02 September 2015

The challenge to find common ground
in dialogue and conversation

Sidney Sussex College seen from Green Street this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After wrestling with the differences between dialogue and conversation and the problems of engaging in interfaith dialogue this morning, we started talking at the summer school in Sidney Sussex College this afternoon [2 September 2015] about the different ways of Christians engaging in ecumenical dialogue.

This year’s IOCS summer conference has been looking at ‘Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness: Possibilities and Limitations of Dialogue in Ecumenical and Interfaith Discourse.’

The conference came to a close this afternoon with a panel discussion chaired by Dr Christoph Schneider of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

We were challenged us to think of how we can use our imagination creatively in ecumenical dialogue, and offered a model from Greek theatre.

With illustrations from the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles, the speaker drew comparisons between Oedipus and Moses. Oedipus is confused about his identity, as Moses is at the beginning of his life. Oedipus goes blind at the end of his life, and Moses never saw the Promised Land.

Sophocles never knew of Moses, but there is much common ground in both stories.

Greek theatre needs imagination and intuition, and perhaps we need to draw on these too in difficult theological situations, such as dialogue.

How do I assert something, and how do I react when someone opposes me, and how do I respond to how I feel? Being aware of these issues allows me to engage in direct encounters in ecumenical dialogue with introspection and intimacy and creativity.

There were interesting discussions about Orthodox attitudes to Lectio Divina, and the use of imagination in prayer, which is generally discouraged in Orthodoxy as imaginative and with the danger of delusion or idolatry.

But could comparisons be drawn with praying the Jesus Prayer in front of an icon?

We also discussed whether the word “antimony” can be used interchangeably in theology with “paradox.” Immanuel Kant popularised the term which for him may be used for something that is theoretically impossible yet nevertheless is.

We moved on to discuss the place of anthropology and psychology in theology, and the relationship between religion and science.

We were reminded of the well-known saying from Saint Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a human being that is alive; and the life of a human being consists in beholding God” (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7).

But we also thought about the confusion that arise between nature and grace when we engage in dialogue.

Trinity Lane during a stroll through Cambridge this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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