Sunday, July 5

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

Over the last century, the duty of solidarity and the preferential option for the poor have become major pieces of Catholic Social Thought. Solidarity has been seen as a duty, one which is not simply the desire to change but the will to enact change, as well as a call to commitment and servitude. In other words - those who wish to become great must become a servant, and those who wish to be first must become last – or rather, they must become a servant to all (Mark 10:43). The message of the gospel is transformative, and when we engage in social justice work we not only attempt to avoid evil but overcome it entirely. It is concerned with building the kingdom of God on earth and through God’s love in our lives, with loving our brothers and sisters and with bringing justice and love to all the nations. Questions arise, then - what might be some of the barriers to building solidarity relationships with people who are poor? What can be done to overcome those barriers? In order to explore these questions, it is important to read the signs of the times, understand the Biblical tradition and its perspective on poverty, and determine what it means to have a preferential option for the poor, and will provide a personal experience on how these concepts may be lived out.

Reading the Signs of the Times
There are a number of barriers, to solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. For example, the class system in the United States makes it difficult for those in the upper or middle class to relate to the lower class, or vice versa. Other barriers are racism, gender discrimination, the apparent stigma associated with associating with “poor people,” and so forth. The Church is known to read the signs of the times, and in order to understand these and other barriers to solidarity, one must therefore read these signs of the times. In 1996, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that in the southern regions, approximately 1.3 billion people live in poverty, and approximately 12.5 million children die each year from diseases that may be easily prevented with the proper health care.[1] But in fact, health care, clean drinking water, good nutrition and basic education are available for only about one billion human beings.[2] These statistics are nearly twenty years old at this point, but the signs of the times today indicate that the numbers have only shown an increased margin between the rich and the poor, as well as a continued challenge to provide these basic human needs.

Poverty is a source of suffering and can be seen to symbolize marginalization. Poverty has links to race, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, employment, location, environmental issues, political corruption and other challenges, particularly in light of modern globalization.[3] Poverty can also result from a particular illness, a disability or a lack of motivation and initiative. But most often, poverty is the result of economic processes “created and directed by humans. Viewed in this light, poverty appears as a phenomenon that we can influence. We can change such processes by making different societal choices.”[4] Some of the groups that have suffered the most from poverty are women, aboriginal people, displaced people, children and young people living in families.[5] Women, for example, spend a great deal of time caring for their children, taking care of their homes and taking care of their husbands. But this work is unremunerated work. Human rights are at stake. But one of the other barriers to solidarity and to a deeper understanding is how people view an issue. In Canada, for example, “if a parent denies a child food, clothing, and social security, it is considered child abuse, but when our government denies 1,362,000 children the same, it is simply balancing the budget.”[6] This difference of “point of view” can be a barrier that can and has created very real consequences.

When one considers the Biblical “point of view,” poverty in the Hebrew Bible is seen in a number of contexts. God promises to bless those who bless the poor (Psalm 41:1-3, 112; Proverbs 14:21, 31; 19:17, 22:9, 28:27; Isaiah 58:6-10) but to judge those who oppress and denounce the poor (Deuteronomy 27:19; Proverbs 17:5, 21:13, 22:16, 28:27; Isaiah 10:1-4; Ezekiel 16:49, 18:12-13). When the Israelites received the Mosaic Law, God became seen as a God of the oppressed. The poor were given the right to glean fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19, 21), and during the sabbatical year, the poor were able to get food by sharing in the produce from the vineyards and the fields (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:6). Further, during the year of Jubilee, the poor could have their property returned (Leviticus 25:25-30), those who borrowed from the poor had to return the possession before the setting of the sun (Exodus 22:25-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13), and the rich were commanded to be charitable toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). The poor were also allowed to share in feasts (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Nehemiah 8:10) and part of tithes were to be given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-13). There is similar treatment of the poor in the New Testament as in the Hebrew Bible (Luke 3:11, 14:13; Acts 6:1; Galatians 2:10; James 2:15-16). St. Paul calls Christians to “Remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). Dr. Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus as being born into poor conditions, and 2nd Corinthians 8:9 describes Jesus becoming poor for us so that we may become rich. Jesus is thus seen as responding and living in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed of his time.

The CCCB, in reading these signs of the times as well as rooting themselves in sacred Scripture, committed themselves to solidarity with victims of the global economic restructuring, “for example, the fishery workers and coal miners who watch their entire industries shut down; the industrial worker whose job is exported to a low wage zone; the office worker who is declared ‘redundant’ because of new technology or government downsizing. By taking up the path of solidarity with the poor, we acknowledge their importance in the effort to create a new, more humane social order.”[7] But the CCCB is not alone in these efforts. Other groups, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the anti-poverty activities of PLURA (an ecumenical group), the work of women’s groups, community-based organizations, the Order of Malta, Knights of Columbus, the Franciscans, Sisters of Charity and others have continued to extend an arm to the needy and offer a hand to the poor.[8]

The Preferential Option for the Poor
In recent years, several papal encyclicals have either directly or indirectly addressed the poor, such as the 1991 encyclical from Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, which notes that new forms of poverty have arisen in recent times, requiring an expansion of our definition of the poor and that the Church’s teaching on social justice should not be a mere theory but a motivation for action.[9] Prior to the Second Vatican Council in September 1962, Pope John XXIII suggested “an innovative pastoral and theological perspective when he spoke of the church of the poor. ‘Before the underdeveloped countries, the church is, and wants to be, the church of all people and especially the church of the poor.’”[10] Due to the efforts of Popes such as John Paul II and John XXIII, the Church began again shifting their approach to and concern for the poor.

This is where the “option for the poor” comes in. Since the late 1970s, the phrase “preferential option for the poor” has been used to ask, how do laws and decisions by society effect those who are sick, those who are young, and those who are in poor economic or social standing? In short, what effect do they have on the marginalized? In order to challenge injustices, Pope John Paul II declared that we need to listen to the poor and share their experience with them - or rather, to stand by and with them. Only by doing this can we truly know how economic and political decisions effect the poor.

This preferential option for the poor is one in Christian theology that attempts to respond to the question, “How can one live out the gospel in a world of destitution?”[11] The preferential option for the poor is concerned, as Catholic priest and scholar Fr. Daniel Groody has pointed out, “with a lifestyle and not with sporadic acts of proximity or assistance to the poor.”[12] It should become a way of life, and not simply a weekend outing. It is considered preferential in the sense that God loves all of his creation, but he has a preferential or a special kind of love for the poor due to their destitute position in our unequal and discriminating society. Therefore, the option for the poor essentially means that we are trying to share in their lives, to be friends with them, to be committed to their particular social class – to live with them, as we see in the lives of individuals such as Mother Teresa.

The United States Catholic Bishops has written in their pastoral letter Economic Justice for All that “Our faith calls us to measure this economy not only by what it produces, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land.”[13] It is because of this that we are called to uphold the freedom and dignity of the human person. This is when solidarity is also called for - for a kenosis, an emptying of self, which can allow the Body of Christ to see the face of God in poverty, vulnerability and powerlessness.[14]

Pope Paul VI stated that the more fortunate in society ought to renounce some of their rights in order to place their goods at the service of others. In 2004, Hilary Clinton indicated that certain tax cuts were being made on behalf of the common good, so that the margin between the rich and poor would decrease and those below the poverty line could rise above it.[15] Just as the early Christians shared all things in common, although this may seem like an unattainable utopian ideal, we must strive for sharing with those who are vulnerable and those who live in poverty. Making a commitment to the poor is intended to help them become more active in the life of the community and society at large. The USCCB has pointed out that “the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves.”[16]

Practical Application
It is important not only to understand the basis for the option for the poor, but also on how someone moves from service to a place of solidarity. At this point, then, I find it important to discuss an immersion (community based) learning experience that deepened my understanding of being in solidarity with the poor. In October of 2014, I went on a service trip to Philadelphia with a group of students. Upon entering the city, I remarked that our trip was in the appropriate city, as Philadelphia meant “city of brotherly love.” Over the course of the trip, I felt as though this love came to life before me. We stayed as guests of the St. Francis Inn, where we interacted and worked with the current ministers, as well as several hundred people who came for a meal. I had been a part of the Soup Kitchen ministry during most of our time there, and on the last day had the opportunity to go with two other individuals on ten home deliveries in the surrounding areas in Philadelphia.
When I was out on these home deliveries, I saw several children - one of the little girls came up, in her tiny voice, to tell me how grateful she was for the food, and introduced me to her small dog, Buddy. This was one of the most touching moments of experience. Later, when helping at the St. Francis Inn, I felt that I picked up on something. I met the eyes of many people, and it seemed that some of these people had hope and thankfulness in their eyes, others had visibly lost that hope. Affliction has the power to take possession of someone’s being and make them feel dead while still alive. But it is ministries such as this program or other volunteer organizations that can greatly benefit those seeking to live more simply, live in community and live in solidarity with the marginalized. 

The Epistle of James convictingly asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:14-17). This experience with the people of Philadelphia helped to move notions of solidarity and the option for the poor from the abstract to the concrete. It has made me more conscious of my possessions. It made me more mindful of how to live simply, but it has also continued to develop and foster a desire to return soon to these people, live among them, and become a servant to them.

“The brothers... gave [to] all those who begged from them, especially to the poor... if they were traveling along the road and found the poor begging from them for the love of God, when they had nothing to offer them, they would give them some of their clothing even though it was shabby. Sometimes, they gave their capuce, tearing it from the tunic; at other times they gave a sleeve, or tore off a part of their habit, that they might fulfill that gospel passage: ‘Give to all who beg from you.’”[17]

The above quote from the Legend of the Three Companions concerns the life of the early Franciscan movement. They did not give away their capuce, pieces of their habit or give of themselves because they wanted to seem “holier-than-thou.” Rather, they saw the command of Christ as an example of how true Christian love could be expressed. This is a form of solidarity, and a way of expressing the option for the poor. During the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” One would argue that this is true solidarity. We may also offer up our bodies, so that when I choose to help others I too may say, “This is my body, which will be given up for you - emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.” In doing so, we are offering to give all of ourselves. To offer up our being, our body.

Pope John Paul II has described the option for the poor as "a call to have a special openness with the small and the weak, those that suffer and weep, those that are humiliated and left on the margin of society, so as to help them win their dignity as human persons and children of God."[18] Further, the title of this paper, “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable,” holds a key trait and characteristic that must always be borne in mind when one decides to act on social justice and live out the gospel: vulnerability. We may say that vulnerability is and can be a form of humility. When we open ourselves up to the way the world truly is, when we open ourselves up to others, when we convey honesty to others, we are left completely vulnerable. But this vulnerability can also lead to a transformation of the human person that will help us to begin to live out a deeper immersion and integration of the gospel with those living as the marginalized and the oppressed.

[1] Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Struggle Against Poverty: A Sign of Hope in our World. 1996. Print.
[2] Ibid., 1-2.
[3] Ibid., 2.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 5.
[7] Ibid., 7.
[8] Cf. Proverbs 31:20, “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.” So too, the Church ought to continue to extend her hands to the marginalized.
[9] Groody, Daniel G. The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology. 1st ed. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. 58. Print.
[10] Ibid., 17.
[11] Ibid., 5.
[12] Ibid., 30.
[13] United States Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. 1986. Print.
[14] Ibid., 52.
[15] "Hillary: We’ll Take Your Money for ‘common good’." WND, 29 June 2004. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
[16] Economic Justice for All 88.
[17] From The Legend of Three Companions 43.
[18] Economic Justice for All 87.

Jews, Muslims and Christians in Medieval Spain

The relationship between Jews, Muslims and Christians has a very long and complicated history. In some respects, there has been peaceful coexistence depending on the area, politics, culture and social contexts. In others, the relationships have been portrayed as intolerant, violent and oppressive. Much of this has to do on who lives where. For example, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he portrays Jews in a negative light - yet where he lived, there were no Jews for three generations. Therefore, there was no experience and no dialogue. Alfonso "the Wise" (AD 1200s) noted that some Jews were showing contempt to Christians by celebrating Good Friday, fastening children to crucifixes, and making wax images and crucifying them when children were not available. Alfonso ordered that any Jew who does this is to be put to death - out of respect for Christians. Clearly, there were major issues in the Spanish territories. What transpired during this time?  (This brief article is based on "Medieval Christianity: Jews, Muslims and Christians" by Daniel E. Dornstein and the University of Colorado's class, Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain from Dr. Kathryn Andrus and Dr. Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila).

A Jewish presence in Western Europe dates back even to Roman times. Christians did not necessarily attempt to convert Jews, because they knew that Jews were God's elect, that from them came the Hebrew Bible, that Jesus was a Jew and that from them came Christianity. At the same time, however, there was rampant anti-Semitism, condemning Jews for the killing of Jesus. This sometimes led to acts of Christian violence on Jews. Throughout the time of the Roman empire to the eleventh century, Jews suffered from both neglect and from persecution. At times, those in power would use Jews as a scapegoat or a way to work politics to their own advantage, as politics and religion were so tied together. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, Jews became more marginalized. As a result of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Jews were now forced to wear a yellow circle to identify them, just as beggars and lepers were required to carry bells and other markers. This therefore separated Jews from much of society, so much so that Christians and Jews were not to have sexual contact. Although both Jews and Muslims were looked at in a negative light, the bulk of Christians had never met a Jew or Muslim. Christians did, however, consider Muslims to be political and intellectual equals. But Jews continued to be marginalized. In fact, even with the formation of Dominican and Franciscans, their preachers still spoke ill of Jews. But Christians and Muslims infrequently came in to contact with one another, as in St. Francis of Assisi's encounter with the Muslim sultan Malik al-Kamil in 1219. These encounters were far and in-between - except for the Iberian peninsula. 

Jews were present in Spain even since the 1st century AD. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Jews were faced with a number of problems. Several invasions had occurred - the Vandals, the Suevi and the Visigoths. The new rulers were Arian Christians, which created problems with the Catholics, the pagans and others. The Visigoths did not allow Jews to marry Christians, hold Christian slaves or build new synagogues. When the Visigoths converted to Orthodox Christianity, the restrictions continued and were worsened, setting a pattern for later treatment. Also, Christians who converted to Judaism were put to death. In the year 711, various Muslim groups attacked the Visigoths and became the head of Iberia. Relations changed - the Jews were treated much better, and as "people of the book," were also given positions of power. Christians either converted and fully assimilated into the new lifestyle, remained Christian yet assimilated some Muslim culture into their lives, or fled into the mountains. The Muslims. Jewish communities began to spread again, Jewish merchants were able to make more money, many European Jews moved to Spain to enjoy the Iberian benefits, and the culture itself was very connected with Muslim or Arabic culture. Therefore the bulk of the Jewish writings from this time in Spain are found in Arabic.

Although Jews were doing rather well under Muslim rule, Christians were not doing as well. Some Christians embraced parts of Islam but continued to be Christians, and became known as Mozarabs (they would be known today as Chrislam), created their own language - Mozarabic, and their own Christian liturgy. Other Christians, however, created much resistance to the Muslim presence, such as the Martyrs of Cordoba in the AD 800s. For them, Mohammed was seen as a false prophet, Islam was a false religion, they were cruel and relentless people, and the Qur'an was nothing but lies. The Caliphate began to wane in power, however, and Christians and Jews began to move North in order to better practice their faith. By 1035, the Caliphate broke into smaller kingdoms known as taifas. Due to the Christian Reconquest, Muslim relations with Jews and Christians waned. Strict observance of Islam increased - no wine, more antagonism. The Christian brought up more monasteries and became more involved in the politics, and as a result, created more hostility toward the Muslims. A Muslim mosque was converted into a Church, for example, which created even more hard feelings. Alfonso VI tried to be the "emperor of three religions" and pictured a united city where the three religious traditions could live in harmony. But problems arose, and he was forced to abandon this idealistic vision. 

From 1212 until 1391, two major events occurred: Christians had victory over the Almohads at Las Nevas de Tolsosa in AD 1212, which meant that the Christians were now on top, and the second was the aforementioned Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Also, in regard to everyday life, Christians would meet every day with Jews and Muslims, including shopping in one another's stores. Such economic exchanges did not necessarily provide for tolerance, but they did create points of contact. But this was not the only form of contact. Sexual contact became more common, and was sometimes quite violent. Muslims, Jews and Christians seduced each other, raped each other, visited brothels of the other religion, and so forth. By 1391, violence against the Jews erupted. Communities were attacked, Jewish synagogues were burned and destroyed, and Jews were either converted or killed. The relationship between Christians, Muslims and Jews was extremely violent at this point. During Holy Week, for example, some Jews became subject to violence.

By the late 1400s, there was a certain animosity felt toward conversos, or those Jews who had become Christian. Some of them were still practicing Jewish practices, and in the 1440s, riots were breaking out. By the 1470s, Isabella and Ferdinand (Spanish rulers) felt sympathy for the Jews and Muslims. In fact, some Jews were elected into the court. By 1484, however, the Spanish Inquisition began. It was partly a response to whether or not some of these conversos were true Christians or not. In 1492, an Edict of Explusion was issued, and Jews either had to convert or be exiled. Muslims faced much of the same problems. The Edicts of 1492 and 1501-1502 did not bring a complete end to the Jewish and Muslim presence in Spain. Many of the conversos were secretly still Jews, while others were truly Christian. Later saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila, actually descended from conversos. After the Protestant Reformation soon began, the Inquisition turned its attention to Protestants. Muslims were not treated any better. In fact, the authorities attempted to make war on the Muslims in order to force a conversion. Despite all of these terrors and problems throughout the centuries, both Jewish and Muslim influence is still felt today, and Jews and Muslims have in today's world come back into Spain.

It is clear from this glimpse into life in Spain during this time that the relationship between those in different religious traditions needed - and still needs - improvement. The continuing crisis in the Middle East is evidence enough of this. For Christians, the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate attempted to begin to forge new relationships with people of other religious traditions. Nostra Aetate notes that there are a number of similarities and shared beliefs between Christianity and Islam. There is One God, there is an esteem for Abraham and Mary - and even the Virgin Birth of Jesus, Jesus is present in Islam (though as a prophet only, not as God), and there are similar ideas about judgment as well as praying, fasting and almsgiving. Also, one may note the words of the Catechism on Christians and Muslims - "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (841). Concerning Jews, the document points out that we must remember the bond and the ties between the people of the New Covenant - Christians - and Abraham's stock - Jews. As Christians, the Church recognizes that Jesus was Jewish, that from the Jews comes the Hebrew Bible, the Patriarchs such as Abraham, and a number of other things that we owed to Judaism. For centuries, Christians charged all Jews with deicide, and a number of atrocities has been committed on each side, as glimpsed in this article. Nostra Aetate declares that Jews and Christians are brothers, and that we need to respect Jews and not support antisemitism by any means. 

Today, it is against the teaching of the Church to discriminate against anyone of another religion, nation, condition of life. All men were created in the image of God (imago Dei), and therefore all have inherent human dignity, worth and value. Relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians is improving on a number of levels, but not all across the board. For example, the 2007 document A Common Word Between Us and You was written by Muslims to Christians. Conferences have been held at the Vatican on Interreligious Dialogue. Meetings between religious figures of these Abrahamic traditions are becoming more and more common. Last summer, through a chance encounter I met an individual - a Muslim professor of interreligious dialogue - who had been doing research on St. Francis of Assisi and his proto-interreligious encounter with the Sultan in 1219. He and I had both been working on the encounter around the same time, and after becoming friends, we spoke about his time at the Vatican meeting with Pope Benedict - and later that year, with Pope Francis. We also visited a Muslim mosque together for Friday prayer, and a Sunday Mass with Franciscans. We can view St. Francis, the famous Thomas Merton and others as models of interreligious dialogue and continue to work together to avoid the past mistakes seen in the example of what happened on the Iberian peninsula centuries ago, and what continues to happen in the Middle East today.

Christian Theology in the Third Millenium

The third millennium is vastly different than all that have come before it. We now have the ability to travel through space, we have a global economy, we have an explosion of knowledge due to computers and online services, and our military powers have become more powerful than any age before us. Indeed, the very idea of having a weapon that could destroy the entire planet – aside from an act of God – was preposterous for ages. Even the idea of space travel was something limited to the realm of science fiction (as early as Lucian’s True History in the   2nd century). Also, if something happens in Egypt or in China, within minutes we can see footage via YouTube or a news source. If we miss our favorite television show, we can watch instantly online (This article is based on "A Theology of the Church for the Third Millennium: A Franciscan Approach" by Kenan Osborne, 2009).

Even television did not come about until the last century, as well as photography (although the earliest photo was around 1826), and the ability to travel at high speeds from one destination to the other – either by car or plane. Our world has not only become much more globalized, but we are reaching out into space itself, planning Moon colonies, and colonies on Mars. Colonies on other planets was mere science fiction fifty years ago, now a near-reality. By the start of this new millennium, we are also coming into a renewed ecclesiology, although there is admittedly no set goal in sight. The article details seven major issues facing this renewal of ecclesiology, issues that are shaping our new understanding.

A Brief Development of Theology
Until recently, church historians have referred to the earliest Christianity as a unified whole. Our current historical research into Scripture gives us insight no other generation has had. We realize that the church has never actually been a unified whole. There were the Judeo-Christians who were more aligned with James the Just (also known as James the Righteous), those who were more Pauline, Lucan/Lukan, Markan, Johannine, Petrine, among others. Among the earliest Christians, there was division. St. Paul refers to this when he says, “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1st Corinthians 1:12). Such divisions were the reason for the Council of Jerusalem around AD 49-51. In the next few hundred years, there were Gnostic Christians, Ebionites, Docetists, Donatists, Phibionites, Arians, Nestorians, and others. Today, we have Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants (and within that, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, so forth), and other Christian branches such as Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As such, the Church has never been unified and complete unification is likely nearly – if not – impossible to achieve. The basic question is: can we find an ecclesiology that takes this major diversity into account? I would posit that we could not feasibly do so, but perhaps we may find an ecclesiology that most denominations could somewhat agree on.

In order to come to this understanding, however, we must understand some of where we have come from. The Western Church was the primary Church for centuries, until the division between the Eastern and Western churches often attributed to AD 1054, although this was mainly concerned with numerous excommunications - which has continued even to this day. Certainly attempts have been made to reconcile the two divisions, such as with the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 as well as the Council of Florence in 1439. With the changes of Vatican II came efforts to reconcile some of the differences between the East and the West. Both Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests may administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation, and anointing of the sick. This shows a sacramental acceptance of the Eastern Church. There has also been an increased appreciation of Eastern spiritual and theological ideas in the West.

In the 1500s-1600s, the Reformation Churches not only broke away from the Catholic Church but also began espousing a new and different form of theology, different doctrinal ideas and differences developed as well as different liturgies, different ways of celebrating the Eucharist, different creeds (some denominations are still non-creedal), and other differences. One should point out that although the Protestant Reformation created a lot of problems for the Catholic Church, it also sparked the Council of Trent, which formed many important features of Catholicism for the next 400-500 years until Vatican II. An atmosphere of cooperation and accommodation has gradually arisen. A third millennium needs to face the reality of its own division in order to come to a renewed ecclesiology. Ecumenism has made great leaps and bounds in this area. Further, Christians of all denominations make up about 25% of the world’s population. According to a study done toward the end 2011 (PewResearch), in the 7 billion people, about 2.18 billion are Christian. If we add the amount of Muslims, Jews and rather obscure and lesser known Abrahamic religions, we have a large amount of the world’s population believing in the Abrahamic God (though not necessarily the Christian God).

On a different note, the Western Churches are experiencing an ecclesial inculturation that has powerful dimensions and that call for reconstruction. A majority of people do not think in a Euro-American understanding, so that Multi-cultural understandings challenge this. Yet we need to remember that Christianity has from its inception had an influx of other cultures. Jesus and his early followers were all Jewish, and were to some degree partly Hellenized. By the end of the 1st century, end of the 2nd century, Greco-Roman concepts and ideas began dominating Christian thinking. In fact, by the 4th century, this was the dominant thinking. This theological understanding, in many ways, still essentially exists although it is not the only influence on the faith. The Johannine gospel seems to betray a distinct Greco-Roman influence in its Christological understanding. The early Christian Gnostics certainly shows a distinct Greco-Roman influence. Notably, Plato and Plotinus influenced Augustinian theology, so that for the first three hundred years, we see indeed that there was a profound Greco-Roman influence (St. Ambrose also made use of some Greek and Roman thinkers).

From AD 300 onward, the so-called Germanic tribes slowly began immigrating westward. They brought new ideas and new understandings into the Christian world. The West began to slowly assimilate the Germanic epistemic and paradigmatic understandings. Elements of Germanic influence are still evident in today’s church. Although the Germanic elements did not dominate, there was a dominance in regard to liturgy and canon law. By the AD 1200s, Arabic scholars re-introduced Aristotelian texts to Western Europe. A renewed Greek inculturation – dealing more with Aristotle than Plato – came about as a result. Commentaries by Arabic and Persian scholars on Aristotle became popular in Europe. Raymond Lull (1232-1316), a prominent Franciscan tertiary (a lay associate) as well as minister to Muslims introduced the texts into classes. Others, such as St. Bonaventure or St. Thomas Aquinas, were influenced by the renewed Greek inculturation. From the late eighteenth century until the twenty first century, we find the latest paradigmatic and cultural process. The word that characterizes this latest change is relation (as well as relational, relationship, and even relativity). Vatican II sought to express a meaning of a church that would make sense in a globalized, multicultural, and multi-religious world. Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI called for an aggiornamento, an updating of the church. Vatican II did just this.

The issue of science and the age of the universe is often the elephant in the room. In 1859, Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, in 1915, Albert Einstein outlined his theory of general relativity, and from the 1920s onward, quantum theory was developed. Quantum mechanics effects Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican tradition regarding creation. In this view, the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and humanity is only 100,000, which leaves a huge amount of time where humanity did not exist. How does this fit into God’s plan? If, our universe existed for billions of years without us and can continue to exist for billions of years without us, then we may feel that humans are fairly new and insignificant compared to the rest of this evolutionary history. The solar system also does not need us to exist. How does this complicate our understanding of God? The theological response is that God is God whether he created billions of years ago or not. He is an infinite and a First Cause God, so this would be no issue for Him. Christians believe that God had an original plan for creation and has revealed this plan to all of creation. Yet this claim is complicated when we adhere to the theory that we are insignificant in this universe. Both the Old and New Testament as well as the Patristic writings detail this original plan for God’s creation. How could Jesus be the culmination of history of humans does not matter in history? Also, how could all of human life be eradicated? How does this fit God’s plan? Indeed, the plan detailed for all of creation in the canonical Scriptures is entirely focused on God’s relationship with man. If we accept an evolutionary point of view, where did sin come from? What is sin? Why did we need a savior? Why did it take so long for us to come into being? Other questions arise - do extraterrestrials exist? What is the viability of the panspermia hypothesis? What was God's relationship to dinosaurs? Questions continue to be asked.

Moving Forward
Since 1994, the internet has exponentially broadened our knowledge as a human race, so much so that international events and data are immediately accessible around the globe. As a result of this international connection, many non-Western ideas and ways of thinking have entered into Western culture and understanding. The ability for lay Christians to immediately have access to Church teachings and history on the web has led to clarity among many and also challenged the old ways of the Church. For example, we can easily find out what is not officially taught and what historical changes that doctrine or practice has gone through. The postmodern paradigmatic changes are numerous, and relationality is seen as being central to this philosophical approach.

During the last one hundred and fifty years, the western intellectual framework has experienced an epistemic and paradigmatic change. This shift has challenged and changed Christendom and their theologies. From 1800-2000, relationality has become unavoidable. These changes have affected the world on every level – religious, political, social, economic, and intellectual. There are four defining categories: First, the Western theology has dominated for the better part of Christian history. This epistemic dominance is now being challenged and changed. The explosion of human knowledge created by the computer and online technology along with the paradigms of multi-cultural and the globalized world as a whole have contributed to this. Second, the diversity of cultures is no longer simply local, limited to tribes, states and regions. It is now a global phenomenon. Multi-cultural relationships are now being encouraged to be seen as equi-cultural. Third, Interreligious dialogue has occurred at various times in history. However, it has lacked the depth and quality that contemporary dialogues have. For example, Muhammad conversed with a Christian ruler when he began advancing Islam. During the Crusades, St. Francis had interreligious dialogue with a Muslim ruler. Christian churches have been challenged in their claim to be the sole source for salvation. Finally, quantum mechanics and the age of the universe are the essential elephant in the room where Christianity is concerned. Our ecclesiology needs to take these scientific findings into account. Evolutionary science is a major issue for the ecclesiological renewal.

The development of doctrine, theology, canon, the clergy, Christian tradition and other elements has been a long process, too lengthy to be covered here in any great depth. But this cursory glance at some of the issues that have arisen in the third millennium for Christian theology continue to deepen. The insights of interdisciplinary work, through psychology, history, archaeology, biology, chemistry, astronomy, and other fields continues to enrich the Christian tradition and open new and exciting possibilities and an already seemingly endless realm of mystery and ambiguity.