Vatican II View of Culture and Its Implications for Peace

By Felix Wilfred

One way for theology to contribute to peace is to take further the important teaching of Vatican II on culture and draw out its implications for the promotion of peace. The colonial period was characterized by an evolutionary and hierarchical understanding of culture. Accordingly, some cultures were viewed as superior and developed, whereas others — those of the colonized peoples — were looked down as inferior and needing development. Thanks to the contribution of anthropological studies, Vatican II refused to entertain any such evolutionary and hierarchical understanding of culture. Rather, it saw cultures as a deeply human reality, each one with its own unique characteristics.

What we have, then, are a plurality of cultures, every one of them different, but none of them superior or inferior to others. I think the plurality of cultures so clearly acknowledged and affirmed by the Council cannot be deployed only to contexualize Christianity. Vatican II, after having presented a larger and humanistic view of culture, turned it to the advantage of the Church for its programme of inculturation. But the point is culture has a larger role to play in humanizing the world and society and in fostering mutual understanding. It offers among other things ways and means to resolve differences in human and societal relationships. Promotion of peace at the local level needs to be nourished by these sources and latch on to the concrete strategies each culture has devised and transmitted from generation to generation. The local culture may have also important lessons for the construction of peace in other societies and at the global level.

Culture and Theology of Creation

A theology from above would view culture in relation to economy of salvation. Culture needs to conform to God’s Word, instead of God’ Word coming in encounter with culture, some would argue. On the other hand, a theology of creation would view culture as a reality of human collective life and having value in itself: If God acts through human agency and medium in different areas of life, this applies as well to the case of peace. The evil of violence is caused by human beings, and God brings about peace through the same human beings by letting them use positive means and ways at their disposal. If violence and conflicts have existed from the beginning of humanity, the same humanity has also found the means to resolve conflicts and bring to an end hatred and violence.

Human interrelationships and encounters are shaped by culture, and the ways in which people relate are culturally embedded. It is easy then to understand why when ruptures take place in these relationships and manifests themselves in conflicts and violence, the same culture is crucial in bringing about healing touch, reconciliation and peace. Thus it makes sense to investigate the cultural potential among every people for cessation of hostilities and entry into a process of peace and reconciliation.

Mystical Approach to Culture – Way to Peace

I already referred to Nicholas of Cusa. In his work “Peace of Faith”, he sees harmony of religions resulting from a vision. It is remarkable that at a time of great religious conflicts, he was able to relate the warring religions from a mystical perspective and see their ultimate unity.

It happened that after several days – perhaps because of long continued meditation—a vision was revealed to this zealous man. From it he concluded that of a few wise men familiar from their own experience with all such differences which are observed in religions throughout the world, a single easy harmony could be found and through it a lasting peace established by appropriate and true means.1)

Today, even as we try to deepen the mystical dimension called for in inter-religious understanding, we need to also see the mystical dimension in the plurality of cultures, and in the harmony of cultures. Mysticism breaks the barriers, borders and leads us to see greater unity, and it has the power to make us see things in a different light.

That applies to different cultures. They do not become rivals, but are _ bonded together as manifold expressions of a single humanity united with the divine mystery. The sense of unity and harmony helps us also discover in each culture, though circumscribed by particularities of geography and history, something that surpasses these, something “that relates it at a different plane with other cultures. It helps us learn how each culture promotes and sustains peace, and the resources it . possesses for this goal. This mystical vision of cultures could be assisted by such concrete practices as inter-cultural communication.

Ref:

1) Nicholas of Cusa, De Pace Fidei (1453) chapter I.

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