Michael Amaladoss – « Peoples’ Theology in multireligious communities »

Deutsch: Weisheit der Völker – Theologie des Volkes
Italiano: Sapienza e teologia del popolo
Português: Sabedoria e teologia do povo
Français: Sagesse et théologie du peuple
Español: Sabiduría y teología del pueblo
中國人: 人民的智慧和神學
English: Wisdom and People’s Theology

Michael Amaladoss – « Peoples’ Theology in multireligious communities »

In the (Catholic) Church the community used to be (and is) hierarchically structured. The Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, have the deposit of revealed faith and are supposed to safeguard it. They are to teach others. They were helped by the priests, though they need a canonical mission. Occasional ‘private revelations’ were not excluded. A few of the recipients may have been ‘lay people’, including some children as at Lourdes and Fatima.  But they have to be verified and authorized by the hierarchy. Theological reflection was done mostly by priests and some, usually male, religious. There were some occasional women mystics and theologians like Theresa of Avila, but guided by priests.

The Second Vatican Council: The People of God

This perception changes with the Second Vatican Council.  Its document on the Church brings in a new perspective.  The Church is primarily the People of God at whose service there are minister – servant – clergy.  The relationship between the people and the hierarchy of ministers is not too clearly spelt out, however. It is affirmed that the Pope has the charism of personal infallibility that does not depend on the ‘consensus’ of the Bishops, much less of the people. The Bishops too teach collegially with the Pope being at their head. 

But at the same time, “those who believe in Christ… are finally established as a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… who in times past were not a people, but now are the People of God.”[1]   “The state of this people is that of the dignity and freedom of the sons of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple…  its destiny is the kingdom of God… Although it does not include all men, (it) is a most sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race.”[2] “The whole body of the faithful (including the ministers), who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20 and 27) cannot err in matters of belief.”[3] They have a supernatural appreciation of the faith – sensus fidei. 

“All men are called to belong to the new People of God… All men are called to this catholic unity which prefigures and promotes universal peace. And in different ways to it belong, or are related: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”[4] After mentioning the Jews and the Moslems, the document goes on to say: “Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Saviour wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4)”[5]

A Universal Outreach

What I want to draw the readers’ attention to here is that in this document on the Church the Second Vatican Council, not only evokes a new image of the Church as the People of God, but relates to it every human.  While the Catholics may primarily be attracted to the emergence of the ‘People of God’ balancing it against the ‘Hierarchy’ of Pope-Bishops-Priests, what strikes someone from multi-religious Asia is that somehow every human is related to this ‘People’. This relation seems to become only stronger in the later documents of the Council and in the theological development that follows the Council. Let us have a look at this development.

The Council itself develops this openness to others in two ways.  First of all, there is the recognition that God speaks to every human in his/her conscience. The Declaration on Religious Liberty affirms: “It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is found to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end.”[6] This is particularly true in religious matters, in which the humans can act, not only individually, but also in community. Doing this they become, in some way, ‘people of God’.  The document goes on to specify the various rights connected to such religious liberty that we need not go into here. In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Council stresses again the role of conscience in individual and social action. “His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths…  Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships.”[7]Conscience, therefore, puts people, not only in touch with God, but also with other people, thus constituting a community of the ‘People of God’.  Let us note that conscience is personal, independent of the control or authority of the Church and its ministers.

Secondly, there is a recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every human person that also links them to God. Affirming the dignity of the human person, the Constitution says: “It is by the gift of the Holy Spirit that man, through faith, comes to contemplate and savour the mystery of God’s design.”[8]  Such a presence of the Spirit is far reaching. “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”[9]  To become partners in the paschal mystery is to join the People of God in some effective way.


[1] Lumen Gentium, 9. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 13. 

[5] Ibid., 16. 

[6] Dignitatis Humanae, 3.

[7] Ibid., 16.

[8] Ibid., 15.