The Catholic Church was founded by Christ whom we knew in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnated Son. Not only His birth but also everything He said and did had the incarnational touch. His discourses, acts and life-style had the dint of His time and space. We cannot understand His teachings and actions apart from the particular contexts of His living. Thus the mystery of incarnation has become the corner of whole Christian life. Subsequently the beliefs, dogmas, theology and practices of the Church have to be incarnational in nature.
Modernity propagated ideas and visions that transcended time. Its philosophers believed that their principles could be applied to peoples of all times and to all places. This resulted in the colonial imposition of a special type of Christian practices all over the world. They considered their cultural patterns as universal whereas they were originally the fruit of a very determinate history and geography. Along with the modern philosophical trend, many Christian thinkers rejected the historical particularities of Christian faith and presented Christianity as a sum of universal moral principles given by Christ. Faith thus became ethics based on reason rather than the life-style developed out of a specific community that experienced Christ.
At this postmodern turn of culture, theologians realize that Christianity cannot be reduced into some rational and universal kernel of moral lessons because Jesus’ teachings are related to the contingent facts like His birth, life, death and resurrection. The priority given to the particularities of the Early Church must not lead to primitivism i.e. to take the practice of believers in one particular period of history as normative for Christian practice of all times and all regions. Some have the difficulty to ascribe normative value to a particular theological concept or practice if the latter is not said in the Bible. The truths relevant for all times were not lived by the Early Christians even though they were close to the time of Jesus. The extremisms happen because of the aversion to the logic of incarnation which accommodates the reality of change and time.
Given that man is a created being he grows in time and his development brings change in the world. Culture deals with the changes happened due to his temporal engagements in the society. God’s Spirit works within this cultural process. Hence Church which is committed to the act of incarnation has to accept the contingent nature of her existence and activities. There are no pre-established givens; we must allow a certain authority and normativity to what gets evolved in the course of time. This is most needed in order for the Church to be Catholic in its full sense. Unfortunately, today Churches suffer from sectarianism. The provincial groups claim to “recover the true faith and reinstate the New Testament principles.” They pretend to be more holy than others. But how can they be holy without being universal? How can they be disciples of Jesus without accepting others with their differences? Holiness cannot be separated from catholicity.
The revivalists who claim to have rediscovered the original charisma of Church forget that they are also products of a time, place and culture and that what they discovered as true and universal are not the universal truths which could be applied to outside communities and different realities. When the beliefs and ideas of a group cannot engage other ideas, customs and life experiences, it is a sign that its members get stacked with ghetto mentality. To be Catholic is to inculcate a variety of distinctive perceptions of the reality and the world. It happens only when we give justice to the incarnational dimension of faith i.e. recognition of the distinct accounts of truth according to the diverse particular contexts of different times and spaces.