Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

The Feast of Epiphany recognizes the universal need of salvation and Christ’s offer of this salvation to all men and women. One interesting aspect of the Christian scriptures were that they were written in Greek, not the sophisticated Greek of Plato and Aeschylus, but a Greek that was more “common” the everyday speech then used in the Mediterranean. This use of this common Greek made the scriptures available to be understood by men and women from the shores of the Indus river to the rock of Gibraltar. Making Christianity known and understood in various cultures has been the project of the Church since its inception, instituting both a goal and a challenge as it identifies the truths of faith but realizes these truths must be expressed in a way that will be understood. Expressions used in one culture may not work in another. Christ used the imagery of sheep and shepherds so much that one would think the allegory of the shepherd was intrinsic to the nature of Christianity. However, Paul does not mention one sheep in his epistles. His urban readers from Corinth, Rome, and Ephesus, saw lamb chops in the market not sheep in the field.  Instead, he adapted the truths of the faith to a vocabulary and references that made sense to the people of the time. This insight also was held by the church, in a document expressed much later.

“Do not act with zeal, do not put forward any arguments to convince these peoples to change their rites, their customs or their usages, except if they are evidently contrary to the religion and morality. What would be more absurd than to bring France, Spain, Italy or any other European country to the Chinese? Do not bring to them our countries, but instead bring to them the Faith, a Faith that does not reject or hurt the rites, nor the usages of any people, provided that these are not distasteful, but that instead keeps and protects them.”

Although this insistence on cultural respect has a modern ring to it, and some may presume it was penned during the Second Vatican council, it actually comes from a document sent by the Propaganda Fide in 1659. This insistence on accommodation to culture and the presence of the faith in and to various cultures has inaugurated all sorts of discussion. Fundamental to these discussions is the concern on the one hand that the faith is being properly understood in time and place, and on the other hand, concern expressed that cultural adaption by means of language, culture, and ritual, may confuse the essential nature of the faith. When the Magi arrived at the manger, they brought with them more then gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They inaugurated that rich discussion which places the necessary truth of the Heart of Christ in the center of Christianity and the need to proclaim that Heart in the best way possible.

January 9th, 2018