Piotr Jaroszynski

Dialogue in Latin Civilization

Abstract

When we speak of latin civilization, we mean the principles for organizing social life that developed in the middle ages under the Catholic Church. Western Christianity based on Rome was a synthesis of the ancient Greco-Roman culture and divine revelation as found in the Old and New Testament. As a civilization it was unique, distinct from the pagan cultures of Rome and Greece. In the middle ages, Byzantine culture, the civilization of Eastern Christianity, was divorced from Roman culture. Later, the protestant Reformation led to a rejection of the influence of Greek culture, which the formers rejected in favor of the Old Testament. Within Christianity there arose many essential differences that originated within that civilization.

From the point of view of Latin civilization, if we wish to preserve a culture of dialogue and the authentic role of dialogue in culture, in man's development and in making contacts between different people, we must know how to respect the variety of dialogue and the limits of dialogue. We must know the other party in discussion. We must know the intended purpose of discussion. We must know what things are not open to discussion and why. Finally, we must know the errors and abuses that can destroy authentic dialogue.

Today manipulation is often disguised under the name of dialogue, and it may be aimed at spreading false opinions or undermining true opinions. False opinions most often concern questions of business, and someone may spread them in order to make a profit at any cost. Words disguised as dialogue may perform a persuasive function with the sole purpose of misleading the buyer. False opinions are also promoted in politics. In one way, political persuasion is like persuasion in business. Instead of the purchase of a product, it concerns a vote for a candidate or against a candidate. Political persuasion Political persuasion may go further and promote an ideology that promises salvation to man without God, or against God. In this case, dialogue is used to sow doubt in matters of faith in order to introduce a false god of prosperity and power in place of true supernatural religion.

When a discussion does not have a true purpose, we should not be active participants, and we should not even be passive listeners. If the purpose of a discussion is not truth, then if I add my voice to the discussion, even if I speak the plain truth, I am giving credibility to the false purpose. An observer may see that I am speaking the truth, and then extrapolate this to the other participants, concluding that all are speaking the truth. The course of a discussion may be staged to manipulate public opinion, and if we follow the discussion we may find that we are defenseless against the tricks of the disputing parties and that our correctly formed opinions are undermined. We must recognize first whether a certain discussion is worthy of our attention, or whether it should be avoided as an attempt to confuse us.

Discussions in matters of religion require great competence, but also great sensitivity. Matters of religion concern matters of conscience, and the conscience is the most intimate sphere of our personal life. In Latin civilization, we believe that someone may open the way to faith for another, but no one may force another to the faith. Paul Vladimir, a Polish philosopher and jurist of the fifteenth century, said that faith should not come about by compulsion - "fides ex necessitate esse non debet". Discussion and dialogue can lead others to be open to the faith, but faith itself is ultimately a grace that God gives to us. To compel others to accept religious belief is closer to ideological indoctrination than to brotherly love. We may encourage dialogue so that someone may be open to grace of their own free will, but dialogue should not be used as a form of brain-washing. Dialogue between religions should not be used for purposes of confusion or brain-washing. Only if our dialogue is authentic can we preserve the authentically personal dimension of religion, and religion as the contact of the human person with God.


The word "dialogue" appears in various languages from various language groups (e.g. French and other romance languages, English and other Germanic languages, Polish and other slavic languages). The formation of the cultures of these nations was influence by Greek culture, and "dialogue"; is a word derived from Greek, suggesting a logos or speaking that comes or goes in several directions, what we would call a conversation. The Latin term that corresponds to "dialogue" is "discussio", derived from dis and quasso, meaning to shake something around. Today the word "dialogue" is either banalized in its everyday use, or it is abused for ideological ends.

When we speak of latin civilization, we mean the principles for organizing social life that developed in the middle ages under the Catholic Church. Western Christianity based on Rome was a synthesis of the ancient Greco-Roman culture and divine revelation as found in the Old and New Testament. As a civilization it was unique, distinct from the pagan cultures of Rome and Greece. In the middle ages, Byzantine culture, the civilization of Eastern Christianity, was divorced from Roman culture. Later, the protestant Reformation led to a rejection of the influence of Greek culture, which the formers rejected in favor of the Old Testament. Within Christianity there arose many essential differences that originated within that civilization.

In our analysis of how dialogue is undestood in latin civilization, we must understand some of the differences between the culture of the ancient Greeks and the culture of the Bible.

The Greeks regarded the search for truth as the function of dialogue. When a human being comes into the world, he does not have an innate knowledge of the truth, but he must make an effort and use his mind in order to discover it. A man does not find the truth alone, but the search for the truth is shared by many. The search for the truth has a social dimension. We search for the truth together, and dialogue or conversation is an expression of this shared search. When we speak together we confirm the truth and reject falsehood.

At this level, dialogue appears as a conversation that involves two or more people who are at the same level. Even if one knows more, and the other knows less, they need to agree on what they know. Plato's dialogues are an example of this kind of dialogue.

Dialogue in this sense differs from teaching, since the teacher knows the truth, while the students accept what he teaches principally on the basis of his authority, not because of their own cognitive maturity. The student must first accept and understand the knowledge imparted by the teacher, and only then can he develop the ability to see the truth on his own.

While Plato presents dialogue in its true and refined form, the sophists presented corrupted forms of dialogue. They used conversation not as a means to reach the truth, but in order to convince someone of something. It did not matter whether they were trying to convince them of the truth, or lead them into error by means of sophisms, which are illogical statements that appear to be logical to the untrained. The art of sophistics taught how to obtain profit by immoral means. Eristics was the art of winning arguments.

The most immature form of dialogue was a dispute where emotions ruled over reason. Such disputes ended either in hand to hand combat, or the disputants departed in anger.

We can analyze the common elements of the different forms of dialogue, from those which impartially seek the truth, to those which end in violence. In every dialogue, there is someone who speaks with someone else about something. The truth is the basis by which we recognize that a dialogue is civilized. Without respect for the truth, dialogue loses its most important human function.

What is truth? Truth is the agreement of knowledge with how things are in reality. In the medieval latin formulation - adequatio rei et intellectus. This is how Plato and Aristotle defined the truth. There are two problems that emerge here which are very important in dialogue. The first is the question of what kind of reality is being discuessed in the dialogue. Second is the question of the competence of the disputants.

When we consider reality, we must first distinguish that which is true from that which is merely likely. The Greeks associated truth with that which is necessary and cannot exist in any other way. Reality in this sense is the object of science. Science does not develop from discussion, but from induction which is reasoning to that which is essential in a thing), and from apdeictic syllogism which is an infallible process of logical reasoning. In science, either one understands or one does not understands. Either one understands that 2 + 3 = 5, or one does not understand it. The truth of this mathematical operation is not open to discussion.

While science concerns things that are necessary, there are also things that are merely likely. These things may exist in one way, but they can be other than they actually are, and they are not necessary. From their nature, it follows that people may have various opinions about them, because they vary in themselves. The realm of things that are likely or seem true is not restricted to accidental events, but most importantly includes human activity. The human person is free and can act in different ways. Human affairs are then the object of various opinions. The role of dialogue is to establish an agreement on what is better or more beautiful, and on what is worse and more ugly. Dialogue is a way of discovering the truth in matters where things are subject to variation. In such matters it is easy to fall into error.

When we consider the parties in a dialogue, the competence of the disputants plays an important role in sceince. A specialist knows the object. The amateur may discuss the same thing, but he discusses it because he does not know it. As soon as someone discusses something that belongs to science, he treats the object not as necessary but as likely. An object which is necessary but its nature becomes likely when it is treated as a matter of opinion. In an encounter between an amateur and a specialist, it is proper for the amateur to ask questions and ask for explanations, while the specialist will explain things. When the real competence of the parties in a discussion is ignored, the discussion itself begins to depart from the truth. The specialist will begin to tire of a dialogue where he is ignored, and the amateur will not be increasing his knowledge.

Two amateurs may engage in dialogue in order to establish how much they do not know in order to consult the knowledge of specialists more effectively.

The culture of dialogue falls when there is confusion about the competence of the parties in discussion and the topics of discussion. Amateurs make apodictic statements in matters they simply do not know, or specialists make authoritative statements in matters where things may happen in different ways. Amateurs express doubts in matters that are necessary. Specialists begin to treat the statements of amateurs as having equal weight to their own. The result is a confused mess of speech and thought, that not only leads away from the truth but undermines respect for the truth as the foundation of all other values, such as good or beauty. In place of conversation there is a stream of empty words.

Apart from matters which are true by necessity, and those which are likely or probable and are appropriate topics of debate, there are things about which men may have doubts, although in themselves they are necessary. This is the sphere of supernatural reality, matters concerning God. We do not have direct knowledge of these things. The variety of opinions men have about divine things does not come from the nature of the object, but from the fact that our knowledge of them is indirect.

In the ancient tradition, divine reality was an object for mythology, but in another respect it was studied by metaphysics. For the most part, mythology was the product of imagination dealing with things that could not be verified, and it set forth various opinions about the gods. In metaphysics and natural theology matters of God were treated in a scientific manner, but the resulting knowledge was very limited. The limitations of metaphysical knowledge of God were a result of the use of analogical language. It was necessary for philosophers to use analogical language in order to speak of a reality that was above the senses and which was not identical with this material reality. Because of the nature of the object, the philosophers and theologians were forced to use either metaphorical or negative language.

In Christianity, the truth about supernatural reality has the status not of a fluctuating mythology, but of Revelation. Revelation differs from mythology because it is confirmed by the authority of God. This authority can be verified in this sense: it does not invoke some prehistoric or fantastic figure such as Orpheus, but a real and concrete person, and in the case of Christianity Jesus Christ was such a person. By his life, death and ressurection he showed that he was at the same time God and Man. However, this is not a scientific truth, but a truth of faith.

A truth of faith differs from a scientific truth. The reason we acknowledge truths of faith is because of elements that provide a basis for belief, for example, the accounts of the Gospels about what Christ did, and other historical sources such as the chronicles of the Romans. By such means we are convinced that the life and deeds of Jesus Christ were not a fiction of the writers of the Gospel. On the other hand, the contents of the faith, for example, that Jesus Christ possesses two natures, divine and human, and that he is one divine person, is an object of faith as a grace that comes to us from God. Dialogue in a religious sense takes one direction when we are discussing the elements that give credibility to the faith, and another direction when it is a question of grace. There is always the possibility that we will discover some new document or source that strengthens or weakens the claims to truth of the historical accounts of events that we read in the Sacred Scriptures. Investigations and discussions will continue on such matters. However, if it is a question of grace, it is independent of any new archeological or scholarly findings. Grace comes from God. Grace in this sense is not a topic of discussion, and the truth of grace cannot be opened up for human verification. Grace is either present or absent, just as in science we either understand or do not understand.

The understanding of the contents of revelation must be perfected in the light of faith if it is going to be adequate. If our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures is based only on a semantic, historical, sociological, or psychological analysis, it will be clearly inadequate with respect to the depth of the contents of faith as faith. The meaning or message can only be seen in the light of the grace which is faith.

What conclusion can we draw from this? We cannot treat the meaning of faith as a topic of dialogue is the dialogue is between one who believes and one who does not. This dialogue will not tought the things which is most important in faith, which is the truth about God. The truth about God is seen in the light of the grace of faith, and a person either possesses this grace or does not possess it.

Everthing that is indirectly connected with the truth of faith can be investigated and discussed, and in such matters dialogue is possible. The date of Christ's birth is an example of something that is not a truth of faith. During the course of investigations, it was seen that very likely there was a mistake in ancient calendars, and so the second millenium should have been observed earlier than it was. However, it is a truth of faith that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. When our understanding of this truth is connected with our inner assent, it is then a truth of faith. This truth as a truth of faith is affirmed institutionally by the magisterium of the Church. It is a truth beyond discussion. In this case, there may be a dialogue about how properly to understand it, but such a dialogue does not infringe upon the essential meaning of the contents of the faith, or upon the possession of faith. Faith comes from God, not from human convictions.

The culture of dialogue depends upon knowing how to distinguish the topic of conversation, who possesses proper competence, and what institutions each person represents. If we fail to respect these aspects of dialogue, we will contribute not only to the fall of a culture of conversation, but we will also be opening the way for the manipulation of the word in all domains of life. The mass media and politicians lead the way in manipulating words. The aim is often to destroy our belief in the possibility of reaching the truth. All opinions are treated as equal and of equal weight. Relativism treats all opinions as being equally true. Subjectivism treats opinions as if they were all equally neutral with respect to the truth.

When we treat all opinions as if they were equally true, then dialogue no longer has as its aim to reach the truth, since each person already possesses his own truth. The purpose of dialogue then becomes to provide an opportunity for each to proclaim his own position in public. Each person then proclaims his own view. Each person has his opportunity to speak in turn. Such a discussion is no longer a dialogue, but a series of abbreviated monologues. In the case of subjectivism, dialogue is treated as an opportunity for expressing one's own thoughts. The accent is no longer on the content of a person's views, but on the very act of stating those views. This kind of dialogue celebrates the variety of opinions, and it may serve therapeutic or artistic ends. It is considered important that each person has his own view, that it is original and unique, but the truth of his view is not a matter of concern.

There is still another kind of dialogue, one dominated by a false position. This kind of dialogue is directed by ideological ends. It may be directed either by a politician or a journalist. Because many opinions are exhibited, this gives the impression of freedom of speach, yet the selection of speakers, the order in which they speak, and how they are treated is all methodically planned according to the art of manipulation. The purpose is to force a false opinion upon the listeners. This kind of dialogue is perverse and dangerous to society. Unfortunately it is very common today in the media and in politics because of the development and application of techniques of social engineering. In the free western world, there is a massive manipulation of public opinion.

To preserve a culture of dialogue, and the authentic place of dialogue in cultured, the proper role of dialogue in our human development and in our contacts with others, we should know how to respect the variety of dialogue and the proper limits of dialogue. We should know who the parties are in a discussion. We must know the purpose of discussion. We must know which things are not open to discussion and why. Finally, we should be aware of the errors and abuses of discussion.

Today manipulation is often disguised under the name of dialogue, and it may be aimed at spreading false opinions or undermining true opinions. False opinions most often concern questions of business, and someone may spread them in order to make a profit at any cost. Words disguised as dialogue may perform a persuasive function with the sole purpose of misleading the buyer. False opinions are also promoted in politics. In one way, political persuasion is like persuasion in business. Instead of the purchase of a product, it concerns a vote for a candidate or against a candidate. Political persuasion Political persuasion may go further and promote an ideology that promises salvation to man without God, or against God. In this case, dialogue is used to sow doubt in matters of faith in order to introduce false gods of prosperity and power in place of true supernatural religion.

When a discussion does not have a true purpose, we should not be active participants, and we should not even be passive listeners. If the purpose of a discussion is not truth, then if I add my voice to the discussion, even if I speak the plain truth, I am giving credibility to the false purpose. An observer may see that I am speaking the truth, and then extrapolate this to the other participants, concluding that all are speaking the truth. The course of a discussion may be staged to manipulate public opinion, and if we follow the discussion we may find that we are defenseless against the tricks of the disputing parties and that our correctly formed opinions are undermined. We must recognize first whether a certain discussion is worthy of our attention, or whether it should be avoided as an attempt to confuse us.

Discussions in matters of religion require great competence, but also great sensitivity. Matters of religion concern matters of conscience, and the conscience is the most intimate sphere of our personal life. In Latin civilization, we believe that someone may open the way to faith for another, but no one may force another to the faith. Paul Vladimir, a Polish philosopher and jurist of the fifteenth century, said that faith should not come about by compulsion - "fides ex necessitate esse non debet". Discussion and dialogue can lead others to be open to the faith, but faith itself is ultimately a grace that God gives to us. To compel others to accept religious belief is closer to ideological indoctrination than to brotherly love. We may encourage dialogue so that someone may be open to grace of their own free will, but dialogue should not be used as a form of brain-washing. Dialogue between religions should not be used for purposes of confusion or brain-washing. Only if our dialogue is authentic can we preserve the authentically personal dimension of religion, and religion as the contact of the human person with God.