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Catholic Evangelisation: an overview

The Rev’d Dr Philip Knights, CASE, April 2005

‘As a river twists and turns in its journey toward the sea, both shaping and being shaped
by the contour of the land, the geological composition of the soil and the enterprises of
humanity, so the Church, as a community-in-mission, both forms and is formed by the
“lay of the land”. In turn, the various constants of the church’s one mission throughout its
history have both shaped and been shaped by the historical-cultural context and the
corresponding theological thought of particular times and places. The history of mission,
the movements of culture and the history of theology intersect.’1

It is the purpose of this paper to explore some of the ‘lay of the land’ which connects
Catholic practice of evangelisation with theology and locates both that practice and that
theology within history, culture and the ‘enterprises of humanity’. Separate papers will
examine the cultural context in more depth and specific theological and methodological
questions but it is the primary argument of this paper that the theology and practice of
mission and evangelisation2 cannot be understood without reference to the ‘movements of
culture’. Theological principles of evangelisation are always articulated by their
intersection with people and their patterns of behaviour and meaning systems in concrete
historical contexts. It is not just that evangelisation is shaped by such contexts; the
missionary activity of the Church is itself a shaper of those contexts.

Evangelisation necessarily connects the constant Gospel with the contexts in which it is
proclaimed and enacted. The changing contexts raise different barriers to and
opportunities for the Gospel and the Church which serves it. Different times have
different needs which may mean that different aspects of the Gospel will be emphasised
at different moments of history. Certainly every time, place and culture will have its own

Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today
(Orbis, Maryknoll, 2004) p73
‘Mission’, ‘evangelisation’ and ‘evangelism’ are notoriously difficult words to define with various users
meaning varied things by them. For our part let us note that it has become common in Catholic circles,
taking the lead from both Evangelii nuntiandi and Redemptoris Missio, to use ‘mission’ and
‘evangelisation’ interchangeably, and even to talk of ‘the evangelising mission of the Church’. This paper
will follow this practice even if we shall also acknowledge that at times ‘mission’ has been and still is used
to refer to structures, territories, governance or to a preached retreat (and these uses can also be found in
Canon Law e.g. CIC Canons 781 ff, esp 786, Canon 770.) and indeed we shall observe that particularly
those influenced by the curial-canonical Louvain school of missiology resisted the use of ‘mission’ to
describe the activity of the Church in the context of ‘de-Christianisation’ (see below). For a fuller treatment
of these terms please see the second chapter of Knights and Murray pp 11-55. Also there is no common
agreement on ‘evangelisation’ or ‘evangelization’ as the normative spelling, even in the UK; for
consistency this paper will use ‘evangelisation’ unless original texts quoted have the alternative.
questions and the methods and means of evangelisation will change. Charlemagne’s
bloody campaigns which imposed conversion, death or exile on the pagan Saxons are
definitely not to be the model of contemporary evangelisation and the ‘cross and sword’
seems a distorted reading of the Gospel imperative to ‘compel them to come in’.3 In our
context, or better in our contexts in England and Wales, evangelisation should take place
through modes appropriate to our age.

This orientation fits with what arguably remains the best approach to a definition of
evangelisation given by the extraordinary Magisterium:
‘In the church's work of evangelization there are undoubtedly certain elements and
aspects which are deserving of special attention. Some of these are indeed of such
importance that they may at times be regarded as constituting in themselves the whole of
evangelization. Thus, for example, evangelization has been defined as consisting in the
proclamation of Christ Our Lord to those who do not know him, in preaching,
catechetics, baptism and the administration of the other sacraments. But no such
defective and incomplete definition can be accepted for that complex, rich and dynamic
reality which is called evangelization without the risk of weakening or even distorting its
real meaning. ....
The Church appreciates that evangelization means 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 renew the human race ... In a word the church may be truly said to evangelize when,
solely in virtue of the news which she proclaims, she seeks to convert both the individual
consciences of men and their collective conscience, all the activities in which they are
engaged and, finally, their lives and the whole environment which surrounds them.
... evangelization is to be achieved, not from without as though by adding some
decoration or applying a coat of colour, but in depth, going to the very centre and roots of
life. The gospel must impregnate the culture and the whole way of life of man, taking
these words in the widest and fullest sense which they are given in the constitution
Gaudium et Spes. This work must always take the human person as its starting point,
coming back to the interrelationships between persons and their relation with God.’4

These key sections of Evangelii Nuntiandi set out several necessary aspects of
evangelisation. Catholic evangelisation is a comprehensive activity which comprises
many activities, Historical periods and particular needs will cause certain elements of this
comprehensive activity to predominate. Sometimes this predomination is such that these
certain elements can seem to be all that evangelisation is but care should be taken that no
‘defective or incomplete’ partial definition does injustice to the rich, dynamic, complex

Named elements of evangelisation in the Apostolic Exhortation include: proclamation of

Christ to those who do not know him (EN 22, 26); preaching (EN 11, 14, 42), sacraments
and sacramental initiation and discipleship in the Church (EN 13 -16, 38, 47, 60);

Bosch David J. Bosch Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis Books,
Maryknoll, 1991), p222ff for a discussion of ‘indirect and direct missionary wars’, Bevans and Schroeder
p126 and Stephen Neill A History of Christian Missions ( Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1964) p78ff.
Evangelii Nuntiani 17-18, 20
orientation to destiny in relationship with God (EN 28, 32); transformation/salvation (EN
9, 27); conversion of the human person and the human collective (EN 29-31); and the
penetration of the Gospel into and transformation of human culture (EN 20). Catholic
Evangelisation is therefore Christ-centred, salvific, ecclesial (and within this specifically
sacramental), human (personal and social) and cultural.

The above list has been deliberately presented in these categories to cohere with the
analysis of Bevans and Schroeder who identify six constants of mission which are
expressed with different weights and emphases by different theological types at different
historical moments. Their constants are: Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology,
Salvation, Anthropology and Culture. The types of theology in mission they identify as
A, B and C. One of the ways of describing these is to call them orthodox/conservative,
liberal and radical5 – but these are loaded labels and can disguise as much as illuminate.
However, whilst acknowledging and supporting appropriate caveats as to the distortions
of compartmentalisation, these sketches of theological trends may be useful to consider as
we examine where we have come from in evangelisation, where we are and why we do
what we do.

Type A: B: C:
(orthodox/ (liberal) (radical/
conservative) liberation theology)
Mission as saving souls Mission as discovery of the Mission as commitment to
and extending the Church Truth (social) transformation
Law to live by Making sense of Movement through history
Christology • Divine nature of • Premodern high > • Human Nature of
Christ (high) Modern low Christ (low)
• Satisfaction • Example • Liberation

Ecclesiology • Institutional • Mystical • Herald/Servant

Church Communion
Eschatology • Future/ Individual • Realised • Inaugurated
Salvation • Spiritual • Internal with • Holistic
Anthropology • Negative, • Positive • Equality
(Humanity) hierarchical
Culture • Classic view of • Empirical • Praxis
Figures in Boniface Cyril & Methodius East Syrian Monks
Mission Francis Xavier Matteo Ricci Francis of Assisi
William Carey Max Warren Liberation Theologians
John Mbiti

Adapted from Bevans and Schroeder p 36

These are (more or less) the labels attached to them by Dorothee Sölle in Thinking about God. Bevans and
Schroeder are guided by this and by the typology of Justo L González Christian Thought Revisited. See
Bevans and Schroeder p35f.
Type A concerns rescuing the lost for a future heaven and building up the Church as a
community of people who in this life follow a set of rules moving towards this other
worldly state of being. One of its earliest expressions was in Carthage and in the writings
of Tertullian. The emphasis is often on obeying the law that has been revealed by God. It
is often the theology of the hierarchic Church.6 Culture in Type A is more that one is
educated into as one progresses through practice upwardly from uncultured to cultured.

Type B has the sense of coming to understand the truth, being persuaded by argument or
by personal experience of the value of the Gospel. Type B would see mission as the
discovery of the truth. It is more associated in the early centuries with Alexandria and is
associated with such figures as Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Here the emphasis is
on philosophical reflection and human reason coming into contact with divine wisdom. It
is often the theology of the academy. Culture in Type B is ‘the way we do things here’ –
the web of significance and signifiers which provide the lexicon and grammar for

Type C is less about internal individual reason and experience but about social
outworkings of faith. In particular this concerns how the Christian vision interprets events
and gives a critique of the way the world is by declaring how it should be. Making a
difference in history and society characterises this type of theology. Type C would see
mission as commitment to liberation and transformation. A locale in the early Church
was Asia Minor and in particular Antioch. The key person who encapsulates this would
be Irenaeus (who although Bishop of Lyons was a native of Smyrna). The important
things here were witnessed events and actual history in the process of being transformed
by God. Type C is therefore a world located theology. Culture is that which is to be
critiqued and changed.

There is a danger to typologies that we set up caricatures in which we distort certain

features to distinguish one trend in a neat frame from another. The truth is that these types
of theology are not hermetically sealed one from another nor are they necessarily in
opposition. ‘Both/and’ distinguishes Christian mission more than ‘either/or’: It has often
been claimed that missiology has moved from being Church-centred to being Kingdom-
centred, yet the paradox is to say mission and evangelisation are about both Church and
Kingdom without collapsing the one into the other. That ‘both/and’ seems to typify
Catholic evangelisation rather than either/or. Roman Carthage, Greek Alexandria and
Syrian(-ish) Antioch may be distinguishable but they are connected as important sites for
Christian learning. The Church would be wise to value from the tradition, to applaud
those things discerned as good in the contemporary and have the courage to change what
needs changing. Obedience to revealed law, discovery of experienced truth and the
transformation of history are not contradictions but aspects of wholeness in Christian

Although it would be a mistake to force these three types to fit in with the three ‘publics’ of David Tracy,
(The Analogical Imagination. Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism. New York: Herder &
Herder, 1981 p 5) there is a sense that they serve the different audiences of Church, University and Society.
Some moments of practice

David Bosch promoted within the theology of mission the concept of ‘paradigms’, as
popularised by Thomas Kuhn.7 This presumed two things, one of which seems obvious
but worth stating, the other of which is more contentious. The first is that Christian
mission at different times and different places shows different patterns of practice. This is
important to state else we locate mission and evangelisation into a timeless bubble of
disincarnate principle. However, the second presumption is that of incommensurability
between one paradigm and the next. In the case of Catholic Evangelisation the experience
is that the models and patterns which had the greatest weight at one historical period
continue into later times, and although other patterns may have developed the greater
influence, there is still a vector derived from the earlier.

Pre-Conciliar presuppositions: Cardinal Vaughan

The predominant tenor of the Catholic Church in England and Wales during the late
nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century was both ultramontane and
triumphalist. Few illustrated this more than Cardinal Manning and Cardinal Vaughan.8
Cardinal Vaughan was responsible for two significant mission and evangelisation
initiatives: the Mill Hill Missionaries and the Catholic Missionary Society. The former,
developing from the mid 1860s was clearly intended for Foreign Missions outside Europe
or in the words of Cardinal Manning:
‘for sending missionaries to heathen lands; not to our colonies, not to our brethren who
are scattered abroad throughout the British Empire, but beyond its frontiers and over the
boundaries of Christendom, among the nations that sit in darkness and in the shadow of
That being stated so firmly it is to be noted that the Propoganda in Rome were more keen
to send the missionaries trained by St Joseph’s College Mill Hill to be chaplains to the
British Army in Afghanistan and the first major mission was to the black Catholic
populations of North America. (Indeed there was the interesting suggestion, not as far as I
know followed up, that such black Catholics could be formed to be themselves
missionaries in Africa.)

Bosch p181ff and Thomas S. Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1970)
Although there were more liberal voices (Cardinal Newman, Lord Acton and others), mission and
evangelisation and much else were framed by the vision of Manning and Vaughan. See: Lawrence Nemer
SVD Anglican and Roman Catholic Attitudes on Missions (Steyler Verlag, St Augustin, 1981); Edward
Norman The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984);
Derek Holmes More Roman than Rome (Burns and Oates, London, 1978); J. G. Snead-Cox The Life of
Cardinal Vaughan (Burns and Oates, London, 1910) 2 vols; Robert O’Neil MHM Cardinal Herbert
Vaughan: Archbishop of Westminster, Bishop of Salford, Founder of the Mill Hill Missionaries (Burns and
Oates, Tunbridge`Wells, 1995); Henry Patrick Russell From Hussar to Priest: A Memoir of Charles Rose
Chase (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner 1913).
Quoted in Nemer p122
The ‘Westminster Diocesan Missioners of Our Lady of Compassion’, later the ‘Catholic
Missionary Society’ (CMS), had a different remit. Vaughan wrote to Fr Charles Rose
‘We [the Diocese of Westminster] have some 300 priests zealously ministering to the
needs of the flock. But outside this flock there are millions within our reach. No one can
contemplate, without overpowering grief of soul, the ever-increasing multitudes who
profess no religion, and are altogether without a shepherd. Their spiritual condition is like
that of the inhabitants of China, Japan or Central Africa. It is probably worse, for they are
the descendents of forefathers who were devout Catholics, whereas the latter are not
children of Apostates from the truth, but of those who have never known the mysteries of
Faith, and the truths of redemption.
It is especially to these millions that I send you to preach the Gospel, and to ‘turn back
the hearts of the children to their fathers.’’10
The central focus was the conversion of non-Catholics, rather than non-Christians.
Although there is a secondary note of those who ‘profess no religion’, the Church of
England and in particular the ‘High Church’ party were the main targets.11 Fr Chase
himself had been a leading ritualist (Curate at All Saints, Clifton and Vicar of All Saints
Plymouth) and was seen as having a special ministry to those within his former network
of Anglo-Catholics, several of whom were received into the Catholic Church under his

The context was a nation understood as Christian and the prize was making as many of
that Christian society Catholics. Apologetics was defending Catholicism against
Protestant objections allied to a critique of Protestantism, especially the Church of
England. Dominant themes were therefore the truth and universality of the Catholic
Church in comparison with the falsity and parochialism of competing ecclesial
communities, the authority of teaching that this truth gave the Catholic Church and the
confidence in sacramental grace administered by the Catholic Church.

The other element which increasingly came to the fore in the practice of Parish Missions
and Retreats by the CMS was reaching the ‘lapsed’. The mission was seen as a chance to
visit those whose practice of the faith (most obviously their attendance at mass and
confession) were less than they had been. Often these were called ‘Missions to Catholics
and non-Catholics’ indicating that their purpose was to deepen and renew the faith of
Catholics, to bring back those whose faith was becoming inactive and to reach out to
those who were members, if not necessarily active members, of other Christian Churches.

In the typology of Bevans and Schroeder, this moment of evangelisation practice is

overwhelmingly type A. Christology is high, Ecclesiology is even higher. The Church is
very much hierarchical and obedience to the rules of proper authority is much
emphasised. Salvation is other worldly as part of a future eschatology. The present

Transcribed in Russell p 228f
See for instance the Editorial of The Missionary Gazette (later The Catholic Gazette) in September 1910
describing a mission of Brighton for a delightfully arch example of targeting Anglo-Catholics in the area
where the present writer now lives.
experience of the human is but a feeble shadow of the glories to come, and indeed much
of the ‘old man’ is to be regretted, disciplined and opened up to sacramental
transformation in the confessional. Human cultures are under the suspicion of being
‘worldly’, although one might note that it may have a place for culture considered as a
classicist high canon of art, music and literature which could be considered edifying.

The metaphorical language of both overseas mission and home mission was largely
military. The ‘Crusades’ by the ‘Soldiers of Christ’ were part of a ‘battle’ for souls who
might be lost but could be won in which heathenism and Protestantism were the enemy,
both to be defended against and attacked.12 Such a mindset did not disappear with the
passing of this paradigmatic moment: a contemporary expression of it may be seen in
groups such as Miles Jesu.

It is also to be observed that intellectual argument was a central weapon in this struggle.
One of the features of early CMS missions was the ‘Question Box’. Here non-Catholics
were encouraged to submit written questions which the mission priests would answer.
Many of these questions and answers were printed in the Missionary Gazette/Catholic
Gazette. These asked detailed questions about Canon Law (especially concerning
marriage) and points of doctrine, especially sacramental theology and ecclesiology, and
were answered with even greater detail. The cerebral, juridical and philosophical
common ground that these questions presumed was not one that this author would
recognise from direct experience of CMS missions of a later period!

The ministers of evangelisation in both the examples here were distinct from the norm of
parish ministers. Notwithstanding that both the Mill Hill Missionaries and the Catholic
Missionary Society would be at pains to understand themselves as secular priests rather
than religious, yet each showed something of the characters of congregations set aside for
particular missionary tasks. Much of the evangelising mission of the Church until after
the Second Vatican Council would be the work of such dedicated bodies who had ‘almost
exclusively undertaken the entire missionary work of the Church.’13

Post-colonial and post-conciliar trajectories

Catholic missiology in the pre-conciliar period was largely divided into two schools with
different emphases upon what made for ‘mission’. The Münster school (Josef Schmidlin)
gave greatest weight to the proclamation of the Gospel, the conversion of people and the
salvation of souls – conversio animarum; the Louvain school (Pierre Charles, André

See Donal Dorr Mission in Today's World (Columba, Dublin, 2000) p 186f for reflections on this military
language and the shift away from it.
Suso Brechter ‘Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity’ in Herbert Vorgrimler Commentary on the
Documents of Vatican II (Burns and Oates/ Herder and Herder, London/New York, 1969) Volume Four
Suemois) put its emphasis on the implanting of the Church – plantatio ecclesiae.14 The
former was primarily personal and framed in terms of God’s salvific will, relationship to
Christ and the Kingdom of God; the latter was primarily ecclesial, cultural, territorial and
canonical. However, both schools agreed that ‘mission’ was something which happened
outside Christian countries. Even in the period of the council ‘mission’ was seen as
something that happened in territories outside the historical establishment of the Church.
The use of ‘mission’ to dechristianised areas was at best analogical, but rejected as a
misuse of the term15 (pace Cardinal Vaughan).

Yet the period after the Second World War brought crisis to the presuppositions of
missionary practice across the Christian Churches. Independence in India and the
Communist victory in China as well as the hopes of Africa shattered the expectations of
mission predicated on wise Europeans educating the heathen races. Not least it was
increasingly apparent that the Churches of Africa, Asia and so forth were no longer
places where the Church had not been established but were rather areas with growing
rooted local Churches and increasing numbers of native clergy, catechists and other
Church workers. Kongo, as far back as the sixteenth century had a Christian Monarch and
a capital renamed São Salvador which was also an Episcopal see.16 By the later Twentieth
Century it was more and more difficult to define such territories by the characterisation of
a first proclamation of the Gospel or in terms of Church planting. The inclusion of
bishops from these areas at the Second Vatican Council signalled a major movement in
the Church’s self-understanding.17 This is not just that the Church had shifted from being
a European Church to a world Church but that the significant energy of global
Christianity was and is increasingly in the South.18

In the aftermath of the Second World War there was much discussion about the
influential book La France, pays de mission?19 This presented a picture of France without
religion and examined the social context with a view to what new ministries and activities
were necessary in the changing actual situation. While technical canonical arguments
could dispute whether the term ‘mission’ was acceptable, what was clear was that
secularisation and de-Christianisation (and Nazism and Marxism) were eroding the sense
of a Christian Europe. Some of the demands of proclamation, conversion of souls and

Karl Müller ‘Joseph Schmidlin, 1876-1944: Pioneer of Catholic Missiology’ in Gerald H. Anderson,
Robert T. Coote, Norman A. Horner and James M. Philips eds Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of
Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement (Orbis, Maryknoll, 1994) p402ff, Joseph Masson SJ ‘Pierre
Charles 1883-1954: Advocate of Accultutration’ in Anderson et al p410ff, Bevans and Schroeder p244ff.
Karl Miffier SVD ‘Missiology an introduction' in Sebastian Karotemprel Following Christ in Mission: A
Foundational Course in Missiology (Pautines Publications, Africa, Nairobi, 1995) p29.
Brechter p 119f.
See Adrian Hastings The Church in Africa 1450-1950 (Clarendon, Oxford, 1994) p73-77, and Kevin
Ward ‘Africa’ in Adrian Hastings (ed) A World History of Christianity (Cassell, London, 1999) p200-203
Karl Rahner, “Towards a Fundamental Interpretation of Vatican II,” Theological Studies, 40, 4
(December, 1979) p716-727;
See Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West (William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003); Robert J. Schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology
between the Global and the Local (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. 1997). Philip Jenkins The Next
Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002)
Henri Godin and Yvan Daniel La France, pays de mission? (Les Éditions de l'Abeille, Lyon, 1943)
church planting associated with the ‘missions’ would have to be brought back to Europe.
New initiatives and new ministries would be needed for the work of re-Christianisation.

For the Churches of the Reformation this period of re-evaluation of mission was marked
by seeking new understandings. In particular the emphasis moved from practice to
theology. Karl Barth’s observations that until the sixteenth century ‘mission’ had been a
Trinitarian concept (the sending of the Son, the sending of the Spirit) and not thought of
primarily as a Church activity or structure were influential. The 1952 Willengen
conference of the International Missionary Council adopted a theology of Missio Dei
which in one way or another would mark the major thrust of thinking on mission for the
later Twentieth Century.20 One way was a spiritualisation of mission which enabled
practitioners to divorce themselves from the ecclesial, geographic or social success of
missions. However, the more normative way was to understand a missionary and loving
God reaching out into his world with the Church having the privilege of participating in
this divine movement. For some this became strongly identified with a secularised
vocation in which ‘the world sets the agenda’. From this (actually always a minority)
perspective ‘evangelism’ (in the usage of the Churches of the Reformation) was treated as
something suspicious and outmoded. A large block of Evangelicals, the Lausanne
Movement, took exception to this and other perceived liberal and modernist trends and
withdrew from the World Council of Churches.21

Ad Gentes (AG), the conciliar decree on the missionary activity of the Church, is a
synthesis of responses in which we can trace the influence of these themes. Both the
Münster and Louvain schools are represented, but the disputes between them are not
resolved. Missionary Activity follows from ecclesiology, and indeed Ad Gentes begins
from its first sentence with the insight of Lumen Gentium(LG) that the Church was sent to
be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ (AG 1, LG 48). Drawing upon this start, the
doctrinal frame of the missionary activity coheres remarkably with the themes of Missio
The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since according to the plan of the
Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Cf Dogm.Const
Lumen Gentium, 1). This plan flows from “fountain-like love,” the love of God the
Father. … He generously pours out, and never ceases to pour out his divine goodness, so
that he who is creator of all things might be at last become “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), thus
simultaneously assuring his own glory and our happiness. It pleased God to call men to
share in his life and not merely singly, without any bond between them, but he formed

International Missionary Council Missions under the Cross (Willengen, 1952) (Edinburgh House Press
for the IMC, London, 1953), See Bosch p389ff and Frans J. Verstraelen "World Mission: towards a
Common Missiology" in Mission Studies 1 (1984) p35.
The core opposition grew from 1958 onwards and coalesced in the Lausanne Congress of 1974. Bevands
and Schroeder p 260ff. See Harvey T. Hoekstra The World Council of Churches and the Demise of
Evangelism (Tyndale House, Wheaton, 1979) for an evangelical critique of the WCC representing a
significant voice in the ‘Lausanne Consultation’ and ‘Wheaton Declaration’. See also Jacques Matthey
‘Milestones in Protestant Ecumenical Missionary Thinking from the 1970s to the 1990s’ available online at
http://www/sedos.org/english/matthey.htm for a perspective on this from one currently active within the
WCC seeking reconciliation with evangelicals.
For more detailed examination of how recent Catholic theology of mission coheres with the major
themes of Missio Dei see Knights and Murray Ch 3.
them into a people, in which his children, who had been scattered were gathered together
(cf John 11:52).23
The nature of the Church flows from the nature of God and how the mission of the
Trinitarian communion is expressed in the world by the Church, the people who ‘share in
his life’. The Father who sends the Divine Son and the Holy Spirit, chooses to send the
Church to continue the purposes he revealed and enacted in Christ and which will come
to eschatological completion. The work of the Church in mission is its privilege and duty
to participate in the work of God in Christ. (AG 4, 5). This is the fundamental general and
universal character of the Church, yet this also leads to the fundamental paradox of the
document. It starts with this all-encompassing theological frame, yet then narrows its
focus from the general nature of the church to the special activity of some within the
Church in some fairly tightly defined territories.

The participants in the preparation of the document were substantially drawn from
religious, societies of apostolic life and other specialists responsible for work in ‘mission’
territories.24 Mission remains focussed upon those places beyond the normal pastoral
situation of the church:
The special undertakings in which preachers of the Gospel, sent by the Church, and going
out into the whole world, carry out the work of preaching the Gospel and implanting the
Church among people who do not yet believe in Christ, are generally called “missions.”
Such undertakings are accomplished by missionary activity and are, for the most part,
carried out in defined territories recognized by the Holy See.25
It is to be noticed that the decree itself here allows a certain flexibility, ‘for the most part’,
within its definition. In a footnote the Council clarifies its position:
Obviously included in this concept of missionary activity are in fact those parts of Latin
America where there is no proper hierarchy, nor maturity of Christian life, nor sufficient
preaching of the Gospel. Whether these territories are in fact recognised by the Holy See
as missionary or not is not a matter for the Council.
This does lead one to ask questions about the status of those territories where even with a
‘proper hierarchy’, there may yet be a lack of ‘maturity of Christian life’ and insufficient
‘preaching of the Gospel’, as well as those areas which are still thought of as ‘mission
territories’ but who seem to have had for many years bishops, mature Christians and
substantial preaching of the Gospel.

Paul VI and Evangelii Nuntiandi

Clearly Ad Gentes was not the last word on the Church’s evangelising mission. In the
decade after the Council there was much discussion about evangelisation and the bishops
met in Synod in 1974 with the purpose of clarifying what and where evangelisation was.
Several diverse strands were present within that Synod but not unanimity. Unable by

AG 2, references from the original included in parentheses.
Brechter p 87
AG 6
themselves to find a common statement the Synodal Bishops passed over their
discussions to Pope Paul VI:
The copious riches we have found in such reciprocal communication could not be easily
unified without jeopardizing its integrity. Having certainly become the richer through this
experience, we have preferred to offer the integral fruits of our exchange to the Holy
Father with great confidence and simplicity, and to await new impetus from him. 26

In answer to this request the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi was prepared.27
Although in some ways it as a document signalled a broadening of understanding of
mission, it should be noted that the real achievement of the document was to phrase
understandings which diverse parties could accept. By using ‘evangelisation’ as its
primary term, it evaded the debate about ‘mission’ being solely in non-christianised
territories and was able to apply the learnings from such areas of cultural dialogue,
Gospel proclamation and Church planting to dechristianised territories. In line with
Ecclesiam Suam it does have about it a commitment to dialogue. In line with Gaudium et
Spes it sees the realm of culture as an essential location for such dialogue. It does give
significance to the traditional emphases on proclamation, preaching and sacramental
initiation whilst opening up that there is more to evangelisation than just these. In line
with ‘Justice in the world’ and Progressio Populorum it does see social transformation,
development and the active promotion of Justice and Peace as part of evangelisation. In
recognition of the positive aspects of Liberation Theology, communautés de base are
honoured, with qualifications, for their contribution to evangelisation (EN 58).

In the terms of Bevans and Schroeder this moment of the Church’s evangelising mission
would appear to move substantially towards type B, particularly as promoted by Societies
of Apostolic life after the Council. Perhaps a key interpretive location of this is its stress
on the Kingdom of God (EN 8ff, 34).To be sure there are continuing elements of type A
and a regular acknowledgement of type C. However, the tenor is one of making sense of
experience, journeying in dialogue with the thought forms and meaning systems of the
day and expressing faith in contemporary cultural vehicles. The humanity of Christ is
emphasised together with a positive anthropology. The Church is perceived of primarily
as a Sacrament. Culture is perceived in primarily empirical terms.

One measure of this Type B approach may be discerned in the practice of the ‘spirituality
of mission’ in the wake of the Council and Evangelii Nuntiandi. Many extended the
thrusts incipient in the apostolic exhortation to foster a world-centred and person-centred

Declaration of the Synod Fathers 3 (26th October 1974) published in L’Osservatore Romano Weekly
Edition in English (7th November 1974) p3. See D. S. Amalorpavadass Evangelisation in the Modern World
(National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, Bangalore). Some clearly saw this as a failure, a
charge refuted in the address of Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Synod: ‘[The Synod] is also to be
called positive, because … as it contemplates the immensity of the task, has frankly recognised the
difficulty of expressing in an immediate document all the aspects and obligations of Evangelization. We
regret that certain quarters have wished to interpret this episode as a sign that the Synod has not succeeded’
L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English (November 7th 1974) p8.
Although the 1972 Synod produced its own report, ‘Justice in the World’ it has become the pattern of
each Synod of Bishops since 1974 for the Pope to collate and promulgate their findings in an Apostolic
spirituality. Stories and songs and images and experiences of the ‘grass roots’ were given
a priority over hierarchically directed doctrines. The ‘other’ as a person/people already
graced by God was to be honoured and the Church was perhaps less the normal as the
abnormal means of salvation.28

Another important location of this person-centred and context-centred approach may be

seen in the revival of the Catechumenate. In the first part of the Twentieth century
extended pre-baptismal catechesis was developed in Africa and France.29 The Second
Vatican Council fostered a more widespread promotion of this (Sacrosanctum Concillium
64-66, Christus Dominus 14 and AG 14) and led to the publication of the Rite of
Christian Initiation of Adults in 1972 (English Translation 1974).30 This has become (at
its best) a holistic approach to formation in which initiation is typically developmental,
personal, peer-to-peer, communal, ecclesial, scriptural, liturgical and experiential. The
General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) within its locating of catechesis within
evangelisation clearly further underscores the normative nature of this process. Through
it faith is contextualised and its content appropriated.31

The language in post-conciliar discourse moves from the military to the relational.32
Several aspects of this should be noted– experience, feeling, imagination, creativity,
belonging with others are all locations of evangelisation. The whole Gospel touches the
whole person in all his or her dimensions (EN 18) however these dimensions be typed:
memory, love and will; mind, heart and will; body and soul; personal and corporate;
objective, subjective and inter-subjective; interior and exterior; familial, ecclesial and
social; home, work, Church and social network; human, social, intellectual and

The post-Conciliar Church was both engaged in and addressing Modernity. However, it
should be noticed that this very Modernity is itself now questioned. The present context
of the Church is not the 1950s or 1960s (the era Callum Browne identified as the
highwater mark of discursive Christianity in the UK34) but a time which is increasingly

See Anthony J. Gittins Reading the Clouds: Mission Spirituality for New Times (Ligouri Publications,
Ligouri Missouri, 1999) for an example of such a reading. His discussion of the Church as normal or
abnormal means of salvation is on p39. See too his Bread for the journey: the mission of transformation
and the transformation of mission (Orbis, Maryknoll, 1993) and Vincent Donovan Christianity
Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Maasai (SCM, London, 1978).
See Thomas Ohm Das Katechumenat in den katolischen Missionem (Aschendorff, Münster, 1959) and
Aidan Kavanagh The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (Puebla, New York, 1979).
Cf EN 43
See Robert J. Schreiter "Changes in Roman Catholic Attitudes toward Proselytism and Mission" in James
A. Scherer and Stephen B Bevans New Directions in Mission and Evangelization 2: Theological
Foundations (Orbis, Maryknoll NY, 1994) p 117
Such typologies of the dimensions of humanity could be expanded with due reference to many
theologians, philosophers and schools. This list, prepared for this paper, chooses to pick up traditions which
run from St Augustine of Hippo De Trinitate to Christifideles Laici 60.
Callum G. Browne The Death of Christian Britain (Routledge, London, 2001) p5ff and p170ff.
post-Modern, maybe post-Christian and certainly post-Christendom.35 Also we might
note that although mission became fundamental, it also became more vague.36

The New Evangelisation

Pope John Paul II did not draw back from the breadth of Evangelii Nuntiandi but built
upon it. This is scarcely surprising as he himself was a major voice in the 1974 Synod.37
Indeed many of the concerns which gather under the umbrella of ‘the New
Evangelisation’ were already noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi – not least the necessity of
explicit proclamation (EN 22), the call for a renewed proclamation in response to the
dechristianisation of Europe (EN 52, 55), the need for the whole church to be ministers of
evangelisation (EN 59) and the call to use the potential of the mass media in
evangelisation (EN 45). Yet the promulgation of Redemptoris Missio (RM) not only
affirmed these earlier trends but gave a firm direction as to the priority of committing all
the energies of all the Church to the tasks of evangelisation and specific tasks of the
proclamation of Christ and Church extension.

There is a change of tone which has become evident during the pontificate of John Paul
II. He has sought to give a greater focus and urgency to what may be thought more
traditional components of mission - especially proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to
those who do not know it, so that they may come to be members of Christ’s Church. He
has made clear that inter-religious dialogue has NOT replaced mission and that the
Kingdom of God is NOT to be identified with solely secular humanism. (RM 4, 17-18)
As such this may be considered a restoration of type A theology. However, the easy
categorisation of John Paul II in such terms ignores both his philosophical background,
his commitment to dialogue (ecumenical, inter-faith and with men and women of
goodwill, including artists and scientists) and his passion for social justice. There are
elements to the corpus of his teaching, including his call for a New Evangelisation, which
have aspects both of type B and of type C. However, the Church as hierarchy is re-
affirmed. A high Christology is preferred (cf. Dominus Iesus) and a Christ-centred
approach to mission is fundamental. The ‘evangelisation of culture’ tends to move away
from the positive learning from culture (inculturation) towards a critique of contemporary
trends (Church as counter-culture).

Again the measure of ‘Spirituality of Evangelisation’ may prove revealing. Redemptoris

Missio ends with a section on Spirituality which does appear to restate Type A basics, or
at least to move in that direction. ‘Docility’ to the Spirit (RM 87), union with Christ (RM
88) a ‘zeal for souls’ and ‘loving the church’ (RM 89) are the marks of ‘missionary
See Robert Schreiter CPPS ‘Major Currents of Our Time: What They Mean for Preaching the Gospel’
Origins 31 (11)
Bevans and Schroeder p250.
As Cardinal Karol Wojtyla he reported on the theological part of the theme L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English (October 31st 1974) p5ff and in the discussion about what sort of document the
Synod could or could not produce he noted that the diversity of experiences and orientations meant that any
document of the Synod could only be generic. L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English
(November 28th 1974) p11.
spirituality. These are expressed best in the lives of the Saints (RM 90). The Beatitudes
are presented as the model of missionary activity. (RM 91). To be sure there is within
these sections also acknowledgement of more Type B and type C concerns such as
‘openess to an interest in all peoples and individuals, especially the poorest of his
breathren’ (RM 89). When Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the spirituality of the New
Evangelisation what seems emphasised are fidelity and the discipline of those who
communicate the Gospel and the content of the Gospel communicated and little weight
given to those by whom this communication is to be received.38 It is worth drawing
attention to what may be complementary opposite sides of a single coin:
• ‘Spirituality of Evangelisation’ which is orientated to the world and people
outside the Church, openness to their experiences and cultures and discerning
where the Spirit is moving and where grace is active;
• ‘Spirituality for Evangelisation’ concerned with resourcing and equiping
evangelisers from within - marked by a primary openness and fidelity to the
transcendent God, rootedness in Scripture and traditions and liturgy.

In Haiti, recalling the 500th anniversary of the evangelisation of the Americas, John Paul
II called on his brother bishops to ‘Look to the future with commitment to a New
Evangelization, one that is new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of
expression.’ For many this has become the slogan of the ‘new evangelisation’ project.
The novelty is not in the content of the Gospel but in the enthusiasm of Catholics in
proclaiming it and the techniques and channels through which they achieve this. It is no
accident that CASE chose as its strap line ‘enthusing, equipping, engaging’. This
intentionally addressed the need to foster enthusiasm within the church for
evangelisation, to provide tools with which to carry out this evangelisation and to engage
with the locations and modalities through which this enthusiasm and these tools would
connect with people and the world.

‘New ardour’ is a call to a Church which appears to have lost its confidence and
enthusiasm and which was in danger of dissipating its activities down too many avenues.
The sense of ennui which has often been noted in wider modern and post-Modern society
is also an issue for the Church. Part of the call of Redemptoris Missio is to re-centre the
energies of the Church onto a kerygmatic core of Evangelisation. There is a sense that the
Pope saw other, undoubtedly laudable activities, as dispersing the resources required for
evangelising mission along subsidiary paths.

‘New methods’ would seem to abound with innovative programmes and initiatives being
launched each year. We might note the significance of the promulgation of the Rite of
Christian Initiation of Adults and the renewal of the Catechumentate, the Alpha and
CaFE courses, various programmes of diocesan and parish renewal including the RENEW
International programme, the CMS parish mission process, the Cell Church model,
KeKaKo, The Sion Community presentation of an oikos model of evangelisation, the

Jubilee address to Catechists available online at http://www.ewtn.com/new_evangelization/Ratzinger.htm
and elsewhere.
Youth 2000 retreats, initiatives to reach inactive Catholics including the Landings
programme and a host of others.39

‘New means of expression’ picks up the theme of the ‘means of social communication’
which has been part of the backdrop of discussions since the Second Vatican Council and
the decree Inter Mirifica. Growth in global and globalised communications technologies
have created a ‘new Areopagus’ in which the unknown God must be proclaimed and
which the Gospel must penetrate and shape.40 Since Redemptoris Missio communication
technology has grown exponentially, not least through the influence of major advances in
mobile telephony and the Internet. This last has a particular edge in being both an
opportunity for evangelisation and a place of ethical ambiguity.
The Internet is certainly a new “forum” understood in the ancient Roman sense of that
public space where politics and business were transacted, where religious duties were
fulfilled where much of the social life of the city took place, and where the best and the
worst of human nature was on display. It was a crowded and bustling urban space, which
both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. This is no less true
of cyberspace, which is as it were a new frontier opening up at the beginning of this new
millennium. Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of
danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great
periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great
adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.41
The intentional response of CASE since its launch has been to use the Internet both to
resource Catholic evangelisers (www,caseresources.org.uk) and to use it as a space for
exploration for enquirers (www.life4seekers.co.uk).

New ardour is a quality which is often associated with the new movements and
communities who frequently demonstrate a zeal and liveliness often not seen in parish
life. John Paul II has often drawn attention to them and given them substantial backing
(even if also calling them to maturity and to unity):
‘… the newer ecclesial movements … continue to give the Church a vitality that is God’s
gift and a true “springtime of the Spirit.”’42
These new movements have been most eager to respond to the call of the New
Evangelisation. They have not only embodied enthusiasm, but they have been willing to
try new methods and to enter into new fields and new expressions of evangelisation. That
being noted, one may also note that they seem eager to restore old methods and old
expressions: apologetics, tracts, street events and door knocking. This is not simply pre-
Conciliar conservative restorationism but may well prove to be a re-appropriation of

CASE is in the process of collating an inventory and directory of such initiatives who have had some
profile in England and Wales.
RM 37c
Pope John Paul II Message for 36th World Communications Day May 12th 2003 available online at
ii_mes_20020122_world-communications-day_en.html See also various papers of the Pontifical Council
for Social Communications including ‘The Church and Internet’ February 2002.
Novo Millenio Ineunte 46
traditions in a new context. Indeed some of the traditions being appropriated may well
have first appeared among evangelical Christians.

Much of the meaning of New Evangelisation’ coalesces around the double edge of
‘renewed proclamation’. There is a new emphasis on the activity of proclaiming Christ.
‘Church in Europe, the “new evangelisation is the task set before you! Rediscover the
enthusiasm for proclamation.’43 And this is a proclamation of Christ in a new context.
That context includes those who have had some Christian contact or background but are
not fully evangelised. That context includes the loss of Christian memory (EiE 7f). That
context includes much which is partially Christian and much that is simply not at all

In this context John Paul II urges that all the energies of all the Church be focussed on the
New Evangelisation. (RM 3). There is a real question of where energies are placed. For
many Catholics in England and Wales energy investment has been in pastoral care of
existing Catholics; however, the call of New Evangelisation is for energy to be focused
on those outside the Church. More, the whole church is called to contribute to the
evangelising mission of the Church. This is not a specialist ministry. It is not that
Catholics can evangelise by buying in services from those who are dedicated to this
ministry. Rather it is the primary ministry of every Christian. It is the primary purpose of
every ordained minister: but it is also something with which every baptised Christian is to
be engaged. Every Christian man and woman, in every workplace, every home, every
social network, everywhere, has a vocation to contribute to the work of evangelisation.

But also the New Evangelisation opens up new locations to the Gospel. There are new
places which need to hear the Gospel. The world is changing and the Church must meet it
in its changes: new ways of seeing the situation in specific territories, new social realities,
new ideas, new technologies, new media and new cultural forces.44

The General Directory for Catechesis identifies three contexts:

The evangelization of the world finds itself placed in a very diversified and changing
religious panorama, in which it is possible to distinguish three basic situations requiring
particular and precise responses.
a) The situation of those "peoples, groups and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and
his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be
able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups".
This situation requires a "mission ad gentes", where missionary activity is concentrated
preferably toward young people and adults. Its particular characteristic consists in the fact
that it is directed to non-Christians and invites them to conversion. In this context
catechesis is usually developed within the baptismal catechumenate.
b) There are, moreover, situations in which, in a definite socio-cultural context, "there are
Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures. They are fervent in
their faith and in Christian living. They bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings
and have a sense of commitment to the Universal mission". These communities demand

Ecclesia in Europa (EiE) 45
RM 37
an intense "pastoral action of the Church" since they are made up of people and families
of profound Christian outlook. In such contexts it is vital that catechesis for children,
adolescents and young people develop various processes of well articulated Christian
initiation which permit these to arrive at adulthood with mature faith which makes
evangelizers of those who have been evangelized. Also in these situations adults are also
in need of different types of Christian formation.
c) In many countries of established Christian tradition and sometimes in younger
Churches there exists "an intermediate situation", where "entire groups of the baptized
have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of
the Church and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel". Such situations
require "a new evangelization". The peculiar nature of this situation is found in the fact
that missionary activity is directed towards the baptized of all ages, who live in a
religious context in which Christian points of reference are perceived purely exteriorly.
Here primary proclamation and basic catechesis are priorities. 45

It will be clear that these three situations are not hermetically sealed compartments but
that a certain overlap exists between them. While much of the task of the New
Evangelisation in England and Wales will best fit into the last category (situation c) – and
this is the frequently encountered core exemplar of ‘new evangelisation’ - there is no
doubt that it will also require sustained pastoral renewal (situation b), as well as
engagement with the non-baptised and non-Christian (situation a). There is part of our
peculiar situation which concerns the evangelisation of those who have been
sacramentally initiated. Of particular concern must be that out of the 72% of the 2001
census who identified themselves as Christian, it would appear that only 7.5% have
recognisable Christian practice. However, many in these nations have little Christian
belief or Christian belonging.

This does set something of an agenda:

i. Making Evangelisers of the Evangelised or what could be identified as the

‘life of the household’;
ii. The primary proclamation to and catechesis of those who have some, possibly
even sacramental, connection to the Church – those who are close to, on or
crossing the threshold;
iii. The invitation to conversion of those totally outside the Church, those who
need to be invited through the gateway, and of course the corollary of making
gates open to those outside;
iv. Presence, ‘pre-evangelisation’ and engagement in the world outside the
Church. Being on the street and in the market place and visibly ‘making a

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has put considerable energy into the first two
of these. Much of what is described as evangelisation concerns ecclesial renewal, adult
formation which increases the maturity and commitment of those already in or connected

GDC 85
See Knights and Murray Evangelisation in England and Wales 161ff.
to the Church and assisting those who have an interest in or are on the fringe of believing
and belonging move from relatively inactive faith to a more active faith. However, there
would appear fewer initiatives and less success in the third and fourth of the above
categories. Yet the task is a coherent and balanced synthesis of actions which cover all
these locations.

David Bosch described his emerging ecumenical paradigm of mission as ‘mission in

many modes’.47 This is a necessary orientation for the Churches evangelising mission in
the fragmented and multi-factoral contexts of contemporary Britain, in which Church and
culture exists in many, often overlapping modalities. A commitment to synthesis is also
the conclusion of Constants in Context, although the authors primarily see this in a fusion
of their types B and C. Bevans and Schroeder delineate recent Catholic missiological
documents as approximately Ad Gentes, a Trinitarian-centred type B, Evangelii
Nuntiandi, a kingdom-centred type C and Redemptoris Missio, a Christ-centred type A.
While this may have some value as a rough sketch, of more value is their insistence upon
a synthesis of all three of these theological types (and all six constants).
While we believe that all three approaches are valid, we also believe that only a synthesis
of all three will provide the firmest foundation for the model of mission we are proposing
as the most adequate model for these first years of the twenty-first century: mission as
prophetic dialogue.48
This acknowledges the need both for confident prophetic witness and to respectful
conversation and sharing of life. Being open to the other, yet having a commitment to a
truth which must be shared and to the transformation of history ought to be marks of a
Church which exists not for itself but in communion with the triune God, as witnesses to
Christ and a sacrament of his Kingdom.

Bosch p 511ff.
Bevans and Schroeder p284