JOSUEL DOS SANTOS BOAVENTURA

THE SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE OF CULTURE AS A "THEOLOGICAL PLACE"

* Indication of books about this subject for personal deepening:

. HOLY BIBLE

. BOFF, C. Theory of theological method. 3. ed. São Paulo: Vozes, 1999.

. CNBB. New evangelization, human promotion and Christian culture. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1993. (Santo Domingo - SD)

. IMBAMBA, José Manuel. A new culture for new women and men. Luanda: Paulinas, 2003.

. QUEIRUGA, A. T. Dialogue of religions. São Paulo: Paulus, 1997, p. 16.

. SUSIN, L. C. The psalms in the Christian life. Porto Alegre: ESTEF São Lourenço de Brindes, 1976.

. ZILLES, U. Meaning of Christian symbols. 6. ed. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2006.

As we have said, the human being in his cultural making is not only creative, but also aware that there is an omnipotent force that makes him so and at the same time overcomes him. This force is God Himself present in the human action, making the culture be a ‘theological place’, that is, God manifests Himself in and through the culture. However, God has His own language that gradually can be assimilated by the human being as long as he allows himself to be led by divine inspiration, becoming an instrument of God’s will and action. The language of God passes through the elements of culture. Therefore, let us try to understand how this process takes place through a brief study on the symbolic language of culture as “theological place”.

Language, as an essential tool for communication, is an important instrument that expresses the culture of each people (Cf. IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 138) . The Santo Domingo document considers “the communication among the people an admirable element that generates culture” (SD 23). As a cultural being, the human being uses language to express his way of being and thinking. It involves the whole human being and reflects the worldview of a particular people.

According to the theologian U. Zilles, “language is linked to experience. The experience happens in a place and a time; it involves people, gestures, attitudes and objects. How can I explain about the taste of orange to someone who has never had the taste of orange?” We say, therefore, that the human being is a being of language because he speaks, communicates and externalizes what he thinks and what he experiences. The author J. M. Imbamba, quoting J. B. Mondin, thus expresses:

“Language denotes the function, the capacity that the human being is naturally endowed (...) of expressing himself and communicating with his related ones through the word. It is an innate capacity that is appropriate in the same way to all human beings, regardless of the nation and culture to which they belong” (MONDIN, João Battista. Apud IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 40).

The language, being a fruit of time and experiences, is something agreed according to the walk and the maturity of the human groups. We value our experiences when we seek to transform them into some language. This is a fundamental aspect so that these experiences may not be lost in time. It is a way of recovering the memory to avoid losing identity. This is also affirmed by the author L. C. Susin:

“Language is the specific corporality of the human being. It’s our house. ‘Language is the home of the human being’ (Heidegger), home that feeds and makes him fertile (...) If our most intimate experiences do not become a language, they are bound to lose themselves and disappear. What is not externalized does not exist. By language we communicate, we entre in communion, we love” (SUSIN, Luiz Carlos. Op. cit., p. 14s).

The human being is made of language and makes language. When it is said, for example, “man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4: 4), we have the ‘word’ as a concrete instrument of language, which has much to do with Intimate. From God’s side, this is His wisdom, translating what comes from His mind and heart; it is an expression of His tenderness and care and has a very concrete purpose (this should not go back to Him empty). On the part of the human being, it translates to what goes on inside of him in relation to his feelings, needs, intentions, etc. The word also expresses the different realities in which the human being is involved, being a reference so that God, incarnating Himself in these same realities, could communicate His life, inviting all to His intimacy (cf. SUSIN, Luiz Carlos. Op. cit., p. 15).

God used the language of love in creating the human being and in a more supreme way assumed the human condition filling it with meaning. We are talking about the divine migration. Thus, He reveals Himself in the history and culture of men and women of all times. Even through the limited human gestures and words, one can perceive divine strength and greatness. God comes to the human being to make him more human. The language used by God is an invitation to get out of oneself, because the human being does not become more human if he remains centred in himself.

As we can see, referring to the mystery of God, we understand better the human being and “speaking of God and His mystery, it demands a language more suggestive than argumentative, more open than closed. Metaphorical language is, in addition, the language preferred by the Bible.” (BOFF, C. op. cit., p. 61) This is a concrete example of the language of God that is expressed through human language and there is no opposition between them. In this sense, the sensitivity of the mystics who make use of a ‘full’, ‘saturated’ language of immediate experiences, through symbols, predicative, poetic narratives, drawings ('mandalas') is admirable (Cf. SUSIN, Luiz Carlos. Op. cit., p. 12).

In its cultural dimension, language uses symbols as vehicles because they are a human phenomenon (Cf. ZILLES, Urbano. Op. cit., p. 11). Let’s remember that symbols are part of the richness of the interior of the human being, which is communicated as expression and cultural production. Symbols, while expressing an identity, a great passion, is mediator in the relationship between God and human being. In this sense, we see in Jesus Christ the symbol par excellence for being the concrete meeting point between God and humanity. He is the true temple, the “theological place” par excellence. In His person the human being is guaranteed to meet God, because His passion was to reveal the Father fully. He brings in his own person and work the maximum that God wanted to reveal to the humanity. Becoming the referential point of human history (B.C. and A.D.), everything is seen from Him and through a symbolic language the faithful Christians nourish their faith and join Christ Cf. ZILLES, Urbano. Op. cit., p. 14.

Each culture through its religious experiences expresses its own language in its relationship with God. The language of God in Jesus Christ, far from eliminating the other languages, allows us to consider with respect the rich symbolic language of Buddhism or Hindu tradition, to admire the greatness of Zarathustra and also, in many ways, Islam. The other religious expressions are expressing the different forms of human responses, in the context of different cultures or human life forms, to the same divine reality (Cf. QUEIRUGA, A. T. op. cit., p. 16s) that was revealed by Jesus Christ as Father who knows well what is happening with his sons and daughters. The experience of the Sacred, for a people, will depend very much on their historical, sociological, and ultimately their worldview. It will be more intense the greater their searches; The sense of divine revelation will be better experienced if, behind the natural element and the abundance of gifts, they can discover the Being that grants them and makes them to happen uninterruptedly.

Author: Josuel Degaaxé dos Santos Boaventura PSDP (ndega.blogspot.com)

Theological review: ThD Fr Luis Carlos Susin

English review: EdM Mary Kung'u

JOSUEL DOS SANTOS BOAVENTURA
  • JOSUEL DOS SANTOS BOAVENTURA Ministro de Culto Religioso
  • Sou um sacerdote catolico, membro do Instituto Pobres Servos da Divina Providencia. Minha área de pesquisa é Teologia e cultura

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