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2. The Working Definitions of Inculturation ( Inculturation in Actions)
The first assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences in April, 1974 spoke of an indigenous and inculturated Church. But the 32nd Congregation of the Society of Jesus in 1975 used the actual word “inculturation” in its texts and included a decree on inculturation. In response to this decree, the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe issued a letter to the whole Society on the subject of incultuation on 15 April, 1978. The word “incultuaration” first appeared a papal document of Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae in 1979. The concept — a neologism — designates the process of incarnating the Christian message and faith into a particular culture. Attempts to offer a befitting definition of inculturation must take into account the following: first, the historical background and development of the concept in ecclesiastical circles; second, the concept’s analogical application as compared to similar concepts in the social sciences whence it was coined.
With its history akin to the call for “aggiornamento,” inculturation has been linked to popular terms like cultural adaptation, localization and indigenization, contextualization, enculturation, acculturation, and to some extent also transculturation and deculturation. Each of these terms refers to a particular relationship between liturgy and culture and idea of interaction between and among two or more cultures. According to Edward Burnette Tylor, culture is defined as “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and many other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Marcello de Carvalho Azevedo’s definition of culture underscores the general understanding of culture as follows: 1) culture is a creation of a community of people; 2) culture is historically constituted, and transcends a community of people; 3) though imbued with stability, culture precipitates change in society; 4) Culture thrives and improves itself through contact with other cultures and the ensuing cultural osmosis.” Rooted in these general understanding are the following metaphors – “indigenization,” “incarnation,” “adaptation, “accommodation” and “acculturation,” all of which foreground “inculturation.”
Indigenization, derived from the word “indigenous,” refers to the process of conferring on Christian liturgy a cultural form that is native to a local community. Duraiswami Simon Amalorpavadass advanced the use of this term in the liturgy in the 1970’s. According to Anscar Chupungco, what Amalorpavadass really meant was “adaptation” of the Christian liturgy in the framework of the culture of India. In this regard, Chupungco explained that indigenization aims “to give to our liturgy a more Indian setting and complexion and for Chupungo “indigenization” is another word for “Indianization.”
Incarnation is Vatican II’s variation of adaptation. Article 10 of Ad Gentes states that: “As Christ became a Jew in all things save sin, so the Church should become not merely a Church but the Church of a particular locality by virtue of Christ’s incarnation” Incarnation, both as a Christian mystery and a technical term, enriches our understanding of the concept of adaptation. Incarnation takes place when the church and its liturgy embody a community’s culture. As a technical term, incarnation gives depth to adaptation, which is often understood as a work of external adjustment to conformity with a situation. For Ruy Costa, incarnation implies that liturgical forms develop from within the experience of the local church.
The term ‘adaptation’ is the process of integration of the Gospel values into a particular culture. According to Schineller, Pope John Paul II supported the Church’s position on its use when he states: “An adaptation of the Christian life in the fields of pastoral, ritual, didactic and spiritual activities is not only possible, it is even favored by the Church” Adaptation and accommodation are more often applied to the liturgical renewal and reform initiated in the Sacrosanctum Concilium. Adaptations “impart an even increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faith” and “strengthen whatever can help to call” God’s people “into the Church’s fold.” Accommodation is more radical, and concerns elements from the traditions and genius of individual people which could be appropriately admitted into divine worship. Accommodation requires a lot more maturity, time and effort by ecclesiastical authorities.
Acculturation, according to Aylward Shorter is, “the encounter between one culture and another, or the encounter between cultures in mutual respect and tolerance.” But he strongly states that the encounter happens on an external basis which may lead to juxtaposition of unassimilated cultural expression coming from various directions or origins.” Nevertheless, an encounter between cultures is a process that starts with external contact. Shorter gives clear utterance to one of the basic principles of cultural anthropology, when he affirms that “acculturation is a necessary for inculturation.” This process implies the presence of multiple cultures or cultural realities. This, therefore, may be used in analogy for the process whereby the church, introducing the gospel and faith into a culture, assumes traits and values from the culture, both as communicative vehicles and wealth for itself, thus unfolding more and more its universal character.
Azevedo defines inculturation as “the dynamic relation between the Christian message and culture or cultures; an insertion of the Christian life into a culture, an on-going process of reciprocal and critical interaction and assimilation between them.” Crollius also defines inculturation as “the integration of the Christian experience of a local Church into the culture of its people and becoming a force to animate, orient and innovate the same culture into a new unity and communion.”
According to Shorter, inculturation is “the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures.” Chupungco defines liturgical inculturation as “the process of inserting the texts and rites of the liturgy into the frame work of the local culture.” Shorter and Chupungco’s definitions emphasize inculturation as a process, privileging the concept’s pastoral nature.

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