Ecumenical Hermeneutics for a Plural Christianity: Reflections on Contextuality and Catholicity

by Rudolf von Sinner

The Rev. Dr. Rudolf von Sinner is an ordained minister of the Evangelical-Reformed Church of the Canton of Basle-City (Switzerland) and is Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Ecumenical Coordination of Service, in Salvador/Bahia.

The following article appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Volume 34, Number 2, December 2002, pages, 89-115. Bangalore Theological Forum is published by The United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dr. von Sinner explores the significance of the Ecumenical Movment from the perspective of the Commission of the Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. He discuses the dialogue with the trinitarian theology of two eminent theologians from two very different contexts. Leonardo Boff and Raimon Panikkar.

Dedicated to my friends and teachers of UTC, the living and those who have, sadly, passed away since my stay in 1997, with deep gratitude for their hospitality and help in cultural and intellectual bridge-building. Without them, this study would not have been possible.

The plurality of Christianity in general, of theological positions in particular, has become most obvious. Thus, differing ways of Christian life and faith as well as diverging theological reflections based on them can be noted, and their compatibility cannot simply be taken for granted. It has become notorious, especially in the Ecumenical Movement, that an understanding between such divergent manifestations of Christianity is difficult and, indeed, often bound to fail.1 Ecumenical hermeneutics is an attempt to unveil the reasons for the apparent lack of agreement through the analysis of the divergent ways of understanding Scripture and its tradition, as well as for the difficulty of mutual understanding between Christians. It also seeks to explore the significance of the Ecumenical Movement as an expression of the "hermeneutical community" of the Church and to formulate criteria for discernment. The Commission of Faith and Order (FO) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) dedicated, from 1993 to 1998, a specific study to the subject and published its results.

In the following, I shall present the FO-paper within its history, highlighting what I find most important for the purpose of this study (I). This perspective is then being brought into dialogue with the trinitarian theology of two eminent theologians from two very different contexts. Leonardo Boff (II) and Raimon Panikkar (III). Finally, I shall try to describe the relevance of an ecumenical hermeneutics to this dialogue (IV).2

I. The Study on Ecumenical Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is not a new topic for the Ecumenical Movement. However, the focus has been mainly on biblical hermeneutics and on a hermeneutics of tradition.3 It is only in more recent times that the term "ecumenical hermeneutics" has come into use, implying understanding and agreement between the churches within the oikoumene. Conflicts that have arisen from ecumenical dialogues lead to a debate on the legitimate degree of unity and diversity, as well as the status of consensus or convergence texts and an ecumenical methodology.

The study on ecumenical hermeneutics, undertaken by FO since 1993, seeks to consider these questions. Already in the 1970s, they were being pursued in long-term study processes. These were being formed by the opening up towards the world and the recognition of the saeculum, as promoted especially by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Fourth Assembly of the WCC in Uppsala (1968). Not only the themes, but also the methods of ecumenical theological reflection were influenced by this opening. Since the contextuality of church and theology was now being recognized and more and more accepted, there emerged a method of intercontextuality. This can be seen clearly in the FO Commission Meetings in Louvain 1971, Accra 1974 and Bangalore 1978.4 In Acera, not only was the actual existence and legitimacy of diverse contextual theologies being recognized, but also it was being implied that comparison and communication between them was possible. Consequently, the question about a common language and framework had to be asked. Through concrete local reports, the study process on the "account of the hope that is in us" (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), that had been encouraged in Louvain and was completed in Bangalore, aimed at showing the relationship between unity and diversity through an inductive methodology, refraining from developing, at this stage, a common language. The search for a common language, for a common framework, has been and remains highly ambivalent. Any project for a Western theology claiming universal validity would have to fail because of the resistance of many theologians from the "Third World" who would see in it a new form of Western imperialism. Furthermore, in the age of postmodernity and the end of the "great narratives" (Lyotard), such proposals have become suspect even within the West itself. Nevertheless, contextual theologies do claim to highlight aspects of the faith that are of relevance, far beyond the specific local context. Not least the theme of liberation is being understood by those who developed it as a universal and central dimension of faith altogether. What, then, is contextual? What is common to all? What is it that unites contextual theologies? How can there be a theological coherence under an ecumenical horizon without giving a reason for suspecting the promotion of particular interests?

The need for a study on ecumenical hermeneutics was stated very clearly at the Santiago World Conference on FO in l993.5 Following its recommendations, such a study was carried out through various consultations that have been held since 1994, to its completion in 1998. It produced a text that is meant as an "instrument for an ecumenical reflection on hermeneutics" by churches, theological faculties and individuals. The document, whose main title reads "A Treasure in Earthen Vessels", asks about the tradition of faith through the times and within the koinonia, the fellowship of the churches -- a question to be asked again and again facing ever-changing challenges.6 To speak about "earthen vessels" means, in a rather free but not unusual interpretation of II Cor 4:7. that the Divine Word of the Gospel is not available to us in a direct, pure way, but only through the human words of human proclaimers. It is, therefore, legitimate to extend this logically and include its mediation through human interpretation. The necessary consequence of this notion is a plurality of potential interpretations, which is, first and foremost, being welcomed by the document.

The study text asks for a twofold hermeneutics: On the one hand, it focuses on the understanding of the Gospel; on the other hand, on the understanding of the context, inasmuch as faith should come to its concrete expression within a particular context (see para. 4). Hermeneutics is being defined as "the art of interpretation and application of texts, symbols and practices in the present and from the past, and the theory about the methods of such interpretation and application" (para. 5). An ecumenical hermeneutics is meant to serve the "specific task of focusing on how texts, symbols and practices in the various churches may be interpreted, communicated and mutually received as the churches engage in dialogue. In this sense it is a hermeneutics for the unity of the Church." (ibid.)7 It is ecumenical because of the space in which it is being applied, that is, where churches are in dialogue about the interpretation, communication and reception of texts, symbols and practices. At the same time, it alms at the unity of the Church, a unity which, however, is not being defined more precisely.

On the basis of this definition, the study paper expounds in three points what such an ecumenical hermeneutics should be able to produce. (1) It should "aim at greater coherence in the interpretation of the faith and in the community of all believers as their voices unite in common praise of God". (2) It should "make possible a mutually recognizable (re)appropriation of the sources of the Christian faith". (3) Finally, it should "prepare ways of common confession and prayer in spirit and truth" (para. 6). Therefore, it aims at being a hermeneutics of coherence. As the (One) Church is, in itself, a hermeneutical community, in which the churches are in dialogue with one another, each church has, at least, to suppose that the Spirit can also speak in the other church and, through her, speak to oneself. Thus, the study also mentions a hermeneutics of confidence, a term new to the published study text compared to its earlier versions, which presumes in the other a "right intention of faith" (para. 30). It is made clear, at the same time, that the study paper does not refer to a romantic notion of understanding and agreement without any criticism. It also implies a hermeneutics of suspicion "which perceives how self-interest, power, national or ethnic or class or gender perspectives can affect the reading of texts and the understanding of symbols and practices" (para. 28). I shall return to this threefold hermeneutics -- of coherence, confidence, suspicion -- in the concluding chapter of this article.

Following the Santiago recommendations, the study deals with three aspects of an ecumenical hermeneutics: the quest for the One Tradition in the many traditions (part A, paras. 14-37) 8; the quest for the One Gospel in the many contexts (part B, paras. 38-48); and the Church as hermeneutical community in matters of discernment, the exercise of authority and reception (part C, paras. 49-66).

In this article, I am particularly interested in the intercultural aspect, more precisely in the dimension of the "South". The fact that little is being said in that hemisphere on "ecumenical hermeneutics" does not necessarily imply that the subject is altogether irrelevant. However, it might be necessary to find another terminology and elaborate it towards concrete problems. I believe the polarity of contextuality and catholicity to be a helpful tool for understanding. By contextuality I mean the qualitative dimension of the faith and of the theology that reflects on it. in which, consciously and explicitly, the reality of life on the one hand, Scripture and Tradition on the other are being recognized as equally important points of departure. This means that context -- in the broad sense of cultural, religious, social, political and economical circumstances -- and text -- as Scripture in its process of transmission and interpretation, that is, its Tradition -- do mutually interpret each other. By catholicity I mean the qualitative dimension of faith and theology pointing to identity and coherence in Christianity in view of the triune God who has joined Himself to the world in creation, in the assuming of humanity by Jesus Christ and in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Searching for such coherence, the doctrine of the Trinity has, in the last decades, proven to be especially open for analogies that seek to join together unity and diversity in God.9

Thus, the perspective of an ecumenical hermeneutics is aiming at better understanding among Christians in view of life in the world (contextuality) and life as a Christian (catholicity). It could also empower them to learn more about faith and its consequences in life through the witness of Christians from other cultures and confessions. By "learning", I do not only refer to a increase of knowledge, but a deepening of one’s own faith and faith life as well as of one’s perception of the triune God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. From there, a real dialogue can be constructed that can contribute to the clarification, questioning and changing of both one’s own and the other’s position. It is in this sense that we shall look at two theologians for whom a trinitarian notion of God has become central. It should be made clear at this point that the ecumenical perspective I have just sketched out is not theirs; it is my attempt to understand them in an ecumenical horizon, that is, in the worldwide dimension of the trinitarian faith.

II. Leonardo Boff -- the Sociality of the Triune God

The Brazilian, Roman Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff (born 1938) may well be right in saying that the Theology of Liberation is "the first theology from the Third World with worldwide resonance" 10 Not least because of its very critical reception in the West, especially in Rome, it has not been possible to remain indifferent to it or simply ignore it. Positively speaking, in the Theology of Liberation becomes manifest "the very tense transition from a culturally more or less homogeneous, and in this sense monocentric, church of the West, towards a world church which has many cultural roots and is, thus, polycentric", as formulated by Johann Baptist Metz.11 It is fairly plain that Boff has become, internationally, the most published and read theologian from Latin America. Therefore, he is clearly to be seen in a worldwide horizon, and his conflict with the Roman Catholic Church has further contributed to this. However, apart from these external factors, his theology itself implies the world as its horizon, a theology which has been developed from the urgencies of a particular context, but always in view not only of Roman Catholics, or even of the Christian oikoumene, or only of humanity, but of the cosmos, the whole universe.

The advantages of the Boffian elaboration of the doctrine of the Trinity are to be found, I believe, in the strong link he demonstrates between God and the world, a world which he sees in a planetarian perspective, implying that human beings are only a part of it. Furthermore, it becomes clear that it does make a difference to our theological thinking and acting, who the God is in whom we believe, and with what concepts and imagery we try to describe Him. These are always constructions; however, it is essential that their origin be laid open in order to make possible a critical dialogue. From Boff’s presentation it becomes clear that the specific image of the Trinity is being moulded by the needs of society which, in turn, is being viewed from a socially understood Trinity.12 The former becomes clear from his starting point which lies with the needs in church, society and cosmos, and with the opposition to a hierarchical church, an undemocratic society and a disregarded natural environment.13 The latter results from his dogmatic and historical treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity, especially from his developing the notion of perichoresis. Only from the coming together of both aspects can result, in my terms, a doctrine of the Trinity oriented towards both contextuality and catholicity.

In the following, I shall try to explore the various aspects of Boff’s trinitarian theology that seem relevant from an ecumenical perspective. I shall start with the Boff’s main idea, his trinitarian, social image of God (1). There follows a description of his view of a planetarian community as against a purely economical globalization (2). A third section deals with the relationship between the Trinity and the Church (3). Finally, I shall outline the importance of a doxological way of speaking of God -- as it becomes obvious in Leonardo Boff’s trinitarian theology (4).

1. A Trinitarian, Social Image of God

There have been many uses and abuses of a non-trinitarian or trinitarian legitimation of political systems.14 However, a closer look reveals that such legitimation is very limited. We can say that it is not true, as suggested Erik Peterson, that the doctrine of the Trinity has made impossible any political theology.15 But it continues to resist direct deductions of political and economical systems from the Trinity even in its Boffian notion. Such deductions would always be prone to justifiable accusations of deducting from the Trinity, or rather from a specific notion of the Trinity, what has previously been inducted into it. Thus, on the one hand, the difference between God and the world would be blurred and God instrumentalized for human purposes. On the other hand, human beings would want to know too much about God, a God who, again and again, evades knowledge about Him, hides His face and name (cf. Ex 3:14) and forbids His human creatures to make an image (idol) of Him (cf. Ex 20:4). However, we are unable to live and believe without images -- not in the sense of idols made of wood, stone, gold or other material, but in the sense of imaginations we have about God, metaphors we use to speak of God, models with which we try to think about God’s being and acting.16 A middle level of speaking of God is necessary, a speaking that is neither identical with God nor with the world, but is formulated and being tested out of a creative interaction between the perception of God and the perception of the world, in reference to Scripture and Tradition. This granted, the burning question, asked again and again by Liberation Theology, concerns what image of God we have and what this implies for our life.

Boff is clearly opposed to an image of God that draws a celestial monarch who would reflect directly in a worldly monarch. This opposition stems from the negative experiences he had made with hierarchical structures in society and the church, structures that suppress, in their harsh authoritarianism, creativity, autonomy and criticism. This issue is, for Boff, not only a pragmatic one, for instance in the sense of seeking to gain more space for free theological thinking and publishing through the reduction of control by hierarchy. Rather, it is for him a profoundly spiritual question, because he finds behind authoritarianism an image of God which refers to a severe ruler who does not support humans in their own being but hinders them. Instead, Boff seeks to present God as loving, caring, liberating, life-giving and life-enhancing. In the doctrine of the Trinity, he finds an excellent imagery for this: The triune communion which is communion-in-diversity creates the human being as a communitarian being, and nature as communitarian, letting them go into freedom and receiving them back in the eschaton. This makes it possible that humans can (and, indeed, should) reflect the triune communion among themselves, a communion which respects differences and fosters communitarian relationships. Let me cite at least one central passage:

This understanding of the mystery of the Trinity is extremely rich in suggestion in the context of oppression and desire for liberation. The oppressed struggle for participation at all levels of life, for a just and egalitarian sharing while respecting the differences between persons and groups; they seek communion with other cultures and other values, and with God as the ultimate meaning of history and of their own hearts. As these realities are withheld from them in history, they feel obliged to undertake a process of liberation that seeks to enlarge the space for participation and communion available to them. For those who have faith, the trinitarian communion between the divine Three, the union between them in love and vital interpenetration, can serve as a source of inspiration, as a utopian goal that generates models of successively diminishing differences. This is one of the reasons why I am taking the concept of perichoresis as the structural axis of these thoughts. It speaks to the oppressed in their quest and struggle for integral liberation. The community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit becomes the prototype of the human community dreamed of by those who wish to improve society and build it in such a way as to make it into the image and likeness of the Trinity. 17

In Boff’s theoretical elaboration of this notion of the Trinity, there are some weaknesses, which, however, can only be pointed at here. They are especially connected to the issue of the theoretical status of trinitarian theology, which remains unclear. Experience and doxological response precede reflection, this is made clear by Boff. But what about the relationship between the triune God and his creation, and its implications? It is here that the metaphorical character of all theology, and maybe especially of trinitarian theology, becomes most obvious; but this is not made explicit by Boff.

However, Boff’s intention to communicate to a wide public important elements of the Christian faith in relation to context is by no means minimized by these questions, quite the contrary. In practical terms, Boff has been occupying, with his ecological-cosmological reflections, a pioneering role in. a time which is no longer characterized by military Governments, but more by economic globalization and its -- for many -- disastrous economic and ecological consequences.18 In connection with the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro, Boff recognized the urgency of ecological issues. Relating them to Teilhardian cosmology, the findings of a number of scientists, and the doctrine of the Trinity, he raised this issue in Brazil through his books. This in itself is very important, given that, despite environmental threats like deforestation in the Amazonas region being known for a long time, hardly any ecological awareness can be seen among the population.

The search for a concrete form of society and the church which would be better for humans and for nature, being inspired by the triune God, is a legitimate and, indeed, an important contribution by Boff to the ecumenical debate. But it is exactly this point which would need to be pursued further, and should be complemented through studies by Boff and other liberation theologians on the application of such a trinitarian "inspiration" to the law and to the formation of structures in society and the church. Such studies, however, have not yet been produced.19 There is also, within liberation theology, a lack of more profound theological analyses of the culture of Brazilian populations, both black and indigenous. I believe this to be an important new field of study which, of course, would imply a thorough interaction with cultural sciences.20 The recognition of difference often claimed by Boff. especially around the commemorations of 500 years of European presence in Latin America, should warn of against an instant inclusivism of other cultures and religions into a comprehensive macro-ecumenism.21

Boff has undertaken the task of formulating, based on the general ecumenical consensus -- that it is the triune God in whom Christians believe and that it is necessary to reflect theologically on this -- what are, in his perspective, the contextually relevant implications of this doctrine. His elaboration draws from its roots in Christian Tradition, as well as from the actual context. Using my terminology, Boff’s notion of the Trinity makes clear that Christian doctrine is only possible in the polarity of contextuality and catholicity, of local relevance and ecumenical coherence. At the same time, it stresses that a satisfying balance between the two is not being reached by deduction or by induction, but only through dialectical searching and testing.

2. Planetarian Community -- not the Globalization of the Economy

It is an important feature of Leonardo Boff’s work that he seeks, again and again, to view humanity within the whole of creation, the whole world, the wholeness of its past and future. His merit is to avoid narrow concepts and to refrain from making the antagonisms under which he himself had to suffer by the center of his theology.22 Looking at his dealing with ecological issues it becomes clear that Boff is not fixed on his context but willing to take up issues from outside and translate them into his context. He has included thoughts of natural sciences as well as of UN conferences and other international networks. Therefore he has not only contributed from his context to theology in its worldwide dimension but also taken impulses from there and introduced them to his context.

Boff confronts the challenges offered by today’s world in its wholeness, not denying the existing antagonisms on a micro as well as a macro level. Globalization, as he understands it, is not identical with the globalization of economy and the worldwide process of harmonizing its functioning, neither is it identical with the globalization of structures. What he presents is the view of a planetarian community of nature and humanity, of humans among themselves, of humanity and God; it is (national) citizenship, co-citizenship and citizenship of the Earth.23 Against the type of globalization radiating from the West he can say: "The West appears to us, today, more and more like a tragic accident in the global process of humanity."24 His own positive view of globalization reads thus: "The Trinity, as mystery of communion of the three Divine Persons, has always given herself to creation as well as to the life of every single human being, and has revealed herself -- under the forms of sociability, mutual openness, love and self-giving, but also accusation and protest against the lack of such values -- to the communities of humanity. Whole humanity is the temple of the Trinity, independent of time, space, and religion. All humans are sons and daughters in the Son, all humans are under the energy of the Spirit, and all humans are being drawn up by the Father."25

Differently from Samuel P. Huntington, Boff does not start with a "clash of civilizations",26 but with a positive being-in-relation which, however, is more a programme than reality: "‘the second paradigm [sc. of integral evangelization] is that of the Trinity: It is the fundamental being-in-relation of every culture. All cultures do form a complete system of meaning; however, this is open for other systems and other cultures, since no single culture can exhaust the hidden possibilities of a human being as individual and as a social being. Between the cultures, as in the mystery of the Trinity, the same principle has to be ruling: the radical being-in-relation between the three divine persons. Every person is one and unique, but always in relation to and in perichoresis with the other two. Communion and reciprocity of the persons make them to be one single God. Where this being-in-relation is respected, one can avoid one culture being oppressed by another. Thus, in analogy with the Trinity, the structure of being-in-relation has to be effective between the cultures."27

The great advantage of this view is that Boff confronts the challenge of the one world which he sees grounded in God and, at the same time, in today’s interrelatedness. In this way, he is practicing neither a provincial theology nor a theology alienated from the world. The disadvantage is that the specific differences are in danger of being drowned in this great synthesis, and that the necessary respect and, consequently, caution in the approximation between confessions, religions and cultures is being disregarded.

However, I believe that Boff’s emphasis on the relationships between human beings and communities is of great value, even in his programmatic-pleading form, as well as the idea of a worldwide responsibility for the planet, which every citizen of this world is to bear. In this way, Boff succeeds in bringing insights and experiences from Brazil into dialogue -- for instance, when insisting on the need for protection of the Amazon Rainforest -- while disseminating a vital topic in Brazil. He thus becomes, again, an important mediator between the local and global dimensions; theologically, his ecological concern proves both contextual and, at the same time, catholic.

3. The Trinity and the Church

As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, Leonardo Boff is situated form the start in the polarity of the local and the worldwide Church. Being the offspring of an Italian immigrant family and having done his doctoral studies in Munich, Germany (1965-70), to live in different worlds is not strange to him. Franciscan spirituality has rooted him in the monastic family on the one hand, in the "cosmic family" on the other. This home has a harmonious-motherly feature, which never allows him to forget the planetarian. universal dimension of existence and, consequently, of theology as a reflection on it. Nevertheless, he does not fail to see the contradictions which exist, for instance, in the Roman Church as a centralistic institution in which few decide over many and where the vast majority has no participation in decision-making. Since his childhood, he has nurtured a strong sense of justice, which makes him perceive the suffering of women and men around him and leads him to fight constantly against the injustice of exclusion.28

This home has remained, despite the open rupture of 1992, when Boff gave up his priesthood and left the Franciscan Order. He continues as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, although he expands the notion of "catholic" to the extent that he can avoid identifying it with Roman centralism. "Catholicity" does becomes a quality which transcends the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. To take the point a little further, one could say that Boff has become "more catholic" than before 1992. inasmuch as the closeness of God and the World which he described in his understanding of transparence and sacrament becomes even more marked, once the church as institution can be left aside.29 More precisely, the visible mediator between God and the world is no longer the Church (at least not in any concrete form), but her function is extended to all human beings and to their religion. Thus, the Church becomes invisible. As a critical moment for religion and religions, there remains a mere moral argument, that is, whether they serve justice and liberation or not.30 In this way, Boff is able to jump from an understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as the one which is in possession of the full means of salvation to a comprehensive inclusivism and the ecclesial-catholic quality of the whole cosmos. Other religions are being incorporated in this wide, "catholic" horizon. For example, according to Boff, a religion like the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé cannot be interpreted with "measurements internal to the system of Christianity": rather, "the horizon for a dialogue with it is the universal history of salvation."31 As Boff starts from an understanding of creation as God’s creation, in and with which the "universal history of salvation" is developing, the Roman Catholic Church is dispensable without losing the catholic. In this sense. Boff is promoting an inclusivistic standpoint.

I indeed share with Boff the hope for an ultimate unity of humanity in God. Nevertheless, I believe it to be theologically difficult to sweep away intra-Christian and interreligious differences with such a comprehensive worldview. It is true that the issue of popular religion in Brazil which is drawing on different wells and can, therefore, be lived out in a variety of churches -- a phenomenon called by experts "double" or "multiple" religious belonging. However, it is exactly this situation that needs, in my opinion, a cautious approximation and a sensitive search for the common, rather than a great inclusion that tends to lose the different.32

4. Speaking of God Doxologically

As a last point in these thoughts about Leonardo Boff’s notion of the Trinity, seen in the perspective of an ecumenical hermeneutics between contextuality and catholicity, I shall ask once more about the status and quality of a statement on the Trinity. Boff’s own reservations against too direct a speaking of God’s Trinity have been mentioned above. In this context, he returns again and again to the notion of doxology. He defines doxology as "experience of the Divine, as it expresses itself in praise, thanksgiving, reverence and joyful acceptance of the acts God has done on behalf of humankind".33 Each theology has as its base doxology, "the celebration of the self-revealing God". It is this celebration that Boff has in mind in his own elaboration of the doctrine of the Trinity, from chapter 8 of his book onwards, whose titles take the form of the liturgical doxology: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning. is now and ever shall be, Amen." Thus, doxology is not only to be found at the beginning, but indeed also at the end of theological reflection; doxology forms its starting point and aim.

Referring to the Trinity. Boff also speaks about "mystery". The Trinity is a "saving mystery", not a "logical mystery" (182). "Mystery" does not denote the limit of reason, rather the "boundlessness of reason" (184), as the mystery of the Trinity is a "sacramental mystery" that has communicated and revealed itself. It is not a wall, but "a gate that opens up towards God’s infinite being" (185). What is at stake is not, principally, to recognize this mystery through reason, as this is indeed only partly possible. In faith, we are called to "give" ourselves to the mystery, to let ourselves be "seized" by it; in this, faith precedes reason. "Doxology is an attitude of adoration, thanksgiving and reverence in the sight of the triune mystery" (183). Unfortunately, the term "doxology" itself, in its significance for theological reflection, remains rather misty. The relationship between theology and doxology does not appear to be sufficiently clear. Rather, the references to "mystery" and doxology seem to be a precaution against sharp questionings about the meaning of trinitarian statements and their (onto-)logical status. Nevertheless, I am convinced that doxology is of utmost importance, because it introduces the aspect of adoration. Faith is a response to experience of God which is expressed in doxological sentences (formulas, prayers, hymns) before being reflected upon theologically. In this sense, doxology precedes theology. 34 At the same time, it is situated where theological speaking reaches its limits, where a "doxological edge" forces one to offer -- metaphorically speaking -- "open theological statements as a gift to God".35 Boff would probably agree with this. Stressing the significance or even the precedence of doxology, especially for the doctrine of the Trinity. is something that brings a new emphasis into Liberation Theology, inasmuch as it makes clear that there is, ultimately, an unbridgeable gap between God and statements about him. Thus, it is a warning against exaggerated and too direct deductions. Liberation Theology does have to ask itself, whether it can face well the ideological criticism it is applying to other theologies. Furthermore, emphasizing doxology opens a door towards other theologies, for instance of the Orthodox tradition, and thus allows for a new dialogue transcending boundaries of contexts and confessions.

These short reflections will have to suffice as a first glance into the ecumenical-hermeneutical approach to Leonardo Boff’s notion of the Trinity. Let us now turn to Raimon Panikkar.

III. Raimon Panikkar -- the Tri-Unity of Reality

In analogy to what has been said about Leonardo Boff. the focus here is on the trinitarian thinking of the Hispanic Indian Raimon Panikkar (born 1918) and his contribution for the Church and theology worldwide36 The emphasis will be on the aspects that enlighten the polarity of contextuality and catholicity. Initially, there can be no doubt that, for Panikkar, the "Church" is much more than the real, existing Roman Catholic Church -- of which he continues to be a priest -- or any other church. His ecumenism is, most consciously, an "ecumenical ecumenism"37 and aims at including not only other churches but also other religions in view of the deepness of the Cosmotheandric Reality.38 Even more than with Leonardo Boff, the theology of Raimon Panikkar is not limited to the specific context, in this case Indian. Rather, it is a theology moulded by the encounter between "India" and "the West" while aiming to be universal. Certainly, he would consider it insufficient to apply his insights exclusively to the intra-Christian ecumenism in the polarity of contextuality and catholicity, as I have proposed for the purpose of this article.39 On the other hand, the problems that are implied in his ecumenical ecumenism are, in a striking way, analogous to those that present themselves as challenges to the intra-Christian oikoumene. At a time when it has become impossible for Christian churches of different confessionality and contextuality to remain isolated from one another, and when practical collaboration has become indispensable in many places -- something that Panikkar has been claiming, for decades, for the different religions -- , it becomes clear how divergent manifestations of Christianity can be. Sometimes, at least, one can get the impression that there are, in fact, different "Christian religions" with little in common. Out of this analogy and because interreligious dialogue itself is a contextual necessity for Christianity in India and, in many other places, Panikkar’s contribution seems to me a particularly valuable one. His activity as a critical mediator between "India" and "the West", between Roman Catholicism, natural science, philosophy and Indian religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) makes him, in my opinion and using my terminology, a fruitful example of an ecumenical hermeneutics between contextuality and catholicity.

In what follows, I shall first present the dialogue of religions and Panikkar’s critical pluralism (1). Then, I shall turn to Panikkar’s understanding of catholicity, the Church and ecumenism (2). Further, the cosmotheandric intuition will be described as a "deep hermeneutics of reality" (3). Finally, I shall explore his fundamentally irenic attitude (4).

1. Dialogue of Religions and Critical Pluralism

Panikkar’s theology is highly marked by his biography which laid the encounter of different religions and contexts in his cradle, as it were.40 He has faced this challenge and engaged in an intense study of languages, philosophies, theologies and sacred scriptures as well as living everyday life in many contexts. In this way, he could perceive, reflect upon and write down differences and commonalities of various religions and contexts. From there, he has developed an attitude of total openness which implies, according to his own claim, a total immersion in each religion, while acknowledging its specificity and difference from the others. However, the success of this enterprise has been questioned by many. I too have remained skeptical about the possibility of recognizing the Christian faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in Panikkar’s Cosmotheandric Intuition. However, one of the most challenging of Panikkar’s thoughts is that understanding and agreement is possible despite the fact that I cannot reduce and fix people of other faiths and cultures to my own categories of understanding. This understanding happens in the combination of intra-religious and inter-religious dialogue, that is, in the dialogue between different religions and among different religious traditions within one human person. It does not only imply discourse but rather is a sharing and communicating of mystical experience.41 Applying a metaphor of space, this sharing and communication happens in the deep. Hardly anybody else has such an intense internal and external experience of various religions as Panikkar. But not even he has a "360-degree-vision", to quote an expression he often uses. He draws his conclusions about reality mainly from existential and personalistic, Western European philosophy, Roman Catholic (neo-) thomist theology and certain branches of Indian philosophy. Bridges to Eastern Orthodox theology would be fairly easy to construct, but it remains marginal in Panikkar’s writings, as do, largely, religions other than the three which Panikkar claims to belong.42

His (very diverse) public has had a significant influence on the explication of his thinking, not least because most of his texts were, originally, composed as lectures and only later published in print. Most of these lectures aim at bringing the insights of Hinduism and Buddhism closer to Indian and Western Christians as well as philosophers, to deepen their understanding of faith and expand it to other forms of belief.43 His anthology "The Vedic Experience" which has been accepted and respected by many Hindus, tries to present texts from the Veda and the Upanishads in such a way that they become open towards other beliefs and transparent for the depth of faith.44 An important aspect of his literary production, already central at the beginning, but gaining prominence again lately, has been to address a Western public that faces the challenge of having to seek its religious identity and not being able to take it for granted. Panikkar’s oeuvre can be read as an encouragement to religion especially for Western, religiously insecure persons who are willing to draw from the Christian tradition, but decline to fit themselves into a particular form of Christianity and ecclesiality.

Furthermore, Panikkar wants to take seriously the claim to universality that is necessarily made by each religion.45 This does not have to be given up but to be seen in relation with other, equally legitimate claims. In order not to fall into an exclusivistic (only one religion can be the true one) or inclusivistic (all religions ultimately meet in a common claim) misunderstanding or into a wrong understanding of pluralism (all religions are equal, viewed from an outside standpoint), Panikkar brings forward a relationship in "radical relativity" (being-in-relation) between the religions. The different religions, incommensurable as they are on the level of lived belief and doctrine, do meet in the depth of the Cosmotheandric Intuition.46 Universal claims are, thus, redirected downwards, as it were. Panikkar’s lifelong effort is to call people, with human words that will always remain frail, to the encounter of religions in that depth, grounded in mystical experience; to invite them to a conversion towards the Cosmotheandric Reality.

In my opinion, Panikkar’s proposal is helpful in that it asks for and fosters a continuous, intense effort towards understanding. There can be no doubt that he has been a pioneer in this and has become a prominent bridge-builder between "India" and "the West". Since the time of the pioneers around the Second Vatican Council, dialogue between religions has become even more necessary today, given that there is an even stronger mixture of cultures and religions in most parts of the world. At the same time, the climate for dialogue has become rougher. Although migration has facilitated encounter with people of other religions in Europe, conflicts with ethnic and religious undertones are on the rise. The Roman Catholic Church, despite friendly gestures of Pope John Paul II, has become more restrictive in dialogue. In part reacting to people leaving the church or converting to other confessions and religions it is closing in on its own identity and centralism, as can be clearly seen from the latest magisterial documents. But the efforts towards contextualization taking place in many parts of the world cannot simply be stopped by centralistic policies.

It is here that Panikkar can contribute much and positively with his message of "cultural disarmament".47 His call for kenosis as self-restricting modesty and the abandonment of every kind of imperialism has been, however, directed much more fiercely towards "the West" than towards "India". Panikkar does not want to strengthen the rather distrustful attitude of many Hindus towards "the West" and Christianity but rather seeks to pursue dialogue through "unilateral disarmament", as it were, through unilateral kenosis. In some cases, he has succeeded and been able to establish dialogue with Indian intellectuals. In view of the great social disparities in India which affect the vast majority of Christians, and considering the imperialistic behavior of the (politically dominant) circles committed to the ideology of Hindutva, this does not appear to be sufficient.48 A more intense, more critical discussion of the conflictive aspects of lived religion is needed -- as much within each religion as between them. The issue of power and its correct use is becoming more and more urgent in India, including the need not only for an inculturation but also for a de-culturation of oppressive and religiously legitimized structures. Referring to Christ should make possible a more critical attitude to the context than comes from the emphasis on Christ’s mediatorship as elaborated by Panikkar.49

Panikkar’s middle way, the trinitarian-christological figure, remains, ultimately, in the mist of mystery, hardly applicable in practice. His view tends to be harmonizing and does not provide space for suffering and ruptures in human life -- at least not obviously. This seems to be the price to be paid for a missing teologia crucis and only a very loose link between Christ and the historical Jesus. By losing a clear, elaborated Christology, which would accommodate not only the cosmic but also and especially the God-Man -- the living, personal Christ in whom God incarnated Himself, shared human life until death and reached ressurrection -- Christianity is failing to bring into the dialogue one of its strongest features.50

According to Panikkar, religions are not self-sufficient: "In today’s situation, no religion, culture or tradition can claim to offer universally valid solutions for human problems -- neither theoretical nor practical. Alone and isolated, Hinduism is threatened, Christianity powerless, Islam in fermentation, Marxism a failure, Buddhism dissolving, the Primitive Religions becoming extinct, secularism destroying itself and so on."51 But how can there be a "mutual fecundation", repeatedly mentioned by Panikkar. between them? His speaking of "homoomorphisms", that is, functional analogies, reveals that beyond the very fact that there are functional analogies, there is little that can be said about them. Of course, the centre of Panikkar’s attention is the Cosmotheandric Reality, and therefore the deepest reality that could ever be found. But that does not dispense us from answering the question as to what can be said about this Reality through exchanges between religions that could not be said by one religion on its own. Is it enough to claim that it is present in formal terms in all religions and that those concerned only need to recognize this? Panikkar’s preference for mystical experience seems to be satisfied with just this. But do different religions not have more to offer each other than separate coexistence, united only at the deepest level? The image of "fecundation" needs the imagination of more than a functional commonality. Furthermore, it has to be asked whether the concept of different, ‘incommensurable’ religions is not too static and, in fact, resisting the dynamisation of dialogue desired by Panikkar.

2. Catholicity and Ecumenism

It has often and rightly been said that Panikkar moved from a fulfillment theology to a pluralistic theology in the real sense. This becomes most clear from a comparison between the first (1964) and the revised (1981) edition of his theological thesis "The Unknown Christ of Hinduism".53 Panikkar himself does not deny such changes, but stresses that they have to be seen not as a rupture, but as a continuous growth. On reading his early texts through the perspective of the later ones, this proves true. His works from the 60s, especially Religionen und die Religion, show that, already at that stage, Panikkar held that, at least potentially, any religion can show itself as the "Catholic Religion" he describes, although the vocabulary he uses is clearly Roman Catholic, implying that the Roman Catholic Church best matches this religion. Later, he can write that "the authentic and true religiosity of every person is catholic." 54 Thus, religion is, in itself, catholic. However, he leaves open the question as to which criteria prove a religion or spirituality to be "authentic" and "true", if religions are, qua religion, catholic, i.e. oriented towards (Cosmotheandric) Reality. Are there no wrong notes from the orchestra of the Cosmotheandric Symphony? But who would be the conductor who could reprimand or even exclude the failing players?

In a contribution on "Catholic Identity", Panikkar has addressed this problem. For him, asking about the "catholic" identity is the same as asking about the "Christian" identity. In this sense, it coincides with my notion of catholicity (see above, I). For Panikkar, there is no comprehensive criterion that could decide about the catholic identity of a person from outside. He defines this identity as follows: "A Christian is one who both confesses oneself to be such and as such is accepted by the other (usually Christian) people."55 Thus, he is granting, as does the FO-study, everybody his or her selfunderstanding and confession. The one who understands himself or herself as a Christian and makes this explicit, is a Christian. Therefore, speaking of ‘anonymous Christians", as did Karl Rahner -- something that can be detected in the early Panikkar, although he does not use the term -- does not make any sense. Panikkar then introduces another criterion: the Christian has to be recognized as such by the others, more specifically, by a particular community. There can be no "private interpretations" of being a Christian; from the outset, they are relational. Panikkar acknowledges the need for criteria in this way, but immediately points to the problem of contradicting criteria -- the problem par excellence of an ecumenical hermeneutics. Christ is the centre of Christian identity, but Christ understood as "symbol" of mediatorship between God and the world. If that is so, it must be concluded that any human being can, at least potentially, be the Christ, even without specific belonging, because Christ as symbol is universal. Christ is the prototype of the believing person that succeeds entering into relationship with Reality. In this, he is symbol: He turns Reality visible and through Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, one can participate in it. I take from these rather paradoxical statements by Panikkar his appreciation of one’s own positioning in relation to Christ and the emphasis on the existential significance of faith. His focus is not dogma but the believing person and his relationship with the basis of faith. The confidence which Panikkar takes from this relationship and positioning is essential to understanding and agreement in the Christian oikoumene. Beyond this, there is a need for struggle about the content and the consequences of the Christian faith which can, in the end, lead to exclusive judgements. The problem I see with Panikkar is that he evades going through that struggle. It is here also that I see the problem of a transference of the notion of a Christian ecumenism to an "ecumenical ecumenism". Although it is true that they seem, at first, similar in structure or function: different confessions and, one could add, different contextualizations of Christianity are facing each other and can accept or reject or just leave one another in peace. Unity in the oikoumene is a continuous task, as Panikkar well stated in an early text: "Ecumenism has to start with suffering arising from diversity; in a further step, it should unveil the deeper, common striving; and it could well culminate in the religious effort to bring closer this unity of Reality. The unity of religions is more a mission than a fact, more a goal to be achieved than a goal already achieved."56

Like religions which, according to Panikkar, are by their nature oriented towards the Reality in its depth, so are the churches of the oikoumene as Christian Church referred to the basis of their faith, the Triune God. Through the biblical text an its tradition, through the manifestation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit as formulated by the economic doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity does have a constant, specific reference which, as such, not share with other religions. The fact that in this Tradition exclusive and inclusive statements about other religions are to be found is the constant difficulty with interreligious dialogue.

3. A Deep Hermeneutics of Reality

Cosmotheandric "trinity" offers, as a concept, both dynamics and coherence: the Cosmotheandric Reality is a differentiated reality which is in movement and holds together the three dimensions of God, Man and World.57 This "trinity" is perichoresis and relation, it is not monism or dualism but difference-in-relation: this aspect is shared by Panikkar and nearly all contemporary elaborations of the doctrine of the Trinity. More strongly than others, however, he holds a hermeneutical approach to reality in which God, Man and World are connected to each other in the deep. Therefore, one can speak of the deep hermeneutics of reality.

It has become clear that Panikkar does not seek mere exchange between the various religions. If one follows his concept of incommensurability, such an exchange would be quite impossible on the level of doctrine, confessions and the instituted social structure. Only in relation to (Cosmotheandric) Reality can we learn from other religions, in the sense that Reality is, ultimately, one, although a differentiated one. This, however, does not constitute an essential insight into reality but an existential one, that is the radical relativity of God, World and Man. The differences that lead to incommensurability are, therefore, to be addressed at another level as the Panikkarian Deep Hermeneutics; only in this way can we explain the contradiction between incommensurability and commonality in the deep.

It is in this Deep Hermeneutics that religions meet, and thus their effort is not nonsense or a reason for fighting each other. Rather, it is in this insight -- and only in this? -- that they can fecundate each other. In this way, the go against the fragmentation of the perception of reality that is typical of our times, according to Panikkar. From the constant conversion towards this Reality, as it occurs in specific ways in the different religions, follows a "cosmic confidence" that gives courage to live and to maintain a peaceful treatment of others despite basic differences. In this sense, eventually, there are practical consequences.

4. Cosmic Confidence and Fundamental Openness -- an Irenic Attitude

Panikkar’s main contribution, it seems to me, is his combination of two important factors. On the one hand, there is his irenic attitude of openness in a very thorough looking at and listening to the other, as well as in utmost care in judging people of other religions. On the other hand, there is Cosmic Confidence in the ultimate tri-unity of Reality. This confidence is based on an extrapolation which might be possible only for somebody who is, like Panikkar, equally at home in various religions and cultures. Even if one does not want to go so far, one can more modestly hold such an ultimate unity of all with all as possible but not as certain. There is good ground for trust in this from one’s specific religious standpoint. Dierrich Ritschl’s notion of a hermeneutics of confidence in the Christus praesens and the FO study pointing in the same direction are important landmarks for this attitude of confidence, within a Christian context.58

This confidence has its consequences for Panikkar’s style of life. In an interview, he said: "My style of life is neither that of a bourgeois nor of an ascetic in the traditional sense. It is the lifestyle of a philosopher as I understand him. Somebody who finds joy in this life, on the one hand. Somebody who experiences life as a grace. Somebody who cultivates the possibilities given to him by God, nature, humans or coincidence. (...) What is moving me is not to rush to South Africa or engage in the Red Cross, for which I have no ability, but to do my very best to remain faithful to this vocation. I do not pretend to be an example, but I try to do everything I do in this direction. It is priestly, intellectual, somehow holistic in the sense of a collaboration with the cosmotheandric perichôrêsis of which I am speaking."59

This is the practical dimension of Cosmic Confidence, of the fundamental openness towards the Other and towards Reality. It is here that we best discover the difference between orthopraxis in Panikkar and in the Theology of Liberation: In Panikkar, it is primarily directed towards the experience of the Cosmotheandric Reality and not towards action in the world. "Reality", for Panikkar, is the wholeness of Being that is constituted through God, Man and World, not the empirical reality which is of merely provisional character -- as is maya in advaita-vedanta.60 Probably under pressure from the impact of Liberation Theology in the USA where Panikkar was teaching at the time, he had to face the issue of the political dimension of his theology and has reacted to it repeatedly in prefaces to his publications. In recent years, he has dealt more extensively with this.61 He remains faithful to his basic caution, not taking any particular political line. In his view, there is indeed no contradiction between Cosmic Confidence and Option for the Poor.62 Both foster inclusion: in a spiritual-religious sense the former, in a political-economic-social sense the latter. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the problem remains that political and ethical consequences do not have a place in his theology: he holds to his original harmonizing, irenic attitude.

Finally, I can now draw some conclusions, while being aware that I am not in a position in to do full justice here to the depth and width of insights from the above-summarized case studies and their theological implications.

IV. Ecumenical Hermeneutics -- Conclusions

Ecumenical hermeneutics -- as formulated in part I in dialogue with the FO study paper -- seeks understanding and agreement with a view to creating and deepening Christian ecumenical community. Looking from this perspective at two theologians from very different contexts has revealed that Leonardo Boff and Raimon Panikkar have much in common. There is not an explicitly theological consensus between the two but rather a congenuality. Both have a strong mystical feature, asking about the uniting, comprehensive, common, about the intimate relationship between God and the world. Both are, in this broad sense, catholic. Their Roman Catholic socialization is of a South European kind (Veneto/Italy, Catalonia/Spain), but from the beginning mixed with other influences (Brazil, India) and lived and developed further in remarkable independence. From this background, they have taken a certain natural corporality, happiness and joy in human contacts and left aside the equally strong hegemonic position of their Church in Italy and Spain. Even though they continue to be bound to the Roman Catholic Church emotionally and structurally, they have been marked by the eruption of the Second Vatican Council and their loyalty towards today’s magisterium is minimal. Boff resisted its pressure through confrontation and, eventually, by resigning from his order and the priesthoood, while Panikkar resisted, more subtly, through a skilled undermining of terms.

Both are gifted with a radiating energy, an enormous working power and discipline, at the same time being friendly and hospitable. Living in Brazil has strengthened in Boff the element of celebration as well as of struggle and resistance, while Panikkar lived a certain asceticism in India and acquired an irenic attitude. Each is, within his context, at the same time indigenous and stranger; each is, in his own way, a pilgrim on the frontier: Boff walking at the margins of his Church and society, Panikkar between sciences and, especially, between religions.

In both can be found, despite all difficult experiences with society and the Church (Boff) or with life as a borderliner (Panikkar), an astonishing confidence in God, life, and humanity.

In Boff, this goes with the dimension that he calls "motherly-earthly", so intrinsic to him that it took some time to emerge: in the midst of poverty and repression his combativeness expressed itself more. Only more recently has the other dimension come to the fore, taking on gender, feminine characteristics and adding a concern about the ecological threat to his resistance to revered fathers of Mother Church in Rome who opposed him and Liberation Theology. In Panikkar’s case, confidence comes from having the Cosmotheandric Reality which he came to know through two, later three religions, carry him -- Cosmic Confidence. Thus, he was able, apparently, to resist the rejection suffered from his own Church as well as from persons of other religions.

It is at this point that I want to bring in conclusions for an ecumenical hermeneutics. Through my intensive interaction with faith and theology in the WCC as much as through my studies on Leonardo Boff in Brazil, Raimon Panikkar in India, I have come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, confidence that is the condition for ecumenical dialogue and agreement. Although I would not call it "cosmic confidence", nor trace it back to the motherly-earthly, I would speak of confidence in the Triune God, stressing that it is this God who marks the specificity of the Christian faith in his Trinity. The perichoreticcommunitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who as an inference from the biblical testimony of God’s economy of salvation has first been praised in liturgy and doxology, then conceived in doctrinal concepts -- it is He who carries Christians in life and death. This does not exclude the possibility that faithful people of other religions could be touched by this God in their own way. However, Christians can only hope this to be the case, not know it.

If understanding and agreement is to happen between different forms of contextualizations of Christianity, it seems helpful to me in an ecumenical hermeneutics to distinguish different levels of their encounter. The various levels are to be imagined one under the other, that is, from the highest (1) through the underlying (2) to the fundamental level (3).

(1) This is the level of propositions, that is, of doctrines and concepts. On this level, there can be direct contradictions between the statements of different theologies.63 Thus, Boff’s social notion of the Trinity could offer a double criticism to Panikkar’s Cosmotheandrism: in regard to Scripture and Tradition, Panikkar has shifted away from the Trinitarian revelation. Although drawing on this Tradition, as well as on the Hindu advaita-vedanta and the Buddhist pratityasamutpada (the interrelatedness of all beings), he eventually comes up with an abstract form of "Trinity" as a figure -- a unity in triple diversity, but detached from the economic manifestation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As to the Indian context, Panikkar has developed his theology in dialogue with very specific parts of it -- rather elitist philosophical thinking -- which could be criticized by Boff for lacking an option for the poor and for having no space for social and political action in his theological thinking. In turn, Panikkar could criticize Boff for not taking seriously enough the religious diversity of the Brazilian context, and for promoting a rather superficial inclusion of other religions (like Candomblé) instead of a dialogue in the deep, thus remaining largely within Western moulds of thinking.64 From these contrasting positions could result, in the best case, a fruitful dialogue, in the worst case plain rejection.

(2) The second level contains a basic hermeneutical position which -- despite some terminological reservations65 -- could be called a hermeneutics of coherence and a hermeneutics of suspicion. On this level, I speak about hermeneutics trying to understand the specific perspective underlying the above-mentioned propositions. As shown earlier, Boff developed his trinitarian theology in opposition to a hierarchical and authoritarian society and church. Although it has to be remembered that, right at the beginning of his theological publishing, Boff followed a hermeneutics of coherence or interdependence of all beings through his understanding of the cosmic Christ, something he has been taking up more prominently again in recent writings, the beginning of his trinitarian thinking is marked by a hermeneutics of suspicion, that is, by a critique of power and ideology. The theology of Raimon Panikkar is marked by a hermeneutics of coherence, of the advaitic relation between everything that is, a notion he developed out of the intra-religious and inter-religious dialogue. He aims at coherence of the Cosmotheandric Reality in which a critique of power and ideology do not find any room. At the same time, this coherence presupposes confidence as a prerequisite for dialogue. Thus, Panikkar’s hermeneutical position leads us to the third level.

(3) The third, deepest level, sustaining the others, is that of a hermeneutics of confidence. It is not instantly operationable, and only with restrictions can it be formulated theologically. It stems from Faith in the triune God, a faith which is being granted to the other who equally claims to draw on it, as "right intention of faith" and reckons with the possibility that "the Spirit speaks within and through the others".66 Its first form of expression is the doxology and the direction towards the living, triune God, the basis of faith and theology. This level of hermeneutics is open to mystical experiences and intuitions, as Raimon Panikkar has brought to the fore again and again, while it can also be found in Boff. Whenever this level is missing, I believe that ecumenical dialogue is not possible. The boundness to the triune God is the only basis on which changes at the other two levels can take place; without being open towards changes, there can only be an uncommitted factual living next to each other, no real fellowship. Such a hermeneutics of confidence, however, by no means removes the need for dialogue and for debate and struggle at the other two levels; the quest for the truth of faith in its practice, responsible towards both Catholicity and Contextuality, is not resolved, but given as a task.


End Notes

1. This problem became most obvious following the presentation of Korean professor Chung, Hyun-Kyung at the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Canberra, as was well analyzed by Raiser, Konrad, "Das Problem des Synkretismus und die Suche nach einer ökumenischen Hermeneutik", in: id., Wir stehen noch am Anfang: Ökumene in einer veränderten Welt (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus 1994), pp. 153-167. See also my article: "Ecumenical Hermeneutics: Suspicion vs. Coherence?", in: Bangalore Theological Forum Vol. 29 (1997) Nr. 3/4, pp. 37-49.

2. In my doctoral thesis: Reden vom dreieinigen Gott in Brasilien und Indien. Grundzüge einer ökumenischen Hermeneutik im Dialog mit Leonardo Boff und Raimon Panikkar ("Speaking of the Triune God in Brazil and India. Outlines of an Ecumenical Hermeneutics in Dialogue with Leonardo Boff and Raimon Panikkar") which is to be published in early 2003 (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr/Paul Siebeck), I have treated these questions much more thoroughly. Based on my thesis, the present article is a translated and slightly revised version of my recent publication: "Ökumenische Hermeneutik für ein plurales Christentum. Überlegungen zu Kontextualität und Katholizität", in: Silja Oneleit-Oesch and Miriam Neubert (eds.): Interkulturelle Hermeneutik und lectura popular Neuere Konzepte in Theorie und Praxis (Beiheft zur Ökumenisehen Rundschau 72, Frankfurt: Lembeck 2002)pp. 228-259. 1 thank my friend and colleague in CESE, Alonso Roberts, for his kind help in correcting my English.

3. Cf. Anton Houtepen, "Hermeneutics and Ecumenism: The Art of Understanding a Communicative God", in: Peter Bouteneff and Dagmar Heller (eds.), Interpreting Together

Essays in Hermeneutics (Faith and Order Paper 189, Geneva: WCC 2001), pp 1-18: id., "Ökumenische Hermeneutik. Auf der Suche nach Kriterien der Kohärenz im Christentum, in: Ökumenische Rundschau Vol. XXXIX (1990), pp. 279-296.

4. See Tobias Brandner, Einheit gegeben -- verloren -- erstrebt. Denkbewegungen von Glauben und Kirchenverfassung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1996), pp. 252-266; for the pre-Bangalore period also Kuncheria Pathil, Models in Ecumenical Dialogue. A Study of the Methodological Development in the Commission on ‘Faith and Order’ of the World Council of Churches (Bangalore 1981), pp.346-396.

5. On the Way to Fuller Koinonia: Official Report of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order, edited by Thomas F. Best and Günther Gassmann, (Faith and Order Paper No. 166, Geneva: WCC 1994), esp. section I, paras. 15-16; section II, para. 18; section III, para. 31; section IV, para. 3.

6. A Treasure in Earthen Vessels. An instrument for an ecumenical reflection on hermeneutics (Faith and Order Paper No. 182, Geneva: WCC 1998).

7. The triad "texts, symbols and practices" points to the fact that the life of a church does not only consist in the reading and interpretation of texts but also of symbols and customs, especially as they are used in worship. Furthermore, oral cultures should also be included -- the Word more than Scripture.

8. In this article. I follow the terminology of Tradition (capital ‘T’, the Gospel itself as transmitted through the ages), tradition (small "t", the process of transmission of the Gospel) and traditions (small "t", plural, the tradition adopted and preserved by the various denominations in their specific way), as developed in: "Scripture, Tradition and Traditions", in: P.C. Rodger and Lukas Vischer (eds.), The Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order, Montreal 1963 (Faith and Order Paper No. 42, London: SCM Press 1964).

9. See for a comprehensive overview: Gisbert Greshake, Der dreieine Gott (Freiburg/Basel/ Wien: Herder 1997).

10. Leonardo Boff, "Die Theologie der Befreiung post Ratzinger locutum", in: Edvard Schillebeeckx (ed.), Mystik und Politik. Theologie im Ringen um Geschichte und Gesellschaft (Mainz: Grünewald 1988), pp. 287-311, here 288. Translation of quotations into English is always mine.

11. Johann Baptist Metz, "Thesen zum theologischen Ort der Befreiungstheologie", in: idem (ed.), Die Theologie der Befreiung: Hoffnung oder Gefahr für die Kirche? (Düsseldorf: Patmos 1986), pp. 147-157, here 154.

12. Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, (Maryknoll: Orbis, London: Burns and Oates 1988).

13. Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation, a New Paradigm (Maryknoll: Orbis 1995); Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll: Orbis 1997).

14. See David Nicholls, Deity and Domination. Images of God and the State in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London/New York 1989/1994).

15. Erik Peterson, "Der Monotheismus als politisches Problem: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der politischen Theologie im Imperium Romanum [1935]", in: Theologische Traktate. Ausgewählte Schriften Vol. 1 (Würzburg 1994). pp. 23-81; see also Barbara Nichtweiss, Erik Peterson. Neue Sicht auf Leben und Werk, (Freiburg/Basel/Wien, Herder 1992/1994), esp. 763-830.

16. See Reinhold Bernhardt and Ulrike Link-Wieczorek (eds.), Metapher und Wirklichkeit. Die Logik der Bildhaftigkeit im Reden von Gott, Mensch und Natur (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1999); Sally McFague, Models of God. Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia 1987).

17. Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988), pp. 6-7.

18. Boff’s book on the Trinity was written in 1985, while he had to follow a year of silence as ordered by the Vatican. In the same year, Brazil returned to free elections and ended 20 years of military rule (1964-1985).

19. As a modest contribution, I intend, focussing on the notion of cidadania (citizenship), the central term for democracy since the end of military rule in 1985, to analyze the theoretical and practical contribution of churches towards it. This new research will be part of a major project involving similar studies on South Korea (Prof. Dr. Christine Lienemann-Perrin) and South Africa (Katrin Kusmierz, MTh).

20. First indications of Boff taking this cultural aspect more seriously are to be found in two recent books of his: Depois de 500 anos: Que Brasil queremos? ("After 500 years: What Brazil do we want?", Petrópolis: Vozes 2000), in which he outlines a just and participatory Brazil for the third millenium, considering the cultural contribution Brazil could make towards a globalized world; and 0 Casamento entre o Céu e a Terra. Contos dos povos indígenas do Brasil ("Marriage between Heaven and Earth. Stories from indigenous peoples of Brazil", Rio de Janeiro: Salarnandra 2001), a beautifully presented collection of traditional stories from indigenous peoples, compiled, edited and commented by Boff, again completed by an exploration of his on the contribution of Brazilian indigenous peoples towards a globalized world. As a contribution to the development of an Afro-Brazilian theology, see also Josué Salgado, Auf dem Weg zu einer afrobrasilianischen Theologie. Eine ökumene- und missionswissenschaftliche Untersuchung (Aachen 1999).

21. The term "macro-ecumenism" was coined in the 1990s in Latin America and denotes an ecumenism extended, beyond Christianity to other religions. It can be found especially among Roman Catholic dialogue activists and tends to leave out Christian, interconfessional dialogue. I fear that it is, in the end, little more than a simplistic way of inclusion.

22. I am thinking here of the severe censorship imposed on his books and the restrictions applied by the Vatican to his liberty of action and speaking, which resulted, eventually, in his leaving the Franciscan Order and the priesthood in 1992. In a letter to the "Friends on a common journey and in a common hope" of 28th June, 1992, he explicitly referred to the Trinity as a critical notion in relation to the Roman Hierarchy.

23. Leonardo Boff, Depois de 500 anos, op.cit., pp. 25-28.51-53. As has been stated earlier, he describes, in this small booklet, the various contributions Brazil and its culture could offer towards globalization as understood in a positive way. This includes a perception of reality based on relationship, the jeitinho (skilled way of resolving a problem going around it, given that the direct way does not work) and malandragem (operating with sly trickery) as means of social navigation, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious culture, the creativity of the Brazilian people, the mystic aura of Brazilian culture, and the ludic aspect as well as the hope of the Brazilian people, ibid., pp.! 12-122. In my view, however, he tends to look only at the positive sides of these aspects, leaving out the fundamental ambiguity of the jeitinho, for example, which I believe contributes to the malfunctioning of law in Brazil through the lack of a culture of trust and compliance towards the law system and insight into its benefits.

24. Leonardo Boff, Gott kommt früher als der Missionar. Neuevangelisierung für eine Kultur des Lebens und derpreiheit (Düsseldorf: Patmos 2nd edition 1992). p.62. The English translation of this book is entitled New Evangelization: Good News to the Poor (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

25. Op. cit., 43 (German version).

26. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations, 1996.

27. Leonardo Boff, Gott konnnt früher als der Missionar, op.cit., p. 59.

28. See his remarks in the biographical interview with his friend and translator Horst Goldstein, Leonardo Boff. Zwischen Poesie und Politik, (Mainz: Grünewald 1994).

29. For his understanding of sacrament and transparence, see his doctoral dissertation (unfortunately only in German) that has become a book of reference on the matter for the immediate post-Vatican II period: Kirche als Sakrament im Horizont der Welterfahrung. Versuch einer Legitimation und einer struktur-funktionalistischen Grundlegung der Kriche im Anschluss an das II. Vatikanische Konzil (Paderborn 1972). Still in his book on the Trinity (1986), Boff holds that the Church is, in reference to Lumen Gentium 1.48 where it is considered as "sign and instrument" of salvation, revealing (sign) and realizing (instrument) of the "mystery of the love of God towards Man", the "historical sacrament" of the Trinity, it later loses this prominent place in Boff’s writings.

30. Cf., for instance, Leonardo Boff, Theologie der Befreiung -- die hermeneutischen Voraussetzungen, in: Karl Rahner et alii (eds.), Befreiende Theologie (Stuttgart etc. 1977), pp.46-6l.

31. Leonardo Boff, "In Favour of Syncretism," in Church: Charism and Power -- Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church (New York: Crossroad, 1988), pp. 89- 107.

32. This criticism has indeed been applied by anthropologists as well as by black and indigenous people.

33. Leonardo Boff, Der dreieinige Gott. op. cit., 180. Further references to this book are given in brackets.

34. Cf. Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology -- A Systematic Theology. The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life (London: Epworth 2nd edition 1982), pp. 218-283

35. Dietrich Ritschl, Zur Logik der Theologie (München Chr. Kaiser 1984), pp. 336ff., here 337.

36. Panikkar appears under different first names in his publications: Raymond, Raymondo, Raimundo. We stay with the Catalan form of "Raimon" which is common in his latest publications and corresponds to the first and latest context of his living: He was born in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain), and is now, again, living in that region.

37. Raimon Panikkar, "Ecumenical Ecumenism", in: Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 19, 1982, pp. 781-786.

38. "The Cosmotheandric Reality" or "C. Experience", "C. Intuition" or "C. Revelation" has become the central trinitarian term for Panikkar. He expands the term "theandrism" coming from the Early Church’s christological debate, to include the cosmos and holds that the triad God-Man-World is the basic experience that lies at the heart of any religion. See Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience (Maryknoll: Orbis 1993), a collection of important texts written in the 70s. His first book focusing on the Trinity was published in 1970 as The Trinity and World Religions. Icon -- Person -- Mystery (Bangalore). There, the notion of cosmotheandrism is only hinted at. The focus lies on the Trinity as a typology of religions, elaborated in dialogue with the three margas ("ways" to salvation) of the Bhagavadgita. For a fairly recent and useful collection of texts related to Panikkar’s central theme, see Invisible Harmony. Essays on Contemplation and Responsibility, ed. Harry James Cargas (Minneapolis 1995).

39. See for instance Raimon Panikkar, La plenitud del hombre (Madrid 1999), p. 26: "The existential situation at the end of this century is so serious that we must not let ourselves be consumed by internal political fights and rather private problems (the ordination of women, protestant sacraments, ecumenism, sexual morals, modern rites and the like)". According to Panikkar, Christian ecumenism is part of these "internal" issues, while what is really at stake is to be found in the ecumenical ecumenism among the religions. It seems to me, however, that Panikkar is underestimating the burning issues at stake even within Christianity, which do also have an influence on the outcome of interreligious dialogue.

40. Panikkar’s mother came from a strongly conservative Spanish catholicism, although being herself very moderate, while his father was a Hindu from Kerala. Academically, he completed three doctorates in philosophy, chemistry and theology in Madrid and Rome. During many decades, he traveled between Europe, later the United States of America. and India, serving as a Roman Catholic priest and as a professor of Religious Studies. He knows many languages from Catalan and English via German to Sanskrit. However, if I understand correctly, these do not include any Indian vernacular language.

41. Raimon Panikkar, The Intra -Religious Dialogue (New York: Paulist Press 1978).

42. His saying has become well-known: "I ‘left’ as a Christian, I ‘found’ myself as a Hindu and I ‘return’ a Buddhist, without having ceased to be a Christian", in: ibid., p. 40. In some places, Panikkar speaks of a fourth religion to which he would belong, calling it "secularism", a religion that originates in Christianity.

43. Like others, Panikkar distinguishes between faith and belief. While the former denotes the basic religious experience which is, ultimately, one, the latter is plural and describes a particular way of believing.

44. Raimon Panikkar, The Vedic Experience: Mantramanjari. An Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration [1977] (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 1994).

45. It is to be remembered that, when speaking of "religion", Panikkar refers to the so-called "great" religions, especially to Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, the main religions in dialogue within and for Panikkar. African and oceanic religions, bound as they are to specific peoples and local traditions, remain outside his focus.

46. The well-known river metaphor, according to which there are many rivers that, ultimately, flow into the same ocean, is turned critically against the other pluralists by Panikkar: Jordan, Tiber and Ganges, metaphors for three types of religion, only meet as steam in the clouds: "Religions do not coalesce, certainly not as organized religions", Raimon Panikkar, "The Jordan, the Tiber and the Ganges. Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness", in: John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (eds.), The Myth of Christian Uniqueness (London 1988), pp. 89-116, quotation from p. 92. Yet another, not less critical metaphor is the Tower of Babel: The quest for a common language, culture or religion -- or for a pluralist universal view of religions -- is bound to fail: "The Myth of Pluralism: The Tower of Babel -- A Meditation on Non-Violence", in: Cross Currents vol. 29, 1979, pp. 197-230.

47. Raimon Panikkar, Cultural Disarmament. The Way to Peace (Louisville/Kentucky 1995).

48. On the ideology and practice of Hindutva see, for instance, T. B. Hansen, The Saffron Wave. Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modem India, Princeton 1999.

49. Panikkar understands Christ as symbol of every mediation between God and the World, on which Christians do not have a "monopoly". All being is a Christophany, an appearance of Christ, the centre of the universe; see the revised version of The Unknown Christ of Hinduis: Towards an Ecumenical Christophany, Bangalore 1981; also "A Christophany for our times", in: Theological Digest vol. 39, 1992, no.1, pp. 3-21. This speaking of Christ does, like Panikkar’s notion of the Trinity, maintain only loose links to the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Christ and God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is, thus, turned into what I call a figure, a concept abstracted from Christianity, thus available to other religions. It denotes a tendency that can also be perceived in Boff s recent writings, understanding the "trinity" as a model for unity-in-diversity or unity-in-relationship, largely detached from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as witnessed in the Scriptures and subsequently worked out in worship and doctrine.

50. Even with such an open Christology, Panikkar remains too Christian for many Hindus.

51. Raimon Panikkar, Der Mensch -- ein trinitarisches Mysterium, in: Raimon Panikkar and Walter Strolz, Die Verantwortung des Menschen für cine bewohnbare Welt im Christentum, Hinduismus und Buddhismus (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 1985), pp. 147-190, here 149.

52. See for instance Raimon Panikkar, On Catholic Identity (University of Tulsa 1991), p. 2, where this becomes clear from what he says on the identity of a Christian: "We may agree that a Christian is somebody who acknowledges a special relation to Jesus Christ, but the understanding of this relation cannot be expressed in any univocal way and the analogy cannot go beyond the formal or structural contents of the word ‘relation’

53. The revised edition has already been quoted above. The first was published as The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (London: Darton, Longman and Todd 1964).

54. Raimon Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, revised edition, op.cit., p. 16. Also cf. Religionen und die Religion (München 1965).

55. On Catholic Identity, 2, originally in italics.

56. Panikkar, Religionen und die Religion, op.cit., 126f.

57. I generally avoid "Man" for human being. But since Panikkar deliberately continues to use it, and it is an intrinsic part of the triad "God-Man-World", I am retaining it in this context.

58. Dietrich Ritschl, "Konsens ist nicht das höchste Ziel. Gründe für cine Hermeneutik des Vertrauens in den Christus praesens", in: Konrad Raiser and Dorothea Sattler (eds.), Ökumene vor neuen Zeiten, (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2000), pp. 531-547.

59. Raimon Panikkar, Das Abenteuer Wirklichkeit. Gespräche liber die geistige Transformation, a dialogue with Constantin von Barloewen and Axel Matthes, edited by Bettina Bäumer (München 2000), p. 71.

60. For the latter, see among others: M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy [1932] (Delhi 1993), 339-382; Michael von Brück, Die Einheit der Wirklichke it. Gott, Gotteserfahrung und Meditation im hinduistisch-christlichen Dialog (München 1986), 30-117 -- the latter goes a similar way to Panikkar and brings the Christian doctrine of the Trinity into dialogue with advaita-vedanta, giving ample space first to the description of each of them separate.

61. Raimon Panikkar, El Espíritu de la política. Homo politicus ("The Spirit of Politics. Homo Politicus" Barcelona 1999).

62. See the debate between Panikkar and Paul F. Knitter in: Joseph Prabhu (ed.): The Intercultural Challenge of Raimon Panikkar (Maryknoll 1996).

63. I emphasize that these and other comparisons are being constructed from my interpretation of the trinitarian theologies of Leonardo Boff and Raimon Panikkar and have not been named in this way by the authors themselves.

64. Indeed Panikkar has made such criticism of Liberation Theology explicit in La nueva inocencia (Estella 1993), pp. 301-304, quoting Leonardo Boff, Saint Francis. A Model for Human Liberation (New York: Crossroad 1982).

65. See on this my article: Ecumenical Hermeneutics: Suspicion vs. Coherence?, in: Bouteneff/ Heller, Interpreting Together, op.cit., pp. 111-121.

66. A Treasure in Earthen Vessels, paras 8 and 30.