The impossible inculturation of the message of the Gospel in modernity

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

The address that was given in the name of pope Francis during the general audience of 29 October 2023[1] carried a theme of great importance: “there is therefore no need to contrast today with alternative visions from the past. Nor is it sufficient to simply reiterate acquired religious convictions that, however true, become abstract with the passage of time. […] After all, our own formulations of faith are the fruit of dialogue and encounter among cultures, communities and various situations. We must not fear dialogue: on the contrary, it is precisely confrontation and criticism that help us to preserve theology from being transformed into ideology” (Address at the Fifth National Congress of the Italian Church, Florence, 10 November 2015).”

In fact, it was the project presented by John XXIII, more prudently, in his inaugural address, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, given during the opening session of the Assembly, 11 October 1962[2]: this council was not about discussing such or such items of a doctrinal corpus already well known by all, but to present with a new light taking into account the requirements of our time”; for something else the venerable doctrine, something else the manner in which it is presented. According to Pope Francis, modern culture – the one issued from modernity – is thus considered as one that can potentially be evangelized and even be able to become instrument of expression of the message, as it was the case of the Greek philosophical work of the first centuries. This claim in favor of adapting to the modern world was supported by the actors of the conciliar and postconciliar eras. Their argument was in the fact that the Church had always made much efforts to give to the Gospel message new linguistic and cultural translations, so that it may be understood by all, at all times in history.

We should agree on what the word culture signifies and whether it can equally be applied to a state with a classical civilization as well as an other type of state, one with no transcendence. Without calling on Spengler, it is right to notice that we are today diving into the ultimate phase of a culture that is experiencing a considerable loss of energy, has become technical at best, a culture in which art, its main expression, has lost all transcendence, or has even become a tool for propaganda. The fact is that modern civilization has largely developed itself in opposition with the Church and with Christianity: civilizations that have preceded the Christian mission and a new type of civilization widely represented by apostasy are not of the same. Yet it is true, to be heard, the Church cannot make abstraction of the environment of the people with whom she wants to connect. But, in the same way it is not possible to use Marx, as partisans of the first liberation theology wanted to do, as instrument of the doctrina sacra, like Saint Thomas had done with Aristotle’s philosophy, it is not realistic to believe in a baptism of communally shared modern culture, in which all metaphysical research and a fortiori all affirmation, even natural, about the existence of God have become insignificant.

In its more “outreaching” documents, the Council thought possible a union of Sacred Doctrine with themes of modern sense tolerance, refutal of dogmatism, and rejection of any exclusivism claimed by theological thinking. Obviously, this doctrinal “update” was carried in parallel to an other update, one that ordered the reform of the liturgy and came along with a stupefying normalization and immanentization of the action of worship.

Father Claude Barthe

[1] https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2023/documents/20231129-udienza-generale.html.

[2] Solenne apertura del Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II (11 ottobre 1962) | Giovanni XXIII.