This volume on 'Indian Christianity' represents the unique character of Christian belief systems and its practice in the Indian context, reflected in the divergent cultural and ethnic expressions that have been theologically justified by various individuals and groups representing diverse Christian denominations.
The uniqueness of Christian faith and practice lies in its claim that the religion is based upon love. In a comparative study of religions, it is never possible to make such a claim in relation to other religions. What is pointed out here is that Christianity, in genesis and practice, makes love its central reality. The shift that occurred with the message of Jesus vis-a-vis the message of the Old Testament is best described in terms of the shift from 'God of Justice' to 'God of love' as preached by Jesus.
Another distinguishing mark of Christian faith and practice is the emphasis on Jesus of azareth as a historical person. Besides, depending on the references to non-Biblical texts to authenticate the historicity of Jesus, Christians in the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century have undertaken critical inquiry into the reliability of the biblical texts, composition of the books, etc. which gave rise to a distinct method of hermeneutics exegesis. Most papers in this volume have either commitment to historicity of Jesus or rely upon exegetical/hermeneutical method while establishing the truth.
The papers in this volume deal with four different themes: the historical, the conceptual, the theological and the social. As a historical contribution, the papers reflect on early Christianity both world-wide and in India and spread of Christianity in various parts of the country. As a conceptual contribution, the papers reflect on the unique character of Indian Christianity which has its genesis in Indian culture and has retained many of its elements while at the same time asserting its universal character. At the theological level, the papers deal with theological aspects of Indian Christianity particularly in the context of Christianity's interaction with other faiths. And finally, at the social level, the contributors reflect on social contribution of Christianity in terms of science, art, music and culture. All the papers both directly and indirectly, implicitly or overtly, contribute to show the essence of Indian Christianity, both as communion and as a social reality.
This book on Indian Christianity is likely to be of interest both to researchers as well as the general public, some of whom have varied misconceptions about the two millennia of expression of faith in India.
D.P. Chattopadhyaya, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt. (Honoris Causa), researched, studied Law, Philosophy and History and taught at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954- 1994. Founder-Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary 96- volume. Project of History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilizations [PHISPC] and Chairman of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Among his 36 publications, authored 18 and edited or co-edited 18, are Individuals and Societies (1967); Individuals and Worlds (1976); Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988); Anthropology and Historiography of Science (1990); Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991); Sociology, Ideology and Utopia (1997); Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000); Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue (2002); Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and Other Essays (2003); Philosophical Consciousness and Scientific Knowledge: Conceptual Linkages and Civilizational Background (2004); Self, Society and Science: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (2004); Religion, Philosophy and Science (2006) and Aesthetic Theories and Forms in Indian Tradition (2008). Besides, he held high public offices like Union Cabinet Ministership and State Governorship. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1998 and Padma Vibhushan in 2009 by the Government of India. (email: [email protected]) .
A.V. Afonso is presently Professor and Head, Department of Philosophy and Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences at Goa University. He has taught philosophy at Goa University, C.P.I.R, University of Bombay and some Colleges under Bombay University for over three decades. He has been Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. He has been member of various professional and expert bodies including Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
He has authored several papers in areas of meta philosophy, philosophy of science and applied ethics that include Reasoning about Reasoning, Nature of Philosophical Reasoning, Metaphors and Logic of Discovery, Reasoning about Reasoning, Social versus Natural: An Image of 'Social' Science, Laws, Theories and Metaphors, SanctifYing Animals: A Study in Evolutionary Ethics, Understanding Ethics in Science in the Context of Biotechnological Advances, and books such as Essays in Methodological Individualism and Consciousness, Society and Values.
This volume aptly entitled Indian Christianity represents the umque character of Christian belief systems and its practice in the Indian context, reflected in the divergent cultural and ethnic expressions that have been theologically justified by various individuals and groups representing diverse Christian denominations.
A reflection on the essence of Christianity as expressed by various denominations, at one level will reflect a form of essentialism, but at another level, it will reflect a paradigm of 'family resemblances'. The conceptual predicament faced by a historian of ideas or a researcher is not 'faced' by the practising Christian who is entrenched in his 'lived experiences'.
A practising Christian will be 'outraged' by the suggestion that the tenets of his belief system are 'expendable' or 'dispensable'. However, when confronted or 'face-to- face' with a fellow brother Christian of another denomination he will be charitable enough to accept the central tenets of other denominations as essential to Christian belief systems. It is in this sense that Christians are found to be both united and divided communities of faith. Again, although the historical origins and geographical locations are significant, the same do not provide theological justification for the practice of faith.
The uniqueness of Christian faith and practice lies in its claim that their religion is based upon love. In a comparative study of religions, it is never possible to make such a claim compared to other religions such as that of Jews and Muslims, Buddhisrs.Tains and Hindus, that these religions are not based on love. What is pointed out here is that Christianity, in genesis and practice, makes love its central reality.
Some vague descriptions of Christians and Christianity are indeed inadequate to understand the essence of Christianity. However, the vague descriptions are not without truth as they point towards some important characteristics of Christianity. A reference to Christians as 'good persons' or 'persons doing good deeds' is not without reason. 'Doing good' is indeed the central message of the Gospels (the main books of the New Testament) and this message is indeed the paradigm shift that occurred during the time of Jesus. The shift that occurred with the message of Jesus vis-a-vis the message of the Old Testament is best described in terms of shift from 'God of Justice' to 'God of Love' as preached by Jesus.
The basis of love is best reflected in Christian theological articulation. 'Love' for Christians constitute the Undivided Unity of the Divine Trinity which is responsible for the creation of the Cosmos. Secondly, the redemptive incarnation of Jesus and his subsequent sacrifice on the cross is explained in terms of love. And finally, the demand to return to God is also based upon final unification in divine love.
Belief in the word of the Bible or the Holy Book is the essential feature that binds all Christians together. The Bible (derived from Greek plural noun biblia), also known as 'God's Book' in the tenth century or 'the Good Book' in the nineteenth century, comprises two parts - the Old (or First Testament) and the New (or Second) Testament. The Old Testament mainly comprises the old Jewish writings and the New Testament contains writings of early followers of Jesus. The books of the Old and New Testament have been written by different authors and in different times and contexts. The bibles used by the various denominational groups have some variations. For instance, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have additional chapters or 'books'. Seven new chapters and additional material were added to the three chapters. Protestant Bibles print these 'Apocryphal' writings as appendices. The main 'books' both of the Old Testament and New Testament remain common to all denominational groups. In spite of the above, the Bible has a unifying spiritual content that lays bare the fundamental truths of Christian faith. The 'leap of faith' observed in Christianity is based upon the conviction that the contents of the Biblical truths are revealed truths. The importance of the “Bible In the belief s stems of Christianity evidenced from the fact that reading of passages from the Old and New Testaments forms an important part in the main prayer services of all Christians, whether Orthodox, Roman Catholics or Protestants, etc.
The Bible for Christians is a narration of Creation, Fall and Salvation through Jesus Christ. The biblical story is a history of the human race and the characters are real persons who walked on the face of the earth.
One of the features of Christianity is its belief in 'historical' Jesus. There are a large number of non-Biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth beginning with Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), court historian for Emperor Vespasian who reported that there was a good and wise man called Jesus and that many Jews and people from other nationsbecame his disciples. Flavius Josephus also reported that Jesus was condemned and crucified to die by Pilate and that the disciples reported that they saw him alive three days after crucifixion.
Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD), a historian of ancient Rome narrates how Emperor Nero tortured Christians because they followed Christus who suffered the extreme penalty of crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius at the hand of one procurator Pointius Plitatus. References to Jesus are also available in the works of Julius Africanus (e.221 AD), Pliny the Younger, Roman Governor of Biothynia in Asia Minor (e. 112 AD) There are references to Jesus in the works of other religious writings, particularly that of Jews. These writings are factual from the perspective of the specific religious beliefs. The Jewish Talmud (assumed to be compiled between 70 to 200 AD refers to execution of Jesus for practising some sort of sorcery and preaching apostacy against the Jewish religion. The hanging on the eve of Passover was carried out after an opportunity to defend himself.
There are many cross references to Jesus and early Christianity in the works of writers of the period. A second-century satirist writes about Christians who worshipped a crucified Jew who had given to his followers the message of immortality and despise Greek gods. These followers had sacred writings and despised all worldly goods or pleasures. Besides, they regarded worldly goods as common property. Almost during the same period, Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as a wise king who did not die whencrucified, but lived on in the teaching which he had given to his followers. Mara Bar- Serapion compares Jesus with Socrates who was put to death by the Athenians and to Pythagoras executed by the Samosians.
Writings of the Gnostics also provide references to Jesus Christ, but mainly to his writings and beliefs of his disciples. Written around 135 AD and attributed by some scholars to Valentius, The Gospel of Truth refers to Jesus' sufferings and transformation of his bodily state to immortality. In The Aprocryphon of John, (c. 120-130 AD) attributed to Saturninus by some scholars, there are references to apostles James and John who are targeted by a Pharisee who tells them that Jesus (Nazarene) deceived them and turned them away from the traditions of their forefathers. Similar references are found in TheGospel of Thomas (c. 140-200) and The Treatise On Resurrection (authors still unknown).
The search for Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person does not stop with looking for references as above. In the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, critical inquiry into the reliability of the biblical texts, composition of the books, etc. was undertaken. With the rise of hermeneutics/exegesis, review of historical character in these narratives was undertaken.
Biblical Hermeneutics is commonly understood as a theory of biblical interpretation or as the way of reading an old book that brings out its relevance for modern man. In other words, it is the study of the theoretical principles involved in bringing out to this and every age the relevance of the Bible and its message. Such an effort involves exegesis that involves bringing out of the text all that it contains of the thoughts, attitudes, assumptions etc. of the author. The method used is commonly called grammatico-historical method and involves the interpreter putting himself into the linguistic, cultural, historical and religious shoes of the Biblical author.
Every scholar involved in Hermeneutics as the art and science of interpretation, recognises the fact that Hermeneutics that follows historic-grammatical methods has to be rigorous, disciplined and consistent. This involves deep understanding of language, as understanding the meaning that the author tries to convey will invariably be determined by the context and geography and the fact that language is of two sorts - it is either figurative or literal.
In this context exegesis is seen as a branch of theology which investigates and expresses the true sense of the Sacred Scripture. The sense of Sacred Scripture is the truth actually conveyed by it. We must well distinguish between the sense and the signification of a word. The context will determine the meaning in which each word is used in any given passage, and this meaning is the sense of the word. The signification of the word is its possible meaning; the sense of a word is its actual meaning in any given context. In the case of the Bible, it is believed that God is its author. The literal sense of Sacred Scripture is the truth really, actually, and immediately intended by its author. The fact that the literal sense must be really intended by the author distinguishes it from the truth conveyed by any mere accommodation.
In the New Testament; St. Mathew notes: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ... " (Matt. 2.1). Now, this is a historical statement that conveys a fact. The literal or normal meaning and interpretation is that Jesus was born in a real geographical place called Bethlehem during a particular period identified as the reign of Herod. who was the king at that time, and that Herod's jurisdiction ran over Judea, his kingdom. What the Biblical author tries to convey is that Jesus' birth occurred in a real place and real time.
Compare the above statement with that of St. John: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." (In. 10.7). No one believes that Jesus was saying that he was literally the wooden door in the sheep pen. He was obviously using a figure of speech, a metaphor. But through this figure of speech, Jesus is said to have communicated literal truth, namely, that he (Jesus) was the entrance or the way to salvation. The sheep, the pen, represented in this context, are human beings, and the abode of humans.
Common difficulties and confusions in interpreting the Bible arises when readers neglect the context. The first principle or 'heuristic device' of sound interpretation is that a passage should be taken literally or normally, unless we have reasons for interpretation. If this principle is not taken seriously, one is prone to level criticisms commonly levelled against the first passage of the book of Genesis, namely that the story of creation is unscientific. Without such caution, interpretation becomes erroneous or ridiculous. The interpreter needs to ask the fundamental questions before any attempt to analyse any Biblical passage: to whom was a passage written?; when was it written?; under what circumstances was it written?; what was its historical context?; how does the passage compare with other passages the writer has written? what knowledge do the original languages shed on the passage?; do cognate languages offer insight into the meaning of the passage?; what customs were in place?; are idioms or conventions present?; does archaeology shed linguistic or historical light on the passage? Answers to these questions will help to lay the groundwork to determine the meaning of a text.
There is however one truism that is beyond doubt for the exegetical exercise. The grammatico-historical method of approaching texts is dictated, not merely by common sense, but by the doctrine of inspiration or revelation, which tells us that God has put His words into the mouths of the Biblical writers, and caused them to write what they have written, and that the individuality of the writers has nothing to do with their geographical place and time, and that the message is for all times and places. In other words, their writings are God's own testimony.
Most Christians believe that interpreting the Bible scientifically, its twofold character, must always be kept in mind, namely, that it is a Divine book, in so far as it has God for its author; and that it is a human book, in so far as it is written by men for men. As a human book, the Bible should be subjected to the same rules of interpretation as non-religious books. As a Divine Book, it must be in the custody of those who have the experience of the spiritual and are sympathetic towards the spiritual. Most such hermeneuticians believe that such interpretations need special rules of hermeneutics compared to those used by secular hermeneuticians.
History of exegesis beginning with the Jewish interpretations to modern Protestant exegetical contribution provides credence to continuous attempts at the demythologization process that has been taking place in Christian theological circles. Unquestionably, this is the most significant feature that distinguishes Christianity from many other theological interpretations of other religions. The present volume is to be viewed in the context of such hermeneutical interpretations that allow exegesis, synthesis and application.
It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life-world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.
One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also present in our body-mind complex, enabling us to adjust ourselves to our environment. Not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production-related tradition, history and culture.
Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second group of writers, unlike the generalist or transcendentalist ones, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people's consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local and common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When, due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one part of the world to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living.
In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthropologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the ~tes, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, try to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are 'essentially' or 'secretly' interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry prosody. All these show how the 'matters' and 'forms' of life are so subtly interwoven.
The PHISPC publications on History of Science Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of their unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non-Indian thinkers.
The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have in India many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa, Some of these writings are objective and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, religious and political conviction, of the writers.
Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or 'real' and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is 'anarchic' and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it.
But its character is basically dependent upon the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for moulding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost ' sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. His interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian's main interest centres round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study. Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularist. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical event and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or another. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.
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