Roman Catholic Contextualization

It has been said that up until recently western missions has been a process of cultural domination – i.e. westernization. Although there is a ring of truth to this, we know that the Vatican sent out instructions to its missionaries, through the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith, in 1659 instructing it missionaries not to attempt to turn indigenous people into “western Christians” rather they ought to bring the gospel to bear upon those people’s manners, customs, and culture.

Do not regard it as your task, and do not bring any pressure to bear on peoples, to change their manner, customs, and uses, unless they are evidently contrary to religion and sound morals. What could be more absurd than to transport France, Spain, Italy, or some other European country to China? Do not introduce all that to them, but only the faith, which does not despise or destroy the manners and customs of any people, always supposing that they are not evil, but rather wishes to see them preserved unharmed…. Do not draw invidious contrasts between the customs of the people and those of Europe; to your utmost to adapt yourself to them.

Don’t destroy the manners and customs of any people… Don’t transport European culture into the faith. Allow the people to preserve their customs, do your most to adapt to their way of life. Our churches would do well to take heed of this 17th century document as we try to reach the post-Christian culture around us.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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