Being a Mission on this Earth

Evangelisation has to do less with technical procedures and media but is fundamentally a question of human relationships. Anthropology has the task of analysing cultures and human behaviour and thus lays the ground for a missionary encounter. In colonialistic setting, the missionary endeavour implied a civilizational effort: the others should first be brought to a different cultural level before they might be able to receive the Gospel. The Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) have a long-standing tradition of anthropological research intended to help missionaries in their engagement. Missionary linguistics study some of the complex tasks involved in the translation of messages between different cultures. Communication, as a further central characteristic of the SVD missionary perspective, offers insights for the relation to others. In the last section, Pope Francis’ position of thinking mission as a personal calling and vocation is taken up.

Evangelisation constitutes the entire purpose of many congregations like the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) and for all disciples of Jesus, if one takes Pope Francis’ perspectives in Evangelii gaudium (EG) seriously. There, in a chapter on the spiritual background for evangelisation (EG 269-274), he explains particularly the human attitudes in the disciples of love for the others, and its relationship to God’s love for any human person as a basic fact which demands the disciple’s response in a positive approach.

This perspective on divine love and the human person constitutes for the SVD their particular articulation of evangelisation and mission, on the one hand, and anthropology and social sciences, on the other. For the symposium in November 2018, this articulation became the focus point of Mariano Delgado’s input and the reflections that followed on that day and after.

Evangelisation deals with the relationship between persons and the good news, a sort of message to be conveyed and construed between the actors. This communicative relationship has been seen under different angles in the course of its reflection, and also today, there are several rather diverse manners to focus on the communicative act of sharing. Technological developments play a major role in it and shape the expectations for the mediated communication.

In this contribution I’d like to take a look at some of the stages in the partly quite conflict-laden relationship of anthropology and missiology and different designs for a missionary encounter with others. The need of translation in the transmission of messages is a vital question of communication and its fascinating modes of coding and decoding. From a communicational point of view, the passing on of a message requires change and modification, if it wants to reach the other and keep its identity. Looking at evangelisation from a communicative perspective will lead in the final section of this article to the appreciation of the personal involvement with all the complexity of “being a mission” and thus understand the person as the carrier and agent of evangelisation.

Mission and Civilisation

In the 19th century, the “missionary century,” the church saw itself tasked with the promotion of civilisation. A. Miotk states in his study on Maximum illud that for Pope Leo XIII the missionary engagement presented the “foremost aspect of a harmonizing strategy between church and modern society […]. ‘As far as human reason is capable of judging the events – [the pope] wrote in 1894 –, it seems to be evident that God has entrusted Europe with the task to spread the benefits of Christian civilisation in the entire world.’ Generally, the missionaries shared this idea.”[1] In the same line, Gustav Warneck stated: “We plant and promote civilization when we present the Gospel, and we make the nature-peoples human by making them Christians. Christianity is not the bloom but the root; culture is not the root but a bloom of Christianity. […] The nature-peoples must first be made human, then Christian. They are slowly trained to and through culture, whose highest bloom is Christianity.”[2]

Missionaries were challenged from the outset to find out more about the people they encountered. While there may not have been a lot of doubt among European missionaries about the high level of Christian content present in European cultures, their anthropological research revealed that supposedly primitive peoples not only had their rich cultures but that their way of living was quite adapted to their environment. A century ago, Martin Gusinde SVD was such a researcher among different peoples in Patagonia and the southmost places of America.[3] He was able to register the cultures there and to discover how much they were adapted to the circumstances, not at all a primitive state of infra-human existence but much more a sophisticated world view. Gusinde explained in a retrospective on his life and work that his missionary vocation that brought him to the SVD in the first place consisted in his wish to “dedicate himself to missionary work in order to offer linguistic and anthropological research to the missionaries, in order to support them for a better evangelisation of non-Christian persons.”[4]

In terms of communicating the gospel to other peoples, the emphasis was of course on teaching, instructing, making them understand—quite a unidirectional flow of information. Nevertheless, at the time of Gusinde’s first research trips, even the official teaching of the church insisted already – and not for the first time – on doing this proclamation and mission work in local languages. Maximum illud (1919) insisted on language learning for the missionaries:

Among the attainments necessary for the life of a missionary, a place of paramount importance must obviously be granted to the language of the people to whose salvation he will devote himself. He should not be content with a smattering of the language, but should be able to speak it readily and competently. For in this respect he is under an obligation to all those he deals with, the learned and the ignorant alike, and he will soon realize the advantage a command of their language gives him in the task of winning the confidence of the populace. If he is earnest about his work, he will be particularly reluctant to delegate the explanation of Christian doctrine to his catechists. He will insist upon reserving this duty to himself. Since he has been sent to the missions for no other purpose, after all, than to preach the gospel, he will even come to look on these instruction periods as the most important part of his work. There will also be occasions when, in his position as representative and interpreter of our holy Faith, he will have to associate with the dignitaries of the district. Or he may be invited to appear at scholarly gatherings. How will he maintain his dignity under these circumstances if he cannot make himself understood because he does not know the language?[5]

This insistence on language was also given to Anthropos in the early days of the Divine Word Missionaries—a research interest the journal and later the Institute have pursued extensively. In the first article of Anthropos, Msgr. Alexandre Le Roy, then the Superior General of the Spiritans in Paris, wrote: “It is too obviously necessary that the missionary must know languages… As a matter of fact, this study is not optional but obligatory… No-one can be called really a missionary if he is not able to teach the indigenous in their own language.”[6] For others who work for social progress, the “civilizational contribution of Christianity” is easily understandable, as “the gospel offers the world an ideal” of a higher moral state.[7] But therefore it is also necessary to get to know each people: “It is quite important to keep in mind that each people has its own civilisation, that is to say, their way of understanding life, to lead it as they understand it, to take advantage of it in the best manner they can understand, to get organised and to govern themselves.”[8]

Anthropology and Mission

The concern for human cultures and the ways of life of different peoples necessarily has been important for missionaries and at times they found support for their tasks in social sciences, particularly anthropology and ethnology. There were particular research interests: In Wilhelm Schmidt SVD, the founder of Anthropos, “we find his quite plain apologetic intention to prove that mankind originally knew of a monotheistic god, the father and creator, and that those peoples who could, historically speaking, be considered to exhibit the oldest or most ancient forms of culture, still adhere to such an idea. And for this purpose he solicited the cooperation of missionaries, guided their search and presented their findings to the scholarly world. The main channels for this kind of work were, next to Schmidt’s books (especially his Ursprung der Gottesidee) the journal Anthropos and the organization of the Semaines d’Ethnologie Religieuse.[9] Such ideologically motivated research and the application of insights became suspect in the academic context and the famous Vienna School around the SVD anthropologists lost its influence. At the same time, during the middle of the 20th century in the context of neo-colonialist and neo-imperialist campaigns, also the missionary approach to other peoples was understood as an active enterprise to modernise cultures which had been considered as lagging behind. Therefore, a split and later on a serious controversy about mission became rather outspoken among anthropologists. “Mission” became a synonym for cultural imperialism and the destruction of cultures. In 1973, a conference in Barbados demanded a stop in any missionary activity, as missionaries were accused of interfering with local cultures, while anthropologists claimed to be able to take a neutral and objective stance and therefore be able to observe cultures without influencing them.[10] Meanwhile, this conflict and opposition has cooled down quite a bit to a more rational level. But the possible contribution from anthropology to the missionary endeavour required some explanations. In the context of the centennial celebration of Anthropos, the director of the Institute, Joachim Piepke SVD, explained the purpose of the Institute and its work:

The Anthropos Institute is concerned with the study of the cultures, languages and religions of different groups of people. It does this […] from the particular perspective of the missionary task of the Church to go and announce the gospel to all people. The science which then is tested and improved can be called the science of mission. This deals explicitly with theories of Christian mission and the methods of spreading the gospel to non-Christian peoples. The addition “to non-Christian peoples” is very intentional, to make it clear from the very beginning that the scope of this mission science differs from a scientific study of pastoral care. The science of mission in the sense in which it is understood here is concerned with the so-called “mission to the other outside” of one’s own culture and not with the “mission to those within,” for example parish missions or the preaching of the gospel in one’s own Christian culture region. “Mission to those outside” of necessity means that one must transcend one’s own cultural boundaries and is faced, as a result, with the questions involved in preaching the gospel in strange cultures.[11]

In a major consultation dedicated to the relationship between anthropology and missiology and their mutual contributions, celebrated at Ishvani Kendra (Pune, India) in December of 1986, these questions were debated.[12] The meeting considered “the expectations which the missionary-in-the-field of today has in relation to the science of anthropology and the help he expects from professional SVD anthropologists. In this regard it was evidenced that the missionary aspires to understand the total life situation of the people he serves and, consequently, appreciates being helped to understand culture as a global system of symbols with integrated parts taking in all forms of social organization. Of direct relevance to mission is the fact that the human being, male and female, is a social and religious being.”[13] The relations between anthropologists and missionaries were perceived as being in an uneasy state of flux because of the criticisms of missionary work made by anthropologists and other social scientists over the previous decades. The anthropologists did not question the biblical and theological foundations of mission but their critique of the social and cultural insensitivities of missionaries in cross-cultural situations did not make them friends either. Furthermore, missionaries-in-the-field perceived the anthropologists involved in researches with little relevance for confronting the day-to-day missionary problems. However, the local missionary often has much more experience of life in the field at the interface of cross-cultural communication than the anthropologist.[14]

One of the outcomes of this symposium is the publication of Anthropology &Mission twice a year by the Anthropos Institute since 1989. It contains summaries and reviews of anthropological books and articles relevant for those doing mission work and was delivered to formation houses and SVD missionary communities worldwide in order to give hints about anthropologically interesting perspectives.[15]

Translating Messages

The evangelising process never has been an easy task, there have always been difficulties and challenges in conveying the gospel and reaching the others in the intended manner. An early Christian example of such difficulties is shown already in the times of the early church with Paul and Barnabas. Acts 14 tells about their preaching in word and deed. The healing of a crippled man in whom Paul saw “that he had faith to be healed,” the Lycaonians interpret as “the gods have come down to us in human form!” (Acts 14:9.11) The people are not willing to leave that divine grace without recognition and take serious action when disappointed and, as a consequence, Paul is stoned and supposed to be dead (14:19).[16] So, misunderstanding in translation can be a deadly affair.

This difficulty results from an evangelisation discourse outside of the cultural field. At the Pune Consultation, Louis Luzbetak stated that “We are really not preaching the Gospel effectively unless we preach in the cultural ‘language’ of the community in question, that is to say, in the local symbolic system.”[17] Therefore, the Consultation dealt a lot with contextualisation and inculturation. In Luzbetak’s understanding, “Contextua-lization is the process by which a local church integrates its understanding of the Gospel (the ‘text’) with its culture (the ‘context’). Contextualization implies that the local Christian community blends its understanding of the Gospel with actual life. Unlike accommodation, which in practice has usually touched only the surface of a people’s ways and values, contextualization means integrating the whole lifeway to its very depths with the Gospel. Evangelii nuntiandi, the Magna Charta of modern mission action, speaks of incarnating the Gospel ‘right to the very roots’ of the culture (no. 20). This must, of course, be done without in any way compromising the Gospel, not an iota of it (Mt 5:18).”[18]

This task of not compromising in any way “not even an iota” of the gospel in Luzbetak’s commentary is more easily said than done. He finds himself in the best of company, obviously: “Pope John Paul II likes to speak of ‘evangelizing cultures,’ a good synonym for contextualization. It is here that anthropology, ‘the Science of Human Beings,’ makes its greatest contribution to mission. Cultural anthropology is the science that can show what it means to get ‘to the very roots’ of a way of life, how to ‘scratch where it does itch’….”[19] Pope John Paul II liked to insist on both the necessity to contextualise, to enter into dialogue, and to keep the faith pure:

The process of the Church’s insertion into peoples’ cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation ‘means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.’ The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.[20]

In practice, the encounter with other peoples requires efforts at translation. Linguistics has branched out into a particular field that studies the translation of texts from “missionary” situations. For “missionary linguistics,” “translation is considered as a transcultural and a translingual activity. As such it is based on intercultural encounters between European missionaries and the speakers of the various indigenous languages and cultures of America, Asia and Africa. It entails the cognitive appropriation of the indigenous languages and cultures and the practical aim to colonize or, at least, influence the culture of the (indigenous) ‘other.’ In a wider sense, the appropriation, documentation and translation of the indigenous languages by the missionaries are results of interlinguistic perception, i.e., the perception of one language through the vision of another, and a cognitive process which encompasses (auditory) sensation of new linguistic information and its cognitive interpretation on the (contrastive) basis of old information, i.e., the more general or even specialized theoretical and language knowledge of the missionaries.”[21]

Studies of the concrete manners how fundamental concepts of Christian heritage are translated into other cultural contexts produce quite fascinating results, or at least insights. While one might imagine the translation of cultural content in the context of religion “as a rather straightforward enterprise that implies a uni-directional process undertaken to transfer a message into a different (kind of) language, providing explanations and interpretations of diverse content and form. Our studies show that these processes can be bi-directional or even multiple because all works studied give evidence of how the authors resorted to different cultural traditions and languages and interrelated them.”[22]

In the process of translating, missionaries went through different phases of understanding the other languages into which they translated. At times, later editions of their works incorporated better adapted concepts or had to cope with the decisions of authorities regarding the correct use of concepts—the solution of the Chinese rites controversy with the imposition of tiānzhǔ in place of tiān and shàngdì is a disastrous example in history. But often, the translators and missionaries encountered difficulties in their options; as an example, Graciela Chamorro analyses that in a Jesuit translation into Guaraní the idea of “Jesus Christ son of God” had to decide for the correct word for /son/, as the concepts for it in the Tupí root are different if being a son refers to the father – ta’ýra – or to the mother – membýra. “As in the understanding of the doctrine on the Holy Trinity the male power as the basis for the articulation of society was prevalent, the Jesuit translator chooses ta’ýra in order to express that Jesus was the male son of a male god, thus taking care that in the trinitarian expression Jesus be not understood as son of a woman, membýra.[23] Many of the translation studies show the difficulties in finding appropriate equivalences in other languages.[24]

For the search of appropriate equivalent meanings, obviously the analysis of the other culture was most important. In many cases, the missionaries found such meanings, but often they also had doubts of the precise meaning. They found it better to avoid confusion with the previous (“pagan”) religion.[25] Others tried translations and adopted concepts from the other language, but at times for some reason, their conceptualisation was abandoned later on.[26]

There are different motivations at work when it comes to the question of translating texts. There is of course the interest and indeed need to get a firm basis for the content of Christian faith. As the presentation of the actual Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers and the Church’s saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God.”[27] Particularly with the reformation and the subsequent controversies, the 16th century became the “great century of catechisms.”[28] The Tridentine Council ordered the composition of a catechism (Catechismus Romanus, 1566), which was to become the general norm for the instruction of the faithful. However, in the missions, different forms of such compendia were elaborated, depending on a colonial context—that is, within the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America and Asia—or outside of such dominion—like Matteo Ricci’s situation in China. In a comparative study, Franz Helm looks at the Jesuits José de Acosta (Peru) and Matteo Ricci (China) and their respective presentations of the Christian faith. “Both missionaries left their native countries to save the souls of the pagans from hell. So, Acosta procures the ‘salvation for the Indians’ and Ricci wants to ‘introduce the Christian faith in China’”[29] – to take up the title of Acosta’s programmatic work De Procuranda Indorum Salute and Ricci’s mission history – tiny shifts in words showing rather different positions towards the others.

The decision to study and to take on concepts from the other’s world depends on the strategic view of their culture: Since the Indians in Peru were considered of a lower cultural level, Acosta did not bother much in searching equivalences. This was quite different for Ricci who worked outside of the colonial powers and in relation to a culture considered high. Acosta’s catechism “did not make any effort at finding a starting point with the Indians, to whom the faith is announced. Since there is no salvation outside of the church[30] and she is in possession of the only truth and the exclusive way to salvation, there can be no question about the integral acceptance of all of her dogmas, customs and rites coming from the European Christianity.”[31] Therefore, Acosta introduces Spanish or Latin concepts into the Quechua (and Aymara) of his catechism without looking for equivalences: God, Holy Spirit, holy, grace, angel, spirit, person, virgin, sacrament, theological virtues, Sunday, confess, take communion, fasting are some of the central concepts introduced.[32] On the other side of the globe, Ricci accommodates to his politically powerless situation: “Like the Chinese students who aspire to a public office, also [Ricci] has to comply with the careful study of the classical texts. This knowledge opens for him the way into the intellectual elite. While Acosta—and with him the missionaries in Peru—reject the ‘indigenous school’ based on the retelling of the myths, Ricci—and with him the missionaries in China—has no other choice than to respect the Chinese educational system and comply with it. While Acosta writes and teaches in Spanish, the language of the invader and the foreign empire, Ricci can write only in the indigenous language of the local empire. While the missionaries in Peru appropriate the indigenous languages and master them, Ricci is a student who deciphers and by and by translates the great literary works of antiquity with their archaic Chinese and tries to discover contents compatible with Christianity which might serve as a starting point for his catechesis.”[33]


Within the SVD, communication is supposed to be one of the characteristic dimensions of the missionary approach. From times even before the foundation of the Congregation itself, media were already prominent in Arnold Janssen’s missionary perspective and for a long time, the SVD has been related to printing and magazines.[34] Over the last 50 years, the emphasis has shifted from the media and the technical aspects to an attitude of communicating—a perspective largely misunderstood and underestimated by most SVD members.[35] Particularly with the appearance and technological progress of social media, there is a new fascination with gadgets and technicalities. The SVD Constitutions relate communication to mission and evangelisation:

Communication at its most profound level is the giving of self in love and consequently a basic attitude necessary for us Divine Word Missionaries. Strengthened by this Word we work toward that final unity where God will be all in all (see 1 Co 15:28).

Our founder saw in the printed word a powerful means to realize this goal. In the different means of communication, we recognize indispensable, effective ways of bringing the faith to all peoples and deepening it, of keeping the whole Church aware of its missionary obligation, and of strengthening that love which is the expression and source of all community.[36]

This rule anchors mission in the Trinitarian communion of Godself, a perspective that was also emphasised in the General Chapter of the year 2000 with the centrality of missio Dei and the subsequent option for dialogue in a communicative (as well as biblical, animation and justice-and-peace) way.[37] In the background, there is, among other things, the important insight of Vatican II that revelation is not so much the arrival of a message but actually a communication process: ”By divine Revelation God wished to manifest and communicate both himself and the eternal decrees of his will concerning the salvation of mankind: He wished, in other words, ‘to share with us divine benefits which entirely surpass the powers of the human mind to understand.’”[38] In a 1967 commentary, Joseph Ratzinger explains that this “last section of [Dei Verbum] repeats in summarised form the first sections of the chapter ‘De revelatione’ of Vaticanum I (DS 3004f). The novelty with respect to that text consists in the replacement of the word revelare by the two verbs manifestare ac communicare. Thus, once again the character of reality of revelation is underlined that surpasses the purely doctrinal aspect which does not simply convey ‘divine resolutions.’ Rather, it is the dialogue of salvation, which is the communication taking place in the word from person to person.” This revision results from the perspective of Vatican II which does not start from a natural knowledge of God to proceed to a supranatural revelation, but to the contrary, “unfolds revelation out of its Christological centre and then underlines the unreducible responsibility of human rationality as one dimension of the whole.”[39]

The word and concept of communication set interesting conditions for mission. Communication derives from the Latin munus which refers to the mutual obligations and donations from and in favour of the community[40] and also seems to mean originally a common field where the citizens kept their cattle. It is in such a field that through revelation God enters and becomes a member. In Christian terms, this mystery is termed Incarnation. As in any communication process, this mystery implies change on both sides. In early analytical presentations, the communication process was seen somehow linear in the passage of a message from a sender to a receiver. Harold Lasswell’s and Paul Lazarsfeld’s research in the middle of the 20th century tried to secure such transmission, based on mathematical considerations[41] – quite understandable in the context of the military and the requirement of flawless communication there. But soon, other factors came into focus and showed that communication processes are not unidirectional and depend on multiple factors and influences. This meant a shift from a unidirectional information flow to actual communicative processes. Cultural aspects belong to the determining factors which were analysed first within the North American and Western society – for example, in Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow of communication model.[42] With other cultures from other contexts, more elements had to be incorporated into the models. It became visible that messages are construed in shared processes through multiple turns in interpreting each other,[43] and therefore, the communication process implies participants rather than a sender/receiver.

Among the communication models that go beyond the sender/receiver perspective are the digitalised media technologies. Supposedly, due to the technological possibilities, the one-way perspectives of evangelisation are overcome, there is no longer a producer vs. a consumer of messages, rather there are prosumers all taking part in the construction of meaning. Digitalisation seems to be the password into a brave new world of many idealistic promises for an easy life but also with many strings attached of silenced and even ignored or ideologically veiled interests and consequences.[44] The worries about surveillance and the loss of employment in digitalised societies are well documented. At times, there are concerns about the loss of capacities for public discussion, as social media are limiting the access to the opinions and arguments of the others; marketing considerations and algorithms tend to reinforce one’s own line of argument and eclipse adverse opinions.[45] There is, of course, any amount of success promises for those who take to social media in their evangelising efforts. However, it looks like there are more promises and possibilities than actual innovations and new practices in these proposals.[46] I am aware that there are many churches with a lot of such new media use not only for the organisational tasks but also for their proper evangelisational fields, mostly among charismatic and (neo)Pentecostal churches, with strong emphases on the event character and on emotions. Social change or option for the poor along perspectives of God’s kingdom remain largely eclipsed.

I think the implications of participative communication models for the missionary encounter and evangelisation may turn out quite radical. If revelation is really to be understood as communication, a substantial contribution should be expected from what used to be thought of as the receiving side. What could that mean for God and the Spirit? And what should that mean for someone in any human setting and culture? Is there actually something new to be expected to the evangelising content and to revelation from any culture? When mission is understood as dialogue, it might be possible to take that human side of revelation seriously.[47] It follows quite obviously that the missionary is not any more supposed to bring God to any people – God has been there a long time before, as the saying goes.[48] But that also implies that it might be quite difficult to ensure that “not an iota” be compromised, in Luzbetak’s expression above. The problem lies in the challenge to accept and recognise a field – munus – of shared meaning, and that goes quite a lot beyond the iotas. I like quite a lot the expression of a missionary who affirms in his old age looking back at his life: “The most important principle is that any cultural group I meet will be as intelligent and honest as myself. If I see something that for me does not make sense or that for me is unethical it will be a sign that I miss something relevant; that I need to keep observing and reflecting.”[49] A step beyond the recognition of equality would consist in going native and in taking on other life styles, values and indeed revelation itself. Maybe this is the intention of the much-promoted intercultural approach to mission, which is still articulated much within our missionary congregation and its members from different cultures.[50]

A consideration of the communicational process is related to this need for an openness to new contents even in revelation. As any speaker organises his discourse in relation to an intended listener, there results a certain dependence on the “listener” (and the prosumer perspective does not prevent from such a dependency, as also the prosumer places him/herself in the process of content production at some stage on a receiving side). It is impossible—at least it does not make sense—to express something that should go beyond the “receiver’s” fundamental possibility of understanding, the moments of coding and decoding establish a mutual dependency on coming to terms and negotiating a new meaning. The evangelising discourse about a new good news shows how missionaries approached the other cultures: The first pronouncements were rather simple summaries about the new religion.[51] Because of this dependency, it is impossible to announce absolute truths to anyone, as the construction of meaning always puts meaning in the relationship and truth becomes relational: The other is in reality the condition of my discourse.[52]

This dependency on the other for my own possibilities to elaborate my discourse may lead to the idea that the other has to become first like myself and then I could convey my message. The civilizational mission is an option for this: Only after the others have undergone a formation and accepted the cultural contents of my own world will they be in condition to receive and understand the gospel. Programmes for seminaries and the formation of clergy show such an outline, there does not seem to be a way outside of the Hellenistic philosophy and culture to access the Christian revelation,[53] theology students worldwide have to study Latin, Greek and European philosophy in order to access theology, alternative approaches through a more thorough dedication to Indian thought systems (in India) or more practice oriented apprenticeships (in Brazil or Ecuador, to mention only a few) had to be abolished or at least were not pursued to any large extent.[54] The alternative approach would have to recognise in the others equally valid points of view and the same nearness to revelation, on the basis of belonging to the same creation. It would open for more possibilities to learn from the others and their understanding of God. I wonder about the implications of assigning a normative character with regard to revelation also to other cultures. The recent emphasis on creation theology and spirituality related to ecology might offer helpful insights.[55]

Being a Mission

The construction of meaning and the communication of the good news might be understood as tasks and work. And in fact, this is true: It takes a lot of effort to “make sense,” to build new perspectives together and to contribute to the discourse on meaning for life. Evangelisation is part of the building of such discourses.

In Evangelii gaudium, this engagement is understood in terms of love. That is also the elementary experience of any missionary: Without love for the people there is no point in anything related to evangelisation or social engagement. This is, by the way, the everyday experience when at times missionaries may be highly regarded by the people around them, in spite of their poor command of other languages or little incidence in building mission stations, hospitals or schools etc., just because it becomes credible that they love the people and dedicate their lives to them.[56] And “missionary” in this context does not mean exotic places and strange cultures, though there, it may become more visible and more easily understandable. Actually, without love, any social contact might turn into a boring administrative act or worse. Pope Francis sets out from God – as he does usually – and stresses the spiritual side of approaching the others: “Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary” (EG 272).

Thus, the missionary commitment becomes related to being a disciple, more than practicing a certain set of activities, attitudes and actions. The relation to the others is characterised by that way of being a fellow human and it is this way of being which enters the shared space – the “munus” – in evangelisation. In the words of EG:

My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing (EG 273; my emphasis).

Certainly, “being” does not mean an essentialist state of immutable identity. Rather, in a more dialectic approach, being and identity exist in the processes of change through the encounter with others. Again, this experience of change belongs to the basic assets of missionaries who realise in hindsight how much they have changed in their lives through the exposure to others, and often it is a happy realisation to see all that has changed – divine grace has been at work. When placing one’s own person and being in the changing relations to others, the difficulties and troubles of anthropological and dogmatic confrontation lines might be dissolved and overcome in the sharing with others, or at least, to stick with dialectics, they may be sublated (aufgehoben) into fraternal relationships of mutual enrichment.

In the world of newfangled social media the tools for such encounters may not be sufficiently complex when the linguistic competence seems to rely on the simpler choices of a “like” button or the selection from a couple of dozen emojis. Being human and the all-encompassing attitudes of love in dealing with others always have been more creative than such simple signs. Thus, it is the human person in its entire complexity that will also in the future be the real and fruitful carrier and agent of evangelisation. Mariano Delgado’s reflection on this topic (see the first article in this section) and his stress on calling, humility and spirituality rightly refers to an anthropology that builds on creation and particularly on the human person as God’s own likeness. Such an evangelisation and missionary encounter have revealed a divine and human interplay and will also in the changing contexts of modernity appeal to people.

 [1] Andrzej Miotk SVD, Das Missionsverständnis im historischen Wandel am Beispiel der Enzyklika „Maximum Illud“(Veröffentlichungen des Missions-priesterseminars St. Augustin bei Bonn 51), Nettetal: Steyler Verlag 1999, 110 (my translation).

[2] In Modern Missions and Culture: Their Mutual Relations. Translated from the German by Thomas Smith (Edinburgh: James Gemmell 1883), 245 and 242, quoted in J. Bonk, Economic Development and Christian Mission: A Perspective from History of Mission, in: Mari-Anna Auvinen-Pöntinen/Jonas Adelin Jørgensen (eds.), Mission and Money. Christian Mission in the Context of Global Inequalities (Theology and Mission in World Christianity 1), Leiden: Brill 2016, 145-170, here 145.

[3] The diaries of these research trips to Tierra del Fuego are being edited: Marisol Palma Behnke, Diario del primer viaje de Martín Gusinde a Tierra del Fuego (1918–1919). Introducción y comentario a la publicación del documento inédito: Anthropos 113 (1.2018) 169-193. The subsequent diaries are published in Anthropos 113 (2.2018) 543-571 and Anthropos 114 (2.2019) 355-372, the second part of the third trip is announced for a forthcoming issue. For overviews of Gusinde’s research see Martin Gu­sinde, The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego. Selk’nam, Yamana, Kawésqar. ed. by Christine Barthe and Xavier Barral, London: Thames & Hudson 2015.

[4] In a lecture in 1957. See M. Palma Behnke, Diario del primer viaje, 170f.

[5] Maximum illud, 24. The text is available on the Vatican website under Benedict XV’s Apostolic letters [10/2/2020]. – On this topic, see also: Franz-Josef Eilers SVD, Maximum illud in Communication Perspective: Verbum SVD 60 (1-2.2019) 58-62.

[6] See Alexandre Le Roy, Le rôle scientifique des missionnaires: Anthropos 1 (1906) 3-10, here 9 (my translation). On this topic see also Othmar Gäch­ter SVD, The Encounter between Religions and Cultures. 100 Years of Anthropos – International Review of Anthropology and Linguistics: Verbum SVD 46 (2.2005) 193-205; and Joachim G. Piepke SVD, The Anthropos Institute. The Task of Basic Research in Mission: Verbum SVD 46 (2.2005) 179-192.

[7] Le Roy, Le rôle scientifique des missionnaires, 3.

[8] Ibid., 6.

[9] Peter Knecht, Definition of the position of Anthropology in the S.V.D., in: Joachim G. Piepke (ed.), Anthropology and Mission. SVD International Consultation on Anthropology for Mission (Studia Instituti Missiologici SVD 41), Nettetal: Steyler Verlag 1988, 21-38, here 29.

[10] For a critical summary of these controversies and indications of the relationship between ethnographers and missionaries see Timothy Larsen, British Social Anthropologists and Missionaries in the Twentieth Century: Anthropos 111 (2.2016) 593-601.

[11] Piepke, The Anthropos Institute, 180.

[12] Piepke (ed.), Anthropology and Mission.

[13] Wayne Robins/Peter Knecht/Roger Schroeder, Report and Recommendations, in: Piepke (ed.), Anthropology and Mission, 9-20, here 9. – As the Consultation dealt primarily with the SVD, it is “he,” the missionary.

[14] Ibid., 16.

[15] See the publications at Anthropos: The recent issues are available (only) online.

[16] Thomas Söding highlights in a recent missiological reading of Acts the fact that such a public “religious” recognition of divine intervention goes far beyond the religious attitude of faithful persons but in the cultural context of Acts should be understood also as a particularly political reaction: Thomas Söding, Ein Gott für alle. Der Aufbruch zur Weltmission in der Apostelgeschichte, Freiburg: Herder 2020, 166-188.

[17] Louis J. Luzbetak, What can Anthropology offer to the Missions?, in: Piepke (ed.), Anthropology and Mission, 49-58, here 49.

[18] Ibid., 50. The discourse on contextuality and contextualisation has become fairly commonplace, but it should be noted that at the time of Luzbetak’s remark, Robert Schreiter was about to publish his seminal Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1985), Stephen Bevans SVD was trying to come to terms with the tasks of formulating contextual models (his also seminal Models of Contextual Theology [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books] was published in 1992, after first drafts since 1976 and an article on the topic in 1984, as he states in the Introduction). See also Stephen B. Bevans, SVD, Essays in Contextual Theology (Theology and Mission in World Christianity 12), Leiden: Brill 2018.

[19] Luzbetak, What can Anthropology offer to the Missions?, 51.

[20] John Paul II, Redemptoris missio 52 [1990]. Similarly, whenever speaking of the importance of dialogue for the transmission of truth and the gospel, he would insist on such integrity and completeness of the Christian message.

[21] Otto Zwartjes/Klaus Zimmermann/Martina Schrader-Kniffki (eds.), Missionary Linguistics V/Lingüística Misionera V. Translation Theories and Practices. Selected Papers from the Seventh International Conference on Missionary Linguistics, Bremen, 28 February – 2 March 2012 (Studies in the History of the Language Sciences. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science – Series III, 122), Amsterdam: John Benjamins 2014, viii. – This is the somehow arbitrary delimitation of the field by one of its most prominent experts. Nevertheless, similar translation processes have happened also within the European context of Christianity along the historical development of basic concepts like “person” within Trinitarian theology. They are also taking place with other than European actors outside of Europe and not only in colonial times.

[22] Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), Translating Wor(l)ds. Christianity Across Cultural Boundaries (Collectanea Instituti Anthropos 51), Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag 2019, 7.

[23] Graciela Chamorro, La traducción del lenguaje cristiano al guaraní jesuítico, in: Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), La transmisión de concep­tos cristianos a las lenguas amerindias: Estudios sobre textos y conceptos de la época colonial (Collectanea Instituti Anthropos 48), Sankt Augustin: Anthropos Institut/Academia Verlag 2016, 247-267, here 253 (my translation).

[24] See Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), Translating Wor(l)ds; Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), La transmisión de conceptos cristianos; see also Philip E. Stine (ed.), Bible Translation and the Spread of the Church. The Last 200 Years (Studies in Christian Mission 2), Leiden: Brill 1990; Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo, Concepts of Conversion. The Politics of Missionary Scriptural Translations (Religion and Society 70), Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter 2018.

[25] Cristina Monzón reports and analyses the case of a Tarasco text and the problem of “soul,” which for the Tarascos, apparently, was considered a body limb and a better equivalent for /alma/ could not be found: Cristina Monzón, En torno al alma: Una visión en documentos y diccionarios tarascos del siglo XVI, in: Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), La transmisión de conceptos cristianos, 153-167.

[26] Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz, Recontextua-lising the Sacraments: Diego González Holguín’s Construction of Christian Vocabulary in Colonial Peru, in: ead. (ed.), Translating Wor(l)ds, 156-198; Roxana Sarion, Matías Ruiz Blanco’s Reconceptualisation of Carib Practices and Traditions in his Conversion de Piritv de indios cvmanagotos, palenqves, y otros (1690), in: Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (ed.), Translating Wor(l)ds, 199-229.

[27] John Paul II, Fidei depositum, III (1992): Apostolic Constitution on the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[28] For this section on catechisms, see Franz Helm SVD, La misión católica durante los siglos XVI-XVII: Contexto y Texto. El condicionamiento contextual de la misión, analizado por la comparación de los catecismos de José de Acosta, SJ (Lima, 1584) y de Matteo Ricci, SJ (Beijing, 1603) (Misión y Diálogo 4), Cochabamba: UCB/Verbo Divino/Guadalupe 2002, 213-240, here 218 (my translation).

[29] Ibid., 350.

[30] The famous “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” was defined at the Florence Council in 1442: “Firmiter credit, profitetur et praedicat, ‘nullos extra catholicam Ecclesiam exsistentes […], non solum paganos’, sed nec Iudaeos aut haereticos atque schismaticos, aeternae vitae fieri posse participes”: DH 1351.

[31] Helm SVD, La misión católica durante los siglos XVI-XVII, 351.

[32] For this list and the treatment of the concepts see ibid., 291-293.

[33] Ibid., 371.

[34] Franz-Josef Eilers/Heinz Helf, Arnold Janssen 1837–1909. A Pictorial Biography. Photographs and Documentation from His Life, Nettetal/Manila: Steyler Verlag Wort und Werk/Divine Word Publications 1987; Franz-Josef Eilers, Arnold Janssen als Publizist: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschsprachigen Missionspublizistik: Communicatio Socialis 8 (4.1975) 301-323; Joachim G. Piepke SVD, Arnold Janssen—An Inspiration for Today: Verbum SVD 59 (3.2018) 305-316.

[35] Franz-Josef Eilers SVD has dedicated a lot of his work to the promotion and reflection on communication in the SVD. See particularly his Communicating in Community. An Introduction to Social Communication, fourth updated edition, Manila: Logos Publications 2009. For an excellent review of the communication dimension of the SVD see Heike Sturm, Medien als ethische Herausforderung an eine personale Kommunikation, in: Jahrbuch der Philosophisch-Theologischen Hochschule SVD St. Augustin 1, Sankt Augustin: Steyler Verlag 2013, 55-71.

[36] SVD Constitutions 115.

[37] See Generalate SVD, Documents of the XV General Chapter SVD 2000, In Dialogue with the Word #1, Sept. 2000, Rome: Curia Generalizia SVD 2000. In the articulation of that General Chapter, mission is the participation in the missio Dei, together with all other subjects involved in this divine dynamic. Therefore, dialogue is the logical relationship with those others who obey God’s inspirations. This dialogue should be realised in four “characteristic dimensions” of the SVD charisma: Communication, Bible, Mission Animation and JPIC (Justice and Peace and the Integrity of Creation).

[38] Vatican II, Dei verbum 6 (my emphasis): “Divina revelatione Deus Seipsum atque aeterna voluntatis suae decreta circa hominum salutem manifestare ac communicare voluit, ‘ad participanda scilicet bona divina, quae humanae mentis intelligentiam omnino superant’.”

[39] Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatische Konstitution über die göttliche Offenbarung. Einleitung und Kommentar zum Prooemium, I. und II. Kapitel, in: Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil. Dokumente und Kommentare, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, zweite, völlig neu bearbeitete Auflage, Vol. 2, Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder 1967, 498-528, here 514f.

[40] See “munus” in: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Neue Bearbeitung, Stuttgart: Alfred Druckenmüller 1933, Vol. 31, col. 644ff.

[41] C. Shannon/W. Weaver (eds.), The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press 1949.

[42] For these theories and their development into complexity see Denis McQuail, Mass Communication Theory. An Introduction, London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage 31994.

[43] Franz-Josef Eilers SVD very soon got involved in such communication studies and set up courses on communication between different cultures, with a particular interest in helping missionaries to avoid pitfalls in their evangelising efforts. See for example his Communicating between Cultures. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication, Manila: Divine Word Publications 1987.

[44] For an excellent summary of the implications of the digital revolution for employment, society, religion and faith see Hanna Fülling/Gernot Meier (eds.), Die digitale Revolution und ihre Kinder. Brennpunkte digitaler Ethik (EZW-Texte 264), Berlin: Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen 2019; see also Christian Tauchner, SVD, Digitalization, in: Lazar T. Stanislaus, SVD/vanThanh Nguyen, SVD (eds.), Missionary Discipleship in Glocal Contexts (Studia Instituti Missiologici SVD 112), Siegburg: Franz Schmitt Verlag 2018, 29-58.

[45] Andreas Bernard, Das Diktat des Hashtags. Über ein Prinzip der aktuellen Debattenbildung, Frankfurt: Fischer 2018; Jaron Lanier, Zehn Gründe, warum du deine Social Media Accounts sofort löschen musst, Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe 2018.

[46] In a monographical issue of the Spanish missiological journal Misiones extranjeras (#283, March/April 2018), some aspects of the digital era are articulated. There is first of all a fascination with the possibilities and the indication that also the church has entered the field (Tony Neves, Medios y misión. Dar „noticias buenas“en la era de las redes, 161-181), but then, soon the discourse blends into marketing perspectives of selling content (Inaku K. Egere, La Nueva Evangelización en la era digital. Redes socia­les y misión desde una perspectiva basada en marketing, 206-220). – The implementation and realisation of new technological possibilities is still largely unexplored, and maybe not that new: what makes a bible sharing group on Skype different from the traditional meeting, and would it be really that better? See Marcell Saß, Neue Welten entdecken: Digitalisierung – Theologie – Kirche, in: Fülling/Meier (eds.), Die digitale Revolution und ihre Kinder, 67-76.

[47] In the wake of the SVD General Chapter 2000 and its emphasis on missio Dei, Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder have dedicated substantial research to these questions in terms of missiology. See for example their Prophetic Dialogue. Reflections on Christian Mission Today, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2011.

[48] However, a significant number of churches do not accept such a perspective and see “mission” as the task to bring all humans into the church and a certain form of religion, as John A. Chau’s case tragically shows: It was commented world-wide when this evangelical missionary got himself killed in the attempt to tell a secluded tribe on an Andaman island about Jesus’ love for them, in November 2018. The immediate result of his mission consisted in getting a number of fishermen arrested for taking him to that prohibited place.

[49] Ennio Mantovani SVD, Sixty Years of Priestly and Missionary Life. The History of a Journey (Studia Instituti Missiologici SVD 113), Siegburg: Franz Schmitt Verlag 2019, 129.

[50] See the manifold contributions in Lazar T. Stanislaus SVD/Martin Ueffing SVD (eds.), Intercultural Living, Vol. 1, Sankt Augustin/Delhi: Steyler Missions-wissenschaftliches Institut/ISPCK 2015; and id., Intercultural Mission, Vol. 2, Sankt Augustin/Delhi: Steyler Missionswissenschaftliches Institut/ISPCK 2015 (also published as Intercultural Living. Explorations in Missiology, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2018).

[51] St Paul’s discourses set out like that: in the Areopagus episode (Acts 17:16-34), he takes long preliminaries that keep the Athenians with their interest in the “latest ideas” (17:21) happy and talks about what they might know already. Only when he comes to the core message of Jesus and resurrection (v. 31), his failure becomes visible. See Christian Tauchner, Lokalaugenschein auf dem Areopag, in: Michael Sievernich/Klaus Vellguth (eds.), Christentum in der Neuzeit. Geschichte, Religion, Mission, Mystik, Freiburg: Herder 2020, 510-524. Similarly, the first discourses of the Franciscans with Hernán Cortés in Mexico 500 years ago or Vicente de Valverde in Pizarro’s episode with Atahualpa in Cajamarca in 1532 show such rudimentary exposures.

[52] Christian Tauchner, El otro. La condición de mi palabra: Spiritus [Quito, Ecuador] 43 (#169, 4.2002) 26-31.

[53] See Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict’s arguments for the normative character of the Hellenistic mediation of revelation.

[54] Joachim Piepke SVD published an extensive study about a liberating God: Joachim G. Piepke, Ein befreiender Gott ist anders. Für Menschen, die an der Kirche verzweifeln, St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag 2017. There, he intends to set out from urgent questions people have, and not from the “highly hypothetical answer” of “God.” In his work, the question of salvation and evil comprises the first chapter, the last chapter on God tries to come to terms with the hope of answers.

[55] Pope Francis’ Laudato si’, the establishment of a “world day of creation spirituality” in early September and the developments in the context of the Amazon Synod show this new interest in setting out from creation and prevent too immediate an approach to redemption and salvation.

[56] Toribio de Benavente OFM, “Motolinía,” is an example among the early Franciscan missionaries in Mexico five centuries ago. He became known as “Motolinía,” “one who is poor” in Nahuatl, because of his closeness to the poor in the ruins of Tenochtitlán where he had arrived in 1524.

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