e came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him He gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself. The Word was made flesh, he lived among us and we saw his glory the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1, 11-14)

Introduction. In accordance with the Holy Father’s hopes for the renewal of the Church in his letter “On the Coming of the Third Millennium” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 1995), we issue this year our third exhortation on a crucial area of Philippine life. In 1997, we spoke on our politics; last year on our economy; this year we propose to focus on yet another aspect of our national life: our culture.

From what we have seen already about Philippine politics and economics, it is clear much of the evil as well as the good we have noted in them stem to a large extent from our culture—the way of life distinctive of us as a people, especially the values that we live by.

In this concern with culture, we ask: How much of the Gospel has become part of our way of life? How do we let it penetrate deeper into our culture, influence our values? How do we make them—our values—more conformed to those of Christ in our interaction with one another?

In asking these questions, we presuppose the answer to a prior one: Considering the welter of regional and sub-regional cultural traditions in the country today, can we say there is such a thing as “Philippine culture?” We answer this question from what social scientists tell us about our culture, namely, that there is a common social structuring of our many and diverse peoples, whether Iloko or Tagalog, Maranao or Ilongo, Manobo or Bontok, Ibanag or whatever, and there is too a common cultural matrix underlying that social structuring. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) itself makes this reading its own:

• Ours is a pluralist society and a prime factor of our pluralism is the diversity of our cultural heritage. Lowland cultures have been heavily influenced by three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the Muslim peoples of the south by Islamic traditions, and the mountain tribes, especially on Luzon, Mindanao and Mindoro, have retained much of their pre-Spanish characteristics.
The differences notwithstanding, we can speak of a generic Philippine culture. And we can do so if we focus on the structuring of our many social and ethnic groups and the basic values that go with that structuring. And we see that in all Philippine peoples—it does not matter whether they are upland or lowland, Christian or Muslim, schooled or unschooled—there is a common structuring of social relations based on the family and its well-being which antedate contacts with Muslim and Christian traditions. Basic values (family itself, loyalty to family, concern for its security, stress on authority and respect for elders, among other things) are supportive of this sociological fact. The commonalities are more striking than the differences, and we can conclude there is indeed a common culture and a common social structure that we can truthfully call Filipino. ( Acts and Decrees, no. 18 and 19)

So, we will look into that common culture and social structure. This will be the first part of our present exhortation. Then we will go into what the Church has been saying and teaching in recent times about the importance of culture in our living of our Catholic faith. And lastly, we will try spelling out some of the implications of the two foregoing parts for the life and pastoral work of the Church today in view of the Holy Father’s urgent call for renewal.


There are many things we can look into when we speak of a people’s culture: their art, architecture, tools, technology; their modes of behavior and social interaction; their customary laws and norms of day-to-day relationships; their systems of communication and language; their ways of thinking and symboling; their worldviews, beliefs, values.

It is the inner part of culture—the thinking, believing, symboling, valuing part—that will concern us most here. We will focus on that inner aspect and sum it all up under the rubric of values: what a people define as good, what their goals in life are, what makes them act thus and so and not another way. Values, thus, are at the deepest level of culture—they are its heart and core. They are, for all intents and purposes, what give people their identity as a people, a distinct human society.

We will be adopting here the view of culture which sees it as a product of the interaction between social structures (macro-level institutions) and people’s adaptations, response and strategies to them for living. Thus we see values as essentially dynamic because they are precisely a product of this interaction which, while structured in some way, is nevertheless always subject to the creative force of human agency.

What this perspective implies is that we can speak of a very close relationship between culture and social structure in the sense that the latter embodies aspects of the former by limiting the options available to people so that their behavior would conform with—and express—certain values. But behavior, being a complex manifestation of values and a response to the limits imposed by social structures, can also exhibit an incompatibility with either the values themselve or the social structure. Thus, for instance, an exaggerated or excessive interpretation of the value of family could end up in unacceptable nepotism; and a pro-democracy movement could arise even under an authoritarian social system.

The potency of culture precisely lies in its ability to redefine, through human agency, the fundamental values on which it is based and to confront such social structures as simultaneously reinforce and undermine those values. Thus, it is possible for us to have not only long-held, traditional values, but also emergent ones—values that are in the process of being institutionalized in social structures and interactions. We will thus have to look at both traditional and emergent values—and as well the incompatibilities (excesses especially of traditional values) that we noted are possible developments in the dynamics of culture.

Traditional Filipino Values

We begin with what we have already noted above as the most striking feature of Filipino culture: the value we put on family – and family both as nuclear and extended. Attachment and loyalty to one’s family are a central organizing principle of Philippine social structure and behavior. We generally define our personal interests in terms of those of the family. Personal identity is very closely tied in with its good name and honor. An individual’s success is regarded as the family’s success, be it in business or in politics. We aspire for excellence, achievement and economic advancement for the sake of our family.

The functionality of the Filipino’s family-centeredness is quite all-encompassing. Family networks facilitate the individual’s access to the broader society. The family is the principal means for gaining entry into the public realm of Philippine society where both economic and political transactions are carried out, facilitated and mediated through family networks. Social alliances, whether in business or in politics, are often based on family ties too inasmuch as trust and loyalty tend to be confined to family members. A family-against-the-world mentality is often the result.

While we work hard for the sake of our families, we also expect much from them—they are after all our basic communities. The family functions as the most important provider of social welfare and security in Philippine society where state and private welfare institutions are unavailable, or if available, are generally perceived as either inaccessible or unreliable. Family members are expected to supply the material and emotional needs of their kin, the mutual sharing of favors and resources within the family reinforcing family solidarity and loyalty. In this strong sense of family solidarity and loyalty, there is at work a basic equality of the sexes which belies what often seems to be a culture that glorifies the male excessively and relegates the female to a subordinate status.

Familism as a central value shaping social behavior also underlies, to a very large extent, our notions of authority, legitimacy and power. More emphasis is placed, however, on the vertical dimension of power relations—those elements that have to do with authority and hierarchy. There is a weak sense of power defined in terms of horizontal or intra-class alliances. In other words, authority, legitimacy and power are generally seen as emanating from those who hold and exercise them, i.e., the rulers, rather than as coming from those who give them, i.e., the ruled. Someone is seen as influential and powerful (malakas) by virtue of one’s connections with people at the top of the economic or political hierarchy rather than by virtue of having the support of a broad-based constituency. Indeed, power of influence (lakas) is one of the most prominent values that we put into play in our social interaction with others.

The preponderant part patron-client ties play among us is a reflection of the tendency to define power more in terms of vertical, rather than horizontal, relationships. The tenant of a landed family or the driver of a company executive, for example, would more easily connect his own interests and status with those of his landlord or employer (amo) than with those of other tenants or members of the working class. Employers are sometimes seen as extensions of one’s family to whom loyalty, obedience and debts of gratitude (utang na loob) are owed. There is little class consciousness or solidarity beyond that fostered by face-to-face interaction.

Those who hold power and wealth, however, are expected to be generous and caring towards their subordinates. Lakas assumes a prominently paternalistic quality but it is expected to be tempered with compassion (awa ). The powerful are expected to protect the weak or at least be considerate of their right to a minimum level of survival. Thus, the poor and the weak are able to find security in their dependence.

An important aspect of our concept of power is tied to the notion of hierarchy. Centuries of colonial domination only served to reinforce pre-Spanish patterns of authority and hierarchy and the political culture that flowed from them. In this manner of political culture, persons of authority, social status and wealth are rarely questioned openly. Decision-making is frequently highly centralized. The opinions of people of authority are readily accepted and followed in most institutional contexts, whether in the family, in school, or in the workplace. Even in institutions considered as modern such as business corporations, the chief executive is oftentimes the sole decision-maker. Conversely, people with low status are expected to be compliant. Processes based on consultation and consensus-building are the exception rather than the rule.

We also put a high value on hard work, patience and perseverance. Perseverance (tiyaga) is considered a virtue. Poverty is seen as being caused by negative human traits like laziness or vices (bisyo ) and fate (kapalaran). There is a pronounced fatalism in the way we view social mobility and hierarchy. Consequently, bisyo and kapalaran—rather than any notion of exploitation—are more readily identified as explanations for poverty.

Ours is a highly personalistic culture. We rely to a large extent, for the fostering of social ties, on face-to-face interaction. Consequently, social bonds and group solidarity depend not so much on common interests as on interpersonal ties based on reciprocity and mutual trust. Utang-na-loob, hiya and pakikisama become operative social norms in the context of this highly personalistic culture in which social behavior is very much oriented towards keeping interpersonal relations running smoothly.

Social behavior is regulated by the need to conform to social expectations to exhibit hospitality and reciprocity in interpersonal relationships. This is manifested in the moral pressure exerted by hiya and pakikisama in sanctioning deviations from expected behavior. Being seen as lacking in these traits (walang hiya, walang utang-na-loob or hindi marunong makisama) is an affront to one’s person and consequently diminishes one’s credibility among his/her social group. These norms likewise constrain us from engaging in behavior that would jeopardize group cohesion. We may feel compelled to go along with what everyone else is doing because of shame and a desire not to ruffle feelings even when we know that the action is morally wrong. We are generally reluctant to do anything that would disrupt group solidarity.

As a people, we are also known for our strong religiosity. Dependence on the benevolence of a Transcendent Being is a deeply held value and belief among us. While this has sometimes produced a certain degree of fatalism, our religiosity provides a moral anchor to individuals when confronted with a personal crisis. Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa (it is God’s prerogative to show compassion, it is man’s to act) underscores our deep sense of the limits of human effort, even as the necessity of hard work is also recognized. Moral righteousness is often equated with being God-fearing. A person described as possessing fear of God ( takot sa Diyos) is considered trustworthy.

Excesses and Incompatibilities

These values, needless to say, have both positive and negative aspects to them: positive when exercised within the proper context and within limits; negative when excessive or lacking. Thus, strong family ties are an important source of social support and can provide the context for inculcating the value of social cohesion and a sense of the collective good. But too much emphasis on the same ties and loyalties can and do lead to extreme clannishness or inability to think beyond family interests and consider the good of the larger society. Familism to the extent that trust and mutual help become unduly confined to family members only, can undermine a people’s sense of community. And in fact, extreme familism, when translated into our political culture, has bred a pernicious tradition of political dynasties, nepotism and corruption in the name of protecting family interests.

Patron-client relations, though often blamed for instilling a culture of dependence, have their positive value as well. The emphasis on the patron’s obligation to ensure the survival needs of the weak could be an expression of solidarity with the poor. However, when taken to the extreme, it becomes, aside from the unwholesome dependence it can create, a paternalism that is exercised solely on the basis of power and this leads to abuse of authority by powerholders. In the context of weak state structures such as we have at present, the political system affords little restraint on such abuse. So far, public opinion, elections and mass education which could function as checks on possible abuse of power have had a weak effect on exacting accountability from powerholders.

Familism and personalism, to the extent that they put a premium on face-to-face interaction as the basis for building trust and group solidarity, make forming social alliances along horizontal lines difficult. Intra-class competition has become such a common phenomenon that we often speak derisively of our so-called “crab mentality”, yet we continue to pull down one another, we don’t allow others to rise beyond our level. Class-based social formations like labor unions and farmer’s federations have had limited success in galvanizing working class solidarity to effect changes in Philippine labor conditions. The small membership of these types of organizations compared to the large proportion of workers and farmers in Philippine society could reflect not just the ineffectiveness of current organizing practices but also the perduring strength of the clientelist mindset.

Our electoral and political behavior likewise strongly displays this same clientelist orientation—the basis of our “politics of patronage”. The ability of politicians to win votes is related more to their “approachability” and ability to deliver projects and extend personal assistance rather than to their stand and track record on policy issues. The inability to relate politics to broader policy issues is rooted in the personalistic character of our political culture. This personalism is reinforced by the general failure of the governmental bureaucracy to translate positive policies into palpable benefits which can be felt by the people.

Our concern for smooth interpersonal relations, while providing a mechanism for regulating social behavior in accordance with group norms, can likewise lead to some excesses, particularly in the context of a weak sense of the common good. Hospitality, for instance, and the desire to offer the best of ourselves to others, can lead to extravagance, showiness, excessive concern for appearance rather than substance. Compelled by utang-na-loob, we often choose to give more importance to returning a favor to someone than to fulfilling our duty to the bigger community. The desire to conform from pakikisama, if indiscriminately followed through in every instance, will lead to the abdication of responsibility for moral decision-making in favor of group expectations. The failure to curb corruption because nobody will dare speak out against a colleague and disrupt a thriving informal economy in the bureaucracy often stems from the strong influence of the ethic of pakikisama.

The concern for keeping interpersonal relationships on an even keel, coupled with our personalism, can also undermine our ability to adhere to rules and legal structures. There is a tendency for us to view rules and regulations as negotiable –especially if we are in a position of strength. We negotiate and bargain for them to be adjusted or even overlooked for our advantage and convenience. Despite widespread complaints about law officers not being able to enforce the rule of law, we actually expect them to be lenient with us when we are caught violating rules ourselves—we negotiate for leniency practically as a matter of course. We enact many laws which we do not implement. Our notion of authority is so personalistic that we fail to accord laws and rules authority in themselves. Only the people who implement them matter and negotiation is always possible, even to the point of bribery and pay-offs. This is one easy opening to corruption in government that is unfortunately most flagrantly taken advantage of.

Emergent Values

The values we have termed traditional above are readily recognized by most of us as part of our culture. But they are not all we see. We are also witnessing some emergent values that have started to take root in Philippine society and now and again burst into public consciousness and play pivotal roles in our national life.

One such value is that of democracy. With the institution of formal democracy in the Philippines, we came to embrace the values as well as the institutions of a democratic polity such as elections, the separation of powers, representation in government, etc. Despite the largely elitist character of Philippine democratic politics, the value of democracy has managed to take root in our political culture. In the corruption of our democratic institutions during the painful years of military rule in the ’70s and ’80s, the most resented part of the new regime was its mockery of democratic values in its practice of farcical “referendums”. This resentment, we all know, came to a head in the People Power uprising against the fraudulent elections of 1986. It was in a very real sense the reassertion of our democratic values against the structures of subjugation erected by the dictatorial government of those years.

The people’s revolt was a cultural threshold signifying a passage—long incubating, it must be said—from a political orientation of subjugation (which for many decades was made to be consistent with formal democracy) to one of participation. The institutional expression of this politico-cultural shift was the emergence of numerous people’s organizations (POs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) which began to interact with the state on critical social and policy issues. Engaging in dialogues, public hearings, and negotiations with government has become part of the repertoire of political action of the citizenry today. Participation by the people and decentralization in the sense of bringing government closer to the people have become emergent values shaping our people’s political behavior and expectations of government. Thus, for example, there is today more insistence on consultative processes and transparency as a result of the impact of mass media and the advocacy of organized groups.

Human rights is another emergent value. As with democracy, awareness of this value was heightened during the martial law era because of numerous abuses, tortures, summary killings and “disapperances” which happened then. The idea that power and authority could be abused and human rights totally disregarded by the state and by those who held the reins of power sensitized us to the value of human rights.

The political assertion of this value, however, has remained generally weak. Current discussions regarding compensation for the victims of human rights abuses under the military regime has failed to generate massive public support for the victims of human rights abuses. And personalities who were closely connected with that past oppressive regime and profited from it have managed to stage a political comeback, thanks partly to the cohesiveness of our elite class and the still strong influence of regionalistic loyalties, but partly too to what we talked about in our Exhortation on Philippine Politics two years ago regarding the corruptions of the political system.

The same weakness and ambivalence in value commitment that have just been referred to above are evident likewise in the way we regard social justice or egalitarianism. While the traditional value system has mostly fostered a paternalisic value orientation, social justice and egalitarianism are beginning to redefine the way we view inter-class relations. Today we hear of certain public officials or policies of governance being described as “pro-poor” or “anti-poor,” an indication that there is a growing consciousness of social inequalities and the need to do something about them. Participative processes have become an important venue for articulating these egalitarian values. But these values still have to find expression in social policies.

Since culture is in a very real sense a people’s collective psyche, it can bear deeper and deeper scrutiny, and the knowledge that comes from such a scrutiny is thus a form of self-knowledge. What we have attempted to present here is by no means exhaustive and it is our hope that a more thorough analysis of Philippine cultural values—and a deeper awareness of their implications—will be spurred on by this brief and selective description of our culture. Why the task of analysis is a necessary and constant one should be clearer after we look at why we have to be more concerned about our culture from the standpoint of our faith.


Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, saw the divorce between faith and culture in our age as “the drama of our time” (EN, 20). Pope John Paul II in 1982 would in his turn say that he “considered the Church’s dialogue with culture of our time [as] a vital area, one in which the destiny of the world at the end of this twentieth century is at stake” (Letter creating the Pontifical Council for Culture, 28 June 1982).

The Problematic

The question of the relationship between faith and culture is not a new one. In a very real sense it is as old as Christianity itself. At the Church’s very beginning, the Church was faced with the issue of admitting Gentiles into the Christian community without having them undergo the Jewish rite of circumcision. Since the first communities of believers came from the Jewish world where Christianity arose, they perceived their new faith as closely linked with their own ethnic conventions, cultural practices, local laws and traditions. They believed all this should be imposed upon all converts to Christianity (Acts 15, 1-30; 17, 22-28; Gal. 2, 1-4). Paul, the self-proclaimed Apostle to the Gentiles, took a dramatic stand against this conviction and even “withstood Cephas to his face” (Gal. 2, 11) in opposing it.

In various forms, the same issue continued to trouble the Church well into the succeeding ages as the Church moved into Hellenic and Roman cultural areas, and in time, into the Teutonic, Gallic, Ethiopian, Iberian, Celtic, Slavic, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon and other areas. This question has in some ways moved to front and center in our time when the Church is being challenged to transform herself from being a predominantly European and Western reality into a truly world Church, no longer something like “an export firm which exported a European religion as a commodity it did not really want to change but sent throughout the world together with the rest of the culture and civilization it considered superior” (Karl Rahner, Theological Studies, 1979, 717), but a Church truly in and of all peoples, at home in all races, nations and cultures of the world: in other words, a Church truly catholic, the catholic unitas St. Augustine spoke of.

The way the faith-cultures question surfaces today is, admittedly, different from the way previous ages in the Church’s history encountered it. Since the 19th century, there has gradually emerged a critical historical consciousness; empirical social sciences have developed in remarkable ways, heightening our understanding not only of culture itself but also of the pluralism of cultures. A single, commonly-accepted metaphysical system, deriving from classic philosophia perennis, has generally broken down. Today the way we understand culture is crucial to how we grasp the faith-and-cultures relationship.

We see the Christian faith as called into dialogue and interface with a large number of cultures in various areas of the world. We have moved from defining culture in its “classicist” sense, which believed “there was but one culture that was both universal and permanent” to whose norms and ideals the “uncultured” might aspire (Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 1972). There has been a shift to a more empirical, social-scientific understanding of culture, as we have defined it above, and it includes the diverse “ways of being human” found among peoples, traditions and ways of life developed over centuries; belief-, value- and symbolic-systems as well as livelihood and power systems forming integrated wholes in human communities, all of these shaping human identity. This shift from a metaphysical deductive “classicist” understanding of culture to the contemporary social-scientific concept has been gradually taken over in official Church documents, markedly with Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes and in the writings of recent Roman Pontiffs and texts from the Holy See. (Cf. Herve Carrier, Evangile et Cultures de Leon XIII a John Paul II, 1987.)


Within the last thirty years or so, one significant way the faith-and-cultures questions has come to focus is the whole issue now generally called inculturation. This was first taken up in mission studies under the rubric of “adaptation”—a notion already present in the Fathers of the Church. The discussion was on how the proclamation of the faith must accommodate itself, for the communication of the Gospel-message, to the demands of cultural understanding and expression of peoples to be evangelized. The notion of “incarnation” was also called upon—in analogy with the mystery of God’s Son becoming human like us, entering within our human condition and situations, in order to bring his own “more abundant life” (John 10, 10).

In contemporary Roman Catholic speaking and writing, the word “inculturation” has come to be generally accepted. Given currency since the 1970s, the word first surfaced publicly in the Synod of Bishops of 1979 in interventions of Cardinal Jaime Sin and Father Pedro Arrupe (cf. Robert Schreiter, Theological Studies , 1989, 747), finally to enter into the text of the magisterium in Pope John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae (1979). Although sometimes considered an “ungainly neologism”, it has become generally received, as it has come to imply the notion of a diversity of cultures in which the Gospel, faith and Church must enter, the notion too of an on-going process which develops over time—rather than a once-for-all action or encounter. It also recalls the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God and its analogous continuation through history: a transformation carried out through a process of dialogue in life.

The word “contextualization” which is more or less equivalent and interchangeable, seems to be preferred by the World Council of Churches and in some missiological circles. It appeals to many because of its seeming social science provenance and its emphasis on the more commonly understood notion of historical and social “context” as ground for dialogue.

In our part of the world, as might be expected, the faith-and-cultures discussion—focused as “inculturation” or “contextualization” from its beginning—has captured much attention and won great, even passionate, interest. From the mid-1960s, with the ending of political colonialism and the emergence of “new nations” in Asia (after World War II), it has been seen increasingly as the task of the local Churches in Asia in the pursuit of “evangelization and mission in Asia in our time.” Since the visit of Pope Paul VI to Manila in 1970, when the beginnings of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) was set in motion, the work of inculturation has been high on the agenda of the Asian Christian communities. The final statement of FABC I in Taipei (1974) has been taken as something like a “classical locus” of Asian Churches’ thought in this matter:

• To preach the Gospel in Asia today we must make the message and life of Christ truly incarnate in the minds and lives of our peoples. The primary focus of our task of evangelization, then, at this time in our history, is the building up of a truly local Church. For the local Church is the realization and the enfleshment of the Body of Christ in a given people, a given place and time. It is not a community in isolation from other communities of the Church one and catholic. Rather it seeks communion with all of them. With them it professes the one faith, shares the one Spirit and the one sacramental life. In a special way it rejoices in its communion and filial oneness with the See of Peter, which presides over the universal Church in love. The local Church is a Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated. And this means concretely a Church in continuous, humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions—in brief, with all those life-realities of the people in whose midst it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it gladly makes its own. It seeks to share in whatever truly belongs to that people: its meanings and its values, its aspirations, its thoughts and its language, its songs and its artistry. Even its frailties and failings it assumes, so that they too may be healed. For so did God’s own Son assume the totality of our fallen human condition (save only for sin), so that He might make it truly His own, and redeem it in His paschal mystery. (FABC First Plenary Assembly, Final Statement, nos. 9-12.)

This same thrust is most evident in the National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines—Maturing in Christian Faith. In its early acceptance of the need of a catechesis that paid full attention to Philippine social realities and culture (pp. 20-41), it laid the groundwork for the strong thrust of the PCP II towards the creation of a more inculturated Church—a thrust that is also outstandingly clear in the Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC) and its efforts to teach the faith in a way that makes sense to our own mentality.

Inculturation and the Local Church

As will be readily seen, for the Church in Asia, for our local Churches in the FABC area, the faith-and-cultures question was encountered very concretely from the very start. It was seen within the “task of evangelization and mission” as the primary endeavour of the Church, as an urgent imperative: As the former “missions” were now becoming local Churches within “new nations”—ecclesiae novellae (in Vatican II language) in “new nations in the way of development” and self-realization as independent nations. The process of building up these young Churches was envisioned concretely: a fuller and more authentic presence within the lives of the people around them, taking the form of a three-fold dialogue (primarily “a dialogue of life”) with their cultures, with their religious traditions (often centuries- and millenia-old), with their people’s situations of poverty, deprivation and often enough, oppression. This presence was to lead, of course, to what might be called “conversation” or “sharing of life”, and eventually to “solidarity” or sharing of the struggle to fuller human and social development and liberation.

It might be important to point out that for the Asian local Churches in the FABC area, the faith-and-cultures issue, the inculturation question, was not begun as a theoretical discussion, but as a complex of tasks to be done, so that the “young Church” as local Church might enter into the process of “conversation” and “solidarity”, a process of transformation for what was later to be conceptualized as “building up the Kingdom of God” in the Asia of our time.

The primary meaning of inculturation, then, in the thought of the FABC and Asian Local Churches since the 1970s, was the building up of the local Church.. This “construction process” was to be realized through what has come to be known as “the three dialogues.”

These three dialogues represent three areas of major concern for all the local Churches in Asia, and the FABC statements have come back to them again and again through the 25 years of the FABC’s life:

• dialogue with the cultures of our peoples;

• dialogue with the Asian religious traditions

• dialogue with the poor in their search for development, justice, brotherhood and peace.

These three dialogues are not posited as diverse from or opposed to the way the proclamation of the Gospel is carried out. They are seen as “the concrete modes of proclamation in the Asian context. Inculturation is seen here broadly and yet concretely as the Local Church coming-to-be in the very working out of evangelization.” (For All the Peoples of Asia, vol. 26. 29-33.)

Several nodal points in this discussion might thus be lined up by way of summary:

a. The Local Church is the acting subject of inculturation. The Local Church here—by way of description, not of definition—refers to small eucharistic communities, parishes, dioceses, or various groupings of Churches understood as possessing a common socio-cultural particularity. Communities and dioceses within a nation or part of a nation under a bishop (or bishops) or under an episcopal conference, sharing a common socio-cultural particularity, could also be, in this perspective, a Local Church.

b. As concretely understood in much Asian theological writing on this issue, inculturation would explicitly include two areas for (1) “entrance into” or “conversation with” and (2) mutual exchange and transformation:

1.Culture in the sense of belief-, value- and symbol-systems bound together by a certain unity in a given way of life, and

2.Culture as involving livelihood- and power-systems in a given community, thus explicitly including economic and political patterns and relationships, i.e., social structure.

c. Thus the task of inculturation would involve the dialogue between the Gospel and faith meanings and values on the one hand and, on the other, all personal and societal life areas of a community bound together by common socio-cultural realities.

At this point a fuller definition of inculturation can be given:

• Inculturation is a process by which an ecclesial community lives its Christian faith and experience within a given cultural context, in such a way that these not only find their expression in elements of local culture, but also become a force that animates, reshapes and profoundly renews that culture, so as to create new patterns of communion and communication within that culture and beyond it. … The process of inculturation is an ongoing one, because of the dynamic character of each living culture and because of the “ever-newness” of the Christian experience, [and thus] every local Church is continuously involved in various inculturative processes. ..[T]he main task of inculturation is not to salvage cultures of the past, but through a proper appropriation of past gains, to prepare Christians to live out their faith in a cultural context which is continuously changing. (Christ and Cultures, Center “Cultures and Religion”, Pontifical Gregorian University, 1983)

The Theology of Inculturation

As we move to a more explicit theology of inculturation, it is important to indicate that in this process we are not to look on Gospel faith and life (one pole of the inculturation dialogue) as constituting a “platonic universe” existing in a pure a priori state “up there” somewhere, and which can be brought down, like Jerusalem descending from above, into a given people and culture. There is no pure “essence of Christianity” existing in an abstract state waiting, as it were, to be applied. Every existent Christianity is in fact an “inculturated Christianity”, (Thus some theologians prefer to speak of “interculturation.”)

Firstly, hence, Christianity is said to be a “concrete historical universal” which is successively “incarnated” though out history in different communities, people and cultures, first by “transplantation”, and then by endogenous development consequent to its first implanting. In this process, we must hold on to this first and basic point: Christianity, the Christian faith, is the person of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, “sitting at the right hand of the Father” and living today; and His message or Gospel—and the Christ-life in the spirit—is present and “received” within persons and communities (the Church) in a given place and time. It is then transmitted through the sum-total of the tasks of evangelization, and “realized”—made real, actual—within communities and persons of another culture, another time and place. As one theologian (Theoneste Nkeramihigo) put its, “Christianity is the singular particularity of the man Jesus of Nazareth who has a universal destiny because by the power of His cross and resurrection He can break through all other particularities”.

Thus is the catholica unitas—catholic unity—progressively realized and enlarged in history in the expanding communion of local Churches within the unity of the one, holy and apostolic Church. Thus does the unity of the Church, already virtually and potentially universal at Pentecost, become in reality and in actualization totally Catholic. This is, therefore, the final objective of inculturation: a communion of Churches within a communion of peoples, realized within the world and the cosmos redeemed by Christ and indwelt in its unity-in-diversity by the Trinitarian life and blessing.

Secondly, as has already been indicated above, inculturation is not setting Christian faith and life somehow side-by-side with the culture of a people in merely peaceful co-existence. Inculturation always involves a process of interface and interaction between faith and culture. There has to be a critical and ongoing mutual questioning, mutual responding between the dialogue partners in every succeeding period of time.

This interaction will necessarily bring about transformation—a mutual transformation. Aspects and elements of the “inculturated Christianity” which is now in interaction with a local culture will have to yield place to other expressions of Christian faith and life which comes from the local culture, and aspects and elements of the local culture which are incompatible with the Christian faith and life must yield to the meanings and values of the Gospel and Christian life. This of course calls for necessary and ongoing discernment, one of the most exacting demands of the process of inculturation, which can only be carried out through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It must be noted that Church documents are insistent that the dialogue of inculturation will necessarily demand critical interaction (even confrontation) and transformation, and without this transformation, faith does not become a force which animates, reshapes and profoundly renews a people and its culture, so as to create new patterns of communion and communication within that culture and beyond it. For, as the understanding of inculturation itself demands, a new creation results when Christian faith and life become realities and these realities transform a people and culture, remaking them into a new people, a new culture.

We can now sketch very briefly a theological perspective on inculturation.

The primary paradigm of inculturation is the mystery of the incarnation understood in its totality, comprising, firstly, Incarnation ; secondly, Cross-and-Resurrection (Paschal Mystery); and thirdly, Pentecost.

The Incarnation of the Son is about the creative coming together of God and humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, at a particular point of history, in a particular culture. It is this unique and once-for-all entering of the divinity into humanity and human history, and it is the interchange and interaction between the divine and human in Jesus, which provides the groundwork for our understanding the relationship between faith and culture.

In the mystery of the Incarnation, God’s own Son—one of the Trinity—became man, took flesh in the one particular person of Jesus of Nazareth, with all the historical and socio-cultural particularity of one human being. This is often called “the scandal of particularity” which attaches to the mystery of the Incarnation and continues to exist in an analogous way in the inculturation of Christian faith and life in various cultures throughout the ages and in our own time. Pope Paul VI spoke of the need of an African Christianity. And John Paul II said in 1980 to the bishops of Africa: “Not only is Christianity relevant to Africa, but Christ, in the members of the Body, is Himself African” (“The African Bishops’ Challenge”, no. 6, 1980).

The Incarnation further involves the twofold movement of God becoming human and the human becoming divine in Jesus. God’s assumption of humanity in Jesus is a divine initiative—God’s gift—but it evokes the perfect response of the human in Jesus (the human task). Jesus embodies in His being and life as man “the unity of God’s descent into the human and the ascent of humanity into the life of God. The Incarnation enlightens our understanding not only of God but also of the human.” Pope John Paul II again and again stresses this truth: We do not truly and fully understand what the human is, what the human vocation and reality are, without Jesus Christ.

Thus, when the faith is incarnated in a given people with its own culture, what is already present of the divine within that culture through creation and history is lit up, fostered, brought forward to fullness. It can enable and empower that given culture to realize creatively and dynamically its full potential. Thus Inculturation can creatively reshape human cultures, transforming them, filling them with the Spirit. Human persons and communities realize their fullness only in Christ as we witness most evidently in the saints.

Finally, the insertion of Christian faith and life within a given people and culture so weds God and humanity, divine life and human living, that the God revealed in Jesus and by Jesus, present in all things through creation, present through all humanity and all human history, becomes so present within the “new creation” (i.e, a people and a culture interpenetrated by the Christ-life of the Spirit) that culture mediates faith and the Christ-life itself. Culture thus is given potential theological significance by the Incarnation, and what this means simply is that the dialogue between faith and culture is a two-way dialogue.

This brings us to our last point: The newness of Jesus Christ and all that He brings with Him is the “gift”—the whole finality—of Incarnation, Evangelization and Church. It is also the point of inculturation. The crucified-and-risen Christ so enters into the life and culture of a people as fully as possible (thus did He enter into the Jewish culture of His time), to assume it, and to summon it to the way of life of the kingdom of God. This summons is to enter into the integral pattern of the Christ-life, which includes growth, passion and death, the realization of the law we call the Paschal Mystery.

Thus inculturation follows the law of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery and its manifestation at the Pentecost. These three stages, which are not usually chronologically distinct, trace the theological pattern and trajectory of the process of inculturation:

a. Incarnation: Jesus’ invitation to enter the way of the Gospel is a vocation in grace to the people and culture to whom the word is preached and the gift of faith and the Christ-life is given.

b. Cross-and-Resurrection: The Word and the Spirit of Jesus summons us to conversion, to purification from sin and self-seeking, to elevation of human living in grace. Every human person and every culture are touched by sin. The Gospel passes judgment on the idolatries and egoisms, the pride and hubris, the inhumanity and hardness of heart present in all human cultures and individuals. Hence from the very beginning inculturation demands critical attentiveness and discernment regarding what is “contra-human” and “contra-Gospel” within the culture. As the Gospel enters more fully into all the dimensions of a people’s way of life, the counter-cultural may assume an increasing role.

c. Pentecost: This third stage is not really distinct from, but rather manifests, the Paschal Mystery come to term in the “new creation” constructed from each culture assumed and purified. Each people and each culture emerges in its own fulfilled identity (its own human identity assumed in faith and grace) to become truly part of the communion and participation of the catholica unitas —the universal unity of the Church.

When these three principles or stages are held together, the transformation that the Gospel brings changes the culture, but in an organic way. It helps the culture become more truly itself, more truly alive, more redolent of the image of God that it was meant to be. The culture thus grows into a fuller realization of the Kingdom of God and the explicit manifestation of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. It becomes the dwelling place of God. (cf. Schreiter, op. cit)

Thus inculturation moves towards catholicity, the unity-in-diversity, the Catholic Communion which is, in a true sense, what the Church is meant to be. Each people, each culture, are called to Church and ultimately to Kingdom, realizing its own fulfilled identity, not so that it can construct higher walls of isolation from others, but so that it can grow into its fullest capacity for communion, for participation, for service.

Thus, too, the process of inculturation is not an end in itself, but precisely a call to realizing the catholicity of the una sancta , the “recapitulation of all things in Christ”. It is in this sense too, we might add in passing, that the mystery of the Eucharist is real-symbol of the eschatological banquet to which all peoples are called.


From all that has been said above about faith and culture and the huge enterprise of putting them together into an integrated whole, we see there are a number of points to highlight and tasks to begin doing.

1. If, as Paul VI put it in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “the drama of our times” is the divorce of faith from culture, then it is incumbent on us, the Church of today, to think of our evangelizing work in terms of putting faith and culture together—and indeed of putting them together into an ever integrated whole. And this integration will also be the heart of the renewal of the Church that John Paul II is calling us to in preparation for the next millennium. But as we have seen above, integrating our faith and our culture is exactly what inculturation is all about. So we can define our renewal as a Church in terms of inculturation, all the more so when we consider that, at its deepest level, inculturation is the integration of the values of our culture and the values of the Kingdom—a veritable process of metanoia or conversion into the Christ-life—which in turn must impact on all other personal and social relations.

2. In the brief analysis of Philippine cultural values that we started out with, we can honestly say that our values are, in their unvitiated state, high human ideals, and to the extent that the authentically human is also authentically divine, we can in all truth say too that our values as a people are reflections of the divine, are seeds of the Gospel already present in our culture. So the work of conversion, both personal and social, that we speak of here, if we are faithful to the best of our own native values and conscientiously act from them, has already firm grounding in our culture.

3. There is another kind of grounding of faith in culture—and vice versa, of culture in faith—that we can point to: We have been a Christian people, by and large, for the past four hundred years. And that bare historical fact has had a lot to do with the kind of people—and Church—we now are. So, when we look at the Church as it has developed in the Philippines over all those years, we cannot but come to the conclusion that it is much, much more a “local Church” (in the sense the term has developed since Vatican II) than we think. There is a truly Filipino Church. There has been a real wedding of faith and culture as we have been defining inculturation here and their integration is quite substantial. Thus, when we consider our people’s deep religiosity and its manifestations in popular devotions, rituals and celebrations, we see that enough integration of our faith and our culture has taken place. And this only means the work of inculturation is quite advanced.

4. But saying that does not mean nothing more need be done. The work of evangelization, conversion, inculturation, renewal of Christian living—this admits of degrees, of growth, of ever greater depth and intensity, and there is much more that can be done, has to be done. Our task is to make our cultural values become ever more attuned to and configured with those of the Gospel. And this means we will have to work harder to correct such excesses and defects in them as we have adverted to above that make them less of the Kingdom, that in fact transmogrify them, to our shame, into debasing and destructive disvalues. Inculturation, as we have seen, is a transformative process, and if those same excesses and defects have become part of our way of life, have taken on the nature of values, we may have to be counter-cultural at times. Hence, the disturbing but ever pressing question: how bring the values of the Kingdom into such aspects of our life as lack their saving power: our politics, our economics, our family and other social relations?

5. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, that great landmark in our journey as a Church, points out the way we have to go. It proposes that we look at ourselves as a “Church of Communion”, even more specifically, as a “Community of Disciples”. Such a Church asks that we all strive to be real and faithful followers of Christ—that is what discipleship means. But it also asks that we do so as community, and this demands that we all participate as responsible members of the community of faith that is the Church—and, indeed, taking “community” to embrace all levels of Church life. But when we do, we must participate as we are, as Filipinos, as bearers of our culture. And this means we necessarily have to bring our culture, our way of life as Filipinos, into our living of the faith, our following of Christ; we allow—rather, we make—that same faith to permeate our culture, to bring the values of Christ to bear on it, transforming our values into ever more authentic forms of themselves and correcting whatever is inauthentic about them. In this manner culturally participative living of the faith, the inculturation we have been talking of here will take place practically by itself and a truly local Church is built up.

6. A genuinely local Church is an “engaged” Church—a society-leavening Church. Above we spoke of a constellation of “emergent values” that have been strengthening in recent years in the life of the nation. A closer look at them—at the values of democracy, people power, people participation in political life, human rights, social justice, etc.—will bring out the fact that they are, by and large, the self same values that the social doctrine of the Church has been promoting and urging on us and all other people of goodwill. So we see in papal encyclicals and other documents that have been issued in recent years, especially since Vatican II, and in our own PCP II and its understanding of the preaching of a liberating message as part of the task of a renewed evangelization. (See Acts and Decrees of the PCP II, nn. 238 and following.) This is the reason we, the bishops of the Philippines as a Conference, have decided, in the run-up to the coming of the third millennium, to issue this series of annual pastoral exhortations on what we see are crucial aspects of our life as a nation and as a Church.

7. But more than simply being engaged, a Church that takes seriously the task of inculturating itself must be above all a discerning Church—and at all levels, from top to bottom. This discerning spirit must be seen in its adaptation of liturgical practices to cultural demands, in its developing of indigenized theologies and spiritualities, in practical applications of Gospel morality to culturally weighted situations. Inculturation is not a once-and-for-all happening. It is a process, like culture itself, like the Christ-life too that is the end-result of inculturation, and hence the discernment that is integral to it must be on-going too—a never-ending process of faith-reflection on life and on the way of life that a culture is. We note here that the approach of this discerning mode is pretty much what Vatican II says about the need of a “signs-of-the-times”mode of theologizing and the reading of the signs of the times cannot be done without much prayer.

8. For this kind of discernment—for the work of inculturation as a whole, for that matter—the best vehicle available to us at his time in the pastoral work of the Church of the Philippines seems to be the basic ecclesial community or BEC or at least a BEC-type Church or organization, society, movement, etc. Much of what has been said above about inculturation are already significant hallmarks of the more developed forms of BECs. Thus, the conscious attempt by a whole community at integrating faith and life, the facing up to social problems and the acting in concert on them, the participatory ethic which entails the involvement of not just the clergy and hierarchy but of the rank-and-file laity in the Church’s life and evangelizing mission, the painstaking “analysis of situation” and prayerful reflection that accompanies every community decision and action—these are all “standard operating procedures” in the conduct of BECs. In truth it can be said that BECs are the local Church writ small, but for all their smallness are nonetheless living models of how the larger Church should go if it is to go at all in the direction of fully inculturating her faith.

9. Needing special discernment in our communities in these times of great change is the place of women in our society. Earlier we noted how there is a basic equality between men and women in traditional Philippine culture – an equality that is quite unsurpassed by most other cultural traditions elsewhere in the world. This egalitarian quality of our culture is something that is sometimes forgotten in the feminist call for greater equality. Yet, even as we note the high place of women in our society, we cannot but be greatly disturbed by its eroding under the impact of uncontrolled media and the exploitation of women not only in the sex trade but in the workplace as well. Female overseas contract workers (OCWs) come to mind especially, but so do many of their sisters right here in the Philippines. (Is rape on the rise or is this just an impression we get from media sensationalizing?) Their exploitation – is often attributed to the bad economic situation of the country. Whatever its cause, we must discern on the problem and come up together with answers befitting our faith and culture.

Conclusion. One final point about the question of faith and cultures needs to be made here. When we come down to basics, we cannot avoid the conclusion that inculturation is really nothing more, nothing less, than a continuing dialogue between people of faith (the local Church) and the Holy Spirit. This is so not only because the discernment that we have been saying all along is of prime necessity in the process of inculturation requires contact with the Spirit for guidance and help in the same process; but even more basically because the very nature of culture and faith, the two poles in the inculturative process, demands it: Culture is the historic way of life of a people—it is their creation; faith, on the other hand, is the gratuitous gift of the Spirit—it is the creation of the Spirit of God. So, when we talk of inculturation as the putting together of faith and culture, we see immediately that the main actors in the process are—or should be—the people who own the culture and the Spirit who gives the faith. The implications of this little fact are many and deep. We propose only one for further reflection: If the people and the Spirit are indeed the principal agents of inculturation, then the dialogue between them must by all means be promoted and greater trust be shown them in our ordinary pastoral approach and Church governance. A truly pneumatic Church—this is the call of the times and we see we can be such by simply becoming a fully inculturated Church.

In doing inculturation, we get in touch with the collective inner spirit of our people: our kalooban—as Tagalogs put it—our inner self, a high value in itself. And we do so not as individuals only but above all as a people, a community. But we do the same too with the Spirit of God, God’s kalooban. Inculturation, then, is this double and deepest interiority, God’s and ours, becoming one. With it, we come, in the innermost part of our cultural being, into Communion with the God head. If it is our continuing dialogue with the Spirit, it is too our continuing Pentecost.

We pray that as Mary, our Mother, was with the Apostles at Pentecost, she will be with us too in ours. And we can go forth, renewed, to renew our nation, our world, our Church.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:


President, CBCP

Tagaytay City

January 25, 1999