Redemptoris Missio 52cde: More On Inculturation

Today, we have more on “Incarnating the Gospel in Peoples’ Culture.” Inculturation, in other words. A lot has been written and spoken on this topic over the past few decades, and John Paul II gives us a lot of citations. It’s been on his mind through the 1980’s, for sure:

Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community.(Cf. Catechesi Tradendae (1979), 53; Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (1985) 21) She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within.(Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 20) Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission.

This sums the point with help from Paul VI. The point is not to make new believers in mission lands wear the same country club jackets and dresses as the rest of us. It is okay to borrow some of their expressions and add to our own richness. Importantly, we want to cooperate with God’s grace to make his will and mission known as best as we can:

Thanks to this action within the local churches, the universal Church herself is enriched with forms of expression and values in the various sectors of Christian life, such as evangelization, worship, theology and charitable works. She comes to know and to express better the mystery of Christ, all the while being motivated to continual renewal. During my pastoral visits to the young churches I have repeatedly dealt with these themes, which are present in the Council and the subsequent Magisterium.(Address to the Bishops of Zaire, Kinshasa, May 3, 1980, 4-6: AAS 72 (1980), 432-435; Address to the Bishops of Kenya, Nairobi, May 7, 1980, 6: AAS 72 (1980), 497; Address to the Bishops of India, Delhi, February 1, 1986, 5: AAS 78 (1986), 748f; Homily at Cartagena, July 6, 1986, 7-8: AAS 79 (1987), 105f; cf. also Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli, 21-22)

Modern things like social media are part of inculturation. Old pagan things like evergreen trees and Saturnalia. Once we look more carefully at our Christian trappings, we might be surprised to find many incultured things to which we’ve become quite accustomed and which have been long-considered associated with God.

As with many things of late, Vatican II started it all:

Inculturation is a slow journey which accompanies the whole of missionary life. It involves those working in the Church’s mission ad gentes, the Christian communities as they develop, and the bishops, who have the task of providing discernment and encouragement for its implementation.(Cf. Ad Gentes 22)

Or, well, recovered and continued it.

This document is available online here and is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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