Page 6, 18th October 1957

18th October 1957
Page 6
Page 6, 18th October 1957 — INDIA

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be Indianised the Church must Adopt all that is Good in Oriental Culture By MARK DOUGHTY

AT a recent Marian Congress in Bombay, the figure of Our Lady dressed in Indian style was adopted as the badge of the congress.

Protests poured in from all over India complaining at this seeming attempt to turn the Mother of God into a Hindu.

This response on the part of so many Indian Catholics was later described by Fr. Extross of St. Joseph's Seminary. Allahabad, as " a revelation of unreasoning prejudice."

'Yhis incident crystallises the whole problem of the "adaptation" of the Christian message to suit those whose cultural background has been that of Hindu India in that. not only has the whole problem of permissible adaptation to he carefully explored, but also that a large proportion of the Catholics in India have to be convinced that such adaptation is necessary for the progress of the Church in their own country.


SINCE the Bombay congress, 6.7 three important conferences have taken place to study the integration of Christianity and the best of Indian culture.

Two Inter-Diocesan Conferences of Priests have been held at Pachmarhi. the first in the presence of Archbishop D'Souza of Nagpur. Also. last December. an AllIndia Study week was held at Madras where delegates were welcomed by Archbishop Matthias. S.D.B., of Madras-Mslapore. The proceedings of this last conference have recently been published.*

What is adaptation?

Adaptation as a missionary method amongst oriental cultures operates at two levels. Superficially. it implies adapting the non-essential externals of the Catholic Church to the customs In architecture, the shortsightedness of introducing European Gothic and Baroque styles into the subcontinent has long been realised. though care has to be taken in adapting Hindu temple architecture for Christian worship, since even architecture in India is an expression of religious symbolism.

In art, a distinctive Christian art truly Indian in inspiration is being developed and the work of Angela Trinidale and Angelo de Fonseka has been of much pioneering value.

One of the most insistent Foreign Missionary problems today is to find the ways and means of dissociating Catholic missions from a purely Western and so-called capitalist culture.

It is particularly important in India which possesses a great civilisation of its own and one with singularly pure religious sources in the natural order.

In his fascinating article, Mr. Doughty outlines the problem as it affects India, describes what has already been done and sums up in terms of meeting points on the road to Mystical Theology.

and mental character of the country concerned.

At a deeper level. it is concerned with the appreciation and adoption of all that is good, true and beautiful in these oriental cultures and integrating them into the life of the church.


IN India, the problem is one of accommodating the Christian message to the predominant Hindu culture.

The Church is attached to no particular culture and the presentation of Christianity in the trappings of Western dress is a course calculated to arouse the suspicions of Hindus that the Church is only a Western institution unsuited to Indian soil.

The attitude of many Indian Catholics only confirms the doubts of even favourably disposed Hindus. for it is undoubtedly true that many Indian converts become aliens in their own country by a process of cultural denationalisation.

Protagonists of adaptation aver that the fact of conversion need not in the least involve the reverence of cultural roots and, indeed. must not do so if the Church is to become truly Indian.


THE philosophy and theology of adaptation is of basic importance. Fr. Extross, echoing words in the C.T.S. pamphlet by 1-r. Johannus. S.J., describes Hindu thought at its best as " the most uncompromising statement of the primacy of the spiritual. and the most amazing guest of the Absolute that human philosophy has ever known."

Man lost his supernatural gifts in the Garden of Eden, but even fallen man has a capacity for truth and goodness. In Hinduism. said Dom Bede Grifliths at Madras. "we find the idea of divine mystery developed with more insight and profundity than in any other (nonChristian) religion."

If, therefore, Hindu theology has preserved some deposits of truth— which must be Christian truth— from what Newinart has called the Dispensation of Paganism, why should not the Church build on this already-existing basis of truth by the method of adaptation, purification and elevation into the fullness of Christ?

"Christianity completes everything in this world," wrote Fr. Danielou, S. J. It therefore completes all religions, for all religions are but incomplete. imperfect and partially corrupt forms of the one religion Christianity.


IN its highest form, the religion of the Upanishads and the Rhagavad-Gita, Hinduism would seem to offer a basis of truth which is a truly integral part of Indian culture.

The route to the threshold of Truth provided by Greek philosophy is uncongenial to the Indian mind. Twenty-five years ago, Fr. Johannus showed that the Indian road to Christ lay through the Vedanta. Fr. Dc Nobili. S.J.. believed the same thing 300 years before. A growing number of Bishops and priests in India are now acting on this belief.

The practical measures discussed at Pachmarhi and Madras covered a wide range of missionary methods. It goes without saying. of course that any talk of syncretism or of compromising the uniqueness of Christianity is completely wide of the mark as a possible critisism of adaptation.

For instance, harvest festivals are a common feature of Hindu India. Such festivals can easily be Christianised as the means for doing so already exists in our Rituals:. The Hindu Festival of Nag Penchami was in origin religious but in practice now it is a day of recreation.

Mgr. Malenfant, O.F,M. Cap.. Prefect Apostolic of Gorakhpur, suggested at Pachmarhi that with a little effort it could be turned into a festival of St. Michael.

There was no compromise when many pagan festivals were adopted and baptised by the Early Church. Neither need there be in the East in the 20th century.


OTHER aspects of Hindu culture can be turned to the advantage of the Church. The dance in India is an act of religious symbolism and can he used to express sacred ideas. Dancing of the Bharata Natyarn School has already been used by Indian Catholics as a medium for the communication of Christian doctrine. Such an art must not be a more copying of Hindu art but a truly creative act born of the marriage of Indian genius and Christian belief.


IN the field of Church music, two Jesuits in particular Frs. Antoine and Fallon, who live as Bengalis among Ben galis in Calcutta, have explored the possibility of adapting classical Indian music for the sung liturgy of the Church.

For instance. a Tantam Ergo in Sanskrit has been set to true Indian music with great success.

A feature of the Madras conference was a Low Mass in dialogue in Tamil. A Syro-Malankara Rite Mass in Malayalam, an Indian vernacular language. was also celebrated. The possibility of a Sanskrit Rite Mass sanctioned in Rome is occasionally discussed.

All these adaptations are adaptslions in externals. Adaptation at the deeper level of Indian philosophy and theology is a subject fraught with difficulty and one where extreme care has to be exercised if scandal is not to be caused.

There is a great divergence of opinion as to the adaptation of Hindu terminology and symbolism to Christian use


AA RELIGIOUS symbol is a . living entity as Jung has shown and it cannot be simply transferred from one system of religious thought to another without undergoing a profound transformation of which the only parallel is the sacrament of Baptism. On the other hand, if that sy inbat has elements of truth associated with it, they are elements of the Living Truth, of Christ. For example the On symbol is the Hindu sign for the Ineffable Absolute some Indian Catholic theologians would not advise its use but, even so. at the Madras conference chasubles and a paten used at Mass did carry this symbol and its design was traced on the floor in front of the altar during the Study Week.

For those attending the conference there was no doubt that the symbol was being used as a Christian symbol but its use in general at such an early stage of adaptation is liable to cause confusion amongst the faithful and misunderstanding amongst convinced Hindus.

So also would the widespread wearing of saffron robes by Catholic clergy, but a few do so now on occasions where both Hindus and C' atholics present understand exactly their significance, CAUTION CAUTION is necessary, too, the adaptation of Hindu scriptures. Some, like Fr. H. Mascarenhas of Bombay, would say that the Hindu description of God as. Saccidanantla (BeingKnowledge—Bliss) is a perfectly orthodox definition. and it is quite certain that parts of the Hindu Vedanta are pratient of a Christian interpretation.

The following extract from the Svetasvatara Upanishad is a case in point: "He is the One God, hidden within all things, all-pervading. the Inner-Self of all beings, the Watcher and Judge of all our works, the Divine Witness, the Divine Knower. the only One free from limitations."

Other portions are much more difficult. but it must be remembered that Indian philosophers have been able to erect on these ancient scriptures logically conflicting systems of thought concerning the nature of the Absolute. The old charges of monism and pantheism against Hinduism were largely originated by Western secular philosophers of the Age of Reason who were ill-equipped with the theological knowledge necessary to even begin to understand the depth of Indian thought on the relationship of God and Man.


NO school of Vedanta philosophy is pantheistic if by pantheism is meant the identification of God and the Universe.

The Visistadvatia School of Ramanuja in particular preserves the transcendence of Brahman. Fr. Extross said that if Aquinas could baptise Aristotle, perhaps a modern Aquinas could do the same for Sankara and Ramanuja.

It must be admitted that the parallel between the rational. abstract thought of the Greeks and the mystical thought of the Indians is not a very happy one. but Fr. J. Monchanin, in a profoundly impressive talk at Madras, demonstrated similarities between the Hindu humainarga approach to the Absolute and the Christian approach to God of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of the Cross. Rusbroeck and Suso.

But the Oneness of Brahman. so profoundly intuited by Hindu seers, falls short of the full truth for, of necessity', the idea of the Trinity is outside their knowledge: At Madras Dom Bede Grifliths crystallised the essential difference between Eastern and Western rho ology. "We have grown," he said "so accustomed to a dogmatic anet moral theology expressed in cleat rational concepts that we have. almost lost the idea of thc Christian faith as a mystery. an economy of grace totally transcending tho reach of reason. .


HE rational approach is of no use in India. The road of mystical theology is the only one open to both Hindu and Christian.

The effect of the meeting of Hindu and Christian at this deep. level is. as Fr. Fallen Si.. said at Pachmarhi, that "we have to think anew our whole theology and we must know it deeply if we wish to adapt its presentation without compromising its transcendencei' Adaptation in India might be criticised on the ground that it conies too late.

It is undoubtedly true that in many of the big cities of India, the educated classes are drifting towards agnosticism and Marxism, abandoning their traditional Hindu' background and adopting that of the modern secularised West, in which case the missionary problem• becomes the same as that in de. spiritualize(' Europe.

But outside the big towns and cities, the traditional Hindu culture is still lived as it has been lived for thousands of years, and it is the country villages with their enormous total population which the participants of the Pachmarhi and Madras Conferences had principally in mind.

THE meeting between. Hindu Sanyasi and Christian theologian is one fascinating to. observe. In the end, of course India will become part of the Universal Church.

But_ in the process. what riches India will bring to the C India will bring to the C For it is only when the Church's" Truth has been pondered and probed in the light of all the great'systems of human thought that we shall begin to understand the beauty of the Incarnation.

""Indian Culture and the Fulllieu of Christ" (Madras Culturar Academy. Catholic Centre, Madras).

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