From Ephphatha to Deaf Pastors: Deaf Pastoral Ministry (Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs) 9789042938007, 9789042938014, 9042938005

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Table of contents :
CHAPTER 1 Outsiders Who Proclaimed the Message
CHAPTER 2 Deafness Made Visible
CHAPTER 3 An Enabling Approach to Deafness
CHAPTER 4 A Liberating Approach of Human Contingency
CHAPTER 5 Worlds of Difference: An Ethical Analysis of Choices in the Field of Deafness
CHAPTER 6 Deaf People’s Personal Functioning
CHAPTER 7 Deaf People and Their Language
CHAPTER 8 Deaf People, Their Selves and Their God
CHAPTER 9 Deaf People and God
CHAPTER 10 The Presence of God in the Deaf Community
CHAPTER 11 The Bible Translated into Sign Language
CHAPTER 12 Pastoral Ministry: The Church at Work
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Marcel Broesterhuizen



LouvainTheologicalandPastoralMonographs aims to provide those involved in theological research and pastoral ministry throughout the world with studies inspired by Louvain’s long tradition of theological excellence within the Roman Catholic tradition. The volumes selected for publication in the series are subjected to peer review by the editorial board and international scholars, and are expected to express some of today’s finest reflection on current theology and pastoral practice. Members of the Editorial Board The Executive Committee: Leo Kenis, KU Leuven, editor Reimund Bieringer, KU Leuven Lieven Boeve, KU Leuven Johan De Tavernier, KU Leuven Mathijs Lamberigts, KU Leuven Axel Liégeois, KU Leuven International Advisory Board: Raymond F. Collins, The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, chair José M. de Mesa, East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila, Philippines Gabriel Flynn, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland Mary Grey, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, England James J. Kelly, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland Ronald Rolheiser, Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX Donald P. Senior, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL James J. Walter, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA




Marcel Broesterhuizen



A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

© 2019, Peeters, Bondgenotenlaan 153, 3000 Leuven, Belgium ISBN 978-90-429-3800-7 (Peeters Leuven) eISBN 978-90-429-3801-4 (Peeters Leuven) D/2019/0602/3 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher


PREFACE ...................................................................................


CHAPTER 1 Outsiders Who Proclaimed the Message................................


CHAPTER 2 Deafness Made Visible ...........................................................


CHAPTER 3 An Enabling Approach to Deafness .......................................


CHAPTER 4 A Liberating Approach of Human Contingency ....................


CHAPTER 5 Worlds of Difference: An Ethical Analysis of Choices in the Field of Deafness .................................................................... 115 CHAPTER 6 Deaf People’s Personal Functioning ...................................... 135 CHAPTER 7 Deaf People and Their Language ........................................... 159 CHAPTER 8 Deaf People, Their Selves and Their God ............................. 199 CHAPTER 9 Deaf People and God.............................................................. 249 CHAPTER 10 The Presence of God in the Deaf Community....................... 281



CHAPTER 11 The Bible Translated into Sign Language ............................. 311 CHAPTER 12 Pastoral Ministry: The Church at Work ................................ 345


In 2001, the International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons reached an agreement with KU Leuven that a Teaching Chair for Pastoral Ministry with Deaf and hard-of-hearing would be established in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Sciences. I had the honor to become the holder of this Chair, and in the academic year 2001-2002, I started my courses. This book is the fruit of my courses and my research. This book is about pastoral ministry with the deaf. I have heard many responses to this work, including from those who wonder if pastoral ministry with the deaf is so special that a book should be dedicated to it. Just give a deaf person a good hearing aid, provide a good Sign Language interpreter, so that they can understand all — is that not a sufficient solution? Our churches are provided with closed loop systems and overhead projectors, and most pastors try to speak clearly and slowly, so why should we make problems? Moreover, do medical and audiological science not provide sophisticated technology in the field of cochlear implantation and brain stem implantation, so within fifteen years the problem of deafness will be resolved?1 Just give them cochlear implants instead of pastoral ministers. This book, however, wants to clarify that pastoral ministry with the deaf is a core task of the Church: a task that is far more complicated than looking for good technical equipment or the use of Sign Language. In the first eighteen centuries of her existence, the Church succeeded in accomplishing this task only in individual 1

Maartje De Meulder, “Interview: Prof. Dr. Paul Govaerts,” Dovennieuws: TijdschriftvanFevlado82, no. 1 (2007): 2-5.



cases, and since then it has been a matter of trial and error. The reason for trial is the good will toward and concern for deaf people by priests, religious and lay people. Some reasons for error being that there was a lack of knowledge about deaf people, a lack of scientific theological reflection about deafness and its consequences, and a lack of ability to take deaf people’s perspective. Pastoral ministry took place from hearing peoples’ perspective, with deafness as a medical-audiological disorder to be treated and to be compensated for, and not from deaf people’s own perspective, in which deafness is a normal state of being, deafness as a culture. This book wants to offer a view on deaf pastoral ministry oriented towards enculturation of the Christian message into the own cultures of Deaf Communities. Marcel Broesterhuizen December 2017


Introduction Mark 7 tells us about Jesus’ meeting with the deaf man. Generally, this story is interpreted as a healing story, but we shall reject that interpretation as improper. The story is about the true nature of Jesus’ mission: to bring salvation to those who had always been considered as irrelevant outsiders in the religious community.

Jesus’ Mission In Mark 6:35-44, Jesus feeds five thousand men (one thousand times the number of the books of the Torah) of the people of Israel in the wilderness. All ate and were satisfied, and twelve baskets full of fragments were collected, as many as the tribes of Israel. In Mark 8:1-10, Jesus feeds four thousand people (one thousand times the number of the extent, i.e. the number of corners of the earth) in Gentile territory, and now seven baskets full of fragments were collected — seven, a reference to the seventy Gentile nations. Between these two feedings, which demarcate the shift in Jesus’ mission, four important events must be observed: Jesus’ theophany while walking on the water, his dispute with the Pharisees and scribes about the tradition of the elders, his meeting with the SyroPhoenician woman, and his entering into contact with a deaf man. This last event is the final focus of this article; we situate it, however, within the context of the foregoing events and the two feedings.



In our analysis of the text, we look for allusions to texts in the Hebrew Bible in two ways: analysis of content and meanings and by comparison of expressions used with texts in the Septuagint (LXX). Concepts found in this section of the Gospel of Mark will be related to what is referred to in the first verses of Mark 7 as the Tradition of the Elders. The Tradition of the Elders is a process that started in the second century BCE, according to some authors even earlier, in the time of the Prophet Ezra,1 and that was concluded with the collection of the Mishnah in the second half of the second century CE by Rabbi Yehuda the Prince.2 This tradition holds that Moses received on Sinai from God not only a Torah that he wrote down, but also an Oral Torah, that was transmitted through memorization and repetition from generation to generation, until it was written down into the Mishnah. This Oral Torah was held by the Pharisees and rabbinical Judaism to deserve equal authority as the Written Torah; both were considered equal in holiness. The Torah was believed to be pre-existent before the creation of the world. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaism, whose doctrine resulted in the Mishnah and Talmud, became the predominant form of Judaism. We consider it legitimate to confront texts in the New Testament with the Mishnah,3 since the New Testament was written in a period in which the Mishnahic process had been in development already for at least one century.

1 Juda L. Palache, Inleiding in de Talmoed (Amstelveen: Amphora Books, 1980), 37. 2 Herbert Danby, “Introduction,” in TheMishnah,translatedfromtheHebrew withintroductionandbriefexplanatorynotes, ed. Herbert Danby (Oxford: Clarendon, 1933), xiii-xiv. 3 Quotes of the Mishnah and the Talmud Bavli are from the Hebrew-English EditionoftheBabylonianTalmud, ed. I. Epstein (London: Soncino Press, 1989).



Table of the Lord or Table of the Impious? After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walks on the water. The highlight of this scene of the theophany is Mark 6:50, where Jesus says to the disciples in the storm, “I am” (egōeimí). The Greek verb form eimí is found thrice in the Gospel of Mark, all three times in the expression egōeimí. In 6:50, this expression must be an allusion to the revelation formula in the Hebrew Bible, where God reveals who he is (cf. Exod 3:14; Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4 and Isa 43:10, where the LXX uses the expression egōeimí). The expression, prominent in the Gospel of John, is also used in Mark 14:62, where the high priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah and where Jesus answers with the formula egōeimí, to which he adds, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” This was the immediate cause of Jesus’ condemnation. Here, in this part of the story, Jesus indicates that the feeding of the five thousand was not just about bread and fish, but it was God himself who fed the crowd at his table. The disciples, however, did not understand, because their hearts were hardened. Nor did the crowd, which was mainly interested in spectacular healings. Jesus’ behavior and self-disclosure would bring him, unavoidably, into conflict with the ‘temple coalition’, a conflict that would culminate in Mark 14:62.4 Pharisees and Scribes come from Jerusalem, the center of religious power, in order to cast doubt on the religious commitment of his disciples and of Jesus himself, and to show that these dubious disciples exist on a lower level on the scale of purity and holiness than do the Pharisees and the Scribes. If Jesus and his disciples had been true devotees to the Torah, then they should have washed their hands before eating the bread — an obligation


Gregory Salyer, “Rhetoric, Purity, and Play: Aspects of Mark 7:1-23,” Semeia64 (1994): 139-169, at 160-162.



that did not apply to ordinary people with a lack of piety. In other words, his act of feeding the five thousand had been impious, and Jesus and his disciples were religious outsiders.5 Jesus shows, however, that the guardians of the Torah are breakers of the Torah because they use it in unlawful ways, and he asserts that the real, pre-existent Torah is the purity of the heart and interior life. This episode is about true understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus finds that his disciples do not share this understanding and he reprimands them for their lack of insight. As so often in the Gospel of Mark, the disciples and the crowds who flock together around this spectacular wonder healer are fallible, fickle followers with a lack of insight that will abandon him at the end.6 Therefore, Jesus provokes them with two examples of good followers. The first example is a woman, like in other episodes in Mark. In this case, however, it is a shocking example: a Gentile woman from Tyre. Tyre and Sidon Admitted to the Table of the Lord Tyre was a mighty, proud and wealthy city: “Tyre, you said, ‘I am the perfection of beauty’” (Ezek 27:3). But because of its contempt of the Lord, its destruction is predicted by Ezekiel (Ezek 27:35-36). Tyre and Sidon here stand in for Canaan, synonymous with the practice of polytheism, temple prostitution, cruelty, and the apostasy of Israel (cf. Judg 10:6). Tyre and Sidon were the mighty antipoles of Galilee7 and the surrounding rural areas. These rich and powerful urban centers 5

Salinger, “Rhetoric, Purity, and Play,” 161. Elizabeth S. Malbon, “Fallible Followers: Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark,” Semeia28 (1983): 29-48, at 32. 7 James W. Perkinson, “A Canaanitic Word in the Logos of Christ; or The Difference the Syro-Phoenician Woman Makes to Jesus,” Semeia 75 (1996): 61-85, at 67. 6



bought up all the food from the Galilean farmers, leaving no supplies for the poor farmers themselves.8 There had been a story of animosity and contempt towards the Jewish population of this area. Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia had been involved in the looting and destruction of Judah. Joel describes in vivid terms, how Tyre, Sidon and Philistia are called to account when the last judgment takes place in the valley of Josaphat (Joel 4). They looted the temple of the Lord and sold the inhabitants of Jerusalem as slaves. God will repay this act against his people: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: See! I am coming at you, Tyre” (Ezek 26:3-4). In 1 Maccabees, we read that Judas and his brothers receive a letter that tells them the Gentiles had carried away Jewish wives, children, and their goods, slaying about a thousand men. When they are reading this letter, “suddenly other messengers, in torn clothes, arrived from Galilee to deliver a similar message: that the inhabitants of Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon, and the whole of Gentile Galilee had joined forces to destroy them” (1 Macc 5:15). And shortly before the Gospel of Mark was written, many Jews had been caught and killed in that region during the Roman-Judean war. In their rich, abominable and cruel paganism, Tyre and Sidon were similar to Sodom and Gomorra, destroyed many centuries previously.9 And now the judgment of Tyre takes place, but in a totally different way than we ever might have expected. A rich Greek woman that belongs to the upper class of that city kneels as a dog at the feet of an uncouth Galilean and asks a favor for her daughter. Derrett connects this story to 1 Kings 17, the widow of Sarefat, a story about God’s wish concerning mutuality between Israel and

8 Gerd Theissen, “Lokal- und Sozialkolorit in der Geschichte von der syrophönischen Frau (Mk 7:24-30),” ZeitschriftfürdieneutestamentlicheWissenschaft unddieKundederälterenKirche75 (1984): 202-225, at 206. 9 Ibid., 68.



the Gentiles and about the force of love.10 In the context of 1 Kings, Elijah should be fed first before something can be left for the son of the widow. Where the story speaks about ‘doggies’ (kunária), this is not for weakening a more offensive ‘dogs’, but it refers to the ‘young ones’ in Psalm 17:14.11 The LXX gives, “they drop the remainders for their puppies.” The story refers also to the chief Adonibezek (Judg 1:5-7), abominable example of Canaanite cruelty. After having cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy other chiefs, he had forced them to pick up as dogs the scraps under his table. Now, his own thumbs and big toes had been cut off, and he understood that he had to eat as a dog under the table of God.12 The woman acknowledges that — in view of Tyre’s exploitation and Canaan’s cruelties towards the Jewish population — she has no right to ask that Jesus takes away what is meant for Israel, but quoting the Scriptures, she declares that God wants to feed Jews and Gentiles out of love.13 The word she speaks is recognized by Jesus as the word of God.14 She proclaimed the Word of God, and, therefore, her daughter is set free from her demon in order to be admitted to the table of the Lord.15 The woman’s insight had been foresight; she had discerned in advance the Lord of the Gentile Churches,16 she was the first Gentile to proclaim God’s Word.


J. D. M. Derrett, “Law in the New Testament: The Syro-Phoenician Woman and the Centurion of Capernaum,” NovumTestamentum15 (1973): 161-186. 11 Ibid., 169. 12 Ibid., 182. 13 Ibid.,171. 14 Perkinson, “A Canaanitic Word in the Logos of Christ,” 80. 15 Derrett, “Law in the New Testament,” 172. 16 T. A. Burkill, “Historical Development of the Story of the Syrophoenician Woman, Mark 7:24-31,” NovumTestamentum9 (1967): 161-177, at 162.



After this event, Jesus goes from Tyre to the Decapolis by Sidon, a circuitous route that is practically impossible. It is possible that the author did not have the intention to describe geographical details, but intended this description to foreshadow the Church’s mission to the Gentiles.17 It had been predicted that Sidon too would undergo God’s judgment: Thus says the Lord GOD: See! I am coming at you, Sidon; I will be glorified in your midst. Then they shall know that I am the LORD, when I inflict punishments upon it and use it to manifest my holiness (Ezek 28:22).

God’s judgment over Tyre and Sidon is not their destruction, but the realization of Psalm 87, in which Zion is sung as the mother of all peoples, as the spiritual place of birth of all those who acknowledge the Lord: “See, Philistia and Tyre, together with Kush, these are born there ... The Lord will note them in the register of the peoples: ‘This one was born there’” (Psalm 87:3-7). They too are admitted to the table of the Lord. The feeding of the four thousand follows after this, but it is nestled between two stories about Jesus meeting two persons with sensory impairment, a deaf person and a blind person. Both are brought to him by the crowd, both are taken away from the crowd, in both cases spittle is used, and in both cases Jesus commands the person not to tell anyone else what has happened. Both persons are brought to full senses. In the Mishnah and the Talmud Bavli the opposite of deaf, mute, or blind, is piqqēaḥ. In Biblical and Rabbinical Hebrew, piqqēaḥ means “of able senses, sharp-witted, insightful.” It is related to the verb pāqaḥ (to open

17 Daniel J. Harrington, “The Gospel according to Mark,” in TheNewJerome Bible Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 569-629, at 613.



eyes or ears). The passive form of this verb is used in Isa 35:5, that promises that the eyes of the blind will be opened. In the Mishnah and the Talmud Bavli, a person who is not piqqēaḥ lacks da‛aṯ, moral and cognitive insight. To have da‛aṯ means “to have insight into the consequences of one’s actions.” It means the ability to effect an agreement with mutual consent. It indicates the internalization of the teachings of Tanakh and the ability to behave according to the teachings of the sages. Da‛aṯ means that a person can communicate verbally, can ask and answer questions. Persons who are deaf, mute, or blind were believed not to have da‛aṯ, which was understood as the true nature of their disability, not the fact of their sensory impairment as such. When a person recovers from deafness, he is described in the Mishnah and the Talmud Bavli as niṯpiqqēaḥ.18 Such a person is restored to have da‛aṯ and restored to full participation in the community. As we will see below, both stories are not about healing. They are about coming to full understanding of Jesus’ mission of admitting Jews and Gentiles alike to the table of the Lord. Let us now look more in detail to the second example of a good follower of Jesus: the deaf man. The Deaf Man The Greek text calls the man kōphós and mogilálos,which is translated in the New American Bible as “a deaf man which had a speech impediment.” The original meaning of the word kōphóswas “blunt,” and later on it obtained the meanings of “dumb, speechless, silent, deaf and

18 Judith Z. Abrams, JudaismandDisability:PortrayalsinAncientTextsfrom the Tanach through the Bavli (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1998), 140.



dumb, deaf, stupid, and meaningless.” The word is used fourteen times in the Greek text of the New Testament. Only five times it is translated in the New American Bible with “deaf,” two times in the context of the Messianic promise that the blind will see and the deaf will hear, two times in Mark 7 and one time in Mark 9 about the boy possessed by a deaf and mute demon. This indicates that the exact meaning of the word kōphós or its translations is not clear, possibly in the same insensitive way as English hearing and speaking people in the past spoke about dumb people when they meant deaf people. For example, in Luke 1:62, kōphós seems to mean mute, but people communicated nonverbally with the mute priest. In none of these places in the New Testament, kōphós seems to be used in a figurative sense. Léon-Dufour states that deafness can symbolize in the New Testament the refusal to listen to the word of God; in that case people are called “uncircumcised in ears” (Acts 7:51, like in Jer 6:10). In these cases, however, neither the LXX nor the Greek text of the New Testament use the word kōphós. The New Testament mentions by name only one person who was kōphós, the priest Zechariah (Luke 1:22). Nowhere in the Old Testament is a deaf person mentioned by name. Since the authors of the New Testament mostly based themselves on the LXX when quoting the Old Testament, we examined which words the LXX uses for “deaf” and “dumb/ mute,” and to which words they correspond in the Hebrew text. The LXX uses the following four words to indicate “deaf” or “mute”: kōphós, dúskōphos, álalos, and mogilálos. These words correspond in the Hebrew text to ḥērēš, ᾿illēm, maḥᵃrîšand ḥaraš. The combination kōphós — ḥarašis found only in Isa 44:11. The LXX is not clear in this verse. Perhaps here ḥārāš, which means “artisan,” refers to an artisan who was confounded by being made deaf, ḥērēš. We will set this verse aside.



The word kōphós is used eleven times, including nine times when it corresponds to ḥērēš in Hebrew, in Exod 4:11; Lev 19:14; Isa 29:18; 35:5; 42:18; 42:19; 43:8; Psalm 37:14; 57:5. In view of the content of these verses, it is logical to interpret this combination kōphós — ḥērēš as “deaf,” in the sense of not-hearing. A striking detail is that none of these verses speak about a specific deaf person, only about deaf persons in general or about being deaf. Two places (Isa 42:18 and 19) seem to use the word ḥērēš as a term of abuse that suggests a figurative meaning. One time the word kōphós is combined with the Hebrew word ᾿illēm in Hab 2:18. This verse is in a passage about idols, lifeless pieces of wood or stone, gold and silver-clad, but without any spirit inside, dead objects that do not hear nor speak. Where the Old Testament uses the word ḥērēš the LXX uses only kōphós. Next to ḥērēš the Hebrew text uses the word ᾿illēm. Apart from Hab 2:18, ᾿illēm is rendered in the Greek text once by dúskōphos (Exod 4:11), once by mogilálos (Isa 35:6), once by eneós (Isa 56:10), and twice by álalos (Psalm 31:19 and 38:14). The content of these verses suggests that ᾿illēm means “mute” in the sense of not-speaking. In this context, it is important to note that the Greek word mogilálos is used only once in the LXX, in Isa 35:6. In the New Testament too, it is used only one time, in Mark 7. This might suggest a link between Mark 7 and Isa 35:6. Our conclusion is threefold. Firstly, kōphós in the LXX and the New Testament, and ḥērēš in the Hebrew Bible are almost always used in a literal sense. Secondly, Mark 7 is textually related to the prophecy of liberation from exile in Isaiah 35. Thirdly, Mark 7:3137 is about a man who is ḥērēš and᾿illēm. I shall relate deaf and mute, ḥērēš wə᾿illēm to the Jewish oral tradition, in which this concept is treated extensively.



Jesus Took Him Aside The story tells that Jesus took the man apart from the crowd. The same happens with the blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26): Jesus took the man by the hand and led him outside of the village. McDonough, who is deaf himself, states that it is a common experience of deaf people to be stared at when they are the only deaf person in a group of people.19 From the viewpoint of a deaf person, the staring and curious eyes of all those hearing people — a deaf and mute man, a spectacle! — are extremely embarrassing and painful. Jesus understood this situation and gave the man privacy. Abrams describes that the Jewish view on disability had been linked initially to the visibility of disability and priestly perfection.20 An imperfection of the priest would cause people to stare at the priest, and staring might distract them from receiving the benediction. Worshippers were only permitted to look at the priest if they were able to look and to concentrate at the same time.21 For this reason, a priest with running eyes22 or one who sang the chants with a raucous voice23 could not function sacramentally, because they would attract the gaze of worshippers. Similarly, a priest with a very tiny beard who had the appearance of a minor was not permitted to give a blessing.24 Defects that evoked a staring gaze in other people indicated unholiness. It was the staring gaze of the crowd with their lack of insight that rendered the deaf man unholy, and therefore the first action of

19 Cf. Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeopleMinistering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44, at 43. 20 Ibid., 35. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid., 34. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid., 33.



Jesus towards the man was to intervene between the blind man and the staring crowd by drawing him aside. The Use of Spittle: A Form of Healing? The story tells that Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue. Generally, this is interpreted as the use of saliva as a popular form of healing, since in Antiquity saliva was seen as potentially healing. There are several places in the Hebrew Bible and the LXX which discuss spitting and spittle: Num 12:14; Lev 15:8; Deut 25:9; 1 Sam 21:14; Job 6:6; Job 7:19; Job 17:6; Job 30:10; Isa 50:6; Sir 28:12. In six of these places, spitting indicates contempt (Isa 50:6; Job 17:6; Job 30:10), even a legal action of contempt (Deut 25:9). Spittle and slobbering are presented one time a sign of madness (1 Sam 21:14), and spittle is a possible source of impurity, in the case of contact with an impure person’s saliva (Lev 15:8). There is no place in the Hebrew Bible that speaks about healing by means of saliva. In six places, the Greek text of the New Testament uses the same word for spitting, emptúō, as in Num 12:14 and Deut 25:9: Matt 26:67; Matt 27:30; Mark 10:34; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:19; and Luke 18:32, indicating an act of contempt. Three other verses, Mark 7:33; Mark 8:23, and John 9:6, might be interpreted as describing the use of saliva as a method of healing. I have, however, two arguments against such an interpretation. The first argument is that these texts, in contrast to other healing miracles, do not use words that denote healing. The Greek text of the New Testament uses several words for healing.25 Only two of these words, therapeúō and iáomai, are used a few times in relation to persons who are deaf or mute. 25

Therapeúō, iáomai, hugiaínō, sōizō, apolúō. Xavier Léon-Dufour, DictionnaireduNouveauTestament (Paris: Seuil, 1996), 287.



The word therapeúō (serve, take care of, give attention to, heal) is used 43 times in the New Testament, only two times in relationship to a person or persons who are kōphós, but both times in combination with other disturbances: in Matt 12:22 regarding a person who was possessed, blind, and mute, and in Matt 15:30 to a crowd consisting of lame, blind, and deformed persons who were kōphós, in addition to many other people. The New Testament uses 26 times the verb iáomai: to heal. It is used only in situations in which a physical illness or death is involved, and in a general sense of healing the sick. It is not used where deaf, mute, or blind people are involved. Only in Luke 9:3750 might it be related to a deaf person; this is the same story as in Mark 8, with the difference, however, that Luke does not mention that the possessed boy was deaf and mute. In none of the instances in which words for ‘healing’ are used is a reference made to the use of spittle or saliva. Jesus healed a large number of persons, generally only by means of the spoken word. Three times he intervened using spittle (Mark 7:33, Mark 8:23, and John 9:6), but none of these three stories use a verb with the meaning of healing. In these verses, we see only the verb meaning ‘opening’, ephphathá. A second argument is that the use of saliva as a healing method was foreign to Jewish culture and religion in Jesus’ time. The Mishnah and the Talmud Bavli speak extensively about the possible uncleanness and impurity of spittle and saliva,26 and about spitting as a legal act of contempt.27 If a person spit, the spittle had to be covered immediately.28 Mishnah 8 in Tohoroth states: “If there was in the town an imbecile, a heathen, or a Samaritan

26 Cf. b.Nid. IV, 34a, 35b; b.Nid. VII, 54b, 56a; b.Nid. IX, 62a; b.Nid. X, 71b; b.Toh. IV, 4; b.Toh. V, 5; b.B.Qam. VIII, 90a. 27 b.Yeb. XII, 106b. 28 b.Shab. XVI, 121b.



woman, all spittle encountered in the town is deemed unclean.”29 There are only two places in the Talmudic commentary that do not speak about saliva as a possible source of impurity. The first instance is an injunction forbidding the application of saliva on one’s eyes in order to clean one’s eyes on the Sabbath.30 In the second instance, one of the rabbis refers to a saying that the saliva of the first born son of a father has healing power, whereas the saliva of the first born son of a mother does not have healing power.31 This is the only Talmudic reference to the healing power of saliva, written down several centuries later than the period in which the Mishnahic process took place, but possibly that is just the exception that proves the rule. Some authors assert that Jesus used saliva as a healing method under the influence of the general belief in Greco-Roman culture that saliva had healing power.32 It is possible that, being in Gentile territory and knowing that he would not render the deaf man unclean, Jesus complied with a Gentile method of healing rather than observing the Torah. This would be, however, a highly controversial act, and that explains why, after the healing of the blind man in John 9, the doctors of the law repeatedly ask suspicious questions about the way in which Jesus had opened the blind man’s eyes, because the use of spittle was a violation of the oral Torah. Ephphatha – Be Opened! Ephphathá is Aramaic or Hebrew word meaning “be opened.” The word is spoken to the deaf man, not specifically addressed to his 29

b.Toh. V, 5. b.Shab. XIV, 108b. 31 b.B.Bat. VIII, 126b. 32 René Latournelle, “Originalité et fonctions des miracles de Jésus,” Gregorianum4 (1985): 641-653, at 653. 30



ears. It is the man himself, not his deafened ears, who needs to be opened. According to Rabinowitz, ephphathá might be a transcription into Greek of a Hebrew word, hippāṯaḥ, which is the imperative of the niph’al of the verb pāṯaḥ.33 The niph’al of this verb is also used in Isa 35:5 when it says that the ears of the deaf will be opened, tippāṯaḥnâ. In Morag’s opinion, Rabinowitz is far too definite when he asserts that ephphathá can only be a transcription of Hebrew.34 Rabinowitz observes, however, that the original text of this part of the Gospel of Mark was supposedly Aramaic, and by translation into Greek this non-Aramaic word is left in its original language. After Jesus had spoken the word ephphathá, the New American Bible recounts: “And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” The Greek text says literally: “And immediately his hearings [sic] were opened, the tie of his tongue was loosened and he spoke in the right way.” The Greek text does not use the Greek word for ears (ōtía or ōtá) but the plural form of the word akoē (the sense of hearing, the things heard). This word means “sense or organ of hearing” and as a secondary meaning “rumor, report, that is heard, message, preaching.”35 The word akoē is used 46 times in the LXX. Only three times is it used in combination with ōtía or ōtá, ears, in the expression eis akoēnōtíou, a literal translation of the Hebrew expression lišəma῾ ᾿ōzen“at the hearing of the ear,” “as soon as the ear heard.”

33 Isaac Rabinowitz, “Εφφαθα (Mark VII.34): Certainly Hebrew, Not Aramaic,” JournalofSemiticStudies16 (1971): 151-156, at 156. 34 Shelmo Morag, “‘Εφφαθα (Mark VII.34): Certainly Hebrew, Not Aramaic?,” JournalofSemiticStudies17 (1972): 198-202, at 202. 35 Gerhard Kittel, TheologicalDictionaryoftheNewTestament(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 221.



Next to Mark 7, nine places in the LXX and the New Testament use the plural form, akoaí. Only two of these places occur in the Hebrew Bible, 1 Sam 2:24 and 2 Sam 23:23. In 1 Sam 2:24, the Hebrew texts gives šəmu῾ā: report, and in 2 Sam 23:23, it gives mišəma῾aṯ: bodyguard. In two other texts, Matt 24:6 and Mark 13:7, akoaí means reports, and in two places, Sir 43:24 (in the New American Bible, Sir 43:25) and Heb 5:11, it indicates hearing. Setting aside Mark 7:35, there is no place in the Greek text of the Scriptures where akoē indicates physical ears. The Greek text uses the word oũs or ōtíon to indicate when physical ears are meant, as in Mark 7:33. In the LXX, akoē always corresponds to the stem šāma῾, meaning ‘hearing, listening’, and its derivations in the Hebrew text, never to the Hebrew word for ‘ear’:ōzen. When the LXX uses akoē or its plural akoaí, it is used to indicate “listening and understanding the message,” and this use is carried over into the New Testament. The New American Bible offers that the man spoke “plainly.” In the opinion of Baird, “plainly” suggests that the man was delivered from his speech defect, but it does not take into account a possible metaphorical meaning of the word orthōs.36 In the LXX, orthōs refers to the content of speech, like in Deut 5:28 and 18:17. In this verse, the expression does not indicate that the man spoke without any articulatory imperfection, but that the content of what he spoke was correct. Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, the man said the right things, meaning that he proclaimed the word of God. Taking into account our discussion above about the word piqqēaḥ meaning “insightful,” my conclusion is that the meaning of Mark 7:34-35 could be interpreted as: “And he said to him: ‘Become a person of full understanding’, and immediately the man 36

Tom Baird, “Translating orthôs at Mark 7:35,” ExpositoryTimes92, no. 11 (1981): 337-338, at 338.



came to full understanding of the message, his tongue was loosened and he proclaimed the good news.” He proclaimed the good news, just like the other outsider before him, the pagan woman from Syro-Phoenicia. The words used in this part of Mark 7 connect it with Isaiah 35. No Sign Language A detail, striking for deaf people or people acquainted with the deaf, is that the story does not refer to Sign Language. Although Jesus utilizes nonverbal actions in this story, such as taking the man apart, touching, and applying saliva, the story does not speak about signs or gestures in communication. Neither Jesus nor the deaf man gestured. In very few places, the Scriptures speak about the use of gestures in communication. There is only one place in which nonverbal communication with a person who is kōphós is indicated, and it is in the story about the priest Zechariah, Luke 1:22 and Luke 1:62, where the New American Bible uses the words ‘gestures’ and ‘signs’. In Luke 1:22, the Greek text uses the word dianeúō (nodding, beckoning). The word is found two times in the LXX, in Psalm 35:19 where it is translated with “wink knowingly” and in Sir 27:22 where it is translated with “has shifty eyes.” In Psalm 35:19, the Hebrew text uses the verb qāraṣ, “screwing up one’s eyes.” In Luke 1:62, the Greek text uses the verb enneúō, beckoning to a person. It is used also in Prov 6:13 (“winks his eyes”) and Prov 16:30 (“compresses his lips”). In both places in Proverbs, the Hebrew text uses the verb qāraṣ. Another reference to nonverbal communication in the New Testament is John 13:24, were the verb neúō, “nodding,” is used. In one place, the New Testament uses the word sēmeĩon in the sense of a “sign” as a non-referential gesture (Matt 26:48). In the LXX, sēmeĩon corresponds to Hebrew ᾿ôṯ(sign) and môpeṯ (identificationmark) in the Hebrew text. Only in Judg 6:17 might the word



᾿ôṯ have the meaning of nonverbal communication, obviously not in the sense of a sign with a referential meaning. In Mark 14:44, the parallel account of Matt 26:48, the word sússēmon is used. The LXX uses the word sússēmon three times, corresponding to the word nēs in the Hebrew Bible, which means “flag, standard.” My conclusion is that only a small number of verses in the Old Testament and the New Testament refer to nonverbal communication. These verses do not talk about signs as used by deaf people, but about non-verbal communication between hearing people. The translation in the New American Bible suggests that signs are involved in these places, but that is not evident in the text. In the Greek text of the Bible, no Greek word for communication through signs is used. Neither Mark 7, nor any other place in the Scriptures refers to the communication of deaf people by means of signs. Communication through signs is mentioned in the Mishnah and the Talmud. A Mishnah in the Tractate Gittin states that “a deaf person gestures and is gestured to,” which might be translated as “a deaf-mute can hold conversation by means of gestures.”37 For gesturing the verb rāmaz is used, which means originally “beckoning” or “dropping a hint,” just like the Greek verbs dianeúō and enneúō. The Talmud quotes the Mishnah which states that a deaf person can marry a woman and separate from her through the use of signs, birmîzôt. Both the words rāmaz and rəmîzâ are not found in the texts of the Hebrew Bible. Rāzam, to wink, is found only once in the text in Job 15:12: “Why do your eyes wink?” According to Gesenius, the root rzm is a transposition from Aramaic rmz (towink,togiveasign).38 37

b.Git. V, 59: ḥērēšrōmēzwənirmaz. Wilhelm Gesenius, HebräischesundAramäischesHandwörterbuchüberdas AlteTestament, 17. Auflage(Berlin, Göttingen and Heidelberg: Springer, 1962). 38



Following are some plausible explanations for these findings. First, true Sign Language might have been non-existent in that era because of the geographical isolation of deaf people. Second, Sign Language might have been avoided because it was a visible sign of disability that attracted gaze, and for that reason, unholy. Third, deaf persons were outsiders to the religious community who were not communicated with. Mark 7 is the only story in the Bible in which, be it by non-linguistic means, a deaf person is communicated with. In this sense, it is an extraordinary story. Outsiders The American rabbi Judith Abrams explains that in Jewish antiquity, deaf people were seen as the most unfortunate people, the lowest form of humanity, barely alive, and at the bottom of Jewish society.39 The Mishnah places them in the category of persons who are “deaf, idiot and minor,” ḥērēš šôṭê wəqāṭān. As previously mentioned, these are persons who lack da‛aṯ, meaning “insight and understanding.” Hērēš is generally used to indicate a person who from birth is deaf and dumb (ḥērēšwə῾illēm). These persons were supposed to be unable to observe the commands of the Law.40 39

Abrams, JudaismandDisability, 43. Cf. the following Mishnayot: b.Meg. II: “All are qualified to read the Megilla, except a deaf person, fool, or a minor. R. Jehudah, however, allows it to be read by a minor.” b.Erub. III: “Should a man send his Erub by the hand of a deaf and dumb person, an idiot, a minor or one who does not acknowledge the legal necessity of an Erub, it is not a valid Erub; if, however, he had commissioned another proper person to receive it from his messenger, it is a valid Erub.” b.Roshha‐Sh. III: “A deaf mute, an idiot, or a child cannot act in behalf of the assembled congregation.” b.Chag. I: “All are bound in the case of a holocaust except a deaf man, a fool, a minor, and one of doubtful sex (ατμητος) and one of double sex (androginos), and women and bondsmen, the lame, the blind, the sick, the old, and he who is not able to go upon his feet.” See also Abrams, Judaism andDisability, 166 and 168ff. 40



For the rabbis of the oral tradition and the Mishnah, one has to be šōṭē, idiot, to commit idolatry: That is, one would have to be foolish to the point of insanity or mental disability not to realize that God is the Creator.41

Deaf people were thus not held responsible for their own actions.42 Deaf people could marry and indicate their intention to marry by means of signs, but theirs was not a true Pentateuchal marriage, only a marriage legalized by a rabbi.43 This had a far-reaching consequence for levirate marriage when, for instance, two hearing brothers were married, one with a hearing wife and one with a deaf wife. When the brother married to the hearing wife died, the other brother should divorce from his deaf wife and marry the hearing woman.44 When a man who was carrying a load on the day before Sabbath, was surprised by sunset and the onset of Sabbath, the Law forbade him and his donkey to break the Sabbath by continuing to carry the load. Instead, he should seek to have his load carried by a heathen, or if there was no heathen, he should take a deaf man, an idiot or a minor (ḥērēš šôṭê wəqāṭān) to carry the load. He should be careful, however, that people should not think that a normal Jewish man was carrying the load.45 Abram’s comment on this that there is a continuum that spans the range from “more like


Abrams, JudaismandDisability, 142. b.B.Qam. VI, 59b. 43 In b.Yeb. XIII, 110b, footnote 14, Slotki remarks: “The levirate bond (…) is (…) Pentateuchally valid, while his own marriage with his deaf wife, though valid in Rabbinic law, is invalid in Pentateuchal law. A Rabbinically valid marriage cannot override a levirate bond which is Pentateuchal.” Abrams states: “The sages declared the marriage of a cheresh[sic] valid according to their rules even though it is not valid according to Pentateuchal law” (Abrams, Judaismand Disability, 186). 44 b.Yeb. XIII, 110a, 110b, 112b, 113a. 45 b.Shab. XIV, 153a. 42



an animal” to more like a “normal human being,” moving respectively from ass to ḥērēššôṭêwəqāṭān to sensate Jew. Abrams points to the fact that Lev 19:14 indeed states: “You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.” However, at the same time, the operant belief of ordinary people was that deaf people were at such a distance from the community that they were nearer to death than to life. Indeed, deaf people were considered the most unfortunate people on earth, and that belief seems only fitting as deaf people occupied the lowest position in society.46 Jewish antiquity had a far from positive attitude towards the deaf. Deaf people were outsiders in the religious community, not much more than animals and heathens,47 incapable of that insight that was needed for understanding the written and oral Torah, and not people with an illness that was to be healed. The story in Mark 7 refers to the reality of life for deaf persons in that era. Deafness was not just a symbol: it was a stigma. In this sense, the deaf man has something in common with the Syro-Phoenician woman, a woman from a region known for its idolatry. They are both outsiders. Both of them belong to the category of persons who are “deaf, idiot and minor” (ḥērēššôṭêwəqāṭān). Profoundly, when Jesus enters in contact with these two outsiders, he is acknowledging the possibility of outcast people to come to full understanding of the message. And then he shows how two denigrated persons, distanced from holy things, outsiders according to the Tradition of the Elders, opened themselves up to receive the message and to proclaim it. The whole episode from Mark 6:30–8:26 is a provocative story meant to be delivered to new communities of Gentile Christians. 46 47

Abrams, JudaismandDisability, 43‐44. Ibid., 187-188.



This account is about understanding who Jesus is: the Lord who is, who invites each human person to his table as a child with full birth rights, beginning at first Israel and then, but with no less insight, the Gentiles: the outsiders and those irrelevant in the religious community. Conclusion Against the background of Jewish culture in Jesus’ time and the relationships between this text and the Old Testament, the story of the deaf man in Mark 7 is not a story about the medical healing of deafness. It is not a story about the adaptation of a deaf person to the normal standards of hearing society. Nor is it a kind of divine support for a speech-only method in deaf education with a ban on Sign Language. The story reflects the dramatic situation of people born deaf in a culture that considered deaf people incapable of understanding, mere corpses instead of persons with an inner life. They could not participate in the religious community, and there are no holy texts that refer to their communication, Sign Language. Sign Language itself, attracting staring gaze, was an unholy form of communication. Deaf people had the same status as pagans and idiots. Jesus not only restored such an unholy person to his community, but also acknowledged him as capable of full understanding of the message, a person with full birth rights to be admitted to the table of the Lord, and able to proclaim the Good News. If the story has to be given a symbolic or allegorical meaning, deafness is not an offensive symbol representing an unwillingness to listen to God’s voice. If the deaf man is a symbol, he is to be taken as a symbol of what he was: a complete outsider, a person far removed from holy things and the holy One. The deaf man occupies a similar position to the Gentile Syro-Phoenician woman, who was considered an idolatress, a fool, a risk to the personal



purity and holiness of God’s people. Yet Jesus acknowledges these two outcasts as full candidates for the kingdom of God. Mark 7 shows that things are done well and persons return from exile when the original meaning of God’s Law, the pre-existent Torah, is restored, a restoration effectuated by Jesus.


Pastoral Ministry and the Start of Deaf Education The rise of more or less organized forms of pastoral ministry with the deaf was closely connected with the development of school education for deaf children. Pastoral concern for the deaf and the spirit of the Enlightenment went hand-in-hand in this development. PastoralMinistry In Europe, pastoral ministry with the deaf started with the establishment of schools for the deaf. From the time of the Enlightenment on, a democratization of school instruction took place, not only for children born in wealthy and noble families, but also for children of common people, and soon special schools for the deaf were founded. In 1770, the French priest Charles Michel Abbé de L’Épée founded a school for children who were “sourds et muets,” or deaf and dumb, in Paris. As a parish priest, he was asked by a mother of two deaf girls to take charge over the education of these children. They had been taught previously by an elderly Trappist monk who had died. Abbé de l’Épée was interested in language from a philosophical point of view. A question that was discussed among philosophers in that era was what the perfect language looks like, and Abbé de l’Épée actively participated in this discussion. Since the girls communicated in Sign Language, Abbé de L’Épée concluded that Sign Language is the mother tongue of the deaf and therefore the ideal medium for teaching deaf children. Within a few



years, his school was visited by deaf children even from the poorest ranks of Parisian society. It was a school with high academic results, and after some years, former deaf students of the school were appointed as teachers, including Ferdinand Berthier, a deaf man who played a significant role in the emancipation of the deaf in France.1 Another former student who worked as a teacher in the school, Laurent Clerc, was asked to come to the United States of America in order to set up the first school for the deaf in America, the American School for the Deaf. He played a crucial role in the emancipation of deaf people in the United States of America. In 1917, during the First World War, a delegation of French deaf people wanted to posthumously honor Laurent Clerc with their presence at the centenary celebration of this school, one of the facts that they reported was that former students of this school had formed the first worshipping community for deaf people, the Philadelphia All Souls Church, founded in 1888 by the first deaf man ordained as a priest in The Episcopal Church.2 Abbé de L’Épée and his successor Roch‐Ambrois Cucurron Abbé Sicard stood at the beginning of a tradition of deaf education by means of Sign Language that spread to other countries, too. Many Sign Languages in Europe and Northern America descend largely from the Sign Language that was developed at the school of De L’Épée and Sicard. TheEnlightenmentandChangingViewsonLanguage Next to pastors, there were also other people, of course, who were led by the spirit of the Enlightenment to found schools for the deaf. 1 Yves Delaporte and Ferdinand Berthier, Ferdinand Berthier (1803-1886): Aux origines du mouvement sourd, Vol. 2 (Louhans: Association Culture et Langue des Signes Ferdinand Berthier, 1999). 2 Robert M. Buchanan, Gaillard in Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community,1917(Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002).



This was especially the case in England. In the time of the English Enlightenment, philosophers were in search of the perfect language. Before the Renaissance, people lived communicatively in a so‐called linguistic mosaic.3 Several written and unwritten languages existed in a natural way next to each other, and people switched from one language to another depending upon the communicative situation in which they found themselves. There was not yet, like in our era, a monolingual view of language, in which only one language can be a person’s primary language, and in which language use is dominated by the knowledge of written language. In a linguistic mosaic, Sign Language is not a problem, but simply one of the modalities used by people for communication, as it is still now the case in many multilingual societies. Before that time, Latin had been the perfect language, the language of science, philosophy and theology, and the various spoken vernaculars were not yet standardized. They were seen as not able to convey abstract and conceptual thinking. Gradually, however, Latin lost its role and gave way to national languages. Philosophers became aware of the differences between, and imperfection of, languages. Language became less reliable because vernacular languages now had to meet not only the requirements of daily communicative interaction, but additionally had to serve as a means for expressing philosophical and scientific concepts. This led philosophers to question whether each language and each way of communication was an effective means for intellectual activity, and which language might be the ideal language for expressing higher thought. It was still assumed that before the fall of the tower of Babel, a universal language had existed and that a perfect and universal language was possible and should be 3 Jan Branson and Don Miller, Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural ConstructionofDeafPeopleasDisabled(Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 70.



discovered again. Among English philosophers, the idea spread that Sign Language might be that perfect and universal language, for this language was not dependent upon audible expressions. Further, signs could represent all meanings. Audible expressions had a limited representative capacity, differed between languages, and gave less transparent access to meaning. Sign Language was believed not to share these limitations and thus attained the status of the perfect language. This aroused the interest of philosophers in deaf education. With deaf education, they wanted to show that it is possible to transmit knowledge and insight, the ideals of the Enlightenment, by means of Sign Language. In this way, deaf people achieved their own role in the rational world, the world from which Aristotle had banned them. This idea of the perfect language, characteristic of many Enlightenment philosophers, played a role in Abbé de L’Épée’s work, alongside his charitable goal of the elevation of the poor. Ferdinand Berthier, one of the most prominent intellectuals that came forth from Abbé de L’Épée’s school for the deaf, wrote about him: His brilliance ... understood what the troubled eyes of ordinary people miss, and the whole world will soon hear about the unprecedented performance achieved by this great man through the use of mimetic language, that language that had been sought in vain by the philosophers and scholars of all ages and all countries.4

There were, however, also reactionary counter‐movements against this optimistic view of Sign Language. The first counter-movement was the rise of the Western monolingual view of language, a movement with political roots. It was related to the rise of national states and nationalism from the 16th century onwards. States began to standardize the language of their country which had been, up to 4 Ferdinand Berthier, L’Abbédel’Épée,savie,sonapostolat,sestravaux,sa lutteetsessuccès:Avecl’historiquedesmonumentsélevésàsamémoireàParis etàVersailles(Paris: M. Levy Frères, 1852), 5.



that moment, no more than conglomerates of dialects. Taking the dialect of the most powerful regions and classes in the country as a starting point, the monolingual model idealized the national language at the expense of dialects and other forms of communication, such as Sign Language. Monolingual ideology creates an artificial distinction between the dominant language of knowledge and power, on one hand, and vulgar natural languages, such as dialects and Sign Language, on the other. Thus, even during the Enlightenment, when philosophers thought that they had discovered a perfect mode of communication in Sign Language, ambivalence toward deaf people continued to exist. For educated hearing people, deaf people were strange, incomprehensible beings. Fontenelle (1703), a member of the French Royal Academy of Sciences, once wrote of the deaf, “They live like animals or machines.” The empirical philosopher Condillac (1746) summarized his impression of a deaf man by saying, “He is like a child.” The mind of the deaf was considered to be primitive and strongly dependent on senses such as vision and touch. The scientist Buffon, member of the French Royal Academy of Sciences, wrote, “A deaf person cannot be else than mute and he cannot have knowledge of abstract and general ideas,” and further on: “Deaf and mute are the most ignorant of people.”5 This attitude towards deaf people and Sign Language has continued to exist until the present time among hearing experts in the field of deafness. Rejection of Sign Language as an inferior language and a preference for so‐called “oral communication” is a prejudice deeply rooted in the dark sides of Western culture. Western monolingualism and the surdus loquens idea 5 Jean-René Presneau, “The Scholars, the Deaf, and the Language of Signs in France in the 18th Century,” in LookingBack:AReaderontheHistoryofDeaf CommunitiesandTheirSignLanguages, ed. Renate Fischer and Harlan L. Lane, International Studies on Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf 20 (Hamburg: Signum, 1993), 413-421, at 414.



were given a boost by the rise of social Darwinism, which viewed disability — including deafness — as a remnant of lower stages of the evolution of humankind. Eugenics and the ban on Sign Language were the consequences of these ideologies. Whatever their motivating views on deafness were, priests and pastors played a central role in the development of schools for the deaf in various countries in Europe and North America. In about the same period, Lutheran pastors in Germany, such as Amman and Heinicke, basing themselves on theologies in which the word, especially the spoken word, had a prominent place, gave birth to schools for the deaf where learning to speak was a central goal: schools for the surdusloquens, the speaking deaf instead of the “deaf and dumb.” There was genuine pastoral concern for small groups of deaf persons whom no one could teach the truths of faith and the norms and values of Christian life. The pioneers of education of deaf persons included Abbé de L’Épée in France, Triest in Flanders, Guyot and Van Beek in the Netherlands, Amman and Heinicke in Germany, Townsead in Great Britain, Pendola and Provolo in Italy, Gallaudet in the United States.6 Without exaggeration, it can be said that the education of deaf children was initiated as a work of the churches themselves, as a kind of interior mission of the Church. This mission also had its darker sides. Pastors working with the deaf in that era saw themselves as ‘missioners’, as the British deaf sociologist Paddy Ladd calls it. They brought Christian faith to the deaf in the same way as Christian faith was brought to the colonies of European countries. Deaf people nowadays understand this form of mission as a colonization of the Deaf Community by hearing people. Hannah Lewis, a deaf theologian in the Church of England,7 describes 6 Ernst Emmerig, Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der Taubstummenbildung mit erläuterndemText(Munich: Otto Maidl, 1927). 7 Hannah M. Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 32.



colonialism as the process of physical subjugation, the imposition of alien language, culture, and mores, and the regulation of education on behalf of colonial goals. But the landscape was not only negative: The Church can take credit for the foundation of many organisations which care for the profoundly deaf in their midst.8

Deaf education was, at least in its beginning, largely a byproduct of churches in many countries,9 and religion played a central role in the formation of Deaf Communities in various countries.10 Religious education was a central aspect of early deaf education, and teachers and administrators of schools were heavily involved in religious instruction.11 Deaf schools were a place where the religious socialization of deaf children took place. Soon after the beginning of deaf education, deaf persons started to gather for worship, and these deaf congregations became the gathering places of the Deaf Community and the incubator of deaf leadership. When American Protestant churches started to ordain deaf men, almost all these deaf men were teachers in residential schools for the deaf.12 They were insiders in the Deaf Community and knew the language and values of the people they ministered to. They were persons of authority and leadership in the Deaf Community, both within and outside of their own church community. When, at the end of the 19th century, the rise of social Darwinism and eugenics caused Sign Language to be abolished in favor of spo8

Wayne Morris, TheologywithoutWords:TheologyintheDeafCommunity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 121. 9 Kent Robert Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community: A Sociological Analysis of the Chicago Mission for the Deaf, 1890-1941” (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of the University of Oregon, 1999), 53. 10 Ibid., 56; Morris, TheologywithoutWords, 121. 11 Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community,” 224. 12 Ibid.,231‐231.



ken language in death education, Sign Language continued to survive in these deaf worshipping communities. In this way, religion played an important role in the enduring emancipation of deaf people and the survival of Sign Language. And when an international conference in Milan in 1880 adopted a resolution that banned Sign Language from deaf education, a deaf Protestant minister rose up and led the opposition against the resolution.13 Speech and spoken language for the deaf became the new adage in this historical period in which eugenics, social Darwinism, and science were wed together. Sign Language was derided as the language of primitiveness and religion. Instead of the perfect language of the philosophers, Sign Language was perceived as stemming from a lower stage of evolution: an ape language.14 Nonetheless, Sign Language survived in deaf worshipping groups. As the American author Oliver Sacks states: Priests and pastors did not forget Deaf people’s souls: many of them learned Signs, … and continued to celebrate liturgy in Sign Language long after the Oralists had expelled this form of communication out of secular schools. Already in the 18th century, Abbé de L’Épée’s work had been inspired by spiritual motives. This interest in Deaf people’s natural language had not been shaken by two centuries of method controversies.15

The Deaf in Church and Society before the Enlightenment Lest the impression be given that deaf education began only postEnlightenment, a brief overview of deaf education in Europe prior to the Enlightenment is necessary. Education of the deaf

13 Jack R. Gannon, DeafHeritage:ANarrativeHistoryofDeafAmerica(Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, 1981), 63. 14 Branson and Miller, DamnedforTheirDifference, 151. 15 Oliver W. Sacks, Des yeux pour entendre: Voyage au pays des sourds (Paris: Seuil, 1996), 232‐233.



already took place before the democratization of deaf education brought about by the Enlightenment. However, it mainly took the form of education by religious people of deaf children from noble families. One example can be found in the eighth century: the holy bishop John Beverley took care of the fate of a severely neglected deaf‐ mute man taught him spoken language by means of the imitation of sentences and words. In 1469, Abbess Scholastica of Genrode in Germany agreed to teach a young deaf girl. She taught her the doctrine and the uses of the Church by means of signs so that she could be admitted to Communion. The Spanish Benedictine monk, Pedro Ponce de León, instructed the two deaf sons of Marquis de Velasco by means of the manual alphabet that was used by the Benedictines, and it is said that he brought them to speech. The modern international manual alphabet is still very similar to the alphabet used by Pedro Ponce de León. Francis of Sales, prince bishop of Geneva, once met a deaf man named Martin, who had never had any instruction. He took him as his servant and taught him religion during his journeys by means of signs and gestures, so that Martin could receive the sacraments. There is an interesting story in which posits that Francis of Sales wanted to learn from Martin both Sign Language and how to best interact with deaf people. There are indications that members of religious orders, like the Benedictines, Cistercians, and Trappists frequently occupied themselves with the education of the deaf. There was a striking similarity observed between Benedictine signs that were used in the English county of Kent and the signs used by the deaf in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, an island where a considerable part of the population was deaf. Notably, a significant portion of the population of Martha’s Vineyard had ancestors from Kent.



In those centuries, deaf people who did not know the doctrine of the Church and with whom no communication was possible were excluded from the sacraments. They were excluded not only from the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper, but from marriage, as well. Too often, the words of Saint Paul, “Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), were (erroneously) taken literally.16 This was not a general practice. If it was clear by means of communication through signs and gestures that a deaf person had understood the meaning and the consequences, such a person could contract a valid marriage and be admitted to the Eucharist. As to the sacrament of marriage, this is explicitly mentioned in Canon Law to this day.17 In the so‐called Apostolic Canons, a collection of ancient ecclesiastical decrees concerning the government and discipline of the Christian Church, collected in the period between 380 and 400, we read the following two passages: Can. 77: If some cleric ridicules a disabled person, be it deaf or mute, be it blind or weak of feet, he should be separated from the community. In the same way also a layperson. Can. 78: A deaf, mute or blind person should not become bishop, not because he would be impure, but in order that Church matters are not hindered.18

This attitude of the old Church goes beyond the ban on obstructing the blind or cursing the deaf in Leviticus 19. For mocking disabled 16 A more adequate translation would be: “Faith stems from receiving the message, and the message takes place by order of Christ.” 17 Canon 1101 §1 and Canon 1104 §2, CodexIurisCanonici(Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983). 18 Latin and Greek versions from William R. Clark, HistoryoftheCouncilsof the Church. English translation of Karl-Josef von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte (London: The Lightning Source, 1894), 481, 488.



people, excommunication is a severe sanction, especially for lay people, who were mostly uneducated in those times. Canon 78 implies that deafness or a defect of the body is not a defect of soul. Canon 78 concerns episcopate, which might suggest that these disabilities, deafness included, were not considered an impediment to ordination as deacon or priest. The old Church teaching was summarized in the Summa Angelica by Angelo De Clavasio: “A mute person can ask by means of signs for the sacraments, and they should be given to him.”19 This was not a general practice, however. The initiation of deaf education took place because the Church became conscious of the fact that she should try to reach full participation of deaf people in the Christian community. During many centuries, the application of Christian principles remained limited because old, pagan prejudices about deafness, disability, and impairment continued to exist in many cultures. We shall explore these prejudices by a short description of deaf people in different cultures: Greek-Roman culture, Jewish Antiquity, and the European Middle Ages. DeafPeopleinWesternHistory In ancient Greece, people with an impairment, including deaf people, were considered to be inferior. The historian Herodotus writes that the king of Lydia, Croesus, had two sons, one who could hear and one who could not. He gives only the name of the hearing one, Atys, and Herodotus describes how Croesus treated his deaf son as

19 M. Miles, “Martin Luther and Childhood Disability in 16th Century Germany: What Did He Write? What Did He Say?,” JournalofReligion,Disability &Health5, no. 4 (2001): 5-36.



if he did not exist.20 He even says to his hearing son, “You are my only son; I consider the one whose hearing has been destroyed as if he does not exist.”21 Plato, in his book Kratylos, was the first Greek author to describe how deaf people express themselves in signs, visually imitating what they intend to mean. For example, Plato explains how deaf people refer to a horse by visualizing its galloping.22 Greek society, however, was merciless to the deaf. Greek culture gave high value to aesthetics, and physical and spiritual force. All what was ‘ugly’ and ‘deviant’ was looked at with contempt. In some parts of Greece, the interest of the small city‐states prevailed. According to Spartan law, all disabled babies had to be murdered immediately after birth. In Athens, this law was also applied to deaf babies. The Athenian philosopher Solon the Wise was of the opinion that the interest of the State was served best when all individuals who were nothing but a burden for the state would be killed. Aristotle was the first one who supposed a relationship between deafness and not speaking. He was the first one to formulate an idea that influenced Western thinking about deafness throughout many centuries: without speech there is no language, and without language there is no thinking. The education of the deaf was an impossible task in Aristotle’s view. In his opinion, deaf people, due to their inability to speak, lacked the capacity for reason. According to Aristotle’s philosophy, all that enters into the human mind passes through the senses, or in the way Thomas Aquinas formulates it, Nihilestinmentequodnonpriuseratinsensibus, “Nothing 20 Per Eriksson and James Schmale, The History of Deaf People: A Source Book(Orebro: Daufr, 1998). 21 Herodotus, ThePersianWars, Book 1 quoted by Edward L. Scouten, TurningPointsintheEducationofDeafPeople(Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers & Publishers, 1984), 3. 22 David Wright, Deafness:APersonalAccount(London: Faber, 1990), 156.



is in the mind which not had been before in the senses.” So, if one of the senses is lacking, as in the case of deafness, one cannot possess human reason. The authority of Aristotle remained unimpaired for almost 20 centuries. Aristotle was misled by his own Greek spoken language, in which logos has several meanings: word, speech, and reason. From that time on, in Western culture, a speechless person was considered to have no reasoning capacity. Initially, in the ancient Roman Empire, it was likewise custom to murder disabled babies, including those who were deaf. Gradually, though, deaf people were treated in a more merciful way and, in the time of the Emperor Augustus, deaf people were even educated for the fine arts. Pliny the Elder tells a story of a deaf man, named Quintus Pedius, grandson of a Roman consul, who became a famous painter. He was the first deaf person in Western history whose name remains known. Although the situation of deaf people in the ancient Roman empire improved over time, they were still not allowed to participate in public life, buy property, or make a testament. On the other hand, the ancient Romans had a high esteem for signs and pantomime. In Roman culture, sign systems were developed with which people could express themselves in an understandable way. The author Cassiodorus describes that, in his time, there were theatres in which whole pieces of theatre were performed only with gesticulations23 and pantomime, by people who were very eloquent with their hands and fingers. When the monk orders of the West arose, they adopted these signs in order to use them during moments when it was not permissible to speak. It is not unlikely that many of these survived in modern Sign Languages. Thus, Sign Language may have ancient roots. 23

Gérard Rijnberk, Le langage par signes chez les moines (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1954).



DeafPeopleinJewishAntiquityandtheChristianMiddleAges The position of Deaf people in Jewish Antiquity was superior than their position in ancient Greece and Rome. According to the Law of Moses, the crippled, the blind, and the lame did not have access to the holy places. Deaf people, however, did have access to the temple and could even hold priestly functions. Leviticus 19:14 says, “Do not curse the deaf or put something in front of the blind so as to make them stumble over it. Obey me; I am the Lord your God.” And the book of Proverbs says, “Speak up for the mute. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for the deaf and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and the needy” (Prov 31:8‐9). In the Hebrew Bible, God seems to take responsibility for the existence of deafness. When Moses is sent to Pharaoh, he protests, noting that he speaks slowly and with difficulty, but God’s answer is, “Who gives man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? It is I, the Lord” (Exod 4:11). Whereas the infanticide of disabled children was accepted in ancient Greece and Rome, infanticide was strictly forbidden in Jewish Antiquity. It was considered abominable, a form of pagan behavior.24 Yet, sometimes occurred in Jewish Antiquity, just as it occurs at certain points in time in every culture. Abrams writes about this situation:25 … it is reported that a woman26 actually did strangle her baby in order to be able to remarry more quickly. The evaluation of the woman’s behaviour was significant: she is deemed a shotah [sic],


b.Abod.Zar. II, 26a. Judith Z. Abrams, JudaismandDisability:PortrayalsinAncientTextsfrom the Tanach through the Bavli (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1998), 121‐122. 26 This woman should be understood to be widowed recently. 25



since normal women simply do not behave in such a manner. She is not pikachat [sic] … Rather, she is lacking da’at [sic] and is, in a word, insane. Her act of infanticide is the proof. Life is considered by the sages, and by the priesthood before them, to be God’s most precious gift.

In this view, the life of disabled persons, too, is a gift and a part of God’s creation. Good and evil have to be accepted as a gift from the hands of God. In the Mishnahs we read: For evil tidings one says, blessed be the True Judge. … Over evil a blessing is said similar to that over good and over good a blessing is said similar to that over evil.27

The Talmud Bavli gives the following comment on this Mishnah: On seeing pock‐marked persons one says: Blessed be he who makes strange creatures. An objection was raised: If one sees a Negro,28 a very red or very white person, a hunchback, a dwarf or a dropsical person, he says: Blessed be he who makes strange creatures. If he sees one with an amputated limb, or blind, or flatheaded, or lame, or smitten with boils, or pock‐marked, he says: Blessed be the true Judge! — There is no contradiction; one blessing is said if he is so from birth, the other if he became so afterwards. A proof of this is that he is placed in the same category as one with an amputated limb; this proves it.29

In the view of Abrams, this implies that persons with a condition that make them physically distinctive, belong simply to the wide variety of creatures created by God. They are part of God’s creation, and any feeling experienced upon seeing them, should be consecrated with a blessing.30

27 28 29 30

b.Ber. IX, 58b. Literally: a Kushite. Ibid. Abrams, JudaismandDisability, 118.



Gracer, in a study about deafness in the Mishnah, concludes: … it is evident that both the Tannaim and the later rabbis considered encountering persons with disabilities as occasions to bless and thank God, not as occasions to kill.31

From the other side, we saw in Chapter 1, deaf people were considered nearer to animals than to holy priesthood, like the living dead. The ambiguity we see in Jewish texts concerning the deaf, which includes an emphasis on social justice toward the deaf, their low social position as religious outsiders, and the relationship between disability and sin, can also be found in the New Testament. The kingdom of God is described as a state in which “The blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean. The deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). From the other side, after healing the blind man, Jesus himself refused to say who had sinned, he or his father: “He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him” (John 9:3). The explanation of this ambiguity can be clear: it is a reflection of the discriminated position that these people occupied in the culture of that time. Therefore, deaf, blind, poor and lame people in the Gospel of Luke were a symbol of the lowly ones that will be lifted up,32 while the mighty ones will be brought down from their thrones. Christianity, born in a religious tradition that was ambivalent toward the deaf at best, spread in a Greco‐Roman culture that allowed deaf people live, but still considered them to be inferior. It took many centuries before Christianity was able to liberate itself 31 Bonnie L. Gracer, “What the Rabbis Heard: Deafness in the Mishna,” DisabilityStudiesQuarterly23, no. 2 (2003): 192-205, at 195. 32 S. J. Roth, TheBlind,theLameandthePoor:CharacterTypesinLuke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).



from these cultural prejudices, and still has yet to completely overcome the vestiges of these prejudices.33 It took many centuries before the Christian community found deaf people worthy of care. Medieval sources seldom or never speak about the deaf. When they speak about them, it is mostly to refer to them as people who live at the margins of society, like beggars, prostitutes, and the needy.34 The sacral arts of the Middle Ages often show stereotyped images of the deaf as inferior to hearing people. On the other hand, it is striking how many signs are represented in the visual arts of the Middle Ages: it seems to have been a time in which people trusted signs more than words. The reason might be that it was the period of time in which the ancient Roman Empire disintegrated: a time in which new languages, not yet standardized, were born.35 Invisible–Why? During many centuries, deaf people played an anonymous role in society. We barely know any names or any life stories of deaf people in the past. Deafness was invisible, and so were deaf people. Only from the eighteenth and nineteenth century onward did deaf people become visible in society. It’s important to ask why this has been the case, and now we shall try to provide a tentative explanation. Several centuries ago in various countries of Europe, the precursors of modern health care arose for particular categories of people who need a special form of pastoral care: people diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or a mental handicap. ‘Madhouses’ were 33 Jacqueline Kool, Goedbedoeld:Levensbeschouwelijkkijkennaarhandicap enziekte(Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 2002), 38ff. 34 Aude de Saint-Loup, “Images of the Deaf in Medieval Western Europe,” in LookingBack, 379-402, at 380. 35 Ibid., 400.



founded for these individuals, where they were cared for and kept out of societal life. Why were they recognized so much sooner than the deaf? The reason is that the consequences of deafness in an oral and illiterate society are far less visible than the consequences of psychiatric disorders or mental handicaps. When we discuss mental handicaps in Western culture, we often use the concept of intelligence. Intelligence is construed as the capacity to acquire academic skills. People with an intellectual disability, then, are people who are not able to acquire academic skills and, as a result, cannot successfully utilize reason or obtain knowledge. Until less than one century ago, this was not the general view of mental disability. Mental disability was not understood as the inability to learn in school, but an inability to be a responsible member of society, a lack of social maturity.36 Thus, in that time, an ‘idiot’ was not a person with little knowledge or poor reasoning skills. Rather, that was a time in which the vast majority of the population was illiterate, and social roles, responsibilities, and norms were very clear. Moreover, ratiodid not refer to the ability to reason but the ability to distinguish good and evil. People who did not adapt to the roles and norms that society expected from them, or who evidenced what was perceived to be an inability to distinguish between good and evil, were considered evil, ill, or mad.37 And that was the point at which normal, intelligent, deaf people did not differ from their hearing counterparts. Long before psychologists used intelligence tests, ordinary people already knew that deaf people do not differ from average hearing people with regard to practical understanding and practical skills.

36 Edward A. Doll, The Measurement of Social Competence: A Manual for theVinelandSocialMaturityScale(Washington, DC: Educational Test Bureau, 1953). 37 Jan Foudraine, Wieisvanhout?(Bilthoven: Ambo, 1971).



In those centuries, deaf people did not garner much attention because they complied as much as possible, and often with considerable success, to their social roles. Sometimes they became visible, however, when they had unusual skills, such as the deaf Dutch painter Avercamp, and the Jewish deaf men who were very skillful copiers of the Torah.38 That deaf people were not visible does not mean that they had the same rights as hearing people: deaf people have rarely had any social rights throughout history. For instance, people who were deaf and dumb from birth were outside of the scope of juridical acts in Roman law. In the Middle Ages, they could occupy certain professions, but not many professions, due to the severe rules of the guilds. History has left us very little written records about this. We can only suppose that this omission indicates that deaf people in that period of history were located on the margins of mainstream society, unheard and unseen. In this sense, the information about deaf people in a variety of Western and non-Western cultures seems to be strikingly similar. Ateka Kweya writes about the deaf in Kenya: The majority of deaf children and adults are very well accepted in the family. We live in extended families, i.e., families are much wider than the parents-children situation. Typical of the extended family is that the kinship ties are closer and more intimate than in the Western type of family. This is clearly expressed in the names given to relatives. All the father’s brothers are called “papa”; all the mother’s sisters are called “mama.” Cousins are called brothers or sisters; nephews and nieces are called sons and daughters.... Within the extended family, there is a deep sense of mutual dependency and responsibility. This is very good for a handicapped child since the child will get the help and the protection he needs from his relatives. Social security for the handicapped does not exist in the country. Very few sheltered workshops or other institutions have been set up for the handicapped. This has an advantage that deaf adults ... 38

Avraham Zwiebel, “The Status of the Deaf in the Light of Jewish Sources,” in LookingBack, 231-238.



integrate into normal society. Also, the extended family system will, because of lack of other social security, feel obliged to take up its responsibility for looking after the handicapped as much as they are able to. In kind, they are very limited, and very often unable to do more than keep the handicapped with them and feed them, but in spirit they are willing and generous.39

The American deaf author Lois Bragg writes about her grandmother’s deaf uncle Karl Jaekel, born in the 1870s, who emigrated as a nineyear-old boy from East Prussia to America and went to school at the age of 14. After a few years, he returned home to his illiterate parents, and there all records about him are going silent. Bragg writes: Did they40 fall back on the signing they had used before he went away to school? A lot would have depended on how they felt about having a grown deaf-mute son at home again…. Did they despise him as a fool, as… was usually the case? Or did they regard him as a “perpetual pet,” as… was common? … there is no reason to believe they behaved much differently than other hearing families, which is to say they let him stay in the house and simply ignored him.41

The term ‘perpetual pet’ is an expression which some deaf people who have had an outsider experience in various cultures describe their social status. In a beautiful book Irene Taylor, a hearing daughter of deaf parents, writes about the Deaf Community of Nepal. She observes that, in comparison with other countries, Nepal has a particularly high percentage of deaf people: 1-2% of the population. She describes Nepal as a country with poor 39

Mary Ateka Kweya, “The Eucharist and the Extended Family in Kenya, East Africa,” in CatechesisfortheHearingImpaired:Today&Tomorrow, ed. Ann M. Mulholland and John P. Hourihan (Manchester: The International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons, 1984). 40 They meaning his parents. 41 Lois Bragg, “In Surdam Memoriam: Karl Jaekel,” in DeafWorld:AHistoricalReaderandPrimarySourcebook, ed. Lois Bragg (New York: New York University Press, 2007), xi-xxvii, at xxiv.



audiological care. This lack of care entails that many people who might profit from a hearing aid function as deaf instead of hardof‐hearing. In that case, a percentage of one or two is not higher than recent findings in Flanders.42 She writes: Unlike present-day Western countries, large part of Nepalese society is illiterate and built on oral traditions. Less than one third of the population can read and write, and the majority of those who can are young children that just have started primary education. Culture and history are not transmitted to younger generations by means of history books and newspapers, but by means of the spoken word. With the exception of a body of written literature that is transmitted in convents and by religious leaders, Nepalese lay people learn from and share with each other by telling stories. Myths, family stories, proverbs, and values are transmitted by the spoken word, while people are sitting around common cooking area, or when resting in the shadow of the pipal trees. In a primarily oral culture, where do deaf people remain, when most deaf people are not able to speak and not able to lip-read the spoken word? Everywhere an invisible barrier exists between the lives of deaf and hearing people, but in the oral culture of Nepal this barrier seems to be even more pronounced. Whether they received basic education or not, with Sign Language or spoken language, deaf people of all castes, religions, and regions of Nepal feel this barrier. This barrier separates them from their communities, their families, and the meanings expressed in their culture.

A man who grew up as the only deaf person in his family, and has reached forty years of age, still remembers his youth very well and describes it in this way: Honestly, I have to say that there were times in which I felt myself more like a pet than like a member of the family. Since Sign Language was not yet developed well when I was a child, there was a 42 Gerrit Loots and Isabel Devise, De Dovengemeenschap in Vlaanderen: Doorlichting, sensibilisering en standaardisering van de Vlaamse Gebarentaal. Luik1:Demografischonderzoek(Brussels: Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, 2002).



lack of good communication between me and other members of the family. I received food and clothing, and... I knew that they took care of me, but I knew also that something was lacking in the relationship.43

Not long ago, a young Flemish deaf woman gave almost exactly the same description of her family situation: In reality, one might say that as a young child I was a member of my family in the same way as a pet. That sounds hard, but yet I think it might be compared with that. People who love a pet take good care of it, but they do not communicate with their pet, or at least there is not a true conversation, they do not give information to the animal.44

The picture that these accounts paint is one of deaf people living within the safety and clear organization of their society while remaining outsiders as to the central aspects of their culture, living behind a glass wall, and being deprived of true relationships. There is a difference between the story of Taylor and of the young Flemish deaf woman on one hand and the story of Ateka Kweya on the other. The Nepali deaf man and the Flemish deaf woman had communicated about their experience, while the inner experience of deaf people who lived in the past has been described by nobody and was possibly unknown by the hearing community. Pastoral Ministry and Communication Experiences distinguished by safety, care, and love, but not by sharing, mutuality, and true conversation: such may have been the life of many deaf people in the period before deaf education was

43 Irene Taylor, BuddhasinDisguise:DeafPeopleofNepal(San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press, 1997), 131‐134. 44 Mieke Van Herreweghe and Myriam Vermeerbergen, Thuishoren in een wereldvangebaren(Ghent: Academia Press, 1998), 153.



initiated. In the same period, and in a totally different environment, the terms ‘practical theology’ and ‘pastoral psychology’ were used for the first time.45 In 1773, a new ordinance for students of theology at Wurzburg in Germany states: Instead of occupying students with a dry ontology, primary attention should be paid to psychology or the science of the soul.

This ordinance says that stress should be placed on the formation of the character of the pastor, so that he might be able to encounter all kinds of people and bring them, by his example and his words, to a conversation about religion. What is meant here by “psychology or the science of the soul” are pastoral counseling skills that, on the one hand, depend on affective and social skills and, on the other hand, rest on cognitive information about people and their problems in life. When he accepted his chair in Wurzburg in 1779, Rosshirt added to this ordinance: Those who want to teach persons’ will and lead it to virtue should know the laws followed by human mind and heart in its actions.

Pompey attributes this birth of pastoral psychology to the pluralism of values and thinking that rose out of the Enlightenment, by which the pastoral situation had become totally different from the times before the Enlightenment. I am struck, however, by the fact that this call within the disciplines of pastoral theology for conversational skills and knowledge of people and their difficulties arise simultaneously with the development of deaf education with its stress on communication. May it have been because the image of the human person was changing in Western cultures? Not very long before that period, the French philosopher, Descartes, had 45 Hans Pompey, “Zur Geschichte der Pastoralpsychologie,” in Handbuchder Pastoralpsychologie, ed. Isidor Baumgartner (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1990), 23-40.



professed his individuality with his words cogito ergo sum. Was that only a statement about persons’ consciousness and reasoning ability? Or was it the startling experience that even children can sometimes have: the realization that I am I, a person with my own inner life, and all those other persons too are an I, with their own inner lives. It was a time in which persons were no longer just cogs in the machine, like all those centuries before, but also individuals. And the only way to know and meet such an individual is through conversation and communication. Conversation, meeting, communication: that is what pastoral ministry and work with deaf people have in common. And the lack of conversation is the point at which deaf people are made most vulnerable. Several research studies about the way in which hearing people interact with the deaf show that hearing educators tend toward a position of control and the exertion of power, a directive educational style:46 “When communication breaks down, the most powerful takes control.”47 Such is the big pitfall not only for hearing educators of deaf people, but also for hearing people working with the deaf in other capacities. In psychotherapy and counseling, directive treatment techniques based on behavior therapy and learning theory are often preferred over non‐directive and client-centered methods. Such conversational methods are far more difficult, of course: directive methods are the only possible alternative left to a person who does not have the skills and the knowledge necessary


Susan M. Mather, “Home and Classroom Communication,” in Educationaland DevelopmentalAspectsofDeafness, ed. Donald F. Moores and Kathryn P. MeadowOrlans (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1990), 232-254; David J. Wood, “Instruction, Learning and Deafness” (paper presented at the the First European Conference on Research of Learning and Instruction, Louvain, Belgium, June 10, 1985). 47 Paul M. Brinich, “Childhood Deafness and Maternal Control,” Journalof CommunicationDisorders(1980): 75-81.



for coming into contact with deaf people. The same could and indeed does happen to persons who work in pastoral ministry with the deaf. In a master’s thesis for her study in pastoral theology, Verburg‐de Waard,48 a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, states that the receptionof salvation is the biggest problem in the preaching of the faith to the deaf. She tries to resolve this problem by means of all kinds of supporting techniques: visualization, visual images, Sign Language, Sign Language choirs, symbols that are compelling and beautiful to see. She seems to be as the typical hearing educator of deaf children who is primary interested in the supply side of education: how can I best ensure that my message passes through better to deaf people? Fortunately, at the end of her thesis, she points to the importance of conversation and she defines Protestant liturgy as a place where people can come into conversation with God, with each other, and with themselves. It is a pity that she does not elaborate this concept, because it is the central question of each form of service to deaf people: How can we enter into conversation with that specific deaf person? Parents of a very young deaf child have to learn that a true conversation with their child can develop only when they wait their turn, keep their mouth closed, and try to seize and understand the signals of their child, tuning in to the same wavelength as their child. That is true for all people working with the deaf. The main requirement for ensuring that a particular deaf person understands me lies in my ability to forget for a moment all those things that I would like to say in order to listen to this person. Therefore, the focus is not solely on asking if this deaf person understands me, but rather asking if this deaf person feels understood by me? Perhaps the wonder of ephphathá is not that I as a hearing person succeed in transmitting my message 48

Mieke E. L. Verburg-de Waard, “God in beeld?” (Master’s Thesis, Theologische Faculteit Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1999).



to the deaf person, but the miracle that deaf persons feel understood in a conversation from heart to heart49 and have the opportunity to open themeselves and to speak out. For many centuries, deaf people have lived as Buddhas in disguise, as the title of Taylor’s book sounds: seemingly inaccessible, inscrutable, and unable to give other people access to their inner world, and though present and alive, seemingly absent and dead. Now that many deaf people have received school education and are able to communicate in spoken language and still more in Sign Language, they can give us access to their inner world. On this inner world, a large part of this book will be directed: we shall try not to look as spectators to the deaf, but we shall try to feel what it is to be deaf. The basic assumption of this book is that pastoral ministry with the deaf can be fruitful only if it takes the perspective of deaf people themselves: their view on life, their worldview, their goals, and their culture. Several centuries ago, when European missionaries went to other continents in order to proclaim Christian faith, they primarily used two strategies. One strategy was exemplified by the Jesuits in China: they tried to be Chinese whit the Chinese and to find Chinese forms for expressing Christian faith. Korean people who visited China in the eighteenth century brought this form of Christianity to their country, where a Korean form of Christianity developed, even before priests came to Korea. The Jesuits’ method was kenosis: getting rid from European forms. This was far different from the way in which Spanish people brought Christianity to South America when indigenous culture was destroyed in favor of imported European customs. Becoming Christian meant also 49 Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Language Acquisition and Religious Education,” in Towards a Living Eucharist (Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf People, 1983), 33-74.



speaking Spanish, adopting Spanish culture, eating Spanish food, being torn off from one’s roots. That was the method of conquista. In the past, pastoral ministry with the deaf was like a hearing conquistaof the Deaf world: to be a Christian meant to talk and not to sign, to avoid the deaf club, and to look for a hearing partner. It did not succeed. To the contrary, conquistaled to estrangement of deaf people from the Churches, as this book will describe.


People with Hearing Impairment Some ten to fifteen years ago, a study in Flanders1 showed that 18.47% of the Flemish population was affected by a form of hearing impairment. According to this study, these people often meet problems when they have to communicate with public services. They have strong problems at counters and office windows in hospitals, banks, and post offices — especially in offices with thick windows of glass — and in public transport because they cannot hear or understand the spoken announcements. A problem for these people is that the personnel of these public services do not know how to deal with deaf and hard‐of‐hearing people. If we take into account the numbers of people with a hearing impairment that interferes with daily life, as found in Germany2 and the USA,3 then between five and seven percent of the world population is deaf or hard-of‐hearing, equally roughly 350 to 490 million persons. In light of such a large population, we can see that hearing impairment is nothing abnormal, but one of the many normal conditions of human existence. 1 Gerrit Loots et al., DegemeenschapvandovenenslechthorendeninVlaanderen:Communicatie,taalenverwachtingenomtrentmaatschappelijketoegankelijkheid(Ghent: Cultuur voor Doven, 2003). 2 M. Krüger, “Haüfigkeit,” in HandbuchderSonderpädagogik (Berlin: Carl Manhold Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1982). 3 Jerome D. Schein and Marcus Delk, The Deaf Population of the United States(Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, 1974).



About 1.5 to 3% of people have serious difficulty with following oral communication. This has serious consequences for their participation in social life and also in the life of Christian communities. In our verbally oriented culture, liturgy is more and more stripped off its visual elements. For persons who rely on vision, there is less and less to see. Or, let us look to many parish activities in which people can participate as volunteers: faith courses, liturgical committees, working groups for visitors of sick people, prayer groups, and other activities in which verbal communication is of crucial importance. Those who do not hear well can easily find themselves on the outside of such circles. These people encounter also problems in informal situations. People with a hearing loss have difficulty with communication in groups and in noisy circumstances. Sometimes even communication in one‐to‐one situations becomes difficult. The consequence is that it may become difficult to join when friends are talking together. Feasts, birthday parties, and so on, or just a chat with one’s neighbor, become straining and stressing. TwoCategoriesofPeople This large group of persons with a hearing impairment, is composed of two very different groups of people: a tiny group of deaf persons, mostly deaf from birth, and a large majority of hard‐of‐ hearing persons, mostly confronted with hearing problems later on in life. Between both groups of people, there are similarities but also large differences. Partial hearing is the most common and most long lasting physical disease. Among partially hearing persons, there will be many who have lost their hearing with age, a condition called ‘presbyacusis’, which can be caused by long lasting acoustic trauma, but



also by genetic factors. Presbyacusis not only makes it increasingly difficult to hear soft sounds and sounds of a high pitch, but the ability to discriminate sounds from each other is also lost. The consequence is that people often feel themselves surrounded by a chaos of noise that makes comprehension impossible.4 Another group of persons are those who lost their hearing because of an acoustic trauma. In industrialized societies, acoustic trauma as an effect of extended exposure to noise is a very common injury, and as such, a consequence of industrial exploitation. Acoustic trauma also effects young people because of exposure to very loud music. In addition, we should not forget in our era of war in several parts of the globe, many people experience acoustic trauma because of bomb explosions very near to them. In many cases, these people are helped with good audiological care and adequate hearing aid fitting, by which they do not suffer excessive problems in the perception of sound and especially the understanding of spoken language. A rather small group is formed by those who have had a hearing loss or an absence of hearing present at birth or acquired during the first years of life. These are the persons who without early identification and treatment and often in spite of early identification and treatment will develop spoken language either deficiently or not at all, in spite of normal innate language capacities. In the study we mentioned, 1 to 1.25 out of thousand people5 have a hearing loss from birth or acquired early in life, equaling seven to eight million people throughout the whole world. Even if they are born in hearing families, most of these people will prefer Sign Language for daily communication and conversations with family and friends. Two thirds of them use Sign Language, and a full one quarter use 4 Maarten Rodenburg, Klinische Audiologie (Leiden: Stafleu’s Wetenschappelijke Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1975). 5 Loots et al., DegemeenschapvandovenenslechthorendeninVlaanderen, 115-116.



Sign Language as their only language.6 As a group, they are well organized: in Flanders, 78% of them are members of a deaf club,7 and almost half of the members of deaf clubs have only deaf friends.8 EarlyDeafPeople This book is about people who were born deaf or who became deaf early in life, a tiny group comprised of one out of every thousand to five thousand people. With so few in number, far less than one percent, why talk so much about them? Because the degree to which the Church community is able to not only be aware of deaf persons, but also to grant them full and worthy participation of the life of the Church, reveals the Church’s ability to deal with difference, to deal with marginalized people, and to move beyond fundamentally pre‐Christian views on human limitations and suffering. Deaf people often are outsiders in the Church. The Spanish deaf born priest, Agustín Yanes Valer, stated in 1998 that many Catholic deaf people cannot participate in various forms of renewal in the Church.9 One of those renewals is the activities of the so-called New Movements, like the Charismatic Movement, Neo‐Catechumenate, Focolare, Marriage Encounter, and other groups. He states that none 6

Loots et al., DegemeenschapvandovenenslechthorendeninVlaanderen, 116. Ibid., 117. 8 Eric Broekaert, J. Bogaerts, and Jean-Paul Clement, Wat doven zeggen: Onderzoeknaardesocio-educatieveleefsituatievanvolwassendovenenslechthorendenuithetbuitengewoononderwijsinVlaanderen(Louvain: Garant, 1994), 117. 9 Agustín Yanes Valer, “Fraternity in the Pastoral Service of the Deaf in Spain,” in MinisteringWhereNoBirdsSing: ProceedingsoftheFifthInternational Conference of The International Catholic Foundation for the Service of DeafPeopleheldinValladolid,Spain(Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons, 1998), 145-152, at 149. 7



of these movements has deaf persons among their members. He is not completely right: in Latin America, Spain and Italy, there are deaf members of the Neo‐Catechumenate, and in the United States, there is a deaf Cursillo Movement. In the past, Catholic missionaries spread from Europe to other continents and other countries with cultures very different from the culture of their homelands, yet at the same time, many deaf people in their countries of origin continued to be excluded from access to the riches of the Church. Is it wrong to conclude that it was easier to bring and enculturate the Christian message to the four corners of the globe rather than bring the Church to the Deaf Community? Perhaps deaf people were the true ends of the earth. Just Normal Persons These deaf people have a striking characteristic in common: they assert that they are normal persons. How can they say that? Does that not prove that they have poor reality testing, possibly a personality disorder, and that they need, by consequence, firm guidance? In the nineteenth century, the French medical doctor Prosper Ménière, observed that The deaf believe that they are our equals in all respects. We should be generous and not destroy that illusion. But whatever they believe, deafness is an infirmity and we should repair it whether the person who has it is disturbed by it or not.10

Deaf people experience themselves as normal people, but many of them at the same time feel more at ease with other deaf people than with hearing people. It is a common feeling among deaf people that 10 Quoted in Auguste Houdin, Delasurdimutité:Examencritiqueetraisonné deladiscussionsoulevéeàl’AcadémieImpérialedeMédecinedeParis,séances des19et26avril1853surcinqquestions(Paris: Lube, 1855).



they share a sense of belonging with other deaf people, and many hearing parents and educators of deaf youth observe that deaf people share something special with each other. The following statement is typical for many deaf people: I have lots of hearing friends and I see my deaf friends at a different time. I can’t really relax at work, but with deaf people I know I am with my own people.11

These two feelings, being normal but belonging to other deaf people, have led, among many deaf people, to a cultural view of deafness. This view holds that deaf people are not impaired or defective people, but rather normal people belonging to a cultural and linguistic minority. The English deaf priest, Peter McDonough states: I know that hearing people were appalled when I said that deafness is an unfortunate obstacle, but which is “no big thing,” not because we conquered deafness, but because we accept it! It is no wonder that we deaf people prefer the term, “Deaf,” with a capital “D,” rather than the term, “hearing‐impaired,” which carries negative connotations.12

Is deafness a defect or a gift? A severe handicap or not a big deal? Is the belief of deaf persons that they are just normal people an illusion? In this chapter, I shall not give a simple answer to these questions but will instead show two divergent different views on deafness. The hearing point of view on ‘deafness as a defect’ and the socio‐cultural view of many deaf people are rhetorical constructions. Rhetorical constructions are a way of language use by which 11 Susan Gregory, Juliet Bishop, and Lesley Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleand Their Families: Developing Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 163. 12 Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeople Ministering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44, at 43.



barriers between cultures, communities, and groups of people are constructed. Rhetorical constructions are political and strategic instruments used to achieve certain goals. They have their own tenets, their own strategic goals, and their own merits, but both of them with their own ways of reducing reality. An example of a rhetorical construction is the word ‘disability’. The word ‘disability’ creates an antithesis between disability and normalcy, as if disability were the imperfect standing in contrast to normalcy, which encapsulates health and completeness. The word ‘disability’ keeps persons at a distance from so‐called normal people. A disability is, as the deaf author Brenda Brueggemann states, a woman with a cane, far from my own personal sphere, but one whom, if only we made contact with each other, I would discover that I have much in common with. The effect of the term ‘disability’ is that people comply with the view that they are people with a defect and that they will never be able nor permitted to achieve the same things as people without such a defect. That is the politics of invalidation, which comes forth from the deep‐rooted belief that people with a disability are incomplete, less human, less entitled to rights. The politics of invalidation spring from the theological framework that a disability is a consequence of original sin punished by God.13 Another rhetorical construction is found in the idea of ‘deafness as cultural and linguistic minority’, a rhetorical construction that seeks to stress the difference between hearing and deaf people and to present the Deaf Community as a community in its own worth. Unsurprisingly, hearing and deaf persons have very different views on deafness. For hearing people, deafness is frequently viewed as a defect, a lack of hearing, as discussed above. But for deaf people, deafness is far more than that: being deaf is belonging 13

Brenda J. Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness(Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999), 2‐3.



to one’s own culture, one’s own lifestyle in a visual‐spatial world, and the use of one’s own language, Sign Language. The goal of defining deafness as a defect is treatment. Treating deafness as a defect seeks to limit the effects of deafness through medical intervention but also through sociological interventions such as preventing deaf people from using Sign Language in their communication. Sign Language is, after all, the stigma that makes the ‘defect’ most visible. For deaf people, their definition of deafness is an instrument for emancipation of the Deaf Community, and in this process of emancipation, Sign Language may be the preferred way to make deafness visible. On the one hand, Sign Language is perceived as a stigma by the hearing, but on the other hand, Sign Language is a symbol of emancipation for the deaf. The Defect Approach of Deafness HearingLoss A defect approach to deafness is a medical and individual model of deafness that considers deafness a medically diagnosed condition, and it places the responsibility for the consequences of deafness for personal and social functioning upon deaf people themselves. In this model, deaf people are just persons who cannot hear, and deafness is a deviation from the norm which must be corrected by medical treatment, in other words, a disability. Guidelines of the World Health Organization distinguish three levels or dimensions in disability.14 The first level is an impairment or functional limitation: a loss or abnormality of a psychological or anatomical structure or function. Impairment is within a person and has mostly a medical or organic character. It refers to the structure 14

International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, http:// (access on 05‐28‐2002).



and function of body systems, tissues, and organs. The second level is disability, which is a restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for human beings. Some restrictions will be evident as a logical consequence of impairment, whereas other restrictions are based on individual and social beliefs and expectations. The third level is a handicap, which is the disadvantage for a given individual resulting from impairment or disability, which limits the fulfilment of normal social roles and participation in society. Here evident objective characteristics and logical consequences of impairment and disability play a role, but handicap depends strongly upon societal expectations and opportunities given to a person. From the perspective of this impairment‐disability‐handicap model, deafness is a severe prelingual hearing impairment. Whereas for hearing people, the most prominent way of perception of sound is by means of auditory perception, deaf persons can perceive sound at maximum only partially by means of auditory perception. We speak about audiological deafness when hearing impairment is such that only loud noises are heard and speech can be heard or understood only when it is shouted. When a child is born with such a hearing loss, it will not acquire spoken language without intensive audiological and speech therapy. We speak about profound deafness when hearing loss is such that a person cannot hear their own voice without a hearing aid. Such individuals live in an absolute silence that completely hearing persons cannot comprehend. When normally hearing persons find themselves in a completely silent environment, they still hear noise: the noise of their blood streaming through the ears or even their own heart beating. For deaf persons, that silence is complete. Hearing people who become deafened may experience this silence as threatening. Deafened persons may feel isolated by this silence from their environment.



Deafened persons have a conscious experience of hearing loss, whereas persons deaf from birth or early life do not have a concept of hearing loss, nor do they have a concept of hearing. For them, deafness does not have much to do with hearing, but more with the experience of communication difficulties in a hearing society. In their view, considering deafness from the perspective of hearing loss is typical for hearing people. Persons deaf from birth may acquire, however, a concept of hearing loss as a consequence of audiological treatment. These individuals also may have received hearing aids as young children and have built up some hearing experience, not on the level of understanding spoken language, but on the level of perception of environmental sounds, a level comparable with severely hard‐of‐hearing persons. In some of these persons, that residual hearing may deteriorate with age, because of aging or because of the use of hearing aids itself — the output of hearing aids may be so loud that it actually causes acoustical trauma. For some of these persons, the fact of no longer being able to perceive some environmental sounds may be an experience of loss. In the case of audiological deafness present at birth or acquired early in life, medical and audiological experts speak of prelingual deafness; deaf persons themselves reject this term, because it is too much oriented on spoken language. Deaf children may have free access to visual language.15 It is a common misunderstanding of hearing persons, however, that deaf people do not perceive sound. Of course, deaf people “are first, last and of all time people of the eye.”16 Sound, however, can 15 Corrie Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn:Eennieuwperspectiefopdovekinderen (Twello: Van Tricht Uitgeverij, 2006), 13. 16 George Veditz, “President’s Message,” in Proceedings of the Ninth ConventionoftheNationalAssociationoftheDeafandtheThirdWorldCongressof theDeaf,1910 (Philadelphia, PA: Philocophus Press, 1912), 30.



also be perceived by seeing. The American deaf author Ben Bahan states: There are different sets of learned behaviors and adaptive systems that are passed on with respect to “reading the world.” One learns to engage in observing, looking, and eventually seeing that sound has ways of bouncing off visual cues. … If cars in front of you slow down or stop at an intersection when the light is green, do not attempt to pass without checking around you because this is a tell-tale sign of an oncoming ambulance or police in the intersection. My father also noted that pets and/or other animals are able to broadcast auditory cues. My wife and I are able to “hear” our kids coming down the stairs or playing upstairs when they are supposed to be in bed by noticing our pets (cats and dog) perk up from their sleep and glance at space behind us. When I walk my dog in the woods I often “hear” things by noticing her glances in particular directions. A “visual rule” my father hammered into me as a child was the necessity of looking back every time you leave a room or place. “You never know if someone may need your attention, so it is a courtesy to look behind you to check with others before you leave.”17

Sound can not only be seen, but also felt. Hearing persons become seldom aware of this facet of sound, except in the case of very loud noises, like an organ playing in a church, or a heavy motor. In such cases, hearing persons may notice the vibrations of the noise. Deaf people can learn to become more aware of feeling noises. During the Second World War, deaf persons learned to perceive that bombers were coming over during the night: they felt their vibrations. Hearing persons are often not aware of this way of perceiving sound, possibly because audition suppresses the other senses. 17 Benjamin J. Bahan, “Upon the Formation of a Visual Variety of the Human Race,” in Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking, ed. H-Dirksen L. Bauman (Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 83-99, at 89.



CausesofDeafness In about 40% of deaf children, congenital deafness is hereditary. There are several forms of hereditary deafness, which sometimes is a part of a broader syndrome, like Waardenburg, Pendred, Treacher Collins, Klippel‐Feil, Alport and Crouzon.18 In such cases, one or both parents may be deaf, or other members of the family are deaf. Sometimes one has to go back far into the history or genealogy of a family in order to find deaf ancestors. Hereditary deafness is frequent in families where the parents are cousins. It is also known that in some communities where deafness is frequent and where deaf people have developed their own Sign Languages, the number of marriages between deaf people increases and with that phenomenon the incidence of deafness in the community rises.19 Hearing experts in the field of deafness may have a problem with that, considering it a confirmation of their belief that Sign Language use leads to a spread of deafness in the population, and pollution of the human gene pool. Deaf persons themselves consider it a sign of the increased viability of the Deaf Community as a direct result of Sign Language use. When a child is diagnosed as having a hereditary form of deafness, hearing parents may experience frustration or disappointment, especially if only one of the parents is a carrier of the deafness gene. These are pastorally difficult situations since the parent knows that they are the carrier of a defect which now impacts their child significantly, and it is the very nature of that parent’s own 18 Ronald J. C. Admiraal, “Hearing Impairment and Associated Handicaps: An Aetiological Study” (Doctor in Medicine, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, 2000). 19 Walter E. Nance, “The Epidemiology of Hereditary Deafness: The Impact of Connexin 26 on the Size and the Structure of the Deaf Community,” in Genetics, Disability, and Deafness, ed. John Vickrey Van Cleve (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2004), 94-106.



being which contributed to the issue. The carrier parent may feel guilty or scrutinized for their perceived role in their child’s deafness. Such parents should be approached with gentleness and understanding. However, some deaf people see it as an advantage to carry a deafness gene, since they prefer having a deaf child. Today, a great amount of knowledge about deafness has been acquired through genetic research. The most common deafness gene is Connexin 26. The discovery of this gene caused quite a bit of preoccupation in the Deaf Community. In the past, in some countries, the Deaf Community has been severely traumatized by eugenic practices, which were common not only in Nazi Germany, but also in civilized countries such as the United States and Sweden. There is a fear among deaf people that genetic knowledge can be used against the Deaf Community, for example, for prenatal diagnostics and abortion. Some deaf people, however, argue that genetic knowledge can be used also in the opposite way, for enhancing the possibility of getting deaf offspring.20 Many deaf people who come from deaf families are proud to be second, third, or fourth generation deaf people. Deaf children of deaf parents are often those who play a central role in the continuity of the Deaf Community. Some of them prefer to have deaf children, because the birth of a hearing child will mean that the communication problems inherent in hearing society will enter into their family. It is not uncommon for a hearing person born after many generations of deafness will find it hard to cope with being different from the rest of their family members.21 20 Jane Dillehay, “Impact of Genetics Research on the Deaf Community,” in TheDeafWayIIReader:PerspectivesfromtheSecondInternationalConference onDeafCulture, ed. Harvey Goodstein (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2006), 370-375. 21 Anna Middleton, “Deaf and Hearing Adults’ Attitudes toward Genetic Testing for Deafness,” in Genetics,Disability,andDeafness, 127-147, at 140.



But there are still further reasons why genetic research is a controversial theme in the Deaf Community. In September 2003, a statement was made by the commissioner of the European Union Busquinet about genetic research on deafness, technological innovation, and cochlear implantation. This led to furious reactions by organizations of the deaf, such as the European Union of the Deaf located in Brussels, which pointed out the orientation of the speech toward the ‘deafness industry’. Genetic research employed to serve the capitalistic interests of deaf industries is viewed with great skepticism by the Deaf Community. Another form of congenital deafness is caused by prenatal virus infections. In the past, rubella was a notorious cause of deafness, since it caused not only deafness, but also visual handicaps, language disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.22 Between 1961 and 1976 in Western Europe, in 11% of the cases of deafness, rubella was the cause. Because of an intensive vaccination program, the incidence of rubella has considerably decreased. Other prenatal virus infections causing deafness are congenital syphilis, herpes, and HIV. Deafness can also be caused by perinatal problems. Among older deaf people, there are still a lot of persons who were deafened as a result of Rhesus antagonism, an incompatibility of the blood of the mother and the child. This cause of deafness has almost disappeared in Western Europe, but it is still found in regions with less proficient medical care. A frequent postnatal cause of deafness is meningitis. Meningitis is caused by a virus that damages the hearing nerve, with the consequence of hearing impairment and problems with balance. 22 Jan van Dijk, Rubella Handicapped Children: The Effects of Bi-Lateral Cataractand/orHearingImpairmentonBehaviourandLearning(Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1982); Jan van Dijk, Ruth Carlin, and Heather Hewitt, Persons HandicappedbyRubella:VictorsandVictims–AFollow-upStudy(Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1991).



In regions where malaria is endemic, malaria can be the cause of meningitis. Often meningitis causes other effects in addition to deafness, like behavioral issues, learning difficulties, and attention deficit disorders. In the past, meningitis was often treated with streptomycin, a medicine which is a notorious cause of deafness. In tropical countries where malaria is endemic, malaria is a frequent cause of deafness, in some countries even the most prevalent cause of deafness. A special group of deafness etiologies are those that lead to double sensory impairment, deafblindness. About 5% of the deaf manifest the syndrome called Usher I, characterized by total absence of hearing, a disturbance of equilibrium, and increasing night blindness and tunnel vision from the onset of puberty. Another cause of deafblindness is Charge association, characterized by a combination of eye defects, heart defect, genital defect, ear defects, hearing loss and absence of the equilibrium organ. Another serious form of multisensory impairment are genetic metabolic diseases associated with severe hearing and visual impairment, like Zellweger’s disease and Infantile Refsum’s Disease. As one might infer from this description, some of these causes of deafness depend from the quality of medical care in a country. Etiologies like rubella, malaria meningitis, congenital HIV have a higher incidence in countries with poor medical care. In some countries, children with particular etiologies are not found, not because they are not born there, but since poor medical care is not able to keep them alive. Another ethical aspect of causes of deafness stems from the fact that deafness may be caused by exogenic etiologies, not by genetic factors, but by causes from outside the person (viral infections, meningitis, etc.). These causes often have to do with the quality of medical care and as such also with social justice.



DefectOrientedTreatment A medical‐audiological definition of deafness aims at an audiological treatment. This audiological treatment consists of an early assessment of deafness and an early hearing aid fitting. In several countries, hearing loss can already be diagnosed a few weeks after birth, by means of so-called neonatal auditory screening, by which all newborn children are screened within a few weeks after birth. As soon as deafness is assessed, children are provided with hearing aids. One might ask if such an early diagnosis may have negative effects on the relationship between parents and child. Actual experiences suggest, however, that when very early assessment takes place, parents are still able to interact well with their child and are very active in looking for the best opportunities for their child. As to communication, children seem to profit from early assessment. Indeed, parents were happy that the hearing loss of their child had been found so early. The only parents who were not happy with early assessment were the parents of children with milder hearing losses.23 Children with a severe to profound hearing loss get external hearing aids which are worn behind the ear. Nowadays, children with profound hearing loss are more and more likely to receive an internal hearing prosthesis: a kind of internal hearing aid by which an electrode is induced into the cochlea and the hearing nerve is directly and electrically stimulated (i.e., a cochlear implant). Now children of less than one year receive such implants. For many years, cochlear implants were controversial. There was much enthusiasm from the part of people in the medical‐audiological world and advocates of the oral education of deaf children. It cannot be denied that children benefit from cochlear implantation, especially as it enables the acquisition of spoken language. In places where cochlear 23

Cf. Guido Lichtert, Paper presented on the Minisymposium on Neonatal Hearing Screening, Sint‐Michielsgestel (NL), 7 March 2001.



implantation is generally accepted, one sees that schools for the deaf almost disappear: many deaf children with cochlear implants attend the same schools as hearing children. In some places, deaf schools have to be closed, which is just the phenomenon that opponents of cochlear implantation were scared for. Initially, members of the adult Deaf Community saw cochlear implantation as a direct attack on themselves and their survival. In fact, some went so far as to refer to cochlear implantation as a form of ‘genocide on the Deaf Community’. The adult Deaf Community saw cochlear implantation as irresponsible medical experiments on young deaf children and the ultimate consequence of an erroneous approach which views deafness as a medical‐organic defect as opposed to a legitimate human lifestyle.24 For a long period of time, cochlear implantation has encountered opposition from advocates of Sign Language among deaf adults and parents of deaf children. However, tides are shifting, and the Deaf Community has come to the conclusion that they will survive only when they also welcome persons with a cochlear implant. Most deaf adults will not seek a cochlear implant, since they feel that they are perfectly fine the way they are. For them, cochlear implantation means yielding to the idea that deafness is a disability. The matter of cochlear implantation is not devoid of significant ethical complications. Cochlear implantation always involves a medical intervention into a healthy body by which a foreign object is inserted into the body of a child who is too young to consent to such a procedure. The Helsinki statement on Biomedical Research, revised in 1975 at Tokyo, states: The right of the research object to safeguard his or her integrity must always be respected. Every precaution should be taken to respect the 24

Stuart S. Blume, “The Rhetoric and Counter Rhetoric of a ‘Bionic’ Technology,” Science,TechnologyandHumanValues22, no. 1 (1997): 31-56.



privacy of the subject and to minimize the impact of the study on the subject’s physical and mental integrity and on the personality of the subject.25

Cochlear implantation is a potential violation of the integrity of a child’s body. How do children experience this violation and that foreign object in their body as they grow and mature? In most cases, children are happy with their cochlear implants — and losing it is a cause of grief. However, little is known about the long‐ term side effects, for example, the long-term effects after 30-40 years of implantation. Another problem with cochlear implantation stems from when parents and children have unrealistic expectations, for example, that a cochlear implant will lead to normal hearing. The reality is, however, that while persons with a cochlear implant can function as hard of hearing instead of deaf, they still remain deaf. A cochlear implant is nothing more than a very effective hearing aid, and if the device does not function, the person is deaf. In fact, a person can be even more deaf than before implantation if the implantation took place in the better ear. Observation of children with cochlear implants seems to indicate that children do not like to switch off their implants, in some cases even when they are sleeping. This behavior indicates that, for children with cochlear implants, complete hearing loss is very uncomfortable. Nonetheless, complete hearing loss may become a reality if, for whatever reason, the implant ceases to function. Cochlear implants are most effective when children are very young. The older early deaf individuals are, the less effective a cochlear implant will be. Deaf adolescents and young adults often take a cochlear implant because of the effects they see in other 25 Quoted from H. Troidl, W. O. Spitzer, B. McPeek, D. S. Mulder, and Martin F. Bach, eds., Principles and Practice of Research: Strategies for Surgical Investigators(Heidelberg and New York: Springer, 2012), 369.



people. Although deaf adolescents and young adults are repeatedly told that they should not expect too much from cochlear implants, real disappointment may still result because, in spite of all warnings, high expectations concerning the improvement of spoken language and hearing skills can still remain. Another ethical problem with cochlear implantation concerns the very high cost of a cochlear implantation and the rehabilitation which follows implantation: several tens of thousands of Euros. Is it right to spend so much money to intervene in the life of a healthy child who might be happy using Sign Language, whereas, in other places, people die due to the lack of medical facilities which cost far less than a cochlear implant? The cost of one cochlear implant can keep an entire school for the deaf running for several months in other countries. Cochlear implantation is strongly promoted by medical industrial companies that have considerable political influence. In some countries, health insurance pays all the costs involved in cochlear implantation, but only a portion of the costs involved in conventional hearing aids (e.g., devices, batteries, audiological examinations), although the latter are less expensive. For deaf people with residual hearing and low income, that may be a reason for taking a cochlear implant. Auditory rehabilitation involves speech therapy. By a combination of early diagnosis, improved hearing aid technology, and modern insights in the pragmatic aspects of early mother‐child interaction, many deaf children can intelligibly acquire the spoken language of their parents as their mother tongue. In order to achieve that, in the opinion of many hearing professionals, the use of Sign Language should be avoided.26 In oral education programs, many deaf children 26 Wendy A. Lynas, Alan Huntington, and Ivan Tucker, ACriticalExaminationofDifferentApproachestoCommunicationintheEducationofDeafChildren (Manchester: Ewing Foundation, 1990).



with average intelligence remain, however, linguistically impaired and, by consequence, illiterate.27 A comparison between deaf children in schools for the deaf and deaf children (with equal abilities) in regular schools shows that deaf pupils in regular schools attain better reading levels. This phenomenon, however, might be the consequence of lower expectations regarding the educational achievements of schools for the deaf. Special schools for the deaf are seen as a restricted learning environment for deaf children, and placing deaf children into regular schools is considered a better alternative. Deaf children’s reading levels in regular schools, however, are often far below the reading levels of hearing children.28 In the past, this defect approach to deafness was prescribed by many institutes for the deaf to parents and deaf persons. Parents of deaf children were considered good parents so long as they cooperated well with the experts conformed to this model. Deaf people were encouraged to ‘accept their deafness’ by obeying the experts’ injunctions: wear hearing aids, avoid Sign Language, assimilate into hearing society, avoid other deaf people, and look for a hearing partner. While this approach is highly problematic, it’s nevertheless important to note that it undeniably led to developmental results in deaf persons that were unimaginable prior to its inception. It contributed enormously to the improvement of the quality of life of deaf persons. And, in fact, a large minority of deaf people conformed themselves to this view. Proponents of the aforementioned defect approach saw it as the only way to overcome, as much as possible, the disabling effects of deafness on cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional development. However skilled a person may be as a lip reader, lip‐reading 27 Loes Wauters et al., “Dove kinderen leren lezen: Perspectieven van woordherkenningstraining,” PedagogischeStudiën78, no. 7 (2001): 256-270. 28 Tonnie Brands, Integratievandovekindereninhetregulierbasisonderwijs: Eenevaluatie(Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1990).



is a tiring activity that does not guarantee participation in informal communication: the ‘phatic communion’ that makes informal conversation an emotionally satisfying experience for hearing people, such as chatting at a birthday party or talking with a friend one meets on the street.29 And, above all, the disabling effects of deafness remain and a fallback into the primitive world of disability will take place when hearing aids are not worn, signs are used for communication, and the company of other deaf people is preferred to the company of the hearing. In the past, the defect approach to deafness had the typical characteristics of the medical model, a model which has been criticized since the 1960s by antipsychiatry and sociology. In the medical model, the expert operated as a missionary: as soon as the diagnosis was clear, patients were to be convinced that they should conform themselves to the views and prescriptions of the expert. Power was to be handed over to the expert.30 Illich called this process medicalization: patients were no longer owners of, nor were they permitted to deal with, their own illness.31 Jet Isarin calls this process expropriation.32 Deaf persons and parents of deaf children were not allowed to form their own relationship with, and understanding of, deafness. This patronizing and common practice might be the real reason why so many deaf persons and parents of deaf children rejected this expert model of ‘oral education’.


Philip Riley, Language,CultureandIdentity:AnEthnolinguisticPerspective(London: Continuum, 2007), 124. 30 Cf. Thomas J. Scheff, BeingMentallyIll:ASociologicalTheory(Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Company, 1966). 31 Ivan Illich, Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis, the Expropriation of Health(London: Marion Boyers, 1995). 32 Jet Isarin, De eigen ander: Moeders, deskundigen en gehandicapte kinderen.Filosofievaneenervaring(Budel: Damon, 2001).



Nowadays, advocates of this medical‐audiological approach to deafness admit that theirs is only one of the approaches to deafness and communication that parents of deaf children can take. Parents are considered, however, so helpless and so deprived from scientific knowledge that they should not make a choice without the guidance of experts. It is taken for granted that medical progress will inevitably show the superiority of the medical‐audiological model.33 Western European countries have a strong oral tradition in deaf education, and until a few decades ago, signs were not used in the school. Yet, concerning deaf adults who received their education in oral schools, 80% use Sign Language for general communication, 60% use speech for communication with hearing people, and 14% use only Sign Language.34 And a rather large number of deaf students in oral schools use signs when they communicate with fellow students, other deaf persons, and family members.35 The Social Model In the first two decades after the Second World War, sociologists and social psychologists working in the field of disability and rehabilitation stated that people with a disability had far more competences than medical experts had ever thought possible.36 They 33

Cf. Paul van den Broek, “Surdus loquens, een controversieel ideaal?,” Official last lecture at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, 1999. 34 Gerrit Loots and Isabel Devise, De Dovengemeenschap in Vlaanderen: Doorlichting, sensibilisering en standaardisering van de Vlaamse Gebarentaal. Luik1:Demografischonderzoek(Brussels: Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, 2002), 91. 35 Bea Maes, Leentje Rymen, and Pol Ghesquière, Leren met gebaren: De betekenisvangebarencommunicatieinhetbuitengewoononderwijsvoordoveen slechthorendeleerlingen(Ghent: Cultuur voor Doven, 2003). 36 Cf. the following authors: Beatrice Wright, PhysicalDisability:APsychologicalApproach(New York: Harper & Row, 1960); Constantina Safilios-Rothschildt,



concluded that, in a medical approach to disability, diagnosis of impairment led to considerable pressure on the diagnosed to become a patient and to accept the role medical science had conceived for a patient with a similar diagnosis. The behavior and belief systems associated with such a disabled role often led to a larger than necessary restriction in a person’s life goals. These insights gave rise to the so‐called socialmodelofdisability. The rise of the social model of disability gave birth to a growing emancipation movement concerning people with disabilities: the disability rights movement. This movement started in the United States, under the influence of the sociology and psychology of disability and rehabilitation, and spread to other countries, as well. Leaders of the disabled people’s rights movement correctly insist that people with physical and mental abilities are oppressed. Advocates reject the idea that the suffering that accompanies disability is a psychological problem that should be treated with psychological methods. Instead, the suffering is caused by society, since society discriminates against people with disability in education, employment, and physical access to public services. Not only does social injustice express itself in discrimination against people with disabilities, it even creates many causes of disability, such as war, poverty, industrial exploitation, lack of medical care, and pollution, although many disabilities are biologically unavoidable. The causes of disability are to be regretted and combated, but the burden of disability should not be solely placed on the shoulders of disabled people. Society must compensate for disability and learn to see the disabled way of life as valuable in its own right. People with disabilities are less disabled or not disabled at all in a well-designed and accessible environment that compensates for TheSociologyandSocialPsychologyofDisabilityandRehabilitation(New York: Random House, 1970).



impairment. Accessibility, however, is not enough for full participation and equal rights: deep‐seated prejudice has to be overcome. This point is argued by the physically disabled theologian Nancy Eiesland, who notes that most Christian Churches are reluctant to ordain people who do not meet fundamentally unchristian standards of bodily perfection. Eiesland describes how her Church, the Lutheran Church of America, shortly after the United Nations Year of the Disabled, decided that disabled people could not be ordained.37 One of the reasons for this decision was that ‘we’, the healthy people, would feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in churches led by disabled people. It is paradoxical that churches which celebrate a Disabled God in the Eucharist are reluctant to accept disability in their leadership. Accepting disability in church leadership would be a liberating action in a culture obsessed with health, bodily beauty, perfection, and dysmorphophobia: the fear of being ugly. Dysmorphophobia is a very common psychological disorder among young people in Western countries, by which even slight deviancies from a beauty ideal are experienced as a burden and as a reason for cosmetic surgery. The social model states that the problem of disability is not that wheel chair users are not able to use public transport; it is public transport that is inaccessible to wheelchair users. It is not that blind people are unable to read; it is that the information has been presented in visual rather than in audio or tactile form. It is not that d/Deaf people cannot hear the platform announcements at railway stations; it is that the information is only offered in an inaccessible way.38

The social model offers a perspective on disability that does not place the blame for the inability to participate in society on disabled 37 Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 75ff. 38 Hannah M. Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 30.



people. It recognizes that disabled people are an oppressed social group that can participate in society when barriers are removed. The social model focuses on equal access, equality, and inclusion. With its emphasis on social rights, the social model has achieved positive results for deaf people. The social model recognizes that being unable to hear should not be perceived as a reason for exclusion from society. Likewise, the social model acknowledges that the primary reason for which deaf people have been excluded from participation in society has to do with the prevalence of prejudice and social injustice in society itself. Application of the social model has most certainly led to more emancipation of deaf people. The social model contains, however, some elements that do not conform to deaf people’s self‐experience. Though recognizing the social processes that are oppressive for deaf people, the social model continues to see deaf people as disabled, whereas many deaf people cannot view themselves as such. The social model asks that deaf people join forces with disabled people, as if they would have more in common with people with disabilities than with people without disabilities. For deaf people, however, people with other disabilities are just hearing people, representatives of a hearing society in which they feel themselves excluded. The social model focuses on inclusion, whereas deaf people want to participate in society only with recognition of deaf people’s need to gather together and the recognition of the unique character of the Deaf Community. For deaf people, a shortcoming of the social model is that it does not describe the actual lived experience of deaf people. Many deaf people object that the social model seems to incorporate the false assumption that all members of society must aspire to the same norms. Moreover, there is a growing need in the Deaf Community not to see themselves as pitiful victims of a cruel society, but as a community of people in their own right.



As we will see further on, the social model has brought consequences that were welcomed by organizations of people with other disabilities, such as assimilating into regular schools, but that were rejected by deaf people. These deaf people state that deafness leads to an utterly unique way of life. Deafness leads to a different perception of the world, a different world view. Therefore, deaf people understand deafness to be a unique culture. Deafness as a Culture ACulturalandLinguisticMinority Many deaf persons feel more comfortable in the company of deaf, as opposed to hearing, people. They would prefer a deaf partner to a hearing partner, and sometimes even deaf children to hearing children. Preston, a hearing son of deaf parents, quotes a hearing woman born in a family with deaf parents and grandparents: My [deaf] grandparents would have regarded me much higher if I had been born deaf. They would have valued me more if I had been born deaf. In the narratives of those with deaf grandparents, the “difference centre” that Padden and Humphries (1988) describe among the Deaf Community is most evident. Within these families, deafness was the norm. To be hearing was to be outsider. Hearing — a forgotten feature now suspect. Hearing — a reminder of difference.39

When deciding about the choice of a partner, deaf persons may even use their knowledge of genetics, opting for a higher probability of producing deaf offspring.40 In a sociological study among deaf Dutch adults, it was found that almost 50% of the deaf were clearly oriented toward Deaf 39 Paul Preston, Mother Father Deaf: Living between Sound and Silence (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), 70. 40 Cf. Dillehay, “Impact of Genetics Research.”



Culture. These people prefer to communicate in Sign Language. They have mostly had frequent contact with other deaf people from early youth onward. They are explicit advocates of more opportunities and more social and political influence for deaf people.41 While analyzing the self-experience of deaf persons and their relationships with fellow deaf people, the American psychiatrist Roger Freeman observed: Deafness is more than a diagnosis, it is a cultural phenomenon, in which social, emotional, linguistic and intellectual problems are completely interwoven with each other.42

In the opinion of the American sociologist Paul Higgins, deaf persons are deemed to be outsiders in the world of hearing people.43 Deaf people often feel themselves oppressed by hearing society. In addition, like other outsiders, many of deaf people cope with being an outsider by the formation of their own communities with their own subculture, beliefs, and ideologies about life and the world: Deaf Culture. Deafness is not enough for membership of such a Deaf Community. What is needed is identification with the Deaf Community, the use of Sign Language, and the sharing of life experiences with other deaf people. Identification is the feeling that one belongs to the Deaf Community, a desire to be with the deaf. This identification is more 41

Petrus C. M. Breed and Bernadine C. Swaans-Joha, DoveninNederland: Een exploratief onderzoek naar de leefsituatie van volwassen dove mensen in relatie tot opvoeding en onderwijs (Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1986). 42 Roger D. Freeman, Susan F. Malkin, and Jane O. Hastings, “Psychosocial Problems of Deaf Children and Their Families: A Comparative Study,” American AnnalsoftheDeaf120 (1975): 391-405. 43 Paul C. Higgins, OutsidersinaHearingWorld:ASociologyofDeafness (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980), 22.



important than hearing loss. Audiologically deaf persons who do not use Sign Language are considered people who are not really deaf; they are ‘think-hearing’: persons who choose to think and to act like hearing persons;44 they are ‘hearing in their minds’. From the other side, people who are not completely audiologically deaf, but who identify with the Deaf Community, are Deaf with a capital D. Shared experiences of the deaf which are constitutive of identification with the Deaf Community primarily concern painful experiences with hearing people: being an outsider in social situations like birthday parties, receptions, family meetings, sport clubs, discussions with colleagues, even when one is able to speak clearly and to effectively read lips.45 These shared experiences are frequently associated with feelings of resentment and distrust toward hearing people. Deaf Culture refers to the strong ties of the Deaf Community and to its language: Sign Language. Next to that, there also the cultural expressions of the deaf, such as theatre performances by deaf people and Sign Language poetry. Throughout all of history and in all countries of the world, deaf persons created their own visual communication, Sign Languages, visual culture, social contacts, networks of friends, method for spreading information and knowledge, Sign Language poetry, and other visual forms of art. During the last decades, this culture of silence has been recognized more and more as a bilingual‐bicultural reality from a socio‐cultural perspective. In this socio‐cultural perspective, deaf persons are considered as belonging to an ethnolinguistic or cultural minority group within a hearing majority culture. This cultural minority does not distinguish itself by audiological 44 Carol A. Padden and Tom L. Humphries, DeafinAmerica:Voicesfroma Culture(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 53. 45 Jennifer Harris, TheCulturalMeaningofDeafness:Language,Identityand PowerRelations(Aldershot: Avebury, 1995), 46ff.



criteria, but by the use of Sign Language and an identification with the socio‐cultural Deaf World. Hard-of-hearing and deaf persons who identify with the hearing community, and who communicate exclusively in spoken language, do not belong to the Deaf Community.46 AnOppressedMinority In the view of the American author Harlan Lane, deaf people are a cultural minority that suffers the fate of most minority groups: oppression.47 In the case of the deaf, this oppression takes place by means of stigmatization, medicalization, and normalization. Stigmatization takes place through the attribution of unfavorable personality traits to deaf people. The traditional stereotypes about deaf people in deafness literature are: egocentrism, impulsivity, overly concrete thinking, rigidity, lack of emotions, lack of empathy, and social immaturity. Deaf people are seen as lacking, as deprived, rather than as possessing something. All things that have value for deaf people, such as their dignity as people living in a visuospatial world, their Sign Language, their own deaf heritage, the historical examples of deaf persons that reached high levels of culture, and their social organization, are ignored. Their language, Sign Language, is called a primitive “ape language.” They are seen as disabled in the sense of being less able to be responsible members of society, and altogether less human than other people. 46

Cf. Padden and Humphries, DeafinAmerica. Harlan L. Lane, “The Medicalisation of Cultural Deafness in Historical Perspective,” in Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities andTheirSignLanguages, ed. Renate Fischer and Harlan L. Lane, International Studies on Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf 20 (Hamburg: Signum, 1993), 479-494; Harlan L. Lane, TheMaskofBenevolence:Disablingthe DeafCommunity(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). 47



Medicalization takes place by labelling deafness as a disability, an infirmity that has to be cured. As soon as deafness is diagnosed, a medical‐audiological ‘ritual of power’ is initiated, and the aim of this ritual is to persuade the parents to have their healthy child begin a disability trajectory. The child has to be fitted with hearing aids as soon as possible, or even more, the child has to be cochlea‐ implanted. The deaf child has to learn to speak and to be cut off from the Deaf Community and assimilated into hearing, non‐deaf society. Contacts with the Deaf Community have to be avoided because the child might be contaminated with Sign Language and other primitive behaviors of deaf people. The effect is, in Lane’s view, that the experts make the child disabled. The final consequence of this medicalization is that the Deaf Community is disempowered, humiliated, disabled, and eradicated by ‘audism’ which is, in Lane’s understanding, the typical hearing approach to deafness. According to Lane, audism is the cause of the unfavorable life circumstances of deaf people and the poor quality of deaf education. Likewise, Lane believes that it was far better in the past when ‘cultural deafness’ was predominant. Deafness, or ‘Deafhood’,48 is a better life situation for deaf persons than that provided by audism, in Lane’s view. Deafhood, a term invented by the deaf British researcher Paddy Ladd, is meant to serve as a contrast to medical‐ audiological deafness; it indicates the process by which culturally deaf persons express their existence in the world for themselves and for others. The ultimate consequence of medicalization and ‘audism’ is cochlear implantation. In Lane’s rhetorical construction, there are no positive effects of cochlear implantation: it does not lead to better speech and language development, it can damage a child’s 48

Paddy Ladd, UnderstandingDeafCulture:InSearchofDeafhood(Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003).



social‐emotional development, and it does not enable a child to hear. Cochlear implantation will cause the child to belong neither to the hearing culture nor to Deaf Culture, whereas otherwise the child might have been happy with Sign Language in the Deaf Community and in Deafhood. Cochlear implantation is a direct attack on the Deaf Community, aimed at bereaving it from its children, from its future. The continuity of the Deaf Community takes place only to a small extent by the birth of deaf children to deaf parents, and far more by hearing parents being persuaded that their deaf child belongs to the Deaf Community. Hearing parents have to accept that, sooner or later, they must give up their child to the Deaf Community, and they should learn from deaf adults how to educate their deaf child. Normalization, another form of the ‘audist’ oppression of the deaf, takes place by assimilating deaf children into regular schools. In the 1990s, the USA issued the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA required that free and appropriate public education be made accessible for all children with disabilities. It wanted to maximize appropriate public education with non‐disabled children to the greatest extent possible for all disabled children. The act required that parents have an active role in the decision pertaining to their children’s educational plan. IDEA led to a sharp debate on appropriate educational settings for deaf children. Whereas many advocates of oral education of the deaf believe that mainstreaming is beneficial for many deaf children, advocates of cultural deafness are very concerned about IDEA. Their opinion is that an inclusive setting does not foster free‐flowing communication and natural interaction for deaf children, and as such, is the ‘most restrictive environment’ for deaf children. They expected — and their expectations turned out to be right — that IDEA would lead to the decline and eventual closure of residential schools for the deaf, which played a significant role in the maintenance and transmission of Deaf Culture



across generations.49 In Lane’s view, this assimilation movement is a purposeful attempt to prevent deaf children from developing a Deaf identity. EmancipationofPeoplewithaDisabilityandtheDifferentCase oftheDeaf Above we spoke about the social model of disability and the disability rights movement. The deaf emancipation movement has many ideological points in common with this movement, and its ideological spokespersons admit that the model applies for acquired hearing loss from aging, industrial noise trauma, accident, or illness. The disability rights movement is, however, not adequate for members of the Deaf Community. Two fundamental differences distinguish the deaf from the disabled. First, though fighting for the rights of disability as a unique organization of life, the disability emancipation movement regrets the causes of disability. This is, in the view of Lane and others,50 not the case for Deaf Culture: deaf parents are not less happy at the birth of a child when the child is found to be deaf. Sometimes deaf parents even prefer deaf offspring. As we described above, many deaf persons have ambivalent feelings toward genetic research in the field of deafness, prenatal diagnosis of genetic deafness, and sometimes even towards vaccination programs against common deafness etiologies like rubella and meningitis, because in the hands of hearing people these technologies can become ways of reducing the Deaf Community population.

49 Cf. Martha Sheridan, InnerLivesofDeafChildren:InterviewsandAnalysis (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 26‐27. 50 Preston, MotherFatherDeaf, 70ff.



Second, a person becomes a member of the Deaf Community by culture and language, like people from other cultural and linguistic minorities, and not by diagnosis, as is the case with people with disabilities. Deaf Culture and Sign Language are the constitutive elements of a Deaf identity that is transmitted through special schools for the deaf. Inclusion endangers the existence of special schools for the deaf. Therefore, the grouping of deaf people is considered as voluntary, while the segregation of people with disabilities was generally involuntary. For advocates of Deaf Culture inclusion is a political instrument of oppression of the Deaf Community by means of linguicide.51 Linguicide, or language murder, is the suppression of minorities by means of suppressing their language, expelling it from education, and limiting free access to information, fair trial, and political representation. Linguicide has to be fought against by fostering awareness in individuals, formation of organizations and structures of representation, political and legal action, positive visibility in society, and intellectualization of the minority. In cultural deafness, Sign Language plays a crucial role, not least because it is the most visible symbol of deafness, and for hearing people it can be the most stigmatizing aspect of deafness. Sign Language denotes the difference between deaf and other people, and those others are the hearing people and those deaf who consider deafness a disability. The use of Sign Language is a political statement: it is the symbol and the instrument for the emancipation and liberation of Deaf identity. The proud use of Sign Language is a form of ‘coming out’ as a Deaf person, in the same way as other emancipatory movements too have their own forms of coming out.52

51 Cf. Verena Krausneker, “Sign Languages of Europe: Future Chances,” in Looking Forward: EUD in the 3rd Millennium – The Deaf Citizen in the 21st Century, ed. Lorraine Leeson (Coleford: Douglas McLean, 2001), 64-73, at 67ff. 52 Harris, TheCulturalMeaningofDeafness, 158‐159.



Since many deaf persons would never consider deafness a disability, it is controversial for deaf organizations to cooperate with organizations that work for the emancipation of the disabled. In Ladd’s opinion, when policy makers and legislators consider deafness a disability, deaf people should act as allies of the disabled, in order to take advantage of the laws concerning disability rights. In that way they can set themselves free from that label.53 This position makes deaf people vulnerable to criticism from disability organizations that they want to have the advantages of the label and not the disadvantages.54 DeafCultureandPastoralMinistry McDonough, deaf himself, illustrates his view on pastoral ministry with the deaf with his own reading of the story in the Gospel of Mark about the meeting of Jesus with the deaf man.55 In his view, this story is not about the restoration of hearing. What happened leading up to the restoration of hearing is far more important: Jesus took the deaf man apart, so that the curious crowd could no longer stare at him, and he gave him respect, privacy, and understanding. From this framework, we deduce that a Christian view of deaf persons is not that they are merely impaired versions of completely hearing people, but rather people of great worth who, like all humans, have the vocation to live in this world and to show to other people how they can accept each other. The healing of deafness is not the miracle, not the spectacle, but the ability to deal 53 Paddy Ladd, “Hearing-Impaired or BSL Users? Social Policies and the Deaf Community,” Disability,Handicap&Society3 (1988): 199. 54 Susan Gregory and Gillian M. Hartley, “Social Welfare: Enabling or Disabling,” in Constructing Deafness, ed. Susan Gregory and Gillian M. Hartley (London: Printer Publishers, 1991), 235-270. 55 McDonough, “Recalled to Life,” 33-42.



with it in such a way that it becomes a grace. Therefore, in his view, the evangelization of deaf people can take place only through deafness and through the acceptance of deafness. The consequence of this theology is that it is better to use the word ‘deaf’ than ‘hearing impaired’. The defect approach, as well in its medical form as in the form of the social model of disability, may be an important means of helping people and their environment to surmount the consequences of impairment. The model retains, however, a patronizing aspect: it permits children of a lesser God to enhance their growing possibilities so that they can approximate the standards of normal people — and they will be praised as examples of disabled people who have overcome themselves. For this reason, McDonough rejects the medical model as well as the social model. He does not deny deafness, on the contrary, and he does not deny the suffering that goes along with his own deafness: his communication problems, his tinnitus, and his fight with deafness. But McDonough describes also that through his Christian life, deafness became a blessing instead of a curse and a fountain of spirituality instead of only suffering. He applies this to the Christian community of deaf people and shows that those very things that are depreciated by hearing people — the untidy character of deaf reunions where everyone wants to communicate with everyone, the concrete attitude of deaf people, the ‘stigma’ of Sign Language — become instruments for evangelization: these are the things that make from them the people of God. McDonough’s approach is a liberatory theology, not directed on political goals but on emancipation of the Deaf Community. McDonough speaks of a resurrection experience, in which he is no longer a person with impairment or a disability, but a person created deaf intentionally by God and who could not have been better any other way. This same experience can give the Deaf Community the worth of being the people of God in spite of any



perceived limitations. The Deaf Community is fully worthy as people of God. This shift in thinking is achieved only by the depathologizing deafness.56 In pastoral ministry, we also meet deaf people who do not feel that they belong to Deaf Culture or who do not feel a strong need of contact with other deaf people. They have had contacts with other deaf people in the past, since they had visited the same schools as children. They may feel offended, however, if other deaf do not want to consider them as truly deaf in identity, or even consider them as would‐be hearing or ‘hearing in their minds’. In pastoral ministry, it is not uncommon to meet deaf people, mostly elderly deaf people, who deny fiercely, especially at first, that they know and use Sign Language. They are upset when Sign Language is used in liturgy. They will use Sign Language only with deaf friends in the absence of hearing people. These individuals have a hidden Sign identity. It is important, however, for a pastor to continue to use signs in personal communication and especially also in liturgy, making an appeal to this hidden sign identity. A pastor has to be aware that the depreciation of Sign Language and Deaf Culture by deaf schools and by pastors in the past may lay a burden on personal contact with deaf people: some people will show their hidden sign identity only after repeated personal interactions. Some people lack trust or experience a feeling of discomfort when signing in front of new acquaintances. There is much work to be done for reconciliation and liberation and perhaps that work can start, as Higgins and McDonough claim, with the feeling of discomfort which arises when hearing people contact the deaf, a feeling which makes deaf people decide definitively for orientation towards the Deaf Community. This discomfort should 56

James Woodward, HowYouGonnaGettoHeavenIfYouCan’tTalkwith Jesus:OnDepathologizingDeafness(Silver Spring, MD: T.J. Publishers, 1982).



not be denied, nor avoided, but both sides — hearing pastor (if the pastor is hearing) and deaf people — should have the courage to live this through in its totality. When it is not lived through, not fully acknowledged, never the twain shall meet. And sometimes, both should be happy to meet each other neither in the Deaf World nor in the hearing world, but in the middle of the bridge between both. Diversity is the reality of human life. Some people are deaf, some people are hearing. Both were intentionally created in that way and both are desired by God. Neither group has the right to try to change the other. Interaction and communication between the deaf and the hearing is often not easy. It succeeds only when both parties recognize the other in their own right: for both the hearing and the deaf, life is about interacting and communicating with each other. Communicating and interacting, after all, is our basic task in life.


Awkwardness and Insensitivity The deaf American Catholic priest Thomas Coughlin1 founded a house of studies for young deaf men who were training for priesthood.2 One day, the superior of a religious order came to visit this house to discuss the wish of these deaf men to join the religious order. This discussion was very disappointing. The superior spoke only about problems and obstacles instead of advantages and opportunities. The worst moment of the visit, however, occurred as the superior was leaving. He looked curiously around him and asked the deaf men if they had a voice, a real voice that he might be able to hear. He asked one of the seminarians: “Are you able to talk? I want to hear your voice!” The seminarian could do nothing other than comply with this request, so he mumbled some words. The superior exclaimed in complete bewilderment: “They have a voice! They have a voice!” And then he departed. When the superior left, the seminarian explained that he felt that he was 1

Thomas Coughlin, “Ephphatha: A Challenge for Deaf People’s Responsibility for Deaf Ministry,” in TheGospelPreachedbytheDeaf, ed. Marcel Broesterhuizen, Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia 52(Louvain: Peeters, 2007), 15-39, at 15. 2 In 1996, Cardinal O’Connor of New York Archdiocese invited Fr. Coughlin to set up this House of Studies for Deaf Seminarians in Yonkers, NY. In 2002, the program was transferred to the Archdiocese of San Francisco under the auspice of Archbishop Levada (, accessed March 2018).



abused for the gratification of the superior’s curiosity. Shortly thereafter, the seminarian decided to leave the program. Uncomfortable and insensitive events frequently occur in the relationship between Christianity and persons with a functional impairment. This awkward insensitivity stems from views on functional impairment and disability that are based on theological and cultural prejudice. TheologicalPrejudice Traditional Christianity has a problem with reconciling functional impairment with the image of God.3 According to a traditional understanding, the cosmic story is divided in three periods. In the first period, the universe was in a state of perfection. Adam and Eve were in Paradise, where they enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and with one another. Their bodies were unblemished: there was no illness, no death, and no functional impairment. With the fall of Adam and Eve, a second period began: the period of sin and redemption. The image of God in humanity was broken, and this brokenness is seen as a loss of human perfection. The third and final period, the Messianic age, will come when history is consummated, pain and suffering are banished, and humans are restored to their original perfection. According to traditional Christianity, it is only in the second period — the period of brokenness caused by original sin — that there can be a place for functional impairment. Humans were created without functional impairment, and functional impairment will be taken away from them when history is consummated. Functional 3 After John M. Hull, “The Broken Body in a Broken World: A Contribution to a Christian Doctrine of the Person from a Disabled Point of View,” Journalof Religion,DisabilityandHealth7, no. 4 (2003): 5-23.



impairment is not necessarily caused by the sin of the impaired individual (or their parents), but functional impairment itself is a sign of the brokenness and imperfection of the world. In the Messianic age, this brokenness will be restored. This is intended as a message of hope, but for many people with functional impairment, it is understood as a message of non-acceptance. The traditional Christian narrative implies that neither God nor humans truly accept people with functional impairment for who they are. Rather, functionally impaired people can only enter heaven if they are rid of their functional impairment. Not only human people do not accepted my functional impairment, but even God will let me in only if I get rid of it. When discussing this topic, Thomas Coughlin recounts: When I speak with deaf children, I ask them: “When you die and go to heaven, you will become hearing, is that right?” Ninety-nine percent of the children say, “No, I don’t think so. I will still be deaf when I get there. We are happy for who we are.” That is liberation. Liberation from the feeling that I have to meet what is the norm, what people say that I should be.4

CulturalPrejudice Western culture seems to be incapable of recognizing that functional impairment can go together with full and complete humanity. According to Western society, functional impairment is dis-ability. In their book about the history of deafness, Branson and Miller5 state that, from centuries past up to the present, there have been communities with a high percentage of deaf people in various places of the world, such as Bali (Indonesia) and the isle of 4

“Forum Discussion,” in TheGospelPreachedbytheDeaf, 93-102, at 96. Jan Branson and Don Miller, Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural ConstructionofDeafPeopleasDisabled(Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), xi. 5



Martha’s Vineyard (USA). When deaf people in these communities contributed to the family income, they were considered people like everyone else. In such societies, persons were not defined in terms of normality or deviancy, but in terms of their ability to contribute to their family’s income. This changed, however, in the period of Enlightenment. Human persons were more and more evaluated in terms of how they should be; the terms ‘normal’ and ‘normalcy’ originate from that period of time. ‘Normal’ indicated how people should be, and abnormal people had to be brought to normalcy by means of education and moral therapy. When evolutionary theory emerged, abnormality and difference came to be interpreted in terms of superiority and inferiority. People who were physically, sensorially, or mentally unconventional were seen as relics of a lower state of evolution and a threat to the integrity of the human race. This ideology gave rise to the eugenic movement: the most overtly discriminating movement in the history of Western civilization. For the well-being of all humankind, atypical people were not only excluded from society, but also prevented from procreating. Hereditary pathology was to be treated with forced sterilization and a ban on marriage. In its most extreme form, eugenic ideology formulated the myth of noble and inferior races. The history of Nazi Germany regarding this issue is well-known: it is the most extreme example of the rejection of difference in Western history. Communities of people with functional impairments in Western countries were severely traumatized by these excesses of eugenic ideology,6 6 For a report see John S. Schuchman, “Deafness and Eugenics in the Nazi Era,” in Genetics,Disability,andDeafness, ed. John Vickrey Van Cleve (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2004), 72-77; Ruth Hubbard, “Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Who Should Not Inhabit the World,” in The DisabilityReader, ed. Lennard J. Davis (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), 187-200, at 199-200.



and it is not without reason that people with functional impairments view genetic research and prenatal diagnostics with suspicion.7 In a mild way, these ideas were shared by most people. Those who were different and pathological were seen as an obstacle to human progress.8 In schools for the deaf, spoken language was introduced as Sign Language was banned and dismissed as the gibberish of primitive people from a lower stage of evolution. In addition, the participation of deaf people in deaf clubs was hindered because it would bring them in contact with Sign Language and heighten the risk of deaf marriages. There was even a fear that deaf marriages would lead to a deaf, subhuman species.9 From the 1950s onward, the disability rights movement provided strong impetus for the inclusion of people with functional impairments into general society. But in spite of all of the initiatives, people with functional impairments still remain at the margins of society. They are physically present, yet effectively segregated. They are considered different: not like ‘us’. More than a century of eugenics and segregation continues to have its influence on the way Western culture deals with functional impairment, namely, by means of the dynamics of exclusion. In these dynamics of exclusion, ‘disability’ is a core concept: it denotes functional impairment as a form of inferior, incomplete humanity that makes a person different from others. This difference portrays a functionally impaired person as an individual of lesser value who is impossible to empathize with. Using this

7 Anna Middleton, “Deaf and Hearing Adults’ Attitudes toward Genetic Testing for Deafness,” in Genetics,Disability,andDeafness, 127-147, at 131. 8 Branson and Miller, DamnedforTheirDifference, 33. 9 Brian H. Greenwald, “The Real ‘Toll’ of A.G. Bell: Lessons about Eugenics,” in Genetics,Disability,andDeafness, 35-41.



concept of disability is an example of the misleading use of language.10 Toward a Humanizing Approach As members of religious and general society, pastors are also influenced by prejudice against people with functional impairments. However, they can be liberated from this prejudice through the ideas of theologians and pastors with functional impairments. We will explore the thought of three such individuals: Jacqueline Kool, Cyril Axelrod, and John Hull. JacquelineKool Jacqueline Kool was born with muscular dystrophy, and grew up in an orthodox Calvinist environment.11 Kool states that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the relationship between disability and God is never ‘normal’. Persons with a disability are either blessed by God or damned, either evil demons or spiritual heroes. Christian images of disabled people are derived from texts in the Bible that are written by non-disabled people, and not from the ordinary lives of people with a disability. As a consequence, these images contain three themes that make Christian faith uncomfortable for disabled people: the relationship between disability and sin, the relationship between disability and suffering, and the ideal of charity.

10 John C. Ward, “The Disabled God? How a Theological Anthropology That Embraces Human Disability Changes How We Image God” (Master of Arts in Theology, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, 2000), 12. 11 Jacqueline Kool, Goedbedoeld:Levensbeschouwelijkkijkennaarhandicap enziekte(Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 2002), 23-24.



Disability and Sin A long tradition relates disability to sin and desecration. In the Jewish Bible, disability has a connotation of impurity. Impaired corpses are suspect corpses, remote from Holy things and the Holy One. Leviticus 21:17-23 forbids that persons with a physical defect come near sacred places because they would profane the holy things. Even the offered animal should be male, perfect, and unblemished. In a careful analysis of Jewish texts that are not part of the Jewish Bible, such as the rabbinical writings and the Talmud, Judith Abrams shows that physical and psychological perfection was a prerequisite for a relationship with God. This perfection was embodied in the male, free, and learned priest without any defect, who stood in a sharp contrast to those who were disabled, mentally ill, mentally handicapped, physically disabled, deaf, or blind.12 Although God takes responsibility for a person’s disability, and people are admonished to protect the rights of disabled people, disability is also used as an image for stupidity, weakness, and reluctance to the Word of God. Deafness and blindness indicate unbelief, and lameness an unwillingness to act. These images are carried over in the New Testament, where the Kingdom of God manifests itself when the deaf hear, the blind see, and the lame walk. Echoes of this ambivalence can be heard in stories of healing in the New Testament,13 such as when Jesus heals a person and declares, “Your sins are forgiven.” In other stories, however, Jesus opposes the idea that disability is caused by the sin of the disabled 12 Judith Z. Abrams, JudaismandDisability:PortrayalsinAncientTextsfrom the Tanach through the Bavli (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1998), 23ff. 13 Kool, Goedbedoeld, 42.



person or their parents. For example, when talking about a man who was born blind, Jesus explains: “Neither he nor his parents have sinned, but the works of God had to become manifest in him” (John 9:1-3). One might object that in the Gospels, the blind, the lame, and the poor are only literary devices, serving as symbols for the anonymous, powerless, vulnerable, and lowly. Kool does not find this response sufficient, however, since disability is still presented as a weakness that creates a distance between God and humans.14 Moreover, many people take these stories literally and derive a double message from them: disability is God’s will, either as punishment or a pedagogical measure. And when disability is not healed, it might be a sign of a lack of faith in God’s healing power. The real cause of enduring disability, which is either sin or lack of faith, can never be known. This kind of faith portrays God as a capricious sadist. In most healing stories, Kool observes, the identity of the person healed seems to be unimportant: they are only an anonymous incarnation of defectiveness. These stories attach too much value to physical perfection, making it impossible for disabled people to be complete persons. Why do the Gospels not speak about a world in which people are accepted just as they are? Kool advises disabled people to read these stories with a hermeneutic of suspicion. She maintains that reading the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion can also highlight stories and images that are liberating for disabled people. An example of one such story is found in the book of Job, in which Job’s friends voice all the conventional arguments that connect disability with sin: Job deserved it, his suffering will lead to improvement, and he will be found guilty. But Job objects to his 14

Kool, Goedbedoeld, 43.



friends’ theology, and God agrees with him. Finally, Job understands that God’s love is absolutely free, transcending all human discourse about guilt and divine pedagogy. Like every other human, the suffering person is not a broken image of God, but simply made in the image of God, full stop. Disability and Suffering The second theme that makes Christian faith uncomfortable for disabled people concerns the relationship between disability and suffering. When people get ill or become disabled, they often ask why: a question about the existential meaning of disability. People hope that an explanation of the why of their suffering will make that suffering more bearable. Many Christian answers, however, make suffering more bearable for those around the afflicted person, but less bearable for afflicted persons themselves. As a person born with a disability, Kool never asked why she was disabled. She is convinced that asking why inevitably leads to a moralistic view of disability. She proposes to substitute this question with another question: “Why not me?” Why should this not happen to me when it can happen to any person? Disability does not need an explanation. It just happens, like other things in life. Disability is just one aspect of human life. Kool’s point of view stands in sharp contrast to the Christian belief that suffering has a precious and redeeming value. Christian tradition is full of stories about physical suffering, stories in which people are edified and saved through suffering. These stories come from the heart of Christian theology in which redemption took place through Jesus’ suffering and death. People are better off with suffering, in either this life or the next. Kool does not deny that suffering can lead to a more fulfilling and spiritual life. This very personal spiritual process can be



expressed, however, only by persons themselves. Otherwise, people will just utter empty words that do not meet the needs of those who are suffering. The traditional view on suffering makes it impossible for disabled people to remain normal people and lead normal lives. It condemns them to become either martyrs or heroes. Martyrs when their life is full of suffering, and heroes when they ‘defeat the enemy’ and lead a normal life as if their disability does not exist — that is, as if they were not themselves. Both images prevent disabled people from seeing that life is more than suffering and that there are many things in life to enjoy. There are many things to enjoy in a life of disability. There are also many things in life that are much more of a cause for suffering than disability, such as losing a loved one. Suffering is often not a direct consequence of the disability itself, but of the way in which one’s environment addresses disability. The Ideal of Charity A third problem in the Christian faith, according to Kool, lies in the ideal of charity. Christianity incites people to be kind to others, and since people want to be good Christians, disabled people become easy and rewarding objects of charity. Disabled people experience this form of charity as abuse. Of course, Kool does not reject the Christian ideal of charity in and of itself, since caring for those in need is an important characteristic of social justice. The problem in narratives about charity, however, is that the accent is placed more on the goodness of the benefactors and their reward than on the dignity and rights of the receiver. 15 If the main goal of charity is to save one’s own soul, then charity 15

Kool, Goedbedoeld, 79-80.



reduces disabled people to a means for salvation of the benefactor. Charity segregates disabled people from non-disabled people. When, in the past, major institutions were founded with the purpose of being charitable to disabled people, the effect was that disabled people were separated from society and excluded. A misguided concept of charity plays a central role in the dynamics of exclusion regarding people with disabilities. A concerted effort to recognize and transform the dynamics of exclusion is necessary and more important than charity. Communities have to be welcoming to disabled people, both materially and spiritually. They must stand in solidarity with those who are disabled. This requires an effort to come into genuine dialogue with one another. Kool is convinced that such a dialogue would give religious communities and theologians a different view on modern ethical debates on subjects such as euthanasia, prenatal diagnostics, and medical technology.16 Embodiment? Kool strongly grounds her thought in feminist theology, where the concept of embodiment plays an important role.17 Embodiment, the normal condition of the unconventional body in daily life, is a central theme in her theological approach to disability. This accent on embodiment is logical from the perspective of Kool’s condition, but the question should be asked as to whether this is true for all people with functional impairments. For many deaf people, a strong, healthy, and sportive body is a source of self-esteem. Indeed, deaf people take great pride and pleasure in sports, and can perceive physical activities as compensation for communication 16 17

Kool, Goedbedoeld, 80-81. Ibid., 31ff.



problems they experience.18 Communication, as opposed to embodiment, is the central aspect of the deaf experience for many deaf people. Kool, however, applies her framework to all kinds of people with disabilities. She puts all people with functional impairments into one category: the category of disability. She is misled by the use of the word ‘disability’. CyrilAxelrod Cyril Axelrod was profoundly deaf from birth. As a Catholic priest, he devoted his life to helping deaf people gain justice, equality, and dignity in his own country, South Africa, and subsequently in Asia. Defying apartheid, he established a multi-racial school for deaf children in Soweto, set up a hostel for deaf homeless people in Pretoria, and pioneered an employment center in Cape Town. In Cape Town, he made a major contribution to the reintegration of the Deaf Community which was segregated along racial lines. Later on, he went to Macao, where he founded a Deaf Association and, with the aid of the government of Macau, established an educational and cultural center for deaf people. During that period of his life, the consequences of a congenital eye disease, the Usher syndrome, intensified and caused him to become legally blind. Being deafblind himself, he paid an important contribution to the development of Chinese tactual Sign Language.19 Axelrod’s experiences with deafness, deafblindness, and faith can be understood only within the context of his Jewish youth and his work for the liberation and emancipation of the deaf. As the 18 Paddy Ladd, UnderstandingDeafCulture:InSearchofDeafhood(Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003), 47. 19 Tactual Sign Language is the Sign Language that is used in communication with deafblind people: “listeners” touch hands the hands of the “speaker” with their hands, perceiving in this way the signs that otherwise would have been seen.



only son of orthodox Jewish parents, he experienced a deep relationship with Jewish life in his family20 and even felt the desire to become a rabbi.21 It was, however, a hard blow for him when he was told that a deaf person cannot become a rabbi. At the end, this led him to the decision to convert to Catholicism, which he learned about from the religious sisters in his deaf school. Nevertheless, he kept a deep love for his Jewish family and for Jewish life, and put much effort into the creation of opportunities for Jewish deaf children to receive Jewish religious education. In his autobiography, Axelrod describes a moment when, seriously depressed after his admission to a rehabilitation center for the deafblind, he found new hope while preparing an orthodox Passover meal for a Jewish man who was desperate because he could not celebrate Passover for the first time in his life: At the end of the meal I recited the song LetusBuildaNewJerusalem, while we held our hands together, clapping them joyfully. He was delighted. Then, at the end of the evening ... I could tell that he had really enjoyed our Passover celebrations. Both our hearts uplifted ... It was also a great moment of joy for me too because I had been able again to touch my own Jewish identity.22

In that moment, Axelrod realized that his faith and spirituality are rooted in the deep relationship that he had had with his parents. But at the same time, he also realized that the religious sisters in his deaf school had given him what he had lacked at home: adequate communication. They taught him a language through which he could come into contact with other people. Both his relationship with his parents and the communication he learned from the

20 Cyril B. Axelrod, And the Journey Begins (Coleford: Douglas McLean, 2005), 37. 21 Ibid., 55-57. 22 Ibid., 221.



religious sisters gave him tools to shape his life and to serve deaf and deafblind people through his Catholic priesthood.23 Axelrod explains that for many deaf persons, deafness is, from early life on, such a constant aspect of their life, that often they are not aware of being deaf. They do not have a concept of hearing loss because they do not know what hearing is. Deafness remains an unconscious part of their life until they experience that they cannot communicate with others, realizing they are outsiders in a hearing world. After this realization, deafness principally becomes an experience of oppression in a hearing world. Conversely, this marginalization also fosters good communication with fellow deaf people, to the extent that a deaf person can prefer the Deaf Community over their biological family.24 This was the case for the young students in the school for deaf Xhosa children, where Axelrod worked as a young priest. Apartheid law made it impossible for many deaf children to keep contact with their families, with the consequence that their families had no opportunity to learn their children’s Sign Language. This led to such an impairment of communication between deaf children and their families that the children considered the deaf school as their home and other deaf people as their family.25 During the time of apartheid, the political system in South Africa prevented deaf people from meeting other deaf people. Deaf people from different ethnic groups could not gather together, and they even did not share a common Sign Language. Deaf people did not have any opportunity to support one another and, as a result, belonged to the poorest circles of South African society. With the 23

Axelrod, AndtheJourneyBegins, 222. Corrie Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn:Eennieuwperspectiefopdovekinderen (Twello: Van Tricht Uitgeverij, 2006), 53. 25 Cyril B. Axelrod, “The Liberatory Role of Evangelisation among Deaf and Deafblind People,” in TheGospelPreachedbytheDeaf, 41-52, at 41-52. 24



support of fellow deaf people, and in spite of apartheid laws, Axelrod successfully founded the first multiracial deaf organization in the country. This organization enabled deaf people from all racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds to form one Deaf Community where they could share their faith and experiences in solidarity. This deaf organization became an experience of liberation from isolation and fragmentation. Axelrod remarks: My eighteen years of service in South Africa showed me the real suffering of deaf people, the poverty, the deprivation, injustice and inequality. In my pastoral work I have not only tried to share with deaf people the richness of faith but also the richness and importance of human self-worth.26

This work on behalf of the oppressed is, for him, a direct consequence of an essential belief of the Christian faith: Jesus became an object of political oppression, but was liberated through resurrection. This liberation showed that Jesus fully embodied the redeeming power of God.27 This work on behalf of the oppressed continued when Axelrod moved to Macau. In Macau, the social position of deaf people was also dire. At that time, there were deaf children and adults living in solitary confinement within the homes of their families. School education and job training for deaf people were very limited, and deaf people had either no employment or worked very humiliating jobs. When Axelrod started to lead religious celebrations in Chinese Sign Language, he noticed that deaf people displayed no reaction. This demonstrated that these Catholic deaf people did not know anything about Catholicism. They called themselves ‘rice Catholics’: people who were Catholic because they received a bowl of rice from a Catholic organization every day. They agreed to be 26 27

Axelrod, AndtheJourneyBegins, 153. Axelrod, “The Liberatory Role,” 152.



baptized in order to receive rice. They were uneducated, orphaned, and their lives were characterized by a continuous struggle to survive. Axelrod realized that any pastoral service would be useless without a program for community development. As a result, various programs were set up, including a guidance program for families of disabled people, an educational center for deaf children, a vocational center for deaf adults, a Sign Language interpreting service, and a center for deaf senior citizens. After twelve years, Axelrod had to give up his work in Macau, due to his progressive eye disease. Becoming deafblind was a very painful experience for him. When deaf persons become blind, their position in the Deaf Community changes. Before becoming blind, such persons have felt at home in the Deaf Community and with Sign Language. But once they become deafblind, they have to change their way of communicating with others. Fellow people in the Deaf Community no longer see a deafblind person as ‘deaf like us’. Deafblind persons, therefore, feel alienated from their Deaf Community and are forced to integrate into a new community with new social interactions that are initially unfamiliar to them. This new community is comprised of people with totally different backgrounds, such as deafblind people, who find it difficult to socialize with mute people. For normally sighted people, and especially those who work with deafblind people, deafblindness is the most terrible thing that can happen to a person. They see deafblind persons as incapable of being independent and self-assertive. As a result, they overprotect deafblind people. These professionals have more experience with the world of the blind than with the world of deaf people who have been visually oriented and signing throughout their lives. As a result, they are often unequipped to properly support deafblind people. For Axelrod, who had been a very active leader in the Deaf Community, this was an almost unbearable experience of



oppression. He went through a deep personal crisis, but he emerged from the crisis as a stronger person with a stronger faith. He learned from this experience that God creates each person, disabled or not, in God’s own image. Every person is unique, and every person has a purpose in life. Every person is called to live a meaningful life that is shared with others. For him, deafblindness became a mission from God to show sighted people that deafblind persons are also human beings who are created by God, and no less valuable than anyone else. In this manner, he tried to help the sighted Deaf Community get more information and knowledge about deafblindness and to remain open and hospitable for members who became blind. By doing so, members could continue to live in the same, caring community throughout their entire lives. Axelrod’s story is a very deaf story: it is about communication and community. The story presents communication and community as sources of religious experience. It is not about disability, but about the oppression of a hearing society that ostracizes deaf people. Axelrod’s faith-based answer is established on the awareness of his life’s purpose: to show that deaf and deafblind people are made in the image of God, just like every human person. JohnHull John Hull contracted bilateral cataracts when he was 13 years old, and he was blind for several months. He recovered from blindness, but was subsequently struck by several detachments of the retina, which led to complete and permanent blindness at age 45. When he was a student, he was partially sighted.28 During his studies, he had to write a paper on the symbolism of light and 28

John M. Hull, “How I Discovered My Blind Brother,” TheBibleinTransmission(2004): 9-11, at 9.



darkness in the Gospel of John. The symbolism was clear: light represents faith and darkness represents unbelief and sin. In this symbolism, the healing of the blind man took center stage. He wrote this paper with fervor and enthusiasm. Twenty years later, he became blind. He put significant effort into learning Braille and, after a few weeks, was able to return to the texts he loved so much. The first text he chose to read in Braille was the fourth gospel. But the more he read, the less comfortable he felt. When he finished read the fourth gospel, he was shocked by how much this familiar text had taken on an entirely different meaning. Now he found himself on the wrong side of the dualistic symbolism between light and darkness. He was also appalled by the healing stories, with their comparisons between blindness and lack of faith. He understood that these texts had been written by sighted people for sighted people and not for the blind. In an open letter to Jesus, he states: When I studied the New Testament as a sighted person, it did not occur to me that you, Jesus, were yourself sighted. We were in the same world, but it did not occur to me that being sighted was a world. I thought that things were just like that. When I became blind, then I realised that blindness is a world, and that the sighted condition also generates a distinctive experience and can be called a world. Now I find, Jesus, that I am in one world and you are in another.29

Hull realized that human life includes different states and different experiences, which may differ so much between individuals that it is justified to say that people live in different “world generating states,”30 which emerge from a combination of physical and social characteristics. If a theology of blindness were to be developed, it 29 John M. Hull, “Open Letter from a Blind Disciple to a Sighted Saviour: Text and Discussion,” in Borders,BoundariesandtheBible, ed. Martin O’Kane (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 154-177, at 159. 30 John M. Hull, In the Beginning There Was Darkness: A Blind Person’s ConversationswiththeBible(Norwich: SCM Press, 2002), 172-173.



should be a theology of these world generating states. It should put the negative image of blind people in a sighted world under criticism, and put the absoluteness of a sighted world and sighted reality into perspective. It should show that blind people are made in the image of God in their very blindness, and it should give practical suggestions for social and political life derived from a blind way of being in the world. A theology of blindness should take one step at a time, in the same way as blind people do, and concentrate on the concrete details of a problem that otherwise would be abstract and ungraspable. It should deconstruct dominant views on normalcy and insist on inclusivity, trying to liberate people from the oppression of exclusive thinking. In his article, “Broken body in a broken world,” Hull speaks more generally about a theology of disability.31 He comes to the conclusion that being created in the image of God is not the right starting point for such a theology. Instead, he proposes to take the human body as a starting point: the broken body of disabled people as the source of theological knowledge. I have three problems with that point of view. First, the term ‘broken’ suggests that those bodies are not whole or should be different. When functional impairment belongs to the created normalcy and created reality of humankind, it should not be called ‘broken’. My second point of contention is due to the fact that Hull takes the human body as a starting point of his theology. As I mentioned above, embodiment is a specific approach to understanding functional impairment that is not valid for the experience of all persons with functional impairments. My third point of criticism is that Hull is misled by the use of the word ‘disability’. This term causes him to forget that he called blindness, deafness, and physical ability world generating states that are very different from 31

Hull, “The Broken Body in a Broken World,” 5-23.



each other. The use of the word ‘disability’ privileges the perspective of ‘normal’ world generating states. A Theology of Human Contingency A theological understanding of functional impairment, which takes the self-experience of people with functional impairment as its starting point, should meet the following requirements: 1. It should not base itself on a dichotomizing concept such as disability. Rather, it should start with the deconstruction of disability.32 Justice can only be achieved by a theology that does not create differences between people, but which is valid for everyone. In this context, I propose to use the concept of ‘human contingency’:33 people, by coincidence and necessity, have physical, sensory, moral, and intellectual limits and weaknesses. The real human has limits, despite what the culturally constructed and deceptive fantasy of human perfection may say. Even Jesus was subjected to human contingency: he was a Jew, a male, sighted prophet in a sighted world,34 as well as a hearing person in a hearing world. Jesus died with a broken body and arose with scars.35 In other words, he was a God who shared in human contingency. 2. Such a theology should recognize the unique experiences and world views of individual people, and not artificially impose a 32

For the deconstruction of the concept of disability cf. Mairian Corker, Deaf and Disabled, or Deafness Disabled? Towards a Human Rights Perspective (Buckingham and Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press, 1998), 42. 33 Jan Rolies, “Zorg met het hart, hart in de zorg,” ActaMedicaCatholica70 (2001): 243-249, at 245. 34 Hull, IntheBeginningThereWasDarkness, 150. 35 Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 100-101.



(supposedly) common concept on everyone, such as embodiment. 3. A central question in such a theology should be how limited human persons, each of whom live in unique and limited worlds that are (to a significant degree) inaccessible to others, can be made in the image of an infinite God. ImageofGod Most humans become functionally impaired at some point in their lives. Humans lose their hearing and sight when they grow older, and often experience dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. People contract functional impairments due to illness or accident. They can be affected by psychological traumas because of violence, war, and sexual abuse. Non-disabled people are only temporarily ablebodied. People with functional impairments are normal, like every other person created by God. They are made in the image of God, just the way they are. But how can people with so many limitations be an image of God, especially when some consider the life of people with severe limitations less meaningful than the lives of pigs and dogs?36 In traditional and individualistic paradigms within Western Christianity, the image of God is identified with individual characteristics, such as the soul, self-awareness, self-knowledge, selflove, and rationality.37 This approach excludes severely intellectually disabled people. A consequence of this view is, in Ward’s opinion, that the implicitly dominant view in Western culture is that those with severe mental handicaps are less human than those 36 Cf. Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our TraditionalEthics(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 201. 37 Ward, “The Disabled God?,” 14.



without. When the image of God is looked for in individual perfection or in a spiritual, mental, or physical sense, some people bear the image of God to a lesser degree than others. This is not acceptable. Another theological approach is top-down and takes the conception of God as the Triune community as its starting place. In this framework, humanity is not defined by individual characteristics, but by relationality. To be human is to be social and communal. Human persons’ being made in the image of God means that true humanity is not found where people live in isolation, but where people live in a right relationship one another. Thus, the humanity of persons is not diminished by their contingency but affirmed by the way in which people enter into relationships with other people. It is true, however, that some people have trouble relating to others, due to communication problems like aphasics, a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, or a developmental disorder like autism. Indeed, some people cannot even come into contact with others without the experience of debilitating suffering. Are these people any less made in the image of God than others? Of course not. They are fully human and, therefore, fully bear the image of God. Thus, this second approach is also inadequate. Both approaches are incomplete because they are established on human ways of understanding and knowing God, whereas God is beyond all knowledge and understanding.38 Cataphatic knowledge of God is easily exhausted and seems to lead to confusion and darkness. However, this darkness, if completely lived through, can generate an apophatic knowledge of God that is not only cognitive, but also mystical and experiential. Such might be a third approach 38 Dumitru Staniloae, TheExperienceofGod:OrthodoxDogmaticTheology, Vol. 1: RevelationandtheKnowledgeoftheTriuneGod(Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994), 105.



of the image of God: an approach that does not base itself on the way human persons imagine God, but on God himself and God’s relationship with humankind, by which he gives his love to all people, without distinction.39 I propose to relate this third approach to God’s covenant with humankind, by which he desires to dwell among his people. Through this covenant, God reveals himself when humans realize the conditions that promise his presence among his people: when persons live in true communion with each other. This way of becoming and discovering the image of God40 has what Jürgen Moltmann calls a dimension of eschatological hope.41 Eschatological hope does not refer to Utopia. Rather, eschatology is outside the dimensions of space and time, and can be realized — to some extent — here and now. In this eschatology, the creation of humankind, its re-creation when Jesus died on the cross and became a disabled God, and its messianic future are one and the same moment in which the image of God is revealed. The quality of such a community is indicated by the extent to which it succeeds in open doors for every human person, however much they may deviate from human perfection. This leads to attitudes and actions that make it possible for every human person, 39

Ward, “The Disabled God?,” 19. In Orthodox theology, we find the idea of the growth from the image of God to God’s likeness, from our natural state as created in the image of God to a state of holiness, after the likeness of God. It is worth noting, however, that this distinction between image and likeness cannot be derived directly from the original text of Gen 1:26 (John Breck and Lyn Breck, StagesonLife’sWay:OrthodoxThinking on Bioethics [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005], 26). Likeness is not a physical likeness, but refers to the function of representing the presence of God in the world (Willem A. VanGemeren, NewInternationalDictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004], 967-970, lemma #1948). 41 Roger Hitching, The Church and Deaf People: A Study of Identity, CommunicationandRelationshipswithSpecialReferencetotheEcclesiologyof JürgenMoltmann(Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003), 109ff. 40



however subject to human contingency (physically, mentally, morally, ethnically, sexually), to have access to, and participate within, this community of the covenant. In this approach, the more a community is a home for every human person, despite all aspects of their human contingency, the more it reveals the image of the infinite God. This shared growth toward the image and likeness of God brings with it a form of Christian perfection which does not have individual perfection as its main goal. Instead, this development is primarily experienced in the faithfulness and effort with which people build an inclusive community, in spite of failure and suffering. It is the faithfulness with which God participated in human contingency and by which Jesus became a disabled God,42 who was even forsaken by his Father and emptied of his Godhead.43 This is a form of perfection that is characterized by solidarity with real human and their limitations. This proposed approach places the attitude of our culture toward ‘disability’ under criticism. In this sense, it is a counter-cultural44 and liberating approach to human contingency, oriented on the emancipation of the lowly at the levels of individual experience, community, church, and society.


Burton Cooper, “The Disabled God,” TheologyToday49 (1992): 173-182, at 176. 43 “For Christians, the greatest communication of all is the self-giving love of God evidenced in the sacrifice into death of his Son, Jesus Christ, and the taking up into the Godhead of the suffering associated with that death. The loss by God the Father is experienced as a reality by God, the Trinity, as separation occurs within the Godhead itself” (Hitching, TheChurchandDeafPeople, 160). 44 Stephen B. Bevans, ModelsofContextualTheology(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 107ff.


In the preceding chapters, we described two contrasting discours1on deafness: the medical-audiological discours and the social-cultural discours. A rather extreme example of the medical-audiological discours is given by the E.N.T. and cochlear implantation specialist Govaerts in a publication about neonatal hearing screening:2 ‘Surdus et mutus’. For many years, it has been self-evident to associate deafness with “dumbness”: dumbness in its meaning of inability to speak, as well in its intellectual connotations. In spite of intrinsic intellectual capacities, hearing impairment and poor speech development lead to problems in the development of abstract thinking, to problems in social, intellectual and professional integration. 1

The French word discours, in the meaning in which it is used by Foucault, is a discursive formation in which individuals use similar arguments, linguistic expressions, and narrative styles when they talk about certain topics, e.g. the disability of their child. These discursive formations originate form societal power structures, and have been interiorised by individuals to such an extent that they believe to express their deepest and most personal feelings and thoughts, whereas they do not do else than expressing a discursive formation. By this way, talking about the disability of one’s child may be automatically conformation to the medical discours. As such the use of a discours is by definition an expropriating aspect of individuals’ narrative identity. Cf. Jet Isarin, Deeigenander:Moeders, deskundigen en gehandicapte kinderen. Filosofie van een ervaring (Budel: Damon, 2001), 153-159. 2 Quoted from Paul Govaerts, CursusAudio (2006, accessed March 15, 2007); available from



For the first time in history hope has emerged that these dramatic consequences will no longer be unavoidable. For recently, it has become possible to screen a baby’s hearing immediately after birth… One to three out of every thousand neonates have a severe hearing impairment. These children absolutely need hearing aid fitting, adequate auditory rehabilitation, and speech therapy... Severely hearingimpaired children who are fitted with hearing aid only at the age of 12 to 18 months, will NEVER have a normal speech development. They are doomed to a life in the margin of society... Consensus is growing that each hearing-impaired child in a society with our level of civilization has an inherent right on early detection of hearing impairment in view of maximum integration.

In an interview with Maartje De Meulder, a Deaf activist, in the journal of the Flemish Deaf Association Fevlado, Govaerts describes his expectation that the Deaf Community will be totally different in the future, because fewer and fewer deaf people will opt for Sign Language.3 Almost no one will use Sign Language, and Sign Language will become an extinct language. Govaerts expects that therapies will be discovered which will be able to treat deafness and other defects at the genetic level, and everybody will be quite happy with these therapies. Govaerts states that the Deaf Community has serious questions about genetic manipulation, and he does not understand why. In his opinion, it is of crucial importance for deaf children to become hearing persons, mainstreamed into the world around them.4


Maartje De Meulder, “Interview: Prof. Dr. Paul Govaerts,” Dovennieuws: TijdschriftvanFevlado82, no. 1 (2007): 2-5, at 4. Maartje De Meulder was the president of the Deaf Action Front, which collected 70,000 signatures in order to get the opportunity to clarify a petition for the official recognition of Flemish Sign in a meeting of the Flemish parliament. This has speeded up the process of recognition of Flemish Sign Language (Press Communiqué of April 26, 2006, CD&V, Flemish Parliament). 4 De Meulder, “Interview,” 4.



In this view, Sign Language is a symptom of treatment failure. In the past, some authors went so far as to consider offering deaf children a purely oral education (i.e., by the exclusive use of speech and hearing). According to these authors, educating deaf children in this manner was the best of way to humanize and Christianize them.5 In this medical-audiological discours, deafness is a defect on which the only adequate answer includes neonatal auditory screening, early hearing aid fitting, cochlear implantation, avoiding Sign Language, mainstreaming into hearing society, and becoming, as much as possible, like a hearing person. When this treatment fails, Sign Language use, poor education, primitivism, social marginalization, and being confined to the deaf ghetto are the unavoidable consequences. If these consequences can be prevented by audiological treatment, it would become unethical to not provide such treatment: If cochlear implantation technology will provide all deaf children with the capacity to develop acceptable oral communicative skills — whatever the hearing status of the family and the cultural environment — then auditory (re)habilitation will be an ethical imperative.6

In the social-cultural discours, the best response to deafness is an education that gives deaf children the right to participate in socialcultural deafness.7 The only way to realize this right is by giving the Deaf Community a say on the education of early deaf children.8 5

Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Teaching an Oral Mother-Tongue to Deaf Children in Reference to Religious Education,” in ReligiousEducationoftheDeaf, ed. Jan van Eijndhoven (Rotterdam: Rotterdam University Press, 1973), 46. 6 Rui Nunes, “Ethical Dimensions of Paediatric Cochlear Implantation,” TheoreticalMedicine22 (2001): 337-349, at 337. 7 Corrie Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn:Eennieuwperspectiefopdovekinderen (Twello: Van Tricht Uitgeverij, 2006), 103. 8 Ibid., 95.



In De Meulder’s view, the involvement of deaf adults in deaf education would also lead to a radically emancipatory change in the education of the deaf. De Meulder states that the education of deaf children has many oppressive characteristics, such as a controlling didactic style and a hidden curriculum in which spoken language, whether purely oral or sign supported, has a higher status than Sign Language.9 The alternative should be a liberatory pedagogy, after the example of Paulo Freire, in which school education becomes an instrument for social and political emancipation; this can only be realized by giving the adult Deaf Community the opportunity to influence deaf education.10 In this social-cultural view, deafness is not a disability, but a different way of life: a world that is different from the hearing world. In this world, Sign Language, the most visible and, for hearing people, the most stigmatizing sign of deafness, plays a crucial role. The use of Sign Language is a political statement: the proud use of Sign Language means coming out as a deaf person.11 In this view, the most appropriate answer to deafness is a rejection of the medicalaudiological discours, the political struggle for the emancipation of Deaf Culture, and the official recognition of Sign Language. Different Worlds Both discours on deafness have diametrically opposed assumptions about deafness that play a central role — mostly implicitly — in 9 Maartje De Meulder, “Macht en onmacht op school: De invloed van een onderwijssysteem op dove kinderen en volwassenen – een ethnografische studie” (Licentiaat Pedagogische Wetenschappen, optie Orthopedagogiek, Rijksuniversiteit Ghent, 2005), 63-70. 10 Ibid., 13. 11 Jennifer Harris, TheCulturalMeaningofDeafness:Language,Identityand PowerRelations(Aldershot: Avebury, 1995), 58-59.



ethical analyses regarding the best approach to child deafness. These ethical decisions concern the choice of communication (spoken language or Sign Language), the optimum learning environment (schools for the deaf or regular schools), and medical-audiological treatment (whether or not to pursue hearing-aid fitting or cochlear implantation). The contrast between these two views, and the conflict between their ethical implications, cannot be reconciled by scrutinizing the content of their arguments, or by means of scientific research or arbitration. Both views stem from totally different world views, cosmologies, within which each has its own validity. The deaf and the hearing live in different worlds and perceive the world in different ways, as is observed by deaf12 and hearing13 authors. Deafness and complete hearing are different world generating states, as we explored in Chapter 3 when discussing the work of the blind theologian John Hull. Although deafness and blindness are as divergent as any two life experiences can be, Hull’s observations bear a striking resemblance to the way in which deaf people talk about their deafness. Deafness is a world which is utterly different from the hearing world.14 This difference is not only a question of horizon of understanding.15 In that case, there should be one 12

Benjamin J. Bahan, “Comment on Turner,” Sign Language Studies 21 (1994): 241-270; Harlan L. Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Benjamin J. Bahan, A Journey into the Deaf World (San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press, 1996); Johan Wesemann, Baanbrekend werk? Dove jongeren op weg naar de arbeidsmarkt (Bunnik: Dovenschap, 2006), 14. 13 Jet Isarin, “Werelden van verschil,” in CIendeToekomstvandeDovencultuur, ed. Anja Hiddinga and Aukje Bijlsma (Amsterdam: Woord en Gebaar, 2007), 11-14. 14 Lane, Hoffmeister, and Bahan, AJourneyintotheDeafWorld, passim. 15 ‘Horizon of understanding’ is the range of vision that contains and includes everything that is visible from one point. It has a negative and a positive aspect: negative in this sense that it indicates that the human capacity of understanding



common world to which deaf and hearing people attribute meaning in different ways. If this is the case, hermeneutics might be a method by which people can come to a shared and broadened horizon of understanding. At first, of course, deaf and hearing people perceive the world in different ways, and with different senses. Hearing people live in a world in which the visual sense plays an important role while engaging with things such as traffic, television, and a growing image culture. However, the role of hearing, speaking, words, and language is far more crucial than the role of sight. Deaf people live in a world in which Sign Language plays an important role as a visual language, but in which the visuospatial, filmic, and relational element plays a far more important role, even in Sign Language. While deaf and hearing people technically live together in one world, these communities experience the world in radically different ways. Secondly, this perceptual difference is so fundamental that it leads to completely different choices that deaf and hearing people make in their lives. Thus, in the end, not only do the world views of deaf and hearing people differ, but their material worlds, as well. Deaf people have their own clubs, sports, social activities, artistic practices, visual and performing arts, communication media, and, in some countries, even churches.16 The deaf and hearing worlds differ so thoroughly that the real meaning of the verbal descriptions of those worlds cannot be is limited, and positive in that we can perceive the world beyond the limits of our own situation (cf. Hans-Georg Gadamer, TruthandMethod[London: Sheed and Ward, 1975], 286). In Gadamer’s view, a broadening of the “horizon of understanding” can be effectuated by means of authentic dialogue. That means that perceiving the world beyond the limits of our own senses is principally a verbally mediated process, by which persons give indirect access to their world through language. In my opinion, this access is not rooted in reality, but in imagination that is based on the meanings evoked by the language symbols used. 16 Paddy Ladd, UnderstandingDeafCulture:InSearchofDeafhood(Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003), 44-57.



understood by persons who do not live within them. Deaf authors maintain that, for hearing persons, it is not possible to completely understand, or take part in, the deaf world.17 Conversely, it can be said that for deaf persons, it is not possible to completely understand the hearing world or to be a part of it. The assumption that the difference between both worlds can be bridged by means of conversation would reduce the real difference between them to subjective differences in judgment and language use. A choice for such a method would overrate the power of language and trivialize the objective differences between both worlds. Thus, the uniqueness of visuospatial perspective is downplayed as merely a conceptual, verbal difference: an attribution of meaning. The crux of the issue is that there is a plurality of worlds. As to the relation between the worlds of the sighted and the blind, Hull states that sighted people, though being conscious of the fact that they are sighted, mostly conceive of their world as the only world. They seldom realize that their world is a projection made possible by sight, and that there may also be other worlds which are projected by other world generating conditions. Sighted people know that there are other people, but they perceive them only as not belonging to their world, not as persons with a world of their own. In this way, sighted people create a discourse of dominance based on their sighted world view, which leads to the marginalization and exclusion of the blind, and to the denigration of their self-esteem.18 In an analogous way, downplaying the difference between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf to an attribution of meaning makes the hearing world view — in which hearing, speech, and the language of dominant culture play a crucial role — absolute, 17 Paul C. Higgins, OutsidersinaHearingWorld:ASociologyofDeafness (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980), 22. 18 John M. Hull, “A Spirituality of Disability: The Christian Heritage as Both Problem and Potential,” StudiesinChristianEthics16, no. 2 (2003): 21-35, at 26.



successfully excluding the existence of a different world in which hearing, speech, and language have only a relative value. Deaf people object to the absoluteness of the hearing world view, which the deaf author Harlan Lane refers to as audism.19 It is audism that cannot accept Sign Language as the most natural language for deaf people, cannot understand when deaf people prefer to spurn the blessings of audiological treatment and speech therapy, and calls deaf peoples’ preference for belonging to the Deaf Community over assimilation into general society a ‘deaf ghetto mentality’.20 When the fundamental attitude involves such audism, the result of an ethical analysis about the treatment of deafness is a foregone conclusion, making an ethical analysis altogether useless, in the end. The conclusions of our analysis are threefold: 1. An ethical analysis should explicitly consider the cosmological aspect and the plurality of worlds, i.e., that deaf and hearing persons live in different worlds and have different cosmologies.21 19 Harlan L. Lane, TheMaskofBenevolence:DisablingtheDeafCommunity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 43. 20 Eleanor Stewart and Kathryn Ritter, “Ethics of Assessment,” in Ethicsin DeafEducation:TheFirstSixYears, ed. Rod G. Beattie (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001), 67-87; David Stewart, “Ethics and the Preparation of Teachers of the Deaf,” in Ethics in Deaf Education, ed. Rod G. Beattie (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001), 167-184, at 181. In an analogous way, one might speak of Deafprotectionism(cf. Kathryn Woodcock, “Cochlear Implants vs. Deaf Culture?,” in Deaf World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook, ed. Lois Bragg [New York: New York University Press, 2001], 325-332, at 330) when the rights of hearing parents of Deaf children are not acknowledged, and when it is denied that a world view is possible in which rehabilitation of hearing loss and acquisition of spoken language can contribute to persons’ quality of life. 21 For the concept of cosmology, we refer to the work of the cultural anthropologist Patrick Devlieger: “Is it possible to imagine a world that is generated by the experience of disability? In a modernist perspective a disability experience would be understood as loss and the effort to overcome that loss. Disability, however, has a generative force that may find its expression in creativity or crit-



2. Persons who perform an ethical analysis should be conscious of their own cosmology and acutely aware of its limitations. They should realize that the complete understanding of, communication of meaning between, different worlds is not possible. 3. Treating choices in regard to deafness (e.g., cochlear implantation, genetics, audiological treatment) from the perspective of medical ethics should be considered implicit audism. From the perspective of deaf people, they should be treated as issues of social and political ethics. The choice for one of both views, however, automatically leads to a foregone conclusion as to the outcome of the ethical analysis. The consequence is that an ethical analysis performed by one analyst belonging to one world will never transcend the limits of that analyst’s cosmology. A solution to this dilemma might be found in the strategy that the cultural anthropologist Patrick Devlieger followed when addressing the confrontation between sighted and blind peoples’ experiential worlds. Devlieger utilized the same type of focus groups that are used in research in the field of social sciences.22 Analogously to Devlieger’s strategy a negotiation between the cosmologies of hearing and deaf people might provide a framework for an ethical analysis of topics regarding deafness.

ical study, and that results in disability as identity and culture: that indicates that such a world exists, in lived experience as well as in view on life, that might be called cosmology” (Patrick J. Devlieger, Geert Van Hove, and Frank Renders, “Disability Cosmology: The Practice of Making Disability Worlds,” Journalof PsychologyinAfrica1 [2006]: 77-85, at 77). 22 Richard A. Powell and Helen M. Single, “Focus Groups,” International JournalofQualityofHealthCare8, no. 5 (1996): 499-504, at 499; Frank Renders and Harry Viaene, “Analysing Spaces in the City of Leuven: The Synergy between Designers and Users,” in Blindness and the Multi-Sensorial City, ed. Patrick J. Devlieger et al. (Antwerp: Garant, 2006), 323-338.



Since deaf and hearing worlds overlap in many areas of life (e.g., families, labor, schools, and churches), neither deaf nor hearing persons can hide from such critical discussions. Both worlds are condemned to negotiation, and that makes it worthwhile to search for ways in which a discussion might be fruitful, instead of getting bogged down in monologues at cross purposes. Therefore, a critical discussion between such entirely different worlds needs a solid philosophical and anthropological base in which the uniqueness of the different worlds can be respected. The task of entering into dialogue should not be achieved at the expense of each party. If such undesirable consequences are inevitable, dialogue and negotiation represent an unavoidable yet unattractive fate. A more fruitful outcome, and a goal to strive after, would be to mutually reinforce and affirm the uniqueness of each other through genuine dialogue. The philosophical and anthropological base for such a situation can be provided by a relational and dialogical personalism based on Christian Trinitarian theology. Personhood and Personal Identity From life’s first moments, human beings mature and develop in a network of relationships with their environment biologically, psychologically, and spiritually. The quality of the interaction between human beings and their environment has a profound influence on their biological, psychological, and spiritual development and makeup. Within that psycho-socio-biological context, humans develop the ability to have a conscious experience of oneself. This self-experience is, as the human sciences demonstrated, intimately related to a person’s self-perceived position in social space. It is through interaction with persons in their environment humans acquire personhood. So, personhood is not



something pre-social,23 but is received as a gift in relationships with other people.24 In this process, persons are not merely passive receptacles, and personal identity is not just the introjection of what other people communicate about that person. The human sciences show that, from the beginning, human persons perceive and interpret their interactions in their own unique and incommunicable way.25 Though being unique and incommunicable, personhood is not a monadic phenomenon. Rather, personhood is inherently social.26 As Breck formulates it, personhood is being in community.27 From this perspective, human personhood can be fully realized in a genuine Christ-like28 relationship, that is, a relationship characterized by openness, an orientation toward others, genuine communication, perichoresis and healthy boundaries. With McFadyen and Breck, we base our anthropology on a Christian Trinitarian theology that sees human persons as created after the image and likeness of God. This God is not one or three monads, but a triune God, a community of persons. In what McFadyen calls a pathology of Trinitarianism,29 there is a mistaken assumption that individual identity is a pre-social and monadic fact, removed from the realm of relations as such. The 23

Cf. Alistair I. McFadyen, TheCalltoPersonhood:AChristianTheoryof theIndividualinSocialRelationships(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 25. 24 Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis and Abuse: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Feminist Theologies in Conversation,” ModernTheology19 (2003): 41-65, at 48. 25 Cf. McFadyen, TheCalltoPersonhood, 29. 26 Ibid., 69ff. 27 John Breck and Lyn Breck, Stages on Life’s Way: Orthodox Thinking on Bioethics(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 24-25. 28 McFadyen, TheCalltoPersonhood, 133ff. 29 Ibid., 25.



consequence of such individuality would be a form of personhood in which persons only give monologues to their environment: presenting their views, wishes, and selves without any need of listening to others, whose personhood needs not be taken into account. McFadyen refers to such a situation as one of ‘distorted relationships’.30 In a genuine relationship, persons on each side of the dialogue can re-encounter and restore their personal identity. So, being in community does not mean self-effacement, but a free and critical giving of oneself through empathy and the wish to discover value in the other. One’s identity is not threatened by otherness, nor must one destroy or deny the identity of another in order to save one’s own. On the contrary, the other is valued and loved in their very otherness, and self-fulfillment is found in relationship with the other. Those who were previously strangers are not only close to me,31 but are carried within my heart, since I have been so enriched by them. In such relationships, one receives the ability to recognize personhood and to acknowledge the uniqueness of others as a gift.32 Those who cannot, or do not have the desire to, engage in relationships remain lonesome, lost within their own monadic universe.33 They are unloved non-persons. What matters is the continuous effort to reach out to others in their difference, and to enjoy and take delight in their otherness. This means that the ontology of personhood, as being essentially relational, is a continuous dialectic of being and non-being. If being were a monadic and self-assertive fact, there would be no room for other beings. The other’s singular individuality, which differs from mine, becomes a sign of the limitations of my 30

McFadyen, TheCalltoPersonhood, 122-123. “The subject that was strange to me, comes nearer to me” (Edith Stein, Zum ProblemderEinfühlung [Halle: Buchdruckerei des Waisenhauses, 1917], 4). 32 Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis and Abuse,” 48. 33 Ibid., 53. 31



individuality, and therefore a threat to my identity: “L’enfer c’est l’autre.”34 In closing myself off to the other’s individuality, I lock myself within my own universe, becoming what I feared most: a non-person, non-being. Wanting to be, I become non-being. The self-chosen position of opposition toward the other turns into ridiculous nothingness.35 When I make space within myself for the other, however, refraining from self-sufficiency and overcoming the perceived threat of otherness, I shall discover previously unknown values and uniqueness within the other’s universe.36 Going beyond myself in a free choice of ‘not to be’, I will give personhood to the other, and the other will be invited to respond and, should they freely choose to do so, give me personhood. In this way, disposed to become non-being, I may become more of a person, more ‘being’.37 A freely chosen position of weakness becomes strength. Personhood is something that cannot be strived for directly, but is the direct result of giving personhood to the other in one’s own unique and incommunicable way. In this dialectic of Christian personhood, liberty and sociality do not exclude, but presuppose one another. This is a process of growth which is more accurately described as becoming rather than being a person. This dialectic is a growth 34

Jean-Paul Sartre, HuisClos(Paris: Gallimard, 1947). Dumitru Staniloae states that if God had been a monadic Personhood, he would never have been able to incarnate. If he would have incarnated, the result might have been a person lost in monologues and self-overestimation: that person’s self would have been so inflated that it would have lost personal identity (Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior [Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011], 179-201). 36 Cf. Enrique Cambón, LaTrinidad:Modelosocial(Madrid, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Montevideo, and Santiago: Ciudad Nueva, 2000), 100-101. 37 “God is not ‘a being’ by which the other cannot be, but a ‘not-being’ that makes space for the other one to be” (ibid., 50-51). 35



from being made in the image of God to being made in God’s likeness, a growth that has what Moltmann describes as a dimension of eschatological hope.38 Eschatological hope is not about utopia, but exists outside the dimensions of space and time and can be realized, to a certain extent, here and now. Application on the Relationship between Deaf and Hearing Persons Let us apply this paradigm to four aspects of deaf people’s lives in a hearing environment: Deaf identity, the range of communicative relationships, the communication about conscious interiority, and personal emancipation. DeafIdentity The majority of deaf people are born in a hearing environment. In the course of their lives, often in schools for the deaf, but also outside of this context,39 they come into contact with the Deaf Community, and many of them discover that the social-cultural discours of the Deaf Community provides a better explanation for their daily experiences with deafness than the medical-audiological discours. The social-cultural discours of the Deaf Community can


Cf. Roger Hitching, The Church and Deaf People: A Study of Identity, CommunicationandRelationshipswithSpecialReferencetotheEcclesiologyof JürgenMoltmann(Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003), 109ff. 39 Often because mainstreaming was merely functional and not supported by smooth communication in spite of good language skills (cf. Annelies Kusters, “Zeil je voor het eerst: Een historisch en etnografisch onderzoek naar Dovencultuur in Paramaribo, Suriname,” Licentiaat Sociale en Culturele Antropologie, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2006, 26; De Meulder, “Macht en onmacht,” 81-82).



sometimes even replace religious explanations of life experiences.40 Many deaf people from hearing families begin to live between two cultures: the Deaf Culture and hearing culture. They opt for biculturalism and bilingualism, even when they grew up in a hearing culture without Sign Language. Their experience suggests that participation in the dominant, hearing culture is not sustained without finding a ‘harbor’41 in the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture. This entails that deaf people remain outsiders in hearing culture when they remain outsiders in Deaf Culture. When the hearing environment of deaf children prevents them from participation in the Deaf Community, they are also prevented from developing their personhood in a hearing environment. The monadic position taken by a hearing world view, audism, creates a distorted relationship between the deaf individual and the hearing environment, in which deaf persons are not allowed to discover their personal identity. TheRangeofRelationality Attainment of full personhood in relationship with others requires smooth communication. A choice for spoken communication in the education of deaf children might give them the opportunity to come into contact with as many persons as possible. But in reality, deaf people’s spoken language skill is often too limited for substantial participation in hearing groups, especially in moments of informal communication.42 Sign Language use seems to limit communication to a smaller group of people, i.e., Sign Language users, but enables the possibility of a higher quality of communication. 40 Darren Russell, The Religious Nature of Deaf Culture (Washington, DC: Gallaudet Video Library, 2002). 41 Cf. Bahan, “Comment on Turner,” 247. 42 Social talk or phatic communion (cf. Marcel Broesterhuizen, “Faith in Deaf Culture,” TheologicalStudies66 [2005]: 304-329, at 318-319).



In communication between the hearing and the deaf, the use of spoken language places the burden of communication on the shoulders of deaf people, who are less proficient in spoken language. Conversely, the use of Sign Language places the burden of communication on the shoulders of hearing people. Since language and personal identity are interwoven, opting for one’s own language in relationships with other people means opting for the dominance of one’s own identity at the expense of others’, whereas linguistic friendliness implies acknowledgment of the other’s identity. Linguistic friendliness of hearing people, through the use of Sign Language, widens deaf persons’ range of relationality. ConsciousInteriority For Christians, inner selfhood, the most secret center of the human person, is a sanctuary in which God lives. In that conscious interiority, human persons experience what liberty is, and what it means to be the master of one’s life. In that full liberty, people find their own identity and develop their own world view.43 Conscious interiority is, in the end, not only of a psychological or spiritual nature, but proceeds from the transcendent nature of human personhood. Conscious interiority comes only to full development, however, if others are given access to it by means of good and smooth communication. Otherwise, it will remain poor and become a prison, in which deaf people are silent bodies44 or perpetual pets, with an inner life unknown to and hidden from other people. When choices in education of the deaf, like the banning of Sign Language, lead 43 Cf. Joseph Selling, “The Human Person,” in ChristianEthics:AnIntroduction, ed. Bernard Hoose (Collegevile, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 95-109, at 105. 44 Carol A. Padden and Tom L. Humphries, DeafinAmerica:Voicesfroma Culture(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 14-15.



to communicative impairment and disability, the way toward communication about one’s conscious interiority, identity and relational personhood remains impaired. This communicative impairment hinders the discovery of the richness of one’s own interiority, making access to the transcendent nature of personhood impossible. This blocks the path toward the realization of meaning. PersonalEmancipation Each person is unique and lives one life in this world. Persons can enter into a true relationship with other people only if, in this relationship, their uniqueness and right to otherness are not only recognized, but respected and appreciated. This is one of the most fundamental questions of contemporary social ethics,45 a question that lies at the basis of social movements that fight for the recognition, liberation, and equal rights of minority groups. The uniqueness of deaf persons means that the personal world view of deaf persons should not only be considered a limited horizon of understanding that needs to be broadened and merged with the horizons of understanding that are dominant in hearing society. The movement for emancipation of the deaf defends deaf people’s right to their own deaf world view. They point to the fact that deaf children of hearing parents will necessarily develop a different world view from their hearing parents. When hearing parents have a deaf child, they are often not aware that deafness is a world generating condition, and that their child will necessarily live in a different world than theirs. Their child will live in a world in which alternative communication in the form of Sign Language and the Deaf Community play an important role. When parents only view their child’s unique world as impairment and undesirable otherness, 45

Selling, “The Human Person,” 107.



they mortify the uniqueness of their deaf child and block their child’s toward their own identity. It is not rare for these children, after discovering Deaf Culture and Sign Language, to become the strongest advocates of Deaf Culture and the strongest opponents of the hearing perspective on deafness.46 In this way, a hearing view that asserts itself and is not able to recognize deaf people’s uniqueness is the most eloquent proof of its own invalidity and meaninglessness. Clasping onto one’s own being leads to non-being. From the other side, when the Deaf Community cannot accept that hearing parents have their own world view and their own perspective on the deafness of their child, and when the Deaf Community asserts that it has more pedagogical rights to deaf children than their own hearing parents,47 hearing parents will reject the discours of Deaf Culture. They will keep their children far from Deaf Culture and Sign Language, in an attempt to debunk the claims made by Deaf Culture.48 A threat to Deaf Culture greater than cochlear implantation is when parents are denied the right to have their child participate in their own world, and when children are denied the right to participate in their parents’ culture and history. This denial sometimes takes the form of Sign Language suppression but also the use of residual hearing, cochlear implantation, oral communication, and deaf protectionism which calls such deaf children ‘not really deaf’, ‘think-heary’, ‘hard-of-hearing’ does not make Deaf Culture strong, but works against its credibility.49 Here too, we see how grasping onto one’s being leads to non-being. 46 For example the British Deaf activist Ladd, Understanding Deaf Culture, passim. 47 Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn, 95. 48 Cf. Caspar C. Wever, Parenting Deaf Children in the Era of Cochlear Implantation: A Narrative-Ethical Analysis (Nijmegen: Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, 2002), 343ff. 49 Woodcock, “Cochlear Implants vs. Deaf Culture?,” 332.



Conclusions Both hearing and deaf world views have their own limited validity and legitimacy. Their differences and contrasts are not a matter of right or wrong, but a matter of difference between world generating states. This contrast is not to be eliminated, but worked through and lived to its full extent in a genuine, undistorted relationship.50 Therefore, hearing and deaf world views should not behave as competing illusions: The strength of relationships that need to be built between deaf and hearing people depends largely on several things: acknowledgment of differences; deference to each other’s need for autonomy; acknowledgment of struggle to find a new balance of power after a long history of inequality; a new paradigm of control in cross-cultural relationships...51

When the hearing view considers itself absolute and self-evident, this may lead to choices that are dubious from an ethical point of view, failing to take into account the uniqueness of deaf persons and the deaf world, in addition to the reality of human contingency. Such choices form an obstacle for deaf people in their growth toward full relational personhood, and will elicit their justified opposition. When a deaf view considers itself absolute, it runs the risk of denying the pedagogical rights of hearing parents and the right of deaf children to participate in the life and culture of their parents, eliciting the justified opposition of hearing parents. Since hearing and deaf world views cannot simply be considered as different horizons of understanding, but are truly different worlds, hearing parents cannot be expected to adopt a deaf world 50

McFadyen, TheCalltoPersonhood, 133ff. Tom L. Humphries, “Of Deaf-Mutes, the Strange, and the Modern Deaf Self,” in Deaf World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook, 348-364, at 363. 51



view in its entirety, nor can it be expected from deaf people that they adjust to a hearing world view. The solution of this dilemma is that where treatment, guidance, education, and service to deaf children take place, the hearing and deaf views are brought into negotiation on the basis of equality. This might be the only way to avoid collision and to reach an alliance between both world views. The goal of such an alliance is not to come to a compromise, nor to find a common denominator or middle course, but a never-ending dialogue between both worlds which views diversity not as fate, but as opportunity: Perhaps the greatest hope for avoiding damaging conflict is our mutual respect for human differences ... When it comes to disputes ... over contrasting beliefs and practices in two different cultures, there may be no reasonable alternative to mutual respect ... Who is right? ... The answer is: It depends on your cultural frame of reference; there is no culture-free vantage point from which we can look down on this issue and make the right choice ... If both parties show their mutual respect for each other’s languages and cultures, the road is wide open to collaboration.52


Lane, Hoffmeister, and Bahan, AJourneyintotheDeafWorld, 448-449.


Introduction: The Deaf World In the preceding chapters, we showed that hearing and deaf people live in different worlds, with different core values and formative experiences. Deaf people’s being in the world has far reaching consequences for the way in which they perceive what general, hearing society offers to them, such as religious traditions and narratives. Communication and Belonging A first core experience centers on communication and belonging. Corrie Tijsseling writes: A person who cannot participate in group communication feels surrounded by a wall of glass. Every person who finds him/herself with people who speak another language experiences this. … If you do not know each other’s language, you do see the other ones and you know that the others see you, but you are not a part of a whole.1

This may be the situation of a deaf person growing up in an environment where spoken language is the norm. Early deafness leads to severe problems in the capacity of using spoken language. Parents and children often adapt to this situation. When no spoken 1

Corrie Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn:Eennieuwperspectiefopdovekinderen (Twello: Van Tricht Uitgeverij, 2006), 35.



communication develops, parents and children will soon develop a visual form of communication by means of body language, gestures, and signs. For this reason, many linguists are convinced that visual communication and Sign Language is the most natural language for deaf children.2 Some people even go so far as to consider Sign Language the mother tongue of the deaf, from which it would be wrong to keep deaf children away. They hold that humans have an innate capacity for language development by which language develops itself spontaneously, in spite of sometimes major limitations in the environment. Language develops in every normal child, however defective the communication in the environment is. Humans’ communicative capacity is so strong that even in places where no standard language exists, new languages will soon appear.3 In this view, the best thing for deaf children is that they learn Sign Language from an early age. Deaf children do not have enough access to use spoken language in an normal and spontaneous way. Several research studies have shown that most deaf people can only attain a very defective command of spoken and written language.4 Even when the medical-audiological treatment of deaf children is optimal, not every deaf person will learn to speak, and mostly deaf persons’ speech will not be intelligible for those not acquainted with the deaf. Even with intelligent deaf persons, spoken language is weaker than in hearing persons, and their vocabulary is limited.


Cf. Bernard Th. Tervoort, “Gebarentalenvandovenenpsycholinguïstiek”: Een weerwoord (Amsterdam: Instituut voor Algemene Taalwetenschap, 1985); Bernard Th. Tervoort and G. van der Lem, Wieniethorenkan,moetmaarzien (Muiderberg: Dick Coutinho, 1981). 3 Cf. Steven Pinker, TheLanguageInstinct(New York: Morrow, 1994). 4 Cf. Reuben Conrad, TheDeafSchoolChild(London: Harper & Row, 1979); K. Nordén, Psychological Studies of Deaf Adolescents (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1975).



So, in the world of oral communication, deaf persons are, by definition, language disabled. This creates an imbalance of power and asymmetry in relationships with hearing people, which is the fundamental reason why many deaf people do not feel at home in the hearing world. In school systems in which spoken language is the central goal, the language development of deaf children is slow. Like the anthropologists Branson and Miller state, the goal of education changes: education becomes treatment of a language disorder as opposed to the development of knowledge.5 All school education, including the fields of history, geography, and religion, becomes language therapy. Religious education was even subordinated to language therapy in a Catholic conference on religious education in the early seventies. Where some people stated that signs should be used when concepts in religious education could not be explained by spoken language, others maintained that the content of religious education should be adapted to the spoken language level of deaf children, even when their intelligence was stronger. Such a position can even be found today in liturgical celebrations with the deaf. There too, a strong accent has been placed on spoken and written language, but texts were simplified and adapted so as to not be too difficult for deaf people. For example, a special Eucharistic prayer in Germany had been made that was found to be suited for celebrations with mentally handicapped persons,6 but most deaf people are not mentally handicapped! Hearing pastors simplify the textual readings in liturgy, avoiding difficult readings, and limiting themselves to simple sermons. Many deaf people are hurt by such 5 Jan Branson and Don Miller, Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural ConstructionofDeafPeopleasDisabled(Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 40ff. 6 Anne Bamberg, “Langues et langages de célébrations en culture sourde,” QuestionsLiturgiques84 (2003): 209-225.



simplification, and ask whether or not they have a right to receive the same content as hearing people. Research studies in different countries have shown that deaf people who have primarily been educated through spoken language have an inferior level of spoken and written language skills.7 Even when treatment of deaf children is optimal, deaf people’s language level is lower than that of hearing people,8 and even deaf people with superior intelligence have lifelong language problems. The only group of deaf persons who seem to be more language proficient are those who have received a cochlear implantation as a young child, but even their language level is often lower than in hearing children. The conclusion is clear: education in spoken language does not give deaf children sufficient access to spoken and written language, and it makes them disabled. While educators of deaf children often opt for Sign Language, doing so is not automatically a solution to the problem. In most cases, they opt for a language which is foreign to hearing educators; they will have to communicate with their child in a language that is foreign to their own. Parents who are forced to use a foreign language with their young child will unavoidably have a handicap in language phenomena that play a role in parent-child interaction: songs, rhymes, verses, storytelling, and baby talk. It is difficult for parents to communicate with their child in a language that is not their mother tongue. When it comes to communication with deaf children, mothers seem to invest the most energy: mothers often have better Sign Language skills than fathers. Sometimes this goes so far as to foster very poor communication between deaf children and their fathers, and sometimes mothers have to act as interpreters 7

See note 4. Marcel Broesterhuizen, “Het begrijpend lezen van dove kinderen, intern rapport” (Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1996). 8



between deaf children and their fathers. This has far-reaching consequences for the religious development of deaf children. The child’s image of God is highly dependent on the child’s image of the father. A research study by the National Catholic Office of the Deaf in Washington DC showed that many deaf persons see God as a very important, but also a very distant figure with whom no communication is possible. In a study done by Anthony Russo, it was found that almost one-half of deaf young people were convinced that God does not understand Sign Language and is not interested in the lives of deaf persons.9 Of course, most parents put a lot of energy into communicating with their deaf child. Some parents, mostly mothers, become professional Sign Language interpreters or follow advanced studies of Sign Language. However, not all parents are capable of doing so: it requires an investment of time, language sensitivity, and selfconfidence. Sometimes, it requires overcoming cultural prejudice. When parents use Sign Language with their child in public space, it shows their readiness to come out as parents of a deaf child. But children do not only need to communicate with their parents, but also with other children in the family, grandparents, and other relatives. Although the nuclear family (only parents and children) is dominant in most places in Western countries, we know that grandparents, and especially maternal grandparents, play an important role in families with children with a disability, in addition to those with deaf children. It has been shown that, in some cultures, children’s survival rate is related to the availability of a maternal grandmother. The female anthropologist Sarah Hrdy found this in several countries in Africa, but also in an analysis of the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in poor regions in Western Europe 9

Anthony Russo, The God of the Deaf Adolescent: An Inside View (New York: Paulist Press, 1975).



at the end of the 19th century.10 Since both parents often have jobs outside of the home in most European families, grandparents play an important role in the life of their grandchildren. Day care is expensive and many grandparents, often maternal grandmothers, take care of their grandchildren at least one, and often more than one, day a week. Most day care centers do not know, however, how to deal with a deaf child. This fact can lead grandparents to play an even bigger role in the lives of their deaf grandchildren. For parents of deaf children, grandparents who are able to sign are a crucial aspect of social support. When the family of a deaf child does not sufficiently learn Sign Language, the consequences can be the same as when young deaf children are only educated with spoken language: such persons will encounter language problems throughout their entire lives. And when a child has language problems, conversation between the environment and the child remains restricted. In these situations, communication limits itself to the exchange of information and commands, a so-called restricted code,11 and personal feelings are not discussed. As Brinich explains, “When communication breaks down, the most powerful takes control,”12 with serious consequences for the way in which a deaf person grows up. It is known that educators of deaf children are often rather authoritarian and directive.13 In schools for the deaf, communication is often a oneway process: the teachers ask questions and the students give 10

Sarah B. Hrdy, MotherNature:AHistoryofMothers,Infants,andNatural Selection(New York: Pantheon Books, 1999). 11 Basil Bernstein, Class,CodesandControl, Vol. 1(London: Paladin, 1971). 12 Paul M. Brinich, “Childhood Deafness and Maternal Control,” Journalof CommunicationDisorders(1980): 75-81. 13 Susan M. Mather, “Home and Classroom Communication,” in EducationalandDevelopmentalAspectsofDeafness, ed. Donald F. Moores and Kathryn P. Meadow-Orlans (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1990), 232-254, at 236.



answers. Hearing educators of deaf children are often dominant, and this has consequences for the way deaf persons learn to interact with hearing people. Such a student-teacher dynamic can cause deaf people to be submissive, obedient, and passive when interacting with hearing people. Sometimes a persistent dependency on hearing people can be observed. It is not a rare phenomenon to meet deaf adults, educated with spoken language, with high intelligence and good schooling, who still accept being treated as a child by their parents. Deaf persons with poor communication, or only oral communication, run the risk of a lifelong psychological dependence on hearing people that leads to passivity. Even if they do not have any psychological problems and enjoy a warm relationship with the surrounding environment, deaf people can still experience a lack of social competence. Dependence on hearing people can hinder deaf people from taking control of their own lives and trusting in their own capacities. In other words, there is a lack of empowerment. Although this issue seems to be far less common in deaf persons whose hearing parents consciously opted for Sign Language, or in deaf persons who independently opted for Sign Language as adults. As Peter McDonough describes, the empowerment of hearing people, but also of deaf persons with a higher status, can cause problems in pastoral ministry with the deaf.14 When a pastor asks for deaf people’s opinion after making a proposal, deaf people will often refrain from giving an answer; everything the pastor says is law because he is hearing and, as a result, knows what’s best. The pastor is therefore placed into a unique role that many pastors are not prepared for. A hearing pastor — but also deaf pastors 14

Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeople Ministering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44.



belonging to the deaf elite — runs the risk of feeling delighted by this esteem, and will react in a way that reinforces such dependent behavior. The typical hearing pastor can often try to do everything for the deaf, even the things they might do very well by themselves. A consequence of this dependency toward hearing people is that many deaf people do not acquire efficient skills in organizing things by themselves. This lack of leadership skills is a big obstacle for many pastoral projects with the deaf. Dependency fostered by oral communication is a major reason why deaf persons with a high level of education and oral communication have come to reject an education system that exclusively stresses the value of spoken language. What does this mean for pastoral ministry with the deaf? Pastoral ministry with the deaf should take place from the perspective of liberation theology. This stance acknowledges deaf people’s dignity as children of God and full members of the Christian community, and empowers deaf people, linguistically and culturally, by means of Sign Language and Deaf Culture. For hearing persons dealing with the deaf, the crucial point in education of the deaf may be how to come into dialogue with a speechless child without resorting to a monologue.15 If true communication is lacking, the consequences for the deaf child are serious: the child will remain cognitively and socially deprived. Such deaf children and adults will miss a lot of information, especially information that hearing people ascertain through remarks that are dropped in passing, which is the case with many informal rules in social interaction. The consequence may be that such deaf persons are underdeveloped in their thinking about, and comprehension of, mechanisms that play a role in social interaction, 15

Antoine J. M. van Uden, HowtoComeintoConversationwithaSpeechless andLanguagelessChild(Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1978).



so-called social cognition.16 These skills include empathizing with others, putting oneself in other people’s shoes, and guessing what other people think. Such skills are called ‘theory of mind’. From an early age on, children learn to guess what other people think and feel. They learn that other people can have different thoughts and feelings from their own. Without such skills and awareness, a person cannot adapt to social situations. In fact, the lack of such skills can even lead to maladaptation. Such a lack of social cognition goes along with a general lack of abstract thinking.17 This is, however, absolutely not a direct consequence of deafness itself: deaf children who are linguistically deprived (as most deaf children in the era in which Furth did his research, an era in which oralism was still very dominant) suffer from a lack of conversation and dialogue. The words, concepts, and language which may serve as stepping stones for abstract and social thinking are not made available. Social insight and cognition often come from indirect information: a hearing child hears that other people give comments on other people’s behavior, listens to conversations between other people, or overhears comments whispered about oneself when one misbehaves. Deaf children miss that indirect information, as it has to be directly given to them in Sign Language, which is very clear and visual. In many cultures and social environments, people are not accustomed to being so direct. When educators correct a child with a kind face and unclearly formulated statements, a deaf child simply will not 16 Cf. Mark T. Greenberg and Carol A. Kusche, “Cognitive, Personal, and Social Development of Deaf Children and Adolescents,” in HandbookofSpecial Education – Research and Practice, Vol. 3: Low Incidence Conditions, ed. M. C. Wang, M. C. Reynolds, and H. J. Walberg (Oxford and New York: Pergamon Press, 1989). 17 Cf. Hans G. Furth, “Linguistic Deficiency and Thinking: Research with Deaf Subjects 1964-1969,” PsychologicalBulletin76 (1971): 58-72.



understand what they say: the expression of the face is part of the meaning of the message. It is often asserted that deaf adolescents and adults are underdeveloped in the areas of general knowledge, such as the knowledge of health, illness, and sexuality. In several countries, for example, this proved to be a big handicap in informing deaf people about sexually transmittable diseases, like HIV. The cause of this ignorance is not a cognitive impairment or deficiency: the nonverbal intelligence of deaf people does not differ from that of hearing people. The reason is that deaf children get far less opportunity than hearing children to discuss and acquire information about topics beyond the here and now, due to their educators’ poor Sign Language skills. In the past, it was often thought that this lack of insight was an automatic consequence of deafness which was intricately linked to a lack of abstraction, empathy, and social skills, and was accompanied by impulsiveness and egocentrism. It becomes more and more clear, however, that this is the consequence of a lack of education and a lack of early communication with adult people. When communication with the surrounding environment is lacking, the feeling that one does not belong can start from an early age. The communication code — mostly spoken language — may be associated not with a feeling of belonging, but with a feeling of alienation and being different. Communication becomes a center of difference. The American psychiatrist Freeman is of the opinion that, from a psychoanalytic point of view, deafness has consequences that are totally different from the consequences of blindness.18 From their earliest interactions, visual eye contact between parents and 18 Roger D. Freeman, Susan F. Malkin, and Jane O. Hastings, “Psychosocial Problems of Deaf Children and Their Families: A Comparative Study,” American AnnalsoftheDeaf120 (1975): 391-405.



children plays a central role, more so than auditory communication. The new-born child’s life is merged in a symbiotic union with the mother, but in the visual interaction between mother and child, individuation takes place: the mother and child gradually learn that they are separate individuals. And gradually the child learns to understand that the mother is still there when he does not see her: social object permanence. Not so for the blind: since there is no visual interaction between mother and child, it takes longer for the child to learn that he is an individual and that the mother is still there when he does not perceive her. Normally, sighted children acquire social object permanence around nine months of age, whereas blind children do so at two years of age. In this early social development, deaf children are not delayed in comparison with hearing, i.e., other sighted children, whereas blind children are. The consequences of deafness may become clear when verbal communication starts to play a role in parent-child interaction. Verbal interaction, as a form of emotional bound, does not take place and the feeling of belonging does not develop. Therefore, the consequences of deafness for personal-social development are feelings of isolation and alienation. We already noted some formative experiences of deaf people: endless conversations at the dinner table without understanding what is said, birthday parties where you see others laughing and not knowing why, and being dismissively told that a subject matter is ‘not important’ when you ask what people are discussing so intensely. The most destructive effect of late deafness for deafened adults is the loss of their social network, since the daily, informal communication that is so satisfactory, is hindered. Language is limited to the transmission of information, whereas in normal life the most important role of language is maintaining relationships and contact between people. When that function of language is lost, serious damage to one’s social network is the consequence: true conversation cannot transpire.



LackofCommunicationandReligiousDevelopment Several authors state that the consequences of deafness as to linguistic ability, and the feeling of not belonging, may have consequences for religious education, religious experience, and catechesis with deaf persons. The Dutch Catholic priest and deaf educator, Van Uden, a strong advocate for the oral education of deaf children, assumed a lack of verbal abstraction in many deaf people.19 In his opinion, words and concepts may have, for deaf people more often than for hearing people, a very concrete perceptual meaning. This causes a problem with understanding religious language; religious language makes extensive use of symbols, metaphors, and images. Those metaphors are never completely detached from their original sensory and perceptive meaning, but people with full language development do not have any problem with going beyond the perceptual meaning to a symbolic and metaphoric meaning. In Van Uden’s opinion, understanding symbolic meaning in such a way is difficult for deaf people: they are more perceptually bound to the original, concrete, and sensory meaning of the symbol. This perceptual bond makes it difficult for them, in Van Uden’s opinion, to believe in God: God cannot be seen or touched, and hearing people often use metaphorical and incomprehensible language when they speak about God. Van Uden supposed a lack of verbal abstraction in deaf children, which is for him a serious obstacle for religious growth. For him, the central problem of catechesis with deaf children is a consequence of deaf children’s language problem, and he tries to solve it as such. In our opinion, and we shall expand our analysis in 19 Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Language Acquisition and Religious Education,” in Towards a Living Eucharist (Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf People, 1983), 33-74, at 37-38.



Chapter 7, it is not a language problem, but a communication problem. It is a problem of dialogue: how to come into contact with deaf people’s life experience. The problem is not very different from the difficulty religion encounters among many young people in Western Europe with very secularized life experiences. The Christian message does not reach deaf people when the first question is how to transmit the Christian message to deaf people in spite of their language handicap. And the Christian message is not communicated to deaf people if deafness is not seen as its own context for Christian life, its own source for theological thinking, locustheologicus, next to Scripture and Tradition.20 PhonocentrismversusExperienceofCommunity So, deaf people’s difficulty with faith should not be treated as a language problem, but as a problem of dialogue. Treating it as a language problem is typical, especially considering the overestimation of language in Western culture: phonocentrism.21 In Western culture, religion is often a very verbal phenomenon. Christianity as a religion of the Word is largely interpreted as the religion of the spoken word. Christianity has become a narrative, and communication about narratives takes a central place in pastoral ministry. Beauty in a religious context is understood more and more in terms of speaking and hearing: poetic texts, beautiful music, and songs. It is possible that the background of this is that monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have taboos on visual depictions of God. It is assumed that the infinite 20 Cf. Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 4. 21 For an extensive explanation of the term ‘phonocentrism’ see: Jonathan Rée, I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses(London: Flamingo, 1999).



God cannot be depicted visually and that every visual depiction of God leads to a misunderstanding of God: an idol. And it is certainly true that visual depictions of God may make a caricature of him, like the popular images of an old man with a beard or the eye in a triangle. There are, however, traditions in Christianity in which visual elements have an important place. Medieval cathedrals are a great example of this: stained-glass windows, wall paintings, statues, celebrations with beautiful garments, ritual gestures, and incense. In such a visual theatre, many things can be seen. In these traditions, such as the Orthodox Churches of the East, visual representation of the message is of equal worth to verbal representation. This is also acknowledged by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.22 The Christian traditions which stress the value of visual representation of the message note that verbal descriptions can also lead to limited images of God. When people say, “Father in heaven, look down upon us,” they are invoking the image of a God that is somewhere above them in the sky. There are Christian traditions, especially the traditions of apophatic theology, which put forward that language is incapable of saying who and what God is. Language can even be a misleading and deceptive tool for describing God. In these traditions, experiencing and undergoing the mystery is more important than utilizing linguistic description and representation. In my opinion, for many deaf people, religious experience is not dependent on the beauty of texts and narratives, and not even a proper translation into Sign Language, but on direct experience of the mystery within a setting of community and belonging. 22

Catechism of the Catholic Church (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), §1160.



Literacy Deaf people’s problem with dominant cultural language does not merely concern spoken language, but also written language. Literacy is a central goal of education. According to criteria formulated by UNESCO, a person is functionally literate when one has a level of reading comprehension that is normally reached after four years of reading instruction. This criterion is met by 40% of deaf people.23 This does not mean that the other 60% are completely illiterate; they are only partially literate. Reading levels are an important theme in the communication debate regarding deaf education. In 1979, Conrad found that the reading levels of deaf children in England were abominable, and that “oral education leaves too many deaf children close to illiterate.”24 This result was considered a reason for abandoning oral education and using Sign Language in schools for the deaf. The use of Sign Language, however, did not lead to real improvement of reading levels.25 This lack of literacy is a big handicap in our information society. Many deaf people use graphic communication means such as email, the Internet, SMS, and texting. These media require a minimum level of reading and writing skills. Whereas, until the 1990’s, many deaf students were not motivated for learning to read and to write, deaf people are now encouraged to read and write more than ever. Literacy is so strongly encouraged because reading and writing give access to the Internet, chatting, SMS, and email. These media now become the most important way of having access to the Deaf Community. Recently, however, technological improvements of 23 Marcel Broesterhuizen, “Het begrijpend lezen van dove kinderen, intern rapport” (Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1996). 24 Conrad, TheDeafSchoolChild, 175. 25 Kerstin Heiling, Dövabarnsutvecklingietttidsperspektiv:Kunskapsnivå ochsocialaprocesser(Stockholm: Almqvist & Wedell International, 1994).



the Internet and computer hardware make visual communication possible by means of such programs as OoVoo, Skype, and Facetime. A lack of literacy is a problem in religions where a book has a central role. For many deaf people, the Bible is a very difficult book, and many of them do not read it. This is even the case for deaf people who belong to Churches where reading the Bible is an essential part of religious practice. We shall explore this topic more extensively in Chapter 9. The consequence of a lack of literacy is that written texts often cannot serve as a compensation for deaf people, including in liturgy. The French theologian Anne Bamberg notes that, in the past, the Church attempted to resolve this by means of the simplification of liturgical texts.26 It is the experience of many deaf people, however, that the content of texts is more accessible by means of Sign Language than by means of simplification. Therefore, when, in the 1960’s, liturgical renewal in the Roman Catholic Church introduced vernacular language into the liturgy, it was soon stated by Vatican commissions that Sign Language would be used by the celebrant in cases of the deaf.27 The Influence of Lack of Communication on Social and Emotional Adaptation In the 1970’s, American researchers found that, among deaf children and deaf adults, there was a higher rate of social-emotional and psychiatric problems than among hearing people.28 There are 26 Anne Bamberg, “Sourds et malentendants: Question de communication pour l’Église,” Praxisjuridiqueetreligion14 (1997): 191-221. 27 Xaverius Ochoa and Andrés Gutiérrez, eds., Leges Ecclesiae post codicem juriscanonicieditae(Rome: Institutum Iuridicum Claretianum, 1972), 4936-4937. 28 Kenneth Z. Altshuler, “The Social and Psychological Development of the Deaf Child: Problems, Their Treatment and Prevention,” AmericanAnnalsofthe



several reasons for this higher incidence of social-emotional issues among the deaf. First, there is the lack of use of Sign Language in early communication between parents and deaf children. Second, many medically organic causes of deafness lead to additional problems, such as pervasive developmental disorder, AHDH, and others.29 Third, most deaf children went to public residential schools in the past. Not all children in these schools went home every weekend, and many of them were in the boarding house for several weeks or more. In the past, deaf children departed at an early age (three or four years old) to a boarding house and lived there in rather large groups. The pedagogical climate in public residential schools for the deaf was not very strong: deaf children grew up in an environment in which the primary concern of their educators, who were mostly hearing adults, was how to keep directive control of children’s behavior. In other words, the pedagogical climate was insensitive and repressive.30 The consequence for many deaf children was that they developed an attachment to their deaf peers, in which they felt safe from hearing people and the outside world. Deaf119 (1974): 365-376; Trian Fundudis and Israel Kolvin, SpeechRetarded andDeafChildren:TheirPsychologicalDevelopment(London: Academic Press, 1978); Hilde S. Schlesinger and Kathryn P. Meadow, SoundandSign:Childhood Deafness and Mental Health (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972). 29 T. J. Goulder and Raymond J. Trybus, TheClassroomBehaviorofEmotionallyDisturbedHearingImpairedChildren(Washington, DC: Gallaudet College – Office of Demographic Studies, 1977); Jan van Dijk, Rubella Handicapped Children: The Effects of Bi-Lateral Cataract and/or Hearing Impairment on BehaviourandLearning(Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1982); Jan van Dijk, Ruth Carlin, and Heather Hewitt, PersonsHandicappedbyRubella:VictorsandVictims–AFollow-upStudy(Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1991). 30 Victoria C. Covington, “Problem of Acculturation into the Deaf Community,” SignLanguageStudies28 (1980): 267-285.



This is the reason why residential schools play such a crucial role in Deaf identity. In every group of children, however, there are children who do not develop positive relationships with their peers. Because of uncontrolled, poorly social behavior, they are disliked by other children and acquire a rejected status in their peer group. In a peer group of deaf children living in the closed environment of a residential school, isolated from their own families, children who had poor relationships with their families and deaf peers were very vulnerable to the development of pathology. In boarding schools for the deaf, deaf children grew up in an environment where their hearing educators were outsiders who did not know what was happening within communities of deaf children. In some settings, the consequence of this phenomenon was that sexual abuse among deaf children could go on for many years. About fifteen years ago in the Netherlands, several instances involving the sexual abuse of deaf children in schools for the deaf were brought to light. In these affairs, there were a high number of female and male victims. In some cases, as much as one-half of classes were abused. The sexual offenders were older, male students who had been victims themselves at younger age. In one boarding school, which enjoyed world-wide acclaim as the best example of oral deaf education, it was brought to light that that there had been a tradition of sexual abuse that spanned several decades. The offenders were brought to justice and put in jail, with a rather mild punishment, however. The judge who gave the sentence stated that the schools of these offenders shared responsibility for what happened. In fact, the educators in those schools had not known anything about it. For teachers and boarding staff, the discovery of sexual abuse was a complete surprise. It showed that deaf students and staff were two separate social groups, two separate worlds. Staff used the dominant cultural language in their



communication with the deaf, and Sign Language was banned, whereas deaf children used Sign Language among themselves. Children were discussing sexual topics during mealtime, sitting at the same table as their hearing educators, who did not understand what the children were talking about. It was also stated that teachers and parents avoided discussing sexuality with deaf children because it was too uncomfortable for them as hearing people: one has to be very explicit and clear with deaf children. Signs used for sexual concepts are very clear and, for many hearing persons, it is embarrassing to use them. Likewise, vulgar words in spoken language are quite explicit. Sexuality was not discussed, and children did not receive the indirect information that hearing children normally acquire. The consequence was not only a lack of knowledge about sexuality, but also a lack of awareness concerning basic sexual ethics. Oral school education disqualified itself not only by poor cognitive development, but also by poor social-emotional education. Sexual abuse does not only take place in serious forms, but also in minor forms of abuse. In many cultures, small children are more prone to touch other persons. Rather soon, however, the number of persons that may touch a child decrease: father, mother, brother, sisters, close relatives, medical doctor, etc. Children are told that they should not touch persons they do not know well. For example, children of nine and ten years of age are told in a delicate way that they are too old to be hugged by their teacher. This is different, however, in the case of the deaf. In the case of the deaf, there are a much higher number of persons that touch the child, often because they do not have another way of communicating. They pull, push, and grab because they have no other means of explaining to the child what they want. When they want to attract the child’s attention, they do not use the same means as deaf people, such as waving in one’s visual field. Instead, they use direct tactile methods that deaf people only use when other means fail.



Thus, not only is it not explained to deaf children that they should not touch every other person, but the normal cultural barriers against touching are frequently transgressed by hearing people themselves. In addition, parents often do not succeed in educating children toward more accepted forms of physical proximity. An important factor in sexual abuse is power. It has been proven that persons, often times female but also male, who are very low in the power hierarchy, are more often victims of sexual abuse. People with a disability are normally low in the power hierarchy, and it has been shown that they are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than others. In the case of physical and mental disability, and in the case of the blind, the sexual offenders are usually people who do not have a disability. In the case of the deaf, there are a high number of deaf offenders.31 Children, especially girls, that are ignorant about sexuality and sexual norms, and who have not been educated in an adequate way, will run a very high risk of sexual abuse, especially when they are submissive. An American study showed that in some schools for the deaf, 50% of the girls were victims of sexual abuse, and these forms of abuse went further than simple touching. Therefore, it is a more and more accepted fact that sexual abuse is an important topic in pastoral guidance for the deaf.32 The topic is complicated, since offenders are often victims themselves. When these offenders are released from prison, they are, in almost all cases, dependent on the Deaf Community for social interaction. 31 L. S. Johnson and K. Brady, “The Nature of Sexual Abuse Reported by Deaf Adults” (paper presented at the Deafway II, Washington DC, July 8, 2002). 32 Caroline S. Bohler and James N. Poling, “Empathy amid Diversity,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 3, no. 2 (1993): 1-52; Sarah M. Rieth, “Scriptural Reflections on Deafness and Muteness as Embodied in the Healing Journeys of Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse,” JournalofPastoralTheology3, no. 1 (1993): 39-52.



However, it is precisely the Deaf Community that knows what these offenders have done. ProblemsofthePast? Deaf children are currently educated in a totally different way than deaf adults have been educated. More children go to day schools, instead of residential schools, and live with their families. Families are more conversant in Sign Language, and there is more sensitivity to the needs of deaf children. The American deaf child psychologist Martha Sheridan states that most deaf children of hearing parents currently have far more positive experiences in their families than the reports of deaf adults about their childhood experiences.33 Religious Development of Young Deaf People 90% of deaf people are born into hearing families, so most young deaf people grow up between two worlds or cultures: their family and the Deaf Community. In order to find their own identity, they have to find their own position towards both cultures and both cosmologies. This has far-reaching consequences for the religious development of young deaf people. In young people with normal hearing, a similarity has been found between young people and their parents as to personal religion.34 Parents’ educational style plays a crucial role in this process, especially in a dialogical educational style in which parents are able to 33 Martha Sheridan, Inner Lives of Deaf Children: Interviews and Analysis (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 150. 34 Annemie Dillen, “Geloof in gezin? Primaire relaties in hedendaagse vormen van gezin en huwelijk als vindplaats van en aanzet tot vernieuwing in fundamentele ethiek, theologie en godsdienstpedagogiek” (Doctor in de Godgeleerdheid, Faculteit Godgeleerdheid, KU Leuven, 2004).



tune in on the developmental level and needs of young people and give them a well-reasoned explanation of their personal beliefs.35 Whether young people insert themselves in the social structures that are the carriers of a religious culture, however, does not solely depend on family. Rather, it also depends on the availability of communicatively accessible significant people in young people’s circles of friends who can serve as models for religious socialization.36 We may expect that, in the case of deaf young people, parental educational style and the role of significant figures in young deaf people’s circles of friends also play an important role as to whether young people adopt their parents’ religion. However, the way in which young deaf people and their parents handle the differences between their cosmologies is a crucial mediating factor in this process. Due to communicative incompetence, many hearing parents run the risk of developing a direct, authoritarian educational style toward their deaf child.37 They are not sufficiently able to react adequately to their deaf child and to enter into a worthy dialogue with them. In hearing children of parents with such an educational style, the most common style of faith is oriented toward convention and conformism.38 On the basis of studies among young British deaf people,39 it may be expected that parents with such an educational style exert 35

Cornelia Vergouwen, Een hemelsbrede gelijkenis: Geloofsopvoeding in godsdienstpsychologischperspectief(Kampen: Kok, 2001), 7. 36 Hijme C. Stoffels and Gerard Dekker, Gelovenvanhuisuit?Eenonderzoek naar godsdienstige veranderingen bij studenten van de Vrije Universiteit (Kampen: Kok, 1987); Piet A. van der Ploeg, Hetlegetestament:Eenonderzoek onderjongekerkverlaters(Franeker: Wever, 1985). 37 David J. Wood et al., TeachingandTalkingwithDeafChildren(Chicester and New York: Wiley, 1986). 38 Vergouwen, Eenhemelsbredegelijkenis, 290. 39 Susan Gregory, Juliet Bishop, and Lesley Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleand Their Families: Developing Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).



pressure on their deaf child to adopt hearing people’s view understanding of deafness, i.e., to communicate in spoken language and to avoid Sign Language and contact with the Deaf Community. Casuistic information in this British study suggests that these young deaf people run the risk of having a liminal status within their own family.40 When these young deaf people orient themselves toward the Deaf Community, they will feel liberated by the world view that it offers. Where parents succeed in a dialogical educational style, they will mostly be parents who adapt themselves in communication with their deaf child, learning and using Sign Language. These parents will discover and acknowledge that deaf people have a different cosmology than hearing people, and support their deaf child’s contact with the Deaf Community. Most members of the Deaf Community have only limited interest in religion.41 In the case of Christianity, this is often attributed to the fact that in the past Christian faith was transmitted to the deaf by hearing people unaware of the culture and cosmology of the Deaf Community.42 The language and culture of the Christian churches were remote from Deaf Culture, and deaf people could not relate Christian narratives to their own daily life experiences. A possible explanation is that these narratives depended too much on a cosmology that is typical of hearing people, whereas a deaf cosmology gave deaf people a more plausible explanation of their life experiences and consequently was preferred over Christianity. By consequence, deaf young people find rather few examples in 40 Gregory, Bishop, and Sheldon, Deaf Young People and Their Families, 29, 44. 41 Darren Russell, The Religious Nature of Deaf Culture (Washington, DC: Gallaudet Video Library, 2002). 42 Beth Lockard, “Biblical Foundations for Deaf Ministry from a Liberation Theology Viewpoint,” in TheGospelPreachedbytheDeaf, ed. Marcel Broesterhuizen, Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia 52(Louvain: Peeters, 2007), 69-79.



the Deaf Community of the enculturation of the religion with which they grew up in their family of origin. Where enculturation of Christian religion actually has taken place in the Deaf Community, deaf young people seem to identify with it. This can be noticed in Christian Deaf Communities that rely on deaf leadership and in which a strong identification with Sign Language and Deaf Culture exists. In their view on Church and pastoral ministry, these communities often use concepts derived from liberation theologies and not from clinical pastoral care.43 We expect that these young people have positive experiences in both the relationship with their parental family and the Deaf Community, and that they have found in the Deaf Community their own deaf way of identifying with the religion of their family. Therefore, it may be expected that religious narratives and uses are perceived and experienced differently by deaf young people and hearing parents and teachers. Deaf young people will feel connected with their parents’ religion only when parental educational style and communication make dialogue possible between deaf young people and their parents. It’s essential for deaf young people and their parents to discuss personal experiences with regard to religion, deafness, aspects of religion that deaf people experience as typical for a hearing world view. In order to feel connected with their parents’ religion, deaf young people must also see, in the Deaf Community, communicatively accessible examples of enculturation of that religion within a deaf world view.

43 Roger Hitching, The Church and Deaf People: AStudyofIdentity,Communication and Relationships with Special Reference to the Ecclesiology of JürgenMoltmann(Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003), 4.


What Is Language for Deaf People? Language and communication play a central role in the lives of deaf people. As deaf people grow and mature, the perspective on language to which they are exposed has a strong influence on their personal development. A view in which spoken language is central often leads to permanent dependence on hearing people, and can even cause permanent fear and submission. A view in which Sign Language is seen as the most natural language of deaf people gives them more opportunities for communication with others, in addition to higher self-esteem. Language has a strong influence on deaf people’s lives. Therefore, it is necessary for pastors who minister to the deaf to reflect upon the nature of language. For a person working in the field of pastoral ministry to the deaf, it is not necessary to be a linguist or to know all of the ins and outs of language. However, it is necessary to have a view on language that can support concrete pastoral action. What is language? What do you do with language? Why do you need language? Careful consideration must be given to all of these questions. Therefore, I shall attempt to reflect on three major themes: what language is, the relationship between language and experience, and the acceptance of Sign Language. Deaf People’s Personal Experiences as to Language We start with some personal experiences of deaf people regarding language.



A 17-year-old girl who was born deaf, Agnes, was orally educated and mainstreamed into a regular high school. She wrote the following about deafness in a paper for her social studies class: Language is the most important thing in your life. Language enables you to communicate with other people, and that is very difficult for us. It is important to make good sentences, so that others can understand you. For deaf people that is a problem. Sometimes they do not know if a sentence sounds well or not ... Learning to live. And life has many aspects. Life is being part of a certain culture, of an existing form of society. And those have many, many habitudes, uses, laws that you should know! And all these things are interwoven with language, often even woven of language. Language links people to another, makes one whole of their society. In language, intentions, moods, and opinions are expressed. You have to know language if you want to be a part of it. And living is ... participation. Deafness is primarily a huge language problem. If language has not sufficiently developed, insight, comprehension, intuition, the right way of acting in many fields remains backward. All kinds of situations have to be provided with language. Looking... with language. Hugging... with language. Willing... with language. Admiring... with language. Being sad... with language. Rejoicing... with language. Being creative... with language. Being angry... with language. Language, you have to feel it, it has to be inside you, an integrative part of yourself, that ties you strongly to your fellow men, your environment, and to yourself.1

Agnes describes language as something that bonds people together, a means which enables people to share experiences. Language is required for full participation in society. That experience is quite different from another woman who was born deaf. She recounts: I saw deaf friends only at school, and the memories of the weekends and holidays at home, the mealtimes at the table, the visits, and birthday parties continue to make me sad, still now. I asked a lot at home and I wanted to know what was said. I think that I did not get answers on three-quarters 1

Agnes van der Meer (s.a.), unpublished paper for Social Studies in a high school programme.



of my questions, because there was no time for giving an answer or it was not important. I felt that I did not belong: I was an outsider.2

She continues her story, describing how she found in Sign Language a way of belonging to other people. Language is a means of sharing experiences and, when it does not function like that, leads to a sense of isolation and alienation. In an interview with an orally educated deaf woman who is now a Sign Language teacher and communication counselor in a mental health center for deaf people, the following statement was made: An event on her work brought a fundamental change into her life. Her colleagues had always helped her when there was a meeting on her work. ‘One day my boss said to my colleague: Just tell the most important things to Ellen! I suddenly asked myself: why I should not have to know all? Why only the most important things? Therefore, from that moment on, I wanted to have an interpreter.’ The use of an interpreter was very important for Ellen, though she had excellent oral abilities. ‘My eyes opened’, she continues, ‘because now, I could follow anything completely. Because an interpreter tells everything that is said or done, including the sound of a door that is smashed, or a joke. From that moment on I started to think about the oral method and Sign Language. The consequence was that some ten years ago I applied for a course for becoming a teacher in Total Communication. I discovered that there was still another language: Sign Language. The support I had from it, was a real liberation for me, although I surely do not want to reject the oral method. The oral method is good for participation in society, but not for integration into it. It is often only one-way traffic. At least for deaf people who are not able to speak well, you should stimulate other communication methods.3

In spite of the high quality of her spoken language skills, Ellen did not feel integrated into hearing society by means of spoken 2 Corline Koolhof, in Doof-zijn:eenwereldvanverschil(Utrecht: Stichting Nationale Dovenraad, 1983). 3 Ad van Gool, “Van administratief medewerkster tot docente Nederlandse Gebarentaal,” DeVriend92, no. 4 (2001): 11.



language, and remained an outsider during crucial moments. She discovered Sign Language, which became, for her, the own language of deaf people. Another Flemish deaf woman explains: Still now I suffer because of the lack of communication and real contact in the family in which I grew up. There are still always moments in which I am angry and I cry about it. I love my family, but I do not feel that I am really connected with them. I miss those family ties terribly. During many years, I felt myself very lonesome and isolated among my relatives, and there never was an opportunity to talk with them about that; I locked everything up inside myself. For me, it is easier to talk about feelings and express my opinions when I am with deaf people. We speak the same language. But with deaf people, it is still difficult to discuss my feelings toward my relatives. I know that many deaf people had the same experiences and the same problems with their family, but only a few of them have the courage to come out with it. Many deaf people have problems with talking about feelings, and with expressing what they really feel and think. During all their years they have been used to remaining silent. Now I would like to meet one time with my parents and my sisters and tell them how I felt and still feel, but that is not easy. We speak a different language. An interpreter would be needed, someone that I really trust and whom I know can precisely translate my feelings, because it is about very personal and difficult things ... I believe that my parents did what they thought was the best. I think that they still do not know how I have felt and continue to feel ... but I think that my mother, if she would have known what she knows now, would have learnt Sign Language to communicate with me.4

These few self-reports, far from exhaustively representing deaf people, seem to point to a common experience of deaf people in which language and communication are either a means of belonging to a community or a marking point of alienation and being an outsider. For hearing people, language is largely emotionally neutral, but that is not 4

Mieke Van Herreweghe and Myriam Vermeerbergen, Thuishoren in een wereldvangebaren(Ghent: Academia Press, 1998), 157.



the case for deaf people. In a conversation amongst hearing people, language usually functions as an invisible conveyer of meaning: the meaning is experienced, while the conveyer is not. This is markedly different from the experience of deaf people: the conveyer of meaning is often present as a conscious experience. This can be an experience of solidarity and victory, but also of disappointment, isolation, and self-doubt. Language and communication have much to do with deaf people’s experiences of exclusion and their need to share. I shall try to express these experiences in a pragmatic view on the nature of language. Pragmatics is that aspect of language that is not primarily concerned with the characteristics of the language system (morphology, syntax, and semantics), but with the way in which language is used. It focuses on the way language functions in human relationships. A Pragmatic View on Language: Language as Conversation The implicit definition of language that has been used in Western thinking since the Middle Ages is that language is a means for the representation of meaning and for the description of reality by means of symbols. Language is analogous to the object it describes, and since analogies are never complete, we must always acknowledge that language is never equivalent to the object it is describing. The central question in this view on language concerns the degree to which language is able to represent meanings correctly. In linguistics, this has been the most accepted definition for a long time. The French psycholinguist Oléron formulates it this way: Language is one of those models that man has constructed and uses. It is actually a model up to the degree to which it makes a reconstruction of perceived and performed reality possible.5 5

Pierre Oléron, Langageetdéveloppementmental(Brussels: Charles Dessart, 1972), 51.



Since a long time, philosophy and theology have criticized this positive view of language. This dissatisfaction is translated into the view that language is too limited and too inadequate for transmitting meaning. An example of this perspective on language can be seen in the theology of Swiss Protestant theologian, Karl Barth.6 Barth states that language, as human phenomenon, is not suited for Christian theology. In his opinion, language has detached itself from the original meaningfulness that it enjoyed when God gave it to Adam, and when he let Adam name all things around him. Since original sin, language is only potentially meaningful, and it retrieves that meaningfulness through Revelation. Revelation restores language to its original state: not only a human phenomenon, but also a divine phenomenon, a tertiumquid that forms a bridge between God and men. When it becomes that bridge, in Barth’s opinion, an incarnation takes place, not as a unique historical phenomenon, but as an incarnation of the Word into words. But that incarnation also has an ambiguous relationship with the real meaning of the Revelation. However, while Barth tried to think about language from a theological point of view, he did not come out of the framework of a traditionally positive definition of language. This view is different from that of the Cappadocian Fathers that we shall describe later in this chapter.7 A second limitation of Barth’s view is that he does not ask the question as to why someone should represent meaning in language, nor does he explain for whom one should do so. Barth does not ask himself whether the limitations of the way in which reality is represented through language stems from the limitations of language as a communicative and semiotic system, or from limitations in the why, how, and the relationship with the who. In other words, the limitations in the use 6 Graham Ward, Barth,DerridaandtheLanguageofTheology(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 7 Scot Douglass, Theology of the Gap: Cappadocian Language Theory and theTrinitarianControversy(New York: Peter Lang, 2005).



of language on a pragmatic level, with its interactive meaning, in the relationship with the person with whom language is used. The possibility that transmission of meaning is defective because the relationship with the person to whom it is transmitted is defective is not considered. A step forward toward the why and who is taken by the German sign linguist Prillwitz. He includes the community of language users into his definition, defining language as a system of arbitrary symbols, that have a definite structure and that follow grammatical rules. This symbolic system should have the capacity to develop itself and should make a free and fluent communication possible between members of the language community.8

His definition is oriented on the Sign Language of the deaf: a language is only a language if children can learn it and if it allows fluent communication. But again, one must ask: why communication? The why becomes clearer in a definition by Gipfer. For Gipfer, language is not only a means of transmitting messages. Rather, it offers the possibility to share experiences: Natural languages are ... language-specific conceptual and relational networks in which specific groups of people raise to consciousness those things which are meaningful for them, so that they become expressible and palpable.9

Sharing experiences by means of language plays a role in the definition of language given by the Dutch priest, educator of the deaf, and psycholinguist Van Uden, who simply states: “Language is a system of symbols for daily conversations.”10 In his view, the role of adults in conversations with deaf children is to seize the common 8 Siegmund Prillwitz, Die Gebärde in Erziehung und Bildung Gehörloser (Hamburg: Verlag Hörgeschädigte Kinder, 1986). 9 Hans Gipfer, DenkenohneSprache?(Düsseldorf: Schwann Verlag, 1971). 10 Antoine J. M. van Uden, Gebarentalenvandovenenpsycholinguïstiek:Een kritischeevaluatie(Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1984).



psychological theme, the common experience shared by both parties, and to express it in words. In this view, language is a symbol system that enables people to express and create shared experiences. From a linguistic and psycholinguistic point of view, language is conversation. He developed a method of teaching language to deaf children based on spontaneous conversation and reflection on the language used in that conversation. In Van Uden’s view, the more deaf children experience empathy in conversation with their educators, the more language is based on conversation from heart to heart, and the more children experience language as something of their own. This seems to be the language experience of the deaf girl Agnes, an experience that was so painfully missed by others. In a heart-to-heart conversation, i.e., empathic conversation, the primary goal is not only adequate representation of meaning or the exchange of information. Sometimes, the exchange of information is of secondary importance. The majority of instances in which people use language have primarily utilized a social and affective meaning. Human beings are primarily social beings, and one of the means humans have to function as such is conversation. In such conversation, the content of the discussion is often less important than the way in which the conversation takes place. This kind of communication takes place in order to bring people onto the same wavelength. And particularly conversing about seemingly unimportant things, this ‘phatic communion’, this checking if you are on the same wavelength, is far more important than the exchange of information. The degree up to which people can participate in conversations ‘about nothing’, laugh with others about a joke, and show their consent with group opinions, is important for their position in a group: it determines whether they are a member of, or outsider to, the social group.11 11

Philip Riley, Language,CultureandIdentity:AnEthnolinguisticPerspective(London: Continuum, 2007),124.



It is a form of cruel exclusion when people are not given the opportunity to participate in ‘phatic community’, and language is reduced to the exchange of information.12 Such exclusion stems from the lack of empathy that arises when the other one is unknown to me, a stranger from a world completely different from mine, , and more of a what than a who.13 That was the experience of the two deaf women quoted above. This exclusion made them decide that spoken language was not their language. Language that is not related to an experience of being understood does not become or remain one’s own language: it is a foreign language, an alienating language. It led them to the choice of a language that provided them with the experience of belonging. Language is used by people with a specific goal, related to their place in social space. This goal may be mutual adaptation, but it may also be mutual manipulation. Language can be used in favor of fellow humans, but also against them. Language can play an important role in politics. When nation-states rose up in Europe, the language of the mightiest population group became the standard language in literature, court, and commerce. Sometimes this went so far that the use of minority languages was forbidden in official contexts. In this way, language politics became an instrument for the political suppression of ethnic minorities. Some people call this phenomenon linguicide.14 Language manipulation is a strong instrument for the manipulation of people. 12

Cf. David Crystal, TheCambridgeEncyclopediaofLanguage(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Gunter Senft, “Phatic Communion,” in HandbookofPragmatics, ed. Jef Verschueren, Jan-Ola Östman, and Jan Blommaert (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1996). 13 Cf. Jet Isarin, Deeigenander:Moeders,deskundigenengehandicaptekinderen.Filosofievaneenervaring(Budel: Damon, 2001), 65. 14 Verena Krausneker, “Sign Languages of Europe: Future Chances,” in Looking Forward: EUD in the 3rd Millennium – The Deaf Citizen in the 21st Century, ed. Lorraine Leeson (Coleford: Douglas McLean, 2001), 64-73, at 67ff.



This aspect of language use has often been overlooked in Western views on language. Language was seen as univocal, i.e., as capable of completely capturing reality through description. Every word, and every expression, has one meaning. The reality is, however, that words and expressions often do not have clear meanings. Words and expressions have connotations, intentional and unintentional, that can have important consequences. When we describe deafness as a disability, we do not describe it only as a functional impairment, a hearing loss, but also imply that it has something in common with other unfortunate conditions in which human beings are not the way they’re supposed to be. Describing deafness as a disability implies that it deviates from normalcy and, as such, is pitiful and inadequate. If we affirm that deafness is a disability (in one sense), we should also deny that it is a disability (in another sense), since deaf people are not pitiful or inadequate. By using the word ‘disability’ and pretending that the word is an objective, univocal indication of a condition, we enhance a process that leads to the exclusion of the deaf and other people from the realm of normalcy. It is a process of removal from normal society. When we call God ‘Father’, we mean that he is caring and love. We mean that not one hair on our head will be lost without him knowing it. We also indicate that he has given life to his beloved Son, who addresses him as ‘Abba’. The words ‘father’ and ‘son’, however, can also denote sexual generation. Speaking about the Trinity, we do not intend, however, to state that the Father had sexual intercourse with a woman, which produced the Son. When this aspect of the meaning of the words ‘father’ and ‘son’ is applied to God, this leads to blasphemous consequences, as the Father of the Church, Basil the Great, observed.15 15

Douglass, TheologyoftheGap, 78.



Language is not univocal, but equivocal. Language is not capable of expressing the truth in a pure and complete way. God is Father and he is not. God is love and he is not. God is and he is not. He is beyond concepts that are expressed in words. He is beyond language. In a similar manner, we must also affirm that deafness is a disability and that it is not. Language is not a means for expressing things in an univocal way, but a tool for the creation of relationships of belonging that foster empathic conversation between human persons. Real Conversation Is Empathy The value and strength of language depends on its ability to indicate or create shared experiences. This sharing does not merely depend on the precision of the linguistic symbols or icons used. It is an intuitive process that also involves other aspects of human communication: eye contact, body language, facial expression, and knowledge of the other’s experiential world. It is a global, primarily affective process firmly anchored in human biological makeup.16 It is a process by which persons, though remaining themselves, enter into the feelings of another person: empathy. In her doctoral thesis about empathy, Edith Stein says, “I do not only know what is expressed in face expression and gestures, but also what is hidden behind it.”17 16

Cf. the work of Schore in which a clear relationship is shown between the quality of relationships with primary caretakers, the development of empathy, and the functioning of the right brain hemisphere: Alan N. Schore, AffectRegulation andtheOriginoftheSelf:TheNeurobiologyofEmotionalDevelopment(Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994). 17 Edith Stein, Zum Problem der Einfühlung (Halle: Buchdruckerei des Waisenhauses, 1917), 12; Edith Stein, Aus dem Leben einer jüdischen Familie (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Herder, 1985); Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Empathie und die kognitive Erziehung gehörloser Kinder: Hat die neue Heilige, die



She calls empathy “the effort of a person to perceive the inner subjective experience, the intimate and really own of another person.” Further on she states: “The subject that had been strange for me comes near to me...” Meeting empathy had been very important for Edith Stein’s faith development. She wrote about her first meeting with Reinach, a private docent in Husserl’s faculty: It was for me as if I never had met a person with such a pure goodness of heart. That close friends and relatives demonstrate love to someone was understandable for me. But here, there was something different. It was the first glance into a different world.

Empathy can lead to friendship and profound mutual acceptance. The awareness of being fully accepted by another person can give a deep sense of happiness. Through empathy, the other one is experienced as a person, a person who one loves not because of their accomplishment, but because that person has inherent value. When a spiritual guide and a counselee come to such a relationship, it is, in Yungblut’s opinion, the responsibility of the spiritual guide to help the counselee become aware of the fact that a Third One is present: One of the responsibilities of the guide is to impart to the counselee a lively sense of the presence of the Third, “in between” as Buber would say, and within both, as the Christian mystic would say. Both “amongst you” and “within you.”18

In an article about pastoral experiences over the telephone, Hobelsberger states that through empathic conversation, a healing relationship Jüdin und Philosophin Edith Stein (1891-1942) uns erwas zu lehren?” (paper presented at the Conference of a German Association of Parents of Deaf Children, 1999). 18 John R. Yungblut, TheGentleArtofSpiritualGuidance(New York: Continuum, 1988), 118.



is offered to people who have often been hurt in their relationships.19 Such a relationship can be an alley toward a mystery that is essential to the Christian image of God, the Trinity. Quoting Leonardo Boff’s Trinity and Society, he states that God is one, but not alone. He is essentially communion and exchange, and human persons are created in his image. Humans are capable of relationship, which, in freedom and through love, make it possible for the shared essence of God to become a social reality. The American theologian Judith Povilus goes even farther in this line of a Trinitarian theology, stating like Edith Stein that, in a loving relationship, persons can penetrate each other up to a certain degree by participation in God’s love. By doing this, they become one, while still remaining separate persons: When they describe the communion within Trinity, the Fathers speak about ‘perichoresis’, a reciprocal con-penetration of the three divine Persons, by which where one of Them is, all three are there. ‘I am in the Father’, Jesus says, ‘and the Father is in Me’ (John 10, 38; 14, 10ff). Being finite, human persons cannot penetrate each other like the divine Persons. They can try to ‘live’ the other by love, to be ‘within’ the other by identification with his feelings, but human love remains definitively limited. God, however, can ‘penetrate’ more persons, the Risen Lord can ‘penetrate’ more persons, and thus, in Him and participating in his love, human persons too can be really in a mysterious way be ‘within’ each other. They are together ‘in Christ’ and in Him, in the bosom of the Father.20

For the Italian theologian Marisa Cerini, this incomplete perichoresis between faithful persons — this intersubjectivity of love — is 19 Hans Hobelsberger, “Im Gespräch Beziehung erleben: Diakonische Mystagogie am Beispiel der Telefonseelsorge,” in MystagogischeSeelsorge:Einelebensgeschichtlich orientierte Pastoral, ed. S. Knobloch and H. Haslinger (Mainz: Matthias Grünewald Verlag, 1991), 227-247. 20 Judith M. Povilus, “Considerazioni su un’esperienza comunitaria di DioTrinità, oggi,” in IlDiodiGesùCristo (Rome: Città Nuova, 1982).



the New Testament’s condition to enter into the shared contemplation of the divine Trinity.21 “A dialogue in which communication partners try to make themselves ‘empty’ for each other and try to come to complete self-giving to the other, is a shared contemplation of God, a Trinitarian unity.”22 In a spiritual text, Chiara Lubich writes: Therefore, it is not enough that I love Him (God – MB) within myself. If I do only that, my love continues to have something personal, and…, in a certain sense, egoistic: I love God in myself and not God in God, while that is true perfection: God in God. So … like my Heaven is within myself, it is also within my brothers’ souls. And like I love God within myself, when I recollect within myself — if being alone —, I love Him also within my brother when he is with me. Therefore, I do not like only silence, but also the word, i.e. the communication between God within myself with God within my brother. And when both Heavens meet, there is only one Trinity, both of us relating like Father and Son and between them the Holy Spirit.23

This meeting of two Heavens, through real communication, is an experience that is painfully missed in pastoral interactions with elderly deaf people, who received their school education in the period of strict oral communication when there was a ban on Sign Language. Many deaf children had poor oral skills, and most hearing persons in their environment, parents and pastors included, did 21

Marisa Cerini, DioAmorenell’esperienzaenelpensierodiChiaraLubich (Rome: Città Nuova, 1995). 22 “There can be no Trinitarian unity without mutual and reciprocal kenosis, or without a mutual making oneself ‘empty’ or a losing oneself into the other one out of love, that makes that every one becomes completely oneself” (Enrique Cambón, LaTrinidad:Modelosocial[Madrid, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Montevideo, and Santiago: Ciudad Nueva, 2000], 50). 23 Chiara Lubich, “Guardare tutti i fiori,” in Chiara Lubich, Ladottrinaspirituale, a cura di Michel Vandeleene, con i saggi teologici di Piero Coda e Jesús Castellano (Milan: Mondadori, 2001), 75-76.



not succeed in having real conversations with them in which their inner life was shared. The sharing of their life experiences took place with their deaf friends, in Sign Language, a language depreciated by their educators as not suited for religious communication. The consequence was that the sharing of spiritual and religious experiences seldom took place in Sign Language and was often not learned in spoken language: inner worlds and inner richness remained unshared and locked in incommunicability. A central goal of pastoral ministry with deaf people is offering the opportunity for worlds to meet in true conversation, in a “cor cordi loquitur.” This expression, taken as his motto by Cardinal Newman as “cor ad cor loquitur,” comes from Francis de Sales, who said: “Quantumvis ore dixerimus, sane cor cordi loquitur, lingua non nisi aures pulsat,” which was translated in English as: “The word that issues from the mouth reaches to the ear; the word that comes from the heart does not stop until it reaches another heart.”24 Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva from 1602 to the end of 1622, is known by his friendship with the deaf man Martin. The official website of the municipal library of the city of Lyon, France, gives the following information about Francis de Sales and Martin: The deaf man Martin lived at la Roche-sur-Foron en Savoie. He was born deaf, illiterate, and could not speak, but was bright and expressed himself by means of signs. He earned his living by means of small jobs. The precise date of his death is unknown, but two sources mention he died a few days after the death of Francis de Sales, out of sorrow, in the beginning of 1623, at the age of 43 years. In 1605, Bishop Saint Frances de Sales arrives at la Roche-sur-Foron for preaching lent. He stays in the rectory of the parish priest, and 24 Jonathan Robinson and Michael Robinson, On the Lord’s Appearing: An EssayonPrayerandTradition(Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 45.



there he meets the deaf man Martin. The Bishop is interested in this young man and wants to teach him to know the religion, but wondered how. Noticing intelligence in his signs and gestures, he tries to communicate with him by means of signs and succeeds. Therefore, he desires to give himself lessons to Martin. The Bishop is proud to present his student Martin, when he receives his friends. One day he called and asked him to preach before a reputable company. Martin began to speak, by strong expressive gestures… In memory of Martin, Francis de Sales is the Patron Saint of all deaf. There are very few deaf known by name who lived in the 17th century or earlier. Thanks to Francis de Sales, we know one of them: Martin.25

True communication, from heart to heart, as an image of Trinity, is painfully missed in the lives of many deaf people. The English theologian Roger Hitching, widower of a deaf woman, tries to design a Trinitarian theology based on the ecclesiology of Jürgen Moltmann that is suited for pastoral ministry with the deaf, since deaf people have such a strong need of communication and belonging. He ends up in line with the Cappadocian Church fathers who, more than other fathers of the Church, emphasized God’s being a community.26 In the view of the Cappadocian Fathers, human persons, being made in the image of God, have the innate tendency to communicate with other people. This innate tendency is so strong that people create languages where they do not exist.27 Language is the result of the inventiveness of human persons that experience, in 25 Source:, access October 22, 2013. 26 Roger Hitching, The Church and Deaf People: AStudyofIdentity,CommunicationandRelationshipswithSpecialReferencetotheEcclesiologyofJürgenMoltmann(Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003), 108-109. 27 The linguist Steve Pinker even speaks of a “language instinct” (Steven Pinker, TheLanguageInstinct[New York: Morrow, 1994], 3).



their world of space and time, a gap between themselves, other human persons, and God.28 Bound to space and time, human persons, though longing for it, do not have the possibility of immediate, perichoretic communication with each other in a way that transcends space and time, but feel the desire to escape from the peril that their thoughts remain “both unshared and unknown.”29 The desire for sharing and communication leads human persons to create language in order to bridge this gap, to generate presence through substantial relationships.30 In the Cappadocians’ thought, language belongs to the realm of creation, and just like other created realities, is subject to space and time (diástēma), and to motion and changeability (kínēsis). Language reflects its creator, the human person, and not its creator’s Creator, God.31 God is beyond space and time, and therefore does not need language. He is beyond any linguistic system.32 The flow that went in an ineffable way from God to the writers of the Scripture, such as Moses, was not in the form of speech and language, even when it was called God’s voice, but it had to be Hebraicized by Moses into language in order to be communicable to other people.33 Even Jesus Christ, the Truth himself, as a man, was subject to the limitations of a language rooted in a world of space and time.34 His words are also subject to the limitations of language, like the fact that words always contain traces of meanings that are not intended. Therefore, every linguistic act, whether signed, spoken, or written, reflects an essential difference between God and humans. In God, 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Douglass, TheologyoftheGap, 65. Ibid., 71. Ibid., 65. Ibid., 59. Ibid., 76. Ibid., 67. Ibid., 77.



there is no speech, no hearing, no sign, and no language, because he is beyond the realm of created things and does not need them. In this way, language is potentially a tool and only a tool for the realization of a relationship that gives access to a central mystery of Christian faith: the transformation of human relationships into Christian community. Consequences for Catechesis and Faith Transmission What is the consequence of this view on language for pastoral ministry and religious education? The Church Father Saint Augustine considered deafness an obstacle to faith development: “This defect (deafness) is an impediment and obstacle for the reception of the truths of faith, since the Apostle states, ‘Fides est ex auditu’.”35 This statement is often subject to a wrong interpretation, as if Augustine forever slammed the door of the Church in the face of the deaf.36 Shortly after Augustine, the Church Father Saint Jerome remarked that, in this context, the Greek word akoē (hearing, auditus) also denoted the reception of the message by means of Sign Language as a substitute for audible language. It is, however, a fact that many deaf persons have only poor knowledge of the faith of the Church to which they belong. In a research study of a group of 94 Catholic deaf adults in the USA, it was found that the majority of those interviewed had a deep faith, but did not have as much knowledge about their religion, the teachings of the Church, and the Scriptures, as do people who have access to religious education programs in which they could perceive


Augustinus, ContraJulianumPelagium, III, 10. Harlan L. Lane, WhentheMindHears:AHistoryoftheDeaf(New York: Random House, 1984). 36



and understand what was presented.37 There was a lack of religious literacy among the deaf, with consequences for their spiritual growth. Key and his co-workers state that the more deaf individuals were in contact with people who understand their questions and effectively explicate, the greater the advantage both in religious education and spiritual growth. In Chapter 6, we discussed the view of those authors who consider this lack of religious literacy as a primarily linguistic problem.38 Some of them, like Van Uden, are oriented toward oral communication. Other approaches are oriented towards Sign Language and believe that the use of Sign Language in catechesis and pastoral work, through the provision of CD-ROMs with Bible stories, prayers, or religious signs, is sufficient.39 The problems seem to be deeper, however. Key and his co-workers point to their finding that many of their deaf interviewees had difficulty making connections between their own life experiences and the stories of Scripture and Christian tradition. Another finding of Key and his co-workers was that, for many deaf people, religious symbols that refer to familial relationships (Father, brothers, and sisters, the Church as the family of God, etc.) were contaminated with negative emotional experiences. They state that in many families with deaf children, fathers are less competent in communication with their deaf child than mothers. While fathers are important, they are often inaccessible and distant. In pastoral ministry, they report, 37

William Key et al., EyeCentered:AStudyonSpiritualityofDeafPeople with Implications for Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: National Catholic Office of the Deaf, 1992), 15. 38 Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Language Acquisition and Religious Education,” in Towards a Living Eucharist (Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf People, 1983), 33-74, at 34-35. 39 Cf. Klaus B. Günther, “Gebärdensprachlicher Form der Kommunikation,” in Hörgeschädigtenpastoral, 3: Arbeitsgebiete der Seelsorge, ed. Karl-Heinz Stockhausen et al. (Heidelberg: Median Verlag, 2001).



this has serious consequences for the image many deaf people have of God the Father: distant, inaccessible, and not involved in the lives of humans. In 1975, Russo found that the majority of Catholic deaf adolescents educated in Sign Language, believed that God is completely hearing and does not understand Sign Language, like many of their fathers.40 The social-emotional substrate of deaf persons may contain weaknesses at the level of basic experiences in their families that may cause the language in which faith is proclaimed to be devoid of meaning or to be alienating. A merely linguistic solution, in which problems the transmission of faith to the deaf are seen as translation problems, does not fill the gap between traditional faith and deaf persons’ life experiences. A solution for this dilemma is indicated by McDonough’s interpretation of the healing of the deaf man: Jesus gives privacy and empathy to the deaf person, only after that the word ephphatha was spoken. This implies that listening to deaf persons and giving them the opportunity to speak out, especially where they do not even know that such a thing is possible. And when they have felt empathy and understanding, their life experiences and life stories can be clarified and understood in the framework of the Christian message: “Did not have all those things to happen …?” In such an approach, a relationship is offered. The pastoral consequence is that much effort has to be put in the creation and restoration of relationships. The relationship that is born in an empathic conversation gives the opportunity to grow toward a consciousness of the presence of the transcendent God in daily life. This approach has four far-reaching consequences: 1. It has to start from the central life experiences of deaf people themselves. 2. It has to start with building up experiences of community. 40

Anthony Russo, The God of the Deaf Adolescent: An Inside View (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), 75.



3. Heart-to-heart conversation should be the central method used. 4. Experience should precede the proclamation of faith.

DeafPeople’sOwnLifeExperiences The first consequence of this approach is that the starting point should be deaf people’s own life experiences: deaf persons are to be reached in and through their deafness. Deafness is not to be seen as an obstacle for faith development, but as a possible source of spirituality and religious growth. Whereas in an approach based on linguistic impairment, the concreteness and action-oriented-ness of deaf people are seen as an obstacle in their religious development, others, like McDonough, see this concreteness of deaf people not as a weakness, but as a strength. They see these attributes as a starting point for spiritual growth for deaf people: a sense of concrete life according to the Christian faith, an orientation toward incarnation instead of abstractions and nice thoughts. This means liberation from the limitations of the impairment and disability approach which is predominant in much care and education for the deaf. Such liberation is also advocated by Nancy Eiesland for other persons with a disability.41 That does not mean that one closes one’s eyes to the limitations that deafness may bring with it, or that one attributes all the frustrations caused by deafness to oppression by hearing society, like radical advocates of Deaf Culture such as Harlan Lane do.42 Rather, it means that one tries to be set free from prejudice in our society toward people who are different. For hearing people, it means not to be scandalized when deaf people state that deafness has become a source of growth in their life and that 41 Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), passim. 42 Harlan L. Lane, TheMaskofBenevolence:DisablingtheDeafCommunity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 69ff.



they would not want to miss it, and that they are even proud of their deafness. It is not without reason that Key and his co-operators of the National Catholic Office of the Deaf found in the liberation theology text, The Gospel in Solentiname,43 a source of ideas for deaf pastoral ministry. Deaf Culture is not a culture of literacy, but a culture of storytelling. Deaf parents do not read stories or fairy tales to their children from a book, they tell the stories of their families and their friends, stories about amazing events. In the same way, deaf storytelling can play an important role in the religious education of the deaf, a method that is often used within a context of deaf pastoral ministry based on liberation theology. BuildingupExperiencesofCommunity A second consequence of this approach is that pastoral ministry with the deaf becomes a ministry of belonging, relationship, and community. Deafness can lead to a feeling of difference and not belonging. That feeling comes directly from communication problems and feelings of isolation. This can create a strong need for relationships, which sometimes might be experienced as a problem for a special religious celebration for the deaf, because many persons may not come for the celebration, but to socialize. This need of relationship should be given full opportunity to express itself and even become the basis of a Christian community of the deaf. Such a community would look like Vitucci’s model of the Corinthian Church, in which the desire for relationship even leads to a different, communitarian model of Christian perfection based on the quality of relationship and community.44 43 Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1976). 44 Jim Vitucci, “Searching for Community among the Deaf,” in EyePeople: GifttotheChurch (Manchester: Henesy House, 1989), 155-174.



ConversationfromHeart-to-Heart The third consequence of this approach is that heart-to-heart conversation should be the primary method that is employed. In an educational setting, proper community development requires that religious education and catechesis are placed within a Christian community in which people belong, are understood, and learn friendship. Real conversation, from heart-to-heart, plays a central role in this process. It is only by means of such conversation that people learn to show consideration for others, accept others, and patiently listen to what others have to say. Doctrinal instruction, Bible-reading, and church celebrations must occur within a pastorate of belonging and must be linked, as much as possible, to people’s concrete life experiences. Such a dialogical model can be found in the work of Paulo Freire. Freire’s method aims at the emancipation and liberation of oppressed people, and tries to come into contact with what Freire calls people’s ‘thematic universe’: the big themes that dominate their life. In Freire’s view, such a dialogue can take place only on the basis of love, humility, and believing in people.45 Believing in deaf people means believing in their most natural language: Sign Language. Humility in communication means hearing people should not take a position of power, but of weakness, while interacting with the deaf (i.e., use Sign Language). ExperiencePrecedingProclamation The fourth consequence of this approach is that experience precedes proclamation, as much as possible. Through the development of a community in which deaf people can experience empathy and 45

Cf. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: The Seabury Press, 1970).



belonging, a plausibility structure for the reception of faith has to be created. This plausibility structure does not exist for deaf people when proclamation, especially proclamation in a typically hearing way, precedes experience.46 The best method for deaf people is that of mystagogy: introduction to the mystery of the presence of God in persons’ lives. The mystery is strong enough to speak for itself before it is explained.47 This was the way by which, in the early Church, the mysteries (i.e., the sacraments) were explained to newly baptized people: just participate in the mystery of Eucharist, open yourself for the mystery, and afterward we shall explain what you experienced. This is very different from the way in which people in much of Western culture are introduced to mystery. Christians in the West are deluged with a flood of words that might cover up, instead of open, the way to mystery. One should not offer a flood of verbose language that only afterward is filled up with experience. Rather, one should try to create shared experiences that may be given a name. The real incarnation is not the presence of the Word in words, but the presence of God among people that can give a meaning to words and signs, whether they are symbolic, concrete, abstract, or iconic. Language and Experience In many catechetical practices language precedes experience. If such an approach is not taken in catechesis with deaf children, there is a big risk that language used in catechesis remains without 46 ‘Plausibility structure’ is the complex whole of people, procedures, and spiritual processes that support a specific view on reality. See Peter L. Berger, TheSacredCanopy:ElementsofaSociologicalTheoryofReligion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967). 47 Kees Waaijman, Spiritualiteit: Vormen, grondslagen, methoden (Ghent: Carmelitana; Kampen: Kok, 2001), 858ff.



meaning and content. It is not sufficient to explain the meaning of words in other words or in clear signs. In order to understand the meaning of concepts as God, grace, reconciliation, and mystery, there should be at least a rudimentary experience of the meaning of these words. Mysteries and core elements of Christian life have to be experienced before they are explained in words: a mystagogical way of presenting religious experience. A fundamental question in this respect is whether language and narrativity precede religious experience or follow it. Can God be experienced without having been told about him? What is first: the experience of God or the acquisition of the word God? Experiences of deaf people seem to suggest that experience can precede the message, up to a certain extent. The deafblind priest Cyril Axelrod describes that, as a child, he only had very limited communication in Sign Language or spoken language. He was born in an orthodox Jewish family and, as it was in all Jewish families, the most significant moment of the week was the ceremonial Sabbath meal. He describes in vivid and very visual terms his earliest experiences of Sabbath, his earliest experiences of transcendence, when he states: I would watch my mother place a black lace scarf over her head, light the two large beeswax candles and say a prayer over them. I stood beside her, wondering what it all meant. She looked at me silently, not knowing how to explain to her deaf child, but her actions alone gave me a significant experience of a faith in God... She would then place silver dishes of chopped herring or liver, lamb chops and a selection of vegetables and also a large silver bowl of chicken broth on the white linen tablecloth. The fragrant aroma of the kosher food permeated the dining room, and signified a blessing from God. At the table, my father, with his skullcap on his head, would take me on his lap. He would point at the large silver goblet of red wine and the silk covered Challa. He would open the Hebrew prayer book and



I would look at it without comprehension. And then my eyes would fix on his mouth mumbling a prayer that I could not hear, and I would watch his head rhythmically nodding over the book as he read. This was the beginning of my awareness of Jewish life at home.48

He may have found the words to describe and to interpret these experiences later on in life, but it is clear that the experience, so impressive for him, preceded proclamation. Experience is not just feeling; it is far more than emotion. Experience has to do with the conscious and unconscious perception of the world around us. That perception leads to emotions and feelings, but also toward action, desires, and knowledge. Human beings, including deaf persons, perceive the world in which they live, have feelings about it, act in it, have desires about it, and acquire knowledge within it. People may have similar experiences to Cyril Axelrod: the apperception of something greater than oneself was all about, such as the attraction they felt toward the kindness of people, toward beauty. Axelrod had the same experience when, as a young Jewish man, he entered a Catholic Church: he felt attracted by a sense of something big, something that went beyond himself.49 This means that people can have experiences of something that goes beyond the things they perceive. They may even desire to return to experiences that make them curious or fill them with longing. Other people may explain these experiences to them by means of language, words, and narratives, making positive statements about the meaning of these experiences. By these explanations and narratives, they will make spiritual progress, until the

48 Cyril B. Axelrod, And the Journey Begins (Coleford: Douglas McLean, 2005), 63. 49 Ibid.



moment in which they discover that these words and narratives have their limitations, too. In that moment, a spiritual progress is made only when people realize that God is beyond understanding. In this way, there is a continuous dialectic between positive affirmation and deconstruction. The core of the process is not language, but experience: a process with spiritual, emotional, cognitive, perceptual, actively behavioral, and transcendental aspects. Language is only a tool for communication about, sharing, and explaining experiences. Language and narratives are not at the core of the process. Language is too limited. Dionysius the Areopagite states, “Which human words, which human language is able to describe him? The only language, that has not limits, and in which Infinity still has a place, is silence.”50 The practical consequence of this approach is that the first step one should take is not verbal proclamation. The first step is the creation of experience, and in the case of the deaf, experiences of modes of community and belonging that attract people. They are like the shepherds in the Cántico Espiritual of Saint John of the Cross, to whom the bride asks to tell her where her loved one had gone. The Acceptance of Sign Language as a Visual Means of Communication The function of language is to bridge the gap. It is clear that in the case of most deaf people, language should take the form of Sign Language. Normal communication of hearing people does not take place only by speech, but by many other, non-verbal ways: eye contact, pointing,

50 Gertrude Sartory and Thomas Sartory, DionysiusAreopagita:Ichschaute GottimSchweigen:MystischeTextederGotteserfahrung(Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1985).



hand movements, facial expression, and body language. Body language can be defined as intentionally or unconsciously made expressions of the body that can be understood by other people that accompany communicative actions and that expresses those things which the language user is not able or not willing to express in spoken language. For example, when a speaker likes another person, he will come nearer to that person than when he dislikes the person. A child that is spanked will look down the moment he is scolded. Hearing people are often not aware of the body language they use. Sometimes their body language can conflict with the content of their message. For example, a person may use words that express conviction while rubbing their finger under their nose.51 Someone can make an assertive statement but still avoid eye contact. Deaf persons have a better eye for such incongruence and draw their conclusions from it. This is because these phenomena are paralinguistic in hearing persons, meaning that they support language but are not a part of it. In deaf communication, however, body language is an essential part of Sign Language. Non-verbal communication is biologically determined and found in all cultures, although it may be more expressive in some cultures than in others. In Europe, the body language of Mediterranean people is more expressive than that of Northern people: people of the North tend to judge Mediterranean body language as exaggerated. A form of body language that is culturally determined is the socalled kinesics:52 communication by means of movements and signs. 51 Cf. Cas Schaap, CommunicationandAdjustmentinMarriage(Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1982); Michael E. Bennett and Elizabeth Nall, “Transactions That Lie,” in AspectsofNonverbalCommunication, ed. Walburga von Raffler-Engel (Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1980). 52 Cf. Walburga von Raffler-Engel, “Developmental Kinesics: The Acquisition of Conversational Nonverbal Behavior,” in AspectsofNonverbalCommunication, 120.



These signs differ from culture to culture, like the Indian and European gestures for ‘yes’. In hearing people, these are movements that accompany and support speech, but sometimes have their own symbolic meaning. Then they are emblems with a unique and specific meaning, like eating, car, drinking, foolish, etc. They can vary from culture to culture, like the Japanese, American, and Papua signs for suicide: sword through the belly, pistol to the head, and strangling. Sometimes these signs are indicated with the erroneous term ‘natural signs’; they are only natural in the sense in which languages can be natural, i.e., acquired by children from a very early age, according to Appel’s definition of natural language.53 Among hearing people, these emblems can develop into highly differentiated communication systems. In Greco-Roman antiquity, sign systems came to be the means by which people could understand each other.54 The Roman author Cassiodorus describes theatres where pieces were performed without any spoken language: communication was only by means of hand movements of people who were very eloquent with their hands and fingers. These signs were adopted in early times by monks who used them when they were not allowed to speak. Van Rijnbeek provides a Latin description of 1400 of these signs found in medieval manuscripts. For example, he gives nine descriptions of the sign for ‘butter’ (butyrum). About the year 1050, the Cistercians in England used the following sign: “Trahe cum tribus digitis super palmam manus” (move three fingers over the palm of the hand). This is the same as the actual Dutch sign for butter. Authors who write about the history of deafness mention that, in the Middle Ages, signs made by monks were used to teach the deaf 53 René Appel et al., Inleiding algemene taalwetenschap (Dordrecht: ICG Publications, 1992). 54 Gérard Rijnberk, Le langage par signes chez les moines (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1954).



and, as a result, were entered into Sign Language vocabulary. Very complex Sign Languages for hearing people are found in other places of the world, too, like the Sign Language of Southern Indian dancing art (Kathakali) and the Sign Language of Native Americans. Kathakali is a classical dance from Southern India. Its movement technique blends harmoniously with acting, music, make-up, and costumes to depict an epic narrative. To narrate a story or portray a character, coded facial expressions, called nawa rasas, and hand gestures create a kind of sophisticated Sign Language. These examples show that even hearing people use symbolic communication through signs, when for whatever reason they cannot use speech for communication. This often occurs when children cannot communicate through speech: a symbolic communication will develop between parents and their child out of the normal visual communication of body language. When parents and their child do not know Sign Language, new signs will be developed by the family. The need for communication is so strong that either parents and children invent new signs or pantomimic dramatizations are stylized into signs. In hearing people, body language and emotional expression accompany language: they are paralinguistic. In deaf persons, however, they are a necessary part of the language: linguistic. Thus, in communication with deaf people, rich body language and expression should be used. However, doing so is not easy for hearing people who have been educated in a culture that suppresses body language. Sign Languages are depicting, iconic, and visually motivated languages.55 In the opinion of the Anglican theologian Hitching, some authors prefer not to use the word ‘icon’ because they 55

Rachel Sutton-Spence and Bencie Woll, TheLinguisticsofBritishSignLanguage:AnIntroduction(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).



consider this word synonymous with words like ‘picture’, ‘drawing’, and ‘photographs’. However, in the Christian tradition, ‘icon’ (or eikōn in Greek) means much more than ‘picture’.56 The Russian Orthodox theologians Ouspensky and Lossky put forward that ‘icons’ render in an earthly way, with a minimum of detail and a maximum of expressivity, what is heavenly and not expressible in words.57 In our modern verbal culture, we seem to forget the power of visual expression and to overestimate the value of spoken language. One might expect that Sign Languages would be well accepted in Christian tradition simply because of their expressive force, and that this acceptance would have had a positive influence on culture. But unfortunately, the attitudes of the dominant culture and churches have always been ambivalent.58 In several Western languages, deafness was indicated with the phrase ‘deaf and dumb’, in which dumb has the double meaning of not speaking and stupid. And it has often been unthinkingly assumed that the Christian churches rejected Sign Language. Yet this is not the case. Even Saint Augustine, who states that deafness is an obstacle for reception of the Christian message, writes elsewhere: Did you never see, how people by means of signs could have conversations with deaf people, and how deaf people themselves asked questions, gave answers, told things themselves…? If such a thing is possible, not only visible things can be made known without spoken words, but also tones, flavors and alike…59

Would Saint Augustine say the same about things which are not perceptible? He probably would, in the same way that Jerome accepted 56

Hitching, TheChurchandDeafPeople, 25. Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, TheMeaningofIcons(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 27. 58 Günther, “Gebärdensprachlicher Form der Kommunikation,” 19-20. 59 Augustinus Hipponensis, DeMagistroliberunus 3.5 (PL 32). 57



Sign Language as a substitute for spoken words when listening to the message. And surely, he would agree with the council of Orange, which invited to the sacraments those deaf people that could show by means of signs that they understood the meaning of the sacraments. Yet this ambivalence toward Sign Language continued to persist. Though it was accepted for pastoral reasons that deaf people used Sign Language, and though it was known that deaf people are mentally healthy and able to acquire some knowledge of faith, many priests had difficulty with the admission of deaf people to the sacraments. In the opinion of a well-known moral theologian in the 19th century, Cardinal Giuseppe D’Annibale, baptism, confession, and marriage could not be refused to the deaf. On the other hand, though, he propounded that deaf people are just like children and, when it comes to the administration of the sacraments, deaf people should follow the same rules as children. According to these rules, deaf people can be baptized and confirmed, receive the Eucharist only in danger of death, and never receive the extreme unction since it would probably be unnecessary and possibly invalid.60 For the majority of Christians, the use of Sign Language with the deaf was something natural and logical. From the Renaissance on, many descriptions are found about intelligent ‘deaf and dumb’ people who could read and write. In most descriptions, it is stated that these persons were signing deaf people. Sometimes it is mentioned that relatives functioned as Sign Language interpreters. In this way, there was a matter-of-course acceptance of Sign Language in the daily reality of society. This changed, however, in the 19th century, especially among clergy in France and Italy. These clergymen were overrepresented 60 Anne Bamberg, “Passions autour des signes et confession du sourd: enquête à partir de manuels de morale en tradition catholique,” Praxisjuridiqueetreligion15 (1998): 97-155, at 139.



at an international conference on deaf education at Milan in 1880, where it was decided that no Sign Language should be used in deaf education, but only the purely oral method. This choice against Sign Language was defended with religious arguments. The conference was chaired by the Milanese priest Giulio Tarra. The Milanese institutes for the deaf were among the first institutes in Europe that followed the purely oral method. There was a strong anti-Sign Language mentality that resulted in the banning of Sign Language. In that period of time, Italy had become a unitary state, and everywhere in Italy minority languages, including Sign Language, were suffocated. In other countries too, some centuries before, there had been a strong relationship between nationalism and the emphasis on one national language.61 Tarra’s critique of Sign Language was extreme. For him, Sign Language was primitive and barbaric. He asserted that Sign Language did not distinguish language, symbol, and action. By consequence, when deaf persons confessed themselves, they did not do anything other than re-enact their sin: When a deaf and dumb person tells me in signs what he has done, or better, repeats what he has done, it is logical and evident that the same feelings and emotions are solicited in them as those which accompanied his sinful action.62

Other Catholic clergymen also put forward the argument of confession. Don Balestra said: ... for a Catholic priest it is necessary that the dumb speak, because we have confession, and the priest will misunderstand what the poor 61 Christian Cuxac, “Le congrès de Milan,” in Le pouvoir des signes, ed. Lysiane Couturier and Alexis Karacostas (Paris: Institut National des Jeunes Sourds, 1989), 100-110. 62 Bamberg, “Passions autour des signes,” 101.



deaf and dumb person tells him in signs, especially in the countryside. I beg you: vote for the word, always the spoken word.63

There was also a group of religious people from France, among whom were members of religious congregations. After the period of Abbé de L’Épée, medical doctors had become very influential in French deaf education and fought for the abolition of Sign Language. The religious orders had co-opted their arguments. Their superiors were also present at Milan, where they put forward religious and theological arguments against Sign Language. There were also two Protestant clergymen from the USA at Milan, Thomas Gallaudet and a deaf pastor, who defended Sign Language at the conference. It did not help, since Frenchmen and Italians were a large majority. In the 19th century, there were also other Italian priests who were extreme advocates of oral communication. One of them was Provolo, the founder of the Istituto Provolo at Verona, who tried to teach deaf children to sing in an era in which no hearing aids existed. The Istituto Provolo was famous for its oral tradition. Some years ago, it was discovered that sexual abuse had taken place at a large scale in this institute. As one of the due consequences, the process of beatification of Provolo was stopped. Since the conference in Milan, the opinion has spread that the Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church, were against Sign Language. In reality, this was not the case. The American neurologist-psychiatrist Oliver Sacks, who wrote a well-known book about deaf people, Seeing Voices, writes about a period in which Sign Language was banned from the schools: Catholic priests and Protestant ministers did not forget the soul of the deaf: many of them learned signs ... and continued to use Sign Language in liturgy, long after the time when oralists had expelled Sign Language from secular education. Already in the 18th century 63

Bamberg, “Passions autour des signes,” 100.



strong spiritual motives inspired Abbé de L’Épée in his work. This interest in the natural language of the deaf was not shaken by two centuries of controversy about methods.64

Historians know that religion played a central role in the formation of the Deaf Community.65 Deaf education, at least in its beginnings, was in many countries an activity of the Churches.66 Religious education was a central aspect of early deaf education; teachers and administrators of schools were heavily involved in religious instruction.67 Deaf schools were contexts where religious socialization took place. Soon after the beginning of deaf education, deaf persons started to gather for worship, and these deaf congregations became the gathering places of the Deaf Community and the centers of development for deaf leadership. When American Protestant churches started to ordain deaf men, almost all of these deaf men were teachers in residential schools for the deaf.68 They were insiders in the Deaf Community and knew the language and values of the people they ministered to. They were men of authority and leadership in the Deaf Community, also outside their own Church community. When, at the end of the 19th century, Darwinism and eugenics arose and, as a consequence, Sign Language was abolished in deaf education in favor of oralism, Sign Language survived in these deaf worshipping communities. In this way, religion played an important role in an enduring emancipation of deaf people and Sign Language.


Oliver W. Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989), 232-233. 65 Kent Robert Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community: A Sociological Analysis of the Chicago Mission for the Deaf, 1890-1941” (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of the University of Oregon, 1999), 56; Lane, WhentheMindHears. 66 Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community,” 53. 67 Ibid., 224. 68 Ibid., 231.



Yet modern literature about deafness does not mention this role of religion in deaf emancipation. From the 1960s onward, emancipation of Deaf Culture and Sign Language took place, and the study of deafness was no longer left to medicine, audiology, and psychology, but was taken over by history, sociology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. Olney69 observes that these sciences paid very little attention to the role of religion in the Deaf Community. Even specific religious literature related to the Deaf Community is scarce. In Olney’s opinion, this general lack of attention to the subject of religion is peculiar since cultural anthropological and sociological literature points to the role of religion as an essential element in the understanding of the life of minority groups.70 According to Olney, the cause of this lies in the rapid introduction of oralism in deaf education after the rise of eugenics. Sign Language was pushed out of the schools, and most schools and their representatives lost the ability to clearly communicate religious messages to deaf people. Olney states: Evidence suggests that at time the loss of religious instruction at schools resulted from an inadvertent loss of ability and effectiveness in communication rather than a loss of desire to transmit religion. ... As oralism increasingly replaced Sign Language, the corresponding decline of religious education was unintentional, rather than intentional.71

Whereas Olney looks for an explanation in oralism, the deaf Lutheran pastor, Beth Lockard, looks for an explanation in the general attitude of Churches toward deaf people.72 In spite of this early start with deaf ministers, the Church as a whole did not meet 69

Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community,” 114. Ibid., 115. 71 Ibid., 226. 72 Beth Lockard, “Biblical Foundations for Deaf Ministry from a Liberation Theology Viewpoint,” in TheGospelPreachedbytheDeaf, ed. Marcel Broesterhuizen, Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia 52(Louvain: Peeters, 2007), 69-79, at 77. 70



the needs of the Deaf Community. Deaf ministers were few and hearing ministers struggled with the language and culture of the Deaf Community. Hearing ministers were, and still are, more concerned with the rules of their Church than with the development of a uniquely deaf way of believing and worshipping. Ministry with the deaf became a one-way street of hearing pastors moving toward the deaf, who were patronized as ‘poor deafies’ and prevented from giving their gifts to the Church. Lockard notes, “The Deaf Community, caught between their spiritual needs and the often unintentional oppression of the Church, frequently elects to flee the Church rather than advocate their needs.” Lockard mentions that according to statistics, at least 90% of the deaf in North America are not involved with any Church. In 1995, Gregory et al. found that, in a group of deaf British adolescents, only 8% were regular Church goers, only 7% said they enjoyed discussing religious matters, and only 50% believed in God. This was a marked difference from a study in the 1960s where 75% of the deaf school graduates attended Church. In the opinion of Gregory et al., this change probably reflects the changing times rather than factors specific to deafness.73 The religious de-traditionalizing of the Deaf Community might simply follow a general trend in society. The error of Milan 1880 was corrected at the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Hamburg in 1980. It was a time in which Sign Languages played an important role in the emancipation of the Deaf Community. Sign Language was the symbol of the unique psychological, social, and cultural identity of deaf people. 73 Susan Gregory, Juliet Bishop, and Lesley Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleand Their Families: Developing Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 204.



Sign Language experienced the same treatment as other spoken languages in the past. Before nation-states arose in Europe, several countries had no standard language: there were only conglomerates of dialects with many local variants. For example, several dialects existed in Spain: Castilian, Catalonian, and Asturian. When the national state of Spain arose, Castilian became the standard language. In some countries, the standardization of the language was achieved after the invention of the printing press, when the Bible was translated into the normal vernacular. The standardization and political recognition of Sign Language is an important step toward the emancipation of the Deaf Community. Thus, it was important for deaf people when the European parliament adopted a motion in September 2003 in which the member states of the European Union are invited to recognize Sign Languages as minority languages in their own right and to guarantee that deaf people have full access to Sign Language. Some states only want to do so if Sign Languages are standardized. The actual situation is that, in various countries, Sign Languages consist of a conglomerate of local dialects. In several countries, organizations of the deaf try to standardize Sign Language. Signs are filmed or drawn in pictures and recorded on DVDs or published on the Internet. Some of these Sign dictionaries contain over 5000 signs. The standardization of Sign Language revealed that the vocabulary of Sign Language has many lacunas. In the past that was true for spoken languages, as well. Many scientific and juridical terms were borrowed from Latin and Greek. In American Sign Language, concepts for which no sign exists are spelled with the manual alphabet, but other signing communities reject the manual alphabet as an intrusion from dominant hearing language, and prefer to invent new signs. In Flanders, for example, it was stated that there were no signs for concepts used in higher education, such as in



science and mathematics. A work group has started to invent new signs, and a first project has been completed in which 300 signs for mathematical concepts were appointed. In this work group, sign linguists and deaf persons who are experts in the field of mathematics work together. In the Netherlands, a team of deaf persons belonging to various orthodox Protestant churches made DVDs with name signs for Biblical persons and signs for religious concepts. They also made DVDs with Biblical stories where, in some cases, new signs had to be invented. In England, a videotape with liturgical and Mass signs was produced together with an official Eucharistic prayer in sign.74 Language Use in Pastoral Ministry In deaf education, a central question concerns which language should be used in communication: spoken language, Sign Language, or both. In pastoral ministry, the situation is different. Pastoral ministry works with people as they are, in the way that they have been educated and formed, and how they would like to be. Pastoral ministry wants to bridge the gap between persons. Those means should be used that are most suited for bridging the gap and for the creation of communities in which experiences can be shared. For the vast majority of deaf people, that is Sign Language, whereas many deaf people involved in the emancipation of the Deaf Community prefer Sign Language for emotional reasons. A pastor’s preference should not be based on linguistic, educational, or psychological arguments, but on the consciousness that a heartto-heart conversation is an alley to fundamental aspect Christianity.

74 LiturgicalSigns&MassSigns:AVideoofSignsinLiturgicalCelebrations with the Catholic Deaf Community (Manchester: Henesy House, 2000), video recording.



Such a conversation offers privacy, empathy, personal attention, and personhood to deaf persons. Sign Language also creates community in a Christian sense: koinonia. It meets the spiritual needs of deaf persons and gives them personhood: as such, it is an instrument of diakonia. When it is acknowledged and valorized as a language in its own worth, it will be used in liturgy. A context will be created in which deaf persons can experience the spiritual reality of mysteries of faith. These experiences will be explained by means of Sign Language: catechesis. Pastoral experience shows that in many countries where deaf people were educated by an oral method, they lost their contact with the Church and Christian faith. The central question is which language makes it possible for people to enter into a common world with others and with God. For most deaf people, that is Sign Language, or at least Sign Supported Language. This is a question about the essence of Christianity. Is Christianity the story, the narrative that goes on to be told, or is it the community, the family that was started by Jesus and that spreads in time and space? For many deaf people, spoken language does not give full access to the narrative, nor to the community, and so not to Jesus Christ, the Lord of the community. Sign Language, however depreciated, will give them better access to the liberating experience of belonging to God’s own people.


What Is the ‘Self’? In his book about spirituality, the Flemish theologian Waaijman2 speaks about the effects of the relationship between a spiritual guide and the person guided. This relationship may have a profound influence on the guided person and may evoke initially strong intrapsychic reactions in that person: “What is happening with me? Where does this end? Am I still myself? Who am I?” Most languages have a specific word with which people denote themselves, ‘I’. In Sign Language of the Netherlands, that concept is expressed by pointing to oneself (‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’) or by putting the palm of the hand on the chest (‘mine’, ‘I am’). With this word or sign, we indicate that we are doing something, being something, performing an action by ourselves, possessing something. Next to that word, many languages have a word that we use when we are conscious of ourselves as a person who does something, experiences something, performs an action: the word ‘self’. In Sign Language of the Netherlands, that concept is expressed by an upside turning movement of the thumb on the chest.

1 A briefer version of a part of this article was published as a part of a Dutch article in TijdschriftvoorTheologie: Marcel Broesterhuizen, “Doofheid: Beperking of kracht?,” TijdschriftvoorTheologie43 (2003): 52-77. 2 Kees Waaijman, Spiritualiteit: Vormen, grondslagen, methoden (Ghent: Carmelitana; Kampen: Kok, 2001), 872-873.



In the course of their development, human individuals develop an awareness of their own existence and a capacity of perceiving and experiencing themselves. Persons are capable of looking to themselves in the way another person would look to them, or like Paul Ricoeur says, “oneself as another.”3 This awareness is normally associated with the realization that other persons cannot look from outside into that ‘self’. Other people can only indirectly look into that ‘self’ when they draw their conclusions on the basis of our behavior or when we tell something to them about those things hidden within our ‘self’. When we tell something about our inner ‘self’, it is possible to cheat the person with whom we are speaking — and let us admit, many people do this, out of shame, or out of the desire to make a good impression —, since the truth of what we say can only be checked by ourselves. At the same time, we are aware that others also have or are such a ‘self’. And every person is just like us: a psychological center of the world. This self-awareness is supposed to be typically human. Once in a conversation about self-awareness, a deaf child asked: “Does a dog know that he is a dog?” A very philosophical question, no doubt. When a dog sees himself in a mirror, he barks at himself and tries to attack himself. He does not know that it is himself, whereas a young child of less than one year delightedly reacts upon seeing oneself in a mirror. We are more aware of ourselves in some periods of our lives, especially in periods in which we are thrown back onto ourselves: in periods of uncertainty, illness, the approaching end of our life, and when making a difficult decision. In other moments, we are less aware of ourselves and more aware of the world that surrounds 3

Paul Ricoeur, OneselfasAnother(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 113ff. (Fifth study: Personal Identity and Narrative Identity).



us. Yet in those moments, too, we experience a certain continuity in ourselves. When we try to remember the earliest memories in our lives, that ‘self’ seems to have remain unchanged. Physically, we have changed a lot, as every cell in our body has been substituted various times, but we are still the same ‘self’. There is a certain self-constancy.4 However, when thinking back to things one did in other periods of one’s life, it’s common to ask oneself: “Was I the same person then that I am now?” Where does that ‘self’ stem from? There are several theories, and the answers may vary with each culture. Modern Western culture is very much oriented toward the individual, whereas other cultures are more oriented toward the family and/or society. While, generally speaking, Western culture is very individualistic, the deaf sociologist Paddy Ladd states that Deaf Culture is collectivistic, paying more attention to the community than to individuals.5 A well-known theory, developed by the anthropologist George Mead,6 is the so-called mirror-glass theory of the ‘self’. According to Mead’s theory, one learns to see oneself as a self because they hear other people talking about them. What we think about ourselves is only an introjection of those things other people say about us: the ‘self’ is the internalization of what others say about us. In this view, people do not have selfhood when they do not have a language or a culture. Some sociolinguistic advocates of Deaf Culture maintain that a deaf person who does not communicate in Sign Language has no sense of self: no identity. This view holds that


Cf. Ricoeur, OneselfasAnother, 118ff. Paddy Ladd, UnderstandingDeafCulture:InSearchofDeafhood(Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003), 167-168. 6 George H. Mead, Mind,Self,andSociety(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1934). 5



children develop a self and self-experience only when they have developed language and communication. The aforementioned view, however, is inaccurate. The theory that a deaf person who does not communicate in Sign Language has no identity contradicts the lived experience of many deaf people. One need only examine some examples taken from conversations with deaf people. Many deaf people, including deaf people who did not learn Sign Language before they went to school, still remember the first words they learned in speech lessons. Thus, they have still memories that stem from their speechless and language-less time. In Chapter 2, we presented the experience of a deaf Nepali who still remembers how he felt as a young boy without communication. Self-experience precedes language. Merton’s Theological View on the Self The American Benedictine monk, Thomas Merton, placed selfexperience into a religious framework. He bases his thought on the work of the Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung, who supposes an intrinsic relationship between self-experience and the experience of God,7 in addition to existentialism, Christian mystical theology, and Zen Buddhism.8 In Merton’s view, the self is the greatest gift God gave to man. But at the same time, there is the paradox that that self is imperfect and, as a result, must be lost and recreated. Persons can find their true self only by getting rid of their ‘self’. Merton’s thesis is that the self through which we observe ourselves as the center of our world is not in fact our true self, but a 7 James Hillman, Insearch:Zelfonderzoek,psychologieenreligie(Rotterdam: Lemniscaat, 1969). 8 Anne E. Carr, ASearchforWisdomandSpirit:ThomasMerton’sTheology oftheSelf(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).



false self. This false self fancies itself as the center of the world and is mainly directed toward self-manifestation and self-exposure. However, the more a person is directed toward that false self, the more they will be burdened with uncertainty, anxiety, emptiness, and a feeling of failure. One’s true self is hidden behind the false self. In Merton’s view, a person’s true identity is hidden in God and known only by God. Merton describes the development of a monk, and of every person, as a journey toward the discovery of that true self. In order to be able to make this journey, it’s necessary for one to know and recognize the dark sides of himself: those negative sides that Jung calls ‘the shadow’. The shadow is the repressed side of our ‘self’ that we try to keep out of our consciousness, but that crops up from time to time and makes us do things that frighten ourselves. In Merton’s opinion, spiritual growth is only possible when we accept the shadow sides of ourselves. Initially, Merton described the natural self, the self that persons receive from their parents, as a false self, something wrong that should be renounced, lost, and even fought as an ego to be emptied by asceticism. Only by self-emptying (the kenosis about which the New Testament speaks) through asceticism and love can persons discover their true self, enabling the false self to be continuously created and recreated. In his later writings, Merton realizes that he was able to speak in this way about self-emptying only because he, as a person, already had a strong personality and a healthy sense of self. That is not the case for every human person. For many years, Merton was responsible for the guidance of young novices. Through this mentorship process, he became aware that there are also people who, on the basis of defective self-development, pretend to seek God, but in reality, mainly seek themselves. So, he realized that self-emptying as a way of spiritual growth within a personal



relationship with God can only be achieved on the basis of a healthy and harmonious human foundation. Reality is, however, that that self, the gift that humans receive from their parents, is often imperfect and broken. A certain degree of brokenness of natural self-development is present in every person, hearing or deaf. Deafness may bring a higher risk of brokenness which is, however, not a direct consequence of deafness itself, but of the incapacity of deaf persons’ environment to accommodate it. And in order to clarify the topic of this chapter, deaf people’s self-experience, it is necessary to gain insight into the psychological factors that may play a role in that brokenness. Psychological Aspects of Self-Development The capacity of self-awareness is innate in humans. Scientific research shows that there are some areas of the brain which play an important role in the development of self-awareness. In the biological makeup of human beings, self-experience, the quality of relationships with others, and spiritual experiences are interdependent. As a group of theologians and neurologists noted in a book about neurotheology, “The religious impulse is rooted in the brain.”9 There are indications that three-month-old infants already have a rudimentary self-awareness.10 Early in life, self-awareness emerges before children start to talk as a gift received from their 9 Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause, WhyGodWon’tGo Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001). 10 Martin E. Ford and Ross A. Thompson, “Perceptions of Personal Agency and Infant Attachment: Toward a Lifespan Perspective on Competence Development,” InternationalJournalforPhilosophyofReligion8 (1985): 377-407.



parents. The quality of the content of this gift strongly depends on the quality of their relationship with their parents. In a normal relationship, parents and children will mostly have positive experiences with each other. There will certainly be clashes and difficult moments, but these are smoothly resolved. Parents will experience that they are able to take care of their children, have a good relationship with them, and understand the signals and needs of their child. Such parents will be characterized by sensitive responsiveness: they sense the needs of their child, understand what the child is communicating, and respond to this communication in such a way that children make progresses in their development. The behaviors of the child are generally predictable for the parents, who typically understand that they play an important role in their child’s life. At the same time, parents attempt to behave predictably and reliably toward their children, offering consistency to the life of the child. As a result of this consistency, children learn to trust their parents. Because children then feel secure with their parents, and because parents respond sensitively to their needs, children are thus better able to recognize their own possibilities and limitations. In such a secure relationship, parents develop positive ideas and expectations (a positive working model) of themselves as parents, and children likewise develop a positive and secure working model of their parents. The self-image children develop will thus be positive, since it is established on the parents’ acceptance and approval. A relationship develops between parents and children that is characterized by basic trust and secure attachment.11 This means that there is an intrinsic relationship 11 Cf. Mary D. Ainsworth, Mary C. Blehar, and Sally Wall, PatternsofAttachment:APsychologicalStudyoftheStrangeSituation(Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1978); John Bowlby, AttachmentandLoss, Vol. 1:Attachment(New York: Basic Books, 1982).



between the educational style of the parents, basic trust between parents and children, a positive self-concept of the parents, and a positive self-concept of children. Attachment A person’s sense of self initially develops in relation to their parents and, later on, in relation to other significant persons, such as friends, partners, etc. When these relationships are secure, the person will be securely attached to these persons, and the person will learn to trust other people. Attachment is the bond that develops from the first day of life (and possibly even before) between a growing infant, significant persons, and the surrounding environment. These significant persons include the mother, father, siblings, grandparents, and, later on in life, teachers, friends, and partners. In two-thirds of the cases, this attachment is secure. This means that the significant person is one with whom physical proximity can be found if necessary, but without whom the outer world can be explored freely and securely. In one-third of the cases, attachment is insecure, and that insecurity can express itself in two ways: too much proximity associated with a fear of exploration, or too much exploration and an avoidance of physical proximity. Limited studies in deaf infants have shown that, at an age of six to nine months (i.e., at an age in which the interaction between parents and children is still very visual), no clear difference in quality of attachment can be found between deaf and hearing children. The situation changes, however, when, in normal development, the need arises to regulate the child’s behavior by means of verbal communication. Various studies have shown that the quality of attachment is complementary to the pedagogical style of the educators. This is



not only true for the parents, but for others as well. The pedagogical style that leads to secure attachment is characterized by socalled responsive sensitivity, i.e., the ability of accurately perceiving, in an empathic way, the needs, feelings, and thoughts of the child, and responding in such a way that the child can grow in competence. The consequence is mutual trust between child and the significant person, in addition to both parties’ self-confidence. The infant and growing children know that their parents are available when needed. Therefore, there is a co-regulation of behavior: children may decide on their own when they are able to, and educators decide when it is necessary. Likewise, children receive clear and adequate instruction about what their educators expect.12 This sensitive responsiveness requires a very fine-tuned mutual adaptation and a high level of communication ability. A disturbance of communication has very serious consequences for this mutual adaptation. In fact, as the American child psychiatrist Paul Brinich, expert in the field of psychiatric disturbances of deaf children, stated, “When communication breaks down, the most powerful takes control.”13 One of the consequences is that from the age at which the quality of the interaction becomes more dependent upon verbal communication, the relationship between deaf children and hearing parents is at risk of becoming more and more insecure.14 Hearing parents are more and more forced into a directive 12

Marcel Broesterhuizen, Desociaal-emotioneleontwikkelingvandovekinderen:Eenontwikkelingspsychologischeenpsychometrischestudienaarpatronen vanpsychosocialeadaptatiebijdovekleutersenadolescenten(Sint Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1992), 49. 13 Paul M. Brinich, MaternalStyleandCognitivePerformanceinDeafChildren (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974); Paul M. Brinich, “Childhood Deafness and Maternal Control,” JournalofCommunicationDisorders(1980): 75-81. 14 Amatzia Weisel and Ahiya Kamara, “Attachment and Individuation of Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing and Hearing Young Adults,” TheJournalofDeafStudies andDeafEducation10, no. 1 (2005): 51-62.



and controlling educational style, and the communication takes more and more the form of commands. Deaf children and hearing parents — but the same may be true also for other educators, such as teachers, boarding staff — do not learn to communicate about feelings, thoughts, and other aspects of their inner lives. There are a lot of parents of deaf adolescents who were very skillful educators of their hearing children, but who did not know how to have a genuine, personal, heart-to-heart conversation with their deaf children. I found this especially in parents who used only oral communication with their deaf child. In a relationship of insecure attachment, infants and children do not acquire basic trust, neither in themselves nor in others. Parents and child become unpredictable for each other; children do not develop the certainty that their parents are always at their disposal or that, if the parents are available, they will be helpful. In serious cases, this can lead to an attachment disturbance, which can manifest itself in different ways: inability to enter into relationships with other people, continuous and insatiable emotional needs, or continuous alternation of attraction and rejection of other people, as can be observed in a borderlinepersonality. This can go along with a deep feeling of not being accepted and esteemed, which can lead to a true feeling of abandonment. When a person’s basic relationships are insecure, the person will feel insecure, not only towards other persons, but also towards the self. The result of this will be a negative and distorted concept of selfhood, or sometimes also an extremely positive but unrealistically positive self-concept. Parental love and the parents’ ability to understand and to support a child is a basic condition for development of a realistic self-concept. A disturbed self-development, in the form of self-hatred, self-depreciation, and self-overestimation can be a serious obstacle in spiritual growth. In the view of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, God asks every person the



question he asked to Adam: “Adam, where are you?”15 It takes our whole lives to find, to accept, and to love our true selves. In the past, there were many risk factors in the lives of deaf people that might have a negative influence on their self-development: poor communication with the parents, early placement in large groups living within residential schools far away from home, and lack of family guidance. At present, more deaf children attend day schools and live at home, while families are more accepting than previously of Sign Language and there is more sensitivity towards the needs of deaf children. The American deaf psychologist Martha Sheridan16 found that most deaf children of hearing parents today have much more positive experiences in their families of origin than might be expected on the basis of the gloomy picture that deaf adults describe regarding their childhood years. In case of an insecure attachment, the parents are not able to respond in a sensitive and responsive way to their child. This inability can manifest in several ways. Parents can respond too little to their child or they can be unpredictable in their responses. Parental reactions may be predominantly negative toward the child, or overprotective and suffocating in one moment and neglectful in another. Sometimes there are characteristics of the child that make it difficult for parents to be sensitive and responsive, such as deafness, blindness, exceptional needs, illness or brain damage, or very premature birth. There may be also environmental factors that endanger a secure attachment relationship between the parents and child, such as poverty, war, poor housing, economic problems, and divorce. Sometimes characteristics of the parents play a role, such as personality problems of the parents, teenager parenthood, but 15 Martin Buber, Der Weg des Menschen nach der chassidischen Lehre (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001), 13. 16 Martha Sheridan, Inner Lives of Deaf Children: Interviews and Analysis (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 150.



also the parents’ personal attachment history. Patterns of attachment, secure or insecure, pass from generation to generation. When something goes amiss in the family history of attachment, the next generation sometimes firmly resolves to do things in a different way, but many do things just in the same way as their own parents did, as if compelled by an unconscious loyalty to their parents.17 In such cases, a phrase in the Old Testament seems to become a sad reality: “the sins of your fathers will be avenged till in the fourth generation.” Thus, it can often be observed that severe educational problems, child maltreatment, and sexual abuse repeat in each generation in some families. In the same way it has been found that deaf persons who have had a difficult relationship with their own parents, experiencing a lack of support and warmth, find it difficult to be warm and supportive parents when they become parents themselves. The quality of an attachment relationship is reflected in the image that a person has of themselves and their parents. In the case of a secure attachment, a person will have a positive and realistic image of themselves and their parents. Such a person will see the positive aspects of themselves and their parents, but they will certainly not be blind to the negative aspects. In adulthood, such a person will be autonomous towards their parents: from one side they will speak with warmth about their parents and from the other side they will forgive them for the mistakes they have made. In the case of an insecure attachment, the outcome is very different. In some cases, a person remains very dependent on their parents. In childhood, this dependency expresses itself in observable behavior: children can be extremely fearful when they are 17 Cf. Bastiaan Oele, “De praktijk van de contextuele therapie van Ivan Boszormenyi Nagi: Het verdienen van vrijheid,” HandboekGedragstherapie10 (1989): 120.



separated from their parents (for instance, when they are brought to school) but at the same time this dependency goes along with rather strong behavioral problems within the context of the relationship with the parents. Whether hearing or deaf, the child can be observed as shy and isolated in the school, but impulsive and aggressive at home. In such a person, a psychological dependence may continue to exist: this is a person who remains entangled in their relationship with their parents, while at the same time psychologically dependent from their parents and full of feelings of resentment towards them. Seldom do they want to meet their parents, and they are continuously angry towards them. The same can be seen in the self-concept of these persons: their self-image is chaotic, insecure, unstable, and full of anger towards themselves. In other cases, it can be observed that both the child and the parents are very aloof towards each other, seeking little contact and proximity. The image that such people have of their parents can be very positive, but at the same time unreal. Such a person may give very positive descriptions of himself and of his parents, but these descriptions are very different from reality. Such a person cannot easily confront their own weaknesses: their self-image is very positive but unreal. A kind of split in the self takes place.18 The positive part of their self is experienced consciously, but the negative part of the self is projected into the environment (vertical split) or repressed into the subconscious and experienced as little as possible (horizontal split). In the case of vertical split, the person sees the problems he has, but he blames his environment for it. By way of example, I once talked with a deaf girl that had many problems with the other children in her classroom. She was very unpopular, 18 Cf. Heinz Kohut, “Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 27 (1972): 360-400; Heinz Kohut, Self Psychology and the Humanities: Reflections on a New Psychoanalytic Approach (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1985).



because she was aggressive and dominant. She saw that there were problems, but she was convinced that her classmates were responsible for the problems: she was convinced that she was good, but the others were naughty and she was right to be angry at them. In the case of horizontal split, such problems are simply denied. Talking about problems may be very threatening. The repressed aspect of the self continues to linger like a shadow, until such a time as the repressed aspects of the self suddenly become manifest in the form of narcissistic rage. I found these kinds of personality structure among deaf adolescents who were rejected by their peers. In a research study of the emotional adaptation of deaf adolescents, I could determine by means of sociometric methods which adolescents had a popular, a controversial, a rejected, or a neglected sociometric status in their deaf peer group.19 The ratings used in the sociometric interview were also used for self-rating by the adolescents themselves. Adolescents with a rejected sociometric status rated themselves more positively than average, but their self-ratings had negative correlations with ratings by peers. It is surely not the case that a positive self-image is a sign of good mental health: mental health is not indicated by the content of adolescents’ self-image, but by its congruence with ratings by people in their environment, especially their peers. This means that mental health cannot be improved by giving people a positive self-image — a positive but not realistic self-image is even dangerous — but by open and sensitive communication with the environment and adequate social feedback. Deaf adolescents’ hearing environment is often not able to give that social feedback in an adequate way, especially if communication has to take place in an oral and restricted way. 19


Broesterhuizen, De sociaal-emotionele ontwikkeling van dove kinderen,



Patterns of attachment that developed in the relationship with parents can develop also towards other people: relatives, grandparents, teachers, and pastors. These patterns of attachment may become manifest at the moments at which people need help. People with a secure attachment will ask for help when it is realistic to admit that they are not able to help themselves. Those with an insecure attachment, however, can act in two very opposite ways: they may ask for help again and again and offer very little in the way of thanks, or they may never ask for help and prefer to hide and isolate themselves when they need help. Such patterns can be found in adults too, for example, in elderly people with dementia who may ask help from their children increasingly and think that the help given is never enough, whereas others withdraw from their children.20 As to the development of attachment there are essential differences between humans and animals. Animals are monotropic: new-born animals attach to their mother and not to other animals. Humans are different. They attach not only to their mother, but also to their father, siblings, grandparents, and others. Sometimes a secure relationship with one person can be a compensation for an insecure relationship with the parents. Some cultures profit from this phenomenon, charging older children in the same family with special care for a younger sibling. In these cases in which a mother is not able to give sufficient attention to her children, the care of an older sibling is a protective factor in the child’s life. For this reason one might suppose that extended families provide more security to children than small nuclear families. Sometimes, mostly only in extreme circumstances, even a group of children can provide an attachment relationship, as it was the 20

Cf. Bère Miesen, Gehechtheid en dementie: Ouders in de beleving van dementerendeouderen(Almere: Versluys, 1990).



case with the children of Theresienstadt. We are in no way comparing boarding houses for deaf children with Theresienstadt, but a similar phenomenon can be found among former pupils of residential schools for the deaf. Elderly deaf people sometimes recount to me, often with tears in their eyes, that as children as young as four years old they went to the deaf school, and they had to stay there for months and months. Some children went home only during the summer holidays. This caused a lot of emotional problems not only in the deaf children themselves but also in their parents and siblings, frequently triggering a mourning process. Many deaf people tell that after some time they developed an emotional relationship with their deaf peers, to such an extent that their classmates became more of a family for them than their family of origin. Not unfrequently, elderly deaf people speak with affection and tenderness about their former classmates, and about how visiting the old school for the deaf is like coming home and returning to their roots. Their classmates, the community of deaf children became their ‘significant other’, and together with the institute for the deaf help to make up their attachment identity. A second difference between animals and humans is that humans have a less clear sensitive period for attachment than animals. It is true that severe attachment damage during the first years of life can be long lasting. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, some young deaf children who had grown up in Eastern European orphanages were adopted in Western Europe. Often, these children had been seriously neglected and as a result were severely damaged in their ability to form stable relationships with other people. For some of them, severe psychiatric disturbances remained, but there are also cases of children who developed satisfying social relationships. From the other side a secure relationship with another person, also after infancy and youth, can compensate for an insecure attachment and can even be healing. In many cases, deaf children



who entered into a boarding school at an early age had already developed enough basic security such that they could build satisfying relationships with deaf peers and with their hearing educators. These new attachment relationships protected these young children against the adverse consequences of the severe loss of their parents and home. But unfortunately, this was not always the case. Children with a lack of basic security, especially children with an insecure attachment to their own parents, were not always able to find those healing relationships. Some of them displayed disruptive behavior from the first day and from very early on, they were highly disliked by their deaf peers and by their teachers in the institute for the deaf. Others were vulnerable, shy and withdrawn, and by consequence neglected by their peers, or they were more vulnerable to bullying and abuse. Children with a stable emotional basis did well, sometimes very well in the safe shelter of the institute for the deaf, but others continued to suffer the consequences of emotional loss. They developed a lifelong feeling of not being accepted, of being rejected or of being abandoned by their peers, their parents, their teachers, or God. A strong need for love and affection and enduring emotional needs marked the lives of some children. Such needs may render individuals very vulnerable to the tensions and conflicts that are part of normal, daily interactions between people. The good news is that no trauma is determinative: healing is possible. In pastoral ministry with persons who have suffered in their relationships, as may be the case with some deaf, it is necessary to believe in the healing effect of relationship and friendship offered. A pastor with the deaf should keep in mind the long-lasting effects of wrong education and emotional deprivation of deaf children. For persons with emotional wounds, it is not always possible to deal with the normal conflicts of human life and to forgive.



Forgiveness is not an easy thing, especially among people who have been severely hurt as young children. Some elderly deaf people suffer lifelong consequences of early separation from their parents and placement in a residential school, inadequate and restricted communication and harsh treatment by boarding staff. For these people, it can be quite difficult to face their own ‘shadow’ and to accept the shadow side of others. With this description of possible attachment and personality problems in deaf people, we do not mean to pathologize deafness: these problems are not a direct and unavoidable consequence of deafness, but are caused mainly by errors made in deaf education by hearing people. The same problems are found in hearing persons who grew up in comparable circumstances. ConsequencesforReligiousDevelopment Various authors in the field of psychology of religion and religious education have shown that children’s images of their parents have a deep influence on their mental representations of God. The image that adolescents have of God assumes certain qualities of their father and mothers. Among Catholic children, some specific qualities of their fathers are attributed to God but mainly it is the qualities of their mothers that compose the God image of Catholic children. André Godin states that a necessary stage in adolescents’ religious development is that their mental representation of God detaches from the image of their parents. This is not always an easy phase: a choice of atheism is often made in this phase of life, especially in those having problems with their parents.21 21 André Godin, “Some Developmental Tasks in Christian Education,” in ResearchonReligiousDevelopment:AComprehensiveHandbook, ed. Merton P. Strommen (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1971), 109-154.



David Elkind showed that the childhood image of Jesus develops with age.22 Eight- and nine-year-olds often imagine Jesus as a hero with the same qualities as heroes in movies. Later on the image of Jesus is influenced by the image adolescents have of their friends: Jesus is a friend. Jesus becomes someone that the adolescent would enjoy spending time with. In this phase of life, loneliness experienced by adolescents may instigate a leaning toward atheism. One might speculate that the mental representation of Jesus in adolescents who have psychosocial problems does not easily transcend the image they have of their friends. The work of people like Godin and Elkind suggests that children’s mental representations of God are limited because of their anthropomorphism. The implicit assumption seems to be made that anthropomorphism has to do with the immaturity of the idea of God. This view may be too limited, and the question should be raised whether it is possible that these images of God and Jesus, acquired by means of relationships with parents and friends, are a kind of natural knowledge of God, and as such a very valuable aspect of religious life that is not be surmounted, but to be expanded. Such early images might form the beginning of an aspect of Christian life that leads towards a lively and supernatural knowledge of God and to brotherly love, philadelphia. If our images of God are derived from our relationships with significant persons, these images may have the capacity to lead us into deeper relationships with others. There are spiritual movements in Christianity that consider this unity between brothers as Christianity’s most precious offering: a priceless key to belief in God and Christian doctrine.23 An ancient Jewish

22 David Elkind, “The Development of Religious Understanding in Children and Adolescents,” in ResearchonReligiousDevelopment, 655-685. 23 Cf. Chiara Lubich, “Dialogando a 360 gradi,” in her Ladottrinaspirituale, a cura di Michel Vandeleene, con i saggi teologici di Piero Coda e Jesús Castellano (Milan: Mondadori, 2001), 383ff.



proverb says: “Because God could not be present everywhere in the world, he created mothers.” ConclusionsastoSelf-Development Our conclusions are thus twofold. The first conclusion is that we receive our natural self as a gift in the context of our relationship with our parents. This natural self has positive attributes, but it has also weaknesses, imperfections, and shadows, which people may not be able or willing to see, and such denial can instigate the formation of a false self. That natural self may be so imperfect, distorted, damaged, or disturbed that it is not a good substrate for a spiritual discovery journey towards our true self. This may be the case in the lives of deaf and hearing people alike. A second conclusion is that talking about oneself implicitly involves talking about one’s primary relationships. Talking about God also implicitly involves talking about one’s primary relationships and about oneself and vice versa. Talking with Deaf People about Their Selves Without pathologizing deaf people, the observation can be made that an intrinsic aspect of the self-experience of at least some deaf people born into hearing families is a more or less vulnerable relationship with their own hearing family, sometimes with their own parents, and with their wider hearing community. In some case it will be necessary to support people in the development of natural abilities in the realm of relationships, contact, intimacy and selfdevelopment. The discussion of these themes with deaf clients will not always be easy, for several reasons. The first problem will arise if the counselor — a pastor, social worker, psychologist, or other — is hearing. In a counseling



relationship, various phenomena can occur that in psychotherapy are called ‘transference’ in which the feelings that a person has not yet come to terms with are transferred to the counselor. To illustrate, the deaf person in this counseling scenario may think, “This counselor is hearing and he will be just like all hearing people, just alike my family. He will know more than I do, he has more resources and information. I’m vulnerable.” This is the ‘empowerment’ of hearing people of which McDonough24 speaks. Communication is another problem that will arise if the counselor is hearing, whether communication takes place by means of spoken or signed language. This problem will be heavier in those cases in which a split in self-experience has taken place because of psychosocial problems arisen early in life, a phenomenon not uncommon in deaf persons with psychosocial problems. When the unaccepted sides of someone’s self, with which the person has not yet come to terms, are projected into the outer world or exist only in the subconscious, it may be offending or frightening when in a conversation a person’s defense mechanisms are put under stress and the incongruence of self-development becomes clear. At the very least, a counselor should have the ability to communicate clearly with deaf people, but that is not enough. Such a person should be able to talk with deaf persons about themselves and their self-experience. This is a special kind of deep and meaningful conversation that not every person is capable of entering into, even with a hearing person. This kind of meaningful conversation covering themes of selfexperience harkens back to the American psychologist Carl

24 Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeople Ministering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44. In this quote, McDonough uses the word ‘empowerment’ in the sense of attribution of power to hearing people. In fact, it is disempowerment of deaf people.



Rogers.25 Rogers proposed client-centered psychotherapy based on a true relationship with clients, in which psychotherapy should be centered on the client as a person, as they are here and now, as they experience their selfhood. Events that took place early in life are important only as far as they have a meaning for actual self-experience. The main question in client-centered psychotherapy is, “What is happening here and now between the client and the therapist and what they experience together?” Rogers’s model of psychotherapy is still in use. It is often used in other forms of assistance and guidance like pastoral ministry, social work, and personal guidance in schools. In these contexts, the client-centered technique is generally referred to as counseling.26 Authors writing about counseling with the deaf rightly state that counseling cannot take place by means of oral communication, whereas others report that hearing counselors who want to communicate in Sign Language and are not sufficiently able to will redirect their attention too much on language and will not be sensitive to important aspects of client behavior.27 The way in which a counselor communicates with the client is a first crucial element of accessibility. A second aspect of accessibility has to do with the attitude of deaf and hearing people toward each other. Some deaf people who have had negative experiences with hearing persons may be more prone than oral deaf people to be of the opinion that deaf and hearing will never go hand in hand. Likewise, the hearing counselor


Carl Rogers, OnBecomingaPerson(Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961). 26 Eugene Kennedy, On Becoming a Counselor (New York: The Seabury Press, 1977). 27 C. H. Patterson and Larry G. Stewart, “Principles of Counseling with Deaf People,” in Counseling with Deaf People, ed. Allen E. Sussman and Larry G. Stewart (New York: New York University School of Education, 1971), 43-86, at 66ff.



too may have attitudes towards the deaf that may influence counseling in a negative way. This may be avoided by the following basic assumptions:28 % There is no special psychology of deafness in the sense that deafness automatically and unchangingly would lead to specific needs and motives that are different from those of hearing people. Every deaf person is unique. That is not to say that deafness does not have a profound influence on one’s existence. As long, however, as a hearing counselor continues to stare at the ‘what’ of deafness and continues to seem himself as ‘hearing’, and as long as the deaf client does not see beyond the counselor’s hearing, and they do not seem themselves primarily as persons, then there is no accessibility for counseling. % Deaf people have the same psychological needs as hearing people (tenderness, competence, etc.). % Deaf people have in themselves the same capacity as hearing people to solve their own problems and to grow towards autonomy and self-determination. % In work with deaf and hearing people, privacy, confidentiality and regularity are essential. A fifth aspect of accessibility is the way in which the counsellor deals with deaf persons’ dependency. In some life situations, deaf persons are dependent upon hearing people in a pragmatic way, for instance, in cases when information is accessible only by audition. Some deaf people with a low written language level will be dependent upon hearing people or other deaf people with a high language level for things such as contact with official bodies, reading official documents, taxes, etc. This is not the same kind of dependency as regressive dependency. A hearing person dealing with the deaf has 28

Patterson and Stewart, “Principles of Counseling with Deaf People,” 48.



to know how to deal with dependency, because some deaf people will have learned to ‘empower’ hearing people.29 In a hearing person, this dependency may foster a savior complex gratified by the regressive dependency and needs of some deaf people. In counseling, it may happen that the client unconsciously attributes or transfers to the counselor traits of people who have played an important role in his life. Similarly, the counselor may also tend to attribute certain characteristics to the client that the client does not have. This phenomenon is called counter-transference. A counselor may have the feeling that he fails when he does not find instantly and immediately a solution for every problem of the client. There may be a hidden guilt about the fact of being a hearing person, and not a ‘disabled person’, like the deaf person. A common countertransference problem of hearing counselors of deaf persons is the fear to fail in their role as an almighty savior, a magic problemsolver. Counter-transference deeply strains counseling relationships. TalkingaboutDeafnessandtheAppropriationofDeafness Empathic conversations, in which the perspective of the person is at the center, have as a primary effect that the person is helped to come to a sincere and authentic view of their self and their life. People’s cultural environment often offers them a certain identity, a certain way in which they are expected to see and define themselves. And when they talk about themselves to other people, often they describe themselves with the story about their identity that their culture offers them: a narrative identity. In Chapter 3, saw that globally there are essentially two narratives that culture offers to deaf people: the medical-audiological narrative of hearing people and the oppressed minority narrative of Deaf Culture. 29

Cf. McDonough, “Recalled to Life,” 41.



Both currents try to impose in a rather compelling way a narrative identity onto deaf people. The effect of empathic conversation is not that someone’s narrative identity is fought, but that the counselor tries to join in the person’s process, and as the exchange becomes more authentic and sincere, the differences between narrative identity and actual self-experience are revealed. Narrative identity is the story with which a person presents their self to others, a story that is partially copied from the stories of other people. In order to understand a person, it is vitally important to join in the story they tell about their own self, their reported self, and only by that way can the counselor and counselee hope to come into contact with the real self-experiences behind the story. And that coming into contact with a person’s real self-experience is the exact point at which the medical-audiological and the cultural approach of deafness are similar. In spite of the large differences and the incompatibility of the defect approach and the cultural approach to deafness, they have one striking common aspect. Although lip service is paid to the right of parents and deaf persons to choose their own view of deafness, these two theoretical bodies seem to behave as the true owners of deafness. Parents are to be convinced that they should accept the view on deafness of medical-audiological experts, or hearing parents are pushed to accept that sooner or later they will have to give up their deaf child, since that child does not belong to them but to the Deaf Culture. In the view of experts, parents have to accept that they are not only unable to be adequate language models to their young deaf child, and that they even have lost their ability for intuitive parenting.30 These processes, still characteristic today for services and facilities 30 Cf. Germaine Beck and Truus van der Lem, Gezinsbegeleiding:Strategisch beleids-enactiviteitenplan (Amsterdam: Nederlandse Stichting voor het Dove en Slechthorend Kind, 1990).



for the deaf and for parents of deaf children, is called expropriation by the Dutch philosopher and mother of a disabled child, Jet Isarin.31 Isarin states that mothers of young children with a disability have to not only deal with their child as a person, but also with the disability as an unknown, foreign reality. There is no dualism between person and thing, who and what, as they are interwoven. But sometimes the what may be so prominent that the who is expelled from the relationship between mother and child. For the mother, the child loses their own individuality and she loses her child to the care and intervention of a professional: her child is expropriated from her. An expert category is formulated in which the central question is not who the child is, but what she has or what she is. This expert category can be disempowering for the mother, who is expropriated from the courage to be the crucial agent of change in her child’s life. An expert category, such as the diagnosis of deafness, can also lead, however, to appropriation: finally, it has become clear what child’s problem is. Finally, an intuition has been confirmed. And now the time has come for action, and action makes mourning possible. Expropriation can take place, in Isarin’s argumentation, by a discours (for the word, see footnote 1 in Chapter 5) or discursive formation, in Foucault’s sense.32 Medical doctors, social scientists, and other professionals are in a position of power: their argumentations are constitutive for a specific disability and, outside of that argumentation, no real understanding of that disability is possible. Recognition of the disability means compliance to the discours of 31 Jet Isarin, De eigen ander: Moeders, deskundigen en gehandicapte kinderen.Filosofievaneenervaring(Budel: Damon, 2001), 133ff. 32 Brueggemann would say: rhetorical construction (Brenda J. Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness [Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999], 2).



the experts, giving up the quest for one’s own truth about a disability. This discours is a tool in the exertion of power. A shift in that power is only possible when the discours is rejected or at least questioned. That is the first step of the appropriation of disability, being the owner of the life problem of one’s own child. Rejection of the expert truth leads to the adoption of another truth that may be very different from expert truth. For example, Isarin refers to a case that is very similar to a case described by the physically disabled theologian Nancy Eiesland. Eiesland describes a woman born without limbs, who had been fond, from early childhood on, about her compact and streamlined body. Although she knew she was different from other people, she was not able to see herself as disabled.33 Eiesland supposes that when it comes to the self-experience of disability, there is a marked difference between people born with a disability (or a disability acquired early in life) and people with an acquired disability. This is the case with deaf people, as well. Appropriation does not necessarily entail the rejection of the expert discours. It may mean that one selects from it those elements that are useful, in one’s own view, for understanding a child’s disability or one’s own disability. Appropriation can mean that parents try to expand their knowledge about their child’s disability with far-reaching consequences for their relationship with experts: they are less dependent, can take their own responsibility, and may have better access to experts. Isarin’s philosophical analysis can be applied in a useful way to deafness. However, we add two additions for our argumentation: the appropriation of deafness by deaf children growing up and the biological basis for appropriation as expression of parents’ wisdom. 33

Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 34.



In our argumentation, we do not only deal with the rhetorical construction of medical-audiological experts. There is also the rhetorical construction of experiential experts, deaf adults, and Deaf Culture. Their rhetorical construction is not only an alternative truth that can be adopted when a person wants to withdraw oneself from the defect approach, but the Deaf Culture narrative can function just in the same way as the medical-audiological discours. The contribution of deaf adults can be an important support for parents and other deaf people, as it provides a positive view on the possibilities of deaf children and emphasizes the positive value of Sign Language. But this rhetorical construction can also become a source of pressure when it becomes the only truth about deafness, outside of which there is no understanding of deafness, no happiness, and no identity for deaf persons. Such an approach can cause deaf people who do not take this alternative path to feel lonely and isolated. No parent wants that for their child and no individual wants that for oneself. This possibility may make the appropriation of deafness difficult. The appropriation of deafness is can also include the choice for one’s own position that may be different from the rhetorical constructions prescribed. One may suppose that deaf youth are subject to strong expropriation processes. At first, they are exposed to the influence of the different orientations in the field of deafness, such as the defect approach and the cultural approach, which present themselves as owning deafness. Secondly, they have to come to terms with their parents’ view on their deafness. When the parents are hearing, children have an advantage over their parents: they are deaf, and their parents are not. Deafness belongs to the child and not to the parents, and the child may have to expropriate their parents from their own deafness. The deaf child may also have, however, a big disadvantage: the empowerment of hearing people, who are considered to have better insight, more knowledge, and more access to information.



The appropriation of deafness requires strength, conviction, and personal emancipation. The strong expropriation processes in many services for the deaf make deaf people’s views on deafness and their self-reports extremely valuable. Self-ReportsaboutDeafness In this section, we will quote some of the findings from two research studies in which groups of deaf youth were interviewed.34 Most deaf youth could not indicate a special moment in which they discovered they were deaf.35 Some realized they were different when they entered into a special school, or conversely, when they came into a regular kindergarten or school where other children did not wear hearing aids or did not sign. Others discovered they were deaf from the reactions of other people (e.g., odd looks and slow speech). Some children compared themselves with siblings or other children that did not wear hearing aids or did not sign. In many deaf youth, the discovery of being deaf went hand in hand with the desire to be hearing.36 Many deaf children, in both studies, thought they would be hearing as adults, since they seldom saw deaf adults. The discovery of being deaf and remaining deaf as an adult sometimes led to the question, “Why?,” or, “Whose


Riet de Moor-Roeffen and Jan van Dijk, Dovejongerengehoord:Onderzoeknaar“psychischwelbevinden”(Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 2000), 247-248. 35 Ibid., 56-59; Susan Gregory, Juliet Bishop, and Lesley Sheldon, DeafYoung PeopleandTheirFamilies:DevelopingUnderstanding(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 191-192. 36 De Moor-Roeffen and Van Dijk, Dove jongeren gehoord, 56; Gregory, Bishop, and Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleandTheirFamilies, 188.



fault was it?” This “Why?” is clearly described elsewhere by a deaf woman: When I was ten years old I questioned my mother about my deafness: “Why I am deaf? It is unfair that I am deaf and have to go to a special school. Why, why?” My mother gave me an answer that was to remain forever in my mind. The answer came from her heart, which I believe was filled with strong faith and love of God. She said: “Because God loves you very much, he has a plan for you. You are his very special child.” Of course at that stage her answer meant nothing to me, and I continued to moan about being deaf and having to go away from home to a special school.37

At the moment of discovery of being deaf, the picture seems to be gloomy and, later on, a feeling remains that life would be different with complete hearing. A life of hearing would be easier and include less exhausting communication with other people, more contacts with hearing people, more friends, better education, and better jobs. Yet, as young adults, the majority accept their deafness or no longer wish to be hearing. And only for a very small minority is there a relationship between deafness and suffering or unhappiness.38 In a research study by a Dutch institute for the study of mental health, 84% of a large group of deaf and partially hearing adults indicated that they were happy with themselves and did not agree with the statement: “When you look to your life, than you are not proud of it.”39 Respondents stated: I am happy as I am, deaf. It’s too late for me to become hearing now. I used to want to hear before, so I would be able to talk to people and understand them... 37 Maura Buckley, “A Deaf Teaching Mother as Minister,” in Eye People Ministering, 19-26. 38 De Moor-Roeffen and Van Dijk, Dovejongerengehoord, 57. 39 Ronald P. de Graaf and Ron Bijl, Geestelijkegezondheidvandoven:Psychischeproblematiekenzorggebruikvandoveenernstigslechthorendevolwassenen(Utrecht: Trimbos Instituut, 1998), 123.



I can’t change into a hearing person now — it’s too late. I don’t worry about it.40

The issue as to whether deaf people are disabled or not was controversial.41 Deafness could be a setback, but many young people considered it an insult to themselves and to others worse off (e.g., people in wheelchairs, blind people, etc.) if they would label themselves as disabled. For them, disability meant that one was helpless and incapable of being independent. In light of that understanding, deafness is not such a big deal. That deaf children are not a pitiful scrap of humanity is also stressed by Martha Sheridan, a deaf psychologist, in a series of in-depth interviews with seven deaf children.42 These children had many positive experiences, relationships, self-perceptions, and healthy coping habits. Her findings challenged the traditional views in literature. In literature, parents are expected to pass through a grief process that may cause negative responses such as behavioral problems and poor self-esteem in deaf children. The children in her interviews seemed to be secure in their relationships with their parents, and sure of their love and acceptance. Sheridan states: The children in this study also have uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences and relationships, and they have established healthy ways of dealing with these experiences. The negative expectations and perceptions that society has traditionally held for children who are deaf do not appear to match the beliefs that these children have of themselves, their relationships, their futures, and their general lifeworlds.43

40 41 42 43

Gregory, Bishop, and Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleandTheirFamilies, 190. Ibid., 199-210. Sheridan, InnerLivesofDeafChildren, 223. Ibid.



In the lives of many deaf people, an important development takes place. In the beginning, there is a moment in which the person asks, “Why me?” But at the end, deafness is not seen as a disability, but as a special life condition, admittedly more challenging than the life condition of most people. Nonetheless, while challenging, one can still learn to deal with deafness in a satisfactory way. Thus, being deaf is being different, being challenged, and not being defective. The majority of the deaf interviewees accept both sign and spoken language. Even those who think that deaf people who opt for spoken language are more intelligent than those who opt for Sign Language consider signs important for communication with other deaf people, although they may feel ashamed when hearing people stare when deaf people sign with each other.44 The following report of an adult hearing child of deaf parents is highly indicative: I remember being with my family at McDonald’s. We were all just [pantomimes signing and talking]. We’d be sitting at this table and there would be a row of tables around us — all empty. All the other tables were full. And everybody was looking at this one table. Our table. Everybody is staring at us like we’re putting on some kind of show. I felt like we were in a fishbowl.45

Most deaf youth prefer to use signs with other deaf people. Even in those cases in which Sign Language was the preferred communication, most deaf youth felt that speech intelligibility was important.46 Most deaf youth see both languages as important, but for different situations. Mostly, spoken language is seen as important for communication with hearing people and in the family, while signing is seen as an easier mode of communication with 44

De Moor-Roeffen and Van Dijk, Dovejongerengehoord, 61. Paul Preston, Mother Father Deaf: Living between Sound and Silence (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), 172. 46 Gregory, Bishop, and Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleandTheirFamilies, 270. 45



other deaf people. With regard to Sign Language or speech, reality is far more balanced and pragmatic than the professionals with whom deaf persons have contact, who either stress oral communication and the avoidance of signs, or favor Sign Language and literacy, considering intelligible speech as beyond reach for deaf persons. There is a clear relationship between one’s friendship patterns, school setting, and mode of communication. Only a small minority of those who mainly communicated by Sign Language had hearing friends, whereas a majority of those who communicated by spoken language mainly had hearing friends. A small minority of those had attended a secondary school for the deaf had mainly hearing friends in adult life. Conversely, a majority of deaf people who attended regular schools had mainly hearing friends. A portion of the deaf youth had contacts with deaf clubs and deaf associations. Many deaf youth, those preferring sign more clearly than those preferring speech, have a special affinity for other deaf people. In spite of this affinity, which often has the character of a Deaf identity, there is only limited identification with the adult Deaf Community and Deaf topics. For most deaf youth, the world does not seem to be divided into the categories of ‘deaf’ and ‘hearing’. Summary:AnExistentialJourneyinDeafness Most deaf people completely correspond neither to the model of the defect approach of deafness nor to the model of the cultural approach. They see themselves neither as defective nor as a member of an oppressed minority. The individual life stories of deaf youth seem to show a development from suffering to integration, from being defective to a feeling of being good enough, and to a pragmatic view on deafness and communication. For some deaf



adults, deafness may even become a gift that added something special to their lives. This development is not a medical-audiological event, nor the result of a socio-cultural process. It was an existential journey in deafness and in learning to deal with life problems and suffering. From Suffering to Gift Maura Buckley’s journey in deafness started with suffering and the question: Why? Why does suffering come into an innocent life? How can it be reconciled with the goodness of God? At the moment in which the “why” question is asked, deafness seems to be injustice for which somebody has to be blamed. It is an existential question and at the end a theological question: Why did God admit a ‘defect’, or why did he create a person with a ‘defect’? Who created deaf people, a good Creator or a lesser God? Were they purposefully created as deaf, or is their deafness a question of divine oblivion? A deaf pastor, Elisabeth von Trapp Walker, who was born as a deaf person in the famous Von Trapp family of singers and musicians, wrote about her faith journey toward considering deafness as a gift of God: For me, one of the most transformational moments was in struggling with the words in Psalm 139:13-14 “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.” I would ask God, how? How could I be fearfully and wonderfully made if I were less than whole? Why did he knit me together in my mother’s womb and forget to give me perfect hearing? I further struggled with this very issue ... when we discussed the Exod 4:11 passage where God says to Moses “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” ... God plainly seems to admit Divine responsibility for



many things we count as defects in human makeup. This does seem inconsistent with God as the “good Creator.” Referring back to Psalm 139:13-14, do these words only hold true for those who are born free from defects of any kind? Does this then mean, that I was not fearfully and wonderfully made, that somehow God “messed up?” Am I less than whole, damaged goods, and somehow not so loved by God because of this?

She concludes that God purposefully created her deafness and initially seems to blame God. But later on she states: Have I personally suffered as one who is deaf in a hearing world? Yes, and with great intensity. Is that suffering because I was malformed by God in my mother’s womb? Is my suffering God’s fault? Unequivocally, no! The majority of my suffering has stemmed from ongoing insensitivity of the hearing world, the cruelty of children during childhood, and the loneliness of functioning in our hearing world. God did not malform me in my mother’s womb.47

So, in her opinion, it is not God who should be blamed for the suffering of the deaf, but hearing society. This is a topic that bothers many people: Why do people suffer? Who is guilty for their suffering? I shall try to give a view on suffering that is based on the life experiences of deaf people. AViewonSuffering Humankind’s history is a history of suffering. There is so much innocent and useless suffering that it is difficult for philosophers and theologians to find satisfactory answers to the question of why all this suffering exists. In a time that was less secularized than ours, the central question of philosophers and theologians about suffering 47 Elisabeth von Trapp, IsDisabilityaGiftfromGod? (1999); available from (access November 25, 2001). The publication in this note can no longer be found on the internet.



concerned how suffering and evil could be reconciled with God’s goodness. They tried to set up an argument that absolves God from guilt for people’s suffering: theodicy. Every attempt to absolve God, however, is worse than the indictment itself. Suffering as a punishment for original sin, as a form of divine pedagogy, or as an inscrutable decision of God that is too big for our limited human intelligence, makes God capricious and vengeful, brutal in his divine pedagogical intentions.48 In modern times, more secular than the past, the place of God has been taken by a more secular scapegoat: people or society and its unjust structures, in general, are to be blamed for suffering. Humankind is divided into those who long for a better life and a better world and their dominant adversaries that make of the history of this world a history of suffering. This depicts society as a secular metaphysical source of goodness and evil, joy and suffering. An example of this is the work of Harlan Lane, the ideologist of Deaf Culture, who describes the story of the deaf in Western culture as a long chain of oppression and atrocities of hearing society against the deaf.49 In modern times, the place of theodicy has to be taken by a far more complicated anthropodicy,50 or rather sociodicy: people and society, who differently from God


Edward Schillebeeckx, “Mysterie van ongerechtigheid en mysterie van erbarmen: Vragen rond het menselijk lijden,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 15 (1975): 3-25, at 3. 49 Cf. Harlan L. Lane, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (New York: Random House, 1984); Harlan L. Lane, “The Medicalisation of Cultural Deafness in Historical Perspective,” in LookingBack:AReaderontheHistory ofDeafCommunitiesandTheirSignLanguages, ed. Renate Fischer and Harlan L. Lane, International Studies on Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf 20 (Hamburg: Signum, 1993), 479-494; Harlan L. Lane, “The Education of Deaf Children: Drowning in the Mainstream and the Sidestream,” in The Illusion of FullInclusion:AComprehensiveCritiqueofaCurrentSpecialEducationProgram, ed. J. M. Kauffman and D. P. Hallahan (Austin, TX: Pro-Ed, 1995). 50 Cf. Schillebeeckx, “Mysterie van ongerechtigheid,” 7-8.



are not completely good and perfect, and yet have to be absolved of total and absolute guilt for suffering. Of course, absolute guilt for intentional evil acts exists, such as the forced sterilization of deaf people, the destruction of special education under the Nazi regime in Germany, and the betrayal of Jewish deaf by their own teachers of the deaf.51 There may be a guilty unwillingness to give full access to employment, education, and social services. Sometimes, however, there will be extenuating circumstances because of ignorance, stupidity, and other human and social limitations. And sometimes the reality is that there is suffering for which other people, even social structures, cannot be blamed. The existence of auditory appliances such as mobile telephones and iPods are a consequence of the hearing abilities of people who, possibly, have seldom contact with deaf people. When, under the influence of commercials and economic interests, mobile telephone became popular among hearing youth, deaf youth were hurt and felt excluded from the use of these gadgets. But this suffering was not a consequence of conscious oppression. In the opinion of Jennifer Harris, there are many cases in which there is conscious and guilty oppression. However, in many other cases, there is no intentional oppression per se, but rather an insensitivity to the needs of deaf people (i.e., a lack of deaf awareness). As to the effects and the experience of the deaf, there is a difference between intentional oppression and an insensitive lack of deaf awareness.52 The social process is the same: the dynamics of exclusion. Logical arguments do not make it possible to understand suffering and praxis does not offer a solution, either. When fighting against evil and injustice and working hard to solve problems 51 Horst Biesold, CryingHands:EugenicsandDeafPeopleinNaziGermany (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999), 42ff. 52 Jennifer Harris, TheCulturalMeaningofDeafness:Language,Identityand PowerRelations(Aldershot: Avebury, 1995), 116.



facing the infirm and the disabled, people will sooner or later experience their own human limitations. After all, it is an illusion to expect full happiness and perfect welfare for every person. Even when social services for the deaf are optimized, there will always be some problems in a society where deaf and hearing people live together. Again and again, there will be hearing people who do not know how to deal with the deaf. As the stories of Peter McDonough and Elisabeth von Trapp Walker demonstrate, deaf people do not experience these fundamental problems when they are only with fellow deaf people. But the reality is that the majority of deaf people are born into families with hearing parents, and an alternative to the planet ‘EARth’, where deaf people suffer because of the way in which hearing people deal with their deafness, does not exist. A planet ‘EYEth’, where hearing people, out of love for the deaf, have their hearing nerve removed by ‘earadicators’, exists only in the admittedly joking fantasy of internet websites.53 Neither theoretically nor practically can we cope with suffering. Thus, a different perspective must be taken. Suffering just exists: it is inherent to our being-in-the-world, inextricably bound up with human history. In the opinion of the deaf philosopher Darren Russell, looking for the cause or the goal of suffering is a typical hearing way of thinking. In his opinion, Deaf Culture does not look for a metaphysical meaning of suffering, but suffering is taken as a normal, matter-of-fact part of life. Referring to Nietzsche, he states that the consequence of this view is that life is lived such as it comes, without asking questions about meaning and goals that do not exist. For that reason, there is no place for religion in Deaf Culture.54 53

Cf. (access June 11, 2002). Darren Russell, The Religious Nature of Deaf Culture (Washington, DC: Gallaudet Video Library, 2002). 54



The question concerning the meaning of suffering is considered a fundamental Christian question. Many Christians see the “why” question reflected in Jesus’s cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” This question is perceived as a question about the meaning of suffering. In the opinion of the Jewish authors Pinchas Lapide and Viktor Frankl, the common translation of Jesus’ use of the Hebrew word lema as “why” is not correct. The Hebrew word lema means “toward what.” A “why” question looks back, seeking for someone or something to blame, and has its origin in the lack of faith in God. It is a question for theodicy. The question “toward what” is oriented toward the future, and asks how I can reconcile myself with my future. Lapide and Frankl call it a pathodicy question: a question how the place of this suffering within the total context of my life can be justified.55 Jesus does not reconcile himself with suffering by means of a theological discourse about the meaning of suffering. Jesus refuses to give an answer, when people ask him, to the question of who is guilty for the blindness of the man who was born blind. He only says that the work of God has to become manifest in him.56 God’s answer is that suffering and evil do not have the last word: they do not dominate human history. However, God is the Lord of history. God does not explain suffering, nor does he take it away. Rather, God came into the world, of which suffering is an integral part, experienced evil and suffering to the point of death, but was resurrected in glory. God does not take away evil and suffering, but shows that love is stronger: suffering and love are no longer contradictory, but can be experienced at the same time. Suffering no longer leads to a 55 Viktor E. Frankl and Pinchas Lapide, Gottsuche und Sinnfrage: Ein Gespräch(Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2005), 122-123. 56 “Suffering, consequence of original sin, receives a new sense: it becomes participation in the salvatory work of Jesus” (CatechismoftheCatholicChurch, §1521).



withdrawal into the shell of self-defense, nor to frenzied activism and a thousand other forms of compensation and alienation. On the cross, Jesus did nothing other than surrendering himself, giving his life for others. This extreme love, and not the suffering as such, is that what redeems: suffering is accepted and even willed (‘my hour’), but it is no masochism: it is love to the extremes.57 Love is stronger than death. God did not want Jesus’ death, nor did he demand it in a Moloch-like way as repayment of the debt of humankind. He ‘only’ loved in a moment of extreme suffering, pronouncing his ‘even so’. That ‘even so’ was a jump into darkness that preceded resurrection. His answer was not a word, but the offer of a relationship. When speaking about the suffering of Jesus on the cross, the tradition of Christian devotion mostly stressed the physical suffering of Jesus. However, Jesús Castellano stresses the psychological and spiritual suffering, especially in the moment when Jesus cries: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1). In his view, this is not a pious quote of the Psalm by a faithful Jew, but a real participation in people’s suffering, especially spiritual suffering. Thus, Jesus’ suffering was more than physical: it was total desolation and total abandonment, the absurdity of being separated from God and people, and a moment in which beatavisio darkens and a God sets aside his Godhead. The cross was the true kenosis of God (cf. Phil 2:5-13). He did not receive an answer to his question or his appeal. The addressee seemed to be absent. But Jesus did not get stuck in his own spiritual suffering but directed himself toward his fellow convicts. It was the climax of incarnation: the moment in which he made God one with people by becoming a human person in an inhumane world. In a paradoxical way, it became the moment in which a 57

Silvano Cola, “Morte e risurrezione: la dinamica del ‘saper perdere’ per lo sviluppo integrale della persona,” NuovaUmanità13 (2001): 229-246.



powerless God looks upon humankind with love. That moment already contained resurrection. Castellano58 sees reviving that moment as the basis of Christian community development: the moments in which separation and alienation are experienced, not as moments of damage beyond repair which are to be avoided and ignored, but as the crucial moments that are to be taken with courageous love. Groups of people that try to do so may undergo a spiritual development that does not primarily express itself in individual perfection and individual experience of God, like in the InteriorCastle of individual mysticism, but as a growing sensitivity for all those things that can divide people and groups of people. This spiritual development will fill these dividing gaps with love, not hiding it away or trying to solve it with violence.59 In so doing, such a development will create a communitarian perfection, an Exterior Castle.60 Injustice and marginalization are not undergone passively; they are fought not with violence, but with love, in the sense of Mahatma Ghandi: Satyagraha – Gandhi’s nonviolent action … was … an instrument of unity. It was a way to remove injustice and restore social harmony, to the benefit of both sides. Satyagraha, strange as it seems, was for the opponent’s sake as well. When Satyagraha worked, bothsideswon. You may wonder, how did Gandhi himself come to this amazing attitude? He said it this way: ‘All my actions have their source in my inalienable love of humankind.’

58 Jesús Castellano, “Una spiritualità che unisce il vertice del divino e dell’umano,” in Chiara Lubich, Ladottrinaspirituale, 27-34. 59 Mark Shephard, Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths (Los Angeles, CA: Shephard Publications, 2002). 60 Castellano, “Una spiritualità che unisce il vertice del divino e dell’umano,” 30-31.



You see, love for the victim demanded struggle, while love for the opponent ruled out doing harm. But in fact, love for the opponent likewise demanded struggle. Why? Because by hurting others, the oppressor also hurts himself.

The suffering of deaf people is not a physical, bodily disability, like the suffering of many people with a physical disability. In her liberatory theology of disability, Nancy Eiesland describes the Risen Lord as a Disabled God, who still bears the physical signs of his suffering. Deafness does not bring physical suffering with it, but relational suffering, experienced as intentionally inflicted injustice: being an outsider, feeling excluded, isolated, and hurt to the deepest roots of one’s personhood. It is exactly this experience of isolation that makes deaf people yearn for relationship and community. The pain of deaf people is not felt in a malfunctioning hearing nerve, but it is a social pain: being an outsider that is not accepted as belonging to the human community. The God of deaf people is not a Disabled God, but a Forsaken God. In the vision on suffering we describe here, suffering is an inextricable part of human life: without suffering, there is no life. This suffering can be given meaning not by constructing a theology that explains where it comes from or why it exists, nor by fighting against it, but by going beyond it and taking it as an opportunity to come out of the shell of feeling defeated by it. Suffering is given meaning by loving, and pronouncing an ‘even so’, giving it a relational goal. Personal freedom, solidarity with others, intensity of living, justice, and being a spokesperson for anonymous suffering can arise from this redemptive approach. Without this coming out, suffering continues to wait for its meaning, like we quoted Coughlin in Chapter 4: redemption in deafness and through deafness, and not in spite of deafness. Hope is not remaining locked in exclusion by hearing people, but approaching other people: the story of the appropriation of deafness as a task in life becomes the story of the presence of God in that deaf person’s life.



This view of suffering requires, however, a free and very difficult choice: the free choice of openness toward the hearing perpetrator of deaf suffering. TheSufferingofHearingPersonsDealingwiththeDeaf The suffering associated with deafness is communicative and relational, especially in the relationships with hearing people. Hearing people also suffer because of other persons’ deafness. The communication problem is not only the problem of the deaf person, but that of the hearing person, too. The hearing person is challenged by the impotence of coming into real contact with a person, the deficient ability of signing and understanding Sign Language, the embarrassment of which one knows that the body language associated with it cannot be hidden for the visually oriented deaf person, and the question that arises every time: “Shall the twain, deaf and hearing, ever meet?” The great majority of deaf persons have hearing parents. They are the first hearing persons in a deaf person’s life and, for them, deafness is almost always unfamiliar. Sometimes the diagnosis of deafness is made after a period of time in which parents suspect their child to be deaf: diagnosis is at the same time pain and relief. This relief comes because a period of uncertainty is over, and action can be taken. A mother explains: In fact, I had always known it, but you do not dare to believe it, before you are made sure about it. Somehow, we were quite glad that that period of uncertainty was over. Now we knew exactly what was wrong with her and we could start to do something for her.61

61 Frans Coninx, Ben A. G. Elsendoorn, and Ineke Platel, Vroegbegeleiding vanuithetInstituutvoorDoven:Feitenenervaringenoverdeperiode1970tot 1990(Sint-Michielsgestel: Instituut voor Doven, 1992), 32.



Relief does not mean that there is no pain. Pain surrounds the disability of deafness and its consequences: poor communication, using Sign Language instead of speech, attending a special school, having poor chances in society, and the heart-tearing observation that other children do not play with their child. Parents may feel that they are treated unfairly by life, or blame God, the medical doctor, or the genetic makeup of themselves and/or their partner: It is not fair. But if it is not fair, who or what is not fair? Is “it” the person who, without wanting it and unintentionally, is the genetic source of the disability? Or is “it” just coincidence, fate, tough luck? … Is the birth of a disabled child bad luck, or can someone be identified as guilty? And is that guilty person perhaps not the other, but the self that might have been able and obliged to prevent this ‘unfairness’? …The experience of unfairness is the experience that life ought to have brought something different than it actually brought … having chosen nothing and yet receiving trouble, having done nothing wrong and yet being punished.62

In spite of the pain, most parents are not helpless. They start to gather information about deafness in libraries, journals, on the Internet, and by making contact with professional and experiential experts. Many parents are amazingly active and competent. They gather knowledge about deafness and the education of deaf children, not in order to be obedient followers of the prescriptions of the experts or to become proto-professional parents with good insight into what experts consider as the best for their child, but in order to become agents of change in their own child’s life. They ask themselves not only, “Who is this child for me?” but also, “Who am I for this child?”63 Parents appropriate their child’s deafness as a developmental task in their lives as parents, starting from analyzing their own 62 63

Isarin, Deeigenander, 233. Ibid., 280.



perspective of deafness, understanding the hearing defect of their child, and seeking audiological care, cochlear implantation, Sign Language courses, or speech therapy. Especially in the field of deafness, they may encounter experts that try to influence their choices in one or another. But knowledge prevents their child from being expropriated from them. They will continually adjust themselves to their child’s deafness until another expropriation takes place, due to the personal development of the child. The child will remain the same person they know and love while, at the same time, and become another who is completely different from them. Gradually, they will discover the individuality of their child and the way in which the child experiences deafness. This can include the feeling of being excluded from the enjoyable chat at dinner or at a birthday party, and the feeling of loneliness when one returns home from the special school at an hour in which all hearing children have already made their engagements. They will experience that there is another deafness, the deafness of their child that is theirs too, and in which they want to share. The suffering of parents does not acquire a meaning when they get stuck in their feeling of being treated unjustly by life, being disqualified as good parents, or their drive to cancel the audiological defect of deafness. They go beyond that suffering, pronouncing their ‘even so’ many times again in their child’s life: when the child has to go to a special school, is not able to go to a regular school, prefers Sign Language to speech, does not get appropriate schooling and job training in spite of intelligence, does not find a partner, is set back by society, and when the child’s deaf friends do not find his hearing parents interesting. Most parents go beyond this,64 and it makes them grow as people. Gregory et al. 64

Cf. Sheridan, InnerLivesofDeafChildren, 223.



reports some comments parents made about their growth as persons because of the deafness of their child: I think it’s made us all more tolerant of other people and particularly other people with a handicap. I some ways it has been better, because it has made me aware, not just of the deafness disability, but of other disabilities, and it has made me think about other people’s problems. It’s certainly made me control my temper. In some ways, I am richer. I’ve learnt a lot about children. Wouldn’t have missed it for anything really. When she was about nine, she asked me why she was deaf. Did we want a deaf daughter? It must have been a good enough answer, because she did not come back with it.

Some parents report that they had grown to better acceptance of diversity: I wouldn’t have developed as I have developed, I am sure. It’d made me into a stronger and more determined person. I think it makes you more tolerant of other disabilities. It does widen your life, because it makes you think a lot more about other handicaps. You watch a programme on television and you think, “Gosh, I didn’t realise that!” I mean when you first get involved in this business of bringing up a deaf child you tend to go stomping round saying, “People don’t understand, nobody considers what it is like” but of course they don’t, because you wouldn’t have done it yourself.65

At the end, some parents refer that their life has got more value: Life has got a surplus value. It has made us strong towards each other. We got other values instead of it. When the turn in our life came, deafness was no longer important. It was coming to insight instead of having blinkers on. I only saw a pair of ears. After that I saw a child and I was able to go further. I am happy because of the


Gregory, Bishop, and Sheldon, DeafYoungPeopleandTheirFamilies, 252.



experiences I have had. It was necessary to struggle for it. I became strong, in spite of the paint I felt in that time. There is always a period of suffering. Finally, you get wiser and stronger. That is also the case for our other daughter. The contacts in our family have become stronger.66

The deafness of a child in the family has become the point at which relationships grow closer and people become wiser. A mother of a deaf woman, who is actually a leader of the Deaf Community, writes: We did not realise what it meant to be deaf. Personally I found the word deafness a horrible and disgusting one. It would take me five years before I was able to use it. Usually I would say, “She does not hear well.” And I started to curse God the more I thought about the consequences of her disability ... I questioned God why we had deserved this... No one is prepared to have a disabled child and to educate it. The acceptance of that fact is a slow process and differs from person to person. As partners you have to accept that from the other and try to support each other. Luckily in this process we are two and not alone. The other children also need the chance to unfold themselves despite all the attention paid to the deaf child. So, in a sense, you can talk about a disabled family. You have to harden yourself against the reactions, the incomprehension, or the ignoring of the disability by friends, colleagues and family. This is also true for the Church. We have never been able to have a real discussion about the deafness of our daughter with our parish priest... Parents must guide the disabled child in its acceptance of the disability and in its search for an individual identity... With all this in mind we can conclude that God has a plan for every one of us. It is a chance given to make something out of it; to make this world more habitable.67


De Moor-Roeffen and Van Dijk, Dovejongerengehoord, 74. Mia Stevens-Leyskens, “Religious Education in the Family,” in EyePeople:GifttotheChurch (Manchester: Henesy House, 1989), 79-98, at 82-83. 67



Going beyond personal suffering out of love for their child leads to a kind of parental kenosis: they empty themselves from their own hearingness and make space for their child’s experience of deafness. Kenosis did not lead to a loss of identity, but to a new and stronger identity. This is the conditiosinequanon by which the story of their child’s deafness becomes the story of the presence of God in the parents’ life and in the life of the family. Deafness is no longer the child’s ‘thing’ (a what, in Isarin’s sense) that divides disabled and non-disabled. Rather, although deaf and hearing always remain diverse, it becomes a shared experience, a meeting point, in which I and you, deaf and hearing, become a person for each other. It is not only a psychological fact, but also a spiritual fact that broadens the scope of life. Not all parents reach this point. Reports of deaf adults, sometimes told by their hearing children, sometimes express painful suffering about a failed relationship between a hearing parent and deaf child: It’s hard to talk about … There was so much pain … My Dad was so separated from his family. he thinks he was rejected. He used to tell me [signs “I cry every night until 11 years old”]. Sometimes you just don’t want to hear it, there’s so much pain. Like when he tells me how frustrated he is because his Mom still can’t talk to him. All she can so are nurturing signs like “food” and “love.” That’s it. God, I see how much it hurts him!68 My grandparents took my mother everywhere, you know, one doctor after another. Always the same thing. “She’s deaf.” “She can’t be!” Another round, same thing. “She’s deaf” “She can’t be.” Thank God they ran out of money! They might still be dragging her around.69 My father was really sick then. They thought he was going to die. And one time I heard my grandma say that she thought maybe it 68 69

Preston, MotherFatherDeaf, 67. Ibid., 65.



would have been better if he died. That being deaf is like being sick your whole life.70 My paternal grandparents still don’t sign. My grandfather’s passed away, never knowing how to sign. And my grandmother’s still alive, and the only way they communicate is passing notes. And I kind of look down on that, and plus the way she talks to us. My father still does not know how she talks to us. She’ll say, “It’s really amazing how your father’s kept a job, and has a house and raised fine kids.” And I’m thinking, Why are you so shocked? I can’t understand why they’re so shocked. To me they’re just normal as anybody else. But even their own parents look at them and think it’s a big deal if they can drive or walk down the street.71

These are the deaf who had painful experiences in their own families, but their parents also suffered. When hearing parents do not have the opportunity, by whatsoever cause or limitation (perhaps because of the pressure of experts in the field) to go beyond their own personal suffering concerning the deafness of their child, they do not have the possibility of emptying themselves of their own suffering. As a result, no space is made for a real encounter with their deaf child as a person. This has serious psychological and spiritual consequences for both parties. For the deaf, the world becomes divided between deaf and hearing, who will never meet each other, and who are better off keeping to themselves. God becomes a distant God, a hearing God, that is not involved in deaf people’s lives. For hearing people, there is that enduring pain about a child, a brother, or a sister that got so much attention, but never became that what was hoped for, and remained a stranger full of feelings of resentment. In such cases, much work has to be done: relationships have to be mended and reconciliation must be achieved between deaf people and their family of origin. This may 70 71

Preston, MotherFatherDeaf, 63. Ibid., 65.



be necessary to give a positive meaning to the concept of God’s fatherhood. Deaf and hearing, who suffer because of each other, do not have to accept that they never will go hand in hand. The moment in which resentment is so strong that they ask themselves whether it is better not to see each other anymore, may be the right moment for the recognition that, behind that complete separation from each other there, is the common experience of suffering waiting for meaning: a Christian satyagraha. They can acknowledge this, and try to meet each other as people and make this world more habitable. Conclusion Most deaf people were born into families with hearing people. The communication problem and the exclusion they experienced in their primary relationships are a part of the image they have of themselves, their deafness, and their hearing environment. The consequence may be that deaf children and their parents’ selfdevelopment are damaged. Through this experience, they may come to a narrative identity: a story about their deafness that is appalling for hearing people. When deaf people get the opportunity, in a healing relationship, to appropriate their own deafness and to discover their true selves, the story of deafness in the life of individuals and family, brought into relationship with the Christian message, becomes the liberating and emancipating story about the presence of God beyond limits and impairment.


Divine Sound and Divine Books? As we discussed in Chapter 5, deaf and hearing people live in different worlds and perceive the world in different ways. Deafness does not lead only to a different perspective on the world, but also to a different view on Christian religious tradition which, in their eyes, often caters to the hearing with its emphasis on hearing, speech, and spoken and written language.

DoesGodHaveaVoice? In many places in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, God manifests his presence by means of sound. In Ps 18:12, God used darkness as a cover that he could not see or be seen. But verse 14 describes God as perceptible in a different way: “The LORD thundered from heaven; the Most High made his voice resound.” In many places in the Bible, God seems to reveal Godself typically in an auditory way, like in the story of Elijah on the mountain (1 Kgs 19:11-13), the vision of Ezekiel (in which the sound of God’s wings resembles “the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty, ... like the din of an army”), and as is sung in Psalm 29. However, it’s also worth noting that visual manifestations of God’s presence are described throughout the Hebrew Bible: the smoking brazier and the flaming torch, the appearance when God makes a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, the burning bush in



Exodus 3, and the column of cloud and the column of fire sent out ahead of the Jewish people leaving Egypt (Exodus 13 and 14). The Hebrew Bible also states that no human person can see him and continue to live (Exod 33:20). The Bible seems to describe God as perceptible by audition. In fifty places, the Hebrew Bible uses the expression qol yhwh, the voice of God. Likewise, there are ten places in the four Gospels where the Greek word phōnē, voice, is used in order to indicate a special revelation of God, such as the voice that speaks out of the clouds or out of heaven. The word ‘voice’ is a central concept in our religious tradition, as people us the term to describe how God gives direction to our lives.1 Is God a God who cannot be seen, but can be heard? In the Bible, not only can God not be seen, he can even not be represented in a visual way. God is, however, represented as a speaking God, and God is represented by spoken messages, songs, and stories. Speech and hearing seem to have more value in the Bible than sight and visual representation. (We will not enter into an analysis of possible cultural factors in this remarkable differential evaluation of both senses.2) In the Christian tradition, however,


Cf.: “By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him ‘to do what is good and avoid what is evil’. Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbour” (CatechismoftheCatholicChurch, §1706). 2 In Freud’s opinion, the prohibition of visual representation of God reflected steps taken in the development of humankind. People discovered the power of thought and started to expand this power in a magical way. The Super-Ego was developing, the interiorized authority of the father, whose love is won by Triebversicht, the renouncement of lust. Sight was the sense of lust, and hearing was the sense of the Super-Ego. Visual images of gods were oriented on lust, whereas the God of Moses was a male, spiritual God that reigned through his word (Sigmund Freud, DerMannMosesunddiemonotheistischeReligion:DreiAbhandlungen [Amsterdam: Allert de Lange, 1939]).



it was decided, as we saw in Chapter 7, that the Christian message can not only be represented in words, but also and equally by visual means. In spite of this recognition of the worth of sight and visual representation, modern Western religious culture does not attribute equal capacity to image and word, sight and audition, in the representation of the Christian message. Images of God captured in language and narratives are considered more dignified than visual representations that have often been seen as auxiliary means for illiterate and poorly schooled people. The capacity of language to describe the character and nature of God is estimated optimistically and can be explained by looking at the tradition of Western theology. Western theology seems convinced that, on the basis of revelation and the signs of God’s presence in the world, it is possible to make verbal statements about God and to arrive to a more precise knowledge of God. If words are taken literally, God cannot be seen and visually represented, but he can be heard and expressed in words. In Western tradition, verbal formulation of the truths of faith, the right use of words, has become crucial because language is considered capable of expressing and revealing the mysteries of God. In a certain sense, language is seen as transcending created reality and as a part of the divine domain. Phonocentrism In the opinion the deaf author Jonathan Rée,3 the idea that spoken language transcends created reality has deep roots in Western hearing culture. In the field of deaf education, and even pastoral ministry with the deaf, this idea played a crucial role in the banishment of Sign Language. More than two centuries ago, from its 3

Jonathan Rée, ISeeaVoice:APhilosophicalHistoryofLanguage,Deafness andtheSenses(London: Flamingo, 1999), 60-64.



first moments onward, deaf education has known a bitter controversy between advocates and opponents of Sign Language, i.e., manualists and oralists.4 For oralists, speech was the source of civilization and God’s special gift to humankind.5 Amman, Lutheran pastor and founder of oral deaf education, considered the human voice to be an emanation of God’s Spirit. God had created the world through God’s own voice, and Christ needed his voice to enact miracles. Therefore, creatures formed after the image of God necessarily have the capacity of speech, and it is that capacity of speech that makes them resemble their Creator.6 The human voice places human beings above all other creatures and enables them to participate directly in God’s power.7 French teachers of the deaf in the 17th century put forward that Sign Language would never enable deaf people to transcend the level of direct visual perception, since the only way to transfer abstract ideas to the deaf, and to save their souls, was through spoken and written language.8 Rée mentions that in the opinion of the Irish female author Tonna, deaf from her tenth year of age, deaf children are necessarily atheists until they have learned the alphabet; she asserts that true spirituality is possible only when people have acquired speech.9 In the opinion of the Italian Catholic priest Giulio Tarra, one of the organizers of the Conference of Milan that banished Sign Language from deaf education, reasoning is possible only through


Agnes Tellings, TheTwoHundredYears’WarinDeafEducation:AReconstruction of the Methods Controversy (Nijmegen: Mediagroep Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, 1995). 5 Rée, ISeeaVoice, 86. 6 Ibid., 89. 7 Ibid., 64. 8 Ibid., 156-157. 9 Ibid., 225.



speech.10 When God gave human beings a soul, he also gave them speech, and no body part is more elevated than the mouth. He asserted that bitter experience had taught him that those taught by Sign Language were never able to learn abstract ideas and would never transcend the level of “rude material images.”11 These ideas are revealing in various ways: it was assumed as evident that abstract ideas are the most essential aspect of religion and necessary tools for imagining God.12 These ideas continue to persist in the present-day.13 In Western religious traditions, visual means are seen as incapable of representing God and the mysteries of faith. Visual representations are perceived as inferior means in religious communication. Speech and language are overrated, in this respect. Bauman calls this phenomenon of overrating spoken and written language ‘phonocentrism’: a term that he borrowed from Derrida, but that he gave a somewhat different meaning.14 With phonocentrism, he means that in Western culture, voice and language are not only means of communication, but are also considered sources of all self-awareness and 10

Anne Bamberg, “Passions autour des signes et confession du sourd: enquête à partir de manuels de morale en tradition catholique,” Praxisjuridiqueetreligion15 (1998): 97-155, at 101. 11 Rée, ISeeaVoice, 228. 12 Ibid., 224. 13 “We must come to the conclusion that Sign Language hampers the deaf in their process of emergence from egocentrism to heterocentrism, and in this way impedes the outgrowth to authentic Christianity. To me the pure oral way, followed monolinguistically in school and free time is the best way of humanising and Christianising the vast majority of the deaf” (Antoine J. M. van Uden, “Teaching an Oral Mother-Tongue to Deaf Children in Reference to Religious Education,” in Religious Education of the Deaf, ed. Jan van Eijndhoven [Rotterdam: Rotterdam University Press, 1973], 46). 14 H-Dirksen L. Bauman, “Towards a Poetics of Vision, Space, and the Body: Sign Language and Literary Theory,” in TheDisabilityStudiesReader, ed. Lennard J. Davis (New York: Routledge, 1997), 315-331, at 318.



identity. In this way, they are also the source of all meaning, worth, and metaphysics: “Our supposed fascination with the authoritative power of the voice, conceived as the source of all meaning and value.”15 As Stephen Moore explains, “In mainstream Western thought, speech has always been the paradigm not only for every form of presence but also for every truth.”16 God’sOwnBook For Derrida, phonocentrism indicates an overrating of spoken language at the expense of written language. However, Derrida falls into the opposite error by overrating written language. In Western culture, literacy is a privilege of the elite and an alley to power which was easily abused. Access to literacy is closely related to power. Those who have access to literacy can exclude those who do not. And the powerless can gain power through the acquirement of literacy. Written language plays an important role in Christianity for many reasons. First, Christianity is a religion with a book. The Bible has a central place in Christianity. In that tradition, a theology without the Bible as a book is unconceivable. Second, traditions and teachings of the Church have been laid down in written texts, documents of the Councils, which play a key role in theological debates. Third, it is a general phenomenon in Christian Churches that new theologies, even when they are initially part of an oral tradition, become significant only when they are written down in books. Written theological texts have higher validity and status than unwritten theological traditions. The fact that Christianity has graphocentric aspects cannot be denied. For many theologians, a theology without the Bible is 15

Rée, ISeeaVoice, 368. Stephen Moore, Poststructuralism and the New Testament: Derrida and FoucaultattheFootoftheCross(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994), 29. 16



unconceivable. Yet, the history of the Church suggests that the actual New Testament was not always so essential to theology as it is today. When the Christian canon emerged in the second century, not all Christian theologians were enthusiastic about having the words and stories of Jesus written down. Certain theologians respected the authority of an oral tradition of Jesus’ spoken words that were not yet enshrined in books. And even long after the Christian canon had emerged, the majority of Christians lived without access to a written Bible until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. The narratives of the Bible lived in visual art and were transmitted by oral tradition. Regarding the meaning and nature of the Bible, there is a clear difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy on one side and Protestantism on the other. For Catholics and Orthodox, the Bible is an important and very central part of tradition, whereas for various Protestant currents, the Bible is far more essential than tradition. Catholicism and Orthodoxy accept that the textusreceptus of the Bible did not immediately have its actual form, but that it grew out of the oral tradition of the first Christian community, and that its content does not represent tradition completely. God revealed himself in a person, Jesus Christ, and not by means of a book, like Islam. Protestant orthodoxy tends to give more absolute value to the textusreceptus, holding that it contains the complete truths of faith. For many deaf people, the Bible is problematic because it is a written text with difficult language. Therefore, even in denominations in which daily Bible reading is almost a religious duty, only a few deaf persons can actually read the Bible. Although translations of the Bible have been made, many deaf people prefer the stories told in their own way over a literal translation of the Bible in Sign Language. When deaf persons tell Bible stories, they often tell the stories from the perspective of participants.



A Hearing God? Western religious tradition has become phonocentric and graphocentric, and deaf people received and are often still receiving their religious formation in a phonocentric and graphocentric way. By consequence, deaf people’s image of God is often seriously contaminated: God is a hearing God, and he should be found by listening to his voice and reading his book. Charles Hollywood, who was hard-of-hearing himself, was a pastor with the deaf and very skilled in Sign Language. He often observed that the way in which deaf people use Sign Language with hearing persons with good Sign Language skills differs from their way of signing with other deaf people. When using Sign Language with hearing persons, their communication was slower, clearer, less spontaneous, and had more consideration. Once he saw two deaf fellow priests signing with each other and noticed that they signed differently when communicating with him. He asked them about it, and they affirmed immediately that he was right; they wanted to make it easier for hearing persons. Then Hollywood asked if they used spoken language or Sign Language when they prayed to God. They signed, but in the same way as to hearing persons who know Sign Language.17 Hollywood has the strong impression that, for deaf people, God is a hearing God. He asserts that many deaf children even think that God does not know Sign Language.18 In Hollywood’s opinion, this difference between deaf-deaf and deaf-hearing Sign Language communication is not only a difference in sign communication speed, but also a difference in thinking style. Real Sign Language, as it is used in deaf-deaf communication, is 17 Charles Hollywood, “Visual Dimensions of Prayer and Liturgy,” in Seeing –IsBelieving! (Manchester: Henesy House, 1998), 51-62, at 52. 18 Ibid., 54.



pictorial thinking: depicting images in the air. Sign Language in deafhearing communication is linguistic thinking, since it is ultimately based on (sign supported) spoken language. In addition, translations of standard prayers are often based on this language thinking and not on Sign Language as it is used in deaf-deaf communication. Deaf people’s experience God as a hearing God is also described by Len Broniak and Rich Luberti. They asked deaf people how they prayed and in which form. Since most of them answered that praying is talking mentally with God, Broniak and Luberti asked them in which language they prayed. Most of them prayed in English. When asked why, they answered that it was just the proper way of praying.19 A mother reported to Broniak that one day her young son asked her for a Sign Language interpreter because he wanted to talk with God. The mother answered that he did not need a Sign Language interpreter, since God would perfectly understand his signs. The boy responded, however, that he always used an interpreter in religious situations, like religion classes, Sunday Mass, and even when he did his first confession. The boy’s conclusion was that God was hearing, and when you want to speak with a hearing person, you need an interpreter. Hearing people’s language use seems to imply that God is hearing: praying is talking with God, and God hears our prayers.20 When in liturgy or in the administration of sacraments, spoken language or a translation in sign supported spoken language is used, the hidden message is that that God’s ‘official language’ is spoken language. Deaf people do not pray and do not celebrate 19 Len Broniak and Rich Luberti, “Teach Us to Pray: Deaf Prayer and Deaf Celebrations,” in OnEaglesWings:ExperiencingDeafPrayer, Proceedingsof theFifthInternationalConferenceoftheInternationalCatholicFoundationfor the Service of Deaf People (Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Services of Deaf Persons, 1998), 57-65, at 57. 20 Ibid., 58.



liturgy in their own language. In addition, even if standard prayers are translated in sign, these translations are mostly in Sign Supported spoken language, and so based on spoken language. Broniak and Luberti’s conclusion is that pastors are often not aware of how strong the influence of language is on deaf people’s self-experience. If deaf people can follow liturgy only through a Sign Language interpreter, and this interpreter translates concepts such as voice, hearing, and word literally, deaf people are reminded again and again of their deafness and how it makes them different. It tells them also that their God is a hearing God who has to be approached in a hearing way of thinking and acting.21 Is God a hearing God that forces me, a deaf person, to use my voice and to squeeze my communication into the straitjacket of spoken language? Who created me, that hearing God, a lesser God,22 or a good Creator? Liberation entails the acknowledgement that my deafness was desired by a good Creator to be a special task in my life. The Creator did not give me a voice, but instead gave me Sign Language: God’s special gift to the deaf. When, due to the influence of Darwinism and eugenics, Sign Language was banned from the schools for the deaf all over the world, one of the leaders of the USA Deaf Community made a powerful statement what is one of the oldest filmed registrations of American Sign Language: ‘A new race of Pharaohs that knew not Joseph’ are taking over the land and many of our American schools. They do not understand signs, for they cannot sign. They proclaim that signs are worthless and of no help to the deaf. Enemies of the deaf, they are enemies of the true welfare of the deaf ... As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs ... It is my hope that we all will love and 21

Broniak and Luberti, “Teach Us to Pray,” 59. ChildrenofaLesserGod is a play from 1980-1982, filmed in 1986, about a speech therapist in a deaf school, where he falls in love with Sarah, a deaf woman, who worked in the same school. 22



guard our beautiful Sign Language as the noblest gift God has given to deaf people.23

And the deaf pastor Carver asserts: Many deaf Christians rejoice over their deafness in the knowledge that God has singled them out for a special purpose. God has given them the ability to listen with their eyes and to perceive the beauty of His creation in a different light. They may not be able to hear leaves rustling in the breeze, but they can see them quiver harmoniously with each breath. They may not be able to hear birds sing, but they can be just as captivated by their rhythmical twitching. They are able to perceive how other persons are thinking or feeling just by looking into their eyes or at their body language. They view Sign Language, an extraordinarily beautiful and complex visual language, as a gift from God. God wanted to show that human beings, His ultimate creation, are capable of doing anything; He created them in such a way that if they were lacking in something, they would be able to make up for it. Indeed, God made it possible for people to communicate without requiring sound or hearing.24

What Carver indicates is the innate tendency and desire of human persons to communicate with each other by means of language. If there is no language, this innate tendency is so strong that languages are created when people do not have a common language, and created in a visual way when people do not hear. This view is very similar to the language theory of the Cappadocians that we discussed in Chapter 7. In God, there is no speech, no hearing, no sign, and no language because he is beyond the realm of created things and does not need them.

23 George Veditz, “President’s Message,” in Proceedings of the Ninth ConventionoftheNationalAssociationoftheDeafandtheThirdWorldCongressof theDeaf,1910 (Philadelphia, PA: Philocophus Press, 1912), 30. 24 Roger J. Carver, “Deafness: A Gift from God?,” MennoniteBrethrenHerald40, no. 8 (2001): 1-5, at 1-2.



God is beyond human language and human senses. The Gospel of John presents him to us as a God who can be known only through Jesus, and who can be loved only through fellow humans: “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form” (John 5:37). When the Gospel of John characterizes God, “there is no dramatic depiction of the opening of the heavens, no vision of God, no theophany, and only one instance of God’s speaking, which was mistaken by the people as thunder.”25 AnImageofGodbeyondPhonocentrismandGraphocentrism The image of a hearing God is a direct consequence of the decision made by most countries at the end of the 19th century that Sign Language should be banned from deaf education. It is not improbable that the unconscious image of a hearing God goes back on this decision to teach deaf children by speech only. Hannah Lewis, in her doctoral dissertation about Deaf Liberation Theology, refers to written documents, such as sermons given by deaf preachers in the nineteenth century published in journals for the deaf, in which they refer to Jesus Christ.26 In these writings, again and again, the idea is put forward that deafness is in no way an obstacle for having God’s kingdom within oneself. Deaf people can approach God, just like they are, and are not lower than hearing people. Faith is a free gift of God, and that gift does not depend from hearing ability but from love to God and the readiness to do God’s will. In these writings, Jesus died for all people, and not just for one category of people (e.g., the hearing). Jesus is presented as ‘the 25 Marianne M. Thompson, “‘God’s Voice You Have Never Heard, God’s Form You Have Never Seen’: The Characterization of God in the Gospel of John,” Semeia63 (1993): 177-204, at 201. 26 Hannah M. Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 140ff.



Communicator’. Of course, Jesus was a hearing person, and it is quite possible that he did not know Sign Language.27 There was, however, no need of changing Jesus into a deaf Jesus or presenting Jesus as a deaf person. Just as he was, Jesus took notice of the deaf man and by touching him, and showed his readiness to communicate with him. In these writings, deaf people talk about a direct communication with Jesus, a communication beyond words and signs. This communication was expressed in visual terms: God sees us from the sky and through the clouds, and we see God with the eyes of our soul. For deaf persons, seeing is communicating. Communication starts with seeing each other and looking toward one another is already conversation. Such a conversation can take place without words and without signs: it is an aspect of visual culture.28 Deaf people in that period of time described Jesus as a Savior who knows and sees everything, and who looks toward us. Jesus not only listens to people, but also looks toward them. He wants them not to just listen to him, but to also look to him. They shrug their shoulders at those who pity them for their inability to hear, because they “can communicate with Christ and that means more than being able to hear all the voices in the world put together.”29 Direct communication with him does not require that their “missing sense is restored in heaven.”30 This way of talking about the relationship with God is what the Christian tradition refers to as ‘interior prayer’, which is considered a high level of spirituality. It is not rare to find such a level of spirituality in deaf people, and also in deaf people with a poor level of school education. 27

Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 149. Benjamin J. Bahan, “Upon the Formation of a Visual Variety of the Human Race,” in OpenYourEyes:DeafStudiesTalking, ed. H-Dirksen L. Bauman (Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 83-99, at 86. 29 Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 142. 30 Ibid., 143. 28



A striking aspect of Lewis’s report is that these deaf preachers expected high standards of behavior from deaf people,31 whereas hearing pastors tend to set lower standards. The background may be clear: deaf people do not differ from hearing people in God’s eyes. DeafPeopleasanImageofanImagelessGod As far as we know from historical research, in the pre-Milan era, many deaf people had ideas about God and faith which are considered nowadays to be the audacious ideas of Deaf Liberation Theology.32 The image of an inclusive and communicative God who is open to the deaf, has been substituted by the image of a hearing God. How can deaf people be liberated from this image of the hearing God? Can our images of God be undone from disturbing elements of hearing culture? Should we design other, possibly more adequate images of God and offer these to deaf people? These images might be found in showing deaf people how deaf people in the past have thought about God. A different way is proposed by the deaf priest Peter McDonough, who is deaf and was born into a deaf family. In his opinion, deaf people do not need an alternative image of God. What they need is to discover the image of God within themselves.33 McDonough knows that more than other people, deaf people need images, and preferably visual images. But in his opinion, a true spiritual development is only possible when people come to the insight that all images of God, visual or expressed in language, 31

Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 144. Ibid. 33 Peter McDonough, “Deaf and Made in the Image and Likeness of God” (paper presented at the Swanwick Conference, September 30, 1998). 32



are incomplete and insufficient. Images of God will never show us who and what God is, as God is hidden in a cloud of unknowing.34 Spirituality is not designing an image of God, but the progressive discovery that we can find the image of God within ourselves and within our community.35 McDonough described this discovery as a painful process, like Jacob’s fight with God. This is a process during which we learn to accept the reality of ourselves and our nothingness, to see our personal history with all its limitations as a holy history, and to see deafness — a disability, however proud we are of Sign Language and Deaf Culture — in a realistic way, neither denying nor idealizing it. During that process, we come closer to God and shall find within ourselves a reflection of God, free from human images, forms, and ideas.36 Then we no longer need images of God because we are aware that nothing perceptible and created, no word and no idea, can explain what God is. God is ‘imageless’, the totally different One, the transcendent One.37 For McDonough, the starting point of this travel is deafness itself, which becomes, in this way, a resurrection experience.38 McDonough’s regrets that many deaf people do not begin this journey toward self-knowledge because they are too limited in their communication with other people, remaining isolated and unaware of their own personhood. Deaf people do not need an image of God, but the possibility to become aware of the infinite worth of themselves and their world. An image of God is an attempt to bring God down to our own human level, while McDonough has the opposite goal: to raise individuals and communities 34

Cf. The being of God is hyperousiōsoũsa, being beyond all being. McDonough, “Deaf and Made in the Image and Likeness of God,” 5. 36 Ibid., 8. 37 Ibid., 12. 38 Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeople Ministering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44, at 42-43. 35



to God’s level. When that goal is reached, deaf people will become aware that they are called to share in the mission to spread Jesus Christ’s Good News.39 Since this fight is with ourselves and our deafness, McDonough wants to call the place where he lives ‘Peniel’, after the place where Jacob wrestled with God.40 McDonough’s view is ambitious: in the case of deaf people, those who are oriented toward visual perception, spirituality does not base itself on an image of God, but on God himself, whose image deaf people learn to recognize within themselves. Instead of being led by listening to an interior voice of God, which does not mean anything for deaf people, we might be led by looking to the image of God within us. For deaf people, looking toward a person does not just involve seeing that person, but is an intentionally communicative act. McDonough describes here what, in Orthodox theology, is called a growth from image to similarity with God.41 An interesting point in his view is that deaf people need communication with other people, and belonging to a community, in order to engage in this way of life. Thus, language — Sign Language — is needed, not as an instrument to construct an image of God, but in order to bridge the gap between humans. McDonough describes this process on an individual level, but it can also be applied to the Deaf Community. Paul calls the early Christian community of Corinth, where all kinds of unacceptable things happened, hagioi, in view of what they were going to be, not 39

McDonough, “Deaf and Made in the Image and Likeness of God,” 4. Peter McDonough, “Collaborative Ministry in the Deaf Vineyard” (paper presented at the Conference on Deaf Pastoral Ministry held by the International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf People, Mexico City, August 8, 2003), 17. 41 See Chapter 4, note 40. 40



what they actually were. Jim Vitucci, a pastor with the deaf in Florida, used this image when he tried to take the culture of the Deaf Community, in which being together and communication are essential elements, as a starting point for building up a Christian Deaf Community.42 It was a process by which the Deaf Community learned to discover what she fundamentally was and will be: The Church, the people of God, the mystical body of Christ, and the image of Trinity. For the Deaf Community, this travel toward the discovery of the image of God within herself started with Deaf Culture and the struggle within it, however depreciated by other people and however unholy it was.43 In this way, the place where the Deaf Community gathers and struggles with itself in order to discover the image of God might be called Peniel. Vitucci describes this process as a living experience that is action oriented, as opposed to a verbal and narrative process. It was an evolution toward concrete mutual service and mutual support. He calls this process pre-evangelisation,44 which is the creation of a plausibility structure that makes the Christian message understandable and reasonable. What Is Deaf People’s Faith Searching For? Anselm characterized theology as Fides quaerens intellectum. Faith is in the seeking and understanding gives the confirmation of faith. Deaf theology as looking to the image of God in individuals and community might be described as Fides quaerens visionem, faith looking for vision, in the sense of Jesus’ words on Mount Tabor (Matt 17:9): “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 42 Jim Vitucci, “Searching for Community among the Deaf,” in EyePeople: GifttotheChurch (Manchester: Henesy House, 1989), 159. 43 Ibid., 159. 44 Ibid., 159-163.



When deafness has become a resurrection experience,45 faith knows that the image of God can be seen in deaf individuals and that the dwelling of God among humans can be seen in the Deaf Community. This has far reaching consequences for ecclesiology and liturgy. Ecclesiology The Deaf Community, which is so crucial in the lives of many deaf people, is not a congregation of people who should be objects of charity, but a community that can become Church in the fullest sense of the word. It is a community that is not only formed by the deaf elite, but by ordinary deaf people: those who missed educational opportunities, those who have suffered exclusion in their lives, those who have humble jobs in spite of great potential, those who belong to the lowest socio-economic classes, etc. Such a community reflects that God is essentially Trinity and community, and also that God somehow contains within the Godhead all the good diversity that is found on earth.46 It is a Deaf Church that is a local, enculturated presence of the universal Church, in which the hidden richness of Deaf Culture is made fruitful for other local churches, even hearing churches. It is not a self-contained Church, in which non-deaf people are shunned. It is an open Church in which hearing people are also welcomed: hearing parents of deaf children, hearing children of deaf parents, friends of deaf people, and others. Deaf Churches are places of inversed inclusion.47


Cf. McDonough, “Recalled to Life,” 42-43. Wayne Morris, TheologywithoutWords:TheologyintheDeafCommunity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 115. 47 Ibid., 120. 46



Hearing Church leaders have generally feared that such a Deaf Church might become sectarian, detached, and ghettoized from the general Church. In some Protestant communities, a self-contained Deaf Church is seen as a threat to the unitary nature of the Church. This is less problematic in Catholic ecclesiology, in which a local Church is a specific presence of the universal Church. And this is just what the universal Church can do for deaf people, as it can for every cultural minority: provide the opportunity of self-assertion as a local Church, affirm that those gathered are already Church, and not impose a hierarchical ministry in which deaf people are objects of paternalistic benevolence. Therefore, this is also an ecclesiology of suspicion.48 In the past, Deaf Churches were often a tool for reaching the goal of mainstreaming deaf people into the hearing Church. Deaf Churches were often led by hearing missioners or hearing chaplains to the deaf, who had highly paternalistic attitudes towards the deaf. To this day, Deaf Churches and deaf chaplains persist in their charitable attitudes towards the deaf and their belief that the deaf should be managed and controlled by hearing people.49 Hearing leadership in Deaf Churches still brings with it the risk of spiritual colonialization of the Deaf Community and of entanglement of hearing culture and Christian message. This is possibly the reason why no persons under the age of 60 are found in many traditional Deaf Churches. Younger deaf people were either the leaders of deaf emancipation or were raised in the era after emancipation. Deaf people have the right to ask their pastors about their hidden goals, like bringing them back to hearing parishes and mainstream Church, characterized by the norms of white, hearing, middle class, well-educated male people. 48 49

Cf. Morris, TheologywithoutWords, 121. Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 121, 122.



An aspect of Deaf Churches which is often difficult to accept for Church leadership is that many deaf people go to Deaf Churches belonging to various Christian denominations. It is not rare to meet Catholic deaf people in Protestant services for the deaf, or vice versa, even playing an active role. Many deaf people go to various Deaf Churches and seldom or never to a hearing Church of their denomination. The distinction between Catholic and Protestant is often less important than the distinction between deaf and hearing: It is vitally important that we continue to keep the spirit of openness and welcome to all Christians. We agree that the one key factor that concerns us all is our deafness.50

In these Deaf Churches, there is a growing practice of collaborative ministry, in which ministry is not only the task of the pastor, ordained or not ordained, but the task of all people. All people are given the opportunity, if they so desire, to contribute to the community. The effect may be confusing for hearing people, for whom Deaf Communities may appear chaotic. Deafness in the Church is not merely a matter of pastoral theology, as we have seen. It also touches the fundamentals of theology and ecclesiology. It poses fundamental questions regarding Christian views on ‘impairment’ and human personhood, the place of language in Christian faith, and the essence of the Church. LiturgyfortheDeaforDeafLiturgy? Lord, Teach Us to Pray Luigi Bove, a leader of the Deaf Community in Italy, asserts that deaf people’s prayer is different from and more restricted than 50

Morris, TheologywithoutWords, 123.



hearing people’s prayer. The reason for this is that deaf people have less opportunity than hearing people to get acquainted with God, and additionally, that deaf people have very few opportunities to pray in their own language, Sign Language.51 In Hollywood’s opinion Catholic liturgy is so verbal that most deaf people do not understand much about it. In the optimal case liturgy is translated into signs, but a form of signs that are very dependent on spoken language called Sign supported spoken language, which is very different from deaf people’s own Sign Language, with its own structure and its own grammar. A prayer like the Lord’s Prayer can be prayed in two forms: one form in which the Signs visualize the words that are used in spoken language, and one form in which the Signs directly visualize the meaning of the prayer.52 Hollywood is convinced that only persons that have acquired Sign Language from early age on, native signers, can translate prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer into true Sign Language. Therefore, in his opinion, it is not the hearing pastors, but the deaf leaders of the Deaf Community who should teach deaf people to pray. In this way, a new liturgical Sign Language has to develop from within the Deaf Community. The Deaf Community has to be supported in becoming a praying community that prays in its own language. Prayer Groups of Deaf People Prayer experiences with Deaf Communities have been developed by Cyril Axelrod, who worked for a long period with deaf people in South Africa and Asia. Where deaf people did not have the 51 Luigi M. Bove, “Life of Prayer of Deaf Persons,” in On Eagles Wings, 71-81, at 72-73. 52 Hollywood, “Visual Dimensions of Prayer and Liturgy,” 55.



opportunity to meet for a celebration with a priest who knows Sign Language, he proposed a so-called Neighborhood Gospel Prayer Group.53 In places where there are only a few priests who can communicate with deaf people, many deaf people will choose not to attend liturgical celebrations with hearing people for fear of feeling like outsiders. In such situations, the Catholic Deaf Communities organize their own meetings and Axelrod proposes that the Church should train deaf people in leading such prayer meetings. A prayer leader studies the Gospel, chooses a short text from it, a theme and a visual image that illustrate the chosen text. The meeting takes place in an informal, homelike environment, gathered around an image of Christ, a crucifix and a Bible. The meeting takes place according to a simple format with various elements like moments of prayer, moments of silence, reading, reflection on a theme and on visual images, sharing experiences and thoughts. Axelrod applied this format in South Africa and East Asia and trained deaf people in it. His experience has been that it requires spiritual maturity to have the courage to pray in Sign Language in the presence of other people. One effect of this kind of meeting was that deaf people felt encouraged to get involved and contribute to pastoral ministry.54 Though limited in a liturgical sense, these meetings allow deaf people’s gatherings in which they are not inhibited by the presence of hearing people to acquire a religious and liturgical content that was unavailable in the past when the Church addressed itself to the deaf in spoken language. These meetings might have a renewing effect on more ‘high Church’ liturgies with the deaf. 53 Cyril B. Axelrod, “Prayer as Part of the Pastoral Ministry for the Deaf. Theme: Neighbourhood Gospel Prayer,” in OnEaglesWings, 67-70, at 67. 54 Ibid., 70.



Liturgical Celebrations among Deaf People As early as 1965, the Vatican Council for Liturgy advised that in liturgies with deaf people, Sign Language should be used as vernacular language, since this is the only way for them to participate actively in liturgy.55 The deaf priest Peter McDonough gives some advices about how to celebrate a good and correct liturgy with deaf people. Liturgy should be based on the old maxim, lexorandi,lex credendi: the Church believes as she prays, and through liturgy we both pray and express what we believe.56 First, attention has to be paid to the visual dimension of liturgy, a neglected aspect of liturgy in our era. McDonough agrees with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 1974 (n. 253), that the importance of signs and symbols cannot be overemphasized. A large percentage of communication is nonverbal even for completely hearing persons, and our communication with God should likewise involve nonverbal communication. Prayer is not only a matter of our brains, but of all our body and all our senses. The celebrant should pay much attention to his face and body expression when receiving the gifts, addressing the congregation, or distributing communion. A blank and expressionless face is deadly in a liturgy with the deaf. Visual orientation means also careful attention to the various elements of liturgy. No two or more things should be done at the same time, for example, the collections and the prayer of offertory, or the passing of the peace and the breaking of the bread. Doing two things on the same time would be not respectful to deaf people who only have two eyes and who might miss impor55 Xaverius Ochoa and Andrés Gutiérrez, eds., LegesEcclesiaepostcodicem juris canonici editae (Rome: Institutum Iuridicum Claretianum, 1972), 49364937. 56 McDonough, “Collaborative Ministry in the Deaf Vineyard,” 14.



tant elements of the celebration. This may slow down the liturgical celebration slightly, but it may also make it more meaningful and inclusive. Making a liturgy more visible certainly does not mean creating an overload of visual elements. At the contrary: the most essential actions and symbols should be very visible and superfluous elements should be avoided. An offertory procession should be oriented mainly on the bread and the wine; an altar should not be cluttered with flowers, candles, crucifix, papers, chalice and vessel, cruets. Actions on the altar should be highly visible and clear: the central action is the enactment and the memorial of the Last Supper, hence only two symbols are important, namely the bread and the wine, and they should be clearly visible to the eyes. McDonough prefers the candles to be placed on either side of the altar, and he uses a decanter or a suitable crystal instead of a chalice in order to allow the wine to be visible. It is important to have a lectern that is at the right height for the congregation’s line of vision. It should not be too high, because that would limit the signer’s space for signing, and the deaf congregation might not perceive what is signed. The background is important, it should help the congregation to focus on the person signing. The person signing should wear plain and not distracting clothes. The lectern should not be too far from the liturgical center, because that would require from the deaf congregation to look in another direction from the actions taking place at the altar. There should nothing be that blocks the visual line between signer and congregation, because continuous eye contact enables the congregation to feel involved in the reception of the Word. There should be good use of lighting in the Church, because for deaf people good lighting is what for hearing people is good auditory amplification.



Deaf people should be involved as much as possible in the celebration, as servers, ministers of the Eucharist, ministers of the Word of God, collectors, and organizers for the offertory. There should be, however, also a responder, who knows the appropriate answers and texts at the right time, since many deaf people are unfamiliar with the rite of the Mass. All these people should be made aware of how they present themselves. Sometimes, seemingly meaningless details become important, such as the priest’s wristwatch which may be distracting when he signs the Eucharist. Several authors57 indicate that there are two moments in liturgy when deaf people break out of their passivity and become active: during the prayers of the faithful and the passing of the peace. When people are given freedom of expression during the prayers of the faithful, the pains, sorrows and joys of the community are communicated to the whole community. One person has a father who is seriously ill, another asks for prayer for someone who is at risk of losing his job, and a third asks for prayer for a newborn grandchild. In this way, prayer becomes a means of sharing life in community. Passing the peace is often done extensively in Deaf Church. Some people want to greet everyone in the community. Kisses and hugs are given, together with birthday wishes. Peace giving is a moment in which being community is affirmed. Often, the prayers of the faithful and passing the peace are the only moments in which Deaf Culture becomes overtly manifest. In the prayer of the faithful, McDonough prefers to invite members of the congregation to stand up and sign their prayer, and he relays the prayer to the community. This would not be possible in a hearing congregation, because Sign Language can be perceived from a 57

McDonough, “Recalled to Life,” 42-43; Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 167; Morris, TheologywithoutWords,119-120.



larger distance than spoken language. The prayer of the faithful can become an expression of the daily life of the community, in which joy and sorrow are shared. Sometimes, the celebrant may help persons to formulate their prayer in such a way that the congregation can understand it better. Combined Celebrations The reality is, however, that in many places deaf people live in a diaspora where there are no pastors specialized in deaf pastoral ministry. By consequence, most deaf people will follow a liturgy completely in Sign Language only at special occasions, and alternative special liturgies with the deaf have to be sought out. These special liturgies will mostly be in the form of combined celebrations for deaf and hearing people. When deaf people follow a liturgy together with hearing people, Broniak and Luberti propose to celebrate a bilingual-bicultural liturgy that does justice to the language and culture of both hearing and deaf people.58 Often such a liturgy will be presided over by a person who does not know Sign Language, and a Sign Language interpreter will be needed. Once again, a prerequisite for a deaf congregation is bright and adequate lighting. Celebrant, readers, Sign Language interpreter have to stand in visual contrast with the background, so that they are clearly visible and it is less tiring to look for them during a longer period of time. Another important aspect of combined celebrations is the visual arrangement of space. Celebrant, readers, and Sign Language interpreter have to be highly visible, not half hidden behind a high lectern or behind a microphone on the altar. Sign Language inter58

Broniak and Luberti, “Teach Us to Pray,” 60-62.



preters should not be hidden away on the side of the Church, an arrangement often made because they might be too distracting for hearing people. When the participation of a Sign Language interpreter does not take place in a careful way, the service may appear to have two ministers: the celebrant toward whom the hearing people look and listen, and the interpreter toward whom the deaf people look. Celebrant and interpreter should be as close to each other as possible. The liturgical position of an interpreter in a bilingual-bicultural liturgy needs a further analysis from the perspective of liturgical science. Interpreting during a liturgy is very different from interpreting during a visit to the house doctor: an interpreter in a liturgy is not only a person who tries to transmit as carefully as possible without personal involvement, but also a participant in liturgy and a creator of liturgy. Such an interpreter will not only have to know Sign Language extremely well but should also have theological and liturgical formation.59 Songs and music may be a problem in combined liturgies. For hearing people, music lends color to the liturgy. For deaf people, songs may represent very dull moments in the liturgy, with the use of confusing figurative language and boring repetitions, even when lyrics are interpreted well. It is important that an interpreter interprets songs engagingly and in a visually attractive way. Even in instances of beautiful interpretation, however, most deaf people will not join in signing songs. In some places, this is solved with a signing choir that represents the texts of songs in graceful Sign Language or in Sign Language poetry. During moments that meditative music is played for hearing persons, meditative pictures, videos, and photographs can be shown for deaf people. Signing 59

Carter E. Bearden, A Handbook for Religious Interpreters for the Deaf (Atlanta, GA: Home Mission Board, 1975).



choirs are a hearing liturgy made accessible for the deaf, they are not deaf liturgy.60 Broniak and Luberti propose utilizing alternatives to some liturgical texts which are difficult to sign, like the Gloria and the Creed. One person might lead speaking and signing the Gloria, alternated with a chorus or elements of praise. The Creed, feared by interpreters and deaf people themselves, because of the level of difficulty, can be recited as it is in the Easter night liturgy: broken up in understandable questions and answers, followed by the response, “Yes, we believe.” The Vatican Council for Liturgy advised that because of the difficulty to translating the Creed into Sign Language, the people should say the Creed in Sign Language and the celebrant at the same time in spoken language.61 It is important to give attention to visual and action-oriented elements, during the entry and offering processions, but also during other moments, such as the visualization of a Gospel text by means of dance or drama. Similarly, a picture or an object belonging a person for whom prayers are said can be displayed. With regard to the readings, Broniak and Luberti warn against having two readers, but propose instead having one deaf signing reader and a voice interpreter who reads the text simultaneously, out of sight. The reading has to be prepared well and should take place using a good translation into Sign Language, not in sign supported spoken language. After having been read, the reading can further be expressed in dance and drama. After having read the Gospel, the celebrant makes a cross on the book, his forehead, mouth, heart, and hands. Like McDonough, Broniak and Luberti also place a high importance on the prayers of the faithful. Because Catholic Deaf 60 61

Lewis, DeafLiberationTheology, 158. Ochoa and Gutiérrez, eds., LegesEcclesiae, 4936-4937.



Communities are often groups of people who know each other’s life and family thoroughly, the prayers of the faithful is an important element of the liturgy, in which people have to be encouraged to present in Sign Language their own self-formulated prayer for their community, Church and world. There have to be good translations of the fixed parts of the celebration, like the Eucharistic prayer. Good translations exist in American Sign Language and in British Sign Language, although various points in these translations reflect the influence of English. In celebrations in Sign Language, these translations are used by the celebrant and in other celebrations by the Sign Language interpreter. Advice similar to what we have gleaned from Broniak and Luberti is also given by pastors with the deaf in other countries, like the Philippines, Peru, Korea, and Southern Asia.62 Is a Really Deaf Liturgy Possible? When we look carefully to attempts to make liturgy more accessible for the deaf, some aspects of hearing liturgy continue to exist. In the first part of this theme, we spoke about graphocentrism, the overemphasis on written texts. Hearing liturgy is essentially a written text63 that has to be followed carefully and that often cannot be translated into Sign Language, just in the same way as it cannot


Rita M. Pickhinke, “Successes of a Programme of Services with and for the Deaf,” in Ministering Where No Birds Sing: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of The International Catholic Foundation for the Service of DeafPeopleheldinValladolid,Spain(Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons, 1998), 123-135; Mary A. Hollis, “The Peru Challenge,” ibid., 165-173; Charles Dittmeier, “Visual Dimensions of Liturgy,” in Seeing–IsBelieving!, 25-41. 63 Cf. Morris, TheologywithoutWords, 125.



be translated into ordinary vernacular, or into the common language of oral, non-literal cultures. Especially in countries that were late in their transition from oralism to Deaf Culture, the Sign Language vocabulary may have lacunae as to religious and liturgical vocabulary, seen in words like mercy, glorify, resurrection, and certain expressions in prayer which are distant from the daily Sign Language of deaf people. These lacunae have to be filled, and might be filled in several ways: • suggestions can be sought from elderly deaf people from deaf families with a tradition of deafness stemming from the era before oralism; • a concept can be explained to deaf people and they may be asked to suggest a sign for it; • a sign can borrowed from another Sign Language; • written records of Sign Language as it was used in the past can be consulted; • sign Language interpreters can be asked which Sign they use.

Sometimes this may mean that Signs have to be created which will probably be used almost never in daily life. The question becomes, then, whether fixed, written liturgical texts with specific Signs could and should be created, or whether a liturgy should be allowed that is not fixed, but that emerges dynamically out of the experience of the community. The answer to this question is not simple. The Church allows a certain degree of freedom in liturgy, but this freedom is restricted. This freedom is restricted for other cultures too, such as cultures where bread and wine are not common and where it might be logical to replace it with species typical for that culture, like rice and tea. Yet, the Eucharist is celebrated with bread and wine. Liturgical tradition may ask us to accept that the Christian faith emerges from a context, a context embedded in a specific historical culture: Jesus was a hearing man, a Jew, who spoke Aramaic. Liturgy means celebrating what that man means for us. Incarnation cannot be undone.



The consequence of accepting the limits of liturgy is that liturgy with the deaf will mean sometimes literal translation and interpretation of texts, sometimes translation with cultural sensitivity, and sometimes the opportunity for deaf people to create their own deaf liturgical forms. Making texts and symbols comprehensible is not a matter of changing them, but a matter of catechesis. Liturgy does not need to use a language and words that can be easily understood. Liturgy is not a matter of ratio, but of awe and mystery, of participation in the presence of the Transcendent One, Who is beyond words and signs. Conclusion The contribution of enculturation of the Christian message into Deaf Culture can show that the essence of Christianity is not words and books, however important and unalienable aspects of tradition are. Beyond words and books, Christianity is a community where the living God is present, a safe harbor in people’s life journey, a foretaste of the Reign of God that is to come, where “we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”


Community Belonging to the Deaf Community plays a central role in the lives of deaf persons. Therefore, the community aspect of life has to be a central aspect of pastoral ministry with the deaf. The South-African deaf priest Cyril Axelrod, who later became deafblind, recounts how in the era of apartheid, the Deaf Communities in South Africa had become fragmented along racial lines. At the end of the 1970s he succeeded in bringing together deaf believers from different ethnic backgrounds in Cape Town. It was the beginning of a new organization lead by deaf people themselves, in which black and white deaf people had the opportunity to share their experiences of suffering, struggle, oppression, and dignity. It became for them an experience of liberation from the apartheid isolation and division of the Deaf Community. They had the impression that they belonged to a community in which Jesus fulfilled his promise, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst” (Matt 18:20). Belonging to a Christian Deaf Community that transcended the barriers of racism led them to an experience of God’s presence.1 Here, community experience is not only an experience of belonging, of coming home, an experience of finding personhood in rela1 Cyril B. Axelrod, “The Liberatory Role of Evangelisation among Deaf and Deafblind People,” in The Gospel Preached by the Deaf, ed. Marcel Broesterhuizen, Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia 52(Louvain: Peeters, 2007), 41-52, at 44-45.



tionship with other deaf people, but also an experience of transcendence. In this chapter, we try to formulate a theological foundation of pastoral work that starts from this basic aspect of deaf experience: community life. Experience of Community as an Journey towards Transcendence The idea that people can experience the presence of God when in community can be found in reports from various different authors. Love does not mean to look into each other’s eyes, but to look jointly into the same direction ... The direction of the gazes become parallel, i.e. they go into infinity and as parallels they meet each other only in infinity. So, with one word, one could say that people who love each other really do not look only into each other’s eyes, but the gazes of both of them are oriented on infinity, they pray together. Love is a joint prayer, a prayer à deux.2

In his book about Russia, Kologrivov states that Russian Orthodoxy is convinced that the presence of the Trinity can be experienced.3 He tells about the encounter of the young man Nikolai Motovilov with the monk Serafim. In the course of their conversation, they reach a point at which they can hardly look to each other’s faces, because of the light they both radiate. Serafim tells Motovilov that they are now together in the Holy Spirit and that God is with them. And then Serafim asks what Motovilov is experiencing. At first, Motovilov says that he is experiencing an inner peace that he can hardly describe. Serafim tells him that that is the 2 Viktor E. Frankl and Pinchas Lapide, Gottsuche und Sinnfrage: Ein Gespräch(Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2005), 110. 3 Iwan Kologriwow, Das andere Russland: Versuch einer Darstellung des Wesens und der Eigenart russischer Heiligkeit (Munich: Manz Verlag, 1958), 372-373 (German translation from the Russian, 1953).



peace which Jesus had promised to bring, a peace that is beyond all comprehension. Serafim asks again whether Motovilov is experiencing anything further. At this point, Motovilov is experiencing inexpressible joy. And thus Serafim explains to Motovilov that that is the joy about which the Gospel speaks. Finally, Motovilov experienced an extraordinary feeling of warmth. The warmth is mysterious because they were meeting in the woods, in the middle of the cold Russian winter! But Serafim explains that the warmth is the warmth of the Holy Spirit, of the Kingdom of God, that had descended. The story thus relates how the monk Serafim won Motovilov over, with the result that Motovilov opened himself up to Serafim’s guidance. That made it possible for Motovilov to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and for Serafim to explain what he had experienced. In his work about spiritual guidance, John Yungblut describes the relationship between a spiritual guide and the person being guided. It is the guide’s task to bring the guided person to an awareness of the presence of a third being — an in-between being according to Buber — because in the relationship between guide and the guided person, God is present. This guidance is only possible when there is a deep mutual relationship, which can be reached only by true and endless listening and by submitting one’s own value system to critical reflection. True empathy is needed.4 God’s Presence among Ordinary People God’s presence among people is a fundamental theme in the Gospel of Matthew. According to Lona, the axis of the Matthew Gospel, formed by Matt 1:23, Matt 18:20, and Matt 28:20, plays an 4

John R. Yungblut, TheGentleArtofSpiritualGuidance(New York: Continuum, 1988), 118.



essential role in the integration of the covenant theology of the Jewish Bible into Matthew’s view of the Church. Here, the covenant fidelity of the Jewish Bible, that realizes itself in the presence of the Lord among his people, is applied to Jesus, and his presence guarantees the continuity of salvation in history.5 We shall focus on Matt 18:20 and discuss it from several points of view, particularly rabbinical theology, pronouncements of fathers of the Church, and spiritual theology. AVeryJewishStatement For David Flusser,6 Matt 18:20 is a very Jewish statement, and by consequence possibly a very original statement of Jesus. In his opinion, those who consider Matt 18:20 as a kerygmatic addition stemming from later times have insufficient insight into ancient Judaism. They run the risk of separating Jesus from his Jewish context.7 In Flusser’s view, it is not difficult to recognize in Jesus’ words regarding “where two or three are gathered,” the Jewish view that the shekhinah, God’s presence among people, rests on those that occupy themselves with the Torah. When people meet together for this reason, God will really and truly be present among them. Such a statement is quite normal for Judaism in Jesus’ time, and Flusser sees similarities with statements of Hillel, who is believed to have been Jesus’ teacher.8 Shekhinah is a concept from rabbinic literature that expresses the Divine presence. It comes from the verbal stem šākan, which 5 Horacio E. Lona, “‘In meinem Namen versammelt’: Mt 18,20 und liturgisches Handeln,” ArchivfürLiturgiewissenschaft27 (1985): 373-407, at 388-389. 6 David Flusser, Entdeckungen im Neuen Testament (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 2004), 97-107. 7 Ibid., 107. 8 Ibid.



means “dwelling, settling, taking one’s residence,” and in its original context referred to the setting up a tent. In the Jewish Bible, šākan is often applied to God: God who dwells among the people of Israel, not because Israel is numerous and specially gifted, but simply out of grace and undeserved love.9 The word shekhinah itself cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. The rabbinic theology does not mention it before the second century BC, but there are indications that the concept stems from earlier times. In 2 Macc 14:35, the priests pray before the purification of the temple: “Lord of all, though you are in need of nothing, you have approved of a temple for your dwelling place among us.” In this verse the LXX uses the words naòntēssēsskēnōseōs. The word skēnōsis comes very close to the meaning of the Hebrew word shekhinah. It stems from the Greek word skēnē, tent, and the LXX uses it in the translation of the Hebrew stem šākan. The stem šākan is found also in the word miškān, meaning “dwelling place,” to refer to the place of God’s presence in the temple, which according to Exod 40:34 is filled with the glory of God. The LXX translates miškān with skēnē toũ marturioũ, or “tent of testimony,” a term that we find in several places of the New Testament. In Acts 7:48 a description of the setup of the tent of testimony and the construction of the temple are followed by the statement that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands.” In many places the New Testament uses the words that the LXX uses for miškan for God’s presence among people, like in John 1:14, in which Jesus is the Word that became flesh and set up his tent (eskēnōsen) among us and we saw his glory (doxá), the same words as used in Exod 40:38, where the glory of God fills the tent of testimony. And Rev 12:3-4 speaks about a new Jerusalem, 9

Willem A. VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament TheologyandExegesis[Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004], 109-111, lemma #8905 škn.



God’s tent (skēnē) among people, for he will dwell (skēnōsei), forever among his people, for the old order has passed away and he will make all things new. In Jesus, God set up his dwelling place among people, just as in the past he set up his dwelling place in the miškān and later in the temple. Jesus is the theophanic presence of God in past, present, and future.10 The terminology that the New Testament uses for the description of God’s presence among people shows that the idea of the Miškān as God’s dwelling place was still alive in the period of time when the New Testament was written. A Jewish theology had been developing about the shekhinah, the dwelling of God among his people, and the authors of the New Testament made use of this theology.11 In the opinion of Joseph Sievers, Matt 18:20 is the verse that shows that in the most conspicuous way, and he further asserts that there are indirect indications that the concept of shekhinah was already existent in the time when the Gospel of Mathew was written as a response on the crisis that followed the destruction of the temple. The shekhinah did not dwell anymore in the temple, but God’s presence could be experienced under some conditions, even among a tenuous number of people.12 HallmarkandFoundationoftheChristianCommunityin the GospelofMatthew A relationship between Matt 18:20 and the destruction of the temple is laid also by Stephanie von Dobbeler. The destruction of the 10 Carl J. Davis, TheNameandtheWayoftheLord, Journal for the Study of the New TestamentSupplement Series 129 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996), 98. 11 Joseph Sievers, “Là où deux ou trois..: Le concept rabbinique de Shekhina et Matthieu 18,20,” SIDIC(ServiceInternationaldeDocumentationJudéo-Chrétienne) 17, no. 1 (1984): 4-11, at 7. 12 Ibid., 10.



temple forced all Jewish groups to look for another way of defining their identity. For the young Church community, that new way of defining identity was Jesus’ personal presence. The goal for which the Church gathers together “towards my name,” is the presence of Jesus that was already promised to the smallest number of people gathering together.13 This gathering is not limited to a place or to a liturgy, neither is it only a memorial. It is a way of rendering Jesus present, because “in the name” refers to rendering a person present, with his thinking and acting. By putting the accent on Jesus’ presence, Matthew makes him the real center of the Church community, which distinguishes the Christian community from other Jewish groups. Jesus’ presence is the identity criterion of the Church community. The presence of Jesus also distinguishes the community, like Matt 18:17 asserts, from the Gentiles (who greet only their brothers) and the tax collectors (who love only those who love them). Jesus’ presence enables the Church community to move out of the realm of sin and move into the realm of salvation with all its ramifications, like doing God’s will. God’s will is readily manifest in Jesus’ behavior, like his special care for children and the little ones, care for those who are lost, and continuous and unlimited forgiveness.14 An imperfect number of people is sufficient for imitating these behaviors and doing God’s will. In fact, two or three people will suffice, far less than the ten were needed for a religious congregation according to the rabbis. The small number underlines the greatness of the promise, that the risen Lord will be present in their midst. Jesus’ presence is the hallmark of the Church community. 13 Stephanie von Dobbeler, “Die Versammlung ‘auf meinen Namen hin’ (Mt 18:20) als Identitäts- und Differenzkriterium,” NovumTestamentum44 (2002): 209-230, at 210-211. 14 Ibid., 214.



In Lona’s view, Matt 18:20 has to be seen within the context of the entire chapter.15 Matthew chapter 18 has two main points: the care for the little ones and forgiveness in communion between brothers. If there is no willingness to serve, if people refuse to admit guilt, if people rigidly stick to their viewpoints, the life of the entire community is blocked such that Jesus cannot be present. “In my name” does not mean that the presence of the Lord is promised just for any gathering, but only for the gathering that takes place in his name.16 By his presence, even where only two or three are gathered together, the Christian community becomes the place where heaven and earth meet. His presence also determines the significance of the decisions of the community. The presence of the Lord amidst his people is the basis of the Church community and validates the acts of the community. This presence does not limit itself to liturgy and worship but is the basis of the entire existence of the community. Church Fathers on Matt 18:20 In his work ContraCelsum, Origen states: The presence of God’s Son among human people is not limited to the historical Jesus, like he was on earth with body and soul, but was promised to humankind until the end of times.17

For Origen, as he writes in his comment on the Gospel of Matthew, this promised presence of Jesus among two or three is a real presence, by which Jesus continues to be Master, just in the same way as he was for his disciples.18 He invites Christians to bring to him all of those questions for which they do not have an answer, and promises 15 16 17 18

Lona, “In meinem Namen versammelt,” 375. Ibid., 382. Origenes, ContraCelsum9 (PG 11). Origenes, CommentariuminMatthaeum 13 (PG 13).



that he will enlighten the hearts of those who really want to be his disciples by giving them insight. Through his presence, Jesus shows that God is near to people, like he had promised to Jeremiah.19 Likewise, for Jerome, Jesus’ presence among two or three is a real presence: He does not lie. I am with you, the Lord says, all days till the end of times. He does not lie. Where two or three have gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.20

The real presence of Jesus in the community is not only for unmarried monks, but also for married people. Clement of Alexandria states that the “two or three” might refer to a husband, wife and child, offering an opposing opinion to those whose concept of asceticism led them to despise marriage.21 The same view is held by Tertullian. Christ sees the unity of husband and wife with joy and he sends them his peace. He is present among them, and his presence excludes the presence of the evil one.22 For Tertullian, Jesus’ presence among two or three is the foundation of the Church. These two or three do not need to be ordained people, they may be lay people, and when they gather together in his name, then the Church is enacted there. He claims this because of the assertion that every person lives out of faith and God does not snow respect of persons: because not the hearers of the law are justified by God, but the doers, as it had been said also by the Apostle.23 19

Origenes, SelectainIeremiam 23, 23 (PG 13, 571). Hieronymus Stridonensis, TranslatioHomiliarumNoveminVisionesIsaiae OrigenisAdamanti,HomiliaPrima, 6 (PL 24). The texts of the Latin Fathers are taken from Jacques-Paul Migne, PatrologiaLatinaDatabase, http://pld.chadwyck. 21 Clemens Alexandrinus, StromataIII, 10 (PG 8). 22 Tertullianus, Deexhortationecastitatisliber 7 (PL 1). 23 Ibid. 20



And if it is impossible for a person to come to a gathering of the Church, it is not necessary to perform acrobatic feats in order to answer the call of duty, but it is sufficient to gather together in Jesus’ name with a few other people.24 With this statement, he puts into perspective even liturgical action and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In places where no ecclesiastical hierarchy has been established, lay people have to take over priestly tasks, even baptism. Tertullian could say this only because he was aware that the Church exists where there are two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name. Cyprian is more cautious that Tertullian, wary that Tertullian’s perspective might create misunderstandings. He warns about a subjectivism with which people can delude themselves when they put themselves above the community and interpret the Gospel too freely. He points to the fact that Jesus’ promise of his presence is preceded by an invitation to unanimity. Only those who live in unanimity with the Church community can be assured that Jesus is present in their midst. It is not the number of people, but their unanimity that gives force to their joint prayer and joint action.25 In Cyprian’s view, being gathered together in Jesus’ name means that the people gathered are simple of spirit, are living in peace with each other, and are united. Then, even among a tiny number of people, God is present in his majesty like the angel of the Lord26 who went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace, and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it.27 Indeed, God is present as he was during the night that the angel of the Lord opened the door and led Peter and John out of the prison.28 24 25 26 27 28

Tertullianus, Liberdefugainpersecutione 14 (PL 2). Cyprian, Deecclesiaeunitate 12 (PL 4, 524-525). Deut 3:92. Deut 3:49-50. Acts 5:19.



Jesus’ presence among two or three is the true richness of the Church. For John Chrysostom, Jesus’ presence in the midst of two or three gathered is a privilege given to anybody and which grants to people a dignity not less than the dignity of the seraphs around God’s throne.29 For an unknown author, possibly Jerome, the presence of Christ is to be preferred to all richness: We have Christian simplicity: we do not want Plato’s eloquence, but we want the Apostle’s simplicity. As a fisherman, he holds the net, his feet covered with mud, and his hands calloused by his work. Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord. Blessed is the people that prefers Christ to all richness. They have sons and daughters, sheep with young, and fat, shining, and well-formed cattle. Moreover, we are not many, but we know that this is said in the Gospel: Wherever two or three are congregated in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Do not be afraid, little flock, because it pleased to the Lord to dwell in your midst.30

Jesus’ presence is not without effects. It makes every gathering of Christians into a feast, a continuous Pentecost.31 Gregory of Nazianzus calls this presence more beautiful than the magnificence of Constantinople: three people gathered together in Jesus’ name are more numerous for him than thousands of people who do not acknowledge his divinity.32 John of Cyparissa asserts that Jesus’ presence makes the Church into a holy assembly that enlightens every person, even when it is composed of insignificant people.33 Rabanus Maurus, archbishop of Mainz in the 9th century, writes that it is not the number of people that gathers that makes a meeting Church, but their holy intention. In circuses and theatres large 29 30 31 32 33

Joannes Chrysostomus, HomiliainIsaiam 6 (PG 56). Unknown Author, BreviariuminPsalmos, Psalmus CXLIII (PL 26). Johannes Chrysostomus, DeAnnasermo 5,1 (PG 54, 669). Gregorius Nazianzenus, Oratio 42 (PG 36, 467). Johannes Cyparissotus, Palamiticarumtransgressionumliber (PG 152, 702).



crowds come together, but these crowds can surely not be called Church, because of their wicked intentions. But when two or three gather with holy intentions, the gathering is really called the Church of God because the Lord has said, “Where two or three… .”34 Through his presence among those who love him, Christ continues to lead not only the Church, but also the world, even after his return to his Father.35 For these Fathers of the Church, Matt 18:20 means that God’s Son himself, who became man in Jesus, is personally present among people, if they are simple of spirit, unanimous, and in unity with the Church community. They may be a tiny number of people, made of up lay people, priests, married people, or others. In this presence of Jesus in the midst of two or three the whole Church is present. This presence is the true treasure of the Church, more than its splendor and richness of art. It is this presence that makes insignificant people strong to lead the Church and the world, to realize true unity in the Church, and to live in the covenant between God and humankind. A Collective Spirituality The American theologian, Judith Povilus wrote a spiritual theological study about Matt 18:20 in the writings and speeches of Chiara Lubich.36 She describes the Jesus’ presence between two or three as a real presence, not reserved for special people, but possible for all people if they meet the conditions set for it in the Gospel. It is has a profound influence on people’s spiritual and community life, and leads them to build up an inclusive community. 34 Rabanus Maurus, LiberVicesimusTertiusExpositioinEpistolamIadTimotheum 5 (PL 112). 35 Cyrillus Alexandrinus, InJohannisEvangelium 9 (PG 74, 155). 36 Judith M. Povilus, UnitedinHisName:JesusinOurMidstintheExperienceandThoughtofChiaraLubich(New York: New City Press, 1992), 84.



ARealPresence Povilus calls Jesus’ presence an ontological reality: personal and real, a presence with ecclesiological dimensions.37 It is the same real presence of Jesus as two thousand years ago, with the only difference that his presence is spiritual, but yet at the same time really human. It is the Risen Lord that is present among people, like he is present also in other ways, in the Eucharist, in the Word, in our neighbors, and in the ecclesial hierarchy. These other modes of presence, however, exist only as a function of his presence in the midst of his people, because “in the next life there will be no hierarchy and no sacraments. There will be God in the midst of his people.38 Jesus’ presence is Paul’s living temple of the Spirit, made up of ‘living stones’, the people of God.39 It is the kingdom of God on earth like in heaven. His presence is an experience of philadelphia: it unites people with a love that renders them desirous to be together and reluctant to separate from each other.40 NoAutomatism It is a presence, however, with its own dynamics. It is a presence that can disappear. It requires a continuous effort to renew it and to include other people into it. This presence is not automatic, but rather there are conditions to be met in order to make it possible. In this context, Povilus refers to Yves Congar’s concept of ‘covenant structure’. If the conditions of the covenant structures,

37 38 39 40

Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 34, 47. Ibid., 50. Ibid., 55. Ibid., 56-57.



fraternal love, and unity in his name are met, the Lord realizes his promise.41 The most essential condition is mutual love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is crucial: it is a love that is willing to extend to others and bear ultimate consequences. Such a love meets the criteria mentioned by Cyprian above: unanimity of thinking, feeling, and willing that is not imposed with coercion but realized in freedom. The measure of love is high: “Nobody has greater love than one who gives his life for his friends.” If laying down one’s life is the measure of love, then it is also logical to assume that love involves a willingness to share possessions, ideas, and experiences. It entails a willingness to renounce one’s own viewpoints, ideas, and wishes out of love for the other one, and to engage in kenosis, the emptying of one’s humanity in God.42 These conditions are heavy. It is understandable that people will not often meet these conditions and surely not meet them consistently over the course of a lifetime. A shortcoming in love, a moment of offended pride, a desire to elevate oneself, a weakening of mutual commitment are all reasons enough to render Jesus’ presence impossible. So how can his presence be restored? Not by waiting until the other offender apologizes. Kenosis is the only way: taking the initiative and responding to lovelessness with love. People who want to journey together in the way of Jesus’ presence can support each other by promising each other clemency and by giving mutual feedback about positive and negative events. Creating unity is a continuous asceticism, in which the so-called negative virtues (patience, prudence, poverty, purity) are not oriented on individual perfection like in individualistic forms of spirituality 41 42

Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 51. Ibid., 27.



but are instead lived out in the effort to actualize unity.43 This is not asceticism as a means of individual perfection that has selfsanctification as its goal, but a free gift of oneself with which one tries to go beyond the boundaries of psychological limits. It is the courage to share with the other one also those things of which one knows that they may hurt the other one, or about which one feels ashamed. It means removing even the smallest things by which one is separated from the other, without expecting that it will lead to the other’s approval or consent. Perhaps it hurts or scandalizes the other person, but in spite of this, there is that mutual promise of clemency. The boundaries between oneself and the other are leveled out, not in order to merge into one or to make the other one similar to one self, but in order to meet the other person in their very otherness. The distance, the diástasis which can be experienced as separation, is not bridged by undoing the other one’s otherness, but by a love that makes itself one with the other person and that learns to be amazed by the other’s individual qualities.44 AnEffectivePresence Jesus’s presence is real and has real effects. Povilus describe the spiritual effects of living this presence, and although she does not mention the fruits of the Spirit that Paul describes, they can be recognized in her description.45 Jesus’ presence enlightens, brings joy, is a source of strength and consolation, brings peace, brings about 43

Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 27-28. Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis and Abuse: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Feminist Theologies in Conversation,” Modern Theology 19 (2003): 41-65; Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-DramaIII:TheDramatisPersonae:ThePersonin Christ(Fort Collins, CO: Ignatius Press, 1992), 511; Callam Slipper, “Il Dio unitrino e l’esperienza dell’amore,” NuovaUmanità24, no. 2-3 (2002): 365-390. 45 Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 35-41. 44



conversions and ministers grace. His presence causes a strong desire to remain together with him and in his presence, like we read in the Emmaus story.46 His presence is a collective way towards sanctity. AttheSameTimeBeingChurchandInclusive Povilus describes that the experience of Jesus’ presence among people leads them “to understand what it means to be Church and to live it with greater awareness. He unveiled a spirituality, which is the spirituality of the mystical body, the spirituality of the Church.”47 Referring to a statement made by Pope Paul VI that the Church is not the true Church when we simply sit shoulder at shoulder in the congregation without being in Christian relationship with each other, she states that, It is a rather serious thing for the Pope to say that there is no true Church where Jesus in the midst is lacking because the cement that would unite the members of the mystical body is lacking ... Let’s understand each other well concerning the word “true.” I’m not talking about heresy: it’s just not the Church that Christ intended.48

Jesus in their midst makes people Church, wherever they are, even if they are just two or three. And when it is not possible to go to church, as in places where the Church is non-existent, it is still possible to live out the Church ethos by living in Jesus’ presence. This presence can be lived also together with persons belonging to other Churches, and so it is a source of ecumenical hope.49 Jesus’ presence leads to an inclusive attitude. Within the community, inclusiveness means that all things, both material and

46 47 48 49

Lubich, quoted by Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 40. Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 81. Ibid., 82. Ibid., 94.



spiritual goods, are shared.50 In contact with Christians of other Churches, this inclusiveness means solidarity with and love for the other churches just like the love we have for our own local church.51 This inclusiveness grants us the capacity to enter into dialogue with believers of other religions and with non-believers and to renounce any form of proselytism, in order to discover in the other tradition the “seeds of the Word.”52 Chiara Lubich calls proselytism antiChristian, when it stems from self-satisfaction of the in-group. Proselytism is not open to the values with which other people can enrich us by being what they possibly are according to God’s plans: Perhaps you think that you are well informed in matters of Christian doctrine, but you do not know well what social justice is, you do not know well what equal rights are, you do not know well what a healthy economy in favor of the poorest people is.

It is distinctly possible that the ‘others’ with whom we come into relationship are simply being who they are intended to be according to God’s plans, and proselytism can dangerously reject who others are in favor of forcing them to become just like us. WhoAretheTwoorThree? Inclusiveness raises the question regarding who are those ‘two or three’ to whom Jesus’ presence has been promised. In the view of Povilus, the essential condition for Jesus’ presence is that at least two persons are gathered together in his name. Who those two or three are is not specified. Any person can be involved — men,

50 Chiara Lubich, Ladottrinaspirituale, a cura di Michel Vandeleene, con i saggi teologici di Piero Coda e Jesús Castellano (Milan: Mondadori, 2001), 313324. 51 Ibid., 368-376. 52 Ibid., 375, 385.



women, children, sinners, saints. This gathering is not composed of a privileged or select group of persons.53 They are not uniquely spiritually prepared and or spiritually sensitive. It is even not specified that these two or three must be baptized! Chiara Lubich reports about her contacts with Muslims, in which she experienced God’s presence.54 She tells how she experienced the presence of God when she, a Christian woman, was invited to hold a speech for 3000 Afro-American Muslims in the Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque of Harlem. The hearty welcome given to her by their imam, W. D. Mohammed, was for her a source of optimism as to future inter-faith contacts between Christians and Muslims. This same idea is related by Piera Coda, systematic theologian of the Lateran University, who gave a report about his visit to the Iranian ayatollah, Emami Kashani, member of the Council of Guardians of Faith: Referring to all the things that we had discussed about fetrà55 and Mt 18:20, from my part I underline that if it is true that the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God is in the hands of God, than it is also true that we are called to do all things possible in order to prepare us well to receive this gift. For example, when we live in mutual love between Christians and Muslims as true brothers, we can derive already now with joy force and inspiration from God’s presence in our midst, like Jesus promised. “So is it,” the ayatollah exclaims, “May God speed up the arrival of that day!”56


Povilus, UnitedinHisName, 31. Lubich, Ladottrinaspirituale, 379. 55 The fetrà is the inborn nature of the human person by which the person has a natural knowledge of God. The fetrà brings the heart to know and to love God and it is the source of moral action, as well on an individual as a communal level (Ehsan Yar-Shater [ed.], EncyclopaediaIranica [New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press,1982], lemma Ḡazālī, Abū Ḥāmed Moḥammad). 56 Piero Coda, IltappetodelSufi:ViaggioinIrantragliAyatollah(Rome: Città Nuova, 1998), 35. 54



In a speech for leaders of non-Christian religions on February 5, 1986 at Chennai, Pope John Paul II said: The fruit of dialogue is unity between human people and unity of human people with God. Through this dialogue we can effectuate that God is present in our midst, because when we open ourselves in a dialogue, we open ourselves also for God.57

Reformed Tradition: A Covenant between God and Humankind The thought that the presence of Christ promised in Matt 18:20 is the foundation of the Church community was essential to the ecclesiology of Martin Bucer, “the forgotten reformer”58 from Strasbourg. A central concept in his ecclesiology is the uniomysticacumChristo, which can be reached by means of God’s praesentia realis. This presence is not only a presence in people’s hearts, but also a presence amidst his people. Because God loves them, members of the community are compelled to love each other. This love is not a question of sympathy or antipathy, but it is the covenant relationship in which God puts members of the community in relationship to each other and to Godself.59 This effective love is the work of Christ that can function in all kinds of human contexts: between husband and wife, parents and children, relatives, neighbors, and citizens. Through this love, community members are incorporated into Christ and they become ministers of salvation towards each other. Reality, however, is often different: there are few human contexts in which people know each other less than in the Christian community. 57 Theological Advisory Commission of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, “Theses on Interreligious Dialogue,” FABCPapers48 (1987): 1-28, at 5. 58 Johannes W. van Pelt, Pastoraatintrinitarischperspectief:Desamenhang tussen trinitarische en antropologische aspecten in het pastoraat (Heerenveen: Uitgeverij Groen, 1999), 102. 59 Willem van ’t Spijker, DeambtenbijMartinBucer(Kampen: Kok, 1970), 338.



Therefore, Bucer insists on an intensification of the ties between members of the community through regular gatherings for mutual admonition, because often it is sin and evil that disturbs the life of community. By gathering for mutual admonition in an atmosphere of brotherhood, the detrimental impact of evil can alleviated for the community. According to Bucer, “Christ is present where two or three gather in his name. Fraternal admonition derives its strength from this presence. All members, yes, the complete Body suffers, when one of the members misbehaves.”60 For Bucer, Jesus’ presence in the midst of his people is the essence of the Christian community. This presence is the foundation upon which all the activities of and in the community take place: preaching, mutual admonition, and diaconal ministry. In Bucer’s view, “God wants to realize fully in the Church the harmony of faith and love, in a unity of thinking and willing, in a tight communion of mutual service.”61 The theology of Bucer is still alive in Calvinist practical theology, in which pastoral counseling is not just a dialogue between two persons but rather a trialogue because Christ is the third presence whenever two gather together in his name.62 The role of the pastor is to make the covenant explicit, being a minister of the covenant between God and people, by which all come to participate in the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. The fact that the covenant between God and humankind is at stake might be deduced also from the use of the words “in my name.” The original Greek text uses the words “into my name.”63 This very 60

Van ’t Spijker, DeambtenbijMartinBucer, 338. Bucer quoted by Van Pelt, Pastoraatintrinitarischperspectief, 108. 62 Ibid., 264ff. Van Pelt borrowed the word ‘trialogue’ from the Dutch Reformed theologian E. S. Klein Kranenburg, Trialoog:Dederdeinhetpastorale gesprek(The Hague: Boekencentrum, 1990). 63 Eistoónoma. 61



un-Greek expression is also used in the baptism liturgy and stems originally from the banking world, where it indicates the transfer of property.64 In the context of baptism these words might mean that baptism was the entry into a new human community, not in order to form a closed sect, but in order to gather together God’s people under God’s leadership.65 In Hartman’s opinion, the use of the words “into the name” in Matt 18:20 shows that the writer and his Church knew this baptism formula. Gathering together “into his name” means gathering together as people with whom God has made a covenant. This means that a pastor is a minister of the covenant, along with any other person who tries to realize a relationship with other people in which Christ can keep his covenant promise. From the analyses by exegetes, the comments of Fathers of the Church, and theological reflection on collective spirituality, it may be deduced that the presence of Christ in the midst of two or three is not limited to liturgy, prayer, kerygma, reading the Bible, or God talk. It is a fundamental experience of community, unanimity, and mutual love, without which liturgy, prayer, and kerygma are devoid of meaning. The “presence of Christ” is not a verbal label attached to whatsoever meeting of baptized people, because not all meetings of baptized people are inspiring, changing people’s lives, bringing people together, or opening them towards a transcendental perspective. On the other hand, in order to have the experience of God’s presence among people, it is even not necessary to know beforehand that such an experience can exist. When people are invited or helped to meet the conditions for that presence of God, then the experience of the presence of Christ happens and it can be explained afterwards. It is an existential experience of community and 64 Lars Hartman, ‘Into the name of the Lord Jesus’: Baptism in the Early Church(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 38-39. 65 Ibid., 47.



belonging, of transcendental friendship that is not created by knowledge, language, symbols, or theology, but precedes all of the aforementioned. It is not necessary to know the narratives that might explain the presence of Christ. It is enough to experience his presence. This opens the way for a mystagogical introduction into the experience of what being the people of God is all about. In a Deaf Context CommunioinsteadofNarrativity This orientation on concrete experience liberates deaf people from a pastoral approach in which words and narratives are central. In a narrative approach the hermeneutics of the life story of a person is crucial. Pastors try to understand that life story and by means of bible narratives, Christian symbols, and rituals, they attempt to shed light on the religious dimensions of that life story. In this process, the pastor may offer religious stories that give people the opportunity to discover their religious identity.66 Pastors can do this only when they are carriers of narratives and passionate story tellers.67 The goal of this hermeneutical model of pastoral work is to correlate the individual life story of a person to Christian tradition and to bring about a multi-layered conversation between the person with his personal experience, Christian tradition, the sociocultural context of the person, and the pastor.68 66

Cf. Karlijn Demasure, Verdwaaldtussenliefde,machtenschuld:Pastorale begeleiding bij seksueel misbruik van kinderen, Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia, 49 (Louvain: Peeters, 2004), 207. 67 Dominiek Lootens, “De pastor als verhalenverteller: Narrativiteit in de pastorale zorg,” Collationes35 (2005): 283-295, at 293. 68 James D. Whitehead and Evelyn E. Whitehead, MethodinMinistry:Theological Reflection and Christian Ministry. Revised and Updated(Lanham, MD, Chicago, IL, New York and Oxford: Sheed & Ward, 1995), 3-7.



The application of such a model on pastoral work with deaf persons is problematic. Life stories have a central place in the narrative approach. Many deaf persons will happily be able to tell their life story to other people, most easily to other deaf people with whom they share Sign Language and Deaf Culture, because storytelling plays a central role in Deaf Cultures. And since modern Deaf Communities are strongly detraditionalized with regard to Christian faith, as we saw above, it is likely that they will develop a life narrative that is highly secular and that does not contain religious elements. When a deaf person tells his life story to a pastor — and most pastors with the deaf are hearing — a language is used that may not be the mother tongue of either party. Either the deaf person will have to use spoken language, or the pastor will have to use Sign Language. This will have consequences for storytelling. Frequently, texts and stories are simplified in an infantile way when told for the deaf,69 and often deaf people themselves change to a simplified use of Sign Language when talking to hearing persons. This restricts narratives. Other deaf people may have been educated without Sign Language, with a restricted use of oral communication, which may make the communication about personal, emotional and self-related topics difficult. Some of these people will never arrive at telling their life story, and it is not uncommon for deaf persons to not realize that it is possible to talk about personal and inner experiences. A pastor, especially a hearing pastor, who holds onto a narrative approach, runs the risk of inferring a life story that is not based on the deaf person’s own report, but on the reports of other hearing people in their environment, or on the pastor’s own interpretations. The result may be expropriative.70 69 Anne Bamberg, “Langues et langages de célébrations en culture sourde,” QuestionsLiturgiques84 (2003): 209-225, at 211-212. 70 Narrative identity has always a certain degree of expropriation; cf. Paul Ricoeur, Soi-mêmecommeunautre (Paris: Seuil, 1990), 140ff.



A narrative approach is a typically hearing approach. It runs the risk of giving more value to verbal expression than to concrete experience, and of overrating spoken and written language, which is called by some authors phonocentrism or logocentrism. Logocentrism may render a narrative more important than concrete life experience. In the context of pastoral work with the deaf a narrative approach may easily result in logocentrism. This surely does not mean that a pastor with the deaf should not pay much attention to deaf people’s life stories. It remains a very important and crucial moment in a pastoral context when deaf persons want to trust their life story to a pastor. Hearing pastors have to be aware, however, that they remain listeners from outside the Deaf World, and that a deaf person telling his or her life story is an initial gesture of trust, a first step towards communion that may lead to a much deeper pastoral relationship. Words, speech, and hearing have a special place in the Scriptures with regard to the perception of God. Judeo-Christian tradition developed among hearing people for hearing people and is permeated by a hearing worldview. The terminology used, the symbols, the stories, the songs, and the fondness of verbosity, all lead to a feeling of estrangement in deaf people that blocks their view of the Christian message. Christian faith is then seen as something for hearing people. Deaf Culture and the Christian tradition are two separate universes, and it is not probable that deaf people will feel the need to enter into conversation with Christian tradition. In the context of ministry with deaf people, Logos seems to fail, as the Italian philosopher Giuseppe Zanghì expressed it.71 71

Giuseppe M. Zanghì, “L’alba di un mondo diverso,” in Verso un pieno umanesimo:Orizzontinuoviinpsicologia (Rome: Città Nuova, 2002).



ASecularContext The idea that words fail is not typical for deaf people. Zanghì sees it as a general phenomenon in Western culture. In the past, Western culture elaborated with the utmost precision a conceptual apparatus that described the relationship between God and people in terms of prepositional truths. In our time, this conceptual apparatus has lost its force. The argumentations are no longer logical, the proofs for God’s existence are not proofs any longer, proclamation has lost its persuasive force, and Christian narratives are as credible as fairy tales. Language as a means of description of our relationship with God has lost its meaning. Kerygma, sacraments, Church, and Christian narratives seem no longer able to interpret human reality and to bring it into contact with God. Zanghì offers his plea for a new culture in which God is no longer expressed in words, prepositional truths, and narratives, but in mutual love and the quality of relationships between people. The eloquence of what he calls a culture of pneuma is not centered in verbosity, but in living communities of people among whom the Word himself is present. As Tertullian wrote about the attractiveness of Christian communities in the third century: “See, how they love each other.”72 These communities might make an inaudible God visible. In Zanghì’s view, this community-oriented way of experiencing the presence of God is suited for the actual situation of Western culture. Western culture has developed in such a way that human reality has progressively lost its ‘enchantment’, or divine character. In our present time, secularization has rendered human reality such that the divine does not seem to have any relationship with it and seems to be infinitely remote from it.


Tertullianus, Apologeticum 39, 7 (PL 1, 471).



This distance between God and world is not necessarily something negative. The seemingly infinite distance between God and human reality can be seen from the perspective of the concept of diástasis, as it is used by Hans Urs von Balthasar, the infinite distance between the persons of Trinity, which is identical to their infinite love for the other’s alterity. For Balthasar, “the infinite distance between the world and God is grounded in the other, prototypical distance between God and God.”73 This means that God does not want to annul the distance between God and the world, or the alterity of human persons and alterity of the world, but he transforms that distance into love. God affirms and confirms that alterity in the way in which he is present in the world: by finding his place in relationships between ordinary, secularized people, where two or three are gathered in his name. He accompanies two or three ordinary people, in ordinary places, not only in the church (where a language is spoken that deaf people do not understand), but also in the deaf sports club. He is present not only in liturgy (of which content, meaning and verbosity escape deaf people) but also in the contact between colleagues in the workplace. He is present not only during prayer in spoken language (which deaf people cannot hear) but also in the signing café. It is this secularized presence of God which offers a redemptive transformation of relationships through which God enters into areas of life that seem to be most remote from religious tradition. In Zanghì’s view, the need of a different type of religious culture is the background of the crisis of Western Christianity. He compares that crisis with the ‘dark night’ of the mystics.74 The dark night is the stage of transformation of all those aspects of one’s 73 Balthasar, Theo-DramaIII, 320, quoted by Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis and Abuse,” 53. 74 Giuseppe Zanghì in an interview with Giulio Meazzini, “La notte della cultura europea,” in CittàNuova, January 25, 2007.



personality and life into which God has not yet penetrated, which could not yet be brought into relationship with the Christian message, and which have never been named in Christian terminology, and for which no religious language exists. In deaf lives there are many areas to which the Christian message has not yet reached, especially those areas of life that are outside the domains of hearing religious culture: the inner self-experience of deaf people, the relationships between deaf people, and Sign Language like it is used between deaf people. The process by which this can be attained is an existential and relational process, not a communicative, linguistic process. This process leads inevitably to a different view of what Christianity is: no longer a story, but a concrete community of people starting from the first followers of Jesus. This community presses on throughout history, an apostolic continuity of the Christian community that is eschatological in nature.75 In this community, deaf people can find their place completely, and at the same time, the Deaf Community itself can be transformed in this community. For deaf pastoral ministry this means examining how and where deaf people meet God and helping them to discover within the concrete reality of deaf people’s life the presence of God in the Deaf Community and calling this community Church.76


Cf. Ioannis Zizioulas, “Apostolic Continuity of the Church and Apostolic Succession in the First Five Centuries,” LouvainStudies21 (1996): 153-186. In Zizioulas’s view, apostolic continuity is not only connected with episcopate, the apostolic succession, but with the Christian community as a whole. 76 Virginia M. Barry, “Ministry to the Deaf in a Third World Setting,” in MinisteringWhereNoBirdsSing: ProceedingsoftheFifthInternationalConferenceofTheInternationalCatholicFoundationfortheServiceofDeafPeopleheld inValladolid,Spain(Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons, 1998), 175-184, at 182.



RecontextualizationinDeafCommunities This is what took place in the pastoral experience that we described in the beginning of this chapter.77 They did not insist on transmitting the Christian tradition in a verbal way to deaf people. They started with the culture of the Deaf Community, the need for communication, the need for belonging, and the fact that the Deaf Community is preferred as a family of choice over the hearing family of birth.78 This community is supported, stimulated, empowered, and helped to meet the conditions for Christ’s presence in their midst, in order to become what they already are by baptism: the people of God,79 a people that fully participates in the privileges of God’s covenant with humanity. And when Christ is present in their midst, he will continue to be a master, as Origen stated above. In a certain sense, he changes tradition,80 helping them to develop their own deaf view on faith and tradition. Recontextualization of the Christian faith into the Deaf Community does not take place at first by narratives, stories, liturgy, or symbols, but by concrete life experience. An experience of coming home is created first and then that experience will be explained using a deaf view on faith and tradition. There are theological and ecclesiological arguments in support of this valid way of creating a better experience and understanding of Christianity for deaf people. As we saw above, the presence of Christ in the community does not occur automatically, because clear requirements are to be met. 77 Cf. Peter McDonough, “Recalled to Life – through Deafness,” in EyePeopleMinistering (Manchester: Henesy House, 1991), 33-44, passim. 78 Corrie Tijsseling, Andersdoofzijn:Eennieuwperspectiefopdovekinderen (Twello: Van Tricht Uitgeverij, 2006), 53. 79 McDonough, “Recalled to Life,”passim. 80 Lieven Boeve, “Kan traditie veranderen? Theologie in het postmoderne tijdsgewricht,” Collationes25 (1996): 365-385.



This presence requires an interruption of ordinary life,81 and as ministers of the covenant, pastors elicit the community to meet these requirements. In order to be able to do this in a Deaf Community, pastors have to be presence practitioners as it is called by Schilling and Baart in their description of pastoral and diaconal activities with people in underprivileged urban areas.82 Presence practitioners follow rather than expecting others to come to them, meeting with other people on their own terms. These pastors try to immerse themselves unconditionally in the lives of others. They are present and visible in people’s dailyy life. They are actively involved and they seek connection with others not only in the problematic areas of their life but also in the happy events of daily life. They prioritize the good of the other, keeping a low profile for themselves and opening themselves to the life world of the other. Presence practitioners try to make a difference in the lives of others, but they allow that the reverse is true as well: they accept that the people they encounter make a difference in their lives. This is the art of becoming all things to all people,83 the art of always loving every person, without reserve,84 a kenotic love that persistently attempts to reach the other within his or her otherness and enjoying his or her otherness.


Boeve, “Kan traditie veranderen?,”365-385. Timothy Schilling, “The Presence Approach in New York: Two Intriguing Examples,” SocialInterventionno. 2 (2003): 50-58, at 53. 83 Cf. 1 Cor 9:22. 84 Cf. Graziella De Luca, “L’arte di amare,” in Versounpienoumanesimo: Orizzontinuoviinpsicologia (Rome: Città Nuova, 2002), 16-18. 82


Introduction In 2011, the Alliance Biblique Française (ABF) published three DVDs with a translation of the Gospel of Luke into French Sign Language (LSF).1 This was a fascinating and project: a text originating over two thousand years ago from an antique hearing culture was translated into the language of the Deaf Community, a cultural community that up to that point had never enjoyed access to the Bible and Christian tradition in their own language. To call the project a complex enterprise is an understatement from the viewpoints of translation science, linguistics, and hermeneutics. In most Western countries, the Bible is perceived first of all as a book, meant for being read aloud in Church services or for silent individual reading. Reading, however, is a problem for many deaf people. A majority of deaf children do not develop comprehensive reading skills to match their hearing counterparts until after four years of school education.2 Comfortable reading of the Bible requires, however, a considerably high reading skills. Application of Dutch software for the measurement of the readability of a text, PC-Clib,3 indicates that reading the Gospel of Mark, the simplest 1 Jean-Charles Bichet et al., L’ÉvangiledeLucenLanguedesSignes (Villiersle-Bel: Alliance Biblique Française, 2010), DVD. 2 Harold L. Noe and Patrick Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language translation,” TheBibleTranslator41, no. 4 (1990): 436-440, at 437. 3 Software produced by CITO, Arnhem.



of the four Gospels, translated into everyday Dutch,4 requires a reading skill that is average for hearing children after six years of school education, a level attained by only a minority of deaf people. In France too, it was found that Bible translations in everyday language were not accessible enough for deaf people.5 In view of the central place of Sign Language in the Deaf Community and the inaccessibility of the Bible in the language of dominant culture, it is logical that in several countries, the need of Bible translation into Sign Language was felt. Bible Translation Projects In this chapter, we describe some Bible translation projects that have been undertaken in the USA, France, Sweden, Costa Rica, Australia, and South Africa. USA The first Bible translation project took place in the USA. In 1980, Deaf Missions, an interdenominational organization that has as its goal the dissemination of the Bible among the deaf, started its OMEGA project. There were no examples, no established translation principles, and no guidelines to follow. People took simply an English Bible translation and tried to translate it directly into Sign Language. The result was disappointing: English continued to have a strong influence on the translation, which was by consequence rendered into Pidgin Sign English rather than into true ASL. In 1984, the strategy was changed: a translation team was introduced


GrootNieuwsBijbel (Haarlem: Nederlands Bijbelgenootschap, 1996). Bernard Coyault, Soutenez la traduction de la Bible en langue des signes (2007); available from 5



formed by a deaf ASL translator, a deaf ASL consultant, and a hearing consultant for the source languages of the Bible. The goal was a Bible translation that would be experienced as natural communication by deaf people and at that would render faithfully the meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew texts.6 The team used several English translations, which were continuously checked with the source languages. The project had a national supervising committee of deaf and hearing persons involved in pastoral ministry with the deaf in various churches. In 2004, the New Testament was completed, recorded on five DVDs.7 Several parts of the Hebrew Bible have now been translated and it is expected that the final, complete translation will have a total playing time of 150 to 200 hours on DVD. FrancophoneCountries The translation under supervision of the ABF was realized by a cooperation of nine groups of deaf people in several countries — France, the French speaking part of Switzerland, Francophone Belgium, and Congo-Brazzaville — and belonging to different churches.8 Every country accounted for a part of the translation, the translations were recorded on video and submitted to the other groups, and on the basis of their comments a definitive translation was determined. This translation was validated by ABF Bible scientists. Three DVDs with the translation of the Gospel of Luke were produced. These DVDs contain also 90 new Biblical signs and over 100 illustrations; a booklet is provided with the printed text of the Gospel of Luke taken from La 6

Noe and Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language Translation,” 437. Harold L. Noe et al., The Bible: ASL Translation. The New Testament (Council Bluffs, IA: Deaf Missions, 2004), 5 DVDs. 8 La Bible traduite en Langue des Signes (2007, accessed December 18, 2009); available from 7



BibleParoledeVie, a Bible translation accessible for people who do not have French as their mother tongue. Sweden In Sweden, a project was started in 1998 by the Swedish Bible Society. Target groups are individual Sign Language users, churches and parishes where Sign Language is used, schools for the deaf and hardof-hearing, participants in adult education, and participants in church courses for the deaf.9 The translation is based on the official Bible translation in Swedish, but comparisons are made with various English translations and the Estonian translation. When faced with differences in interpretation between various translations, there was no clear criteria for deciding for one interpretation over another.10 Translations have been generated for the complete book Jonah, parts of the Pentateuch, some Psalms, parts of Isaiah and Zechariah, parts of the Gospels of Mathew, Luke and John, the complete Gospel of Mark, the first eleven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, parts of Romans, Corinthians, Hebrews, and the book of Revelation.11 CostaRica In Costa Rica, the translation of the Bible into Costa Rican Sign Language (LESCO) is connected with empowerment of the Deaf Community from a liberation theology perspective. A pilot project has been started with a twofold goal: translation of selections from the 9 Bibelnpåteckenspråk (2008, accessed December 18, 2009); available from 10 Jessica Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken:Bibelnpåteckenspråk(Uppsala: Svenska Bibelsällskapet, 2008), 30. 11 Ibid., 150; Christer Åsberg, “The Swedish Sign Language Project: Problems and Promises,” TheBibleTranslator59, no. 2 (2008): 71-78, at 75.



New Testament from the source language into LESCO, and commentaries on these selections from the perspective of the Deaf Community. A DVD with four parts of the Gospel of Luke has been published, featuring an introduction covering two themes: the Deaf Community and its relationship with the Bible, and general geographical and historical information about the stories. The DVDs give also a back-translation of the texts into Spanish, in voice-over and subtitles.12 Australia In Australia, the Bible Society of Australia started in 1997 with a translation project requested by deaf people themselves. The goal of the project is to realize a translation into Auslan like it is in the hands and the hearts of the users.13 Until now, four DVDs have been produced with selections from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and selections from the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. On request of deaf people themselves, the DVD contains also a voice-over, not with a back-translation into English, but in a standard Bible translation (New Revised Standard Bible), in order to make it possible for hearing family members too to follow the DVD.14 SouthAfrica In South Africa, the Bible translation project took place under supervision of the South African Bible Association and the national deaf association, DEAFSA. Five selections from different genres in 12 Elsa Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” The BibleTranslator59, no. 2 (2008): 59-67. 13 Robert Adam, “Sign Language Bible Translation: A Deaf View of the World from Australia,” TheBibleTranslator59, no. 2 (2008): 93-97. 14 John W. Harris, “Confronting the Hard Questions in Sign Language Bible Translation,” TheBibleTranslator59, no. 2 (2008): 100-111.



the Bible were selected: a prayer, a parable, a formal address, and an abstract text. These selections were Exod 20:1-17, Psalm 23, Dan 7:1-7, and parts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The basis for the translation were various English Bible translations, namely the Holy Bible Easy-to-read version, the 21st King James Version, the Amplified Bible and the Good News Bible.15 The Translation Process MethodFollowed The problem with Bible translation into Sign Language is that there are no Sign Language experts with sufficient knowledge of Bible sciences and the source languages of the Bible, and no experts in Bible science or source languages with sufficient knowledge of Sign Language. Only in Francophone Switzerland was the translation supervised by a deaf theologian, a pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church.16 Therefore, in 1984, for the first translation project in the USA called OMEGA, it had been decided to work with a team of four persons: a deaf ASL translator who also performed translation when the final translation was filmed, a deaf Sign Language consultant who supported the translator, a hearing consultant perfectly bilingual in English and ASL, and a hearing source languages consultant. This last consultant was needed in order to prevent the team from being too dependent on the English text.17 The first step involved the ASL translator and his two consultants reading the Bible passage chosen, with a written explanation of the 15 Susan Lombaard and Jacobus A. Naudé, “The Translation of Biblical Texts into South African Sign Language,” SouthernAfricanLinguistics&AppliedLanguageStudies25, no. 2 (2007): 141-152, at 146-147. 16 LaBibletraduiteenLanguedesSignes. 17 Noe and Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language Translation,” 437.



meaning of the text given by the source language expert. A first draft of a translation was made in glosses. The whole discussion about the translation of the passage was recorded on video and analyzed afterwards by the ASL translator. The ASL translator learned the passage by heart and performed the result as a first tentative translation, recorded on video. If both consultants agreed with the translation, the result was shown to the source language expert. His comments could lead to modifications in the translation, and then a second translation draft was made and recorded. If the entire translation team agreed with the translation, the translation was shown to persons from the Deaf Community. Their reactions can also lead to modifications in the translation. The definitive translation was recorded in a professional video studio.18 Subsequent projects made use, explicitly or implicitly, of these good practices of the OMEGA project, especially with regard to giving deaf people with excellent Sign Language skills a central role in the translation process.19 In Sweden, an ecumenical translation team was formed by two deaf and two hearing people with excellent Sign Language skill who were active in deaf pastoral ministry in various churches. The Swedish team did not work with an expert in biblical studies but had the possibility of consulting the Swedish Bible Society.20 In Sweden too, the choice was made that the Sign Language performer learned the translation by heart and did not make use of a text machine during the performance. Much attention was paid to the background and the clothing of the performer. During the final recording in a professional studio, a variety of props were used, but only in such a way that they did not distract 18 19 20

Noe and Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language Translation,” 439. Noe et al., TheBible:ASLTranslation. Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken, 50.



from the performance.21 An additional video tape was made with background information and a Biblical sign lexicon.22 The formation of the South African team took into account as much as possible aspects of race, gender, age, involvement in the Deaf Community, and the variety of dialects of South African Sign Language (SASL). Five native SASL users were chosen: a black woman, three black men, and a ‘coloured’ [sic]23 man, all between 20 and 40 years of age. Next to them, several hearing persons joined the team: an SASL interpreter, experts in Bible translation, and experts in source languages.24 The South African team had to deal with considerable dialectal differences, but in every case the variant was chosen that could be understood best by users of other dialects. Here too, the performers learned the translation by heart. The result was translated back into Afrikaans and compared by experts with the Hebrew and Greek source languages.25 The South African project also did a study for evaluation of the translation in a group of 77 deaf respondents from different provinces of South Africa.26 To half of them, Psalm 23 and parts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were presented in print, and parts of Daniel and the Gospel of Mark in SASL, and vice versa to the other half. Respondents had to answer five questions in SASL about these texts. In general, the SASL translation was understood better than the English translation, but all respondents deemed it necessary to add a glossary with new signs to the SASL translation. The 21

Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken, 55-56. Ibid., 57. 23 Terminology used by Lombaard and Naudé. During Apartheid, ‘coloured’ was the indication of people with a ‘multiracial’ ethnic background. Nowadays, this terminology is rejected as offensive. 24 Lombaard and Naudé, “The Translation of Biblical Texts,” 146. 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid., 150. 22



majority of the respondents advised that whenever a new sign was used in the translation, it would be helpful to display the written word in a subtitle. At the beginning of a story or a chapter, a glossary of signs should be given, and possibly also explanatory pictures or drawings of unknown objects, maps, and floor plans. A story might be better communicated in relation to a backdrop, like a picture or a drawing, but no more than one for each story. Most respondents preferred that each story should be performed by a different person, and that performers should be Christians themselves.27 Most respondents indicated that they would use the SASL Bible as well as the written Bible, and only a minority indicated that they would exclusively use the SASL Bible.28 In Costa Rica, a translation team of six persons (four deaf and two hearing) was formed. The two hearing team members included a LESCO interpreter and a translation consultant. The first step in the process was that the chosen text was discussed within the team, and that the team tried to look to also look at the text from the perspective of the Deaf Community. The next step was that a LESCO translation was made by the deaf members of the team without the hearing team members present. This translation was learned by heart and registered on video. The results were shown to the complete team and translated back into Spanish by the LESCO interpreter. Comments were given on the translation and corrections were made; this process was repeated until the entire team agreed with the translation. The definitive translation was shown to the Costa Rican national committee for Sign Language, which wants to realize a standardization of LESCO.29 This committee could propose some modifications in the translation, and these modifications were 27 28 29

Lombaard and Naudé, “The Translation of Biblical Texts,” 151. Ibid., 152. Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” 65.



shown to the Bible translation consultant in a Spanish back-translation. The final result was shown to deaf people who were members of various Churches. The Costa Rican project paid much attention to the definitive registration: background colors, colors of the performers’ clothes, no jewels, no shiny buttons, light makeup, lighting, etc. The definitive registration was back-translated into Spanish, and this back-translation was put on the video by means of voice-over and subtitles.30 The first step of the translation project of the Alliance Biblique Française was the organization of a seminar in which the translation principles were discussed.31 The Gospel of Luke was divided over ten translation teams, composed at least of one expert in Biblical studies, a deaf leader of the Deaf Community, a Sign Language interpreter, a Sign Language teacher, and a deaf camera person.32 These ten teams were from France, Belgium, Francophone Switzerland, and Congo-Brazzaville. The various groups presented their work to the other teams and asked for comments and suggestions for correction. The result was a common translation into LSF. With the support of the Société Biblique Francophone de Belgique, groups from Francophone Belgium collaborated in this project in spite of the large differences between LSF and the Sign Language of Francophone Belgium (LSBF). It is hoped that, by participation in the project, a common religious lexicon may emerge. When the definitive version in LSF is completed, this will serve as a basis for an adapted version in LSBF.33 30

Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” 65. Bernard Coyault, Soutenez la traduction de la Bible en langue des signes (2007); available from 32 LaBibletraduiteenLanguedesSignes. 33 Germain Mahieu, “L’Évangile de Luc en Langue des Signes Française: Un premier accès à la Bible pour des milliers de personnes Sourdes,” La Bible Aujourd’huino. 3 (2009). 31



SpecialAspectsoftheTranslationProcess I shall not mention here aspects of Sign Language that can also be found also in some spoken languages, such as the absence of the passive form of verbs, the absence of a verb to be, a different structure of the use of personal pronouns, resistance against metaphorical language, the use of classifiers, or the use of parataxis instead of hypotaxis.34 Interpretation, Translation or Retelling? If a reading from the Bible is interpreted into Sign Language, as frequently takes place in liturgy, an obvious influence of English remains visible even when interpreted by very skilled interpreters. This influence is perhaps not always at the level of grammar and lexicon, but surely in the narrative style of the story.35 In McDonough’s opinion, interpretation and translation are very different forms of language interaction: in interpretation, a message is transposed to the other language simultaneously with the same expression in the original language, whereas translators can make use of texts permanently at their disposition. In a translation to a written language, a translator can follow the original text as accurately as possible, as is the practice in some written Bible translations. However, such a practice is not possible in a translation to Sign Language: Sign Language as a visual-gestural language differs too much from written languages. Pidginization would be the immediate consequence of this practice. A translation into Sign Language should not follow the original text on the level of words and 34

Åsberg, “The Swedish Sign Language Project,” 76. Peter McDonough, “Presenting the Word of God in Sign Language,” in Effatha:ProceedingsfromtheInternationalCatholicReligiousConference1996, ed. Peter McDonough (Monmouth: A&K Publications, 1996), 55-80, at 56. 35



sentence structure, and even not follow on the level of narrative structure. The narrative structure of Sign Languages is very different from written languages, not only because of cultural differences, but also because of the visual structure of Sign Languages. Telling a story in Sign Language is presenting a series of successive visual representations,36 following the chronology of events, and oriented more on actions than on persons.37 The narrative sequence in Sign Language follows the same sequence as in drawing. Sometimes that means that a story has to be restructured. In the American OMEGA project, the most difficult passage was Revelation 18:1-24, which concerns the destruction of Babylon: it could not keep the order of the verses in the original text, and required that the entire passage be completely restructured.38 In a Sign Language story, the viewpoint of the narrator is essential and even grammatically relevant, a big difference from written texts. For example, in 1 Samuel 17:1-4, we read: The Philistines were stationed on one hill and the Israelites on an opposite hill, with a valley between them. A champion named Goliath of Gath came out from the Philistine camp; he was six and a half feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a bronze corselet of scale armour weighing five thousand shekels.

After this, Goliath defies the Israelites, and David defies Goliath. This story should be told from different and changing perspectives: a general point of view, in which the narrator sees the scene before himself, with the Israelites at one side and the Philistines at the other side, and the viewpoint of the Israelites when this huge Goliath emerges at the Philistine side. If the narrator takes the viewpoint

36 Charles Hollywood, “Visual Dimensions of Prayer and Liturgy,” in Seeing –IsBelieving! (Manchester: Henesy House, 1998), 51-62, at 52. 37 McDonough, “Presenting the Word of God in Sign Language,” 74. 38 Noe and Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language Translation,” 439.



of David, he should look upward, because he is smaller than Goliath, but the narrator should know whether David is standing on top of the hill, on the slope, or down in the valley, when Goliath ridicules him. These perspectives are essential parts of the narrative structure and grammatical aspects of the story.39 The Need for Contextual Information Sign Language is a visual language. In a visual representation of a story, it is not possible to pass over cultural information about distances, measures, objects, clothing, sacrificial rituals, social organization, etc. Mostly, this information is not given in the original texts, and often less so in translations. A Sign Language translation may need more contextual information than the original text gives. If a story notes that people gathered together on one place, a good Sign Language translator should know whether it is a street, a square, or a house.40 In order to give this information in an accurate way, background knowledge is needed about Biblical geography and archaeology, and knowledge about the culture from which the Bible originates.41 We explore four examples of this. McDonough describes a trial translation of the story about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) from an English Bible translation by seven deaf story tellers.42 One passage, in which a priest and a Levite successively see the wounded man on the roadside and leave him there, was particularly challenging to translate. In a written text, it is possible to give no more information than that the 39 After Steve Parkhurst, RolesandPointsofViewinSignLanguage (2010, accessed March 3, 2010); available from tabid/86/Default.aspx?id=1558. 40 Cf. Åsberg, “The Swedish Sign Language Project,” 76. 41 McDonough, “Presenting the Word of God in Sign Language,” 68. 42 Ibid., 61-64.



priest and the Levite “saw the wounded man,” but in a Sign Language translation this phrase cannot be represented in a grammatically correct way without indicating how the priest and the Levite looked: for example, did they look with fright, disgust, contempt, or shame? How did the priest and the Levite react as they saw? The English translation does not give this information, and translators cannot do otherwise than to use their own interpretation. McDonough observed that Sign Language translations gave the impression of embellishing the story, and in his opinion this is an unavoidable consequence of the necessity of giving contextual information. The book of Jonah describes how Jonah built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade (Jon 4:5). The Swedish translation does not say what kind of hut or what this hut looked like. The original Hebrew text uses the word sukkā, leafy booth, such as is used in Sukkoth, the Feats of Tabernacles, and therefore, the Swedish project chose to represent a square roof with a post on each angle.43 Gn 41:14 explains that Joseph was shaven before presenting himself to the Pharaoh. The Auslan translators wanted to know how Joseph was shaven, and which instruments barbers in ancient Egypt used for shaving. This information could be found in pictures of ancient Egyptian barber tools.44 The Gospel of Luke recounts the event of Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21). What form did this baptism take? Was Jesus immersed into the water by John the Baptist, or did he bow for water to be poured over his head? This has consequences for the sign that is used for baptize: the sign used by Catholics and many Protestants indicates 43

Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken, 62. Mark Penner, “Issues in Sign Language Translation, with Special Reference to Bible Translation,” WorkPapersoftheSummerInstituteofLinguistics,UniversityofNorthDakotaSession49 (2009): 1-19, at 6. 44



pouring water on the head, whereas others use a sign that indicates immersion. In the Swedish project, it was decided that immersion was historically the most accurate sign.45 Likewise, the sign for immersion is used in the ASL translation.46 Which Variant of Sign Language? Many Sign Languages are still in a process of standardization. On a lexical level, there may be large differences between different regions in the same country, different age groups, members of different churches, or even between men and women. Next to that, the dominant cultural language may have varying influence on Sign Language. We saw that in the Costa Rican project, the final translation was submitted to a committee of deaf people that supervises the standardization of LESCO.47 In almost total opposition to the Australian project, a conflict arose between the deaf translators — mostly deaf from deaf families — who advocated a pure form of Sign Language, and people who wanted a translation into Sign Language as it is used by the majority of deaf people, with a strong influence of English and extensive fingerspelling.48 Language purists wanted to eliminate as much as possible the influence of English, introducing new signs or borrowing them from other Sign Languages, whereas the majority of the users were accustomed to fingerspelling unknown concepts, names, and places. For them, a translation with biblical name signs borrowed from Israeli Sign Language and unknown signs for religious 45

Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken, 61. Noe et al., TheBible:ASLTranslation. 47 Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” 61. 48 Penner, “Issues in Sign Language Translation,” 3; Adam, “Sign Language Bible Translation,” 108-110. 46



concepts was confusing, incomprehensible, and elitist. In their view, a translation should follow the local Sign Language as it functions in daily life and in normal communication between deaf people, a view that is common to Sign Language users in a religious context.49 The Use of Biblical Name Signs and Signs for Religious and Biblical Concepts Most translation projects discuss the lexical lacunae in Sign Language with regard to concepts that do not have equivalents in the culture of the target language, mostly religious concepts and biblical name signs. For example, a problem in a Sign Language translation in Korea was that most deaf people in Korea were not acquainted with the concept of shepherd, and Korean Sign Language does not have a sign for it. If it is circumscribed as personwhotakescareofsheep, a bizarre translation of Psalm 23:1 might be the result: “The Lord is the One who takes care of my sheep.”50 In the LESCO translation, the concepts of emperor, Caesar and governor in Luke 2:1-2 had to be differentiated clearly, because the concepts were not familiar to deaf people and there were no pre-existing signs.51 There are also typically Christian or Jewish-Christian concepts such as the kingdom of God, Holy Spirit, grace, redemption, daughter of Zion, and Son of Man, that require careful translation. In LESCO, SonofMan was nearly impossible to translate, because it literally means boy.52 So, many Sign Languages do not have 49

Lombaard and Naudé, “The Translation of Biblical Texts,” 151. Jeun Moo-Yong and Ahn Young-Hoe, “The Need for a Korean Sign Language Bible Translation,” TheBibleTranslator60, no. 2 (2009): 83-92, at 90. 51 Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” 63. 52 Ibid. 50



standard signs for these concepts. In practice, signs are often invented for these concepts by hearing people, signs that often are not only questionable from the viewpoint of sign phonology, but also from a theological point of view. In some projects new signs are developed. In the Swedish project, new signs are developed from circumscriptions, like for scribe (scroll + person), Pharisee (prayer mantle + person), synagogue (Jew + church), blasphemy (provocation + upwards).53 In some countries, much work is done for the development of biblical name signs. Some biblical name signs are already used in Deaf Communities, such as two horns for Moses (after a statue made by Michelangelo54), stopthestabbinghand for Abraham in various Sign Languages. Some projects develop name signs for as many Biblical persons as possible. A Dutch project develops even name signs for less known Biblical persons or places like Gehazi (servant of the prophet Elisha), Gilgal (where Joshua laid down twelve stones) or Abner (chief of Saul’s army). Name signs are often borrowed from Israeli Sign Language, but these signs seldom represent the meaning of the Hebrew name.55 The use of these name signs is problematic from two points of view. When too many unknown name signs are used in one and the same story, the story becomes incomprehensible. For this reason, the ASL translation of the New Testament has chosen to scroll the genealogical list at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in written form over the screen. Another problem is that name signs may be anachronistic. For example, the name sign for Abraham 53

Lindberg, Ochordetblevtecken, 66. Source: (access 18 December 2009). Michelangelo represented Moses with two horns on his head. This has its origin in an erroneous translation of Exod 34:29 in the Vulgate. 55 Trude Schermer, Corline Koolhof, and Arie Terpstra, Bijbelnaamgebaren (Bunnik: Nederlands Gebarencentrum, 2008), DVD. 54



(stopthestabbinghand) is used also in stories that occurred before the birth of Isaac. The name sign for Jesus (pointingtothewound ineachofbothhands) is anachronistic when it is used before the crucifixion, as can be seen in the story of the annunciation, when the angel visits Nazareth (cityofJesus) and tells Mary to call her child Jesus. The Performance and the Performer In the projects we described, the performers did not read the text from glosses on a text machine but performed it by heart. In Sweden, a trial had been made with a text machine, but it had been soon noticed that the use of a text machine made the performance less lively, even boring. That was considered a bigger disadvantage than having to repeat the recording again and again when a performance error was made.56 Moreover, in communication in Sign Language, eye movement plays an important role, and it is highly confusing when the performer has to look repeatedly toward the text machine. In the Australian project, not only was the text learned by heart, but the performer was also instructed to play the role of the author of the text, for instance, embodying Mark when performing the Gospel of Mark.57 The choice of the performers is not easy.58 Deaf Communities are not large and many members of the community will know the performer, and not all of them will be able to make a distinction between the performer and the message. The performer plays the various roles in the text, even the role of God, and to some users of the translation that may cause a problem. 56 Jessica Lindberg, Äntligen en bibelbok på teckenspråk! (2001, accessed December 18, 2009); available from 57 Harris, “Confronting the Hard Questions,” 103-105. 58 Noe and Graybill, “The Bible: American Sign Language Translation,” 439.



The performers have to meet high requirements. At first, they have to be native signers, Sign Language should be their first language and they should have above average skill in Sign Language. They have to be able to perform well in front of a camera. They have to sign perfectly, with the correct gestures, with a clear but poised facial expression, and a fluid signing style that is neither exaggerated nor lifeless.59 Moreover, all projects deemed it necessary that the performer be known in the Deaf Community as a Christian. Other aspects taken into account in various projects included church denomination, age, and gender.60 This may make the choice of a performer almost impossible in places where the Deaf Community is not large. In these instances, a solution may be sought in the use of animation.61 Performers can be modified in such a way that they cannot be recognized, or an avatar can be used. Animation software has to be of very high quality, however, and the users of the software need a high level of knowledge of Sign Language linguistics. Animation software was used a Japanese translation project for passages which include extensive genealogical and topographical designations.62 The use of animation software makes anonymity of the performer possible,63 but questions should be asked about the quality of such an animated performance. Many deaf people do not get to know the Bible through reading but rather through performance. A performance that does not meet high standards of 59

Harris, “Confronting the Hard Questions,” 103-105. Tamez, “The Bible from the Perspective of the Deaf Community,” 66. 61 Penner, “Issues in Sign Language Translation,” 5. 62 Shigeru Tanada, “The Asia-Pacific Sign Language Multi-Agency Meeting: A Perspective from Japan,” TheBibleTranslator59, no. 2 (2008): 97-100, at 99. 63 Penner, “Issues in Sign Language Translation,” 5. 60



accuracy, naturalness, and grammar provides inadequate access to the Bible.64 Conclusion In a translation of the Bible into Sign Language, meanings contained in texts originating from cultures, written two millennia ago, are transmitted as faithfully as possible into the language and culture of deaf people in our time. The meanings to be transmitted have gone a very complex way through different cultures with possibly very different cosmologies. Exegetes and source language experts do not have firsthand knowledge of the cultures from which the Bible originates and at best can only formulate hypotheses about these contexts. Their hypotheses are translated by hearing Sign Language interpreters to deaf translators, experts in Deaf Culture and Sign Language and almost never in biblical studies. This means that there are several moments in which misinterpretations of the original meaning can arise: in the transmission from antique culture to biblical scholars in modern times, in the transmission from biblical scholars to Sign Language interpreters, and lastly, in the transmission from hearing culture to Deaf Culture. Translation projects resolve this problem by means of a stepwise procedure and by means of a back-translation of the end product that is analyzed by Bible scientists for its faithfulness to the original meaning of the text. But there is no guarantee — and this remains an unresolvable epistemological problem — that what is said has the same meaning in those different worlds. Two things are striking in all of the translation projects. First, it is taken for granted that the Bible is the text such as we have


Tanada, “A Perspective from Japan,” 99.



received it, translated to another text which is assumed to be a faithful representation of the original meaning. Second, it was noticed but not considered in all its consequences that Bible translation is not from one text to another text, but from text to performance. Particular aspects of the translations process, such as the need for additional contextual information, a restructuring of the narrative structure, and embellishment of the story, are attributed to characteristics of Sign Language. The question is not asked, however, if these aspects of Sign Language translation are not also a consequence of the transposition of the meaning to other media, from text to visual representation, and from text to performance. Therefore, we want to investigate here experiences outside Deaf Culture with the transmediation of biblical texts to visual media (cinema and visual arts) because experiences with performance of the Bible can shed light on this question. The Translation of the Bible to Other Media Already early in its history, Christian tradition started to translate the message of the Gospel to other media than the word only. Next to the visible Bible, the book,65 there exists a two-thousand-yearold tradition of media representation and oral narrative culture. It was not long ago that many Christians did not acquire their knowledge of the Bible from silent reading, but from performance in liturgy and from beholding Christian visual art. Yet today, visual representation of the message is considered only a form of illustration or embellishment of textual sources, and therefore, Christians are not aware how much of the content of the 65

Robert Hodgson, “Semiotics and Bible Translation,” Semiotica163 (2007): 163-185, at 182.



Bible comes to them through visual art and popular art, and how much this influences their interpretation of the Bible.66 In an era such as ours, in which attempts are made to translate the Bible into new media such as video, animation, and comics, it is necessary to investigate which processes play a role in faithful translation to other media. Hodgson, who speaks of intersemiotic translation, proposes that translators make use of insights from semiotics in this context.67 The word semiotics comes from Greek sēmeion, sign, in the sense of everything that stands for something other: words, images, sounds, (Sign Language) signs, objects.68 The central question of semiotics is how sēmeia can refer to their meaning and how this meaning is interpreted by human persons. In a sēmeion, there are three elements: the form of the sēmeion, an interpretation and the object to which it refers. That means that a sēmeion can be spoken of only if a person who perceives it imagines its meaning. On seeing the drawing of a fish on the wall of an underground corridor in Rome, a person might guess that there was a fish shop there in ancient times, but other people might explain that the drawing was a sign of the presence of Christians, and the next person might explain that a drawing of a fish indicated the abbreviation in Greek words for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. The imagination of the meaning of a sēmeion is always provisional and in development as result of the dialogue in which the beholders of the sēmeion engage with themselves, others, or the sēmeion. This means that semiosis is a continuous process by which people form a hypothesis about the meaning of the sēmeion and test it 66

Hodgson, “Semiotics and Bible Translation,” 182-183. Ibid., 183. 68 In order to avoid the confusion between signs in the sense of semiotics and signs in the sense of Sign Language, we shall use the Greek word sēmeion, plural sēmeia, for sign in the sense of semiotics. 67



by means of dialogue. It will never be possible to conclude with absolute certainty that this hypothesis is right, it can only be concluded that the hypothesis is possible on the basis of available exegetical information. This process can go on, without an end: Bible translators may observe that readers of the Bible give a different interpretation to a story than they as translators had given to the story in the source language, or new discoveries — such as the Qumran scrolls — can bring translators new insight regarding mistaken interpretations. The translation of the Bible to a different medium doubles this semiotic process: not only does a translation have to be produced from an exegetical point of view, but this translation also has to pass through a process of transposition to a different medium. An example of such a process is the “Life of Christ project” of the American Bible Society.69 This project takes as its starting point the original Greek text of the New Testament, formulates translation principles and guidelines and produces a translation. This translation is handed over and is discussed with a film director and a film production team, and they transpose the translation to a different medium, film. In this process, the film is a sēmeion that refers to the translation, whereas the translation is a sēmeion that refers to the original meaning of the story. Hodgson and Thomas propose a stepwise procedure for such a process.70 In the concept phase, a thorough exegesis of the Bible passage is conducted, followed by an analysis of all key persons, event, visual, and auditory elements implicitly or explicitly mentioned in the text. A study is conducted of the audience for whom


Hodgson, “Semiotics and Bible Translation,” 183-184. Robert Hodgson and Kenneth J. Thomas, “Report of the New Media Group: Triennial Workshop 1997,” TheBibleTranslator49, no. 1 (1998): 101-103, at 102-103. 70



the film is made. The results of these various analyses are submitted to the production team. The production team starts its work with this information and formulates the choices that have to be made for a good film version of the story, in close cooperation with the translation consultants, in order to guarantee that the choices made are appropriate to the exegesis of the text and to reception by the audience. In the next step, scripts and story boards are formulated, always in close cooperation with translation consultants. Then, a trial film is made and checked by translation consultants for its faithfulness to the original meaning and for fine-tuning of words, sounds, visual images, and genre. A field study is done among users with the final film, and the results of this field study may lead to additional adaptations. BibleTranslationinSignLanguage:IntersemioticAspects Bible translation into Sign Language has characteristics of a double semiotic process. Whether the translation renders the intended meaning that the source text authors accurately will never be known with certainty. At best, it may be concluded that the translation is acceptable from an exegetical point of view. The hearing experts formulated a hypothesis about the meaning of the source text, and afterward the deaf translators also formulate a hypothesis in their visually based language about the hearing experts’ story. During the translation process, hearing experts and deaf translators repeatedly enter into dialogue about the meaning of the original story and about the faithfulness of the representation in Sign Language. Although Sign Language and film as visually based media may have characteristics in common, there are many differences as well. A film gives a complete visual representation, with details that do not need to be mentioned in a story. In a film of the story



of the good Samaritan, it will be necessary to give a picture of the road on which the persons walked — pavement, roadsides, landscape. A Sign Language story will be far more precise in the sense that it will not give superfluous details like landscapes. TheBibleTranslatedinSpokenLanguagesofOralCultures A Bible translation into Sign Language cannot be written down but is necessarily also a transmediatization from text to performance. In this respect, it shares some characteristics with editions of the audio versions of the Bible for hearing people who are not able to read or who belong to language groups that do not have a writing system. If translations of the Bible are recorded on audio cassette without adaptations, the recordings are often unable to maintain the attention of most listeners.71 Audio as a medium has different requirements than texts: it is one-way traffic, so repetition or scrolling back is inhibited, and it may be difficult to identify different roles in the story. The performance may be improved by adaptations in the text, such as substitution of names for pronouns, repetition of time and place information, shorter sentences, parataxis instead of hypotaxis, or direct quotes instead of indirect speech. More additional cultural and geographical information is needed.72 There are many examples of Bible translation into languages without a written culture. In these cases, too, according to De Vries73 profound adaptations in the text are necessary in order to 71 Edward R. Hope, “Scripture Cassettes,” The Bible Translator 13, no. 4 (1980): 412-419, at 414. 72 Ibid., 419. 73 Lourens de Vries, “Bible Translation and Primary Orality,” The Bible Translator51, no. 1 (2000): 101-114, at 101.



create a good performance. Languages without a written culture make much more use of topic markers and cohesion markers. Topic markers indicate what the sentence is about, and cohesion markers have to do with the phenomenon that these languages make much more use of parataxis than hypotaxis. When sentences are written down, the reader gets an impression of a disconnected series of sentences, but in a performance these sentences are connected by auditory cues, cohesion markers. Sign Language also makes use of topic markers and visual-spatial cohesion markers, such as phrasing (pauses) and the use of the signing space. Translation into a primarily oral language requires a thorough restructuring of the text. For the creation of a good audio translation, it is necessary to look for the oral characteristics of the source text.74 In Thomas’s view, the texts of the Bible existed in an oral form before they were written down, and they were not written down for silent reading but as a script for performance.75 Rebera advocates for the identification of auditory topicmarkers and cohesionmarkers for oral performance in the text.76 People who translate biblical texts to an audio translation that is to be performed should pay careful attention to orality criticism of the text and find elements such as alliteration, sound patterns, phrasing, use of contrasts, and changes in word order. Source texts may contain oral characteristics that cannot be found in the usual Bible translations, which can lead to a loss of meaning.77 Above, we stated that for the translation of the story of the good Samaritan into Sign Language, one needs more contextual information concerning the 74 Kenneth J. Thomas, “Seeking a Methodology for Exegetical Checking of Audio Scripture,” TheBibleTranslator41, no. 3 (1990): 301-312. 75 Ibid., 302. 76 Basil Rebera, “Translating a Text to be Spoken and Heard: A Study of Ruth 1,” TheBibleTranslator43, no. 2 (1992): 230-236. 77 Thomas, “Methodology for Exegetical Checking of Audio Scripture,” 305.



perspectives of the priest and the Levite than the English text offers. The original Greek text in this passage is highly rhythmic and staccato, and seems to suggest something like “O no! Let’s get the hell out of here.” The translation of this passage in the New American Bible, however, gives an impression of dignified striding, which is inadequate. Fry notes that, in a translation project into one of the Aborigines languages, people in the community preferred a translation to an oral story over a translation to a written text.78 A translation team was formed, consisting of two Aborigines who knew English and a linguist who knew their language. At first, the Bible passage was read in English, and then a discussion took place in the Aboriginal language about all aspects of the text. The next step was that one of the Aborigines was chosen as a narrator, and the performance given by that person was recorded on an audio cassette. This translation draft was presented to the whole group, which had to decide whether the text was a right and natural representation of the story in their language. Their observations could lead to corrections in the translation. This procedure, which has some similarities with the method used in Sign Language translations, had several advantages: not only the separate sentences, but the whole story gave a more natural impression, and illiterate translators who were gifted narrators in their own language could be utilized. A team approach is essential for this method. This method also worked best when a natural environment for story telling was created, such as sitting in the shadow of a tree. Auditory performance and performance in Sign Language take place in very different forms of language, but there seem to be 78

Euan Fry, “An Oral Approach to Translation,” TheBibleTranslator30, no. 2 (1979): 214-217.



similarities between translation into Sign Language and into spoken language. Both require adaptations in the narrative structure of the story as presented in written translations, both require changes in the syntactical structure of the text in the sense of more parataxis, and both require more contextual information. The question should be asked, therefore, whether all particular aspects of Sign Language Bible translation mentioned by translation projects are specific for Sign Language only. Perhaps some of these aspects are also related to the fact that Sign Language translation is a translation to another medium, i.e., from text to performance. The Bible as Performance Many deaf people have access to the Bible only when it is performed. This way of experiencing the Bible is probably not very different from the way in which many Christians in the New Testament era experienced it: The Bible was not a book but a performance. It’s possible that only a minority of members of the first Christian communities had access to manuscripts, and modern reading culture with silent reading was unknown, even for persons who were able to read. Performance in spoken language was the only way by which the vast majority of people had access to written texts. Moreover, until far into the second century, it was controversial to write down the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ into what we now call the New Testament. And when it was written down, that was, according to David Rhoads,79 probably in view of a faithful and reliable performance. That performance was the real Gospel, and the text that we have in our hands now is only the

79 David M. Rhoads, “Performance Criticism: An Emerging Methodology in Second Testament Studies – Part I,” BiblicalTheologyBulletin36 (2006): 1-16, at 6.



script for that performance.80 In Rhoads’s opinion, it is anachronistic for the New Testament to be studied as a text and not as a script for a performance.81 In order to study the New Testament as a performance, Rhoads proposes to use insights from communication science and media studies.82 Utilizing this approach, four elements emerge that otherwise would not be considered. The first element is that a performance is an interactive medium: performer and audience cannot be separated. A performance anticipates the reactions of the audience, and these reactions are even evoked. For example, Rhoads recognizes clear ‘applause verses’ in the Gospel of Mark.83 A performance for a living audience cannot be compared with an audio registration: body language, pace, facial expression, body posture, and spatial relationships between persons are part of the story. A performance is not only a verbal and auditory matter, but a visual event. A performance leads to imagination and visual representation, an element that is absent in silent reading or audio presentation. The second element is the performer: the performer embodies the text.84 This presupposes a unity between performer and text. The letter of James loses its power when it is performed by a person draped with jewels. The apostle Paul wrote his letters together with the person who had to perform it: the real letter was not the manuscript, but the person who performed the letter as if they were Paul himself. That made the choice of a performer so important. From this perspective, it was genial that Paul had the

80 81 82 83 84

Rhoads, “Performance Criticism,” 6, 10. Ibid., 9. Ibid. Ibid., 11. Ibid.



letter to the Romans performed by Phoebe: no Jew, no heathen, no man.85 The third element is the audience. The audience is a part of the performance. In the New Testament, there was a community in which some effect had to be evoked: the group response was of primary importance.86 In view of the impact on the community, different styles were used, such as an alternation of elitist and rustic language in the Gospel of Luke, the almost anti-elitist and colloquial characteristics of the letters of Peter, and the use of the melodious possibilities of Greek by which the audience of the Gospel of John was attracted to eternal life. In an ‘oral’ culture, performance appeals to collective memory. Performances are full of references and allusions to elements of the common tradition of the audience. In this way, the New Testament is full of allusions to stories and images in Jewish oral tradition. Christians have not been aware of this for many centuries, and these allusions are often lost in Bible translations. A fourth element is the context in which the performance takes place; this can even give the performance a political meaning, like the first letter to the Corinthians who were in a highly divided community. A text, however, is decontextualized. That aspect also makes a performance essentially different from a text, and requires that the performer imagine the text and describe to the audience what one sees, hears, and experiences. The performance can become a success only when the audience becomes a part of the story, as the reactions of the audience are very informative about the story. Rhoads is convinced that several aspects of the story may remain undiscovered as long as the story is not performed in an exegetically reliable way. 85 86

Rhoads, “Performance Criticism,” 8. Ibid., 13.



Our conclusion is that there are striking similarities between Sign Language Bible translation and Rhoads’s view on performance criticism: the role of the performer, the need of visual and contextual information, and the fact that the result is often more appealing than the written text, even for persons who are able to understand the written text. General Conclusion Originally, neither Judaism nor Christianity were ‘religions of the book’, however important the sacred texts are for them today. For the Church, the authority of the written representation of the Good News has never taken place of the authority of Jesus Christ himself, and the written form has never nullified the oral tradition that preceded it.87 The Good News did not become a dead letter, but continued to be the story of the Living One in a living community. The New Testament developed as a performance, and to us nothing more is left than a script for that performance. At best, we can vaguely imagine how that performance behind the script might have taken place. For a good translation of the Bible into Sign Language, it is necessary not to consider such a translation as one from a text in the source language to a text in the target language, but to imagine how a performance of the Bible might have taken place before an audience in that time, and to translate that performance into a performance in Sign Language. Those who are involved in such a translation have to be aware of the intersemiotic aspects of this process. Such an approach has multiple consequences. 87 Cf. Raymond E. Brown and Sandra M. Schneiders, “Hermeneutics,” in The NewJeromeBiblicalCommentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 11461165, at 1146.



The first consequence is that source language experts, exegetes, and experts in antique culture should create an exegetically acceptable image of how the performance of a text might have taken place. With the help of Sign Language interpreters, they have to discuss these imaginative images with deaf Sign Language and Deaf Culture experts. Bible experts must provide a reliable image of the target audience and the prior knowledge that the audience will need to have for understanding the story. The second consequence is the visualization of the story through discussion with the deaf translators. A guideline for visualization might be derived from Daniel Arichea’s method of ‘picture translation’.88 The translators must create, in their minds, a visual representation of the text and describe this mental picture to others.89 A text is analyzed in terms of a series of pictures of events, actions, and participants, in addition to the participants who are not mentioned. Working in this way, the translator will notice which elements are lacking in the pictures, and it may be decided whether it is acceptable from an exegetical point of view to insert a clarification in the text, or to audience anticipate later information. For example, in the story about the good Samaritan, we are first told that a Samaritan travelling on the road approached the wounded man. Later on in the story, we are told that the Samaritan put the wounded man on his donkey. Thus, the Samaritan was not travelling by foot, but riding on a donkey. This should be anticipated in the story, since Sign Language performance should contain this information. When translators complete the mental picture of a story, they have to remain faithful to their interpretation of the meaning of the 88 Daniel C. Arichea, “What Is the Picture?,” TheBibleTranslator31, no. 4 (1980): 423-430. 89 Ibid., 423.



Biblical text.90 Noting advantages of this picture translation method, Arichea mentions that events are put in a chronological order and that translators become less dependent on words and grammatical forms in the source text, especially when translating to a language that is very different from the source language. McDonough notes the helpfulness of an Ignatian approach to the biblical text in regard to this translation method.91 He is probably referring to the method of visualization developed by Ludolph of Saxony (1300-1377), who invites the reader to become, as much as possible, a participant in the life of Jesus by rendering the mystery present with the use of all senses, enabling the reader to come to higher spiritual insights.92 This method of visualization requires, of course, a continuous critical dialogue with exegetical experts in order to avoid unbridled fantasies. The third consequence is that the development of a performance has to take place in an environment that is as natural as possible from a Sign Language point of view. Preferentially, no hearing people should be present if it is expected that their mere presence might lead to Pidgin adaptations of Sign Language, as stated above. The performance can be best developed in the presence of an audience. The fourth consequence regards the choice of the performer and the audience. The performer should not only be a good narrator in Sign Language, but should also be able to perform the story as if they were the author himself, evoking adequate reactions from the audience. The translation must be recorded as a performance for an audience, like in the LSF project. 90

Arichea, “What Is the Picture?,” 430. McDonough, “Presenting the Word of God in Sign Language,” 67. 92 Walter Baier, Untersuchungen zu den Passionsbetrachtungen in der Vita ChristidesLudolfvonSachsen:EinquellenkritischerBeitragzuLebenundWerk LudolfsundzurGeschichtederPassionstheologie.Band I(Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur Universität Salzburg, 1977), 176-177. 91


A Case Study In the beginning of the 19th century, a young curate in a parish in a rural district became aware of the fact that there were a number of deaf and dumb persons in the parish who had never gone to school, did not know anything about Catholic religion, and by consequence, did not have access to the sacraments. He discussed the situation with his parish priest — later his Bishop — and his parish priest gave him the task to start a small school for these deaf persons. The school started in a small farmer’s house, but larger accommodation was needed shortly thereafter. Within a few years, a second and third priest were appointed to the Institute for the Deaf, and soon they were joined by two congregations of religious brothers and sisters. The Institute became large and formidable. It provided care for almost all deaf people from Catholic families all over the country, from the cradle to the grave. In an era in which many Catholic families were poor and large, the Institute provided all necessary parental care and assumed all parental responsibility for deaf children. Most deaf children went home only once a year and thus, after a period of homesickness, their deaf schoolmates became substitutes for families far away. The Institute for the Deaf set up a large network of pastoral care for former students of the Institute. In a large number of cities, worship meetings were organized by priests, nuns, and brothers of the Institute. Catholic deaf clubs formed around these worship



meetings. Later on, the pastoral service was expanded and offered social service from social workers. The policy of pastors and social workers was to be present and proactive in the Deaf Community, instead of waiting to be contacted. It was an era in which the Catholic Church was a people’s Church, and logically the Catholic deaf clubs shared many of its characteristics. A people’s Church is, more than a church of personal choice, a social phenomenon. In a people’s Church, liturgy and church feasts are connected with social events and popular religion, with pilgrimages, processions, and so on, in which the complete community participated, not at least because of the social events connected with them. In the Catholic deaf clubs, deaf people followed liturgy and received the sacraments, but they also met their friends, with whom they had shared a large part of their life. The Catholic deaf clubs played a crucial role in the cohesion of the Catholic Deaf Community. They were the places where ancient Sign Language was preserved. Elderly deaf people, deaf people from deaf families, and adult CODA people speak nostalgically about the warmth experienced in the Catholic deaf club. It is a paradise lost. In these deaf clubs, the old life continued to exist, while the society around the Deaf Community and the Church changed. The emancipation of Sign Language and Deaf Culture were not noticed by most Catholic deaf clubs. The Catholic identity of the Institute for the Deaf faded out, and the Institute no longer saw its task as providing pastoral care to the deaf. And finally, the Institute merged with other, non-Catholic Institutes for the Deaf. At that moment, a group of deaf persons decided to go to the bishops and tell them that deaf people felt abandoned by the Church, just like two centuries ago. A model that had functioned very well in the past had not withstood the changes in society, Church, and Deaf Culture, and it had collapsed.



Changes in Church and Society In the past, Western European societies were far less multicultural than in present times, and almost all students and all boarding staff in schools for the deaf belonged to the same church. It was a matter of fact that all students in the school participated in religious education. Religious instruction focused on preparation for the sacraments. Participation in religious practices, such as daily Mass, confession, and adoration were obligatory, without discussion. Catechesis focused on the knowledge of God, the observation of the commands of God and the Church, and on eternal reward or punishment for people’s life on earth. This was, however, not very different from the religious education many hearing children received. In their case too, religious socialization took place in school, was collective, and not adapted to the individual child. Religious formation consisted of obligations imposed without discussion upon children within an authoritarian, one-way relationship between educational institute and child. Faith transmission took place according to a model that was supposed to be automatically effective because its content was supernatural. The biographies of many people in Western Europe who received their religious formation in those years shows how little this way of faith transmission had taken root when the societal context changed. Sometimes there were even long-lasting, negative side effects such as real blockades for further religious development.1 Vergouwen attributes the rapid secularization and de-traditionalization of Western Europe to this form of religious education. This is our current narrative about the past. From the 1960s and ’70s onward, rapid changes took place in the Church, society, and deaf education. In schools for the deaf, a growing number of students did not come from traditional Catholic 1

Cornelia Vergouwen, Een hemelsbrede gelijkenis: Geloofsopvoeding in godsdienstpsychologischperspectief(Kampen: Kok, 2001), 2.



families. Rather, these schools had children who belonged to other Christian Churches, were from families with a non-Christian religion (especially Islam), or from families without a religion. The majority of Catholic children came from ‘culturally Catholic’ environments: environments shaped by a Catholic background but no longer involved with the Church and religion. Within a few decades, Catholicism dropped from a high-status majority religion to a low-status minority religion. The same process took place among the staff of traditionally Catholic institutes. In the past, boarding staff consisted mainly of religious brothers and sisters, but they were gradually substituted by lay people. Initially, it was still logical for them to respect the Catholic identity of the institutes. But in the end, Catholic rituals and sacraments became objects of mockery, even for those with Catholic backgrounds.2 The traditional narratives about the Church were no longer understood, and catechetical projects had to be given to students, the majority of whom came come from and environments which were very remote from Catholicism. These catechetical projects were also given by teachers with only a very thin connection with Catholic religion. Gradually, catechesis disappeared from the curriculum. The plausibility structure for Catholic faith had disappeared. For deaf people, this meant that generations of deaf people grew up without any connection to the Catholic faith in a Deaf Culture that is becoming entirely secular. Catholic faith became something for elderly deaf people. Loss of Connection with the Deaf Community In the meantime, the larger perspective on deafness changed in society. In the same period as the loss of Catholic tradition, the 2

Cf. Joop van Corven, “In a Catholic Deaf School,” in EyePeople:Giftto theChurch (Manchester: Henesy House, 1989).



emancipation of Sign Language and Deaf Culture took place. It became more and more common for deaf people to teach in schools for the deaf and for there to be staff members involved in social and health care services for the deaf. In many places, deaf leadership is still an exception in pastoral ministry. Deaf people have to overcome high barriers before they are allowed to do more than make coffee or run office errands in pastoral ministry. The fundamentally un-Christian view that deafness is an incomplete form of humanity, with no other meaning than a disability to be cured, is still deeply rooted in the mentality of many hearing Christians. Disability is not seen as a life in its own worth; disability is pitiful suffering from which a person has to be redeemed. There are almost no connections between the disability rights movement and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has too often regarded emancipation movements with suspicion. It is not an incident that the beatification of Oscar Romero had been postponed for many years. In the past, self-denial and kenosis were interpreted in a partial way, with the risk that people felt obliged to passively experience injustice. Selfassertion or emancipation was seen as selfishness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Gospel invites people to the freedom and dignity of being children of God and to free expression, not as egocentric self-manifestation, but as a gift to other people: refraining from free self-expression is an omission and involves a serious lack of love. Injustice has to be fought, not by violence, but by intelligent social action, in the way of Christian Satyagraha that we described in Chapter 8. As we discussed in various places in this book, the lack of support given by churches to the emancipation of deaf people is the real cause of the almost complete secularization of Deaf Communities. In the era of traditional Catholicism it was already noted that many deaf youth had a very limited knowledge of the Church and



faith.3 In the early ’70s, Russo reported that more than one-third of deaf youth in Catholic schools did not know the three Persons of the Trinity, and the majority of Catholic youth who went to Mass every Sunday did not know Church doctrine about the Eucharist. Almost one-tenth thought that God might die just like anybody else, and the majority thought that God was in space and in the Church, but not elsewhere. If such ignorance and misunderstanding prevailed in the era of traditional Catholicism, then this lack of knowledge can only be expected to increase today. For many deaf youth, Christmas is the birthday of Santa Claus, and Easter is the feast of the eggs. These important days are seen as nothing but funny and cozy things which have nothing to do with such boring and typically hearing institutions as the Catholic Church. A Correlational Praxis of Two-Way Access If Catholic pastoral ministry has to renew its connection with the Deaf Community, this renewal will certainly not succeed if it remains a one-way process, in the sense of a kind of mission to the deaf. Where two different, seemingly separate worlds meet, a theologically sound method of ‘two-way access’4 must be developed. That means that deaf people should be given the opportunity of fully participate in the life of the Church. But at the same time, the Church has to find the means to gain access to and to be present in the experiential worlds of deaf people, recognizing the full worth of their lives and their worlds. One of the consequences of this

3 Anthony J. Schuerger, “Church Programmes for Deaf Teenagers,” in Eye People:GifttotheChurch; Anthony Russo, TheGodoftheDeafAdolescent:An InsideView(New York: Paulist Press, 1975), 75. 4 Eiesland, TheDisabledGod, 22-23.



option is that the Church gives full-hearted and effective support to people’s efforts toward personal and social emancipation. A valuable model for this process of two-way access is critical correlational praxis, as it is called by Rebecca Chopp.5 This process differs fundamentally from the traditional correlation paradigm in two ways. First, it does not assume that Christian tradition has something in common with the personal experience of deaf people and Deaf Culture. On the contrary, it accepts that they have almost nothing in common, but tries to find ways in which Deaf Culture and Christian tradition can be brought into contact in daily life situations. Secondly, this process is not mediated only by language and symbols, but by concrete and common actions in daily life that can lead to change and to the enrichment of Christian tradition. It is a process in which both sides, deaf people and deaf communities on one side, and Christian communities on the other, are invited to have new experiences together. This critical correlational praxis of two-way access requires a reconsideration of church models used in pastoral ministry and of the role of the pastor. The Church as Community of the Covenant The Second Vatican Council formulated a view on the Church in which the Church is a living community of all baptized people, a sacrament of the unity of all baptized people with each other and with God.6 Only after this, there is a difference between ordained ministers and laypeople which is, however, not a differ-

5 Rebecca Chopp, “Practical Theology and Liberation,” in Formation and Reflection, ed. Lewis S. Mudge and James N. Poling (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987), 130-131. 6 LumenGentium, 1.



ence in dignity,7 but only a distinction in gifts with which the Holy Spirit leads his Church.8 The Church as community of the New Covenant is open to all people without distinction, and if any group of people is absent in that community of the covenant, the catholic mission of the Church is incomplete. Building up the community of the covenant is the calling and charisma of every baptized person. If deafness is not a form of incomplete or unredeemed humanity, but an aspect of the diversity with which God has created humankind,9 there is no reason to think that deaf people do not have the same rights and duties as all other baptized people. Likewise, there is no reason to believe deaf people do not have the same variety of priestly, prophetic, and kingly gifts among them which are based on baptismal priesthood,10 as among all baptized people. In our era, people lament the shortage of priests in the Church. This shortage, however, might be a blessing for the Church. Pastors are forced to make an appeal to laypeople, and who is more equipped to work for the inclusion and participation of people with a disability than those people themselves? Formed as we are by the Catholic tradition of Contra-Reform, we are still accustomed to attribute to ministry in the Church — not only ordained ministry, but every work of professional pastors, including those who are not ordained — a higher status than the Church membership of laypeople. Next to ordained and not ordained professional ministry, Church communities have a large number of other ministries,

7 “Everything that has been said above concerning the People of God is intended for the laity, religious and clergy alike” (ibid., 30). 8 Ibid., 4. 9 Marcel Broesterhuizen, “A Liberating Approach to Human Contingency,” Gregorianum89 (2008): 150-167, at 166-167. 10 ApostolicamActuositatem, 10.



some formalized and others not.11 Many of those ministries are made possible by the work of volunteers. Most parishes rely heavily on volunteers, and they would not survive without them. In some places, almost one-third of regular churchgoers do some form of volunteer work with the parish. Volunteers are active in the fields of catechesis, liturgy, diakonia, and koinonia. Volunteers play an indispensable role in the relationship between faith and concrete life in the community,12 and the incarnation of faith into daily life. This makes the Church the largest volunteer organization in society. Informal ministries realized by laypeople vary from simple jobs to highly specialized work. Deaf people should also be invited to give their contribution to this volunteer work. Then they will no longer be objects of charity — Jacqueline Kool’s main objection against the charity ideal13 — but subjects of ministry within the Church. If they do not get this opportunity, they will be denied access to a central aspect of Christian life. In the opinion of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, only in a complete and unlimited gift of oneself to other persons in a relationship of love can Christian personhood be received as a gift. Denying a person the ability to freely and completely give oneself to others blocks their path toward Christian personhood.14


“It is a blessing that the Church has not given a definition of all the diversity of ministries that arise from baptism” (Martin Byrne, “Peer Ministry in the School for the Deaf,” in MinisteringWhereNoBirdsSing: Proceedingsofthe FifthInternationalConferenceofTheInternationalCatholicFoundationforthe ServiceofDeafPeopleheldinValladolid,Spain[Manchester: International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons, 1998], 103). 12 Mathieu P. J. Knippenberg, Mensen voor mensen: Een theologie van de vrijwilligerindekerk(Breda: Bisdom Breda, 2003). 13 Jacqueline Kool, Goedbedoeld:Levensbeschouwelijkkijkennaarhandicap enziekte(Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 2002), 72-84. 14 Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis and Abuse: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Feminist Theologies in Conversation,” ModernTheology19 (2003): 41-65, at 41-42.



Sometimes this invitation has to take place in a critical way, such as when a person is too accustomed to being an object of care, charity, and sympathy. It may be necessary to help people overcome learned helplessness15 and the habit of always seeing oneself as a victim. In this way, pastoral ministry is no longer the pastor, ordained or not ordained, at work, an essentially pre-Vatican II view on pastoral ministry, but the community of the covenant at work. The Pastor as Carrier of the Covenant If pastoral ministry is the community of the covenant at work, the role of the pastor essentially changes. The pastor is no longer a carrier of narratives, symbols, and rituals, but a carrier of the covenant. The pastor is someone who supports and stimulates the community to be a community of the covenant in order to recognize, test, and stimulate the formal and informal charismas of members of the community, putting them at the service of community life. As such, pastors can no longer work individually: they need collaborators and partners in their work of building up community and in their effort to enable as many people as possible to give their contribution and, if possible, to be formed for pastoral ministry. Of course, not all people can become professional pastors, but there are many other personal gifts that can be put to the service of the community. For example, members can serve the community by visiting the sick, maintaining liturgical garments, working in soup kitchens, preparing children for the sacraments, bringing Holy Communion to the sick, supporting the parish secretariat, maintaining the cemetery, etc. Pastors cannot perform all these 15 Cf. G. T. M. Burger, Verplegenvanverstandelijkgehandicapten(Houten: Bohn, Stafleu & Van Loghum, 2005), 115: “Persons with an intellectual disability are not called to account for what they are able to. The consequence of this underestimation is learned helplessness.”



services by themselves without neglecting their pastoral duties. However, much of this volunteer work can be done by deaf persons, including deaf people with additional problems. The community of the covenant does not involve only ‘respectable’ people in its activities. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God (1 Cor 1:26-29).

From this point of view, pastoral ministry is the Church at work: practical ecclesiology. This means that judgment about the quality of pastoral ministry does not only depend on the goals and activities of the pastor, but on the goals of the community as a whole. Good practice in pastoral ministry means that the community as a whole manifests itself in a way to which the following can be applied: If Christians, Deaf or hearing, are really serious about engaging and working with Deaf people and providing the sort of church that Jesus might say ‘Yes, that’s the way it should be!’ then good theological thinking and right actions have got to go hand in hand. Good, sound, well thought out theology and practice must address the very serious failings that have in the past spoiled the church’s Christian witness to Deaf people and therefore the wider society.16

Fun, Friendship, Fellowship, and Faith in the Deaf Diaspora Where should this pastoral ministry take place? Traditionally, pastoral ministry with the deaf aimed at the formation of deaf 16

Roger Hitching, “Deaf Perspectives: Challenging Dominant Christian Thought,” EvangelicalQuarterly77 (2005): 190-192, at 191.



worshipping communities: Deaf Churches. The Anglican theologian Wayne Morris17 tried to analyze, through in-depth interviews with deaf people, how deaf people perceive Deaf Churches. He comes to the conclusion that Deaf Churches are welcoming places of inclusion, where differences between people are accepted, and fellowship is experienced. The American Southern Baptist pastor Bob Ayres states, however, that most traditional Deaf Churches are mainly visited by elderly deaf people. Young deaf people are completely absent.18 The reason for this can be found in profound changes in deaf education that have taken place from the 2000s onward. Since the last two decades, the role of residential institutes for the deaf, with their prominent role in the continuity of Deaf Communities and the transmission of deaf heritage and Sign Language, came to an end by two developments: the mainstreaming of deaf children into regular schools, and new medical-audiological technology, especially cochlear implantation. In spite of the fury of Deaf Communities over these developments, hearing parents continued to have their deaf children cochlear implanted and mainstreamed into regular schools, although mainstreaming often took place with the help of a Sign Language interpreter and in small units of deaf children. These developments led to radical changes in the Deaf Community. An enormous scattering of the Deaf Community took place. Deaf journals, deaf cultural activities, and deaf organizations disappeared. Young deaf people are more isolated now than they were in the past. They yearn for contact with other young people, and an opportunity for such contact is available through forms of 17 Morris Wayne Morris, TheologywithoutWords:TheologyintheDeafCommunity(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 119. 18 Bob Ayres, DeafDiaspora:TheThirdWaveDeafMinistry(Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2004).



electronic communication such as e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook, and Facetime. These forms of communication enable young deaf people to contact a wide range of people and to make appointments with deaf friends both near and far. These can lead to the formation of large, general youth events, such as pop festivals. Deaf people, especially young deaf people, have many transnational contacts through the internet. As a result, it can be said without exaggeration that a virtual Deaf Community has been born. Young deaf people prefer this virtual Deaf Community over the traditional deaf clubs, and over traditional Deaf Churches. Ayres’s conclusion is that pastoral ministry to the younger generations of deaf people in this Diaspora needs to adopt a different approach. Younger generations of deaf people are in need of personal relationships and a robust sense of belonging. Deaf young people need to gather, have fun together, and socialize with one another.19 The approach that Ayres proposes can be summarized in four words: fun, friendship, fellowship, and faith. Activities and occasions should be created where deaf people can have fun, but in such a way that enables the development of genuine relationships. Friendships lead to fellowship, koinonia, the experience of authentic, loving relationships with people who really know us. Friendship and fellowship can develop only where there is full acceptance of difference and diversity, both within and outside of Deaf Communities. Conclusion Pastoral ministry must address the fundamental need of deaf people to live in community with fellow deaf people. Pastoral ministry cannot limit itself to an impersonal method of administering the 19

Ayres, DeafDiaspora, 129.



sacraments but must support deaf people in building up the Deaf Community in an era of Diaspora. Pastors have to be aware that many deaf people’s first point of interest is meeting the Deaf Community for fun and friendship, and that this particular presence of the Church functions for deaf people in a similar way to the people’s Church of the past. Pastors should not consider this truth to be an obstacle for pastoral ministry but must rather adopt this reality as its starting point.