EN 41: indestructible witness and martyrdom

§40 is the beginning of Section IV, and sets up the question: how to evangelize? Paul makes some comments about how it is especially the role of the bishop to decide how to evangelize, which is ironic because the evangelism I have seen in the Catholic church usually happens despite the hierarchy, not because of it. Of course my experience is quite limited and I'm guessing there are bishops out there who wake up and ask, how can I seek the conversion of the people in this city?

But the central question has turned to one of method, after discussing the definition of evangelism, and then its relation to liberation and politics and human rights.

§41 stipulates that "the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal." Again we note the personal-communal balance which Paul has so carefully preserved, quite explicitly, several times. And when I hear 'that nothing should destroy,' from over here in Dar al Islam, I think of martyrdom and physical persecution right away. It is simply a fact of life here for the Christian who is an active witness to non-Christians.

And then here we have a very quotable line:

"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

Which seems prescient to me. He was writing in 1975 which one could say was during the shift or mutation from Modernism to post-modernism, and thus the primacy of personal experience over didactic teaching. Let us also recall that in Greek the words 'martyr' and 'witness' are the same.

But I must say that I have found a certain romanticism about persecution among Christians in the West. Everyone likes to quote Tertullian: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. In general it is true that there is a spiritual dynamic to the Kingdom of God which subverts or deconstructs the patterns of ordering of our age--"nostra aetate". But when one considers the desert of North Africa which was once home to a vibrant Christian community, or Asia Minor which is now the spiritual wasteland of Turkey, one must amend Tertullian (himself from North Africa):

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, except when Islam is involved.


Fred said…
The bishop has the responsibility but not necessarily the inspiration or creativity to determine which methods are appropriate. Paul VI once told Fr. Luigi Giussani that he didn't understand Giussani's methods but he recognized their fruit.

You're right about the romanticism of death in the West. Western Christians (including myself) are tempted to see in death some benefits:

1. it gives a context, a horizon, to life (see Bonhoeffer).
2. it's a lot simpler to die for the faith in one shining moment than to carry the cross in everyday life. A baptist in the US might ask me "what would you do if you died today?" and my answer is "what if I don't? How do I live then?"

The difficult thing in the West is witnessing (martyr as you know means witness) to the faith in the everyday: at work, at school.

Great quote about witnesses & teachers!
Odysseus said…
-evangelism I have seen in the Catholic church usually happens despite the hierarchy-

You have probably not seen the Church where it is not oppressed. Even here in the states, Catholic evangelism cannot happen like it does with Protestants. We are not, or were not until recently, welcome in most parts. Where I live, people are always sad to learn that I am Catholic. And it certainly would not be wise for a Catholic church to come in and trumpet about it being the only way to salvation. That would result in a church burning.

Also, we simply do not believe in some of the tactics used by others. Take, for example, door-to-door evangelism. It is not just "not our style", but it is not apostolic, not biblical.

We still get a huge number of converts every year. We must be doing something right. :-)

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