Fides et Ratio and Asian Philosophies: Sharing the Banquet of Truth

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Imagine that you have been unexpectedly invited to a banquet by an illustrious host. In esteem of your national cuisine, dishes from your country will be served. The honor of the invitation is all the greater and the more surprising as your own foods had long been regarded if not by the host then by the host’s institution as tasteless, indigestible, and even poisonous. Consequently, you look forward with excitement to an evening of sparkling conversation, exotic foods and drinks, and truth to tell, not a little bit curious whether your ethnic foods prepared by foreigners will be authentic. I suspect that the banquet metaphor is not inappropriate for the encyclical; after all the most famous philosophical dialogue is called The Symposium (“drinking together”). Even the letter invites such an analogy when it recalls the words of Pseudo-Epiphanius’ homily about Mary: “the table at which faith sits in thought” [he noera tes pisteos trapeza] (no. 108).1

This essay intends to examine how Fides et Ratio (FR) describes the encounter between the host—the author of the encyclical—and one of the guests—Asian philosophies. I will first expound what FR says about Asia’s philosophies and religious teachers. Secondly, I will evaluate whetherFR’s statements are accurate. Finally, I will ask whether something more could and should have been said about the encounter between Christian faith and Asian cultures that would make the conversation between the host and his guests more mutually enriching and the banquet a memorable event.

Greeting and Introductions: What FR Says About Asian Philosophies?

Before examining what FR has to say about Asian philosophies, it would be helpful to give a brief overview of its contents. The encyclical is composed of an introduction entitled “Know Yourself” (1-6) and seven chapters, entitled successively as “The Revelation of God’s Wisdom” (7-15), “Credo ut intellegam” (16-23), "Intellego ut credam" (24‑35), "Relationship between Faith and Reason" (36­-48), "Magisterium's Interventions in Philosophical Matters" (49‑63),"Interac­tion between Philosophy and Theology" (64‑79), and "Current Requirements and Tasks" (80‑99). The encyclical concludes (100‑108) with appeals to philoso­phers, theologians, seminary professors, and scientists to "look more deeply at man, whom Christ has saved in the mystery of his love, and at the human being's unceasing search for truth and meaning" (107). From the titles of the chapters, it is clear that the heart of the encyclical lies in the affirmation of the harmony between reason and faith and of the possibility of arriving at certain truths through the use of reason as well as the acceptance of divine revelation. It is in the context of the quest for truth that FR discusses Asian philosophies and urges a dialogue between them and Christian theologians.

Parties often begin with greetings and introduction of the guests by the host. Appropriately, FRopens by introducing "East and West" to each other in their common journey in quest for truth (no. 1). By my counting, there are six signifi­cant references, direct and indirect, in FR to Asian philosophies. This is of course not the first time that John Paul II discusses Asian religions and philosophies, but FR's remarks about Asian philosophies are made in the context of the rela­tionship between faith and reason, and more specifically, of the encounter be­tween Christianity and Asian philosophies.

The first reference occurs when FR claims that people in different parts of the world with diverse cultures have dealt with the same fundamental issues such as "Who am I?" (anthropology), "Where have I come from and where am I going?" (cosmology), "Why is there, evil?" (theodicy), and "What is there after this life?" (eschatology). As evidence FR invokes the sacred texts of Hinduism (the Veda) and of Zoroastrianism (the Avesta), the writings of Confucius and Lao Tzu, and the preaching of Tirkhankara and the Buddha (no. 1).

The second reference is found in FR's remark that philosophy has exerted a powerful influence not only in the formation and development of the cultures of the West but also on "the ways of understanding existence in the East" (no. 3).

The third reference takes place in the context of FR's discussion of agnosti­cism and relativism. Lamenting the fact that a legitimate pluralism of philo­sophical positions has led to an undifferentiated pluralism which assumes that all positions are equally valid and therefore betrays "lack of confidence in truth," FR goes on to say that "even certain conceptions of life coming from the East betray this lack of confidence, denying truth its exclusive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doctrines even if they contradict one another" (no. 5).

The fourth reference occurs when FR explains the three stances of philosophy vis‑à‑vis Christian revelation, that is, a philosophy completely independent of the Gospel, Christian philosophy, and philosophy as ancilla theologiae (no. 75).3 Asian philosophies are said to belong to the first category because they were elaborated in "regions as yet untouched by the Gospel" and because they aspire to be "an autonomous enterprise, obeying its own rules and employing the pow­ers of reason alone." This does not mean that they are cut off from grace, since "as a search for truth within the natural order, the enterprise of philosophy is always open—at least implicitly—to the supernatural" (no. 75).

The fifth reference is made in FR's recommendation that Christian philoso­phers develop "a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine revelation declares" (no. 104). This philosophy is all the more necessary today since "the most press­ing issues facing humanity—ecology, peace, and the coexistence of different races and cultures, for instance—may possibly find a solution if there is a clear and honest collaboration between Christians and the followers of other reli­gions" (no. 104).

The last and by far the most important reference to Asian philosophies is given in the context of FR's discussion of the encounter between the Gospel and cultures, or to use a neologism, inculturation. Since the text touches the core of our theme, it is appropriate to cite it in full:

In preaching the Gospel, Christianity first encountered Greek philosophy; but this does not mean at all that other approaches are precluded. Today, as the Gospel gradually comes into contact with cultural worlds, which once lay beyond Christian influence, there are new tasks of inculturation, which means that our generation faces problems not unlike those faced by the church in the first centuries.

My first thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among these lands, India has a spe­cial place. A great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience, which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value. The dynamic of this quest for liberation provides the context for great metaphysical systems.

In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith in order to enrich Christian thought. In this work of discernment, which finds its inspiration from the council's declaration Nostra Aetate, certain criteria will have to be kept in mind. The first of these is the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same in the dispar­ate cultures.

The second, which derives from the first, is this: In engaging great cultures for the first time, the church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco‑ Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God, who guides the church down the paths of time and his­tory. This criterion is valid for the church of every age, even for the church of the future, who will judge herself enriched by all that comes from today's engagement with Eastern cultures and will find in this inheritance fresh cues for fruitful dialogue with the cultures, which will emerge as humanity moves into the future.

Third, care will need to be taken lest, contrary to the very nature of the human spirit, the legitimate defense of the uniqueness and originality of Indian thought be confused with the idea that a particular cultural tradition should remain closed in its difference and affirm itself by opposing other traditions.

What has been said here of India is no less true for the heritage of the great cul­tures of China, Japan and the other countries of Asia, as also for the riches of the traditional cultures of Africa, which are for the most part orally transmitted (no. 72).

It would be useful to highlight and comment upon some of the more impor­tant points FRmakes in this lengthy excerpt. First of all, the interaction between philosophy and theology is here seen in the context of inculturation of Christian­ity into the local cultures. There is recognized the necessity for Asian Christians to develop a philosophy by which their cultures may "open themselves to the newness of the Gospel's truth and to be stirred by this truth to develop in new ways" (no. 71).

Secondly, of the cultures of Asia "so rich in religious and philosophical tradi­tions of great antiquity," FR singles out that of India which is said to be endowed with "a great spiritual impulse" and whose quest for the liberation of "the spirit from the shackles of time and space" provides the context for "great metaphysi­cal systems."

Thirdly, it is incumbent upon Indian Christians to draw from their rich cul­tural resources elements compatible with the Christian faith in order to enrich the Christian thought. It is interesting to note that FR sees inculturation as a reciprocal process, with Christian faith and theology not unilaterally enriching local cultures but being enriched by them as well.

Fourthly, in order for inculturation to reach this goal, certain criteria must be observed, and FRenumerates three:

(1) The first criterion is "the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same in the most disparate cultures." By "universality of the human spirit" FR presumably means not only that certain fundamental philosophical and theological themes have been addressed by all cultures such as the nature of the self, the origin of the world, the problem of evil, and the eternal destiny of the individual (no. 1) but also that humans, despite their cultural diversities, can and should communicate with each other. In other words, FR indirectly rejects the theory of incommensurability of some pluralists according to which hu­mans are so socially situated that genuine mutual understanding and judgment of another person's culture and values is logically impossible. As to the "basic needs" of the human spirit, FR does not elaborate on them, but in light of what FR has said elsewhere, these needs include the "need to reflect upon truth" (no. 6), and more specifically, the "truth of being" (no. 5).4 In addition, there is the need to formulate the certitudes arrived at in a rigorous and coherent way into a "systematic body of knowledge" (no. 4) and to proclaim them to others.

(2) The second criterion is that the church cannot "abandon what she has gained from its inculturation in the world of Greco‑Latin thought." To reject this heritage, according to FR, is to "deny the providential plan of God, who guides the church down the paths of time and history."FR does not explain what it means when it says that Asian Christians cannot abandon what the church has gained from its encounter with the Greco‑Latin heritage. Does it mean that Asians should not impugn the valid and true contributions that Western cultures have made to the church's understanding and expression of Christian faith, then of course, no Asian Christian should do so. But does FR mean to say that Asians are required to make use of Western philosophical cat­egories such as person and nature to develop a Trinitarian theology, or the lan­guage of hypostatic union to elaborate a Christology? It does not seem likely since earlier FR has declared that "the proclamation of the Gospel in different cultures allows people to preserve their own cultural identity" and that "no one culture can ever become the criterion of judgment, much less the ultimate crite­rion of truth with regard to God's revelation" (no. 71).5

Furthermore, since it is also part of the plan of divine providence that the Gospel be inculturated into the Asian soil, FR explicitly says that the fruits of this encounter will become in their turn "fresh cues for fruitful dialogue with the cultures which will emerge as humanity moves into the future." The ques­tion to be raised is whether there are institutional channels whereby these newly‑ forged philosophies in Asia will be used to formulate future magisterial teachings, papal and otherwise, for the universal church and not remain just a local curiosity, whereas the categories of Western philosophies continue to dominate the church's theology and are imposed on the church in other parts of the world through magisterial documents.6

(3) The third criterion is a corollary of the first. FR cautions that given the uni­versality of the human spirit, one culture cannot close itself off from other cul­tures in the name of its "uniqueness" and "originality." There is however an ironic twist to this warning. Whereas Western culture has long regarded itself so unique and original that it considered itself superior to and normative for all other cultures, now the cultures of Asia are seen as being more liable to this chauvinistic temptation.

Wrong Names and Mistaken Identities: Would Asian Philosophies Recognize Themselves as Depicted by FR?

At parties, nametags are often provided for guests to identify themselves. But sometimes things go wrong since names may be misspelled, the host may be confused about the identities of the guests, and some of these may wander around without being recognized. With reference to FR, the question now is: Would Asian philosophies and religious teachers be able to recognize themselves in the descriptions FR has given of them? It is of course impossible to evaluate the accuracy of all of FR's statements in detail, but it is necessary to determine whether they are sufficiently precise and accurate for a fruitful encounter be­tween the Gospel and Asian cultures.

In this context it is important to recall that FR's immediate objective is not to establish a dialogue between Christian faith and Asian philosophies as such but to defend the necessity of philosophy, particularly metaphysics for theology and to heal the rift between the two disciplines.7According to FR, the fatal dis­eases afflicting contemporary philosophy diagnosed as eclecticism, historicism, scientism, pragmatism, and nihilism (see nos. 86‑90) and the weaknesses of various branches of theology stem from their increasing estrangement since the late medieval period (see no. 45). The result of this fateful separation is what FR terms "the lack of confidence in truth" (no.5). Instead of seeing the relationship between faith and reason, between theology and philosophy in mutually antago­nistic terms, FR conceives it as a "circle" (no. 73). The twin poles of this circle among which reason moves are God's word (which is the source of theology) on the one hand and a better understanding of it on the other (by means of phi­losophy): "It is as if, moving between the twin poles of God's word and a better understanding of it, reason is offered guidance and is warned against paths which would lead it to stray from revealed truth and to stray in the end from the truth pure and simple. Instead, reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself it would not even have suspected it could take. This circular relationship with the word of God leaves philosophy enriched, because reason discovers new and unsuspected horizons" (no.73). In brief, philosophy, without renouncing its own rules and principles, is urged to accept or at least be open to the truths offered by Christian revelation in order to achieve its drive to know the truth: "By virtue of the splendor emanating from subsistent being itself, revealed truth offers the fullness of light and will therefore illumine the path of philosophical inquiry. In short, Christian revelation becomes the true point of encounter and engagement between philosophical, and theological thinking in their reciprocal relationship" (no. 79).

It is within this framework that FR makes its observations on Asian philoso­phies and religious teachers. In performing their task of inculturation Asian Christians are urged first to hold on to the truths of divine revelation, and then on the basis of the truths thus accepted, critically develop their own philosophy and theology in dialogue with local philosophical and religious thought. Before discussing this constructive enterprise, it is necessary to ascertain whether FR'spresentations of Asian philosophies and religious teachers are correct.

First of all, there is a simple matter of factual accuracy. FR mentions Tirkhan­kara as if he were an individual, like the Buddha with whom he is paired. In fact, Tirkhankara (lit. making a passage, crossing, ford) is an honorific title in Jainism for a person who, by example and teaching, enables others to attain liberation. It designates 24 ascetic teachers in a line reaching back into pre-history, the most recent of whom was Mahavira (traditionally 599‑527 BCE).

Secondly, the focus on the individual as evident in the questions mentioned by FR is quite foreign to the Asian world view. As Jung Young Lee has written, "I am becomes We are ... In Asia, and particularly in Korea, 'I' and 'we' or Oori are synonymous ... I am is 'pluralistic,' even though it is not the combination of I with others. It is pluralistic because it is relational. The story of my life is the story of many lives. In Asia we‑are takes precedence over I‑am, because the latter is always relative to the former."8 Such shift from the I to the We, from the singu­lar to the plural is not just a grammatical change but is the consequence of a metaphysical perspective which maintains that persons and things achieve full­ness and richness of existence only when they are experienced as interdependent processes (Nāgārjuna 1995), and that relations and community are constitutive, and not additive or adventitious, to what makes up the individual.9

Thirdly, more problematic is FR's sweeping claim that Asian sacred texts such as the Veda and the Avesta, religious teachers such as Confucius and Lao Tzuthe Tirkhankaras and the Buddha, all were engaged in such philosophical issues as anthropology, cosmology, theodicy, and eschatology. While it is pos­sible to construe very broadly that these texts and teachers have somehow or other dealt with these themes, FR's claim represents a distinctly Western reading of these Asian philosophies. Furthermore, its strong insistence on the necessity of metaphysics goes against the explicit refusal of these texts and teachers to address these themes, at least not in the way these have been approached in the West.10

Thus it is only with great difficulty that Lao Tzu or the Tao Te Ching could be interpreted as a philosophical work dealing with anthropology, theodicy, and eschatology.11 Written as a manual to instruct kings and rulers, the Tao Te Ching does admittedly contain passages on Tao as creator of the world (chapters 1, 4, 40, 42, 52), but it is arguable that the concept of Tao is not cosmological but ontological. Furthermore, there is in the Tao Te Ching no speculation on the afterlife.12

This refusal to address the question of life beyond death is even more pro­nounced in Confucius. Asked by Tzu-lu how one should serve the spirits of the dead, the Master replied: "Till you have learned to serve human beings, how can you serve their spirits?" Then asked further by Tzu‑lu about the dead, the Master replied; "Till you know about the living, how are you to know about the dead?13 Whether these enigmatic answers of Confucius should be taken to mean that for him the subjects of death and the spirits of the dead are too obscure and unprof­itable subjects to talk about, or that he counseled his disciple to serve the dead in the same spirit as he served the living, it is clear the Master cannot be said to be engaged in such existential themes such as who am 1, where I come from, and what will become of me after death.

The Buddha was even more adamant in refusing to answer questions about certain philosophical questions. There is a unanimous Buddhist tradition that the Buddha refused to give any answer to the 14 questions that have to do with the eternity of the world, its finitude or infinitude, existence after death, and the identity of the soul and body (Panikkar 1989:61-3). Indeed, the Buddha is credited with the parable in which the metaphysician is compared to a man wounded with a poi­soned arrow who would seek first to know what type of weapon it was, which direction it had come from, who had shot it, for what reason, and so on rather than remove the arrow.14

With regard to Asian sacred texts, of course, the Veda can be described as having dealt with metaphysical issues, especially in its concluding sections, i.e., the Upanishads which represent a collection of diverse speculations on libera­tion, metaphysics, and epistemology.15 But it is important to remember that the Veda's importance for Hindus lies far more in its liturgical and ritualistic texts. The basis of the Veda, and of Vedic Hinduism, is found in the set of foursamhitas (collections), namely the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and The Atharva Veda. The focus of these samhitas, and of the Vedic tradition itself is the liturgical use of hymns and mantras for sacrifice.16 The Veda is not primarily a written document to be read, nor is it a collection of thoughts and moral in­junctions to be analyzed philosophically. Rather it is primordially spoken lan­guage, to be chanted, so that it can be truly heard (sruti) as divine revelation, The same thing should be said about the Avesta, the principal sacred books of Zoroastrianism. It consists mainly of hymns, prayers, and liturgical invocations the recitation of which constitutes the most important ritualistic activities of Zoroastrian priests.17

Fourthly, this ritualistic and liturgical character of these sacred texts points to another important feature of Asian philosophies which runs the risk of being missed in FR's repeated insistence on philosophy's need to search for absolute and universal truth. Asians would be deeply sympathetic with FR's attempt to bring fides and ratio together and to yoke credo ut inte1legam with intellego ut credam. But they would object to the kind of distinction between reason and faith implicit in the encyclical. In Asian thought, there is no rigid distinction between philosophy and religious and ethical practice. Indeed, the validity of a philosophy is gauged primarily by its contribution to human well‑being, physi­cal, moral, and religious, and not its systematic coherence and conformity to reality. In this sense, FR's statement that philosophy has exerted a powerful in­fluence on Asian ways of understanding existence is accurate but not strong enough (no. 3); in Asia, to do philosophy is to practice religion and vice versa.

Thus, Chinese philosophical thought was always concerned with social, poli­tical, and religious practice. Its central problems are: How can the human person achieve harmony with heaven, earth, and humanity (the Confucian question) and how can the human person achieve harmony with Tao or nature? (the Tao­ist question).17  For Indian philosophers, practice is the ultimate test of truth, and the criterion determining good practice is the elimination of suffering. True philosophical vision is that which makes life possible without suffering. The path of practice is part of the vision, there is no separation between darśana (view of life) and pratipada (way of life). And this practice is inseparably contemplation (jñāna‑mārga),19 devotion and love (bhakti‑mārga),and action (karma‑ mārga).` For the Buddha, the quest for enlightenment is achieved not only in arriving at the "right view" and "right intention" which allow the person by direct insight (and not merely by intellectual understanding) to see that all things are of the nature of interdependent arising and that dukkha is caused by craving for separate and permanent existence. But it must also be realized in doing "right speech," "right action," "right livelihood," "right effort" "right mindfulness," and "right concentration" (the Noble Eightfold Path).20 To practice Bud­dhist "philosophy" then requires wisdom, right conduct, and mental discipline. This unity of faith and reason is also true of Jainism whose Tirkhankaras FR mentions. The 14 stages of purification which, according to the Jain vision, a person must accomplish to achieve perfect freedom(moksha) include the "three Jewels" of right knowledge, deep faith, and pure conduct.21

Fifthly, a word should be said about FR's charge that "certain conceptions of life coming from the East" betray "lack of confidence in truth, denying its exclu­sive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doc­trines even if they contradict one another" (no. 5). Since the encyclical does not specify which “conceptions of life coming from the East” it refers to, it may be presumed that it has in mind the celebrated capacity of Asian religions to absorb various and apparently conflicting philosophies and practices and the Asian in­clusive world view embodied in Daivism, the Middle Way of Nāgārjuna, and the concepts of yin and yang. Admittedly, this Weltanschauung tends to see complementarity in different and even opposite views and practices, but it is a caricature to say that it lacks "confidence in truth" since it is precisely in order to reach the truth that such opposites are held together. Furthermore, no Asian conception of life" can be accused of holding "different doctrines, even if they contradict one another," if by contradiction it is meant logical self‑contradictory negation and not simply opposites.22

The foregoing five observations should not be regarded as nit‑picking criticism. On the contrary, they reveal fundamental differences between West and East and should be kept in mind as Asian Christians embark upon the task of inculturation which FR urges them to undertake and to which I now turn.

How to Get Authentic Ethnic Foods: What else could FR have said?

When traveling abroad people often enjoy trying new foods, but after a while, they long for home cooking and look around for ethnic restaurants. But not rarely, they get disappointed; Americans in Paris complain that McDonald ham­burgers are not as juicy as in Washington, Italians in Tokyo lament that pizzas are not as tasty as in Rome, and Vietnamese in London bemoan that spring rolls there are not as crispy as those in Saigon. Something is missing and makes these foods not authentic. Maybe it is because a key ingredient is lacking (substituted by local stuff?), perhaps the ambience isn't right (a Chinese restaurant playing jazz music?), and most probably because the chef is someone other than mom. But, perhaps, there is a deeper reason: these foods have been "inculturated." Some local adaptation, however undesirable, is of course unavoidable. The ques­tion is how to preserve as much ethnic flavor as possible.

In urging Asian Christians to inculturation Christian faith into their own cul­tures, FR singles out the task of relating Christian faith and theology to Asian philosophies as an important aspect of inculturation. One reason for this em­phasis on philosophy as the tool for inculturation is that "philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith" (no. 104). Put in a nutshell, the method of inculturation recom­mended byFR, as I understand it, consists of the following three steps. Asian Christians, including philosophers, should (1) begin with the truths of divine revelation which include both those that in principle can be known by reason alone and those that cannot;23 (2) draw from their cultural heritage "the ele­ments compatible with their faith in order to enrich Christian thought" (no. 72); and (3) combine these elements with the truths of Christian faith to produce "a philosophy consonant with the word of God" (no. 79). Such a philosophy will be "a place where Christian faith and human cultures may meet, a point of under­standing between believer and nonbeliever" (no. 79). While one cannot but ap­plaud FR's explicit recognition that elements of Asian cultures can enrich Chris­tian thought, the method it proposes for inculturation is questionable on several grounds.

(1) It seems to take for granted that Christian revelation already possesses the truth on fundamental issues of human existence about which it has nothing more or little to learn from Asian cultures. Instead of this assumption, is it possible, theologically speaking, to acknowledge that at least in principle there are certain truths about human life that Christians can know only through a dia­logue with other cultures and religions, or at least know them in this or that particular way, because the Spirit of Christ has been actively working in them?24

(2) FR very often uses "truth" in the singular and in the abstract as if Chris­tian revelation had given Christians "truth" apart from partial and imperfect concepts and formulations.25 It must be remembered that it is only through these imperfect and unfinished concepts and formulations that we know and understand what the truth is. It is quite possible that it is only through the en­counter with Asian philosophies that the "truth" is perceived and understood better, and not only its verbal formulations.26

(3) FR seems to presuppose that it is a straightforward business to draw from the heritage of Asian cultures "elements compatible" with the Christian faith and then use them to elaborate a philosophy and theology consonant with the Gospel.27 As Aloysius Pieris has convincingly argued, the two Greco‑Roman models of inculturation, that is, assimilation of non‑Christian philosophyand incarnation in non‑Christian culture respectively, are not applicable to Asia. The reasons are fivefold.

First, the patristic tradition was consistently negative in its assessment of non‑Christian religions. For the inculturation of Christianity in Asia, instead of the patristic "Christ‑against‑religions theology," there is a need of developing a thorough and consistent "Christ‑of‑religions theology."

Secondly, the separation of religion from culture (as in Latin Christianity) and religion from philosophy (as in Hellenistic Christianity) makes little sense in an Asian society. Because of the inner unity between Asian philosophies and Asian religious visions, as alluded to above, inculturation in Asia cannot mean the insertion of the Christian religion minus European culture into an Asian culture minus non‑Christian religions. Thus, for instance, what is needed in In­dia is not simply an "Indian" Christianity but a "Hindu" Christianity, and in Vietnam, not simply a "Vietnamese" Christianity but a "Confucian" or "Bud­dhist" Christianity.

Thirdly, behind the Greco‑Roman models of inculturation, there is an "in­strumental theory" of inculturation. Greek philosophy was pulled out of its re­ligious context to serve the Christian religion as a tool for doctrinal expression, as ancilla theologiae. In the Asian context, such a strategy is unproductive; to pluck an Asian philosophy out of its soteriological context for the purpose of constructing a Christian doctrinal system is to deprive it of its life. Similarly, the Latin practice of instrumentalizing a non‑Christian culture in the service of Christianity leads to what Pieris calls "theological vandalism" by which various ideas and practices of non‑Christian religions are selected for their alleged com­patibility with the Christian faith and then "baptized" to serve Christian theol­ogy, liturgy, and spirituality without any regard for their soteriological matrix.

Fourthly, the historical circumstances surrounding the inculturation of Christianity in its Greco‑Roman period are very different from those surround­ing the church in Asia. Whereas the Greco‑Roman model was viable for the time when the imperial religion was waning and Christianity was waxing, today in Asia it is colonial Christianity that is in crisis and remains a tiny minority while non‑Christian religions are regaining vitality and strength (Pieris 1988: 51-3). In general, then, it must be said that whatever good lessons the Greco‑Latin models of incul­turation may have bequeathed to the Church (and FR insists that the church cannot abandon this heritage; see its second criterion for inculturation men­tioned above), they are not appropriate for Asia.

Finally, there is another reason why not even the later North European model of Christianization can be applied to Asia. In the early Middle Ages Christianity penetrated into European culture by successfully inserting itself as a, new "metacosmic" religion of salvific revelation and redeeming love into the “cosmic” religious-ness of various European tribes and clans. Such an insertion cannot be repeated today in Asia because Asia already possesses several highly successful "metacosmic" religions of its own, which Christianity cannot hope ever to displace or absorb. Thus, inculturation of Christianity in Asia can only be accomplished by forging its indigenous identity within the soteriological matrix of non‑ Christian religions, not outside, much less instead of it (Pieris 1998: 51-53).

In light of these considerations it may be argued that authentic inculturation of Christianity into Asia is not accomplished, as a planned policy, primarily through the adoption of certain elements of Asian philosophies compatible with the Christian faith, nor through the plantatio ecclesiae to replace non‑Christian religions, nor through the adaptation of rituals and monastic practices of non-­Christian religions into Christianity. Rather it occurs as the result of the encoun­ter and day‑to‑day sharing of life of two groups of people, non‑Christians and Christians, in human, not ecclesiological communities. Furthermore, because Asia is characterized by abject poverty and profound religiousness, the two cri­teria for membership in these human communities are, as Pieris has argued, "mysticism based on voluntary poverty and militancy pitched against forced poverty” (1988:51-3).

(4) FR's insistence on the use of philosophy, especially metaphysics, for inculturation, though valid and useful in itself, neglects one very important as­pect of contemporary Asian theology. Besides the longstanding attempt at inculturating Christianity into Asian societies by means of philosophical and religious thought, there have been in the last two decades theological move­ments, particularly in India, Sri Lanka, Korea, and the Philippines, to achieve inculturation through the struggle for socio‑political and economic justice. Ear­lier attempts at inculturation have been criticized for having aimed primarily at the "culture of the elite," the "great traditions," and the "dominant traditions" A la Roberto de Nobili in India and Matteo Ricci in China, and excluded "popular culture," the "small traditions," and the "subaltern cultures."28 It has been said, for instance, that there has been in India a "Sanscritized Christianity," a "Brahmanized Christianity," and a "Hinduized Christianity" and that little has been done to inculturate Christianity into the marginalized and oppressed classes."29

To fill up this lacuna, Asian theologies of liberation have recently been devel­oped by Catholics and non‑Catholics alike, Among Indians influential are the works of Madathiparambil Mammen Thomas, a lay theologian of the Mar Tho­mas Syrian Church of Kerala, Sebastian Kappen, George Soares‑Prabhu, and Michael Amaladoss as well as proponents of Dalit theology (e.g., Arvind P. Nirmal) and of tribal theologies (e.g., Nirmal Minz). In Sri Lanka, to be noted are Tissa Balasuriya and Aloysius Pieris, the latter with his emphasis on the twin reality of extreme poverty and pervasive religiousness in Asia. In the Philippines, besides a theology that emphasizes popular devotions such as the cult of the Santo Niño, the Suffering Christ, the "Black Nazarene," and thePasyon, theolo­gians have developed a "theology of struggle" (e.g., Edicio de la Torre, Carlos Abesamis, L. L. Dingayan, Mary John Mananzan, Virginia Fabella) as a kind of indigenous theology appropriate to the social, political, and economic condi­tions of the Philippines. In Korea, there is the well‑known minjung theology whose goal is to liberate the minjung, that is, the oppressed mass from all forms of subjugation (e.g., Byung‑Mu Ahn, Park Jae Soon, Kim Yong‑Bock, Chung Hyun Kyung). Finally, there is the work of Choan‑Seng Song, a Taiwanese theo­logian whose prolific writings attempt to introduce the "cross" into the "world of the lotus."30

Whereas in his other writings John Paul II has strongly underlined the duty of the church to promote justice and peace, in FR his frequent and forceful insis­tence on metaphysics as the indispensable tool for inculturation has obscured the fact that for Christianity to be fully inculturated into Asia, dialogue with cultures and religions must go hand in hand with the struggle for justice.

At the end of parties, the host and guests, after appropriate words of thanks, often promise to meet each other again, possibly soon. By sharing foods and drinks and conversation, something important has happened, that is, the bond of their friendship has been strengthened. As a result, Asian religions and phi­losophies will be able to invite Christian faith and theology to a banquet of their own, By accepting the invitation Christian faith and theology will learn how to behave as guest in the host's house.31 It is highly significant therefore that an encyclical that so strenuously under-scores the need of philosophy and meta­physics for faith and theology has this to say: "It must not be forgotten that rea­son too needs to be sustained in all its searching by trusting dialogue and sincere friendship. A climate of suspicion and distrust, which can beset speculative re­search, ignores the teaching of the ancient philosophers, who proposed friend­ship as one of the most appropriate contexts for sound philosophical inquiry" (no. 33). I am happy to report that the "ancient philosophers" referred to are not only Plato and Aristotle but also the Buddha and Confucius.



1. Fides et Ratio was promulgated on September 14, 1998. English translation is available in Ori­gins28/19 (1998): 318‑47. Citations will be followed in parentheses by the number of the paragraph.

2. For John Paul II's comments on Buddhism, which have provoked a storm of protest from Asian Buddhists because of his reference to its "atheistic" system, see 1994: 84-90. Other significant texts of John Paul II on dialogue with other religions include Catechesi Tradendae 1979:52‑54;Slavorum Apostolorum 1985; and Redemptoris Missio 1990:55‑56.

3. According to FR, the first stance was adopted by philosophy before the birth of Jesus and later in regions as yet untouched by the Gospel. By "Christian philosophy" FR understands "a Christian way of philosophizing, a philosophical speculation conceived in dynamic union with faith." It includes "those important developments of philosophical thinking which would not have happened without the direct or indirect contribution of Christian faith" (no. 76). By viewing phi­losophy as ancillatheologiae, FR does not intend to affirm "philosophy's servile submission or purely functional role with regard to theology" but to indicate "the necessity of the link between the two sciences and the impossibility of their separation" (no. 77). FR does admit that the expres­sion ancilla theologiae can no longer be used today but asserts that in this stance philosophy comes more directly under the authority of the magisterium and its discernment" (no. 77).

4. FR repeatedly asserts the duty of philosophy to search for ultimate and universal truth. Indeed, it laments the fact that contemporary philosophy "has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being" (no. 5). Instead of focusing on metaphysics, con­temporary philosophers have concentrated their research on hermeneutics and epistemology, abandoning the investigation of being. On the contrary, John Paul II wants "to state that reality and truth do transcend the factual and the empirical and to vindicate the human being's capacity to know this transcendental and metaphysical dimension in a way that is true and certain, albeit imperfect and analogical" (no. 83). Against postmodern agnosticism and nihilism (see no. 91), FR affirms that "every truth — if it really is truth — presents itself as universal, even if it is not the whole truth. if something is true, then it must be true for all people and at all times.... Hypotheses may fascinate, but they do not satisfy. Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt" (no. 27).

5. FR repeatedly assures that the church does not have an official philosophy: "The church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others" (no. 49). Nor does John Paul II wish to impose a particular theological method: I have no wish to direct theologians to particular methods, since that is not the competence of the magisterium" (no. 64).

6. To achieve this goal, theology in the West can no longer be done in a narrow, basically de­nominational and confessional way. Instead, there must be a serious effort at working out a theol­ogy as a 'comparative discipline," that is, as Keith Ward puts it, "theology not as a form of apologetic for a particular faith but as an intellectual discipline which enquires into ideas of the ultimate value and goal of human life, as they have been perceived and expressed in a variety of religious traditions." See Ward 1994:40. For further reflections on comparative theology, see the works of Clooney 1993 and 1996.

7. FR is peremptory about the necessity of metaphysics for theology: "Metaphysics thus plays an essential role of mediation for theological research. A theology without a metaphysical horizon could not move beyond an analysis of religious experience nor would it allow the intellectus fidei to give a coherent account of the universal and transcendent value of revealed truth" (no. 83).

8. Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 8. In this respect, Asian anthropology is very much akin to Hispanic communitarian anthropology of nosotros. See Goizueta 1995:47‑76.

9. As Goizueta has correctly argued, this individualist anthropology has led to a threefold dichotomy: between the individual and the community, between community and institution, and between community and tradition. See 60‑65.

10. Of course, Asian religious teachers' refusal to deal with what the West calls metaphysical questions, as we will see below, implies a metaphysical position (which the West quickly character­izes as agnosticism or skepticism). But there is a vast difference between this silence and FR's de­mand for an elaboration of a metaphysics which is regarded as an indispensable means to reach the truth.

11. For English translations, see Wing‑Tsit Chan 1963:139‑76 and 1990).

12. Of Course, later religious Taoism, as espoused for instance by Hsiang‑erh and Ho‑shang Kung, does emphasize religious themes for the common folk such as the divinity of Lao Tzu, Physi­cal immortality, internal alchemy, and morality.

13. The Analects, XI, 11. For English translations, see Waley 1938 and Legge 1893.

14. Once again, it is to be granted that Confucius' and the Buddha's silence about issues of the afterlife or the cause of the wound implies a "metaphysical" position in as much as it suggests that metaphysics is not the real answer to the existential problems of human existence. The point for dialogue between East and West then is not whether a better metaphysics can be elaborated to discover the truth (perhaps on the basis of Christian revelation, which the East can accept) but whether there is another way to arrive at the truth which is non‑metaphysical, e.g., through praxis, as I will suggest toward the end of the essay.

15. For an English translation, see The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, trans. Robert Hume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931).

16. For a collection of these hymns and mantras for celebration, see Panikkar 1977.

17. For an English translation, see The Zend Avesta, trans. J. Darmesteter and L. H. Mills, vols. 4, 23, 31 of Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1883).

18. On Chinese thought in general, see Yu‑lan: 1959-60. On Confucianism, see Nivison 1997 and Fingarette 1972). On Taoism, see Graham 1989. Stress on the prac­tical orientation of Chinese thought does not deny that there was in Chinese philosophy interest in theory and knowledge for knowledge's sake. See, for instance, the School of Names as developed by the logicians Hui Shih (380‑305? BCE) and Kung‑sun Lung (b. ca. 380 BCE).

19. On these paths, see Verenne 1976.

20. On the practice of Buddhism, see Lopez 1995.

21. On Jainism, see Jaini 1979.

22. For the Nyaya Vaisheshika epistemology which analyses human knowledge in terms of the knowing subject, the object to be known, the known object, and the means to know the object, see Chatterjee 1950 and Potter 1977.

23. John Paul II repeatedly urges philosophers (not only Christian) to accept or at least to be open to and explore the truths of Christian revelation, since the vocation of philosophy is to dis­cover and accept absolute and universal truths, whatever their source: "In refusing the truth offered by divine revelation, philosophy only does itself damage, since this is to preclude access to a deeper knowledge of truth" (no. 75). His acceptance does not however, John Paul also repeatedly asserts, destroy the autonomy of philosophy which must use its own rules and principles (see no. 79).

24. FR seems to acknowledge the possibility of access to salvific truth in non‑Christian reli­gions: "Since access to the truth enables access to God, it must be denied to none. There are many paths which lead to truth, but since Christian truth has a salvific value, any one of these paths may be taken, as long as it leads to the final goal, that is, to the revelation of Jesus Christ" (no. 38).

25. At least on three occasions FR admits the eschatological and hence imperfect character of every truth attained: nos. 2, 27, and 96.

26. It does not seem that FR has taken sufficient account of the fact that meaning and truth must be understood as elements of an event of intercultural communication in which the speaker and the hearer often make use of different signs and codes to get their message across to one an­other. For reflections on meaning and truth in intercultural hermeneutics, as opposed to the hermeneutics that sees meaning as resident in the text and truth as reference and correspondence to reality in propositional forms, see Schreiter 1977: 39-42.

27. Implicit throughout FR's discussion of inculturation is an "integrated" concept of culture according to which, in the words of Robert Schreiter, culture is depicted as "patterned systems in which the various elements are coordinated in such a fashion as to create a unified whole." See Schreiter, 47-8. While such a view of culture has its strengths, it does not take sufficient account of the current process of globalization in which culture is something to be constructed rather than discovered. A "globalized" concept of culture tends to see it as a fragmented , contested, and hybridized construction.

28. Fortunately, this is not true of Alexander de Rhodes in Vietnam. See Phan 1998.

29. For a study of these trends in the context of post-colonial hermeneutics, see Sugirtharajah 1988.

30. For general survey of these theologies, see Sugirtharajah 1994; Fedou 1998 and Phan 1996: 399-430.

31. For an understanding of inculturation in terms of host and guest, see Gittins 1989.


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* Originally published in Science et Esprit (Vol 51/3 1999).