Paul VI, Superhuman (and Closet Dominican) Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 08 August 2008 11:04
John Allen has an interesting little article on Paul VI, whose 30th anniversary of his death passed with little notice (except at Pope Benedict's angelus message) on the Feast of the Transfiguration. In it, Allen quotes the pontiff's Ecclesiam Suam, in which he wrote on the importance of dialogue with the secular world."Theoretically speaking, the church could set its mind on reducing its relationships to a minimum, endeavoring to isolate itself from dealings with secular society; just as it could set itself the task of pointing out the evils that can be found in secular society, condemning them and declaring crusades against them," Paul wrote. "So also it could approach so close to secular society as to strive to exert a preponderant influence on it, or even to exercise a theocratic power over it, and so on."

"But it seems to us," Paul said, using the customary royal plural of the era, "that the relationship of the church to the world, without precluding other legitimate forms of expression, can be represented better in a dialogue."

Pope Paul described this dialogue in terms of four qualities:

Clarity: "Every angle" of one's language should be reviewed to ensure that it's "understandable, acceptable, and well-chosen";
Meekness: "Dialogue is not proud, it is not bitter, it is not offensive. Its authority is intrinsic to the truth it explains, to the charity it communicates, to the example it proposes; it is not a command, it is not an imposition. It is peaceful; it avoids violent methods; it is patient; it is generous."
Trust: One should have confidence "not only in the power of one's words, but also in an attitude of welcoming the trust of the interlocutor. Trust promotes confidence and friendship. It binds hearts in mutual adherence to the good which excludes all self-seeking."
Pedagogical prudence: "Prudence strives to learn the sensitivities of the hearer and requires that we adapt ourselves and the manner of our presentation in a reasonable way, lest we be displeasing and incomprehensible."

"The spirit of dialogue," Paul wrote, "is friendship and service."

"Before speaking, it is necessary to listen, not only to a man's voice, but to his heart," the pope said. "A man must first be understood; and, where he merits it, agreed with. In the very act of trying to make ourselves pastors, fathers and teachers of men, we must make ourselves their brothers."

In these musings we see a Pope who is very Dominican! Or perhaps it's just that Dominicans are very Catholic... Either way, St. Dominic spoke to his brothers about the importance of preaching with humility, while trusting in the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of others. He took on the austere poverty of the Albigensian heretics, who denied the goodness of matter, in order to gain a hearing from them. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Whatever is received is received in the manner of the one receiving it."

In other words, it doesn't matter how true what you say is, if you say it with disdain for your listener, or in a language incomprehensible to him. All you're doing is flattering yourself.

Finally, perhaps both Dominicans and Pope are imitating God, who humbles Himself to share our humanity and who speaks to us in gestures and language we can understand; who communicates himself to us in order to transform us. May our words - especially our preaching - take into consideration the heart and mind of the other, and may the Spirit give to our words and actions the power to transform.