Church History And Cultural History

The difficulty we face in trying to expound a history of the Church in Latin America derives from the fact that there is no written history of Latin American culture. In his book, America en la historia ("America in History"), Leopoldo Zea notes that we are constantly trying to find out what is native to America; but in the process we discover that "America is outside history."

If we examine the great expositions of the history of world culture, we find that Latin America is not given adequate consideration. In one such history of culture, for example, Alfred Weber devotes only a few remarks to Latin America. He notes that Portugal and Spain prompted a European expansion which resulted in the conquest of America. That is the sum total of his treatment of Latin America.

Latin America receives this treatment, in general, because the great cultural historians are Europeans or North Americans, not Latin Americans. We have no one of world stature. But that is not the only reason. The fact is that we ourselves are ignorant of our history. Latin America remains on the outskirts of history. To have a Church history, we must have a cultural history. So far we lack that cultural history. If we are to find our place as Christians in Latin America, we must first find our place as Latin Americans in the history of world culture.

Because we are "outside history," we have necessarily fallen prey to an inauthentic historicity. Here a few words of explanation are in order.

As we know, contemporary existentialist thought talks about temporality-i.e., the time dimension. The being of man is not like the being of things. It is not merely a present; it is a has-been which now is in the process ofbeing by virtue of its potentiality to be. The being of man can be comprehended only in the time dimension, in the framework of temporality. It can be comprehended only in terms of its three phases or instances: that is, as a has-been, which is now in the process of being, by virtue of its potentiality to be. The "potentiality to be" is the future. In German the word for future is Zu-kunft, that which is "coming to" or "approaching." This suggests the paradoxical nature of the future. The future is something towards which we are going but which is also coming towards us. Thus the future is not "what I shall do." It is the actual and operative presence of what I understand as my potentiality to be. It constitutes the fundamental instance of what today is called "temporality."

Temporality, in turn, is merely the bedrock of one of its modes which we refer to as "historicity." Historicity is not simply temporality. It is the way, the mode, in which mankind lives its temporality in the concrete-and at all times. Man is in history only because the human realm and man himself is already historical. It is man who "historifies" what he lives "within" the world. A historical document, for example, is not historical in and of itself. It is historical because it was in and of man's hand. It is historical because it was in man's world, not because it is now in the world. It is historical because it was in the human world.

Historicity can be lived in various ways. We as Latin Americans are "outside history." This inevitably means that we are dragged down into an inauthentic brand of historicity. In our case inauthentic historicity means "historify-

ing" the things at hand (i.e., turning them into history) and interpreting them in a superficial, commonplace fashion which really covers them up and conceals them. The result is that our authentic tradition remains in the dark.

We must not equate "traditionalism" with authentic tradition. Traditionalism stops at ontic comprehension, and "ontic" is on the same level as "superficial" and "commonplace." These terms suggest that tradition does indeed transmit something, but in this transmission it conceals more than it reveals to us. It transmits to us only what is superficial and obvious. For example, it is obvious that we are Latin Americans. But the real point is to know what that really means. The more we dwell on the surface of what we are, the more our real inner nature and life remains concealed from us. Tradition transmits everything to us-Ianguage, for example. Now at first glance it might seem that language is an indifferent reality which poses no problems at all. We fail to take cognizance of the fact that language is not only a tool for communication, but also a trap. It is a trap because the very words of a language conceal the experience of a people; they cover over that experience. We do not realize that when a given people does not possess a certain set of experiences, it has no word for those experiences. When an attempt is made to transmit a certain experience from one people to another, which mayor may not have words for the experience, it is quite possible that translation will be impossible and that the experience may therefore be ignored or forgotten. Authentic historicity is critical, dialectical. To be critical means to be able to "de-present" the present; to take what is commonplace and habitual and look at it in another light. It means that we can really test and probe what tradition transmits to us. One of the privileged ways of testing and checking what is handed down by tradition is history. It is one valuable way of being able to test and criticize ourselves in order to uncover what lies concealed in the obvious data.

But if we stand "outside history," then we cannot possibly use this means of engaging in criticism.

If a German college student wants to know what it means to be German, he can pick up a treatment of cultural history such as that written by Alfred Weber. If an English college student wants to do the same thing, he can read Toynbee's Study of History. But we Latin Americans have no equivalent interpretations of our own place in world history to which we can turn.

Let us suppose we read the books just mentioned, taking the work of Weber for our example here. Weber begins with the origins of homo saPiens. Then he covers prehistory, the great cultures of Antiquity, and subsequent developments. Gradually his focus narrows to Germany, so that a German can get some idea of his people's place in world history from Weber's treatment. But as we Latin Americans read the book, we find ourselves being estranged from our own history as we move towards modern times. Instead of finding a detailed discussion of the conquest of America when we get to the sixteenth century, we are treated to a detailed discussion of Martin Luther. I am not suggesting that there should not be any discussion of that great Reformation figure. But I am saying that this topic was not the fundamental problem facing us in the sixteenth century. Gradually Weber's narrative moves into channels that simply are not ours as Latin Americans. By the time we finish his book, we are alienated human beings-Europeanized Latin Americans.

This is happening to us every day. If we do nothing but study a history that is not our own, we end up by being something other than what we ourselves really are. We must ask ourselves: What is it to be Latin Americans? We really do not know because no one has taught us.

The same thing applies to Church history. Professor Joseph Lortz, my teacher in Mainz, has written a great history of the Church. He is German, as Weber is, and his work is a prime example of my point. Reading his great work, one might be inclined to think it really is a history of the "universal" Church. In fact, however, it is only a history of the European Church, of the Church in German-speaking areas and Central Europe. When Lortz gets to the era of the Reformation, he talks about Luther. (He is an expert on Luther.) Then he goes on to talk about the Enlightenment, Gallicanism, Ultramontanism, and so forth. He says nothing about Latin America. Thus the superficial, commonplace view within which we live our lives cannot be criticized because we study only about Europe. Our own cultural and ecclesial world lies buried under ignorance, indifference, and neglect.

Perhaps there is only one way open to us if we want to undertake critical thinking and engage in authentic historicity, if we want to "historify" what we have at hand and turn it into real history. Perhaps we must start over and try to work up a historical self-awareness that will redefine us in genetic terms.

Such an effort would certainly be "destructive" in many respects, authentically "destructive" in terms of the root, meaning of the Latin word from which it comes: de-struo. We would really be engaged in a work of "un-building" and "dismantling." We would be taking a critical look at things which confront us as a coordinated, unified whole. We would be taking them apart to see what might lie hidden behind them.

History and the study of history is not destructive in the everyday sense of the term. It is destructive in the sense that it is a probing and a catharsis. It is, in a sense, a collective psychoanalysis of our culture. When we want to know about the traumas we carry inside ourselves, we turn to autobiography and biography; we turn to the history of ourselves. Well, history is a collective psychoanalysis in which we examine our cultural traumas and our failures at adaptation. If we want to understand the crisis of Latin Ameri-

can Catholicism today, we may have to look back to the sixteenth century-or perhaps even to the fourth century. We do not really know for sure where to look. Or perhaps it would be better to say that we have forgotten where to look. We are somewhat similar to a child who got a traumatic clout from his father in the distant past. The blow itself is forgotten, but its impact remains present in his psyche. Perhaps our culture experienced an analogous trauma way back in the fourth century and is only now freeing itself from the effects; hence the frightful crisis we are now experiencing.

I am not trying to espouse or justify psychoanalysis here. My point is that the example may help us to see what history can do. History can help us to "see" the process at work; and the very act of seeing what has been going on is a major part of the cure. We see the real situation that we are in and we now know why we are in it.

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