On March 6 and 7, Providence College will host a pair of events as part of its series, Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews. Inaugurated in 2009, the program has created a forum for learning and dialogue about issues of mutual interest to Judaism and Catholicism.
This year the college welcomes Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA, a Catholic nun and scholar of the Hebrew Bible, and Rabbi Dr. David Fox Sandmel, a professor of Jewish Studies. Colleagues at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic graduate school of theology, they have both been involved in interfaith dialogue for many years.
The two will participate in a public dialogue on the topic “Images of God: Jewish and Catholic Perspectives” and will lead a colloquium workshop for Providence College faculty and students, as well as for local Jewish and Christian clergy.
Sr. Bergant has been an active member of the Chicago Catholic/Jewish Scholars Dialogue for the past twenty years. She is the author of many books on the Hebrew Bible, including “Genesis: In the Beginning” (Liturgical Press, 2013) and “People of the Covenant: An Invitation to the Old Testament” (Sheed & Ward, 2001).
Dr. Sandmel is active in Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue. He co-edited a volume of essays entitled “Christianity in Jewish Terms” (Westview, 2000) and has contributed to the recently published “Jewish Annotated New Testament” (Oxford, 2011), a commentary on the Christian Scriptures by Jewish scholars.
At this spring’s event, Sr. Bergant and Rabbi Sandmel will dialogue about the ways in which Jews and Catholics have imagined God. The Jewish and Christian traditions both teach that God created the world, that God sustains the world and that God will ultimately redeem the world and humanity. Nevertheless, at the core of the difference between Judaism and Christianity are fundamentally opposed views of who God is and what God has done. This difference has, in the past, been a source of bitter and tragic conflict. Sr. Bergant and Rabbi Sandmel will dialogue about how both the commonalities and differences can contribute to a rich relationship between the two communities today. The hope is that all who attend and participate depart having deepened their own understanding of God by discovering that of another.
The series seeks to promote interreligious understanding and dialogue in the spirit of Vatican II, the 1960s council of the Catholic Church which, among other internal reforms, radically redefined and redirected the Church’s relationship with Jews. The events also continue the tradition of dialogue and friendship between Jews and Catholics that has been part of Providence College’s history. Since its founding in 1917, Providence College has been a place where Christians and Jews have learned with and from one another. Today, the College boasts many distinguished Jewish alumni and faculty.
As a dialogue of “exchange” between Catholics and Jews, the program stands in the spirit of Vatican II’s ground-breaking declaration Nostra Aetate (Latin for “in our time”) which encouraged Catholics to create forums for “mutual understanding and respect” through “fraternal dialogues” so as to unlock together the “spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews.” Not debates which seek to convert, these are exchanges where Jews and Catholics can learn about the other and themselves through collaborative effort. These efforts were vigorously promoted throughout the Church by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Following his predecessors, Pope Francis recently wrote, “Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples.”
As such, the goals of this program are several: (1) to promote understanding and appreciation of the commonalities and differences between Jews and Christians; (2) to educate the next generation of socially conscious and faith-oriented individuals to appreciate and promote the common concerns for social change and transformation intrinsic to the common spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity; and (3) to create a hospitable forum for the local community that models dialogue in a constructive and honest way.
The program has featured both international and local speakers, including Rabbi Peter Stein (Temple Sinai, Cranston), Rabbi Wayne Franklin (Temple Emanu-El, Providence) and Prof. Shaye Cohen (formerly of Brown University, now at Harvard), as well as a number of prominent Catholic speakers.
The dialogue-lecture on March 6 is free and open to the public. It will be held at 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. in Aquinas Lounge on the Providence College campus. The colloquium workshop on March 7 is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. – noon. It is limited to 40 participants. To reserve a space or to be added to the email list, contact Dr. Arthur Urbano, theology professor at Providence College, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DR. ARTHUR URBANO (email@example.com )is an associate professor of theology at Providence College.