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1.

Culture, Mission, Inculturation


1. 1. Culture: Meaning
Culture: Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to
cultivate,") generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic
structures that give such activity's significance and importance. Different
definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or
criteria for evaluating, human activity. Culture is manifested in music, literature,
painting and sculpture, theatre and film. Although some people identify culture
in terms of consumption and consumer goods (as in high culture, low culture,
folk culture or popular culture), anthropologists understand "culture" to refer not
only to consumption goods but to the general processes which produce such
goods and give them meaning, and to the social relationships and practices in
which such objects and processes become embedded. For them, culture thus
includes technology, art, science, as well as moral systems. 1
1. 2. Mission: Meaning
Mission may be defined as forming a suitable indigenous church planting
movement. There is no uniform, unchanging, universal understanding of mission
valid always and everywhere. Our understanding of mission should vary in place
and grow in time. The mission of the Jews of the Palestinian followers of Jesus
was radically different from the centrifugal gentile mission initiated by the Jewish
Hellenistic Christian communities of the Diaspora, and Pauls understanding of
mission was very different from that of John. Mission in the middle ages was not
the same as mission in the violent world of colonialism; and mission in a postcolonial world, cannot be the same as the missionary beliefs, attitudes and
strategies of the colonial age. Mission is not merely saving souls; but to the
whole of humankind; its activities, the whole of creation. 2 Mission necessarily
leads to inculturation.
1. 3. Inculturation: Meaning
Inculturation is the process of dealing with the dimensions of living religiocultural and socio-economic contexts (religious pluralism, widespread poverty,
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture
2 Mattam, Joseph & Kim, Sebastian (Ed), Dimensions of Mission in India, Mission
as Inculturation, Prasad Pinto, Bombay: St Pauls, 1995.

cultural diversity and unjust and oppressive structures). It is a process of


integration of Christian faith with local culture, cultures. There is an ongoing
process of reciprocal and critical interaction. Because culture is dynamic there is
a never ending process.3 It is necessary that they use their own language,
symbols and

expressions.

A foreign

symbol/sign

may

not be

the

apt

thing/method to use for inculturation.


2. Problems and Obstacles to Mission
2. 1. Cultural Difference
In the earlier days Church development was not by discernment but by power
struggle and abuse of power. Church had her own vested interest of having more
Christians rather than respecting the people of other cultures and their religions.
In the process the missionaries often collaborated with the colonizers. Church
thought it had the best culture and so it had to be propagated because they
interpreted the Bible according to their convenience. Thus Christianity became
colonial and evangelization became spiritual aggression. 4
With Emperor Constantine the church accepted the Roman culture. So the entire
human race was divided into two camps: civilized and barbarian; cultured and
uncultured. By now the Church held on to its rigid culture and was not ready to
face self criticism; she remained with her structural injustice and sinfulness.
2. 2. Distorted Understanding of Mission
We can find the historical linkage between Colonialism and Missionary
expansion. There was no room for inculturation in such a context. Historically
Mission remained divorced from inculturation. A humble, suffering and ready to
suffer church became a very aggressive and power hungry church. The early
Christians were ready to die for Christ and they sang hymns as they were
tortured to death. After some years the same Church began to conquer and
attack people and nations. They acquired an understanding far from what Jesus
had ever thought of. How did this understanding change! I am unable to
understand this perspective.
3 Cf. Dorr, Donal, Mission in Todays World, New York: Orbis Books, 2002, pp. 94.
4 Cf. Rayan, Samuel S.J., The Ecclesiology at work in the Indian Church Today in
Leewen, Gerwin van (Ed), Searching for an Indian Ecclesiology, Bangalore: Asian
Trading Corporation, 1984, p. 197.

They took certain verses from the Bible seriously for their convenience. What
they understood, or partially understood was, Go and baptise. They did not
even think seriously the full significance of baptism which Jesus elaborated. They
did not pay attention to the verse, Proclaim good news to the poor. Gospel
should not be selectively taken; it should be taken as a whole. When it is done,
Gospel will acquire new cultural forms.
2. 3. Foreigners in their own Land (In India)
Christianity in India appears a foreign religion to people. Expressions like,
fullness of revelation, and the only way, are subjective faith expressions. 5
There was one sided evangelization: make them Christians, by changing their
cultures. The Church in India has preserved the traditional western thinking.
Greek moral system based not on any personal commitment to God, but on the
idea of the Good has prevailed all over the world. All are Roman Catholics; they
are all over the world, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, America, just as once there
were British subjects all over the world. So the church in India is like the colony
of the Roman church.6
The fear of the Church was well expressed by Joseph Ratzinger. So he uses the
term inter-culturality instead of inculturation. He feared that Christian religion
would be diluted by other non-Christian religions (Syncretism). The second factor
was relativism, namely, several conflicting versions of Christianity, all seen as
equally valid (hinduising of the faith).
3. Mission & Inculturation: Historical Perspective
Entire Christian History can be divided into six major paradigms. 1. The
apocalyptic paradigm of primitive Christianity. 2. The Hellenistic paradigm of the
patristic period. 3. The medieval Roman Catholic paradigm. 4. The Protestant
(Reformation) paradigm. 5. The modern Enlightenment paradigm. 6. The
emerging ecumenical paradigm.7 (It may be beyond the scope to elaborate all
the above mentioned factors).
5 Chethimattam, John B(Ed), Jeevadhara Vol. XXX No. 179 Inculturating Our
Theological Thinking, Sep. 2000, pp. 419-443.
6 Cf. Rayan, Samuel S.J., Op. cit, p. 197.
7 Cf. Bosch, David J., Transforming Mission, New York: Orbis Books, 1996, pp.
181-82.

3. 1. Jesus & Mission


God the Father is presented in the Scripture as the harvest master and vineyard
owner (Mt 20:1-16; 21:33-43). Mission, therefore, originates with the Father;
mission is God's project. The Father determines its parameters. Jesus declares
openly that he has been sent by his loving Father; precisely, the phrase "the
Father who sent me" occurs 46 times in the Gospel of John. And, a salvific thrust
is evident in the missioning of Jesus by his Father. Vatican II expresses Jesus'
mission as a reconciling presence: "... to establish peace or communion between
sinful human beings and Himself... Jesus Christ was sent into the world as a real
Mediator between God and men" (AG, 3). In Paul's theology, mediation and
reconciliation are vital elements of the mysterion (2 Cor 5:19; Col 1: 13; Rom 5:
1). Jesus' continuing "Abba-experience" -- enabling him to faithfully accomplish
his mission -- has several dimensions: his coming or proceeding from the Father,
his remaining with the Father (Jn 10:38; 16:32), and his eventual return to the
Father (Jn 16:5; 7:33; 13:36). This means that Jesus fulfils his mission in light of a
particular consciousness: continual intimacy with his Father. Luke tells us that
before making such a decisive move in his ministry as the choice of the Twelve
Jesus "went out to the mountains to pray, spending the night in communion with
God" (Lk 6:12). Mission in the Jesus mode has its source, continuation, and
fulfilment in the "Abba-experience." This dimension in Jesus' pattern of living
mission provides evangelizers an inviting model for their own mission
consciousness.8
Jesus clearly and unequivocally understood his mission In terms of the authentic
Old Testament tradition. The missionary nature of Jesus ministry is revealed in
the foundational characteristic of his kingdom ministry. It launches an all-out
attack on evil in all its manifestations. Gods reign arrives wherever Jesus
overcomes the power of evil. Then as it does now, evil took many forms, pain,
sickness, death, demon-possession, personal sin and immorality, the loveless
self-righteousness of those who claim to know God, the maintaining of special
class privileges, the brokenness of human relationships. Jesus is however,
saying: if human distress takes many forms, the power of God does likewise. 9

8 FABC Document, No. 61, Mission Today, James H. Kroeger, Aware we are Sent
pp. 4.
9 Bosch, David J, Op. cit, pp. 32-33.

3. 2. Mission (Inculturation) & Early Church


What is remarkable about the primitive Christianity is that it had a revolutionary
nature, not in terms of war but in ideology. Jew and Roman, Greek and
Barbarian, free and slave, rich and poor, woman and man, accepted one another
as brothers and sisters. It was indeed a sociological impossibility but the small
Christian community caused the wonder.10
4. Inculturation & Incarnation
Can we say that, Could inculturation be described as the incarnation of the
Christian faith, that is, as the process by which the Church becomes inserted
into a culture? Christian faith does not exist except in concrete cultural forms. I
think it is very difficult to conceive of a Christian experience that is culturally
pure, uncontaminated by any culture. We understand that incarnation is Word
becoming flesh and it became flesh in the Hebrew context. So the Word of God
was addressed in history in a specific context. Jesus became real to the world. 11
4. 1. Method of Inculturation (Mission)
Before Jesus, the word of God always remained with the Jews (or so they
claimed), as they believed that they were the elected people of God. Now there
is an effort to go out and meet the world, the lost sheep, and the foundation of
new Churches among the aliens and strangers. Today it is generally accepted
that the Gospel mission cannot be carried out by force of armour or by social
pressure as it had been practiced. The concern of the church should not be
expansion but being born anew in each new context and culture. 12
The mission of proclaiming possesses historical character because it is
concerned with the history of human beings. Without Gods intervention into
history we would know very little about him. So the mission must be carried out
in history and in a historical way. The history of salvation is related to the
salvation in history. People have to experience this in their real socio-political
life. Only in and through the communitarian public praxis, the message of
10 Cf. Ibid, p. 48.
11 Cf. Soares-Prabhu George S.J., Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology by.,
Pune: Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth Theology series, 1999, p. 92.
12 Cf. Bosch David J., Op. cit, pp. 455-56.

salvation can be conveyed. Today liberation, justice and love offer the proper
channel in which the church can practice and carry out its salvific mission
without failing into either angelism or secularism. They offer us adequate
channel for mediating salvation in a historical way, and for allowing the church to
present itself as the sign par excellence of the God who saves the world. 13 This
liberation is the fashioning of a new world where people might lead a fully
human life, free from bondage to other human beings and to a natural world that
was not under control.
4. 1. 1. Inculturation: Unifying Factor
The attitude for inculturation should be that of Jesus. He did not cling to his
equality with God but humbled himself and became a slave and accepted death
and death on a cross (Phil 2:5-6). Fr Pedro Arrupe says, Inculturation may be
looked at from many view points and seen at different levels, which must be
distinguished but cannot be separated. Yet amid the multiple formulations of the
problem which we have to reckon with the fundamental and constantly valid
principle is that inculturation is the insertion of Christian life and the Christian
message in a particular context in such a way that the experience not only finds
expression through elements proper to the culture in question but become a
principle that animates, directs and unifies the culture, transforming and making
it so as to bring about a new creation.14
5. Mission (Inculturation) Today: Our Context
5. 1. The Tribal People
Santals

are

the

largest adivasi

(indigenous)

community

in

the

Indian

subcontinent with a population of more than 5 million. Of these only less than
10% are Christians and Catholics only about 5 to 6%. The term used in Indian
languages and by the Tribal people themselves is Adivasi which means
original settlers. It is said by different authors that the tribal people are the
original settlers of the land. The Santals belong to the group called ProAustraloids. They generally use the term hor instead of Santal, which also

13 Ellacuria, Ignacio S.J., Freedom made Flesh, New York: Orbis books, 1976, p.
76.
14 Arrupe, Pedro S.J., Letter on Inculturaion in Aixila, Jerome (Ed), Jesuit
Formation and Inculturation in India Today, Delhi:1978, pp. 181-82.

means man. The Santals are found in the Indian States of Jharkhand, West
Bengal, Orissa, and in Bangladesh. Their language is called Santali. 15
The Santals have their own Tribal Religion and mythology of creation, their own
culture and political administration. They believe in a Supreme Being called
Sing Cando or Marang Buru and there are several good and bad spirits which
control their life. They offer sacrifices to both because they need to receive
blessings from the good ones and need to please the bad ones so that they do
not disturb the people.
5. 2. Their Experience of Alienation
As they are brought into the so called main stream of life (in the country) and
because of conversion from their religion to another, many of their socio-political
cultural practices are almost extinct. In the earlier days they had their own
social, legal, political and cultural functions which were properly administered.
They are generally a peace loving people and they enjoy life in their own ways
by celebrating several festivals during the course of the year.
5. 3. Inculturation & Pluralism
Inculturation renders the local church truly present within the life of our people.
Dialogue with the great Asian religions brings them into contact with the Gospel,
so that the seed of the Word in them may come to full flower. Another area of
concern is the service of the poor, uniting with them in their struggle for a more
human world.16 Inculturation is not mere adaptation of a ready-made Christianity
into a given situation but rather a creative embodiment of the Word in the local
church.
Inculturation is a dialogical encounter process understood in its deepest meaning
that

comes

from

the

salvific

movement

of

the

Triune

God,

because

evangelization itself is above all a dialogue between the Gospel message and
the given reality (FABC I, 12). It is a dialogue conducted in humility and mutual
support to seek together with our brothers and sisters the fullness of Christ.

15 Cf. Troisi, Josephh, Tribal Religion Religious Beliefs and Practices Among the Santals,
New Delhi: Manohar, 1978, p. 20.

16 Cf. FABC Document, No. 81, Towards Asian Liturgical Inculturation, Jonathan
Yun-Ka Tan, Evangelization in Modern Asia, Taipei, 1974 p. 3.

Inculturation is a discovery of the seeds of the Word which lie hidden in the
given cultures and living traditions (cf. AG, 11). The mutual exchange of their
discoveries among the local churches will lead to their enrichment as well as that
of the universal Church. As the Incarnation of the Son has been fulfilled in the
Paschal Mystery, the inculturation process also involves an experience of death
and resurrection. The Church as the messenger of the Gospel on the one hand,
the given cultures and traditions of the people on the other; both must be
purified, healed and transformed by the saving power of the Gospel. 17
6. Our Attempts in inculturation
"Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit... The
Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization" (EN, 75). Clearer words
cannot be found to describe the centrality of the Spirit's action in the life of the
church and her evangelizers. This activity has continuity; it is present as the
Spirit fills the life of Jesus, the church, missioner-apostles, the entire laity.
Essential for all -- and no one can claim a monopoly on the Spirit who "blows
where he wills" (Jn 3:8). Mission continually demands the life-giving presence
and action of the Spirit:18
If our attempt to work with the people is authentic then we can realize that
Gospel is all about Metanoia, a conversion of heart. All cultures have sinful
aspects and encountering the Gospel should lead to qualitative change. We also
realize that many of these cultures such as the culture of Santals are closer to
Christian ideal than the so called modern cultures; there is a strong sense of
community spirit, vivid experience of the communion between the living and the
dead, a sense of harmony with nature and a marvellous ability to celebrate. We
should not forget that many of these cultures existed even before Christianity.
6. 1. Contextualization of Theology
The word Contextualization was first coined in the 1970s, in the Theological
field and this led to many different types of theologies. Originally there were two
models, namely, the indigenization model and socio-economic model. Each of
these was further divided into other sub-types. Thus there are Liberation

17 Cf. Ibid, p. 4.
18 FABC Document, No. 61, Op. cit, pp. 3-5.

Theology, Black Theology, and Feminist Theology and in the context of India
there are Tribal and Dalit Theologies too. 19
Indeed, pluralism is at the heart of reality and hence, as Raimundo Panikkar
says, there is no lingua universalis. Each tradition is understandable only within
its proper background, and any pretension to universality is itself particular. This
affirmation is the core of contextual theology.20
The important factors that shape the contextual theology in India are: they
should be able to articulate the Christian experience of faith in a Third World
situation of unimaginable poverty,

an Asian situation of pluriform and

increasingly competitive religiosity, and a specifically Indian situation of social


discrimination based on hereditary caste and tribal identity. The massive
sociological enforced poverty of India is greatly dehumanizing but it leaves room
for the nurturing of a religious or voluntary poverty, that freedom from greed
which is the goal of all Asian religions. Religions which foment caste and
communalism are thus also sources of spiritual freedom, and provide millions of
people with the sense of meaning and the ground for hope which enable them to
survive in situations of desperate need. It is in this situation that we need to
theologize. This is possible only when we are ready to inculturate ourselves into
the context.21
6. 1.1. God For All
Jesus has done his work and gone. What remains is that we have to continue his
mission. We tell people who Jesus was how he lived, healed and reconciled
people and empowered the poor. The problem that arises is whether these
statements will correspond to the practice of Christians. Was really the human
Jesus presented to India, Asia? Or is he presented as a God to impress people, or
rather as the colonialist conqueror, in whose name the European nations
marched out to conquer the world?

19 Cf. Bosch David J., Op. cit, p. 421.


20 Padinjarekuttu, Isaac, George Soares-Prabhu S.J. and the Quest for a
Contextual Theology in Soares-Prabhu George S.J., Biblical Themes for a
Contextual Theology by., Pune: Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth Theology series, 1999,
p. xx.
21 Cf. Soares-Prabhu George S.J., Op. cit., p. 87.

Christians believe that God's saving will is at work, in many different ways, in all
religions. It has been recognized since the time of the apostolic Church, and
stated clearly again by the Second Vatican Council, that the Spirit of Christ is
active outside the bounds of the visible Church. God's saving grace is not
limited to members of the Church, but is offered to every person. His grace may
lead some to accept baptism and enter the Church, but it cannot be presumed
that this must always be the case. His ways are mysterious and unfathomable,
and no one can dictate the direction of His grace. 22
The Spirit of God is no religions monopoly but present in every human heart.
Similarly

the

saints,

to

whatever

religious

traditions

they

belong,

Sri

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ


now free of time space limitations of earthly existence are present to every
human being. What God has already accomplished through the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ is for all human beings. So evangelization is mostly
inter-religious dialogue, inquiring from other religious followers how God has
spoken to them in history and is and is present to them in their traditions. 23
6. 2. Liturgical Inculturation
As

particular

Churches,

especially

the

young

Churches,

deepen

their

understanding of the liturgical heritage they have received from the Roman
Church that gave them birth, they will be able in turn to find in their own cultural
heritage appropriate forms that can be integrated into the Roman Rite, where
this is judged useful and necessary. 24
We have tried to use theological vocabulary understandable to people and draw
wisdom from the liberative core of their religion and joined them in their struggle
for liberation. We have tried to practice the inculturated form of the liturgy
among the Santals. We have made special prayers and adaptations that the
Santals understand easily and make sense to them. Some of the Sacraments
have been adjusted to fit into their framework. Baptism and Marriage may be
two examples. Several of their feasts and festivals have been incorporated into
the church festivals.
22 Cf. Ibid.
23 Chethimattam, John B(Ed), Jeevadhara Vol. XXX No. 179 Op. cit, p. 436.
24 Pokorsky Jerry J., Guide to Liturgical Inculturation Vol VII, No.8, 2001.

7. Conclusion
To believe in God then is to work for justice and serve those in need. To be
authentic, religion must be fleshed out in the struggle for a more humane world.
God is on the side of people and their liberation. 25 What Fr Felix Wilfred says is
very significant, Any choice between bread and freedom is bound to result in a
dehumanizing situation. The attempt to suppress freedom with the promise of
bread cannot hold too long. The struggle of the marginalized for life, freedom
and equality have to find support from the church. 26 Unless and until the people
have substantial means for survival all our attempts in the field of liturgy and
inculturation will remain futile. Some problems continue persist. To what extent
can we make adjustments in liturgy? Or is it necessary to use bread and wine for
the Eucharist? These questions will be always met with conflicts and oppositions.
I shall not venture to go further into this area as it is beyond the scope of this
seminar.

25 Esclarin, Antonio Perez, Atheism and Liberation, London: SCM Press, 1980, p.
86.
26 Wilfred, Felix, Sunset in the East, Madras: St. Pauls Seminary, 1991, p. 246.

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