Pope Paul VI’s 1974 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, on evangelization in the modern world, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II. He wrote it at the request of the 1974 Synod of Bishops. The 1974 Synod considered the question of evangelisation in the modern world but failed to produce an agreed document. At this time there were different interpretations of the theology of liberation and the liberation theology movement was controversial.
Evangelii Nuntiandi confirms that evangelisation has a social dimension:
“… evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social. This is why evangelization involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible, about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development – a message especially energetic today about liberation.”
In this Apostolic Exhortation Paul VI discusses:
– an authentic Christian understanding of liberation
– the relationship of political liberation and salvation
– the relationship between development and evangelisation
– respect for religious liberty and evangelisation
– interfaith dialogue.
Paul VI demonstrates a praxis approach to theology. He suggests an ‘interplay’ or two-way interaction or dialogue between the Gospel and concrete experience. Evangelisation is not just the application of the Gospel to each particular experience of life. We can discover and understand more deeply the story of God amongst us by examining life itself. God’s on-going action in history continues to transform personal and social relations. Faith and life are not separate and must be integrated.
Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching
To this day Evangelii Nuntiandi remains a landmark document in understanding the different dimensions of the mission of the Church. It affirms that the witness of life is the first means of evangelization. Working for social justice is not just a preparation for evangelisation, but an essential part of it. Pope Francis refers to it extensively in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – on the joy of the Gospel.