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"All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of research, freedom of thought and freedom of expression."

Gaudium et Spes, no 62.

How can values of our modern secular culture nourish the growth of Christian faith?

Essay Competition - being considered

The Second Vatican Council states that the Word of God should be sown in every society and culture. And when the seed sprouts and grows up, it should take its nourishment from the good soil it finds itself in, that is: locally.

Indian dancerThe significance of this instruction can easily be seen in missionary contexts. In India, for instance, the recommendations of Vatican II have thoroughly changed the attitude of the Church. In the past, all Hindu scriptures wre totally rejected as pagan or even diabolical. Today Catholics have come to recognise the beautiful spiritual insights found in, for example, texts of the Bhavagadgita and the Upanishads. The good news of salvation in Christ can be greatly enhanced if it builds on the valuable elements of traditional Indian spirituality. Likewise, Indian music and Indian symbols have been integrated into local liturgies.

Greek sculpture To give another example: Jesus evangelised his Jewish contemporaries in Aramaic, using images from Palestinian rural life. But for the Gospel to spread to the rest of the Mediterranean, it needed to strike roots in the hellenistic world of the time. This was achieved through pioneers such as Paul of Tarsus, the author of John's Gospel and the early Greek Fathers. They forged a new Christian culture drawing heavily on terminology, imagery and customs prevalent in Neo-Platonic philosophy, Stoicism and hellenistic religious practice.

Modern technology It is often not realised that our twentieth and twenty-first centuries have created, and are creating, a radically new culture. The Gospel today is as foreign to modern secular culture as Jesus' Aramaic words were to hellenistic audiences. The seed of God's Word needs to be planted anew in this secular soil and will need to be transformed and translated for modern audiences by drawing nourisment from what is good in our secular culture.

The question is: how should this be done? More specifically: what are the good elements in modern culture that Christian faith and practice could draw nourishment from in our time? That is the topic for the Essay.

Essay requirements

The essay should be in English, 8000 - 12000 words, supported by a relevant bibliography and appropriate references in foot or end notes. It should be easy to read and yet substantial in content.

Modern technologyA copy of the essay should be sent electronically to the email address printed here. It should reach us latest by the 30th of April 2014. Competitors grant to the John Wijngaards Catholic Research Centre the copyright for publication of their essay on one of its websites.

The essays will be judged by an independent panel of theologians. The best essay will be awarded a prize of £ . . . offered by a sponsor. Other essays that meet our requirements will be awarded a Certificate of Recognition and will, together with the prize-winning essay, be published on This does not preclude the authors from publishing their own essays elsewhere if they wish to do so.

For queries about the essay competition, please, use the feedback facility provided on this website.

Vatican II

"The seed which is the Word of God grows out of good soil watered by the divine dew, it absorbs moisture, transforms it [= the local soil] and makes this part of itself, so that eventually it bears much fruit. So too, indeed . . . the young churches . . . borrow from the customs, traditions, wisdom, teaching, arts and sciences of their own people everything which could be used to praise the glory of the Creator, manifest the grace of the saviour, or contribute to the right ordering of Christian life."
"To achieve this it is necessary that in each of the great socio-cultural regions . . . theological investigation should be encouraged . . . In this way it will be more clearly understood by what means the faith can be explained in terms of the philosophy and wisdom of the local people, and how their customs, concept of life and social structures cen be reconciled with the standard proposed by divine revelation."

"The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time . . . are the joy and hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts . . ."
"We are witnessing the birth of a new humanism, where the human person is defines before else by responsibility to other human beings and at the court of history."
"How is the dynamism and expansion of the new culture to be fostered without losing living fidelity to the heritage of tradition? This question is of particular relevance in a culture where the enormous progress of science and technology must be harmonised with a system where classical studies according to various traditions have held sway."
GAUDIUM ET SPES § 1, 55, 56.