Father Timothy Radcliffe, who was Master General of the Dominicans, has presented the relationship between faith and culture in these terms: “I grew up in a Catholic subculture that interpreted existence and the world in terms of gratitude and blessing. We believed in a God who heard our prayers, who loved us, and who at the hour of our death would let us go to heaven […]. We had a host of friends who were neither Catholic nor Christian, but it was clear to all that life was oriented toward eternity. Now this subculture is largely disappearing […]. I believe that the only way for Christianity to grow is to keep alive a lively, self-confident and vital Christian culture that is in dynamic interaction with contemporary culture.”
This is our primary task as a believing community: to keep alive the cultural dimension of the Christian faith, and, in particular, the decisive value that biblical instruction has for some of the grave problems of our time. It is not by chance that Sacred Scripture has been studied and commented upon for centuries by the generations that preceded us, and has had a profound impact on every aspect of European history.
In our own time, which is marked by profound institutional and economic instability, by the crisis of meaning and by the failure of the great ideologies, the Bible continues to stimulate culture and the way of seeing and evaluating the problems of life. It is in this “sapiential” encounter that we can experience God.
As we reflect on this theme, some key words of the Bible can accompany us, paradoxical words, even words strongly critical of certain aspects of the culture of our time, but which are indispensable for living.
The first word is prohibition. It is the first great instruction that God gives: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen 2:16-17).