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The Problem with Dialogue

Saint Paul Preaching to the Athenians on the Areopagus -Leonard Porter, 2009

In this day and age when so many promote dialogue as a primary mission of the Church, it is important to revisit the words of the late Romano Amerio (1905-1997). Professor Amerio taught Greek, Latin, and Philosophy for over four decades at the Academy in Lugano, Switzerland.  He also served as a peritus for Bishop Jelmini of Lugano in studying the preparatory schemas for the Second Vatican Council.

In the below excerpts from Iota Unum, Amerio’s classic study of the Church in the twentieth century, he explains why the modern emphasis on dialogue is neither apostolic in origin nor Catholic in practice.

Romano Amerio on Dialogue (emphasis mine)

“The word dialogue represents the biggest change in the mentality of the Church after the council, only comparable in its importance with the change wrought by the word liberty in the last century. The word was completely unknown and unused in the Church’s teaching before the council. It does not occur once in any previous council, or in papal encyclicals, or in sermons or in pastoral practice. In the Vatican II documents it occurs 28 times, twelve of them in the decree on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio. Nonetheless, through its lightning spread and an enormous broadening in meaning, this word, which is very new in the Catholic Church, became the master-word determining post-conciliar thinking, and a catch-all category in the newfangled mentality.  People not only talk about ecumenical dialogue, dialogue between the Church and the world, ecclesial dialogue, but by an enormous catachresis, a dialogical structure is attributed to theology, pedagogy, catechesis, the Trinity, the history of salvation, schools, families, the priesthood, the sacraments, redemption, and to everything else that had existed in the Church for centuries without the concept being in anybody’s mind or the word occurring in the language…”

“In Scripture, evangelization proceeds by teaching not by dialogue. Christ’s last command to his disciples was matheteuein and didaskein, which literally means make disciples of all men, rather as if the Apostles’ task consisted in leading the nations to the condition of listeners and disciples, with matheteuein as a preliminary grade of didaskein, to teach.

“Besides lacking a biblical foundation, dialogue is also void of a gnoseological one, because the nature of dialogue is incompatible with a line of argument based on faith. It assumes that the credibility of religion depends on a prior resolution of every particular objection made to it. Now that cannot be had, and cannot be made a precondition for an assent of faith. The correct order is the other way around. Having established even by one convincing consideration that religion is true, the latter is to be held on to even if particular difficulties remain unresolved. …”

“We may conclude by saying that the new sort of dialogue is not Catholic.

“Firstly, because it has a purely heuristic function, as if the Church in dialogue did not possess the truth and were looking for it, or as if it could prescind from possessing the truth as long as the dialogue lasted.

“Secondly, because it does not recognize the superior authority of revealed truth, as if there were no longer any distinction in importance between nature and revelation.

“Thirdly, because it imagines the parties to dialogue are on an equal footing, albeit a merely methodological equality, as if it were not a sin against faith to waive the advantage that comes from divine truth, even as a dialectical ploy.

“Fourthly, because it postulates that every human philosophical position is unendingly debatable, as if there were not fundamental points of contradiction sufficient to stop a dialogue and leave room only for refutation.

“Fifthly, because it supposes that dialogue is always fruitful and that “nobody has to sacrifice anything,” as if dialogue could never be corrupting and lead to the uprooting of truth and the implanting of error, and as if nobody had to reject any errors they had previously professed.”

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