INDIAN CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
Dr. Leonard Fernando, S.J.
All religions have their theologies. They try to give answers to people’s questions regarding suffering and injustice in the world, meaning of life here on earth and what happens after death, etc. Christians believe that God created everything good. But the humans disobey God and bring evil and suffering into the world. But the loving and merciful God promises to free them from evil and suffering and restore the Reign of God. God becomes human in Jesus and announces the coming of God’s kingdom: “The
has come near;
repent and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:14-15) The central message of Jesus
is the Kingdom
of God . Through his
teaching, parables, and miracles Jesus makes it clear to the people what the Kingdom of
God is and what are its demands. kingdom of God
The core message of Jesus contains an indicative which epitomizes all Christian theology and an imperative which sums up all Christian ethics. Its indicative is the proclamation of the kingdom, that is, the revelation of God’s unconditional love. Its imperative is a call to repentance, that is, the demand that we open our hearts to this love and respond to it by loving God in the neighbour.
The vision of Jesus is theological, not sociological. It spells out the values of the new society (freedom, fellowship, justice), not the concrete social structures through which these values are realized and protected. To elaborate these is our never-to-be-ended task.
And this task is not easy. Though we have trusted God and surrendered ourselves through faith, the problems we face in the world confuse us. And so we seek understanding and clarity so that we can discern God’s will and act accordingly. This process of seeking is called theology. So theology can be described as ‘faith seeking transformation’, though understanding is a requirement for transformation. By ‘faith’ we mean our commitment to God and God’s project of making the
real in the
world. This supposes a transformation of
ourselves and of the world. kingdom
Indian Christian Theology
Contextual theology is not peculiar to
What is special to India
is its context. Theology becomes Indian by a three-fold impact of the
context – the many poor, the rich cultures and the living religions. Besides this context there is also an Indian
way of thinking. India
Indians and Jesus Christ
Jesus is not unknown in
Many Indian devotees, and not only Christians, have a deep respect for and
trust in Jesus Christ. Many like to pray to him, or through him? His picture is
revered in many Indian homes. Shri Paramahamsa Ramakrishna is said to have had
a vision of Jesus where the Master-Yogin Jesus embraced Ramakrishna and became
merged in him and Ramakrishna went into samadhi and lost all outward
consciousness. Mahatma Gandhi had a great regard for Jesus Christ. He wrote:
“To me, He was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had.” Jawaharlal
Nehru calls Jesus “a born rebel who could not tolerate existing conditions and
was out to change them. This was not what the Jews wanted, and so most of them
turned against him and handed him over to the Roman authorities.” India
Theology in Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
Religions communicate themselves not only through their scriptures and theological writings, but also through their architecture, painting, and sculpture. The earliest and best attested Christian symbol is the so-called cross of
. The message of this beautiful piece of art is
clear: the cross where Jesus was crucified is the source of Life. Everything
around the cross suggests life. The Spirit of God descends on the cross and
points to the mysterious fruitfulness of the supreme sacrifice of Jesus. the body of Jesus is not represented in
this ancient symbol. St
From the beginning of the Mughal mission Jesuits introduced a lot of pictures into Mughal territory. They saw pictures as means of evangelisation and objects of veneration in their churches. They gave pictures of Christian paintings to Akbar and Jahangir and the Mughal Emperors employed skilled painters to copy the Christian paintings. The Indian painters copied foreign models in their own way, either remaining scrupulously faithful or imitating only those aspects considered relevant. These elements would then be artfully transposed into a specifically Indian context.
Hindu and Muslim painters in the Mughul court were busy for centuries reproducing paintings brought from outside
and giving them an Indian setting and an Indian message. Jesus appears at home
in the Indian colourful settings, with their lush vegetation and exotic fauna.
The miniatures brim over with life. The Indianness of Jesus is stressed, for
instance, in a Last Supper scene where Jesus and his disciples wear eastern
garbs – except for Judas who is presented in Portuguese clothing! India
The most creative Indian art about Jesus come probably from the Bengal school of painting that flourished during the
Bengal renaissance of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries thanks to the efforts of the Tagores and others. The
crucifixion and the sufferings of Jesus are very common themes of many modern
In the recent years many Indian artists, both Christians and people of other religious traditions, have used Indian symbols and images in Christian paintings. Jyoti Sahi is a well known artist in this venture. In his paintings he makes use of Indian religious symbols. In his earlier attempts at giving expression to the Indian Christian community’s aspirations he used the Indian myths and symbol taken from the Hindu religious tradition. Later the study of the relationship between myth, symbol, ritual and art and their influence and meaning with regard to the pattern of social life of the tribals in
became an important theme in his work. Thus came about important works from him on tribal Christian themes.
Recently he has done a painting with tribal Christian images in the chapel of
the Goessner Theological seminary at India ,
Jharkhand. This is an example of his attempt at coming up with a new Christian iconography, which relates to the
local tribal community. Ranchi
There is a church built by tribals and for the tribals in
which is of their culture. Jyoti Sahi refers to the Catholic cathedral at
Kohima in north-east
where an inculturation is attempted in the construction of churches in the
traditional model of the house of the chieftain of the Naga tribe. India
Traditions found in the West, West Asia and
India say that St Thomas, one of the twelve closest disciples of Jesus,
in the very first century. The “Malabar” or “Indian tradition” says that Thomas
landed in Kodungaloor near India Kochi in 52 CE and that he died a martyr’s death in
Mylapore, now part of the city of ,
in the year 72 CE. His tomb in Mylapore was a well-known centre of pilgrimage
in the Middle Ages. Chennai
The Christian communities in Kerala, in spite of its ancient origin, did not bring forth any theological school. Because of their link to the
their Christology had traits of Nestorianism. The positive impact of this
Nestorian influence was that it promoted among them a great devotion to the
humanity of Jesus. As J.B. Chethimattam notes, “the Malabar Christians
venerated the humanity of Christ to such a point as to consider Jesus of
Nazareth almost a human individual taken over by the Logos. The Divine Office
praised the Logos for having extricated the individual man Jesus from death,
taken him to heaven and made him lord and maker of all things.” East
Conversion Movement on the
The conversion movement in the
Pearl Fishery Coast
in the sixteenth century in Tamilnadu brought the Jesuits to so that they may give
religious instruction to the new converts and eventually spread Christianity
there and elsewhere. On October 1542 St Francis Xavier went to Manappad on the India . He was accompanied by three young
Christians from the Fishery coast who had been sent to Fishery Coast Goa
to study for the priesthood. They were Xavier’s interpreters and catechists.
They helped Xavier to have a small catechism book translated into Tamil. Later
Henry Henriques, the Jesuit who came to after Francis Xavier, learnt
Tamil very well and translated books in Tamil. His translations and that of the
three mentioned and attempts at explaining the beliefs of Christians may be
considered as the first step towards theology in Tamil language. India
Devasahayam, a Lay Martyr
On January 13, 1752 Devasahayam, a Hindu convert to Christianity, was shot dead at the hillock near Aralvaimozhi about 12 kilometeres east of Nagercoil. His mortal remains rest now in the present Cathedral of Kottar (Nagercoil). Devasahayam’s memory is kept up in the folklore in the form of Natahams (dramas) that were composed soon after his death and enacted in the villages. The “Devasahayam Pillai Nataham” had a great fascination for the village people. The dramas are enacted over a span of several days. Thanks to this medium the fame of the martyr spread far and wide. The dramas bring out emphatically the reasons for which Devasahayam was killed – his conversion to Christianity and his disregard for the rigid caste distinctions of the society, giving up the rights of his noble birth by identifying himself with the outcastes and the marginalised. Today 250 years after his martyrdom he still lives vividly in the hearts of the people. And these dramas enacted must be also counted among the Christian theologies.
Roberto de Nobili
Roberto de Nobili, who came to
in 1606, adopted a
new way of life. He left the mission house of Fr Fernandes, built a mud house
in the Brahmin quarter of Madurai, allowed there no chairs or other European
furniture, got permission to remove his black soutane that identified him as a
Christian priest and to wear instead the ochre robe of a sannyasi, became
vegetarian in his diet and took meals only once a day. He claimed to be from
the kshatriya background since his Italian family were from the nobility, and
also to be a sannyasin by choice, who had come to preach the Sattiya Veda. De Nobili managed to
make friends with a Brahmin who agreed to teach him Sanskrit and the Indian
scriptures. At the same time with his guidance he studied Tamil seriously. Madurai
Nobili’s approach to Hindus and Hinduism had some features of dialogue. He allowed the Hindus explain their tenets and practices while he explained Christianity’s. An important contribution of de Nobili is the Indian Christian theological vocabulary that he came up with thanks to his scholarship in Indian culture and religions which helped him to coin the suitable concepts and terms to explain the Christian mysteries.
Constant Joseph Beschi (1680-1747), an Italian who came to the
mission in 1707 went still further.
He expressed the Christian mysteries in the form of poetry and prose in Tamil.
He wrote a classic epic Thembavani (the
unfading garland) in honour of Madurai , the husband of Mary. The epic contains 3615
strophes of four verses each. He composed fifteen small poems in honour of
Mother Mary. He installed in the church he built in Konankuppam an image of
Mother Mary as a Tamil woman in sari wearing bangles and earrings with Jesus in
her arms and called her Periyanayaki (The Great Lady), a term borrowed from
Tamil bhakti tradition. St
One must also mention a masterpiece of early Konkani/Marathi literature, the Krista Purana, written by an English Jesuit Fr Thomas Stephens (c.1549-1619). He wrote the biblical epic Krista Purana in 10,962 stanzas, first printed in 1616 and reprinted a few times later. In times of persecution this was one of the books that sustained the faith of the Christian communities of the west
Indian Protestantism began in the 18th century and the first missionaries to arrive in Tarangambadi, Tamilnadu, on July 9th, 1706, were Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Pluetschau. As soon as Ziegenbalg, who was a linguist, could speak Tamil he began sessions of religious dialogue with the local population. We owe to him among other things the first Indian translation of the Bible, the Tamil Bible published in 1714 (Second Testament) and 1728 (First Testament, in cooperation with B. Schultze). He had positive view about Hinduism. He wrote:
I do not reject everything they teach, rather rejoice that for the heathen long ago a small light of the Gospel began to shine… One will fund here and there such teachings and passages in their writings which are not only according to human reason but also according to God’s Word.
A new era in Protestant missionary work in
was inaugurated in 1793 by William Carey of Serampore, who, like Ziegenbalg,
soon found himself grappling with the problems of Bible translation. He and his
colleagues eventually set up at Serampore what might almost be called a Bible
factory with many different linguistic departments, and succeeded in
translating the Bible, in whole or part, into more than thirty languages. For
many of the languages they thus established the basic vocabulary of Christian
The Gospel and the Indian Renaissance
Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833)
It was Christian ethics rather than Christian dogma which attracted Ram Mohan Roy. His study of Christianity led him to publish, in 1820, a book entitled The Precepts of Jesus. This is a collection of extracts from the four Gospels covering the greater part of the teaching of Jesus. His attitude to Christ is one of reverence, as for a great teacher and ‘messenger’ of God, but he denies that the title ‘son of God’ attributes divinity.
Keshab Chandra Sen (1838 -1884)
In the first of his series of annual public lectures, Jesus Christ: Europe and Asia, delivered in 1866, Sen calls Jesus ‘the son of a humble carpenter’ and speaks of his growth as human rather than divine, though he was ‘above ordinary humanity’. He says that Christ ignored and denied his self altogether – the kenosis and divinity filled that void. The Spirit of the Lord filled him, and everything was thus divine within him. He asked, “And was not Christ an Asiatic?” The West, he feels, has reduced Christianity to a series of ‘lifeless dogmas and antiquated symbols’, while the East realizes that what is needed is a living encounter with the living Christ. He was convinced that Christ had come to fulfil all that was best in the different faiths. And he asked his Hindu friends to turn to the Christ who is already with them, the Christ who is hidden in their Hindu faith.
He regarded the Cross as a beautiful emblem of self-sacrifice. And in imitation of that he said that we should sacrifice ourselves for the good of our country and of the world, and so find regeneration and sanctification. Sen seems to have been the first thinker to expound the meaning of the Trinity in relation to the famous definition of Brahman as Sacccidananda.
A.J. Appasamy (1891-1976)
Bishop Appasamy was brought up in a Christian home. He wrote his doctoral thesis titled The Mysticism of the Fourth Gospel in its Relation to Hindu Bhakti literature. He found in the Indian Bhakti tradition close affinities with Christianity and was convinced that they could be used as a way leading to the fuller Indian understanding of the faith. Appasamy points out that Johannine jnana, the ‘knowledge’ by which and in which we come to know Christ and through him the Father, is no intellectual affair, the mere removal of ignorance or avidya, but is rather the type of knowledge by which we know and love our most intimate friends.
Appasamy finds that the term avatara can be applied to the incarnation of Christ, provided certain safeguards are observed. In Hinduism, for instance, there are many avataras and in most of these God is regarded as being only partially present. He points out that such a conception is incompatible with the Christian view of the incarnate Christ who is the incarnation of the whole being of God, and in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. So too the purpose of the avatara as described in the Gita is inadequate, since Christ came not for ‘the destruction of the wicked’ but in order to save them. Further, the Gita presupposes that God becomes incarnate again and again, as need arises. For the Christian the incarnation of Christ is once for all and unique.
Pandipeddi Chenchiah (1886-1959)
A convert from Hinduism, Chenchiah was baptized along with his father as a small boy, and he retained his interest and reverential attitude to Hinduism. He believes that the Christian faith must be open to receive new insights from Indian culture, and he urges his Christian friends to “let the sluices of the great Indian culture be opened for the inundation of the Christian mind.” He advocated the policy of “Christian presence” saying that “to live Christ is to preach Christ.”
He was against the church in
which had become more institutionalised. His antipathy to the organized Church
extended also to the Church’s formulated doctrines which he felt to be an
intolerable burden on the free life of the Spirit. India
He emphasised the historicity and humanity of Christ and the human Christ was for him ideal of what man should be like, and can be like.
Vengal Chakkarai (1880-1958)
Chakkarai became a Christian in his twenties as the result of much thought and deep study of the Christian faith. While he studied in
he was deeply influenced by William Miller who had respect and appreciation for
the genuine depths and insights of Hinduism. Through his friendship with Miller
and his own study of the Bible he gradually came to a personal experience of
Christ, an experience which became the centre and turning point of his whole
life. Writing many years later he tells how it was Jesus’ cry of dereliction on
the Cross which affected him most, leading him to think of Jesus as a
mysterious being and ultimately to accept him as his Lord and Redeemer. He made
public profession of his faith and was baptized in 1903. Madras
As early as 1906 he threw himself into the national struggle, and this remained a passionate interest. Along with Chenchiah he was one of the founders of the
group known as the Christo Samaj, which worked for the Indianisation of the Church. Chakkarai
links the idea of God’s self-revelation in Christ with the concept of immanence
which is so popular in Hindu bhakti,
but gives to the word a new interpretation of his own. For Chakkarai God’s
immanence takes a special form when Christ becomes incarnate. It is a ‘human
immanence’, when God in Christ comes into the time-order for the redemption of
men, the immanence of Immanuel, God with us. Madras
Chakkarai sees the works of the Holy Spirit as a continuing part of the incarnation and in effect identifies the Spirit with the risen, living Christ at work in the world today. The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ Himself, taking His abode within us. Chakkarai’s Christology is a Christology of the Spirit. Chakkarai believes that Hinduism has been preparing men’s hearts for Christ, and that the God who speaks in the Bible is the same who has revealed himself as paramatman in
It is the same paramatman, the
Supreme, that was in the rishis of
old and by whom they spoke at different times and degrees, who is the secret of
the Christian consciousness. India
The Hindu-Catholic Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (1861-1907)
His family background and the Bengali renaissance played a vital role in his becoming a Christian. He took that step after a long, serious and deep reflection and at a great cost. Convinced that the way of life ideal for a missionary in
to spread Christian faith was to become a Sannyasi, towards the end of 1894 he
decided to become a Sannyasi. He went about barefoot and in the traditional
saffron robe of a sannyasi with a cross hung from the neck. While making the
declaration that he was becoming a sannyasi he mentioned the adoption of his
new name, by which he wanted to be called and which with some changes has
remained his name into posterity. He wrote: “I have adopted the life of a
Bhikshu (mendicant) Sannyasi. The practice prevalent in our country is to adopt
a new name… My family surname is Vandya (praised) Upadhyay (teacher, lit.
sub-teacher), and my baptismal name is Brahmabandhu (Theophilus). I have
abandoned the first portion of my family surname, because I am a disciple of
Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, the Despised
Man. So my new name is Upadhyaya Brahmabandhu.” In the November 1895 issue of Sophia this name was changed to
Brahmabandhav. He is now known more by the Bengali pronunciation of that name
Christianity and its encounter with Indian culture is one of the issues about which Upadhyay often voiced his views. As an Indian Christian his concern was the lack of Indianness of Christianity in
He pleaded for and worked for promoting the Indian identity of Christianity. He
criticised severely the western character of Christianity in India . The Catholic religion was
imported from outside and not incarnated in the local Indian culture. He
rightly viewed this as going against its very name Catholic – universal
religion. He said: “In our humble opinion it is the foreign clothes of Catholic
faith that have chiefly prevented our countrymen from perceiving its universal
nature.” He pointed out that western food, clothes; ways of behaviour and
thinking patterns are the biggest hurdles for Christianity to be acceptable to
many Indians. India
To counter the negative image of Christians and the Christian communities in
he proposed some concrete steps. He said that it was highly important that
converts to Catholicism should preserve their social customs, their dress,
their good manners, their habits of cleanliness and their natural temperance
and simplicity, in a word, that they should give no room for the accusation so
often repeated that “to become a Christian is to be denationalised.” India
Drawing from his experience as an itinerant preacher he observed: “Our missionary experiences have shown us how unintelligible the Catholic doctrines appear to the Hindus when presented in the Scholastic garb. The Hindu mind is extremely subtle and penetrative, but is opposed to the Graeco-Scholastic method of thinking. We must fall back upon the Vedantic method in formulating the Catholic religion to our countrymen. In fact the Vedanta must be made to do the same service to Catholic faith in
India as was done by the Greek philosophy in Europe.
Upadhyay, with his personal knowledge of the Hindu religious tradition and the Sanskrit language, sought to inculturate Christian faith in Indian religious thought. A fine attempt at this venture was the well known Hymn to the Blessed Trinity Vande Saccidānadam published under the title ‘A Canticle’, in Sophia October 1898. This hymn was put to music by Fr R. Antoine, SJ and was sung during the Eucharistic Congress of Bombay in 1964. Sanskrit expressions with traditional Hindu resonances were made to articulate Christian meanings.
Upadhyay had always remained an ardent nationalist, uncomfortable with the British dominance in the Indian soil. He started seven publications. As the years advanced the anger in his writings against the British power became more pronounced. By 1904 he was convinced, and expressed that conviction in strong terms, that the only option that is acceptable to Indians is the independence of
without any connection with
the British power. On 3 September 1907 Upadhyay was arrested for his writings. Technically a prisoner of the Raj, he was
operated for hernia the next day and on 27 October 1907 he died of tetanus with
the word Thakur (lord)
frequently in his lips. India
Ashrams and Indian Christian Theology
Since the 1940’s attempts were made – first among the Protestants and slowly also among the Catholics – to relate Christian faith with the tradition of sannyasa and ashram. Something of this kind was tried by Brahmobandhav Upadhyaya but he was forced to give up. Today’s Christian Ashram and sannyasa movement can be traced back to the work of three pioneers – Swami Parama Arubi Anandam, Swami Abhishiktananda and Swami Dayananda (Bede Griffiths) associated with the Saccidannda Ashram of Shantivanam. Thannirpalli.
Swami Dayananda (1906 – 1993)
As the guru, spiritual guide and the acharya, teacher of Shantivanam Ashram, Swami Dayananda or Bede Griffiths carried on the tradition set by his illustrious predecessors – Monchanin and Abhishiktananda. Thanks to his presence his Ashram became a centre of spiritual pilgrimage. People from every part of the world in search of God or simply in search of meaning for life came and listened with rapt attention to the upanyasa – spiritual instructions of the guru and spent sometime in the Ashram to experience communion with the nature, themselves and the ultimate mystery. Bede Griffiths led them into the search for God and truth since he himself was always a seeker, one who journeyed through many spiritual worlds.
Some of the spiritual and theological writings of Bede Griffiths were originally given as lectures to various groups. The personality of this sannyasi drew world-wide attention and he was rightly described by Raimon Panikkar as ‘one of today’s leading spiritual fathers in a world where there are too few.’
For Bede, there is certainly a clear parallel between the Saccidananda experience and the mystery of the Trinity. Therefore he calls for the experience and expression of the mystery of the Trinity in the Hindu way and terms. In this sense, the concern of inculturation is dominant in the thought of Bede Griffits. But he does not go to the point of a practical identification of Saccidananda and Trinity as was done by Abhishiktanaanda.
finds that the
Hindu Advaitic experience ends with the realization of the one, and with
identity with the One. But, for Bede, the Christian experience of the Trinity
does not end there. The experience of the Trinity is certainly the experience
of identity and unity, but it goes beyond. It breaks through the identity,
oneness and comes out as relation, love in a unity that is differentiated. In
this connection Griffith
states: “The ultimate Reality is love and love is relationship. You cannot have
love with one (a static unity), and that is the weakness of a pure advaita.
There is no love ultimately. There is pure consciousness, but no love. And yet
in the Christian understanding there is pure consciousness and pure love:
Self-knowing and self giving. The whole creation comes to its fullness in the
intimacy of personal relationship. So, the personal God is in the Ultimate
Godhead. The Ultimate Godhead is both beyond person and integrates person.” Griffith
Myth and Mystique
If the myth of various religious traditions permits us to peep into the depth experience in which religions meet, cosmic revelation is seen by
as another bond
of union among the religions. To this primordial manifestation of the Divine
belong, in the Hebrew tradition, figures like Adam, Noah, Mechizedek. In
Hinduism, this cosmic revelation in its exterior aspect is expressed in Vedic
tradition, and in its interior aspect in the Upanishads. Griffiths
In relating Christianity to other religious traditions, the position of Bede Griffiths, as he himself admits, has undergone an evolution. In the early years of his life in
and contact with Hinduism, he was concerned more to link harmoniously the Hindu
tradition to Christianity as its fulfilment. But he was led further. He said: “I
did once hold the view of ‘fulfilment’, but for many years now I have accepted
‘complementarity’. This means that each tradition is unique in its own way, and
I try to show what is unique in the Christian understanding of ultimate reality
as a Trinitarian mystery, but I hold also that the Hindu experience of God as
Saccidananda and the Buddhist experience of sunyata are both unique in their
Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010)
The focal point of Panikkar’s thought is the principle of radical relativity of the entire reality. Nothing can be understood and defined without reference to its being in relation to the rest of reality. Every being bears in itself the stamp of the divine, the human and the cosmic. Having found no appropriate word that could express this truth he coins a new term, which nevertheless is very expressive – cosmotheandric. Since all beings share in the divine, the human and the cosmic, they are all internally in their nature related to each other.
The same vision of unity leads Panikkar to link also time and eternity which have been generally viewed in opposition to each other. Panikkar unites these two poles with another neologism – tempiternity. Tempiternity is characteristic of all reality which bears in itself some dimension of transcendence as well as some dimension of temporality.
Models of inter-religious relationships
From out of his vision of a dialogue, Panikkar develops a theology of religions in their inter-relatedness. He proposes several models for understanding and expressing the inter-relationship among the religions. One such model is rainbow or what he calls the physical model. He explains it saying that ‘the different religious traditions of mankind are like the almost infinite number of colours that appear once the divine or simply the white light of reality falls on the prism of human experience; it refracts into innumerable traditions, doctrines and religious systems. Green is not yellow; Hinduism is not Buddhism, and yet at the fringe one cannot know, except by postulating it artificially, where yellow ends and green begins. According to this vision of Panikkar no religious tradition can isolate itself by erecting fences and hedges all around; the boundaries between religions are something very fluid; one would flow into the other, all of them being manifestations of the same light in its different colours.
According to another model – anthropological model – the religions would be like the variety of languages. As a language is complete in itself and yet with the possibility of growth and evolution in keeping with its own inner organic structure, so also every religion forms an organic whole which can grow and evolve. A religion cannot be simply compared or properly translated, but has to be understood on this own ground by entering into its universe; just as one learns a language by learning it and speaking it from its world of semantics and experience. As is clear, this model has a lot of consequence for understanding the nature of relationship among religions.
The Mystery of Jesus
Panikkar approaches the mystery of Jesus who is the epiphany of Christ, the transcendent and at the same time immanent mystery. Jesus, therefore, is Christ. But the inverse is not correct. Christ cannot be identified with Jesus. The mystery of Christ is not exhausted in the mystery of Jesus. He places the Jesus of history against the trans-historical horizon of the Christ which is universal. In this way, Panikkar wants to open up a space for a meaningful dialogue and encounter with other religious traditions.
D.S. Amalorpavdoss (1932 – 1990)
Amalorpavadoss can be characterized first and foremost as a pastoral theologian. His theological efforts were directed to enable the Christian community in
India to live
the Gospel meaningfully and relate itself to the world and society relevantly,
taking into serious account the religious and cultural legacy of .
In his book Toward Indigenization in the Liturgy, Amalorpavadass outlined the inculturation project in its totality. According to him, efforts at inculturation should encompass: (a) the sensible forms, which envisages linguistic adaptations, the formation of priests and religious with an Indian mentality and outlook, sociological changes (in the sense that Christians should be like Indians in everything else except their faith), and art which includes Church architecture, music, painting and sculpture; (b) the conceptual forms of inculturation which touch upon theology.
Amalorpavadass envisaged inculturation to be a project of liberation not merely from the Western religio-cultural symbols but also from the systemic poverty that plagued the Indian population. He imagined an inculturated Indian church that would penetrate deeply into the lives of the Indian people through genuine commitment to social justice and towards the creation of a new society.
His theological contribution must be placed against the background of the immediate post-Conciliar period when the new vision and new ferment of thought generated by the Council led also to a situation of crisis in many areas of life in the Church. It was also a time of crisis in many areas of life in the church. It was also a time of crisis in the traditional understanding and practice of mission. The teachings of the Council on religious freedom, on the possibility of salvation even outside the Church and its positive appraisal of non-Christian religions brought in their wake critical questioning about the purpose and meaningfulness of mission or evangelization. These were crucial questions the response to which had a lot to do with the shaping of the local Church and its future orientation. At this juncture, a theological clarification of these issues and some pointers to the future were badly required. Precisely to this need of the hour Amalorpavadoss responded.
The author’s understanding of evangelization marked by the concerns of dialogue, liberation, inculturation and Indian spirituality, permeates any theological question he takes up for study and reflection. Particularly noteworthy are the author’s various efforts to strip liturgy of its Western trappings and turn it into an experience rooted in the Indian spiritual and cultural tradition.
His theology of religion is solidly founded on the conviction that there is only one history of God’s dealings with humanity. By all kinds of dichotomies like natural and supernatural, material and spiritual are removed. As for human community, it is on a common yatra, journey or pilgrimage. Given these basic truths, the various religious traditions are not opposed to each other. Nor are the various religious traditions and their spiritualities to be regarded simply as something belonging to the natural order. They all are assumed in God’s dealings with humanity, and they constitute his providential ways for salvation. It means that an individual belonging to another religion encounters God’s grace and salvation not in spite of his religion, but rather in his own religious tradition, as socially and historically constituted. If basically there is but one history of God’s dealing with humanity; if the entire human community is on a common pilgrimage; and if God’s grace and salvation reaches the believers through their respective religious tradition, then, logically the scriptures and religious rituals through which a person is sustained in his or her religious faith, are also in a certain sense and in varying degrees channels of God’s communication and means of experiencing his grace.
John Britto Chethimattam (b. 1922)
Chethimattam confirms the uniqueness of Christ. This can be understood only if we hold in mind the dialectic between universality and particularity underlying his thought. According to him, while we should admit – given the one common humanity of all people – the convergence of all human in a transcendent and universal unity, we should not, nevertheless, divest the particular of its concrete historical specificity and absorb it into an ultimate unity. The particular in its specificity must be recognized and affirmed. It is this dialectical relationship between the universal and the particular that leads J.B. Chethimattam to affirm also the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He explains what he means saying: “What has to be emphasized here is that uniqueness is not necessarily having something which no one else has. A person with six fingers on a hand is not unique; he is a freak. Unique is what in a special manner realizes in itself something that is universally called for. Christianity is unique because it proclaims what is implicitly sought in every religion, that the human race which is one with a single history has effectively encountered God in Jesus of Nazareth.”
Inter-religious dialogue was of particular interest to the author. Inter religious dialogue requires both a theology for dialogue and a theology of dialogue. By the former J.B. Chethimattam means the rethinking within a particular religious group about its traditional beliefs, practices, laws, etc., in order to identify and remove the things hindering dialogue. For him dialogue is an effort to make other faiths intelligible in their own right, and in that way make our faith more intelligible and relevant both for ourselves and others. Corresponding to this understanding of dialogue, evangelization is seen by him as the effort to express and communicate to the partner which we believe in. Dialogue asks each one: Tell us how God has disclosed himself to you?
says: this is how
God has revealed himself to us, and what he said and did may be relevant also
for you. Mission
Oriental Theological Heritage
Born and brought up in the Syro-Malabar ecclesial tradition, J.B. Chethimattam notes how the Christian Orient has a lot of affinity with the Indian religious tradition and culture. For example, he finds similarity in the apophatic approach to the mystery of God, in the understanding of community as an assembly rather than an institution. This common approach of the Christian Orient and the Indian religious traditions distinguishes them from the Greco-Roman tradition. He advocates the importance of deriving inspiration from the theological heritage of the Christian Orient in developing an Indian Christian theology.
Michael Amaladoss (b. 1936)
Amaladoss is one of the very few theologians whose writings are based on cultural anthropology. He thinks that anthropological studies and social sciences should increasingly take over the place traditionally occupied by philosophy vis-à-vis theology. Amaladoss has been a staunch promoter of a liturgy that is rooted in the culture and religious tradition of
with its symbols becomes the celebration of the community. Therefore liturgy as
a symbolic action cannot be fabricated and transported from without; it must
spring from the community and its experience, its tradition and its concrete
historical context. India
Dialogue and theology of religions has been a very central area of Amaladoss’ reflections. Amaladoss sees the universe of religions as an integral part in the plan of God’s salvation for humanity which is moving ahead to fullness. In this universal movement, religions are not related to one another in terms of superior and inferior, supernatural, explicit and implicit. Nor are they all of them equal so that one could choose any one of them, as in a supermarket. That would be indifference. For the inter-relationship of religions, Amaladoss proposes the model of community. The religions are what individuals are in a community, each one with his or her unique charisms, talents, experiences and different roles which cannot be replaced. And yet they are one community growing together towards the pleroma or fullness.
For Amaladoss while Jesus is Christ, Christ mystery is not exhausted in Jesus but remains as the permanent and transhistorical horizon. Amaladoss, however, does not play down the place of the historical concrete Jesus. He does not deny that this particularity has a universal significance. This universal significance for him derives from the fact that the actions of Jesus are the actions of the Word. The significance of the historical particularity of Jesus is expressed by saying that, through his death God has established an enduring covenant with humanity. In the light of this vision, the place of the Church and its work of evangelization are seen as contributing to the advancement of the mystery of the Kingdom with which the various religious experiences and traditions of humanity are intimately connected.
The prophetic character of mission implies that mission has to be concrete, localized; only in a particular context, in the midst of historical vicissitudes and conflicting realties, can one realize the specific prophetic mission called for in that particular context. As a general guide-line he enumerates some concerns in the areas of culture, religion and justice, to which the prophetic mission needs to be directed. Each local Church has to discern its own prophetic mission in its particular context of life.
Sebastian Kappen (1924-93)
Kappen states that the Divine can be encountered in two modes – either as a gift in the true experience of love, truth, fellowship, etc., or as a challenge or a call mediated through the historical situation in which we find ourselves. This he calls gift-call. The manifestation of the Divine mediated through history and the human response to it takes place continuously and this he calls theandric praxis. For him theology is a reflection on this praxis and it should be critical because our pre conceptions, prejudices, etc., should be subjected to scrutiny. Only in this way will we be able to meaningfully reflect on the theandric practice.
According to him a Christian theology of liberation has a twofold task: it should, in the first place, reflect on the theandric practice in the light of the Gospel. The starting point is not statements predicating about God, nor narration of what happened two thousand years ago, but experiencing in the history of the struggles of the people the unfolding of the Divine. Kappen does not stop with the movement from the theandric practice to the Gospel. He completes the circle starting that Christian liberation theology should be a movement from the Gospel to the theandric praxis as well. It is here that Kappen speaks of the contribution the Gospel can make to the transformation of the Indian society, when it is read and interpreted in an unprejudiced manner, freed from all historical accretions. It can infuse a sense of history and social commitment in the Hindu world which has the tendency of flight into the metaphysical realm. The tradition of the Gospel can help to discern the genuine response given to the call of the Divine from the spurious ones.
Kappen is sharply critical of the present state of Christianity in general and of its condition in
particular. The mystical Christ the Church proclaims and celebrates in its
rites makes Jesus no different from other gods of Hinduism for whom endless
rites and worships are performed. In this way the Church will only help to
reinforce further the prevalent magical and superstitious religiosity for the
Indian masses. It is not the Christ of pompous liturgy, preaching and dogma,
but Jesus of history, the prophet of India
who could free the Indian society from its fetters. Gods like the manner
Christians make of Jesus, the Hindus have any amount. Nazareth
For the developing of an Indian liberation theology, along with Jesus-tradition and Indian religious tradition, Kappen brings into the picture also Marxism as a humanizing force. As he confesses, it is Marx who helped him to encounter the historical Jesus. His deep studies into the writings of Marx and his concrete experience of oppression in the Indian society led him to a sharp critique of capitalism, its cult of money, its greed and culture of competition. He does not accept Marxism uncritically. Kappen disagrees with a simply materialistic and reductionist reading of the Indian religious history. Further, the absence in Marxism of the subjective pole around which religion and culture orbit, has rendered it incapable of drawing the Indian masses, deeply rooted in their religious and cultural traditions. Notwithstanding these reservations, Kappen recognizes the role Marxism has played in lending a sharp teeth to Christianity and its transformative engagement in the concrete Indian situation.
Samuel Rayan (b. 1920)
Rayan brings a wide-range of experience into his theology. But what has been, perhaps, most decisive in his theological thinking was his association with University students as a chaplain for a number of years. His theology emerged in dialogue and interaction with the many critical questions raised about faith, religion, God, Christ, etc., in the context of the students’ movement which was seeking for relevance and meaning.
Fundamental to the whole of Rayan’s theology is his deep humanity. He believes deeply in the mystery of the human person as God’s gift and grace, and therefore he champions the cause of the life, dignity, rights and freedom of the human person wherever he or she is in fetters. It is the poor and the marginalized who are the chief source of theology, the chief record of God’s self revelation and intervention in world history.
The most significant of contribution to Indian theology by Rayan is his initiation of a new methodology of theologizing in
. Independently of what was
happening in India Latin America at the end of
1960’s and early 1970’s Rayan started theologizing precisely from praxis. Rayan
has developed a theology that is supportive of peoples’ movements. He believes
in the indomitable power of the people and their movements for liberation
surging forth in
and in other parts of the world; he sees in them the sign of hope for a new and
humane social order. India
His commitment to uphold the dignity and honour of the exploited masses leads him to a scathing critique of all dehumanizing forces in the Indian society and in the globe at large. He denounces the discrimination and social marginalization in the name of the caste, attacks the basic inequality inherent in the feudal forms of human relationships in society. His critique is most virulent against capitalism for its dehumanizing effects, its greed and idolatry. Rayan’s Ecclesiology is the outcome of his basic faith in the human person, his interpretation of Jesus and reading of history. For him, the task of the church is the same as that of Jesus; to be in solidarity with marginalized, to champion a new social order and to participate in the struggles for liberation so that bread, freedom, justice and equality may be accessible to all God’s children. The concern of the church he writes is not Christians but the poor; its struggle is not for itself but for the liberation of all men and women who are held captive.
Rayan gives much importance to witnessing through praxis which alone can make the church credible as a herald of Good news in
. Looking at it from the
perspective of the Hindus, Rayan remarks that the preaching of the Church that
Christ is the life of the world, will be a blatant lie as long as the Western
nations, whose people profess Christianity, continue to be agents of death all
over the world through the production and sales of deadly armaments, and as
long as they rob the poor nations of their food through economic exploitation
and unjust trade relationships. India
The great contribution of Rayan to Indian theology is to have developed a new methodology for theologizing and to have sensitized it to the question of justice, human rights, and struggle of the people for a new social order. Through the influence of his thought people and power are increasingly becoming significant realities in the Indian theological reflection. Rayan has tried to weave into his theology the insights contained in people’s sages, stories, folksongs, myths, etc., and which traditionally expressed the yearning for liberation in
George M. Soares-Prabhu (1929-1995)
Soares-Prabhu is perhaps the most influential Biblical scholar in
today. What distinguishes him is not simply his analysis and exegesis of
Biblical texts in which he is extremely competent but his reading and
interpretation of the Bible starting from the Indian situation, characterized
by massive poverty and oppression. India
Soares-Prabhu not only speaks of the need of developing an Indian approach to the Bible, but also gives some indications on how to do it and he himself tries to put them into practice in his exegesis. He suggests two kinds of reading of the Bible in
which should complement each other: one is a religious reading and the other a
social reading. He explains them saying, a religious reading will apply the
traditional method of Indian exegesis to the biblical text and transpose its
Greek and Hebrew symbols into Indian ones without (hopefully) destroying social
concern which is an essential part of the Bible’s message. A social reading
will read the bible in the light of a liberating praxis among the socially
oppressed without succumbing to the sociological reductionism of a strictly
Marxist approach. India
Through critical analysis and application of the two readings, Soares-Prabhu has succeeded in his writings to bring out forcefully the liberative message of the Gospels. Particularly noteworthy is his interpretation of the Biblical understanding of the category poor which he relates to the contemporary Indian experience. Similarly he has tried to read the Sermon on the Mount through dharma, a very pivotal category in the Indian life, philosophy and religion.
To appreciate his approach to the Bible, we should hold in mind his overall approach to theologizing in
. He is aware of the much
alienation which plagues Indian theology. For a relevant theological reflection
in India ,
one has to start, according to him, from the three factors characterizing the
life of the country. First of all, there is the massive poverty weighing
heavily on the masses; secondly there is a situation of various religions vying
with each other, and even locked in conflict; thirdly there is the reality of
deep social stratification of caste. It is with these concerns that he analyzes
and interprets the Biblical message for the India of today. India
Soares-Prabhu takes a distance from the Western trend of looking at poverty and the poor from an individualistic perspective. For him, in the Bible, the poor are not simply individuals; they present themselves as a sociological group, marked by powerlessness and marginalization which includes (but does not exhaust) also their plight of economic deprivation. The poor, according to his analysis of the bible, is a dialectical group, in the sense that their position can be understood only in a dialectical co-relation to what the bible refers to as the powerful, the mighty, the haughty or the rich. Further, the bible sees the poor not as a passive group, as simply object of compassion, but rather as an active agent through whom God brings about radical changes and transformations in the world and society.
A Christian response to the Indian situation calls also for an interpretation of Jesus Christ through the Indian experience. The writings of Soares-Prabhu bring out the different aspects of the personality and message of Jesus.
The experience and encounter with Jesus today within our situation is the focal point for the development of appropriate Christologies today. It is here that Soares-Prabhu makes another original contribution by introducing the category of Jesus of Faith. Christological discussions in the past many decades have centred around the distinction between Jesus of history and Christ of Faith. The western biblical scholarship through the application of historico critical method, tried to penetrate the various layers of New Testament to bring alive the historical Jesus: “The Jesus presented to us in the confessional history of the New Testament, which is not necessarily identical with its critical history. This Jesus is the real Jesus who lived in
but he is Jesus
not simply as he actually lived… but as he was encountered and experienced by
his first followers. That is why we speak of Jesus (not of Christ) but of the
Jesus of faith (not of history). The Jesus of faith is the Jesus of history as
experienced by his faithful followers (and not, for example as experienced by
the religious and political leaders who opposed him). It is a category that
lies between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, taking off from the
Jesus of history and moving towards the interpretative explicitness of the
Christ of faith. Palestine
The community which believes worships, is committed and puts truth into practice becomes the locus for the encounter an experience of Jesus of faith. Consequently the development of Christology cannot be the achievement of academic theologians; it will be the creation of communities of faith active and alive.
Two central truths to which he returns again and again in his writings are: abba experience of Jesus and the unity of the love of God and love of neighbour in the experience and teachings of Jesus. These truths which are so very central in the Gospels are also the most relevant to
The experience of God as abba and his
unconditional love made Jesus an unprejudiced man, free and universal,
embracing everyone every group of people without any discrimination of caste,
colour, sex and ethnic origin. This experience was the source of his teaching
on human brotherhood and of his prophetic stance as well. The abba experience
is an experience of freedom and sonship as well as a force for social and
prophetic commitment. India
Soares-Prabhu also shows the originality of Jesus in highlighting a rather unknown text of Lev 19:18 and linking it up with the famous shema (Dt 6:4) to bring home the truth that the love of God and the love of neighbour are not two separate realities, but that we love God in loving the neighbour. Such an orientation, according to Soares-Prabhu, has a lot of implications for the transformation of the Indian Society.