Catholic Theology and the Church in Nigeria

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					                       AFRICAN THEOLOGY AND

                                   Anthony A. Akinwale, O.P.
                         President and Professor of Systematic Theology
                                      Dominican Institute

On radio stations across Nigeria can be heard a jingle on the need to ensure that chickens
and other birds are well cooked so that the consumer may avoid getting infected by bird
flu. The setting of the jingle is a roadside restaurant. A customer complained to the
woman cooking the chicken that the process was getting too long. He asked the woman
whether she was cooking a chicken or a stone. Why should it take that long for the
chicken to be done?
        The woman explained that the chicken needed to be well done so as to avoid
contacting bird flu disease. Bird flu disease not only affects birds but also human beings
who eat them when they are not well cooked. The man responded with incredulity and
cynicism. How can a disease that affects a bird be passed on to a human being? The
gravity of hunger was such that he would rather consume food that is hurriedly but not
thoroughly cooked. But the jingle was saying: eat only food that has been thoroughly
        There is a sense in which this is a piece of advice that the African theologian
needs to heed today. The cultural dislocation and alienation that the African experiences,
and the acute social, political and economic crisis—these provide the context in which
the African theologizes. The temptation to find a quick solution has often led to hurriedly
but not thoroughly elaborated theological discourse, a theological discourse that abdicates
dogmatic responsibility for the Christian God. Much of what is presented as African
inculturation theology is the reduction of theology to cultural and religious anthropology,
while much of what is presented as African liberation theology turns out to be socio-
political discourse. By way of a paradox, this is a theological discourse that is so
concerned with the situation of the African that it forgets to speak about God, or if at all it
speaks about God, it does not speak of God as revealed by Christ.2
        The current situation of theology inspires what is being said in this essay. After
some brief remarks recalling the nature and task of theology as a quest for and a

  Paper presented at the 13th SIST Missiological Symposium, 2009 at the Spiritan International School of
Theology, Attakwu, Enugu State on March 19, 2009. An earlier version of this paper was presented under
the title, “Catholic Theology and the Church in Nigeria” at the Graduate Theology Students’ Colloquium,
Ave Maria University, Naples, FL, September 14, 2007.
  Michael Akpoghiran gives a good description of the situation of theology in Nigeria and Africa.
According to him, “Thus far, the Catholic theological community in Nigeria has been so worried by the
nauseating data of dehumanization of our people, and so is naturally drawn to be part of the conversation
on the need to rebuild our society. And here, the real difficulty has been how we could speak of such
perennial theological questions like Trinity, Christology, the incarnation, eschatology, and grace to a people
who, first of all, have to be fully human in their own land in order to be able to appreciate the relevance of
theological matters. This question may arise to the theologian: what is the use of talking about Christology
to a Nigerian, who after daily but fruitless hustle and bustle for survival only gets more disillusioned by the
debilitating social structures of the Nigerian society” [“The Ambiguity of Theological Discourse in
Nigeria” in The Nigerian Journal of Theology 16 (2002) 27-42].

discourse on God for the sake of intelligibility of faith, the paper identifies the Nigerian
context of such discourse as one of corrupt religion and instrumentalization of divinity,
the detoxification of which necessitates dogmatic responsibility for the Christian God. If
the Christian God is to be well spoken off, African theology will need to avoid the
reduction of theology to socio-political discourse and or cultural and religious

A Brief But Useful Reminder on the Nature and Task of Catholic Theology

Fundamentally, authentic theology, whether it is done in America or Europe or Nigeria, is
a search and a speech. This search and this speech can only be undertaken by one who
encounters God, human beings, and the universe in an attentive, intelligent, reasonable
and responsible manner. Each and all of these four levels of conscious intentionality
must be sustained in prayer such that, in this encounter, the theologian is prayerfully
attentive, prayerfully intelligent, prayerfully reasonable, and prayerfully responsible.
        The character of theology as a speech is easily understood when we recall and
examine its etymology. Such an etymological exploration may be simple, it is not
simplistic. When early Christian thinkers adopted and adapted the compound word
theologia to describe the exercise by which they spoke about God, they did so in a Greco-
Roman world with its practitioners of sacred poetry, the writing and recitation of poems
about gods and goddesses. Having adopted this word, Christians adapted and applied it
to those who speak about the one true God. So the theologian is one who speaks about
        But the one who endeavors to speak about God must be one who is conscious of
and who takes seriously the profound desire for God that is in him or her and in every
human person. There can be no speech about God where there is no conscious quest for
God. That is why I speak of theology as a speech and a quest. God who is at the very
heart of the quest that theology has put in every human being the desire to seek him. God
is the subject matter of the speech that takes its inspiration from the natural desire for
God. God fulfills that desire by revealing himself, and by giving the Church a teaching
office, the Magisterium, as a gift to ensure that what is revealed is rightly interpreted.
Theology is a quest for God, a quest to understand God and his ways, and a speech about
God who reveals himself. It is a search for understanding and a speech about the search, a
speech in which the speaker seeks to understand for himself and seeks to explain to his
audience the One he has found, or rather, the One who has found him.
        This vision of the nature and task of theology does not by any means exclude
creatures from the content of our theological discourse. Rather, the outcome of the brief
etymological exploration I have undertaken is a useful reminder. This reminder is
necessary so that theology is not reduced to a discourse on creatures. John Newman
wisely pointed out in his discourses on the idea of the university that knowledge can be
partitioned into three major branches, what Bernard Lonergan would later call field
specializations. The three branches, according to Newman, are knowledge of God
(theology, or, as some would say, divinity), knowledge of the human person
(anthropology or humanities), and knowledge of nature (natural sciences). While
theology must not ignore what transpires in the other branches of knowledge, and while

the findings of other branches of knowledge can be of assistance to theology, the office of
theology must not be usurped by other branches of knowledge. In concrete terms,
whereas God is its subject matter, theological discourse is also about creatures. Yet, it is
not to be reduced to a simple discourse on creatures. If the theologian speaks of creatures
it must be as a theologian, not as anthropologist nor as scientist. For when theology
speaks about creatures it must be in their relatedness to God as their beginning and end. 3
        But one can only speak of a person or thing to the extent that one knows the
person or thing. By implication, the quality or validity of what the theologian says about
God depends on and is reflexive of the theologian’s knowledge of God.4 This knowledge
of God comes from reason and faith, one should say, from reason ennobled, enlightened,
empowered and elevated by faith. The God the theologian wishes to speak about is a
God whose existence can be known through the good use of unaided human reason.
Having looked at the world, a reasonable and intelligent person can come to the
conclusion that there is a God. Yet, one must quickly add, there are reasonable and
intelligent people who are still unable to draw the conclusion that there is a God. Thomas
Aquinas’ warning was in order: that the existence of God can be arrived at by rational
deduction, but that knowledge of God from reason alone is not as reliable as knowledge
from faith and reason. The quality and validity of what is said about God, when such a
discourse relies solely on reason, is fraught with three dangers.5 First, only a few will
come to know God; secondly, of the few who will come to know God, they will only
arrive at the knowledge of God after a long time; and thirdly, the knowledge of God
attained by this few after a long time will be an admixture of errors. These three dangers
are real because the God whom the theologian seeks to know and speak about is a
mystery, not in the sense of a God who cannot be known, but in the sense of a God who
cannot be known perfectly. In the drama of the encounter between God and human
beings, God made human beings with a natural desire for God, God is himself knowable,
infinitely knowable, but the created intellect, even as it is able to know God, is not able to
know God perfectly. The finite created intellect cannot know the infinitely knowable
God infinitely. One can therefore understand why Karl Rahner would describe theology
as a reductio in mysterium.6 Theology is a constant return to the mystery that the person
of God is. The true theologian encounters this mystery and is brought to his or her knees,
in conversion and humble adoration, such that what Rahner calls reductio may be called
conversio in mysterium.
        The fact that the theologian is one who is constantly called to live a holy life by
constant conversion to God receives worthy emphasis in the Theological Orations of
Gregory Nazianzen.7

  Read Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 7. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican
Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1946.
  Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, qq. 12 and 13.
  Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 1.
  Read Karl Rahner, “Reflections on Methodology in Theology” in Theological Investigations vol. 11, 101-
  Read Gregory Nazianzen, Theological Orations in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series. Vol. 7
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995). According to the Cappadocian father, “Not to every one,
my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low;
and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and
before certain persons, and within certain limits…..

        The theologian falls in love with this mystery that God is so that the speech that
his theology is will be a speech about a God he or she has fallen in love with. Yet,
whatever the theologian says always falls short of what God is because what he knows of
God falls short of what can be known of God.
        The vocation of the theologian is to be a reasonable and intelligent person who,
despite the vicissitudes of existence, experiences the wonder of creation, of his or her
own being and of other beings in creation. And, because he experiences the beauty of
creation, the theologian is convinced that this beautiful universe did not come about by
accident, and that there is a God who designed it, brought it into being, sustains it in
being, and provides for it. The theologian seeks to understand the God who has created
such a beautiful world, and this desire to understand the mystery of God gives theology
its character as a quest. St. Anselm of Canterbury kept in focus the effort of the human
mind to grasp the mystery of God when he wrote these words that have become famous:

         I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do I compare
         my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth,
         which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may
         believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I
         believed, I should not understand.8

In his encounter with the mystery of God, the theologian does not seek to understand
before he believes, he believes so as to understand. These words of Anselm of
Canterbury have since provided the classic definition of theology as “fides quaerens
intellectum” (faith seeking understanding). But long before Anselm there was St.
Augustine of Hippo’s practical demonstration of the truth in these statements.
        What Augustine did in his monumental work, De Trinitate, helps his reader to
arrive at an understanding of the starting point and goal of theology. This work of great
importance to Christian theology shows Augustine’s intent as well as the method he used
to arrive at his goal. When, in his De Trinitate, St. Augustine set out to understand the
mystery of Threeness in one God, he clearly indicated that the starting point of his
attempt to understand and explain the mystery of the Trinity is faith.

         The reader of these reflections of mine on the Trinity should bear in mind that my
         pen is on the watch against the sophistries of those who scorn the starting-point of

          “Not to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed
masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are
being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix
weak eyes upon the sun’s rays. And what is the permitted occasion? It is when we are free from all external
defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring
images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of unguents. For it is
necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the
straight road of the things divine. And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real
concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the
theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments. To such men as these, idle jests and pretty
contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement” [Gregory Nazianzen, First Theological
Oration (Oration 27) 3].
  Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, ch. 1 in St. Anselm: Basic Writings (La Salle, Il: Open Court, 1962).

        faith, and allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and
        misguided love of reason. . .
                That is why, with the help of the Lord our God, we shall undertake to the
        best of our ability to give them the reasons they clamor for, and to account for the
        one and only and true God being a trinity, and for the rightness of saying,
        believing, understanding that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one
        and the same substance or essence.9

The movement in the entire book is an anticipation of Anselm’s dictum, faith seeking
understanding. For while the first half of the work, books 1-7, provides the reader with
what the Christian faith states about the Trinity, the second half showcases Augustine’s
efforts to understand the mystery of the Trinity. The certitude of faith is taken as a given,
while its understanding is taken as a task to be assumed.

        The safest intent, after all, until we finally get where we are intent on getting and
        where we are stretching out to, is that of the seeker. And the right intent is the
        one that sets out from faith. The certitude of faith at least initiates knowledge; but
        the certitude of knowledge will not be completed until after this life when we see
        face to face.10

        What has been said here is true of every effort to do theology. The one who
theologizes is the one who seeks to demonstrate that what has been presented as that
which is to be believed can be believed without assaulting or insulting human
intelligence. The task of theology is to show that the act of faith and the act of good use
of the human intellect are not incompatible. Theology shows that faith and reason are not
strange bedfellows but are two allies who should never be separated in the natural desire
to see God. Authentic theology begins with faith, proceeds in faith, and culminates in
faith. If theology is a quest to understand the faith, then it has to be said that this
understanding of the faith cannot be attained without a starting point in faith. In concrete
terms, there is no intelligentia fidei without an initium fidei. The theologian seeks to use
his or her intellect to penetrate the mystery of God. But in so doing, the theologian is not
to keep his or her faith in the pocket, not even in his breast pocket, but very close to his
chest, with eyes unceasingly fixed on the same faith. In the quest to understand faith,
faith must neither be forgotten nor ignored but must be kept in constant focus.

The Context and the Audience of the Speech That Theology Is in Nigeria

After brief remarks on the nature and task of theology, it is not unusual to fall into the
temptation of hurriedly delving into the question of method. After all, if theology is a
speech, one should be concerned about its composition and delivery. But there is at least
one other issue to be considered before method. It is the issue of the context and
audience of our theological reflection.     Here the saying is true that the audience

  Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Bk. 1, 1 and 4. Trans. Edmund Hill (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press,
1991. Emphasis mine.
   Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Bk. 8, 1.

makes the orator. The listener conditions the speaker. In specific terms, a theology is
shaped by and elaborated within a given context. The people who live in this context
have their questions and presuppositions which pose challenges to their faith. They need
to grasp the meaning and coherence of their faith in the context in which they live. Since
method is a dictate of challenges, it would be necessary to identify the challenges posed
to the faith that comes to us from the apostles. That is why what characterizes the
Nigerian context and audience is what I will now consider.
        The context of theology in Nigeria can be rightly described as complex. In The
Congress and the Council: Towards a Nigerian Reception of Vatican II,11 I had attempted
a description of the terrain in which the Church in Nigeria carries out her preaching
mission. I had adopted Karl Jasper’s understanding of terrain as “the prevailing
historical, social, and cultural situation” in which “the memory of God found in the
biblical traditions might have a future”.12 Done in the service of the Church, theology
shares the same terrain with the Church in her preaching mission. The terrain in which
the Gospel is proclaimed is the terrain in which the search for God and the speech about
God take place. It is the local referent of theology, the space in which theology is done,
and the people who live within the space. These assertions raise a question that is
pertinent and preliminary to any discussion on method in theology. Who is the listener to
our theological discourse? To put it more concretely, given the fact that the local Church
is the meeting point between the Gospel and the land and its people, who is the Nigerian?
        I propose, in answering the question, that reference be made to a well-known fact:
that the Nigerian is almost always discussing religion and or politics. The Nigerian lives
in an environment where the air is saturated with religion and politics. But what religion?
What politics?
        The Nigerian lives in a polluted environment, and the pollution comes as the
effect of a deadly mixture. It is the mixture of decadent religion and decadent politics.
Although it has been said over and over again that the problem of Nigeria is her
economy, and that it is her poor economy that explains the large scale and nationwide
collapse of her infrastructure, I am of the opinion that the problem of Nigeria is not the
economy but religion and politics. It is actually the mixture of distorted religion and
distorted politics that has grounded the economy and every other aspect of life. I would
therefore describe the average Nigerian as a victim, sometimes perpetrator, of distorted
religion and distorted politics.
        First, let us look at what I call the distortion of religion. True religion is a moral
virtue by which the human person loves God above all things and loves his neighbour
created in the image and likeness of God. True religion glorifies God by promoting
human dignity. But religion undergoes corruption when it is divorced from the good use
of the intellect and from the exercise of good will. In simple terms, there is corruption of
religion when it is separated from truth and love. In contemporary Nigeria, religion is
shaped to the point of decomposition. In the western world, it said that most people no
longer practice any religion and that God is denied. In Nigeria religion is practiced as a

  (Ibadan: Michael Dempsey Centre for Religious and Social Research, 2003)
  Quoted in Johann Baptist Metz, “In the Pluralism of Religious and Cultural Worlds: Notes Toward a
Theological and Political Program” in John K. Downey, Love’s Strategy: The Political Theology of Johann
Baptist Metz (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999) 167-175 [167].

distortion. God is not denied but affirmed. But even though God is affirmed, it is a God
whose image is distorted.        While contemporary western society marginalizes God,
contemporary Nigerian society maligns him.
        In this respect, there are two formidable challenges to be considered. One is
aggressive Pentecostalism of the Nigerian brand, the other is militant Islamic
fundamentalism. Both distort the image of God, both loom large in the religious horizon
of Nigeria, and both are being exported to other countries on the African continent.
Pentecostalism, in particular, exerts tremendous influence on Christianity in Nigeria.
While Christianity can be said to be growing and dynamic in Nigeria, there is always a
clear and present danger of the Pentecostalisation of Christianity. But why should this be
a concern?
        The image of God is distorted by Pentecostalism in the affirmation and worship of
a God whose job description, as given to him by human beings, is reduced to working
miracles. The average citizen of the western world may not worship God, but the
religion that Pentecostalism presents to the average Nigerian and African is one in which
God is created in the image and likeness of the preacher. Pentecostalism is able to
accomplish this objective largely because of its huge investment in the print and
electronic media and in the establishment of universities.
        Since Pentecostalism has no Magisterium or anything near an equivalent, it
becomes possible to preach a Gospel according to the whims and caprices of the
preacher. The corruption of religion by Nigerian Pentecostalism is the worship of an
instrumentalized God, a God who is controlled, commanded, bribed and settled in the
pursuit of narrow selfish interests, interests that are antithetical to the common good.
This instrumentalization of God is itself a carry over from the instrumentalization of the
deity in African traditional religion. The God of the African must work or be discarded.
The instrumentalized God of African traditional religion has found his way into African
Christianity through the alliance between Nigerian Pentecostalism and African traditional
religion. The Nigerian lives in a country where he or she is tempted, sometimes
compelled, to bribe his or her way through. Having created God in his own image and
likeness, it becomes conceivable to preach a God who can be bribed. . Since, as the
saying goes, “Lex orandi lex credendi”, the words of the prayer of Nigerian
Pentecostalism constitute a window through which one can catch a glimpse of what the
Nigerian is asked to believe. Belief in a God who can be manipulated and settled
manifests itself in prayers that attempt to manipulate and settle God, while belief in a God
who can be controlled manifests itself in religious observances that portray God as a God
whose will can be changed if the right prayers are said and the right rituals are performed.
Whereas Jesus taught in the Our Father that the primary motivation of authentic prayer is
friendship and union with God in the desire to respect the holiness of God, the desire for
his reign to begin, and the desire to do his will, this motivation is relegated to the status of
a secondary motivation, that is, secondary to the desire to obtain material things from
God. Whereas what is to be sought in authentic prayer is first and foremost the
deepening of personal relationship with God, in the highly influential discourse of
Nigerian Pentecostalism, friendship with God for the sake of the goodness that God is has
been replaced by friendship with God for the sake of the good things that God gives. In a
corrupt religion driven by materialistic motives, God is befriended, not because of what
God is, but because of miracles that God performs. Surely, when Jesus taught the Our

Father, he did not prohibit his disciples from asking God for the satisfaction of material
needs. In fact, he included a request for daily bread in the prayer but placed the same
request after the petition for the coming of the kingdom and the accomplishment of the
will of God. But this sequence is altered in the corruption of religion.
        The corruption of religion is seen in the separation of religious observances from
the good use of reason. Religion, divorced from reason, easily degenerates into religion
divorced from love so that it can then be used as instrument for securing political and
economic control of the land. Theological underdevelopment is added to an existing
technological underdevelopment to provide a fertilizer for superstition, and a motivating
catalyst for the commercialization of religion by Nigerian Pentecostalism and the
militarization of the same religion by Nigerian Islamic fundamentalism. It is the
instrumentalization of God and religion all the way. The corruption of religion is seen in
the use and abuse of religion to misinform rather than inform, to divide rather than unite,
to dehumanize rather than humanize, and to instill and nurture fears in the minds of a
populace that is largely gullible and prone to superstition, rather than give confidence to
the same populace. Where religion is thus used and abused, there is a strange
phenomenon of upsurge in religious activities and high rate of crimes. We can therefore
understand the discrepancy between the findings of the BBC and the findings of
Transparency International regarding Nigeria. In the year 2004, while the BBC found
Nigeria to be inhabited by the most religious people in the world, Transparency
International found Nigeria to be the 2nd most corrupt country in the world.
        Religion is distorted when people claim to worship God while in fact what they
worship is their narrow selfish interest; when what is eaten or drunk, possessed or
coveted or pleasurable becomes the object of worship. When religion is distorted human
beings begin to worship a God created in their image and likeness. At the conclusion of
the April 2007 elections, Nigerians saw the extent of how corrupt religion has corrupted
politics in Nigeria when political thugs and election riggers desecrated the temple by
going to Churches and Mosques to do “thanksgiving” over the stolen mandate of the
people with the blessing of cash and carry pastors and imams who uttered blasphemy by
calling such people God’s anointed leaders.
        If so much has been said about the distortion of religion in an attempt to identify
the audience of our theological discourse, it is because religion permeates everything
done in Nigeria. But the problem is not that religion is included in everything, it is rather
the type of religion that is brought into everything under the influence of aggressive
Nigerian Pentecostalism and Nigerian Islamic militancy. Because religion is brought into
everything, and because the religion that is so included in everything is corrupt, I
consider it an imperative to recognize that underlying the many paradoxes of the Nigerian
society is the paradox of the corruption of religion.
        I shall argue later in the paper that it belongs to theology to prevent, alleviate or
eliminate this corruption of religion, and that is why theology must assume dogmatic
responsibility for the Christian God. But there is also the problem of the distortion of
politics in the Nigerian society. For as I have earlier contended, the environment is
polluted by the stench that issues from the deadly mixture of corrupt religion and corrupt
        Politics is distorted when it is seen as a means of attaining power at any cost, even
at the cost of lying, stealing and killing, so as to enrich oneself. Politics is corrupted

when, instead of working for the common good, the politician works for his or her
narrow selfish interest. In the history of Nigeria, corrupt and incompetent leadership has
constantly militated against management of the wealth of the land. Only a few benefit
from it while an overwhelming percentage of the population is harassed by deprivation.
The problem is compounded by an electoral process that has been wrested from the hands
of the people. Almost five decades after independence there is no self-governance.
Nigerians vote but their votes do not count. So they cannot elect leaders of their own
choice. They vote at elections but, as we were brutally reminded in April 2007, their
votes do not count. Nigeria does not lack intelligent and competent men and women of
good characters but she has always been governed by men and women who demonstrate
the contrary. To paraphrase Plato’s Socrates, the wise have not become kings, and the
kings have not become wise.
        The mélange of distorted religion and distorted politics has poisoned the mind and
heart of this generation of Nigerians who constitute the audience of the theologian and
the audience of the Church’s preaching. The effects are a darkened intellect and a
disordered will manifest in the many paradoxes of every sector in Nigeria.
        In the economic sector, one sees a land that is immensely rich inhabited by people
who are impoverished. In the political sector, one sees a country with credible leaders
without a credible leadership. In education, one finds citizens of unactualized potentials.
From the point of view of cultural formation, state-run primary and secondary schools,
polytechnics and universities are under-funded, under-equipped, under-staffed, strike and
cult infested to the detriment of intellectual and character formation of young and
impressionable Nigerian minds. In the absence of good education, there is an
undifferentiated acceptance of values that destroy the fabric of our Africanness. There is
scarcity of civility in the Nigerian society which is compounded by a lamentable absence
of crime prevention, law enforcement and due judicial process. The culture of death
which John Paul II alerted the world about rears its head in disrespect for human dignity,
in the violation of fundamental human rights by brutal agents of an overbearing
government in a supposedly democratic polity. In a country where human rights are
violated with impunity, the defenceless are on the receiving end, and the most vulnerable
are children and women. Yet one must resist the temptation to paint an incomplete

           It would be an incomplete picture if one were to describe this terrain without
           acknowledging that something good comes out of Nigeria. Too much attention is
           often given to what is negative about Nigeria. Yet, this country does not just
           produce criminals serving time in jails overseas, she has produced fine
           intellectuals and competent men and women professionals in every sphere of life.
           A country that has produced Wole Soyinka, Emeka Anyaoku, or Augustine
           Okocha has what it takes to lead in the comity of nations. The Church in Nigeria
           has produced missionaries—priests, men and women religious—she can be proud
           of. A Church that has produced Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi has shown that
           Nigeria is not a land that produces only 419-ers…..On this precarious terrain can
           be found oases of excellence, of friendship, of heroic holiness and edifying
     Anthony Akinwale, The Congress and the Council, 18-19.

If, as I have argued, the problem of Nigeria is that the Nigerian lives in an environment
polluted by the stench of the deadly mixture of corrupt religion and corrupt politics, then
the task of theology necessarily includes the detoxification of the mind and heart of the
Nigerian, of the society in which the Nigerian lives, by unveiling the difference between
true and false religion. The identification and practice of true religion will in turn
detoxify politics so that politics can become the concretization of Trinitarian love in our
common life. But here one must differentiate between theology and religious studies.
Nigeria’s government-run universities have departments of religious studies while a few
of the newly-licensed private universities host departments of theology.
         The difference between theology and religious studies is appreciated when one
examines three ways of studying religion—the phenomenological, the comparative and
the theological.
         In the phenomenological approach, religion is viewed as a phenomenon and
engages a scholar as nothing but a phenomenon to be studied through the lenses of a
philosopher, anthropologist, historian, psychologist, sociologist or of any other member
of the academia. In the comparative approach, religion is studied by way of comparison,
that is, alongside another religion or other religions. The goal of the comparative
approach then would be to inquire into what the religions have in common, what they do
not have in common, and what explains their similarities and differences. The
comparative approach sees a religion as a phenomenon to be studied alongside another
religion also seen as a phenomenon. But there is also the theological approach. This
includes but goes beyond studying a religion as a phenomenon. It engages religion with
what has been referred to earlier in this essay, in the Augustinian sense, as an initium
fidei, a starting point of faith. Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum or Augustine’s credo
ut intelligam sum up the description of the theological approach.
         The study of religion in most Nigerian universities combines the
phenomenological and comparative approach.            This has largely influenced African
theology. It is this methodological combination of the phenomenological and
comparative approaches that manifests itself in the reduction of theology to cultural and
religious anthropology. But, while not ignoring the phenomenological and the
comparative approaches, theology sees religion as more than a mere phenomenon.
Whereas other approaches see religion as a mere phenomenon explicable by unaided
human intellect, theology sees the Christian religion as a revealed phenomenon. It sees
and accepts what is to be studied as revealed or, if it is not revealed, related to the
revealed. Theology is the approach of a scholar whose starting point is adherence to or at
least notional apprehension of the doctrines and beliefs of the religion, and whose intent
is to demonstrate the conceptual possibility of and intellectual coherence and honesty in
adhering to such doctrines and beliefs. It requires taking seriously a supernatural source
of revealed truths. But it does not just do that, lest it falls into fundamentalism or
fanaticism. It requires the use of the intellect to understand what is believed to be
supernaturally revealed. And, in Catholic theology, it does so bearing in mind that the
task of authentic interpretation of revelation, even when the revelation is private, belongs
to the Magisterium of prelates. Consequently, it implies belief in and reliance on a
supernatural sublation of the human intellect in its quest to understand the religion in

question, and an expression of this belief in ways that do not distort the faith that comes
to us from the apostles.
        A religion becomes corrupt when it is disconnected from its original idea.
Theology purifies religion by taking religion back to its original idea, and, in this
particular instance, theology enables us to take back Christianity, that is, from those who
would corrupt it, by taking us back to the original idea of Christianity. John Cardinal
Newman identifies the doctrine of the incarnation—the Word made flesh—as the original
idea of Christianity. While agreeing with this depiction, I believe it should be further
explained. For the doctrine of the incarnation is to be understood within the framework of
the doctrine of the Three-ness of God. The treatise on Christ comes after the treatise on
the three Persons in one God one of whom—the second—became incarnate.
        I therefore submit by way of clarification, which does not deviate substantially
from Newman, that the original idea of the Christian religion is the doctrine of the triune
God, a God who is a community of Love. To love is to step out of oneself so as to reach
out to the one you love. The summit of love is the ecstasy in which the lover—in this
case the Divine Lover—steps out for himself so as to reach out to the Beloved. This was
what Jesus meant in his conversation with Nicodemus when he said: “God so loved the
world that he gave his only Son….” God so loved the world that he reached out to the
world by becoming man, he so loved the world who became one of us and one with us so
as to redeem the world he has created. The original idea of Christianity is the triune God
who expresses his eternal love in history, in creation by bringing us creatures out of
nothingness; at the incarnation by the sending forth of the Son, and at Pentecost by the
sending of the Holy Spirit with whom he floods our hearts with love. By standing out of
himself in an ecstatic love for his creatures, God changed the human condition so that
human beings not only have an example to imitate, they have grace as interior
transformation enabling them to love like this. When we love like this, the Trinitarian
love is concretized in the world—politics becomes the concretization of Trinitarian
love—working for the common good becomes a way of proclaiming that God is love.
Preaching the Gospel becomes the proclamation of the good news that God so loved the
world that he has sent his only Son, the Son who died to destroy our death, rose to restore
our life, and sent the Holy Spirit into us to make us sharers in the life of the Trinity.
Politics, understood as the concretization of the love of the Triune God in the polis, can
then be seen as a component of evangelization. Politics, the intelligent organization of
common life for the sake of the common good, is itself a means of witnessing to the
Gospel in so far as the pursuit of common good in the regulation of common life is a way
of proclaiming that God is love.
        But if this is not to be reduced to a pious wish in the arena of public discourse a
theology that assumes dogmatic responsibility for the Christian God is needed. With its
tradition of bringing faith and reason together to show that the act of faith is an intelligent
fact, and with the Magisterium constantly verifying that there is no deviation from the
authentic religion of apostolic origins, Catholic theology is in a position to rescue,
retrieve and detoxify religion which has fallen victim of its willing and conscripted
corrupters. This detoxifying function of Catholic theology necessitates a method that will
enable it to ensure that “the memory of God found in the biblical traditions might have a
future” in “the prevailing historical, social, and cultural situation” (Karl Jaspers). It is
within this method that the dogmatic responsibility of theology is to be appreciated.

On the Dogmatic Responsibility of Theology

On account of misgivings surrounding it, and because the word itself is repeatedly
demonized, it is imperative to state that a dogma is a doctrine. The case for dogmatic
responsibility is helped by looking at the history of doctrines in the Christian tradition.
The history of a doctrine not only teaches us about the events, principal or minor
personalities and emerging statements surrounding the doctrine or proposed by the
doctrine. History also teaches us what doctrines are and why they are important for
theology. Here I attempt a Lonerganian reading of the history of Christological and
Trinitarian doctrine. From this history, what does one learn about doctrine? That is the
principal question that preoccupies me in this part of the essay.

Doctrines as Judgments on Beliefs

Since Bernard Lonergan placed doctrines at the same level as judgment on his list of
functional specialties, understanding what doctrines are requires that one understand what
judgments of value are. Moreover, since doctrines, Christological doctrines in this
specific instance, are matters of what one is to believe and what one is not to believe,
understanding them also requires that one briefly recall what he had to say on beliefs. 14
Consequently, it is pertinent in this discussion to recall, albeit briefly, what he had to say
concerning judgments and beliefs.15
        With regard to judgment, he explains that there are judgments of value and
judgments of fact. A judgment of value is simple or comparative. Insofar as it affirms or
denies that something is truly good or apparently good it is a simple judgment of value.
But in so far as it compares instances of the truly good to affirm or deny that one thing is
better or more important, or more urgent than the other, it is a comparative judgment of
value. The objectivity or subjectivity of a judgment is contingent on its proceeding from
or not proceeding from the self-transcendence of the subject who is judging. By self-
transcendence is meant the subject’s going beyond or going across the self, rising above
one’s opinions, feelings and biases, out of a relativist disposition. In which case, the
subject is able to arrive at a judgment which is independent of the self of the subject.
        But there are also judgment of facts, judgments which differ in content but not in
structure from judgments of value. A judgment of value contains an affirmation of
approval or disapproval of something, while a judgment of fact contains an affirmation of
the existence or non-existence of something. Hence, says Lonergan,

           one can approve of what does not exist, and one can disapprove of what does.
           They do not differ in structure, inasmuch as in both there is the distinction

     Read Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), 36-41 and 41-47.
     Cf. Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, chs 5 and 12.

           between criterion and meaning. In both, the criterion is the self-transcendence of
           the subject, which however, is only cognitive in judgments of fact but is heading
           towards moral self-transcendence in judgments of value. In both, the meaning is
           or claims to be independent of the subject: judgment of facts state or purport to
           state what is or is not so; judgments of value state or purport to state what is or is
           not truly good or really better.16

         But doctrines are not just judgments, they are judgments about beliefs. I am of
the opinion that Conciliar doctrines regarding the person of Christ are judgments of facts
and judgments of value. Here I would recall briefly what Lonergan says regarding
         Beliefs, according to Lonergan, enable us to appropriate our social, cultural and
religious heritage. For apart from what one is able to find out for oneself, that is, apart
from knowledge acquired from one’s own inner or outer experience, insights, judgments
of fact and of value, there is also knowledge acquired from interaction with others. To
use his words,

           immanently generated knowledge is but a small fraction of what any civilized
           man considers himself to know. His immediate experience is filled out by an
           enormous context constituted by reports of the experience of other men at other
           places and times. His understanding rests not only on his own but also on the
           experience of others, and its development owes little indeed to his personal
           originality, much to his repeating in himself the acts of understanding first made
           by other, and most of all to presuppositions that he has taken for granted because
           they commonly are assumed and, in any case, he has neither the time nor the
           inclination nor, perhaps, the ability to investigate for himself. Finally, the
           judgments, by which he assents to truths of facts and of value, only rarely depend
           exclusively on his immanently generated knowledge, for such knowledge stands
           not by itself in some separate compartment but in symbiotic fusion with a far
           larger context of beliefs.17

Here, Lonergan is highlighting the social character of knowledge. His position can be
summed up in these words: scientia conscientia est. To know is to know together. We
are able to know because we learn from others. And this is true of Christological
doctrines emanating from the Councils. Left to individual preachers and theologians—
one should add today, left to unauthenticated private revelation—the individual Christian
is unable to maximize his or her appropriation of apostolic heritage. But when the whole
Church assembles at a Council and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, arrives at a
doctrinal position, the Christian is given an opportunity to inherit what the Spirit is giving
to the Church.
        As judgments of facts, therefore, Christological doctrines state the truth that is to
be believed regarding Christ. They make a pronouncement on what pertains to the
Christian religious heritage. Hence, the following represent what the Conciliar fathers
put forward as judgment of facts: that Christ is homoousios with the Father (Niceae), that

     Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 37.
     Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 41-42.

he is human (Constantinople), that he is one divine Person (Ephesus), and that the two
natures subsist in this one divine Person (Chalcedon). But Conciliar Christological
doctrines are also judgment of value. A judgment of value approves or disapproves of
what is. In this instance, the Councils disapprove of certain doctrinal positions as
inimical to Christian beliefs. That is why, in stating that Christ is homoousios with the
Father the Council of Niceae disapproves of the denial of his divinity in Arianism; in
stating that he is human, the Council of Constantinople disapproves of the denial of his
humanity in Appolinarianism; in stating that he is one divine Person, the Council of
Ephesus disapproves of the two-Person Christology of Nestorianism; and in affirming
that the two natures subsist in this one-divine Person, the Council of Chalcedon
reaffirmed the Church’s disapproval of Nestorianism and expressed her disapproval of

Permanence and Historicity in On-going Reinterpretation of Faith

In explaining the functional specialty called doctrines, Lonergan distinguishes between
primary sources, church doctrines, theological doctrines, methodological doctrine and the
application of a methodological doctrine that results in a functional specialty named
doctrines In a further differentiation of primary sources, he speaks of the doctrine of the
original message and doctrines about this doctrine. Doctrines about doctrine emerge in
the stages of proclamation and application of the original message. Thus, there is the
original message as found in a Scripture passage.           Then, there are stages in the
proclamation and application of this original message which yield doctrines about
doctrine contained in a church decree or in apostolic tradition. The following
considerations are on church doctrines.
        Lonergan identifies Church doctrines as having their antecedents in the New
Testament and in the decision of councils. They do not simply reaffirm scripture or
tradition, as statements, they are answers to questions that arise when scripture is read by
an audience that is different from the originally intended audience situated in an age and
place different from the age and place in which the originally intended audience lived.
Thus, New Testament texts, written in the course of the first century of Christianity, read
by an audience living in the Greek speaking Churches in Alexandria and Antioch at the
beginning of the fourth century, raised questions that necessitated the statements that are
the doctrines of the Christological councils of Niceae, Constantinople, Ephesus and
Chalcedon. Each of these conciliar doctrines is itself a product of its place and time.
Each represents an effort at inculturation of the baptismal faith.
        This is what Basil Studer means when he affirms that the history of the
development of the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity and incarnation involves continually
fresh interpretation of the Church’s baptismal faith.18 He identified, as factors involved
in this process, linguistic transitions from Aramaic to Greek, from Greek to Latin and
Syriac, and, one should add, in our own from Western to African; conceptual transitions
from the “simple-minded” to the “intellectuals”

  Basil Studer, Trinity and Incarnation: The Faith of the Early Church (Collegeville, MN: Michael
Glazier/Liturgical Press, 1993) 241.

        These transitions point to the imperative of seeking new understanding of what
has already been defined as de fide. As far as meeting the questions of their time and
place was concerned, the answers contained in these definitions of faith were limited in
their adequacy. But the inadequacy that comes from imperfect language does not remove
whatever may be the permanent achievement and validity of the doctrine. That it is
imperfect in its formulation does not remove the fact that it communicates a truth. What
is said may be true. How it is said may be imperfect, imperfect not just for its immediate
audience, but also for a later generation of audience. This will always necessitate a new
statement of the same doctrine for a new audience. The new statement of the same
doctrine is not to be a negation or repudiation of the substance of the doctrine but an
interpretation or reinterpretation of the doctrine in a new light. Thus, the one-Person-
two-nature Christological doctrine of Chalcedon represents an interpretation in a new
context of the one-Person Christology of Ephesus without the former repudiating the
latter. The one-Person Christology of Ephesus interpreted the Constantinopolitan
affirmation of the humanity of the divine Logos without the former repudiating the latter.
And the affirmation of the humanity of the Logos at Constantinople does not amount to a
repudiation of the affirmation of the divinity of the Logos at Niceae. The permanence
and historicity of doctrines cannot be ignored in the on-going reinterpretation of the
Church’s faith.

Doctrines as Parameters of Faith

To speak of permanence and historicity of doctrines is to admit that Conciliar doctrines
preserve the heritage of the Christian message while the Church passes through changing
intellectual, cultural and linguistic conditions in the ever changing climate that history is.
The permanence of doctrine is in its core. The core of the Church’s baptismal faith does
not change. But this permanence of doctrine does not dispense the theologian from the
task of interpretation, and, as Gadamer points out, following Martin Heidegger,
interpretation is characterized by historicality. The permanence of doctrine in the
historicality of its interpretation points to the fact that the truth of the doctrine imposes
itself in every new situation or horizon, even as the recipient living in a new situation has
to receive it according to his or her mode.
         It is in this regard that one is to understand the aftermath of every major council.
Every major council is followed by a period of trying to grapple with its teachings. It is
not just a case of some in the Church agreeing and others disagreeing with the teaching of
the Council, it is also a case of not agreeing on what has been agreed on. It is not
uncommon to find those who took part in the redaction of a conciliar document
disagreeing on how it is to be interpreted. The delicate duty of all is to ensure fidelity to
the core of the doctrine, the “original idea” as John Henry Newman would call it.
         To ensure that this is preserved is to ensure that the religious heritage of
Christianity, the apostolic faith in a God who saves through the coming of his Son and
the Spirit, is not tampered with. Doctrines set the parameters of theological discourse so
that the Christian heritage is not lost.19 As parameters of faith they limit the theologian.
But they do not just limit the theologian. To remove them is to render his task altogether
     Therein lies the pertinence in Basil Studer’s remark in Trinity and Incarnation, 242-243.

impossible. If, as I said at the beginning of this paper, theology is a speech, doctrines are
the grammatical rules of theological discourse. Rules limit freedom but also make
freedom possible. Remove them, and freedom becomes unattainable. Doctrines, by
being judgments of value disapprove of certain manners of speaking about God. They
demarcate the area of theological discourse so as to secure the Christian heritage. That is
why a theology worth the name must never abdicate dogmatic responsibility.

Adopting a Method

Having examined the nature and task of theology as a quest and a speech, having
described its context and audience, the case for dogmatic responsibility should be situated
within the horizon of method.
        To speak of method is to speak of a way (hodos), and to speak of a method of
doing theology is to speak of the route theology takes from questions to answers. If the
task of theology is to speak about the God who reveals himself in his word in Scripture
and in his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ in the prevailing context, what method is one to
adopt? In my work as a theologian, I believe I have found in Bernard Lonergan a largely
successful account of such a method. I shall briefly recall his account here so as to use it
to do a further critique the situation of theology in Nigeria today.20
        Lonergan’s account of method moves from his preliminary notion of method
through his acknowledgment of four levels of conscious intentionality, two phases of
theology, to eight functional specialties or operations undertaken not only in theology but
also in every cognitional enterprise. Method, according to Lonergan is “a set of recurrent
and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results.”21 Each of the
operations involves (i) an object, (ii) a subject, that is, a human operator, (iii)
intentionality, that is, the action by which the human operator tends to the object, and (iv)
consciousness, that is, the human subject or operator’s awareness of the object he or she
is tending to, and of himself or herself as the one tending to towards it. Conscious
intentionality is the subject’s awareness of the object he is tending to and of himself or
herself as the one tending to it. This conscious intentionality takes place at four levels—
experience or assimilation of perception and data, understanding of the data of
experience, judgment of what has been understood, and decision.
        Lonergan further explains that theology takes place in two phases at the four
levels of conscious intentionality, and the fact that theology so operates yields eight
functional specialties. The two phases of theology of theology are (i) theology in oratione
obliqua, and (ii) theology in oratione recta. The former facilitates the theologian’s
encounter with the past, while the latter assists the theologian to confront the problems of

   See also my “The Jubilee Year and Theological Method” in West African Journal of Ecclesial Studies 13
(2000); “On the Leadership Role of Theologians in the Church” Presidential Address at the 17 th Annual
Conference of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria in Church Leadership and the Christian
Message: Proceedings of the 17th and 18th Conferences of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria.
Ed. Francis Adedara (Ibadan:Stirling-Horden, 2004) 1-12; “Towards a Hermeneutics of Critical and
Prayerful Vigilance in Nigerian Catholic Theology” Presidential Address at the 18 th Annual Conference of
the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria in Church Leadership and the Christian Message139-155.
   Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971) 4.

the present. As he puts it, “the theologian, enlightened by the past, confronts the
problems of his own day.”22 In relating with the past, the functional specialties in the
first phase of theology are research, interpretation, history, and dialectic. In relating with
the present, the functional specialties in the second phase of theology are foundations,
doctrines, systematics, and communications.
        In the first phase of theological operations (theology in oratione obliqua), the
functional specialty of research establishes what is contained as deposit of faith in
Scripture and Tradition.       The functional specialty of interpretation establishes the
meaning of what has been found in Scripture and Tradition. The functional specialty of
history preoccupies itself with the history of Christian doctrine and its antecedents and
consequents in the cultural and institutional institutions of the Churches and the sects.
The functional specialty of dialectic facilitates the study of viewpoints that lead to the
facts and the reasons beneath the conflicts in the history of doctrine.
        In the second phase of theological operations (theology in oratione recta), the
functional specialty of foundations furnishes the theologian with a horizon that is
required to grasp the meaning of doctrines. The functional specialty of doctrines
proposes what is to be believed. The functional specialty of systematics provides an
explanation of what is to be believed. And finally, the functional specialty of
communications ensures that doctrines that have been understood by the theologian
manifest themselves in his or her external relations with art, language, literature, other
religions, the natural and human sciences, philosophy, history, and men and women of all
cultures, classes, through the use of diverse media of communication. 23
        The practical import of what has been said thus far on the nature, function,
context, dogmatic responsibility and method of theology can be seen in the relationship
between theology and preaching.

Theology and the Church’s Preaching Mission

From Pope Paul VI we learn that the Church’s preaching mission is “the carrying forth of
the good news to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into
the hearts of men and women and renew the human race.” The aim of evangelization is
to bring about interior transformation in the lives of people as well as the transformation
of the environment in which they live. “In a word, the Church may be truly said to
evangelize when, solely in virtue of that news which she proclaims, she seeks to convert
both the individual consciences of persons and their collective conscience, all the

   “If one is to harken to the word, one must also bear witness to it. If one engages in lectio divina, there
come to mind quaestiones. If one assimilates tradition, one learns that one should pass it on. If one
encounters the past, one also has to take one’s stand toward the future. In brief, there is a theology in
oratione obliqua that tells what Paul and John, Augustine and Aquinas, and anyone else had to say about
God and the economy of salvation. But there is also a theology in oratione recta in which the theologian,
enlightened by the past, confronts the problem of his own day” (Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology,
   What has been offered here is a short description of the functional specialties. For a detailed description
read Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, ch. 5.

activities in which they are engaged and, finally, their lives and the whole environment
which surrounds them.”24
         The words of Paul VI are best understood in their relationship with Vatican II
teaching on divine revelation. “By this revelation, the invisible God (cf. Col 1:15; 1 Tim
1:17), from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends (cf Ex
33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among them in order to receive them into his own
company.”25 Evangelization is the proclamation of the fullness of revelation in Christ for
the interior transformation of the human person into a friend of God. While human
beings search for the best way to live, God, in Christ and through the preaching mission
of the Church, teaches humanity that the best way to live together is to live in
communion and solidarity with God and with one another. Evangelization is the good
news of a God who is love. In him is the love of three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy
         The task of evangelization is to proclaim the good news of the invisible God who
addresses human beings as friends and invites them into his own company.
Evangelization is an invitation to have faith in God. The task of theology is to be at the
service of the Church’s mission of evangelization by demonstrating the meaning and
coherence of the faith that evangelization proclaims. In a nutshell, evangelization
proclaims the word of God. The proper response to this proclamation of the word is
faith, and theology, at the service of evangelization, shows that this faith is neither an
assault on nor an insult to human intelligence. A theology that is not at the service of
evangelization is not a theology worth the name. Faith is a necessary response to
evangelization. Yet, faith alone is insufficient. For faith without reason breeds
fundamentalism at best, fanaticism at worst.
         A fundamental convergence of objective can thus be recognized between the
Church’s preaching mission and the task of theology. Both the Church that evangelizes
and the theologian speak about God to praise God before their audience, and to evoke the
praise of God in their audience. In other words, the objective of both evangelization and
theology is doxological. 26 This objective is attained by evangelization when it proclaims
the wonders of God and invites the hearer of the word to faith. The same objective is
attained by theology by seeking to explain the faith that is so proclaimed. Now, since
quality of speech is contingent on the extent of the speaker’s knowledge of the subject
matter, it is necessary for the evangelizer and theologian to know that knowledge of God
is a prerequisite for speech about God. The evangelizer is one who has himself been
evangelized, that is, one who has received the word and who spreads the word he has
received. True theology comes from an encounter with God who reveals himself. And
the one to whom God has been revealed proclaims the wonders of God, which is what
evangelization is about. The evangelizer is one who has received the word of God. The
theologian too must receive the word. Neither evangelization nor theology is possible
without a life lived in communion with God. Neither is possible without cultivating a
rich spirituality.

   Read Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi 18-20
   Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum 2.
   This can be deduced from Augustine’s stated objective in his reflection on creation in the second part of
his Confessions.

        The common doxological objective of evangelization and theology means both
must be kept together. They cooperate towards the attainment of the same goal. For this
reason, the evangelizer must have an adequate theological formation. The often-touted
dichotomy between “doctrinal” preaching and “practical” preaching turns out to be
unwarranted and counter-productive in so far as it attempts to separate theology and
evangelization. Theology without evangelization is nothing but an academic exercise.
Evangelization without theology exposes the preacher and his audience to the toxic fumes
of corrupt religion and its attendant consequences. In the Catholic tradition, the preacher,
whose piety or aspiration to saintliness is already presumed, must embrace the tedious
task of tidy thinking if the preaching ministry is to be intelligent and effective, not just an
appeal to emotions. The mission of the evangelizer is to lead people within and outside
the Christian community to the meeting point of doctrine and life. The task of the
preacher of the word is to nourish the body of Christ by communicating the word of God
to the Church. Communication has a content, and its content is a teaching. The preacher
is communicator of teachings, and teachings are doctrines. Preaching misses its target
and fails to perform its function when it is lacking in doctrinal explication, which is one
of the functions of theology. But nemo dat quod non habet. If the saying is true that no
one gives what he does not have, a preacher of the word must be educated in doctrines,
competent in explaining them, and skillful in communicating them in a new setting
whose language and culture are not the same as the language and culture of the original
proclaimers and hearers of the word, intelligent in the use of art, language, music, good
liturgy and other modes of expressions of the content of the human spirit. To
dichotomise between doctrine and life is to separate preaching from the good use of the
preacher’s God-given intelligence. The preacher, like a good theologian—or rather, the
preacher who ought to be a good theologian—speaks about the God he or she has
encountered by retrieving, explaining and communicating doctrines.
        Nigerian and African theologians are enormously interested in inculturation
theology. Because Christianity came through missionaries of other cultures, the
Christianity that was brought to Nigeria was and still is in need of Africanization for
more effective communication. For theology in Nigeria, this is a task to be constantly
        Given the interest in inculturation theology in the local Churches in Africa in
general and in the Church in Nigeria in particular, the functional specialty of
communications provides a meeting point between theology and preaching in so far as it
helps both to express the Christian faith. It is in communications that inculturation comes
to its own. It is the home of inculturation. By implication, the preceding functional
specialties are preliminary steps for inculturation in so far as inculturation is the
expression of the faith in the language, culture of the people (audience). In concrete
terms, there can be no effective inculturation without doctrine, foundations, dialectic,
history and research. The route of theology is determined by the questions of theology,
and the questions of theology are determined by the ecclesial, social and academic
contexts in which competence in the various functional specialties are acquired and
        This exposes one of the major pitfalls of Nigerian and African inculturation
theology. Inculturation theology, as it has been done so far on the African continent,
betrays attempts at communications without sufficient attention to doctrines, foundations,

dialectic, history and research. At least two consequences can be identified. The first
consequence is that our inculturation theology has neither retrieved nor appropriated the
faith that comes to us from the apostles. The second is a less than careful retrieval and
less than prudent appropriation of our indigenous culture and religions and an unwitting
self-incarceration in a museographic complex. Hence one comes across many a Diocesan
Director of Communication without adequate theological competence; celebrated African
theologians whose publications represent attempts at doing Christology as if the
Christological councils never took place, or if at all they took place, their doctrinal
positions are no longer relevant; Scripture scholars developing hermeneutics without
reference to the Magisterium. There is little or no interest in Patrology to the point where
African experts in Patrology are few and far between, curricula of theology in many our
seminaries and theological institutes with the notable absence of Patrology.27
        A detailed discussion of these indices cannot be undertaken here without
rendering the paper unnecessarily heavy. But a careful reading of attempts at African
Christology shows a reluctance on the part of many African theologians to avoid taking a
stance on the Christology of the councils.28 Doctrinal positions and the Creed of Niceae
and Constantinople are neither affirmed nor denied. Everything seems to point to an
interest in exploring the first part of the question posed at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do
people say am I?” The second part of the question, “Who do you say am I?” is curiously
left unanswered. Hence the preoccupation is: Who is Jesus for the African? The
Councils are achievements and starting points in Christology. But in fact, the starting
point of Christology is the doctrinal achievement of the Christological councils
crystallized in the Creed. The New Testament and the Creed have already told us who
Jesus is. It is the Christological faith they have handed down to us that theology must
seek to explain and communicate. The right question for the theologian is not who is
Jesus for the African but how can what the Christian tradition says about Jesus be shown
to be coherent, credible and intelligible. While it may be culturally satisfying to call him
Ancestor, Kabiyesi, Igwe or Mganga, dogmatic responsibility makes it imperative to take
a stand for or against what the Gospels as testimonies of what the apostles believed say
about him, and what Church teaches in her interpretive task vis-à-vis the Gospels.
African theology cannot remain silent on the issue of his divine Personhood as the
temptation appears to be today. It is not sufficient to say he is Kabiyesi. How is he
different from a Yoruba Oba? Is he just a member of the Council of Traditional Rulers?
        At the service of these Christologies is a certain version of intercultural
hermeneutics developed by scholars like Ukachukwu Manus and Justin Ukpong, two of
the highly revered founding fathers of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria
(CATHAN). Here I shall limit myself to Manus, and only briefly.29 First, he rules out of
his hermeneutical procedure consultation of non-African, that is, western interpreters of
the Bible. He wrote:

   Sed contra cf. Vatican II, Dei verbum. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, n.10; Pontifical
Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa,
   Read for example Diane B. Stinton, Jesus of Africa: Voices of Contemporary African Christology
(Nairobi:Paulines, 2004) and Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in an African Pot: An
Introduction to Christian Doctrine from an African Perspective (Nairobi:Paulines, 2008).
   See his Intercultural Hermeneutics in Africa: Methods and Approaches (Nairobi:Acton Publishers,

           It is no longer sensible for Africans to continue reading the Bible from alien
           perspectives. Though many an African biblical scholars has brought home
           western methodologies and taught them in African seminaries and universities,
           the time has come to re-focus the curriculum on the African cultural and religious

Then he proposes, following J.W. Voelz, who is not an African, three hermeneutical
steps, namely, knowledge of the author, knowledge of the text, and knowledge of the
reader. Conspicuously missing are the horizon of the text, the horizon of the author, and
nd the horizon of the reader. By horizon here, I mean more than the sociological context
of the text and of the author, I include the religious and theological context and factors
concerning the text and his author. What is even more interesting is that Manus proposes
a hermeneutical procedure to be used outside ecclesial horizon. It’s like the Church, the
primary recipient of the word of God, has nothing to say as to how it is to be interpreted.
One can therefore see how a hermeneutical procedure that bypasses the Church produces
a Christology that is silent on the faith of the Church.
        Liturgical inculturation is a necessity. We Africans would be failing the Church
and ourselves if we failed to assume this task. Yet it must be said that the need for
liturgical inculturation cannot be met without paying adequate attention to Patristic texts.
In Yoruba language, we already have the Ewi and Oriki as powerful genres of
communication. We are also blessed with Catholics—priests, religious, seminarians, lay
faithful—who are highly skilled in the use of these two modes of communication. These
two, ewi and oriki, can do to the Church in Nigeria what the sacred poetry of the Greco-
Roman world did in the past, and the Yoruba audience in southwestern Nigeria will be
highly receptive. One would look forward to the day the Gloria, the Preface, the
Eucharistic Prayer, to mention but these high points of our Eucharistic celebration, will
be rendered in Ewi composed by people who are proficient in Yoruba culture, Yoruba
prayer rhetoric, and knowledgeable in the history and doctrine of the Church.

Towards a Catholic and African Inculturation Theology

In this paper, I have argued that the challenge which theology faces in Nigeria is the
challenge of detoxifying a religion that has and is still being corrupted. The religiosity of
Nigerians is well-attested to. While visitors to cities of western societies often discover
and remark with shock that such societies that brought Christianity to Africa have
become post-Christian, visitors are equally amazed at the open display of religiosity in
many Nigerian and African cities. God and religion are marginalized or ostracized by
religious indifference in contemporary western culture, instrumentalized by an explosion
of religiosity in contemporary African societies. A theology that assumed dogmatic
responsibility would provide an effective antidote to the marginalization, ostracization or
instrumentalization of God and religion. It is able to provide this antidote because of its
bringing together of faith and reason. Reason without faith leads to the ostracization of

     Ukachukwu Manus, Intercultural Hermeneutics, 1.

God and religion. Faith without reason leads to the reduction of religion to an opium, and
of God to a crutch.
        When religion is corrupt God is not rendered his dues, and when God is not
rendered his dues, human beings are deprived their dues. Justice is the rendering of dues
to the other. Injustice is the denial of what is due to another. Corruption of religion is
injustice to God, injustice to God manifests itself in injustice to the human person. To
face this challenge, the Church needs to proclaim the word of the one true God.
Theology done in two phases, as Lonergan proposes, is to be at the service of preaching
by ensuring that the past is not forgotten but retrieved so that, enlightened by the past, the
theologian is able to confront the problems of his own day. It takes fidelity to the original
idea of the Christian religion to avoid its corruption, and it is this fidelity that theology
must see that it ensures. A corrupt religion “canonizes” human rights violation and
victimization “in the name of God”. This maligning of God is checkmated when
theology ensures that the tedious task of tidy thinking is not separated from the act of
faith. Theology is to explain the faith in such a way that it is freed from the corruption
engendered by the utilitarianism of prosperity Gospel. Theology is able to free religion
from corruption when it places itself at the service of evangelization.
        The emergence of Nigerian Pentecostalism has added to the magnitude of the
challenge of preaching in our time. I am of the conviction that the Church in Nigeria will
not be able to respond to this challenge without extensive investment in the theological
formation of her agents of evangelization. Yet, one observes that there is, in the Church
in Nigeria, a scarcity of professional theologians noted for scholarship and orthodoxy,
respected in academic circles and respectful to the Magisterium. Our seminaries are full,
no doubt. But they are finding it increasingly difficult to find competent theologians to
hire. The situation at hand warrants a critical look at the curriculum of theology in our
seminaries. Like in every institution of learning, the quality of the curriculum will
always have to be revised and improved.
        Today, the Church in Nigeria, in proclaiming the word, has the duty of specifying
what it means to be a Christian disciple, inviting her audience to become authentic
Christians in an atmosphere of corrupt politics.31 Theology assists the Church in this
regard by facilitating an encounter between the past and the present. The apostolic
origins of the Church, the over 2,000 years of conversation that the Christian tradition is,
as well as the authentic interpretation of the Magisterium inform and enlighten us, while
we confront the problems of his own day. The Church’s preaching becomes a veritable
apostolic job when, with the assistance of theology, she sheds the light of the faith that
comes to us from the apostles on today’s existential questions of social dislocation,
political instability, economic deprivation and cultural alienation, we must have an
adequate method of theology.
        Even in the concern for inculturation theology there is need to take Patrology
seriously. It is not enough to jump from the text of scripture, improperly established by
way of painstaking exegesis, to the concerns of the 20th or 21st centuries. To do so would
be to elaborate a theology which fails to take the history of Christianity seriously. It will
give birth to a Christianity without memory such as we see in Nigerian Pentecostalism.

  Read Anthony Akinwale, “The Doctrinal Function of Preaching”, 99 in Preaching in Contemporary
Nigeria (Ibadan: Michael Dempsey Centre for Religious and Social Research, 2003) 82-100

The Church in Nigeria needs patrologists if she is to be a place of Catholic theology.
Theology needs patrology if it is to assume dogmatic responsibility with competence.
        This need comes to the fore because our identity and mission as a young Church
insert us in a Christian tradition, that is, into a conversation that began more than 2,000
years ago. As a young Church, if we wish to make an intelligent contribution to that
conversation, we would need to inquire about what was being discussed from those who
started it before us, and, having heard from the older Churches, we can learn from their
wisdom and their mistakes. We shall emulate their wisdom and avoid their mistakes.
Our efforts at inculturation must take these into account. One would also hope that the
older Churches would see the need to learn from our young Churches.
        Inculturation is the communication of the Gospel message in and through the
culture of the place where it is proclaimed. But to speak of communication is to speak of
style and substance, not one without the other. The substance is that which is to be
communicated, while the style is the mode of communication. It is quite possible to have
the style while lacking the substance, just as it is possible to have the substance while
lacking the style. The faith that comes to us from the apostles is that which is to be
communicated in evangelization. It is the substance. Inculturation is the mode, the style,
of communication of the Gospel message. If, in the process of communication, substance
and style must be together, it is obvious that evangelization will not be effective without
inculturation theology. Evangelization and inculturation must be together. But there
must be substance in our inculturation, and for this, a good method of theology is
        The Gospel that is to be preached must be read, retrieved and received before it
can be communicated. Whoever wishes to evangelize through inculturation must know
what is said in the Gospel, and the task of knowing what is contained in the Gospel
principally pertains to the functional specialty of research. But knowing what is said in
the Gospel and knowing what is meant by what is said belongs to the functional specialty
of interpretation. Interpretation takes place when the word of God is read within the
horizon and fore-structure of understanding of the reader, that is, within the totality of
what the reader knows, understands, and is interested in. In the case of African
inculturation theology, the Gospel is to be read and interpreted, not only within the
African horizon, that is, within the totality of what the African reader of the Gospel
already knows, understands, and is interested in, but also within the dogmatic horizon of
the Christian tradition. Each of the 1st century writers of the Gospel had his own horizon,
which is the same as the totality of his knowledge, understanding and interests. For
understanding to take place, the African reader must be open to a fusion of horizons, that
is, a coming together in interaction and conversation, of the baggage of knowledge,
understanding, and interests of the 1st century author, the baggage, knowledge and
interests of the more than 2,000-year tradition of Christianity, and the baggage of
knowledge, understanding, and interests of the African reader. Interpretation of the
Gospel has a history, and within this history there are conflicts of interpretations. The
resolution of these conflicts is made possible by foundations objectified in intellectual,
moral and religious conversion. Doctrines, propositions of faith, arise from such
resolutions. Doctrines are teachings. They must be explained and they must be
communicated. The Gospel itself is not just a story, it is a body of doctrines to be
communicated through evangelization and inculturation.

        Such is the intricate and interwoven relationship of evangelization, inculturation
and theology that evangelization and inculturation must be doctrinal. A veritable
inculturation theology must know the faith that comes to us through the apostles’
preaching of the Gospel before it can communicate it. When, in the name of
inculturation, theology abdicates its responsibility to grasp, interpret, explain doctrines,
such theology reduces itself to cultural or religious anthropology or socio-political
        The function of theology is not to promote a certain cultural chauvinism which
sees no value in perspectives offered by other cultures. On the contrary, theology in the
Catholic tradition is to be seen as a discourse elaborated in communion and at the service
of communion in space and time. How the theologian in Nigeria elaborates his or her
theological discourse as well as its content must be a matter of interest for the theologian
in America or Europe or Asia. In the same way, how theologians in these others places
elaborate their discourses must interest the theologian in Nigeria. Not to see theology in
this light is to fall victim of self-incarceration in cultural arrogance, a kind of “sacred”
racism. The catholicity of the Church must be served by theology. A theology that
closes in on itself cannot be at the service of catholicity. Catholicity is inseparable from
the oneness, holiness and apostolicity of the Church. Hence, a theology that is not at the
service of catholicity fails to be at the service of the other three defining features of the
Church. What we need is not just an inculturation theology, but an inculturation theology
with the mark of catholicity. What we need is a Catholic inculturation theology whose
goal must be an African instantiation of apostolic tradition, an African expression of
catholicity. The means of attaining the objective is not only knowledge of general and
particular properties of African culture, but also an adequate knowledge of the deposit of
faith. Anything short of that is less than successful.

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