Recensions et comptes rendusThéologie

Susan Talve and Carla Mae Streeter, Avoiding the Sin of Certitude: A Rabbi and a Theologian in Feminine Interfaith Conversations from Disputation to Dialogue. St. Louis MI, Central Reform Congregation and Aquinas Institute of Theology, 2020, 14 × 20 cm, xv-172 p., ISBN 978-0-57880-788-1

  • Louis Roy

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  • Louis Roy, o.p.
    Faculty of Theology, Dominican University College, Ottawa

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Cover of Histoire vécue / Histoire écrite, Volume 75, Number 3, September–December 2023, pp. 317-471, Science et Esprit

This book is the dialogue between its two authors, who both live in St. Louis, Missouri; one of them is a rabbi and the other one is a Catholic theologian. It is the outcome of twenty-eight years of conversations between them. The Introduction opens with several provocative questions, the first one being, “How does one disagree and not just ‘agree to disagree’?” (p. ix). The answer comes a bit later: “It is at this soul level that we truly dialogue? […] At this level we may not agree but we can hear and understand.” (p. 7-8) The book enunciates sound principles of interreligious dialogue and spells out the authors’ living context: the reciprocal hospitality that they enjoyed at each other’s homes during their exchanges; the feminine consciousness – both are women – marked by a social agenda whose standard, they claim, is still male; the set of meanings and values, termed “the garment,” which each of the partners has received from her tradition; beneath the garment, the body (the laws, rituals and stories), which are relative to varying perspectives; in the body, the soul (the essence of the beliefs that animate persons); and the Soul of the soul (the greater whole thanks to which all humans are connected, namely the Mystery). While the garment and the body are visible, the soul and the Soul of the soul are invisible. Consequently the sacred texts that refer to the garment and the body are not meant to be taken literally. The difference between the visible and the invisible throughout every tradition helps people recognize similar degrees of importance in various religious streams; as the rabbi correctly asserts, at the level of the Soul of the soul “we are One in the Mystery. We are not completely ‘other’.” (p. 8). The writers insist on the centrality of listening to one another and to God, rather than engaging in confrontations whereby one would endeavour to consolidate one’s home turf. Listening in humility ensures that all are learning from each other and, as a result, that they enrich the understanding of their own tradition. The volume provides the readers with many instances of gaining knowledge about the other’s faith. To traditional narratives, its authors add some of their own, which fittingly update the traditional ones. Furthermore, they discuss quite a few other topics, such as suffering, salvation, proselytism or evangelization, sexuality, racism, and women in ministry. A caveat: I am not sure that the title Avoiding the Sin of Certitude is adequate. Regrettably the authors’ construal of certitude is always negative, although I agree that certitude is at times a distortion of faith, which amounts to an idolatry in those who absolutize their religious opinions. For example, Streeter rightly states: “If we ever think we know it all we are in danger of falling into unwarranted certitude. Certitude is stopping too soon with too little.” (p. 105) And Talve rightly declares: “If our beliefs and our doctrines become so absolute, so certain, they do not leave space for the listening.” (p. 111) However, these two assertions are ambiguous. In this respect, to my mind the four steps taken from Lonergan (described on p. 101) apply to science and to common sense, but not to divine revelation, which is not the mere outcome of human experience, thinking and judging, according to the traditional Roman Catholic view and to the view of many Jews. In my reading, what is missing in Talve’s and Streeter’s account is the distinction between truth and meaning. Insofar as truth is concerned, it is revealed by God and received by believers on …