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Culture, identity and church unity.

In August 1971 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, gave the following presentation as a member of the WCC-administered Faith and Order Commission at its meeting in Louvain, Belgium. The commission was reviewing a report on "The Unity of the Church and the Unity of Humanity".

If one attempts to do justice to the relation between Christian faith and culture in the contemporary world, one encounters the fact that the phenomenon of culture presents itself today in a twofold and somewhat antagonistic form. This fact requires us to take into account the problem of church unity, and the question of the unity and division of humanity. Culture first appears in the historically developed civilizations and particular peoples -European, African, Asian, pre-Columbian American--each with its different characteristics. The whole is overlaid today, however, with a single technological culture which, though it can be compared with other cultures, increasingly determines the situation of humanity. It has produced a unity of mankind such as never existed before. But it has also created tensions, because it has not been able to answer the essential questions of man and is thus, humanly considered, "particular" and can be used as an instrument of particularism. It has thus indirectly led to a re-animation of national cultures, in which men attempt to maintain unity with their own history, with their historical "identity". This overlaying of two unlike but nevertheless related forms of culture creates two "fronts" on which theology and the church must maintain themselves.

1. For the "younger churches" there is the urgent task of a fruitful encounter with the history and culture of their own peoples and also with their religious tradition, and such encounters naturally have profound counter-effects upon the whole church. That the church has not fully "arrived" as long as it remains a mere Western import is denied by no one today. Even so, it is clear that faith can be identified with no form of culture. Faith must again and again be translated anew, and translation means to penetrate the form of thinking and living, not merely to change the words. On the other hand, translation also means identity in essentials. Yet how can one discover this essence, since it never appears in pure form, but always only in historical forms which, as such, are not absolute? The Christ event itself is an event in space and time, i.e. in a particular, in itself accidental, cultural situation; and again, it appears to us never otherwise than in the partly accidental interpretation of the first witnesses. What in this accidental aspect has become necessity by virtue of the eternal significance of Jesus Christ? How far must we all, in order to be Christians, become Jews and Greeks? The questions can be made more concrete: How far are all Christological titles irreplaceable, or how far can or must they be supplemented by new ones? What in Christian liturgy belongs to the proper order of the liturgical year, in order that it should remain Christian, and what is changeable? It will be clear that the mere concept of the incarnation is insufficient: incarnation does not come to us in a unilinear way, but only brokenly, through death and resurrection. It is also clear that the first appropriation of the Christian message in the earliest church has the character of a model; Jewish and Greek culture here undergo a certain crucifixion: existing concepts and forms were broken up and so brought to a new fruitfulness. But these general rules take away from the concrete questions nothing of their sharpness; rather, they are making them even sharper.

If one relates this whole problematic expressly to the question of the unity of the church and of humanity, questions like the following may result: What care must be taken so that new cultural forms of faith do not become a new bondage and a new threat? How in each case can the right combination of firm rootage and openness, of concretion and universalism, be found? What care must be taken that cultural incarnation does not develop into an archaism which further increases the lack of faith's contemporaneity with the technical world?

2. The last question leads us into a further range of problems. When one considers the effects of technological civilization upon the unity of mankind, a remarkable contradiction comes to light. On the one hand, technology has developed into a comprehensive form of life and thought; in the language of technology, there is an unbroken possibility of communication across all barriers. On the other hand and at the same time, with the advance of the kind of positivistic thinking which technology encourages, the language of philosophy has become more and more fragmented, so that philosophy today consists for the most part only of philosophies which exist side by side very largely without communication. Hand in hand with the universalizing of technological communication goes a break-off of communication in the questions of meaning, in the realm of the really human, which no longer appear to be communicable. The unity of mankind is thus more sharply threatened than ever before.

With this historical process, faith also has lost its language, or it speaks no more than a special language, which is understood only within Christianity yet outwardly is scarcely comprehended any more. Within particular churches, this process has also led to language difficulties between different groups which confront each other across almost insuperable barriers. Is the church in the technological world really condemned to be speechless, to a pluralism without communication, to the ghetto? Does she have possibilities to express her unity anew, and thus to make a contribution to the unity of mankind? If uniform formulae are no longer possible, where are the standards by which the inner unity of the unlike can be recognized?

Such questions have to do by no means merely with the self-preservation of the church. They concern the continuance of human life. That becomes clear when one looks seriously at the inner problematic of technological development. The question--how technological development can be carried further without ending in the self-destruction of mankind--becomes the fundamental problem of existence in this, our world. Technical development without humane standards is senseless. The worldwide protest of youth, in spite of the questionableness of many of its forms, is ultimately grounded here, in an uprising against a science which describes itself as value-free, yet hands man over to a value-less existence and in so doing destroys him. The technological world, which begins by making faith speechless, thus turns into a direct question to faith: By what standards can true humanity be measured? The development of a political ethic poses an urgent task, in which the search for the unity of the church and for the unity of mankind pass immediately over into one another.
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Title Annotation:early speech by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Author:Ratzinger, Joseph
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Article Type:Speech
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Previous Article:Worship, prayers and poverty.
Next Article:Danilo R. Streck, Educacao para um Novo Contrato Social (Education for a New Social Contract).

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