CULTURES AND THE GOSPEL: BOTH UNDERSTANDING AND INTENSITY
Thanasis N. Papathanasiou
There is a basic tenet of Christianity: whenever God addresses man, he speaks the language of his interlocutor. Any kind of language. And of course the highest act of this position is the incarnation of Christ itself. God himself is "translated", "formulated" in the facts of man and in the realities of human civilization. This implies a lot, but above all a Christian paradox, with which anyone who sees civilizations without accepting the metaphysical content of the Christian faith will certainly not agree.
By Christian paradox I mean the following triptych:
Firstly. Something that is not a product of culture (that is, the life of God), is addressed to man. Addressed to man, it is addressed formulated (incarnated) to the facts of man and his culture - the culture of the interlocutor.
Secondly. When what has been expressed by God to man, people need to take it further, to other people (witness), we take it already incarnate. We can't leave it fleshless. The issue, however, is to take it in such a way that, where we take it, a new incarnation takes place.
Thirdly. This is precisely where the great temptation arises: For someone to think that an incarnation (obviously the incarnation in his own terms) is the end or to be excited by the beauty of a particular incarnation and to believe that revelation and the language of revelation are identical, and that the cultural flesh is divine truth. In this case, the process of further incarnations stops.
In the Christian approach to civilization, therefore, we have a dipole, which can never be resolved, and it will be a disaster if it is resolved so that only one pole remains. The dipole is, on the one hand, the affirmation of culture (general objective) and on the other, the tension between the gospel and culture. Affirmation is not a concession; it is something really important. I repeat that what God has to give to man is not formulated, except through the realities of man and his culture. At the same time, however, we have an uninterrupted tension. There is, in other words, a mistrust between living faith and culture. Why; Because civilization and its beautiful achievements can exist without living faith. Even in cultural realities that were born of living faith, this faith can at some point cease to exist, evaporate, end. But the beautiful cultural good, which was once created by faith, continues to exist without it. This is a problem for the Christian conscience. Nothing – not even a high cultural achievement – can replace faith in the living God.
We move continuously in this dichotomy, which cannot and should not be resolved. See, characteristically, some simple truths. Cultural identity is inherited, but faith is not. What can be inherited is the cultural footprint of faith and the invitation to faith. Not faith as such. If, for example, some parents live their faith in their practical reality, if they live it as a way of life with manifestations of culture, then they give an invitation to their children for faith. But the conversion of the new person to faith is a personal sport and achievement. And for this reason, the first dialogue, the fundamental dialogue in my opinion, is the dialogue between the metaphysical faith of Christianity and the phenomenon of civilization. And in fact, I use the word "culture" in the singular incorrectly. There is no culture as if it were one thing. There are only cultures (in the plural), cultural creations. The relationship between Christianity and cultures means continuous compositions. Fragile compositions, that is, compositions that can either crack, or have no continuity, or have continuity but no longer make sense.
Read more in ANTHIVOLA, issue 2