Methods in ecumenical dialogue
Dialogue in the sense in which the term is used in the phrase “ecumenical dialogue,” is an activity requiring for its success certain skills, virtues, and attitudes for a common good . Without these there can be no successful dialogue, even if all the necessary rules are in place and followed. That is because dialogue is not fundamentally a meeting of ideas, but a meeting of persons, at the level of the heart and mind and demands respect . Certain skills and virtues are necessary for the union and cooperation of hearts and minds. In order to consider what virtues are necessary for genuine ecumenical dialogue, we must apprehend clearly what dialogue is in essence, and distinguish it from other forms of communication, especially forms having the appearance of dialogue, but being sophistical. Recently Pope Francis said the following:
To dialogue means to be convinced that the other has something good to say, to make room for his point of view, for his opinion, for his proposals without falling, obviously, into relativism. And to dialogue it is necessary to lower one’s defenses and to open the doors.
Each person entering into genuine dialogue must therefore intend to enter into this shared activity with its singular telos, together with those who disagree with him or her, not merely attempt to defend or oppose a position or argument. If a person merely intends to advance, defend or oppose a position or argument, he is engaged in his own activity, not yet having entered into the dialogue. In order to enter into the dialogue, he must take up as his own not only the goal of the dialogue, but also enter into the particular social activity by which this goal is pursued in dialogue, namely, the mutual pursuit of agreement in the truth through a cooperative process of evaluating the evidence and argumentation.
Virtues and Skills Necessary for Participating in Genuine Dialogue
Frutiful dialogue depends on much more than good argumentation and sound reasoning - it depends even more so on the presence of particular virtues in the heart of each participant. What virtues, disciplines and attitudes of the heart are needed for participation in genuine ecumenical dialogue, and for the fruitfulness of such dialogue? What actions, habits and attitudes thwart such dialogue or make it sterile? Preliminary consideration of such questions is critical for preparing the table for ecumenical dialogue. Without reflecting in advance on the role of virtue in dialogue, attempts at such dialogue can descend into something ugly and even spiritually harmful to the participants, giving the mistaken impression to divided Christians that ecumenical dialogue is a waste of time, and giving to non-Christians one more unfortunate example of Christians futilely quarreling and bickering with one another. Ecumenism – this conversion experience – cannot occur without love, without, as Congar says, “the joy of meeting, of being together, diverse and even heretical in each other’s eyes, yet assembled in a similar and harmonious response to God’s call.” G. R. Evans explains that the general slowdown in ecumenical progress is due to fear, which brings diminishing hope and a refusal to get involved in making a commitment either to ecumenists or to non-ecumenists. The first group are disappointed by the unfulfilled promises and the latter are afraid of a denial of their tradition once they get involved in the ecumenical movement. Due to the despair of the insiders and the suspicion of the outsiders of the movement, together with the dwindling influence of the ecumenical institutions, the situation has been described as the “winter of ecumenism”.