Several Catholic news outlets have recently announced the beginning of former Jesuit superior general, Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s, cause for canonization. His influence on the Society of Jesus immediately after Vatican II was and remains significant but I believe, also extends far beyond the many Jesuit apostolates and initiatives he began. On the feast of Pentecost in 1978, he wrote a letter to all members of the Society about inculturation which contains a definition of inculturation that almost every contemporary work on liturgical inculturation employ or at least makes mention of:
…inculturation is the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular cultural context, in such a way that this experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs and unifies the culture, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about “a new creation.”
His definition has undoubtedly become timeless. However, I also sometimes wonder if its has overshadowed the rest of the points he makes in the letter which most certainly continue to deserve our attention.
First, there is his insistence on the universality of inculturation. Most theologians would agree that inculturation is not only for non-westerners or ethnic groups. However, I’m don’t think the church today has figured out what that means or should look like in practice yet. Second, the “necessary attitudes” for inculturation he proposes are steeped in Ignatian Spirituality, but I’d also argue, are uniquely suited to a postmodern age of uncertainty and great change. Lastly, his thoughts on “internal consequences” continue to be challenging. He recognizes that inculturation is a process that will demand changes within ourselves. Inculturation does not simply mean a change for the “other” in a particular context; rather, that change must effect us individually, which in turn will bring change to the universal church that is bound together by the Holy Spirit despite differences and particularities.
Here is a link to the complete letter.
If all goes well, perhaps Fr Arrupe could be a patron saint of inculturation. Wouldn’t that be neat! Fr. Arrupe, pray for us!