June 20, 2012

On Inculturation

Toward the end of Verbum Domini, the Holy Father discusses "The Word of God and Culture" and describes the value of culture in human life. Moreover, he reminds us of the impact that faith has had on that valuable culture.

He cites the Synod, saying that "(d)own the centuries the word of God has inspired different cultures, giving rise to fundamental moral values, outstanding expressions of art and exemplary life-styles."  The lives of the saints, for example, demonstrate the vastly different personalities, styles, talents, and cultural backgrounds that coexist with the Catholic faith. You can explore them at sites like saints.SQPN.com (not sure where to start? browse by patronage topic) and Dr. Paul Camarata's SaintCast.

These people that have gone before us - the relatively few canonized saints and the great many others - were not destroyed by faith but enlived. "(O)penness to God’s word.. never destroys true culture, but rather is a constant stimulus to seek ever more appropriate, meaningful and humane forms of expression."

Now, we see our culture as a new absolute - the right way. The backward cultures of the Bible were fools; people in the past were dumber than us.


Later in Verbum Domini, the Holy Father writes about "the Bible and inculturation". He cites Pope Paul VI's own apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, saying: "The mystery of the incarnation tells us that while God always communicates in a concrete history, taking up the cultural codes embedded therein, the same word can and must also be passed on in different cultures, transforming them from within through what Pope Paul VI called the evangelization of cultures." The Bible, the written Word of God, was inspired and recorded in a particular place and time; and we need to read it with an understanding of that culture. At the same time, we can apply the Bible to and transform our culture through the Sacred Scripture. Likewise, Sacred Tradition was first taught in a particular place and time but has been passed on and applied over many times and places.

When Christianity touches a culture, it is not injured, rather it heals the culture. It baptizes it. Just as when a person is baptized, their sin does not infect the baptismal water or the Church; rather, baptism heals their sin. A Christian culture "brings forth from its own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought", so you have different devotional practices in different parts of the world. A Mass in Africa or Japan or the United States is going to be different in some respects while unified in the Order of Mass and the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Further, "inculturation is not to be confused with processes of superficial adaptation, much less with a confused syncretism...." When a culture is truly touched by the Catholic faith, it is transformed. You do not become Catholic by simply adding mention of the saints or changing you words to sound more Catholic. You do not become Catholic by shrugging and converting because one religion is as good as another. You become Catholic by accepting the teaching of Christ and letting Him into everything.

Catholics Come Home shows brief glimpses of some of those cultural expressions in their "Epic" video. If you haven't seen it yet, please check it out - and share it.

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