Though man’s religious consciousness has been, time and again, enshrined in song and scripture, in art and architecture, from the beginning there has always been a need for exegetical literature. For the saint and the lay man, the literature of prophecy is enough, but the advanced initiate and the rational thinker always seek doctrinal support. Each major religion, therefore, has gathered a huge mass of expository material which helps project its true image. Nevertheless, it continually requires fresh thought and application in as much as it has to meet the requirements of the changing imagination. That is indeed how a religion remains a living force. The effort of the Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University the first Department of its kind in Indian Universities to bring out up-to-date volumes on the five principal religions Hinduism. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism is accordingly a scholarly step of great value, particularly as it synchronises with the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The release of the volumes on this occasion, therefore, is an apt and concrete tribute to the catholicity of the Founder’s mind.
The primary aim of these publications is to give the reader an idea of the fundamentals of the religions in question. Thus, no comprehensive analysis or exposition has been attempted, though I trust, the scholarship which has been commissioned, has made a good job of it. These skeletal studies are intended, in particular, to bring the younger people in our colleges and universities into contract with the various streams of religious experience, thought and practice. Religion, though frequently abused by the pundit and the padre, remains man’s most cherished heritage and hope. To open a window on to long and beautiful vista is thus to invite the youth to unending pastures of pleasure. Literature of this kind has its own distinctive flavour and appeal. Once one has felt what Guru Nanak calls, “the touch of His Love”, nothing else will quite satisfy’.
A well-known parable in Persian literature reads Once upon a time the fishes of a certain river took counsel together and said, “They tell us that our life and being is from water, but we have never seen water and know not what it is.” Some wise ones among them said “We have heard that there dwelleth in the sea a very learned fish, who knoweth everything; let us ask him to explain to us ‘what is water’.” Several of their number set out and came to the sage fish. On their request, it answered.
O ye who seek to solve the knot!
Ye live in water, yet know it not
A similar fate has befallen mankind. We all live in religion. We belong to some religion or other and perform religious practices in galore. Yet if we are asked, ‘What religion is?’, we are at a loss to answer the question. This difficulty is not diminished but increased when we reach a particular religion such as Christianity. What is Christianity? Of the nearly 260 sects in Christianity, no two would give us the same answer. Yet of all the religions of man, Christianity is one of the most wide-spread; nearly every third person in the world is a Christian.
Born with Jesus Christ in Bethelhem under Herod the Great, Christianity met with an apparent defeat in the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday, but only to rise again to victory with His resurrection on Easter Sunday. On the first Pentecost day thousands received baptism and became Christians. Later on, it spread in surprising rapidity all over the West.
In AD. 1000, except for Nestorian and Monophysite heresies, the Western Christendom together with that of the East, formed one united Christian Church. Even the Patriarch of Constantinople, the most important and respected Bishop of the Eastern Church, was in touch with the Bishop of Rome and recognized the Pope as the successor of St. Peter and the head of all Christendom.
Then came the fateful year of 1054, in which ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius, finally broke the bond that linked the Church of the Eastern Empire to that of Rome. The Orthodox Church, once separated from Rome, went on splitting further into independent and autonomous national churches.
However, Western Christendom preserved its ecclesiastical unity for nearly 450 years. It was not until the first half of the sixteenth century that this unity was disturbed by Reformation. First of all the Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican Churches broke away from Western Christianity. But almost as soon as they came into existence, these large Protestant Churches began to dispute among themselves over certain doctrinal questions. Protestantism fragmented itself into a number of free churches. This fragmentation continues even today. Within the Catholic Church also there have been cleevages ‘Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches’ in Germany, Mariavites’ in Poland, ‘Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church’ and ‘Catholic Apostolic Evengelical Church of Portugal’ are some examples.
One finds in Christianity of today great contrasts; on the one hand, we see the glittering scene of the Pontifical High Mass in St, Peter’s and on the other the quiet simplicity of a Quakers’ meeting. The intellectual subtleties of Thomitic theology stand in sharp contrast with the simple song of the Negroes, “Lord, I want to be a Christian.”
In spite of all this multiplicity of worship and doctrine, there are certain fundamental elements, which constitute the essence of Christianity; this book deals with some of the themes such as
(1) The Scriptures or the Bible,
(2) The beliefs of the Christians or the Faith,
(3) The laws of life of the Christians or the Ethics,
(4) The means they use to attain the end of their religion or The Worship and Sacraments,
(5) And finally, is the relationship of Christianity to other religions.
The Bible The first chapter of the book is on the Bible and rightly so because it is the source book of Christianity. It is by far the most widely read book in the world. When Gutenberg invented printing, he turned to the Bible for the first text to which he applied his new technique. It is translated in almost every important language of the world. Any body who wants to understand the Christians, their principles of ethics, their sociology, economics and even their politics, must study the Bible. But for this book, the sculptors of Chartres, the mosaic-workers of Ravenna, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and El Greco would not be the artists we admire. This book praised by Montaigne and Racine, by Shakespeare and Goethe, even by Nietzsche and Anatole France, has done more than provide innumerable subjects for dramatics; from it flows the stream of living water that feeds the roots of masterpieces.
The Christian tradition maintains that the Bible contains the history of God’s dealings with the world and with His people. It is not so much a collection of static truths as a revelation of Divine Reality. It is an ‘unveiling; it lets the divine activity be seen by men.
The primary purpose of the Bible is religious, or more exactly Soteriological i.e., concerned with the history of Salvation. It is historical, but it gives divine interpretation of history. Such an interpretation is guaranteed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, It is about the Bible as a book, both divine and human, which is dealt with by Dr. Mathew P. John in the first Chapter.
Faith Religion is not primarily a matter of facts in the historical sense;
it is a matter of meanings and values. An account may speak endlessly of gods,
rites and beliefs but unless it leads us to see how these things help man to
meet the problems of life, religion has not been touched at all. It is the solution
which religion gives to the vital problems of life that makes even George Bernard
Shaw to conclude that religion is the only real motive force in the world.
Christians believe in one God, who is both transcendent and immanent. They are monotheists. The world and man were created by Him from nothingness by an act of His will. The Unoriginated who communicates himself is the ‘Father’. The ‘Word’, who enduringly possesses the plenitude of the Father is the Son’. The loving affirmation of the unity Of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit. These form Trinity of Persons of the one God in himself.
By grace, God has freely admitted the created world, to share in His own divine life. His self-communication as offered, is called grace, and the actual acceptance of it by man is faith.
Christianity acknowledges that the divine self-communication has Culminated in Jesus Christ. This God-man by his existence, life, death and resurrection is the guarantor, the ultimate purpose, the historical manifestation and the revelation, of God’s salvific will in regard to the world. He is a divinizing and forgiving mediator. Those who are redeemed by him, who share in the divine life and who publicly profess themselves to be such, are united in a visible, socially organized embodiment of fellowship; this is the Church. It is Called the mystical body of Christ. The second chapter by Dr. V. C. Samuel deals with these and similar aspects of Christian faith.
Ethics: The faith of the Christians cannot be separated from their moral duties, because the centre and the goal of Christian morality is Christ. The law by which the Christians live is Christ Himself. Christian morality of life flowing from the Victory of Christ, the hopeful anticipation of the second Coming of the Saviour and in the glorious manifestation of His final triumph on the great day of judgement. All men are called to share in this union with Christ through imitation of Him. The Christian is supplied and regulated by the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, which also include the fulfilment of the natural, moral law and the positive commandments of God.
The moral teaching of Jesus is not actually a new law. Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant in the New Covenant of love. He broke down the hedge which separated the people of Israel from all other peoples. The law of the Old Covenant in the decalogue established minimum requirements in the form of prohibitions, but Christ in His sacrifice on Calvary established a New Covenant. The new law consists in following His footsteps; it is loving service, bearing the cross, humility and love of enemies (Cf Mt. 5 Sermon on the Mount). This is the subject of the third Chapter written by Dr. M. M. Thomas.
Worship: The fourth chapter of the book written by Dr. Parmananda Divarkar considers the means to attain the Christian goal. Although man can reach God through creation, he cannot, through his creaturely powers alone, establish an immediate and personal contact with him. Only by grace and not by virtue of his own merits, can he reach God and serve Him. Personal communion with God is possible only in and through God’s own generous initiative in coming to meet man in grace.
The Bible speaks of this as the “Indwelling of God’. “Indwelling” indicates familiar living together of God and man. It is on this level that we can speak of a personal communion between God and man. Prayer, contemplation, meditation and the sacraments are the essential means for this communion with God.
Christianity And other Religions: Christianity is essentially a missionary religion. While all Christians may not agree that prayer, contemplation and mysticism are central to Christian life, they agree, without exception that the missionary motif is central to Christianity. This inevitably brings Christianity into encounter with other religions. The missionary not only serves his brethern of other communities but he also tries to win belief, loyalty and a new commitment from among them. However, the missionary finds his task difficult in the context of religious pluralism and nationalistic upsurge. The nationalist sees him as trespassing on the cultural and religious autonomy of his own nation.
But in spite of all difficulties he encounters, the Christian will say that he is bound by his religion to share the precious truth that he has, with others. Dr. R. Panikkar discusses elaborately the relationship of Christianity with other religions in this perspective.
The world has seen Christianity as a Western religion, though the founder and the first disciples were all Asians. It took its roots, grew into a mighty tree and spread its branches all over the world, on the fertile soil of Western culture, the Greek, Roman and European civilizations. But today the soil of Western culture seems to need nourishment from the East. The soil of India, where many religions have been thriving through ages, could perhaps supply the needed nourishment for Christianity as well.
Until recently the influence of the Western culture was pervasive in the presentation of Christianity. We have, however thought it fit to present Christianity from the point of view of Indian Christians and the Indian cultural set up. Accordingly all the contributors to this volume are eminent Indian Christian scholars.
Today under the patronage of the Punjabi University, the Department of Religious Studies is making a pioneering effort to offer the much needed opportunities to scholars to study the different religious traditions and promote inter-religious understanding. This volume published in connection with the birth quincentenary celebrations of Guru Nanak represents a humble attempt in that direction.
I take this opportunity to record my profound appreciation and thanks to my colleagues in the department Dr. K.R. Sundararajan and Dr. Christanand without whose assistance this book could not have been published in time. My special thanks are due to the contributors to this volume for their ready cooperation at every stage.
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