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DLSU RP 2001-01: A Hermeneutics of Appreciation: Approach and Methodology

For the important task of inculturating the Faith within the Filipino context, it is necessary to have a definite approach to culture and a theological method in consonance with such a way of looking at culture. This is eminently a hermeneutical undertaking and one which needs to be historically and culturally particularized. Given the specific conditions and challenges in which inculturation is to be realized in the local setting, a hermeneutics of appreciation would be the most appropriate manner of reinterpreting the Judaeo-Christian Tradition in indigenous categories. Without denying the contextual validity and usefulness of a hermeneutics of suspicion or balance, inculturation in the Philippines would benefit most at this time from an interpretative scheme which is oriented by respect and appreciation for the wisdom and genius of the culture. This form of hermeneutics includes a number of elements. It embraces a broad understanding of culture as a worldview representing the fundamental perspectives and values of a people, and culture as a set of institutions and structures consisting of patterned modes of social relationships of this human community. It incorporates too an approach to culture which, methodologically, not only looks at this way of life primarily from the insider’s point of view, but also focuses first and foremost at the life-giving elements that can be found in it. To this end a set of attitudinal principles can be followed by those who wish to inculturate the Faith. These principles are aimed at developing an emphatic “listening heart” to the strengths of the culture and at implementing the approach to culture which the Second Vatican Council proposes in its decree on the Church’s missionary activity, Ad Gentes. In interpreting reality, the hermeneutics of appreciation which is envisioned is one that utilizes a combined cultural and social analyses. Though insight into the why of specific behaviors is a sine qua non that cultural analysis provides, present-day understanding of the structural or institutional elements of culture also demands procedures worked out by social analysis. The emphasis of this integrated form of scrutinizing reality remains the positive, life-giving elements which are latent equally in the beliefs, values and customs of people as well as in the social structures of their society. A hermeneutics of appreciation, moreover, requires also a methodology for “doing theology” which ensures that the appreciative stance will be foremost in the dynamics and processes of theological reflection. Following the fundamental principle of theologizing, namely, the mutually respectful and critical interaction between the Judaeo-Christian Tradition and contemporary experience, this theological method further indicates that theological reflection starts with the pole of contemporary experience rather than the pole of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition for reasons already spelled out. This decision ensures that the meaningfulness of that interpretation remains the basic condition for every interpretation of the Faith which is faithful to the Gospel. Through such revelation of the meaningfulness of the Gospel, inculturated theologizing ultimately intends to contribute to personal and social transformation. It is noted how two cultural principles are involved in the mutual interaction of the two poles: language as source of understanding and dynamic equivalence translation. In the dynamics of mutuality, the principle language as a source of understanding enables the meaning of the Gospel to be “translated” or communicated faithfully by cultural means, and the principle of dynamic equivalence translation reinterprets the Gospel in intelligible cultural terms. Attention to culture and the specific approach towards it, the form of analysis involved in comprehending culture and the actual theological method employed to reinterpret the Judaeo-Christian Tradition in indigenous categories all give life and form to the hermeneutics of appreciation. The question of meaningfulness of theology to people’s experience is surely attended to by this manner of interpreting Faith in the midst of human realities. But this does not actually conclude the hermeneutic process. The believing community which is the Church needs to ascertain whether what has been found meaningful is also faithful to the spirit of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition. It needs to discern and eventually acknowledge as a community whether the fresh and meaningful interpretation moves along a trajectory of the life-giving and inspires praxis in accord with the spirit of Jesus who commanded that his disciples loved as he loved. While the fulfillment of the criteria as to what is doubly faithful – to experience and to the Gospel – seemingly ends the appreciative hermeneutical process, what is theologically grasped from life and for life remains fragmentary and provisional. The dynamism of life in its many dimensions and the concomitant vitality of faith that is meant to suffuse the whole of human existence both resist any absolutization of faith understanding. For this very reason, inculturation must remain a process of faith that is on the way, being consoled by glimpses it had been allowed by the God of “pure positivity” and realizing that the Gospel is, in the first place, about God’s enduring appreciation of humankind.

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