Theological Reflections On The Church From India


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ASIAN
HORIZONS Vol. 6, No. 4, December 2012 Pages: 677-706
THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS ON THE CHURCH FROM INDIA
Kuncheria Pathil CMI
Ecclesiology is the articulation of the self-understanding of the Church, characterized by history, time and culture. Therefore, ecclesiologies are always in the making. Since the national independence and the end of Western Colonialism, many Indian theologians tried to evolve authentic Indian Churches and corresponding ecclesiologies. This article tries to present the reflections of contemporary Indian theologians on the Church. The first part presents the underlying theological presuppositions. The second part deals with the question of theologizing in India and its methodology. The third part presents in a summary way the ecclesiological reflections of Indian theologians expressed mainly in the forum of Indian Theological Association. The concluding part tries to highlight the question of the identity of the Indian Churches.
1. Theological Presuppositions 1. What has happened in our times is a revolutionary change in the very concept of reality. In the Aristotalian-Thomistic concept reality is ready-made, fixed and static. Everything is constituted once for all by
Prof. Emeritus Dr. Kuncheria Pathil CMI, had his doctorate in Ecumenics from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. He taught systematic theology at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Pontifical Athenaem, for more than 30 years and was its Dean of Theology and President. He was the secretary of the Indian Theological Association for seven years and its President for three years. He was also the CoModerator of the Congress of Asian Theologians. His books include, Models in Ecumenical Dialogue (1981), Indian Churches at the Crossroads (1995), An Introduction to Theology, (co-authored, 2003), Trends in Indian Theology (2005), Theology of the Church: New Horizons (2006), Unity in Diversity: A Guide to Ecumenism (2012). Email: [email protected]

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its ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ and it is unchangeable. Changes happen not at the level of substance or essence of things but only with regard to their ‘accidents’, that is, their external, tangible and visible aspects. Today we have a dynamic, evolutionary and processive concept of reality. “The human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one.”1 The immediate objective of Vatican II was to adequately respond to the radical changes happening in the world by renewing and restructuring itself, its customs, practices, worship patterns and by reformulating and reinterpreting its doctrines and theologies. Therefore, changes in the Church are inevitable. The Council, indeed, acknowledged that “many people are shaken” by these changes.2
2. The Church is a divine-human reality. It is indeed not a mere human creation. The Church has its origin in God, in the Trinity.3 It came into existence in the mission of the Son by the power of the Spirit. But it becomes incarnate in history in concrete historical, and socio-cultural forms. In other words, the human, visible and institutional elements of the Church are assumed in an incarnational process in response to the concrete realities in which it exists, and this process is continued till the end of history. The numerous and different individual Churches today witness to this ongoing process. The concrete hierarchical structures of the Churches, their patterns of worship, and statement of doctrines are shaped in history in response to the historical and socio-cultural forces, but always under the guidance of the power of the Spirit.
3. By the new discoveries and inventions the present understanding of the universe and its functioning are often challenged and the new understandings are presented as ‘paradigm shift’. The new paradigms are evolved to explain the reality in a more satisfactory way. This usage started in the physical sciences is now applied also in philosophy and theology. The new developments in the Church and in theology are today frequently explained by ‘paradigm shift’. When some of the existing basic assumptions, approaches, doctrines, patterns and models are challenged as they cannot satisfactorily explain the new facts and reality, after a long period of crisis and search, new paradigms slowly emerge and they become gradually
1Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (GS), No. 5. 2GS, No. 7. 3LG, Chapter one, No. 2 – 5.

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established. The new paradigm has to be tested and verified in a gradual process. The emerging new paradigms do not totally reject all the elements of the old paradigms. The success of a new paradigm depends on its capacity to contain the truth elements in the old paradigms. Hence in the emergence of the new paradigms what happens is not a rejection of the past, but integration and development.
4. The new paradigm of the Church emerged during the period of Vatican II is ‘People of God’ and ‘Communion’. Lumen Gentium chapter two presents the Church as the ‘People of God’. The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples where all are equal, free and are united in love. They are called to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus in the world. All the members of the Church share in the prophetic, priestly and pastoral ministry of Jesus. Special ministers or ‘ordained ministers’ are called to serve the community. Their ministry is called ‘service’ or ‘diakonia’ (literally meaning ‘serving at the table’).4 Participation and communion were the hallmark of the early Christian community. Every member of the community was committed to the mission and ministry according to his/her gift. The Spirit bestowed various gifts to different members, all for the building of the community and for its mission. The community gathered together took important decisions, which we call today as ‘democratic’ way of functioning. The entire humanity is called to and included in this communion.5 Therefore this ‘communion’ shall not be understood simply in terms of ‘ecclesial’ and ‘eucharistic’ communion.
5. The central message of the New Testament was the arrival of the ‘Reign (Kingdom) of God’, and the ministry of Jesus was primarily the proclamation of the Reign of God. Jesus revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom through his numerous sayings and parables and distributed the gifts of the Kingdom through his miracles which were the signs of the coming of the Kingdom. Preparing the way to the Kingdom of God, therefore, has to be the main concern of the disciples of Jesus and not merely the Church. Of course, in the past

4LG, Chapter 3, no. 24 -27. 5LG Chapter two, no. 14 -17 try to explain how the whole humanity belongs to the people of God though in different grades or levels. But belonging to the ‘Reality and Mystery of the Church’ and to ‘the visible institutional and hierarchical Church’ is to be distinguished. The disciples of Christ can exist outside the frontiers of the visible Churches, and it is admitted that there are today many such ‘Christians’.

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the Church often identified itself with the Kingdom and claimed that salvation is limited to the membership in the Church, and this led to triumphalism, exclusivism and absolutism of the Church. Today the Church makes a distinction between Kingdom and the Church.6 Kingdom of God is indeed a ‘mystery’ and it can only be described in various ways by various imageries. It may be understood as ‘the new humanity’ proclaimed, manifested in and effected by Jesus. The Church is presented today as the servant, messenger and sacrament of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, Reign of God has primacy over the visible Church, though the Church and the Reign of God cannot be totally separated.
6. The Church had its origins in Jerusalem and the earliest Church was a typically ‘Jewish Church’, patterned after Jewish traditions, customs and worship. Some of the Jewish Christians even wanted to impose on the Gentile Churches all the Jewish traditions including the rite of circumcision. But the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) made a unanimous decision that Jewish traditions need not be imposed upon the new Gentile Churches, and that they can have their own ways. The first nine centuries witness to enormous diversity among the various Churches both in the East and in the West. Only when the process of centralization and homogenization got established in the Church that the diversity among the Churches was looked upon as a threat to the unity of the Church. Vatican II reinvented the diversity of the Churches and strongly endorsed it by acknowledging the “different ways” of the Churches.7 By different ways the Council meant pluralism of customs, disciplines, liturgy, spirituality, government and theology among the Churches. The special mention of “freedom in theological elaborations of revealed truth” and “different methods and approaches in understanding and proclaiming divine things” is extremely important.8 Pluralism and diversity derive from the very nature of ‘ecclesiogenesis’, where the Gospel becomes incarnated in different traditions and cultures assuming their genius, specificities and particularities. Naturally a new Church will not be merely the extension or carbon copy of the so-called ‘Mother Church’.
7. In the history of the Church very often uniformity and conformity had been imposed upon the other Churches under the pretext of unity.
6LG, no. 3 -5. Also note the commentaries on these numbers. 7Decree on Ecumenism, nos. 4, 14, 17. 8Decree on Ecumenism, no. 17.

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Today we realize that unity does not mean uniformity. Unity among Christians and Churches is fundamentally a ‘spiritual unity’, a spiritual communion, a participation in the divine life which has both vertical and horizontal dimensions. It is a unity in Christian ‘faith experience’. When this experience is externally articulated, naturally it assumes different forms and expressions which are conditioned by language, culture, temperament and socio-economic structures. Hence unity has to be searched and experienced within and in spite of diversity. In the history of the Church one could trace different ‘types of Churches’ existing side by side even in the New Testament period.9 Vatican II spoke about unity as “a brotherly communion of faith and sacramental life.”10 Universal Church is a communion of diverse or pluriform local/individual Churches, united in the same faith and sacramental communion. It must be added that different historical types of Churches shall not be understood as static or petrified, but they always remain dynamic, open and creative in constant interaction, dialogue and in a give and take process aiming at convergence and not uniformity.
8. Different types of Churches and different ecclesiologies, in principle, do not contradict each other, but complement each other. They enhance the ‘catholicity’ of the Church or they enrich the Universal Church. The Eastern and Western Churches are often characterized as the ‘two lungs’ of the Church, and the Church is called to breathe with both lungs for a healthy existence. Divisions happened among the Churches several centuries ago, and ever since they have lived in opposition and isolation with the consequence of certain fragmentation of truths and exaggeration of their positions. In the modern ecumenical movement the different Churches meet today in dialogue, collaboration and work in closer relationship, and in this ecumenical process the Churches learn from each other, correct each other and become enriched. In the Catholic Communion of Churches there are different 23 Individual Churches with their differences in the formulation of doctrines, patterns of liturgy and discipline, and theological and ecclesiological approaches. These differences among them are not a threat to unity, rather they enrich the wholeness, beauty and unity of the Catholic Church.

9James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, London: SCM, 1977. He identified four different types of Churches existing side by side in the New Testament period: Jewish, Hellenistic, Apocalyptic and Early Catholic type.
10Decree on Ecumenism, no. 14.

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The above mentioned eight theological presuppositions or principles justify the legitimacy of theological and ecclesiological reflections in India.
2. Theologizing in India
1. Theologizing takes place in an encounter, encounter between faith experience and the experience of reality in the world. It is a critical reflection on human experience in the context of faith.11 It cannot take place in a vacuum by abstract speculations and academic exercises. Theologizing takes place when believers search for answers in the midst of their struggles and agonies where they feel the pinch of their faith and the cost of discipleship in Christ. Every authentic theologizing is contextual, experiential and existential anywhere and anytime. Context is a constitutive element of theologizing. Theologizing is a continuous dialogue and interaction between the Gospel or Christian faith and the realities of every new age. The Gospel or Christian faith puts questions to the actual situation on the one hand, on the other the present realities pose questions to faith so that the faith itself may be reconceptualized, reinterpreted and thus revitalized. New understanding and interpretation of Christian faith in every new age is only one side of the theologizing process. Christian Gospel has also a perennial task of challenging, correcting and transforming every age, people, society and culture into a new creation, which is called in the Biblical tradition as “Kingdom of God.”
2. Indian context is characterized by mainly three elements: massive poverty of the people, inhuman social systems/structures and religious pluralism. Of the Indian population 52.5% are Backward Classes, 22.5% Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. About 40% of the people live below the poverty line. Globalization and the new market economy have only worsened the situation. The “trickle down theory” does not work. Today the poor and the marginalized are just ignored and excluded from the system and they feel that they are not wanted. The traditional Hindu society is divided into castes and sub-castes, and the lower castes are brutally discriminated in the society. Attitude of ‘other worldliness’, individualism and a fatalistic understanding of the doctrine of karma also played a role in

11See Kuncheria Pathil and Dominic Veliath, An Introduction to Theology, Bangalore: TPI, 2005, 8- 21.

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perpetuating the static and unjust social structures. India is the birth place of several World Religions, such as, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Christianity reached the Indian shore already in the first century. Islam came in the Middle Ages and India was under the Muslim rulers for several centuries until the period of the British. Religion and culture cannot be strictly separated in India. Though it is generally acknowledged that India has an overarching culture, still it is marked by diversity of peoples and cultures, especially the “little traditions” of the tribals and the dalits. Theologizing in India has to take seriously this multi-dimensional context of India and respond to them and address the problems implied.
3. The call of Vatican II for radical renewal in the Church by reading the signs of the time, interpreting them meaningfully and shaping the Church, its structures, theology, liturgy and pastoral praxis accordingly gave great impetus and inspiration to theologizing in India. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World stated that the Church is not bound or identified with any one culture or nation and it has to incarnate in all cultures for the enrichment of both the Universal and Local Churches.12 The important paradigm shift made by the Council from the Universal Church to the Local Churches, from the hierarchical Church to the People, from the institutional Church to the Mystery of the Church, and from monarchical Papacy to the Collegiality of Bishops contained the agenda for theologizing in a new way.13 Local Church is a group of people who responded to the Gospel from its own situation and formed a community by the power of the Word and the Spirit. It is in the Local Church that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church becomes truly and fully present and active.14 It is the task of Indian theology to assist in building up an authentic and fully Local Church which should emerge from the Indian soil and not from outside.
4. There took place hectic activities in the Indian Catholic Church immediately after Vatican II. “All India Seminar on the Church in India Today” which took place at Dharmaram College in Bangalore in 1969, was a major attempt on the part of the Indian Church to

12GS, no. 58. 13See, “Vatican II and the Paradigm shift in the Theology of the Church,” in Theology of the Church: New Horizons, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2006, 29–51. 14Christus Dominus. No. 11, Lumen Gentium, no. 26.

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implement the decisions of Vatican II and to spell out their implications for India. The Seminar was thoroughly prepared by an efficient and expert team by supplying resource material and workshop hand books well in advance. The participants of the Seminar, all bishops, representatives of the clergy, religious and laity and many theologians and resource persons, almost 500 in number, spent together ten days in studying the documents of the Council, praying together, discussing and deliberating on the future paths and orientations of Indian Church. The Seminar gave a great impetus to theologizing in India in a new way. In 1976 a Colloquium between some Indian bishops and theologians was held at Hyderabad for mutual understanding and at the end of that Colloquium the theologians gathered there founded the “Indian Theological Association”. Thereafter, the members of the Indian Theological Association used to gather annually, choose a relevant topic for study and discussion and make a theological “Statement”. This theological exercise is being continued for the last 35 years and the statements and publications of the Association are well known both in India and abroad. I make use as resource material the Annual Statements of the Indian Theological Association (ITA) in the next part of my article on ecclesiological reflections from India, though Indian theological developments in India cannot be limited to the work of ITA.15
5. Methods of theologizing had been different at different times and at different places. For the early Fathers of the Church theological method was simply the commentaries and interpretations of the sacred Scriptures. With the Scholastics and the establishment of the system and institution of ‘Universities’, theology became an academic discipline. The Scholastic method was to use the service of Greek philosophical categories and systems to explain the Christian doctrines in an understandable manner. This tradition of using different philosophical systems and categories to explain and understand Christian faith and doctrines became established in the West. Western approach to theology is thus tended to be more rational, academic, abstract and philosophical. Its emphasis was to ‘understand the reality’. It is only with the emergence of Liberation Theology in South America, this exclusive dependence of theology on philosophical systems was questioned. Liberation theology’s
15See, Theologizing in Context: Statements of the Indian Theological Association, ed., Jacob Parappally, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2002.

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emphasis was ‘changing the reality’ rather than ‘understanding’ it. Theological method of the Eastern Churches was more Biblical, Patristic, liturgical, poetic and experiential. In the East, theology and theological method was mainly liturgy-centred, and it is expressed in the ancient dictum, lex orandi, lex credendi (‘law of praying is the law of believing’). There can be of course many models and methods of theologizing as required by the contexts and needs. One can only evaluate each method and highlight its strength and weakness. No one universal method of theologizing is possible as theologizing is contextual.
6. The early pioneers of Indian theology belonged to the period of Indian nationalism and the struggle for political independence, and naturally the idea of an indigenous Christianity with an Indian theology was appealing to all. But once the political independence was gained, the movement for indigenous Christianity met with a setback. Most of the pioneers of Indian theology had an inclusivist methodology.16 For them, the salvation history is one and the same. Like the Hebrew religion of the Old Testament, all religions are a preparatio evangelica. Jesus Christ and the Spirit are present everywhere, in all cultures, religions and peoples. The attempt and method of most of these pioneers was to experience Christ and the Spirit present among our people and our religious traditions and scriptures, and thus they could see the continuity of salvation history. Most of the pioneers were engaged in dialogue with the religious traditions of our country, Indian Scriptures and the classical as well as modern Indian philosophical systems. In general, one could say that their theological contributions were mainly from the cultural, philosophical and religious point of view. The methodology of the pioneers of Indian theology was often along the line of a translation model. Namely, they tried mainly to translate the Christian faith and doctrines as well as western theology into Indian cultural, philosophical and religious categories, so that they may be understood and received by the Indian mind. But today several serious questions are raised against such methods: As India has a plurality of cultures, religions and philosophies, which cultures,

16For an introduction on the Pioneers of Indian theology, see, Kaj Baago, Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity, Madras: CLS, 1969; Robin Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, Madras: CLS, 1969, Reprint 1979; M. Mundadan, Paths of Indian Theology, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 1998.

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religions and philosophies have to be the dialogue partners? The Culture and religion of the higher castes and dominant groups promoted the discrimination of the marginalized, the Subaltern, Backward classes and Dalit groups, who belong to the majority of the Indian population. The exclusive use of those cultural and religious categories, as done by the pioneers of Indian theology, is today questionable. Vedic religion and most of the classical Indian philosophies today seem to be, to some extent, outdated at least for a good number of people. Therefore, instead of dialoguing with them, it is proposed by many that we should enter into dialogue with the popular religions and the thought patterns of today.17 Moreover, in our Christian theologizing how do we take the religious experience of the people of other religions in order to understand the fullness of God’s revelation? What should be the theological methodology for an inter-religious and inter-cultural approach especially in view of building up a better society or God’s Reign?
7. The Indian theologians slowly became convinced that a shift in the method of theologizing in India is needed and efforts were made in the various annual meetings, sessions and publications of the ITA.18 I shall reconstruct this paradigm shift in a succinct manner as follows: For any authentic theologizing in India what is required first is to focus on the actual and urgent problems of the society today and study them in an interdisciplinary manner to have a comprehensive view. Indian theologians therefore in their meetings dealt with topics, such as, Political theology, Reconciliation, Liberation, Socio-cultural Analysis, Communalism, Religious Pluralism, Role of Theologians, Future Vision of India, Ecological Crisis, Challenge of Hindutva, Inculturation, Church and Society, Concerns of Women, Church’s Engagement in Civil Society, Theology of Economics, Indian Secularism, Violence, Corruption, etc. Of course, the internal problems of the Christian communities and traditional theological themes were not eliminated or excluded. Second, an analysis of these problems with historical, socio-cultural and scientific tools was made that would lead to a critical understanding of the problems and the situation. Socio-cultural analysis is found to be a constitutive

17For a short introduction and critique of the work of the pioneers, see, Kuncheria Pathil, Trends in Indian Theology, Chapter One, Bangalore: ATC, 2005, 13–61.
18See, Jacob Parappally, “Theologizing in Context,” in Theologizing in Context, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2002, 23 - 53.

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Theological Reflections On The Church From India