The Nostra Ætate Lecture Series

November 17, 2010
Riggs Library

Welcome everyone. It’s an honor to welcome you this evening to Riggs Library for this Nostra Aetate lecture, our series established to commemorate the landmark Vatican II document on relations of the Roman Catholic Church with non-Christian faiths.

We’re especially pleased to welcome our special guest, the distinguished theologian, Gregory Baum, for his lecture: “Dialogue or Proclamation: Rethinking the Church’s Mission.” We’re also honored to have Fr. Thomas F. Stransky, who inaugurated our Nostra Aetate series with four lectures in 2006, to have him here with us this evening.

It’s a very special moment to have Fr. Stransky and Professor Baum together at Georgetown almost 50 years to the day since the Secretariat for Christian Unity—of which Professor Baum was a consultor and Fr. Stransky, a member of the staff—was convened by Cardinal Augstin Bea, S.J., in preparation for the Second Vatican Council. This was the first office within the Vatican to focus uniquely on ecumenical affairs, and yet, once formed, it was almost immediately charged to look at the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.

We have two other guests whom we are pleased to welcome to this evening’s lecture: Archbishop Felix Machado of the Diocese of Nashik, India, and formerly Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the body created by Pope Paul VI during Vatican II to continue the work of interreligious dialogue after the council closed. We also welcome Msgr. John A Radano from the Archdiocese of Newark, who served for twenty-five years on the staff of the Secretariat for Christian Unity.

This council—and Vatican II documents that emerged later —represent a significant moment for the Roman Catholic Church in recognizing of the need for willing and open dialogue with other faiths. Nosta Aestate urges that we “to make sincere efforts for mutual understanding, and so to work together for the preservation and fostering of social justice, moral welfare, and peace and freedom for all humankind” (Nostra Aetate 3). Through dialogue and understanding, we are able to recognize our common humanity, to comprehend the universal human condition…and to realize that what we share is far greater than our differences.

This belief in the power of dialogue to enrich the human spirit animates the work that we do here at Georgetown, in our research and teaching, in our campus ministry, and with our many efforts convening with faith leaders from around the world in dialogue.

On campus – our Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, our Program in Jewish Civilization, our doctoral program in religious pluralism in the Department of Theology, and our Berkeley Center for Peace, Religion, and World Affairs each deepen the scholarship and interaction in our community on issues of faith and dialogue—as well as provide resources to the wider community on the importance of engaging and understanding other faith traditions.

We have been honored over the course of the past two years to host the Common Word Conference, a dialogue for Christian and Muslim faith leaders; to convene with the Archbishop of Canterbury the Building Bridges conference that brings Anglican and Catholic theologians together with colleagues from the Muslim community; and to welcome prominent faith leaders, including His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and theologians like, Hans Küng and Michael Paul Gallagher.

And we are most honored to have with us today, to continue this ongoing conversation on faith and dialogue, Professor Gregory Baum, whose lecture will speak to “Dialogue or Proclamation: Rethinking the Church’s Mission.” How the Church conceives of its mission, how we understand dialogue and doctrine, have been interests of Prof. Baum’s since he began studying Church theology. He’s written significantly on the special relationship between Christians and Jews, on social justice, and on the doctrine of unity.

In 1969, he wrote in Faith and Doctrine, “the Church is destined to engage in dialogue with other people, with their religions and ideologies: in this dialogue the Gospel is sounded…Dialogue is mission. Dialogue is a way of proclamation.” 1 I look forward to the insights he will share with us this afternoon as we consider the Church’s mission in our world today.

Born in Berlin, Professor Baum immigrated to England in 1940. After studying Mathematics and Physics at McMaster University, Prof. Baum received his Masters in Mathematics from Ohio State University in 1947. He soon transitioned his studies to theology and received his doctorate of Theology from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland in 1956, with his doctorate thesis on “That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII – Pius XII).”

With his clarity of thinking on ecumenism increasingly known, Prof. Baum was appointed to the newly established Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity (as an expert, or peritus) where he served through the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). During this time, he established The Ecumenist, an ecumenical review of theology, culture and society that continued until 2003.

A professor of theology, religious studies, and sociology, he taught at St. Michael’s College and the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto until 1995. Since then, he has worked as a professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies, where he now serves as Professor Emeritus. Of his many books on theology, ecumenism, and social thought, some of his most recent book publications include: Israeli Peace-and-Human Rights Groups in Israel (Frieden für Israel) (2002), Amazing Church (2005), Signs of the Times (2006), and, most recently, The Theology of Tariq Ramadan: A Catholic Perspective (2009).

It’s an honor to have you with us this evening and I look forward to the insightful lecture and thoughts he will share with us. It’s now my pleasure to welcome to the podium, Professor Gregory Baum.

Works Cited

1. McKenna, Rebecca. “Transformative Mission of the Church in the Thought of Gregory Baum.” Theological Studies. 59 (1998), p. 613.