The Oct. 8 edition of The Living Church is available online to registered subscribers.
This edition features the winning entry in this year’s Student Essays in Christian Wisdom Competition. Rebecca Bridges Watts, a student at the Seminary of the Southwest, wrote the winning essay, “‘They are no less capable of our Christianity’: 16th-Century Catholic Missions in Indigenous Cultural Contexts.”
Across time and place, Christians have responded to their cultural contexts — at times choosing to shape Christian practice to meet the conditions of the local culture, while at other times believing that Christian practice needs to question or fight against the local culture. When Roman Catholicism expanded with Spanish colonialism to the New World in the 16th century, missionary priests — as well as their king and pope — recognized that the local languages and cultures needed to figure centrally in the mission to convert the local people to Christianity. Reflecting on this case from Church history teaches us, as contemporary Christians, to be more aware of how we can shape mission to meet the requirements of specific cultural contexts.
When Spain sent explorers across the Atlantic to claim new lands, people, and resources for their empire, the work of colonialism was done by men sent by the Spanish monarchy. However, for the missionary priests who accompanied them or soon followed, their purposes were different. Writing in 1537, Pope Paul III recognized that the mission of the church was at odds with the mission of the colonizers, especially with regard to the dignity and freedom of the people who lived in these recently colonized places. While those working on behalf of the government and economic interests saw the indigenous people as just another resource, Pope Paul III recognized their humanity, pointing back to the Great Commission’s words on the reach of the Gospel: “He sent preachers out to preach the faith: ‘Go, and teach everyone’ [Matt. 28:19]. All, He said, without exception, since all are capable of learning the faith.” Pope Paul III was especially critical of the colonizers’ impulse to enslave the indigenous people, seeing slavery as Satan’s “novel way to prevent the world of God being preached to people for their salvation.” He characterized those involved in the slave trade as “lackeys, who wanted to satisfy their lust for riches.” Pope Paul III argued forcefully against subduing the local people: “outside the faith though they be, are not to be deprived of their liberty or the right to their property. They are to have, to hold, to enjoy both liberty and dominion, freely, lawfully. They must not be enslaved” (“Veritas Ipsa,” p. 291). Noteworthy here is the implication that conversion is not a requirement for their liberty and rights; rather, these belong to them as by virtue of their humanity.
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- Tune in to Formation | By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
- Reaping God’s Abundance through Church Planting | By Kirk Petersen
- In Memory and Anticipation of Robert W. Jenson | By Matthew Burdette
- First Place, Student Essays in Christian Wisdom Competition
‘They are no less capable of our Christianity’ | By Rebecca Bridges Watts
- Deviant Calvinism | Review by J. Scott Jackson
- Instruments of Communion | By Colin Podmore
- People & Places
- Sunday’s Readings