The New Evangelisation: how are we to do it?
The New Evangelisation: how are we to do it?
Philip Trower explores ways of communicating the Faith
Some of the things our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been saying since he became Pope about the way the faith should be presented and taught as a preamble to the new evangeliation have unquestionably ruffled a few feathers. However, I have increasingly come to think that there would be less misunderstanding if more people were aware of a development that has been taking place in the Church’s thinking and teaching on this subject over the last fifty years. This development seems to have begun at the time of Vatican Two, and, in a modified form, has been accepted by subsequent popes and episcopal synods. But only, I would say, in the last few years have a significant section of the theologically-minded faithful become aware of it.
It involves making a distinction, when considering or talking about the Church’s beliefs, teachings and practices, between what are now called the kerygma and the didache, both Greek words.
Kerygma, which carries with it the idea of a herald blowing a trumpet to announce or proclaim some important news, is used to describe what are held to be the most characteristic features of the initial apostolic teaching or ‘proclamation’. The apostles and first generation of Christians were not propagating a religious philosophy, based purely on human reason and human wisdom like that, say, of Confucius. They were announcing a message of salvation achieved by a divine-human person, whose witnesses and representatives they claimed to be . The point is made with particular force by St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. With characteristic irony, the apostle to the Gentiles there describes what he is preaching or proclaiming as ‘the foolishness of God’ in contrast to the ‘wisdom’ or philosophy admired by the Greeks.
Heralds of a mystery
The apostles were heralds of a supernatural mystery having crucial implications for the whole human race past, present and to come; a message requiring a response from the heart and will as much as intellectual assent by the mind. ‘Repent and believe the Gospel.’ ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Rather than proposing a system of religious beliefs and ideas, the apostolic kerygma, one could say, is announcing a series of astonishing natural-supernatural facts of recent origin.
Explaining or justifying the facts is the role of didache or the detailed religious instruction we now call catechetics. This is given after the proclamation of the message has, with the help of grace, and in some cases miracles, been accepted. Didache has its origin in the fact that the kerygma or initial apostolic proclamation is not all self-explanatory or systematically organised. Almost as soon as it has been heard and accepted, the new Christian starts to ask questions: why, how, or ‘when you say such and such what does it mean’? And it is the attempts to answer these questions as they have been put to the Church down the ages by succeeding generations which have given rise to those great storehouses of the Church’s dogmatic, doctrinal and theological teaching --- the works of the Church Fathers, the Acts of her Councils, the Summae of the medieval scholastics and so on, or that most recent addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church --- which are one of the glories of her existence.
The kerygma or initial apostolic proclamation, its range and style, are best seen and appreciated in the Acts of the Apostles, better indeed than in the Gospels which go way beyond it. And important to remember too is that for its first audiences the kerygma was not something totally unheard of. The apostles were addressing Jews and telling them about their long awaited messiah. For the Jews the proclamation was mainly about the fulfilment of prophecies. It was only after St Peter’s visit to the Cornelius and the turning to the Gentiles that the kerygma became a complete novelty for the majority of its hearers.
In the hands of thinkers hostile to Catholic belief and practice, distinguishing between the kerygma and the didache can be and has been used as a way of devaluing or dismissing much or all of the latter. The message is that the kerygma alone is important, and the rest of what passes for Christian belief and teaching is mostly just “man-made stuff”.
Included in this category of doctrinal iconoclasts one regretfully has to place Catholic= theologians who have been anxious to get the Church to drop, change or adapt this or that of her teachings. However, other theologians, those with a genuinely Catholic cast of mind, have seen in the kerygma-didache distinction a means of overcoming what they consider had become a too rationalistic presentation of the faith.
From the Catholic standpoint
From the Catholic standpoint, as we shall see in a moment, kerygma and didache are not in opposition. They are to be seen as complementary, fulfilling different roles or needing more or less emphasis in varying circumstances. Put at its simplest one could say that emphasis on the apostolic kerygma is considered best for the evangelisation of new peoples who have never heard of Christianity , or the de-Christianised populations of the west, many of whom are now equally ignorant. Didache comes in once they are established in the faith in degrees and forms suited to their level of education and culture.
With too much didache too soon or in too much detail, it is felt, the faith can lose its freshness and come to seem like a philosophy. The challenging nature of what is preached loses its force and the elements of mystery and the supernatural fade. A missionary for instance, preaching the Gospel to a new people for the first time, does not begin with a string of arguments for proving the existence of God, or a list of quotations from the fathers and doctors of the Church in support of belief in the real presence. Were he to, the beauty and, dare I say it, ‘magic’ of what he was saying would cease to be felt.
This, judging by some of his off-the-cuff remarks, is, I would suggest, the view of Pope Francis. There is an affinity, it seems to me, between what he has been saying on this subject and the reactions of Thomas a Kempis and the adherents of the 15th century movement known as the devotio moderna to late medieval scholasticism.
How much of the didache, or the totality of the Church’s teachings, should the faithful be expected to know? Pius XII, I seem to remember, said it should be on a level with the rest of their education. So if they have been to a college of any kind that should mean they ought certainly to be able to understand the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its longer or shorter forms.
A story, I recall, from the life of St Francis of Assisi throws a nice light on the question. When a poor old woman said to him that it surely wasn’t necessary for her to know a lot of theology to get to heaven, his reply was roughly “Not for you, but it is for the Church.”
Not just rules and regulations
The key point in the thinking of those members of the magisterium who are for promoting the kerygmatic approach seems to be that the faithful should never be allowed to fall into thinking that being a Catholic means, first and foremost, belonging to an institution with a set of rules and regulations to be obeyed, and providing certain goods and services mysteriously necessary if one is to spend eternity in the right place.
They recognise that an outlook of this kind can only be the path to routine, tepidity, loss of the young, and the death of any missionary spirit.
If on the other hand the young can be persuaded or convinced that as Catholics they have been called by an all-loving Creator to be his agents in propagating a message about a supernatural mystery of crucial importance for the whole human race, and helping him to activate it, the situation is surely more likely to be different. Being a Catholic is, in essence, being caught up into this awe-inspiring supernatural mystery. It is this kind of outlook which the kerygma, as we have it in Scripture and tradition, has kept alive in each generation.
As for guidelines for activating the mystery, we have the fact that we share in our Lord’s three-fold office of prophet priest and king. The prophetic office calls us to be witnesses to the truth, natural and supernatural, at all times and in all circumstances. Our priestly office is well summarised by St Peter in his first epistle and the third eucharistic prayer: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Thus St Peter. And the third eucharistic prayer: “You never cease to gather a people to yourself so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” As for fulfilling our kingly role I would say it amounts to fulfilling what Holy Mother Church calls the “duties of our state” as fully and faithfully as possible.
As St John Paul expressed it: “The vital core of the new evangelisation must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation (kerygma) of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom which he has gained for us by his Paschal Mystery.”
“In the complex reality of mission, initial proclamation has a central and irreplaceable role, since it introduces man ‘into the mystery of the love of God, who invites him to enter into a personal relationship with himself in Christ’ and opens the way to conversion. Faith is born of preaching, and every ecclesial community draws its origin and life from the personal response of each believer to that preaching. Just as the whole economy of salvation has its centre in Christ, so too all missionary activity is directed to the proclamation of his mystery.” (Redemptoris Missio).
“The subject of proclamation is Christ who was crucified, died and is risen: through him is accomplished our full and authentic liberation from evil, sin and death; through him God bestows ‘new life’ that is divine and eternal. This is the ‘Good News’ which changes man and his history, and which all peoples have a right to hear.” (RD)
“Thus through catechesis the Gospel kerygma (the initial, ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to trust himself to Christ) is gradually deepened, developed in its implicit consequences, explained in language that includes an appeal to reason, and channelled towards Christian practice in the Church and in the world.” (Catechesae Tradendae 25).
And here is the 2012 Synod on Evangelisation: “The ‘first proclamation’ is where the kerygma, the message of salvation of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with great spiritual power to the point of bringing about repentance of sin, conversion of hearts and a decision of faith. At the same time there has to be continuity between first proclamation and catechesis which instructs us in the deposit of faith.”
The Synod fathers then recommend “a pastoral plan of initial proclamation, teaching a living encounter with Jesus Christ.” This pastoral plan would include “systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and Tradition….teachings and quotations from the missionary saints and martyrs in our Catholic history that would assist us in our pastoral challenges today,”and “guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelisation today.”
What is most noteworthy, I think, about all these quotations is that, while recognizing a distinction between an apostolic kerygma and its subsequent development into a systematically organised didache, the authors do not see in this any grounds for decrying the importance of the latter or excluding the role of reason.
Like so much in the Church and the faith, getting the right relationship between kerygma and didache is a matter of keeping what at first sight appear to be complementary opposites in balance. God’s justice and mercy are not conflicting realities. Nor are kerygma and didache or the roles of faith and reason.
Also worth comment, I think, is that with its belief in the real presence, its practice of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, and encouraging eucharistic adoration, the Church provides its children with a means of developing a personal relationship with Christ incomparably superior to any other.
Philip Trower, who died earlier this year, was the author of several books and a regular contributor of Fcaith magazine over many years. This was one of the last things he wrote.