Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

While some of the issues raised in this exchange are particular to Catholic and Orthodox Christianity (specifically, the rationale behind an all-male priesthood), most of the themes in this collection are of interest to Christians of all denominations. Perhaps the most central Christian theme raised by this debate is that of faith: how faith in God must necessarily change one’s worldview in a radical way. In this dialogue between a philosopher and a theologian, it becomes clear time and again that Eco and Martini are profoundly similar men (their dialogue is laudably cordial), with the difference that Martini has faith in Christian revelation and Eco does not. One gets the sense that the fulcrum on which each of their arguments turns is whether a God exists and whether he sent his Son to redeem the world. If he does and did, Martini’s point is correct; if he does and did not (or if we simply cannot know), Eco’s viewpoint is. This is, admittedly, an overly neat dichotomy (some of their cultural observations hold regardless of the nature of metaphysical reality), but it may provide a way of understanding the dynamics of the dialogue. The reality of faith as a gift from God comes up quite plainly in Eco’s last letter: One gets the sense that he in some way regrets having lost his faith as a young man and appreciates belief in something more than secular philosophy (though that is all he can hold on to in good conscience at this point).

More vitally, this exchange provides a praiseworthy model of Christian witness in the contemporary world. In the twenty-first century, Christians and non-Christians, believers and nonbelievers, find themselves, by necessity, living and dealing with one another. If debates between the two groups were more like this dialogue—seeking common ground and mutual understanding, clarifying the positions of the other and the reasons for these positions—believers and nonbelievers might find a more harmonious existence. This dialogue seems to suggest that Ecumenism need not be limited to relations between and among Christian churches; it should be extended to a discussion that includes all of humanity and probes the value and meaning of human life and how the presence of the Gospel challenges one’s perspective of the world.