“The Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal”

One of Cicero’s famous sayings defines history as a thing ‘which bears witness to the passing of the ages, sheds light upon reality, gives life to recollection and guidance to human existence, and brings tidings of ancient days’ (De Oratore II, 9, 36). And it is precisely the witness of history that shows us how the ancient peoples lived, with their cultures given to idolatry, slavery and even human sacrifice. Christ changed all of this by bringing the light of the truth and the law of the Gospel; he gave his disciples the mandate to preach to all nations and to transform the face of the earth. They were to lead all to live by God’s precepts, in his grace, and in fraternal charity. Saint Paul, a paradigm in so many areas, heeded the Saviors bidding and also became a paradigm of respect for all cultures. He sought to purify them of error, and perfect their qualities. With the Greeks he spoke Greek, and preached in the Areopagus of Athens of an ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17:23); as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37; 22:25, 27), he understood this people’s jurisprudential leaning, and spoke to them of the Law in legal terms, (cf. Rom 7:1). As a free man, he made himself a slave with the slaves; a Jew with the Jews, he made himself weak with the weak, to win them over: ‘I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it’ (1Cor 9:22–23). As Benedict XVI points out, being the Apostle to the Gentiles, he is even a prototype of the universality of the Church: ‘Paul thus appears to be at the intersection between three different cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – and perhaps partly because of this was disposed for fruitful universalistic openness, for a mediation between cultures, for true universality’ (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 27, 2008).

Which is to say, history bears witness to the fruits of the Pauline apostolate, and that of the other apostles and disciples, in the flourishing of Christian civilization. This civilization, far from “falling into a needless hallowing of our own culture,” has marked, with an array of benefits, the most varied peoples, in their multiform distinctiveness – especially in Europe and all lands receptive to its Christian influence. ‘The history of Europe shows how, at different times, there were institutions that created culture, in a fruitful synthesis of Christianity and humanism. It is sufficient to think of the role of the Benedictine monasteries and the Universities which sprung up everywhere in Europe, from Paris to Oxford, from Bologna to Krakow, from Prague to Salamanca. The institution of the family, since it is called in the salvific plan of God to be the original and first institution of education, should always reinforce its presence in these institutions that are creators of true culture’ (John Paul II. Address to the participants of the Symposium on the Family Apostolate in Europe, November 26, 1982).

And we must not overlook the ‘flowing benefits of charity,’ as Pius XII terms the emergence of such institutions as ‘hospitals, orphanages, Orders for the ransom of slaves, for the defense of pilgrims, houses for women at risk, associations to visit and console prisoners, and in more recent times, leprosariums, institutions for aiding the poor elderly, the blind, the deaf–mute, immigrants, children of prisoners, the mutilated; which are all, together with the names of their founders and associates, among the precious pearls which adorn the Mystical Body of Christ’ (Pius XII. Allocution to the delegates of the Italian National Congress of the Societies of Charity, April 22, 1952: AAS 54, 1952, p.468–469).

Clearly, then, faith is far from being fanaticism or an obstacle; it is a fruitful force behind the creation of cultural.

Francis

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When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the people of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony. Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church. We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous. While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal. The Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region” and invited “all missionaries to work in harmony with indigenous Christians so as to ensure that the faith and the life of the Church be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture” [John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania (22 November 2001), 17]. We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ. (Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, no. 117–118)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of contents

I – The normal consequence of Catholic evangelization is the formation of an eminently Christian culture, which does not shun cultural diversity, but purifies each different culture of error and evil, and elevates it to unity with the Church, as in the historic example of the evangelization of the Americas
II – Catholics must love, conserve and develop the cultural aspects which are born of the practice of the true Religion, and avoid losing them in the dialogue with non-Christian cultures
III – Europe is where the Cristian faith, received in baptism, most flourished. Thus, the Catholic culture it engendered is rooted in the Gospel. It is not exclusive, but exemplary


I – The normal consequence of Catholic evangelization is the formation of an eminently Christian culture, which does not shun cultural diversity, but purifies each different culture of error and evil, and elevates it to unity with the Church, as in the historic example of the evangelization of the Americas


Catechism of the Catholic Church
– In the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together, and such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity
– The Church, leaven and soul of human society, must carry out a process of inculturation of the Gospel in the establishment of Christian communities
– Proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up truth and goodness and to purify men and nations from error and evil

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)
– The Church, in establishing the kingdom, takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes their customs to itself, insofar as they are good, purifying, strengthening, elevating and ennobling them

Paul VI
– The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth

John Paul II
– Because of misinterpreted progressivism, many pretend to identify the Church with immobile attitudes of the past, disqualifying it as something already surpassed
– Although it is true that faith transcends all culture, there is an intimate linking between the Gospel and the achievements of humanity
– In Our Lady of Guadalupe’s face are symbolized the power and solidity of the evangelization among the diverse indigenous peoples and ethnic groups and cultures
– The first evangelization essentially marked the historic-cultural identity of Latin America
– The Church has left deep traces, which penetrate deep down in the history and character of each people
– The faith is the yeast for an authentic culture, for its dynamism promotes the realization of a balanced cultural synthesis

Pius XII
– The Catholic priests worked as missionaries to teach the Gospel to the natives, and proclaimed that the natives were to be treated as brothers by the colonists


II – Catholics must love, conserve and develop the cultural aspects which are born of the practice of the true Religion, and avoid losing them in the dialogue with non-Christian cultures


Pius XII
– True Christians should be filled with an ardent desire to see the faith take root and flourish in every land

Synod of Bishops
– A secular mentality can also be detected in the matter of religion, gradually leading people to moral relativism or religious indifference

John Paul II
-It is necessary for Catholics to adhere so firmly to the absoluteness of God that they can be witnesses to Him in a materialistic civilization that denies Him

Pontifical Council for Culture
– In dialogue with non-believers the missionary mandate of Christ must not be forgotten
– There is a rupture in the handing on the faith, intimately linked to the abandonment of a popular culture long impregnated by Christianity
– It is not only a question of grafting the faith onto these cultures, but also of revitalizing a de-Christianized world

International Theological Commission
– However great the respect should be for the cultural heritage of a people, we cannot forget the transcendence of the Gospel in relation to all human cultures in which the Christian faith has the vocation to root itself and come to fruition

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
– With great respect and attention for the traditions and culture of non-Christians, we Christians are called to bear witness to the Gospel and to proclaim it explicitly to them

Pius IX
– In these times of confusion and disorder, it is not unusual to see Christians who constantly have a word of conformity and negotiation on their lips. I do not consider them to be the lesser enemies of the Church


III – Europe is where the Cristian faith, received in baptism, most flourished. Thus, the Catholic culture it engendered is rooted in the Gospel. It is not exclusive, but exemplary


Sacred Scripture
– Go and make disciples of all nations
– Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature
-Proclaim the word; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching

John Paul II
– Cyril, Methodius, and Benedict, witnesses to different cultures, founded their civilizing work upon the Gospel
– The felicitous combination of classical culture and Christian faith with the traditions of various peoples took place in Charlemagne’s empire and developed as the spiritual and cultural legacy of Europe
– Through the centuries, Christianity has made an important contribution to the formation of the cultural heritage of peoples
– The Christian roots of Europe are the main guarantee of its future
– The European identity is incomprehensible without Christianity, where those common roots are found of its civilization, its culture, its dynamism, its activity – in a word, its glory
– The whole of Europe testifies the relationship between culture and Christianity

Benedict XVI
– Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe would be unthinkable

Pius XII
– The uncultured invaders received the blessings of the true Faith

Cardinal Angelo Sodano
– The Church and Europe are two realities intimately united, which have enriched each other with values that are not only the soul of European civilization but also part of the heritage of the whole of humanity


I – The normal consequence of Catholic evangelization is the formation of an eminently Christian culture, which does not shun cultural diversity, but purifies each different culture of error and evil, and elevates it to unity with the Church, as in the historic example of the evangelization of the Americas


Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • In the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together, and such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity

From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. “Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions” (LG 13). The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 814)

  • The Church, leaven and soul of human society, must carry out a process of inculturation of the Gospel in the establishment of Christian communities

By her very mission, “the Church … travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God” (GS 40, 2). Missionary endeavor requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ (cf. RMiss 42–47), continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are “a sign of God’s presence in the world” (AG 15), and leads to the foundation of local churches (cf. RMiss 48–49). It must involve a process of inculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each people’s culture. (cf. RMiss 52–54) There will be times of defeat. “With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that [the Church] touches and penetrates them and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic” (AG 6). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 854)

  • Proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up truth and goodness and to purify men and nations from error and evil

The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel (cf. RMiss 55). Believers can profit from this dialogue by learning to appreciate better “those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God” (AG 9). They proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and the goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil “for the glory of God, the confusion of the demon, and the happiness of man” (AG 9). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 856)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

  • The Church, in establishing the kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes their customs to itself, insofar as they are good, purifying, strengthening, elevating and ennobling them

All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled. In the beginning God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one (cf. Jn 11:52). It was for this purpose that God sent His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things (cf. Heb 1:2), that be might be teacher, king and priest of all, the head of the new and universal people of the sons of God. For this too God sent the Spirit of His Son as Lord and Life-giver. He it is who brings together the whole Church and each and every one of those who believe, and who is the well-spring of their unity in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members” (cf. S. John. Chrysos In Io. Hom. 65, 1: P. 59, 361). Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36) the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them. The Church in this is mindful that she must bring together the nations for that king to whom they were given as an inheritance (cf. Ps 2:8), and to whose city they bring gifts and offerings (cf. Ps 71:10; Is 60:4–7; Rev 21:24). This characteristic of universality which adorns the people of God is a gift from the Lord Himself. By reason of it, the Catholic Church strives constantly and with due effect to bring all humanity and all its possessions back to its source in Christ, with Him as its head and united in His Spirit. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 13, November 21, 1964)

Paul VI

  • The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth

But the danger remains. Indeed, the worker in the apostolate is under constant fire. The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth. Our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith. Our apostolate must not make vague compromises concerning the principles which regulate and govern the profession of the Christian faith both in theory and in practice. An immoderate desire to make peace and sink differences at all costs (irenism and syncretism) is ultimately nothing more than skepticism about the power and content of the Word of God which we desire to preach. The effective apostle is the man who is completely faithful to Christ’s teaching. He alone can remain unaffected by the errors of the world around him, the man who lives his Christian life to the full. (Paul VI. Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, no. 88, August 6, 1964)

John Paul II

  • Because of misinterpreted progressivism, many pretend to identify the Church with immobile attitudes of the past, disqualifying it as something already surpassed

Also among you there occurs, disgracefully, a worrisome phenomenon of de-Christianization. The serious consequences of this change of mentality and customs are not ignored by your solicitude as Pastors. The first of them is the realization of an ambience ‘in which economic well-being and consumerism…. inspire and sustain an existence lived as if there were no God’ (Christifideles laici, 34). Frequently, religious indifference installs itself in the personal and collective conscience, and for many God ceases to be the origin and the goal, the meaning and the final explanation of life. On the other hand, they are not lacking who, because of misinterpreted progressivism, pretend to identify the Church with immobile attitudes of the past. They do not have difficulty tolerating the Church as if it were the remains of an ancient culture, but they consider its message and its word irrelevant, denying it audience and disqualifying it as something already surpassed. […] Faced with this Neopaganism, the Church in Spain must respond with a renewed witness and a decided evangelizing effort which is able to create a new cultural synthesis capable of transforming, with the strength of the Gospel, ‘mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life’ (Evangelii nuntiandi, 19). (John Paul II. Address to the Bishops of the provinces of Valladolid and Valencia on their ad limina visit, no. 4.5, September 23. 1991)

  • Although it is true that faith transcends all culture, there is an intimate linking between the Gospel and the achievements of humanity

The first evangelization – whose beginning will soon reach the 500-year anniversary – shaped of the historical-cultural identity of your people (cf. Puebla, 412. 445–446); and the Catholic cultural substratum, which bears particularly the imprints of your heart and your intuition, expresses itself in the artistic creation, of which your temples, your traditional paintings, your popular art constitute such a valuable demonstration. It also expresses itself, often with touching characteristics, in the piety brought alive in popular manifestations of devotion. Although it is true that faith transcends all culture, since it manifests a happening originating in God, and not in man, this does not mean that it is on the sidelines of culture. There is an intimate linking between the Gospel and the achievements of humanity. This link is what creates culture. (John Paul II. Meeting with the World of Culture and Business in the Saint Turibius Seminary, no. 5–6, May 15, 1988)

  • In Our Lady of Guadalupe’s face are symbolized the power and solidity of the evangelization among the diverse indigenous peoples and ethnic groups and cultures

The expansion of Iberian Christendom brought to the new peoples the gift inherent in Europe’s origin and gestation – the Christian faith – with its power of humanity and its capacity of salvation, of dignity and fraternity, of justice and love for the New World. This provoked the extraordinary missionary initiative, in the transparency and incisiveness of the Christian faith, among the diverse indigenous peoples and ethnic groups, cultures and languages. The individuals and peoples of the new American miscegenation were also begotten through the novelty of the Christian faith. And in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s face are symbolized the power and solidity of this first evangelization. (John Paul II. Homily, no. 3, October 12, 1984)

  • The first evangelization essentially marked the historic-cultural identity of Latin America

A fact recorded by history is that the first evangelization essentially marked the historic-cultural identity of Latin America (Puebla, 412). Proof of this is that the Catholic faith was not uprooted from the hearts of it peoples, despite the pastoral deficiency produced in the period of independence or in the posterior hostility and persecution. (John Paul II. Homily, no. 5, October 12, 1984)

  • The Church has left deep traces, which penetrate deep down in the history and character of each people

I arrive in a continent in which the Church has left deep traces, which penetrate deep down in the history and character of each people. I come to this living portion of the Church, the most numerous one, a vital part for the future of the Catholic Church, which amid fine achievements but not without shadows, amid difficulties and sacrifices, bears witness to Christ. And today it desires to answer the challenge of the present moment, by proposing a light of hope for this life and for the next one, through its work of proclaiming the Good News which is summed up in Christ the Saviour, the Son of God and the elder Brother of men. (John Paul II. Address to the President of the Dominican Republic, January 25, 1979)

  • The faith is the yeast for an authentic culture, for its dynamism promotes the realization of a balanced cultural synthesis

The roots of the culture of your country are pervaded with the Christian message. The history of Peru has been forged by the warmth of the faith, which has inspired it, and at the same time imprinted a characteristic mark on the life and the customs of the nation. In the light of faith a new crossbred cultural synthesis was modeled which unites in itself the native American legacy and the European contribution. […] Within the immense task of evangelization to which we are called to as a Church, the evangelization of culture occupies a preferential place (cf. Puebla, 365). It should reach all of man, and all the manifestations of man, reaching the root of his very being, customs and traditions (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 20). […] To evangelize culture is to promote man in his deepest dimension. To achieve this, it is at times necessary to make evident all that which, in the light of the Gospel, attacks the dignity of the person. On the other hand, the faith is the yeast for an authentic culture, for its dynamism promotes the realization of a balanced cultural synthesis, which can only be achieved with the aid of a superior light which the faith bears. The faith offers a response of the wisdom ‘ever ancient and ever new’ which helps man to adapt, with true criteria, the means to the ends, the projects to the ideals, the actions to the moral standards that permit the restoration of the upset balance of values of today. In a word, the faith, far from being and obstacle, is a fertile force for the creation of culture. (John Paul II. Meeting with the world of culture and business at the Saint Turibius Seminary, no. 2–5, 1988)

Pius XII

  • The Catholic priests worked as missionaries to teach the Gospel to the natives, and proclaimed that the natives were to be treated as brothers by the colonists

With the discovery of the New World, Christ’s priests were the tireless companions of the men who founded colonies in those far distant lands. It was these priests who made sure that these colonists would not desert Christian ways nor become proud because of the riches acquired in the new lands. These priests also wished to move forward suitably and readily as missionaries to teach the Gospel to the natives, who previously were entirely ignorant of the Divine Light. And they zealously proclaimed that the natives were to be treated as brothers by the colonists. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia Nazarethana, August 1, 1952)


II – Catholics must love, conserve and develop the cultural aspects which are born of the practice of the true Religion, and avoid losing them in the dialogue with non-Christian cultures


Pius XII

  • True Christians should be filled with an ardent desire to see the faith take root and flourish in every land

Zeal for missionary activity and the Catholic spirit are one and the same. A principal note of the Church is catholicity; consequently, a man is no true member of the Church unless he is likewise a true member of the entire body of Christian believers and is filled with an ardent desire to see her take root and flourish in every land (Discorsi e radiomessaggi, 8, 328). (Pius XII. Encyclical Fidei Donum, no. 44, April 21, 1957)

Synod of Bishops

  • A secular mentality can also be detected in the matter of religion, gradually leading people to moral relativism or religious indifference

Indeed, in the piety of the people of America there are oftentimes many elements at odds with Christianity. These elements occasionally lead to a syncretism constructed on the basis of popular beliefs, or, in some cases, they cause believers to become disoriented and easily led astray by sects or para-religious movements. […] A secular mentality can also be detected in the matter of religion. Such an attitude is gradually leading people to moral relativism or religious indifference. […] The increasing religious indifference leads to the loss of the sense of God and of His holiness, which, in turn, is translated into a loss of a sense of the sacred, of mystery and of the capacity for wonder. These are human dispositions which predispose a person to dialogue and to an encounter with God. Such indifference almost inevitably leads to a false moral autonomy and a secularistic life-style which excludes God. (Synod of Bishops. Lineamenta, Special Assembly for America, no 18–19, August 1, 1996)

John Paul II

  • It is necessary for Catholics to adhere so firmly to the absoluteness of God that they can be witnesses to Him in a materialistic civilization that denies Him

Christians today must be formed to live in a world which largely ignores God or which, in religious matters, in place of an exacting and fraternal dialogue, stimulating for all, too often flounders in a debasing indifferentism, if it does not remain in a scornful attitude of “suspicion” in the name of the progress it has made in the field of scientific “explanations.” To “hold on” in this world, to offer to all a “dialogue of salvation” (cf. Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam) in which each person feels respected in his or her most basic dignity, the dignity of one who is seeking God, we need a catechesis which trains the young people and adults of our communities to remain clear and consistent in their faith, to affirm serenely their Christian and Catholic identity, to “see him who is invisible” (cf. Heb. 11:27) and to adhere so firmly to the absoluteness of God that they can be witnesses to Him in a materialistic civilization that denies Him. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Catechesi tradendae, no. 57, October 16, 1979)

Pontifical Council for Culture

  • In dialogue with non-believers the missionary mandate of Christ must not be forgotten

Dialogue with non-believers and the pastoral approach to unbelief spring from the twofold mandate given to the Church to announce the Gospel to people and to cultures: “go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to every being” (Mk 16:15), and “go teach all nations” in (Mt 28:19). This missionary task belongs to the whole Church without exceptions. It can not be separated from the whole life of the Church, nor is it a specialised activity to be entrusted to a few experts. The mission is transversal and includes catechism and teaching, liturgy and ordinary pastoral activity in families and parishes, seminaries and universities. […] Without the dynamism which springs from a lived-out faith, any pastoral proposal would remain void of apostolic value. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Concluding document of the Plenary Assembly 2004. Where is your God? Responding to the challenge and unbelief and religious indifference today, II, March 13, 2004)

  • There is a rupture in the handing on the faith, intimately linked to the abandonment of a popular culture long impregnated by Christianity

In fact, in the vast cultural areas where the majority do belong to the Church, there is a rupture in the handing on the faith, intimately linked to the process of abandonment of a popular culture long attached to and impregnated by Christianity. It is important to take into consideration the factors that condition this process of distancing, of weakening, and of obscuring the faith in the transforming cultural milieus where Christians dwell, in order to present some concrete pastoral propositions to respond to the challenges of the new evangelisation. For the cultural habitat, where one lives, influences one’s ways of thinking and of behaving, one’s values and criteria of judgement, and it also raises questions at once difficult and decisive. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Concluding document of the Plenary Assembly 2004. Where is your God? Responding to the challenge and unbelief and religious indifference today, no. 1, March 13, 2004)

  • It is not only a question of grafting the faith onto these cultures, but also of revitalizing a de-Christianized world

Thus, it is not only a question of grafting the faith onto these cultures, but also of revitalizing a de-Christianized world whose only Christian references are of a cultural nature. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, the Church throughout the world is faced with new cultural situations, new fields of evangelization. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Towards a pastoral approach to culture, no. 1)

International Theological Commission

  • However great the respect should be for the cultural heritage of a people, we cannot forget the transcendence of the Gospel in relation to all human cultures in which the Christian faith has the vocation to root itself and come to fruition

We cannot, however, forget the transcendence of the Gospel in relation to all human cultures in which the Christian faith has the vocation to root itself and come to fruition according to all its potentialities. However great the respect should be for what is true and holy in the cultural heritage of a people, this attitude does not demand that one should lend an absolute character to this cultural heritage. No one can forget that, from the beginning, the Gospel was a “scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the pagans” (1Cor 1:23). Inculturation which borrows the way of dialogue between religions cannot in any way pledge itself to syncretism. (International Theological Commission. Faith and inculturation, no. 14, December 1988)

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

  • With great respect and attention for the traditions and culture of non-Christians, we Christians are called to bear witness to the Gospel and to proclaim it explicitly to them

In contemporary society, to which migration contributes by making it more and more multiethnic, intercultural and multireligious, Christians are called to face a substantially new and fundamental chapter in the missionary task: that of being missionary in countries of long Christian tradition (cf. PaG 65 and 68). With great respect and attention for the migrants’ traditions and culture, we Christians are called to bear witness to the gospel of love and peace in our dealings with them and also to proclaim the Word of God explicitly to them so that the blessing of the Lord, promised to Abraham and his descendants for ever, may reach them. (Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Instruction Egra migrantes caritas Christi, no. 100, May 3, 2004)

Pius IX

  • In these times of confusion and disorder, it is not unusual to see Christians who constantly have a word of conformity and negotiation on their lips. I do not consider them to be the lesser enemies of the Church

In these times of confusion and disorder, it is not unusual to see Christians, Catholics – even within the secular clergy and cloisters – who constantly have a word of conformity, of conciliation and negotiation on their lips. Very well! I do not hesitate to declare: these men are in error, and do not consider them to be the lesser enemies of the Church. We live in a corrupt and pestilent atmosphere and we must know how to preserve ourselves from it. Let us not allow ourselves to be contaminated by false doctrines, which lose all things under the pretext of saving all. (Pius IX. Address in the Church of Aracoeli, September 17, 1861)


III – Europe is where the Cristian faith, received in baptism, most flourished. Thus, the Catholic culture it engendered is rooted in the Gospel. It is not exclusive, but exemplary


Sacred Scripture

  • Go and make disciples of all nations

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Mt 28:19–20)

  • Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature

He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ (Mk 16:15–16)

  • Proclaim the word; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. (2Tim 4:1–2)

John Paul II

  • Cyril, Methodius, and Benedict, witnesses to different cultures, founded their civilizing work upon the Gospel

Saint Benedict, giant of the faith and of civilization, in a society shaken by a tremendous crisis of values and institutions, affirmed with the strength of his formative work the primacy of the spirit, thus defending the personal dignity of man, as a child of God, and the dignity of work, understood as a service to his brethren. Starting with this affirmation of the superior needs of man, Saint Benedict, through the silent and efficacious work of his monks, filled with Christian meaning the life and culture of the European peoples. […] Impelled by the same ideals, and encouraged toward the same ends as the Patriarch of the West, the two great brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, from the East, worked in the history and in the culture of the Slav peoples in the midst of the 9th Century. Having been formed in Constantinople, they brought with them the contribution of the ancient Greek culture and of the tradition of the Oriental Church, which, in this way, was deeply inserted into the religious and civil formation of the peoples who have collaborated in a relevant manner in the construction of modern Europe. Cyril and Methodius, as Benedict, witnesses to different cultures, which in them are ideally found and integrated, founded their civilizing work upon the Gospel and the values that emanate from it. This identical proclamation has been an instrument of reciprocal knowledge and of union between the different peoples of Europe, assuring it of a common spiritual and cultural patrimony. (John Paul II. Address to the pilgrims of Croatia and Slovenia, no. 3–4, March 21, 1981)

  • The felicitous combination of classical culture and Christian faith with the traditions of various peoples took place in Charlemagne’s empire and developed as the spiritual and cultural legacy of Europe

Indeed, the King of the Franks, who established Aachen as the capital of his kingdom, made an essential contribution to the political and cultural foundations of Europe and therefore deserved the nickname Pater Europae (father of Europe) that his contemporaries gave him. The felicitous combination of classical culture and Christian faith with the traditions of various peoples took place in Charlemagne’s empire and developed in various forms down the centuries as the spiritual and cultural legacy of Europe. Even if modern Europe presents in many aspects a new reality, we can nevertheless recognize the highly symbolic value of the historical figure of Charlemagne. […] My special thanks go to those who have put all their efforts at the service of building the common European House on the foundations of the values passed on by the Christian faith as well as on those of Western culture. (John Paul II. Address on the occasion of the reception of the International Charlemagne Prize, no. 2.3, March 24, 2004)

  • Through the centuries, Christianity has made an important contribution to the formation of the cultural heritage of peoples

I avail myself of this occasion to reflect with you on the specific contribution which Christians, as men and women of culture and learning, are called to make to the further growth of a true humanism in your Nation, as part of the great family of peoples. The task of the Christian in fact is to spread the light of the Gospel throughout society, and hence also in the world of culture. Through the centuries, Christianity has made an important contribution to the formation of the cultural heritage of the Croatian people. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, therefore, there should be no lack of new and vital energies, ready to give fresh impulse to the promotion and development of the cultural heritage of the Nation, in full fidelity to its Christian roots. (John Paul II. Message to the World of culture and learning, Zagreb, October 3, 1998)

  • The Christian roots of Europe are the main guarantee of its future

The “Good News” was and continues to be a source of life for Europe. If it is true that Christianity cannot be restricted to any particular culture but converses with each one, to help them all to express their best qualities in every field of knowledge and human action, then the Christian roots of Europe are the main guarantee of its future. Could a tree that had no roots grow and develop? Europe, do not forget your history! (John Paul II. Homily, no. 3, June 28, 2003)

  • The European identity is incomprehensible without Christianity, where those common roots are found of its civilization, its culture, its dynamism, its activity – in a word, its glory

All of Europe has discovered itself around the ‘memory’ of Santiago, in the same centuries in which it was being constructed as a spiritually and homogeneously united continent. For this reason, Goethe himself would insinuate that European consciousness was born on pilgrimage. The pilgrimage to Santiago was one of the strong elements favoring mutual comprehension among Europeans as diverse as the Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Slavonic peoples. The pilgrimage brought together, connected and united amongst themselves those people who, century after century, convinced by the preaching of Christ’s witnesses, embraced the Gospel and, contemporaneously, we could affirm, emerged as peoples and nations. The history of the European nations’ formation runs alongside its evangelization; to such an extent that the European frontiers coincide with those of the inroads made by the Gospel. After twenty centuries of history, despite the bloody conflicts that the peoples of Europe had to face, and despite the spiritual crises that have marked the life of the continent – to the point of posing, to the consciousness of our times, grave questions as to its future – it ought to be affirmed that the European identity is incomprehensible without Christianity, and it is precisely in it that those common roots are found, from which have matured the civilization of the continent, its culture, its dynamism, its activity, its capacity for constructive expansion in the other continents as well; in a word, all that constitutes its glory.

And even in our day, the soul of Europe remains united because, besides its common origin, it has identical Christian and human values. (John Paul II. Address in Santiago de Compostela, no. 2–3, November 9, 1982)

  • The whole of Europe testifies the relationship between culture and Christianity

Certainly it would not be exaggerating to affirm in particular, that through a multitude of deeds, the whole of Europe – from the Atlantic to the Urals – testifies, in the history of each nation, and in that of the entire community, the relationship between culture and Christianity. (John Paul II. Address to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, June 2, 1980)

Benedict XVI

  • Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe would be unthinkable

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a place tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism’s historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. […] Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. (Benedict XVI. Meeting with the representatives from the World of culture, Collège des Bernardins, Paris, September 12, 2008)

Pius XII

  • The uncultured invaders received the blessings of the true Faith

Equally noble were the vigorous ardent labors of bishops and priests who sought to bring to newcomers the blessings of the true Faith and to introduce them into the social customs of these new countries. They also facilitated the assimilation of the uncultured invaders whom they introduced both to the Christian religion and to a new culture. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia Nazarethana, August 1, 1952)

Cardinal Angelo Sodano

  • The Church and Europe are two realities intimately united, which have enriched each other with values that are not only the soul of European civilization but also part of the heritage of the whole of humanity

The Church and Europe are two realities intimately united in their being and destiny. Together they have journeyed down the centuries and are marked by the same history. In their meeting they have enriched each other with values that are not only the soul of European civilization but also part of the heritage of the whole of humanity. […] Young people of Europe, this is the challenge before you! You must give to the Europe of today the hope that you carry within you. Of course, it is not a question of creating a parallel Europe to the existing one but of showing this Europe that its soul and identity are deeply rooted in Christianity, in order to offer Europe the key to interpreting its specific vocation in the world. European unity will be lasting and fruitful if it is based on the human and Christian values that pervade its common soul, such as the dignity of the human person, a deep sense of justice and freedom, dedication to work, the spirit of initiative, love of the family, respect for life, tolerance, and a desire for cooperation and peace. (Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Homily at the closing Mass of the European Meeting of Young People, Santiago de Compostela, August 8, 1999)


Discover another innovation:

kasperCan the doctrinal unity of the Church be denied in individual circumstances?

One thought on ““The Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal”

  1. Respect all cultures except the Catholic Culture seems to be Francis’s aim in life. Open churches to Muslims, let rock music be sung in St. Peter’s, abolish protocols, speak in ordinary language, dress in an untidy cassock, preach revolt to the youth…. and so on and so on…. And all this done by a man who says cultures should not be changed. What does he think he is doing to our Catholic culture…. All this make me wonder…. where is this all going to end up? Thank you Fathers for showing us Catholics, that there still exist true priests of God in the church, proof that God will not abandon us.

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