One Truth in many Truths
A) A True Faith in the Tongs of an Intricate Question
Imagine this scene: In the midst of a splendid old park stands a noble house, built some centuries ago for the pleasure of German princes and their playmates. In its big hall there are assembled, on a fine day in May 1997, people from many countries and Christian confessions, all interested in the theme of the meeting announced by a Lutheran Academy: One Earth - Many Religions. Among the invited experts two catholic professors of theology are personal friends. One of them begins his conference observing that he will try to call the whole project of the other into question: "I shall be arguing that Knitter's project is fundamentally detrimental to his noble intentions (to save the earth and alleviate suffering) so that he (unintentionally) ends up advocating a neo-pagan, eco-fascist form of liberal modernity as the answer to the world's problems. And if the religions do not like it, they better change!"
Hearing this statement, I wonder. With friendly voice but in grim seriousness, one Christian calls the thinking of another unchristian, a Trojan horse, a menace to our common faith. Both men are scholars of worldwide esteem: Paul F. Knitter ranks as one of the heads of the "pluralist" position, Gavin D'Costa has written or edited many a critical paper against that liberal conception of the relation between Christian Faith and the other religions professed around the globe. Apparently we have arrived at some dead end regarding the concepts used by Christians to tackle that problem. If two outstanding thinkers - this is my impression - for many years contradict each other flat, so that their hearer remains perplexed: then we all should look for a wholly different manner to think and speak of the theme. Maybe none of the conflicting answers is wrong but their common question (as in the famous example: Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no?).
Both theologians agree that one decisive point of their disagreement is the Christian understanding of Jesus. Knitter writes: "Official Roman Catholic teaching has in no way opened itself to the possibility of a representational christology that holds up Jesus as a decisive representation or embodiment or revelation of God's saving love - a love that 'predates' Jesus and is 'unbounded' and universally active by the very nature of God and of creation. Rather, the official Magisterium has adhered to a constitutive christology, according to which Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection, causes or constitutes the universal availability of God's salvific love. Without Jesus such love would not be active in the world; whatever experience of Divine Presence is realized in the world has to be seen as caused by Jesus and necessarily in need of fulfillment through membership in the church. Because Jesus constitutes and not just represents God's saving activity, Jesus has to be proclaimed as 'full, definitive, unsurpassable'."
To this D'Costa answers: "Perhaps one reason why mainstream Roman Catholic theology has not opened itself to adopting a representative Christology is because it recognizes that this would be a departure from witnessing to and praising the triune God. Christ does not 'represent' God, but 'is' God's very self-revelation as triune. If he is a representative, then we are able to 'access' 'God' without God's self being offered to us ... one feature of representative Christologies is the ability to abstract values and teachings from the person of Christ, so that it is his 'message' that is all important, not his work and person, and not his resurrected body which continues in the church, the 'body of Christ'."
Let me add to this clear opposition two "pontifical" statements that confirm it (italics mine). Cardinal Ratzinger and John Hick, the acknowledged pope of pluralists, both state an unbridgable abyss between catholic and truly pluralistic view. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concludes his long address on the "Current Situation of Faith and Theology" (during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops' Conferences of Latin America, Guadalajara, Mexico, May 1996) with the confession: "If we consider the present cultural situation, about which I have tried to give some indications, frankly it must seem to be a miracle that there is still Christian faith, despite everything, and not only in the surrogate forms of Hick, Knitter and others, but the complete, serene faith of the New Testament, and of the Church of all times. Why, in brief, does the faith still have a chance? I would say the following: because it is in harmony with what man is ... In man there is an inextinguishable yearning for the infinite. None of the answers attempted are sufficient. Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being. For this reason, the Christian faith finds man today, too. Our task is to serve the faith with a humble spirit and the whole strength of our heart and understanding." 
Quite the same gap is described by John Hick commenting Knitters statement that "as a pluralist Christian, I can with no difficulty whatsoever announce - indeed, I feel impelled to proclaim - that Jesus is truly the Son of God and universal Saviour. The recognition and announcement of Jesus' divinity remains integral and essential to a pluralist christology." Hick comments: "The point of this language is, of course, that it sounds traditionally orthodox. But if it is meant in a traditionally orthodox sense, it is, in my view, incompatible with genuine religious pluralism. For if Jesus was God the Son, Second Person of a divine Trinity, incarnate, then Christianity is the only religion to have been founded by God in person and must be uniquely superior to all others. And so, presumably, when Knitter speaks of Jesus as the Son of God he does not mean this in the traditional sense that Jesus is the only source of salvation for all human beings." 
Here we are in the heart of the question. If we want to compare religions the method cannot be to look at their empirical appearances. Nobody doubts that Christianity has done many crimes or that men like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are splendid lights of humanity. No - seems to be the logical conclusion: one has to look at the founders themselves. So the question must be: Is Jesus the Son of God in a real, ontological sense, the Son of our God who is in heaven as really as the sun is in the sky? If yes, then ipso facto Christianity seems the most (if not only) true religion. If, on the other hand, all religions are to be judged as of equal right, then Jesus' divinity has to be interpreted as some myth; the only sincere answer to the above question of confession must be: no. Precisely this question Paul Knitter seems to beg. In its grip his argumentation wriggles like a lizard in a pair of tongs. No wonder that the inquisitor speaks of an "attenuated faith in Christ", while his pluralistic counterpart stresses the fact that Knitters "chosen mission is within and to the church ... But it carries with it the temptation to resort to easing ambiguities" .
Yet the lizard lives. Cardinal and Pluralist both assume a) that traditional Christian Belief and genuine Pluralism exclude each other, and b) that Paul Knitter's explicit Credo is to be judged as not authentically Christian in the traditional sense. Both assumptions I believe to be wrong. This assertion I hope to prove, in the pages that follow, as clear and acceptable, so that the lizard slips free of those tongs. Now, 1997, Knitter himself shows the hopeful direction: "I have thus come to consider correlational a much better adjective than pluralistic to describe the kind of dialogue or theology of religions that many Christians are searching for" . My aim is to propose a Christian theory of other religions which affirms Jesus' divinity in a genuine, metaphysical sense, and a correlationally just esteem for all other life conceptions in the measure of their human justifiability.
B) Towards a correlational theology of religions
I. To compare founders is theologically false
"The Founder of Christianity is a divine person", this seemingly clear proposition is profoundly ambiguous. Said by a cardinal as a profession of his faith in the Hypostatical Union, it means a metaphysical truth but implies no consequence whatsoever as to the truth of other religions. For we have to distinguish between Christ's divine and human nature. As to the divine Logos, of course every true religion can be true only by participating - in higher or lesser degree - His Uncreated Light. Insofar as Christ "was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (Joh 1:9), God Himself is the Founder of all religions in the measure of their truth. Being, on the other hand, Jesus the man, God the essentially Incomparable refuses even to be called good! "And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God." (Mc 10:18) Christianity, always tempted to the Monophysitical short circuit, could not sustain the tension of such tremendous humility in our Lord; already in the Gospel of Matthew it gets veiled: "What do you ask me about the good?" (19:17) But if, speaking mythically about the true Belief, the King's only Son decides to live among his friends without crown and wholly incognito because he esteems their friendship higher than his princely rank - who are we to destroy his plan by forcing him to appear superior to anybody else?
Which is the heavenly relation of Jesus to the founders of other religions? Whether Mohammed inclines before Him or he washes the feet of Mohammed or (probably) all happens totaliter aliter, that no living person can know. According to St. Thomas Aquinas (S.Th. III q3 a7) the Logos could assume, besides the humanity of Jesus, another human nature; so the surmise that Buddha or Baha'ullah are genuine incarnations would not contradict any dogma of the Catholic faith. For this was completely revealed in the Apostolic era, but then nothing was said about those two Saints, consequently their ontological constitution for Christian curiosity must simply remain unknowable. Such docta ignorantia, heartily acknowledged, allows us to respect the believers of those faiths and humbly to learn from them. More certitude is not required.
"The Founder of Christianity is a divine person", how does John Hick mean this proposition? My thoughts run back to the Council years in Rome. "Theoreticus intendit id quod probat," still I hear the unforgettable voice of Paul Knitter's and my venerated teacher Bernard Lonergan SJ in the Gregorian University. What does a thinker mean? Look what he proves; since he is a thinker he probably intends to say precisely that. Now John Hick wants to prove that, because of this their belief, traditional Christians necessarily must deem Jesus superior to all other founders. Therefore we may conclude he understands that sentence in a way which would allow Christ to be compared with other founders, ergo not as really God but as a kind of Arian mixed being: more than human less than strictly divine. This conception is of course rather common among Christians (understandably, because in fact nobody can with his finite brain think together the opposite poles of a supernatural Mystery which his Faith moves him to affirm), but it contradicts the dogma and must not without proof be foisted on Knitter, a theologian who expressly says he is Catholic.
Thus the tongs' two jaws fall apart. Cardinal Ratzinger in his Internet essay does not even try to prove his accusation against Knitter, he only cites some secondary source thought quite muddy by other scholars. Maybe he has not read Knitter at all, his phrase "Hick and Knitter" contains an injury to the latter. For John Hick confounds with orthodox dogma a heretical common (non-)sense which he does well to deny in order to promote, under the name of Pluralism, a just praise of God's universal Love. For Paul Knitter as for every kat-holic Christian, between that Love and the real divinity of Jesus there may vibrate a conceptual tension but there is certainly no incompatibility.
This is, to be sure, only a first and negative answer to the puzzling question which that tension poses. Freed from out the tongs how can the lizard live? To prove an alleged contradiction as unproved is one thing; quite another would be the clear vision of a possible structure which positively combines its opposed poles. If neither the empirical realities of religions can be fruitfully compared nor the metaphysical standing of their founders: must they remain totally incommensurable? Or how can a Christian's view encompass his own belief and its relations to the faiths of his friends?
By conceiving the religions as different events of revelation. During many years of WCRP activity I slowly discovered the fascinating implications contained in some short words of St. Paul - which in so many books and articles on theology of religions I never find cited. Traditional western scholarship has not found much in them, in my view because their Latin translation was extremely misleading all medieval theology. What means "sic factum est"? "So it happened", one could think. But not in this case. Latin knows no article, and its word for "yes" is simply: "so". In the life, death and resurrection of Christ "the YES has realized itself", so the Apostle writes to his friends in Corinth (2 Co 1:20). This happening the Christian Faith affirms, from its beginning and forever, as decisive event in the History of Salvation. Its unique reality, efficiency and significance is defended by cardinal Ratzinger, Gavin D'Costa and many other participants in the discussion. But also, I am sure, by Paul Knitter and myself, although we fight against the fatal doctrine which deems other religions fundamentally untrue or at least less true than the Christian belief. How is that possible?
II. Stages of the YES
The relation of Eternity and time - which thanks to the Incarnation must be regarded as correlation - is a Mystery never completely to be grasped by human reason. We must needs use analogies from our own life if we want to think and speak about it. So do the biblical authors. Whoever (like Bultmann or Hick) calls such thinking "mythological" is not wrong but only states a tautology. The real question is if such myths are true or false. To every believer her or his faith says a truth that in some (for us) unknowable yet deeply trusted way is also verified.
Regarding the fact of contrasting religions, there offers itself a certain analogy which is rooted as well in the biblical revelation as in the experience of most adult human beings. I confess: In the last years this mythical conception has, in my mind, gradually changed from a happy supposition to a personal certitude somewhere between Hope and Faith which now I dare to put before our Christian community hoping it will progress to become a respected expression of our common Belief.
As most succeeding love stories, so the Love Story between God and His Mankind consists of one transcendental mutual YES realizing itself, at different times, in different forms, so that every yes-event does not cancel but confirms the previous ones, and does not preclude but invites the following ones. This is the analogy between our many love stories and the one divine Love Story. They differ of course in many points. One of the most important distinctions is this: Whereas in human love stories past stages are simply past, live only a feeble existence of recollection in memory, the creative YES of God and His Humanity keeps historically alive each of its fundamental expressions, by guiding through the centuries different faithful communities each of whom "re-presents" (in this word's full sense) another yes-stage; thus their rich correlations are able to outbalance those one-sidednesses and deficiencies to which human reason is tempted whenever it grasps one pole of a truth-tension and therefore all too easily overlooks its counterpole.
Understood in this way the religious landscape of our earth is like a photo album or video collection which contains pictures of all important moments of a loving couple. Every community lives and shows another yes-scene; together they signify to the public earth conscience the complex truth of God's Love. Insofar as the one YES is quite differently, even opposedly shaped and pronounced in the different pictures, insofar one faith must contradict the others. Because they all express the one identical YES, therefore all faiths must live in ecumenical peace.
Marriage-experienced men and women know how profoundly one yes-event may contrast with another. Put side by side, two such images often appear totally incompatible. And so they are - for our reason, judging from the outside. The memory of her and him knows it better. They probably do not find words to explain how their mutual yes is identical in all its contrasts but the fact they cannot doubt. As Shakespeare so unsurpassably said in his sonnet: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds ..."
Before we can find this general structure realized in the relation of God and Mankind I should make a preliminary note. The Bible has been written in patriarchal times, its language binds us too. On this earth God is seen as the Bridegroom and Mankind as his Bride. Maybe somewhere in the universe there is a planet where the Goddess is adored by some people that experiences itself as Her chosen partner - but this we do not know. Such a possibility proves only that the biblical Love Story is not necessary but contingent - yet it is a fact which determinates our thinking. Whoever prefers the version of that hypothetical planet may think privately according to its structure but any contribution to the real ecumenical movement must follow the real rules of this earth.
Our Love Story begins with the encounter of two persons: God and Israel His Bride. Speaking through the prophet Hosea (ca 750 BC) Yahweh reminds the people of that beginning: "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her. And I will give her her vineyards there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came from the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, [that] thou shalt call me Ishi (my husband); and shalt call me no more Baali (my lord) ... And I will betroth thee to me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee to me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies" (2:14-22).
The Lord's only Bride, full of expectancy, proud of her glorious present and more glorious future: this initial "figure of the salvific YES" is, to our day and for all days to come,  the living religion of Jews. Does not "their sense of uniqueness and their wariness about dialogue"  frighten less if one is conscious of the outstanding eternal yes-event they have to represent before the whole world? Never the Bride of the Lord of lords may discuss her dignity, weigh her position against other claims. "O Israel, fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called [thee] by thy name; thou [art] mine." (Is 43:1). As "every inch a king", so every cell His Bride: Whoever belongs to the Jewish People, he and she is part of God's elected partner, more exactly: part of the living representation in time of the Lord's eternal Betrothal with Mankind. We must shun the image of a plurality of God's spouses; only One is His Bride, His beloved Mankind as such. Distinct, opposed are not the persons but the stages of God's union with the same mystical person; each of these stages is embodied in a community of faith, and the Jews stand for the everlasting moment of engagement, when God elects this people - and none else - as His own: "Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a special treasure to me above all people: for all the earth [is] mine: And ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These [are] the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Israel" (Ex 19:4-6). Both partners are sure of their union, but still it is realized only between them, not yet publicly, to be seen and touched (1 Jo 1:1) sensibly by all. The full presence of the Beloved One is the object of passionate hope: "Next year in Jerusalem".
"As God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, to the glory of God by us" (2 Co 1:18-20).
The Christian Church is Mankind insofar as she lives - in the ever new actuality of Faith - the Divine-human YES in its moment of utmost explicitness: In Christ is realized the Yes to all promises, God and Mankind in Jesus are one flesh, therefore the mystery of marriage is great (Eph 5:32). The first Christians experienced their Easter joy as the "happy end" of a dramatic Love Story between God and Humanity; like the readers of so many books they did not ask: now what? "It is the last time" (1 Joh 2:18), they believed, and we believe. But of course we, nearly 2000 years later, must understand this belief differently. Whereas they expected the temporal world to end soon, we know that living in the last time is not to be understood horizontally (as if the last note of the music, the temporal end of times were near) but vertically (because every note of a rehearsed song is already the same as in the final concert). Jesus is unique and unsurpassable as being, in person, God's explicit Yes to Mankind and Mankind's decisive, final Yes to God's Love. Nobody else makes this claim, so Christians have no reason to doubt or conceal it.  No: To confess by word, deed and compassion precisely God's human yes to all promises, ie to follow Jesus, this is our duty and pride. Similarly a wife, remembering her wedding-day, faithfully will renew that yes in the quite different circumstances of a later year, knowing it remains - in all the concreteness of that blessed hour - always the root of her happiness. This ever living remembrance of the Christ-event as the decisive and definitive Union of God and Mankind is the Christian Faith. In this sense it is unique and can never be surpassed.
Judaism and Christianity therefore are not to be compared like a true and a false ring but like an engagement ring and a marriage ring of the same couple. Both are true in their (eternal) moment although (in real space-time) many of their formulated truths are incompatible, cannot be asserted by the same soul as her own valid life truth now.  Do we adore the same God? The question is so misleading that any answer is best avoided. Yes (because God is One) and No (for the relation bride/bridegroom essentially differs from the relation wife/husband) both can be defended; in every such case no dialectical trick or blurring abstraction solves the problem. Instead we should shift the paradigmatic question  till it allows a clear answer. In our case we should no longer compare (allegedly) conflicting God-images, Bible interpretations or life styles but the correlational YES-events betrothal and marriage.
3) Crisis A: Her Arrogance and His answer: Islam
The great Wedding-Day was the fullness of time but, contrary to the apostles' surmise, not the end of the empirical story. "Jesus announced the Reign of God, and what came was the church," Loisy's famous sentence originally was meant positively; but its common, critical interpretation is, de lamentabili facto, also to the point. As in so many human cases, so in the Great Love Story too, the wedding-yes later on got fatally misunderstood. He as badly as she - in their institutional representatives respectively - mistook the partner's yes as if it meant not the fulfilment but the loss of freedom. Our first theme is her arrogance which led Him to reassert His Dignity.
As to the exact origins of Islam "the doctors disagree as it is the business of doctors to do" (Chesterton). But one thing seems clear: Had the Byzantine Empire in Mohammed's time been less of an imperialistic power which abused the Pantocrator's authority for its own worldly aims, and more of the just society envisaged by Israel's prophets and by Jesus, then the clans of Arabia would have had no reason to set their Belief against the prevailing one. And - so one may dream - Mohammed could have become a great saint of the whole Church.
In fact the Church did the wrong thing. Like an imperious wife she locked her husband into a chest, sat on its lid and said to him and herself: Now I have got you. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. That was true, of course, insofar as salus meant "Christian salvation". To the YES-event Wedding belong only the elected Wife's living cells, so much is self-evident. But locking her divine Lover into the chest of her empirical narrowness the Church provoked His protest. Suddenly He forced open the lid, showed Himself in His awe-inspiring divine independence and revealed to Mohammed, in form of His un-mediated Love for Arabia, a quite unexpected, new shape of His one YES to Mankind. As the wedding-yes affirms the engagement, so the renewed yes after a fundamental crisis - by repelling a false conception of the previous yes' implications - neither contradicts nor substitutes but reaffirms the wedding-yes, remaining nevertheless in all coming days different from it so that it fills with another love-story scene another page of the photo album. Understood by Christians in this manner, Islam is no Judeo-Christian heresy and no false religion but a later (and in God's eyes apparently necessary) stage of the same Yes whose wedding-event founds our own faith.
4) Crisis B: His arrogance and her answer: atheistic modernity
God is pure Love. But His mouthpieces on earth, the religious authorities, often strive after their own aims or, not having truely known God's kindness, cruelly pass on the metaphysical pressure of the absolute super-ego they mistake for God's law. So they maim the splendour of that Love, till people cannot recognize it and, instead of accepting their self as unconditionally affirmed by God, under the name of "God" fear and hate the horrible tyrant-vampire of the universe. "God sees, God hears, God punishes" - a girl that grows up with this saying will need many a crisis till she finds in herself the courage to believe in infinite Love.
Remember the end of "My Fair Lady". Eliza, obeying the professor's harsh training methods, finally succeeds and knows for sure: Oh yes, I am a Lady. And what happens? He - noticing only his effect not her self - despises her: You did it? Oh no, I did it! - And she? Deeply hurt she throws a slipper into his face and leaves him. But while he, now seeing his error, sadly listens to the record of her voice she comes back. Having gained, against his arrogance, her freedom and self-confidence, she can make of it no better use but freely give it to him: Yes, being (also thanks to you) finally myself, I will be yours. And when he as humbly accepts this her self-gift as proudly he continues to know her self as his work: then (leaving the parable and returning to our theological theme) there will occur a new YES, irreducible to any of the stages so far described, namely the reconciliation of religious Faith and emancipated Humanism. Feuerbach in a letter once called his doctrine "religious atheism". In the ecumenical context of today Eliza's parting symbolizes the grim godlessness of the average modern soul, be she originally socialized in whichever religious culture. As long as religious people confound theonomy and heteronomy, Eliza's truth of theonomous autonomy patiently awaits her historic hour.
5) Peaceful remembrance of all stages: Bahai Faith
Some later day both partners look at their photo album, think of the diversely wonderful days gone by, experience all their truths as still valid, yet suddenly look with a new yes-regard into their eyes, fully conscious of the present situation of their love story.
Could this stage, which wants to combine all else but only adds another,  maybe explain the Bahai Belief? Its founder wrote: "There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message. They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret. To prefer one in honor to another, to exalt certain ones above the rest, is in no wise to be permitted. Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him... The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world, however, must differ. Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself through specific acts. It is for this reason that they appear to vary in their greatness... It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an ever-changing world. Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and Peerless Creator hath purposed to send to the peoples of the earth hath been entrusted with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would best meet the requirements of the age in which He appeared."  - I wonder if (or better: when) Bahais will accept the conception of different yes-stages as one valid interpretation of these their Master's words.
Through WCRP I won a Bahai friend who lives five minutes from my home. One evening in his house I heard a conference held by Udo Schaefer explaining the Bahai Belief that their Revelation fulfills and renews the Christian one likewise as Christ did to the truth of Moses: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is [one] that accuseth you, Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote concerning me" (Jo 5:45 f). Moved deeply, I went home, looked at my big painting of Christ unifying ideologies - and sharply knew: No. God does not call me to become a Bahai. I am and remain Catholic. But now I understand why in Christ's time and till our days most Jews did not become Christian. Gamaliel's principle ("If this counsel or this work is from men, it will come to nothing: But if it is from God, ye cannot overthrow it." [Act 5:38 f]) has a reverse hitherto overlooked: If a seemingly superseeded faith, notwithstanding, lives on vigorously for many generations, then it remains God's truth for all who believe in it: the living memory of a former but always valid yes-stage. The Bahais' ecumenical truth is mine too, but I believe it in its Christian shape, similarly as (in my imagination only?) many a Jew in the middle ages might have received a revelation of his brother Jesus as Messiah and Slayer of Death - yet could not outwardly become a Christian because such a step would have made him a traitor to his humiliated people and was, so he felt, emphatically not willed by David's Son.
Five stages in the one YES of God to Humanity we distinguish so far. Each of them, being part of an Eternal History, did not end when another began in time. The spiritual community founded by a constitutive divine Yes lives through all coming ages, re-presenting, more: ever actualizing the salvific yes-event by which it is constituted.  In this way I propose to bridge the gap between orthodox-constitutive and pluralistic-representative christologies. The trick consists in the christological paradigma shift from asking "who?" to the question "which stage of the divine Yes?" These correlational epochs of revelation can fruitfully be thought together to form a "mega-model" (L.Swidler), a greater ecumenical context whose picture in mini-format many men and women know from their own sweet-bitter love experience.
The who-question, on the other hand, is senseless and misleading. Let us Christians with all our hearts believe in Christ but no longer dispute about Jesus as person. I repeat: Being God, He forbids any comparison with other founders - sent by God too? Who are we to dare to deny that, without the tiniest proof? Since Mohammed, Feuerbach and Baha'ullah did not live in apostolic times, no divine judgement upon their assertions could possibly - according to sound Catholic doctrine - have been revealed to Christians, this docta ignorantia frees our ears from ideological arrogance.  Gilbert Chesterton taught Christians to pray:
Hymn for the Church Militant
Great God, that bowest sky and star,
Bow down our towering thoughts to Thee,
And grant us in a faltering war
The firm feet of humility.
Lord, we that snatch the swords of flame,
Lord, we that cry about Thy Ear,
We too are weak with pride and shame,
We too are as our foemen are.
Yea, we are mad as they are mad,
Yea, we are blind as they are blind,
Yea, we are very sick and sad
Who bring good News to all mankind.
The dreadful joy Thy Son has sent
Is heavier than any care;
We find, as Cain his punishment,
Our pardon more than we can bear.
Lord, when we cry Thee far and near
And thunder through all lands unknown
The gospel into every ear,
Lord, let us not forget our own.
Cleanse us from ire of creed or class,
The anger of the idle kings;
Sow in our souls, like living grass,
The laughter of all lowly things.
III. Three divine truth-dimensions
Regarding the Christian attitude to Jews, Muslims and Bahais, the correlation of yes-stages seems a promising base for further dialogues ad intra et extra. But what regards eg Buddhism, Advaita or Atheism, it obviously does not help at all. Their adherents do not believe in the divine partner of an infinite Love Story. Think again of Eliza. If Higgins, slipper in face, complacently had uttered: Ok, baby, have your emancipation fun, you'll come back soon enough - I'm not sure she would. To put up the religious dependence proclaimed by monotheistical faiths as only or highest truth, that will not do. Instead we should confess it as one perspective, necessary if one wants to live in the light of the whole truth. Which conceptional paradigm allows Christians to think this thought so that it is compatible with their dogma?
In his book "The Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity" (London 1690) John Wallis proved by means of the three dimensions of a cube that Tri-Unity does not contradict our reason: The direction from left to right ist not the distance botton/top, and both are not the line front to back. Only all three directions together are the cube.
Read diligently, already the description of the New Jerusalem seems to indicate that the Eternal City is like a cube: "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" (Rev 21:16). I am convinced that the following proposal of a Trinitarian ecumenical model only makes explicit a sense-structure which implicitly lies hidden in this biblical image. Today its kairós has arrived. "Blessed are the peacemakers." Let us conceive the Holy Cube's dimensions as relations of correlational poles within the Ecumenical Truth-Cathedral. For instance thus:
Through the left portal I enter the cathedral. In three directions I may look: From down here, up to YOU, God our Father. Or from the front to the back, into the depth where SHE the infinite womb of the Holy Spirit lovingly shelters us. Or from left to right, forwards where MYSELF (the Eternal Logos deep in us) says his=her=my unconditioned yes to everybody, "for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell" (Col 1:19). Along each of these spiritual lines my soul may live, and this in two ways: Either I remain in the manifold-region (below-left-front), I call this the cosmic mode. Or I concentrate on the unspeakably pure Oneness of ultimate innermost Reality (symbolized above-right-back), this is the mystic mode.
What normally is called religion, takes place in the vertical YOU-dimension. Here happens the Great Love Story. The cosmicly pious person (below) conceives God as Lord of History: YOU chose peoples and persons. To mystic religion (above) all determinate things vanish into the one heaven of the Infinite Goodness of YOU our divine Friend.
Along the line from front to back (ONE-dimension) takes place the well-being in the unpersonal womb of the great Whole. Ideologically malformed Christians use to discriminate this spirituality as "pantheistic"; may they read 1 Co 15:28 in the original text ... The cosmic mode (front) of true pantheism is the ecstatic feeling provoked eg by sexual love or great music or a feast with friends. The mystic mode (back) is sober, realized by the severe attention of Zen-disciples and other authentic Buddhists. For them Ultimate Reality is no person above or within, but simply the Great Whole as such. An embryo probably experiences life likewise. The Hebrew word 'ruach' (spirit, wind, breath) is cognate to the word for womb.
The cosmic mode of the I-dimension (left) is the spiritual attitude of such humanists or even atheists who sincerely mean well by themselves and others, eg "true infidels" like Feuerbach, Huxley, Camus. Their accent onto the individual ego also defends one absolute truth! When the prodigal son left, only his No to the You- and One-dimensions was false, not his Yes to his own I. Therefore his equally lost brother fell into his crisis too, never having dared to affirm himself or to believe in his father's love ("thou never gavest me a kid"). His religious obedience, being - as isolated YOU-dimension - only one third of divine truth and the denial of two thirds, justly is no reason for much joy in heaven (Luk 15:7). The mystic mode of the I-dimension (right) is India's deep revelation of SELF. Atman = Brahman, every conscience in the world is another finite self-realization of MYSELF the eternal I: "Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others which are new, so the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others which are new" (BhagavadGita 2:22). Without contact to India our great Meister Eckhart was granted a similar revelation from within.
C) One Truth-Body consisting of many Truth-Organs
Stages divide time; to realize their simultaneous validity may seem difficult for whoever is little acquainted with Marcel Proust's madeleine-experience. Cube dimensions, on the other hand, are rather abstract and far away from personal feelings. Therefore I propose, for conclusion, another ecumenical parable, namely the living human body, which is one and many at the same time. Each organ is diversely programmed, yet each is not only some part of the whole, but also a mode of being of the same simple person which as eye sees, as tongue tastes, as finger plays the violin. The 27 Nov. 1892 Vladimir Solowjew writes in a letter: "The religion of the Holy Spirit which I confess is wider and at the same time richer in content than all single religions; it is neither their sum nor the extract of them, likewise as the whole man is neither the sum nor the extract of his single organs." Yes: Every heart well knows that to its own spiritual truth belong all its relations to other life-truth-organs. In every truth-organ both types of cells are needed: frontier-cells on the lookout against fatal program mixing (if already the stomach throws out what should be permitted to reach the kidneys you get sick) and bridge-cells, joined through nerves with other organs. Contrasting as they are, the programs of all organs must cooperate. If the kidneys did not throw out the bad stuffs they would damage the stomach too; if the stomach did not let pass the compounds that contain them the kidneys too would miss the necessary good stuffs. In a similar way every religion puts an explicit accent onto certain truths important for all of us but maybe less clear in other religions. Only together they are the wonderful Stereo-Concert of the divine truth destined to give us LIFE. Blessed the cell that knows and faithfully serves the organ to which it belongs!
11 July 1997 Juergen Kuhlmann,
Comments welcome. E-mail: email@example.com
1 Document found in the Internet
2 Leonard Swidler and Paul Mojzes (eds.), The Uniqueness of Jesus. A Dialogue with Paul E. Knitter, New York 1997, 83 f
3 Ibid. 84
4 Ibid. 155
5 Gaston Fessard SJ, great French theologian, intensely defended the traditional view that the reconciliation of Israel and Christian church (promised in Rom 11) will not happen in time but at the end of times ["De l'Actualité historique I" (Desclée 1960),14].
6 Paul F. Knitter, One Earth, Many Religions (New York 1995), 12
7 "If the assertion "The Buddha is the unique revealer of the Dharma" is not offensive to me, then why should the assertion "Jesus Christ is the unique mediator of salvation" be offensive to Buddhists, or, for that matter, to Muslims, Vedantists, or Jews? A rabbi once said to me, revealingly: "Jesus Christ is the answer to a question I have never asked."" (J. A. Di Noia in his essay "Jesus and the World Religions", found in the Internet)
8 Theoretically both accents are justified: One Covenant of God with two peoples. Practically Christians today must confess clearly the deep unity of both faiths. For the other accent has been a main cause of the atrocities Christian antisemitism perpetrated throughout centuries till, in ours, the Shoah. Therefore the "case Minz" is so bitter. Dr. Minz, a German Catholic theologian, is denied the right to apply for a university chair, because some expert reproaches him to overesteem the continuity Judaism/Christianity and to minimize the Christian Newness. To maintain the own perspective is one thing - to destroy the professional existence of another person who is entitled to his: that is a very different thing.
9 As early as 1981 I proposed a theological paradigma shift in an article I sent, among others, to Hans Küng ("Rhythmus statt Rivalität", Impulse der Evangelischen Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Nr 15).
10 According to the great law of nature formulated by Whitehead (cited by Knitter [1995,30]: The "many become one and are increased by one". Thus already Jews and Heathens were "united" by Christianity.
11 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 78-9 (found in the Internet)
12 Of course every stage comprehends unnumerable sub-stages. But the correlation eg Sunna/Shia or Anglican/Baptist is not our theme.
13 An important point was stressed (during the meeting near Kassel) by William R. Burrows: "I suspect that attitudes of superiority on the part of Christians - even when such terms as the finality and uniqueness of Christ are appealed to - betray a shallow appropriation of the paradoxes and ironies of God's self-revelation in and through the death of Jesus. The very manner of the central revelational event of Jesus' revelation - his death by crucifixion - calls into question any triumphalism. Such claims are extremely shallow and unworthy of the founder of Christianity. He dies as an outcast, beyond the city walls, ignominiously. If Jesus discovers and reveals God paradigmatically in his death and finds new life solely in the hands of God's re-creative power, should not the structure of Christian doctrine reflect such paradoxes? Does it?"
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