Reception of and Trajectories for Vatican II in Asia

By Phan, Peter C. | Theological Studies, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Reception of and Trajectories for Vatican II in Asia


Phan, Peter C., Theological Studies


THE FOCUS OF THIS ARTICLE is quite precise and narrow: the impact of the Second Vatican Council on the Asian churches or, stated positively from the perspective of the Asian churches, their "reception" of Vatican II since its convocation five decades ago. It is not a historical study of the contributions of the Asian churches to the council as such. (1) Nor does it treat of the theoretical issues such as the principles that should guide the interpretation of Vatican II as an "event" and of its 16 documents, (2) the various "narratives" of the council, (3) and the "rupture/discontinuity" and/or "reform/continuity" between the council and the alleged "pre-Vatican II church." (4) Rather, it is intended as a companion piece to the surveys of the reception of Vatican II in Latin America and Africa. (5)

A few preliminary remarks are in order before undertaking the proposed assessment. First, by "Vatican II" is meant the council itself and its 16 documents. However, since Vatican II could not, of course, implement its own reform programs and even called for the establishment of postconciliar commissions to carry out its reform policies, it is reasonable that, in assessing the impact of Vatican II, attention should be paid to the major postconciliar documents, institutions, and, indeed, to the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. (6)

Second, "reception" refers to the ongoing process by which the community of faith, with its sensus fidei/fidelium, makes a teaching or a practice of the faith its own, acknowledging thereby that it is a true and authentic expression of the church's faith. Reception is not to be understood as a juridical ratification by the community of such a teaching or practice whose truth and validity would derive from such ratification. Rather, it is an act whereby the community affirms and attests that such teaching or practice really contributes to the building up of the community's understanding and life of faith. (7) Such a process of reception, however, is not a simple act of obedience and passive absorption. It is not always and necessarily a full acceptance of what is enjoined by ecclesiastical authorities. It may at times involve a partial and even total rejection of what has been taught or commanded. Thus, reception is necessarily a remaking or "inventing" of a creative fidelity to the tradition in the light of the contemporary situation; the reception of Vatican II is no exception. (8)

Since the reception of Vatican II in Asia consisted in a conscious attempt at applying the council documents to the specific contexts of Asia and the Asian churches, I begin with a brief overview of these manifold contexts. Next, since Vatican II's achievements, as many commentators on the council have suggested, can be categorized ad intra and ad extra, I consider how they have impacted Asian Catholicism under both of these aspects. I end with reflections on the prospects of the Asian Catholic Church in the light of Vatican II.

A CHURCH IN THE "ASIAN" CONTEXT

Many Asian theologians have argued that the church in Asia must be not simply in but of Asia, that is, a fully and wholly inculturated church. (9) The context is not merely the location in which the church exists; rather it determines the church's self-understanding and its mode of being. Consequently, to understand how Vatican II has shaped the church of Asia requires knowledge of the contexts in which the church exists and to whose challenges the church seeks to respond theologically and pastorally.

With regard to Asia, several features should be kept in mind, and it will be clear that its extreme diversities make it a near-impossibility to refer to anything--Christianity included--as "Asian." First, immense geography and population. Conventionally divided into five regions: Central Asia (mainly the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), East Asia (mainly China Japan, Korea, and Taiwan), South Asia (mainly Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), South-East Asia (mainly Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), and South-West Asia (the countries of the Middle East, Near East, or West Asia). …

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