‘One Faith – Multifaith’ – Transcendence

The following is an extract, which I wrote in large part, from the document (details below)  ‘One Faith – Multifaith’.

“Interfaith gatherings are very special occasions. We are coming together to share our response to particular issues. Christians need to remember that the very terms ‘worship’ and ‘prayer’ have different meanings in different religions. Furthermore, each religion has its own forms, words, symbols and concepts that make it distinct.

The hope and expectation are that people of faith and goodwill who are meeting in the face of common concern will be enabled to move beyond the mere formalities to something truly profound.


 This Commission proposes that the experience of the Transcendent may provide the beginnings of just such a common ground.

Peak experiences in life and moments of intense emotion can lead to a knowledge of the Transcendent. Both disaster and triumph, whether individual or social, have the power to open humans to a deeper dimension all too often hidden from view. It is precisely this dimension that all the great religions claim to touch upon.

It is natural, therefore, on occasions of tragedy for people to turn to the great traditions, and by drawing close to ancient and profound wisdom, to rise above the horror that has struck them. This is done not in order to hide from it but to be able to look at it and come to terms with it. Similarly, in moments of intense joy the Transcendent is recognised as in some sense essentially the source of that joy, with the result that the success is received as a grace. By coming together in an awareness of the Transcendent on such occasions, the participants begin to overcome the disintegrating effects of disaster, or draw closer as one body in their sense of triumph.

The various traditions that have stood the test of time, all in their different ways, articulate the Transcendence which eludes the limitations of human discourse: whether this Transcendence be understood as the God who spoke to Abraham, calling him to leave all that was familiar and to set out for an unknown blessing; as the God who speaks in Christ sent from above and drawing all to himself; as Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate, who calls all mankind to trust in his inscrutable plans; as the deities of Hinduism who each in their different ways express the divine Reality that exceeds all names; as the Void of Buddhism which acknowledges the insubstantiality of all limited things. There are other religious groups, too, who understand the Transcendent yet again differently. Even those who do not claim religious affiliation may also seek to express the hopes and fears that transcend both disaster and triumph.

The multifaith gathering will be merely folkloric or a temporary huddling together if the participants do not acknowledge in each other’s tradition some awareness of the Transcendent. This is the basic minimum for coming together in a religious activity.

Any authentic multifaith ceremony starts, therefore, with the presupposition that the major religious traditions, of long-standing and tested efficacy, do touch upon the divine. Only on this basis can we come together for a religious ceremony. We listen to their teachings and witness their rituals so as to perceive the depths from which they spring and to be taken by them back into that depth.

The participants, in the variety of their traditions, turn to the foundation on which they place their trust and take their refuge. Though all are united in a sense of Transcendence all will express themselves differently and all should be allowed to do so in their own manner. It would be unconscionable to suggest the opposite.

Each religion has its own distinctive set of beliefs and expressions, rituals and images. These must be allowed without any attempt to blur the distinctions or to relativise the absolute value attached to them. Similarly their stories and histories must be acknowledged.

A multifaith gathering is not, however, a dialogue of the deaf. The acknowledgement of another’s experience and expression of the Transcendent is not a denial of one’s own but does involve turning to others and perceiving that they are not alien. The meeting of the other is a transcendence of the self.

The gathering involves listening with respect, if not agreement, to what the other has to say. Indeed, for all the traditions, these gatherings may raise questions capable of deepening and developing understanding for all participants. Openness to the values of other traditions can lead to a transcending of one’s own; going beyond the limitations of one’s personal understanding and discovering a new depth to the Mystery.

The multifaith gathering thus involves another transcendence: out of past limitations and accretions which have encumbered the essence of the traditions into a future where the divine and the human are more fully realised

Encounter with another begins with questions about ourselves: who are we, what do we believe, what do we hope for? The questions we bring to the meeting with others are first asked of ourselves. These questions then recur as we meet with those who believe differently.

For Christians, this participation in multifaith gatherings does not in any sense mean relativising Jesus who is always proclaimed Lord of all and remains the unique Saviour. It does mean, however, that Christians are challenged to understand more fully in what sense Jesus is Lord. Christians, as true disciples, wish to learn in which other ways the Word-made-flesh has been expressed. By acknowledging the essential experience of other religions, without fearing them or ignoring or absorbing them, Christians can enhance their understanding of their faith.

Some aspects of Christianity can be seen in other religious traditions. Justin Martyr (c.100-165) may be helpful when he states that:

Whatever has been uttered aright by any men in any place belongs to us Christians; for, next to God, we worship and love the reason (Word) which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God; … For all the authors were able to see the truth darkly, through the implanted seed of reason (the Word) dwelling in them. For the seed and imitation of a thing, given according to a man’s capacity, is one thing; far different is the thing itself, the sharing of which and its representation is given according to his grace. [1]

Following Justin Martyr some Christians understand, in a Buddhist sense, that the Word is found in apophatic silence. The Word can also be seen as expressed in the language of the Koran and in the images of Hinduism. However, all Christians would believe that this Word was made flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. He revealed himself in words and works but especially in the last, inarticulate cry from the cross, which leads us shockingly into the presence of God. Indeed, the Word is made fully flesh when he ceases to be mere flesh. The revelation is complete when nothing can be seen: the tomb is empty.

We are not expected to agree with everything, although we should allow ourselves to be challenged and our faith clarified. As Christians, we believe we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. Therefore, to hear the Word expressed in other ways and to acknowledge the Word present in each other will allow our communion in the silence of the Word that precedes all speech.

Coming together in this way we can move to depths of the divine mystery and together rest in the Heart, the Void, the Father, however it is we wish to name that which cannot be named.

In short the multifaith gathering, properly understood, is an experience of transcendence, whether it be upwards to the One who surpasses all, or outwards to the other, or within to the unplumbed depths of one’s own tradition or onwards to a future which is beyond human imagining.

In this way the commemoration of tragedy – or the celebration of triumph – is turned into an opportunity for enrichment that would otherwise not have been given. When at last the value of the experience has been perceived, all will give thanks and say, “Amen! Yes, it was good that it happened thus”.”

[1] Apology, 11. xiii.

‘One Faith – Multifaith’

 A theological basis for interfaith gatherings

 Faith and Order Commission, Victorian Council of Churches, 2005

Commissioners: Rev. Dr. John Dupuche (Roman Catholic) (chair), Rev. Dr. Merril Blair (Churches of Christ), Rev. Dr Helen Granowski, (Anglican), Rev. Jeff Gray (Uniting Church of Australia), Fr Samuel Elias (Coptic Orthodox), Rev. Cecil Schmalkuche (Lutheran), Rev Ian Scutt (Uniting Church of Australia), Prof. Richard Snedden, (Anglican), Dr Max Stephens (Roman Catholic).

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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