Sunday, August 11, 2013

Inculturation and Secularization

Many are the reasons Protestant theologians do not look upon Catholicism kindly.  One of the primary reasons, they maintain, is that when it became the established Church of the Roman Empire, it distorted the teachings of the early Church.

A diocesan seminary professor, in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine, explains the antagonism by noting the difference between secularization and inculturation.

Catholicism has done many things that deserve to be criticized, he acknowledges; there is no reason to deny the facts of history. Obviously, it was not the whole Church but segments within the Church that sought to imitate the prevailing mores of society at any particular historical period, often colluding with the powers of government and ignoring the teachings of Jesus and the early Church.  Secularization, as this tendency has been called, was making inroads within the Church. However, at the same time, there were many saints and ordinary observant Catholics and members of religious orders that continued living Christlike lives. But the criticisms were vociferous and developed into the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
With the Edict of Milan, in 313, religious freedom was declared. The way Protestants and Catholics interpret history since then is very different, the professor says. Did the Church abandon the thinking of the early Church and was secularized? So say the Protestant theologians. Or did the Church put on the clothes of the civilization and culture of the times to make the teachings of Jesus more accessible? As Catholic theologians say.

To answer the question, the professor feels it is necessary to first distinguish between the sometimes confused meanings of secularization and inculturation. Inculturation is the term used in Catholicism to denote an encounter between the Christian Gospel and a particular culture. The term is used to explain the manner in which the Church intends to safeguard the teaching  of the Gospel while encouraging a sensitivity to the different cultures it finds itself in.  Secularization, on the other hand, is an encounter with the world that abandons religious truth and values and replaces them with the values of the secular world. In this world, words tend to lose their spiritual significance. When words like joy, peace, patience, modesty, sincerity, justice and the like are understood only in a secularist sense, they lose their ultimate meanings, which can only be fully understood from a religious perspective. 

The Church, in its attempt to spread the Gospel and its values, did not deny the conveniences of the culture or the civilization in which it found itself. Rather, it worked to imbue the culture with the values of the Gospel message. It is this effort that we call inculturation, the professor said. Jesus being incarnated into a Jewish culture is the origin of what we mean by inculturation.

This happened also within Greek culture and in the middle ages in Europe. The early Fathers of the Church fought against the culture and against secularization, which slowly gave rise to the idea of inculturation. And now, after the Second Vatican Council, we use the word aggiornamento: a willingness to dialogue with the society we live in.

The Korean Catholic Church is "trying to breathe" the cultural air and "plant itself" more firmly within the Korean cultural soil, so that the teaching, pastoral ways, liturgy and the various devotions are more understandable to Koreans.  Many are falling  away from the Church, which makes this effort of inculturation all the more important. Evangelization has as its goal not only those who are outside the Church, but all Catholics who must struggle against a secularist culture, inculturation is a useful tool in the evangelization process that can be used to bring the message of the Church to those, both inside and outside the Church, who may have been negatively influenced by the accidentals that have been added over time to the Christian message.

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