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Part III.2.2: The Hermeneutic of Dialogue

By Jeremy Hausotter

May 16, 2021

Note on the Text:

Part III is broken up into nine separate pages because this investigation in Google Docs is approximately 130 pages. In Google Docs it is broken up into three parts, which the reader here can discern based on the numbering scheme. The reader will profit most by reading Part III in sequential order. Part III.1 develops the hermeneutic of faith. Part III.2 applies the hermeneutic of faith to several hermeneutical controversies of Vatican II. Part III.3 develops the hermeneutic of suspicion.

Table of Contents

2.2. The Hermeneutic of "Dialogue"

2.2.1. The Meaning of "Dialogue"

2.2.2. The Role of Truth

2.2.3. Truth, Dignity and Communion

2.2.4. Conclusion


2.2. The Hermeneutic of “Dialogue”

The address to modern man by the Council is one of dialogue. The term “dialogue” is another often abused term of Vatican II theology that demands a proper resuscitation. We being by inquiring into the meaning of “dialogue” according to the conciliar texts themselves.

2.2.1. The Meaning of “Dialogue”

The term “dialogue” is especially abused in interreligious contexts. Some progressive thinkers interpret the concept of “dialogue” and understand it in a pluralist sense whereby the Catholic faith is relativized as simply one of the many religions. And so others have rightly protested against this meaning of “dialogue”. “Dialogue” is further abused when those of a conservative orientation interpret “dialogue” as due to their common acceptance of the progressive meaning of “dialogue”. Both likewise see this vision of dialogue as a break away from the preconciliar Church. Both see the trajectory of this interpretation of dialogue as a rupture within the past. The difference is in each position's conclusion. The progressives believe the liberalized post-conciliar Church is the authentic Church, whereas the ultraconservatives idealized a particular narrative of pre-conciliar theology as the true Magisterium, for they overemphasized the value of neoscholasticism and manualism such that any deviation from this mode of thinking was treated as suspicious, inferior and modernistic. What is required, on the other hand, is a fruitful integration of what is good from both neoscholasticism and the nouvelle theologie.

Against these exaggerations the Council is already clear. Article 11 of Gaudium et Spes informs us of Vatican II’s vision of “dialogue” and how it relates to the modern world. It is a text we have cited several times already.

The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.[1]

The text outlined the following principles: 1) the Church is acting out of faith; 2) it is by faith that our understanding of man and modernity is illuminated; and 3) this illumination through faith directs all humanity towards what is properly human.

The first time Gaudium et Spes uses the term “dialogue”, however, is not until much later in article 21 wherein it is stated that “prudent dialogue” is required in order that all man can work towards “the rightful betterment of this world”.[2] Now, as Gaudium et Spes makes clear two articles later, this “dialogue” is enlightened when it is approached according to the truths of the Christian faith. Gaudium et Spes teaches:

One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on the other, a development promoted chiefly by modern technical advances. Nevertheless brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man's moral and spiritual nature.[3]

There are two main points from the quoted paragraph above I wish to focus on. First, Christian revelation illuminates “dialogue” and makes it more authentically human. Second, the basis for “dialogue” is grounded in the dignity of the human person. Human dignity is universal, something all men possess, meaning that dignity provides a common foundation out of which authentic “dialogue” can develop and flourish. The structure of Gaudium et Spes attests to this since the section between article 11 and this statement on “dialogue” is the Council’s teachings on human dignity. [4]

Vatican II’s mode of “dialogue” begins with the concept of human dignity and interpreting it according to the truths of the Christian faith. It is this method that permeates the Council’s documents such as found in Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae for example. It is in this same spirit of “dialogue” that Nostra Aetate teaches

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.[5]

“Dialogue” is no longer such when any of the parties involved fail to respect the dignity of the human person or move in a direction contrary to the Catholic faith. Truth cannot contradict truth, and hence the truths of human dignity cannot contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church nor vice versa. Rather, the teachings of the faith brings all humankind to a deeper awareness and appreciation of man’s dignity. Authentic “dialogue” is premised upon human dignity and our understanding becomes more properly “personal” through faith, that is, more authentically human.

A final observation we can make here is that dialogue is both an individual and a communal action. Each Christian believer is called to dialogue, to engage others into the search for truth and a personal encounter with God. Dialogue is also however a duty of the Church as a whole, national conferences, dioceses, and parishes. At each level in the hierarchy of the Church there corresponds a duty particular to each authority towards dialoguing. The papal nuncio dialogues with the heads of state, the parish priest with his parishioners and fellow citizens of his community, the bishop with his diocese’s geographical locality, and so on. At each level, all Catholics are called to a living dialogue. This living dialogue is most prominent when we consider the Universal Church as the Bride of Christ who engages the world in dialogue for the sake of the world’s salvation through the Bridegroom.

2.2.2. The Role of Truth

Dignitatis Humanae teaches that “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.”[6] Man therefore has a moral obligation to seek the truth, to embrace it, and to persevere in it. Later, Dignitatis Humanae added another obligation that man must conform his daily life in accordance with the truth.[7] Man must existentially appropriate truth into his daily existence so that he is conformed to truth in how he acts, thinks and behaves. This process of appropriation naturally leads man towards the discovery of religious truths.

Man is created by God.  Man is an embodied creature who is also a person. Personhood implies that man is a free, thinking being; that is, a person is the kind of being endowed with the faculties of reason and free will. These facts of human nature informs us first, that man has dignity since he is a person, and second, that “all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.”[8] Since man by nature is a rational being, it is of his nature that he is a truth seeker: “Still he has always searched for more penetrating truths, and finds them.”[9] As John Paul II stated, “One may define the human being, therefore, as the one who seeks the truth.”[10] Vatican II teaches a realist position in regards to truth. Man’s knowledge for truth is not limited to observable data, practical sciences and technology, in sum, knowledge is not limited to the various forms of epistemological empiricism that have been rampant and dominated schools of modern philosophy. Nor is man and truth doomed to epistemological skepticism. Gaudium et Spes teaches that man’s

intelligence is not confined to observable data alone, but can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in consequence of sin that certitude is partly obscured and weakened.[11]

Man can come to understand deeper truths about reality and real-ly know them.[12] In opposition to Kant who famously claimed that man cannot know things in of themselves, but only their appearances, Vatican II affirmed the reality of knowledge and the ability of the human mind to grasp truths about reality and not merely its appearances. The very content of faith implies an epistemological realism about our world. Furthermore, we can observe from the Dignitatis Humanae passage quoted earlier that since man has free will, he has the duty to seek the truth as both a moral and intellectual obligation.

Authentic dialogue therefore requires a mutual seeking of truth “in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature.”[13] The seeking of truth is “dialogical”, an encounter between persons both in the pursuit of the truth. Dialogue is conducted in the service of the truth and its pursuit.

Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.[14]

We can hence observe that all men are bound morally and intellectually and impelled by nature to seek the truth. This is a universal condition of man. The quest to seek truth is conducted through dialogue. This quest is both a moral obligation and an impelling motion of man's human nature. Such dialogue, since it is grounded on the dignity of the human person, is therefore a universal duty of man. Man is universally called to dialogue whether one is atheist, agnostic, Jew, Hindu, Christian, etc. The Christian faith irradiates dialogue with deeper truths about man and brings to light more deeply the authentically human. Faith serves dialogue by illuminating it and dialogue presents the encounter between man and the Christian believer. Through such dialogue and witness man comes to faith.

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light… Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.[15]

And later, “Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us.”[16]

2.2.3. Truth, Dignity and Communion

This leads us to another observation. Gaudium et Spes teaches that “The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God.”[17] Because man is created by God, he is called to communion with God. God created man out of love and sustains him by love. Therefore, from the fact of man’s creaturehood, man can infer God’s love for him. Creation itself attests to Divine Love. If man were silent the rocks would shout in praise of Him.[18]

From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by God's love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator.[19]

Creation itself mysteriously in its own way reflects the love of God. Earlier we discussed the teachings of Vatican II on natural revelation. We can add to those points made before that both modalities of natural revelation, the manifestation of God’s revelation through creation and one’s experience of his conscience, reflect God’s love. Creation attests to God as a loving Creator. Conscience affirms God’s interest in man’s moral well-being and happiness, for it is by conscience man is summoned to “love good and avoid evil”.[20]

From this follows the Council’s conclusion that man “cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator.”[21] The quest for truth includes the search for religious truth. As Dignitatis Humanae repeatedly emphasized, man has the moral obligation to especially seek religious truth.[22]

Authentic dialogue therefore not only serves the pursuit of truth in general, but in particular dialogue is at the service of man’s search and encounter with religious truths. Dialogue is proper to the dignity of the human person because not only is dialogue grounded in man’s dignity by being at the service of truth, but also because dialogue leads man to a deeper encounter and discovery of his dignity. This encounter is in its nature teleologically orientated towards man’s communion with God. Dialogue is at the service of man’s search for God and ultimately leads him towards faith. Dialogue is one of the ways in which Catholics are called to lead people to God.

To all men, therefore, priests are debtors that the truth of the Gospel which they have may be given to others. And so, whether by entering into profitable dialogue they bring people to the worship of God, whether by openly preaching they proclaim the mystery of Christ, or whether in the light of Christ they treat contemporary problems, they are relying not on their own wisdom for it is the word of Christ they teach, and it is to conversion and holiness that they exhort all men.[23]

These words are just as applicable to all Catholics. Dialogue leads man to communion with God. Dialogue is a principle for communion, for dialogue assists in bringing man to faith, from which he begins to seek and desire communion with God.

2.2.4. Conclusion

The hermeneutic of dialogue is inseparable from the Council’s address to the modern world. Gaudium et Spes outlines this vision in article 92. The mission of the Church and the Council is to “shed on the whole world the radiance of the Gospel message, and to unify under one Spirit all men of whatever nation, race or culture”[24] and this is done through dialogue. The mission of the Church is hence dialogical in essence because evangelization itself is dialogical. Therefore, when the Church addresses the world in dialogue through the texts of Vatican II, she is doing so as an act of faith in her missionary activity. Authentic dialogue is hence, properly speaking, evangelical. This paragraph of Gaudium et Spes outlines four circles of dialogue, within the Church, with other Christian denominations, with the world’s religions, and with all of humanity.[25] This is truly an address to the modern world, an approach which can be properly termed rapprochement.[26]

This dialogical rapprochement with modernity is furthermore an encounter with the different sciences and fields of study. Gaudium et Spes outlines this vision in article 44.[27] It teaches here that the members of the Church ought to encounter these different fields and sciences to learn from them so that the faithful can clarify them in accordance with the truths of the faith, and to judge them by these truths. In doing so, these sciences are led to a deeper grasp of the realities they investigate. The scope of this dialogue with the world is not only with every man or religion, but also with every field of knowledge and political community. Vatican II aims to permeate every aspect of human life with the doctrines of faith and to bring about conversions so that our fellow men may be led to a deeper encounter with Truth, who is Christ.


[1] Gaudium et Spes 11.

[2] Ibid, 22.

[3] Ibid, 23. Emphasis mine.

[4] Cf. Gaudium et Spes 12-22.

[5] Nostra Aetate 2.

[6] Dignitatis Humanae 1.

[7] “They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” Ibid, 2.

[8] Ibid, 2.

[9] Gaudium et Spes 15.

[10] Fides et Ratio 28.

[11] Gaudium et Spes 15.

[12] I broke up “really” to emphasize the realism behind the term that modern idiomatic English seems to have lost or forgotten to some extent.

[13] Dignitatis Humanae 3.

[14] Ibid, 3.

[15] Gaudium et Spes 22.

[16] Ibid, 22.

[17] Ibid, 19.

[18] “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:40.

[19] Gaudium et Spes 19.

[20] Ibid, 16. Cf. Dignitatis Humanae 3.

[21] Ibid, 19.

[22] Cf. Dignitatis Humanae 2. “Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.” Ibid, 3.

[23] Presbyterorum Ordinis 5.

[24] Gaudium et Spes 92.

[25] Ormund Rush observed that Gaudium et Spes here shared the same circles of dialogue as with Paul VI’s Ecclesiam Suam 96-117, except in reverse order from the encyclical. See his The Vision of Vatican II, 15n7.

[26] Ibid, 14.

[27] “The experience of past ages, the progress of the sciences, and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, by all of which the nature of man himself is more clearly revealed and new roads to truth are opened, these profit the Church, too. For, from the beginning of her history she has learned to express the message of Christ with the help of the ideas and terminology of various philosophers, and has tried to clarify it with their wisdom, too. Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ's message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people. To promote such exchange, especially in our days, the Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage.” Gaudium et Spes 44.

Hermeneutics of Vatican II

A Case Study: The Bad Fruits of Vatican II

Part I: Gift of the Holy Spirit

Part II.1: The Hermeneutic of Continuity

Part II.2: The Hermeneutic of Discontinuity

Part II.3: The Theological Notes and the Hermeneutic of Continuity

Part II.4: Is Vatican II an Ecumenical Council?

Part II.5: The Problem of Dissent

Part II.6: A Concluding Argument

Part III.1: Vatican II and Faith

Part III.2.1: Vatican II as a Study of Man

Part III.2.2: The Hermeneutic of Dialogue

Part III.2.3: The Hermeneutic of Pastoral

Part III.2.4: The Hermeneutic of Aggiornamento

Part III.2.5: The Hermeneutic of Ad Intra and Ad Extra

Part III.2.6: The Spirit of Vatican II

Part III.2.7: The False Hermeneutic of Ambiguity

Part III.3: The Hermeneutic of Suspicion

Part IV: Textual Hermeneutics

Part V: The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions

Festenburger Frauenhimmel by Johann Cyriak Hackhofer 
Wikimedia Commons

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