By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Does Inculturation Exclude a Common Christian Culture?

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
Image via Wikipedia
Of course not. Let's consider Christmas, for example, as celebrated in Western Christendom on December 25th. If we look into history, we see that the pagan Roman feast of Saturnalia in December seems to be connected with our celebrating Christmas in December. That adaptation appears to possibly be an example of inculturation--of the Church's building on a pagan tradition (although researchers disagree on this point).

Yet, when we celebrate Christmas, we are in no way doing anything pagan at all. The result is that by inculturation we have replaced a very particular, very geographically and very ethnically limited Roman celebration with a universal celebration that belongs to Christians, regardless of whether their ancestors were products of ancient Roman civilization, of ancient Native American civilization, of ancient African civilization, or of any other ancient culture.

Thus, inculturation gives to a previously narrow "uncatholic" pagan reality a universal or catholic trajectory that brings us all into a common Christian culture which testifies to the fact that our common humanity in Christ trumps the particulars of our previous religious traditions or our particular ethnic and cultural origins. That is why I find myself increasingly impatient with our tendency to exalt our own particular cultures and ethnicities, especially when that tendency is manifested by my fellow Catholics. (That tendency is ironic given that most of the New Testament consists of Paul's letters which fight the good fight of breaking down the ethnic barrier between Jew and Gentile in the first Christian century.)

As a result, a common Christian culture, as flourished most brilliantly in a diverse Europe in the Middle Ages, testifies to that remarkable, countercultural fact: what we share in common in Christ is vastly more significant than our particular differences, whether of the past or of the present. That universal trajectory is particularly apparent in Catholicism which has managed to go beyond the ethnic walls that are still prevalent in the subdivisions of Eastern Orthodoxy and beyond the privileged place given to the Arabic language in Islam.

So when you identify as "Catholic," remember that your faith is universal not only in the sense of having received the fullness of truth but also in the sense of embracing one common humanity and testifying to the supreme significance of that common humanity over any particular and accidental differences of culture and circumstance.
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