Dialogue with Tissa Balasuriya OMI
On 5 June 1994, the Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka publicly declared that the publication entitled “Mary and Human Liberation” by Fr Tissa Balasuriya, O.M.I. contained statements incompatible with the faith of the Church regarding the doctrine of revelation and its transmission, Christology, soteriology and Mariology1.For the EWA participants, the unexpected lunchtime dialogue with him was a mini course in theologizing.
Tissa:began by thanking EWA for lunch. Saying that he would like to learn from the group. He posed the following question for reflection:
Suppose you were the person who decides what theology is and you were allowed to change one item… What would that item be?
Before listening to answers, the outspoken Sri-Lankan shared on two points:
1. the need to relearn all learned in youth
2. don’t waste too much time on research
The study of economics favors the affluent, he said. In 1953, returning from Gregorian, he was asked to take responsibility for Catholic schools. He couldn’t accept things such as salvation through the Church alone as this made interfaith dialogue impossible. How was it decided that the Son and the Spirit flow from the Father? What does that mean? What is theology? What is truth? These questions made him decide to research on jesus and so he wrote “Jesus and Human Liberation.” He discovered that what Jesus taught is different from what the Church teaches! The Eucharist scandalized him. He asked, what is prayer? What is Eucharist? These questions made him write “Eucharist and Human Liberation” and “Mary and Human Liberation. The fundamental values of religions are the same; the test of theology is in going to the heart of doctrine.
Returning to the question “Suppose you were person who decided what theology is and you were allowed to change one item… What would that item be?
Astrid: I would like Christianity defined in some way other than by the waters of Baptism…
Kochurani: I would like all male images of God eradicated. They have many repercussions for women.
Nonie: I would change the fiction that Jesus founded the Church. That has given birth to misconceptions about roles. I would like followers of Jesus known as such rather than followers of the Church.
Angela: I would like to add more texts or readings, to have an open canon. The tradition of resources is too narrow.
Tissa: What is Baptism supposed to do?
Bernardeen: Bring to life what Jesus really was all about. This is Church.
Tissa: What is central to Christianity?
Astrid: Love your neighbour as yourself. But a lot of religions teach that!
Tissa: And someone said they would like more texts!!…Basically, we have misrepresented Jesus Christ as one who came to save us from sin, that salvation is in being members of his “club” rather than his followers… Also the concept of original sin – a whole misrepresentation of what Jesus Christ was about. If only we could come to a better idea of Jesus. Many doctrines are ecclesiastical elaborations. They are recited each Sunday, but not understood, and we just go on repeating. Purification lies in liberating the self from this baggage.
Evelyn: Thanks for insightful and profound sharing. You have given us insight as to how to do theology. If each of us kept questioning like this, we would all be able to write books!