Friday, July 04, 2008

Inculturating America

Nothing like July 4th for this Catholic to bash on American culture. It's been interesting for me to read intra-Orthodox debates about the prudence of establishing an autonomous or autocephalous American Orthodox church. The general consensus among the bewildering array of Orthodox jurisdictions seems to be that it's still way too early and thus imprudent. The wiser elements of Orthodoxy seem to grasp that American culture is highly problematic and that before autonomy or autocephaly can be granted the Christian Faith must sink deeply, penetrating into and transforming American culture to create an authentically Orthodox-American culture before anyone can take seriously the idea of an American Orthodox Church.

Blogs like Art & Faith marvelously demonstrate what this true form of inculturation looks like. A&F does it for Russian Orthodoxy and incidentally, has no qualms about rejecting the existential rationales for the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) and its progeny (St. Vlad's Seminary, Frs. Schmemann and Meyendorff, et al). By the way A&F has got to be the most visually moving blog I've ever encountered. Thank you, Ms. Drezhlo.

This should not be such a foreign concept to American Catholics as we have learned the hard way how inculturation can behave like sulphuric acid on our own ecclesial life. So I think a rule is in order for American Catholics: To inculturate in America is to Protestantize and commit "soft heresy." We tried to implement trusteeism for church property back in the 19th century, aspiring to the efficiency of Protestant polities; today it's couched in terms of mushy canon law and theology about the dignity of the parish as a juridic person, but it's still essentially promoted in the spirit of American (Protestant) anti-traditional and anti-sacramental narcissism. Therefore, trusteeism (which today takes the form of statutory parish incorporation) is imprudent. In liturgy, "ecumenically-friendly" use of Protestant music is imprudent, even though it's often permissible in and of itself. This has nothing to do with feelings. No need to hate Protestants or America. This is just about preserving that which preserves and gives life to Catholics, our Apostolic Faith. It's about being radical in our Faith, caring about the roots of our Faith which need watering as much as the branches need pruning and care.

Institutions and structures matter more for Catholics than they do for Orthodox and that can be a very healthy difference. But the Orthodox can teach us how culture (also a major concern for JPII and B16) is its own pillar of Faith. May we learn from the cautious patience of the Orthodox in our struggles with inculturation. Pro ecclesia, pro patria.