the many facets of this theme and the final words will touch on points noted by one of the Holy Father's dearest friends Jean Guitton. (In one of his many dialogues with Paul VI spanning from their first encounter in September of 1950 through the mid 1960's.) But in the meantime, back to the commentary on the relevant parts of the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam.


58. Under this third heading we must examine the mental attitude which the Catholic Church must adopt regarding the contemporary world. What contacts ought it to make at the present time with human society?-seeing that the Church's ever-increasing self-awareness and its struggle to model itself on Christ's ideal can only result in its acting and thinking quite differently from the world around it, which it is nevertheless striving to influence.

Motives for Dialogue

59. The Gospel clearly warns us of this difference and the need to keep ourselves distinct from the world. By the world, here, is meant either those human beings who are opposed to the light of faith and the gift of grace, those whose naive optimism betrays them into thinking that their own energies suffice to win them complete, lasting, and gainful prosperity, or, finally, those who take refuge in an aggressively pessimistic outlook on life and maintain that their vices, weaknesses and moral ailments are inevitable, incurable, or perhaps even desirable as sure manifestations of personal freedom and sincerity.

The Gospel of Christ recognizes the existence of human infirmities. It recognizes and denounces them with penetrating and often fierce sincerity. Yet it also understands them and cures them. It does not cherish the illusion that man is naturally good and self-sufficient, and needs only the ability to express himself as he pleases. Nor does it countenance a despairing acquiescence in the irremedial corruption of human nature. Christ's Gospel is light, newness, strength, salvation, and rebirth. It brings to birth a new and different kind of life, the marvels of which are proclaimed in the pages of the New Testament. Hence the admonition which St. Paul gives: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God " (Rom 12. 2.)

60. This difference between the Christian and the worldly life also arises from the fact that we are conscious of having been truly justified. Justification is produced in us by our sharing in the paschal mystery, particularly in Baptism, which is truly a rebirth, as St. Paul teaches: "All who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death. For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life." (Rom 6. 3-4.)

61. The modern Christian will do well, therefore, to reflect on this special and marvelous kind of life. He will thus be enabled to rejoice in the dignity that is his, to avoid the plague of human wretchedness which is everywhere around him, and to escape the seduction of human glory.

62. The Apostle of the Gentiles had this to say to the Christian of his day: "Bear not the yoke with unbelievers. For what participation hath justice with injustice? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness? . . . Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6. 14-15.) Hence the duty of modern educators and teachers in the Church of reminding young Catholics of their privileged position and of their obligation to live in the world, but not as the world lives. As Jesus Christ said in His prayer for His apostles: "I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world.'' (Jn 17. 15-16.)  [And the] Church makes this prayer its own.

Not Aloof, but Concerned and Loving

63. The fact that we are distinct from the world does not mean that we are entirely separated from it. Nor does it mean that we are indifferent to it, afraid of it, or contemptuous of it. When the Church distinguishes itself from humanity, it does so not in order to oppose it, but to come closer to it. A physician who realizes the danger of disease, protects himself and others from it, but at the same time he strives to cure those who have contracted it. The Church does the same thing. It does not regard God's mercy as an exclusive privilege, nor does the greatness of the privilege it enjoys make it feel unconcerned for those who do not share it. On the contrary, it finds in its own salvation an argument for showing more concern and more love for those who live close at hand, or to whom it can go in its endeavor to make all alike share the blessing of salvation. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §58-63 (c. 1964)]

The above paragraphs serve as an introduction of sorts to the dialogue by outlining its motives and noting the concern that should accompany it. This concern is worth noting as a preamble specifically because the Catholic party brings to the table the most significant part of all: the knowledge of the Gospel and how they have been justified by faith wrought in us by God's grace as conferred through baptism (Rom. vi,1-3). This new birth can, if the person is not acutely aware of the snares around them, serve as a source of arrogance. The latter can take many forms but two are most readily recognizable: (i) a kind of ivory tower abstraction which presumes that there is nothing to learn from others and (ii) a kind of Donatism where the person seeks to withdraw themselves from the world for selfish reasons under the pretext of a false piety.

The proper attitude of the justified person should be one of reflection on the great grace which they did not earn and of which they cannot boast of (cf. Eph. ii,8-9). For a proper and balanced understanding of this will enable them to rejoice in the dignity that is [theirs] while at the same time avoid[ing] the plague of human wretchedness which is everywhere around [them]. And of course as a result of the latter, they will much more easily escape the seduction of human glory.

All of this serves as a prelude if you will to the intricacies of the dialogue itself -to the manner whereby the internal forum needs to be configured in those who are born anew in baptism (cf. John iii,5). This prelud also serves to highlight how the discipline of the dialogue is both explained and applied in the varied circumstances which the individual may find themselves. The explanation of the term will be the next point covered in the encyclical so without further ado, let us get to it.

The Term Explained

64. If, as We said, the Church realizes what is God's will in its regard, it will gain for itself a great store of energy, and in addition will conceive the need for pouring out this energy in the service of all men. It will have a clear awareness of a mission received from God, of a message to be spread far and wide. Here lies the source of our evangelical duty, our mandate to teach all nations, and our apostolic endeavor to strive for the eternal salvation of all men. Merely to remain true to the faith is not enough. Certainly we must preserve and defend the treasure of truth and grace that we have inherited through Christian tradition. As St. Paul said, "keep that which is committed to thy trust." (1 Tm 6. 20.) But neither the preservation nor the defense of the faith exhausts the duty of the Church in regard to the gifts it has been given. The very nature of the gifts which Christ has given the Church demands that they be extended to others and shared with others. This must be obvious from the words: "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations," (Mt 28. 19.) Christ's final command to His apostles. The word apostle implies a mission from which there is no escaping.

To this internal drive of charity which seeks expression in the external gift of charity, We will apply the word "dialogue."

65. The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make.

66. We are fully aware that it is the intention of the Council to consider and investigate this special and important aspect of the Church's life, and We have no wish to steal its thunder. The Council Fathers must be free to discuss these subjects in detail. Our only concern, Venerable Brethren, is to propose certain points for your consideration before the beginning of the third session, so that we may all gain a clearer understanding of the compelling motives for the Church's dialogue, the methods to be followed and the end in view. Our purpose is to win souls, not to settle questions definitively. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §64-66 (c. 1964)]

Dialogue is in other words defined as  "[the] internal drive of charity which seeks expression in the external gift of charity." Obviously this is a definition that admits of various applications depending on the particular circumstances involved. Pope Paul noted that the Council would outline these applications in detail and of course this happened in the third and fourth sessions of the synod.This encyclical was issued about five weeks before the opening of the Council's Third Session -the point to which the expression dialogue began to be expressed in the conciliar texts. Since the use of the term dialogue in conciliar texts began with the schemas of the Third Session -which were solemnly promulgated as magisterial texts on November 21, 1964- it is necessary to understand the mind of the Council with regards to how this term is understood. The best way to do this is by referring back to the very encyclical we are looking at presently where the term and its proper understanding were first enunciated.

For in the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, the basic working definition of dialogue has been set forth as noted above. Those who would gripe about a supposed "inexactness" are inconsistent in not lobbing these same criticisms at Our Lord and St. Paul who often spoke in expository patterns themselves. Indeed St. Paul's discourse on charity in 1 Corinthians xiii is rather "imprecise" by the standards of these critics. But enough on that point as there is so much left to go over on the discipline of the dialogue and how it is properly understood and applied.

Papal Precedents

67. In fact no other course is open to Us in view of Our conviction that it is this kind of dialogue that will characterize Our apostolic ministry. From Our predecessors of the past century We have inherited a pastoral outlook and a pastoral approach. Our first teacher is that great and wise pope Leo XIII, who, like the prudent scribe in the Gospel, resembled a householder "who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." (Mt 13. 52.) With all the dignity of the magisterial authority of the Holy See, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to finding a Christian solution to the problems of this modern age. Our other teachers are his successors, who, as you know, followed closely in his footsteps.

68. How truly wonderful is the inheritance of doctrinal riches bequeathed to Us by Our predecessors, and especially by Pius XI and Pius XII! Providentially they strove to bridge, as it were, the gap between divine and human wisdom, using not the language of the textbook, but the ordinary language of contemporary speech. And what was this apostolic endeavor of theirs if not a dialogue?

As for Our immediate predecessor, John XXIII, he labored with masterly assurance to bring divine truths as far as may be within the reach of the experience and understanding of modern man. Was not the Council itself given a pastoral orientation, and does it not rightly strive to inject the Christian message into the stream of modern thought, and into the language, culture, customs, and sensibilities of man as he lives in the spiritual turmoil of this modern world? Before we can convert the world-as the very condition of converting the world-we must approach it and speak to it.

69. Reluctant as we are to speak of Ourself and to draw attention to Ourself, We feel compelled, in presenting Ourself to the college of bishops and to the Christian people, to speak of Our resolve to persevere in this endeavor. We will strive, so far as Our weakness permits and God gives Us the grace, to approach the world in which God has destined Us to live. We will approach it with reverence, persistence, and love, in an effort to get to know it and to offer it the gifts of truth and grace of which God has made Us custodian. We will strive to make the world share in the divine redemption and in the hope which inspires Us. Engraven on Our heart are those words of Christ which We would humbly but resolutely make Our own: "For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him." (Jn 3. 17.) [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §67-69 (c. 1964)]

Pope Paul here notes that his intention is to build on the style of the papacy in the form it had taken in his lifetime. (Pope Paul VI was born in 1897 during the reign of Pope Leo XIII.) His first significant point of reference was the pioneering Pope Leo XIII who devoted himself wholeheartedly to finding a Christian solution to the problems of this modern age. This is one ingredient of the dialogue: interacting with the problems and/or proposals of others. In Pope Leo XIII's case, these were most notably the problems of (i) the systems of government which were prevalent in his day (ii) the problems of the new capital/labour structures of society and (iii) biblical study.

Pope Leo XIII brought his acute intelligence to bear on these matters and many others which his epoch presented. His model of the papacy was interactive and in some respects refreshingly proactive. This is one very significant aspect of the dialogue: communication and interaction. Pope Leo XIII's approach was contributed to admirably by Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII. These pontiffs, according to Pope Paul VI  strove to bridge, as it were, the gap between divine and human wisdom, using not the language of the textbook, but the ordinary language of contemporary speech.  This is another significant element of the dialogue: speaking to people in language that they can understand.

Pope John XXIII was lauded as one who laboured with masterly assurance to bring divine truths as far as may be within the reach of the experience and understanding of modern man.  Pope Paul draws attention to the fact that the Second Vatican Council -which was conceived and convoked by Pope John XXIII- was specifically intended to take a pastoral approach by seeking to apply the Gospel message into the stream of modern thought, and into the language, culture, customs, and sensibilities of man as he lives in the spiritual turmoil of this modern world. This is a further refining of what the previous popes noted by Pope Paul VI did - and certainly quite congruent with their own more pastoral expository approach: which differed from the manner whereby the popes generally exercised their magisterium throughout Church history.

The Dialogue of Salvation

70. Here, then, Venerable Brethren, is the noble origin of this dialogue: in the mind of God Himself. Religion of its very nature is a certain relationship between God and man. It finds its expression in prayer; and prayer is a dialogue. Revelation, too, that supernatural link which God has established with man, can likewise be looked upon as a dialogue. In the Incarnation and in the Gospel it is God's Word that speaks to us. That fatherly, sacred dialogue between God and man, broken off at the time of Adam's unhappy fall, has since, in the course of history, been restored. Indeed, the whole history of man's salvation is one long, varied dialogue, which marvelously begins with God and which He prolongs with men in so many different ways.

In Christ's "conversation" (Cf. Bar 3. 38.) with men, God reveals something of Himself, of the mystery of His own life, of His own unique essence and trinity of persons. At the same time He tells us how He wishes to be known: as Love pure and simple; and how He wishes to be honored and served: His supreme commandment is love. Child and mystic, both are called to take part in this unfailing, trustful dialogue; and the mystic finds there the fullest scope for his spiritual powers.

Sheds Light On New Dialogue

71. This relationship, this dialogue, which God the Father initiated and established with us through Christ in the Holy Spirit, is a very real one, even though it is difficult to express in words. We must examine it closely if we want to understand the relationship which we, the Church, should establish and foster with the human race.

Ours the Initiative

72. God Himself took the initiative in the dialogue of salvation. "He hath first loved us." (1 Jn 4. 10.) We, therefore, must be the first to ask for a dialogue with men, without waiting to be summoned to it by others.

Love the Inducement

73. The dialogue of salvation sprang from the goodness and the love of God. "God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son." (Jn 3. 16.) Our inducement, therefore, to enter into this dialogue must be nothing other than a love which is ardent and sincere.

Neither Limited, Self-Seeking, Nor Coercive

74. The dialogue of salvation did not depend on the merits of those with whom it was initiated, nor on the results it would be likely to achieve. "They that are whole need not the physician." (Lk 5. 31.) Neither, therefore, should we set limits to our dialogue or seek in it our own advantage.

75. No physical pressure was brought on anyone to accept the dialogue of salvation; far from it. It was an appeal of love. True, it imposed a serious obligation on those toward whom it was directed (Cf. Mt 11. 21.) but it left them free to respond to it or to reject it. Christ adapted the number of His miracles (Cf. Mt 12.38 ff.) and their demonstrative force to the dispositions and good will of His hearers (Cf. Mt 13. 13 ff.) so as to help them to consent freely to the revelation they were given and not to forfeit the reward for their consent.

Hence although the truth we have to proclaim is certain and the salvation necessary, we dare not entertain any thoughts of external coercion. Instead we will use the legitimate means of human friendliness, interior persuasion, and ordinary conversation. We will offer the gift of salvation while respecting the personal and civic rights of the individual.

But Universal

76. The dialogue of salvation was made accessible to all. It applied to everyone without distinction. (Cf. Col 3. 11.) Hence our dialogue too should be as universal as we can make it. That is to say, it must be catholic, made relevant to everyone, excluding only those who utterly reject it or only pretend to be willing to accept it.

And Persevering

77. Before it could be completely successful the dialogue of salvation had normally to begin in small things. It progressed gradually step by step. (Cf. Mt 13. 31.) Our dialogue too must take cognizance of the slowness of human and historical development, and wait for the hour when God may make it effective. We should not however on that account postpone until tomorrow what we can accomplish today. We should be eager for the opportune moment and sense the preciousness of time. (Cf.Eph 5. 16.) Today, every day, should see a renewal of our dialogue. We, rather than those to whom it is directed, should take the initiative. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §70-77 (c. 1964)]

The Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam in §70 notes that the origin of dialogue is in the mind of God Himself and that religion -inasmuch as it is a relationship between God and man- involves key components of the dialogue. For religion involves revelation as communication on the part of God and prayer as communication on the part of man. As dialogue is  "[the] internal drive of charity which seeks expression in the external gift of charity", this interaction between God Who is Love and man who seeks to know God is logically one manifestation of the dialogue.

Because of the spiritual nature of this relationship between God and man, it is difficult to express this dialogue adequately in words (§71). However, the mystery involved must be examined closely since the Church's role is to foster a similar relationship to the extent that this is possible with the human race (§71). And as God is the initiator of the dialogue of salvation with man -having loved us before all ages- we who are called to bring the Gospel to all nations likewise must seek the dialogue with others without being asked on no other motive than that of love for the other for their own sake (§72-73). And because the love that should involve the dialogue must be grounded in charity, it cannot be based on either the merits of others or potential "gain." For this reason it must not be arbitrarily limited or be sought for our own advantage (§74).

For authentic love does not seek the advantage of self but instead the advantage of the other. And therefore, since love cannot be coerced, neither can we seek to externally coerce others in dialogue against their consciences (§75). The methods involved must mirror those of Our Lord who never coerced His listeners but instead put the truth before them in ways that they could comprehend for their acceptance or rejection thereof. Since we lack the all-knowing attributes of Our Lord and since the dialogue of salvation was made to all, its universality must resonate in our attempts to make it relevant to everyone (§76). The only exceptions to this of course are those who utterly reject it or only pretend to be willing to accept it (§77).

It is also important to remember that the dialogue must start small and take into account the slowness of human and historical development, and wait for the hour when God may make it effective (§77). And while not all things can be achieved in the present that nonetheless we should not neglect to do what can be done in the here and now; ergo, for that reason we should take the initiative towards others.

Dialogue As A Method

78. Clearly, relationships between the Church and the world can be effective in a great variety of ways. The Church could perhaps justifiably reduce such contacts to a minimum, on the plea that it wishes to isolate itself from secular society. It might content itself with conducting an inquiry into the evils current in secular society, condemning them publicly, and fighting a crusade against them. On the other hand, it might approach secular society with a view to exercising a preponderant influence over it, and subjecting it to a theocratic power; and so on.

Best of Possible Approaches

But it seems to Us that the sort of relationship for the Church to establish with the world should be more in the nature of a dialogue, though theoretically other methods are not excluded. We do not mean unrealistic dialogue. It must be adapted to the intelligences of those to whom it is addressed, and it must take account of the circumstances. Dialogue with children is not the same as dialogue with adults, nor is dialogue with Christians the same as dialogue with non-believers. But this method of approach is demanded nowadays by the prevalent understanding of the relationship between the sacred and the profane. It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the pluralism of society, and by the maturity man has reached in this day and age. Be he religious or not, his secular education has enabled him to think and speak, and conduct a dialogue with dignity.

79. Moreover, the very fact that he engages in a dialogue of this sort is proof of his consideration and esteem for others, his understanding and his kindness. He detests bigotry and prejudice, malicious and indiscriminate hostility, and empty, boastful speech.

If, in our desire to respect a man's freedom and dignity, his conversion to the true faith is not the immediate object of our dialogue with him, we nevertheless try to help him and to dispose him for a fuller sharing of ideas and convictions.

80. Our dialogue, therefore, presupposes that there exists in us a state of mind which we wish to communicate and to foster in those around us. It is the state of mind which characterizes the man who realizes the seriousness of the apostolic mission and who sees his own salvation as inseparable from the salvation of others. His constant endeavor is to get everyone talking about the message which it has been given to him to communicate. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §78-80 (c. 1964)]

Basically, the Church can approach the world in many ways. And while some may see isolationist outlooks coupled with minimal contacts and condemning the evils of society (and crusading against them) as the best approach, others may see attempting to subvert society into some form of theocratic form as ideal. (And yes, these two approaches can also be combined to some extent.) But Pope Paul VI sees the dialogue as the best method provided that it is conducted realistically (§78). Such realistic dialogue must take into account the intelligence of those being addressed and the circumstances involved. Thus, one would not dialogue with a child the same as dialogue with adults. Likewise, nor is dialogue with Christians the same as dialogue with non-believers. However, the dialogue as a method is seen as a necessity in light of several factors including the pluralistic reality of modern society and the intelligence of modern man which, as a result of education significantly in advance of previous generations well equips him for the method (§78).

The dialogue must not involve the immediate object of someone's conversion to the true faith; however it must dispose them to be able to in time receive a fuller degree of truth (§79). (In this sense it can be said that the dialogue would inexorably involve the proximate object of gradual transformation if both parties are genuinely open to the truth.) And of course there is a presupposition that one's own individual salvation should not be seen as separable from the salvation of others (§80) but there must be a constant endeavour to keep communication of the Gospel message open (§80).

Its Proper Characteristics

81. Dialogue, therefore, is a recognized method of the apostolate. It is a way of making spiritual contact. It should however have the following characteristics:

1) Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses. This fact alone would suffice to make such dialogue rank among the greatest manifestations of human activity and culture. In order to satisfy this first requirement, all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?

2) Our dialogue must be accompanied by that meekness which Christ bade us learn from Himself: "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart." (Mt 11. 29.) It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.

3) Confidence is also necessary; confidence not only in the power of one's own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.

4) Finally, the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer, (Mt 7.6.) particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile. The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.

82. In a dialogue conducted with this kind of foresight, truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §81-82 (c. 1964)]

Having noted all of the above, Pope Paul VI outlines the four important ingredients which must guide dialogue. There is no summary of those parts which could do them full justice but this writer will try nonetheless to do so.

In brief, dialogue must involve (i) clarity for the person being addressed (ii) an absence of arrogance or offensive terminology (iii) confidence in our own words and the good faith of all parties involved and (iv) the prudence to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer recognizing that not all audiences will accept something in the same sense. (For this reason, adaptation of the manner of presentation to the best advantage of the other party is necessary.) The summary of the the dialogue outlined according to Pope Paul VI is that truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love. So in a certain sense, those who are looking for a precise definition of "dialogue" should if they are consistent express a similar discomfort at not having a precise definition of "truth", "charity", or "love." And far from being separate from these, authentic dialogue must involve them or else it is not genuine at all but instead is a counterfeit.

Deeper Knowledge Through Wider Exposure

83. And that is not all. For it becomes obvious in a dialogue that there are various ways of coming to the light of faith and it is possible to make them all converge on the same goal. However divergent these ways may be, they can often serve to complete each other. They encourage us to think on different lines. They force us to go more deeply into the subject of our investigations and to find better ways of expressing ourselves. It will be a slow process of thought, but it will result in the discovery of elements of truth in the opinion of others and make us want to express our teaching with great fairness. It will be set to our credit that we expound our doctrine in such a way that others can respond to it, if they will, and assimilate it gradually. It will make us wise; it will make us teachers.

Modes of Dialogue

84. Consider now the form which the dialogue of salvation takes, and the manner of exposition .

85. It has many forms. If necessary it takes account of actual experience. It chooses appropriate means. It is unencumbered by prejudice. It does not hold fast to forms of expression which have lost their meaning and can no longer stir men's minds.

The Crucial Question

86. We are faced here with a serious problem: how is the Church to adapt its mission to the particular age, environment, educational and social conditions of men's lives?

87. To what extent should the Church adapt itself to the historical and local circumstances in which it has to exercise its mission? How is it to guard against the danger of relativism which would make it untrue to its own dogmas and moral principles? And yet how can it fit itself to approach all men and bring salvation to all, becoming on the example of the Apostle Paul "all things to all men," that all may be saved? (1 Cor 9. 22.)

Preliminary Conditions

Since the world cannot be saved from the outside, we must first of all identify ourselves with those to whom we would bring the Christian message-like the Word of God who Himself became a man. Next we must forego all privilege and the use of unintelligible language, and adopt the way of life of ordinary people in all that is human and honorable. Indeed, we must adopt the way of life of the most humble people, if we wish to be listened to and understood. Then, before speaking, we must take great care to listen not only to what men say, but more especially to what they have it in their hearts to say. Only then will we understand them and respect them, and even, as far as possible, agree with them.

Furthermore, if we want to be men's pastors, fathers and teachers, we must also behave as their brothers. Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service. All this we must remember and strive to put into practice on the example and precept of Christ. (Cf. Jn 13. 14-17.) [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §83-87 (c. 1964)]

To cover these points briefly, the deeper one is involved in dialogue, the clearer it becomes to them that there many ways of coming to the light of faith. For from being necessarily dichotomistic, these different ways can often be brought to a convergence. Also, these different methods can often complete each other because they involve us having to adjust our way of thinking and seek a greater knowledge of those we dialogue with. (To better express ourselves to them.) The process is often slow but it enables us to see the truth that the positions of others can have and thus we can best express our outlook to enable others to accept and assimilate it if they will -and if they will not then we can try another approach that is more suitable to their particular circumstances and outlooks (§83).

Dialogue essentially takes many forms. It takes account of actual experience when this is feasible or necessary, it chooses appropriate means for the particular situation and is not wedded to forms of expression which have lost the ability of moving the minds of others. It is also free of prejudice. In short, we must become "all things to all people" (1 Cor. ix,19-23) and recognize that as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (cf. Matt. xxviii,20; Mark x,45) that in a similar way, dialogue thrives on friendship and integrally must involve service (§84-87).


88. But the danger remains. Indeed, the worker in the apostolate is under constant fire. The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth. Our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith. Our apostolate must not make vague compromises concerning the principles which regulate and govern the profession of the Christian faith both in theory and in practice.

An immoderate desire to make peace and sink differences at all costs (irenism and syncretism) is ultimately nothing more than skepticism about the power and content of the Word of God which we desire to preach. The effective apostle is the man who is completely faithful to Christ's teaching. He alone can remain unaffected by the errors of the world around him, the man who lives his Christian life to the full.

Direction from the Council

89. We believe that when the Ecumenical Council comes to deal with the problems relating to the Church's activity in the modern world, it will give the doctrinal and practical rules needed for the proper conduct of our dialogue with our contemporaries. We believe too that in matters relating to the Church's actual apostolic mission and the many changing circumstances in which it is exercised, the supreme authority of the Church will in every instance determine wise, effective and clear aims, principles, and methods, so that a lively and effective dialogue may be assured and lasting. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §88-89 (c. 1964)]

In brief:

---Dialogue cannot involve a compromising of the truth.

---Dialogue must not weaken one's attachment to the faith.

And as history well demonstrates for those who have eyes to see (and to read), the Second Vatican Council provided the doctrinal and practical rules for the proper conduct of dialogue in the modern world -including principles to avoid the aforementioned dangers. (How many actually follow these prescriptions and avoid the aforesaid dangers is another subject altogether.)

Preaching the Primary Apostolate

90. However, leaving aside this aspect of the matter, We want to stress once more the very important place that preaching still has, especially in the modern Catholic apostolate and in connection with the dialogue which is Our present concern. No other form of communication can take its place; not even the exceptionally powerful and effective means provided by modern technology: the press, radio and television.

In effect, the apostolate and sacred preaching are more or less synonymous terms. Preaching is the primary apostolate. Our ministry, Venerable Brethren, is before all else the ministry of the Word. We are well aware of this, but it is good to remind ourselves of it at the present time so as to give the right orientation to our pastoral activities. We must return to the study, not of human eloquence of empty rhetoric, but of the genunine [art] of proclaiming the Word of God.

91. We must search for the principles which make for simplicity, clarity, effectiveness and authority, and so overcome our natural ineptitude in the use of this great and mysterious instrument of the divine Word, and be a worthy match for those whose skill in the use of words makes them so influential in the world today and gives them access to the organs of public opinion. We must pray to the Lord for this vital, soul-stirring gift, (Cf. Jer 1. 6.) that we may be fit instruments in the work of really and effectively preaching the faith, (Cf. Rom 10. 17.) and that our message may reach to the ends of the earth. (Cf. Ps 18. 5, Rom 10. 18.)

May we carry out intelligently and zealously everything that the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has prescribed regarding the ministry of the Word. And may the instruction we give our Christian people and others, insofar as it is possible, be skillfully expressed, carefully thought out, and zealously imparted. May it be supported by the evidence of real virtue. Progress must be its aim. It must concern itself with imparting a sure faith, a realization of the intimate connection between God's Word and man's life, and the enjoyment of some ray of divine light.

The Church in Dialogue

92. Finally We must say something about those to whom our dialogue is addressed; but even here We have no wish to forestall the decisions of the Council, which, please God, will soon be made known.

A Message for Everyone

93. Speaking generally of the dialogue which the Church of today must take up with a great renewal of fervor, We would say that it must be readily conducted with all men of good will both inside and outside the Church.

94. The Church can regard no one as excluded from its motherly embrace, no one as outside the scope of its motherly care. It has no enemies except those who wish to make themselves such. Its catholicity is no idle boast. It was not for nothing that it received its mission to foster love, unity and peace among men.

Difficulties Recognized

95. It realizes only too well the enormous difficulties of such a mission. It is well aware of the numerical disproportion between itself and the rest of the human race. It knows its own limitations, its own shortcomings and the failings of its own members. It realizes too that the acceptance of the gospel does not depend on any apostolic endeavors of its own, nor on the existence of the right temporal conditions. Faith is a gift of God. He alone determines in the world the order and the time of salvation.

The Church does, however, realize that it is the seed, as it were, the leaven, the salt and the light of the world. Fully conscious of all that is new and remarkable in this modern age, it nevertheless holds its place in a changing world with sincere confidence, and says to men: "Here in my possession is what you are looking for, what you need."

Its promise is [not]  one of earthly happiness, but it does nevertheless provide the best means for the attainment of earthly happiness, namely, light and grace; and it teaches men about their future life which transcends nature. In addition it speaks to them of truth, justice, freedom, progress, concord, civilization and peace. The Church well knows the value of these things. It knows them in the light of Christ's revelation. It has a message, therefore, for everyone: boys and girls, young men and women, scientists and scholars, working men and men of every class in society, professional men and politicians; but especially the poor, the unfortunate, the sick and the dying-in a word, everybody. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §90-95 (c. 1964)]

Essentially, for those who are ministers of the Word, there must be a constant search for the best ways to proclaim the Word of God and the life and conduct of the messenger should fit the message being preached. The dialogue must be carried out with all men of good will, whether they are within the Church or not (§93-94) and no one is an enemy of the Church except those who wish to make themselves such (§94). The difficulties in seeking to pass on the truth to others are many including disproportionate numbers, failings of members of the Church, and the acceptance of the Gospel does not rely on the endeavours of individuals or ideal circumstances in the temporal sphere but on faith which is a gift of God who alone determines the time as well as the order of things pertaining to salvation.

Though she can contribute to the greatest possibility of true earthly happiness, this is not the promise that the Church makes (§95). Of herself, the Church recognizes that she is many things including leaven (Luke xiii,20-22), salt, and light of the world (Matt. v,13-16); therefore she can confidently and sincerely offer to men the one possession that they are all seeking: salvation. And this is a message that everyone is in need of no matter whom they are.

In Terms of Concentric Circles

96. You may say that in making this assertion we are carried away by an excessive zeal for Our office and are not giving sufficient weight to the true position of the Catholic Church vis-a-vis the world. But that is not so. We see the concrete situation very clearly, and might sum it up in general terms by describing it in a series of concentric circles around the central point at which God has placed us.

First Circle: Mankind

97. The first of these circles is immense. Its limits stretch beyond our view into the distant horizon. It comprises the entire human race, the world. We are fully aware of the distance which separates us from the world, but we do not conceive of it as a stranger to us. All things human are our concern. We share with the whole of the human race a common nature, a common life, with all its gifts and all its problems. We are ready to play our part in this primary, universal society, to acknowledge the insistent demands of its fundamental needs, and to applaud the new and often sublime expressions of its genius. But there are moral values of the utmost importance which we have to offer it. These are of advantage to everyone. We root them firmly in the consciences of men. Wherever men are striving to understand themselves and the world, we are able to communicate with them. Wherever the councils of nations come together to establish the rights and duties of man, we are honored to be permitted to take our place among them. If there is in man a "soul that is naturally Christian," we wish to respect it, to cherish it, and to communicate with it.

98. In all this, as we remind ourselves and others, our attitude is entirely disinterested, devoid of any temporal or political motive. Our sole purpose is to take what is good in man's life on earth and raise it to a supernatural and Christian level. The Church is not identical with civilization. It does however promote it.

Atheism a Growing Evil

99. Sad to say, this vast circle comprises very many people who profess no religion at all. Many, too, subscribe to atheism in one of its many different forms. They parade their godlessness openly, asserting its claims in education and politics, in the foolish and fatal belief that they are emancipating mankind from false and outworn notions about life and the world and substituting a view that is scientific and up-to-date.

100. This is the most serious problem of our time. We are firmly convinced that the basic propositions of atheism are utterly false and irreconcilable with the underlying principles of thought. They strike at the genuine and effective foundation for man's acceptance of a rational order in the universe, and introduce into human life a futile kind of dogmatism which far from solving life's difficulties, only degrades it and saddens it. Any social system based on these principles is doomed to utter destruction. Atheism, therefore, is not a liberating force, but a catastrophic one, for it seeks to quench the light of the living God. We shall therefore resist this growing evil with all our strength, spurred on by our great zeal for safeguarding the truth, inspired by our social duty of loyally professing Christ and His gospel, and driven on by a burning, unquenchable love, which makes man's good our constant concern. We shall resist in the invincible hope that modern man may recognize the religious ideals which the Catholic faith sets before him and feel himself drawn to seek a form of civilization which will never fail him but will lead on to the natural and supernatural perfection of the human spirit. May the grace of God enable him to possess his temporal goods in peace and honor and to live in the assurance of acquiring those that are eternal.

Communist Oppression

101. It is for these reasons that We are driven to repudiate such ideologies as deny God and oppress the Church-We repudiate them as Our predecessors did, and as everyone must do who firmly believes in the excellence and importance of religion. These ideologies are often identified with economic, social and political regimes; atheistic communism is a glaring instance of this. Yet is it really so much we who condemn them? One might say that it is rather they and their politicians who are clearly repudiating us, and for doctrinaire reasons subjecting us to violent oppression. Truth to tell, the voice we raise against them is more the complaint of a victim than the sentence of a judge.

102. In these circumstances dialogue is very difficult, not to say impossible, although we have today no preconceived intention of cutting ourselves off from the adherents of these systems and these regimes. For the lover of truth discussion is always possible. But the difficulties are enormously increased by obstacles of the moral order: by the absence of sufficient freedom of thought and action, and by the calculated misuse of words in debate, so that they serve not the investigation and formulation of objective truth, but purely subjective expediency.

103. Instead of dialogue, therefore, there is silence, for example, the only voice that is heard is the voice of suffering. By its suffering it becomes the mouthpiece of an oppressed and degraded society, deprived by its rulers of every spiritual right. How can a dialogue be conducted in such circumstances as these, even if we embarked upon it? It would be but "a voice crying in the wilderness." (Mk 1. 3.) The only witness that the Church can give is that of silence, suffering, patience, and unfailing love, and this is a voice that not even death can silence. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §96-103 (c. 1964)]

In the understanding of relation to the Church in the form of concentric circles, the widest circle involves mankind in general and the Church seeks to promote that which is most authentically human. The summary of §97-98 is in the statement that without any temporal or political motive that Our sole purpose is to take what is good in man's life on earth and raise it to a supernatural and Christian level. Contingent on the latter is the moral values that the Church proposes which are of value to all people and are rooted in their consciences (cf. Rom. ii,11ff).

From there Pope Paul VI notes the growing evil of atheism and the oppression of communism which make dialogue extremely difficult. This writer found the following part of particular interest:

For the lover of truth discussion is always possible. But the difficulties are enormously increased by obstacles of the moral order: by the absence of sufficient freedom of thought and action, and by the calculated misuse of words in debate, so that they serve not the investigation and formulation of objective truth, but purely subjective expediency.
The reason that this part stuck out at the author is because many of these obstacles are also applicable to those of a fundamentalist mindset who impose an artificial barrier -and one narrowly drawn at that- over legitimate freedom of thought and action. These same kinds of people not too infrequently involve themselves in the calculated misuse of words in debate as well. None of this of course serves the investigation and formulation of objective truth but instead this methodology tends towards the promotion of selfish interests contrary to authentic dialogue and authentic charity. (Which as has been noted already are two sides of the same coin.)

Challenge to Understand, Answer, Rectify

104. Though We speak firmly and clearly in defense of religion, and of those human, spiritual values which it proclaims and cherishes, Our pastoral solicitude nevertheless prompts Us to probe into the mind of the modern atheist, in an effort to understand the reasons for his mental turmoil and his denial of God. They are obviously many and complex, and we must come to a prudent decision about them, and answer them effectively. They sometimes spring from the demand for a more profound and purer presentation of religious truth, and an objection to forms of language and worship which somehow fall short of the ideal. These things we must remedy. We must do all we can to purify them and make them express more adequately the sacred reality of which they are the signs.

We see these men serving a demanding and often a noble cause, fired with enthusiasm and idealism, dreaming of justice and progress and striving for a social order which they conceive of as the ultimate of perfection, and all but divine. This, for them, is the Absolute and the Necessary. It proves that nothing can tear from their hearts their yearning for God, the first and final cause of all things. It is the task of our teaching Office to reveal to them, with patience and wisdom, that all these things are immanent in human nature and transcend it.

Again we see these men taking pains to work out scientific explanation of the universe by human reasoning, and they are often quite ingenuously enthusiastic about this. It is an enquiry which is all the less reprehensible in that it follows rules of logic very similar to those which are taught in the best schools of philosophy. Such an enquiry, far from providing them, as they suppose, with irrefutable arguments in defense of their atheism, must of its very nature bring them back finally to the metaphysical and logical assertion of the existence of the supreme God.

The atheistic political scientist wilfully stops short at a certain point in this inevitable process of reasoning, and in doing so shuts out the supreme light which gives intelligibility to the universe. Is there no one among us who could help him to arrive at last at the realization of the objective reality of the cosmic universe which confronts the mind with the presence of God and brings to the lips a healing prayer of tearful humility? [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §104 (c. 1964)]

In the above text, Pope Paul VI is concerned as all people should be to understand the reasons intellectually for the atheist outlook to better provide for the atheist what they and all people are seeking in their hearts: the yearning for God. The situation though not looking promising can eventually become so -albeit not without much labour on the part of those who courageously undertake the dialogue in this realm. As in all endeavours, the practice of authentic charity is a pre-requisite if any real progress is to be made.

Eventual Dialogue Seen Possible

They are sometimes men of great breadth of mind, impatient with the mediocrity and self-seeking which infects so much of modern society. They are quick to make use of sentiments and expressions found in our Gospel, referring to the brotherhood of man, mutual aid, and human compassion. Shall we not one day be able to lead them back to the Christian sources of these moral values?

105. We would like to recall what Our predecessor Pope John XXIII wrote in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris. He drew attention to the fact that although the formulation of a particular philosophy does not change once it has been worked out and systematized, nevertheless the practical programme initiated by such a philosophy is capable of receiving a gradual reorientation, and may in fact undergo considerable changes. (Cf. AAS LV (1963), 300.) We do not therefore give up hope of the eventual possibility of a dialogue between these men and the Church, and a more fruitful one than is possible at present, when we can only express our justifiable complaints and repudiations.

The Cause of Peace

106. Before leaving this subject of the contemporary world, We feel impelled to mention Our cherished hope that this intention of Ours of holding a dialogue and of developing it under all the various and changing aspects which it presents, may assist the cause of peace among men. May it point the way to prudence and sincerity in the ordering of human relationships, and bring experience and wisdom to bear on the problem of recalling all men to the consideration of supernatural values.

The mere fact that we are embarking upon a disinterested, objective and sincere dialogue is a circumstance in favor of a free and honorable peace. It positively excludes all pretence, rivalry, deceit and betrayal. It brands wars of aggression, imperialism, and domination as criminal and catastrophic. It necessarily brings men together on every level: heads of states, the body of the nation and its foundations, whether social, family, or individual. It strives to inspire in every institution and in every soul the understanding and love of peace and the duty to preserve it. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §104-106 (c. 1964)]

In short, the pope in the above passages held out hope that eventually dialogue will be possible with those who are of an atheist persuasion. He also noted briefly that his hope in holding the dialogue is to (i) assist the cause of peace (ii) assist in the ordering of human relationships and (iii) in the process recall all men to reflection on matters which transcend the natural realm.

Second Circle: Worshippers of the One God

107. Then we see another circle around us. This too is vast in extent, yet not so far away from us. It comprises first of all those men who worship the one supreme God, whom we also worship. We would mention first the Jewish people, who still retain the religion of the Old Testament, and who are indeed worthy of our respect and love.

Then we have those worshipers who adhere to other monotheistic systems of religion, especially the Moslem religion. We do well to admire these people for all that is good and true in their worship of God.

And finally we have the followers of the great Afro-Asiatic religions.

Obviously we cannot agree with these various forms of religion, nor can we adopt an indifferent or uncritical attitude toward them on the assumption that they are all to be regarded as on an equal footing, and that there is no need for those who profess them to enquire whether or not God has Himself revealed definitively and infallibly how He wishes to be known, loved, and served. Indeed, honesty compels us to declare openly our conviction that the Christian religion is the one and only true religion, and it is our hope that it will be acknowledged as such by all who look for God and worship Him.

Common Ideals In Many Spheres

108. But we do not wish to turn a blind eye to the spiritual and moral values of the various non-Christian religions, for we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order. Dialogue is possible in all these great projects, which are our concern as much as theirs, and we will not fail to offer opportunities for discussion in the event of such an offer being favorably received in genuine, mutual respect. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §107-108 (c. 1964)]

In short, though the Christian religion is the one true religion, there are common values in the non-Christian religions which we can profess along with them along the line of  promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order. One particular "common ideal" that bears noting here is prayer in common for peace with others -each in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. But of course for certain individuals, this is a concept that is only acceptable in the abstract (if at all) and not in reality. And it was this kind of detrimental dichotomistic outlook which was one of the primary purposes for the convoking of the Second Vatican Council.

Third Circle: Christians

109. And so we come to the circle which is nearest to us, and which comprises all those who take their name from Christ. In this area the ecumenical dialogue, as it is called, is already in being, and there are places where it is beginning to make considerable progress. There is much more that could be said on this complex and delicate matter, but this will not be Our final word on the subject. So for the moment We will merely refer in passing to a few fairly obvious points .

Ready to Meet Legitimate Desires

We readily accept the principle of stressing what we all have in common rather than what divides us. This provides a good and fruitful basis for our dialogue, and we are prepared to engage upon it with a will. We would even go further and declare our readiness to examine how we can meet the legitimate desires of our separated Christian brothers on many points of difference concerning tradition, spirituality, canon law, and worship, for it is Our dearest wish to embrace them in a perfect union of faith and charity.

We must stress however that it is not in Our power to make any concessions regarding the integrity of the faith and the obligations of charity. We realize that this may cause misgiving and opposition in certain quarters, but now that the Catholic Church has on its own initiative taken steps to restore the unity of Christ's fold, it will not cease to exercise the greatest prudence and deliberation. It will continue to insist that the claims it makes for itself-claims which still have the effect of alienating the separated brethren-derive from the will of Christ, not from any spirit of self-aggrandizement based on the record of its past achievements, nor from any unsound theological speculation. Rightly understood, they will be seen to be for the good of all, for the common unity, liberty and fullness of the Christian life. The Catholic Church will never cease to prepare itself by prayer and penance for the longed-for reconciliation.

Papacy an Apparent Obstacle

110. That We, who promote this reconciliation, should be regarded by many of Our separated brothers as an obstacle to it, is a matter of deep distress to Us. The obstacle would seem to be the primacy of honor and jurisdiction which Christ bestowed on the Apostle Peter, and which We have inherited as his Successor.

But Principle of Unity

Are there not those who say that unity between the separated Churches and the Catholic Church would be more easily achieved if the primacy of the Roman pontiff were done away with? We beg our separated brothers to consider the groundlessness of this opinion. Take away the sovereign Pontiff and the Catholic Church would no longer be catholic. Moreover, without the supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter the unity of Christ's Church would collapse. It would be vain to look for other principles of unity in place of the true one established by Christ Himself. As St. Jerome rightly observed: "There would be as many schisms in the Church as there are priests." (Cf. Dial. contra Luciferianos, n. 9; PL 23. 173.)

And Primacy of Service and Love

We would add that this cardinal principle of holy Church is not a supremacy of spiritual pride and a desire to dominate mankind, but a primacy of service, ministration, and love. It is no vapid rhetoric which confers on Christ's vicar the title: "Servant of the servants of God."

111. These then are the lines of our dialogue. But before we engage in conversation with our brothers, we address ourselves lovingly to our Heavenly Father in earnest prayer and great confidence. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §109-111 (c. 1964)]

Pope Paul VI saw the closest circle -that of Christians- as one in which no reasonable stone should be left unturned. However, out of charity this endeavour cannot result in the sacrifice of the integrity of the faith. In this area, the Catholic Church must stand firm for the claims the Church makes about herself derive from the will of Christ, not from any spirit of self-aggrandizement based on the record of its past achievements, nor from any unsound theological speculation.  And while the Church believes that these claims will be seen to be for the good of all, for the common unity, liberty and fullness of the Christian life once they are [r]ightly understood; at the same time, she admits that there is a lot of misunderstanding in this area. Furthermore, because of this misunderstanding, the Church -while retaining always what is essential- must be willing to go the extra mile in accommodating others in the areas which are not essential (§109).

Furthermore, while Pope Paul recognized that our separated brethren often see the papacy is an obstacle to unity (§110), he also recognized that this was not for the most part because of anything intrinsic to the papacy. The core function of the papacy as established by Christ for maintaining the common unity cannot be compromised without the Catholic Church ceasing to exist for then there would be no concrete principle of unity left (§110). However, the papacy is not properly seen as an office of aggrandizement or a supremacy of spiritual pride. Nor is its intention to dominate mankind. Instead, it is a primacy of service, ministration, and love (§110). For this reason, while the manner whereby the papacy was exercised in the past may have at times departed from this model, the fault is not to be put on the principle itself anymore than the value of the ten commandments should be judged on the myriad of ways which mankind has controverted them throughout history.

Reunion Held Promising

112. It is a source of joy and hope to Us, Venerable Brethren, to note the spiritual fervor that is being aroused in this varied and wide circle of Christians. For this would seem to augur well for the future unification of all Christians in the one Church of Christ.

We pray for the breath of the Holy Spirit on the ecumenical movement, and recall once more the emotion and joy We felt in Jerusalem at our meeting with the Patriarch Athenagoras. It was a meeting that abounded in charity, and fired Us with new hope. We welcome with gratitude and respect those representatives of the separated churches who are taking part in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. We assure them once again of Our enthusiastic and attentive interest in all those spiritual movements concerned or connected with the problem of unity which are stirring individuals, groups, and communities noted for their noble piety. We greet all these Christians with love and reverence, confident that the cause of Christ and the unity which He Himself willed for His Church will be promoted by our sincere and friendly dialogue.

Last Circle: Catholics

113. We address Ourself finally to the sons of God's house, the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church of which the Roman Church is "mother and head." How greatly we desire that this dialogue with Our own children may be conducted with the fullness of faith, with charity, and with dynamic holiness. May it be of frequent occurrence and on an intimate level. May it be open and responsive to all truth, every virtue, every spiritual value that goes to make us the heritage of Christian teaching. We want it to be sincere. We want it to be an inspiration to genuine holiness. We want it to show itself ready to listen to the variety of views which are expressed in the world today. We want it to be the sort of dialogue that will make Catholics virtuous, wise, unfettered, fair-minded and strong.

Obedience Still to be Exercised

114. But this desire that the Church's internal relationships should take the form of a dialogue between members of a community founded upon love, does not mean that the virtue of obedience is no longer operative. The right to command and the duty to obey must be present in any properly constituted society, especially in the Church which is structured on a sacred hierarchy. Its authority was established by Christ. It is His representative, the authoritative organ of His Word, the expression of His great pastoral love. Hence obedience has faith as its starting point. It is exercised in the school of evangelical humility. It is a participation in the wisdom, unity, idealism, and charity which are ruling factors in the corporate life of the Church. It confers upon him who commands and upon him who obeys the merit of being like Christ who "was made obedient even unto death." (Phil 2.8.)

115. Moreover the very exercise of authority becomes, in the context of this dialogue, an exercise of obedience, the obedient performance of a service, a ministry of truth and charity. By obedience We mean the observance of canonical regulations and respect for the government of lawful superiors, but an observance and respect readily and serenely given, as is only to be expected from free and loving children.

By contrast, a spirit of independence, bitter criticism, defiance, and arrogance is far removed from that charity which nourishes and preserves the spirit of fellowship, harmony, and peace in the Church. It completely vitiates dialogue, turning it into argument, disagreement and dissension-a sad state of affairs, but by no means uncommon. St. Paul warned us against this when he said: "Let there be no schisms among you." (1 Cor 1. 10.) [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §112-115 (c. 1964)]

To summarize the above reflections, the dialogue does not invalidate obedience. For as (i) the dialogue is founded on charity which is the bedrock of all virtues (cf. 1 Cor. xiii,13) and (ii) charity rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. xiii,6); therefore (iii) the truth that God established a sacred hierarchy must be maintained. And furthermore, (iv) those who command as well as those who obey are through their respective roles conformed to Christ (§114).

In the context of dialogue between ruler and subject, the exercise of authority is an exercise in obedience. Likewise, the obedience to authority is seen as a witness to truth and an act of charity. However, in the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, there is a manifested development in understanding of this long-inculcated principle. It is true that obedience is and always will be required. However, the obedience should be informed and not blind. Likewise, the commands of authority should not be arbitrary ones. That is not to say that obedience is voided when the authority fails to govern in a non-arbitrary manner of course.

The dialogue between Catholics is intended in part to clarify the intentions of the authority and the requirements made by said authority. For understanding the dynamics involved here, the reader is asked to kindly review parts §81-82 of the encyclical letter as noted above. With regards to what is not acceptable for those who would seek to undertake the dialogue, the last words of part §115 of the encyclical letter are worth noting again:

[A] spirit of independence, bitter criticism, defiance, and arrogance is far removed from that charity which nourishes and preserves the spirit of fellowship, harmony, and peace in the Church. It completely vitiates dialogue, turning it into argument, disagreement and dissension-a sad state of affairs, but by no means uncommon. St. Paul warned us against this when he said: "Let there be no schisms among you." (1 Cor 1. 10.)

Hopefully those who claim to be Catholics but are (i) disobedient to the ecclesiastical magisterium in the manner noted in Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam (§115), or who (ii) "suspend obedience" to the same magisterium realize that they can have no part in the dialogue. The reason for this is because part of authentic charity is obedience to the truth (cf. 1 Cor. xiii,4-6). Those who act as noted in Ecclesiam Suam §115 are bereft of charity which is a pre-requisite for authentic dialogue -one way they prove this is in their creating of schisms contrary to the command of St. Paul (see 1 Cor. i,10).

It is also important to remember that Catholics claim to be members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: the ground and pillar of the truth (1 Tim iii,15). Therefore, they also possess this obligation of obedience to the pastors of the Church at its highest level. (The Holy Father, the episcopate united with him, and their respective diocesan bishop who shares the favour and communion of the Apostolic See.) Those who do not do this show themselves to be like the fig tree in the Gospels which appeared fair but which bore no fruit (Matt. xxi,18-22; Mark xi,12-14). Our Lord noted elsewhere that "it is by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. vii,15-20; cf. Sir. xxvii,7). And the barren harvest of disobedience is the clearest of indicators for those who have eyes to see.

A Fine Beginning-A Long Way to Go

116. It is Our keen desire therefore that this dialogue which has long been engaging the attention of the Church may take on a new inspiration, new themes, and new speakers, and thereby increase the holiness and vitality of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.

We give Our unhesitating support to anything which can help to spread the teaching of those truths of which the Church is guardian and minister. We have already mentioned the liturgy and preaching as forming the basis of the interior life. We would also mention schools, the press, the social apostolate, the missions, and works of charity. All these are things which the Ecumenical Council will doubtless bring up for our discussion. We bless and encourage all who, under the guidance of competent authority, take part in the Church's vital, health-giving dialogue. We are thinking particularly of Our priests, religious, and Our well-beloved laity who are fighting for Christ in the ranks of Catholic Action and in the other associations and activities of the apostolate.

117. We rejoice and find great consolation in the fact that this dialogue, both inside and outside the Church, has already begun. The Church today is more alive than ever before. But when we weigh the matter more closely we see that there is still a great way to go. In fact the work which is beginning today will never come to an end. This is a law of our earthly, time-bound pilgrimage. It is, Venerable Brethren, the common condition of that ministry of ours which everything today urges us to renew and undertake with greater alacrity and devotion.

118. As for Ourself, in speaking to you of these things We are glad not only to rely on your cooperation, but also to offer Our own in return. We ask for and We promise this union of aims and activities just one year after Our accession to the throne of Peter and Our assumption of the name and also, please God, something of the spirit, of the Apostle of the Gentiles.

119. And so We end this Our first encyclical on a note of great joy in the union of our spirits which has its origin in Christ. As your father and brother We bestow upon you, in the name of the immortal God, Our apostolic blessing, and gladly extend it to the whole Church and to all mankind. [Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam §116-119 (c. 1964)]

In these final passages, Pope Paul recognizes that the "work of the dialogue" never ends - not even with death. For  charity never fails as per St. Paul's dictum and communion with the Most High is an eternity of charitable communion at its most profound. And since (i) dialogue is defined in the encyclical letter as  "[the] internal drive of charity which seeks expression in the external gift of charity" (§64) and (ii) communion with the Most High is the most profound union of charity possible; ergo (iii) dialogue never ceases even beyond the grave for those who properly engage in it.

In summary, the concept of the dialogue as outlined by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam -which preceded the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council where this word begins to be used in magisterial statements- is an encompassing concept. It is no more definable in the sense of exhausting all of its meaning than the definition of homoousian at Nicaea exhausted the franchise of explaining the relationship between the Father and the Son within the Godhead. But if a precise phrase is needed then the single sentence from §64 of the encyclical letter suffices. For dialogue is and must involve charity to be authentic. And for those who want a simple definition of "charity" remember that St. Paul's discourse in 1 Corinthians xiii is rather non-specific on the matter also. Pope Paul VI's understanding of the dialogue is in all of its essentials what St. Paul preached to the Corinthians in his first epistle nearly 2000 years ago. Hopefully that suffices to explain it in brief for those who have a "sound byte" mentality. If not then perhaps another approach should be considered. However, the latter is beyond the scope of a commentary about to be concluded to accomplish.

The dialogue...supposes that one listens to the other, and in the divine sense of this word listen, as Jesus the child listened to the doctors, or the risen Christ listened to the pilgrims of Emmaus, or the man listens to Revelation, or God listens to man's prayer. Let yourself listen, I say, with the hope that the other's point of view will teach you something new, will complete your thought, or will allow you to expand it, to purify, subliminate, deepen it. An objector, contradictor, critic are unsuspecting aids, for in every objection there is a part of the truth, which allows us to better express what we think, to forestall confusion, to give relief and contour to our opinions. St. Thomas began by presenting what went against his thesis. He leaned on the obstacle, on the apparent negation he built his discreet affirmation, filtered, tested, simple, and sure. And Laecorde, in the same spirit, said: "I do not try to convince my adversary of error, but to join him in a higher truth." [Jean Guitton: Dialogues of Paul VI With Jean Guitton -on Guitton's understanding of the dialogue pg. 163 (c. 1967)]
Dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, OP
---Doctor of the Church
---Dialogue Partner of God the Father

©2003, "On the Intricacies of Dialogue - A Commentary", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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