A Journal of Catholic Reflection for Southern Africa
Volume 34 No 2
EDITORIAL: FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION: 500 YEARS OF REFORMATION
Editorial: Stuart C Bate OMI
Commemorating reform and renewal in the church describes essential parameters of the Church’s response to the current context of hopelessness seeking hope within many social conditions of Africa today. This issue of Grace & Truth presents some papers from a recent conference at St Joseph’s Theological Institute. Our annual conference is based on some of the research generated by St Joseph’s Collaborative Research Group, which is an ongoing project of the Institute. The focus of our collaborative research group is to seek pastoral and ministerial responses founded on effective theological models of the Church to the hopes and struggles of the people of our time.
We use a ‘see, judge act’ methodology. In ‘see’ we look at the events in the social context of our people. This year our focus is on increasing national depression and disillusionment emerging in our societies.
In ‘judge’ we look at the journey from ‘conflict to communion’ the theme of the Lutheran-Catholic common commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. Ecclesia semper reformanda est is a vision that goes back to St Augustine who was the inspiration for Martin Luther in his mission to reform the church. It is also the vision of Pope Francis in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
In ‘act’ we propose ecclesial responses to the situation of conflict, sin and suffering around us. In addition, we seek pastoral and ministry based solutions that promote the journey from conflict to communion.
Our Approach to Collaborative Research
Participants in the collaborative research group work within their own disciplines in preparing presentations for our conference and articles for Grace & Truth the SJTI Academic Journal. Each participant chooses to what extent they will focus on the problematic or a portion of it. In this way, collaborative research allows a wide approach to a problematic.
In our monthly meetings from August to March before the annual conference, we mutually inform one another’s work in our sharing allowing for both convergence and diversity of approach and focus. This is our methodology, which has been successful in the last five years.
Researchers and speakers at our conferences may address aspects of the context, aspects of the theological paradigm being investigated or aspects of pastoral and ministerial solutions to the problematic. Some focus in one area, others in two and others in all three. This choice is left to the academic concerned as is the question of academic approach and interest. In this way, our group is wide ranging and open ended as befitting the nature of collaborative research.
The African Social Context Circa 2016-2017
The context of 2016-2017 reflects a certain sense of disillusionment amongst some of the peoples of Africa today. Migrations are growing out of north and north east Africa, its wars and poverty, to the European ‘nirvana.’ Islamist militancy/terrorism continues to grow. A certain disillusionment is also affecting the South as recent elections and violent service delivery protests have shown.
The turmoil in Zimbabwe and South Sudan reflects even greater signs of this hopelessness and frustration as does the never-ending unemployment and lack of progress in economic development.
We are living in a more sombre time than recently. Protest, violence and migration to perceived better places are signs of human disempowerment amongst frustrated poor people. This disillusionment is expressed in many experiences in recent African news such as:
‘Capture of the state’ and political organisations;
Implosion of trade union federations;
Rampant corruption and ostentatious consumerism by elites;
In South Africa the National Prosecuting authority has sometimes been compromised;
Landlessness, an underperforming economy, tenderpreneurship and alarming road fatalitie.,
All these are expressions of frustration resulting from poverty inequality and social problems.
The Gini coefficient is the measure of inequality of income within a country.
The higher the number the more unequal the society. There are seven African countries in the nine most unequal countries in the world:
1 South Africa (the most unequal) 63.8
2. Namibia 60.97
3. Haiti 60.79
4. Botswana 60.46
5. Suriname 57.61
6. Central African republic 56.24
7. Comoros 55.93
8. Zambia 55.62
9 Lesotho 54.18.
The Spirit Level, a somewhat controversial book by Wilkinson and Pickett (2010), promotes the thesis that unequal societies degrade the wellbeing of all citizens both rich and poor. They provide a considerable amount of statistical analysis to show that unequal societies are faced with many more problems than equal societies and that the decreased quality of life in such societies affects both rich and poor.
The book has been criticised by some academics for the quality of the research and defended by others who dispute this. Some pundits have noted cultural and political motivations for the various views.
Pope Francis has been scathing in his views about the growing divide between rich and poor under globalisation. He sent a message to the gathering of world business leaders in Davos in 2016 asking them to consider their role in creating poverty.
Whilst this scenario is alarming as we look at the period of this research (2016-17), we dare not succumb to national or continental depression. All citizens are the architects of the future.
In all of this context comes a commemoration of 500 years of reformation: on the one hand a sign of division and fracturing in Christianity and on the other a sign of hope for a better future of union, solidarity and a striving for common purpose.
How does our current context meet the theology of the reformation and how are solutions proposed for Church action in society? This was the task of our Collaborative Research group. In this and the next edition of Grace & Truth some of the results will be presented
Some Helpful Theological Sources
The following quotes from recent ecclesial texts suggests a way forward for our collaborative journey into theological reflection and praxis as we examine the theme: From Conflict to Communion. They come from four documents proposed as a background to the commemoration of 500 years of the reformation. These also serve in the construction of the contextual and theological framework of this and the next edition of Grace & Truth.
In the first, Pope Francis calls us to continual reformation as renewal in fidelity to Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium 2013). In the second, theologians from Lutheran and other Christian traditions meeting in Windhoek in 2015 presented four crucial approaches to a theology of social transformation ‘as the Lutheran World Federation prepares to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017’ (LWF 2015). The third is an excerpt from the document: The Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (LCCR 2017). The fourth is proposed as background material for our reflection. It is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (JDJ 1999). The World Methodist Council also adopted it in 2006.
Highlights from the texts
Conflict to communion from Francis (Evangelii Gaudium 25-26).
• I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’ (EG 25).
• Paul VI invited us to deepen the call to renewal and to make it clear that renewal does not only concern individuals but the entire Church.… The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ: ‘Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth (UR 6)’ (EG 26).
Insights from Lutheran theologians
The second text is entitled: Four Theological Approaches to Social Transformation as the Lutheran World Federation Prepares to Mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (LWF 2015).The group advocates: ‘a theology that seeks to contribute to social transformation must relate to the contexts in which it is applied, offer critical and creative approaches and address concrete issues’ (LWF 2015).
In a Reformation Day message on 31 October, the 70 scholars urged the Lutheran World Federation to build up the capacity of its member churches to bring politics, economics and theology together to transform society according to God’s vision of abundant life for all. Their message stated, ‘Sensitivity to context reveals the need for critical reflection on one’s own universalizing assumptions and on the context. Critical reflection discloses that some dynamic power and privilege need to be overthrown, which invites creativity which in turn generates concrete actions’ (LWF 2015).
The text has additional important for us because of its African context in Namibia. The scholars emphasized, ‘The critical aspect of theology involves questioning certainties, challenging centres of power that shut down public space or exclude people’ (LWF 2015).
Participants agreed that for theology to be concrete, ‘it must speak and act against economic, gender and climate injustice; reform structures, policies and practices that support injustice; and equip pastors and laity to engage in the political and economic realms’ (LWF 2015).
Transformative theology requires and enables looking with new eyes and truth-telling about the realities that we face. Seeing with new eyes is made possible by the communion and the differences within it; deep and trusting relationships with the communion enable us to see reality through others’ eyes We are therefore profoundly grateful for the differences among us, concluded the theologians representing churches and theological institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Latin America. This is precisely how a communion works and what communion is (LWF 2015).
The third text entitled From Conflict to Communion is the common statement of The Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. The basic message is found in the foreword:
• ‘In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre.’
• The gospel should be celebrated and communicated to the people of our time so that the world may believe that God gives Godself to human beings and calls us into communion with Godself and God’s church. Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.
• In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre… Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.
• To this joy also belongs a discerning, self-critical look at ourselves, not only in our history, but also today. We Christians have certainly not always been faithful to the gospel; all too often we have conformed ourselves to the thought and behavioural patterns of the surrounding world. Repeatedly, we have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God.
• Both as individuals and as a community of believers, we all constantly require repentance and reform – encouraged and led by the Holy Spirit. ‘When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.’ Thus reads the opening statement of Luther’s 95 Theses from 1517, which triggered the Reformation movement.
• ‘Although this thesis is anything but self-evident today, we Lutheran and Catholic Christians want to take it seriously by directing our critical glance first at ourselves and not at each other.’
• ‘We take as our guiding rule the doctrine of justification, which expresses the message of the gospel and therefore ‘constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ’” (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification).
• ‘The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’
• ‘The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history.’
• ‘In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church.’
• ‘This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6).’
• ‘Nevertheless, the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity has taken seriously the words of Pope John XXIII, ‘The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.’”
The prevailing theme of all of these texts is the call to confess our own sins, to recognise our own culpability and to work together for the building up of the body of Christ in the world so that all can participate in a better place of peace and service of the poor. It is a recognition of the need that all of us have for God’s grace in common prayer and common service respecting at all times the historical and social differences that have brought people closer to the goal for human and spiritual communion.
This issue of Grace & Truth will present some of the papers presented at conference together with other related texts submitted to the journal.
Rodney Moss presents an overview of Catholic and Protestant Responses to the Relationship between Scripture and Tradition pointing out areas of agreement and diversity.
Luigi Morell explores the divisive issue of indulgences in the light in the light of current theological ideas with special reference to Pope Francis and his recent teaching on mercy.
Freeborn Kibombwe explores a Trinitarian approach to the journey from conflict to communion from the perspective of the use of media in evangelization.
Using a case study methodology Jean Davidson explores the possibilities of prayer with children and adults in the context of social development ministries in local communities.
Nhlanhla Mhlanga revisits metaphor of the African Renaissance and a new Africa, the hallmark of the presidency of Thabo Mbeki in South Africa. He explores whether the African Renaissance can be today can be redreamed today to inform a way forward from conflict to communion in Africa
Finally, Pawel Zajac investigates the historic context of the 18th century Catholic Mission in North America, an era midway between our world and that of the reformation, examining Christian views on social reform and church praxis in another age and context of mission.
EG. Evangelii Gaudium. Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the Proclamation of the
Gospel in Todays World, 24 November 2013. Available at http://www.vatican.va/evangelii-gaudium/en/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#1, accessed 15 March 2018.
JDJ. Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation
and the Catholic Church, 31 October 1999. Available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html, accessed 15 March 2018.
LCCR. Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation. 2017. From
Conflict to Communion. Available at https://www.lutheranworld.org/sites/default/files/From%20Conflict%20to%20Communion.pdf, accessed 15 March 2018.
LWF. Lutheran World Federation. 2015. Global Perspectives on the Reformation by
Lutheran World Federation Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, 2 November 2015. Available at
https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/social-transformation-through-concrete-and-contextual-theology, accessed 15 March 2018.
UR. Unitatis Redintegratio. Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council,
21 November 1964. Available at
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html, accessed 15 March 2018.
Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. 2010. The spirit level: Why equality is better for everyone.
World Bank Gini Estimates. Available at
http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=2&series=SI.POV.GINI&country=, accessed 15 March 2018.