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What Church Leaders Say About the Book

It gives me much pleasure to share my impressions by way of foreword to the book

Christianity in India Through the Centuries written by Dr K M George. The history of the
origin and growth of Christianity in India is as old as Christianity. Thanks to the pioneering
efforts of Apostle Thomas. Kerala has become the cradle of Christianity in India. However
Christianity spread in different parts of India mainly because of the missionary activities of
St Fancis Xavier, the second apostle of India.
Dr George’s study unfolds the fascinating story of the origin and growth of
Christianity in India. In the preliminary chapter, he has portrayed the global setting of the
Indian Church on the backdrop of the history of the universal church. The second, third
and the fourth chapters deal with the apostolic origin of the church in India, the advent of
the Portuguese, their missionary endeavours to spread the Good News among the people,
and the flowering of the different petals of the Christian communities in the length and
breath of India. Dr George has also given special emphasis to the study of Christianity in
Kerala. In the fifth chapter, he has given a beautiful analysis of the impact of Indian
Christianity on the culture of India and especially on the freedom movement of India. In
the concluding chapter, he discusses the development of Indian Christian theology in the
light of the reciprocal influences and contributions of Christianity and Indian religions.
Relying on authentic sources, Dr George has discussed the history of the church in
India in relation to the socio-economic context of India and with special reference to the
Indian culture and religion. With his academic, professional and ecumenical experience,
he has tried to depict the history of Indian Church in an ecumenical perspective. He has
also highlighted the vistas of ecclesiastical changes among the Christian fraternity in India.
His analysis on the problems faced by the Dalits, the reservation policy of the Government
and the issues relating to conversion etc., will help the church leaders and the clergy to
know the challenges faced by the Indian Church in its path of development.
As elsewhere, Christianity has enriched the composite culture of India. Contributions
made by the Christian communities in the fields of education, health care, language, art
and architecture and on the cultural and social life of India have been beautifully portrayed
in the book citing examples. Dr George has taken painstaking research for the compilation
of this book, as is evidenced by the large volume of notes, sources and list of books cited in
every chapter.
Basing on the light of recent research, Dr K M George has touched almost all the
events and movements connected with the growth of Christianity in India. With
determination and dedication, Dr George has made a praiseworthy attempt to proclaim
the Good News through his study. Though not interpretative and evaluative, this study
is factual and narrative. It is certainly an inspiring source book for readers and scholars.
Dr George’s study on the history of Christianity in India is an important addition to
the historiography of Indian Christianity. May the Almighty bless him in all his
academic pursuits.
Soosa Pakiam M
Archbishop of Trivandrum
Latin Diocese.
The title of this book Christianity in India Through the Centuries may suggest that
the work is a detailed account of the origin and development of Christianity in India in a
chronological order. But the author’s intention is different. He does not simply repeat
what most of the works on the history of Christianity in India contain. It is not a mere
summary of the long history of Christianity in India. At the same time the author gives an
overall view of the various branches of Christianity in India, with essential historical and
geographcial details. Chapters five and six give the work a special attraction as they give us
interesting but valuable pieces of information about the impact of Indian Christianity on
Indian culture and about the Christian theological perspectives of some reputed men,
both Indian and foreign, Christian and non-Christian.
Writing history is not an easy job. It demands precision and exactness with regard
to historical facts; honesty and objectivity regarding interpretations and conclusions.
Even the most careful historian is liable to deviate from this ethics of writing history.
Dr K M George too, though an honest historian, with all his earnestness, seems to be
liable to certain such imperfections. Another reference which may invite criticism is the
statement about Menezes’ attempt to bring the Christians under the authority of the
Pope. Neither Syro-Malabarian nor Syro-Malankara Catholics will accept that the
St Thomas Christians of Kerala were brought under the authority of the Pope by
Menezes, the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa. For they firmly believe that they have
always recognized the spiritual authority of the Pope and articulated it whenever it was
possible and needed, since ancient times.
Similarly the statement that the Portuguese were the first Christians with whom the
people of Goa came into contact may invite opposition as how to explain then the discovery
of ancient Syrian crosses from Goa, the great devotion the Christians of Goa had towards
Apostle Thomas which St Francis Xavier himself experienced when he arrived Goa.
Unity and diversity is the very nature of the Christian church. The different ecclesial
traditions and churches show this rich variety within the one Church which makes the
Church a communion. There is confusion in dealing with various traditions and churches
in the first chapter. This confusion may be solved if we understand the basic triple traditions
in the Church, namely Syriac, Greek and Latin and the six liturgical families arising from
these triple traditions. Among the six families all except Latin Roman come under Oriental
or Eastern category. If the different churches had been enlisted according to these traditions
or Liturgical families the confusion could have been avoided.
Chapter one stands almost alone without any substantial relationship with the
subsequent chapters. Still it is relevant and it gives a general idea of the Church universal.
The author must have taken much pain to bring the complex reality of Christianity
in India into a book form. He really deserves our appreciation and perhaps he can improve
the work in the next edition. I wish the author and the book the best.

Archbishop Joseph Perumthottam

Changanacherry Diocese, Syro-Malabar Church.

Dr K M George, has applied his mind to the rare phenomenon of the concentration of
Christianity in this part of Asia. Travellers and missionaries from early part of Christian era
paid attention to this and drawn sketches of this church. The later ones have added
additional drawings to the original ones, often out of good will. The end product is some
thing totally different in the sense that the original drawing of this community was recast
into many new images of the myriad number of the churches world over, especially those
in Europe and America. Even many new ones also. Dr K M George has done justice to all
these and has brought our attention to the fact that we are living in a vast Hindu milieu
and a nation called upon to face the modern life situations. He has challenged especially
the Christians of India to face the new life context in a truly Christian way. He has done
the job in a successful way, which years back was done, each one differently for example by
Cardinal Tisserant, Bishop L M Brown, Dr Placid Podippara and writer Ittoop for example.
I wish the challenges posed before Indian Christians be met by those of the St Thomas
Patrimony with of course the assistance of all churches together. Ours is not a survival
exercise, but that of being dough and salt and light to the whole of Asia. I congratulate
Dr George for taking up this task for all the churches of India, which was really Herculean.

Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis

Major Archbishop – Catholics
Malankara Catholic Church


In this book, Christianity in India Through the Centuries the writer Dr K M George has
endeavoured to treat the vast field of the story of the Church in India, so as to make
evident as far as he is able, the origin, its early development, the changes which led to the
renewal and revival as well as the upheaval and those influences which have resulted in the
present situation and tendencies of the life of the church. Cardinal Suenens once remarked
‘it takes many to make one intelligent’. If that is so about a person’s development, it is also
true about the writing of a book. This book about Christianity in India through centuries
has been shaped by a number of great writers whose contributions have enriched
Dr George’s understanding of history of churches in India. It is indeed marvellous to see
that a book of this kind has been shaped by a man of this age. My hearty congratulations
to Dr George for having taken so much pain to write a book of this kind for the good of the
church and society. Dr George is neither a theologian nor a historian, but only a teacher of
good reputation. God has taken him as a weapon in His hand to make this contribution to
the Indian Church especially for the students of Indian Church History. He had written
several other historical books and now he is a self-made church historian.
It is really interesting to note his ideas about the challenges for the Indian churches of
the 21st century. He pointed out several challenges which the Church in India today
faces. He asks two very important questions. The first one is whether the Church today
would be able to face the challenges? The second question is what our church should be
like in the future? It gives ample opportunity to think about the churches in India today.
Once again I express my deep appreciation and best wishes to Dr K M George for
this splendid work.

Rt Rev Dr Sam Mathew

Bishop(Rtd), Madhya Kerala Diocese, CSI , Kottayam.


I am privileged to go through Christianity in India Through the Centuries authored by

Dr K M George.
We have very few authoritative and accurate documents and stories of Chrsitianity in
India. Dr K M George, with his vast reading and research, has enriched us by gifting a
scholarly book on Church History, through the pages of Christianity in India Through the
Centuries. His work is inarguably authentic and thought provoking. It contains a wealth of
knowledge about the past and present of the growing church in India. The author, Dr K
M George, steers us gently through the misty seas of time and many conflicting possible
versions of church history. His book is more compelling than many others because he has
written with a neutral stand and objective views, on the diversity of beliefs and sects of the
present-day church.
This is a history book, rich with facts, that offers a pungent slice of the times. The
author takes the reader on an enlightening journey through the various divisions and
levels of faith that the Church passed through on its fascinating journey from persecution
to position of power.
Christianity in India Through the Centuries is well researched and well written.
Dr K M George spent many hours pouring through various books and documents
to write eloquently about church history in general and Indian Christianity in particular.
If someone wants a greater understanding of how the church in India came to be,
Christianity in India Through the Centuries is a required reading. Even those who are not
interested in history will go through these pages for sheer enjoyment and for a pleasurable
reading experience.
If you like reading well written books about Indian Church, then Christianity in
India Through the Centuries is sure to be your cup of tea.

Rev Dr K C John
I P C, General President,


This book, Christianity in India Through the Centuries is a herculean task taken up by
Dr K M George. I have great pleasure to say that this is simply ‘Great’. It is easy to write
stories and essays on present events. But it is a challenge to dig into the history, to search for
truth and historical background and to make the authentic sources available. Dr George
has accepted the challenge and has done it.
Through this book, Dr George has done great services to all Christian communities
in India. The origin, spread and growth of churches in India in general, the global setting
of the Indian Church, the Portuguese and the Indian Church, Orthodox Christianity and
the Indian Church, the Church in Tamil Nadu, the Church in Andhra Pradesh, the
Church in Karnataka, the Church in Bombay, the Church in Goa and the impact of
Indian Christianity on Indian society, etc. are elucidated.
Dr George has detailed the arrival of Knai of Thomas and his group of four hundred
people (The Knanaites) at Kodungallur in AD 345 as an epoch-making event in the
4th century, which put Indian Christianity on a firm footing and their arrival raised the
strength and prestige of Malabar Church.
For a serious reader this book is a valuable resource to enrich his knowledge of history
of the Christian church and for students of church history, a text book. Christian tradition
is holy and it is both divine and human; in fact God’s work through human. This book
reveals Dr K M George’s Christian vision of unity in Christ and belief in God.
May God bless Dr K M George and his sincere efforts to serve God and people
through this book. May the grace of God be with all those who read this book.

Archbishop Severius Kuriakose,

Diocese of Kananya,
Kottayam, Kerala.


Dr K M George’s, Christianity in India Through the Centuries is a commendable work and

a treasure to the Christian historical studies. I take this opportunity to congratulate him for
such an encyclopedial work which contains the details of almost all Christian denominations
in India. This book will be helpful to all who want to study or to understand about the
history of Christianity in India, especially to the students. I hope and pray, may the
blessings of God be upon him, so as he could contribute more books to the history
of Christianity.

Baselius Thomas I Catholicose

Jacobite Church, Puthencruz, Kerala.


The book, Christianity in India Through the Centuries, written by Dr K M George, is

unique in its manner of presentation. The author makes an attempt to show how the
Christian church in India developed through the centuries from its inception in the first
century to the present; how it ordered its life in a multireligious context; how several
divisions occurred within it during the periods of its growth; how it extended its influence
and established its character in the Indian culture and society etc. An attempt has also been
made to bring out the fullness and diversity of the Christian church in India which is
losing its individuality and becoming divided through the rise of foreign colonies and
‘Sectarian Fellowships’.
It is obvious that writing church history is not an easy task. In particular, writing the
complex history of the Indian Church based on the presently available documents is extremely
difficult. Most of the church historians who belong to churches that were once dominated
and subjected to certain prejudices have written the Indian Church history from their
particular perspective only. Differing from this trend there should be some historical books
which take into consideration the fullness of various dimensions and uphold the essence of
the Indian Church. Dr K M George is trying to satisfy this very important need through this
book, although he does not seem to succeed fully in his effort.
Christian church in India is as old as Christianity itself. The Church, founded by
Apostle Thomas existed up to the sixteenth century with its Eastern taste and maintained
its venerable heritage. This situation, however, was changed with the arrival of colonial
powers, such as Portuguese, Holland, France, Denmark, England, and others. As a result
of the invasion of the colonial powers, the divisions and conflicts which existed in the
Western Christian world were introduced also into the Indian Church. The indigenous
and united Church in India inherited gradually the conflicts and divisions existed in the
West. These sad divisions and mutual alienations are well explained by the author in this
literary work. The book, divided into six sections, begins with ‘the global setting of the
Indian Church’ and continues to 20th century Indian Church. Through this analysis the
author also, to a certain extent makes evident the Indian Christian theology and the true
essence of Indian culture. The author’s idea that the Indian Church should uphold its
history, canons, individuality and spiritual life without wavering from the fundamental
truths of faith and become immersed in the inner soul of India is commendable.
This book deserves special attention for the description of events based only on the
documents available to the author. Thus, although the book is lacking critical evaluation in
its narration of some historical events, it includes material that all Christians and theological
students should know.
Let us take this opportunity to congratulate Dr K M George for having accomplished
this tremendous job for winning the world for its Lord and Master Jesus Christ. May the
Almighty God bless him.

H B Paulose Mar Milithios Metropolitan

Catholicos Designate,
Malankara Orthodox Church, Kerala.


Dr K M George is an educationist with a vast repertoire of experiences and observations

rooted in a multicultural contest. This has endowed him with an ability to look into his
own tradition with great insight. His book, Christianity in India Through the Centuries
with six chapters and a conclusion is a commendable effort. It enlightens the readers with
the historical events arranged in a unique perspective. As a senior citizen from Punnavely,
his writings are an inspiration to aspiring authors.
May God Bless all his writing endeavours.
Philipose Mar Chrysostom
Mar Thoma Metropolitan,

Dr K M George

What Church Leaders Say About the Book 1

Acknowledgement 17
Foreword: Bishop Jesudason 21
Preface: Bishop Benjamin 23
Introduction: Dr K M George 25

1.The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 29

The Early Days of Christianity 31
The Roman Catholic Church 35
The Various Protestant Churches 38
Church Councils 50
Monasticism 60
The Reformation 64
The Crusades 68
Religious Orders 70
The Ecumenical Movement 71
Liberation Theology 73
2. The Indian Church to the 15th Century 81
India in the First Century of the Christian Era 83
The Apostolic Origin of Indian Christianity 86
The Early Christians in Malabar 95
The First Syrian Christian Colony 97
The Relation of the St Thomas Christians
to Syrian Christianity till 1599 99
Indian Christianity Beyond Malabar and Coromandel Coast 102
The St Thomas Church Before the Arrival of the Portuguese 104

3. The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 107

The Portuguese and the Indian Church 107
The Synod of Diamper & the Coonan Cross 109
The Malabar Church (1663-1716) 109
Catholicism and the Indian Church 113
The Southists among the Syrian Christian Roman Catholics:
The North/South Division 118
Some Roman Catholic Missionaries 119
Orthodox Christianity and the Indian Church 122
The Church in Tamil Nadu 123
The Church in Karnataka 127
The Church in Andhra Pradesh 135
The Church in Goa 140
The Church in North India 142
The Church in Bengal and Orissa 144
4. The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 151
The Church in Bombay 151
The Church in North-East India 154
The Political Landscape and the Growth of Christianity 156
The Impact of Christianity on Society 163
The Protestant Churches in India 167
The Churches in Kerala 176
Mass Movements 184
Medical Missions 186
Dalits 189

5. The Impact of Christianity on Indian Society 205

Indian Christians and the Freedom Movement 205
The Impact of Christianity on Other Indian Religions 210
The Christian Contribution to Modern Indian Civilization 212
The Christian Gospel and the Indian Renaissance 216
The Indian Church: Its Spiritual Values and Theology 224
Christian Saints and Sages of India 227
Introduction of English Education in the Early 19th Century 232
The Christian Church and Women’s Education 234
Early Pioneers of Christian Writing in Indian Languages 235
The Contribution of Missionaries to Indian Languages 236
The Contribution of Christians to Indian Culture 238
The Christian Contribution to Art and Architecture in India 244
The Christian Contribution to Healthcare in India 249
6. Indian Christian Theology 253
Indigenous Theology Before the 16th Century 255
Relationship between Portuguese and Indian Christians
in the 15th Century 257
Contribution to Christian Thought by Hindus 258
Contributions to Christian Thought by
Western Christian Missionaries 269
Contribution to Christian Thought by a
Non-Indian Christian Convert to Indian Culture 275
Contribution to Christian Thought by Indian Christians 276
Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity 306
The Bhakti Tradition in Christianity 310

7. Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 3 17

The First Challenge: Conversion or Proselytism? 318
The Second Challenge: What Place Do Cults
Have in the Church? 332
The Third Challenge: What Is the Mission of the Church? 334
The Fourth Challenge: Does Communalism Have a
Place in the Church? 336
The Fifth Challenge: How Can Worldliness in the Church
Be Tackled? 341
The Sixth Challenge: How Can Interreligious Dialogue
Be Best Conducted? 343
The Seventh Challenge: Can the Indian Church Meet
These Challenges? 344
The Church of Tomorrow 346
Books for Further Reading 351

Bibliography 355

References 357

Appendix 365

○ Acknowledgement

About eighteen months ago OM Authentic Media invited me to write a

book Christianity in India Through the Centuries. I questioned the need to
add another book on Christianity in India as there are already hundreds of
books on this topic. They replied giving three reasons for such a request. (i)
My latest church history book, Development of Christianity Through the
Centuries: Tradition and Discovery published in 2005 contained ‘no’ or ‘very
little’ bias, (ii) unfortunately, in the past, the western society has been
reluctant to accept the writings of Indian authors at par with their
counterparts, and OM felt it necessary to publish books of outstanding
quality as international publication, and (iii) this new book should also
highlight the impact of Indian Christianity on Indian culture and also the
challenges facing the Indian Church in the 21st century. I felt that the
remarks were highly commendable and decided to venture into this new
and difficult task.
At the outset I would like to state that I am not an academic theologian
but only a layman who tried to take a journey across the development path
of Christianity in India over the centuries through research, study and
reflection. I am sure there are many people (especially lay people) who
would like to know more about Christianity in India from the first century
to the claim that Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to India. I also
feel that there are many students in theological colleges who want to write

18 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

dissertations on various aspects of Christianity, initially needing brief relevant

material that could be a basis for further study if required.
This work would not have been possible without the advice, assistance,
comments and criticism of a number of theological scholars and friends.
Rev Dr T I Varghese of the Orthodox Theological Seminary helped me
with the division of chapters and especially the choice of material for chapters
2, 3, 4; Rev Dr Jacob Kurien of the Orthodox Theological Seminary on
chapter 6; while Fr Dr Thomas Koonammakal of St Thomas Apostolic
Seminary Kottayam helped with chapter 5. A number of friends helped me
with the last chapter, ‘Challenges to the Indian Church in the 21 century’,
namely Rev Dr E C John, Rt Rev George Ninan, Rt Rev Sam Mathew, Fr
G Chediath, K I Ninan, Abraham Mathan and Kuruvilla Chandy. One of
the outstanding resource materials I used in this research is Indian Christian
Directory for the new millennium published by Deepika Publication,
Kottayam, which I gratefully acknowledge.
One of the lessons I learned in my research for writing this book is that
no historian especially church historian is perfect and cent per cent honest.
My sincere thanks go to Professor Zachariah Mathew (Kottayam) who helped
me in proof-reading as well as on initial editing of the manuscript. A very
special word of thanks goes to Mr K J Goodlet (Australia) who has done the
final editing of the book. I wish to thank my sister Aema who encouraged
me and catered to my physical needs as I spent long hours at the computer,
my daughter Sarah and her husband John who encouraged me throughout
the period of study and research, and my grandsons Santhosh and Sushil
who used to call me and enquire of the progress of the work. Indulgence is
begged of any person whose name I may have omitted.
I am indebted to Rt Rev I Jesudason, formerly Moderator of the Church
of South India, Fr Dr K M George, and Principal of Orthodox Theological
Seminary Kottayam for writing forewords to the book, H B Paulose Mar
Milithios Metropolitan Cahtolicate Designate Malankara Orthodox Church
His Beatitude...Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Most Rev Dr Philipose
Mar Chrysothom, the Metropolitan of Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Most
Rev Maria Callist Soosa Pakiyam of the Latin Church, Archbishop Mar
Joseph Perumthottam of Syro-Malabar Church, Major Archbishop Baselius
Mor Cleemis of Syro-Malankara Church, Archbishop Kuriakose Mar Severius
of Knanaya Diocese, Rt Rev T B Benjamin, Former Bishop of North Kerala
Acknowledgement 19

Diocese of the CSI, Rt Rev Sam Mathew, former Bishop of the Madhya
Kerala Diocese of the CSI, Rev Dr K C John, General President of India
Pentecostal Church of God for writing commendations for this enterprise.
I would like to give a special word of thanks to Authentic India and their
leaders for having invited me to write this book, get it printed and published
as an International publication.
If this book helps any reader to understand and appreciate the way in
which God in His mercy had led Christianity in India through the last
twenty centuries, my aim in bringing this book is fulfilled.

Dr K M George,
Kerala 689589.


I am particularly happy to write a foreword for this book because it is

written by a layman, Dr K M George committed to the mission of the
Church, who after working as an educationist in overseas countries for more
than a quarter of a century settled down in his village in Kerala, and has
been engaged in a study of History of the Church. His three books, Church
of South India: Negotiations Towards Union (1919-47), Church of South India:
Life in Union (1947-97), and Development of Christianity Through the
Centuries: Tradition and Discovery were greatly appreciated.
The present work, Christianity in India Through the Centuries comprises
seven chapters. Although this book pertains to Christianity in India through
the centuries, the author has, in chapter I, rightly explained the global
setting of the Indian Church as church in India is an integral part of the
global Christianity. Moreover this chapter provides basic historical and
theological informations of protestant denominations which established
congregations all over India during 19th and 20th centuries.
In chapters 2, 3 and 4 the author deals with Indian Church in specific
periods of church history. In the second chapter, he brings out the apostolic
origin of Indian Christianity, the evidence for and against Apostle Thomas
bringing the gospel to India, and the relation of St Thomas Christians to
the East Syrian community until the end of 1599. In the following chapter,
the author brings out the change of scenario with the arrival of Portuguese

22 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

and the subsequent upheaval between the two groups leading up to the
arrival of Roman Catholicism in the Indian Church, and the subsequent
establishment of Orthodox Church in Indian Christianity. As India is a
vast country, almost as large as the continent of Europe, the development
of Christianity in India did not follow a uniform pattern, and the author
brings out clearly the growth of Indian Church in different regions of India.
The chapter on ‘Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society’ deals
with a number of areas in which Indian Christians have contributed to
Indian society such as their contribution to Freedom Movement, to other
Indian religions, to Christian gospel and renaissance, to Indian civilization,
to education to Indian culture, art, architecture and so on. In the next
chapter on ‘Indian Christian Theology’ the author has attempted to point
out indigenous Christian theology before the 16th century followed by the
contributions to Christian thoughts by various groups—Hindus,
Missionaries, and Indian Christians. While presenting history of
Christian church in India from its early beginnings to the present, with all
its ups and downs, the author draws attention of readers to the dynamic
and forward-looking nature of the church with its capacity of self-evaluation
and its involvements in gospel out reach, socio-political transformation and
ecumenical engagements. Thus this work stands as a significant contribution
in the field of history and so the efforts behind it deserve all appreciation.
In the final chapter the author points out six challenges facing the
Indian Church as it enters the 21st century. These challenges naturally
raise certain questions. Can the Indian Church meet these challenges?
Whether the past perceptions and experiences be taken as sufficient and
enough preparatin to meet such challenges. Do we need to have a new
spiritual awakening coupled with deeper understanding of the gospel of
Christ in the pluralistic context? The author ends the book with a vision for
the Church tomorrow.

Bishop Jesudason
Former Moderator, C S I &
Bishop Rtd S K Diocese


I am extremely happy to learn that Dr K M George has completed yet

another book on church history entitled Christianity in India Through the
Centuries. I had the privilege of writing foreword to his first church history
book, Church of South India: Negotiations Towards Union (1919-47) ten
years ago. I also have copies of his two later books, Church of South India:
Life in Union (1947-97) and Development of Christianity Through the
Centuries: Tradition and Discovery. It is good to learn that Dr George has
kept burning his flame of appetite for research.
In this book, Christianity in India Through the Centuries he deals with
the vast field of the story of the Indian Church; the origin from the time
of Apostle Thomas, its development, the renewal, revival and upheavals
due to various influences leading up to the present situation. In the chapter
‘The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Culture’ he spared no pains
to bring out the fact that the Christians in India are not just silent listeners
in the whole national scenario, but are part and parcel of this great nation
and have played a vital role in all fields of Indian culture. In the final
chapter he points out a number of challenges facing the Indian Church
in the 21st century and ends the book with a pertinent question ‘Can the
Indian Church meet these challenges’ which certainly gives ‘food for
thought’ for all of us.

24 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

I have no hesitation in saying that this book will be an asset to any

person who desires to get a clear picture of the Church in India through
the centuries. My hearty congratulations, and best wishes to Dr George!

Rt Rev T B Benjamin
North Kerala Diocese,
CSI Kottayam.


Dr K M George’s new volume on the history of the church in India seems

to be the fruit of the encouragement he received from readers of his first
volume on world Christianity. Readers in various parts of the world must
have relished his labour of love and testified to its value and relevance.
One cannot but admire the tenacity and perseverance of Dr George.
His maturity, age and wisdom seem to help him enormously to glide
smoothly over rather rough and occasionally inhospitable terrain of church
history. Any historian undertaking to handle the history of Christianity
encounters immediately the problem of objectivity. Since Christianity is
now divided into hundreds of bodies, some big and some small, there is
no unified or commonly agreed upon perspective on its history amongst
Christians themselves. This makes the task of the historian difficult
especially if he or she is a believing and practicing Christian like the
author of this volume. But Dr George has developed a fine sense of
detachment, both spiritually and academically, that saves him from any
partisan or parochial approach to the history of the church. His ecumenical
vision wants to be fair and sympathetic to all, though sometimes particular
ecclesiastical groups and traditions with their own historical claims may
not agree with the author’s treatment of their area of history. However, it
should be mentioned that, like in his previous work, Dr George does not
make any tall claims of academic acumen or hair-splitting research. His

26 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

goal is deliberately modest —to make available to ordinary readers

and students an overview of the background and present trends in
Indian Christianity.
Ancient pre-Portuguese Christianity in India or the Saint Thomas
tradition seems to be uneventful since from a historian’s perspective there
are no substantial documents or other historical material to work on from
this period of about 1500 years. The stage is lighted up and the play
begins apparently with the arrival of the Portuguese colonial traders and
missionaries from 1498 onwards. The clear and undivided stream of
apostolic Christianity in Kerala until that time begins to be muddled
and divided with the interference of various foreign colonial-ecclesiastical
powers. The period beginning with the 16th century until today is
notoriously baffling for any historian since claims and counter claims
arise from the many miserably divided groups of old St Thomas Christians
about the historical legitimacy of their present existence and identity. An
observer from outside might turn cynical and sarcastic about this ridiculous
state of affairs created by the slavish allegiance of the Kerala Christians of
St Thomas tradition to the various foreign political-ecclesiastical powers
overlording their history until today. But Dr George takes a serene stand
and eschews any critical or cynical approach.
His treatment of the larger Indian Christianity outside the St Thomas
tradition includes chapters on Indian Christian theology and the
emergence of Dalit and subaltern perspectives. The Dalit question is
interesting not only from a theological perspective but also from an
historiographical stand since it seems to have inverted the classical western
Christian mainstream approach to history. History cannot any longer be
understood as a “truthful”, “objective”, “as-it-happened” narrative. The
so-called underside of history with its long suppressed sighs and sounds
of the oppressed and the marginalized now explodes into the historical
pyramid, subverts and deconstructs it. Classical Christian historiography
of academic reputation and ecclesiastical imprimatur will find it hard to
grapple with this new reality.
Although Dr George never claims to be a trained historian or
theologian, he ventures into the vast and complex region of history and
history-writing with great determination. I am humbled by his most
generous request to me to write a few words by way of Introduction. May
Introduction 27

God grant him many more years of sustained and creative work and reward
him for his passion and commitment to the historical unfolding of the
Body of Christ.
Dr K M George
The Orthodox Theological Seminary,
Kottayam, Kerala.

The Global
Scenario of the

Indian Church

CHRISTIANITY IS AN Asian religion. It sprang up as an offshoot of

Judaism. Jesus Christ was sent to an Asian nation, the Jews, and through
them to the whole world. His disciples obeyed the command of the
Master—‘Go and teach all nations’. Christianity owed a lot to Judaism
from which it gained monotheism, much of its ethics, and a major portion
of its scriptures. It was through Judaism that Christianity became heir to
the cultures and religions of Persia, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean
basin, east of Italy. The major religions and philosophical traditions of the
world had their origin in Asia, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism,
Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. Keshub Chandra Sen, the great
Brahma Samaj leader in Bengal mentioned that ‘in this place [Asia] you
could count all leading prophets and all great religious geniuses of the
world. No great prophet was born outside the boundaries of Asia’.1
John C England, a church historian from New Zealand in The Hidden
History of Christianity in Asia points out that unfortunately only a few
churches in the region have retained a strong sense that their history began
in the early centuries of the Christian era.2
Christianity has its roots in the East. It is important to note that
although governed from the West for a long period of time, the church was
born in the Syrian and Semitic context of Jerusalem. The thought forms,
the imageries and the religious writings were all Semitic; the biblical

30 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

traditions preserve for the church the authentic primitive spirituality of

apostolic times. John Madey, the German author writes: ‘The history of
the early church is basically the history of the Eastern churches.’3
However, Christianity was able to disengage itself from its parental
stock and pursue an independent existence. The teachings of Jesus reached
well beyond the Jews, transforming the moral and spiritual life of individuals,
both men and women, of all classes and of many races.
Christianity had the good fortune to be born in the Mediterranean
region, the most powerful and dynamic centre of the world of the day. It
is the Greek language that encouraged the propagation of ideas. Greek
had gained currency in commerce in the main cities at least from the
time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). So any religion that could
create a literature in Greek would have ample opportunity to reach out to
most of the provinces of the Roman Empire. Christianity happened to be
such a religion.
A second factor that encouraged the expansion of Christianity was the
increasing mobility of people and the growth of cosmopolitanism, which
had been in progress for at least two centuries before the birth of Christ. A
third factor was that, during this time, both Rome and Greece were losing
their grip on the traditional state and family cults. Both were unable to
satisfy the needs of the people. So the people looked to religion. A fifth
factor that assisted the growth of Christianity was that it was seen in
Hellenistic society as a natural heir and successor.4
The Hellenistic (Greek) Age is the period from the death of Alexander
the Great in 323 BCE to the beginning of the Roman Empire in 10 BC by
Augustus, during which time Greek culture crossed her frontiers and blended
with other indigenous cultures of the Mediterranean world. During this
era, various older cultures—the civilization of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine
and Syria—declined. As the older cultures perished, a new empire, the
Roman, the strongest and the most enlightened the Mediterranean world
had seen, emerged.
Unlike most Asian cultures, emphasis on the importance of the
individual person is the most striking feature of Hellenistic culture, a feature
that was to influence Christianity. Philosophy and religion attempted to
satisfy the hunger of human hearts. Philosophers—Socrates, Plato and
Aristotle—were theorists and their supreme god was far removed from man.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 31

For them, God was the great unknown. Seneca (3 BCE–65 CE) taught on
the personality of God and life after death. Epictetus (52 CE–120 CE) and
Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE) taught the brotherhood of all men. All
these philosophers addressed the issues to the chosen few, and their message
had no hope of salvation.

The Early Days of Christianity

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the starting point of Christianity. The
disciples and apostles are witnesses to that unique event on the day of
Pentecost when the apostles experienced the sound of a mighty rushing
wind that looked like tongues of fire coming down upon them. After the
resurrection of Jesus, the apostles enjoyed a great resurgence of popularity
in Judea. The chief characters in the drama of the early Christian church
were the apostles themselves. Although the apostles did not have the courage
to stand with Jesus at His crucifixion, they took up with courage and
conviction the challenge and responsibility after the appearance of their
Lord before His ascension to heaven to, ‘Go into all the world and preach
the gospel everywhere’.
It is important to bear in mind the following about these early days.
First, the early Christians did not write history as such. The apostles and
their converts were too busy making history to bother writing it. History as
such was not written at all until the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Even the Book of
Acts by Luke was not a general history, but a polemic written to show the
emergence of a new Gentile Christian movement with a divine authority
and approval, based on its age-old Jewish matrix. Certainly,
Luke’s work became a welcome source to a historian in the early church.
Second, after the early apostolic age there is, for a time, silence. It is as if the
Christian movement was in a tunnel out of sight for a period. Probably it
was because they thought that the return of Christ might well be expected
during their own generation. Third, the apostles were not considered
important in the thinking of the early Christians as they were considered
to be only brothers and beloved friends. They did not have ecclesiastical
authority as we perceive today. And fourth, secular historians largely ignored
them in the early centuries.
The best source material to study the development of Christianity in
the early period is the Book of Acts, a thesis on the emergence of Christianity
32 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

as a universal faith, not to be confined within the matrix of Judaism

but necessarily a universal gospel to be presented also to the Gentiles.
Pentecost was the first international experience when Jews from many nations
were present in Jerusalem; and certainly there were present Gentiles as well
(Acts 2: 9-11).
The Acts of the Apostles recounts the history of the early church from
the time of Jesus’ ascension to Paul’s arrival as a prisoner in Rome. In the
Book of Acts, Peter takes a unique position of importance in the church in
Jerusalem. While the first part of the Book of Acts mainly deals with the
acts of Peter, the second part contains stories about the acts of Paul. The
Book of Acts describes the transition of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a
world faith. Peter who had the leadership position in the early church
gradually carried the good news beyond the boundaries of Jewish culture
into the Gentile world. Paul, then, took over the leadership of the church
and the mantle of Apostle to the Gentiles. While the first 12 chapters of
Acts recount the witness of the disciples in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria,
chapters 13 to 28 narrate Paul’s missionary journeys.
The famous Christian scholar and writer, Eusebius, called ‘the father of
Church History’, tells us that the apostles ‘divided the world’ and set forth
to all points of the compass. At the beginning of Book III of his History of
Christianity, after having described the Fall of Jerusalem, Eusebius says that
‘the inhabited world’ was divided into zones of influence among the apostles:
Thomas in the region of the Parthians, John in Asia, Peter in Pontus and
Rome, Andrew in Scythia.5 Although this statement seems to contain a
certain measure of historical truth, it is difficult to verify whether division
of labour was planned in this way. The Christian Centuries mentions that
the apocryphal writings of the New Testament seemed to be divided into
geographical cycles: the cycle of Thomas, the cycle of Philip, and the cycle
of John. It seemed the Judaeo-Christian mission at the beginning of the
second century took different forms: Mesopotomia linked to James and
Thomas, Asiatic Christianity to Philip and John, and Phoenicia, Pontus,
Achaea and Rome to Peter and his associates.6

The Apostle Thomas and India

Very little is recorded of the Apostle Thomas. However, there is a clear
picture of his experience in John’s Gospel. When the apostles announced
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 33

the resurrection of Christ, Thomas made the categorical statement: ‘Except

I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the
place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ But
eight days later he made his act of faith, drawing the rebuke of the Master.
There is a tradition, which runs briefly as follows: India fell to the lot
of Thomas, but he declared his inability to go, whereupon his Master Jesus
appeared in a supernatural way to Abban, the envoy of Gundafor, an Indian
king, and sold Thomas to him to be his slave and serve Gundafor as a
carpenter. Abban and Thomas then sailed away until they came to
Andrapolis, where they landed and attended the marriage feast of the ruler’s
daughter. Strange events followed and Christ appeared to Thomas, and
Thomas exhorted the bride to remain a virgin. Coming to India, Thomas
undertook to build a palace for Gundafor, but spent the money entrusted
to him on the poor. Instead of building a palace as demanded by the king,
Thomas continued his work of spreading the gospel. The king was very
angry and he imprisoned Thomas. In the meantime king’s brother died.
Miraculously Thomas raised the dead person. This astonished the king and
Gundafor was converted. Thomas continued his ministry of preaching.

The Spread of Christianity to 1054

The Romans were very hostile to the new cult. One of the main reasons
was the exclusivist attitude of the Christians. A second reason was that the
Christians refused to recognize emperor worship, the practice of extending
to the emperor a form of reverence equal to the gods. During the first three
centuries, the Roman officials attempted to suppress Christianity. Christians
were thrown to the beasts as a measure of hatred towards them.
The period from 235 to 284 CE saw the political, moral and military
decline of the Roman Empire. Rome was under attack from all sides. But
with the conversion of Emperor Constantine (312 CE) to Christianity,
Byzantium, the headquarters of the east arm of the Roman Empire, became
Emperor Constantine’s favourite city, which he renamed Constantinople
(Modern city Istanbul) in 330 CE.
With Emperor Constantine moving his capital from Rome to Byzantium
in 330 CE, he started ruling his vast empire from the new Constantinople;
this created the most important split in the history of Christianity. Upto
this time, the church in the west in Rome, and the church in the East,
34 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

formed one body. In the East there were three patriarchs each traditionally
equal with the fourth—the Patriarch or Pope of Rome. All the four patriarchs
accepted the Nicene Creed, and were Apostolic and Catholic. However,
there were certain basic differences that paved the way for confusion and a
split. Socially, linguistically, mentally, morally and philosophically there
was a wide gulf between the two.7 The east was Greek in blood and speech
while the west was Latin. The transfer of the capital from west to east
meant a shifting of the centre of political, social and intellectual influence.
The friction between the east and west increased with the addition of
the word ‘filioque’ to the Nicene Creed. The Greek Church held that the
Holy Spirit proceeded directly from the Father while the Latin Church had
adopted the view that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the
Son—filioque. To these were added political and ecclesiastical jealousies. In
1054 CE, the Pope excommunicated the Patriarch and vice versa; the result
was that they became two churches—Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin).

One Church and Many Churches

The church of Christ is a communion of churches. Unity and diversity
are two essential components of the church. The unity of the church does
not mean uniformity. While uniformity is external and superficial, unity
is internal and profound. Although the Christian gospel truth is the same,
the way of life of the Christian communities has varied from place to
place, being influenced by the religious, social and cultural background
of the believers. The church has been quite conscious of the fact and
cautious not to identify unity with uniformity to preserve the unity in
the richness of diversity.
In the early church, liturgical heritage was one of the bases of its
development as well as its divisions. Neighbouring regions spontaneously
accepted the liturgical forms which had been developed in important centres
of ecclesiastical learning of early Christianity. For example, the Roman
church with its Latin liturgical tradition gradually spread into North and
South America and Afro-Asian countries during the colonial period. In the
same way, the Church of Ethiopia shared the neighbouring Coptic liturgical
tradition, and the Antiochene liturgy was welcomed in the East, which
later became West Syrian and East Syrian. There was also a kind of regional
or territorial affinity of the churches observed in the formation of the different
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 35

individual churches. From the Byzantine Greek liturgy it spread into the
different Slavic countries, Constantinople, Greece, Cyprus, Romania,
Albania, Russia, Bellorussia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland
and Czechoslovakia as a big Byzantine liturgical family.8
The Christians in the East (Persia, China, Mongolia, and India)
welcomed the East Syrian liturgical tradition, which was developed in the
east along with the churches of Apostle Thomas’ tradition. The practical
autonomy of the local churches enabled them to develop their own
indigenous identity. As the churches are grouped primarily on the basis of
their liturgical tradition, the particular form of worship of a church has a
unique role in determining its identity. Some of the distinctive characteristics
which determine their identity are eucharistic sacrifice, feasts and fasts;
administrative systems; the hierarchical set up; discipline; the ecclesiastical
calendar; and vestments.

The Roman Catholic Church

There are Roman Catholic churches in every continent, but liturgical
traditions may vary. The Pope of Rome juridicially leads these churches.
Other churches of various liturgical traditions, except the Latin tradition
come under Oriental or Eastern churches. They are first, the Antiochene
churches (The Syrian Catholic Church, The Maronite Catholic Church
and The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church); second, the Church of the East
(The Chaldean Catholic Church, The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and
The Armenian Catholic Church); third, the Alexandrian churches (The
Coptic Catholic Church and The Ethiopian Catholic Church); and fourth,
the Byzantine churches (The Greek Melkite Catholic Church, The
Romanian Catholic Church, The Ruthenian Catholic Church, The Slovak
Catholic Church, The Russian Catholic Church, The Italo-Albanian Catholic
Church, The Ukranian Catholic Church, The Greek Catholic Church, The
Krizevian (Yugoslavia) Catholic Church, The Bulgarian Catholic Church,
The Albanian Catholic Church, The Hungarian Catholic Church and The
Bylorussian Catholic Church. Substantial numbers of Indians belong to
such an Antiochene church as the Syro-Malankara, and such churches of
the East as The Chaldean Catholic and the Syro-Malabar Catholic.
36 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Division between the Eastern Churches

and the Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church, over a period of time, became a well-developed
highly centralized administrative structure that left little room for change.
During the early centuries of the Christian era, both the eastern and western
churches lived in communion, even though their liturgy, spirituality,
discipline and administrative structures differed. However, in subsequent
centuries there was increasing alienation between them. Each church started
to develop its own ideology. The Christological controversies regarding the
two natures and one person of Christ led to doctrinal definition at the
Council of Ephesus in 431 CE. This council, which primarily discussed
the Christological controversies, led to doctrinal definition. The Alexandrian
Patriarch Cyril condemned the Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, who
was a stout follower of the Antiochene theological tradition, which led to a
division within the churches. Those who defended or sympathized with
the Antiochene theological tradition came to be appelled as Nestorian.
Those churches were The (Assyrian) Church of the East, The (Assyrian)
Church of the East (with two Patriarchates in Baghdad and USA) and The
(Assyrian) Church of the East (in Thrissur). The first of these three has a
substantial following in India.
A compromise was reached in 433 CE between Cyril of Alexandria
and the Antiochene church, which paved the way for further divisions
and disputes. The Patriarch Dioscorus of Alexandria defended an
archimandrite Eutyches who was accused of denying the distinctiveness
of the nature of Christ. In the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, his
teaching was rejected and condemned. A section of the Alexandrians and
Antiocheans who are known as anti-Chalcedonians rejected the definition
of the Council of Chalcedon. At present they are called The Oriental
Orthodox Church.9 The churches of this tradition are: the Armenian
(The Armenian Apostolic Church, The Catholicate of Etchmiadzin, The
Catholicate of Cilicia, The Patriarchate of Jerusalem and The Patriarchate
of Constantinople), Alexandrian (The Coptic Orthodox Church, The
Ethiopian Orthodox Church and The Erithrean Orthodox Church) and
Antiochean (The Syrian Orthodox Church, The Malankara Orthodox
Church and The Thoziyoor Church), the first two of which are
substantially represented in India.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 37

A further division took place within the church in the Roman Empire,
creating the Latin and Greek churches in 1054. The papal representative,
Cardinal Humbert and the Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople
excommunicated each other, which was the beginning of a long period of
mutual alienation and estrangement between the Byzantine and the Rome-
centred western church. The churches of the Byzantine family are generally
known as Eastern Orthodox churches 10 and are divided into the
autocephalous Orthodox churches (The Patriarchate of Antioch, The
Patriarchate of Jerusalem, The Orthodox Church of Russia, The Orthodox
Church of Serbia, The Orthodox Church of Romania, The Orthodox Church
of Bulgaria, The Orthodox Church of Georgia, The Orthodox Church of
Cyprus, The Orthodox Church of Greece, The Orthodox Church of Poland,
The Orthodox Church of Albania, The Orthodox Church in the Czech
and Slovak Republics and The Orthodox Church in Armenia), the
autonomous churches (The Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai, The
Orthodox Church of Finland, The Orthodox Church of Japan and The
Orthodox Church of China), the canonical churches under Constantinople
(The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, The
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America, The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese
in Western Europe, The Albanian Orthodox Diocese in America, The
Belarussian Council of Orthodox Churches in North America and The
Ukainian Orthodox Church of the United States) and the churches of
irregular status (The Church of the Old Believers, The Russian Orthodox
Church outside Russia, The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate
and The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, The Belarussian
Autocephalous Orthodox Church, The Macedonian Orthodox Church and
The Old Calendar Orthodox Churches in Greece and Romania).

The Division of the Western Churches into

Roman Catholics and Protestants
For centuries the Rome-centred church was the only spiritual society in
Western Europe. It had the unique position of being considered the sole
guardian of true Christian teaching from the time of the apostles. The
church reached its zenith in the 13th century.
Although that Rome-centred church had developed a highly centralized
administrative system with a monolithic pattern, it was radically challenged
38 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

under the leadership of Martin Luther (1483-1546), an Augustinian monk.

He questioned the centralized hierarchical structures especially the role of
the papacy. Luther’s main problems with the Rome-centred church were
threefold: first, the sale of indulgences as a way of increasing the revenue of
the church which enabled the church to become very wealthy through
moral blackmail; second, the belief of the Rome-centred church that during
Mass (Eucharist or Communion), the wine and bread literally turn into
the blood and flesh of Jesus; and third, the concept of purgatory, the limbo
state between death and heaven where some people can get stuck forever.
He was greatly disturbed by the question of indulgences, which enabled
the parishioners to claim not only remission of the temporal penalties of
sins repented, confessed, and absolved, but complete remission of all sins.
Moreover, certificates were issued releasing the late parents of those who
purchased indulgences from purgatory as well. He wrote his famous 95
theses (statements) and fastened them on the church door in Wittenburg
on 31 October 1517, and challenged Johan Tetzel (1465-1519), a
Dominican friar who was the Pope’s chief agent in Germany, to a public
debate. This and other similar debates resulted in the formation of a
Reformation movement in Western Europe. This religious movement
established Protestantism as a major division of Christianity. The
Reformation spread to most of Europe. As the Pope-led church was the
official religion in the West at that time, the Reformers assumed a politico-
religious character, which divided Europe into Protestant and Roman
Catholic camps leading to political and religious polarization. Local, regional
and national problems led to further divisions.
When the western church under the leadership of popes was challenged
by the 16th century Reformers, it adopted renewal measures through which
it regained its spiritual vitality and dominance through the Reformation
Council, which met in Trent. Protestants’ demands were not compromised;
they formed themselves into a range of denominations. The church under
the leadership of Pope hereafter came to be called the Roman Catholic Church
while its opponents were known as Protestants.

The Various Protestant Churches

Anglicanism and the Church of England
Anglicanism is a term used to denote the religious beliefs and position of
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 39

members of the established Church of England, and of the communicating

members in the United States and elsewhere. To some extent, they
acknowledge the leadership and allegiance of the See of Canterbury. The
origin of the Church of England was the 16th century Reformation. But
its start as a State church goes back to 1599 when the English Parliament
gave powers to the English Crown to retain control and discipline of the
church. The first parliament of Queen Elizabeth I promulgated an Act
concerning religion; by the Act of Supremacy the queen was declared to be
‘the only governor of this realm… as well as in all spiritual or ecclesiastical
things or causes’, and the authority of the Pope was repudiated. The Church
of England, of all the churches in the Anglican Communion, is the only
church to be established by the State. The Church of Ireland, the Episcopal
Church of Scotland, and the Church of Wales are the other Anglican
churches in the British Isles. There are also the Protestant Episcopal Church
in the USA; the churches in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
the West Indies, and West and Central Africa; the Holy Catholic Church of
Japan; Anglican churches of South Asia; the Church of the Province of East
Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Bermuda; the Church of the Province of South
East Asia; and a number of overseas dioceses that acknowledge the jurisdiction
of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglican doctrine is found primarily in the Book of Common Prayer,
containing the ancient creed of individual Christendom, and in the
Thirty Nine Articles, which are interpreted in accordance with the Prayer
Book. Appeal is made to the first four councils of the church, as well as
generally to the scriptures, as interpreted by the ‘Catholic Fathers and ancient
books’. The Anglican Church differs from the Roman Catholic Church
chiefly in denying the claims of the papacy, both to jurisdiction over the
church and to infallibility as promulgator of Christian doctrinal and
moral truth. However, the Anglican Church and its sister churches in the
Anglican Communion differ from most Protestant churches in requiring
Episcopal ordination in the apostolic succession for all their clergy; in
structure and tone of the liturgical services, which are translated and revised
versions of the pre-Reformation services of the church; and in spiritual
orientation in which a Catholic sacramental heritage is contained with the
biblical and evangelical emphasis that came through the Reformation.11
The Protestant Episcopal Church in Chicago, in 1886, adopted at
40 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

their general convention four propositions, which were promulgated as a

statement of the basic Anglican belief at the Lambeth Conference in 1885.
These were subsequently known as the Lambeth Quadrilaterals, as the official
declaration of the fundamentals of Anglicanism. First, the holy scriptures
of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation
and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith; second, the Apostles’ Creed
and the Nicene Creed are sufficient statements of the Christian faith; third,
the two sacraments ordained by Christ Himself, namely Baptism and the
Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of
institution and of the elements ordained by Him, are a necessary part of
the Christian life; and fourth, the historic episcopacy, locally adopted in
the method of administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples
called of God into the unity of Church, is also a necessary part of the
Christian life.12 The Lambeth Quadrilateral was issued mainly to provide a
basis for discussion on reunion with other Protestant churches in England
and elsewhere. It was again declared in 1897 to represent the mind of the
Anglican Communion and to it was added a statement: ‘We believe that
we have been providentially entrusted on our part of the Catholic and
Apostolic inheritance bequeathed by our Lord.’
The Lambeth Conference is the decennial meeting of the Bishops of
the Anglican Communion under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of
Canterbury. Though the decisions of the Lambeth Conference have no legal
binding on the churches, they are widely accepted as the opinion of the
Anglican Communion.

The Lutheran churches emerged from that part of the Protestant
Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in 1517. It was Luther’s teaching
against some of the Roman Catholic practices which gave birth to the
Protestant reform movement. He broke with the Roman Catholics over the
question of how humanity attains salvation. According to Luther, the
undeserved death of Jesus Christ on the cross absolved us from the penalty
of our disobedience to God and rendered us righteous, and he preached
that we no longer need to live in fear of the punishment of God. This is the
pivotal teaching which affected all aspects of faith and practices and out of
which came Lutheranism.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 41

Luther rejected the exclusive claim of the Roman Catholics as the

only channel of God’s message, and also rejected the Pope’s power over all
peoples. He held that all Christians were equal before God as they share
the priesthood of Christ. That is the reason why Lutheran priests have no
special status, except by virtue of being called to exercise specific ministries
based on their ability and training. While the Roman Catholic Church
maintains seven sacraments, the Lutherans recognize only two—baptism
and communion—and consider the others as rites. Lutheranism claims
that in Holy Communion there is no physical change in the bread and
wine, but that Christ is truly present to forgive sins and to renew the
spiritual life of believers.
The Lutheran Church is the mother of Protestantism and is the largest
Protestant group. Lutheranism places strong emphasis on doctrine. It affirms
that the Bible is the sole rule of faith and accepts all traditional Christian
doctrines. Distinctive Lutheran beliefs are defined in two catechisms (1529),
the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Schmalkaldic Articles (1537), and
the Formula of Concord (1577). The chief Lutheran tenet is justification
by faith alone. According to this tenet, salvation does not come through
good works, but through what God has done in Christ in reconciling the
world to Himself, and faith is the acceptance of this reconciliation. Lutheran
churches make greater use of liturgy than most Protestant churches, but
there are differences in forms of public worship among Lutheran bodies.
There are also differences in church government. The Lutheran churches in
Europe have bishops while in the United States the local congregation is
the unit of church organization and source of authority.
Lutheranism spread to North America with the arrival of colonists and
immigrants from Europe. In the 20th century, many Lutheran churches
found that they had many things in common and hence there have been a
number of mergers. An international co-operative body, the Lutheran World
Federation, was established in 1947, which is a free association of Lutheran
church bodies, which co-ordinates the activities of these churches. In India
there is a united forum for the Lutheran churches, which is called the
United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India.

Reformed churches
The term ‘Reformed’ denotes the type of Protestantism that originated in
42 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

the context of Christian humanism in Switzerland under the leadership of

Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin of Geneva in the 16th century. The churches
of this type having their origin in the British Isles are called Congregational
and Presbyterian churches, the names based on their form of government.
The Reformed churches are active in the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches, which include the Presbyterian and Congregational with their
headquarters in Geneva.
The Reformed theologians accept without much modification the great
early formulations of faith, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed
and the deliberations of the Council of Chalcedon. They also share the
basic doctrine of the Protestant Reformation as propounded in Luther’s
writings of 1520. However, they differ from the others concerning the
majesty and lordship of God. Zwingli and Calvin perceived God, the Creator
and Ruler of heaven and earth, as energy, power, and will. Their response
to Him was not contemplation and a vision of God, but living a life that
expresses God’s purpose and reflects His kingdom.13
A Frenchman, Gauillaurna Farel, who was influenced by the Christian
humanist movement, started the Reformed Church in Germany and
John Calvin, another Frenchman brought about the great reform in Geneva.
The Reformed Church in France, whose members were called Huguenots
and which had its origin around Jacques Lef ’evre and Jacobus Fabes, began
in the 15th century. The Reformed community in France was a minority,
and the country was rent by conflicts between the Huguenots and Catholics.
An edict of toleration in 1787 restored most of the Protestants’ civil rights.
The Reformed influence in the Netherlands dates from 1523, and by the
late 1550s, Reformed Protestantism was formally established. The early
Reformed Church in Germany was led in Strasbourg by Martin Bucer, a
16th century reformer, who had ties with the Swiss Reformed churches.
The European immigrants carried the Reformed Movement throughout
the world. In the US, the United Church (Geneva) united with the
Evangelical Synod of North America in 1934, and the Evangelical and
Reformed churches united in 1957 with the Congregations Christian
church to become the United Church of Christ.14
Reformed churches generally are presbyterial, governed by presbyters,
or elders. Reformed theology rejects both transubstantiation and
consubstantiation, claiming Jesus Christ’s presence in the bread and wine
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 43

is spiritual rather than physical. Reformed churches avoid elaborate rituals,

liturgy and ceremonies while they emphasize simplicity. Usually prayers
are given extemporaneously rather than read from a liturgy. In general,
these churches have made a greater break with Roman Catholic doctrines
and practices than has Lutheranism.15

Presbyterianism is the form the doctrine and practice of Calvinistic churches
take in the British Isles. Calvinistic churches of continental European origin
are called Reformed. The term ‘Presbyterianism’ derived from the Greek
word for elder, presbuteros, a kind of church officer. Presbyterian and Reformed
churches together form one of the three important branches, along with
Lutherans and Anglicans, of Protestantism that evolved during the 16th
century Reformation.
For more than three centuries, Presbyterian churches based their doctrine
and practice on the documents drawn up by the Westminster Assembly
convened by the Presbyterian-dominated English parliament from 1643
until 1649. While these are Calvinistic, they share with universal
Christianity such basics of belief as the omnipotence of God and the divinity
of Christ, and with generic Protestantism a stress on the authority of
Scripture and salvation by grace received through faith alone.
The chief centre for Calvinism in the British Isles was Scotland, where
it was designated as Presbyterian. The leader of the Scottish Reformation
was John Knox. Scottish Presbyterians entered on a long struggle against
Episcopalianism. After the Revolution of 1668, the Revolution settlement
in 1690 declared the Church of Scotland in its Presbyterian form to be the
established church. Calvinistic influence did not greatly affect the English
Reformation until the reign of Edward VI. After the Restoration of 1660,
the Presbyterian churches spread to the United States and other countries.16

After the Reformation, English Protestants were divided roughly into three
groups: Anglicans (who were satisfied with the Church of England),
Puritans (who wanted to ‘purify’ it), and Separatists (who wanted to withdraw
and adopt the congregational form of church government). These separatist
churches were organized as early as 1550 in England. However, the parent
44 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Congregationalist church is thought to have organized in Norwich in 1560

by Robert Browne (a dissenting Anglican clergyman). These
Congregationalists also called Independents, suffered persecution as a result
of which a number of them fled the country. A group under John Robinson
immigrated to Holland, and his followers made up a majority of the party
of Pilgrims that sailed to North America on the Mayflower in 1620.17
Congregationalists became significant in the colonies, as did the Baptists,
Disciples of Christ and American Unitarians. Congregationalists follow a
congregational pattern of government rather than an episcopate or
Presbyterian pattern. Each congregation is autonomous or self-governing.
It is a direct descendant of Calvinism.
The rise of Congregationalism began with the Puritans such as
Henry Jacob, born in 1586 in England, who moved to the Netherlands in
1604 and died in Virginia in 1624. The first congregation on American
soil was established at Plymouth (now in Massachusetts) in 1620. British
and American mission boards of Congregationalists carried their
denominations to many different countries of the world.18
Congregationalists hold that the Bible, as the revealed Word of God, is
the final religious authority, and they believe that each congregation should
govern itself, and each has the right to elect its own governing body, select
its own pastor, and determine its own form of ritual and worship. They
deny that the Bible gives authority for uniting churches into a wider body
headed by a bishop or other official. However, a number of the congregations
have advisory and co-operative relations with others.

Baptists are members of a large Protestant group who believe that baptism
should be administered to persons who are old enough to understand its
meaning and who affirm their faith in Jesus Christ as their saviour. They
baptize only by immersion and not by sprinkling or pouring of water.
They also claim a kind of link with the baptism of John the Baptist. They
are organized in separate conventions or associations. There are Baptists
in about 100 countries, with large numbers in the United States, Russia,
England, Canada, Germany, Burma, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and
Nigeria. Many of these organizations belong to the Baptist World Alliance.
Baptists have no official creed, and hence hold a variety of beliefs.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 45

However, they are united on two major points: first, the sole authority of
the Bible in matters of faith and religious practices; and second, the baptism
of believers only. They also believe in the separation of church and state
and in the right of each congregation to govern it and set its own standards
of membership.19

Methodists are Protestant Christians who trace their origin to the teaching
of Church of England brothers, John Wesley and Charles Wesley. In 1729
while they were at Oxford University, they formed a club for spiritual
fellowship. The members were called ‘Methodists’ because of their
methodical religious faith. In 1736 the Wesley brothers landed in Georgia
as Anglican missionary priests, but soon returned home. The turning point
in John Wesley’s life came in 1738 in a Moravian meeting at Aldergate
Street, London, where he felt his ‘heart strangely warmed’.
Soon after John Wesley’s death (1791), the English Methodists left
the Church of England and formed a separate body, called the Wesleyan
Methodist Church. During the19th century they split into several bodies,
but after 1900 nearly all English groups united in one church. In the
American colonies, Wesleyan converts began preaching about 1766.
John Wesley sent over lay preachers, the most important of whom was
Francis Asbury. In 1784, Wesley ordained Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest,
as superintendent of Methodist work in the United States, later to become
the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1830 a group opposed to bishops
seceded and formed the Methodist Protestant Church. In 1844 a serious
split occurred over slavery, resulting in the formation of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, South. The three bodies reunited in 1939 to form
The Methodist Church.20
John Wesley was orthodox in his theology. He summarized his doctrinal
emphasis in a collection of 44 sermons (1746-60) and illustrated them in
Exploratory Notes upon the New Testament in 1785. These two documents
comprise the doctrinal standards of Methodism. There is no common polity
in worldwide Methodism; it has only ‘connectionalism’, a linking together
of mainly independent churches served by itinerant ministers according to
the direction of the annual conference.
46 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Disciples of Christ
Disciples of Christ or Christian Churches is a Pentecostal denomination
founded in the 19th century in the United States. The official name is
International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ). It
is a reform movement formed out of a deep concern for Christian unity
by four pioneers, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell and
Walter Scott, all of them with a Presbyterian background. In about 1800,
Thomas and Alexander Campbell organized the Disciples of Christ, often
called the Campbellites. Barton W Stone started another group, which
took the name of Christians. In 1832 most of the Campbellites joined
with most of the followers of Stone. Later some of the followers of Stone
united with similar groups and organized the American Christian
Convention. In 1931, the Congregational Christian Churches merged
with the Evangelical Reformed Church to form the United Church of
Christ. The present Disciples of Christ denomination is descended from
groups formed by the Campbells and by Stone. But Stones’ followers are
also found in the Churches of Christ and the United Church of Christ.21
One of the aims of the denomination is to return to the faith and
practice of the early Christian church. They insist on rigorous adherence to
the New Testament as the only model of Christian faith and practice and
reject all kinds of creedal formulae and traditions. Concerned with Christian
unity, the Disciples are active in the ecumenical movement, co-operating
fully with other church bodies and through the National and World Council
of Churches. The members are allied in a kind of covenant relationship.
They accept baptism by immersion only and observe the Lord’s Supper
each Sunday. They make no distinction between the clergy and laity.
Church government is congregational, and each church is self-governing.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is an international Christian denomination and charitable
movement organized and operated along military lines. It was founded by
William Booth who was an ordained minister of the Methodist New
Convention in 1858, and started preaching in the East End of London in
1865. He declared that the churches were not using the right method to
win new converts. So he resigned his pastorate and started open-air meetings
in neighbourhoods where few people attended church. In 1865 he founded
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 47

the Christian Mission in the East End of London, and the Salvation Army
was organized in 1878 as an outgrowth of the mission. Booth was its
first general and the United States branch was established in 1880. The
Salvation Army referred to their leader as ‘General’, a shortened form of the
title ‘General Superintendent’.
Reforming drunkards and vagrants in larger cities is one of the
Salvation Army’s chief aims. The Salvation Army did extensive work among
members of the armed forces in both World Wars I and II. The International
headquarters of the Salvation Army is in London. The United States
headquarters is in New York. The official publication is The War Cry.22

Seventh Day Adventists

Adventists is the general name for a number of groups whose members
believe that the second advent of Christ is the sole hope for the world. They
hold the view that because of sin, those who reject the plan of God will be
ultimately destroyed while believers, by God’s grace, will be saved, and
Jesus will reign in triumph through the thousand-year period or millennium
reign recorded in Revelation 20: 1-6. They rest their theology heavily upon
the prophetic and apocalyptic teaching of the biblical Books of Daniel and
Revelation. Adventism as a religious movement began with the ‘awakening’
of the question of advent, which developed spontaneously in the
early decades of the 19th century under the leadership of William Miller
(1782-1849) of Low Hampton, New York, a veteran of the War of 1812.
At first it was an intellectual development, which included many Methodists,
Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Miller concluded that the
final cleansing of the world would occur sometime between March 21,
1843 and March 21, 1844. When this did not materialize, he mentioned
another date (October 22, 1844). As the eventual day approached, some
disciples sold their property and gave away their goods, settled all their
accounts and waited prayerfully for the Lord to come. October 22 came
and went with no Second Coming.
By far the largest single Adventist body is the Seventh Day Adventist
Church, which began in the 1840s. It traces its convictions on the Sabbath
back to the early Seventh Day Baptists in New England and Europe.23
Doctrinally, the Seventh Day Adventists are evangelical conservatives with
a Protestant recognition of the authoritative nature of God’s revelation
48 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

through the inspired writings in the entire Bible. They hold the
Ten Commandments to be the transcript of the character of God as seen in
the life of Jesus Christ, and thus the standard of righteousness for all ages.
They base their observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath on the fourth
commandment. Seventh Day Adventists affirm the full deity of Jesus Christ;
in this they differ from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their approach to
the Bible is fundamentalist and they raise scriptural objection to the theory
of evolution.24

Friends, the Religious Society of Friends are a worldwide fellowship of
Christians commonly called Quakers. They were first called Quakers in
derision because they trembled at the Word of God. ‘Friends’ is a term
they use when speaking about themselves to others. They are known for
their traditional opposition to war, silent worship and humanitarian work.
Friends believe there is ‘God to every man’ and that God speaks to each
person through this ‘inner light’. For them, group worship is a fellowship
of the spirit, and it is based on silent communion. Sometimes silence is
broken as individuals feel moved by the spirit to testify, preach, pray, or
lead in singing. They do not have any creed that members must accept,
they have no sacrament of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, there is no ritual,
and there is no division between clergy and laity; any man or woman has
the right to preach.25

Pentecostalism is a style of religious belief and practice that centres on the
possession of the Holy Spirit, on signs and wonders, on miracles and ‘spiritual
gifts’ especially ‘speaking in tongues’ (glossolalia), on supernatural healing,
and on casting out demons (exorcism).26 It is a worldwide movement with
millions of faithful in Pentecostal denominations, in independent churches
and in ‘charismatic prayer groups’ in mainline Protestant and Roman
Catholic churches. Pentecostalism has become the largest and fastest growing
segment of Christianity in the world.
The earliest Pentecostal churches grew out of the ‘Holiness Movement’
of the late 1880s. The later movements acknowledged two aspects of grace;
conversion, or being ‘born again’; and sanctification, or a ‘second blessing,
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 49

which focussed on the endowment of powerful anointing for those who

waited at the altars. Eventually, they added baptism in the Holy Spirit,
with glossolalia as initial evidence of a ‘third blessing’. One of the important
doctrines of Pentecostalism is ‘Spirit baptism’ and the practice of
‘charismatic’ or gifts of the Holy Spirit. Another distinguishing mark of
Pentecostalism is the nature of worship by its believers, which is often
characterized by speaking/praying in tongues aloud, prophesying, healing,
the ‘casting out of the devils’, hand clapping, shouting. Such activities are
emotionally charged with zeal and fervency. They also believe that history
will end with the Second Coming of Christ.
The Pentecostal tradition began with Charles Parham, a young
‘itinerant’ evangelist with Methodist, Holiness, and Quaker influence in
Topeka and/or at the Azusa street revival led by William J Seymour. The
largest Pentecostal denomination is the Assemblies of God. This religious
body was organized in a constitutional convention at the first general council
in Hot Spring, Arkansas from April 2 to 12, 1914. This organization is
based on a combination of Congregational and Presbyterian principles.
Hence, the sovereignty of the local congregation was adopted in a preamble
to the constitution, which was adopted at the first general council.
Doctrinally the denomination is ‘Armenian’, following basically the
Methodist pattern. They emphasize new birth, divine healing, and baptism
of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the sign of speaking in tongues, and the
pre-millennial return of Christ.
Pentecostalism became a global movement early in its history.
One of the important leaders in spreading its message to Europe was
Thomas Ball Barratt, a Cornishman and pastor of a Methodist church in
Oslo, Norway. In 1916 he founded the Filadelfia Church, which became
the largest dissenter body in Norway. He spread Pentecostalism to
Denmark and Sweden. In 1907 Pentecostal revival took place in Britain
and Germany as well.27 Pentecostalism appeared in India, where it centred
in the Mukti Mission and the orphanage of Pandita Ramabai near Pune.
Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing segment of Christianity.
There are more than 11,000 new Pentecostal denominations28 and there
are about 30 sizeable ones.
50 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Brethren
The Brethren Assembly is a product of the 19th century resurgence of
Christian unity and activity. This is neither a new church nor a novel
teaching, but a reawakening. This association of members is the result of
a move to return to the form of worship and prayer practised in the early
years of Christianity. They gave up the social disparities and difficulties
to form a brotherhood of believers and came to be known as Brethren.
The pioneers of the first assembly of this kind held in 1825 in Dublin,
Ireland were Edward Cronin, J N Darby, Bellect, Hatchinson, Edward
Wilson, Parnel and Dr Antony Darby. Their initial plan was to reform
their own churches. But in 1827 a major strategy was initiated when
they assembled at the residence of Hatchinson for the breaking of the
bread, following the example of early Christians, not in the presence of
ordained priests but based on the teaching of Peter that all those who
recognize Jesus Christ as their Saviour make up a ‘royal priesthood’. They
held that an ordained priest was not a necessary component for the
celebration of the breaking of the bread. From then on the movement
spread to other countries and continents.

Church Councils
The origin of the church councils goes back to the assembly of the apostles
in Jerusalem in 49 CE (Acts 15:28) in which it was decided not to impose
a lot of prescriptions on the pagan converts. During the first centuries
the bishops of the provinces used to gather in order to reach a decision on
theological and disciplinary matters, meeting in the capitals and
metropolises of the Roman provinces. The bishops of the cities gained a
kind of superiority over the bishops of the provinces; they were called
metropolitans, and usually convened these councils. During the second
century such a council was held against the errors of Montanism. During
the following century frequent councils were held in such places Carthage
in 220 CE, in Synnad and Iconium around 230 CE and Antioch in 264
CE and 269 CE. In the fourth century councils were held at Carthage
and Elvira between 300 and 306 CE, Arles and Ancyra in 314 CE, and
Alexandria and Neocaesarea in 320 CE.
Councils are legally convened assemblies of church leaders, the purpose
of which is to discuss and regulate matters of church doctrine and discipline.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 51

The two terms, ‘council’ and ‘synod’, are synonymous. Although in the
earlier Christian literature the ordinary meetings for worship are also called
synods, diocesan synods are not properly church councils because they are
convened only for deliberation. Unfortunately, assembled councils are termed
‘robber synods’.
Councils have certain elements. First, the councils are concentrations
of the ruling powers of the church for decisive action. The leading authority
such as the metropolitan must start them if the action is limited to one
province. Participants are necessarily leaders of the church in their dual
capacity of teachers and decision makers, primarily concerned to settle
questions of faith and discipline. Any assembly for other purposes (regular
or extraordinary) are not called councils but simply meetings, or
assemblies, of bishops. A second essential feature is that in decision-making,
there is free discussion of private views. They are the mind of the church
in action. Third, in the council’s decisions they produce the highest
expression of authority of which its members are capable within the limits
of their jurisdiction.
Councils, by their very nature, are common efforts of the church, or
part of the church, for self-defence and self-preservation. Beginning at the
time of the apostles at Jerusalem, this has continued throughout history
whenever faith, morals or discipline are in serious peril. Although in theory
the object of the councils is always the same, the circumstances under which
they meet are varied. Ecumenical councils are those to which bishops and
others entitled to vote are invited from the whole known world under the
presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees promulgated, having
received papal confirmation, are understood to be binding. These councils
were ecumenical or at least seem to be. Ecumenical comes from the Greek
word oikoumene meaning ‘the inhabited world’, and hence ‘general’ or
‘universal’. The object of the general ecumenical councils was not to lay
down what Christians ought to believe but had not believed, but to find
out, and make explicit, what the church had believed from the beginning.

Ecumenical Church Councils, 325-886 CE

Arianism and the 1st ecumenical council, Nicaea, 325 CE
Arianism was a 4th century Christian heresy named after Arius (250-336CE),
a priest in Alexandria. Sometime between 318 and 323 CE, Arius came
52 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

into conflict with Bishop Alexander over the question of the nature of Christ.
Arius denied the full deity of the pre-existent Son of God who became
incarnate in Jesus Christ. He held that the Son, while divine like God, (‘of
like substance’), was created by God as the agent through whom He created
the universe. Arius said of the Son, ‘there was a time when He was not’.
Arius argued that if Jesus was born, then there was a time when He was
not. Arius’ original intent was to attack another teaching, Sabellianism, by
which the three persons of the Godhead were confused.
Arianism became so widespread in the Christian church and resulted
in such disunity that the Emperor Constantine convoked a church council
at Nicaea in 325 CE. The Council of Nicaea lasted two months and
twelve days at which 318 bishops were present. Emperor Constantine
was also present. The Council of Nicaea opened on 19 June 325 with
Hosius of Cordova presiding and the emperor in attendance. The emperor
gave the opening address in which he stressed the need for unity in the
church. Eusebius of Nicomedia, leading the Arian party, presented a
formula of faith (a baptismal creed) which marked a radical departure
from the traditional teaching. The majority disapproved of the teaching.
Another creed, representing the baptismal creed of Jerusalem, was finally
accepted with the addition of the very important term homoousios, ‘of the
one substance’. The theology expressed in this creed, what came to be
called the Nicene Creed, is decidedly anti-Arian.
After the Nicaean Council, Arius was banished to Illyricum. There he
continued his teaching and writing. He worked in Alexandria at the centre
for Origen’s teachings on the subordination of the Son to the Father. The
net result of his teaching was to reduce the Son to a demigod who infinitely
transcended all other creatures, but was no more than a creature in relation
to the Father. Arius, in doing so, despite his consciously biblical starting
point, was following a path inevitably traced for him by the Platonic
preconceptions he had inherited.29

The 2nd ecumenical council: Constantinople I, 381 CE

The Second Ecumenical Council (381 CE) was the first general council of
Constantinople. This was presided over by Pope Demetrius, and attended
by the Emperor Theodosius I and 150 bishops. Theodosius I proved to be
a champion of the orthodox faith and the purpose of calling the council
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 53

was to completely eradicate Arianism, and condemn Macedonius and

Apollinarianism by establishing the teaching on the unity of the Holy Trinity
and complete manhood of Christ. Appolliniarism was a heresy of the
4th century taught by Apollinaris (of Apollininarius), the Younger Bishop
of Laodicea (310-90 CE). He maintained that the Logos, or divine nature
in Christ, took the place of the rational human soul or mind of Christ and
that the Body of Christ was a spiritualized and glorified form of humanity.
He tried to arrive at a formula that would explain how Jesus could be both
human and divine, taught that human beings were composed of body, soul
and spirit, and that in Jesus the Logos, or the second person of the Trinity,
replaced the human spirit.

The 3rd ecumenical council: Ephesus, 431 CE

The Council of Ephesus was presided over by St Cyril of Alexandria
representing Pope Celestine I. This was attended by more than 200 bishops.
It defined the personal unity of Christ, declared by Mary the Mother of God
(theotokos). It took the form of opposition to Nestorius, and renewed the
condemnation of Pelagius’s teaching of man’s ability to assist God by his own
efforts.30 The council reiterated Christ’s teaching that Our Lord Jesus Christ
is one person, not two separate ‘people’. The council decreed that the Lord
Jesus Christ, the Son of God (logos), is perfect God and perfect man with a
rational soul and body. The union of the two natures of Christ took place in
such a fashion that one did not disturb the other.

The 4th ecumenical council: Chalcedon, 451 CE

The Eastern Emperor Marcian and his wife Poulcheiria summoned the
Council of Chaldcedon, the fourth ecumenical council of the church. More
than 500 bishops and several papal legates attended the council. The council
had to deal with another controversy about the Person of Christ by Eutyches,
an archimandrite of Constantinople who held that the human (less perfect)
nature of Christ had been completely absorbed by His divine nature and
thus the two had been confounded into one. He held that there was only
one nature in Christ, and this heresy is called ‘monophysitism’, of one
nature. The council condemned this teaching and affirmed that there were
two perfect natures in the one person of Christ unified ‘unconfusedly,
unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably’.31
54 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The 5th ecumenical council: Constantinople II, 553 CE

This is the second general Council at Constantinople, attended by 165
bishops under Pope Vigilus and Emperor Justinian. It condemned the errors
of Origen and certain writings of Theodoret of Theodore (Bishop of
Mopsuestia) and of Ibas (Bishop of Edessa). The controversy arising from
Origen’s teaching raged for a long period. He advocated the peculiar teaching
that at the end of time Satan would be reconciled to God. He also held the
view that stars were not only ruled by living beings, but Christ died to
redeem them from sin.

The 6th ecumenical council: Constantinople II, 680-681 CE

This is the third general Council of Constantinople under Pope Agatho
and Emperor Constantine IV (Pogonatos). The patriarchs of Constantinople
and of Antioch, 174 bishops and the emperor attended it. In spite of the
decisions of the fifth ecumenical council and in spite of the strict laws
imposed, Monothelitism continued to be a serious disturbance to both
church and state. Monothelitism is a seventh century Christological heresy
that started as an attempt to return the Monophysites to orthodox doctrine.
It stated that in Christ there was only one operation, energeia, proceeding
from a unique will, monothelema. This heresy covers a period of 60 years
ending with its condemnation in the sixth ecumenical council.

The Quinisext or Trullan Council, 692 CE

This is not the seventh ecumenical council, but rather a supplement to the
5th and 6th councils. Justinian II called it in 692 CE in Constantinople in
the hall under the great dome (trullos) of the imperial palace. Hence it is
known as the Trullan Synod while in Greek it is known as the ‘5th–6th,
from the Latin quinisext. During the council they discussed the Christological
problem and issued no canons pertaining the church government and order.
The Pope did not accept the disciplinary canons of the Quinisext.

The 7th ecumenical council: Nicaea, 787 CE

The second Council of Nicaea was the 7th ecumenical council. It was
convoked by Emperor Constantine VI and his mother Irene under
Pope Adrian I. Iconoclasm (Eikonoklasmos, ‘image-breaking’) is the name
of the heresy. This ecumenical council decided that icons should be
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 55

venerated but not worshipped. The Orthodox Church has a rationale for
using and venerating icons. The iconoclastic controversy had once more
shaken the foundations of both church and state.

The 8th council of the church: Constantinople IV, 869 CE

Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches regard the first seven
councils as ecumenical. The 8th council is the fourth one at Constantinople,
and was called by Pope Adrian II (867-872 CE) and Emperor Basel (876-
886 CE). Over a hundred bishops, three papal legates and four patriarchs
attended it. This was convened in order to condemn Patriarch Photius. The
Orthodox Church did not consider these councils as ecumenical because
both did not make any dogmatic decision. But the Western church calls it
ecumenical, a position confirmed by the Canonists of Gregory VII at the
end of the 11th century. Because of this difference, this schism broke out
again. This time it lasted seven years, till Basel I’s death in 886.

Western Councils: 10th to the 14th Centuries

The 9th council of the church: Lateran I, 1123
The Western canonists called it the ninth ecumenical council. This is
the First Lateran, the first council held at Rome, which met under
Pope Callistus II (1119-24) and to which about 900 bishops and abbots
came. It confirmed the Concordat of Worms (1122), which marked the
end of the first phase of the investiture struggle. It abolished the rights
claimed by lay princes, of investiture with ring and crosier to ecclesiastical
benefice, and dealt with church discipline and the recovery of the Holy
Land from the Muslims.

The 10th council of the church: Lateran II, 1139

This is the Second Lateran Council, held before Innocent II, with an
attendance of about 1000 prelates and the Holy Roman Emperor. Its object
was to put an end to the errors of Anacleltus and his followers and Arnod
and his followers.

The 11th council of the church: Lateran III, 1179

Over 300 bishops attended the third Lateran council, which took place
under Pope Alexander III (1159-81), Frederick I being the Holy Roman
56 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Emperor. It condemned the Albigenses and Waldens and issued numerous

decrees for the reformation of morals. The most important canon was that
requiring two-thirds majority vote of the cardinals for the valid election of
a Pope. Another was that no person should be consecrated as bishop before
reaching 30 years of age.

The 12th council of the church: Lateran IV, 1215

The fourth Lateran council was held under Innocent III (1198-1216). The
Patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem, over 70 archbishops, 400 bishops
and 800 abbots were present. The council issued an enlarged creed (symbol)
against the Allbigenses, condemned the Trinitarian errors of Abbot Joachim,
and published 70 important reformatory decrees. This is considered the
most important council of the Middle Ages, and it marks the culminating
point of ecclesiastical life and papal power. This also defined the doctrine of
Transubstantiation and obliged Roman Catholics to go to confession and
take the Holy Communion at least once every year.

The 13th council of the church: Lyons I, 1245

This is the first general Council of Lyons; it was presided over by
Pope Innocent IV (1243-54). The patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch,
and Aquileia (Venice), 140 bishops, the Emperor of the East (Baldwin II),
and St Louis IX, King of France assisted. It excommunicated and deposed
Roman Emperor Frederick II and directed a new crusade, under the
command of St Louis, against the Saracens and Mongols.

The 14th council of the church: Lyons II, 1274

The second general Council of Lyons was led by Pope Gregory X (1271-76),
the patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople, 15 cardinals, 500 bishops,
and more than 1000 dignitaries. It effected temporary reunion of the Greek
Church with Rome, but this did not last long. The word filioque was added
to the symbol of Constantinople, and means were sought for recovering
Palestine from the Turks. This council also laid down the rules for papal
elections. It also decided that a new crusade should be organized.

The 15th council of the church: Vienna, 1311-13

The Council of Venice was held in that town in France by order of
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 57

Clement V (the first of the Avignon popes). The patriarchs of Antioch and
Alexandria, three kings (Philip IV of France, Edward II of England, and
James II of Aragon) and a large number of bishops assisted. The synod
dealt with the crimes and errors imputed to the Knights Templars, the
Fraticelli, the Beghards, and the Beguines. It also confirmed the abolition
of the Order of Templars, and intervened in the quarrel with the Franciscans
concerning the vows of poverty. The council further agreed with projects
for a new crusade, the reformation of the clergy, and the teaching of Oriental
languages in the universities.

Councils from the 15th to the 20th Centuries

The 16th council of the church: Constance, 1414-18
The Council of Constance was held during the great Schism of the West,
the purpose of which was to end the divisions in the church. It became
legitimate only when Pope Gregory XI had formally convoked it. Owing to
this circumstance it succeeded in putting an end to the schism by the
election of Pope Martin V, which the Council of Pisa (1403) had failed to
accomplish on account of its illegality. The rightful Pope confirmed the
former decrees of the synod against Wycliffe and Hus. The doctrines of
Wycliffe were rejected, and the council condemned him as an obstinate
heretic—he died at the stake on 6 July 1415. This council is thus ecumenical
only in its last sessions (XLII-XLV inclusive) and with respect to the decrees
of earlier sessions approved by Pope Martin V. This council also confirmed
the decrees pertaining to the supremacy of the general council over the
Pope and asked the councils be held at regular intervals.

The 17th council of the church: Basel/Ferrara/Florence, 1431-39

The Council of Basel met in that town, during the time of Pope Eugene
IV, and Sigismund, Emperor of the Holy Empire. The main purpose of
the council was the religious pacification of Bohemia. Quarrels had arisen
against the Pope; the council was transferred first to Ferrara (1438), and
then to Florence (1439), when a short-lived union with the Greek Church
was effected, the Greeks accepting the council’s definition of points of
disagreement. The Council of Basel was only ecumenical till the end of
the 25th session, and of its decrees Eugene IV approved only such as
dealt with the wiping out of heresy, the peace of Christendom, and the
58 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

reform of the church, and which at the same time did not detract from
the rights of the Holy See.

The 18th council of the church: Lateran V, 1512-17

The Fifth Lateran Council sat from 1512 to 1517 under Popes Julius II
(1503) and Leo X (1513-21); the emperor was Maximilian I. Fifteen
cardinals and about eighty archbishops and bishops took part in it. The
decrees of the council are chiefly disciplinary. The council also planned
against the Turks, but it came to naught, owing to the religious upheaval in
Germany caused by Luther. This council also condemned the schismatic
synod of Pisa (1511-12).

The 19th council of the church: Trent, 1545-63

The Council of Trent is the most important church council. It marked a
major turning point in the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to respond
to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation; it also formed a key part of
the Counter-Reformation. The council met during three separate periods
(1545-47, 1551-52, 1562-63) under the leadership of three popes
(Paul III, Julian III, Pius VI). In 1564, Pope Pius IV (1559-65) formally
confirmed all the decrees. The council crystallized and codified Roman
Catholic dogma far more than before; opposed Protestantism by reaffirming
the existence of seven sacraments—substantiation, purgatory, the necessity
of priesthood, and justification by work as well as by faith; maintained
clerical celibacy and monasticism; and issued decrees in favour of the efficacy
of relics, indulgences, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary. It also declared
tradition co-equal to Scripture as a source of spiritual knowledge, and further
declared that the sole right to interpret the Bible rests with the church. Of
all the church councils, the Council of Trent lasted longest, and issued the
largest number of dogmas and reformatory decrees.

The 20th council of the church: Vatican I, 1869-70

Pope Pius IX summoned Vatican Council I. Apart from important canons
relating to the faith and the constitution of the church, the council decreed
the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex-cathedra—that is, when as
shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines a doctrine concerning
faith or morals to be held by the whole church.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 59

The 21st council of the church: Vatican II, 1962-65

Pope Paul John XXIII (1958-63) called the church council, and
Pope Paul VI ratified it. This council was a pastoral council (not dogmatic)
with 16 documents emphasizing ecumenism understood as religious
fellowship, rather than emphasizing Catholic missionary enterprise for
the conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. In 1962 Pope John XXIII
entered into a Vatican-Moscow agreement; this agreement stated that as
a condition for the Russian Orthodox to be present at this council, no
condemnation of Communism was to take place. There was no dogma
defined and no heresy condemned at the Vatican Council II.
The first session dealt with liturgical problems, especially the use of
vernacular languages in the liturgy. For the first time, representatives of
other churches as well as laymen attended the session as observers. The
second session promulgated decrees of liturgy and communication media.
The third passed the constitution of the church and the decrees on
ecumenism and other Eastern Rite churches, and the fourth promulgated
decrees on the bishops and Christian education, on religious life and priestly
training and declaration of relations to non-Christian religions.

General Observations about the Ecumenical Councils

Although more than 20 general councils were organized, only the first
seven are known as ecumenical councils. They cover the period between
325-757 CE. The decisions made by these councils are the foundation of
Christian doctrine, accepted by both the Eastern and Western sections of
the Christian church. Both groups agree that the decisions arrived at
at these councils were made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
as promised by Jesus Christ to His apostles. Many canons, or laws
governing the administration of the church, were enacted at these
ecumenical councils.
The western church accepts subsequent councils as ecumenical that were
convened and attended only by the authorities and delegates of the Roman
Catholic Church. These councils, the last of which is the
Second Vatican Council (1962-65), are not accepted by the Orthodox Church
as having either the validity or the authority that the seven truly
ecumenical councils possessed; and for that matter, no decision of these
Roman Catholic councils have any bearing on the Orthodox Church.32
60 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Indian churches were affected by the decisions made at these

councils, as were all churches throughout the world, but only at the
Second Vatican Council were representatives of the Indian church present.
The Indian Roman Catholic Church was represented at the Second Vatican

Monasticism is a state of life in retirement from the world, adopted for
religious motives, and growing out of a principle seated in the love of solitude.
The words ‘monastic’ and ‘monk’ came from the Greek monos, ‘alone’. It is
an institution of ancient and medieval origin; establishing and regulating
the ascetic and social condition of the religious life lived in common or
contemplative solitude. Monasticism has been practised in almost all leading
religions being especially widespread in Asia among Brahmins, Buddhists,
and Muslims and among the sages of ancient Egypt and the
East Mediterranean lands. The Jews, too, had two monastic sects—Essenes
and Therapentae. Monasticism is a practice of individual celibate life.
Monasticism in many forms is represented in the Indian church.
Christian monasticism is a creation of Christian Egypt. The beginning
of monasticism was closely connected with the history of asceticism, which
was inherent in Christian teaching from the beginning. Early in the
3rd century, Origen gave expression to an ascetic life and mystical ideal
that contained elements of Gnosticism and Greek philosophy and was
destined to have extensive influence on the future of the church.33 Some
Christians were dissatisfied with life in the villages and towns in the late
3rd century and moved as hermits to the desert, perhaps due to persecution,
slavery, or a corrupt society. They followed the example of Jesus, and literally
followed the scriptural injunction to take nothing for their journey except
a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; one pair of sandals and
no elaborate tunics. Some of them settled in the deserts of Egypt permanently
to lead a holy life and they became the forerunners of the hermits.
The 4th century witnessed the development of monasticism. Two
different forms of asceticism developed in Egypt. The earlier type is
anchoritism; that is, life in isolation. The later one is cenobitism or
monasticism proper; that is, life in common. The ascetic life can be traced
to the Old Testament from the 9th century BCE. The lives of Elijah and
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 61

Elisha were ascetic in character. In the Old Testament there was the prophetic
guild, and the members of the guild were classified as early prophets, major
and minor prophets.

Principles and practice of monasticism

The ascetic life is a sacrifice; it is certainly not a mantle. It can be a vehicle
of the divine message, a ‘lived’ Word of God; a giving of our life as Jesus
gave His life. The main purpose of the Christian monastic practice is to
mould fallen human nature into the likeness of the nature of Christ, and
the primary duty of a monk is his wholehearted obedience to God. Some of
the practices are:
• Prayer. As a monk enters a monastery, he has to devote a considerable
part of his time to prayer, which consists of meditation or recitation
of the Psalter. His chief weapon is a continuous and intense prayer
as his whole life is dominated by conversing with God. Prayer
is meant to achieve mental strength to resist the temptations
of the devil.
• Poverty, chastity, humility and obedience. These virtues are essential to
the monastic life. They take the words of the Gospel literally and
abandon all that they have. They practise charity in the form of
complete celibacy. Humility is the garment of God and, as one
who clothes him in garment of humility, the monk clothes himself
in Christ.
• Mortification. Fasting has great significance in the ascetic life, and
it is essential to enable one to pray with a contrite heart.
• Work. During the 4th century it was an eschatological principle
that a monk should live by the labour of his hands.
• Silence. Silence was one of the practices rigorously enforced in
monastic life.

There are three vows of monasticism: poverty, chastity and obedience. There
are two kinds of monasticism: the eremitical or solitary type and the
cenobitical or family type.

Eastern monasticism
The Egyptian desert was the first home of Christian monasticism. St Antony
62 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

(270-356 CE) is considered the father of monasticism, and many were

attracted to him. There were large groups of monks in Egypt under
Diocletian and Constantine. St Athanasius had very good relations with and
found refuge among the Egyptian monks during the second (356-362 CE)
and third (362-363 CE) exiles. As St Antony led monasticism in Egypt,
Hilarion stood at the head of the West Syrian monasticism that flourished at
Gaza in Palestine. There were monks in East Syria, Armenia, Pontus and
Cappadocia in the middle of the 4th century. Gradually all the Eastern
monasteries accepted the Rule of St Basil. The conflict among the churches
during the seventh and eighth centuries made little difference to the inner
life of the Byzantine monasteries. Some of the outstanding leaders of
monasticism in Egypt were St Antony of Egypt as already mentioned,
Macarus the Greater (386 or 387), St Pachomius (290-346 CE).

The spread of monasticism to other churches in the East

Sinai received the monastic life from Egypt. St Nilus the Sinatic
(430 CE) and St John Climacus were the shining lights. Palestine received
its monasticism from Hilarian, a native of the village of Tharavatha some
five miles out of Gaza, according to Jerome. Syria became a leader of
monasticism at an early period. The name ‘abbot’ is evidently Syrian in
origin. The general feeling is that monasticism in Mesopotamia originated
as part of the general movement which started in Egypt under the
influence of Pachomius. There is a view that Syrian monasticism is
associated with the members of the Qumran communities who became
members of the Syrian Church in which case Syrian asceticism existed in
the Syrian community from an early period. Cappadocia began
monasticism under the influence of St Gregory of Nazianzus and St George
of Nyasa. In Russia there have been monks since Christianity was first
introduced in the 10th century. Their great period was the 14th century
and the decline started from the 16th.

The beginning of western monasticism

Monasticism in the West was introduced from about 340 CE, when
St Athanasius accompanied by two Egyptian monks Ammon and Isidore,
who were disciples of St Antony, visited Rome. The first exponent of
monasticism in Gaul seems to have been St Martin who founded a
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 63

monastery at Liguge near Poitiers (360 CE). Ireland, Wales and Scotland
were the home of Celtic monasticism. It was commonly accepted that
this was purely an indigenous growth and had no connection with Gallic
or Egyptian monasticism. Italy like other countries of Europe retained a
purely eastern form in its monastic observance. It was St Benedict of
Nursia (480-543 CE) who legislated details of monastic life in a way that
had never been done before both in the East and West. The Rule of
St Benedict was written at Monte Cassino in the ten or fifteen years
preceding the Saint’s death in 543. The 13th century saw the growth of
the movement. A woman’s branch was formed; so also a Third Order,
which enabled the laity to embrace Benedictine ideals in their ordinary lives.
Decline in the movement set in the 14th century for various reasons—
disputes, growth in material prosperity and the Black Death.

The Cluniac system and the reaction against it

New monastic orders took deep roots between the 10th and 12th centuries
—the so-called Benedictine centuries. They successfully spearheaded the
church’s freedom from secular authority and emphasized the eremitic and
contemplative ideals of early monasticism. In 910 CE, a new system called
the Cluniac system developed. Until then, each monastery had been a separate
family independent of others. It was the privilege of the Abbot of Cluny to
nominate the superior in every house, and each monk professed in his name
and with his consent, more like an army subject to a General than St Benedict’s
scheme of family and a father to guide it. As time went on, there was strong
opposition against Cluny and his system of centralization.

The Cistercian Order

St Robert of Molesme founded the Cistercian Order in about 1098. The
Order’s name is derived from Citeaux near Dijon. There is a difference
between the Order of Cluny and that of the Cistercians. While Cluny
established one scattered family of vast size, Citeaux retained the idea that
each monastery was an individual family but united all these families into
one ‘Order’ in the modern sense of any organized congregation. The Abbot
and the House of Citeaux was supreme, and abbots of all other monasteries
were to gather at Citeaux in general chapter once a year for the purpose of
securing complete uniformity in the details of the observance.
64 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Western monasticism from the 12th century

For a long time the monastic ideal had been essentially contemplative.
However, religious foundations of an active type started to emerge, which
were dedicated to some specific active work or works as a primary end of
their Orders. Some of them were the military Orders such as the Templars
and Teutonic Knights. There were also the Carmelites, Trinitarians, Servites,
Dominicans and Franciscans or Friar Minors.

The Reformation
The Reformation was a religious movement which appeared in western
Europe in the 16th century, aimed at an internal renewal of the church, and
which led to the great revolt against it. It is the religious movement that
established Protestantism as a major division of Christianity. For centuries
the only spiritual society in western Europe was the Roman Catholic Church.
It saw its unique position as the sole guardian of true Christians teaching
from the time of the apostles. The church reached its zenith in the 13th
century, declining for a time after that. However, the Council of Constance
(1414-18) restored unity under the Pope in Rome. A serious challenge to
church authority came earlier from John Wycliffe.
Christian leaders in England were concerned about the papal
corruption in England. The extravagant policy of the French-based papacy,
and the trouble experienced by trying to take the papacy back to Rome
motivated a movement that led the biblical humanists and reformers to explore
ways to bring about a spiritual revival inside the Roman Catholic Church.
Moreover, the people in England resented sending money to the Pope in
Avignon, which was under the influence of England’s enemy, the King of
France. The Roman Catholic Church at that time, besides being very
rich, owned one-third of all the land in England and was exempted
from all taxes. It was at this juncture that Wycliffe came on the scene to
challenge the Pope.
John Wycliffe (1320-84) was a renowned Oxford theologian who
was denounced by the church as a subversive rebel. He wanted to reform
the Roman Catholic Church by depriving it of its property, which he felt
was a source of corruption. He attacked the dogmas of the church by
affirming that Christ and the Bible were the only authorities for the believer
and he set up a network of ‘Poor Priests’ to spread his ideas to the rural
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 65

poor. He made the Bible accessible to the common people in their own
language. In 1380, he completed translating the New Testament into
English, and in 1382, his assistant, Nicholas Hereford, completed the
Old Testament.
Wycliffe also contested the Roman Catholic doctrine of
transubstantiation, the dogma of purgatory, the use of relics, the selling of
indulgences, and papal infallibility. Pope Gregory XI condemned him, while
some of the royal family protected him. In 1382 he was forced to leave his
pastorate in Lutterworth. Wycliffe’s group of untrained preachers were called
Lollards, and they preached his teaching all over England. Wycliffe died in
1384. In the Council of Constance in 1415, Wycliffe (after his death) was
condemned as a heretic, and in 1428 his body was dug up and burnt.
John Huss (1369-1415) was a Bohemian. Although he did not fully
accept Wycliffe’s doctrine, he opposed his condemnation. In his sermons he
attacked the abuses of clergy. With papal support, the Archbishop of Bohemia
forbade Huss speaking in the Bethlehem Chapel and excommunicated Huss
and his followers in 1410. But the fight flared up again in 1412, when Huss
openly denounced the bulls of antipope John XXII against King Lancelot of
Naples, and preached against indulgences. The Pope excommunicated him,
but he presented himself at the Council of Constance in 1414. The Council
sentenced him to be burned at the stake, where he died heroically.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was a Dutch scholar who helped
prepare the way for the Reformation. It was said of him that ‘Erasmus laid
the egg which Luther hatched’. His main contribution was to stir men to
thinking, but not to action as Luther and Calvin did. He was a Christian
humanist who wanted reform of worldly popes and education of ignorant
monks. He wanted a revival of biblical studies according to the principles
of the Early Fathers of the Church, unlike that of the Middle Ages. The
most important work of Erasmus was the production of a good text of the
New Testament in Greek.

The beginning of the Reformation

The first signs of the Reformation were the attacks of the Lollards and their
Czech associates, the Hussites, upon the hierarchical and legalistic structure
of the church as a whole. The monarchy played a role in countries like
England and France; these monarchs tried to curtail papal influence over
66 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

their national churches. Many people felt the attempts of the popes to
recreate Christendom by taking the place of the Roman Emperor as the
political head of Europe had been a mistake. Many believed that some of
the teachings of the touch were not really based on the Bible and to the
teachings of the Early Fathers.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born in Eisleben, Saxony in Germany.
After experiencing spiritual conversion at the University of Erfurt in
Germany, he entered the Augustinian monastic order. He eventually
became a lecturer at the University of Wittenburgh, and was ordained
priest. He had three main problems with the Roman Catholic Church:
the sale of indulgences as a way of increasing the wealth of the church;
the doctrine of transubstantiation; and the Roman Catholic concept of
purgatory, the limbo state between death and heaven, where some people
get stuck forever.
In 1517 Pope Leo X wanted to complete St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He asked preachers to collect funds throughout Europe. He granted
indulgences to contributors if they confessed their sins and received
Holy Communion. The Pope’s agent in Germany was Johann Tezel
(1465-1519), a Dominican friar. His methods apparently aroused public
indignation. Martin Luther opposed the statements of Tezel. Luther wrote
his famous 95 Theses (statements) on which he and Tezel disagreed. He
fastened his theses on the church door in Wittenburg on 31 October 1517,
and challenged Tezel to a public debate. Luther also challenged other
theologians to a debate on the theses, but there was no response until two
years later. There was a disputation held at Leipzig in 1519, where neither
Luther nor his opponents won. Luther himself issued a call for reform in a
series of remarkable pamphlets: ‘An open letter to the Christian nobility of
the German nation’ in which he attacked the authority of the Church,
‘The Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ about sacraments, ‘The Lord’s
Supper’ and ‘a Treatise on Christian Liberty’. The following year he was
condemned as a heretic and in 1521 he was summoned to appear at Worms
before a Diet (or Assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire headed by Emperor
Charles V where Luther was made an outlaw. Luther refused to recant before
the Diet of Worms, after which he remained hidden for 10 months. At the
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 67

Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Charles V tried to restore church unity. Luther

gave up all hopes of reconciliation. He refused to take part in the Council
of Trent (1545). Charles V planned to crush Protestantism but could not
succeed because of his foreign wars. Luther died in 1546.

The spread of the Reformation

Elector Frederick of Saxony (the territorial sovereign) protected Luther, and
he encouraged the formation of Lutheran communities. A number of other
German princes also supported Luther. In German Switzerland a similar
course was followed. Ulrich Zwingli was the founder of the Reformation in
Switzerland. Zwingli pointed to the Bible rather than to the Pope as the
sole authority of the church. He was able to introduce a number of changes
in the worship of the church including the banning of indulgences, sacrifice
of penance and extreme unction, and the adoration of pictures, statues and
relics. The Mass was abolished and in its place the memorial service of the
last Supper was introduced. Zwingli is regarded as the most ‘liberal’ of all
the Reformers, and was less a dogmatist than Calvin.
The leaders of the Reformation in Germany tried to win over
King Francis I of France. However, the King suppressed the reform
movement. After Calvinism had established itself in Geneva, its influence
grew rapidly in French reform circles. John Calvin appeared in Paris as the
defender of a new religious movement in 1533, and dedicated to the French
king in 1536 his Institutiones Christianae Religionis. Lutheranism did not
make much progress in France, but Calvinism was more successful. In 1559,
a group of French Protestants, called Huguenots, held their first synod
(meeting). They included some distinguished persons; but most of the
common people remained Roman Catholic.
The Reformation in England is quite different from that of continental
Europe. Reformation in England was not new. There was John Wycliife,
and one of the most radical of the advocates of a general council as the
supreme authority in the church was another Englishman, William Ockham.
Protestantism in England had a political dimension.34 King Henry VIII
called the Reform Parliament and passed the Acts of Supremacy of 1534,
which declared that the king was the supreme head of the Church of
England. This ended the Pope’s jurisdiction in England. Although Henry
began the Reformation in England, yet he clung to most of the
68 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Roman Catholic practices. The Reformation received its final form in

England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603).
Protestantism first appeared in Scotland at the beginning of the
15th century, when followers of Wycliffe and the Lollards, fleeing
from persecution in England, found their way across the border.
John Knox (1505-72) was the leader of Protestantism in Scotland. The
Reformation also spread to the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway
and Sweden; and also to Italy, Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands.
As indicated earlier, the Protestant churches mentioned here are all
substantially represented in India today.

The Crusades
The Crusades were a series of military expeditions to the East undertaken
by Western European Christians in the 12th and 13th centuries in order
to recover Jerusalem and other places of pilgrimage in Palestine (now present-
day Israel and Palestine)—which were known as the ‘Holy Lands’ to the
Muslims and—establish Christian rule there. The name ‘Crusade’ came
from the Latin word for cross, the emblem of crusaders. It was applied
especially to wars against pagans, Christian heretics, and political enemies
of the papacy.
At that time, the Sejuk Turks, who were a nomadic people converted
to Islam, overran Western Asia, defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in
Armenia in 1071, and broke into Asia Minor and threatened
Constantinople. In the meantime, other Turkish bands entered Syria and
captured Jerusalem in 1076 from the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt. So the
Byzantines appealed to the Pope and Western powers to help them. Taking
advantage of the situation, Pope Urban II (1088-99) appealed to armed
volunteers to go over and wage war against the Muslims. His intention was
not just to help the Byzantines but also to gain possession of Jerusalem. He
appealed to barons and knights to muster their resources. In 1095 the
Pope proclaimed a holy war to free Palestine from the ‘infidel’. He promised
both the rulers and the subjects that they would inherit Paradise if they
would take up the cross for God’s cause.
Although Christians had been fighting Muslims in Spain for years, the
concept of a holy war was something new. It was a pilgrimage under arms,
consecrated by God and the church and aimed at Palestine. The Pope’s
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 69

speech at Clermont aroused a wide and immediate response. The crusade

in 1095 was a peasants’ crusade. Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless,
both from France, collected bands of peasants and led them on the crusade.
These mobs begged or plundered their way across Europe, until the Turks
in Asia Minor massacred most of them. Other bands of peasants were cut
to pieces before they reached Constantinople.
Two centuries of crusades left little mark on Syria and Palestine except
a large number of crusader churches, fortifications and castles. They created
an interest in the exploration of the Orient as well as establishing trading
markets of lasting importance. The methods adopted by the papacy and
European monarchs in raising funds to finance the crusades led to the
development of a system of direct general taxation; this had long-term
effects on the fiscal structures of European governments. The crusaders
also established a colonizing mechanism that later European governments
used and improved during their colonization of territories by the 15th
and 16th centuries.
The history of the crusades is usually connected with that of the popes
of the church. These crusades were essentially a papal enterprise with the
idea of suppressing all dissensions among Christians, uniting them under
the same banner and sending them to wage war against the Muslims at a
time when the Pope was the only potentate seen to be in a position to know
and understand the common interests of Christendom. This was a time
when the Turks threatened to invade Europe, the Byzantine Empire was
not able to withstand the enemies around them, and Urban II was able to
take advantage of the current veneration of holy places in the West to
encourage forces to fight against Muslims in the Holy Land, a place of
many shrines. The crusades were essentially part of the political process.
In spite of the final failure, the crusades hold an important place in the
history of the world. Although the crusades were the work of the popes,
these holy wars certainly helped to strengthen political authority, and they
provided the popes with an opportunity to interfere in all the wars between
Christian princes. From the start the crusades were essentially defensive
wars to check the advance of Muslims, who for two centuries mustered
their forces in a struggle against the Christian settlements in Syria. Therefore,
Europe is largely indebted to the crusades for the maintenance of its
independence. Moreover, the crusades re-established traffic between the
70 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

East and the West which, after having been suspended for several centuries,
was then resumed with even greater energy. The Westerners were introduced
to the most civilized Asiatic countries, particularly centre of commerce in
the Indies, of which the Italian cities had long held the monopoly. Also,
the crusades must be coupled with the geographical explorations made by
Marco Polo and Orderic of Pordenone, the Italians who brought to Europe
the knowledge of continental Asia and China. It was also the spirit of the
true crusader that animated Christopher Columbus when he undertook
his dangerous voyage to the then unknown America and Vasco da Gama
when he set out in quest of India. Therefore it is possible to state that the
crusaders have in no small measure helped Western Christian civilization
to enrich its culture.35

Religious Orders
Religious Orders are groups of men and women living under a monastic
rule of disciplined work, prayer and study, and subject to central authority.
The Latin word ordo originally referred not to an organization, but to a way
of life within the church, as in ‘order of monks’ or in ‘order of hermits’. This
remains true of monastic life in the Greek Orthodox and other Eastern
churches, but in the West, these orders became specific organizations during
the Middle Ages. The term ‘religious’ is used as both a singular and plural
noun to designate persons, such as monks and nuns, who have withdrawn
from the world to follow a life of religious devotion.
Many monastic orders, or bodies of regulations and standards, existed
in the early Latin church. But the Rule of Saint Benedict had become
universally adopted from the time of Charlemagne. For a very long time,
the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, founded in 910 CE, was considered a
model monastery, and by the end of the 10th century, several hundred
priories were attached to it. The Cistercians developed a federal type of
organization with internal autonomy for each of the monasteries, each abbot
reporting to the Mother House. Final authority rested with the general
chapter of abbots. A mendicant order is a new form of wandering, begging
order founded by St Dominic and St Francis, known as Dominicans
(Order of Preachers) and Franciscans (Order of the Lesser Brothers, or Friars
Minor), each headed by a successor of the founders—the term ‘order’ thus
assumed its modern sense.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 71

The 16th century saw the collapse of monasticism in the Protestant

countries, and a new form of religious order evolved to meet the needs of
the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. Theatines was one of the first
of such orders, co-founded by St Cajestan in 1524. The Society of Jesus
was organized by St Ignatius of Loyola in Paris in 1534. Women’s Orders
also came into existence. St Angela Merici founded the Uruslines in 1535.
Others followed.
The first Lutheran order of deaconesses was established in Kaiserworth,
Germany, in 1836. The first sisterhood was established in London in 1845,
and its first order of men, the Society of St John, also called Cowley Fathers,
at Oxford in 1865. In America, the Community of St Mary for women in
1865 and the Order of the Holy Cross for men in 1885 were established.
Since then, several communities have emerged in Europe.

The Ecumenical Movement

The ecumenical movement is an attempt on the part of the divided
churches for the world to recognize their essential unity and to move
toward new control and reunion. Although as we have seen the word
‘ecumenical’ comes from the Greek word, oikonumne, ‘the inhabited earth’,
currently it is linked to the specific Christian spirit, movement and set of
organizations that seek religious reconciliation. The first major division
of the church took place when the Eastern and Western churches separated
in 1054 and this has been continued up to the present day. The 16th
century saw a further division of the world church with the Protestant
Reformation. The trend in division among the Protestants is being
continued till the present day.

The early and recent history of ecumenism

The Lutherans’ Augsburg Confession of 1530 was considered a document
that was open-ended toward Roman and Protestant ecumenism. The
Reformed churches of Germany and Switzerland tried to establish a united
Protestantism. But since the middle of the 16th century, there has been
little positive contact between the two sections. However, through the
centuries, many groups tried to find common ground to achieve a positive
solution. The World Missionary Conference of 1910 in Edinburgh, the
International Missionary Council of 1921, the Universal Christian
72 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Conference on ‘Life and Work’ in Stockholm, and the first Conference on

Faith and Order in Lausanne in 1927 are some examples.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an international
organization of over 300 Protestant, Anglican, Old Catholic and Orthodox
churches, based in Amsterdam in 1948 to promote ecumenical fellowship,
service and study. The WCC arose from the fusion of the two earlier
movements, ‘Life and Work’ and ‘Faith and Order’. The WCC has held
assemblies at intervals in different countries: Amsterdam in 1948, Evanston
in 1954, New Delhi in 1961, Uppsala in 1968, Nairobi in 1975,
Vancouver in 1983, Canberra in 1991 and Brazil in 2006. The
membership now comprises nearly all the major non-Roman Christian
bodies, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox, including since 1961 the
Patriarchate of Moscow. In 1967, the International Missionary Council
was integrated into the WCC.
Major organizations within the WCC include the commission on
International Church Aid for Refugees, and World Services, Faith and Order,
World Mission and Evangelism, the Church’s Participation in Development,
the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Dialogue with
People of Living Faiths, Women in Church and Society, Youth, Justice,
Peace and Integrity of Creation, Christian Medical Commission, and the
Programme to Combat Racism.
Another important area of ecumenical co-operation that has now
become part of the WCC is Christian Education. The World Sunday
School Association, founded in 1907, was reorganized in 1924 and
renamed the World Council of Christian Education (WCCE) in 1927.
The Faith and Order Conference at Edinburgh in 1937, and Lund in
1952 increased realization of the depth of doctrinal differences and of the
tenacity of denominational differences. The Anglicans, Congregationalists,
Methodists and Presbyterians united to form the Church of South India
in 1947, and Congregationalists, Reformed Churches and Lutherans
united to form the United Church of Christ in the United States. The
Church of North India was formed in 1970; and the Uniting Church of
Australia was formed in 1977.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 73

The Roman Catholics and ecumenism

Although there were some efforts on the part of Roman Catholics to have
concord with Protestant and Orthodox in the 19th century, any progress
was made only during the pontificates of Leo XIII and Pius XI. Probably
the greatest ecumenical figure of the Roman Catholic Church has been
Pope John XXIII, who created a secretariat for promoting Christian unity,
and in 1961 convened Vatican II where, as has been indicated, the agenda
included a Christian unity theme. Since then, there have been conversations,
co-operative activities, and shared worship that could not have been envisaged
a decade earlier. Pope John XXIII permitted Roman Catholic observers
officially to attend the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches.
In 1962, when Vatican II opened in St Peter’s Basilica, Protestant and
Orthodox observers were given places of honour and included in all working
sessions. At the close of Vatican II, a joint working group was established
between the Vatican and the WCC, and several dialogues have taken place.
The Roman Catholic view of ecumenism can be summed up as follows:
Through the fulfilment of the promise of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit,
the church has never failed and can never fail to be one in faith, in sacrament and
in ordered, authoritative guidance through the successor of St Peter and the
successors of the apostles.36

Liberation Theology
One of the inescapable realities confronting Latin American churches during
the second half of the 20th century was the grinding poverty of the people.
Out of the awareness evolved a new understanding of the very meaning of
the church’s work. The movement came to be called ‘Liberation Theology’
started with the awareness that it is blasphemous to care for people’ souls
while ignoring their needs for food, shelter and human dignity. As Jesus
participated in the suffering of the poor and the marginalized, and
proclaimed to them the good news of justice and freedom, so also the present-
day church should engage in the struggle for justice in this world.
The historical roots of Liberation Theology are to be found in the
prophetic tradition of evangelists and missionaries from the earliest colonial
days in Latin America. A number of churchmen questioned the type of
presence adopted by the church and the way indigenous peoples, blacks,
mestizos, and the poor rural and urban masses were treated. A few
74 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

outstanding religious personalities—Bartolome de Las Casas, Antonio de

Montesinos, Antonio Vieira, Brother Caneca and others—provided the
source of the type of social and ecclesiastical understanding that has
emerged in Latin America. A number of Liberation theologians maintain
that Christian belief and practice range along a continuous scale between
two forms, one at each end. At one end of the scale is the kind of belief
that in effect serves the establishment. They are those in authority such
as the government, and they teach that reward will be a better life in the
life to come. The Liberation theologians advocate the second kind of
Christianity at the other end of the scale. They emphazise compassion
and leadership in the struggle against oppression, in the struggle for a
better life here and now.
The popular governments of the 1950s and 1960s especially those of
Peron in Argentina, Vargas in Brazil and Cardenas in Mexico inspired
nationalist consciousness by significant industrial development. Although
it benefited the middle classes and the urban proletariat, it threw the
peasantry generally into deeper rural marginalization or sprawling urban
shanty towns. Development proceeded along the lines of dependent
capitalism, and this process led to the creation of strong popular movements
seeking great changes in the socio-economic structure of their countries. In
turn, these movements provoked the rise of military dictatorships, which
tried to safeguard or promote the interest of capital, associated with a high
level of ‘national security’ achieved through repression and control of all
public demonstrations. The social revolution in Cuba stood out as an
alternative leading to the dissolution of the main cause of under development,
namely dependence. Pockets of armed uprising appeared in many countries
to overthrow the ruling powers and install socialist-inspired regimes.
A great wind of renewal swept through the churches from the 1960s.
The church started to take their social concern seriously. Laypersons devoted
their time to work among the poor. Charismatic bishops and clergy
encouraged the call of young Christian students, young Christian workers,
young Christian agriculturalists and the movement for basic education took
real involvement in the process. European theologians sustained them
theologically: the integral humanism of Jacques Martian, the social
personalism of Mounier, the progressive revolutionalism of Teilhard de
Chardin, Henri de Lubac’s reflections on the social dimension of dogma,
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 75

Yves Congar’s theology of the laity and the work or M D Chenu, all
contributed greatly in this process.37
The theological atmosphere of great freedom and creativity produced
by the Second Vatican Council encouraged Latin American theologians
to think for themselves about pastoral problems affecting their countries.
There were frequent meetings between Roman Catholic theologians
(Gustavo Gutierrez, Segundo Galilea, Juan Luis Segundo, and Lucio Gera)
and Protestant theologians such as Emilio Castro, Julio de Santa Ana,
Rubem Alves and Jose Miguez Bonino, leading to intensified reflection
on the relationships between faith and poverty, and the gospel and
social justice. The Roman Catholics left in Brazil took the lead between
1959 and 1964 in producing a series of basic texts on the need for a
Christian view of history, linked to popular action, which foreshadowed
Liberation Theology.
A meeting of Latin American theologians was held in Petropolis
(Rio de Janeiro) in March 1964 at which Gustavo Gutierrez described
theology as critical reflection on practice. This concept was further developed
at meetings in Havana, Bogota, and Cuernavaca in June and July 1965. A
number of other meetings were held as part of the preparatory work for the
Medellin conference of 1968. Gustavo Gutierrez gave a series of lectures in
Montreal in 1967 and at Chimbote in Peru on the poverty of the Third
World. At the theological congress at Carigny, Switzerland in 1969 they
produced a document ‘Towards a Theology of Liberation’. The
Roman Catholics organized two congresses devoted to Liberation theology
in Bogota in March 1970 and 1971 while Protestants organized something
similar in Buenos Aires in the same years. Finally, in December 1971,
Gustavo Gutierrez published his seminal work, Theologia de la Liberaciion:
‘The Challenge to Christians’, in Montevideo, and Leonardo Boff had
published a series of articles under the title Jesus Christo Libertador. The
door was opened for the development of a theology from the periphery
dealing with the concerns of this periphery, concerns that presented and
still present an immense challenge to the evangelizing mission of the
church.38 Besides Gustavo Gutierrez, other outstanding bishops, priests
and laypeople produced many outstanding works. On the Protestant side,
besides Emilio Castro and Julio de Santa Ana, there were several other
outstanding contributors to Liberation Theology.
76 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Liberation Theology was seen as a ‘fundamental theology’. A number

of movements came into being under the tutelage of Liberation Theology.
In Brazil alone, there are movements of centres for black unity and
conscientization, human rights, defence of slum dwellers, marginalised
women, mission to Amerindians, rural pastoral strategy, and so forth—all
concerned in one way or another with the poorest of the poor seeking
liberation. In order to meet with such demands a number of theologians
have produced a series of materials under the caption ‘Liberal Theology’.
A series of events paved the way for spreading this theology and ensuring
its acceptance among theologians, the world over. There was the Congress
at El Escorial, Spain in July 1972, the first congress of Latin American
theologians held in Mexico City in August 1975, the creation of the
Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) in 1976
and the congress held in Dares Salaam in 1976, Accra in 1977,
Wennappuwa, Sri Lanka, in 1979, Situ Paulo in 1980, Geneva in 1983,
Oaxtepec, Mexico in 1986. A number of important reviews in Latin America
have become regular vehicles for the publication of articles and discussions
by liberation theologians.39 It can be argued that Liberation Theology was
the most original theological and religious expression of Christian’s faith to
have emerged from Latin America and one that had a large impact elsewhere
in the world.
While all these developments were taking place, there were reservation
and opposition expressed by some who feared that faith was becoming
over-politicized and by others who mistrusted any use of Marxist analysis
of social structures. There were also many who were unable to accept
the deep challenges in the structure of capitalist society expounded by
this theology.40

Father of Liberation Theology:

Bartholomew De Las Casas (1474-1566)
Liberation Theology started much earlier in history. During the 15th and
16th centuries there lived a remarkable man, Las Casas who was born in
Seville in 1474 of humble origin. His father was a common soldier under
Columbus in his first voyage to the New World. Las Casas obtained a law
degree from the prestigious university of Salamanca. In 1510 he entered
the priesthood; he was the first priest ever to be consecrated in the colonies.
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 77

The following year he accompanied the expedition that set forth from
Hispaniola to occupy Cuba.
It was there that Las Casas first began to gain his reputation as a
protector of the Indians. He launched a lifelong crusade against mistreatment
of Indians, as exemplified by two institutions, known as encomienda and
the repartimiento. The former referred to lands ‘commended’ to settlers
while the latter to the requirement that Indians work these lands for little
or no pay and frequently under the lash.
In 1516 Las Casas returned to Spain to plead the Indians’ case with
King Ferdinand V. There the regent, Cardinal Francisco Jimenez Cisneros
Jimenez named him ‘Protector of Indies’ and, in 1520, authorized him to
found a model colony in Santo Domingo. Unfortunately he did not succeed
in the enterprise. Discouraged, he took refuge in a monastery run by
Dominicans, an Order he eventually joined.
Following service in New Spain (Mexico), Nicaragua, Peru and
Guatemala, he obtained an audience with Charles V. The result of that
meeting was promulgation of the Nuevas Leyes de 1542, which a service to
the encomienda. Unfortunately, the settlers repeatedly flouted these laws.
Las Casas was almost as well known as a writer as he was as an activist
humanitarian. His most celebrated work was the magisterial three-volume
History of the Indies: among other writings were The Only Way to Bring People
to Religion and Treatises, Letters and Memoirs.
Fearing his life, the 73-year-old bishop returned to Spain in 1547 and
never returned to the new world. Since he had access to court, he was able
to continue his single-handed crusade to help the Indians in 1550 and
organized a meeting of high civil and ecclesiastical authorities to consider
the treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas. He died in 1566, at
the convent of Santa Maria de Atocha in Madrid.

Keshub Chandra Sen, Asia’s Message to Europe, Calcutta, 1919 delivered in 1883.
John C England and Archee Lee (ed) Doing Theology with Asian Resources NZ, Pace
Publishing, 1993, p 129.
J Madey, Orientalium Ecclesiaram, More Than Twenty Years After, OIRSI 110, Kottayam,
1987, p 48, (Taken from A Handbook on Catholic Eastern Church, Lonappam Arrangaserry
MST, p 20.
78 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Kenneth Scott Latourette, History of Expansion of Christianity, Vol 1, The First Centuries,
Eyre & Spottswoods, London, 1947.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962.
J Danielou, The Christian Centuries, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1964, p 39.
Mead, Frank S, The Handbook of Denominations in United States, Abingdon Nashville,
p 10.
Dr Xavier , Indian Christian Directory, Rashtra Deepika Ltd, 2000, Koodapuzha p 44.
ibid, p 45.
ibid, p 46.
Frank & Wignells, New Encyclopaedia, Vol 6, p 279.
op. cit., Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol 1, p 530.
Encyclopaedia Americana, Vol 23, p 326.
New Standard Encyclopaedia, QR, Chicago, p R-137.
Encyclopaedia Americana, Vol 22, p 549.
op. cit., New Encyclopaedia, p 500.
op. cit., Encyclopaedia Americana, Vol 7, p 562.
op. cit., New Encyclopaedia, B p 82.
ibid, M p 190.
ibid, D, p 184.
ibid, S, p 58.
Frank S Mead, The Handbook of Denominations in the United States, Abingdon
Nashville, USA, 1980, p 20.
ibid, p 75.
op. cit., Standard Encyclopaedia, F 353.
Encyclopaedia Americana, Vol 21, p 679.
T G Douglas, The New International Dictionary of the Church, p 763.
Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement, p 811.
J N D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine, Adam & Charleds Black London, 4th edition,
1973, p 230.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol Iov, copyright @ 1908, Robert Appleton Company,
copyright @2003 Ken Knight.
N Patrinaco, Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church.
New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol IX, p 1032.
King Henry VIII married a Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, who had formerly
been married to Henry’s older brother Arthur, who had died before becoming king.
Catherine bore a number of children to Henry, but all died young except a daughter,
The Global Scenario of the Indian Church 79

Mary, who was physically weak. He was afraid that he would never have a son. Moreover,
he was attracted to Anne Boleyn, a Lady of the Court. He also doubted that his marriage
was valid; since it was alleged for a man to marry his brother’s widow was illegal, though
the Pope had given him special dispensation for the marriage at that time. Henry asked his
Chancellor Thomas Wolsey (Cardinal Archbishop of York) to arrange the annulment of
his marriage, and to declare it invalid. Cardinal Wolsey failed in this, as the annulment had
to come from the Pope. Henry then took things into his own hands.
Louis Breheir, Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol 4, Copyright, Robert Appleton Company,
Online Copyright@ 2003 Kevin Knight.
op. cit., New Catholic Encyclopaedia Vol 5, p 96.
Leonardo and Cleodovis Boff: From the book Introducing Liberation Theology
published by Orbis Books (Taken from Internet).

The Indian
Church to the

15th Century

INDIA, WITH THE Arabian sea to the west, the Bay of Bengal to the east,
the Indian Ocean to the south and the Himalayan ranges to the north
occupies most of the Indian sub-continent of South Asia. Across the seas it
looks to Africa and Arabian countries to the west, to Myanmar, Malaysia
and the Indonesian Archipelago to the east, and to Sri Lanka to the south.
India possesses one of the oldest civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization—
as early as 2500 BCE it flourished in the north-western part of India. Two
cities of that civilization, Mohanjodaro and Harrappa, have been excavated
to reveal an astonishingly high standard of living.
Sanskrit-speaking Aryan tribes from the north-west invaded the Indus
Valley civilization around 1500 BCE, and merged with the earliest
inhabitants to evolve classical Indian civilization. Hinduism is the Vedic
religion of the Aryans intermixed with the practices and beliefs of the natives.
The Vedas and Upanishads, which were a collection of slokas and
mythological and philosophical commentaries, and two epics, the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavatgita (which is exhortative
part of the Mahabharata) formed the basis of Hinduism. Jainism and
Buddhism arose in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Ashoka who ruled most
of the Indian sub-continent in the 3rd century BCE was a great patron
of Buddhism. Later, Hinduism revived and eventually predominated.
Apostle Thomas and also some Jews came to India in 52 CE, Apostle Thomas

82 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

spreading the message of Christ in South India. In the 8th century, Arabs
made inroads in India and established a Muslim foothold in western India,
and by 1200, north India came under the control of the Turkish Muslims.
A further Muslim wave came with the Mughal emperors who ruled from
1526 to 1707.
Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator, took a sea-route from Europe
to India in 1498, which established large-scale trade in spices and textiles
between India and Europe. The Dutch, the French and the English followed
the Portuguese. Beginning with the establishment of the East India Company
in 1600, the British secured control of most of India, the British Parliament
assumed political direction of India and the power of Indian kings were
curtailed. However, as a result of the First War of Independence in 1857,
the administration of British India was taken over by the British Government,
Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India, and the Viceroy-
cum-Governor General administered India.
A turning point in the freedom struggle of India was the formation of
the Indian National Union by A O Hume, which had its first conference in
1885 under the presidentship of W C Banerge. It began to demand
constitutional reform, a call which was taken up by the Muslim League
also. The call for independence emerged with the arrival of
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from South Africa, who with Jawaharlal
Nehru and others led the Indian National Congress from 1919.
M K Gandhi, later called Mahatma Gandhi, chose the untrodden path of
non-violence to confront the mighty British. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the
founder of the Muslim League, sought the creation of a Muslim State,
Pakistan. As a result of years of negotiations, India was declared independent
on 15 August 1947. Pakistan was also formed on the same day. India became
a self-governing member of the Commonwealth and a member of the
United Nations. On 26 January 1950, the Indian constitution came into
force and India became a sovereign democratic republic with Dr Rajendra
Prasad as its first President.
The population of India is polygenetic and, over the centuries, various
racial strains have intermingled forming a complex mixture. According to
some analysts, the population of India has descended from six ethnic groups
—Negrito, Proto-Australoid, Mongoloid, Mediterranean or Dravidian,
Western Brachycephal and Nordic Aryan.1
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 83

India, the most-populous country in the world next to China, is the

home of 16.2 per cent of the world’s population while it is only 2.4 per cent
of the world area. According to official estimates, Indian population crossed
one billion on 11 May 2000. In the 1991 census, it was 846.3 million of
which 349.2 million were males and 407.1 million females.2 According to
the Anthropological Survey of India, the country has about 325 spoken
languages and 700 dialects. The constitution of India recognizes Hindi in
Devanageri script as the official language of the country, and the regional
languages as the official languages of the respective states, and English is
recognized as the authoritative, legislative and judicial language. The
constitution has statutorily recognised 18 languages as regional languages.3
Religion is one of the basic characteristics of the Indian population. Every
decennial census provides an interesting picture of the religious persuasions
of the people of the country, and this census data is considered to be the most
reliable document available concerning the religions composition of the
population of the country.

India in the First Century

of the Christian Era
There is very little information about the first century of the Christian
era in India due to the general indifference of ancient Indian writers to
subjects of history who otherwise had taken a keen interest in practically
every field of human activity and produced voluminous works on various
subjects. Just before the beginning of the Christian era, the vast Mauryan
Empire had shown signs of disintegration. The central Aryan intruders
burst in through the Khyber and Bolan to plunder, pillage and create
kingdoms for themselves. They overran the Greek kingdom of Bactria,
entered the Punjab and fanned out north and south. These Scythian
nomads (known as the Sakas) stretched from Kashmir to western India.
The northern group of the Sakas (the Kushans) settled down in Kashmir
and the Punjab, built a flourishing empire and accepted Buddhism as
their religion. The Sagas established their kingdom by the coronation of
their king in 78 CE although the powerful kingdom of Ujain resisted the
onslaught of the Sagas.
The most important king of north-western India during the 4th and
5th decades of the first century was Gundophoros, and his influence was
84 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

strongly felt in Parthia and western India, and was well known in Syria and
the Mediterranean regions of Asia and Africa. It was to his kingdom that
Apostle Thomas is said to have come to preach Christ.
There was tremendous religious activity among the Buddhists who
preached the Law to the oppressed and oppressors alike and converted many
a Saka chief and king to Buddhism. As the Sakas had no great culture of
their own to boast of, they accepted the religious culture of the peoples
they conquered. The northerners accepted the Hellenized form of Buddhism
preached in Gandahara and the Land of the Five Rivers while the southerners
accepted Jainism and Hinduism. They were incorporated into their social
structure, and soon they lost their identity as a separate nation.
The conflicts of the south were of a less severe nature. The powerful
Andhras ruled the Deccan and they stood as a barrier between the Sakas
and the kingdoms of south India. The conflicts among south Indian Hindu
kings did not seriously disrupt the economy of the villages till later in the
18th century. Tippu Sultan indulged in wholesale massacre and enslavement
of civil population and destruction of shrines. Southern parts of India were
almost immune from the plunderers of Central Asia as the Vindyas on the
north and the sea on the other side protected it.
In the beginning of the Christian era, South India was divided into
three principal kingdoms, the Chera, the Pandya and the Chola. The Chera
kingdom corresponded to the present Kerala excluding the extreme south,
the Chola territory lay on the east coast from the mouth of the Krishna to
the present Ramnad district, and the Pandya Kingdom with its capital at
Madura lay between the two.
The commercial and cultural intercourse between nations in the ancient
world was freer than in the Middle Ages, and the religious fanaticism that
marred history in the dark ages had not yet made nations exclusive and
arrogant. They had kept an open mind in religious matters and were willing
to learn and to teach. Alexander’s conquests opened up contact between
north India and the Mediterranean regions. The Greek kings used to send
regular envoys to Indian courts and it was common to have matrimonial
alliance between Eastern and Western princes. It was a regular feature to
have caravans laden with merchandise passing up and down the Khyber
and heading for trading centres from the Bay of Bengal to the Black Sea.
At the beginning of the Christian era, navigation between India and
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 85

the Red Sea was quite difficult. Vessels usually sailed from the ports of
Malabar travelling through the coast up the Indian Ocean, round Arabia
to the Red Sea and discharging cargo at Bernice (the Egyptian port) from
where it was transported by caravan to Alexandria and other Mediterranean
centres. They used to discharge the cargo meant for Syria and Asia Minor
at the ports of the Persian Gulf. But it was the Egyptian mariner Hippalus
who revolutionalized maritime trade by his discovery of the regularity of
the monsoon. He discovered that the wind blew in a westerly direction in
the Indian Ocean for half the year and in an easterly direction during the
other half. He put his theories to the test, and the bold mariner plunged
into the unknown sea and made straight for India, arriving in a surprisingly
short period of forty days. There he waited for the change in the direction
of the wind and when the wind started blowing from the east, he sailed
back to Rome via Egypt.4 The epoch-making voyage opened up great
possibilities for trade. Rome was the most important market for Indian
goods at that time; the fashionable ladies of the Imperial City clamoured to
get pearls and other precious goods from India.
Some of the principal ports of India at the time were Barygaza (Broach)
at the mouth of the Narbada, Kalyan in northern Konkan, Tindis near
modern Mangalore, Musiris (modern Cranganur) and Neleynda or
Nirkunram farther south in the Pandya Kingdom. Puhar or Kaveripatnam
at the mouth of the Kaveri was the main port of the Cholas and the east
coast. The Cholas were a maritime people and they were mainly responsible
for carrying Indian religion, culture and art to Indonesia. The most
important part on the west coast was Musiris where the Chera king had
his capital at Tiruvanchikkulam not far from the harbour. The main exports
of Musiris were pearls, precious stones of all kinds, ivory, spices and the
famous pepper of Malabar. Rome and South India had very cordial and
regular diplomatic relations. Side by side with the Europeans there
were trade relations with Arabs, Syrians and Persians whose fleets also
came to Indian ports.
The Chera Kingdom is of particular interest to Christians in Kerala. It
was here that the Apostle Thomas founded the church, which has survived
the vicissitudes of centuries and has survived with increased strength and
vitality. There is a rich mythology among the Hindus about the origin of
Chola or Kerala. A warrior Parasurama is fabled to have destroyed the whole
86 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Kshatriya race because of its arrogance and the cold-blooded murder of his
father by one of them. Parasurama repented of his rashness that led to
countrywide misery and he wished to bestow a suitable gift on Brahmins
in expiation. So he ascended a peak at the northern extremity of the Western
Ghats and threw his powerful battle-axe southwards into the ocean, and it
fell at Cape Comorin and a strip of land emerged from the sea, which he
called Chera; he gave this land as a gift to Brahmins. The account indicates
that he conquered the land and divided it among his Brahmin followers.
The rulers of Kerala at the time were Nairs who were subjected to the
Nambuthiris (as the Brahmin followers were called). The Nairs
formed the martial class and they were treated well while the Nambuthiris
remained the virtual rulers and sacerdotal hierarchy. The rest of the
population were farmers, artisans and aborigines who lived in subjection to
the Nambuthiris and Nairs.
The Chera Kingdom, in the beginning of the Christian era, was an
independent entity ruled by a king with a title Perumal (literally ‘The Great
One’) whose powers were limited by the assemblies of the Nambuthiris and
Nair nobles without whose approval he could do little. Hinduism was the
state religion and the Nambuthiris strictly followed the Vedic rituals. At the
time of the visit of the Apostle Thomas the Nambuthiris were the religious
dictators of Malabar and they had the final authority on social codes. Notions
of caste were stretched to the extreme and Malabar was probably the most
caste-ridden country in India. They followed a strict and elaborate caste code
and any lapse was punished with severity and even death. The Perumal was
liberal in religious matters, and all his subjects had freedom of worship.
Although he was officially a Hindu, Buddhists and Jains had full liberty to
preach their doctrines. Hinduism did not care much what a man believed or
which god he worshipped so long as caste rules were not violated.

The Apostolic Origin of Indian Christianity

Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, made the following
observation in his speech at the St Thomas Day celebrations in New Delhi
on December 18, 1955:
Remember, St Thomas came to India when many of the countries of Europe had
not yet become Christian, and so those Indians who trace their Christianity to him
have a longer history and a higher ancestry than Christians of many of the European
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 87

countries. And it is really a matter of pride to us that it so happened.

Although there is no documentary evidence to show that Apostle Thomas
started Christianity in India, tradition traces its origin in Kerala to the
missionary enterprise of Apostle Thomas.
Among the many stories of tradition there is one which claims that
the Apostle first visited Takshasila in north-west India during the reign of
Gondophorus, an Indo-Parthian ruler in 40 CE. Thomas then returned
to Jerusalem to be present at the bedside of the Blessed Virgin in her last
moments. The Apostle visited India again; this time south-west India,
viz. Kerala, and there was a well-organized Jewish colony in Muzuris.
This attracted Apostle Thomas to the region, which had been closer to
the Mediterranean world after the discovery of the trade wind by Hippalus
(47 CE). After preaching the gospel, making converts and founding
churches on the coast of Kerala, the Apostle proceeded to the Coromandel
or east coast of the Indian Peninsula. There he was martyred at the hands
of a Brahmin priest who, according to tradition, pierced the apostle’s
body with a lance. This happened in 72 CE near Madras.
There are two views among scholars about the origin of Christianity in
India. One is that the Apostle Thomas or two apostles, St Thomas and
St Bartholomew, laid the foundation of Christianity in India. The other view
is related to the enterprise of merchants and missionaries from the East Syrian
or Persian churches. Those who advocate the apostolic origin do not deny the
role of the East Syrian church in reinforcing Indian Christianity.

The evidence for and against Apostle Thomas bringing the gospel to India
The Acts of Judas Thomas written in Syriac in the Edessan circle about the
beginning of the 3rd century was the earliest available record about the
St Thomas apostolate in India. Although this work has been considered so
far as apocryphal, Gnostic in origin and romantic in style, a number of
recent scholars find a nucleus of history, which represents the second century
authentic Syrian church tradition about the apostolate of St Thomas. In
addition, there are several fragmentary passages in various writings of the
3rd, 4th and 5th centuries which speak in very clear terms about the
St Thomas apostolate, and from the 4th century, major churches are
unanimous in their witness to this tradition.5
In spite of this tradition, some scholars do not hesitate to deny
88 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

outright that Apostle Thomas ever visited any countries in East Asia.
Many others base their argument on The Acts of Judas Thomas that
Apostle Thomas preached in north-west India. But an important group
of scholars and writers who are either product of or who had intimate
contact with the community of St Thomas Christians and other traditions
consider the South Indian tradition as being more reliable than the Acts
tradition. They base their arguments on the living tradition of
the community of St Thomas Christians in Kerala and the tomb of
Apostle Thomas at Mylapore, the little Mount and the St Thomas Mount
in the vicinity of Mylapore, together with the traditions attached to
these monuments. In the light of all these, scholars are inclined to
interpret these as strongly in favour of affirming the apostolate of St Thomas
in India.
In The Acts of Judas Thomas, Apostle Thomas followed the well-
established trade routes, reached India some time in the mid-first century,
and preached the gospel in Parthia and India, converted a number of people
including members of the royal family, suffered martyrdom in India, and
was buried there. Later his body was transferred to Edessa in Syria where
many travelled to pay homage and respect. His apostolate in India is
supposed to have started in the kingdom of Gudnaphar where the ruler
asked Thomas to build him a palace.6 Some scholars including Farquhar
hold the view that the Acts alone cannot be the main source of western
tradition; that there must have existed even before the composition of the
Acts some version of this in the oral tradition. These authors argue that the
Western tradition is not a single tradition but a combination of two traditions
one of which originates in Edessa and the other in Alexandria.7
There is a very strong Indian tradition handed down from generation
to generation, and to some extent found among their non-Christian
neighbours, that Apostle Thomas, after visiting Socotra, an island in the
Arabian Sea on the north-east coast of Africa, landed at Cranganore
(Kodungaloor) on the Periyar estuary north of Kochi in 52 CE, and preached
to the Jewish colony settled there. Travelling in the coastal region southwards
he founded churches in seven places—Maliankara (near Cranganore),
Palayur, Parur, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Quilon, in four of
which places Syrian churches still exist.8 Then he moved to the Coromandel
and suffered martyrdom on near the little Mount. His body was buried in
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 89

a holy shrine he had built. Tradition continues to believe that Christians

from Malabar, West Asia and even from China used to go on pilgrimage to
Mylapore and venerate the tomb.9
This Indian tradition seems to be a combination of three traditions:
Malabar, Mylapore or Coromandel, and the East Syrian Church. Some details
of these combined traditions may be found in few songs (for example the
Rabban Pattu, the Veeradyan Pattu, and the Margam Kali Pattu). Also, there
are accounts and stories supposed to be orally handed down from generation
to generation.10 In the 16th century, the Portuguese came to know that
St Thomas Christians had in their possession these songs and also written
records, which commemorated the life, work and death of Apostle Thomas.
But unfortunately the Portuguese destroyed these records after the
Synod of Diamper. Some of the Hindu accounts such as the Keralolpathies
(treatises on the origins of Kerala or Malabar) and Kandappa Raja also contain
allusions to Apostle Thomas and his work.
An evaluation of the Indian records needs a note of caution, as at present
a scientific investigation seems to be only in the initial stages, and written
records (the songs and a few others) in their present form cannot be traced
from further back than the 18th or 17th centuries. However, the people of
Kerala undoubtedly possessed a rich oral tradition, which is reflected fully
or partially in their folk songs and even in written records.11
The Portuguese played a significant role in all these. They visited
Mylapore for the first time in 1517, and they gathered almost exhaustively
the local traditions about the tomb of Apostle Thomas, and also of the
Indian apostolate of St Thomas. In 1533, the Portuguese king ordered an
official inquiry, which brought to light and put forward on record whatever
the local people could provide on the question of the tomb and
Apostle Thomas. The tradition, as recorded in the Portuguese reports, may
be considered an amalgam of three, as it draws from three different sources,
viz, the Malabar (what the Kerala people told Portuguese), the East Syrian
(information from East Syrian people or books), and Mylapore (what the
people from Mylapore told the Portuguese). However, it is not easy to
distinguish the Malankara tradition from the East Syrian. The Malabar
tradition is the oral one. The songs, the books and the East Syrian tradition
refer to the written records. Both the traditions were unanimous about the
apostolate of St Thomas in Kerala and the veracity of the tomb of Mylapore.
90 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The main source for the Mylapore version was the oral tradition prevalent
among the people of the Coromandal coast. The important points which
emerge from the East-Syrian and Mylapore traditions are the following:
the itinerary of Apostle Thomas, his apostolate in India and elsewhere, the
miracles he performed, the circumstances of the death and burial, and some
matters concerning the tomb.12 The apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas
concerning the Indian apostolate of St Thomas is a romantic account
probably based on a historical nucleus, representing the first and second
century oral tradition, and from the 4th century there is unanimity among
the churches about the tradition.
What conclusions can be drawn from all this? A number of Western
scholars have questioned the validity of the Syrian claim that Apostle
Thomas was instrumental in introducing Christianity into India, stating
that it was impossible for Thomas to have undertaken such a journey,
taking into account the distance between Jerusalem and Kerala. There
are two valid claims for the possibility of Thomas to take sea route to
reach Kerala. Pliny (23-79 CE) had acquired a very exact idea of navigation,
as practised in his days after the discovery of Hippalus (47 CE), of the
direct route to the Indian shores.13
There is also evidence of a small Jewish population in Kerala from
ancient times, as early as the time of King Solomon in 973 BCE, and these
Jews formed colonies along the Malabar Coast, in cities like Muzaris, Parur,
Palayur and Kollam. When the Jews were captives first of the Assyrians in
721 BCE, and the second time of Babylonians in 587 BCE, a number of
these political refugees had taken shelter in the coastal towns of India,
where they were given special privileges by the local rajas. The Jews in
Muzaris were well treated by the successive Hindu rajas and in the course
of a few centuries, their political presence was felt. Bhaskara Ravi Varma,
the then Chera Ruler, with the consent of the chiefs of Venadu, Venapallinadu
and Nedum-parayamadu, had ceded some territories known as ‘Anju Vanam’
through a deed of gift, which was engraved in Vattu Ezuthu (the local
script) on two copper plates, which were presented to Joseph Rabban, the
Leader of the Jewish community, who had come to Muzaris from a
distinguished family named after Rabban from Yemen.14 There is also a
claim that at a place near Calicut, under the roots of a huge tree, a big
container with a large number of gold coins was found.15 There is still
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 91

another claim that at a place near Ponkunnam, 188 Roman coins were
found in 1945 with the inscription of the Emperor Julian.16
The evidence for the belief that the Indian Church was founded by
Apostle Thomas is based on three points. There is a strong and consistent
tradition of Syrian Christians of Malabar that Apostle Thomas is the founder,
but it lacks clear documentary evidence. There are sundry references, none
contemporary but beginning only in the 3rd century, that are somewhat
vague. There is also the apocryphal story, which is not strong enough to
establish the truth beyond reasonable doubt. Some historians have rejected
the tradition and denied the claim of Apostle Thomas altogether that he
ever came to India. Some of them are the French historian Basnage
(Protestant) and Tillemont (Roman Catholic) at the end of the 17th century,
La Croze (Protestant) in the 18th, and the English Protestants, James Hough
and Sir John Kaye in the 19th.17
Three Western writers who have made studies during the second half
of the 20th century are E R Hambye (1952), the writer of Saint Thomas
and India (1952), L W Brown, The Indian Christians of St Thomas (1956),
and C B Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History (1960). Although
Hambye has critically examined most of the Western tradition, and
particularly those belonging to the Thomas Christians in communion with
Rome, it appears that he was not quite committed to any view when he
summed up his arguments.18 Brown who had lived in Kerala for many years
and was quite familiar with the traditions of St Thomas Christians not in
communion with Rome, was extremely cautious when he comes to the
conclusion.19 Firth, who does not seem to have been directly connected
with the traditions of Kerala, seems to have paid attention to them all the
same using the books of E M Philip and K N Daniel. However, he too, like
the other two, was very cautious.20
Looking into the various sources available regarding the Indian apostolate
of St Thomas, particularly the age-old consciousness of the community of St
Thomas Christians that their origin as Christians is from the mission of
Thomas, the Apostle of India, I believe the story that the origin of Christianity
in India is from the mission of Apostle Thomas stands sufficiently justified.21

The life of Apostle Thomas in India

Here, then is the tradition of Thomas Didymus, the Apostle Thomas. While
92 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

most of the disciples of Jesus devoted their ministry to the Mediterranean

region, the lot fell on Apostle Thomas to choose as his field of labour the
distant and little known East, India. First he preached in Parthia, then in
north-western India and later came by sea to Malabar. Tradition states he
landed in Musiris in 52 CE. The Jews of Malabar must have welcomed the
good news of the much-awaited Messiah. Apostle Thomas addressed his
message, and having done so he boldly preached the gospel to the people of
Malabar, and received an astonishing response. While most of the disciples
preached the gospel in the Roman world that was crying for a religion that
appealed to the soul of man and Christianity came to its aid, the situation
in India was quite different. Hinduism in its comprehensive synthesis catered
to the needs of all. Hinduism had a hereditary sacerdotal hierarchy. The
Ahimsa message and forbearance of Buddha had under Ashoka’s leadership
permeated all Indian thought, and the Buddhist missionaries were at work
establishing the Aryan Path from Alexandria to Peking.
Very little is known of Apostle Thomas’ personality. He did not, we
assume, have the intellectual calibre of Apostle Paul who had studied at the
feet of famous Gamaliel. Apostle Thomas was only a Galiliean fisherman
and therefore he was no match for Brahmins in the subtleties of polemics.
Malabar Christian tradition attributes the apostle’s success not to his
polemic ability, but to his saintly life and the miracles he performed. Thomas
had great success in a city called Palur, the modern Chowghat in the Ponnani
Taluk of the Malapuram District, which was a busy centre of inland trade
at the time. It was an important stronghold of Brahmins; a good number of
blue- blooded Nambuthiris of the Perumal’s kingdom lived there and
practically the whole Brahmin community of Palur was converted.
A good number of the present-day Malabar Christians trace their
descent from the Palur Brahmins converted by the apostle. There were
families—Kalli, Kaliankal, Sankarapuri and Pakalomattam—who were the
most important of the Palur community. It is interesting to note that the
sacerdotal classes in Malabar were drawn from these families from
Apostle Thomas’ time till the arrival of the Portuguese. The office of the
archdeacon was hereditary in the Pakalomattam family and many Christian
families in Kerala trace the continuity of this family tradition from early
days to the present. Also, it was to this Pakalomattam family that the
Kerala Christians turned for bishops after the historic Coonan Cross Oath
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 93

of 1653 against the Portuguese domination. The last of the male lineal
descendants died in 1813 without a male issue, but the main stock has
left a prolific progeny through female and junior male descendants.22
Thomas preached throughout the Chera Kingdom, and converted many
people. He had, as was earlier indicated, built seven churches in
Cranganore, Kollam, Parur, Niranam, Chayail and Palur. Although the
original churches fell into ruins and had to be rebuilt, the Kerala
Christians strongly held to the apostolic origin.
The Apostle Thomas also spent some time in China and after which he
returned to Kerala. He then crossed the Ghats to the kingdoms of Pandya
and Chola and preached the gospel, and it produced a tremendous result.
Apostle Thomas founded a few bishoprics in the Tamil country, which
wielded great influence with the result that the established religion of the
land stood in danger of disintegration. This naturally aroused the enmity
of a great many Brahmins, which resulted in the cruel death of the apostle
at the hands of his enemies. His body was buried in a nearby church, and
Mylapore ever since has been a centre of pilgrimage for Christians in particular
and Asians in general. After a long time this blessed body was taken to
Edessa in Syria and buried there. Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller, was
the first European to visit the shrine of St Thomas and leave an authentic
account of it. He visited the Coromandel Coast (known to Europeans as
Malabar) in the 13th century and has recorded it in detail.
A good number of Christian writers have agreed that Thomas is the
Apostle of India, and Jerome in the 4th century of the Christian era observes:
The Son of God was present in all places, with Thomas in India, with Peter in
Rome, with Paul in Illyria, with Titus in Crete, with Andrew in Achaia, and with
every preacher of the gospel in all the regions they travelled.
A detailed account of Apostle Thomas and his mission is found in
The Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas, which is a work believed to be of Eastern
origin. A Malayalam poem compiled by one Maliakkal Thomas towards
the close of the 16th century (from older works and oral traditions of Kerala)
gives a graphic account of the martyrdom of the apostle at Mylapore. In
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there is a reference to the fulfilment of a vow
made by England’s King Alfred by the power of which he overcame the
Danes. It states that in the year 883 ‘Sighlem, Bishop of Shireburn, and
Aethahstan conveyed to Rome the alms which the king had vowed to send
94 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

thither, and also to India to Apostle Thomas and Apostle Bartholomew,

when he sat down against the army at London and there, thanked God,
their prayer was very successful after that vow’. It is related that the Bishop
and his company visited the tomb of Apostle Thomas and returned to
England with spices and other cargo from India.

Bartholomew and Indian Christians

There is an alleged apostolate of St Bartholomew in India, as claimed by
Eusebius of Caesarea (early 4th century) and of St Jerome (later 4th century).
Both these writers refer to this tradition while speaking about the reported
visit of Pantaenus in the 2nd century. Shortly before 190 CE, Pantaneus, a
noted Christian teacher of Alexandria visited the ‘land of Indians, and he
found among the Christians there a copy of the Gospel according to
St Matthew in Hebrew’ characters, which was preserved until this time,
and brought it with him on his return to Alexandria.23 Since the Christian
tradition of Kerala and studies know nothing of Apostle Bartholomew’s
visit to India, some historians think that the country Pantaneus visited was
not India but some region then confused with India. Rufinus, a
contemporary of Jerome, also bears testimony to the fact that India was the
position allotted to Apostle Bartholomew when the apostles divided the
world for mission work.
To the Romans and Greeks ‘Citerior India’ was the coastal region of
western India and Konkan, and Fr Perumalil and following him Fr Heras
are of the view that North Konkan was the scene of Apostle Bartholomew’s
activities.24 They are of the opinion that the modern Kalyan, in North
Konkan (near a suburb of Bombay) was a port of considerable importance
in ancient India and probably (according to Kalliana of Cosmos) was
the centre of Apostle Bartholomew’s activities. According to St Bede,
Apostle Bartholomew arrived at the place dressed as a sadhu, started
preaching in the chief temple of the city and performed many miracles. He
preached in the country and converted Polymius the king who ordered
removal of the idol of Astaruth from the chief temple of the city. It is also
known that a bishop was sent from Jerusalem to India in 345 CE.
Unfortunately the church Bartholomew established did not have the same
good fortune as that of Apostle Thomas further south. No tradition of this
church is left or of the community.
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 95

The Early Christians in Malabar

Apostle Thomas during his ministry in South India founded Christian
communities in the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms. Unfortunately
the communities founded in the second and third kingdoms did not survive
long the attack of the enemies. The Chera king had a powerful ally in the
Christian merchants of Musiris who had extensive trade relations with the
West and the island of Ceylon. The Christians as a community became
allies of the Cheras. It is not certain whether the apostle gave the Indian
church a Dravidian or Syrian liturgy. However, it is to be noted that Adrian
Fortesque states that the Syrian rite is the first that we found formally
drawn up: liturgy of St James from which all other Syrian ones are derived.
The liturgy of the Church of Constantinople seems to be a modification of
the Syrian liturgy. It seems that the Apostle did not interfere with the
time-honoured customs of Indian congregations; they were allowed to follow
their own tradition in matters of dress and language. The only speciality
was the Christians were known as Nazranis, or followers of the Nazarene (a
term used in all government documents in Travancore and Cochin till quite
recently). The Apostle emphasized the need for the cross as the mark of a
Nazrani. So, in all probability Apostle Thomas must have given a simple
Dravidian theology which they could understand and follow.

The Early History of the Christian Community in India

There is very little documentary evidence about the early history of the
Christian community in India. So, one has to rely primarily on the tradition
of the community. The Portuguese have provided various versions regarding
the origin of the community of ancient Christians of India. One version is
that the original Christian community is entirely the fruit of the mission of
Apostle Thomas in Kerala. Another is that the community originated
from those people who were converted to the Christian faith on the
Coromandel Coast, and who later migrated to Kerala and settled down at
different places there. A third version continues the above two versions and
suggests that the community consisted of those converted in Kerala, and
those who migrated from the Coromandel Coast.
Whatever may be the causes, these people came into contact with
the East Syrian (Chaldean or Persian) Christians, probably from the 4th
or 5th century. This is evident from the traditions of St Thomas Christians
96 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

recorded by the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries as well as by

other later western writers. Two events reveal the connection between the
two: first, the arrival of a group of East-Syrian Christians under the
leadership of K’nai Thomman (Thomas of K’nai), and second, the arrival
of another such group together with Mar Sapor and Mar Aphrod. The
contact with the East Syrians introduced a new element into the
composition of the group, and it formed a constituent part of the
St Thomas Christians. Current research suggests the original communities
were almost all Dravidians, and they had very high social status, a
consequence of the services the community rendered to the Kerala rulers
and society in trade, agriculture and military service. To a certain extent
the Persian connection was beneficial to the Kerala Christians in so far as
it introduced some connection between this small Christian community
and the larger Christian world. There are many who consider this
relationship compromised the independence, local character and the
spontaneous growth of the original community with its Indian Christian
pattern of thought, worship and lifestyle. This contact led the Indian
Christians to a life not in one world but in two worlds at the same time.
On the one hand the Kerala Christians lived in the geographical, political,
social, cultural environment of Kerala, and at the same time the
ecclesiastical world of Persia, which is to some extent an artificial, unnatural
kind of existence. The central element of the Kerala Christians seemed
foreign in a country which possessed a rich culture, philosophy and
religious thought. Some writers classified it as Hindu (Indian) in culture,
Christian in religion and Syro-Oriental in worship.
The ancient St Thomas Christians of Kerala led a unique lifestyle which,
to some extent, reflected the pattern of the Persian Christians. In their
socio-cultural context, Indian Christians were not different from their Hindu
neighbours. Those Indian Christians emerged as peers of the higher classes,
especially the Nayars; they had acquired the Hindu way of life and good
neighbourly relations with them, and they integrated well with the socio-
cultural environment. In church structure they have the yogam or church
assembly at the local level and there is the Archdeacon, who appears to
have been the national leader of the community, and holds a unique position
characteristic of the Kerala society. The Kerala society was a multi-coloured
fabric woven through centuries with Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist, Jewish,
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 97

Christian and Islamic elements co-existing without losing their identity or

distinctive character.25
The social and socio-ecclesiastical life seen in the life of St Thomas Christians
before the arrival of the Portuguese reflects a unique Christian vision of
community. Their long encounter with Hindus helped them to develop a
Christian vision of other faiths. Although St Thomas Christians generally
followed the East-Syrian pattern of worship, it seems that they had certain
forms of local accommodation. This is seen in the social rites of baptism,
marriage and burial of the dead, for example. There were a number of Indian
local social practices common to Hindus and Christians. The arrival of
Portuguese in 1599 created a new scene, and the St Thomas Christians came
into contact with a new world, that of western Europe. The Christian
community reacted, as discussed in the next chapter.

The First Syrian Christian Colony

The 4th century was a time of persecution of Christians in Persia under
Sapor II and his son. The first immigration of a large colony of Christians
in Persia to Malabar is believed to have taken place during his period, and
tradition speaks of the arrival of Thomas of K’nai or K’nai Thoma and his
group in Kodungallur (Cranganore) on the Malabar Coast in South India
in 345 CE. This epoch-making event in the 4th century put Indian
Christianity on a firm footing. Whatever may have been the cause of this
migration, persecution at home or otherwise, their arrival raised the
strength and prestige of the Malabar Church. The history of the
persecution of Sapor II and his son, which lasted for more than 35 years,
beginning in 338 CE, records the martyrdom of 16,000
Persian Christians. Thomas of K’nai suggested the colonization. His party
included a bishop, four priests and several deacons, and laymen, women
and children. The first Syrian colony of Christian families representing
seven tribes or clans landed at Cranganore and was cordially welcomed
by Cheraman Perumal, the then ruler of Malabar.
Thomas secured high privileges for the Christian community from the
ruler who granted them a piece of land there to the extent of 264 elephant
cubits. They also received other special privileges—remission of certain
taxes, and lordship over certain classes of low caste artisans. These privileges
were inscribed on copper plate sasanam and handed over to Apostle Thomas
98 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

on Saturday 29 Kumbham (February – March) 345 CE. Some western

writers have assigned the period of this colonization to the 8th or the 9th
century; but the tradition maintained by the Syrians is certainly 345 CE.
Furthermore, the arrival of Thomas of K’nai and his followers was at a
time when the Malabar Church had no ecclesiastical ruler. Mundadan
refers to Jesuit Dionsio as saying that ‘it was consequent on the arrival of
Thomas of K’nai that the Christians in Malabar accepted the rites of the
Syrian Church’.26 But one should bear in mind that this was not a complete
acceptance of the Syrian rites and ceremonies although it was the beginning
of Syrian influence on the liturgical life and practice of the Indian Church.
The native Christians were delighted to have foreigners as patrons and
benefactors and placed themselves under their patronage.
Realizing the advantage of having a colony of able foreigners well
known for their commercial capabilities, and who commanded respect in
the commercial market of the world, the Perumal treated them with respect
and great deference. The Perumal allotted for their residence a suburb
of Musiris, which they named Mahadevar Pattanam or the City of the
Great God and in course of time this place became the second most
important city of the kingdom to Tiruvanchikulam where the Perumal
himself had his residence. Thomas of K’nai’s vast resources and personal
capacity won for him many honours from the Perumal, and he became a
trusted adviser of the Perumal. He was given the monopoly of inland and
foreign trade; hence he and descendants were given the title Perum Chetty,
‘Great Merchant’. They were also known as Ravi Kartan ‘Lord Sun’ or
Iravi Kartan. The Syrians and Malabar Christians entered into matrimonial
alliances and merged into a single community. Thomas of K’nai himself
married a lady from Malabar.
There is a Syrian Christian tradition stating that there existed an
independent Christian kingdom of Malabar called Valliarvattam, and their
kings ruled for several centuries till it was ceded to Diamper as the
Valliarvattam king died without a male child. It seems that the first
Valliarvattam king was a converted relative of the Rajah of Diamper and
according to the laws of succession Valliarvattam left without a male heir
had to merge into Cochin. However, the Syrians preserved the royal emblem
of Valliarvattam and presented them to Vasco da Gama on his arrival in
Cochin as a token of their friendship and regard for the King of Portugal.
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 99

An Arabian traveller visiting Malabar in the 9th century mentions a

‘Christian Emir living near Cranganore’.
The second immigration is in the 9th century (823 CE) and the
tradition states that the immigrants rebuilt the town of Quilon in
825 CE. The contemporary evidence of this event is available in five copper
plates, which are still in existence: three in the church centre, Devalokam
Catholicate Palace of the Orthodox Church at Kottayam and two with
the Mar Thoma Sabah Office at Tiruvalla. These copper plates contain
records of royal grants made to the Christians in Quilon by the king. In
the light of these royal grants there emerges a good position of their
community. Stephen Neill said,
The Christians are clearly a well-established community, accepted and highly
respected. The granting of responsibility for the weights and measures is an unusual
sign of confidence; it may indicate that the immigrants had a higher level of
mathematical and commercial competence than the Indians among whom they
had settled.27
There are some other inscriptions and monuments surviving from this
period, which speak of the connection between these two churches. The
monuments consist of five carved stone crosses (known as the St Thomas
Cross), which have been discovered in South India, the first at St Thomas
Mount, near Madras, another at Kottayam, among other places in Kerala.
These ‘Persian crosses’ are dated the 7th or 8th century.28

The Relation of the St Thomas Christians

to Syrian Christianity till 1599
Though small in number, the St Thomas Christian community in the first
two centuries was not completely isolated from fellow Christians in
Alexandria or Persia. But we have no evidence of any ecclesiastical relationship
which St Thomas Christians entered into with the church of Alexandria,
except the visit of Pantaneus. One may wonder why the St Thomas Christians
came to establish a relationship with Persia and not with the church in
Alexandria. Possibly it may be because both East Syria and India claimed
Thomas as their apostle. Eusebius of Caesarea mentions the presence of a
bishop from Persia at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, and in the list of
bishops who signed the decrees of the Council as mentioned by Gelasius,
there is one ‘John the Persian, on behalf of the churches in the whole of
100 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Persia and the great India’. A M Mundadan accepts the Gelasian list as
‘genuine and authentic’.29 The episcopal hierarchy of the East Syrian Church
was fully organized in 410 CE, when the bishopric of Rewardastir was
elevated to a metroplitanate and given jurisdiction over India. This
arrangement continued till the 7th century when patriarch Isho-Yahb II
(628-643 CE) appointed a metropolitan for India separately.30
We get a glimpse of the relationship between the two churches in the
Christian Topography of Cosmos Indicopleustes (the Indian Navigator), which
was written about 547 CE. Although his book is essentially controversial,
especially in its teaching about the fulfilment of prophecy and the expansion
of the church throughout the world,31 his account speaks of Christian
communities in Ceylon, Malabar, Kaliana, and Socotra with bishops
appointed from Persia. Owing to this Persian connection, some western
writers such as L W Brown have drawn the wrong conclusion that the
Indian church was a daughter church of the Persian Church and the early
churches were connected with the colonies of foreign traders. In addition
to the ecclesiastical relationship that had been established with the Persian
church, there were at least two important waves of migration, one in the
4th and other in the 9th centuries.
There is very little recorded information available about the Indian
church till the 16th century. But there is one fact which emerges from
this period. It is in connection with the church of the East. The Indian
church was not an autonomous one; it received its bishops from the
East Syrian Church and its ecclesiastical language was Syriac. The church
in the East suffered severe persecution in the 4th century. However, in
the 5th century, there was a slight improvement. Christians were allowed
to exist as a tolerated minority. Later, in the Middle Ages, as a result of
the Crusades between Muslims and Christians and the Mogolian invasion,
the church was increasingly weakened. However, Christians in Malabar
were not affected by these cataclysms.32
There is a Syrian Christian tradition in Malabar that during some
part of the time between 9th and 16th century, their community enjoyed
a certain independence of the Hindu rajahs. According to E M Philip,
they had a ruler in the 10th century, called Belliarte (Valliarvattam) at
Udayamperur (Diamper) who ruled over the Christian communities
dispersed among the neighbouring states. It is said that this ruling family
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 101

continued for a long time until, on its becoming extinct, its powers passed
to the Rajah of Cochin. Pope John XXII in a letter written in 1330 to the
Christians of Malabar refers to their ‘lord’ (Latin dominus), and in 1502
an embassy sent by them to the Portuguese produced a red rod with
silver tips, and three silver belts at the end, presumably the sceptre of
their former kings.33
From the late 13th century western (Roman) church emissaries and
lay European travellers began to appear in India. It is the Roman popes
who took the initiatives and sent friars (Latin Fratres, ‘brethren’), lay members
of the mendicant orders of sannyasis, founded earlier by St Francis of Assisi
and St Dominic. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV founded a Society of Wayfarers
for Christ. Some of them came to or passed through India and their narratives
give a few scraps of information about Christianity in India.
John of Monte Corvino, a Franciscan who passed through India in
1292 on his way to China where he remained for thirteen months, mentions
of the existence of the St Thomas Christians, and he baptized about 100
persons.34 In 1321, another mission of friars came to India consisting of
four Franciscans—Thomas of Tolentino, James of Padua, Peter of Siena and
Demetrius of Tiflis—and landed at Thana on Salsette Island at the head of
Bombay harbour. They became martyrs in India. A Dominican friar, a
Frenchman called Jourdain Catalani de Severae who came with the four
Franciscans, worked in Thana for two and a half years. On his return to
Europe, Pope John XXII consecrated him Bishop of Quilon and he returned
to India in 1330. He, along with his helpers must have baptized 10,000 or
more Christians and non-Christians to the Roman form of Christianity.35
In 1324 another Franciscan Odorc of Pordenone on his way to China visited
India where the martyrs of Thana were buried. About twenty-four years
later another Franciscan, John de Marignolli, called at Quilon on his return
from China (1348) and stayed there for four months. There he found a
church of the Latin communion and he ‘taught the holy law’ to a number
of them. He seems to have been the last of the friars to visit India prior to
the arrival of Portuguese; but there were laytravellers from Europe before
and after him.
Marco Polo was one who came to India on his way back from China in
1292 or 1293 and probably on his return journey about four years earlier.36
Nicholas de Conte visited India sometime between 1425 and 1430; his
102 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

information is almost entirely of the shrine of Thomas at ‘Malpuria’. He

added that the Nestorians were scattered all over India, and that the
community was a minority one, long enough settled in the country to be
reckoned indigenous.37 Though the main concentration of Syrian Christians
was in Malabar, it was possible that smaller groups of Nestorians existed in
other parts of India, which have not survived to the present.
At the end of the 15th century there was shortage of bishops in the
country. In 1490, two Indian Christians went to Mar Simeon, Patriarch of
the East, and requested him to send bishops to India, which had been
without bishops for a long time. 38 Two bishops, Mar Thoma and
Mar John, came to India with the two priests who had gone to the Patriarch,
and who were ordained by the Patriarch. Mar Thoma returned leaving
Mar John in India. The Patriarch subsequently sent more bishops. These
used to send regular reports of activities of the church. The chief centres of
activity of the bishops were Cranganore, Palayur and Quilon, and there
were about 30,000 church families living in prosperity and security.39
The Syrian Christians were a proud and prosperous people who had won
for themselves good standing in society. One sees that the Christians of the
time were a minority community, dependent on non-Christian princes.
Ecclesiastically they had to depend on the East Syrian Patriarch and bishops
from overseas. The church had not developed with an ecclesiastical
organization or an ecclesiastical language of its own. Basically, they were
left as sheep without their own shepherd.

Indian Christianity Beyond

Malabar and Coromandel Coast
The extent of Christianity was not limited to Kerala and the
Coromandel Coast. No doubt, as mentioned earlier in this book, the
gospel was first preached in the kingdom of Gundaphorus in the north-
west of India and in the neighbouring places, and then in Malabar and
on the Coromandel Coast. Apostle Bartholomew was in Kalyan near
Bombay. The first Christians were Jewish converts and the gospel spread
to other communities in India notably among the Namboothiri Brahmins
in the south. There were a few migrations of Persian Christians, especially
the two important ones already mentioned in the 4th and 9th centuries.
According to Mingana, the 5th century opens with an Indian church
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 103

which was developed to the point where it was able to send priests to be
educated in the best schools of the East Syrian Church, and to assist the
doctors of the church in the revision of the ancient Syriac translations of
the Pauline epistles.40
Cosmos from the 6th century in his Topography speaks of Christians in
Bombay, Malabar and Ceylon. According to Mingana, Cosmos’s statement
‘proves the existence of numerous Christian communities among the Central
Asian people and India’. 41 In India it was confined to North India, or
Malabar or Coromandel; it includes ‘the rest of the Indians’. In the
7th century, when the Nestorian Patriarch, Isho-Yahb II (650-660 CE)
wrote to Simeon, the Metropolitan of Riwardashir, admonished him for
‘closing the door of the Episcopal ordination in the face of many peoples of
India’, and he speaks of India as a country ‘that extends from the borders of
the Persian Empire, to the country, which is called Kalah, which is a distance
of one thousand and two hundred parasangas’.42
John Stewart observes that there were strong Christian communities
all over the continent as ‘with so many centres of influence it would have
been strange if Christian merchants and missionaries from those different
centres have not penetrated the passes leading into India from the north
and north-west, bringing their faith with them’.43 So he believes that there
is a solid ground for a fairly large Christian community to have existed in
North India from very early times.
Some of these Christian communities continued to exist in North India
in the medieval period. John Stewart points out that in Witsch’s
Geography and Statistics of the Church, Patna is mentioned as a seat of a
metropolitan in 1222. Marco Polo states that there were in central India
six great kings and kingdoms, and three of these were Christians and three
Saracens. According to MarcoPolo, Apostle Thomas preached in this region
and, after he had converted the people, went to the province of Malabar.
John Stewart says that Abder-Razzak, who visited India in 1442, mentioned
that the Vizier of Vijaynager in The Deccan was a Christian, his name
being Nimch-Pesier.44 Nicolo Conti, a Venetian merchant from Italy, visited
India in the 15th century, and he wrote that he visited Mylapore where he
found 1000 Nestorians and these Nestorians were scattered all over India
as the Jews among them.45 Although it is difficult to ascertain the veracity
of the above statements, all these pieces of information, however scanty
104 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

these may have been, set a pointer that there were scattered communities
of St Thomas Christians in different parts of the country.
E R Hambye, a Roman Catholic historian writes:
The majority of its faithful was confined to Kerala, more precisely between
Cranganore in the north and Quilon in the south. Syrian Christian communities
were scattered along the west coast, in Goa, Saimur (Chaul), Thana, Sopara, Gujarat
and Sind. The east of Mylapore had also such a Christian community close to the
St Thomas shrine. It should also be noted that scores of stones marked with a cross
have been found on the southern slopes of the Nilgiris. This relatively wide,
though sparse, diffusion extended up to Kashmir where near Tenkse, on the
eastern side of Leh, rock inscriptions still bear witness to a settlement of
Syrian Christians which existed there around 800.46

The St Thomas Church Before the

Arrival of the Portuguese
The history of the Malabar Church up to the 15th century is obscure.
However, all agree that for a century (1490-1599 CE) the bishops sent by
the Nestorian Patriarchate (Church of the East) governed the church in
Malabar, because for several generations the Malabar Church had been
without a bishop. A delegation of three was sent to approach the prelates in
Baghdad (East Syrian/Nestorian). The East Syrian/Nestorian Patriarch
ordained two of them as priests, and sent two bishops to Malabar. It was
this East Syrian/Nestorian church which the Portuguese encountered on
their arrival. In the 16th and 17th centuries the rite of Syrian Christians
was Latinized, and the subsequent centuries, too, have not been free from
Latinization. In 1665 the groups that followed Mar Thoma I and
Mar Alexander Parambil followed the West Syrian/Antiochean and East
Syrian/Chaldean rites respectively, which is true today.47
The Orthodox Church in India is apostolic in origin, indigenous in
nature and character with its own Catholicate and Constitution; it is an
autonomous as well as autocephalous church. Until the 15th century, the
church had identified to a large extent with the church of Persia, with
the Church of Rome (1599-1653) and the West Syrian Church of Syria
(1665 -1912). Since then, the church has evolved a form of Christianity,
which is genuinely authentic and at the same time Indian and indigenous.
The history of the church in India, primarily the history of
St Thomas Christians, from the early centuries up to the 16th century, shows
that the church in Persia played a vital role in its growth and development.
The Indian Church to the 15th Century 105

The Persian Church used to send metropolitans, to train and strengthen its
clergy, edify and sustain their faith and promote ecclesiastical leadership to
the church in India. The middle of the 16th century saw the Portuguese in
India. From the 16th century, the Pope and the King of Portugal signed an
agreement known as padraodo, by which prelates in the regions under the
Portuguese in the East had to be jointly appointed, after mutual

op. cit., Indian Christian Directory, p 35.
P Thomas, Christians and Christianity in India and Pakistan: A General Survey of the
Progress of Christianity in India from the Apostolic Times to the Present Day, 1954, p 5.
A M Mundadan, History of Christianity in India, Vol I, From the Beginning up to the
Middle of the Sixteenth Century, p 23.
ibid, p 26.
J N Farquhar, Taken from Mundan Vol II, p 26.
C B Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History, Senate of Serampore and
The Christian Literature Society, Madras, 1960 p 3.
Mundadan, Sixteenth Century Traditions, 1970, pp 36-37.
ibid., p 29. Rabban Pattu is claimed to have been originally written by a disciple of
Apostle Thomas. The text we have now is a redaction of the original in modern language
by Thomas Ramban Malickal the forty-eighth priests of this family whose compound at
Niranam can still be seen today. The date of this later redacton is differently given as
1101, 1614 etc.
ibid., p 35.
Hippalus found that the safest course to proceed direct from the promontory of Syafrus
in Arabia (Cape Fartak) to Patale (Patala near Karachi in Pakistan) was with the west wind
(Favonius), which they call there, the Hippalus, a distance of 1,235miles. In the next
generation it was judged to be both safer and nearer to proceed from the same promontory
direct to Sigerus (probably Vizianagar), 120 miles south of Bombay, a port of India. They
began their navigation in the middle of summer, before the rising of the Dogstar, or
immediately after its appearance, and arrive in about 30 days at Ocelis in Arabia, or Cane
in the frankincense-bearing region. From thence they sailed with the wind called Hippalus
in 40 days to the first commercial station of India named Muziris (Kodungalloor). For
further details please refer to pp 2d 48-250 of Volume I of the book, ‘Malabar Manua’,
written by William Logan in January 1887; it is reprinted by the Asian Educational
Services, C 2/15 Safdarjang Development Area, New Delhi, 1989.
The Christian Encyclopaedia of India (STCEI – Vol II p 183.
G Banerjee, India As Known to the Ancient World, 1921, p 13.
‘Ports and Marts of Malabar: AD 50-150’, in The Journal of Indian History,Vol 26,
p 127 by T K Joseph.
C B Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History, p 14.
Hambye, ‘St Thomas’, p 374f, taken from Mundadan, p 62.
Brown, p 59 taken from Mundadan p 62.
Firth, p 17 taken from Mundadan p 63.
op. cit., Mundadan p 64.
op. cit., P Thomas p 15.
Quoted in Jerome, Apostles of India.
Henry Heras, S J, The Two Apostles.
op. cit., I C D, A M Mundadan, p 55.
op. cit., Mundadan, p 106.
Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India, p 46.
T V Philip, East of Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia p122.
op. cit., Mundadan Vol 1, p 79.
op. cit., T V Philip p 116.
ibid., p 117.
op. cit., Firth, p 35.
ibid, p 36.
ibid, p 38.
J N Oglivie, The Apostles of India, pp 68ff.
A E Medleykott, India and the Apostle Thomas, David Nutt, 1905, O P, p 93ff.
ibid, p 95.
From a Syrian source, translated by Mingana, pp 36ff.
op. cit., Firth p 45.
op. cit., Mingana p 459, taken from TV Philip, p 132: ‘In a precious Colophon to his
commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Isshodad writes as follows: This epistle has
been translated from Greek into Syriac by Mar Komai, with the help of Daniel, the priest,
the Indian.’
Ibid, p 462.
ibid, Mingana, p 464; Taken from Philip, p 123: ‘There is a considerable number of
bishops and priests in India whose sees and parishes were apparently scattered in the vast
country to the distance of one thousand and two hundred parasngas.’
John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: The Story of the Church on Fire p 85
ibid, p 192.
A E Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas, p 95.
H C Perumalil & E H Hambye (ed), Christianity in India, p 32.
ibid, p 54.
Cardinal E Tisserant, Eastern Christianity, p 37.

The Indian
Church, 16th to

18th Century

THE NEWLY RISEN maritime kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were the
pioneers in the exploration of the Seven Seas. Columbus worked on the
theory of the global earth and sailed westward to reach the East.
Bartholomew Diaz reached the southernmost part of Africa and named the
Cape of Good Hope. However, it was Vasco da Gama who realized the
hope of discovery of the Cape and, going round the Cape, he boldly struck
out into the Arabian Sea on 20 May 1498 and dropped anchor at Calicut,
the principal port on India’s west coast, under the dominion of Zamorin.
Zamorin, one of the allies of the Arabs, was suspicious, while the Rajah of
Cochin was eager to establish contact with the Portuguese. Probably the
Syrian Christians were the happiest, promptly sending ambassadors to
Vasco da Gama who himself was eager to establish good relations in what
to him was a strange land.

The Portuguese and The Indian Church

The first contacts were extremely cordial. In 1502 the Syrians presented
Vasco da Gama with the rod of justice of the extant Villiar Vattam dynasty
as a mark of their friendship. Clergy and missionaries of various Orders
came to India, and they found that St Thomas Christians followed the
Syrian rite and received bishops from western Asia. St Thomas Christians
discovered that their rites were different from that of the Portuguese whose

108 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

way of life was incompatible with Syrian notions of respectability and

canonical purity. A large number of the Portuguese settled down in the
ports of Goa, Calicut, Cochin and Cranganore. Their way of life became a
scandal to many respectable Indians, particularly such practices as the eating
of beef and pork, and the Portuguese soon were referred to as parangi,
unclean barbarians. However, the power of the Portuguese drove off the
Arabs, so that if the Indians wished to trade, they needed the permission of
the Portuguese.
The Portuguese did not believe that there was good in Hinduism or
Islam, and they were convinced that salvation lay only in a European Christ.
The Portuguese zeal for spreading Christianity was admired and blessed by
the popes. Pope Alexander VI intervened in the struggle for dominance
between the Spanish and Portuguese, dividing the world between them,
giving the Portuguese the East as their portion in colonial, commercial,
political and religious expansion. Pope Leo X in 1514 established the Padraodo
by which the Portuguese obtained certain ecclesiastical rights over the
Christians and churches in the East. With this agreement, the prelates in
the regions under the Portuguese in the East had to be jointly appointed
after mutual consultation.1
The Franciscans and Dominicans were the pioneers in missionary work
in Portuguese India, and they succeeded in bringing the majority of people
under their control under Christian influence. Their work extended to
Cochin, Cranganore and along the coast as far as Mylapore. Francis Xavier
(1506-1552) was undoubtedly the greatest of all the missionaries Europe
has sent to India. He landed in Goa on 6 May 1542 and before leaving
Europe obtained from King John of Portugal a letter highly recommending
him to the Viceroy and asking him to give full support to the missionaries.
He was known as ‘the Apostle of the Indies’. He made Goa his headquarters
and visited Travancore, Malacca (Malayaa), the Moluccas (the East Indies)
Ceylon and Japan.
Throughout the 16th century, relations between the Portuguese and
Indian churches were tangled and tortuous. The crisis came in the
year 1599 with the arrival of Alexio de Menezes as the Archbishop of Goa.
He was determined to bring all Christians everywhere under the authority
of the Pope, and the Thomas Christians in particular under his authority as
the Pope’s representative in the East.
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 109

The Synod of Diamper & the Coonan Cross

Menezes summoned a synod of the entire church at Udayamperur
(Diamper) on 20 June 1599. Reform decrees were carefully prepared by
Menezes to replace local by Roman customs; they were passed and signed
by all present. With these decrees, the ancient Church of
St Thomas Christans, as an independent church, had simply ceased to
exist. 2 The Portuguese domination of the Syrian church continued for
half a century, controlling them with an iron fist. The disappointed Syrians
were roused to such a fury that they broke into revolt. Gathering in a
large crowd outside the church at Mattancheri (Cochin), they swore an
oath on the stone cross there, called the Coonen Kurusu (or ‘Crooked
Cross’), that they would no longer be subject to the Jesuits’ archbishop.
As all those present could not reach the cross, ropes were tied to it and
the people held the ropes and so took the oath. This famous event took
place on 3 January, 1653.3 This led to the division of the Syrian church
into two sections: those who returned to the former Syrian rite and those
who accepted the Latinization process of the Portuguese.

The Malabar Church (1663-1716)

The period from 1663 to 1716 CE was one of great confusions in the life of
the church of St Thomas Christians. Until the end of the 16th century,
St Thomas Christians had a hierarchical relation with the Chaldean Church,
and they enjoyed an autonomous status with its Indo-Oriental individuality,
which was quite distinct from that of all other churches. The bishop of the
church was called the Metropolitan and Door of All-India,4 but the effective
administration was in the hands of the archdeacon who was a native priest.
The St Thomas Christians used the East Syrian liturgy with certain
modifications to suit the special circumstances of the country. They enjoyed
socio-political status on par with the high caste non-Christians.
When the Portuguese arrived in India in the 16th century, the
St Thomas Christians welcomed them as brethren in faith. In 1599 the
then metropolitan See of Angamaly was reduced to a bishopric under
Goa and was placed under Portugal under the padraodo system on 4 August
1600. (Although in 1608 its archiepiscopal status was restored, its title
was changed to the See of Cranganore.) This system, as already mentioned,
110 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

involves Christian territories being placed under the protection of the

Portuguese king. It has its origin with the popes themselves.
Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) in a papal bull on 18 June 1452 granted
to the kings of Portugal the power to conquer the kingdoms of
‘Mahommedans and pagans’, and to possess temporal goods; and it
insisted on the spread of the kingdom of God among the conquered. Two
years later, the same Pope in another bull declared that the lands already
discovered or to be discovered would belong to the kings of Portugal in
perpetuity, but they should pledge themselves in all places, islands and
territories, already acquired or to be acquitted, to build churches,
monasteries and other religious foundations and to send missionaries. In
1485, Pope Calixtus III confirmed the Bull of Pope Nicholas.5
So the kings of Portugal became the colonial patrons of the churches in
the missionary areas, and their missionary task was obligatory. At the same
time, they were conferred with many privileges. Although the missionary
patronage was useful at the beginning, later it was more a hindrance than a
help. The colonization attitude of the Portuguese created tensions and
trouble, hindering the progress of missionary activity. It became necessary
for the church to liberate missionary activity from any sort of dependence
upon the civil power. On 6 January 1622, Pope Gregory XI (1621-23)
founded a new organ, The Propaganda Fide, to direct the missionary activities
of the church. The missionary patronage of Portugal and Spain inevitably
led to confrontation with the civil powers. The Propaganda protested and
decreed in 1631 that the missionaries of all religious orders be granted free
access to the mission by any route they desired to take. The Portuguese
king continued to override pontifical documents that interfered with his
control. On several occasions Propaganda protested against this practice
and issued decrees stating the documents of the Holy See did not require
the approval of the king in order to be binding in all matters concerning
the church’s mission. The Propaganda favoured the direct appointments of
the bishops by the Holy See.
The middle of the 17th century saw the collapse of the Portuguese
monopoly in the East. The new colonists, the Dutch and the English,
captured many of the Portuguese territories resulting in diminished royal
patronage in those territories in which Portuguese still retained actual
temporal power. The Propaganda sent vicars apostolic endowed with
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 111

Episcopal authority to non-Portuguese territories. The King of Portugal

protested against such appointments. The Propaganda did not want to
offend the king, so it issued a document in 1680 that the institution of
apostolic vicariate neither violated the provisions of the king nor curtailed
the jurisdiction of the padraodo bishops under it because the vicars were
not appointed to the territories occupied by the Portuguese. This position
resulted in double jurisdiction (Padraodo and Propaganda) in Malabar. By
1663 the monopoly of the Portuguese over Malabar was in full decline and
the Propaganda continued to appoint apostolic vicars for those who were
not under the Portuguese jurisdiction.
On 1st January 1663, the Dutch captured Cochin and the Portuguese
stronghold on the Malabar coast. The Dutch destroyed the churches in the
city except St Francis Assisi Church and ordered all priests and religious
except four or five Franciscans to leave Cochin at once. Sebastini,
the Carmelite Apostolic commissary tried several times to obtain permission
to remain in Malabar as the work of the Carmelites was purely religious in
nature, but failed. So, before leaving Malabar, Sebastini convened at
Kaduthurithi an assembly of the representatives of the churches and all
assembled unanimously proposed Alexander Parampil, the vicar of
Kuravilengad as the bishop. Alexander Parampil was consecrated as the
titular bishop of Megara and vicar apostolic of Angamaly.6
This election was a silver lining for the Malabar church. There was
relative peace during the first few years, and the new bishop governed the
church with the favour of the Dutch and the help of the Carmelites. Poverty,
old age, and ignorance of Latin and Portuguese added to the bishop’s
problem. In order to remedy these handicaps, Bishop Alexander requested
the Propaganda to appoint a coadjutor to him from the community. But
the Carmelites elected Raffael Figuerado de Salgado, a priest of Portuguese
origin. The friendly relationship of the Carmelites with Bishop Raffael
did not last long. Bishop Alexander died on 2 January 1687, and the St
Thomas Christians hoped in vain to be governed by their own bishops.
This situation continued till 1896 when the Propaganda entrusted the
Malabar church with native vicars. Bishop Joseph Cariattil who was
appointed Archbishop of Cranganore had died in Goa before reaching
Malabar. The Carmelites had complained about Raffael, and on the basis
of the report the Congregation suspended Bishop Raffael in 1694 and
112 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

appointed Bishop Custodius Pinho in his place. But Bishop Custodius

Pinho did not come to Malabar and Bishop Raffael died on 12 October
1695 before the order of his suspension reached him.
On 1 April 1698 the Carmelites obtained permission from the Dutch
for a European bishop and a few missionaries to work in Malabar.
Pope Immanuel XII on 2 February 1700 appointed Francis of St Theresa
Vicar Apostolic of Malabar until the Archbishop of Cranganore and the
Bishop of Cochin could personally occupy their respective dioceses. As this
appointment was considered a violation of the right of the King of Portugal,
no Portuguese archbishop would consecrate Angelus Francis. So they sought
the help of an Eastern Syrian bishop, Simon of Ado, who consecrated
Angelus Francis on 22 March 1701 at Alangatt (Mangat). Although the
Jesuits censured the consecration because the consecrator was suspected of
Nestorianism, the Propaganda declared that the consecration was valid and
licit and that Simon was in communion with Rome.
On 5 December 1701, following the nomination by the King of
Portugal, Pope Clement XI appointed John Roberiro S J as Archbishop of
Cranganore, and he was consecrated on 29 July 1703. On 29 June 1704,
when the Vicar Apostolic returned from governing the St Thomas Christians,
the archbishop took possession of the See of Cranganore. But he was unable
to have access in his archdiocese due to the reluctance of St Thomas Christians
to accept a Jesuit bishop and also the opposition of the Dutch and the local
kings to the Portuguese. So he had to move to the territory of Zamorin of
Calicut outside the area of Dutch conquest. In the light of the difficulties,
Pope Clement XI, on 13 March 1709, sent a papal brief to Vicar Apostolic
Angelus Francis to extend his jurisdiction over areas where the respective
bishops of Cranganore and Cochin were impeded from exercising the
jurisdiction. He received this on 17 December 1711 and started his second
round of administration. However, he was unable to minister in the Malabar
church for long and died on 17 October 1712.7
The period, which is narrated above, is a very significant one in the
history of St Thomas Christians, and it has later repercussions. Plenty of
confusion set it, which certainly stunted the growth of the Malabar church.
Probably the present division in the church of St Thomas Christians into
various denominations has its root causes in this period.
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 113

Catholicism and the Indian Church

The Latin Catholic Church
The Catholic Church in India is a combination of three individual churches:
Latin Christians, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara.
There are various views on the origin of the Latin Rite Christians in
India. One view is that they are the descendents of converts made in the
last four centuries since the Portuguese landed in India, and they have
never used the Syro-Rite.8 Naga Aiya reacted strongly against this view.9
There are at present three opinions regarding the Kerala Christians. One
is that the nucleus of these Christians was formed already in the first half
of the 16th century and they adopted the Latin Rite.10 The second view
is that during the period what followed the Synod of Diamper especially
the Coonan Cross Oath, a few churches of St Thomas Christians were
brought under the Latin diocese of Cochin. The third group of writers
was of the opinion that no substantial number of St Thomas Christians
ever became Latin.
Latin Christianity is the same as Roman Christianity or Papal Christianity.
It originated in India in 1291 when Franciscan John of Monte Corvino
baptized more than 100 people in and around Mylapore. The Latin Church
in India, particularly on the coast of Quilon, has been present since the 9th
century. A group led by Sabrisho and Mar Prot visited Quilon in 813/25 CE
on 910 CE. By tradition, they were considered responsible for the welfare of
the church and community of Quilon.11 However, only in the 13th century
did the Western missionaries effectively revive the work of evangelization.
The Western records of Franciscans and Dominicans contain evidence of early
Latin missions in India at Mylapore and Quilon. John Montecorvino,
Jordan Catalani and John Marignolin were some of the outstanding
personalities. Montecorvina, a Franciscan, stayed at Mylapore in 1292 and
other places on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Catalani of Sevrac, a
Dominican, was the first resident Roman Catholic missionary in India.
The first instance of conversion of a Hindu occurred at Calicut
(Kozhikode) in 1500.12 Four Franciscan friars took up more systematic
evangelization, and they erected a Franciscan friary of Cochin in 1523. The
nucleus of the Christians in Cochin town comprised the Portuguese and
the converts of those classes of people who were in direct contact with the
114 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Portuguese. A few converts from the high caste began occurring at the time
of Alfonsa Albuquerque. Albuquerque encouraged intermarriage between
the Portuguese settlers and women of Indian origin. Many women sought
baptism in order to be able to marry Portuguese soldiers. Serious
consideration was given to the conversion of the Hindu caste, the nayars.
But the Raja of Cochin was opposed to conversion. They lost their caste on
conversion, and they were considered outcaste and untouchable. The
opposition of the rulers of Cochin went on with any appreciable change.
However, long before that the Arayan of Cochin who was a sort of a chief
port officer of the raja was converted to Christianity together with his whole
clan numbering about 1,000 members.13 His conversion made the arayans
of the neighbouring ports think of accepting Christianity. The new
community of Cochin was very dependent upon the benevolence of the
Portuguese for almost everything.
Pope John XXII (1326-34) made Quilon a cathedral church on
9 August 1329, and nominated Jordan Catalalin as the first Latin bishop
of Quilon. His See comprised all the medieval mission regions of India and
South East Asia. The Franciscan John Marignoli, who had come as a Papal
Legate to the East, on his return journey, stayed at Quilon for a few months.
A new epoch of Roman Catholic influence started with the arrival of
Vasco da Gama in Calicut on 9 May 1542. Portuguese missionaries
converted thousands on the south coast of Kochi. Under the influence of
Alfonso de Albuquerque, the ruler of Kochi permitted conversion. Goa
was also not unknown to Christianity before the arrival of the Portuguese.
Ibu Batuta in 1341 refers to Christian settlements in the neighbourhood
of Goa. In l526 a whole village in Goa was converted. During the civil
war that broke out between the Paravas and Muslims, the Portuguese
held the territory of the former. As a result, 20,000 of them embraced
The arrival of Francis Xavier in 1542 CE created a new impetus to
Roman Catholic missionary activities. He worked among the Paravas,
converted many at Tuticorin, and founded a number of churches in Goa.
He also worked in Bassein for some time before landing in Kochi in
1548 CE with the sole purpose of bringing back the Christians from
Nestoianism. Xavier established a seminary at Kochi and another at Kollam.
The following year, the Raja of Tanur became a Christian. A new jurisdiction
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 115

of the Portuguese padraodo was introduced in the field of mission. Cochin

and Goa became two main Portuguese settlements in the 16th century.
The city of Goa erected a suffragon to Lisbon and it was raised to
archbishopric level by Pope Paul IV on 4 February 1558, with Cochin and
Malacca being its suffragons.
One of the important things the Latin Church, particularly
Bishop Alexio de Menezes, wanted was to stamp out the very roots of the
idea of ‘independent of Rome’ wherever it was seen to exist. With this goal
in mind, he organized the Synod of Diamper in 1599 CE. The Pope
congratulated Menezes and the Christians for acknowledging the Roman
Pontiff as the common Father of the whole church. After the Synod of
Daimper, the old Syrian Church was thoroughly reformed into a Romish
church. Great progress was made in various centres in Goa, Salsette, Bassein,
Bombay, Mylapore and Nagapattanam. In 1606, Pope Paul V erected the
Diocese of St Thomas, Mylapore. De Nobili established his mission
throughout such areas as Trichinopoly, Dindigal and Tanjore. The
Augustinians established their first house at Hoogly in 1599. By the end of
the 16th century, the Jesuits had founded a number of churches at Agra,
Delhi, Lahore and Patna.
The pledge of Coonan Cross on 3 June 1663, resulting in the division
of the church into Latin, Romeo-Syrian and Jacobites, and the revolt against
Jesuits led to Rome’s despatch of a team of Carmaelites under Fr Sebastin.
The Archbishop Thomas de Campo and his supporters were determined to
disrobe the archbishop. In 1659, Sebastian became the first Vicar Apostolic
of Malabar. For about two centuries the Carmelites had governed the Latin
and Romo-Syrians. When the Dutch expelled the Jesuits and the Carmelites,
Bishop Sebastin consecrated Alexander De Campo as the Vicar Apostolic
on 31 January 1663.
The foundation of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide by
Pope Gregory XV on 6 June 1662 introduced a new epoch into the history
of the mission. Propaganda Fide constituted three apostolic vicariates and
a prefecture in India in the 17th century. The beginning of a Vicariate of
Malacca in 1657 was one of the important ecclesiastical units, which
comprised both Syrian and Latin Catholics. Pope Leo XIII made a new
concordat with Portugal regarding the territories under padraodo.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, there has been a resolution of church
116 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

governance issues. But they had to face innumerable problems. The period
of 1819-86 is known as the period of schism, confrontation and reform.
The indigenous clergy opposed the imposition of discipline by a Western
bishop, and the Pope was forced to recall him. His successor Francis Xavier,
too, had to face schism from the Goan priests. According to the Concordat
of 1886, Pope Leo XIII regularized the claims of padraodo and Propaganda,
and a new hierarchy for the whole of India was established. In the same
year all the vicariates were raised to the rank of dioceses, and six of them
(Agra, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Pondicherry and Verapoli) were made
archdioceses, forming with the archdiocese of Goa seven ecclesiastical
provinces. Many dioceses have been erected since then, and in 1958 there
were 15 archdioceses and 47 dioceses.14 In view of Indian independence,
in 1950 the Portuguese renounced its rights of nomination ordinaries of
Mangalore, Quilon, Trichinopoly, Cochin, Mylapore and Bombay. The
bishops of Cochin and Mylapore were transferred to the titular Sees in the
following year. In 1953, a cardinal was erected from Bombay. The Pope in
1987 declared that the bishops of each of the three rites have the right to
establish their own ecclesiastical regulations. The three ritual Episcopal
bodies are: Conference if Catholic Bishops’ in India (CCBI) for the Latin
Rite, Syro-Malabar Bishops’ synod and Syro-Malankara Bishops’ Conference.
There are also at present 12 regional Bishops’ Councils.

The Syro-Malabar (Roman) Catholic Church

The name ‘Syro-Malabar Church’ was given by Rome to the
St Thomas Christians in the last quarter of the 19th century. This is a
church probably founded in 52 CE by Thomas, an apostle of Jesus. Tradition
holds the view that Apostle Thomas had established Christian pockets in
seven places, viz., Kodungallur, Palayur, Kottakav, Kokkamangalam,
Niranom, Kollam and Nilakkal.
From 10th century BCE, the Jews had business dealings with these
coastal regions and there were synagogues and colonies for the Jews in some
of those places. Aramaic was the trade language, which had been the
official language of the Persian Empire from 5th century BC. The St Thomas
Christians were known by different names, Mar Thoma Nazarani, Nazarani
(Catholics) and Syrian (Catholics). Syriac was their liturgical language. A
special feature of St Thomas Christians is that while they followed the
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 117

liturgy of the Syrian churches of Eastern rites, at the same time they kept
up their loyalty to the Holy See. They retained hierarchical relationship
with the East Syrian Church while at the same time maintaining their own
administrative system. The head of the community was the local priest
leader called archdeacon who had wide powers. The bishops of the church
came from the East Syrian Church and they were mainly connected with
spiritual affairs. So they had three distinct characteristics: their faith was
Christianity in common with the universal church, with the Pope as its
head; their liturgy was of that of the East Syrian Church; and their culture
was purely Indian. They governed the church through the palliyogam and
synod as was characteristic of oriental churches.
Things took a turn for the worse with the arrival of the Portuguese
missionaries in the first half of the 16th century who began to interfere
with the padraodo agreement with the Holy See. They held the view that
Indian Christianity was heresy and schism and wanted to introduce the
Latin customs and Latin manner of ecclesiastical administration. They also
wanted the Indian Church to sever their connection with the East Syrian
Church, which according to them was the source of heresy and schism.
They soon sowed seeds of disunity and division in the Indian Church,
which led to further divisions over a period of time. The present Syro-
Malabar Church is only a shadow of the ancient Indian church of St Thomas.
When the Portuguese missionaries arrived in India in 1498 there
were only St Thomas Christians. Initially Syrian Christians were friendly
to the Portuguese missionaries; this did not last long. Owing to certain
differences, primarily in the liturgy, the relationship became strained,
and a dangerous tension ensued. Alex Menezes, a Spanish Augustinian,
the Archbishop of Goa convoked the Synod of Diamper in order to settle
the supposed theological and liturgical differences. But it did not improve
the situation. An open rebellion by the Syrians against Archbishop Garcia
of Cochin led to the famous Coonan Kurusu Oath in Mattancherry on
3 January 1653.
The Carmelite Mission was originally attached to the
Syrian Christians. However, in the last quarter of the 19th century, Rome
thought that the moment of judicial separation of the Syrians had arrived,
and Monsignor Marcelline was the last Carmelite who ruled over the
Syrians. The Propaganda Congregation erected for St Thomas Christians
118 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

the two apostolic vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam in 1887, and in

1896 the Holy See redistributed the Thomas Christians into three vicariates
under the Propaganda, viz., Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry. In
1911 a new vicariate apostolic was created at Kottayam for the Southists
who were in the Vicariate of Kottayam and Changanacherry.
With the elevation of indigenous prelates, the St Thomas Christians
made enormous progress in all directions, and the Holy See restored their
hierarchy in 1923 with Ernakulam as the Metropolis and the other three
Sees as suffragans. Changanacherry was elevated to an archdiocese in 1956,
and Trichur and Tellicherry in 1995. On 16 December 1992, the Pope
elevated the Syro-Malabar to the status of a major archiepiscopal church. A
major archiepiscopal church is the next judicial status envisaged in the
oriental canon law. It is of Byzantine origin. The major archbishop has all
the powers of the patriarchate, but he is not equivalent to the patriarch in
dignity. The three apostolic vicariates of 1896 have grown into four
archdioceses and twenty dioceses, with a great variety of institutions both
in Kerala and outside. The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest church
among the oriental Catholic churches and is the second stage of four in the
codes of canons. These codes of canons of the Eastern categories of oriental
churches are (highest) patriarchal; next, archiepiscopal; then, metropolitan,
and finally, a church entrusted to a hierarch who presides over it as per
norms of common and particular laws.

The Southists among the Syrian Christian

Roman Catholics: The North/South Division
The Thomas Christian community is divided into two endogamous
(or marrying within their own community) groups. The origin of this
division is sometimes traced to the arrival of Thomas of Cana (Knai-Thoma,
Cinai Thomas). These groups are known in Malayalam as Thekkumbhagar
(Southists) and Vadakkambhagar (Northists). The Southists generally claim
that they are descendants of Thomas Cana and of his groups who came
with him from abroad and have kept their blood pure without intermingling
with local people, while the Northists claim, whether they lived in Malabar
before or after the arrival of Thomas of Cana, had mixed with Indians. The
Southists call themselves Qnanyae (Cananite).
Ross, who strongly defends the importance of the Christians living in
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 119

Malabar before the arrival of Thomas of Cana, would assert that one group
comprised the descendants of those Christians who lived there before the
arrival of Thomas of Cana. Further, he states that the descendants of Thomas
of Cana always kept themselves aloof and did not mix with other Christians.
The immigrants maintained a rule of endogamy. They had their own priests
and churches. Thus these immigrants and their posterity kept their
own ethnic and ecclesial identity as a distinct community among the
St Thomas Christians of India. At present, this community is divided
ecclesially into Roman Catholics and Jacobites. The Knanaya Catholics
have their Eparchy of Kottayam, Kerala as their ecclesial unit with their
Bishop Mar Kuriachose Kunnacherry having territorial-personal jurisdiction
in the whole of this proper territory of the Syro-Malabar Church. The
Knanaya Jacobites are governed by Archbishop Mor Severios Kuriakose
Metropolitan of Chingavanam, Kerala.

Some Roman Catholic Missionaries

Even before the arrival of Alex de Menezes as the bishop in Goa, the Jesuit
College of St Paul at Goa received a message from the Moghul Emperor
Akbar, in which he expressed his desire to study Christianity and asked the
fathers to send some learned men to explain them to him. Akbar
(1556-1605) had shown interest in Christianity through conversations with
several Portuguese, including a Jesuit from Bengal. Three Jesuits—Robert
Aquaviva, Antonio Monserrate and Franco Henrougues—arrived at Akbar’s
court in February 1580. These priests were permitted to furnish a chapel
for Christian worship and to teach without restriction. Fr. Monserrate was
made tutor to Akbar’s second son, Muard (a young boy). Akbar appeared to
appreciate their teaching in preference to that of the mullahs. The missionaries
had expected him to become a Christian but whenever they urged, he drew
back, although he took their admonition in good spirit. His actual belief was
a mystery; he seemed to be interested in several religions —Hinduism, Jainism
and Zoroastrianism as well as Christianity. But he showed his dislike for
Islam. In 1582 he promulgated a fancy religion, the Din Ilahi, incorporating
elements drawn from all the faiths in his kingdom, with himself as its head.
The Jesuits returned to Goa in 1583. In 1590, a second mission was also
sent at Akbar’s request, but soon returned. However, in 1593, a third mission
120 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

began to work, and from then on, there were Jesuits at the Moghul court
for the rest of the dynasty’s rule. Although Jerome Xavier, nephew of
St Francis Xavier became his personal friend, no progress was made in the
conversion of the royal family or the nobles.17

Robert De Nobili (1577-1656)

Robert De Nobili was born in Rome in September 1577, the son of
Pier Francisco and Clarice, a family which claimed its descent from Otto
III of Naples. His forefathers held high positions in the State such as governors
and consuls. At the age of seventeen he was convinced of his vocation as a
Jesuit missionary. In 1596 he entered the noviciate at Naples. He completed
his education in philosophy, logic, science, astronomy, metaphysics, ethics
and theology. In 1603 he went to Portugal to study the language of Cameons,
and then proceeded to India and reached Goa on 20 May 1601. After
staying there with the Jesuits for some time, he was transferred to Cochin
to work with Superior Laerzio, where he learned Tamil and worked among
the pearl fishers of the fishery coast. A number of people joined the church,
mainly because it gave them Portuguese protection. Laezio wanted to start
work in the heart of South India, and he chose De Nobili for this experiment
at Madurai in 1608. At that time Madurai was the cultural centre of South
India, a flourishing city even before the time of Christ, and it was the
capital of Pandya Kingdom with its own academy and university. There
was already a Jesuit priest, Goncalo Fernadez, who had been working in
Madurai for eleven years. Madurai became the centre of activity of De
De Nobili tried a number of experiments. He wanted to open the
doors of Christianity to as many people as possible. He befriended a
schoolmaster who was employed by Goncalo. The schoolmaster was well
versed in Hindu theology and held the title of a guru (spiritual teacher)
in his own sect. From their conversations De Nobili was able to understand
the attitude of Hindus to Christianity. The first thing he understood
from the teacher was the intense caste feeling among the Hindus. He
learned that besides the four castes and sub-castes, there were a number
of untouchables and outcastes. The Hindus saw that Christians did not
observe the caste system, and they ate beef, which only the untouchables
did. So Hindus included the missionaries and their converts among the
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 121

untouchables and outcastes. Therefore they called Christianity parangi

markkam (a nickname given to them). The first thing De Nobili did was
to give up this reference as parangi markkam and to call Christianity,
satya vedam (true religion).
Realizing that the repudiation of caste alone would not be sufficient to
win the goodwill of the people, he tried positive action. He spoke Tamil
and learned the customs and manners of the locals. In spite of this, the
educated Hindus in their homes did not accept him. So he wanted to
become a sanyasi (a person who renounced everything) for which he sought
permission from his superiors. From that time, he gave up eating beef.
Later he gave up his black cassock and wore saffron dress, shaved his hair
close to the skull, made a rectangular mark on his forehead, discarded his
leather shoes and wore wooden sandals. When he obtained a plot of land
with a dilapidated cabin, he got it repaired and used it as his hermitage in
1607. Another interesting development was that he decided to have a caste
(as Indians) and thought it proper to accept the caste of a Raja (Kshatriya)
because he too had a royal ancestry, and declared that it was wrong for
them to call him a parangi as he belonged to the Raja caste.
De Nobili realized that if Christianity could be shown to be the
religion which crowned the Vedas, it should have a claim on every orthodox
Hindu. So he extracted from approved commentaries of the Vedas a
collection of texts and allusions best suited to demonstrate the truth of
Christianity, and he called it the ‘Fifth Veda’, according to which primitive
religions revealed that mankind was lost due to sin but embodied again
and perfected in Christian revelation.
De Nobili faced the issue of kudumbi and the sacred thread. He
believed that kudumbi was not a symbol of religion but of the twice born,
and he knew that Francis Xavier had approved the custom practised by
the Paravas. He also found some support for the sacred thread (a triple
strand of white cotton hanging from the left shoulder across the breast
and back and tied near the right thigh) from the principles laid down by
Thomas Aquinas. For sacred threads, different materials were used by
different castes and De Nobili held that this was not a mark of religion
but of rank in the caste structure. So De Nobili was able to secure
permission from the church authorities to allow the use of the sacred
thread even after baptism.18
122 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Constantineous Joseph Beschi

Constantineous Joseph Beschi, an Italian, well known in Tamil Nadu as
Veeramamunivar, served the Madura Mission from 1711-42. He was filled
with a fervent desire to proclaim the gospel of Christ. He won the confidence
of the Moghul general Chanda Sahib who protected him. During the time
Chanda Sahib ruled Trichnopoly (1736-41), he was even said to have made
F. Beschi his dewan and assigned to him the revenues of certain villages,
which Beschi used for the Mission. He had perfect mastery of the Tamil
language, and he learnt it to perfection. He wrote some Tamil books of
literature famous for their practical diction, grammar and prosody. His
Christian adaptation of language excelled, no foreigner ever able to equal
Beschi in this respect. Some of his works, Thambavi (‘Unfading Garland’),
Thirukavaloor Kalambagam and Saduragaradi stand out as missionary
contributions to the communication of the Christian gospel to the Tamil
people and also as an enrichment of Tamil literature.19

Orthodox Christianity and the Indian Church

Orthodox Christianity in India covers some of the church of St Thomas
Christians, tracing its origin on the south west coast of peninsular India
to the missionary endeavours of Apostle Thomas, who arrived in Kerala
in 52 CE and suffered martyrdom at Mylapore in 72 CE. The church is
now divided into two churches: the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
and the Malankara Orthodox (Jacobite) Church. Christianity in Kerala
developed as an indigenous religion, not as an alien faith thrust upon a
people by a superior foreign force, and it is essentially an Indian religion
in all aspects except in matters of faith and forms of worship. A group of
Christians from Edessa in Syria under the leadership of the already
mentioned merchant Thomas K’nai arrived in Kerala in 345 CE. Although
the Kerala Christian community had been under the ecclesiastical
leadership of priests ordained by the Apostle Thomas, the church had to
depend upon other Christians occasionally in order to preserve the
apostolic succession of their priesthood as they have at times been cut off
from the mainstream of Christianity. So whenever their own bishops died
before being able to consecrate a successor, they appealed to the churches
in Persia, mostly to the Catholics of Persia, to send them a bishop.
As we have seen, the Portuguese created a new phase, launching a
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 123

vigorous programme of Romanization in Kerala. When the power of the

Portuguese was firmly established all over the coast, Alexes de Menezes,
Archbishop of Goa, came to Kerala and intensified the process, as we have
seen, at the Synod of Udayamperur (Diamper) in 1599. In 1653, the
Malabar Christians assembled at the slanting Cross at Mattancherry and
took a pledge and vowed that they would reject the Roman Catholic Church.
The Syrian Christians were then divided between those opposed to and
those who accepted the Latinization process of the Roman Catholics.
The St Thomas Christians who rejected the Latin Church consecrated
Archdeacon Thomas as Metropolitan Mar Thoma by 12 priests laying their
hands on the head of the archdeacon. They knew that they had no apostolic
succession, so they sent appeals to the Antiochene, Babylonian and
Alexandrian churches for Episcopal assistance in ensuring the apostolic
succession of their priesthood. In response to their appeal, Mar Gregorius
of Jerusalem arrived in Malabar and consecrated Mar Thoma I as a bishop.
In 1665, Mar Gregorius came under the spiritual connection of the Patriarch
of Antioch, and in due course, the Mar Thoma I group adopted the West
Syrian/Antiochean rite. This relationship continued for about a century.
However, in 1772, Mar Gregorius (the Syrian bishop) without the knowledge
of Mar Thoma VI consecrated one Ramban (Kurian) of the Kathumangattu
family as Mar Koorilose in Mattancheri church and set him up as a
rival bishop. This gave rise to a dispute, which ended in favouring
Mar Thoma VI and Mar Koorilose went away to Thozhiur in British Malabar
and established an independent church, called Thozhiur Syrian Church.
During the invasion of Tippu Sultan of Mysore(1780-92), the Syrian Church
shifted its headquarters from Angamali to Kottayam, and since then it has
been at Kottayam.
The Church Missionary Society, on arrival in Kerala established friendly
relations with the Orthodox Church, which continued for about two
decades. This episode is described in detail in the next chapter dealing
with the ‘Mission of Help’ plan.

The Church in Tamil Nadu

The first recorded visit of the Portuguese to Tamil Nadu was in 1517, and
gradually a Portuguese colony arose in and around Madras. In 1516/17 there
took place the great mass conversions of the fishermen on the Parava coast of
124 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Cape Comorin. This coast, which is also known as the Pearl Fishery Coast,
the Piscaria of the Portuguese, extends from Cape Comorin to Island
Premontary of Ramaswara and from there to Mannar off the coast of
Sri Lanka. The Pearl Fishery was a source of great income to the paravas.
The Muslim Arabs established a monopoly over the sea-borne trade and
gained control of the pearl areas. In the 16th century, the Portuguese were
determined to take control of the eastern trade, and to a certain extent they
succeeded. The Portuguese ended up dispossessing the Muslims.
Joaoda Cruz, an Indian Christian, was the apostle to the Paravas. In
1535, a number of key persons of the Fishery Coast asked for baptism.
Later mass baptism ensued, and by the end of 1537 the entire parava
community had accepted Christianity, and Pero Gonsalves, the vicar of
Cochin in 1558 CE, reported that he used at times to baptize 1,000 to
1,500 on a single day, and in the three years he had baptized thousands
of people and that when Xavier arrived he personally gave the mission
over to him. 20 For quite some time the Muslim and Hindu rulers left
Christians in peace. Two chief harbours of the Coromandel coasts were
Pulicat in the north and Nagapattnam in the south. The Franciscans
converted a large number of people to Christianity, and built two churches
and a monastery. Tamil became the first Indian language in ecclesiastical
use, and Christianity had grown into the second strongest religion of
Tamil Nadu by 1891.21
Although the early slender roots of Christianity in Tamil Nadu went
back to the 16th century, few records survived. The Roman Catholics had
concentrated among the paravas at the Pearl Fishery Coast, the Mukkuvars
near Cape Comorin, Pondicherry and some places in the Carnatic region as
well as in Mylapore. The Protestants had smaller churches of the Tranquebar
or Danish Hall Mission, many of them supported by the Anglican Society
for Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), which concentrated in the
Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli area.
Tranquebar Mission had by 1771 reached Palayamcottah where Tamil
Christians from Tiruchirapalli and Tanjore were working in the service of
British army stations. In 1795, a young lad Sundaranandan of the village
of Kalangadi was baptized, and from 1796 he worked as an assistant to
Sathyanandan who was the pastor of the church at Palamcottah from 1790.
In the following year David (formerly Sundarandan) had gathered a
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 125

Christian group among the relatives and friends of the Shanar caste at the
village of Vijayaramapuram between Tirunelveli and the coast and founded
a small congregation of Christian worshippers there and at Mudalur (1799),
Jerusalem (1802), Bethlehem (1802) and Nazareth (1804).22 Around the
same time Maharan, a Sambavar (Adidravidan) of the village of Mayiladi
(South Travancore), a staunch Saivite was baptized as Vedamanikam, who in
turn started a small group at Mayiladi. On his second visit to Tanjavur he was
given a catechist (Yesudian) and was directed to a missionary, a German
Lutheran in the service of W S Ringeltube of Lutheran Mission Service (LMS).
A few years later the two groups in Tirunelveli and Tanjavur became closely
linked. Later additional groups were formed.
Whereas in the south two Indian converts initiated the Christian
renewals and influenced them, in the north the British Christians initiated
the renewal. Richard Hall Kerr, an evangelical Irishman and senior chaplain,
in 1801 built a chapel from public contributions in ‘distant Black Town’
for Anglo-Indians (East Asians) and other Protestant-speaking English. He
enjoyed the support of the Governor Bentick of Madras (1803-6) when
the writings of missionaries at Serampore were under the censorship of the
government at Calcutta. In 1813 the British parliament allowed the Anglican
hierarchy to be established in India. They took immediate advantage of the
missionary clause in the renewed Charter of the East India Company to
increase their efforts in spreading the Christian faith to non-Christians.
The Anglicans made use of their special clause and started various
organizations to pursue their goal.
Madurai had by the late 18th century long ceased to be a flourishing
centre of Christian enterprise. The Jesuits in Madurai had been suppressed
in 1773 and the last ex-Jesuit in India died in 1795. The Roman Catholic
hierarchy in Rome resolved that the priests of the Foreign Mission Society
of Paris, who had established themselves in 1776/7, should take charge of
all the regions of south Tamil Nadu previously evangelized by the Jesuits.
The conflicts between the two groups continued for some more time. Later
Pope Gregory XI challenged the King of Portugal either to meet his
obligations or to surrender his padraoda rights. When no answer was received,
the Pope unilaterally decided to establish a vicariate apostolic at Madras,
near the Diocese of San Thome, otherwise called Meliapore or Mylapore.
126 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

After 1845, that vicariate apostolic comprised the whole of southern Tamil
Nadu, the rivers Vettar and Cauvery and from there on a line to the north
of the Palani Hills forming the northern boundary.23
One of the unique characteristics of the day was that almost all Christian
missionaries, whether Roman Catholic or Lutheran, acquired a fair knowledge
of Tamil, and some like Beschi mastered it. Constant Joseph Beschi (died in
1747), commonly known under the local name Viramamunivar Swami, was
certainly one of the most distinguished Tamil poets especially for his general
epic on St Joseph, which relates the whole Christian story of God’s mercy
towards humanity. It is called Tembavani (the unfading garland). Ziegenbalg,
a Lutheran missionary, published the first translation of the New Testament
in 1714-15. The second edition was published in 1722. The first translation
of a Tamil hymn book was published in 1715, and in 1732 Schultze’s
translation of 112 German hymns.
Christianity interacted well with Tamil culture. Tamil Christian language
was shaped in the process of rendering the Bible into Tamil. J P Fabricius
(Protestant) translated the first complete Bible work into Tamil in 1796. It
was so popular because of its simple style and clear structure, although it
soon became criticized for its failure to employ current Tamil idioms. It
continued to be printed in many editions till 1951, and other translations
and editions of both New and Old Testaments were printed at various
times. For a long time liturgies or Orders for Common Worship followed
the same pattern of translations in Protestant churches. They were taken
from their mother churches in the West almost in the same way as the
Bible is taken as a unifying bond. Interaction between Christianity and
Tamil culture issued in a spirit of Christian subculture in Tamil Nadu,
which became evident in a particular ‘church language’ shaped by translation
of texts from foreign languages. Of all Protestant literature in India, Tamil
topped the list in 1871. By that year, 717 Tamil publications of the tract
societies had been published, more than three times the number of those
in Bengali and Marathi. The number of copies of Tamil publications printed
between 1862 and 1987 was almost three times that in Marathi, and more
than ten times those in Telugu.24 Tamil Christianity (both Roman Catholics
and Protestant) sent messengers of their faith to the neighbouring
Andhra Pradesh. Tamil Christians migrated in great numbers to regions all
over India and even beyond, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nicobar Islands, Malaya,
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 127

Mauritania, East and South Africa, British Guinea, Trinidad and on the
Fiji Islands.
The arrival of a printing press in Tranquebar in 1712 made a remarkable
contribution. From 1712 to 1731 at least 22 Tamil works were printed
there; but the printing in Tamil was done in Halle, Germany. However, in
1761 the Lutherans acquired a brand new printing press, which was found
during the English conquest of Pondicherry and was given to the Protestant
friends who installed it in Madras. J P Fabricius, a German master in Tamil,
made a complete revision of both the Testaments: New Testament in 1772
and Old Testament, partly (Genesis to Judges) in 1777 and Ruth to Job in
1782, the Psalms and the Songs of Solomon in 1791 and the rest in 1796.25
On arrival at Tranquebar in 1706, he received a copy of a Portuguese-Tamil
grammar presumably written by the French priest, Beschi. He wrote two
Latin-Tamil grammars, the first of which was a grammar of kodum Tamil,
the colloquial language, which was printed in 1739, and the second grammar
completed in 1930, dealing with Sen Tamil, the literary form of the language.
Another work known as Thonnul Vilakkam, which treats higher Tamil,
consists of a summary of five parts of the traditional Tamil grammatical
treatises, written in verses, with a commentary by Beschi. This had an
adapted version of Latin entitled Key to Refined Literature of Higher Tamil.

The Church in Karnataka

This section deals with Christianity in Karnataka during the period from
the middle of the 16th century to the end of the 17th century. There was
very little Christian activity in the northern half of Karnataka, but there
were some Christian activities in the southern districts of Karnataka.
At the beginning of the period under survey, the southern half of
Karnataka (formerly known as Kanara formed part of the Vijaynagar Empire.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the rajas of Vijayanagar had bestowed
or confirmed to a number of vassal chiefs various titles. But in the course of
17th century the government became weak. This enabled some of the more
powerful chiefs to gradually break loose from control and declare
independence. This applied to especially three principalities—Mysore, Ikkeri
and Sonda. In the course of time the first two became somewhat powerful
kingdoms. Eventually Mysore became the dominant power in that part of
the country.
128 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Looking at the social, economic and religious situation in coastal and

southern Karnataka during the period under survey, we find that there
were a number of large communities and social groups there. The Brahmins
were a much-respected community. Among the non-Brahmin castes of
Kanara, the bants were the most influential. The other non-Brahmin castes
like the mogeyars (fishermen) the billavas (toddy tappers) and the artisan
castes, and the untouchables like holeyas and mahars, were generally
landless. In southern Karnataka the non-Brahmin castes included the
banaijigas (or traders), the gollas or people who tended cows and lived by
the sale of milk and its products, the kurubas or shepherds and blanket
weavers, the vokkaligas or the cultivating casts, the holeyas or agricultural
labourers, and the maligas or workers in leather.26 Kanara was the granary
of the west coast. Most of the people were Hindus. But there were also
Muslims, Christians and Jains.
Sivappa Nayak of Ikkeri expelled the Portuguese from the forts in Kanara
a little before 1660, which brought about considerable changes in the
ecclesiastical situation in the region. There had been a history to the church
extending back a century and a half. Although there was no official record,
it is mentioned that the Franciscans were able to make converts and establish
three churches in and around Mangalore between 1526 and 1529.27 Later
church historians like Fr Achilles Meersman, O P M, discounted this view.
During this period Kanara belonged to the Vijayanagar Empire and the
relations between them and the Portuguese were quite friendly.
The Portuguese captured the town of Mangalore in 1598 and erected
a fort there. Fr Thomas de Cova O P was the first priest to take up permanent
residence there. The Jesuits were able to convert a number of people and
baptize them. By 1623 they had three churches and baptized a number of
Hindus. The Portuguese captured Honavar, lying north of Managalore and
in the territory of the rulers of Gersoppain in 1569. They also captured
Kundapur (or lower Barcelor) in the same year. However, besides the churches
founded in the three Portuguese settlements, no other churches were erected
in any part of Kanara during the 16th century.28 In fact very few of the local
people were converted. The Jesuits also discovered that it was practically
impossible to establish an indigenous church on the Kanara coast.
A clear majority of the Christians in Kanara were emigrants from Goa.
Many Christians left Goa, not only during the 17th century, but also during
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 129

the 16th century. There are many reasons for this emigration, including
the famines of 1553, 1570 and 1682, outbreaks of cholera or other epidemic
diseases, invasions on the part of the unfriendly neighbours like Bijapur or
the Marathas, and the long Dutch wars in the 17th century which destroyed
the prosperity of Goa.29 The number of those immigrants must have been
considerable even during the 16th century.
Between the years 1652 and 1654, Sivappa Nayak (the greatest of the
nayaks) seized all the Portuguese forts on the Kanara Coast. The priests
attached to the forts retired to Goa, and the Christians were neglected at
least for the time being. Sivappa Nayak was opposed to the presence of
Europeans, especially Portuguese. In order to provide spiritual needs of
Christians, King John IV of Portugal (1640-56) appointed Andrew Gomes,
an Indian priest, as vicar apostolic of Kanara. But Gomes died before the
bull of nomination reached there.
The Carmelites in Kerala had informed the Holy See about the miserable
condition of Christianity in Kanara after 1660. The Propaganda therefore
appointed Thomas de Castro (a Theatine of Goan origin, who was in Rome),
as vicar apostolic of Kanara. Though he was appointed in 1674, he could
reach India only three years later. In the meantime, the rulers of Ikkeri
allowed the Roman Catholics to open factories in Mangalore, Kundapur,
and Honavar, and erect churches at Mirjan, Chandavar, Honavar, Bhatkal
and Kallianpur.30 In the meantime the See of Goa was filled, after a period
of 22 years. In 1681, a young Goan priest named Jospeh Vaz, who later
became famous as the ‘apostle of Ceyon’, came to Kanara with the authority
of a vicar fortane, travelling the length and breadth of Kanara. A conflict
with the new archbishop of Goa, Dom Manoel de Souza e Menezes, created
lot of tension, and in 1684 he was allowed to leave Kanara, putting in his
place one of his former helpers, Fr Nicholas de Gamboa.31 When Bishop
Castro died in 1700, the Propaganda did not provide a successor; so the
whole area came under the padraodo once again. The first resident priests
seem to have been Jesuits and they had no easy time. But the kings of
Sonda were keen on maintaining friendship with the Portuguese and in
1704 permission were granted to rebuild the demolished church and rectory.
A number of the Christians who migrated from Goa to Kanara in the
earlier part of the period under review were new converts. Several of the
migrants belonged originally to the saraswat subsection of the Brahmin
130 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

cast, although there were many non-Brahmin converts among them. The
Brahmins among them were mostly of the shenvi subsection. The Christian
community of Kanara in those days was not a closely-knit, united group.
On the contrary, they were separated by caste, origin and language. The
local Brahmins left the Christians completely to themselves, and they
refused to associate with them and would not admit them into their
houses. The Christians did not speak Tulu, the local language, but spoke
Konkani (the language of Goa). In order to communicate with the Goan
priests, the local converts too had learnt Konkani. The Christians kept
the same caste system which they had in Goa. The converts of Goa were
the Brahmins who called themselves bamons, charodis or chardos who
belonged to a mixed kshatriya and valsya caste, the artisans called shudras,
and the vakkals known as gaudis.32
While the great majority of the Christians of the interior of Karnataka
lived in the southern districts, northern Karnataka had only a few Christians
during this period. The history of Christianity in southern Karnataka is
mostly the history of the Mysore Mission. However, it must be borne in
mind that it does not totally coincide with the history of Mysore Mission,
since several important residencies of the Mysore Mission (Dharmapuri,
Samappli, Kelamangalam etc) now form part of Tamil Nadu (which were
dealt with above in the section on Tamil Nadu).
Fr Leonard Cinnami, an Italian priest was the first person to start work
in inland parts of Mysore territory in 1649, where he put on the robe of a
sanyasi. Fr Manuel Martina of the Madurai Mission initiated him into the
life of a sanyasi. Fr Chinnami made the first convert, a potter at a
place called Bassanapura. He brought two other catechumens, his own
son-in-law and a soldier belonging to a noble caste, who enjoyed a certain
amount of authority in the place.33 He was able to baptize about 40 people.
However, on discovering that he was a parangi he was denounced and chased
out of the capital, Seringapatam.
The Jesuits appointed Fr Fortunato Serafini as superior of the
Mysore Mission after he had gone to Madurai Mission and took up the
life and robe of a pandarasami, unlike Fr Chinnami who had assumed the
role of a sanyasi. In 1653 Fr Chinnami was able to return to Mysore and
set up residence at Ramapura, which became the first centre of the
Kannada Mission. 34 Between 1650 and 1660 they were able to set up
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 131

various other little centres. Most of the Christians in the region were
Tamil-speaking people, although they also spoke Kannada. The
missionaries were fortunate enough to get the support of the rajas and
their officials in building churches and presbyteries in 1672. The enemies
of the Christian faith spread many calumnies against Christianity to the
king who consented to their expulsion from the capital. However,
Christianity did not perish because of the zeal and devotion of several
Christians. During the wars between Mysore and several of her neighbours
in 1681-83 a number of the churches of the Mysore Mission were
destroyed and some others were desecrated. Natural calamities like drought
and famine added to the woes of the people. Furthermore, the gollas, (a
powerful caste who wielded considerable influence with the king) managed
to persuade the king to expel the priests, and several churches were
destroyed. After a while the storm abated and normalcy returned.
Fr Chinnami, the founder of the mission, left behind a number of
works in Kannada. Among these there was a lengthy catechism and also a
compendium of it. Other works in Kannada included lives of the saints, a
course of apologetics and A refutation of the main errors and superstitions
carried in Mysore.35
Many Christians left the Portuguese territory in Goa in the 16th and
17th century and settled either in Kanara or in the territories of the
Sultan of Bijapur (in north Karnataka or south Karnataka). The people
who settled in Bijapur territory were mostly petty traders or musicians or
prisoners who had escaped from Goa.36 In 1622 two Jesuit fathers went to
Bijapur and obtained permission from the sultan to build a house and to
minister to the Christians. Around 1640 Bishop Mathew de Castro
administered the mission of Bijapur. He was able to achieve a great deal in
his ministry by building a number of churches and catering to the needs of
the faithful. However, the mission in Bijapur was destroyed during the
wars between the Mughals, the Bijapuris, the Marathas and the Portuguese
in the second half of the 17th century.
A good number of Christians from Goa settled down as farmers here
and there in north Kanara and even in south-western Maharashtra. The
main reason for the emigration was similar to that of those who migrated to
south Kanara, searching for cultivable land, which due to the growth of
population was becoming less and less available in Goa. Close to the coasts
132 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

of north Kanara there were some 1500 Roman Catholics of Goan origin in
1705; some at Shiveshwar (north of Karwar), Ankola, Shunkeri-Karwar
(situated between Shivsehwar and Ankola), which belonged to the ancient
kingdom of Sunda. The attitude of Haidar Ali towards Christians was quite
sympathetic. But it was not so in the case of Tippu Sultan. He decided to
arrest all Christians and send them to Chitradurga. Many Christians escaped,
though some were caught. During the respite of 1789 some Goan priests
were able to enter Kanara.
There were Christian communities at Kittu and its neighbourhood as
Roman Catholics were to be found in the extreme northwestern parts of
the present Karnataka and in south-western Maharashtra. Besides the
Christians of Goan origin, there were also communities of Marathi speaking
Roman Catholics in that area. The efforts to spread Christianity in those
parts started from 1708 with the arrival of two Jesuit missionaries,
Peter Gil and Simon Gomes.
Although there was very little information about Christian history in
north-eastern districts of modern Karnataka, it is known that during the
18th century the small town of Raichur became the headquarters of a few
Roman Catholic communities with the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in the
area about 1733. By and large, relations between Christians and local rulers
were satisfactory; so also was the case with the Muslim ruler, the Nawab of
Raichur, who was on the whole sympathetic.

Interior Southern Karnataka at the Beginning of the 18th Century

In 1686 Srirangapatnam, the capital of Mysore, had more than
400 Christians worshipping in the church. But during the next two
decades, the Roman Catholics suffered a good deal, which amounted to
outright persecution: the churches destroyed, priest’s house confiscated.
All this destruction took place in the name of Raja Kanthirava (who died
in 1714) by his all-powerful financial minister. But in 1709 the priest’s
house was returned to the church. There were also a few Christian
communities in villages such as Anekal, Harabale, and Kankanahalli. At
the beginning of the 18th century there were about 190 Christians in
Hassan and its environs.37
There were a number of Christian communities in inland southern
Karnataka from 1700 to the rise of Haidar Ali. Some time between 1700
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 133

and 1717, a church was built in Rampura, a suburb of Srigangapatnam,

where too they faced local opposition. After 1729, the few Christians who
survived took refuge in a place called Arsinekere. Another village, Kapinagatti,
became the chief domicile of the missionaries especially between 1711 and
1739. Marathas occupied Kapinagatti once again in 1725-26, and they
treated the inhabitants with renewed brutality, resulting in the missionaries
escaping with Christians to the forests. A number of Hindus and Muslims
too joined them in their fight. Meanwhile the humble beginning of
Christianity was started in Bangalore, which was hardly more than a big
village in those days. Apparently, the movements towards Christianity were
more active in the Hassan region.
One of the major events that took place during the period 1730-1763
was the suppression of the Jesuits. It started in 1759 in Portugal, which
expelled the Jesuits from all territories under its control, and the methods
used were either exile or by imprisonment without trial. At the end of this
period Haidar Ali became the sole master of Mysore; he suppressed the
Jesuits, which resulted in the further loss of all documents pertaining to
the Christians in Mysore during the last four decades of the 18th century.
In the meantime, the Maratha raids had again spread havoc in Karnataka,
destroying churches. However, the local Christians did not leave their places,
and continued to work there. During this period, Kapinagatti remained a
centre of Christian life and work.
Since 1687 Sira had been the capital of the area south of the Tungabhadra
River. It seemed that Christianity arrived there about 1715, which started
with a dhobi, called Paul, from Sira itself who was brought into the church.
A few others followed him. In 1735, Father Francis Mucci arrived at Sira
and founded a church.
All the priests serving Mysore territory were Portuguese Jesuits. They
readily adopted the sannyasi life. They knew the Kannada language
thoroughly; even some of them were able to teach Kannada. The Jesuits in
Mysore had close relations with those of the Madurai and Carnatic Mission
and relations with those of the Carnatic were more frequent. The chief
superior of the Mysore Jesuits was the provincial of Goa. After suppression
of Jesuits in Goa, the Mysore Jesuits joined the province of Malabar. So
from 1758 to 1783, the date of the general suppression of the
Society of Jesus, the Mysore Mission depended on the provincial of Malabar.
134 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Till 1717, relations between the court of Sriangapatnam and the

Roman sanyasis with their followers somewhat improved. Then there was
an anti-Christian outburst, and the priest at Srirangapatnam was expelled
and forbidden to preach. Several other anti-Christian outbursts ensued.
However, by 1736, better relations existed between the two groups.
The life of the Christians underwent a radical change under
Haidar Ali and Tippu Sultan. During the rule of Haidar Ali the Mysore
Christians were on the whole left in peace, and that period was not one of
complete stagnation for them. Another Christian community was formed
at Begur in the extreme southwest corner of Karnataka on the upper course
of the Kabini River; so also at Hassan and its vicinity. In Bangalore, a
church was built at Billiakkipaatti some time before 1780, and another
church was also built at Gangumachery. In general, Haidar Ali was
generous towards the Christians and favourable to the Roman Catholic
clergy. But the attitude of his son, Tippu Sultan, was one of antagonism
and organized persecution. The first persecution struck at the leading
Christians of Srirangapatnam who were forced to undergo circumcision.
So many escaped, and travelled great distances reaching as far as Derebyle
near Mangalore. The sultan’s anti-Christian action extended to the whole
territory under his control. For more than four years (1784-88) no
Roman Catholic priest could be found in the whole territory of Mysore.
A number of them escaped to both central or south Tamil Nadu and
other places and stayed with the Carmelite missionaries. However, through
the intervention of Pope Pius VI with the French government, which was
supposed to have close relations with Tippu Sultan, Christians in the
sultan’s domain were better treated. After the Treaty of Srirangapatna
(1792) much pastoral work had to be done in the territories of Tippu
which were ceded to the English. Some of the districts were passed on to
the Paris missionaries. In 1794 Abbe Dubois (1766-1848) was entrusted
with the care of Kannada-speaking Roman Catholics. After Tippu’s defeat
and death in 1799, Dubois was much freer to do Christian work.

Cultural Contributions of the Christians in Karnataka

Unlike the cultural contributions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, research on
the Christian contribution to Karnataka literature has not so far discovered
any work belonging to the 18th century. Ferroli, in his Jesuits in Mysore,
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 135

mentioned only the works by Christian writers in Kannada.

Fr Emmanuel Platey, S J (who died in 1719) wrote a small book on the
mysteries of the rosary both in Kannada and in Tamil. In about 1738 there
was a report of the story of a Brahmin physician (crypto-Christian) who
was called to the bedside of a young sick Brahmin belonging to one of the
local leading families. The young man noticed that the physician carried
with him a book (probably a manuscript on palm leaves) and asked him to
have a look at it; it was entitled, The Spiritual Pearl38. The man was completely
won over by the book. Eventually he was baptized by the local Jesuit missions.
This probably means the book under the title The Spiritual Pearl existed in
the Karnataka language. No doubt that Christian literature in the
17th century would have included hymns, a catechism and a prayer book.
But there is no evidence of such materials. It is very likely that those living
in the 18th century would keep any Christian literature in Kannada written
in the 17th century. It seems that hardly any effort has been made so far to
trace such literature.

The Church in Andhra Pradesh

At the end of the 16th century the Jesuits made an unsuccessful attempt to
establish Christianity in the capital cities (Chandragiri and Vellore) of the
Raja of Vijaynagar, of which the first was situated in Andhra Pradesh.
Christian preaching and building of churches took place in Andhra
(the former name of Andhra Pradesh from 1641). Golkonda and its
neighbourhood have had Christians since that time, though only in small
numbers. From Pondicherry due to a small group of French Jesuits,
Christianity had been strengthened and had spread in north Tamil Nadu,
and by 1699, the religious movement passed into the Telugu-speaking
state. Some new and important Christian communities began to be formed
in Rayalaseema between Anantapur and Dharmavaram.
Owing to frequent migration in some areas it is not easy to identify the
places where the Telugu Christians settled down in communities. Around
1730, Krishnapuram was the headquarters of about seven churches in the
Anantapur area. In the south, Christian communities were to be found in
the present districts of Chittoor (A P) and Kolar (Karnataka). By 1730,
Christianity had claimed quite a number of Telugu communities in
Rayalaseema, and across the Nallamalals.39
136 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

There were migrations and new settlements. In 1735, the Christian

reddis of Alamuru suddenly left the place, escaped the attention of Marathi
horsemen and trekked down to Bukkapuram (some 320 km) from where
their ancestors had migrated to the Anantapur palayam. This strengthened
the already existing Christian community at Bukkapuram and its
neighbourhood. Like the reddis of Alamuru, the kammas of Gandikotte also
left their area and joined the other Christians in Dupad Semma. In 1744
six French Jesuits looked after the Telugu Christians. Another migration of
Christians took place in 1753 due to the initiatives taken by
Satyanandhaswamulu, Fr J B Martin. The kamma and the reddi Christians
dispersed over a fairly large territory at the end of the 18th century to the
present districts of Chittoor, Anantapur, Cuddapah, Nellore, Kurnool,
Ongole and Guntur. The two famines of 1780-84 and 1789-92 reduced
many Christian reddis of Dupad Seema and Kondavidu to the level of mere
farm workers. In the Vellore area there were already a few Christian rajas
that had come from Rajampeta, south of Cuddaph and settled at Christianpet
and Vellore. Other Telugu Christians such as Velamas and Balijas, who had
arrived at Yelamkottyr and later settled in 1803 at Sellampaattida near
Kilacherry, had proceeded there. The reddis of Dupad Seema founded the
Christian village of Thattur between Chinglepet and Pondicherry. Other
Telugu Roman Catholic Christians went and settled in the regions around
Vellore, at Kanyambadi, Pudur, Kottur, Ravattanallur and Adakamparai.
Kaattupadi, south of Vellore, was formed by Christian reddis and others
who after 1785 left Chik Ballkapur, Devanahalli, Machanapalle, Sandur
and Maddeir, probably to escape Tippu’s roving armies.40
The Christians at Machilipatnam and Bimlipatnam in coastal areas of
Andhra were cosmopolitan in origin comprising locals, Europeans of various
nationalities, and those of mixed races. Originally the Theatines from Goa
looked after the Christian communities of the coastal area till the Augustinian
friars succeeded them in 1694. Later a couple of foreign missions priests
from Paris were sent to Andhra. At the end of the 18th century the Capuchins
were still working in the coastal area. By 1802, Christians were found at
Machilipatnam, Corangui, Vishakapatnam and Chiracore.41
A study of the social background of the Telugu Christians of the
18th century reveals that the majority of Telugu Roman Catholics came
from two great communities of farmers. Other groups attracted to
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 137

Christianity were boyas and rajus, and weavers like the sales, togatas and
devanyas. According to the French Jesuits, the Telugu Christians were
fervent Christians. Christians and Hindus got along fairly peacefully. But
caste distinctions were regarded as one of the main obstacles to the spread
of Christianity.
The Christian sanyasis, called swamulus, followed the lifestyle of a
Hindu sanyasi, accepting, for example, local social customs, pure vegetarian
diet and sufficient knowledge of the local languages. The catechists were
trained by the Jesuit sanyasis and the first Telugu catechist from Andhra
belonged to the velamma caste. The Christian sanyasis of Andhra worked
with the permission of the local authorities, which enabled them to spread
the gospel with the greatest possible freedom. The relations between the
French and the Nizam and his nawabs were on the whole cordial enough.
The Muslim authorities tended to favour and protect the ‘Roman Fakirs’
and their disciples.42

The Christian Contribution to Culture and Scientific Studies

Apart from preaching the gospel, the French priests evinced keen interest
in scientific study, especially in the field of mathematics and astronomy.
Most of them were trained mathematicians, and some even in astronomy.
They knew Telugu well, and some even knew Tamil, Telugu, Kannada,
Marathi and Hindustani. A fairly large number of Christian writings in
Telugu belonging to the 18th century have survived.
In about 1735, one of the priests gave a text of the Gospel of St John to
the palayakar of Kottakotta. The Telugu Roman Catholics revered two
writings: a history of the Old Testament, called Purva Vedam, Rajula Charitra,
Amrutham Bhavan, and a life of Christ. There were some apologetic,
catechetical and theological writings such as Nistara Ratnakaramu (Ocean
of Salvation), Anitya Nitya Vivastam (Difference between the Temporal and
the Eternal) and Vedanta Saramu (Essence of Theology). Sanskrit prayers
were translated into Telugu; so also many popular poems were produced.
There were many writings on linguistics. Fr G L Coeurdoux
(died 1799) is the author of a Telugu-Sanskrit-French dictionary, and of a
French-Telugu and Telugu-French dictionary. Fr Pierre de la Lane (died
1746) wrote in about 1729 a Telugu grammar, and also a Telugu dictionary
entitled Amara Sinham. A number of Jesuit missionaries studied Sanskrit
138 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

as it contained all the philosophical writings of Hinduism. A number of

Jesuit missionaries were keen on observations and experiments in astronomy,
among whom the names of Le Gac, Ducros, Duchamp, Gargam and
Calmette stand out. Geography and Geology were included in their field
of scientific interest. The description of Gargan’s journey of September-
November 1730 through the southern districts of Andhra and information
on geology, such as the quarries of Cambam and the diamond mines of the
eastern side of Terramula, were of special interest.43

The Portuguese Territories in North Konkan and Gujarat

The efforts to evangelize the western region in the 16th and 17th centuries
very much depended on the power and influence of the Portuguese. With
the defeat of the Egyptian fleet off Diu in 1509, Francisco d’Almeida
established Portuguese supremacy in India. This supremacy continued
until the arrival of the Dutch and the English in the early part of the
17th century.
Bassein, Salsette and Bombay were the most important places
Portuguese possessed in this region. Franciscans were the first evangelical
workers of this area. The Jesuits established themselves there only in 1549.
The first padraodo missionary in the Bassein region was Fr Antonio do
Porto, OFM. Two years after his arrival in Bassein it was reported that
there were a number of Christians in Salsette and in Bassein, most of
them belonging to an honourable caste. The Jesuits built their first church
outside the city of Bassein in 1566 at the village of Sandor. In 1580 the
Jesuits built their second church outside the town. In the 1550s the
number did not exceed a few hundreds each year. The evangelistic work
received a temporary setback in 1570-1CE, when the Sultan of
Ahmednagar sent his forces to besiege Chaul and Bassein. However, in
the years that followed the number of conversions once a gain increased.
By 1610 the Franciscan parish close to the city of Bassein on its western
side and north-western side was entirely Christian.44
Christianization of Salsette Island started in 1547, and a number of
them became Christians. In the course of time, the Franciscans built a
number of churches and residents in Salsette. Two of the early Franciscan
residences were those of St Thomas at Pare (Goregaon) and St Anthony at
Trombay. Meanwhile, the Jesuit father Melchior Gonsalves started
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 139

evangelistic work around the town of Thane, and by 1560 the number of
Christians in Thane rose to more than 2000. There is another initiative,
which helped the spread and consolidation of Christian work in a portion
of Salsette by establishing the colony of Trinidad, about three or four
miles to the south-west of Thane. The pastoral care of the Christian
communities of Trindad and Thane suffered greatly when the Jesuits
handed over these parishes to the archbishop of Goa in 1573-4. The
Franciscan parish of Bhaynder (situated at the northern tip of Salsette
Island) was started some time between 1575 and 1578. The Franciscans
established the parishes of Amboli and Magatia between 1585 and 1589.
The parish church of Santa Cruz at Kurla was built by the Jesuits about
1599. The Franciscan parishes of Gorai, Yarangal and Kashi were founded
between 1599 and 1602, while that of Koli-Kalyan followed a few years
later. The Jesuit parish of Dongri was started around 1606. Sometime
before 1630 the parish church of Maroli came into being. The Franciscans
sometime between 1634 and 1642 established the parishes of Versova,
Malvani, Maneri and Utan. During the first half of the 17th century, the
parish churches of Ponser and Vanganaser were established. However, the
prosperity of these Portuguese territories declined steadily.45
Bandra was one of the places donated by the King of Portugal to
St Paul’s College in Goa for its maintenance. The Jesuits started to stay
there only in 1573. Most of the people were fishermen. By 1584,
practically all the people except Muslims were already Christians. The
records of 1699 describe St Anne in Bandra as a flourishing parish. The
Franciscans were the first and for many years the only missionaries in
Bandra, and about the year 1565 they established a residence and a church.
Between 1585 and 1610 a number of churches were built and most of
the members were fishermen. The number of Christians continued to
increase, especially till the year 1665, when Salsette Island was ceded to
the English as part of the dowry of Princess Catherine of Braganza on her
marriage to Charles II of England.
There were a number of other Christian communities in the region.
Along with Bassein, Salsette and Bombay, the island of Karanja also became
a Portuguese possession in 1534-05, and the Franciscans were the first
missionaries there. They were also responsible for Christianizing the island
of Elephanta and other neighbouring places. Chaul was a fortified station
140 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

of the Portuguese in 1520, and the Franciscans were the first missionaries
there. Mahim-Khelvi, Tarapur and Danhu were three places lying to the
north of Bassein, and between 1560 and 1570 the Dominicans established
themselves at Mahim and Tarapur and preached Christianity there. The
Portuguese captured Daman in 1599, the missionaries moved in and a
number of them were received into the church. But the general decline of
the Portuguese possessions in the north Konkan and Gujarat in the second
half of the 17th century affected the territory of Daman as well.
At the end of the 15th century, Surat was just a small village of
fishermen, but by the end of the 17th century it became one of the busiest
ports in India. The English set up a factory there around the year 1612,
and the Dutch followed suit 12 years later. It was to this city that two
Capuchins went in 1639-40, who were received well by the
Muslim governor. One of the chief works of the Capuchins in Surat in the
second half of the 17th century seems to have been the ransoming of slaves.
Realizing the strategic importance of Diu, the Portuguese decided to
gain its possession, which they did in 1534-5. Since the place belonged
to the Muslim prince, the Catholics did not make any great effort to do
Christian work. In the second half of the 17th century, the power of
the Portuguese swiftly declined everywhere, and in 1699 Diu was
attacked and sacked by the Arabs of Muscat. In 1722 there were only a
few Christians there.46

The Church in Goa

Goa is one of those regions in India where there are a large number of
Christians today. Sometimes it has been called the ‘Rome of the East’.
Christianity in its Western form made an impact on the life of the people
chiefly because it was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961. Two of the
principal means of Christianization of Goa were inter-racial marriages and
the ‘rigour of mercy’ that is, the application of moral force. The appeal for
charity and free allegiance to Jesus Christ also played a significant role in
the conversion process. The Portuguese in Africa and the whole of the East
thought that the best means of consolidating their position was through
inter-racial marriage. Lisbon also encouraged this policy. Albuquerque
adopted and followed it wherever he went. The first generation of Goan
Christians came from marriage.47 Soon opposition to the inter-racial marriage
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 141

policy emerged both from among civil officials and some Portuguese
clergymen. In 1513 the policy was discontinued following an order of the
King of Portugal. The inter-marriages continued in Goa even after the
withdrawal of the official gift of dowry and other privileges. In 1518 this
policy was again officially approved. In 1543 the number of citizens is
given as 1,600 and that of the soldiers 3,000.48 The casedos (those who
had already married Indian women) had special privileges provided by the
King of Portugal.
The Portuguese were the first Christians with whom the people of Goa
came into contact. In 1513 a group of Franciscans with Antonio de Louro
as their Head came there and settled in a temporary residence, and they
started preaching the gospel to the Hindus. In a short time they baptized
800 people. In 1524 the whole village of Tiwari became Christians.
By 1539 there were already large or small groups of new converts spread
throughout the island of Goa. By 1542 the City of Goa had developed to
such an extent that it looked more like a European Christian city than an
Indian town. In 1534 the diocese of Goa was erected and in 1539 four
bishops resided there. The new diocese stretched from the Cape of Good
Hope to China.
The Portuguese followed a policy of toleration. At the time of the first
conquest of Goa, Alfonso de Albuquerque had guaranteed full religious
freedom to all the citizens, which was revoked after the second conquest;
their intention was to wipe out the Muslims. Soon after, religious freedom
was restored to them. The ecclesiastics denounced the policy of toleration
as they abhorred idol worship in the Hindu temples and festivities. The
destruction of the temples was completed in the year 1541.
By the year 1542 there was a community of Christians in Goa. To the
south along the Canara coast, Bhaatkal was the only place where the
Portuguese had a small factory. Although some claim that there was a
Christian community there, as far as the Canara coast (the coast south of
Goa and north of Kerala) is concerned it is almost certain that no Christian
community of any significance was established in the place in the early
years of the 16th century.
Chaul was a fort city situated between Goa and Bombay, which had a
harbour, and was an international mart. It belonged to the Kingdom of
Ahmednagar. The environment in Chaul was not conducive to any effective
142 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

evangelization. Bassein was a rich tract extending over eight leagues along
the coast from the Bay of Agashi to the tip of the island of Karanja, stretching
seven to eight leagues inland. Gujarat had always put up stiff opposition to
the Portuguese. Finally a treaty of peace was signed between Bahadur Shah
and Nuno da Cunha in 1534, which secured all the islands from Bassein to
Karnaj and Keneri for the Portuguese.
Looking at the history of Christianity in Goa, one sees that a significant
community of Christians had been established in Goa. But it is not possible
to speak with certainty whether any community of new converts had
developed in any other place along the rest of the western coast of Kerala.
To the south of Goa the Portuguese had one or two missions established
and it is quite possible that a few missionaries began some work in one or
another locality, although there were no records.

The Church in North India

The north Indian states comprise the states of Kashmir, the Punjab, Delhi
and Uttar Pradesh. This region is very extensive in area; hence it is not easy
to narrate the story of the church in that region and the contribution of
Christianity in a short article. During the 16th and 17th centuries,
Christians in North India belonged to three different groups: European
Christians, Eastern Christians, and Indian converts. Most of them were
merchants or adventurers of various kinds. The majority were of Portuguese
origin. Among the Oriental Christians found in Mughal India, Armenians
held the first place. They were an enterprising people mainly engaged in
trade but found also in possession of land and of ports under the government.
It has been claimed that the Armenians erected a church in Agra in 1562,
although the Jesuits made no mention of this.49 Though the majority of
these Oriental Christians were not Roman Catholics, the Jesuits admitted
them to their churches. There were small Christian communities in Lahore,
Patna and Ahmedabad, among other places.
Most of the converts were drawn to the Christian faith by the ceremonial
activities in and around the churches at various centres. Most of the converts
were in the most abject poverty, and always on the verge of famine; economic
assistance had to be provided for such people. There were several testimonies
to show that the north Indian congregations, though small, maintained a
high degree of discipline and devotion. There were three more or less serious
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 143

troubles. The first was in Lahore in 1601, when, in spite of the tolerance
and friendliness of Akbar, a staunch Muslim governor called Quliz Khan
arrested some of the Christians and fixed up a day for the total seizure of
women and children. On that occasion the Indian Christians showed great
courage, and they refused to go into hiding in order to save themselves.
The other two were in 1614, when there were hostilities between Jehangir
and the Portuguese on the west coast of India, and also in Agra in 1633-35
after the capture of Hooghley from the Portuguese.50 16th and 17th century
northern India corresponds to the time when Mughal power was at its
highest with Akbar the Great and his successors. The system of government
in the empire was clearly autocratic, and the emperor was the centre of the
whole structure of the government.
The Roman Catholic mission in Uttar Pradesh covers the Agra
ecclesiastical region consisting of the dioceses of Agra, Allahabad, Bareilly,
Bijnor, Gorakhpur, Jhansi, Lucknow, Meerat and Varanasi, Gwalior, Ajmer-
Jaipur and Udaipur. The Northern region consists of the dioceses of Delhi,
Shimla, Chandigarh, Jalandar and Jammu-Srinagar. The first group of
pioneers to enter Uttar Pradesh were the Jesuits, followed by Capuchins in
the whole of North India.
It is interesting to note that Emperor Akbar, having heard of the
scholarship of the Christian priests, wanted to have some of them at his
court. So he invited the Jesuits from their college in Goa. As was indicated
earler, Blessed Rudolf Acquiviva (who was later martyred in Goa), Anthony
Monserrate and Francis Henriques were the Jesuit fathers who visited the
court of Akbar (Mughal Mission as it was called) at Fatehpur on 20 February
1580. Later they undertook two more missions. At that time there were no
Christian communities in Mughal India, and these missions had the full
patronage of Akbar and his successors Jehangir and Aurangazeb.
The first fully established Christian mission in the northern part
of India was the Tibetan Mission of the Sacred Congregation started in
January 1704. Till 1804 the Capuchin missionaries worked there. In 1820
the Tibetan-Hindustan Mission was formed and Ludavis Micara was the first
bishop of the mission and Zenobius Benucci OC, Bishop of Herma, was
appointed Vicar-Apostolic of Agra. On 1 September 1886, Pope Leo XII
constituted and erected the Catholic hierarchy of India and converted the
Vicariate of Agra into the Metropolitan See of Agra. Michael Angela Jacobi
144 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

was made first Archbishop of Agra on the same day.51 Today the Archdiocese
of Agra is called the mother of all dioceses in North India. Subsequently
other archdioceses and dioceses were established in different regions of North
India including the Diocese of Bijnor (1972) and Gorakhpur following the
Syro-Malabar Rite. The Roman Catholic mission of this region is rendering
innumerable services through its educational, medical, developmental
apostolate and interreligious dialogues. The Christian communities form
the basis from where the missionaries reach out to all sections of the people
through educational, medical and social improvement. The church has made
a substantial contribution to the growth and welfare of the society. The
educational apostolate has been considered the most highly valued service
to the country. Centres of Mercy through hostels and orphanages for boys
and girls, technical and nursing schools, adult education centres, Medical
Apostolate and Developmental Apostolate are among the major contributions
of the churches in North India.

The Church in Bengal and Orissa

At the time when Christianity was introduced into Bengal by the Portuguese,
the greater part of the province was under the Muslims, which had been
conquered from the Hindu King, Lakshman Sen, in 1201. At the
commencement of the 16th century, the ruling dynasty in Bengal was that
of Husain Shah. The last king of this line, Ghiyas-ud-din, was expelled
from Bengal in 1538 by Sher Khan Sur, who became Sultan of Delhi in
1540 after defeating Humayun; thus Bengal became once again dependent
on the emperor of Delhi. This connection was again broken for a few years.
But Akbar defeated Daud Karrani in the battle of Tukaroi in 1575.
Up to the middle of the 16th century, Orissa was a purely Hindu
country, but the situation changed with the invasion of Orissa by Sulaiman
Karrani in 1568; and the southward march of Islam into Orissa was
intensified after the victory of Akbar over Daud in 1575.52 In 1592 Orissa
was annexed as part of the Mughal Empire.
Though Bengal was a part of the Mughal Empire, Bengal remained a
scene of confusion and political turmoil from 1571 to 1611. In 1602 Dacca
was made the capital of Bengal, and during the eighty years that spanned
the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb, Bengal enjoyed an unusually
long peace. The capture of Hooghly port from the Portuguese, and the
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 145

invasion of Assam were two important events of the reign of Shah Jahan.
The most notable event in the internal history of Bengal in Auragazeb’s
time was the struggle with the English and Dutch merchants, which served
to expose the real hollowness of the imperial power and forced the emperor
in the end to patch things up with foreign rulers.53
After the conquest of Bengal by Akbar, the emperor permitted the
Portuguese to build a town in Hooghly. He also gave them full religious
liberty with leave to preach their religion, to build churches and to make
converts. In the latter part of the 16th century, the greater part of the
foreign trade to Bengal and Orissa passed into the hands of the Portuguese.
While the settlement of Hooghly was prospering in western Bengal, the
Portuguese also founded many settlements in the eastern parts of the country.
In the meantime Hooghly had passed through very tragic days.
Kasim Khan, one of the generals of Shah Jahan, forced the Portuguese to
surrender after putting up a strong resistance for three months. Although
they were able to establish themselves again at Hooghly, they never regained
their former power and political importance. Soon the Dutch and the
England took away most of their trade from the Portuguese. In 1514, the
Portuguese settled at Pipli in Orissa. In 1653 the Dutch established a firm
footing at Kasimbazar and Patna, which became the centres of their trade.
In 1633 the English set up factories at Hariharpur and Balasore in Orissa.
Hinduism was the predominant religion at the beginning of this period.
Although Muslims ruled the country they were still only a minority. It was
a period when the bhakti movement was at its peak, and Vaishnavism
generally influenced the thought, habits and culture of Bengal. Although
the theory of bhakti had been known long before, the teaching of Chaitanya
(1486-1533) made it a reality to the masses of Bengal and Orissa.
Vaishnavism, apart from the moral reformation of the upper and middle
classes, uplifted the lower ranks of society and the illiterate masses,
particularly in Bengal. Islam too experienced a new birth in consequence of
the Mughal conquest. What the Vaishnave religion did for the Hindus of
Bengal was done to their Muslim neighbours by the Mughal conquest.54
Jesuit priests used to accompany the Portuguese ships that sailed to
the ports of Bengal and Pegu, and they always baptized some people. It is
known that at the request of the Bishop of Cochin, two Jesuit fathers
went in 1576 on a temporary basis to Bengal. Jesuit priests were there in
146 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

1598 and 1599. This time their intention was to work there on a
permanent basis. They started a school and a small hospital at Hooghly,
the first place they stopped for three months. Then they proceeded to
Chandecan, the capital of Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, who received them
with great interest. The raja granted them permission to preach to his
subjects and to baptize all those who wished to become Christians. It
was at Chandecan that the first Jesuit church in Bengal was opened on
1 January 1600.
The Jesuits then proceeded to Sripur, the capital of Kedar Rai, where
the raja was equally friendly. The Jesuits also proceeded to other places:
Bakla, the greater port of Chitagong and to Dainga, as well as to the King
of Arakon, who gave the fathers permission to preach in his dominion.
However, these successes did not last long, and from 1602 to 1615 the
relations between the Portuguese and the King of Arakan were generally
hostile. The Jesuit fathers were imprisoned and the Christians were ill
treated. The Kedai Rai of Sripur and the King of Arakan followed suit.
Under the circumstances, the surviving Jesuits left Bengal, some going to
Pegu and the others returning to Cochin. The situation returned to a
favourable position in 1616 and a few Jesuits started work in various
parts of Bengal. They started a modest institution, a ‘college’ at the Jesuit
residence of Hooghly. There was terrible famine in 1636 followed by
pestilence and a few fathers died. As they were unable to replace their
losses, their work was discontinued while the Augustinians generally
maintained a number of priests.
The Augustinians were the chief evangelical workers of Bengal and Orissa,
even though they reached there only in 1599. Archbishop Alexis de Menzes
of Goa, who was an Augustinian, was chiefly responsible for sending
preachers to Bengal, with the approval of the Bishop of Cochin, to whose
diocese Bengal belonged at that time. Hooghly was the first place and at
first two priests followed by another six reached there. They erected a
monastery and established themselves at other places as well. In 1621 they
extended their activities to Chittagong. By 1629 they were looking after
twelve churches in Bengal and Orissa. Both the Augustinians and Jesuits
continued to multiply their residences in the region.
Besides the Augustinians and the Jesuits, the Dominicans also worked
in Bengal for a short time and built a church at Dianga(near Chittagong).
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 147

After some time the Superior of Dominicans in Goa ordered them to

withdraw. After the departure of the Dominicans and the Jesuits, two
Franciscans made a brief appearance at Chittagong in 1605; soon they left.
The Jesuits had a school and a hospital in Hooghly, and the Christian
work continued fairly well. By the year 1632 there were about 7,000
Christians there. Emperor Shah Jahan was certainly no friend of the
Christians. Kasim Khan, the Governor of Bengal, received an order to destroy
Hooghly, and during the fighting the Jesuits suffered a great blow: church
buildings were burnt down and many lost their lives. About 4,000 Christian
prisoners were sent to Agra in 1633. Children were forcibly circumcised
and women were divided among the harems of the emperor and the nobles.
The Christian communities of Hooghly never fully recovered from the effects
of the disaster of 1632. But after 1633 there was a change of climate.
Portuguese were allowed to settle down close to the Hooghly River, at
a place called Bandel. The Augustinians were granted some land and other
privileges. The Augustinians built a church, and a monastery for the friars.
Most of the Christians were very poor. Some were engaged in making silk
and cotton stockings; others baked bread for the English and the Dutch
factories. Still others prepared all kinds of food. A large number of men
found employment in English and Muslim shops.55
The other Christian communities of western Bengal and Orissa included
Balasore (on the coast of Orissa), Pipli (in the Kingdom of Cateca), Tamboly
(situated on the coast of Orissa), Bangja, Kijli (on the border between
Orissa and Bengal), Kahajuri, Jessore, Chinsura, Baranagar, Chandinagar,
Calcutta and Syedabad (the commercial suburb of Murshidabad).
In the last decade of the 17th century, Nagory, which is situated in
Bhaval became the most important centre of Indian Christians in eastern
Bengal. A church was built in 1664; later the Augustinians established a
settlement to be called the Mission of Don Antonio de Rozario, named
after the famous convert Don Antonio de Rozario, the son of the Raja of
Bhushna, a zamindar. Don Antonio became an enthusiastic and persuasive
preacher of the gospel, and was able to bring about the conversion of a
large number of Indians. According to an Augustinian Document of 1720,
the realm of the mission of Don Antonio lived for a number of years in
the lands of the Raja of Bhushna, and the mission did splendid
work of evangelism.
148 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

There were a number of other Christian communities in eastern Bengal

and the adjacent portions of the Assam region. They were in Dacca where
the Augustinians established themselves in 1612, Noricul, situated about
28 miles to the south of Dacca in the mid 17th century, Chandipur, Sripur,
Chittagong, Diangi and Angaracale, Chiroto, Rajamati and Hossampur.56
The cultural renaissance of Bengal in the 19th century was the starting
point of the awakening of the people of India to a new sense of human
dignity and value, and the emergence of a new cultural identity. Appreciating
the ancient values of Indian culture, emphasis was placed on Hindus and
Hindu society to rejuvenate from within, creating a viable atmosphere for
the new intelligentsia of Bengal to come into positive interaction with
Christian values and tradition and to search for a new cultural and spiritual
identity for Indian society.

Cardinal E Tisserant, Eastern Christianity, p 37.
Stephen Neill., The Story of the Christian Church in India and Pakistan, p 38.
C F Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History, p 100.
Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu Congregationis Conicili, Taken
from Thomas Palliourathkunnel, A Double Regime in the Malabar Church
(1663-1716), p 2.
op. cit., Thomas Pallipuarthkunnel p 4.
ibid., p 12.
ibid., p 167.
G T Mackenzie, Christianity in Travancore, 1901 p 1.
V NagaAiya, The Travancore State Manual, p 131.
Michael Aratkulam, St. Francis Xavier on the Malabar Coast, 1968, p 4f .
op. cit., A M Mundadan, Vol 1, p 103.
op. cit., Mundadan, Vol 1, p 355.
T Pothacamury, The Church in Independent India, p 31.
op. cit., Mundadan, p 96; The Southist claims and charges are expressed in
Thomas Chazhikadan’s History of the Southists (in Malayalam, 1940), which has been
challenged from the Northist side by Joseph Kurmakan, The Southists and the Northists. A
new edition of the Chazhikadan’s book was published in 1944. A new edition of
Chazhikadan’s book was published in 1961: The Syrian Colonization of Malabar (Malabar).
The Indian Church, 16th to 18th Century 149

op. cit., I C D, p 56.
C B Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History, CLS Madras, 1961, p 107 f.
P T Thomas, in Towards an Indian Christian Theology, M M Thomas and Thomas, p
Solomon Doraiswsamy; Christianity in India: Unique and Universal Mission, C L S
Madras, 1986, p 24.
S R D: II p 159m taken from Mundadan, p 397.
op. cit., Hambaya, p 2.
ibid., p 27.
Mission Conference 1872/73, p 52, taken from Hambaye, p 262.
ibid., p 188.
op. cit., Joseph Thekkedath, Vol 2, p 279.
Cf: J Moore, The History of the Diocese of Mangalore, 1905, pp 16-19.
op. cit., Thekkedath, p 284.
ibid., p 287.
D Ferroll, The Jesuits in Malabar, II, pp 187-8.
op. cit., Thekkedeth, p 292.
Jean Casters, ‘L’Ancienner Mission de Madur?’, in Thekkedeth, pp 366-7.
De Ferroli, The Jesuits in Mysore, op. cit., pp 15-16.
ibid., pp 86-7.
De Ferroli, The Jesuits in Malabar II, p 179.
op. cit., Thekedath, p 250.
ibid., p 300.
E C Hambye, History of Christianity in India, Vol III, p 318.
ibid., p 323.
ibid., p 326.
ibid., p 348.
Joseph Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India, Vol II, p 370ff.
ibid., p 379.
ibid., p 388.
op. cit., A de Silve ego , taken from Mundadan Vol 1, p 438.
ibid., Mundadan, p 441.
Meshroob J Seth, History of the Armenians in India, 1895, p 23.
Macallagan, p 297- 99, Maclagan, Edward, The Jesuits and the Great Mogul Land,
150 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

op. cit., Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1958.
Sarkar, Jadunath, The History of Bengal (Muslim Period), Patna 1973, p 188.
op. cit., Thekkedath, p 316 ff.
op. cit., Thekkedath, p 220 ff.
ibid., p 465.


The Indian
Church in the

19th and 20th

The Church in Bombay
Sir James Mackintosh, writing in 1804, remarks that he is in ‘the most
obscure corner of India’. He is speaking about Bombay. For the hundred
years before 1785, people used to struggle to keep out the ever-encroaching
sea. A proposal to build a ‘fence’ in 1673 and a sandbank in 1708 led to a
change in the course of history.1
Our knowledge of Christianity in Bombay Island begins with the arrival
of a Franciscan, Father Antonio do Porte who visited these ports in 1534.
He founded colleges and chapels in such districts as Bassein, Salsette and
Chaul and between then and the mid 17th century ‘a fair percentage of the
people were converted’. It was during the period 1534 and 1600 that the
vast bulk of churches existing today came into existence. By about 1680
the missionary enterprise of the Portuguese had practically come to an
end.2 The Mahrattas swept down on Bassein and Salsette in 1737, and a
treaty was signed between them and the Portuguese in 1739, which granted
liberty for Christian worship. A traveller, Tientflentaller, visiting Bombay
in 1750 gave the number of Latin Catholics in the city, as about 1000.
The dispute between the Portuguese clergy under the Archbishop of Goa,
and the Carmelite and (later) the Capuchin priests under the Vicar Apostolic
resulted in the expulsion of the Portuguese padres, and an Italian bishop
from Surat was given authority previously held by the Archbishop of Goa.

152 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Thereafter there was more or less lack of harmony, dissatisfaction, and

trouble. A hundred years later, in 1823, ‘there were only five European
missionaries in the whole vicariate, all old and weak’. A decree from Rome
in 1838 reduced the power and authority of the archbishop. Speaking of
the decade 1840-50, Father Hull describes it as ‘a turbulent time; so much
so that these ten years may aptly be called Dark Ages of the Bombay
Vicariates’. But with the Concordat of 1855 it looked as if the long struggle
was at last coming to an end. This concordat settlement of 1860-90 was a
preservation of the status quo—that is as regards churches and congregations.
As far as the church was concerned the period between 1850 and 1870
was a creative one. They established a boys’ school at Mazagon, which
developed into St. Mary’s Institute, later known as St. Mary’s School in
Nesbit Road. The Jesuits then opened a Young Gentleman’s School in the
Fort, and another day school in Cavel in 1860—the origin of St Xavier’s.
By 1873 the B A course had started. The new spirit of enthusiasm enabled
the provision of educational facilities for girls. A start was made with a
‘female orphanage’ in 1849. The educational developments of the third
quarter of the 19th century were followed later by a wider extension of
work into other fields such as the Examiner Press in 1868, an Institution
for Deaf-Mutes in 1882, a Leper Home in 1883 and St Elizabeth’s Nursing
Home in 1922, among others.
The period 1814-29 was one for laying the foundation for the
Protestant work under Gordon Hall of the American mission. Hall studied
the Marathi language, and translated most of the Gospel of Matthew,
although the Serampore missionaries had already translated and printed
the whole of the New Testament a few years earlier (which was in the
local dialect of Nagpur and not very useful in western India). This was a
time when ‘the great body’ of the people were quite illiterate. The
procurement of a printing press from Calcutta in 1816 was a great boon
for translation and printing of tracts and the Gospel of Mark. The whole
New Testament was completed in early 1826. With the coming to Bombay
of the Church Missionary in 1826, the literary work of the American
missionaries progressed. Mr Kennedy, an Anglican missionary, translated
the liturgy in 1828. The formation of the Bombay Tract and Bible Society
in 1827 was a significant event. The adoption of a plan in 1828 of giving
some part of the Bible to every Indian family in the city in which a reader
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 153

could be found, and constant production of tracts and schoolbooks, all

played their share in whetting the appetite of the people for the sight of
their mother tongue in print.
The first missionary school in Bombay was opened under a Brahmin
for Indian boys in 1815, which was mainly attended by Anglo Indian
boys. By 1820 there were seven schools with over 1000 pupils. With the
arrival of the CMS missionary, Rev H Kennedy, they started six schools.
With the arrival of the Scottish missionaries they started more schools
and in 1827 they had nearly 80 schools in the South Konkan containing
3,000 pupils.
Although a few brave maidens started to creep into the boys’ schools,
the American missionaries in 1824 tried the great experiment of starting a
school entirely for the reception of girls; that was the starting point of girls’
education in Bombay. The strength of the nine girls’ schools in 1826 with
200 pupils rose to 12 with an enrolment of 400 in 1828.
The once so popular American school, passed through a critical stage
in 1828, owing to resentment of teachers at being ordered to stand during
prayers. The missionaries also experienced deepest disappointment because
of the lack of success in evangelistic work. The first CMS missionary,
M Kennedy, worked for four years, but was unable to convert anyone; so
also Mr Nisbit of the Scottish Mission in 1827 who sorrowfully wrote, ‘We
have converted none’. Two Methodist missionaries started to work, but
returned to England after two years completely shattered. Two Anglicans
left Bombay during the first decade of work and one Presbyter also left the
South Konkan.
So the experience of the first fifteen years of missionary work in Bombay
had been rather discouraging. But the arrival of a 24-year-old new missionary,
John Wilson, saw a different approach; he started his work with a definite
plan of action. In his scheme, preaching held the first place (three times a
day). But he experienced the discouragement of some of the other
missionaries. Wilson was determined to break down the general apathy
and indifference towards street preaching, and his new approach paid
dividends with Hindus. Wilson’s mastery of language and the ever-increasing
knowledge of Vedanta philosophy, the Hindu shastras and the popular
religious beliefs of the people enabled him to present his message in a form
that was comprehensible to a certain extent to his audience. He also initiated
154 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

public disputation on the ‘Evidences of the Christian and Hindu Religions’.

So also he had parallel discourses with Muslim religious leaders on the
Muslim’s attitude to polygamy. In 1833, John Wilson baptized the first
Muslim in Bombay to enter the Christian faith. Wilson also became involved
in a battle with the Parsis. However, it led both Wilson and the Parsi Pandits
to delve into the theological beliefs of the Zoroastrian faith which resulted
in his publication in 1848 of his book Parsi Religion.
Christian missionaries from America, England and Scotland devoted
considerable energy and time to develop education both for boys and girls
and also printing tracts and Bible portions for the growing Christian
population. There was a growing and increasing desire to learn English.
This led to the starting the first Christian English School in the city, which
later became known as Elphinstone School, but religious teaching was rigidly
excluded from its curriculum. The small beginning rapidly grew in strength,
especially with the decree of the Governor General in Council in 1835
providing funds to support English medium schools. Other Protestant
missions entered the scene. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland started
work in Kathiawar in 1842 followed by Rev S Hislop who founded a mission
in Nagpur. So by the middle of the 18th century, Protestant missions
established their hold in the Christian ministry in western India.3

The Church in North-East India

North-east India comprises that portion of the country which lies to the
north and east of Bangladesh and linked to the rest of India through the
northern part of West Bengal. It consists of seven sister states—Arunachal
Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. It
has an extensive and complex ethnicity, mostly of Mongolian racial stock,
who have migrated into the region during the last three or four centuries.
It is not clear how many languages are spoken in the region. Some scholars
estimate the number of major languages spoken in the region at fifty, with
perhaps as many as 150 minor groups.4
The north-east accounts for 7.7 per cent of the total geographical area
and 3.88 per cent (35 million) of the total population of the country, and
there are over 200 scheduled tribes. It is believed that there are few places
in the world where such a variety of people live in close proximity with
each other as in north-east India. The north-east is a strategic but land-
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 155

locked region, and has international boundaries with China/Tibet and

Bhutan on the north, Bangladesh on the south and Myanmar on the east,
and is linked to the rest of the country only by a narrow strip known as the
Silguri border.
The earliest contact of Christianity with the north-east was with the
arrival of two Tibet-born Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, Stephen Casell and
John Cabral, who reached Hajo and Pandu ( Guwahati) on
26 September 1626 and visited parts of Goalpura and Kamrup districts on
their visit to Tibet. There is also detailed information in the Chronicles of the
Augustinian monks at Bandel (Hoogly) of the visit of Francis Laynez, the
Jesuit bishop of Mylapore to Rangamati in the Kingdom of Cooch Behar in
1714. A large Christian community of 7000 people lives there.5
There were also Christian contacts with the visits of Fr Hue and Gabet,
French Lazarists who were on their way to Tibet. At that time there was
already a fairly flourishing Roman Catholic community at Bondashil
near Badarpur. This would mean that the Christian presence in the north-
east existed even before the acceptance of Hinduism by
the Ahom Raja Rudra Singh (1693-1714).
A very useful method of studying the history and development of
Christianity in North India is to see how the three dimensions—political,
ecclesiastical, and socio-economic—are an integral part of a large process
of change. The Christian movement in north-east India got a strong
foothold with the Treaty of Yandabo between East India Company and
the King of Burma (24 February 1826) at the end of the first Anglo-
Burmese War, when for the first time this region was politically linked with
a major Indian power. The whole area was brought under the control of a
single government, and it brought the irreversible force of economic, social
and cultural change throughout the region for which Christian missionaries
as well as the indigenous Christian communities played an important role.
In the Brahmaputra valley of Assam a renaissance of the Assamese
language was initiated, which had great impact among the tribal peoples.
For them, Christianity provided a means of preserving their identities and
promoting their interests in the face of powerful forces of change, although
in this process unintentional traditional animosity between the hill tribes
and the plain people crept up resulting in violent rebellion, which
jeopardized the security of the important border region.
156 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Political Landscape and the Growth of

A vast majority of Christians in the north-east come from a tribal
background, and virtually all of them were illiterate when Christianity came
on the scene. Although missionaries reduced their languages to a written
form and produced the first literature, it took a generation before the local
people were able to produce a literature of their own. The political dimension
in the north-east region has greater influence than any other regions in the
country. The first Anglo-Burma War and the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826
enabled the British to achieve their objective of extending their sovereignty
throughout the region. After the annexation of the north-east, the British
government developed special policies for its government. In 1874, Assam
was constituted as a separate chief commissioner’s province with headquarters
in Shillong in the Khasi Hills, but its special status was still recognized by
classifying the entire province as a scheduled district under the Scheduled
Districts Act XIV of 1874.6
The Regulation of 1880, which gave concentrated power in the hands
of a single deputy commissioner in charge of each hill district restricted
entry into specified hill areas by outsiders; and ordinary cases were handled
by village tribunals in accordance with traditional practices. It was under
these regulations that the entry of commissioners into the hills areas was
controlled, and as a general rule the government seemed to have adopted
a policy of allowing only one mission to work in each hill district, the
policy which worked in favour of the older Protestant missionaries, the
American Baptist, Welsh Presbyterian and British Baptist, and against
others like the Roman Catholics. Through the period of British rule, the
Roman Catholics were permitted to work only in Meghalaya. It
was suggested that ‘It appears that Government, both of British India
and of Independence India have followed a discrete licensing policy in
respect of Church’.7
A unique feature of the political developments in the region is that the
Christians played a very prominent role. When there was conflict between
groups with different political ideologies, the leadership on both sides was
Christian. Christians who described themselves as something similar to
Christian Crusaders led the Naga and Mizo insurgencies8 . The churches
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 157

officially sponsored the peace movements in both Nagaland and Mizoram

and the leaders of the government committees to the Indian Union were
also Christians. Christians led the peaceful political agitation for statehood
in what became Meghalaya. So also members of the state governments in
Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram are overwhelmingly Christian.
Christians in these states even where the whole population is not Christian,
completely dominate the political arena. This state of affairs has had both
positive and negative consequences.
Although Christianity has been the ‘established’ religion in the most
progressive hill areas, Christian influence has reinforced the suspicion of
the Indian public that Christians, at least in that region, are anti-national
in the larger context of Indian nationalism. Probably, as a result of this fear,
foreign missionaries have gradually been removed from the region, and the
government of Arunachal Pradesh has drastically restricted, if not prohibited
entirely evangelistic activity there.
Although it might be technically correct in terms of official policy to
state that the British were neutral in religious matters, highly placed
representatives of the British government assisted Christian missions. Special
mention may be made of two commissioners who dominated British
administration in Assam between 1826 and 1861. They are David Scott
and Francis Jenkins. David Scott had been a student of Carey’s at the
Fort William College in Calcutta and maintained close links with him
thereafter. He provides an interesting example of how, despite the official
disapproval of the East India Company, which was the agency of British
governance, a highly placed officer of that period might provide
encouragement of missionary work.
In 1819 Scott had sent three Garo boys to study in the newly
established Serampore College. The same year he obtained permission from
the Calcutta authorities to invite missionaries to work among the Garos. A
few years later he requested both Bishop Heber of Calcutta and his own
agent in London to find suitable missionaries. Early in 1827, Scott opened
a school for Garo boys at Singimari where he had already established an
outstation for dealing with Garo matters.
Francis Jenkins, the next important Chief Commissioner, contributed
a great deal in establishing a permanent mission work in the region. During
his time as commissioner, the first two permanent Protestant missions, the
158 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

American Baptist Mission and the Welsh Presbyterian Mission, began work
in Assam, and two-thirds of Christians in north-east India today trace their
origins to the work of these two missions. Jenkins’ relations with the
American Baptist Mission provide an excellent case study of the way in
which a highly placed officer personally was in favour of missionary work
and was convinced that they served both the British interests as well as
those of the people they serve.
In addition, there were a number of other British officers who helped
in more ways than one in mission work in the region. Not only were
Protestants considered to have a close relationship with the government;
the government also made provisions for settling and providing security for
the Roman Catholic missionaries.
The principal area in which government and missions found that they
could mutually benefit was education. The government in theory was
committed to provide education for its subjects (especially after the
Wood’s Despatch of 1854) and wanted to keep the expenditure of
administration to the minimum. So the Khasi Hills from the1850s, the
hill areas of Manipur from the 1890s and the Mizoram Hills from the first
decades of the 20th century were largely entrusted to the American Baptists,
Welsh Presbyterians, and, in the southern parts of Mizoram, the Baptist
Missionary Society (British) under government subsidy.

The 19th Century Church Landscape

Just as the political dimension played a significant part in the development
of Christianity during the early stages, the ecclesiastical dimension too has
played an important role. The Roman Catholics made the earliest known
Christian contacts with North-East India in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Although there was a large Christian community associated with the Mughal
garrison at Rangamati, in the present Goalpara district of Assam, there is
no permanent community.9
The Serampore trio (William Carey, William Ward and
Joshua Marshmann) of the Baptist Mission were the early Protestant
pioneers in Bengal. From 1816 until 1877 they worked independently for
their parent society, the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). During this
period, the Serampore Mission undertook work in what are now Assam
and Megalaya. In 1811, an Assamese pundit, Atmaram Sarma of Kaliabar
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 159

in the Nagaon district, was employed by the mission to translate the

Christian scriptures into Assamese, and an Assamese New Testament was
published in 1819. The Serampore team had also made contact with another
group in the north-east, the Khasis.
In 1813 Krishna Chadra Pal (the first convert of the Serampore
Mission) spent eight months at Pandua within the chieftainship of
Cherapunji, and baptized seven persons (four sepoys, two natives of Khasia
and one Asssamese).10 Although Pal’s mission was short-lived, it led to the
inclusion of Kahasi as one of the major languages into which the Serampore
trio translated the scriptures. In addition to the Assamese and Khasi
translations, Serampore also brought out a translation of the New Testament
in the Manipuri language in 1827.
Serampore Mission also opened a school at Guwahati in 1829 three
years after Assam had come under British control with the assistance of
David Scott, the commissioner who also sent the first student. But
following the amalgamation of the Serampore Mission with the BMS in
1837-38, the Guwahati work was discontinued and the mission work
was passed on to the American Baptists. In 1832, Serampore Mission
resumed its work among the Khasis by sending a missionary to
Cherapunji, an 18-year-old Eurasian, Alexander Lish, who opened schools
at Cherapunji, Mawsmai and Mawmluh, which made a start in the
development of Khasi literature.
The first missionaries of the American Baptist Mission arrived at Sadiya
at the eastern extremity of the Brahmaputra valley in March 1836, and the
first permanent indigenous community of the north-east came into existence.
The American Baptists and Welsh Presbyterians who picked up the work
left off by the Serampore group at Cherapunji were the first Christian
missions in the region. It was only during the last decade of the
19th century that the Roman Catholics, the other large mission, started
work in the region, and more than 90 per cent of the Christians in the
region now belong to the churches originally established there.11
The Anglicans (Church of England) did not have missionaries as such
in the north-east, though they had a few regular chaplains appointed to
look after the spiritual needs of the European members of their
denomination, and the first one was Robert Bran who came to
Guwahati in 1804. The Anglican chaplains who were appointed by the
160 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), they were strongly
influenced by Anglo-Catholicism, which led to conflict with the American
Baptist missionaries, and each would attempt to take away members from
the churches of the other. The C of E also had chaplains supported jointly
by the SPG and the tea companies. Both types of chaplains became involved
in some missionary activities.
The first of the tea garden chaplains, Sydney Endle, arrived at Tezpur
in 1864. A number of schools were established, including a normal school
at Tezpur. There were also attempts at missionary work among the Padams
of Arunachal Pradesh out of Upper Assam. By the turn of the century there
would have been no more than 500 Indian members of the Anglican Church
in Assam.12
During the 1870s, the Lutheran Santhal Mission of Bengal established
a colony in Goalpara district, and the primary relationships of these
communities were with the churches in Bengal rather than with other
Christian groups in Assam. The Gossner Evangelical Church of Chota Nagpur
also followed its members to the Assam tea gardens and established
churches for them.
The Roman Catholics were the most important denomination to
start work during the second half of the19th century. Ever since the
Capuchins were expelled from Tibet in 1745, efforts had been made to
find a way back to that country. The Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP)
thought that Assam being as it was within British India, would provide
an alternative route to gain entrance to Tibet. So in 1850 the area was
detached from the Vicariate Apostolic to Bengal and attached it to the
Vicariate Apostolic of Lhasa, the responsibility for the mission being
granted to MEP. Three missionaries, Fathers Julian Rabin, Nicholas
Michael Krich and Louis-Marie-Noel Bernad, arrived in Guwahati. Owing
to the illness of the missionaries, their plans for travel to Tibet were
postponed, and instead, over time, they ministered to the small Roman
Catholic groups found in different parts of the valley.
The one who made an outstanding contribution was Krich who made
two journeys to Tibet through the areas inhabited by the Mishmi people.
But the ill-fated second expedition set out from Sialihoa on 19 February. A
Mishmi chief whom they had antagonised attacked their camp with a group
of warriors and killed the missionaries. Following the death of Krich and
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 161

Boury in 1854, Assam was returned to the Vicariate Apostolic of East Bengal.
Although priests were despatched from time to time to minister to the
European Roman Catholic residents in Assam, no missionary work was
done. This situation continued till 1870 when another territorial
organization of Assam and Bhutan was placed within the Prefecture Apostolic
of Krishnagar (Central Bengal). From 1892, Father Jacob Broy, an Italian,
served in Assam for eighteen years.
The proper Roman Catholic work in the north-east started with the
creation of the Prefecture Apostolic of Assam, Bhutan and Manipur in 1889,
which was made the responsibility of a young German Order, the Society
of the Divine Saviour, referred to as the Salvatorians. The first Khasi Roman
Catholic was baptized in 1891. Gradually work spread in the Khasi and
Jainala area and before the end of the century a missionary had taken up
residence in Guwahati, and the work extended to other areas among the
Chota Nagpuris and other tribals imported from various parts of India.
However, the total number of Roman Catholics in the north-east was still
very small in 1900.

The 20th Century Church Landscape

By the end of the 19th century, Christianity had gained at least a foothold
in most areas of the north-east except Tripura where missionary work was
not allowed until the 1930s, and Arunachal Pradesh not until the post-
Independence period. During the 20th century, Christianity spread
throughout the region. The area in which Christianity grew most rapidly
at the beginning of the century was Mizoram. It all started with the Khasi
revival of 1905, following a serious bamboo famine. A third and more
powerful revival began in 1919, which lasted for several years, the result of
which was a rapid increase in the Christian population from 2,462 in 1911
to 27,720 in 1921.
One of the important contributions of Mizo revivalism was in the
indigenisation of Christianity. Another feature of the revival was in singing;
repetitious singing of hymns coupled with the drumming and dancing
created an ethic uniqueness to Mizos, and very soon they began to create
Christian hymns of their own. In other words, the revivals became
instruments of indigenisation. The Mizo revivals and other similar popular
movements among other tribes were in keeping with the democratic religious
162 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

traditions of the people. These revivals increasingly became ecstatic and

emotional especially when Pentecostal influence became more pronounced.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Reginald A Lorraine started
an independent mission, Lakher Pioneer Mission, among the Mara people.
This group restricted itself to the Maras and established a distinctive
denomination, the Mara Independent Evangelical Church. Another group
emerged among the members of the Ao tribe. Two young men, Caleph, an
Ao, and Biney, an Assamese, started to preach with great zeal in a number
of villages and eventually influenced other young people who became
members of the church. This group spread among some seven different
tribes in the area, although the great majority were still Aos.
Between the two World Wars, a large number of people became
Christians. Another important feature of the period between the two
World Wars was the development of an indigenous ecclesiastical structure.
More responsibilities were passed on to indigenous bodies.
Since Indian independence, a number of foreign missionaries came at
the invitation of and served under autonomous local ecclesiastical
organizations, the Presbyterian Church of North East India (PCNEI) and
the Council of the Baptist Churches in North East India (CBCNEI). A
major factor in the reduction of missionary personnel was the political
movements either for greater autonomy or for complete independence, which
began to take place in the region from the 1950s. Foreign missionaries
were gradually reduced partly because they were suspected of supporting
the rebellion, and partly because their presence enabled the rebels to
internationalize their cause and thus embarrass the government in such
disturbed areas.
Another feature of the post-independent period was the arrival of a
number of new missions and sectarian groups such as the Australian Baptist
Mission, the General Conference Baptist Mission, the Baptist Mid-Mission
(a break-off from the American Baptist Mission) which functions as a
sectarian group, the Salvation Army and the Seventh Day Adventists. The
Pentecostals grew in great numbers, as did the Church of God, which was
formed by ex-Presbyterians in 1902. But the most important post-war
development was the rapid expansion of the Roman Catholic Church,
especially in the field of education.
The denominational pattern of missionary work in north-east India led
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 163

to the establishment of a Christian community divided into many different

church bodies. For Protestant missions and churches that worked under the
community agreement and were members of the North East India Christian
Council (NEICC), there were very few problems. As a member of the National
Christian Council of India (NCCI), the NEICC was also an important link
between Christians of north-east India and those in other parts of the country
and the world through the World Council of Churches.

The Impact of Christianity on Society

Christianity in the north-east has had great impact on the people, especially
on their society. Students of the history of Christianity in the north-east
have noticed an apparent correlation between large-scale conversion
movements and social crises. Some may have been either natural or human-
made calamities, but two such crises are clearly linked to Christianity.
The first is well documented example of the effect of a natural calamity
related to the great earthquake of 1897, which occurred in Khasi and
Jaintia area on 12th June, 1897 when in a few seconds every building in
Sylhet, Khasia and Jaintia was levelled to the ground, ‘. . . the government
offices, mission premises. . . the fruit of the sacrifices of the home and
native church for over half a century swept away at a simple stroke. . . All
the missionaries were providentially saved, but the number of deaths among
the native population was appalling.’13 Morris reported that in that year,
2,373 persons were received on probation while the number of Christians
increased to 2,101.
The second calamity was associated with the so-called bamboo famine.
A similar famine occurred in Mizoram in 1911-12 followed by a large
number of conversions to Christianity. There was a phenomenal growth in
Christian membership from 2, 461 in 1917 to 27, 720 in 1921. Christianity
was introduced into the region at a time when the people were facing a
major crisis and the introduction of British rule. British administration
turned the traditional world upside down, and for many of the hills people
the impact upon the traditional way of life was traumatic. Two World Wars
and the politicization of the region accelerated the change after
Representatives of nearly all the Protestant denominations of the period
gave special importance to Christianity as a way of life, a lifestyle. To them,
164 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

character is the chief asset—purified, sanctified and transformed ‘to the

measure of stature of the fullness of Christ’. No doubt the adoption of a
new style constituted a fundamental challenge to the traditional cultures.
In a number of places, especially in the Ao area of Nagaland, missionaries
saw opium eating as one of the major social problems. Its continued use by
converts was one of the main reasons for disbanding the Molung church in
1894. The missionaries tried to end this situation, first to eliminate the use
within the Christian community, and second to oppose government support
for the opium trade. Abstinence from the use of the traditional country
liquor, especially the rice beer commonly used, was an important component
of the new lifestyle.
The Western evangelical background missionaries were very sensitive
to the social evil of slavery, which was widespread during the early years of
the British Administration. Both Baptist and Presbyterian missionaries
opposed the practice of slavery. One of the existing problems in the area
was that slavery was part and parcel of the bawi system once prevalent
among the Mizos as a benevolent form of slavery in which persons convicted
of certain types of crimes, who sought refuge in time of war, or who had
become destitute became servants in the chief ’s household. Most of the
missionaries were cautious about attacking such a system outright hoping
it would disappear with the growth of public consciousness. Missionaries
also opposed the institution of chieftainship, which in the political post-
Independence environment, lead to its abolition in 1955-56.

Christianity’s Contribution to Cultural Development

The most important contribution Christianity made to the process of
acculturation in the north-east was in the fields of literature and education.
Although Christians played a vital role in the development of literature
and education in both the Brahmaputra valley and the hills, a distinction
needs to be made between these areas.
The American Baptist Mission and Nidhi Levi Farwell (the first convert)
had influenced the Assamese speaking areas in the development of languages,
in a similar way to the contribution made by the Serampore missionaries in
Bengal. They were able to stimulate a literary renaissance through their
own publications through the Baptist Mission Press at Sibsgar. They
produced grammars, dictionaries, different textbooks, and even novels from
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 165

the beginning of the 1840s. They were able to produce a periodical, the
Orunuodi (1846), which continued until 1880 both in newspaper and a
magazine form. Another important personality who contributed to the
development of new literature was Nathan Brom, the first editor of Orunodi,
and he was recognized as an authority on the languages of north-eastern
India. The result was that in the Assamese areas Christianity helped make
it possible for the Assamese to retain their distinctive identity. However,
while the Christian impact was great, it did not lead to the creation of a
large Christian community.
For the Assamese, it was a matter of revitalizing and modernizing an
ancient language. With the hill tribes, by contrast, it was to create a written
language and literature where there was none before. So the missionaries in
the region reduced to writing a number of tribal languages. According to
Gillespie there were thirty-two languages into which at least portions of
the Christian scriptures had been translated by 1967.14 The Roman Catholics
made significant contributions to the development of tribal literature of a
different kind later, especially in the Khasi-Jaintia area. The Salvatorian
missionaries as well as leaders of other sects and communities tried to adopt
a new phonetic mode of spelling.
The priority given to education in the north-eastern region indicates
the central importance of the process of acculturation. Immediately on
arrival in Cherapunji, Alexander Lish, the first missionary, opened a school.
The missionary work of the Serampore mission in the Assam plain was a
school at Guwahati. The pioneer American Baptist missionary when he
arrived at Sadiya introduced a network of schools. So also the Welsh
missionaries started schools in Cherapunji and neighbouring villages. The
19th century missionaries felt that education served two basic functions:
it broke down the barriers of superstition, and it provided a means of
Christian instruction and access to the Christian scriptures and other
forms of Christian literature.

Unlike other regions of India, the history of Christianity in north-east India
can be viewed through political, ecclesiastical and social dimensions. In
the political dimension, one sees the relationship between the arrival of
Christianity and the establishment of British administration, the first
166 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

time the people of the north-east had been brought under a single
government. From the ecclesiastical dimension, one sees a small body of
foreigners introduce the Christian faith into the region in the form of
evangelicalism, and how in spite of great difficulties, a thriving Christian
community eventually came into being in certain hill areas, and by the
end of the 19th century a vigorous movement had emerged particularly
among the tribal peoples of both hills and plains, with the result that
today it constitutes one of the fastest growing segments of the
Christian church in India. The new identity was to become the basis of
modern political movements in the region. Both political and ecclesiastical
developments alone cannot explain such large numbers of people being
converted to Christianity. The third dimension, the social dimension,
integrates and makes sense of the other two. One can see how Christianity
helped people adjust to the entirely new situation with the introduction
of new value systems by the British. It so happened that Christianity was
introduced into the north-east at the precise time when changes were
taking place either as a historical accident or divine providence, depending
on one’s perspective. But the fact remains that Christian faith has served
an important social function in the north-east.

The Protestant Churches in India

The Protestant work in India is the result of missionary activities of different
Protestant societies during the 18th and 19th centuries. Tranquebar on the
east coast of South India was a Protestant mission station started as early as
1706 by the Royal Danish Mission of German missionaries—Ziegenbalg
and Plutschau—and financed by the Church of England through the Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel.

The Anglican Church in India

The Anglican Church in India was a part of the Church of England, the
origin of which goes back to 1599, when the English Parliament gave powers
to the English crown over the English church. Priests who worked in the
British colonies were placed under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London.
With the arrival of the East India Company in India, priests began to arrive
in India to minister to (mainly) the English people working in India. In
1814, Bishop T F Middleton became the Bishop of Calcutta (India, Ceylon,
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 167

the East Indies and New South Wales), and it was decided to form the
See of Madras in 1836, Bombay in 1837, Travancore-Cochin in 1879 and
Tinnevelly in 1895. With the formation of the Church of South India in
1947 and the Church of North India in 1961, the Anglican dioceses in
India ceased to exist as Anglican.
However, a new development took place in the Diocese of Madhya
Kerala in the Diocese of Church of South India. From 1816 to 1838, the
CMS missionaries worked with the Orthodox Christians in Kerala. Their
‘Mission of Help’ scheme ended with the decision of the Orthodox Church
to terminate their relationship with CMS. The CMS missionaries then
started evangelization among non-Christians in Kerala at Cheramar (Pulaya),
Sambavar (Paraya), Sidhanar (Kurava) and amongst the Arayans (Hill
Tribes) As the missionaries did not know the language, they sought the
help of English-educated Orthodox Christians. Rev George Mathan Kasisa
of Mallappally was the first to help them. One pulaya family embraced
Christianity. The head of the family was Deivathan, christened Abel on
6 September 1864. Many followed him and the baptized were
emancipated from slavery and rehabilitated. The churches were attached
to the Madras Diocese. In 1879 the Diocese of Travancore and Cochin
was formed. This new diocese was a conglomeration of Orthodox Syrians,
Cheramars, Sambavars, Sidhanars and Hill Tribes. It became a part of the
Church of South India in 1947.

Baptist Churches
William Carey, an English missionary to India landed in Calcutta on
11 November 1793 and pioneered the Baptist movement in India. No
sooner had he reached there than he was informed that he would not be
permitted by the East India Company to stay in the country. The next few
months were for the would-be missionaries a time of painful decision as to
what they should do next and where they should go. However, on
13 July 1813, the British Parliament, when renewing the charter of the
East India Company, in response to 900 petitions signed by nearly half a
million people of ‘intelligence and respectability’, allowed Christian teachers
to work in India.
Carey founded several Baptist congregations in Bengal and surrounding
areas. He got involved in several social activities and worked along side
168 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Raja Ram Mohan Roy to eradicate social evils as sati. He also wrote grammars
of Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi. He studied Telugu, Punjabi and Oriya
also. A striking literary work by Carey was the translation of Ramayana
into English. He became known as the father of modern missions. He started
the Serampore College and translated the Bible into various languages
including Bengali. Later the Baptist movement was introduced into Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka and other regions including Delhi and Kerala. As the
Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local churches, there is no hierarchical
form of church government, and they work together as a fellowship.

The Church of South India

The Church of South India (CSI) is the union of three great churches—
the South India United Church, the Methodists and the Anglicans—
which took place on 27 September 1947. The churches that entered into
full communion on that date were: the Madras, Madurai, Malabar, Jaffna,
Kannada, Telugu and Travancore church councils of the South India United
Church; the South India Province of the Methodist Church comprising
the Madras, Trichinopoly, Hyderabad and Mysore districts; and the
dioceses of Madras, Dornakal, Tirunelveli, Travancore and Cochin in the
Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon. The North Tamil Church
Council of the South India United Church entered into full communion
with the church in 1950.
The humble beginning of this union was made in Tranquebar, on the
east coast of south India (where the first Protestant mission was started in
1707) when seven Anglicans and 26 South India United Church members
signed the Tranquebar Manifesto. The South India United Church was a
combined body of Presbyterians, Congregationalists and the Methodists.
It took thirty years of intense deliberations to arrive at the eventual formation
of the Church of South India. The constitution of the church proclaims
that this unity is to carry out God’s will that is expressed in the Lord’s
Prayer that all may be one in John 17.
The basis of the constitution is the Lambeth Quadrilateral. It accepts
and maintains the historic episcopate in a constitutional form. The CSI is
an autonomous church free from any control, legal or otherwise, of any
church or society external to it. The ordained ministry of the church consists
of bishops, presbyters and deacons. The bishop has a diocesan council to
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 169

administer the church, and he is the president of the council and all
committees. A presbyter can become a bishop only after attaining forty-
five years of age and shall retire on completion of sixty-five years. The diocesan
council of an elected body appointed by the council elects the bishop.
The CSI is administered by a synod, which is the supreme, governing
and legislative body of the church. All bishops, assistant bishops, officers of
the synod and the General Secretary of the CSI Women’s Fellowship are ex-
officio members of the synod. There are clergy and lay representatives as
well. The officers of the synod are the moderator, deputy moderator, general
secretary and treasurer, all of whom are elected for a term at ordinary meetings
of the synod, which is held once in two years. The pastorates, the basic
church units, have pastorate committees under the leadership of the
presbyter. At present there are twenty-two dioceses.

The Church of North India

The Church of North India (CNI) is the communion of six Christian
churches of North India, namely, the United Church of Northern India,
the Baptist Churches of Northern India (British Baptist), the Church of
Brethren in India, the Churches of Brethren in India, the Disciples of
Christ (Anglican) and the Methodist Church (British and Australian
Conferences). It was born on 29 November 1970 at Nagpur. Deliberations
towards the unity of churches started in 1929, and the United Church of
Northern India, the Australian Churches of Christ Mission, the Wesleyan
Methodist Church, the Australian Methodist Church and the
Methodist Episcopal Church were the promoters. In 1957, the Brethren
and Disciples of Christ joined the unity negotiations. The final stage was
reached in 1965, and all negotiating churches, except the Methodist
Church in Southern Asia, united into one.
The supreme administrative and legislative body of the church is the
synod, which meets once in three years. The executive committee of the
synod meets in between to take provisional decisions. The synod elects the
moderator (a bishop) to head the church and the general secretary manages
the day-to-day administrative matters. The CNI has twenty-six dioceses.
170 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Lutheran Churches
Lutheran churches emerged from the Protestant Reformation, which began
in Germany in 1517. As indicated in chapter 1, Martin Luther’s teaching
against some of the Roman Catholic practices gave birth to the Protestant
Reformation Movement. In India there is a united form for the Lutheran
churches. It is called the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India,
which has its headquarters in Chennai. The member churches are Andhra
Evangelical Lutheran Church, Arcot Lutheran Church, Good Samaritan
Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church,
India Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Madhya Pradesh, Northern Evangelical
Lutheran Church, South Andhra Lutheran Church, Tamil Evangelical
Lutheran Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Northern India.

The Methodist Church

Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley, an Anglican
priest (1703-90) in England, as indicated in chapter 1. The
Methodist Episcopal Church came to India in 1856 with William Butler,
a missionary from America who started work at Bareilly. The arrival of the
famous evangelist William Taylor in 1870 changed the course of
Methodism in India. The same year, the first missionaries of the Women’s
Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church came to
India. Two young ladies Isobella Thoburn, an educationist and Clare
Swain, a doctor were the first women missionaries to reach India. A large
number of depressed class people were baptized in northern India due to
the evangelistic efforts of the missionaries. They started the Mass
Movement which enabled several hundreds of thousands of converts in
the Methodist Church in the rural areas.
The election of the first national Bishop Jaswant Rao in 1940 by the
Central Conference of Southern Asia marked the beginning of a new era.
Since 1928 the Methodist Church was engaged in negotiations with other
churches in North India to enter into organic union, but it did not produce
the desired effort. In 1980 the General Conference of the United Methodist
Church granted the necessary enabling Act authorizing the Central Conference
of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to be recognized and to become
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 171

affiliated autonomous churches of the United Methodist Church. The

supreme legislative body of the church is the General Conference, which
meets once in four years. General Conference takes all major decisions
including the appointment of bishops. The Methodist Church has a three
tier judicial system—Judicial council at the General Conference level,
Regional Court at the Regional Conference level, and committees of
conciliation at the district conference level, and the church is divided into
six Episcopal areas.

The Presbyterian Church of India

The Presbyterian Church of India is an offshoot of the Presbyterian Church
of Wales, which in turn is the result of a religious awakening in England
and Wales during the 18th century. The Presbyterian Church in India
started work with the missionary work of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist
or Presbyterian Church of Wales in Khasi Jaintia area (Meghalaya) with the
arrival of Rev Thomas Jones and his wife on 22 June 1914. The mission
work steadily progressed to such other parts as Sylet-Cachar plains,
Cachar Hills of Assam, Mizoram and later to Manipur, and the synod of
the Presbyterian church in Assam was officially started in 1926.
In 1935 the synod came to be called the assembly, and the assemblies
of the time renamed as synods. Under the constitution of the
Presbyterian Church of India, the assembly is the supreme body exercising
authority over all the churches within its fold. It takes up matters between
the Presbyterian and other church bodies including ecumenical
organizations like the World Council of World Missions, the World Alliance
of Reformed Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the
National Council of Churches in India of which the Presbyterian Church
of India is a member. The church is spread over a large area covering the
entire north-eastern part of India comprising Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram,
Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. The Presbyterian assembly
operates from its central office, Shillong.
According to 1998 statistics the church has a total strength of
2,568 local churches. In the church there are 23 languages and dialect
groups. Khasi, Mizo, Kuki, Naga, Karbi, Biate, Hraughol, Assamese,
Bengali, Dimasa, Nepali are the main languages.
172 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Mennonite Church

The Mennonite church is an offshoot of the Anabaptist movement of the
16th century. Anabaptists were the Swiss Brethren who were radically
opposed to Zwingli. They practised adult baptism and organized
independent congregations. The founder of this church is Mennon Simons
(1496-1561), a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who deserted his church
and led the reform movement. The title ‘Mennonite brethren’ was first
used by two ministers, Martin Boehm and Philip William at their
evangelistic meeting at Baltimore. Owing to persecution they had to flee
Russia in 1860, and the Mennonites came to America between 1860 and
1929. Today Mennonites are around the world in many countries.
The Russian missionaries, Rev Freser J Abraham and his wife were the
first to arrive in India in 1889 followed by Hubert, the first American
Mennonite to reach India, who came in 1899. American missions eventually
took up the Indian mission. There are six Mennonite groups in India. They
are the Mennonite Brethren Church of Andhra Pradesh and other Mennonite
churches. The 800 units of the church are divided into ten field

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is a Christian international movement founded in
London by William Booth, and its first meeting was held on 2 July 1865,
and it was called ‘Christian Mission’. The title ‘Salvation Army’ was brought
into use in 1878. William Booth was a minister of the Methodist New
Connection Church, which was greatly influenced by ideals of Wesleyan
Movement. The Salvation Army was his medium to carry out his ambitions
in life. He saw the church engaged in spiritual warfare, and his movement
used uniforms, flags and ranks. The Salvation Army mission is primarily
evangelization and social welfare activities. Today, the Army spreads over
90 countries. Frederick George de Latour Tucker of the Indian Civil Service
took the Indian name Fakir Singh and commenced the Army work in
Bombay on 19 September 1882. The adoption of an Indian lifestyle
provided the pioneers with ready access to the people.

The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC)

Pastor K E Abraham in 1924 founded the Indian Pentecostal Church of
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 173

God at Mulakazha, Chenganur. K C Cherian (Vettiyur), P M Samual

(Keekozoor), K M Zacharia (Punnakad), K C Oommen (Kumbanad) and
P T Varghese (Chethakal) were his associates. By the end of 1926, the
church had spread to Travancore, Cochin, Malabar and Madras Province,
to the States of Mysore and Hyderabad and to some places in North
India. In 1934, the regional representatives of the church met at
Kumbanad and decided to delete the word ‘South’ from the name of the
church. The church is a registered body with the government under the
Societies Act at Elura, Andhra Pradesh. Now it is the largest Pentecostal
denomination with over 5000 local congregations. It has 24 Region Councils
spread in various States of India and abroad. Kumbanadu Convention is
conducted by IPC for the last 24 years.

The Assemblies of God

The General Council of the Assemblies of God was founded in the USA in
1914. Mrs Mary Chapman, the first missionary, reached India in 1915
and stayed at Chennai, and in 1921 moved to Tiruvanathapuram. The
official publication of the Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Kahalam, was started
in 1925, and Bethel Bible School at Mavelikara was founded in 1927.
Upon the death of Mrs Chapman in 1927, the administration of the
Assemblies of God came into the hands of Indians. The entire Assemblies
of God is divided into three general councils—North, South and East India
Assemblies of God. These general councils together constitute the Assemblies
of God of India (AGI), which was formed in 1955, and there is an executive
committee for the administration.

The Church of God (Full Gospel) in India

The Church of God (Full Gospel) is an international Pentecostal church
spread over 150 countries with 45 million members. J G Ingram, one of
the founders of the church, came to India in 1936, and he met American
Robert F Cook of Malankara Full Gospel Church which had been founded
in 1914. Cook joined the new group with 66 local churches, 43 pastors
and 2537 believers. The Church of God in India (Kumbanad) remained
separate, with 15,000 members and 123 pastors. The present membership
strength of the combined church is 40,000 and there are 520 pastors.
Languages used are English, Malayalam and Hindi. The Church of God
174 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

has spread throughout India and in 1972 it was divided into seven
autonomous regions, each under a State overseer.

New India Church of God

New India Church of God is an indigenous New Testament Church
established in 1976, and Pastor V A Thampy is the founder president. The
church has units in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa,
Bengal and Nepal and has 50,000 members, 528 pastors, 42 sisters and
200 trainees. New India Church is divided into two regions, southern and
northern regions.

New India Bible Church

Rev Thomas Philip, Pastor Abraham Mathew and Rev George Philip at
Paipad, Kumbanad and Tiurvalla in Kerala founded New India Bible Church.
The church has 125 local communities, and they are divided into 14 centres.

Sharon Fellowship Church

Dr P J Thomas founded Sharon Fellowship Church in 1953. Following
university education in India, he went abroad for higher education and
became a professor at Wheaton College, Illinois. He returned to India and
founded Sharon Bible College in 1953 to equip young people for missionary
work. The churches started by the graduates of the college came to be
known as Sharon Fellowship Church. The church is divided into four regions:
Kerala Bahya (outside), Kerala, Gulf, USA.

The Church of God in South India Association

Rev D S Warner founded the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, USA,
and Rev A D Khan brought it to India in 1910. The church is divided into
two, the Church of God in South and the Church of God in North. Local
churches in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka comprise
the Church of God in South India. The church has 1250 local communities
and 1200 pastors.

World Missionary Evangelism in India (WME)

Dr John Douglas founded the International Pentecostal Organization,
World Missionary Evangelism (WME) in 1940, and it was registered at
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 175

Hyderabad. The India Independent Churches of God founded by the late

C S Mathai of Pathanamthitta on 12 July 1947 united with WME in
1971. The church is divided into 75 areas, each under a supervisor. There
are about 15,000 ministers and 6000 congregations.

Brethren Assemblies
The Brethren Assembly was the result of the 19th century resurgence of
Christian unity and activity, a new awakening within the Protestant
Reformation of the 16th entury. In 1827 in Dublin, Dr Edward Cronin,
J N Darby, Bellect, and Hutchinson constituted the first congregation,
having affirmed that a priest was not necessary. This movement came to
India in 1835 through Antony Norris Groves, a dentist by profession, and
his activities centred in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, followed
in Karnataka and Bengal in 1872. Mathai Upadeshi, a disciple of John
Arulappa, who took the baton from Groves, initiated this movement in
Kerala. J J Groves, a preacher from the Keswick Convention in England,
delivered sermons at the Maramon Convention, Kerala. His Bible classes
inspired several people in Kerala and consequently in 1896, P E Mammen
Kaseesa of Kumbanad, a Mar Thoma priest, was baptized by immersion at
Kunnamkulam, Thrissur by the Brethren missionary V Naal who is famous
as the composer of the song ‘Samayamaam Rathathil’ .
On 9 March 1899, four men, following the Dublin example, assembled
at the residence of Kuttiyil Mathai at Kumbanad for the ‘breaking of bread’
without a priest. This was the starting point of the Brethren Movement in
Kerala. The missionary work was carried on by V Nagal, E H Nod and
Mahakavi (great poet) K V Simon. Today this movement has over 600
assemblies in Kerala and is estimated to have over 2200 churches in India.
Unlike other churches, the Brethren Assembly has no centralized
administration. Every regional church is almost autonomous.

The Believers’ Church

This church is the outcome of a mission, Gospel for Asia, which was founded
by Dr K P Yohanan in the 1990s. During the first years of the mission, the
Gospel for Asia worked with many mission organizations that focussed on
evangelism. Eventually they set up Bible colleges to train church planters
and send them out to the neediest nations of Asia. The Gospel for Asia has
176 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

nearly 10,000 Believers’ churches.. The Believers’ Church basically subscribes

to the general Pentecostal beliefs; however, they accept episcopacy in their
governance of the church. In 2004 Dr K P Yohanan was consecrated bishop.
The headquarters of the Gospel for Asia is Tiruvalla, Kerala.15 Recently they
have consecrated six more bishops and Dr Yohanan is elevated Archbishop.

The Churches in Kerala

The CMS Mission of Help and Subsequent
Separation of the Orthodox Group
By the beginning of the 19th century, the British power was established
in India. The British stationed Colonel Munro, a British Resident, in
Travancore. He took a keen interest in the ancient church in Kerala, which
led to the ‘Mission of Help’ from the Church Missionary Society coming
to Kerala. Although the early missionaries adhered to the instruction to
provide help, the later missionaries wanted to reform the Syrian Church,
the result of which was a difference of opinion between the Syrian bishops
and the missionaries. In 1836 the Syrians met in a synod at Mavelikara
and rejected the reform proposals put forward by the missionaries with
the excuse that they were unable to do anything in the matter of faith
without the permission of the Patriarch at Antioch. This statement of the
Syrian bishops is known as the Mavelikara Padiyola. The consecration of
Mathews Mar Athanasius by the Antiochene Patriarch led to the arrival
of Patriarch Peter III in Kerala, and in 1876 he convened a synod at
Mulanthuthy. This synod was the beginning of the period of Antiochene
supremacy over the Malankara Syrian Church.
This situation continued till 1912 when a powerful group in the church
desired freedom from the Antiochene hegemony, and they secured the
establishment of the Maphriate of the East in Kerala. However, there were
some who wanted to continue its allegiance to the Patriarchate of Antioch,
which led to the eventual division of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church
into two churches. One is known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
and the other as the Malankara Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church under
the Patriarch of Antioch. This division marked the beginning of a
prolonged litigation between the validity of the Maphriate as established
in 1912 and its constitution adopted in 1934. However, a sense of peace
and unity prevailed in the church from 1958 to 1971 on the basis of the
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 177

court verdict of 1958. In 1971 the litigation struggle started all over
again. The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgement of
June 1995 made an appeal to the members of the church to work for the
peace and unity of the church as a Christian responsibility and provided
a modus operandi for the two churches to work out the modality for a
lasting peace in the church. However, the two sides have been unable to
agree on the implication of the operative position of the Supreme Court
judgement, and these matters are still pending in the court. Later the church
was again divided into two sections, one called the bishop’s party (Metran
kakshi), and the other called the patriarch party (Bava kakshi). However,
in 1958 letters were exchanged between the Patriarch Moran Yakub III
and Catholicos Mar Baselius Geevarghese II accepting each other.
The head of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church (Jacobite
Syrian Christian Church), His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka Ivas I,
Patriarch of Antioch and the entire east, lives in Damascus, Syria and the
Episcopal Synod President, His Beatitude Thomas Mar Baselius Catholicos
lives in Kothamangalam. He is also the Catholicos under the Holy Apostolic
See of Antioch and all the East. In 2001 the name of the Church is changed
to Jacobite Syrian Christian Church. The Church has 17 dioceses. The
Universal Syrian Orthodox Church (USOC) today consists of 29 dioceses of
which 10 are in India. The USOC is a member of the WCC. The Head of
the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is His Holiness Baselius Mar Thoma
Didymus I, Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan, stationed at
Kottayam, and the Orthodox Syrian Church has today 21 dioceses.

The Malabar Independent Syrian Church

(Independent Church of Thozhiyur)
The Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Sabha) was founded
by Kathumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara
in 1772. He was consecrated Metropolitan by Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem
at Mattancherry. He could not live in the State of Travancore because of
the opposition from the church leaders. So he went to Malabar and settled
at Anjoor in Thrissur district. Hydroskutty Moophan, a local chieftain of
Anjoor, was impressed by his devotion and donated a coconut grove to
the Metropolitan. He established the headquarters of the church there.
Koorilose Bava died on 10 July 1802. The present Metropolitan, Joseph
178 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Mar Koorilose, is the 15th in succession. Although a very small church

with a membership of 21,000, it has close ecclesiastical links with the
Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The Metropolitan of Thozhiyoor Church,
Joseph Mar Koorilose, was consecrated as Metropolitan in 1986.18

The Assyrian Church of the East

Thomas the Apostle founded the Assyrian Church of the East known in
India as the Chaldean Church of the East. St Thomas Christians in India
had relations with the Chaldean Church of the East founded by Mar Thoma,
Mar Bartholomeu, Mar Adhai and Mar Mar Mari. The last two were among
the seventy disciples of Jesus.19 It was a flourishing church with 19 Episcopal
Sees from Mesopotamia to China and Japan. This church was also known
as the Nestorian or Assyrian church, and uses an Aramaic liturgy. Although
bishops and Christian leaders used to come from Mesopotamia, the
Portuguese since their arrival in India in the 16th century tried to break
this tradition and Latinize them.
In 1796, Saktan Thampuran, the then king of Cochin, invited 52
families to Thrissur for the promotion of trade and commerce. In 1814,
they built Martha Mariam big church in Thrissur. This community tried
to retain their identity. Various bishops started arriving there, the first two
being Mar Rockose (1861-62) and Mar Meluse (1874-82). There were no
bishops from 1945-52. The next bishop from the Chaldean Church was
Mar Thoma Darmo (1952-68) during which time there was a split in the
church. In 1964 Mar Simeon, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, decided
to follow the Gregorian calendar, and Mar Darmo and a group opposed it.
They elected Mar Thoma Darmo as the 120th patriarch. Mar Darmo went
back to Chaldea in 1968. He appointed Mar Aprem as bishop.
Paulose Mar Paulose was also consecrated in 1968. But he came to India
only in 1976. In 1972, Mar Simeon appointed Mar Timotheus as
Metropolitan of India. So both groups of the church had metropolitans in
India. Efforts towards unity in the church took place in November 1995,
and the church is now one under Mar Dinha IV. Mar Aprem is the
Metropolitan of India and Mar Thotheous delegate of the patriarch.20

The Mar Thoma Syrian Church

The church is an oriental church born out of the Protestant Reformation.
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 179

It is the result of the Anglican influence on St Thomas Christians of India

in the middle of the 19th century. The Church in India was founded by
Apostle Thomas in CE 52, and it remained monolithic till the arrival of
European missionaries in the 15th century. The efforts of the Portuguese
missionaries to Latinize the church led to dissension while one group adhered
to the Pope and others declared allegiance to the Jacobite Patriarch of
Antioch. The latter group was called Puthencoor.
The Puthencoor group came into close contact with English Protestant
missionaries during the period of Mar Thoma VI who was known as
Dionysius I (1765-1808). In 1806-07, chaplains of the East India
Company visited Travancore and Cochin. Colonel Munro, Resident of
the British Government, also showed interest in the affairs of the Syrians
of Malabar and he helped Itoop Ramban to start a seminary at Kottayam
in 1813. The CMS missionaries injected new life into the Syrian Church,
and the first missionaries arrived in 1816, started an English school and
published the Bible in Malayalam. The relations between the missionaries
and the Syrians were very cordial during the period of Pullikootil Mar
Dionysius (1817-18) and Punnatharai Mar Dionysius (1818-25), and
the Synod of Mavelikara (1836) officially decided to have close co-
operation between the missionaries and the Syrians. But tension developed
during the period of Cheppad Mar Dionysius when the missionaries
wanted certain proposals of reformation to be accepted by the Syrians.
The Mavelikara Synod (1836) convened for the purpose could not accept
the changes and that was the end of their relationship.
However, a group of Syrians led by Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan of
Maramon (1796-1845) who was a teacher of Syriac at the Kottayam
seminary and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan of Puthencavu stood for
reforms. In 1836 this group approached Col Frazer for help, Resident of
the British Government, but as no help came, Abraham Malpan took a
bold step. He translated Qurbana into Malayalam and celebrated it in
1837. He eliminated prayers for the dead, and removed the wooden image
of a saint from the church. These activities infuriated the Metropolitan,
who refused to ordain the deacons working with the Malpan. The situation
created the need of a bishop. The Malpan sent his nephew,
Deacon Mathew, to the Jacobite Patriarch of Mardan, Syria, and he was
consecrated bishop and reached Malabar in 1843. The new bishop, Mathews
180 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Mar Athanasius, strongly carried forward the reform ideas. Abraham Malapan
died in 1843.
The Syrian Church in India started to move in two directions.
Mar Dionysius invited the Patriarch to Malabar. In the meantime,
Mathews Mar Athanasius, with the support of the Bishop of Thozhiyoor
got his nephew, the son of Abraham Malpan, consecrated bishop with the
name Thomas Mar Athanasius in 1869. When Patriarch Pathros III came
to Malabar he convened a synod at Mulamthuruthy in 1876 and divided
the church into seven dioceses, and he condemned Mathews Mar Athanasius
and his colleagues. Mar Athanasius argued that the patriarch had no power
to do so. In 1877 Thomas Mar Athanasius succeeded him. There was
litigation between the groups, and a final verdict went in favour of the
patriarch. But Mar Athanasius got the support of three churches,
Kozhencherry, Maramon and Kottarakara and they decided to form a
separate church. They were called ‘the reformed party’. Before
Thomas Mar Athanasius died in 1893, he had not consecrated a successor.
So the Bishop of Thozhiyoor came to the rescue of the young church.
Geevarghese Mar Koorilose of Thozhiyoor consecrated the younger brother
of Mar Athanasius as Titus I, who was succeeded by Titus II (1899-1944),
during which time the reformed party adopted the new name ‘Marthoma
Syrian Church’. In 1927 new liturgical books in accordance with the
reformed theologies were published. When Titus II died in 1944,
Abraham Mar Thoma became the Metropolitan and continued till 1947
when Yuhanon Mar Thomas (1947-76) took over. In 1976 Alexander Mar
Thoma (1976-99) succeeded Yuhanon Mar Thoma, followed by
Philipose Mar Chrysosthom in 1999. The Church has ten dioceses.

St Thomas Evangelical Church of India and

St Thomas Evangelical Church of India (Fellowship)
In 1952, Mr K M Daniel spearheaded a splinter group in the Mar Thomas
Syrian Church, and formed another denomination, the St Thomas
Evangelical Church of India, with Rt Rev K N Oommen and
Rt Rev P John Varghese as its bishops. Administrative problems arose within
the church when Bishop Varghese died, and the church could not elect a
new bishop, which resulted in internal problems and litigation, one group
supporting Bishop Oommen and the other opposing him.
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 181

In 1971, the faction headed by Bishop Oommen formed a registered

society named St Thomas Evangelical Church (Fellowship) and started
evangelistic activities in the church. The other group consecrated
Rev T C Cherian, a clergyman of the Church of South India, as its bishop
in 1976. Litigation followed, and the two groups started functioning as
separate entities. Attempts to reunite the groups started work in the mid
1990s, and in 2000 both groups agreed to withdraw all pending court
cases and function as two separate groups. A number of the second group
rejoined the first one. The headquarters of St Thomas Evangelical Church
is at Tiruavalla while that of St Thomas Evangelical Church (Fellowship)
is at Kadapra. Both groups recognize each other. Rt Rev T C Cherian and
Rt Rev M K Koshy are the bishops of the former one while that of the
latter is Rt Rev A I Alexander.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

This church, like some others, claims as its origin from the first century
when St Thomas the apostle established the church in Kerala. In the 4th
century the community came into contact with the Syro-Chaldean churches
as a result of which it adopted the East Syrian liturgical tradition in its
liturgical practices. With the arrival of the Portuguese in the16th century,
it came in contact with them. At the same time a section of the community
which had been in existence from the early centuries, decided not to have
anything to do with the Portuguese designs. This group entered into
communion with the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch and they organized
among themselves and started to adopt Jacobite (or West Syrian) liturgical
tradition in their worship.
Over a period of time several attempts were made by some sections of
the community to regain the original status. In 1926, the episcopal synod
held at Parumala empowered Metropolitan Mar Ivanios to enter into
negotiations with Rome so as to have reunion with the Roman Church,
and Pope Pius XI accepted the request and conditions expressed by the
Metropolitan that the ancient tradition of the Malabar Church should be
retained. Accordingly on 30 September 1930, Archbishop Mar Ivanios,
Bishop Mar Theolphilus, Rev Fr John Kuzhipurath, and deacons Alexander
and Chacko Killeth made their profession of faith, and they were received
into the Catholic communion by Bishop Dr Maria Benziger of Quilon
182 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

who was specially deputed by the Pope. In 1932 Mar Ivanios made his
official visit to Rome and Pope Paul XI invested him with the sacred pallium,
(a kind of dress which is a sign of the Metropolitan’s power) and full
communion of the Metropolitan and autonomy of the church with the
Pope. On 11 June 1972, the Pope created the Syro-Malankara Catholic
hierarchy, comprising the Metropolitan Eparchy (diocese) of Trivandrum
and the Eparchy of Tiruvalla
On 11 May 1933, the Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum was
inaugurated and Mar Ivanios was enthroned as the first metropolitan. At
present the church has six eparchies (Trivandrum, Tiruvalla, Bathery and
Marthandam, Moovattupuzha and Mavelikara) and has established parishes
in different parts of India and in the USA, and has an apostolic visitor
bishop for USA, Canada and Europe as well as another one for regions
outside Kerala area. In early 2005, the Pope elevated the Syro-Malankara
Church to major archiepiscopal status. The present Major Archbishop
Catholicos is Moran Mor Baselius Cleemis.

The St Thomas Christians in the Madhya Kerala Diocese

of the Church of South India
The history of the Madhya Kerala Diocese dates back to the work of the
Church Missionary Society in the former state of Travancore. Lord William
Bentinck, the Governor of Madras Presidency, specially deputed
Dr Kerr, Senior Chaplain in the Presidency of Madras, to investigate the
state of the native church in Travancore. The Rev Dr R H Kerr and the Rev
Claudius Buchanan visited the St Thomas Christians in 1806, during the
episcopacy of Mar Dionysius I. E M Philip states that, ‘he [Kerr] expressed
to the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church a hope that one day a union
might take place between the Syrian and the Anglican Church and that he
seemed pleased at the suggestion’.21 Dr Buchanan evinced a keen desire
that the two churches should be brought closer together. His speech at the
CMS Anniversary in 1809 and his book Christian Researches in Asia drew
the attention of the English people to the St Thomas Christians of Travancore.
The CMS started the ‘CMS Mission of Help’ to the Syrian churches of
Kerala in 1816 with the initiative taken by Col Munro, the then British
Resident of Travancore. The Mission of Help had two main purposes in
mind. First, to effect the renovation of their church and to raise them from
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 183

the degradation through the work of the CMS missionaries among the
Syrians; and second, the British Resident as well as the missionaries hoped
that ‘a strong and friendly Christian Community will be a support to the
British power in Malabar’. Rev Thomas Norton (1816) was the first
missionary who came to Travancore with this programme. Benjamin Bailey
(1816), Joseph Fenn(1818) and Henry Baker Sr (1819) (popularly known
as ‘the Kottayam Trio’) came on the scene and concentrated their work
among the Syrians, whereas the pioneer missionary, Norton, concentrated
his work among the outcastes in Alleppey.
No doubt there was a very cordial relationship during the initial years;
unfortunately it did not last long. The change in leadership of the
Jacobite Syrian community and CMS caused much problem in their
relationship. While the pioneering missionaries went on furlough, during
the second half of the Mission of Help, young missionaries: Joseph Peet
(1833-65) and W J Woodcock (1834-37) entered the scene. The two
missionaries were rather impatient with the slow progress being made,
and were sometimes rash in their actions. It was unfortunate that both
Rev J Tucker, Secretary of the CMS Corresponding Committee and
Bishop Wilson, the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta did not heal the wounds.
Mar Dionysius II called a synod of the church at Mavelikara on 16 January
1836 at which it was resolved that they would not have any further relationship
with CMS. The twenty-year friendship between the two thus ended.
Owing to the impact of the work of CMS among the Syrian Christians,
soon after the separation a good number of Syrian Christians were attracted
to the teachings of the Reformation and joined the Anglican Church. In
certain centres, the whole Syrian community joined the Anglican Church.
Therefore, the CMS missionaries started to serve them as parish priests as
well. Even before the final separation, the CMS missionaries had started work
among the non-Christians. CMS records show that the missionaries worked
in the Kottayam Village Mission, the CMS College, and the Malayalam
Printing Press with the translation and printing of the Bible, the Common
Prayer Book, English and Malayalam Dictionary, Malayalam and English
Dictionary, and the Malayalam periodical, The Treasury of Knowledge in 1848.

The CMS Anglican Church of India

As mentioned earlier, the Diocese of Travancore and Cochin, which was
184 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

started in 1879, had as their members from an Orthodox Syrian

background, Cheramar (Pulaya), Sambavar (Paraya), Sidhanar (Kurava)
and Aryan (Hill Tribes) Christians. This was dominated by the ex-
Orthodox St Thomas Christians. Although in the early 1940s, it was
accepted in principle to establish a separate department to look after the
welfare of the non-Christian groups, this idea never saw the light of the
day. So in 1964, under the leadership of the Rev V J Stephen, they decided
to withdraw from the CSI and established the CMS Anglican Church in
India. There was a provision for separation within a period of thirty years
from the CSI. Dr V J Stephen was made bishop on 5 May 1966. There
are thirteen Anglican dioceses in India with its headquarters at Kuruchy,
Kottayam. The bishops constitute the synod of the church which is the
supreme body. It was established in 1990.

Mass Movements
A number of educated Brahmins and other high caste men were converted
to Christianity throughout the 19th century. Although this was of great
value in providing the Indian church greater credibility, the numerical
growth would not come by conversion of a few outstanding individuals,
but by mass movements or group conversions among the lowly sections of
the people—some of the sudra castes, the aboriginal tribes and the depressed
classes. Although Archbishop Menezes had made an unsuccessful attempt
to send Christian preachers to one of the hill tribes of Kerala, concerted
efforts were made only during the second half of the 19th century. There
were many aboriginal peoples of India who were the survivors of races
displaced by Aryans or Dravidians and who were never absorbed by
Hinduism or Islam.
In 1846, a Lutheran mission from the German Evangelical Lutheran
Mission started work in the Chota Nagpur of Bihar. A few members of the
Oram and Munda tribes were baptized at Ranchi in 1850 and 1851. A
large number of those and other tribes, collectively known as Kols, accepted
Christianity and by 1857 there were between 800 and 900 scattered among
many villages. These people suffered severe persecution from the Hindu
and Muslim zamindars of the area, especially during the 1857 mutiny.
Many of them were forced to take refuge in the jungle, until law and order
were restored. Later a large number received baptism, as they believed the
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 185

British Raj would protect them. By 1863 there were about 3400. Proper
instructions were given to catechumens before they were given baptism. At
weekends, Christians would flock to Ranchi to attend Sunday service at the
cathedral church.
In 1869 when acute differences of opinion over policy emerged, a
number of the leaders joined the Anglican Church, and they became the
nucleus of a new SPG mission, which grew rapidly and became the
Anglican Diocese of Chota Nagpur in 1890. Secession took place in 1887
when the Jesuit Fathers who came to Chota Nagpur from Bengal took
advantage of the unrest among the Kols, and thousands of them joined the
Jesuit mission. Fr Clement Lievins (1881-92) was the champion of these
people in their quarrels and lawsuits with the zamindars and moneylenders.
He founded the Mutual Help Society and a Co-operative Credit Society,
which resulted in a very large Roman Catholic community. In 1927, when
the Diocese of Ranchi was formed in that area, there were 190,000
members.22 In 1901, Lutheran work was extended to Assam, where the
Kols went to work on the tea estates. It is called Gossner Evangelical Lutheran
Church of Chota Nagpur and Assam.23
Another mass movement in South India that took place was in the
Krishnagar area of Bengal (in Nadia district, north of Calcutta in 1838-40).
A major feature of the mass movements in South India is that after the
grievous famine of 1876 –78 thousands of people of depressed classes
became Christians because of the help they received. In Andhra Pradesh
the effect was most pronounced, especially in the American Baptist Mission
area in Nellore District where they had started work in 1835. Following
the conversion of a young illiterate yogi called Periah, a movement among
the caste called Madigas (leather workers and field labourers) started in
1866. In July 1878, 3536 persons were baptized in three days. There
were other missions in Andhra Pradesh—LMS and SPG in the Rayalaseema
districts, CMS in Krishna and Godavari, the American Lutherans in
Guntur and Rajamundry—all had their membership substantially
increased after the famine.
Another sphere of activity of the missionaries in many parts of India
was the care of children orphaned by famine. Orphanages, individual schools
and village settlements were developed. Most missions in South India were
concerned in some way or another with famine relief during the period
186 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

1876-78. But this type of relief work did not produce the desired effect.
Mass movements have spread to other parts of India. In Uttar Pradesh
most of the Maghali Sikh community in the Moradabad district, and a
sweeper caste called Mehtras in Budaun District became Christians under
the American Methodists. The movement among the sweeper caste spread
also to CMS and the American Presbyterians. In the Sialkot district of the
Punjab, a majority of the Chuhra caste became Christians under the
American United Presbyterians. Similar, though smaller, movements have
taken place among the Chamare of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar under the
American Lutherans and Methodists, while the Dhods of Gujarat became
Christians under Irish Presbyterians.
It is only fair to state that such movements of lowly people into
Christianity are promoted by a desire for social betterment and the belief
that Christian agencies are interested in them and can help them. No
doubt, there are instances of genuine interest in bhakti. There are also
instances of mere hope of some financial gain. It is a characteristic feature
of mass movements that people come to faith in the caste or tribal group,
whether large or small, and this spreads to other groups of the same caste
or tribe. The result of it is that many people are included whose knowledge
of Christian teaching and experience of their faith are negligible. Most of
them join the group as a result of not a personal but a communal decision.
The mass movements have been heavily criticized by both the non-
Christian and Christian sides. Politically minded Hindus resent the
conversion of depressed classes to Christianity as a weakness of Hindu
solidarity, while Christians have criticized the conversion in large numbers
of ignorant and degraded people whose motives are questionable. Whether
one likes it or not, mass movements have occurred, and to some extent
will continue to occur. In such communities the Indian church has an
important responsibility.

Medical Missions
Another new feature of Christian work became prominent in the latter
part of the 19th century. It was the medical missions. Although early
missionaries were of a non-professional kind, they had to treat sickness.
The Tranquebar Mission had even sent an occasional doctor to India, and
Carey’s companion Thomas was a medical man. However, an organized
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 187

medical mission became a reality in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was
the American Board which adopted a regular policy of sending medical
missionaries and the early ones were both ordained to the ministry as
well as fully qualified doctors, so they were medical evangelists.
John Scudder, ancestor of a line of missionaries, arrived in Madras from
Ceylon in 1836. Two of his sons joined him later, and Henry Scudder,
the eldest, also a medical evangelist proceeded to Arcot in 1851 and started
the American Arcot Mission. There were already other medical evangelists
working in Madras from 1837, where the American Board had begun its
mission in 1834. In 1838, the London Mission started medical work at
Neyyoor in south Travancore in 1838. The American Baptists had two
medical evangelists working in southern Bengal from 1840, and the first
doctor came to Ludhiana in the Punjab in 1842.
After the First War of Independence, missions paid more attention to
medical work. The (Scottish) United Presbyterian Mission started its work
in Rajasthan in 1860 through medical evangelists, Shoolbred and
Valentine, who carried medical chests out to villages and provided
vaccinations and other treatments with the preaching of the gospel. Later
they established dispensaries and then hospitals in various places such as
Bewar and Ajmer during the next quarter of the century. So also the Free
Church of Scotland Mission established hospitals in all main stations
between 1857 and 1903. In the same way, the Basel Mission set up
hospitals on the west coast and in Calicut, Belgeri and Udipi from 1885,
and from 1889 the American Presbyterians developed an important medical
centre at Miraj (Western Deccan). So one can see that during the second
half of the 19th century, medical work became a very important branch
of mission services, and to the end of the century it grew rapidly in scope.
In 1858 there were only seven centres of medical mission worked in all
India (including Pakistan); in 1882 there were 25; but in 1895 it rose to
140, and in 1905 to 210.24
The missions decided to extend their services to women. Lady
missionaries and their helpers used to visit women in their homes, and
offered services where there were special needs. Clare Swain, an American
Methodist (fully qualified doctor) started work in 1870 at Bareilly in
Uttar Pradesh and established a women’s hospital on land given by the
Nawab of Rampur.25 Sara Edward, another American lady doctor of the
188 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

American Presbyterian Mission, arrived in Allahabad in 1871, followed

by a few others. From 1880, two British societies, Zenana and Bible
Medical Mission and the Church of England Zenana Mission, established
hospitals for women and children in many places from Amritsar to
Krishnagar and from Benares to Bangalore. British Methodists also started
medical work in Mysore State at Mysore and Hassons in 1906; they were
for women and children. In the northwest and in Kashmir, missions
initiated medical work to meet the needs largely of Muslims, of which
the medical mission of CMS in Srinagar (1864) was one of the outstanding
ones; so also the same society had many others in eastern and western
Bengal. Richter calls the Punjab (pre-1947 sense of the term) ‘the favourite
territory of medical missions’.26 In order to train qualified doctors, the
missions started medical schools, where various missions sent students
where the courses of study led to government examinations. The first
school was the Agra Medical Mission Training Institute (1881) begun by
Dr Valentine of the United Presbyterian Mission. In 1894, Dr Edith
Brown and Miss Greenfield founded the North India School for Medicine
for Christian women, which became affiliated to the Punjab University.
Dr (afterwards Sir) William Wanless established a Christian medical school
at Miraj, which was the main medical school for training men.
Dr Ida Scudder of the American Arcot Mission founded a medical school
for women in Vellore (South India), which soon became a Union Institute,
with other missions co-operating with the Arcot Mission and became the
biggest single Christian medical enterprise in India in 1945.
One of the distinctive contributions of medical missions was the
training of nurses. For many years, almost all candidates for the entire
nursing profession in India were Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians.
As late as the beginning of World War II, it was estimated that about
90 per cent of all nurses in the country, male and female, were Christians,
and that about 80 per cent of these had their training in mission hospitals.
Missions also developed special lines of work for women and children,
surgery and treatment of eye diseases. But perhaps the most conspicuous
medical fields of these missions have been that they have been in the
forefront in tuberculosis and leprosy. Probably the premier tuberculosis
sanatorium in India is a Christian institution, the Union and Mission
Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Arogyavaram (near the southern border of
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 189

Andhra Pradesh), founded in 1915 as a co-operative enterprise shared by

14 missions. In fact, ever since William Carey founded an asylum for
lepers in Calcutta, this has been a special field of Christian service. This
sphere of activity increased throughout the country, and special mention
must be made of the contribution of the Research and Training Centre of
the Mission to Lepers at Kangeri, near Vellore.
Since World War II, Christiana institutions have initiated treatment for
mental illness, and psychiatric clinics at Lucknow, Miraj and Vellore have
made a beginning in this field. A medical missionary association, founded in
1905, which blossomed into the Christian Medical Association in 1926,
which was open to all Christian medical practitioners who hold a recognised
qualification, and acts as a medical committee of the National Christian Council
and Christian Medical Association, is the central consultative and advisory
committee for the Christian medical services in India.

Christian Printing Press and Other Manufacturing Projects

Printing presses have been a common feature of all modern missions, and
in the first half of the 19th century, all major stations had a press of their
own, such as the Baptist Mission Press Calcutta (1818), The CMS Press
Kottayam, the Basel Mission Press Mangalore (1841), the (Methodist)
Lucknow Publishing House (1861) and Wesley Press Mysore (1890). In
addition, Tract and Book Societies were started in Madras (1818), Calcutta
(1823), Bombay (1827), Allahabad (1827) and Bangalore (1855). There
are others such as the Christian Literature Society for India of Madras and
the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and the
Bible Society of India. Many missions have established industrial and
agricultural projects such as tile making, leather industries, carpentry,
furniture making and others including agricultural and stock farming
projects, even an agriculture college.

The word ‘dalit’ means the oppressed or broken victims of society. The
term ‘dalit’ has its roots in ‘dall’ (poor, be low, be reduced, helpless) in
Hebrew, and in ‘dal’ (to crack, open, split, destroy, down trodden etc) in
Sanskrit. The term has a long history and evolution.27 It refers both to the
people who are depressed and dehumanized, and also the state of their
190 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

deprivation or dehumanization. Thus, dalit is both a sociological and

theological category. There are different categories of people belonging to
this group. 48 per cent of the population in India which is ‘poor’ are really
destitute or below the poverty line. There are also certain sections of the
population, viz., the scheduled castes (excluded from the caste system),
backward castes (lowest ranks of the caste hierarchy) and the tribals (apart
from the caste system), who are poor. In other words, there is both an
economic and a social factor.
Caste is one of the tragedies of Indian culture and society. Indian
religions and cultural thought speak of two distinct cultures: first, the
scriptural tradition of Vedas and other sacred books; and second, the oral
tradition of culturally backward peoples through their myths, folklores and
primitive rituals. Scholars who have an ethno-centric attitude consider
Sanskrit religious tradition as the ‘great tradition’ because it is intellectual,
mystical, classical and ‘high’ philosophy, and the other oral tradition is
‘little tradition’. Over a period of time, the socio-political, philosophical
and religious concepts and theories of the Sanskrit tradition have
monopolized the attention of scholars to such an extent that the ‘little
traditions’ are kept in complete oblivion.
From time immemorial, the primal people have been an important
segment of the world population. According to the 1981 Indian census, the
tribals formed about 7.8 per cent and the original settlers (adivasis) 15.7
per cent of the total population. These original people had their literature
which was known as dasas, vanaras, rakshasas, nishadas, nagas, yakshas, sabaras
and kiratas. Their celebration of life is through music and dance. These foster
the observations of and a symbolic relationship with nature: their millennium-
old health practices, myths and rituals, respect for mother earth, sacredness
of the land, forest and resources, and ecological ethics. The egalitarian ethics
of their culture, their simplicity and their holistic view of life stand as a
challenge to the dominant world-view of the ‘great tradition’, which enslaved
these people and kept them as servants and slaves.
In the Rig Vedic version of the origin of man, one finds ‘when they
divided up man…. His mouth became Brahmin, his arms became the
warrior/prince, his legs, the common man who piles the trade, the lowly
serf was born from his feet’.28 It means that the whole society was divided
into four varnas, which at the end of the Vedic period evolved itself into the
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 191

‘caste system’. So the varna system is the parent of caste. The caste system
divides the entire society into various endogenous groups with different
social status depending on the basis of occupation. A person born into one
group can never become a member of another group.
The lowly serf (sudra) was not offered any teachings; they were kept as
ignorant and despised slaves to perform the meanest work for the upper
caste. A part of the caste known as adisuras, the tribals and original settlers,
feel that they are the original inhabitants of Hindustan and their natural
religion has to be considered as the religion of the land in opposition to
Hinduism developed by the Sanskrit tradition. Instead of recognizing the
distinctness and identity of ‘little tradition’, the ‘great tradition’ (Sanskrit
traditions) always showed a tendency to absorb the former into itself. It is
now known as ‘Sanskritization’. It may be defined as the process by which
a ‘low caste’ or tribe or other groups take over custom, ritual, belief, ideology
and style of a high and, in particular, twice born caste.29
In his book, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done for the Untouchables,
Ambedkar argues that the untouchables are not Hindus, but they are a separate
religious minority; so are the others—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains,
Parsees, and so on. In other words, the word ‘Hindu’ is a religious term.
Hindus and untouchables practise their cults in segregation, and they remain
as separate as two aliens do, and there is no human tie that binds them. The
mere touch is enough to cause pollution to a Hindu.30 Another definition of
‘dalit’ is that dalit is not a caste, but a symbol of change and revolution. The
dalit rejects the existence of God, rebirth, soul, sacred books that have made
him a slave. He represents the exploited man in this country.31

Christian Dalits
Christian dalits (scheduled caste origin) are a social entity just as the Hindu,
Muslim, Sikh and Neo-Buddhist dalits are. The Constitution (Scheduled
Castes) Order of 1950 (amended in 1956) of the President of India
recognizing that Scheduled Castes are only those professing Hindu or Sikh
religion is grossly discriminatory on the grounds of religion; it is a calculated
denial of social reality. The Presidential Order, it seems, judges the Hindu
society for its ill treatment of the dalits, but at the same time refuses to
recognize the pervasive effects of the Hindu caste system on the non-Hindu
religions. This discrimination by the government separates Christian dalits
192 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

from other dalits and deprives them of political representation (as a minority
community) and economic privileges.
One wonders whether the decision of the upper caste Christian
representatives during the national constitution debates (1947-49) not to
ask for separate representation appears to have been misguided, short sighted
and even an exercise of class interest. It is a sad fact of life that Christian
dalits suffer caste oppression and discrimination by the so-called upper
caste Christians, and other socio-economic disabilities and marginalization
suffered in common with all dalits in the wider society.
At the first national conference of Dalit Christians (Madras 1985) it
was stated that casteism within the Christian fellowship is a theological
contradiction and a spiritual problem. Dalit Christians agonized over this
double oppression—in the church as well as in society—but refused to
accept the oppressions, affirming, first, their liberating consciousness and
sense of community in Christ; second, their wider fellowship with all dalits;
and third, their commitment to struggle for total human liberation through
their own specific struggles for justice and equality.32
Christian dalits are the worst sufferers. They suffer a fourfold
alienation: first, the State does not favour them for receiving economic
assistance and/or securing political representation even if they claim
membership in the Scheduled Caste community; second, non-Christian
dalits look upon them with disfavour when Christian dalits seek
government assistance as they are considered already uplifted by the
patronage of Christian missions; third, the so-called (upper) caste
Christians consider Christian dalits with contempt, as low-caste people;
and fourth, Christian dalits are at odds with themselves as they are being
divided on sub-caste, regional or linguistic basis.
The dalit dilemma in India has developed out of an age-old caste-class
culture. The upper class has preserved property, wealth, education (learning),
social status and political power. The social structure has inbuilt inequalities
and injustice based on the caste system sanctified by Brahmanic Hinduism.
Characteristics of an under-developed society—mass poverty, mass illiteracy
and mass unemployment—have been the life companion of dalits. Their
condition is that of destitution and dehumanization and they have been
the most degraded, downtrodden, exploited and least educated in Indian
society. Throughout the 3, 000 years of our history, they have been socially,
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 193

culturally, economically and politically subjugated and marginalized; they

remain so, even after half a century of ‘protective discrimination’(as Scheduled
Castes) by the government of India. Even today, they are denied individual
and social identity.
The dalits as well as the tribals are the original people of India, having
pre-Dravidian origin and culture. They have been always Indians and Hindus
only in a territorial geographical sense.33 They have never been practising
Hindus, followers of the post-Buddhist, renascent, Sanskritic, Brahmanic
Hinduism. The early dalit culture was animistic—pantheistic, interpolated
by fertility cults and trantric forms of worship, and later on Saivite. It has
also been suggested that there existed a pre-Vedic common non-Aryan
religious philosophy (Saivism) out of which came Buddhism, Jainism and
Hinduism.34 Thus Saivism is ‘the most ancient religion of the world. It is a
democratic, ethical, humanistic, egalitarian and tolerant religion, while
Brahminism is an authoritarian, ritualistic, life and world- negating,
hierarchical and divisive religion’.35 The plight of one-time untouchables
was really unimaginable. The main source of suffering was primarily due to
the division of society into pure classes and impure classes on the basis of
occupations. Narada, another lawmaker after Manu, writes that there are
two sorts of occupations, pure work and impure work. Impure work is
done by slaves while pure work is done by labourers.36
The dalit situation is a man-made problem. Dalits have a sub-human
social existence. They live in abject poverty, economic exploitation and
political powerlessness. They have been kicked, raped, burnt, refused
minimum wages, had their property destroyed, and been kicked brutally.
They became the most exploited peripheral group in Indian society. The
dalits view conversion to world religions as a means for liberation and
salvation. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there was a
spurt of conversion of dalits to Sikhism, Islam and Christianity. But the
upper classes in Kerala and the Sudras who have become Christians in the
17th and 18th centuries in Tamil Nadu were unwilling to accept the
newcomers as equals. Though there was not much improvement in the
socio-economic status of dalits, most of them have not renounced
the religion of their choice in spite of material benefits in the form of
Schedule Caste reservation.
194 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

History of the Reservation System in India

Even before India obtained her independence from the British, a few state
governments had granted special privileges to Christian dalits along with
others who were classified in the ‘Depressed Class’ category. These Christian
dalits who were called Indian Christians were distinguished from
other Christians—Anglo-Indian, Syrian Christian and tribal Christians.
70 per cent of the Christian population before Independence was in the
Madras Presidency and 90 per cent of them were dalit Christians. In 1885,
when educational assistance was given to adhakritha vargam (Depressed
Classes), that privilege was also granted to children of Indian Christians. In
1894 and 1895 when the Mysore government granted job reservation to
backward class Indian Christians, dalits were included in the list. Till 1936,
outcaste Hindus and untouchables were given the name ‘Depressed Classes’.
It was only in 1936 they were renamed ‘Scheduled Caste’.
In 1916 the British government provided job reservation to religious
minorities—Muslim, Sikh, Anglo Indian, Indian Christian (dalit) and
tribals. According to the Pune Agreement of 1932, untouchables were also
considered minorities. These Indian Christians were also included in the
1921 Education Reservation of the Mysore government and the 1923 Job
Reservation of the British government. In 1927, with the Job Reservation
Act of 1927, 7 per cent of jobs were reserved for dalit Christians. The job
reservation system of Travancore till 1952 is as follows: Ezavas 13 per cent,
Muslim 5 per cent, Kanmas 3 per cent, Nadars 3 per cent, Syrian Christians
1 per cent, Latin Christians 6 per cent, other Christians 2 per cent, and
Hindus 2 per cent. In Christian churches where dalit Christians were a
majority, 8 per cent of jobs were reserved for them.
Owing to the demands put forward by Dr B R Ambedkar, the Indian
government agreed to establish separate electorates for the untouchables
and other minority communities. But Gandhiji opposed this proposal and
started fasting, and in order to save the life of Gandhiji, Ambedkar retraced
his steps and agreed to give up separate electorates, the result of which was
that the untouchables lost their privilege of being a minority group from
the Caste Hindus, and the ultimate effect was that the untouchable Hindu
group lost their special reservation privilege granted to them by the 1919
Government of India Act.
To remedy this defect, the government renamed the untouchables as
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 195

‘Scheduled Caste’, established reservations in the education system and

employment, and defined clearly who would be the recipient of these
privileges and stated that only the Hindu untouchables would receive the
benefits. This meant Indian Christian dalits and Buddhists from Bengal
were excluded from the Scheduled Caste category. Although both these
categories were entitled to receive privileges of the untouchable group, it
was necessary to eliminate them from the privileges; so by introducing the
new term ‘Scheduled Castes’ on technical grounds of the explanation of the
term, they were conveniently left out.37
Dr H C Mukerjee, a Christian leader, and one of the Vice-Presidents of
the Constituent Assembly at a meeting of the Constituent Assembly on 6
August 1947, unilaterally declared that Indian Christians would give up
the special electoral reservation, which had been their privilege along with
other minorities like Muslims, Sikhs and other minority religious groups
granted in 1932. But those untouchables who have not accepted
Christianity, Buddhism or Sikhism, and Anglo-Indians demanded special
reservations in the central government. This demand was agreed upon by
all who were present in the assembly. This meant that according to the
Pune Agreement the majority of those unconverted untouchable dalits ceased
to be a minority group with the result that there was no need for a special
reservation status. In order to make it possible to have special reservation, it
would have been necessary to cancel the Pune Agreement. However, the
great Hindu leader, Ambedkar convinced the Constituent Assembly to
provide those dalits who were converted to any religion (which was the
majority of the untouchables) with special reservation status. This, the
Constituent Assembly agreed to do. Dalit leaders would categorize this as
‘constitutional cheating’ as Munshi claimed that Scheduled Caste members
are an integral part of the majority community and they needed special
reservation, at the same time refusing it to be given to other minorities.
It is to be noted that the question of reservation reforms in the
preceding paragraph only applied to reservation in the State assemblies;
at the same time reservation privileges were continued in the areas of
education, employment and economic assistance. In the proposed draft
(13 February 1948) under the leadership of Ambedkar, it was stated that
‘all those who do not believe in Hinduism should not be included as
Schedule Caste members’. Further, in Article 341 of 26 November 1949,
196 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

those who were excluded from the Scheduled Caste (SC) were denied all
the privileges they had been receiving before that date.
According to Article 340, Scheduled Caste communities came under
one commission, with the result they lost all privileges enjoyed till that
date. Although it was believed that the list of schedule of Caste members
prepared by Ambedkar (13 February 1948) would be part of the document,
the Presidential Order of August 1950 declared that only those who
followed Hinduism would be included in the list. One wonders how such
a Presidential Order came into existence denying equal privileges to all
sections of the community. It is to be noted that the statement
made by the Prime Minister’s Department (7 November 1950) and
Dr H C Mukerjee’s letter to the President indicate only reservation in
Parliament, and mentioned that there would be no difference in any
educational or employment opportunities. In 1950, the Supreme Court
cancelled the reservation based on religion. That was the end of the privileges
those dalit Christians had received from 1872 to 1950.
The reality of the problem is that caste oppression has mocked the
constitution of India. This is an area where the constitution has failed the
dalits, and it continues to fail a section of the dalit population because
they follow a religion of their choice, which is guaranteed by the same
constitution, and for more than half a century dalit Christians have
been demanding equal rights with other dalits, which unfortunately has
gone unheeded.
Those who oppose the extension of reservation to dalit Christians put
forward the argument that there is no caste system in Christianity. Although
Christianity does not advocate any caste discrimination, the situation in
India is quite peculiar and unique. Whether one likes it or not, the blunt
reality remains: Indian society is essentially based on the caste system. From
the cradle to the grave, caste considerations are of vital importance. Dalits
of all religious faiths live in the same society controlled by caste values. A
change of religion does not alter their socio-economic status. The social
stigma and ostracism prevalent in dalit society continue to haunt them
wherever they go. The dalit is always considered untouchable irrespective
of the religious faith he or she professes. In atrocities meted out to dalits,
there is no discrimination between a Hindu dalit and Christian dalit.
The crux of the problem rests with an Order by the President of India.
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 197

The third paragraph of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order of 1950

stipulates that ‘no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism
shall be deemed to be a member of the Schedule Caste’. Unfortunately the
Order is discriminatory in nature, and by restricting the benefits to a
particular religion it has divided the entire dalit community on the basis of
religion instead of caste and socio-economic backwardness being the criterion
for reservation. The Order also violates the letter and spirit of a number of
articles in the Constitution.
Article 25 denies the freedom of religion to dalits. This amounts to
forced inducement by the State by offering constitutional privilege to dalits
so that they remain in a religion, and punishes them by withdrawing the
same privileges if they desire to profess a religion of their choice. In addition,
this discrimination deprives Christian dalits of the right to seek civil
protection and safeguards against offence to all dalits under the Protection
of Civil Rights Act 1976, the Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955, and
SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. For example, if a dalit Hindu
woman and a dalit Christian woman are both being molested in caste or
communal violence, these laws will come to the help of the dalit Hindu
woman, and not of the dalit Christian woman, which is a blatant violation
and denial of basic human rights of an Indian citizen under the constitution
as well as under Article 2, 3 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights of the United Nations to which our country is a signatory.
The Supreme Court in its Mandal Commission case judgement has
categorically established the fact that a change of religion does not change
the case and that the disabilities of Scheduled Castes converted to
Christianity continues even after conversion on a par with the dalits in
other religions. It is worthwhile looking at some of the relevant passages.38
Furthermore, the Supreme Court, Minority Commission reported extension
of reservations: ‘. . .since Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists of Scheduled
Caste origin continue to suffer from social and economic disabilities even
after their conversion, there should be no objection to their availing of the
concessions admissible to them before conversion’.39
It is a known fact that although Christians form a minority (2.4
per cent) in India, the majority among them (about 65 per cent) belongs
to the dalit communities and that the socio-economic status is very similar
to that of the general dalit population. It should be noted that the
198 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Presidential Order was amended twice in 1956 to accommodate Sikh dalits,

and in 1990 to include a Neo-Buddhist caste. In 1990, the parliament
pleaded for equal justice to Scheduled Caste Christians along with Scheduled
Caste Neo-Buddhists, during which a Bill to amend the Order and include
dalit Christians was introduced along with the Bill to amend the Order to
include the Neo-Buddhists.
The Union Minister for Welfare, Ram Vilas Paswan, assumed that a
Bill to extend the statutory benefits to Scheduled Caste Christians would
be introduced at the next opportunity and the parliament unanimously
passed the extension of statutory benefits to Neo-Buddhists. During the
National Convention on Socio-economic and Political Status of the SCs/
STs on 17 June 1992, the Parliamentary Forum for SCs demanded that the
government should put an end to the discrimination against the SCs and
to introduce a Bill during the following session of the Parliament, but due
to some procedural lapse the Bill was not taken for discussion. Subsequent
requests were made in March 2004, but provided no solution. In reply to
the Supreme Court (Aug 23, 2003) on the current PIL, seeking the deletion
of the discriminatory third paragraph of the Order, the Attorney General
said that the government had installed a commission to study the issue.
One fails to understand the need for another commission, which is
unnecessary and unwarranted and is clearly another ploy to delay the
decision. At the first meeting of the reconstituted National Integration
Council in New Delhi on August 2000, demand for equal rights to dalit
Christians was raised. It is hoped that the right solution to this vexed problem
will be meted out without any further delay.

The Question of Dalit Identity

It is important to find out whether the dalits have identified their identity.
Gandhiji and upper caste Hindus (who think along with Gandhiji) consider
all the outcastes as Hindus. The enlightened dalit leaders resist the identity
imposed on them and in their struggle they try to portray the unique
features of dalitized class to end their stigmatized identity, both as outcasts
and Hindus. It is to be noted that if both sudars and dalits come together
irrespective of their religious affiliation, they will account for over
70 per cent of India’s population and the so-called caste Hindus would
find it difficult to challenge them anyway.
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 199

Although Ambedkar argues that the original religion of the dalits in

India is Buddhism, the absence of Buddhist rituals stands against his theory.
The presence of religious practices of Manu’s dharmic Sanskrit Hinduism
in the natural religion of the dalits on the contrary suggests that the religion
of dalit is a variant of Hinduism, which is identified as the ‘little tradition’
of the Bahujans (Sudars) in opposition to the ‘great tradition’ of the Sanskrit
scriptures, which now through a process of Sanskritization, attempts to
assimilate the religions of the backward classes.40
Indian literature is predominantly religious, which was written by rishis
in Sanskrit, which was the language of the military conquerors belonging
to a ‘superior’ race. Therefore the language of the conquerors and the
scriptures were considered as superior. Instructions were given to the writers
and poets who were largely Brahmin rishis, how to write and what to write.
It is reported that, as a revolt against the tyranny of the literary tradition,
Buddha had said that his teachings should be given to the people in their
own languages: Prakrit and Pal. On 25 December 1927, Ambedkar burnt
the Manusmriti at Chavadar tank in Mankar, Maharashtra as a dalit protest
against Sanskrit literature and untouchability. Ambedkar’s speech awakened
dalit consciousness, and inspired and produced by this consciousness, dalit
literature. The dalit writer is a person who is committed to a cause, and
their writings are characterized by a feeling of rebellion against the caste-
based divisive forces.
Ambedkar in his speech on 20 July 1942 at Nagpur made a passionate
call for the liberation of dalits.41 The dalit solidarity is not meant to divide
the society into dalits and non-dalits, nor to separate the migrant from the
people of the land, but to have just and equal participation of all sections of
the people in the burden and benefits of our common task.
Indian Christian theology in the past has tried to evolve its theological
systems in terms of either advaita Vedanta or Vishistha advaita, resulting in
perpetuating within itself the ‘Brahminic tradition’. Brahma Bandava
Upadyaya, a Brahmin convert to Christianity, attempted a synthesis of Sankara
advaita Vedanta and Christian theology emphasizing the jnana marga (way
of knowledge). Following the way of devotion (bhakti marga), Bishop
Appaswamy, tried to synthesize Ramanuja’s vishishta advaita with Christian
spirituality. Chenchiah attempted to synthesize Christian theology with Sri
Aurobindo’s ‘Integral yoga’. This situation continued until the 1970s when
200 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Indian theologians started to take the questions of socio-economic justice

more seriously. One of the most serious problems was the stigma of
untouchability suffered by the dalits. Manusmriti questions ‘who can set
him [sudra] from it (untouchability)?’42 An integral part of dalit power is in
dalit-consciousness, which consists in becoming aware that dalit humanity
is constituted by dalitness, which also means that the dalit people should
not feel any more ashamed of being dalit. It makes them realize that their
position in life is not simply to suffer their lot but to take responsibility for

Outline of Dalit Theology

Dalit Theology has gained much currency during last quarter of 20th century
or so. It was Mahatma Phule in the late 1880s that used the Marathi word
‘Dalit’ to describe the outcastes and untouchables as the oppressed and
broken victims of Hindu society. It was only in the 1970s that the young
intellectualists of the Dalit Panther Movement began to use the term as a
reminder of their oppression. They included Scheduled Castes and Tribes,
neo-Buddhists, workers, labourers, small farmers, women and children who
were exploited politically, economically and on the basis of religion. This
term, then, has become a rallying point for the oppressed people of India.
They have also rejected the terms imposed on the Dalits from outside such
as Scheduled Castes, Untouchables and even Harijans.43 They have accepted
this term ‘Dalit’ which they perceive as describing their situation as
oppressed people and also a positive affirmation of their identity. Christians,
too, have adopted this term. They are trying to establish a Dalit Christian
theology that would express their own lived experience under the influence
of ideas received about the Black theology movement in the United Sates
and the Peoples Movement in Korea.
Dalit theology seeks to express the lives, the struggles and the oppression
of Dalits in their own words. But it is not a theology that seeks to isolate
the community. It is a theology that wants to study and understand the
specific contextual experience of oppression and discrimination they face
and the suppression of their history, their culture and their religious
traditions. It is to be noted that much of the conventional or classical
theology has remained largely of conservative nature, probably as a result of
the experiences of some 19th century high caste converts, mainly Brahmins,
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 201

who tried initiating dialogue between Christian tradition and the high
philosophical traditions of Brahmanic Hinduism. Their theology in a way
was a theology of the elite, text-centred theology and based on written
traditions. At that time that type of dialogue in the Vedas was probably
inaccessible to the Dalits. Arvind P Nirmal, a pioneer in the explanation
for a Dalit Christian theology feels that most of the contributions to Indian
Christian theology in the past came from high castes converts to Christianity
and the result has been that Indian Christian theology has perpetuated
within itself what he calls ‘Brahmanic tradition.44
Even some non-Brahmins and others of very lowly backgrounds had
tried to merge Christianity with sets of idea and beliefs other than those
coming out strictly from high Hinduism. The Kabirmat Darsahak Granth
(Sources of Kabir religion) by a merchant convert from Maharashtra (1891)
gives details of many features of the Kabir sect, pointing out how its hidden
meaning was fulfilled in Christianity. They viewed both Kabir and Christ
assumed human form and suffering every kind of pain.45 Ghurua Master (a
converted Chamar near Varanasi) in recent times too sang Bhojpuri songs
attributed to Kabr, in which he likened the nirgun tradition of North India,
of which Kabir was an exponent, to the sacramental vision of Catholicism.
Kabir’s bhajans captured the voice of protest against caste society.
Bhajans among Bhils and the outcaste Dheda of lowland Gujarat spoke
of the coming of Nakalanka Avatara or Spotless Incarnation born of a virgin.
Such indigenous interpretations certainly existed in every Indian region
and in many different languages. But no serious attempt was made until
recent times to understand their interpretations and experiences of the lowest
social groups till the emergence of Liberation Theology. Saral Chatterji
argues that theology of the poor is not sufficient. He rejects class as the sole
foundation for the constitution of an alternative theology and argues that
case, its ideology and morphology and nature of oppression and inherited
inequalities perpetuated by it must become the basis for the formation of
an Indian Christian Dalit theology.46
Dalit theology is seen as a counter-culture to the Brahminical elite.
Oommen feels that Dalit theologians were of the opinion that the theological
and cultural domination of Brahminic traditions within Indian Christianity,
ignoring the rich cultural and religious experience of the Dalits had to be
ignored, if not rejected completely.47 Their theology must be a reflection
202 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

by Dalits for Dalits, of themselves as Christians and members of a single

community and it must be an expression of their sufferings and aspirations.
As Dalit history and culture are contained in oral traditions, in legends and
folk stories, in music and in religious symbols and practices, their theology
requires a commitment to listening. Dalit theology is Christ-centred and
Christ is seen as a Dalit, a carpenter’s son, reviled and rejected by the
priestly elite of the times. Dalits see Christ as a dalit, as he identifies with
the poor. He was rejected, outcaste, spat upon and reviled. He suffered
outside the camp in order to affirm the unborn dignity and native purity of
all human beings, of all castes.
Indian Dalits have a history of having to fight for rights of entry to
temples as seen in Christ’s entry into the temple. The use of drum and
accompanying songs has been highlighted in Dalit traditions as modes of
expression of their liberation. Prabhakar speaks of drum-beat songs among
Dalits of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh48 Drum is considered a bearer of Dalit
divinity and emancipation. At one point of time, Dalits were required to
break the drum before they were baptized into the church and were
forbidden even from possession of it. Since it was means and symbol of
supernatural communication with the non-Christian divine, the breaking
of the drum was considered a necessary preliminary to entrance into the
Christian faith.
It seems that there is a battle being raged fiercely on the caste front. It
seems that the Dalit/non-Dalit axis is the one where there is a sharp shift
where most of the action takes place; it is also an area where the church has
seen fit to rouse itself to some concrete action. This is an area where the
church or churches badly need to do a little re-thinking and reorientation
of the procedures and practices. This is also an area where the church has to
grapple with the problem of Dalit women who are ‘thrice alienated’ and as
being ‘dalits among dalits’.

E G K Hewat; Christ in Western India, Surat and Bombay, 1953, p 374.
ibid., p 374.
K Suresh Singh (ed), Tribal Situation in India, 1972, p 98-100.
Indian Christian Directory, 2000, article by J Puthenparakal.
The Indian Church in the 19th and 20th Centuries 203

E A Gaot, A History of Assam, 3rd edition, revised and enlarged by B K Barua
& H V S Murthy (1963), p 385.
op. cit., Chauba, Hill Politics of North East India, 1973, p 42.
M Horan, Naga Insurgency; The Last Thirty Years, 1988, p 331. The Manifesto of the
National Socialist Council of Nagaland issued in 1980 Aert X Section (d) Religion, reads:
‘We stand for the faith of God and Salvation of mankind in Jesus, the Christ, and alone,
this is “NAGALAND FOR CHRIST” ’. However, the individual freedom of religion shall
be safeguarded and the imposition of their faith on others is strictly forbidden.
H Hosten, ‘The Earliest Recorded Episcopal Visitation of Bengal (1712-15)’ , Bengal
Past and Present, 1910, pp 212-14. On the basis of his study, David Syiemlieh is of the
opinion that the Rangamati mentioned is in Cooch Behar, and not in Goalpara; taken
from Frederick S Downes, ‘North East India in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’
in History of Christianity in India, Vol 5, part 5, p 65.
op. cit., Downes, p 66.
ibid., p 69.
ibid., p 89.
J H Morris, The History of Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Foreign Mission to the end of the Year
1904, Carnarvon, 1910, p 187.
G Gillespie, Baptists in Babel: A Report of Bible Translation Work in the Languages of the
Council of Baptist Churches in North East India, April 1967 (Private circulation) in Downes,
p 190.
K P Yohanan, Believers Church, Tiruvalla, 2004.
op. cit., ICD, p 1002.
ibid., p 1020.
op. cit., ICD, p 1078.
op. cit., ICD, p 1079.
E M Philip, The Indian Churches of St Thomas, 1907, p 269.
K S Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 Vols, Eyre and Spottswoode,
Harper, USA 1937-45, Vol 6, p 90.
p 192ff.
J Richter (translated by S H Moore), A History of Mission in India, Oliphant, 1908, pp
347, 354, taken from Firth, p 200.
W C Barclay, History of Methodist Mission III, p 507.
op. cit., Richter, p 352.
For a detailed account of this revolution refer to Bhavan Das and James Massey (ed),
Dalit Solidarity, ISPCK, Delhi, 1955, pp 51-54.
Rig Veda X, 90, 11, 12.
James Massey, Indigenous People: Dalit in Today’s Theology Debate, ISPCK, Delhi, 1994,
p 112.
D R Ambedkar, What Congress and Gandhi have done for the Untouchables, Thacker Co,
Bombay, 1945, pp 175-177.
op. cit., Bhavan Das, pp 12-13.
A Reader in Dalit Theology, Arvind P Nirmal ed, article by M E Prabhakar, p 47.
204 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

S Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life, Union Books, London, 1956, p 12.
op. cit., M E Prabhakar.
K Sachinanda Murthy, in his Foreword to The Hidden Heritage by S K Pandian, Sterling
Publishers (P) Ltd, Delhi & Bangalore, 1987.
Narada adds that ‘sweeping the gateways, the privy, the road and the place of rubbish:
shampooing the secret parts of body, gathering and putting away the leftover food, ordure
and urine. And lastly, rubbing the master’s limbs when desired: this should be regarded as
impure work. All other works besides this is pure. Thus have the four classes of servants
doing pure work been enumerated. All the others who do dirty work are slaves, of whom
there are fifteen kinds’ (Taken from op cit James Massey).
The government of India has classified Christians of India into three minority groups:
Anglo-Indians, tribal Christians and Indian Christians. Dalit Christians are the converts
from the untouchable Hindus.
Art 271 of the Mandal Commission Case Judgement, cfr. P 367, Vol 6, No.9, Nov 30,
1992; Art 469, p 450 , Vol 6, No. 9, Nov 30, 1992; Art 400, Vol 6, No.9, Nov 30, 1992,
Judgement Today.
Third Annual Report of the Minorities Commission, New Delhi 1980 p 31
Prof Dr Thomas Kadankavil (CMI), Journal of Dharma XXII (1997) pp 128-154,
‘Salvation from the Dalit Perspective Earthly or Eschatological’.
Ambedkar said, ‘With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle. . . The
battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. . . our struggle is for our freedom. It is a battle for the
reclamation of human personality, which has been suppressed. . . My final advice to you
is, educate, organise and agitate.’ Dalit Solidarity, p vii.
Manusmriti, Vol VII, 413-414: But a sudra, whether bought or unbought, he may be
compelled to do servile work, for he was created by the self-existent to be the slave of a
Brahmin. A sudra, emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since this is
innate in him, who can set him free from it?’
Zelliott, Eleanor, From Untouchables to Dalit, ISPCK, New Delhi, 1972.
Arvin P Nirmal, ‘A Dialogue with Dalit Literature’, in M E Prabhakar (ed) Towards a
Dalit Theology, ISPCK, Delhi, 1988, p 65.
op. cit., Boyd, 1973, 85, 86.
op. cit., Rowena Robinson, Christians of India, p 198.
Oommen, George, 1993, ‘The struggles of Pulaya Christians for Social improvement,’
Unpublished Ph D Thesis, University of Sydney.
op. cit., Prabhakar, 1988.


The Impact of Indian

Christianity on

Indian Society

Indian Christians and the Freedom Movement

INDIAN CHRISTIANITY, ALTHOUGH A minority religion, played a very
significant role in the freedom movement of India. The main instrument of
political nationalism common to all Indians was the Indian National Congress,
founded in 1885. One of its important features was the separation of religion
and politics. The second annual session of the Congress declared that it was
‘a community of temporal interests and that their general interest in the
country being identical, Hindus, Christians, Mohammedans and Parsees may
as fitly as members of their respective communities represent each other in
the discussions of the public secular affairs’.
The Indian Christian community played an important role in the early
phase of the Congress, evident at the third session of the Congress (1887)
where, out of 607 participants, there were fifteen Indian Christian delegates
who actively participated in the deliberations. Some of the outstanding
Indian Christian delegates were Madhu Sunder Das of Orissa who addressed
the Congress on the question of expansion of legislative councils, and
N Subramaniam who proposed a resolution that pleaded for complete
separation of judicial and executive functions by government officials. The
Indian Christian delegates continued their contributions in the four
subsequent sessions of the Congress. Special mention should be made of
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati and Kali Chandran Banerjee.

206 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Panditha Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922) was an outstanding Indian

Christian woman. In the 1889 Congress session there were ten Christian
delegates of which Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was one. She was one of the
first Indians who championed the right of women to participate in national
politics, eloquently articulating the pitiable history of Indian womanhood.
Ramabai also played an important role in the third session of the
National Social Conference in 1889 at which she supported a resolution
condemning the practice of disfiguring the Hindu widows.
Kali Charan Banerjee is considered one of the great leaders and founders
of ‘the movement for emancipation’. A writer of the third session of the
Congress in 1887 noted, ‘Perhaps the finest orator in the whole assembly
was Babu Kali Charan Banerjee, who is a Bengali Christian’. He regularly
addressed the Congress annual sessions, moulding the policy of the national
movement and putting a number of proposals before the British government
for administrative reforms. In the 1889 session, he was responsible for a
resolution demanding improvement in the educational systems particularly
university education. He was also instrumental in 1889 in protesting against
the prohibition imposed by the government on teachers participating in
political movements. Among his main contributions in 1896, Banerjee
again presented a resolution demanding improvement in the educational
system, especially the university education in the country.
A further turn of events took place in the first decade of the
20th century during which Indian nationalism became polarized on a
communal basis. The Muslim League was formed in 1906 and the
backward classes and minority communities started pursuing independent
lines of expression of their patriotic activities, actively pursuing independent
political goals.
Another feature of the political scenario was the Swadeshi Movement
started in 1905 when the plan for the partition of Bengal was mooted. The
movement entered a new phase with the formal declaration of a boycott of
foreign goods at a public meeting in Calcutta on 7 August 1905. Their cry
for ‘Boycott and Swadeshi’ soon spread along the political, economic and
cultural fronts, which took the form of a multifaceted boycott of British
goods, educational institutions and courts of justice. This movement also
tried to establish national independence in economic, political and cultural
areas. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, the ‘Hindu Catholic’ sadhu and
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 207

theologian was a leading player in the Swadeshi movement, and he was

prosecuted on a charge of sedition in 1907. During the trial he refused to
take any part, as he would have nothing to do with what he saw as an alien
power that happened to rule India.
By 1920, the social and political forces in India launched another
confrontation against foreign rule, promoting nation-wide non-co-operation
with the British Government of India. There were many Christians taking
part in the Non-Co-operation Movement, and the Christian community’s
solidarity with the movement was clearly manifested in a statement made
at a conference of leading Christians from all over India, held in Ranchi in
1923, which declared that ‘swaraj, nationalism, or self-determination helped
the self-realization of a people: that it is consistent with the Christian religion
and helpful to the Christian life’.
The Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) authorized people
‘whenever it deems fit, to launch upon a programme of Civil Disobedience
including non-payment of taxes’, and the beginning of this movement
was Gandhi’s historic Salt March from Sabarmati ashram to Dandi on
the sea on 16 April 1930, when he picked up a pinch of salt from the sea,
thus symbolically violating the salt law. Among the 78 members of the
Ashram who accompanied Gandhi was Thevarthundiyil Titus. Titus, a
young disciple of Gandhi who was an agriculture student and a member
of a Christian family in Travancore. Boycott of British cloth and picketing
of liquor shops were followed by a series of mass demonstrations in many
centres. The government dealt with the situation with a stern hand by
imprisoning people in thousands, imposing strict censorship on the press,
and exercising special powers.
The Indian Christians were not just passive listeners or witnesses in
this whole scenario. The Indian Christian Association of Bengal at its
executive meeting passed a resolution pledging full support to the freedom
movement. A conference of Christians in Bombay declared its complete
sympathy with the national aspirations. The Indian Social Reformer, a
leading national weekly of the time reported on the meeting thus: ‘The
first resolution stated that the members of the Indian Christian
community…were one with other communities in their desire to win for
India complete swaraj at the earliest possible moment, and were of the
opinion that absolute non-violent salt satyagraha was in no way
208 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

against the teaching of Jesus Christ and was capable of achieving great
moral victories.’1
A meeting of the Christians in Palayamcottah and Tinnevely revealed
how intensely they had embraced the national spirit. The addresses made
it clear that ‘the Indian Christians were not behind any other community
in their desire for freedom and in their readiness to work and suffer for it’.
Furthermore, in 1930, the All India Christian Council, which is the
executive body of the All India Council of Indian Christians, met and
adopted a resolution which, while not subscribing to the civil disobedience
movement as such, declared solidarity of Christians with the thrust of the
national movement.2
The Quit India Movement (1942) was a landmark in the history of
the Freedom Movement of India. Those Christians who expressed themselves
in complete solidarity with the demand for immediate Indian independence
included the All India Conference of Indian Christians, the National
Christian Council of India, Christian leaders and student groups related to
such institutes and movements as the United Theological College
(Bangalore), Serampore College (Bengal), Youth Christian Council of Action
(Kerala), and the Student Christian Movement of India. Many Indian leaders
publicly acknowledged the valuable contribution of Indian Christians. In
December 1944, C Rajagopalachari said:
Does not the national world in India know that the Indian Christian community
has distinguished itself at every conference by giving the fullest support to the
National Movement and by never giving support to anti-nationalist trends?3
However, one has to recognize the fundamental conflict inherent in the
politics of nationalism and the freedom struggle, and later in the nation-
building process. This conflict is between religion and ethnicity on the one
hand and nationhood and state on the other, and this struggle remains a
critical one even today. During the period of freedom struggle, the Christian
community passed through a conflict within itself between two opposing
self-definitions; one, a closed religious community, and the other, an open
community, which participates in secular civil society.
From 1927 onwards the All India Conference of Indian Christians
refused to identify them as a closed communal political entity. So they
rejected communal electorates, which the British rulers ‘awarded’ at first to
the Muslims and then to the Christians and other religious communities as
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 209

well. The All India Conference of Indian Christians in 1930 stated their
understanding of the Christian community:
The place of a minority in a nation is its value to the whole nation and not
merely to itself. That value depends on the quality of its life, the standard of its
preparation for life’s various activities, the strenuousness with which it throws
itself into all avenues of useful services and the genuineness with which it seeks
the common weal.
So, when in August 1947, the Interim Report of the Minority Advisory
Committee of the Constituent Assembly proposed the constitutional
provision of reservation for Indian Christians in central legislature and in
the provincial legislatures of Madras and Bombay, Christian leaders like
H C Mukerjee and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur were from the beginning against
this reservation of seats on a communal basis as it would be detrimental to
the national interest. However, after much deliberation, the constituent
assembly finally decided to provide statutory reservation of seats in the
legislative assemblies only for the scheduled castes and a few other depressed
communities for a limited period.
It is interesting to note the enlightened patriotism of Indian Christian
leaders manifested in moulding the self-image of the Christian community
as part of the national civil society, which certainly was a significant
contribution to the nation-building process in India. No doubt, Christians
in India were very active participants in the freedom struggle for
independence from the very beginning of western domination of India.
Certainly, they were one of the pioneering forces, which shaped the goals of
Indian nationalism and strategies in the struggle for independence of India.
The Christian community in Travancore (South India) played a key
role in the pro-democracy movement in the State. The role of the Christian
community in the Quit India Movement of 1930 and the Joint Political
Congress, which determined the direction of the Travancore politics, was
commendable. Some historians would recognize T M Verghese as the
father of the democratic system of Travancore. There are a number of
outstanding Indian Christian women who played a significant role on
behalf of women and the pro-democracy movement. Two of them were
Anne Mascarene and Accamma Cherian. These women leaders came from
the St Thomas Christian community.
The number of Christians in leadership positions in the Travancore
State Congress and the agitation for responsible government in the State
210 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

are demonstrations that the Christian community pioneered nationalism

and the struggle for democracy. Out of the 12 members of the first working
committee of the Travancore State Congress, five were Christians. On
31 May 1938, a committee of the Travancore State Congress leaders affixed
their signatures to the petition submitted to the Maharaja. Seven of them
were Christians. In the freedom struggle movement in Travancore, the church
leadership especially the bishops played a very significant role. Special
mention must be made of the pro-democracy position taken by
Metropolitan Abraham Mar Thoma in the context of the agitation for
responsible government in 1938, and Bishop Mar James Kalaserry of
Changanacherry Diocese in the heroic resistance against the attempt of
the Travancore Government (1945) to bring the Christian school system
under its control.
In the 1930s and the following decade there was the Youth Christian
Council of Action (YCCA), a movement of young people who saw in the
Christian gospel resources that could be directed towards the struggle for
freedom, secular civil society, socialism and democracy. They were
courageous enough to express their ideas to the authorities of state and
church because they were gripped by the Christian gospel, the quest of
which is the creation of human freedom, protection of human dignity,
and the promotion of human welfare. This group is very similar to
the political witness of the Confessing Church in Germany during the
Second World War.
Going through the pages of history from 1880 to 1950, it is evident
that the Indian Christians have played their rightful place in the struggle
for Indian independence. Unfortunately during the last decade or so, a
number of members of fundamentalist groups of the majority religion in
India made a false allegation that Indian Christians do not belong to
India and they should return to their country of origin. They seem to
have forgotten that Christianity is an Asian religion and it remains so.
Christians are part and parcel of the wider Indian community, and not
an imported product.

The Impact of Christianity on Other Indian

Hinduism is based on the Vedic myths concerning gods and epics of
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 211

Ramayana and Mahabaratha and emphasizes a mythical meaning of time

rather than chronology and actual events. Buddha and Mahavira were
historical figures and their followers concentrated much on their moral
teachings as well as handing down of traditions. But when it came down to
locating them in history, they gave free rein to mythology. Christianity,
however, insists on the historical events of the life, teaching, death and
resurrection of Jesus, and only in encounter with Christianity did Hinduism
come to emphasize places like Ayodhya and Dwaraka. Buddhism, on the
other hand, stresses the importance of places and events in Buddha’s life.
Indian religions were not very much concerned with ideology and
doctrines, but emphasized the contemplation of the inexpressible reality of
the ultimate. On the other hand, Judaism, Christianity and Islam believed
in the exclusive teaching they wanted to preserve at any cost. Each of
them—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—had recourse to a sacred book.
Indian religions, which were very tolerant of doctrinal differences with a
great many puranas and more than a hundred Upanishads developed
academic consciousness, feeling the need for disciplines like logic, psychology
and metaphysics only after the arrival of these religions in India.
All the three religions—Buddhism, Christianity and Islam—were based
on particular historical events—Buddha’s attainment of Enlightenment
under the bodhi tree, Christ’s death and resurrection and the revelation of
the Quran to the Mohammed. Although Hinduism insisted that each one
had to achieve realization by oneself, they felt the need for evangelization.
So people like Sankaracharya travelled from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and
made many converts from Buddhism and Hinduism to sects like Vaishnavism
to his Saivite Advaitism.
From the early centuries itself, Hinduism showed positive responses
to Christianity. When St Thomas Christians established themselves in
South India, they became an integral part of the Indian caste system,
forming an intermediate level between the higher caste and the lower
strata. The Bhakti movement, a devotional tradition of South India, was
a social phenomenon that involved a close relation between the St Thomas
Christians, the Muslim Sufis and the Hindu ascetics of Tamil tradition
like Thiruvalluar.
Another example of a positive reaction to Christian missionaries is the
Hindu reform movement of Bengal in the 19th century. The missionaries
212 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

spoke strongly against idolatry and social evils like child marriage and practice
of sati by which widows were forced to immolate themselves on the funeral
pyre of their husbands. Some Hindu leaders were convinced by these
arguments, and as Christianity inspired them they started a reform
movement in Hinduism. Leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy,
Keshub Chandra Sen and Pratap Sunder Majumdar remained Hindus and
tried to change Hinduism from within. But many like Kali Charan Banerjee,
Chenchiah and Vengal Chakkarai embraced Christianity, taking with them
real Hindu values they had treasured.
Some of the leaders of Hinduism took an aggressive approach against
Christianity. Swami Vivekananda, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and many
great Hindu and Buddhist scholars went to the West and fought against
materialism, imperialism and colonialism. They pointed out the inherent
materialism of Greco-Western thinking that saw matter as the ultimate
stuff out of which all things evolved and spirit as an outside controlling
agent, a prison. They held the view that India saw spirit or atman as the
final principle from which all things emerged as manifestation and
expression. However, they all agree that Indian religions cannot deliver the
goods they promise without tackling the problem of the widespread
economic poverty of the Indian masses through adequate material progress
with the help of science and technology, and fighting the corruption in
public life that widens the gap between the rich and the poor.
Nobody can deny the fact that the root of Indian backwardness is religion.
The karma-samsara theory of Hinduism is the Achilles’ heal of Indian
spirituality. It is the theory of karma that makes people take a positive and
fatalistic attitude toward their lot in life. So also, belief in rebirth encourages
people to take the easy path in the present life with the expectation that one
will get another chance in the next life. But, for the Christians, there is only
one life to live and what he does here will determine his eternity.

The Christian Contribution to Modern Indian

Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946 said,
Indian Christians are part and parcel of the Indian people. Their traditions go back
1,500 years or more and they form one of the many enriching elements in the
country’s cultural and spiritual life.
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 213

Nehru was referring especially to the earliest Indian Christianity, which

has been in existence in Kerala continuously since the first century. No
doubt, they were and are very much part of the culture and social reality
in Kerala. Early Kerala Christians were predominant in agriculture,
commerce and warfare. They excelled in pepper production, which was
an attractive commodity in pre-industrial markets in Europe. They
established a very strong commercial relationship between India and other
foreign nations. St Thomas Christians were considered a community,
which maintained high standards in the art of war. The kings of Kerala
regarded them as a prominent social group and respected and protected
their rights and privileges.
With the conversion of some of the untouchables, outcastes and lower
caste groups to Christianity there arose from the 16th century the modern
social awakening of the oppressed groups in India. Their entry into the
Christian communities provided opportunities for education, new
occupations and a life with personal dignity and social acceptance. The
Madras Native Christian Association in its report in 1893 stated:
Christianity has wrought miracles in our midst. It has lifted many of us from the
mire of social degradation; it has enlightened us, liberated us from the trammels
of superstition and custom and has planted in us the instincts of a free and noble
Although caste spirit and caste loyalties exist among many of the Christian
groups, these groups projected a model of a new kind of human fellowship
where Brahmins (the high caste) and other castes came together with the
‘outcastes’ for worship. These Christian congregations exploded the spiritual
sanction of the caste structure and proved to be a source for humanizing
the cultural ethos and liberating the social structure with the result that
the Hindu community itself started the process of re-interpreting its cultural
values and liberating its own social structure.
The Christian gospel was a source for humanization. One of the
important things that the Christian missions emphasized was the
humanization of life in all aspects of all people. They struggled to arouse
public opinion on the condition of the orphans, widows, lepers,
untouchables, infant girls and women. The Serampore trio, for example,
struggled to concretise the Bengali intelligentsia about the evils of
infanticide and sati. This led to the work of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, which
214 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

strengthened the reform bill of Governor General William Bentick to

abolish the practice of sati in 1829.
Christian missionaries were instrumental in the cultural revitalization
of the country for which the Serampore Mission played a pivotal role. India
had a great culture and the cultural philosophy of the Serampore Mission
was to revitalize and modernize Indian civilization and languages and
assimilate Christian values into the Indian cultural complex. In order to
achieve this aim, the Serampore mission studied the popular languages of
India and translated the whole or part of the Bible into them.
Carey completed the Bengali translation of Mahabharata and Ramayana
in 1802, and in 1818 published Samachar Darpan, a Bengali newspaper.
Carey was also the pioneer in advocating a modern education system for
India through the Indian languages and in 1814 he proposed a plan for
imparting the knowledge of European sciences among the Indians. His
plan was to introduce primary and higher education in Indian languages
and to make them accessible to all Indians.
The cultural renaissance of Bengal in the 19th century marked the
beginning of the awakening of the people of India to a new sense of human
dignity and the emergence of a new cultural identity. The Orientals and
the Serampore missionaries appreciated the ancient values of Indian culture
and they emphasized that Hinduism and Hindu society could be rejuvenated
from within, creating a viable atmosphere for the new intelligentsia of Bengal
to come into positive interaction with Christian values and tradition and to
search for a new cultural and spiritual identity for Indian society.
Hinduism, with its numerous gods as a manifestation of the Divine,
was confronted by the Christian tradition of radical monotheism, and this
Christian-Hindu encounter started happening in Bengal and other places
from the 18th century, which challenged Hinduism to re-emphasize and
bring to the front the affirmation of the Ultimate Reality behind the plurality
of manifestation and representation of the Divine in the complex tradition
of Hinduism as depicted in the Upanishads.
The cultural interaction between Christianity and Hinduism came to
fruition in Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who started a debate on
society and religion in the full awareness of the rich heritage of India. He
manifested a spirit of emancipation from the social and religious bondages,
and also infused a sense of creativity into the modern intellectual history of
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 215

India. He put aside the exclusive appeal of traditional Hinduism to mystical

spirituality and metaphysical reasoning. He incorporated reason, logic and
openness into his discussions on religion and society, and tried to demolish
the dogmatic approach of religion. Therefore Roy inaugurated the onset of
renascent Hinduism, which tries to fulfil the human instinct for spirituality
not by renunciation and withdrawal from the society but by the moral and
social dimensions of human community in their temporal existence. To
Roy, religion became an instrument for regeneration; he felt the irresistible
challenge of Christianity, and affirmed that the ‘doctrines of Christ’ are
more conducive to moral principles and better adopted for the use of rational
beings than any others.
In 1820 Roy published, The Precepts of Jesus: The Guide to Peace and
Happiness, which contained extracts mostly from the first three Gospels of
the New Testament covering the ethical teachings of Christ. So, Roy began
to acknowledge Jesus as part of the spiritual foundations of modern Indian
civilization. Roy makes morality the essence of religion, and the commitment
to moral principles as part of the adoration of God. So, in Roy, Hinduism
was beginning to formulate its self-image as the basis for the ethical existence
of human life.
Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-84), one of the greatest Indian reformers
of his time, had a different contribution. He emphasized that for political,
social and moral regeneration, India should look to Christ. For Sen,
‘forgiveness and self-sacrifice’ are the two cardinal principles of Christian
ethics. He said: ‘To stimulate you to a life of self-denial, I hold up to you
the cross on which Jesus died.’ Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the cross of
Christ and its principles of forgiving, suffering and redeeming love as the
path toward the fulfilment of human destiny of individuals and
nation. Christianity challenged the renascent Hinduism in the social visions
of Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekanda, Mahatma Gandhi and
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who sought to integrate to the core of Hinduism
the concept of human person, equality among the individuals and groups
irrespective of caste or sex. To many, Christianity became a part of the new
historical process in India. K M Banerjee, Pandita Ramabai Saraswati,
Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, N V Tilak and others mainly sought in Christ
and Christianity the fulfilment of their social values for India.
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922) was the first liberated woman
216 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

in modern India and the first woman reformer of Indian renascence. After
her conversion she said, I was comparatively happy that I found a religion
which gave its privileges equally to men and women, there was no distinction of
caste, colour or sex in it. Pandita Ramabai, like Goreh, was a Chitpavan
Brahmin. As a child she became a noted Sanskrit scholar through the teaching
of her father Anant Sastri. After his death, she rapidly achieved fame as a
woman pandit. After a happy, but tragically brief, married life she became
even more famous as a pioneer of women’s rights The friendship she formed
with Keshub Chandra Sen and other leading reformers enabled her to become
a member of Prarthana Samaj when she went to Poona. In Poona she came
in contact with the Wantage Sisters, and in 1853 she visited their
community in England. While in England, she received baptism and
became convinced that the position of Samaj was untenable and only in
Christ she could find certainty.4

The Christian Gospel and the Indian

During the period of renaissance, there emerged a number of outstanding
Hindu leaders who were strongly influenced by the teaching of Jesus Christ,
and they considered Jesus as the key to India’s progress. However, many of
them were reluctant to join the Christian faith, and they had their own views
and opinions about Christianity. These individuals fall into three categories:
first, those who admired Jesus Christ, but were not personally committed to
Him; second, Hindus who were intensely committed to Christ, but did not
become Christians; and third, Hindus who became Christians, but held the
view that by becoming a Christian, they did not cease being Hindus.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833)

It is interesting to note that we do not turn to any Christian to find the
pioneer of a line of theological enquiry, but a famous Hindu who came into
contact with the Serampore missionaries. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a
Bengali Brahmin who has been called the prophet of Indian nationalism
and a pioneer of liberal reform of Hindu religion and Hindu society. Finding
no satisfaction at home for his religious desire, he set off at an age of fifteen
and wandered as far as Tibet. He had studied Persian and Arabic and became
familiar with the faith of Islam; this strongly influenced him in the direction
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 217

of the unity of God and the meaninglessness of idol worship. A turning

point took place in 1811 when he was the unwilling witness of the sati of
his brother’s wife. This incident made him vow to devote his life to overthrow
this and similar abuses in society.
Two main sources of inspiration were the Upanishads and the moral
teaching of Jesus. He instinctively felt that love of God and love of one’s
fellow men are the two pillars for a noble life. He felt that love of God was
not sufficiently evident in the Hindu practice. He turned to the study of
the Bible and found in Jesus’ teaching which, in its simplicity and beauty,
appeared ideally suited to transform the minds and hearts of people, in
particular the words,
“Do to others all what you would have them do to you, this sums up the Law and
the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
In 1815 he wrote a letter to Marshmann, one of the Serampore trio that,
The consequence of my long and uninterrupted search in religious truths has been
that I found the doctrine of Christ more conducive to inculcate moral principles
and better adapted to the use of rational beings than any other that has come to my
Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s study of Christianity led him to publish, The
Precepts of Jesus’, the Guide to Peace and Happiness, a book in 1820 to help
people avoid getting side-tracked by historical and dogmatic questions,
and separate the moral teaching of Jesus in the New Testament from other
matter contained therein. Marshmann, of Seramapore responded to
the book in the editorial page of his journal, The Friend of India No XX
(February 1820), commenting critically on the manner in which only a
part of the Gospels was published, and said that it ‘may greatly injure the
cause of truth’. In reply to this, Roy published an Appeal to the Christian in
Defence of the Precepts of Jesus by a Friend of Truth.
Responding to this, Marshmann published in Friend of India No. XXIII
(May 1820) his ‘Remarks on Certain Observations in an Appeal’ and
followed it in the Friend of India Quarterly Series No I (September 1820)
with his ‘Observations on Certain Ideas contained in the Introduction to the
Precepts of Jesus etc. Roy replied in a Second Appeal to the Christian Public in
Defence of the Precepts of Jesus. In 1822 Marshmann came out with A Defence
of the Deity and Atonement of Jesus Christ in reply to Ram Mohan Roy of
Calcutta.5 To this, Roy responded in 1823 with his Final Appeal to the
Christian Public in Defence of the Precepts of Jesus. The first appeal is 18 pages
218 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

long, the second 112 and the third nearly 200.6 In 1830 Ram Mohan
sailed for England, which brought him great fame and popularity. He hoped
to return to India but died in Bristol in 1833. The exchange between
Marshmann and Roy may be seen partly as the struggle of modern India to
define the truth and meaning of Jesus Christ in terms of Indian life and
thought, and partly the witness of Christ to a segment of the Indian mind.7

Mahatma Phule (Jotiba Phule) (1827-90)

Jotiba Phule was another person who was attracted by the teaching of Jesus,
but not committed to Him. Jotiba was a mali by caste; he was a Shudra.
His father had become famous for raising flowers (Phule means: flowers).
During his student days, he came in contact with Christian missionaries.
He came to know that Jesus taught that by birth all human beings are
equal and that a man’s rank and position are not determined by his birth
and his caste, but by his virtues and vices. He saw that the great distinction
was not between Brahmins and non-Brahmins, but between men and
animals. He realized that the first rule of truthful behaviour was to admit
that all men and women are born equal and free and entitled to enjoy equal
rights and privileges. From then on, he spent his time in the promotion of
truth as seen in the teachings of Christ.
Phule founded the Society of Truth-Seekers (Satyasodhaka Samaja). He
was a man of action; he started the first school for Hindu girls in Pune in
1851. Phule fought the Brahmanism system, but he was never hostile to
Brahmans personally. His ideas and programmes were later taken over by
Karmavir Bhaurao Patil who in 1819 founded an education society for the
uplift of Shudras and Untouchables, the Rayat Shikhan Samstha.8

Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-84)

Keshub Chandra Sen belonged to one of the most prominent families in
Calcutta. At the age of 22, he joined the Brahmo Samaj and soon became
its leader; later becoming a full-time missionary of the Brahmo Samaj,
living a life of ‘utter dependence on God’. Sen was a man of spiritual
fervour and had great oratorical powers. He was a born leader, a champion
of India, and became one of the greatest orators. He was not only a
spokesman for India, but for the whole of Asia, against the brutalities of
the British colonialism and against the contempt with which they treated
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 219

India and the East. When a Scottish merchant, Scott Moncrief, made a
speech in 1866, and depicted the Indian people as congenial liars, Keshab
took up the challenge and retorted in the same fashion.9 As Keshub became
the leader of the Brahmo Samaj, he became increasingly convinced that
Jesus Christ could supply the spiritual foundation on which the progress,
not only of India, but also of the whole of Asia could be built. Yet to him,
the Christian religion, in the form in which it had been imported from
the West, was unacceptable.
Owing to his great enthusiasm for Christ, many missionaries thought
that he would seek Christian baptism and would be a great influence on
the side of Christianity, while the Hindus thought that he had already
become a Christian. Sen organized Brahmo Samaj very much along the
lines of a Christian church. After the passing of the Brahmo Marriage Act
of 1872, the Samaj stepped out of Hindu society. Sen introduced ritual
practices into the Samaj. Ram Mohan Roy had been strongly opposed to
ritualism. But Sen in his later Christ in the New Dispensation developed a
system of asceticism, rituals and sacraments, including baptism and a form
of Holy Communion in which the elements were rice and water.
Sen was a controversial figure in his own time. Many Hindus considered
him as a Christian while most Christians thought of him as eclectic. Many
considered him as the greatest Indian of his time, who came more and
more under Christ’s spell and responded to him in his own way. Christ
became the centre of his life, but he steadily refused to allow that thinking
to be forced into the western mould. Sen conforms to an identifiable pattern
of a Hindu seeker, who is like the one who found a pearl of great prize but
was unwilling to sell all that he had in order to buy it.10
K C Sen made a distinctive contribution to the religious thinking in
India. He came to Brahmo Samaj leadership and was the founder of the
Church of the New Dispensation. Sen represented within neo-Hinduism
a movement away from the rationalism of Ram Mohan Roy and the Vedic
Brahmanism of Debendranath Tagore to a new appreciation by Bhakti
mysticism, yogic discipline, invocation of divine names and incarnational
theology.11 He was also convinced of the harmony of religions. His was a
devotion to Jesus Christ dissociated from historical Christianity and
interpreted it as the source of a creative religion of the Spirit. The
theological contribution of Sen was, first, to lead the country and
220 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Hinduism itself in some degree into the discipleship of Christ;12 second,

to introduce Jesus Christ to many Indians, some of whom came to a
fuller vision and commitment to him while going along the line laid
down by Keshub; 13 and third, to produce some original seminal ideas
like his doctrines of Divine Humanity and a National Church, later finding
fuller expression in the search for an indigenous Christology and
ecclesiology by Indian Church leaders.14

Nehemiah Goreh (1825-95)

Nilakantha Sattri Goreh, who adopted the name Nehemiah Goreh, belonged
to a Chitpavan Brahman family from Maharashtra but grew up in Benares
where he was carefully trained in the strict ways of Saivite orthodoxy. His
theological independence led him to transfer his loyalty to the Vaishnavite
tradition, thus showing his capacity for bold action in search of religious
truth. It was through William Smith, a CMS missionary, that Goreh made
contact with Christianity. After a long and difficult period of reasoning,
doubting, and much opposition from his family including beating, drugging
and abduction of his wife, he was baptized in 1849 as Nehemiah and was
admitted to the church.15
Nehemiah Goreh’s conversion to Christ was the culmination of a process
which began with his being ‘much struck by the beauty of Christ’s teaching,
and example, especially the doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount’. Goreh
visited England in 1853 as tutor to the young Maharaja Dhulup Singh,
and while in England he attended some theological lectures at the CMS
Institution at Islington. On his return to India in 1855 he was directly
instrumental in contacting a number of highly educated young men—
Hindu, Muslim and Parsi. He was also instrumental in the conversion of
Maulavi Safdar Ali from Islam to Christianity. Two years later, he moved
further in an Anglo-Catholic direction and in 1867 he severed his connection
with CMS. In 1869 he was ordained a deacon, and the following year he
became a priest. He believed that the most effective way of carrying out
evangelistic work in India was through an ascetic religious brotherhood. In
1876, Goreh sailed again to England in order to serve his novitiate at Cowley.
He never became a professed member of the Society, St John the Evangelist
(SSJE), but remained as a novice of the society till his death in 1895.16
Goreh published his best-known work, Shaddarshan Darpan, or Hindu
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 221

Philosophy examined by a Benares Pandit. The title literally means ‘Mirror

of the Vedanta’, i.e, the six traditional Hindu systems of philosophy—
Samkya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Mimamsa, Vedanta. The English
translation, modified to A Mirror of the Hindu Philosophical System, A Rational
Refutation of the Hindu Philosophical System, was published in 1862. This
book has remained the best Christian critique of Hindu philosophy and
apologetic for the Christian doctrine of the Triune God over against monism
and pantheism and of sin and redemption against ignorance and liberation
through illumination.17
As a Christian, Goreh founded the Bhakti cult of Krishna, both in its
traditional form and in the form received by Tukaram and Chaitanya, quite
inadequate in his view in providing a path to God, and the basis for moral
regeneration of human persons and society. In this, as well as in other matters,
he was fighting against the tendency of the Brahmo Samaj under K C Sen to
revive the bhakti cult of Vaishanvism within its religion of Hindu theism.
Through his tracts, Theism and Christianity, the Brahmos: Their Ideal of Sin,
and Atonement, and the letter he wrote to Pandita Ramabai who was settling
down into Brahmo theism as her spiritual home, Goreh enters into disputation
with the Brahmo Samaj as a system in order to show its inadequacy. His
thesis, like that of Lal Behari Day of Bengal, is that Brahmo faith in one
Creator God with a personal moral purpose for the world is not present in
Hinduism, nor is it the result of rational thought but is derived from biblical
revelation: that therefore the Brahmos have to choose between accepting in
full the revelation of Christ as well as the ethics of Christianity on the one
hand and reverting to the monism, polytheism and moral corruptions of
traditional Hinduism on the other.18
Just as he moved from Saivism to Vaishnavism in his early Hindu period,
as a Christian believer he shifted his loyalty from the Low Church doctrines
of CMS to the High Church doctrines of Anglican Catholicism. Goreh was
critical of extreme Protestantism and Catholicism. The call to the ascetic
life of religious communities captivated his mind. He took an almost totally
negative approach to the teachings of Bhagavad Gita , Bhagavada, etc, but
he says, Yet they have taught us something of ananyabhakti (undivided devotion
to God) of vairagya (giving up the world), of namratha (humility), of kshama
(forbearance) etc, which enable us to appreciate the precepts of Christianity.19
The dialogue and encounter with K C Sen and others continued till the
222 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

end of his life. At first he had great hopes that Brahmos might yield to his
arguments, but results were disappointing. Goreh was, however,
instrumental in the conversion of the greatest of all Indian Christian women,
Pandita Ramabai.

Pandita Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922)

Pandita Ramabai has done more for the emancipation of women in India
than any other person The Indian Church has had many women of faith.
Although a great number of them were involved in Christian ministry,
very little is known of them. Ramabai is one of the most popular Indian
missionaries; she is considered a ‘builder’ and ‘mother and a missionary’
model person of modern India. Ramabai was a high caste Brahmin woman.
Brahmins are privileged Hindus, and the religious communicators and
upholders of Hindu faith, and are believed to be at the end of their
incarnations. She was born at Mulhanjee near Karkal in South Kanara
State in India in April 1858. Her father was a good scholar in the Sanskrit
Shastras, gave his daughter a good education in Sanskrit and taught her
the Dharma Shastras. Ramabai spent most of her childhood and youth in
pilgrimages with her parents, brother and sister. In 1874, her parents
died within two months of each other due to great famine while they
were living in Madras Presidency; a few months later her sister too died
due to cholera. Ramabai and her brother travelled for six years to
various parts of India, and in 1880 her brother too died leaving her alone
in the world.
Ramabai became known as a reformer and lecturer all over India. She
was honoured with the titles ‘Panditha’ and ‘Saraswathi’ by the senate of
Calcutta University. Ramabai married Babu Bipin Dshari Das Madhavi, a
Sudra (low caste) man, who possessed a Master’s degree in arts and a degree
in law. By this time she had lost her faith in traditional Hinduism and had
become a Brahma Samajist (a reform movement in Hinduism). Her husband
died two years after her marriage, leaving her with a baby, Manorama. She
then moved to Pune and settled there.
Ramabai was touched by the miserable condition of thousands of child
widows who never knew their husbands, and she was determined to ameliorate
their condition and suffering. She established an institution known as
Arya Mahila Samaj in many large cities of India, the purpose of which was to
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 223

educate Hindu women in Hindu scriptures and liberate them. She wrote a
book called Sthree Dharma Neeti (morals for women) to instruct Hindu women
how to help themselves and be educated to become women of worth.
In 1883 Ramabai went to England for studies so as to become eligible
for social work among women. There she met the Sisters of Wantage
(Roman Catholic Sisters) through Miss Harford in Pune, and became a
Christian. It was when she was with the Wantage sisters that she got the
idea of a rescue home for women, and started raising funds for establishing
a school in India for high caste Hindu women. While she was in England,
she joined the Cheltenham Ladies College as a student and a lecturer in
Sanskrit. In 1886 she proceeded to America, studied the Kindergarten
system, and travelled to many cities in the United States. She founded the
American Ramabai Association, and returned to India via China and Japan.
Ramabai landed in Calcutta in 1889, soon moved to Pune, and
opened the Sharada Sadan in Bombay the following year, which was then
shifted to Pune. Sharada Sadan was an institution for the sole purpose of
sheltering, training and educating child-widows from the high caste
Hindu community. Sharada Sadan continued to prosper, and she visited
a number of North Indian cities and rescued child widows and orphan
girls and women. Later she established a vast settlement known as
Mukti Mission, at Kedgaon, and continued to work for the welfare of
women in India. She died in April 1922.
Panditha Ramabai was a social worker at heart; physical, mental,
emotional and spiritual emancipation of Hindu women was her goal.
Ramabai was a woman of great Christian maturity. One sees her change in
attitude to the caste system. Although she started an educational mission
initially for high caste women, as her faith grew she brought all types of
women from all castes and creeds. Ramabai was a woman of great courage.
She had the courage to marry a Sudra man, which was unthinkable in
those days. Crossing the sea was another taboo, and she went to England
and America in this background.
Ramabai Mukti Mission was one of the rare missions where foreign
missionaries worked under an Indian, which was a very difficult proposition
in those days. Mukti was and is an ashram; the mode of worship in the
ashram church was with Indian food served to both Indians and foreigners
alike seated on low wooden stools in the dining hall, the Indian dress made
of lowly cotton woven mostly by mission women of Mukti.
224 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

The Indian Church:

Its Spiritual Values and Theology
Many ancient Christian churches had developed their own particular
individuality, with a worship form, structure and discipline peculiar to
each, especially in the theological and spiritual vision that emerged in each
of these churches in the course of time. The Indian Church is one such
ancient church. It developed its own way, with its long tradition and life in
India. In the early Indian Church there was the ‘Archdeacon of All India’,
and the yogam (an assembly of the clergy and the laity). It also had a unique
theological vision in which it developed an implicit incarnational theology,
a lived theology of other faiths and a distinctive practical theology.
Unfortunately this theological vision was lost with the arrival of the
Portuguese in India and their conquering concept of theology. They saw
the work of the missions and evangelism in terms of military operations,
line of defence, plans for attack as if we were waging war against other
believers20 as seen in the missionary reports of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The 17th century saw the advent of Robert De Nobili in 1606, who
began his great mission in the very heart of Tamil literature and the seat of
Hindu culture. It was his keen desire to present Jesus Christ and His gospel
to the high caste Hindus. He started an experiment of what we may call
‘indigenization’. He learnt two of the Dravidian languages, Tamil and Telugu,
and classical Sanskrit as well. He adopted the Indian Sanyasi attire, shaved
his head, leaving only a tuft, pierced his ears and wore earrings and allowed
his followers to have on their head a kudumi (tuft) and sacred thread.
Although his experiment soon lost its effect, it should be considered a great
adventure of zeal in the propagation of the gospel in India.
Robert de Nobili was the first to seriously take the initiative for a
positive encounter with Hinduism. He pioneered the study of Sanskrit and
Tamil and started the essential task of evolving a theological vocabulary for
Indian languages. Although some of his successors (especially
Constantinneous Joseph Beschi, the Italian, who mastered the Tamil
language and succeeded in writing some Tamil books and literature) tried
to carry the work forward, the approach of other missionaries, both Roman
Catholics and Protestants, questioned his methods and followed a much
more conservative and apologetic approach, and their general attitude was
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 225

a one-sided appreciation of one’s own religion and culture.

A second approach, which has been dominant since the 18th century,
was the descriptive or neutral attitude of the handful of Oriental scholars
who translated the scriptures and established the basic foundation for a
widespread understanding of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. A third
approach is that of the syncretists whose inclusiveness contrasted with
missionary exclusiveness and polemics. For quite a long period many
missionaries confused the Christian gospel with western ideas and thought
of Indian Christian theology as nothing but a translation of western doctrine
using Indian languages or categories. There was little recognition of the
fact that Hinduism itself would help provide a new understanding of the
gospel, an attitude that started changing only toward the close of the
19th century. National awakening and Indian Renaissance paved the way
for many missionaries and Indian Christians to come forward as champions
of indigenous movements. So some of the indigenous movements like the
Calcutta Christo Samaj and National Church of Madras gave great impetus
to indigenous theology and spirituality.
There were a few pioneering Indian theologians. K M Banerjee
published his Arian Witness 8 in 1875, which highlighted the striking
parallel between the Old Testament (particularly the Book of Genesis)
and the Vedas, which he believed demonstrated that Christianity far from
being a foreign religion was really the fulfilment of original Hinduism.
A S Appaswamy Pillai found in Rig Veda an unmistakeable proclamation
of one God ‘behind the many’ and he was also able to point out what he
believed to be clear predictions of Christ in the Vedas. Bengali Catholic
nationalist Brahmabandhav Upadyaya followed the same line of thought
at the beginning of his theological thinking, and he proceeded to lay the
foundations for a Vedanta-based Christian theology, which scholars like
Johanns and Danday developed later. Another prophetic Christian,
Sadhu Sunder Singh who appeared at the beginning of the 20th century
made a tremendous worldwide appeal as the prophet of Indian Christian
mysticism. Bishop A J Appaswamy, a versatile scholar and churchman
was attracted to the mysticism of the Sadhu, which he promoted through
his scholarly writings.
India has produced a number of outstanding Hindu Renaissance
thinkers in the area of Christianity during the early 20th century. They
226 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

were R M Roy (the moral reforming Christ of the West for reform in India),
K C Sen (Navavidhan or ‘The Church of the New Dispensation’, reformed
Hinduism with Christ as centre), P C Mazoomdar (‘Oriental Christ’),
Ramakrishna and Vivekananda (advaitic experience of the avatar of Christ),
Mahatma Gandhi (Christ the karmayogi offering himself for others),
S Radhakrishnan (Christianity subjected to the advaitic world religion)
and Subha Rao (Christ-centred Hinduism).21 Some of the Christian pioneers
of indigenous Christianity are K M Banerjee, Parani Andi, A S Appaswamy
(Vedic Christianity, National Church), Nehemiah Goreh (Rational refutation
of Hinduism), Brahmabandhav Upaddyaya (‘Vedantic’ Thomism and
‘Hindu’ Church), Sadhu Sunder Singh and A J Appaswamy (Bhakti Marga
and Yogic vision).
There were liberal Christian thinkers including Slater, Farquhar
(‘Crown of Hinduism’), W Miller, Bernard Lucas (Simultaneous evolution
of religions, conversions or not); Catholic Vedantists including P Johanns,
G Dandoy (‘The Christ through Vedanta’), Protestant neo-orthodoxy
thinkers including Karl Barth and Kramer’s ‘discontinuity ideas
on evangelism; the dissident voices (‘Rethinking Group’) in Madras,
including P Chenchia (‘New Creation’), V Chakkarai (‘Christology of
the Spirit’), and radicals including M C Parekh, ‘Hindu Christianity’
and ‘Churchless Christianity’.22
During the last four or five decades a new spiritual theological
consciousness has gradually surfaced in Indian Christian literature. It was the
Protestants who took the initiative in launching the contemporary movement,
and they formed societies to promote this kind of study, particularly
emphasizing aspects of religion and society and started publishing journals
like ‘Religion and Society’. Another movement which helped to boost Indian
Christian literary effort was the Christian Ashram Movement, which owes its
origin to the Protestant initiatives, but the Roman Catholics have since
associated with it in a big way. Some important names associated with it are
S Jesudason, Murray Rogers, Sadhu Mathaichen (K I Mathai), K K Chandy;
Sisters Carol Graham, Edith Neve and Rachel Joseph; and Roman Catholics
like Monchanin (Parama Arubi Anandam), Le Saux (Abishiktananda),
BedeGriffths, Francis Acharya, and Sisters Vandana and Amalorpavadas.
Contemporary Indian Christian literature reflects different currents
and undercurrents. Three major trends and approaches stand out—the
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 227

spiritual-contemplative, the philosophical-theological, and the socio-

political. The late Swami Abhshiktananda was the Acharya of the first of
these trends and the Ashram movement as whole, and people like Jesudason
and Sadhu Mathaichen have contributed immensely to this particular aspect
of Indian Christianity. Raymon Panikkar seems to take the lead in the second
approach, the philosophical-theological. Paul Devanadan, and the Christian
Institute of Study on Religion and Society represent the third approach.
M M Thomas and Sebastian Kappen were powerful prophets of this. It is
gratifying to note that a number of both Roman Catholic and Protestant
theologians have taken such bold steps and Indian theology has certainly
shown signs of maturity.

Christian Saints and Sages of India

India is a nation of saints and sages who originate from many different
religions. This is the case with Indian Christianity as well. There are a
number of saintly persons from different backgrounds who have become
well-known household names like Sr Alphonsa, Fr Chavara, Mar Gregorios
of Parumala and Mar Gregorios (the pioneer of ‘Jacobitism’ in India),
Mar Ivanios (the founder of the Syro-Malankara Catholic community),
and Mariam Thresia, all from Kerala; Aaron, Samuel Azariah, Devasahayam
Neelakanta Pillai (all from Tamil Nadu); and, of course, Mother Teresa.
One of the important names that come to our mind is that of
Mother Teresa who in her lifetime became a one-woman relief agency.
She was able to gather around her all the openhearted of the world in
maintaining groups to help the old, the hungry, the crippled, the homeless,
the debilitated, the rejected, and she succeeded in enlisting their support.
She has become the symbol of the world for all those selfless nuns and
social workers in India who devote their time, day and night, to aid and
protect the helpless and the needy.
St Thomas, the Apostle of Christ, has become as much a part of India
as any other saint. His life and work in the northwest, southwest, and
southeast of India were very beneficial to both the rulers and the ruled, as
can be seen in the many books on Indian Christianity especially in the
Acts of Thomas or the Ramban Song. Many a foreigner has come to India
and chosen this country for their motherland. Among these was Thomas
Kinayi, the pioneer who arrived on the Malabar Coast and won the trust
228 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

and praise of the king in the early centuries. He was considered the
forefather of the Knanaya community of Kerala. There were a number of
holy men who came to India from the Middle East before the western
church established its hold on the Kerala church. Some great pioneering
men of goodwill and scholar-soldiers for God such as St Francis Xavier,
Rudolph Acquaviva the martyr, Robert de Nobili, St John de Brito and
William Carey arrived in India during the latter half of the second
St Francis Xavier, considered by many the most zealous, the most
generous, and the most world-beloved of the long line of Jesuit saints was
yet another St Paul, changing the destiny of Christianity in the whole of
the East. De Nobili had a bold and unique method in his missionary work.
His appearance clad in the saffron robe of the sadhu with sandal paste on
his forehead and the cord on his body from which hung a cross was the
starting point of a new era of missionary enterprise. With his extensive
study of Hinduism, he was convinced that Christ should have a place in
India without the benefit of hat, trousers and boots. St John de Britto,
another Jesuit, was acclaimed a great student of Tamil writers.
Ringeltaube was one of the greatest missionaries India has seen. When
the great famine broke out in Myladi, he was able to get orders from the
government exempting Christians from taxes. When hundreds of Shanars
wanted to become Christians to gain from these taxes, Ringeltaube refused
to accept them into the Christian fold, which throws light on his character.
Although William Carey, the man with great missionary dreams was
persecuted by the British and had to starve, along with his wife, sister, and
five children for long periods, he achieved so much, in translating and
printing the Bible in several languages, in spreading secular education, in
setting up Serampore College and community, to mention some of his
achievements. He is often called the father of Indian missionary work.
The Roman Catholic Church has started beatification processes in India.
When Pope Paul John Paul visited India in 1986, he declared Fr Chavara
Kuriakose Elias ‘Blessed’, the co-founder of the congregation of the
Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), who is remembered for his
pioneering efforts in starting religious houses, seminaries, institutions for
secular education, printing and publishing. So also, Sister Alphonsa, the
Clarist nun whose brief lifespan of thirty-six years was characterized by
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 229

love, service, sacrifice, illness and suffering. The saint Parumala

Kochuthirumeni (Geevarghese Mar Gregoris) has a special place in the hearts
of the people of Kerala. His work of evangelization, education and social
work spread beyond Malankara to British Malabar, Goa and Ceylon.
Thousands of devotees throng to his tomb on 2nd November every year.
There are a number of other names as well. It would be unfair to
omit the names of Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, the pioneer of social service
and female education; and Sadhu Sunder Singh of the Sikh community;
one of the most well known and most travelled Indian evangelists whose
Himalayan excursions to Nepal and Tibet to carry on the message of
Christ remind us one of the first apostles of Jesus. The tireless reformer,
Abraham Malpan whose zeal led to the founding of the Mar Thoma
Church; Sadhu Kochu Kunju, the quiet and unassuming servant of God
in Kerala; Graham Staines and his two boys and wife and daughter; and
those Telugu, Tamil, Bengali and Ranchi-based holy men and women,
Indian by birth or by choice, who have acquired a special place in the
hearts of Indian Christians. Although this listing of saints and sages of
Indian Christianity is neither representative nor exhaustive, the lives of
these people reflect the mental anguish, joys and struggle with the moral
order of the Indian Church through the centuries.

The Emerging ‘Indian’ Church

The emergence of India’s nationalist movement was the most prominent
feature of India’s history in the first half of the 20th century. Seeds of this
movement took roots during the later years of the previous century, primarily
due to the spread of English education and western civilization. With the
foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1888 it became an organized
movement. But with the exception of a man such as Kali Charan Banerjee,
a lawyer from Bengal who was both a keen Christian and a prominent
member of the Congress in its early years, not many Christians took a
direct and active role in the political struggle. However, a few Christian
leaders felt the stirrings of national pride. Lal Bahadur Dey (an ordained
Presbyterian minister in Bengal during the period of Duff ) demanded equal
status with the Europeans.
A similar tendency was expressed in the south of India in 1857, when
three young converts in Tinnevelly, Muthiah Pillai, Dhanukoti Raju and
230 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Manakavala Perumal Pillai, refused to be parted from their kudumis (hair

tufts) before baptism, in spite of severe pressure from the missionaries.23
We also find in the second half of the 19th century a greater inclination
among the converts to find ways of expressing their Christian faith.
Krishnaras Sangle’s composition of Marathi lyrics in Indian metre and
Vishnupant Karmarkar’s Christian use of Indian oratorio form are some
examples.24 The most outstanding literary fruit is seen in Narayana Vamana
Tilak (1862-1919). His Marathi poetry inspired by personal devotion to
Jesus Christ and also intense love of his country begins with Priyankara
Hindusthana.25 In his specifically Christian work he baptized into Christ
the lyrics he had inherited from Tukaram and the Hindu bhaktis.
The early 20th century also saw the emergence of independent sanyasis.
Tilak himself resigned his position in the America Marathi Mission and
spent the last twenty months of his life as a sanyasi, as he felt it would be a
more natural way of bringing the Christian message to the Hindus than
the conventional method. B C Sircar of Bengal (who worked in the
Young Men’s Christian Association) practised yoga in his later years and set
up a Christian shrine at Puri (one of the seven sacred places of Hinduism)26 .
But the most famous Christian Sadhu who caught the public imagination
both in India and abroad was Sadhu Sunder Singh.
The early 20th century also saw the emergence of yet another type of
work though voluntary organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian
Association (YMCA) and the Student Christian Movement (SCM). The
contributions of V S Azariah, K T Paul and V Santiago cannot be
overestimated. Several Indian missionary societies such as the
Indian Missionary Society of Tinnevelly (1903) and the National Missionary
Society, an interdenominational society (1905), came into existence.
Another development that took place during the second half of the 19th
century and the early 20th century was the revival of the ashram movement,
an ancient Indian institution. Originally, it meant a hermitage or a group of
ascetics living their religious life together in some quiet place, usually under
the leadership of a sage. The ashram seemed to be an institution which
Christians could use to express their religious ideas, one which Indians would
appreciate. In fact there were already such religious communities of the Western
type existing in India such as the Society of St John the Evangelist (Cowley
Fathers) at Pune (1870), and the Oxford Mission Brotherhood of the
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 231

Epiphany at Calcutta (1881). Since the First World War, a number of ashrams
sprang up in different parts of India such as Christu Kula Ashram at Tirupattur
in the North Arcot district in the Madras Residency (1921), Christa Seva
Sanga (1921) and Christa Prema Seva Sangha (1934) in and around Pune,
and Christavashram Manganam(1934) in Kerala.
We may also note that an attempt is being made to use Indian style of
architecture in building churches,27 which are but few and far between.
Attempts are also being initiated for indigenization of worship.

The Church and the Electronic Media

Print media had made early inroads into the church in India, but electronic
media, cinema, radio, television and other modern communication
techniques are only late entrants in this field. As is the case with electronic
media like radio, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting controls
television. The involvement of the church in these areas has remained mostly
at the level of training and production of audio and video cassettes. It seems
that among all the religious denominations, Christians alone have attempted
to set up media centres. The very institutional set-up of the church and its
interest in the proclamation of faith in modern ways led the church to
establish media centres.
Chitrabani, Calcutta and the Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC),
Mumbai were the first to focus on training personnel for the electronic media.
In the late 1980s, Chitrabani with St Xavier’s College, Calcutta ventured
into the Educational Research Programme and joined the Countrywide Class
Room (CWCR) of the University Grants Commission. Kalabhawan of Kochi,
Kerala started off as a cultural centre in the mid 1990s under the guardianship
of Fr Abel CMI. This centre excelled in songs, drama, mimicry, comics, and
various other popular art forms and contributed many a star to the Malayalam
film screen. It has recently turned to the electronic media playing a vital role
in the cultural and electronic media scenes in Kerala.
A number of regional centres mushroomed rapidly in the early 1970s,
but none of these centres have made any major contribution to filmmaking
in the country. However, several of the centres produce regularly for radio
stations in India and other stations in Asia. Jeevan TV channel is probably
the biggest, the most ambitious and latest venture by the Indian Church
in the field of electronic media. Although it was started initially as a
232 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Roman Catholic venture, later it was expanded into an organization

incorporating all Episcopal churches in Kerala. A number of other
Christian TV channels have also sprung up in recent times.
The efforts of the church in media education are commendable, and
the purpose of such education is to make the public critically conscious of
the ways in which the media can influence values and lifestyle. The church
may be the only group involved in it in a somewhat organized way. A
recent achievement of the church in India in the media field has been the
founding of the National Institute of Social Communication, Research and
Training (NISCORT) by the Catholic Conference in India, to give
professional training to the clergy and the laity in the media scene.

Introduction of English Education

in the Early 19th Century
The 19th century saw the consolidation of British rule and the impact of
western ideas on the social, political and religious life of India through
the medium of English language. Indian civilization as we know it today
is the effect of English education on Indian culture. Until 1829 Persian
languages continued to be the language in courts of law. When after 1813
funds were set aside for public education there were heated arguments as
to how it should be expended; whether on the classical education in
Sanskrit, Persian or Arabic or on a modern western type of education in
the English language. The prevailing opinion till 1830 was on the side of
the old classical learning. However, there were some who argued that the
old learning was indeed outdated and unsuited to the modern age, and
the only possible medium should be English. As a result, in 1817 in
Calcutta, some Indian and European Anglicists opened a vidyalaya, which
later became known as the Hindu College. Teachers who taught in this
institution were men who had learned rationalist, atheistic philosophy
propounded in 18th century Europe. During this period, the missionaries
of the Church Missionary Society who arrived in Travancore (Kerala)
started teaching English in the Kottayam Syrian Seminary in 1815.
Eventually they started CMS College in Kottayam.
In 1830, Alexander Duff, a young missionary of the Church of Scotland,
was sent to Bengal on an educational mission. Having been given a free
hand to choose his own mode of operation, he decided to put this to
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 233

Christian use. He wanted to open a school, which would in due course

become a college where all subjects would be taught through the medium
of English, not from a secular point of view as in a Hindu college, but
definitely from the standpoint of the Christian faith, giving the Bible a
place of honour and providing daily Scripture learning in every class. All
but one of the missionaries disagreed with the plan. With the help of
William Carey and the Hindu Reformer Ram Mohan Roy (the founder of
Brahmo Samaj), he opened a school with five pupils. This school later became
an institution of 150 to 200 boys, organized in two departments, one,
English and one Bengali, and the school became very popular. The boys
then passed out to college classes, which became known as the
General Assembly’s Institution. Outside his own school Duff made contacts
with students of Hindu College and entered into discourses on various
topics, the result of which was that in 1833 Mohesh Chunder Ghose,
Krishna Mohan Banerjea, Gopinath Nandi and Arundo Chund Mozomdar,
young men of education and high caste, were brought in. The success of
Duff ’s educational work was a powerful argument to all those who were
trying to persuade the government to promote English education.
It was a turning point in the history of education in India that in 1835,
when the Governor General, Lord Bentinck, issued a decree reversing the
previous policy and declaring that ‘in future Government funds would be
mainly used for imparting… a knowledge of English literature and science
through the English language’. Another famous statement of policy was the
Educational Despatch of Sir Charles Wood (1854), which laid down the
main lines of the modern system of public education. The Despatch also
proposed a plan to establish a Department of Public Instruction in each
province and universities in the capital cities. Connected with these there
was to be a co-ordinated series of schools, some maintained by the government,
while most were under private management receiving grants-in-aid from the
government, provided that the schools satisfied certain stipulations.
Meanwhile, a number of Christian schools without government grants
carried on secondary education and they followed their own policy. Following
the example of Duff ’s school in Calcutta, schools were established in other
cities, and this endeavour of the Church of Scotland was the pioneer,
Wilson High School (1832), started by John Wilson, which later grew as
Wilson College. John Anderson founded an institution in (1837), the
234 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

ancestor of Madras Christian College and its High School. Stephen Hislop
started another one in Nagpur (1844), which later became Hislop College.
Noble College, Machilipatnam (CMS 1842) and St John’s College, Agra
(CMS 1853) developed out of schools founded during this period. Many
other schools and colleges also emerged in various places.
The middle years of the 19th century saw a continued movement
towards Christian unity among the educated classes. Nehemiah Goreh,
the Brahmin Shastri became a Christian (baptized in 1848) and helped
many others to the faith by his books, lectures and conversations. The
mathematician Ram Chandra of Delhi (1852); Vishnupant Bhaskar
Karmakar of Ahmadnagar (1853); Babu Padmanji of Belgaum and Bombay,
an able Christian writer in Marathi (1854); Ganpatrao Raghunath Navalkar,
church leader and outspoken critic of missionary methods in Bombay (1860)
were among others who were part of this movement.28

The Christian Church and Women’s Education

One of the activities of the Christian missionaries in the second half of the
19th century was the work among women. Very little had been or could
be done before that period. Child marriage, female infanticide, sati and
(in North India) the purdah system were the order of the day. There was
very little thought given to the emancipation of women. Moreover, since
reading and writing were almost entirely confined to professional dancing
girls, it was not a relevant idea to consider education for respectable women.
When, therefore, Calcutta students in 1831 debated the subject of
education it was considered a revolutionary idea.
Some schools existed through the efforts of missionary women.
Mrs Marshmann of Serampore (1818) and Mrs Wilson of Bombay were
supported by committees of well-wishers, such as the Calcutta School Society
(1819) in India and the Society for Promoting Female Education in the
East,29 formed in London (1834). Miss Cooke, an English lady who later
became Mrs Wilson (not to be confused with Mrs Wilson of Bombay)
came from England to organize schools for girls in Calcutta. Initially there
was great prejudice against female education, which gradually withered. A
number of fathers desired education for their daughters. The earliest were
the Parsees of Bombay. Drinkwater Bethune, a public-spirited civilian and
president of the government Council of Education, together with Pandit
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 235

Ishvara, Chandra Vidyasagara of the Brahmo Samaj, founded the first school
for high caste girls. In 1854, the missionaries started sending Christian
women to teach girls in the Zenana Hindu families, among whom
Mrs Mullens and Miss Toogoord (an Anglo-Indian lady) played a prominent
role. This was the beginning of permanent Zenana schools, which spread
to other towns, and it became a regular feature of the educational system.
These schools received grants-in-aid from the government, who appointed
female inspectors as well.
In 1857, Duff opened a Christian day school for girls. Two years
later, the American Presbyterian Mission started a girls’ boarding school
at Dehra Dun, from which came the first female matriculate to Calcutta
University.30 With the progress made through Zenana visitation, a number
of mission societies have established special societies such as the Zenana
Bible and Medical Mission and the Church of England Zenana Missionary
Society (1881). Isabella Thobourn of the Methodist Episcopal Church of
America came to Lucknow in 1870 and founded a school, which eventually
developed into Isabella Thoburn College. Gradually, Zenana schoolwork
came to be carried on in schools in the ordinary sense of the term, and the
number of girls’ schools increased. Two Christian girls in Bombay,
Miss Malabe Kukde and Mrs Shervantibai Nikambe, became in 1884 the
first Indian girls to pass the matriculation examination to Bombay University.
By the end of the 19th century, women’s education was well under way.

Early Pioneers of Christian Writing

in Indian Languages
An English Jesuit Thomas Stephens had the honour of being the pioneer in
Christian writing in Indian languages. He had arrived in Goa in 1579 and
settled in the peninsula of Salsette near the present city of Mumbai. Having
realized the importance of popular vernacular Puranas in the minds of people,
he composed a purana, a long poem narrating the Old and New Testament
stories, in colloquial Marathi mixed with Konkani. Bearing this example in
mind, De Nobili composed in Sanskrit verse, a Life of Our Lady, canticles
for marriage and funerals and a summary of the Christian doctrines in a
hundred Sanskrit slokas. More important were his writings in Tamil, the
most important of which was the large catechism known as Gnanopadesam
(teaching of Knowledge). It is a summary of the Christian doctrine, which
236 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

he kept revising and enlarging until it grew to five volumes. It is a veritable

Summa Theologica for the Indians.31 Some of his other works included
Gnana Sancheevi (Spiritual Medicine), and a number of controversial books
in which the Hindu doctrines were discussed and refuted, the best known
being Punar-Janmma-aakshepam (Refutation of Rebirth).32 De Nobili is
to be greatly commended for his study and use of Sanskrit and Tamil. It is
to be noted that his attitude to religious Hinduism was entirely negative
and he wrote to refute.33 He further argued and ridiculed the doctrine of
rebirth, karma of the avatar or divine incarnation, without making any
attempt to give them a Christian reinterpretation.34
De Nobili held to a conservative exposition of the Christian faith. In
his Gnanopadesam, twenty-six Prasangals, he repudiated Thomist arguments
for the existence of God and devoted considerable attention to expounding
a non-biblical Mariology and Purgatory, and touched only slightly on the
death of Christ. He made no real attempt to use Hindu terminology and
thought-forms to express the Christian faith.35 His great achievement was
his understanding and adaptation of Hindu customs and ceremonies, his
pioneering study of Sanskrit and Tamil and his initiation of the essential
task of evolving a Christian theological vocabulary for Indian languages.

The Contribution of Missionaries

to Indian Languages
Mastery over languages was central to the spread of the Good News. Though
Jesus preached only in a small geographical area, the church spread all over
the Roman Empire and beyond within a short span of time after the
crucifixion. It was a period when there were many over-enthusiastic Roman
consuls who persecuted leaders of isolated communities, which eventually
led to the need for preserving documents. Early documents from the second
century that have survived all persecutions and war include The Seven Epistles
of St. Ignatius of Antioch, The Refutation and Overthrow of Gnosticism and
Proof of Apostolic Teaching of St Irenaeus.
Learning new languages promoted the spread of Christianity, and it
also contributed significantly to the growth and preservation of many
languages and literary works. A classic example is that of the Armenian
language. In Armenia, shortly after CE 256, Christianity was declared the
religion of the State. By 400 CE, St Mesrop invented the Armenian alphabet
and translated the Bible and Greek writings to the Armenian language.36
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 237

Latin remained the lingua franca of Christianity for many centuries, and
Greek was transmitted to the moderns through the medieval abbeys. There
was no blind prejudice even against pagan literature. In fact, St Basil the
Great (329-379) of Cappadocico addressed his discourse To our Young Men,
How can they derive benefit from the study of Pagan Literature, absorbing the
good from secular of pagan literature.37
The missionaries who reached India from the 16th century onwards
were quick to learn new languages, and wrote books and standardized
scripts, which evolved new methods of study. They were pioneers in the
introduction of printing, lexicography and inter-linguistics in India.
Modern printing techniques came to India much earlier than many
countries in the West. The missionaries made significant contributions
to practically every Indian language.

The contribution of missionaries to the Tamil language

It is universally accepted that the missionaries played a very active role in
the revival of Tamil letters. It was on the southern and western coasts of
India that many early Europeans landed. They evinced keen interest in
learning the new language, Tamil, and tried to make it intelligible to
future western missionaries. They simplified the script, introduced
punctuation, encouraged writing of prose work, introduced the printing
press, produced Tamil tracts and books, and set up societies for promoting
Tamil work. It has been suggested that A Tamil Catechism (Lisbon c 1550)
is the first known printed book of Tamil in Roman characters, and
Franciscan Joao de villa de Corride is believed to have assisted in its
production. In 1556 Jesuits brought a printing press to Goa for printing
Portuguese tracts for the society and later a set of ‘Malabar’ characters
was cut. In 1558 the first Tamil translation of Francis Xavier’s Doutrina
Christi by Henrique appeared in Tamil script. He also produced a Tamil
grammar and dictionary. Robert de Nobili studied Tamil, Telugu and
Sanskrit and he was the first European scholar of Sanskrit. He was one of
the pioneers in the writing of Tamil prose. Father Constanco who adopted
the Tamil name Viramaamunivar (1680-1747) was a linguist and a creative
poet working towards the development of the language by reintroducing
the pulli and the distinction between long and short ‘o’ and ‘e’. He
composed a grammar of High Tamil, and was the first to write a grammar
238 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

of Low Tamil (the common dialect); he also compiled several Tamil

dictionaries, a Tamil-Latin-and Latin-Tamil Portuguese dictionary. Beschi
is, however, is the best-known Tamil poet.
The arrival of the Lutheran, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and his colleague
Heinrich Plutschau in Tranquebar in 1706 saw a further contribution of
the missionaries to language and literature. Within eight months of their
arrival they had mastered the Tamil language, and Ziegenbalg translated
the Bible into Tamil, the very first translation of the Bible into any Indian
language. In addition, he translated many moral books and a dictionary of
Tamil studies was introduced in 1711 at what is now known as the Martin
Luther University in Halle. He further encouraged the Society for Promoting
Christian Knowledge in London to send a ‘Portuguese’ printing press to
India and soon he was able to obtain a set of ‘Malabar’ letters from Germany.
Another German missionary, Christoph Theodosius Walter (1699-1751),
compiled a Tamil-Hebrew dictionary.

The contribution of missionaries to the Bengali language

Christian missionaries contributed immensely in the field of Bengali
language. A Portuguese missionary, Manuel de Assùmpsao, wrote Kripar
Shastrer Orthobhed, which was printed in 1743 in Lisbon in Roman
alphabets. The National Library at Calcutta has some of the earliest printed
books in Bengali. Henry Forstar’s, A Vocabulary in Two Parts (English and
Bengali) was published in 1799. William Carey (1761-1834) was a
prolific translator, linguist and educationist. Carey library in Serampore
contains plenty of archival material. He helped develop Bengali typefaces
and established Serampore Mission (1800) and college in addition to
publishing newspapers and periodicals. The mission also made
contributions to Bengali literature. Carey translated and printed the Bible
in Bengali. They also made a distinct contribution to education. In 1800
they established printing presses in the Oriental languages and the first
printed Bengali prose book by a Bengali, Pratapaditya Carita. In 1818,
the first periodical in any Indian languages Dogdarshar and the first
newspaper in any Indian language Samachar Darpan were published. The
Bible was translated into 41 languages, 28 by Carey.

The contribution of missionaries to the Malayalam language

The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 239

Portuguese missionaries, immediately on their arrival, established

seminaries and schools and learned the indigenous language. In 1583,
they established a press at the seminary in the Kochi area, and by 1580
two more at Vypeen fort and Kochi. The earliest prose work from the
missionaries is supposed to be the translation of the decision taken at
Synod of Diamper in 1599. Of the verse narratives extant, the Ramban
Song (The Thomas Parvam) recounts the coming of Apostle Thomas to
India, his travels and the founding of the many churches and ends with
his martyrdom at Mylapore in the year 72 CE.
Father Arnos who came to Kerala in 1599 was an accomplished
Malayalam scholar. He composed a large number of religious works in
Malayalam and produced a Malayalam-Sanskrit-Portuguese dictionary.
He wrote a grammar text and some long poems. The Department of
Printed Oriental Books and manuscripts (British museum) has a palm
leaf manuscript containing eight Malayalam poems on gospel history,
Christian doctrine and hagiology. One of the first Malayalam publications
printed in Europe seems to have been an essay on the Granthe-Malayalam
alphabets from materials supplied by Clemens de Jesu. The book appeared
in Rome in 1772 and there is a copy in the British museum collection.
Clemens, who died in 1782 and spent several years in Kerala, engraved a
set of Malayalam types for the press of the Society of Jesus in Rome.
Samkshepa Vedaratham is the first printed book in Malayalam using
Malayalam fonts; the author Fr Clement Pianius brought a copy of this
from Rome to Kerala in 1774. Robert Drummond wrote the first
comprehensive grammar of the language, and a copy of it, printed in
Bombay in 1799, is in the possession of the university library.

The Contribution of Christians to

Indian Culture
Christians in India have played a significant role in contributing to the
Indian culture. As India is composed of various cultural traditions, their
contribution to the Indian culture varies from one state to another.

Christians and Kerala culture

As Christians in Kerala have a good education and have played an active
role in public life, they have been able to contribute to its culture,
240 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

particularly literature and fine arts. There is little doubt that their most
important achievements were in the fields of linguistics and literature. As
far as the 18th century is concerned, the credit of having started the
development of literature in Malayalam goes to Carmelite Vicar Apostolic
Angelo Francis of St Teresa who authored a grammar book in colloquial
Malayalam, supplemented by a short dictionary,38 which was followed by a
Malayalam-Latin dictionary. After settling down at Ambazakkad in 1662,
he established a printing press and published a number of books in Tamil.
A German Jesuit, John Ernest Hanxleden, who worked in Kerala near Trissur
for more than 30 years and died there in 1782, did outstanding work in
this area. He had a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Syriac,
and is the author of a Sanskrit grammar in Latin, a Malayalam-Portuguese
grammar and a Malayalam-Sanskrit-Portuguese dictionary. Hanxleden is
known among the Malayalees as Arnos Pathiri. He wrote at least five poetical
works, all of which were later sung by Christians. Some are still used,
especially during the three days of Holy Week.
Archbishop Emmanuel Carvalho Pimentel of Kodungaloor (1721-52),
who was nicknamed Buddhi-Metran (brainy bishop) by his flock, had an
excellent knowledge of Malayalam and Syriac. Some of the other Jesuits
who left an impression in the same field were two Germans, B Bidcopinick
(died in 1743) and J Hausegger (died in 1756). The former wrote two
dictionaries (one in Malayalam and the other in Sanskrit-Portuguese).
Some of the written works of Kerala Christians are also important
landmarks, especially three of them, Malayalam manuscripts written on
three palm leaves (olas). The first one forms a collection of sortilege; magical
formulae and medical recipes admixed with many Christian names and
prayers. There is also a prayer book with many Syriac words. The last
manuscript, which is incomplete, has a poem in honour of St Alexus written
by Jacob Mapilla (a Syrian Catholic priest) who was a friend of Paulinus.
Mathew of Kollancherry, a Syrian Christian priest, authored a prayer
book, which has morning prayers, a short catechism and prayers related to
the mysteries of Christ. According to the two Germans mentioned above,
there is a versified life of David by an Orthodox priest, Joseph. Another priest,
George of Parur, is the author of a poem on Job, and also of a short ballad on
the arrival of Syrian Orthodox bishops, Baselius Gregorios and Yuhanon.
The work, Varthamanapustakam, is almost unique in the annals of
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 241

Malayalam literature before the 20th century. It is the work of Paremmakkal

(1735-99), the friend and travel companion of Archbishop Kariattil.39 It is
a travel narrative pertaining to the years, 1773-86; it also deals with the
whole 18th century history of St Thomas Christians. It is exceptional as it
is the very first prose narrative in Malayalam. Fr Placid J Podipara CMI
published in 1971 a fully annotated English translation.
The Carmelites also introduced a school of languages at Alangad in
1734 for the newly arrived Carmelite priests, thus helping them to produce
many books and dictionaries: a Latin–Malayalam grammar, and a shorter
Latin-Malayalam-Sanskrit grammar. They also produced two dictionaries,
one being a Malayalam-Sanskrit grammar and the other a Portuguese-
Sanskrit grammar. In addition, they also produced a Malayalam grammar
with a small dictionary written in Sanskrit characters. There is also a
collection of palm-leaf manuscripts kept at the Vatican library in which
there is one in Malayalam, which among other items such as prayers, a
confession rite and so on, contain selected passages from the Gospels.
In 1768, Ildephonse of the Presentation wrote a Latin description of
sorts on the Hinduism of his day. It is titled (in translation)
Accurate Collection of All Doctrines and Secrets from the Puranas, which has
as many as 618 folios, a work of apologetics. After his return to Rome in
1790, he wrote many books among which were System Brahamanichum
Litugicum, published in 1791, with a German translation in 1797.40 It is
on Hinduism and partly on the Indian antiques he had collected and which
were kept in the Borgia museum at Velletri near Rome. He also published
two books on the history and state of Christians in India, the first called
India Orientalis Christiana, and the second, A Voyage to Eastern Indies. The
original Italian edition came out in Rome in 1796, the German in 1798,
the English in 1800 and the French in 1808. The voyage is much more
than a mere description of his journeys. It describes South India, above
all Kerala, in detail. Hindus, Christians and Muslims are described
from different angles—social, religious, economic and political realities
of the day.
Protestant churches such as the London Missionary Society, the
Church Missionary Society and the Basel Mission Society played a very
important role in Kerala. There were also considerable efforts in linguistics
and lexicography. Benjamin Bailey (1805-70), Joseph Peet,
242 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Rev George Mathan (1819-70) and Rev George Koshy, played a key role
in developing the Malayalam language. The most important of the
missionaries was Herman Gundert (1814-93) who wrote many books in
Malayalam, the most important of which are a Malayalam English
Dictionary, Keralappazhama (Kerala Antiquity) and Pazhamacholamala
(A Garland of Proverbs). Bailey’s Malayalam-English Dictionary (1846)
and English Malayalam Dictionary (1846) stand out. Father Gerad brought
out the first work on rhetoric in Malayalam on the European model under
the title Alankara Sastram in 1881.
Missionaries started the first journals in Malayalam. Rajyasamacharam
is the first in 1847, produced as eight cyclostyled sheets from a press at
Ilikkikinnu near Thalassery. In Central Travancore in early 1848,
Jnananiksepam, the first Malayalam magazine was printed. The first
indigenous printing press was established at Mannanam in 1846,
masterminded by the Blessed Chavara.

Christians and Karnataka culture

The Jesuit, Thomas Stephens was the first Englishman in India. He wrote a
series of letters to his father, which held out ‘the strongest inducement which
London merchants had been offered to embark on Indian speculations’ which
subsequently led to the formation of the East India Company.41 He was the
first to make a scientific study of Canarese. He also studied Hindustani, and
in both these languages he published manuals of piety and grammar.
The Christian Purana (1616), a long poetic work, shows that he must have
acquired a complete mastery of Marathi, Konkani and Sanskrit. His
Arte de lingua Canarin is a grammar of the Konkani language, and it is the
first grammar of an Indian language by a European. He also wrote a catechism
of Christian doctrine, which appeared in 1622. Coorg Songs, with outlines
of the Coorg grammar by Graeter (Mangalore, 1870), and R A Cole’s
Grammar of Karnataka Language (Bangalore 1867) are later contributions
made by Europeans to linguistic studies.

Christians and Telugu culture

Veermamunivar wrote Gnanabodammu, ‘Spiritual Instruction’, in Telugu
(Nellore 1753). Antony Kutty Annaviar (1710-30), a lay colleague of Beschi,
wrote Anada Prasatam and Anu Vasagam. The missionaries have contributed
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 243

to the study of Telugu grammar and lexicography, including William Carey’s

Grammar of Telugu Language (1819) and Brown’s vocabulary of Gentoo
and English (1818). Some of the other contributions by the Europeans to
Telugu literature include, The Prosody of the Telugu and Sanskrit Languages.
The Vedanta Rasayanamu is one of the four Roman Catholic Prabandams,
which is a poetical work on five joyful and five sorrowful mysteries of the
rosary, composed by a Roman Catholic nyogi Brahmin. There is a manuscript
entitled ‘Dialogue between a Christian and a Brahmin’ found at the
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. The Nistara Ratnakaramu (Ocean of Salvation)
was printed before 1852. The Satyavede Sarasangrathasam, as a Sanskrit
work by Calmette which was translated into Telugu by a Roman Catholic
Brahmin. Anilya Nitya Vivastam or difference between the temporal and
the eternal is considered to be one of the four Roman Catholic Prabandams,
written both in prose and poetry by Samantapudi Mallyayya for a catechist
Marianna working in Kondavidu. The Vedanta Saramu (‘Essence of
Theology’) is of a higher order of writing.
The Tobias Charitra or Sarveswara Mahatwam is a historical poem
composed during the last quarter of the 18th century by a nyogi Brahmin
poet, Pingala Ellana Rayadu, at the request of Thumma Anuandu Rayyappa
Reddy, lord of the Bastala-Kavrapadu and grandson of Yelnati Rayyappa
Reddy, the first of his family to become a Christian. One of the
Roman Catholic Prabandams is Gnana Chintamani, which belongs to
the same period, and is a poetic narrative of the Christianization of the
first regional (Telugu) Roman Catholic, Gopu Reddi clan of Alamuru.
Fr G L Coeurdoux (who died in 1779), is the author of a Telugu-Sanskrit-
French Dictionary, and a French-Telugu-Sanskrit and Telugu-French
Dictionary, with greater emphasis on colloquial language. Fr Perre de la
Lane (died in 1746) wrote in 1729 a Telugu grammar and also a Telugu
dictionary entitled Amara Sinham.42

Christians and the culture of other areas

Henry Martin translated the New Testament into Hindi and Persian, revised
an Arab version of the New Testament and translated the Psalter into Persian
and the Prayer Book into Hindi. He came to India in 1806 as a chaplain
and left India for Persia in 1811 and died at Tokat in 1812. English Dictionary
by A Manner (Mangalore 1886), Extensive Vocabulary English and
244 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Hindoostanee by John E Gilchrist (1798) and Dictionary of Hindee and English

by J T Thompson (1862) are further missionary contributions. As a result
of the efforts of Serampore Mission, the first Hindi periodical Digdarshan
appeared in 1810, and Herman Mongliv of the Basel Mission published
the first newspaper available in the Kannada language. Illustrations of
Grammatical Parts Guzeratte, Maratta and English Language (1808) by
Rober Drummond, William Carey’s, Grammar of the Maharatta Language
(1810), Vans Kennedy’s, A Dictionary of Maratta Language (1824),
Rev Amos Sutton’s, Introductory Grammar of Oriya Language (1831) and
his Oriya Dictionary–3 volumes (1841), William Carey’s, A Grammar of
Punjabee Language (1812) and Samauel Starkey’s, A Dictionary of English
Punjabee(1849) are also examples of missionaries’ contribution to the
languages in India. Robert Caldwell is considered to be the first linguist
who made a comparative research on the Dravidian languages;
The Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Language was his masterpiece, which
was published in the middle of the 19th century.
No one can deny that the missionaries had a strong desire to serve the
people of the country. They also brought to the local people a sense of
pride in their own languages, using the simple style of the common man as
a means of communicating new ideas. The printing press, no doubt, made
books cheaper and made it possible to take literature to the masses.43

The Christian Contribution to Art

and Architecture in India
Nowhere in the world is there any fully local or indigenous art or
architecture. Such is the case with the church art and architecture of
India. To a certain extent all nations and cultures that came into contact
with India have influenced the process. This process falls into certain
specific periods in history. For convenience it can be condensed into three:
first, the pre-European period; second, the17th to the 18th centuries;
and third, the modern period.

Christians and Kerala art and architecture in the 17th century

Kerala, located on the west coast of India, was at the centre of the
international highway of seaborne trade. It was a meeting point of many
worlds from early times. The discovery of monsoon trade routes of Hippalus
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 245

in the first century BC/CE connected Muzuris (Cranganore) directly across

the Arabian Sea with cities to the West (especially Alexandria and Aden).
The western coastal route gave the ships ready access to the Indus and
countries to the north and north-west in Asia and Europe.
Kerala was also influenced much more by the trans-Arabian Sea visitors
than her immediate neighbours. Christian art and architecture in Kerala
were greatly influenced by the arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498 and visitors
from Portugal, the Netherlands, France and England. The pre-European
period of Christian art and architecture must have developed through the
influence of two sources: first, indigenous forms and techniques of art and
architecture that already existed in the land; and second, nourishment
received perhaps from countries in the Near East including Greece,
Rome, Egypt and other Middle East countries through missionaries and
traders. One can see a harmonious blending of East and West in Christian
art and architecture.
There are two accounts of church and church building activities of
Christians of Kerala at the end of the 16th century. There is, first, an
account by Joseph the Indian and letters written by four bishops in 1504;
and, second, there are documents of the Synod of Diamper in Malayalam
found in many Kerala churches, in Portuguese in the work of Gouvea,
and in English in the work of Geddes. 44 In the first, it seems that
Vasco da Gama mistook a Hindu temple for a church and he venerated
the idol of Bhaghavai mistakenly as an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This clearly illustrates the similarity between Hindu temples and Christian
churches. Soon after, four East Asian bishops ‘were received by the faithful
with great joy and they [the Christians of Kerala]went to meet them with
joy, carrying before them the book of the Gospel, the cross, censers, and
torches… And they [the bishops] consecrated them… ’.45 In the second,
The ‘Journada’ of the Synod of Diamper throws light on the structures
and arrangements of the churches visited by Archbishop Menezes. These
churches and all their belongings were the property of the local parishioners
of each church and they were built completely by the autonomous parishes.
Almost all the churches had very similar structures to each other both
inside and outside.
The typical early Malabar Church had certain striking objects of
significance in front, inside the courtyard or just outside it. One was an
246 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

open-air granite (rock) cross, sometimes called ‘Nazraney sthamba’, seen at

Kaduthurthy, Kuravilangad, Kanjoor and Ollur churches. A second one is
a Kodimaram, or flag staff, made of famous Kerala teak wood as at Parur,
and often enclosed in copper hoses or paras as at Changanacherry, Pulikunnu
or Chambakulam. A third one is the rock Deepa-sthamba, or lamp stand, as
at Kallooppara, Kundara and Chenganur churches.
One notices a variety of sthamba or pillars in other religious structures
as among the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus. These pillars were part of the
Christian heritage of Kerala well before the ascendancy of Vedic Hinduism.
The rock cross of Malabar churches is usually tapering tall stone column,
sometimes decorated. Rome, London, Paris and New York have many obelisks
from Egypt and East, but have no original cross-bearing structures decorating
piazzas and squares. The Asoka Pillar and other pillars were influenced by
Graeco-Parthian design, under Parsi influence. The Nazraney sthamba is a
direct descendant of the obelisk and much closer to it than the other Indian
pillars—in shape, method of construction and transportation, method of
erection and so on. These obelisk crosses continued to be erected mostly in
front of churches, even after the establishment of western churches, although
a few changes in the motifs on the pedestals can be noticed. These crosses
were typically found in Portuguese colonies in India and elsewhere.
The indigenous architecture of Kerala churches is immensely rich in
symmetry and beauty because the open-air rock crosses (some more than
thirty feet in height) include the intrinsically carved pedestals and monolithic
shafts. It is to be noted that no other community in Kerala has such huge
monumental structures. Furthermore, the indoor counterparts of these
crosses, called ‘Pallavi’ or St Thomas crosses, have the earliest carvings in
Kerala of the national flower, lotus, and the national bird, the peacock; and
sometimes the national animal, tiger, is depicted in Kerala art in church
sculptures. Even the Vedic Hindu Vigrahas appear in Kerala much later
than these so-called Persian crosses. A closer examination of the supreme
Bal, sacrifice, or Mahabali appearing on the Balikkallu or the sacrificial
altar is an appropriate representation of the Calvary events. Probably it
sheds light on the ideological mindset of the forefathers. Preservation of fire
and oil-nerchers are linked to these crosses.
The granite lamp stand or deepastamba at churches in Kalloopara,
Kundara and Chenganoor are of great antiquity. Displays of rows of rock
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 247

lamps, and the traditional bronze lamps (some even with hundreds of wick
holders) like the Aayiram Aalila lamps at Arthat or Angamaly speak well of
the architecture of the churches. In front of the churches there is a third
interesting object, the flagstaff. Every festival is ushered in with the kodiyettu
or flag hoisting, a tradition which goes back to early Buddhist times at least.
The typical old Kerala church has a special roofing pattern, a three-
tiered gabled wooden roofing pattern. The highest roof is for the Madhbaha
or Sanctum Sanctorum and the lowest for the Mukhamandapam or portico
with the nave or Hykala having a roof of middle height. The flagstaffs, the
rock lamp stands, the baptismal fonts, and the three tiered roofing pattern,
and the appearance of the inside of the churches have undergone radical
changes after the arrival of the Westerners, especially the Portuguese.
With the arrival of the Portuguese the ornate monumentality of the
European churches came on to the scene and was introduced into the small
temple-like Syrian Christian churches, which did not have windows. Then
the Romano-Portuguese style was introduced. The local artists learned its
finesse and assimilated it and created some of the finest pieces of artistry in
the Nazraney school. One can see diverse art traditions (both Western and
Eastern) superimposed one over the other, such as the Indian symbols like
stone lamps, flag masts, stone crosses, arched entrances and so on, untouched
by foreign hands and co-existing with Renaissance frescoes, and the Baroque
art of Europe in the same churches.
Some other changes since the arrival of Western Christianity are
paintings and sculptures on a large scale, imposing altar pieces or reredos,
rostra or pulpits, statues of different types and sizes, huge bells and belfries,
frescoes, paintings on wood panels and cloth, among others. The Portuguese
put up facades between the portico and the nave in order to impart a
‘Christian’ (a non-Hindu) appearance to the churches. It is to be noted
that the mural paintings depicted on the walls of the Kerala churches may
be older than the well-known Mughal and Rajput paintings. Some
interesting murals, using only pigments extracted from natural objects like
leaves and laterite stones, are to be seen in the churches at Angamaly,
Akaraparambu, Paliekkara, and Cheppad. The early paintings and
iconography of Kerala churches strictly follow the concepts of Indian sages
and craftsmen in these matters. Ancient wooden panels are seen at Piravaom,
Kottayam, Changanacherry and Ollur churches. There are also churches in
248 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Kerala which adhere more or less to one or other of the classical Christian
architectural styles like the Basilican, Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothi,
Baroque and Rococco. But the churches built in the 20th century are
combinations of various styles, both Eastern and Western.

Christian art and architecture outside Kerala

Two distinct patterns of Christian art have emerged since the Portuguese
ascendancy in India, one within the areas of Portuguese influence, mostly
along the coasts of the peninsula and the other at the Moghul court in the
north. The Christian art of Goa reached its climax in church building. The
churches were elaborately decorated expressing the Baroque ideal of making
visible here on earth the heavenly darbar (centred round the Eucharistic
presence of Christ among the people). But European Baroque in the hands
of Indian artisans and craftsmen developed its own repertoire of skills, styles
and motif and produced a unique locally developed style reminiscent of
the Hindu temple and its companion lamp tower. By the end of the 16th
century Goa is compared to Lisbon and was termed ‘the Rome of the East’.
Something quite different happened in northern India at the court of
Akbar (1556-1605). The Jesuits wanted to establish great influence at the
cultural and intellectual level, and they made good use of paintings and
engravings, which were easily available and transportable. Akbar was very
appreciative of their artistic qualities and the religious content and he ordered
his court painters to copy the new art. This continued even when the secular
pictures reached India through officials of the East India Company.
With the arrival of Protestant missionaries pioneered by William Carey,
there was a stress on literature (the Bible) and education. They did not
show interest in music, drama, feasts and festivals. Their church buildings
showed the influence of their country of origin. There were more creative
attempts during this modern period than ever before. Both groups of
painters (non-Christian and Christian) expressed their search and insights
in relation to Indian traditions. While the non-Christian painters expressed
their search and insights in relation to the person of Christ, the Christian
painters interpreted Christ through the means of Indian traditions.
Nandalal Bose studied under Rabindranath Tagore and he exercised great
influence on the Bengal School. Christian painters like Angaelo da Fonseca
and Vinayak S Masoji studied under them. One of the recurring themes of
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 249

Nandalal Bose’s Christian paintings is the cross. For several years, Jamini
Roy chose Christ as the main theme of his paintings. K C S Paniker carried
on the spirit of India in a modern form, and during recent times several
Christian artists have come forward to express their Christian faith through
the medium and form of Indian art.46

The Christian Contribution to

Healthcare in India
The Census Report of 2001 points out that Christians in India is just
2.3 per cent of the total population. Despite the small percentage of the
population of this minority community, their contribution in the field of
healthcare in this country is unique and praiseworthy. The church from
its very beginning followed the mandate Christ Himself gave to His
disciples to go about doing good and cure all infirmities and restore life
to its fullness. So, from the outset the church considered service to the
sick as an integral part of her mission. From the early centuries, one finds
the establishment of inns alongside churches to look after the sick, the
suffering and the needy. The decrees of the Councils of Carthage
(309 CE) and Tours (567 CE) testify to this. In 370 CE, St Basil, Bishop
of Caesarea founded a complex called Basiliades to take care of the sick.
This can be considered the prototype of institutions for the care of the
sick. By the 4th century there existed different types of such institutions
like xenodoquim (an inn designed to take care of pilgrims and those in
exile, noxocmium (hospital for the sick), orphanotrophium (to take care of
children separated from their parents), gneronotocomium (asylum for the
leprosy patients) and so on. Later religious communities and
‘confraternities’ or brotherhoods started to emerge to take up the work of
charity for the care of the sick, support of the poor, orphans and needy. In
1498, the Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa Miscericordia) was started.
From the very beginning of the arrival of the missionaries from the
West to India, the healthcare scenario in different parts of the country
started a new phase. The Portuguese missionaries started the ‘Holy Houses
of Mercy’ in Cochin and Goa. Later in 1527, the Cochin site was further
developed as a hospital, Cruz de Cochin, which is probably the first
Christian hospital in India. Later Fr Henry Henriques started a Christian
hospital in Punnaikayal, in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu. With the
250 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

arrival of various religious congregations, more healthcare institutions

developed in different places. The congregation of Daughters of St Anne
founded healthcare centres in Ranchi and Calcutta. So also the Presentation
Sisters who came to Chennai in 1842 started dispensaries attached to
schools and also the South Indian Railway Hospital. More hospitals and
healthcare centres were established in various parts of India such as
Visakapatnam (1849), West Bengal in 1860, and a Holy Child Hospital
in 1883 in Bhoborpura, Krishnagar, and Shimuiana in 1886. They
initiated their healthcare apostolate in Kerala under the Vicariate of
Verapoly. Later they extended their work to different parts of Kerala. With
the dawn of the 20th century, hospitals and health care centres were
found in many parts of the country.
The Protestant churches in India began their contribution in the field
of healthcare in the middle of the 19th century. One of the most important
contributions is through Vellore Mission in Tamil Nadu, which was started
along the lines of the visionary plan of Dr Ida S Scudder (1870-1959) that
began in the late 1880s when she arrived in India to assist her father. The
humble beginning of her vision was a one-bed hospital in 1900, which
became a 40-bed hospital by 1902. Thus began the internationally
prestigious Christian Medical College, which stands now as one of the best
health institutions in the whole country. There are a number of other
outstanding Christian hospitals run by the Protestant missions such as
those at Ludhiana and Oddanchatram.
According to The Directory of the Catholic Healthcare Facilities in
India (2003), the Catholic Church in India has 764 hospitals, 2575
dispensaries and health centres, 70 rehabilitation centres, 107 mental health
centres, 61 centres for alternative systems of cure, 188 centres for the
disabled, 162 non formal health institutions and 115 medical training
centres that include six medical colleges.47 Under the Christian Medical
Association of India (CMAI) there are 328 health institutions belonging to
various other sister churches and denominations. Doctors, nurses and health
workers provide yeoman service for the welfare and health of the masses of
India. Down through the centuries, one of the distinguishing contributions
of the church’s involvement in healthcare is primarily due to the dedicated
services of so many religious sisters, and nurses and paramedics.
Statistics reveal that 85 per cent of the health care institutions run by
The Impact of Indian Christianity on Indian Society 251

Christian community are in the villages. It is a known fact that most of

these areas are totally or partially deprived of adequate healthcare and other
infrastructure and services. The World Health Organization defined health
as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, instead of the
former negative conception of the absence of disease or infirmity. In this
age of super speciality, the care of the whole person is often forgotten. A
true Christian understanding of healthcare should be a holistic approach,
which includes one’s emotional and spiritual care. Respect for life and regard
for Christian ethical principles should be borne in mind in the whole process
of healthcare. Life is to be protected from the moment of conception to the
moment of its natural end. The sacredness of life should be the primary
concern of Christian healthcare institutions. The presence of chaplains and
the possibility of having regular spiritual support need to be provided in
Christian health centres. As health is the core of all human development, it
should include physical, mental, spiritual and social dimensions.48

op. cit., ICD , Dr George Thomas, p 65.
op. cit., Boyd, p 45.
M M Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of Indian Renaissance, CLS, Madras, 1970, p 2.
Hans Staffner, S J, The Significance of Jesus Christ in Asia, Gujarat Sahatya Prakash, Anand,
1985, p 10.
ibid, p 29ff, ‘I believe, and I most boldly and emphatically declare, that the heart of a
Native is not naturally more depraved than that of a European or any other nation in the
world. . . .The fact is, human nature is the same everywhere—in all latitudes and climes;
but circumstances modify it, and religion and usages mould it in different forms…’
(David C Scott: Keshub Chandra Sen, CLS Madras, 1979.
ibid., p 58.
J N Farquhar, Modern Religious Movement in India, New York and London 1915,
p 222.
M C Parekh, Bramarash Keshub, Chander Sen, Rajkot, 1931 p v.
op. cit., MM Thomas, p 58.
252 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

op. cit., Boyd, p 41.
op. cit., MMT, p 40.
A M Mundadan, The Church in India: Its Theology and Spiritual Vision, op. cit., ICD,
p 73.
ibid, p 74.
Sir David Devadoss, Life of Poet H A Krishna, Pillai, p 29.
E G K Hewat, Christ and Western India, pp 220-222.
ibid, p 300.
op. cit., Latourette Vol VI, p 211.
Also refer to the section on Christian Art and Architecture on page 232
op. cit., Firth, p 185.

ibid., p 187.
J L Miranda, The Introduction of Christianity into the Hearts of India, Father Robert Mission,
Trichinopoly 1923, p 22. For further information refer to D Yesudhas, ‘Indigenisation or
Adaptation? A Brief Study of Robert de Nobili’s Attitude to Hinduism’, in Bangalore Theological
Forum, September 1967, p 39ff.
op. cit., Robin Boyd, p 13.
‘Church History: Rev. John Laux: Second Period’, chapter I, taken from op. cit., ICD, p 82.
op. cit., ICD, p 82.
E R Hambye, History of Christianity in India, Vol III, 18th century, p 94.
ibid., p 98.
Catholic Encyclopaedia.
ibid., p 341.
Jacob Punnose, Indian Christian Directory, 2006, p 84.
ICD, 2006, p 66.
George Menacherry, Indian Christian Directory, p 70. For a longer treatment of the
subject and many references on ‘Christian Influence in Indian Art’ George Menacherry, in
Christian Contribution to Nation Building, CBCI, KCBC, 2003.
Christian Medical Association of India, Directory of Member Institutions, 2002, p 3.
Fr Alex Vadakumthala, Indian Christian Directory, 2005, p 74.




WHEN ONE SPEAKS OF Indian Christian Theology, it is generally

considered as articulated reflections on God, Christ and the church, and
how the Christian faith meets with Indian people in their views, culture
and belief. To an outside observer the church in India seems to be dominated
by western thinking as evident in church architecture, organization, music
and publications. Again, a glance at the syllabus of any theological institution
would reveal that it is dominated by western theology with the result that
the preaching of an average Indian minister or evangelist reflects a western
theological perspective. But efforts have been made to bring in
‘indigenization’ in its life and worship. There have been experiments in
many other areas as well, such as Indian architectural styles. It is interesting
to note that the Christian ashrams or religious communities, from the
earliest days of western missionary activity, have used Christian lyrics
composed in Indian metres and sung to tunes played on Indian instruments.
Also there have been Indian Christian poets in every area and Indian
Christian ascetics (sadhus) as well. Yet a pertinent question remains; was
there a truly Indian expression of theological thought?
One factor which has tended to discourage the emergence of a
formulated Indian theology is the widespread dislike, both among the
Hindus and Christians, of anything dogmatic. Hindus tend to think that
Christianity is an authoritarian religion, which lays down dogmas as essential,

254 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

and demands unconditional acceptance of them as prerequisites for salvation.

This attitude has received considerable encouragement from the writings
of Dr S Radhakrishnan, who has criticized Christianity for the tendency to
fix its doctrinal categories. The absolute character of theological doctrines
is incompatible with the mysterious character of religious truth.1 Indian
theologians have related themselves to a number of Hindu philosophical
systems. Western theology has never been able to dissociate itself from
philosophy, from the time of Platonism of Justin Martyr onwards. Plato
lies behind Augustine, and Aristotle behind Aquinas and even Calvin. In
the West, the philosophy with which theology was been associated has not
necessarily been Christian philosophy, and theologians in their systematic
statements have used the language and thought patterns of such
philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Buber.2
The Indian Christian theologians are concerned with two chief options.
One is to remain faithful to their experience and knowledge of Christ who
is the centre of their life. This involves a loyalty to that knowledge which
the theologian has learned and the love of Christ. The other is to be concerned
about the interpretation and proclamation of their understanding and
experience so that others may come to know of it.
The earliest Christian theological response of the traditional
South Indian Christians in the early centuries was that they adapted the
life pattern of their community to the socio-cultural life of their non-
Christian neighbours. To them, the church was a religious congregation;
they had occasional celebration of the Eucharist, which expressed their
acknowledgement of the deity of Christ and set them apart as a Christian
community from their Hindu neighbours and their worship pattern. At
the same time, they attempted an integration of the Christian faith with its
Semitic roots and the Hindu religious ethos. While they separated
themselves from the rest of the society by their profession and practice of
the Christian religion, they and their Hindu neighbours believed that every
religion was effective as a means of salvation for its followers and they adapted
themselves socially to the prevalent caste-hierarchy in India. Although this
approach was not formulated in depth at any theological level, its historical
significance in the wake of any contemporary discussion on the roots and
relevance of the Christian faith in a pluralistic society cannot be ignored.3
The ancient church in Kerala included in it a number of traditions of
Indian Christian Theology 255

the Persian Church, commonly referred to as Nestorians, and of the Syrian

or Jacobite Church. But the early Indian Church did not evolve any distinct
theological point of view, which could guide and inspire the Indian people.
Probably it was because the Indian Christians existed in the midst of an
alien Hindu environment and they had fitted into the caste-pattern of the
society. Moreover, the language of the liturgy, Syriac, was not understood
by most of the people for a long time till the Bible was translated into the
vernacular (Malayalam) in the 19th century. So, naturally, Syrian
Christology influenced the Indian theology of the time.

Indigenous Theology Before the 16th century

As there were no official records prior to the 16th century, in order to find
out about indigenous Indian Christianity, one has to examine the general
outlook and religious mentality of the community in regard to their life,
customs and traditions. Robin Boyd says:
It might be expected that the Syrian Church, with its long Indian tradition behind
it, would have evolved a distinct type of theology which could be a guide and
inspiration to Indian theologians of other, more recent, traditions. It must be
admitted, however, that this has not been the case, and that it is only comparatively
recently, and under the influence of western theology, that theological writers of
note have begun to emerge.4
However, Antony Mookenthotam feels that it is possible that the ancient
Indian Church had developed some theology of its own and this theology
is not written in books but is implicit in the life, experience and traditions
of the community. If one examines the certain aspects of the socio-
ecclesiastical life of the St Thomas Christians, he may come to the same
conclusion that of Antony Mookenthotam:
Their identification with their socio-cultural milieu implies an incarnational theology
lived as awareness that Christ in becoming man assumed everything human and
redeemed all social and cultural values.5
The relationship between St Thomas Christians and the Hindu communities
of the time gives an idea of their theology. The Portuguese noticed that
they followed a number of pagan customs. In the Synod of 1599, the
Portuguese forbade a number of customs and practices, which they
considered pagan (Hindu). These prohibitions and restrictions are a witness
to the communal harmony and cordial relationship that existed between
the Christians and the Hindus. This communal harmony and the spirit of
256 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

tolerance should be considered a typical Indian contribution to the Christian

witness of the time. In Act III, Decree 4, of the 1599 Synod it referred to ‘a
perverse dogma of politicians and those tolerant. . . .Consequently being
indifferent they wander very far away from the truth’. The Portuguese sensed
a danger in the more liberal attitude of the Christians towards the Hindu
religion. This attitude of the Indian Christians was due to the fact they had
been living for centuries in a positive encounter with high caste Hindus
and had developed a theological vision of the Hindu religion, which was
positive and liberal. The Indian Christians never accepted the idea that
only the Latin form of Christianity was the true form, and they differentiated
the ‘law of Peter’ from the ‘law of Thomas’. They believed that each Christian
community had its own customs and usages, which probably originated
from the apostles.
The presence of Christians in India has had its impact on Indian
society. Just before the arrival of the Portuguese, Christianity was confined
almost entirely to Kerala, and the Hindus, Muslims and Jews co-existed.
This brought a modus vivendi, which some historians called a ‘cultural
symbiosis’ in which it is not easy to discern the specific influence of one
religion on another. Small communities had existed here and there outside
Kerala at one time or another before the 16th century. There are
speculations and theories with regard to the influence of Christianity on
Hinduism. One such speculation arose in connection with the alleged
belief in a prophecy among the Hindus, particularly in certain bhakti
literature about the coming of a ‘redeemer’. The Portuguese heard in
Mylapore about some such prophecy.6
The St Thomas Christians as a community had adjusted to the
environment in which they had to live and function over the centuries.
Any student of history would wonder at the spontaneity with which the
community adjusted itself to its mileu at least as far as their social life was
concerned. This naturally led to the acceptance of certain practices and
customs, a few of which perhaps tended to be in conflict with a
genuine Christian life. Probably the Synod Diamper (1599) had some
justification in correcting them. Unfortunately the Synod went a step
further, which probably led the community gradually to become less and
less open to change.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is often called the ‘Jacobite’ Church
Indian Christian Theology 257

(although a number of Orthodox Syrians do not accept it), the term

‘Jacobite’ being usually equated with ‘monophysitism’, which is a dogma
associated with Eutychus who held that human nature of Christ is absorbed
into the divine. The Council of Chalcedon with its affirmation that in
Christ the two distinct forms, divine and human, are found in one ‘Person’
condemned Eutychus. A modern Syrian (Indian) writer E.M. Philip feels
that the Chalcedon formula fails in effect to safeguard the true unity of
Christ’s Person, or ‘nature’.7 A few Indian Syrian theologians who raised
the questions were Syrian fathers like Severus of Antioch (who died in
538 CE) ‘Monophysites’.8 It seems that the traditional attitude of the
Syrian Church to the Council of Chalcedon is that the Chalcedon formula
is not the only way of expressing a true Christology. That is, in Indian
theology today the formula of Chalcedon cannot be accepted as a
sine qua non, for there are those who, with a long tradition to support
this, question its terminology.9

Relationship Between Portuguese and

Indian Christians in the 15th Century
The first encounter between the Christians of the West and India had
remarkable impacts on Indian Christianity. For the Portuguese, the meeting
was more than just discovering India with its rich commercial dreams; it
was the coming into contact with the Christians in India, which they hoped
would pave the way for Christian expansion. They were able to understand
more about the form and nature of the Christian world as well. The
St Thomas Christians stood to gain greatly. They were respected by the
local rulers, and were brought into contact with the western community.
The mutual respect was certainly beneficial to all parties concerned. If only
the Portuguese had cared a little more to study the eastern Christians, their
mentality and approach, it would have certainly helped avoid most of the
misunderstanding, resentment and tension which gradually surfaced and
which eventually led to the distortions of identity and subsequent loss of
unity and autonomy. Instead of exaggerating the ‘abuses’, ‘errors’, ‘schism’
and ‘heresies’, if only they had had the good sense and willingness to
recognize that both held the same Christian faith, if only they had consistently
followed such a policy and left the Indian Christians free to live their own
life, and if only they had refrained from making them conform to the Latin
258 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Church and encouraged them to follow their own philosophy of life, the
situation would have been different. But there is no ‘if ’ in history. What
the Portuguese did was to attempt to absorb Indian Christians into the
Latin Church instead of recognizing their original status as ‘the Church of
All India’. The Portuguese policy of viewing everything from a Western,
Latin point of view led to the curtailment of any expansion of the
Oriental church in India. The root cause of disharmony probably was that
the Latin Church gave itself rights and privileges that were not given to the
Oriental church.
Although they laid the foundation for the growth of Christianity in
modern India, one of the clear drawbacks was the quasi-identification of
Christianity with the West. A clear example was that the converts were
asked to adopt Portuguese proper names as well as Portuguese surnames,
and even the western way of dressing. All this certainly paved the way for
making the Christian church in India a ‘western garb’. This, of course,
came in the way of many well-placed Hindus becoming Christians. This
criticism is not in any way belittling the tremendous contribution the
Portuguese Christians made in various fields of activity. The encouragement
the Portuguese gave to inter-racial marriages, their disregard for the caste
distinction, the strong measures they adopted against such evil social customs
as widow-burning, abandoning of children born on certain inauspicious
days and abuses connected with the devadasi institution certainly give credit
to the Portuguese.

Contribution to Christian Thought by Hindus

Ram Mohan Roy (1773-1833): The Christ of the precepts
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, whose contribution to Hinduism from his contact
with Christianity was outlined in the last chapter, has been called the
prophet of Indian nationalism and the pioneer of religious reform in Hindu
religion and society. He may be said to be the first Indian to have written
seriously and extensively on Christian theological themes. Ram Mohan Roy
was a Bengali Brahmin who, finding no real satisfaction at home for his
religious longings set off at the age of fifteen and wandered as far as Tibet.
He studied Persian and Arabic and became thoroughly familiar with Islam.
This strongly influenced him in understanding the unity of God and the
Indian Christian Theology 259

meaninglessness of idol-worship. The turning point in his life happened in

1811 when he was an unwilling witness of the sati of his brother’s wife.
From that time on, he was determined to overthrow this and other similar
abuses in society. The two chief sources of his information came from the
Upanishads and the moral teaching of Christ.
What attracted Ram Mohan to Christianity was its ethics rather than
Christian dogma and he saw no reason why a compromise should not be
possible between his own Hindu monism based on the Upanishads, and
the morality of the Sermon on the Mount, which so greatly attracted
him. His study of Christianity led him to publish a book entitled
The Precepts of Jesus, in 1820, which is a collection of extracts from the
four Gospels covering the greater part of Jesus’ teaching and which was
primarily intended to enlist Hindu intellectuals in the cause of the moral
reform of Hindu society. Some contemporary Christians felt that this was
the beginning of a change for the better in the Hindu attitude towards
Christianity. But the Serampore missionaries, especially Dr Marshmann,
wrote an editorial in the Friend of India No. XX (February 1820),
commenting critically on the manner in which only a part of the Gospel
was published, and saying that it ‘may greatly injure the cause of truth’.
Their arguments and counter-arguments continued.
Ram Mohan sailed for a visit to England in 1830, which brought
him great fame and popularity. His name is revered in India as a great
patriot and pioneer of social reform. A look at four of the fundamental
Christian doctrines may explain the attitudes which he adopted, which
have become very familiar in India, and which are still influential in Hindu-
Christian relations.
Ram Mohan’s attitude to the person of Christ is one of reverence, as for
a great teacher and ‘messenger’ of God, but he denies that the title ‘Son of
God’ attributes a divinity. Here he is taking up an Arian position, which is
quite natural because of his monistic background, his Islamic studies, and his
association with Western Unitarianism, and that too at a time when the
Arian controversy was at its peak in England, Ireland and elsewhere. For Ram
Mohan, the saving work of Christ is accomplished through His teaching,
and His death is simply the supreme illustration of those precepts whose
communication was ‘the sole object of his mission’.10 The idea of vicarious
suffering and the sacrificial death are rejected, and he uses his arguments
260 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

simultaneously to attack the doctrine of the two natures. For him, God is
impassable, so if Jesus suffered in His divine nature this would be highly
inconsistent with the nature of God, which is ‘above being rendered liable to
death or pain’, and if on the other hand Jesus suffered vicariously in His
human nature, the innocent for the guilty, this is in turn inconsistent with
the justice of God.11 As a Unitarian, Ram Mohan was unable to accept the
Holy Spirit as a person of the Godhead, or as possessing personality or deity at
all. In his Second Appeal, he devotes a whole chapter to this. For him, the
Spirit represents the holy influence and power of God but he denies any self-
evident or distinct personality. The Spirit is that influence of God from which
we may expect directions in the paths of righteousness.12 Ram Mohan was
considered a Unitarian and he regarded ‘the Trinitarians’ as his opponents,
although after his England visit in 1830 he was inclined to change his mind.
He had devoted most of his time to a polemic against Hindu polytheism and
idolatry, and he felt if he included Christ and the Spirit as ‘Persons’ in the
one Godhead, it would be a reversion to something primitive, and yielding
to polytheistic trends of Greece and Rome of the early centuries as against
the clear monotheism of Judaism.13
It is to the credit of Ram Mohan Roy he raised serious theological
objections, and in that process he proposed his own versions of Christianity,
on the basis of a rationalist and monistic interpretation of the biblical
evidence. C F Andrews testifies that some leading Bengali Christians certainly
acknowledged that they owed the starting point of their faith in Christ to
the study of The Precepts of Jesus.14

Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-84): The doctrine of the divine humanity.

Keshub Chandra Sen was born in Calcutta in 1838 and completed his
college education at the age of 20. His liberal English education raised
many challenges to his beliefs. Keshub then turned to Christianity and
began to study the Bible and to read philosophy and theology with the
missionaries. He was a born leader and organizer; started the Colutolah
Evening School; founded the British India Society to discuss issues of
culture, literature and sciences; and organized a religious and devotional
organization by name Good Will Fraternity, which was absorbed into
Brahmo Samaj after two years. He joined the Brahmos in 1857 when
Debendranath Tagore was their leader.
Indian Christian Theology 261

In 1861 he resigned his post in the bank to become a Brahmo

missionary, and started Indian Mirror, the weekly, in order to reflect his
opinions. Soon he became a popular leader of the Brahmo Samaj. Two
distinct parties emerged in the Samaj, which was finally divided into two
groups in 1866, one under the leadership of Debendranath Tagore
(Adi Brahmo Samaj) and the other under the leadership of Keshub
(Brahmo Samaj of India). Keshub later became the sole leader of the
Brahmo Samaj. His respect for Christ grew, but his understanding of Christ
was different from that of the Christian missionaries who were alarmed at
his teaching. In 1870, he went to Britain where his lectures were well
received. He was under the impression that Britain was a great Christian
nation. On his return, he developed a doctrine called ‘ades’ by which he
meant ‘divine command’. His followers could not understand his position.
The majority of its members left Keshub and founded the Sadharan Brahmo
Samaj and Keshub organized a new movement, named Navidhan
(New Dispensation) by which he could manage to synthesize Hinduism
and Christian elements and transform it into something new.
Keshub wrote and lectured on a wide variety of subjects. The main
expression of his Christology is expounded in his series of lectures delivered
in Calcutta. In ‘Jesus Christ: Europe and Asia’ he dealt with the moral
excellence of Jesus. To him, two fundamental doctrines of the Gospel
ethics were the doctrines of forgiveness and self-sacrifice. He thought
that in these doctrines one could find the moral greatness of Christ, and
felt that nothing short of self-sacrifice would regenerate India. In his lecture
‘India asks, who is Christ’ (1879), he dealt with the stumbling blocks of
Hinduism, and pointed out that Indians refused Christianity because of
His divinity and not His ethics or His ministry. Keshub understood Christ
as the great manifestation of His Father, and affirmed the pre-existent
Christ as Son and the incarnation in Jesus. His lecture on ‘God-Vision in
the Nineteenth Century’, Keshub dealt with the resurrection of Jesus
Christ and His ascension to heaven. He affirmed the resurrection of Jesus.
To him, Christ dead and decayed is a deception. Christ rose from death is
Christ indeed. M M Thomas has pointed out in a later lecture that Keshub
found some meaning in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.15 In his lecture
on ‘The Marvellous Mysteries, the Trinity’ (1882), Keshub explained
this concept. On this, he stood between the rationalistic Unitarians on
262 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

the one hand and the Orthodox Trinitarians on the other. He used the
Hindu term Sat-chit-ananda for Trinity. Later, people like Brahmabandhav
Upadyaya and Swami Abihisiktananda developed this idea.
On the topic of the church, Keshub made a distinction between the
church and Christianity. Though he adored Christ, he rejected the popular
idea of the church. To him, Christ was universal and in Him Europe and
Asia should find harmony. M M Thomas has pointed out three strands in
Keshub’s thought about the church: (i) belief in the supremacy of Christ as
the God-man centred in whom he saw the harmony of all established
religions; (ii) all established religions are true; and (iii) Keshub considered
himself as the divinely appointed teacher of the New Dispensation and his
doctrine of ideas should be seen in this context. Keshub always looked for
harmony of all established religions with Christ as the centre.16
No doubt, Keshub had a deep affection for the faith in which he had
grown up, but he constantly sought to relate Christianity and Hinduism
in a meaningful manner. He was also not unaware of the ethical monotheism
of Judaism and the activist tradition of Islam. He was sure that Christ had
come to fulfil all that was best in all of these faiths, to fulfil the Hindu
dispensation as well as the Mosaic. He writes,
Behold Christ comes to us as an Asiatic in race, as a Hindu in faith, as a kinsman
and a brother, and he demand your heart’s affection… He comes to fulfil and
perfect that religion of communion for which India has been panting, as the hart
panteth after the waterbrooks… For Christ is a true Yogi, and he will surely help us
to realise our natural ideal of a Yogi.17
So he asks his Hindu friends to turn to the Christ who is already with
them, the Christ who is hidden in their Hindu faith, using words which
give clear expression to the thesis, words given great cogency by Raymond
Panikkar and others.18

P C Mazoomdar (1840-1905):
The Oriental Christ and the unfolding spirit
P C Mazoomdar was born in 1840 near Calcutta in the Vaisya caste. After
two years of college education he came into contact with the leaders of the
Brahmo Samaj, especially Maharashi Debendranath Tagore and K C Sen.
He served for a short time at the Bank of Bengal, but he was more interested
in the work of preaching religions. In 1865, Mazoomdar along with many
others left the Adi Brahmo Samaj, and started the Brahmo Samaj of India,
Indian Christian Theology 263

and became a Minister of the Samaj and began to preach in Bengali, Hindi
and English. From 1872 he started to edit and publish, Theistic Annual
(a yearly record of religious thought and missionary activities, followed by
Quarterly Review and Interpreter. He also wrote articles for Dharmatattwa
(the Bengal Organ of the Brahmo Samaj). In 1874 he visited England,
and revisited England and America in 1883 when he attended
the Parliament of Religions with Swami Vivekananda and K C Sen. After
his second visit, he published the Oriental Christ, which was essentially a
new contribution to Christology. While in America in 1884, he published
his most important work, Spirit of God.
In his twenties Mazoomdar had a spiritual experience of Christ, which
was a turning point in his life. He writes that his personal circumstances
forced him into a personal relationship with Christ. His response was
unhesitating and immediate. Jesus, from that day, became a reality he might
have to lean on. Certainly that vision had a lasting influence on him. He
therefore attempts to synthesize Hinduism and Christianity, the Hindu
and Christian conceptions of the Spirit being an important element in
this, providing a framework for his Christology. According to him, the
Spirit lives in man as the presiding spirit of his mind, heart and soul, and
the same Spirit of God as the evolutionary principle is a fundamental doctrine
of Hinduism.
Mazoomdar had a soft spot for pantheism, which was rejected by
Brahmo Samaj. According to him the Divine Spirit permeates every core of
matter and humanity, different in both matter and humanity, and this is
eminently the spiritual instinct of India. The Spirit lives in man as the
presiding spirit of his mind, heart and soul; that the Spirit illuminates the
Triune nature of God.19
Most Brahmos of his time had an entirely different understanding of
Christ to that of the missionaries. Mazoomdar was no exception.
Mazoomdar’s Christology is an attempt to describe the difference between
the terms ‘Western Christ’ and ‘Eastern Christ’. According to him, the
western Christ is a learned man well versed in all the principles of theology,
and His doctrine is historical, arbitrary and opposed to the ordinary instincts;
whereas the eastern Christ is simple, natural, a stranger to the learning of
books, and He speaks from the profound, untaught impulses of His divine
soul. According to Mazoomdar, Jesus Christ completes and reconciles all
264 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

revelation of the Spirit in the religious history of humankind.20 According

to him, Christ is unique for various ways. He thinks that in spirit, Jesus was
in Socrates, Abraham and such other men. He is the Divine Man, who
perfectly embodies the true and universal relation between God and man.
Regarding the Holy Spirit, Mazoomdar thinks that the Christian
scriptures testify abundantly to the personality of the Holy Spirit. He feels
that it was the Spirit which led him to Christ, and sees the working of the
Spirit in the expansion of Christianity. However, he complains that the church
has pushed the Holy Spirit to the margin, with the result that in theology
the church has become perverted; it does not conceive the primacy of the
Holy Spirit in creation, in the spiritual development of humankind, in the
manifestation of divine humanity and in the building of the church.
Jesus Christ, according to Mazoomdar, completes and reconciles all
revelation of the Spirit in the religious history of humankind. He does not
hold the view that all religions are equal or, on the other hand, that any one
religion has a monopoly of the Spirit. But he expects the emergence of a
universal religion in the future, and in his view the harmony has already
been realized in the Brahmo Samaj.

Swami Vivekananda (1862-1902): Christ as Jeevanmukta

Swami Vivekananda, a successor to Sri Ramakrishna, referred to below, had
received a thorough western education, graduating from Calcutta University
in 1884, and absorbing much of the current materialism of the day. In
1886, when Ramakrishna died, Vivekananda was the obvious person to
succeed him as a leader of the band of disciples. Ramakrishna was a man of
great simplicity and little formal education, and found it possible to obtain
‘realization’ in the adoration of different deities of the bhakti marga, and
later mastered the way of advaita, attaining the state of nirvikalpa samadhi
or complete absorption in nirguna Brahman, the unqualified Absolute.
Later he turned to Islam and then to Christianity, where he had a vision of
Christ. From the very beginning, Vivekananda was keen to consider
Ramakrishna as an incarnation of God, and also to appropriate some of the
methods and terminology of Christianity. He referred to Ramakrishna as
the ‘foremost of divine incarnations’ and saw his own position as bringing
to Ramakrishna what Peter or Paul did to Christ.
Vivekananda was a brilliant speaker, a man of great charm, and he
Indian Christian Theology 265

created a sensation when he appeared at the World Parliament of Religions

in Chicago in 1893. He addressed the theme that India had discovered a
principle of priceless worth to the whole world, the gospel of the harmony
of all religions. This finding had a ready audience in the West. On his
return to India he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, which centred
on the life and teaching of Ramakrishna, and visualized a close relationship
of members of different religions who recognized their faith to be a different
manifestation of the one eternal religion whose purest form was advaita
Vedanta. 21 In the Ramakrishna Movement under the leadership of
Vivekananda, Vedanti Advaitism came to the forefront as the leading system
of religious thought in Indian Christianity and the relation between religions
began to be interpreted in the conflict between the experience of mystic
oneness and ultimate metaphysics.22
On the claims put forward by Christians that Christianity is the only
universal religion, Vivekananda argues that it is ‘the Vedanta and Vedanta
alone, that can become the universal religion’ of men, as it alone is based on
the solid rock of an eternal impersonal principle in contrast to the shifting
sands of the historicity of a personality. He argues that except in the Vedanta,
all the other religions have their theories, teachings and ethics ‘built round
the life of a personal founder from whom they get their sanction, their
authority and power’ and everything depends upon the historicity of the
founder’s life. By contrast, the religion of Vedanta ‘rests upon principles’.
He introduces the wonderful theory of Ishta, which gives one that fullest
and freest possible choice among the great religious personalities.23 For him,
it means there is no need for a Christian to become a Hindu or Buddhist,
or a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian, but each must assimilate
the spirit of the others and yet perceive his individuality and grow according
to his own law of growth, ie, within the Ishtam.24
Swami Vivekananda tries to interpret Jesus Christ in terms of the
principles of the Vedanta, and he believes that the Jesus of the
New Testament can only be properly understood within the framework of
the Vedanta. Christ to Vivekananda is a Vedantin. For Vivekananda, Buddha
is ‘the greatest [person] the world has ever seen; next to him is the Christ’,
but it is foolish to interpret these characters as other than the manifestations
of the spiritual principle of Buddhahood or Christhood, to which every
man is destined.25
266 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

A number of Indian Christian scholars have examined the position

taken by Swami Vivekananda and it seems that they feel that the main
point about Vivekananda is not that he rejects the core and history of the
Christian faith, centred as it is on personality and history. It is, rather,
that he is redefining the core of Advaitic faith to make room for personality
and history, and make Hinduism relevant to the human issues raised in
contemporary India through the impact of western culture and
Christianity. Some have criticized him for taking biblical texts out of
context and interpreting them in a theological framework alien to the
Bible. This criticism would be valid only if Vivekananda claimed that he
was clarifying the mind of the biblical authors in his interpretation, but
he did not make any such claim. He has a theology of religion, which sees
the mystic vision and the experience as the goal and end of all
religious experiences, and what he does is to interpret the truths of the
religion of the Bible in the light of his faith in the ultimate truth of the
Advaitic religion.26

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948): The supreme Sathyagrahi

Mahatma Gandhi was neither a systematic thinker nor a religious leader.
He was primarily a man of political and social action who was inspired by
a religious interpretation of human existence. Mahatma Gandhi declares
his philosophy of life in his autobiography:
My uniform experiment has convinced me that there is no other God than
Truth. And the only means for the realisation of Truth is Ahimsa—a perfect
vision of Truth can only follow a complete realisation of Ahimsa. To see the
universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face-to-face one must be able to love
the meanest of all creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot
afford to keep out of any field of life.27
Apart from satya (Truth) and ahimsa is his third principle swadeshi (service
towards immediate neighbourhood). So, for Gandhiji this may be
considered as his fundamental principles of philosophy and creed. He speaks
of truth as God, rather than of God as truth, and he is totally ‘devoted to
none but Truth’, and he owes ‘no discipline to anybody but Truth’. Gandhiji
thinks satya is always coupled with ahimsa as if they are almost two sides of
the same dharma: ‘One of these is: Ahimsa which is the Supreme Law or
dharma. The other is: There is no other Law of dharma than Truth. These
two provide us with the key to all lawful artha and kama.’28 He advocates
Indian Christian Theology 267

that the practice of true ahimsa should not be confined to mankind: Ahimsa
includes the whole of creation, and not only human.29
The message and the person of Jesus have greatly influenced Gandhji,
particularly the Sermon on the Mount which clearly stands out:
The message of Jesus as I understand it is contained in his Sermon on the
Mount. The Spirit of the Sermon on the Mount competes almost on equal terms
with the Bhagavadgita for the domination of my heart. It is that Sermon which
has endeared Jesus to me.30
He has acknowledged that it was the starting point of his real awakening to
‘the rightness and value of passive resistance’, especially such passages as
‘Resist not evil’; and he says, ‘I was simply overjoyed and found my opinion
confirmed where I least expected it.’31
Equality of religion is one of Gandhiji’s cardinal beliefs. It is based on
five things: (i) the unfathomable and unknown character of the One God
who is over us all, (ii) the never-ending forms of divine revelation and human
religious responses to them, (iii) the centrality of the law of non-violence
enjoined by all the religions, (iv) the existence of errors and imperfections
in all religions, and (v) the conviction that all religions are in evolution
towards fuller realization of Truth.32 Speaking about the creed of Islam on
the unity of God, Gandhiji says that ‘the God who is one is unfathomable,
unknowable and unknown to the vast majority of mankind’, therefore both
his revelations and man’s worship of Him are varied.33
Gandhiji believes Swadeshi in religion, it means that men should adhere
to the religion into which they have been born, seek to purify it by correcting
its defects, assimilate into it the truths of other religions, build a fellowship
of religions, helping one another in the pursuit of truth.34 So the first reason
for he being a Hindu is that he was born into a Hindu family. He refuses to
leave its fold because he considers it the best for him, ‘as my wife to me is
the most beautiful woman in the world’ and ‘others may feel the same
about their own religion’.35 Gandhiji rejects orthodox Christianity and he
calls for a new form of Christianity in India. He admits that he was
‘tremendously attracted’ and felt ‘great leanings’ towards Christianity and
for a time wavered between Christianity and Hinduism, but in the end he
saw no reason for doing so was his conclusion.

Dr S Radhakrishnan (1888- 1975): The mystic Christ

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in his autobiographical essay36 speaks of the
268 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

national pride which Vivekananda inculcated in him with regard to

Hinduism, and of the hurt inflicted to it by the attitude of his missionary
teachers towards Hinduism. So, one can see, in his whole framework of
thought, a search for truth in the context of the impact of Christianity on
Hinduism. His writings focus on the character of Hindu apologetics. He
tries to redefine Hinduism for the modern Indian intellectuals from the
point of view of Advaita Vedanta, bringing out its adequacy for
contemporary life and interpreting and evaluating Christ and Christianity
within its context.
Radhakrishnan is essentially a philosopher, but he is a Hindu theologian
as well. Among his numerous books, Eastern Religions and Western Thought
and The Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan are the most important.37
His starting point is that spiritual salvation is essentially jnana of Brahman,
realization of the Absolute. He divided religions of the world into two
classes: (i) semitic, which ‘emphasizes the object’ and (ii) those which ‘insist
on experience’. He classifies Hinduism and Buddhism in the second category:
For them, religion is salvation. It is more a transforming experience than a notion
of God… Belief and conduct, rites and ceremonies, authorities and dogmas are
assigned a place, subordinate to the art of conscious self-discovery and contact
with the divine.38
The Divine is Brahman (Absolute in Sanskrit), which is ‘the principle of
search as well as the object sought, the animating ideal self and its fulfilment’;
men are ‘saved not by creeds but by jnana or spiritual wisdom’.39
To interpret Christ and the truths of Christianity, he uses the framework
of Neo-Advaitic Vedantism with its ladder of reality oriented to mystic
experience for the ultimate criterion and goal of spontaneity. In his view,
this approach is fully justified because ‘while retaining the Jewish beliefs in
a living God and passion for righteousness’, Christianity has from the very
beginning ‘absorbed Greek thought’, which is related intimately to
Hinduism: ‘The Christian view point represents a blend of the Greek and
the Jewish conceptions of the historical.’40
On the ‘Secret of the Cross’, Radhakrishnan says,
In Gethsemane, Christ as an individual felt that the cup should pass away. That
was the personal desire. The Secret of the Cross is the crucifixion of the ego and
yielding to the will of God: Thy will be done.41
The kingdom of God for Radhakrishnan is Brahmaloka, the kingdom
of the Spirit, ‘the transfiguration of the cosmos, his revolutionary
Indian Christian Theology 269

change in men’s consciousness, a new relationship among them as

assimilation to God’.42
A number of Christian thinkers have critically evaluated the
philosophical and theological points of view of Radhakrishnan. Some of
them are: P Chenchiah who writes against Radhakrishnan’s idea of the
‘Absolute’, P D Devanandan against the struggle to promote a spiritual
basis for the New India, D G Moses against the Doctrine of Equality of
Religions, Surjit Singh against Christology in terms of Dynamic Monism,
and Leslie Brown and Stanley Samartha against the Doctrine of Mysticism.43

Contribution to Christian Thought by

Western Christian Missionaries
Robert De Nobili (1577-1656)
One of the early Christians of the 17th century who experimented with an
Indian Christian theology was Robert de Nobili. De Nobili did not want to
confine his activities to the fisher folk; he wanted to explore the reason for the
failure of the early church leaders of Madurai. So he made friends with the
schoolmaster who was employed by another Jesuit priest working in Madurai
for eleven years. This schoolmaster was a spiritual teacher in his own sect, and
was well versed in Hindu theology. He was a strict vegetarian and was an
honest seeker of truth, but he had a very poor opinion of Christianity. De
Nobili learned Tamil from this teacher; gradually they became good friends.
Their relationship helped De Nobili to understand the Hindu attitude to
Christianity. One of the important things he learned from him was the intense
caste feeling among the Hindus. He learned about the four castes, Brahmin
(priest), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaisya (trader) and Sudra (slaves). He also learned
there were sub-castes as well as a number who were outside the caste-system
(who were considered untouchables). He also realized that as the Christians
did not observe caste rules, they all ate beef. So they called the missionaries
parangis, and they called Christianity parangi markkam. A number of Indians
thought the missionaries were polluting, thus tried to keep away from them.
So De Nobili stopped referring to his religion as ‘parangi markkam’, and
called Christianity Satya Vedam’ (true religion).
His second experiment was learning Tamil and their customs and
manners. Given the vows of penance and chastity of his religious order, he
270 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

wanted an Indian name for such a person, and he chose the word sanyasin
(one who renounced everything.). He decided to lead a life entirely on
alms he received. The schoolteacher decided to become a Christian, followed
by some others. He got approval from his church authorities to wear the
saffron cloth of a sanyasin, and took to wooden sandals.
The third experiment was his decision to adopt a caste as casteism
was embedded in Indian society. As De Nobili had a royal ancestry
(from Otto II), he declared to the people of Madurai that they were
mistaken in looking upon him as a parangi; in fact, he belonged to the
Raja caste. De Nobili acknowledged valuable elements in the Hindu sacred
writings and considered the caste system—the non-religious part of
Hinduism—as an element to which the church might adapt itself. A
further experiment he attempted was to compile a book in which he
could show that Christianity was a religion which crowned the Vedas.
He believed that this should have a claim on every orthodox Hindu.
De Nobili called this compilation the Fifth Veda.
De Nobili wanted to baptize his teacher Sivadarma; but some problems
delayed it. One was the Kudumi or hair tuft. The front and back of
Sivadarma’s skull were shaved, and the remaining part gathered into a
ponytail, which hung flat over the back of his head. The paravas used to
wear this, and Francis Xavier had permitted the custom to continue. The
other is the sacred thread—a triple strand of while cotton hanging from
the left shoulder across the breast and back and tied near the right thigh.
The four provincial synods of Goa had forbidden Indian converts to wear
this after baptism. But De Nobili found some support in the principles
laid down by St Thomas Aquinas. He interpreted this principle in such a
way as to include the thread in the permitted category. De Nobili believed
that kudumi was not a symbol of religion but only of the twice born, and
found some support on the principles laid down by Thomas Aquinas.
Eventually the Archbishop of Goa gave a positive ruling to the problem.44
It is interesting to note that these and similar experiments of De Nobili
could open the door of India to Christ and many caste Hindus including
Brahmins accepted Christ.

John Nicol Farquhar (1841-1929)

John Nicol Farquhar was born in Aberdeen on 6 April 1861. After his early
Indian Christian Theology 271

education in the local schools, and higher education in Aberdeen University

and later at the Oxford University, he joined the London Missionary Society
in 1891 to work in India. After working for eleven years as a teacher at
Bhawanipur, he worked for the YMCA in its literature department from
1902 to 1923; then he became Professor of Comparative Religion in the
University of Manchester.
Farquhar was one of the missionaries who reflected the new attitude of
sympathy and openness towards Hinduism. He felt the crucial need of a
workable ‘apologetic’ approach to the university educated Indians and as a
means to that end tried to find a more satisfactory relationship between
Christianity and Hinduism than that of mere mutual exclusion. Farquhar
worked in India at a time when the Hindus themselves held Christ in high
esteem. Ram Mohan Roy had written Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace
and Happiness. Farquhar took to heart the comment made by
Keshub Chandra Sen:
I found Christ spoke one language and Christianity another and he urged his
readers to turn to Christ and not to the church. Farquhar was mainly concerned to
develop a theology of religions in the context of the questions raised by Hindu
scholars on Christianity on the one hand and the interest in the West in the Jesus
of History on the other. His book, The Crown of Hinduism published in 1913 fully
expounded this idea. He tries to explain that Christianity, or rather Christ himself
is the ‘crown’ of Hinduism, because only Christ crowns, fulfils and brings to
completion the various desires and quests revealed in Hindu history.45
In an article entitled, ‘The Relation of Christianity to Hinduism’ published
in an issue of the International Review of Missions in 1914, he came to the
conclusion that the rejection of Hinduism as evil could not be taken as a
scientific judgement based on serious study, but as the result of hasty
inferences from preconceived notions and superficial observations. He desired
that the church should find a solution to this problem.
It was his belief that there is an evolutionary connection between
Hinduism and Christianity as of lower to higher, so that what is only
foreshadowed in Hinduism is fulfilled and perfected in Christianity. A few
of the conservative missionaries were critical of Farquhar’ approach. But he
never held the passage from lower to higher was an automatic one, but
rather that is depended on individual choice. He also believed that
Christianity must ultimately replace Hinduism rather than merely
transforming it. This approach, in some ways, foreshadows that later made
272 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

by Raymond Panikkar in The Unknown Christ of Hinduism with its idea of

Christianity as Hinduism, which had died and risen and again transformed.
As late as 1909 Farquhar had written, ‘Hinduism must die into Christianity,
in order that the best of her philosophers, saints and ascetics have longed
and prayed for may live’.46 Although there was strong opposition to his view,
for a time, this attitude gradually came to dominate the field and became
perhaps a typical approach to Hinduism in the 1920s and 1930s, right up
till 1938 when Kraemer’s, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World
exploded on to the world stage. Undoubtedly Farquhar’s views had influenced
Christian thinkers like Appaswamy and Chenchiah.47
Christ’s words, ‘I came not to destroy, but to fulfil’ is the basis for the
new relationship between Christianity and other religions, and the parallel
passages in the scriptures of other religions also support this idea. According
to Farquhar, every religion has some truth in it and has been instrumental
in leading men and women to God, and every religion is valid for a person,
so long as it is the highest he/she knows. Farquhar maintains three things
in dealing with Hinduism. Firstly, Christians should be able to demonstrate
genuine sympathy with Hinduism without any uncritical admiration for
everything Hindu; secondly, Christians should be able to maintain scholarly
accuracy; and thirdly, Christians should continue to be directed by their
own faith in Christ.48

Bernard Lucas (1860-1921)

Bernard Lucas was born on 2 November 1860 in Birmingham. After his
education and ordination in the Congregational Church, he came to
South India to work as an L M S missionary. He worked in various places in
South India. He was one of the founder members of the
United Theological College, Bangalore, and also of the South India United
Church. He played an important role in the early negotiations for the
formation of the Church of South India. He published six books. The book,
The Faith of a Christian went through three editions and was translated
into Chinese and Conversation with Christ went through two editions and
was translated into German.
The main concern of Lucas was the evangelization of India. He realized
that the missionary efforts had much less appeal than 50 years back. He
said, ‘We no longer call the Hindu a heathen, and we no longer ignore his
Indian Christian Theology 273

religion and philosophy.’ The great defect of the Indian Church, according
to Lucas, is not its lack of Indianness, but its pronounced foreignness. It is
foreign in its name and organization, and entirely Western in its thought
and spirit. Lucas feels that in order to do evangelistic work in India effectively,
it is necessary to distinguish between proselytization and evangelization,
and the dominant theme of the gospel is not to be the church but the
kingdom of God. According to Lucas, a watchword for the activities of the
missionaries of the church was ‘India for Christ’, but in the changed
circumstances of India it should be ‘Christ for India’.49

Pierre Johanns (1882-1955)

Johanns was born in Luxembourg in 1882. After becoming a Jesuit priest
he studied Sanskrit for four years in Brussels and then in Oxford to study
the philosophical systems of Sankaracharya for two years, and took
his B Litt degree. He came to India in 1921 and joined the staff of
St Xavier’s College, Calcutta during which time he developed his major
theological line, ‘To Christ through Vedanta’. Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya’s
teaching that ‘Vedanta must do the same service in India as Greek philosophy
did in Europe’ inspired him. The concept of Christ through Vedanta was
his main contribution to Indian Christian theology. He drew inspiration
from the writings of the early fathers like Justin Martyr, Clement of
Alexandria, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa who accepted anything valuable
which they found in Greek philosophy and synthesized these ideas with
Christian thought and with this background he dealt with different Vedanta
systems.50 For him, Vedanta is the best among the natural religions, and
therefore it would be the best foundation for the supernatural structure of
Christianity. He came to the conclusion that Hinduism could be an authentic
preparation for the Gospel. He also believed that although the Vedanta
systems were not systematized, most of the systems of Thomas Aquinas
could be found in one or other of the Vedanta systems.
In order to study the different systems of Vedanta, Johanns confined
his study mainly to the relation between God and the material world from
Sankara and Ramanuja. For Sankara, God is Being. As Being by himself
and for himself, he is perfect ‘selfness’ and inferiority of being perfect self-
sufficiency or bliss (ananda). So for Sandkara, God is identically
Saccidananda; i.e., Being is absolutely pure, intelligence unmixed, self-
274 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

sufficiency absolutely complex. According to Johanns, Ramanuja wanted

to justify the bhakti tradition of a personalistic religion, which affirmed the
existence of a personal God, whom Sankara relegated to the position of a
relative reality. Johanns thinks that God who is an infinite substance
possessing infinite qualities is the ultimate foundation of everything. Johanns
compares Sankara’s understanding of the unity of God to a ray of white
light, while that of Ramanuja is like the same ray split up into its component
colours. Johanns, in the Light of the East (December 1924) commenting on
the same idea writes:
To know God, we have to learn with Ramanuja all his infinite qualities but also to
remember with Sankara that all those infinite qualities are not inherent in God,
but identically pure infinite Light of Spirituality.51

Jules Monchanan (1895-1957)

Fr Jules Monchanan (adopted name Swami Parama Arupi Anandam) was
born on 14 April 1895 in Beaujolais (near Lyons). After theological
education in 1922 and ordination in the same year, he worked in the
Archdiocese of France for ten years. Fr Monchanan had a vast knowledge
of ancient eastern religions and he was particularly interested in the
religions and cultures of India. The idea of coming to India as a sanyasi
and not as a regular missionary developed in his mind. He came to India
in 1939. Before his arrival he had written to the Bishop in Palayammcottah
that he would be satisfied with the ‘most modest post’ among the low-
caste people in India. According to his wish, the people at Kulittalai
made a modest presbytery, which he called Bhakti Ashram. His great
desire was to clad himself in the saffron robe of a sanyasi and live in
complete poverty, leading a vocation of study and contemplation. In 1950,
a Benedictine monk, Fr Le Saux, joined him and they installed themselves
as members of an ashram. Both of them adopted Indian names,
Fr Monchanan as Swami Parama Arupi Anandam and Fr Le Saux as Swami
Abhishiktananda. Their dwelling place was named Shantivanam, its formal
name being Satchitananda Ashram. Fr Monchanan had suffered from
asthma from his childhood, which became more severe in 1957 and the
French doctors noticed a swelling, which could develop into cancer.
On their advice he returned to France in September 1957 and he
died in October.
Indian Christian Theology 275

Fr Monchanan’s ideal of an ashram was that of Brahmabandhav

Updadhyaya who wrote in Sophia (August 1898):
The supernatural virtue of poverty, practised by our religious priests makes very
little impression on the Hindus. They cannot understand how poverty can be
compatible with boots, trousers and hats, with spoon and fork, meat and wine.
To a European they may be the bare necessities of life; to a Hindu, they are
objects of luxury. If India is ever to be conquered, it will be conquered by the
power of poverty synonymous with abstinence from meat and drink, living as
mendicants in humble dwellings.52
The two cottages in the ashram were made of bamboo fibres and coconut
leaves, and one of the huts had a room, which was used for the celebration
of Mass. They had no furniture except bricks on the floor. During the rainy
season they were infested with frogs, ants and other insects, and scorpions
used to take shelter between the bricks. This resulted in replacing the huts
made of bamboo and coconut leaves by small buildings with stone walls
and tiled roofs. They were not happy with such improvements.

Contribution to Christian Thought by a Non-

Indian Christian Convert to Indian Culture
Swami Abhishiktananda (1929-73)
The original name of Swasmi Abhishiktananda was Henri Le Saux. He
was born in Brittanya, France in1910. He joined the monastery of
St. Anne de Kergonan at the age of nineteen and became a professional
monk in 1931. After spending nineteen years as a Benedictine monk, he
felt the call to go to India to make experiments on Indian Sannyasa, writes
Before leaving France, he had prepared the fertile soil of his heart for the seeds of
Indian Sannyasa. He had begun to study Sanskrit and Tamil already in France.
His Benedictine background provided him with ample facility for adaptation of
Indian Sannyasa because of its complementarity.53
He wrote to Monchanan expressing his desire to settle down in a hermitage
somewhere in Tiruchirappally, to lead a contemplative life in the pristine
tradition of Christian monasticism. Monchanan wanted to lead a life of
contemplative vocation. Since many are unable to fulfil this vocation because
they are distracted by earthly cares, joys and sorrows, some at least have to
be encouraged in the name of the rest to lead a life entirely committed to
this vocation. Both these men cherished the concept of the Sanyasa ideal in
276 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

their Christian monastic tradition. For Monchanan, a monk is a man who

lives in the solitude of God, occupied with Him alone, and his primary
duty is not to engage in social, intellectual or apostolic work, and he believed
that the greatness of Indian culture rests in having made a place for Sanyasa.
He considered that if Sanyasa is on the decline it is the urgent duty of the
church to bring it to its final consummation with Christ.54

Contribution to Christian Thought

by Indian Christians
Nehemiah Nilakanth Sastri Goreh (1825-95)
Nehemiah Nilakanth Sastri Goreh belonged to a rich and well-connected
family of Mahratta Chitpavan Brahmins. He was born on 8 February 1825.
He had learned Sanskrit under his father and the ancient Hindu scriptures
from distinguished pundits, and he earned for himself the title sastri (pundit).
The street preaching of missionary William Smith drew his attention to
Christianity. He listened to the preaching with a view to refuting it, as he
thought Christianity was philosophically crude and fit only for ignorant
people. He went on to argue with Smith, but the introduction of the
New Testament and his reading of the Sermon on the Mount gripped him.
Nilakanth lost faith in Hinduism; he refused to accept any alternative religion
either. But in 1847 he attended the CMS church for the first time; his
family vehemently opposed this. On March 1847 he received the name
Nehemiah through baptism and was admitted into the church.
In 1853 he went to England as a companion to Maharaj Duleep Singh
who had become a Christian there. While in England, Nehemiah attended
some theological lectures and studied Paley’s Evidences and Butler’s Analogy,
which helped him to see the possibility of utilizing reason in the service of
revealed truth. On his return to India he worked as a lay missionary for ten
years among educated Hindus in Poona, Benares and Kanpur, during which
time he wrote his main Christian apologetics of Hindu philosophical
systems. In 1870 he became a priest of the Church of England, lived as an
ascetic and became a novice of the Anglican religious community of the
Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE). He then went to England to
complete his novitiate. On his return to India, he continued to work among
the educated Hindus in Poona. He published ‘Proofs of our Lord’s Divinity’
Indian Christian Theology 277

(a letter to Pandita Ramabai), ‘Christianity not of Man but of God’ (his

lectures to Arya Samaj of Allahabad) and Tenets of Tukaram.
Goreh’s main writing is, A Rational Refutation of Hindu Philosophical
Systems, which is an exposition and critical evaluation of the six traditional
systems of Hindu philosophy regarding the relation between God, the
human soul and the world. This book is considered the best Christian
critique of Hindu philosophy and apologetic for the Christian doctrine of
the Triune God, over against monism and pantheism and of sin and
redemption, over against ignorance and liberation through illumination.
As a Hindu pundit, Goreh moved from Saivism to Vaishnavism; but
as a Christian he found the bhakti cult of Krishna quite inadequate in
providing a path to God. In this and other matters he was fighting against
the tendency of Brahmo Samaj under Keshav Chandra Sen to revive the
bhakti cult of Vaishnavism within its religion of Hindu theism. In his
tracts Theism and Christianity, the Brahmos, Their Ideas of Sin and Atonement
and Salvation, Goreh enters into argument with the Brahmo religion to
show its inadequacy as a system.
Just as he moved from Saivism to Vaishnavism during his early
Hindu period, he shifted from the low Church doctrines of the CMS to
Anglican Catholicism, and he was critical of both extreme Protestantism
and Catholicism. Although the call to an ascetic life of religious
communities captivated his mind, he was sure that Hinduism with its
spirituality was a sufficient genuine preparation for a Hindu to receive
Christianity. Though he took an almost negative view of the teachings of
Bhagavat Gita, he says: ‘Yet they have taught us something of ananyabhakti
(undivided devotion to God) of vairagya (giving up the world), of namrata
(humility), of kshama (forbearance) etc, which enables us to appreciate
the precepts of Christianity’.55

Krishna Mohan Banerjee (1813-85)

K M Banerjee was born in May 1813 in Calcutta. His parents were Orthodox
Brahmins of the Kulin Class. The early 19th century was a period of cultural
renaissance in Bengal under the impact of western education and Christian
missions. In Bengal there emerged a process of liberal reform from traditional
Hinduism. These reformers had three paths to choose from—to become
agnostics and atheists and revolt against all religions, or to join the theist
278 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Brahmo Samaj, which sought renewal of Hinduism from within, or to

become Christian. Under the influence of Derozio, the rationalist professor
at Hindu College, Banerjea joined the reform party of agnostics and atheists,
and became the editor of their weekly journal Enquirer. This group attacked
the supernatural metaphysical speculations of the idolatrous polytheism,
as well as the irrational traditions of Hindu orthodoxy.
It was during this period that Krishna Mohan and friends became
acquainted with Alexander Duff, the young educationist of Calcutta.
Although Duff had sympathized with their desire to reform Hinduism,
he urged them to enquire into the truth of Christianity. This led to Krishna
Mohan’s baptism in 1832 as a member of the Presbyterian denomination,
but later he joined the Anglican Communion. He was ordained as a priest
in 1852 and was later appointed Professor at the Bishops College Calcutta,
where he developed his theological scholarship and produced his works
on Hindu philosophy. He retired in 1867. He made friends with members
of the Brahma Samaj (the theistic reform movement for Hindu
Renaissance). They all together gave shape to the Bengal renaissance, which
was the vanguard for Indian renaissance. He also took his share in
organizing the Calcutta University in 1857 as a member of its Senate,
which conferred on him a doctorate in 1876. As the first President of the
Bengal Christian Association he worked for the autonomy of the church
from western missions. In the 1870s he turned his attention from the
refutation of Hindu society, philosophy and religion to the question of
whether there is a real possibility of building an Indian society in continuity
with the Hindu traditions.
One of his greatest contributions to Indian Christian theology is the
attempt towards ‘the beginnings of indigenous self-propagation’ of Indian
Christianity. Krishna Mohan brought forth his earlier concern for the
transfer of Hindu society into his theology of the revelation between the
church and the Bengal cultural renaissance. His works, The Persecuted
(play), Nature of Female Education (1841), Kulin Brahminism of Bengal
(1844), Transition States of Hindu Mind (1845), Essays on Hindu Caste
(1851), and Bhavabhuti in English Garb (1822) showed his passionate
feeling towards the inequality and injustice perpetuated by caste and
joint family under Brahminism. The 19th century in Bengal was a period
when a lot of controversies erupted among Christian rationalists and
Indian Christian Theology 279

Brahmin theists and Orthodox Hindus about the validity of Christianity.

He wrote a few apologies of Christian religion, viz. Truth Defended and
Error Exposed (1841),The Claims of Christianity in British India (1864),
and Dialogues of Indian Philosophy (1857). In the Dialogues, his main
criticism concerned the doctrine of God and creation in Hindu philosophy,
that ‘they failed to argue for the existence of a superior intelligence as the
author and governor of the universe’. He also found its teaching on
salvation (mukti) and morality defective.
His approach to Hinduism experienced a change after 1865. In
The Arian Witness (1875), Two Essays as Supplements to the Arian Witness
(1880) and The Relation between Christianity and Hinduism (1881), he is
concerned with establishing a positive relationship between Vedic religion
and Christianity, and showing that Christianity does not merely displace
Vedic religion but in some essential elements fulfils it. In his comparative
study of the stories of creation and the Fall in the Bible and the Vedas, he
says, ‘Christ is the true Prajapati—the true begotten in the beginning before
the worlds, and Himself both God and Man’.56 With this he developed an
elaborate view of Hinduism, and especially the Vedic religion, and pointed
to Christianity as its true fulfilment.

Lal Behari Day (1824-94)

Lal Behari Day whose name before his baptism was Kala Gopal De, like
K M Banerjee, was another recognized leader of the 19th century Bengal
Christians. He was born in a middle class family of non-Brahmin Suvarna
Vanik (banker) caste. Under the influence of Alexander Duff, he was baptized,
and he became a full-time Christian worker of the Presbyterian Church of
Scotland, and served the church in many capacities. A nationalist in politics,
he was the first person in India to formulate a scheme for the foundation of
a national church in India on the basis of the Apostolic Creed (inclusive of
the Roman Catholics) and free from foreign control. He opposed racial
discrimination both in salary and membership between European and
Indian ministers as practised by the Mission Council. Lal Behari Day’s
position was vindicated and a way was opened for Indians to have
independent charge of mission stations, and otherwise being put on a footing
of equality with Europeans in all matters except salary.
Behari Day was a prolific writer in English and Bengali. His theological
280 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

thought is closely related to his concern and his role in the Bengal renaissance
of the time. Both K M Banerjee and Lal Behari Day were seeking the
ultimate truth and an understanding of the ultimate human destiny, which
they shared in common with the educated Indians of the time. Three
theological debates arose at that time—scientific rationalism, renascent
Hinduism (especially Brahmo Theism) and Christianity. Both Banerjee
and Behari Day became Christians because they understood the foundations
of truth in Christianity. Day’s theological thoughts were expounded through
the four lectures he delivered in Calcutta, in which he disputed the adequacy
of Brahmo theism to provide sufficient spiritual basis for the historical and
the ultimate destiny of India and in his proposal for a national church.
In 1880, the Brahmo publicly declared that their theistic belief and
religion was not based on any revelation other than that of nature, which is
available to all and which contains religious and moral truth. To discover
these great truths of religion, they depended either on human reason and
conscience or common sense and interaction. To Day, this was not possible.
He insisted on the utter necessity of a divine revelation because human
reason cannot know God unaided, and God Himself was pleased to reveal
it to him through His Son. Day goes on to say that whatever truths of God
Brahmos held was derived from biblical revelation and not from Hinduism
or rational enquiry. He also contradicted the Brahmo doctrine of repentance
as in itself the expiation of sin and the pathway to divine forgiveness, no
divine attainment being required.
Lal Behari Day was keen to find ‘one form’ of the church, which is
scriptural, and which could communicate the gospel of salvation relevantly
to the Indian people. He was one of the first persons in India to see
denominational divisions of the church as a denial of that form. So he put
forward to the missions a memorandum on, ‘The Desirableness and
Practicality of organizing a National Church of Bengal’. To him, the Apostles’
Creed could be its basis; he was broad enough to include even the Roman
Catholics with the proviso that they should abjure the dogma of infallibility
of the Pope and acknowledge the supremacy of the Scripture as a rule of
faith. The main reason for proposing a national church was as a response to
the Brahmo who had established a new church, which they claimed to be
truly Indian. Although Lal Behari’s vision did not take any practical shape
at that time, it was to play its role continually in Indian Christian theology.57
Indian Christian Theology 281

Brahmabandav Upadyay (1861-1907)

Bhavani Banerjee (later called Brahmabandahav) was born in 1861 in a
high caste Hindu family. As a boy he was greatly influenced by K C Sen,
and from his early boyhood he was firmly attached to the Person of Christ.
Even in his younger days he was a burning nationalist with extreme
nationalist views and wanted to start the revolution against the British.
Around 1880, he met Vivekananda and they became close friends, and
he joined the Brahmo Samaj, was counted among the followers of K C
Sen, and took a keen interest in the life and teachings of Christ. In February
1891, he was baptized in the Anglican Church in Hyderabad. Later he
became a Roman Catholic and took the name Brahmabandhav (a Sanskrit
translation of the Greek name Theophilus, God’s friend). A number of
other high caste Hindus also became Christians. He became absorbed in
the relation between Hinduism and Christianity. His deepest insights of
Hinduism, and especially the Vedanta, led him to study the Christian
revelation in relation to the deepest insights of Hinduism. He was
convinced that the ideal way of bringing home the Christian faith to
Indian thinkers was by using the teaching of Vedanta. Following the idea
of De Nobili and the Madurai tradition, he believed that if Hindus were
to be won for Christianity, they should discard European dress and put
on the saffron robe of a sanyasi. In 1894 he put it on, and also gave up his
family name, and called himself Upadyay (= teacher) Brahmabandhav.
Soon after his conversion, he tried to find a natural foundation for
Christianity in the Vedic religion, during which time he vehemently
opposed Vedanta. However, later on, after 1898, he attempted to build
an Indian theology on Vedanta philosophy. After his baptism, he was
mainly concerned with the development of some indigenous methods to
preach the gospel of Christ. In this, he was greatly influenced by
De Nobili. The Roman Catholic Church did not accept the ochre robe of
a sanyasi dress he wore, but his appeal to the bishop was granted as he
had reminded the bishop that Robert de Nobili had worn the saffron
robe in the 17th century.
In 1900 he moved to Calcutta and engaged more in journalistic
activities. He was attracted to the Advaitic doctrine of Sankara as a means
to express the Christian doctrine, and for a time he worked with
Rabindranath Tagore in the founding of Santiniketan Ashram. He, along
282 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

with N Gupta, brought out the Twentieth Century as a monthly review.

Another evening paper, Sandya appeared at the close of 1904, which had
an impact on the political life of Bengal. In the same year he started
The Swaraj, his Bengali Weekly.
The basis of Brahmabandhav’s theology is the Thomistic natural-
supernatural framework, and he seems to have been the first person in
the Roman Catholic Church in India to apply this explicitly to the relation
between Hinduism and Christianity. He was greatly influenced by
K M Banerjee’s, Arian Witness. Although his approach was basically the
same as that of Banerjee, his presentation of the Vedic-Christian
philosophy was more elaborate and substantiated. His main argument
was that ancient Hinduism had been a pure theistic faith, and that
polytheism and idolatry, as well as the ‘pantheistic’ Vedanta philosophy
were all corruptions of India’s original religion. He was convinced that
the understanding of God found in the Vedas was the highest possible on
a philosophical level and nowhere in the world (except perhaps in ancient
Greece) had the ‘true light shone forth so brilliantly’ and nowhere had
‘human philosophy soared so high’.58 In the early period of this theological
thinking, Brahmabandhav was convinced that two factors, the doctrines
of reincarnation and transmigration and the Advaita philosophy were
responsible for the deterioration in Hinduism. This view of Hinduism
naturally determined his attitude to the Hindu renaissance movements
of the 19th century. For him, Christianity was not the destroyer of
Hinduism, but the fulfilment, for the primitive (Hinduism) and the new
(Christianity) are linked together as root and fruit, base and structure, as
outline and filling.59
There are two stages in his theological thinking. His theology before
1898 was that ancient Hinduism had been a pure theistic faith, and that
polytheism, idolatry and pantheistic ideas of the Vedas were later
corruptions. To him, the Indian religion had fallen from such heights and
abandoned the true God. Although in this he agreed with the Arya Samaj,
he did not agree with their anthropomorphic conception of God and the
teaching on transmigration. He was also critical of the Vedanta philosophy
of the Ramakrishna movement. He was more vehement in his attack on
Annie Bessant. All these were to lead Hinduism back to its original form
and from there to prepare the ground for Christian faith.
Indian Christian Theology 283

The year 1898 was a turning point in his life and theological thinking
when he moved from Jabalpur to Calcutta. Bengal was the centre of radical
nationalism. Although a number of Christian leaders thought that the
Hindu-nationalist movement in Brahmabandav was undermining Christian
commitment, he was one of the very few who had the courage to justify the
nationalist movement as a Christian. He wanted to acknowledge India’s
cultural and religious heritage and he wanted to be a Hindu by culture and
Christian by faith. Another important change took place in his thinking
when he moved from Vedas to Vedanta, and he thought that Vedanta
philosophy could form the basis for a Christian theology and also that the
Hindu race has been preserved by Providence in order that its philosophy
might mould the future theology of world Christianity. Brahmabandav
found the solutions to the problems regarding the two religions in the
concept of Sat-chit-Ananda; the Father is Sat—pure existence, the Son is
Christ—the Logos, and Anand represents the bliss of the Holy Spirit. He
believed that in this way he preserved a higher conception of God than is
possible on a personalist interpretation.60 Brahmabandav, unlike many of
the leaders of the renaissance movement, held the view that caste should be
accepted. He also accepted the orthodox view of caste, as it is more scientific.
He firmly advocated the integration of the caste-system into the Christian
church, which was a position not acceptable to Indian Christian leaders
including the missionaries of the time.
On his return to Calcutta he threw himself into new projects. He
opened a school for boys, which was later moved to Shantiniketan where he
and Rabindranath Tagore worked together for a time. In fact, Brahmabandhav
was the father of the famous Tagore’s institution in Santiniketan, a fact that
is not mentioned in the many books about Tagore. In the last years he was
completely absorbed in political journalism. He started a newspaper called
Sandya, extremely radical and regarded by the British authorities as one of
the most dangerous journals. In September 1907, he was arrested,having
been charged with encouraging people to insurrection and revolution.
Though he was released on bail, he knew he would be eventually imprisoned.
But he had to undergo a hernia operation. He was given a chloroform
injection, but suddenly collapsed and died. He was cremated like a Hindu
according to Hindu rules. Probably it was in tune with his wish, as he saw
himself not as a Christian but a Christian Hindu.
284 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Brahmabandav Upadyay inaugurated an interesting revival within

the Roman Catholic Church. He was disowned and discouraged by the
authorities of the church. By 1920, a number of Roman Catholic thinkers,
especially Belgian Jesuits, began to see his work in a better light and to
realize its great significance. In 1922, the leaders of this group,
Fr G Danday and Pierra Johanns (both Oxford trained orientalists),
produced a monthly magazine, The Light of the East, which was in
circulation for many years. Upadyay worked to create a positive
relationship between Christianity and Hinduism. For many years Johanns
wrote a series of articles entitled, To Christ through the Vedanta in which
he made use of a detailed analysis of the systems of Sankara, Ramanuja,
Vallabah and Caitany and how each of them could be used in the task of
‘reconstructing Catholic philosophy’.61 Johanns describes the purpose of
his series as ‘to show that we can reconstruct our Catholic philosophy
with materials borrowed from the various Vedantic systems’.62

Vengal Chakkarai (1880-1958)

Vengal Chakkarai was born on 17 January 1850 in a Chettiar caste (highest
non-Brahmin) family in Tamilnadu. He was brought up under the Hindu
religious influence of his home. While he was a high school student, he was
influenced by the anti-religious rationalism of Bradlough and Ingersoll and
became an agnostic. This attitude was gradually changed, when he listened
to Swami Vivekananda’s lectures, and began to see Hinduism as an integral
part of Indian national awakening. At Madras Christian College, he was
greatly influenced by the Principal William Miller who believed that the
Hindu would find his fulfilment in Christ. He was baptized in 1903 and
was admitted to the Free Church of Scotland. He taught in high schools in
Madras for five years after which he studied law and practised for five years
from 1908 to 1913. He then left it and joined the Danish mission and
started working among educated Hindus. He joined the Home Rule
movement in 1917 and in 1920 in Gandhi’s Non-co-operation Campaign.
He became a pioneer in the Trade Union movement in the South, and
became Chairman of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1951. He
became a member of the Legislative Council of Madras in 1954. Chakkarai
was a socialist and after Indian independence, he co-operated with the
Communist Party of India of Tamilnadu.
Indian Christian Theology 285

Chakkarai belonged to the Rethinking Christianity in India group of

theologians in South India, along with Justice Chenchiah, S J Appaswamy
and others. He was also one of the founders of the Christo Samaj. He opposed
the imitation of western Christianity in India and advocated Indianization
in the external life of the church as well as in its spirituality and theology.
He owned and edited, Christian Patriot from 1917 to 1926. Like K T Paul,
he wanted Christian community to be like the salt, which dissolves itself to
serve rather than becoming a communal political entity.
Chakkarai was quite keen on making his public confession of Jesus as
Lord by accepting the sacrament of baptism. However, he was critical of
the church in its ecclesiastical organization and in its considering its tradition
as the standard of faith. For him the scriptures and the direct experience of
Jesus Christ are the sources of authority, and church traditional dogma is
secondary. He believed the church as an organism was constituted ‘not by
mere cults but by communion with the living Lord for social action’. He
opposed the Church of South India scheme of Church Union as a western
imposition on India, and irrelevant to the building up of an autonomous
church in India.63
Chakkarai’s theology is clearly stated in his two books, Jesus the Avatar
(1927) and Cross and Indian Thoughts (1932). He made extensive use of
Hindu terminology in stating his faith and formulating his theology, but
at the same time, he did not commit himself to any one school of Hindu
philosophy. Chakkarai’s theology was mainly Christological. Instead of
interpreting the life, death and resurrection of Christ in the light of the
prior conception of God or the Ultimate Reality, he felt that one should
interpret God in terms of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He
spoke first of the Christhood of God rather than the Deity of Jesus. For
him, ‘the humiliation and exaltation, the death and resurrection, the
historical Jesus and the spiritual Jesus constitute the two sides of one
reality’. According to Chakkarai, though metaphysics cannot be ignored,
the divinity of Jesus is not to be interpreted mainly in metaphysical terms,
but spiritually and morally as the incarnation of the True Man (Sat Purusha)
living in complete communion with the Father in whose image God created
and continues to create all humanity.
Chakkarai was concerned about the need for Indian Christianity to
develop its own theology or theologies to express its understanding of Christ
286 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

and Christian experience. He refused to accept that ‘the Christian faith and
Indian thought are diametrically opposed to each other; further, Christianity
as it has been interpreted today is a ready-made and finished product; and
still further, that any departure from the traditional views is contrary to the
genius of Christianity and to the Christian scriptures’.64 Chakkarai could
not think of having a uniform theology for India as a whole. It would be
like having one system of religious metaphysics for the millions of Hindus
from Mount Kailas to Kanyakumari. So, Indian theological business is
twofold: one for the non-Christian people of India, and the other for the
Christian brethren who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus.
For Chakkarai, Christology is the starting point of theology as for
Chenchiah. This leads him to formulate what he calls a ‘doctrine of the
Christhood of God’, 65 for he was convinced that real and valid knowledge of
God must begin with personal experience of Christ. Chakkarai links the idea
of God’s self-revelation with the concept of imminence, which is so popular in
Hindu bhakti, but he gives his own interpretation. For Chakkarai, God’s
imminence takes a special form when Christ becomes incarnate: ‘It is a “human
imminence” where God in Christ comes into the time-order for the redemption
of man, the imminence of Immanuel, God with us.’ 66
Chakkarai sees the work of the Holy Spirit as a continuation of the
incarnation or avatār, and in effect identifies the Spirit with the risen living
Christ at work in the world today. Then the starting point of our knowledge
of Christ, and so of God is the experience of the power of the Spirit. So, to
a direct question of the relation between Jesus and the Spirit, Chakkarai’s
answer is ‘the Holy Spirit is Jesus at work in the human personality’.67

P Chenchiah (1869-1959)
P Chenchiah is one of the most striking personalities in the history of Indian
Christian theology. He was a layman, a distinguished lawyer and for a time
Chief Justice of Pudukkotta State. Along with his brother-in-law Chakkarai,
he was influenced by Dr William Miller, an outstanding Scottish missionary
and Principal of the Madras Christian College, and was instrumental in
the formation of the ‘Rethinking Group’ after the publication of,
Rethinking Christianity in India (1938), as India’s reply to Henry Kraemer’s
Barthian theology, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World.
As a convert from Hinduism and as one who had established a secular
Indian Christian Theology 287

career, he was keen on retaining ‘Indianness’ to the fullest extent, which he

felt was threatened by the organized form of Christianity. To some extent,
he was in conflict with the institutional church although he remained a
loyal church member till the end. He felt that the Indian Church seemed
to be heading towards a slavish copy of the western church. To him,
Christianity represented a new stage in the evolution of man. He is the true
man, the new man: So with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become
one with Him, and so become a “new creature”’.
Two great personalities played a significant role in his theological
thinking—the ‘Integral yoga’ of the famous Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry
and the practical teaching of Master C V V of Kumbakonam.68 For Chenchiah,
these two Hindu thinkers were of decisive significance and greatly helped
him in his theological enquiry, just as Plato helped
Justin Martyr or as Sankara opened insights for Up¯adh¯ayaya. Creation for
C V V is just m¯ay¯a; it is precisely through creation that God reveals Himself
and demonstrates His power (´sakti). Chenchiah saw this approach as having
a close bearing on the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit and on the
nature of the new life in Christ. In a similar way, Chenchiah found much
that appealed to him in the work of Sir Aurobindo whom he visited at his
famous ¯ashram at Pondicherry. Along with these ideas emerged a new
fellowship, in an ashram where integral yoga empowered by a new spiritual
force became a daily routine. Like a number of Indian Christian theologians,
his attitude toward organized church was very negative. He felt that the
institutional church was trying to usurp the place of the kingdom of God—
the Spirit-filled fellowship of ‘new creatures’. He regarded the church as purely
a historic human institute. Like Brahmabandav, Chenchiah believed that the
Christian faith must be open to receive new insights from Indian culture,
and he urged his Christian friends to ‘let the sluices of the great Indian
culture open for the inundation of the Christian mind’.69 Regarding the
relationship between Hinduism and Christianity, he asserted that our
understanding of the Christian faith may gain new depth and richness from
its contact with Hindu culture. Moreover, Indian religion and philosophy
are far richer than were the Greek scholars in the early centuries of the church.

Armugam S Appaswamy (1848-1926)

Armugam S Appaswamy was born in 1848 in Palayamcottah (Tamil Nadu),
288 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

in a family belonging to the Vellala Caste and he followed the Orthodox

Saivite religious traditions of South India. The young Appaswamy came in
contact with Christianity through CMS missionaries. He studied at a
mission school at Palayamcottah, and through the influence of Pandit
H A Krishna Pillai he converted to Christianity. In 1867, he went to Madras
for higher education, where he began to examine various alternatives, Brahmo
Samaj and philosophy. Although he faced hostilities and suffering, he made
the heart-rending break with family and caste traditions. Appaswamy
received baptism on 15 July 1871 at Madras. In 1875 he studied law and
took up the legal profession, and kept good social relations with people of
all castes and religions both at Tuticorn and Palayamcottah. In 1900 he
gave himself completely to evangelistic work, and wrote pamphlets in Tamil
such as, Why I Became a Christian. He was also associated with the organization
of the National Missionary Society.
During his years of retirement a radical change was noticed in his attitude
to Hinduism. The continued study of Hindu scriptures he saw as a
preparation for the gospel. He became more contemplative, spending more
time in meditation and prayer. He adopted his nephew, a Saivite mystic and
scholar in Saiva Siddhanta, as his guru in his practice of dhyana (contemplation)
and yoga (spiritual discipline). It deepened his understanding of the Christian
truth and the experience of the mystery of Christ. With his study, Prologue to
the Gospel of St John, Appaswamy was able to relate Christ to the Saivite
religion. Thus he became the pioneer in South India (as K M Banerjee was in
Bengal) of Indian Interpretation of Christianity. Just before his death he wrote
the book of Yogasadhana entitled, Use of Yoga in Prayer.
The concept of the church, according to Appaswamy, was not a religious
community totally separated from the Hindu religious community, but at
the level of religious form and cultural life it was in some sense regarded as
part of the Hindu community. He demonstrated this concept in his refusal
to remove the kudumi at baptism, to adopt a new name or to eat meat, at a
time when there was a regular crusade against Christians retaining Hindu
elements. He sees the difference between the two religions only in the
essence of faith.

Sadhu Sunder Singh (1889-1929)

Sadhu Sunder Singh is perhaps the most famous Indian Christian who ever
Indian Christian Theology 289

lived, and whose influence has been under spread. Many scholars have
compared and contrasted Bramabandhav and Sadhu Sunder Singh in mission
literature. Both were Christian sanyasins travelling all over India; both
advocated indigenous methods in the mission of the church; and both were
more or less outside the organizational church. Yet both were quite different.
Bramabandhav was an agitator, organizer and nationalist, who in his last
years was deeply involved in politics while Sadhu Sunder Singh was primarily
a religious guru and preacher, mainly concerned about the other world, the
spiritual world. He had nothing to do with politics, and lived most of his life
in the Himalayas far from the turbulence of the national struggle. If
Brahmabandhav was a ‘Christian Vivekananda’, Sadhu Sunder Singh might
be called a ‘Christian Ramakrishna’.
Sunder Singh was born in 1889 at Rampur (in the present Punjab), the
youngest son of a wealthy family. Although his parents were Sikhs, they were
very broad-minded and Sunder Singh was introduced to the sacred writings
of other religions. By the age of seven, he knew Bhagavad Gita by heart, and
by the age of sixteen he had read the Granth of the Sikhs, the Quran of the
Muslims and several of the Upanishads. The death of his mother whom he
loved so much and that of his elder brother at the early age of fourteen were
responsible for his serious religious conflict, which eventually led to his
conversion to Christianity.
He had come to know of Christianity from the mission school, but was
strongly opposed to this foreign religion. He was anti-Christian to the core
and, in fact, had thrown stones at missionary preachers, and even burned a
copy of the Bible. A careful study of his own account of his conversion shows
that it came as the culmination of his search for the realization of God through
yoga. Through the yoga technique he obtained some kind of relief—by falling
into a trance a couple of times, and becoming oblivious to the outside world
for short spells. 70 However, it did not satisfy his spiritual thirst. Like
Ramakrishna, he wanted to obtain the realization of God and in his utter
despair he decided to take his own life unless God would reveal Himself to
him. Sunder Singh, in the providence of God, had reached his illumination;
obtained samadhi through a vision of Christ at a very strange place, on the
railway track. He immediately decided to become a Christian, though his
family tried to persuade him not to do so. Like Brahmobandhav, he did not
join any organized church; a month later, he took on a sanyasi saffron robe
290 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

and began his wandering life, first in the Punjab and later all over North
India. From 1915 he began to be known all over India and very soon, all over
the world. In the early 1920s he undertook two travels to the West; there he
preached to thousands. Sunder Singh, like his predecessors Keshub Chandra
Sen and Swami Vivekananda, was every bit an Indian and he spoke from a
profound religious experience and self-revelation of God in Christ. He produced
eight short books, the first of which was At the Master’s Feet in 1922. He
wrote these books in Urdu, and then, with the help of friends like
A J Appaswamy and T E Riddle, worked out an English translation.
On his return to India, he was sick and worn out. Tibet was closed to
foreign missionaries; but Sunder Singh had a fascination for Tibet. In 1928
he went to Tibet, but had to return due to a violent haemorrhage. In
September 1929 he made a new attempt after which he never returned.
The cause of his death was not known, probably due to a heart attack. It is
possible that his desire was fulfilled—to die as a martyr for his faith.
The basis of Sunder Singh’s theology is similar to Apostle Paul’s direct
experience of Jesus Christ. His Christian life goes back to a definite and
clear-cut experience of the risen Christ. His spiritual life was based on
constant communion with Christ in prayer. For him, the aim of prayer is
union with God, union of two free personalities rather than absorption in
the divine. His method of teaching was that of his Master by the use of
parables; he draws his own experience from everyday life, from nature, and
from the books he has read including the Upanishads. It is difficult to
define his relationship with Christ. Though he was baptized as an Anglican,
he later surrendered to preaching in the church. For the rest of his life he
preached wherever people invited him. He was not really interested in the
church as a visible, organized institution, but preferred the church to be
the whole body of those who belonged to Christ.
Sunder Singh, in his book Reality and Religion, tells of a philosopher
who travelled around the world to find peace and rest, but everywhere
found sin and sorrow, suffering and death. This made him realise that
‘this world is not meant to be our permanent and real home; but that real
home for which we have such deep longing in our soul is elsewhere’.71
The philosopher referred to might very well be Sunder Singh himself. He
also learned from the Upanishads as well as from his own experience that
atman, the soul, is a stranger and pilgrim on earth, and a prisoner in our
Indian Christian Theology 291

body. Later he gave up the advaitic Vedanta and discarded its doctrine
completely. He is also strongly opposed to Sandkara’s Vedanta and
attempted to disprove its logicality. The main reason that Sunder Singh
gave up the advaitic philosophy was probably that he found its monism
incompatible with Christianity. Instead he seems to have turned to the
Svetarvastara Upanishad or to the Bhagavatgita or to both of them for a
philosophical basis of his theology.72
Sunder Singh’s philosophy being so saturated with Hinduism, one
would expect it to be severely criticized or even condemned by church
authorities. But it was not so. His messages, writings and books were
enthusiastically accepted both by theologians in the West as well as by the
missionaries in India. His theology was clearly Christocentric, insofar as he
preached Christ and his own experience of him. He denounced Hinduism
openly and practically never used Sanskrit religious terms in his speeches.
Instead, he used Johannine terminology. Moreover, he lived at a time when
western theology was greatly influenced by philosophic idealism, or
Platonism, and his supporters interpreted his thoughts along those lines.
His contribution to Indian Christian theology is certainly much more than
a superficial reading of his writings. It had a profound influence on many
Indian Christians. Probably it still has.

Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922)

Ramabai is one of the most popular Indian Christian women missionaries,
and she is considered a ‘builder’ and ‘mother’, and a missionary model
person of modern India. She was a high caste Brahmin, and was born at
Mulharanjee near Karkal in South Kanara State in India in April 1858. Her
father was a scholar in the Sanskrit Shastras, and gave his daughter a good
education in Sanskrit and taught her the Dharma Shastras. Ramabai spent
most of her childhood and youth in pilgrimages with her parents, brother
and sister. In 1874, her parents died, followed by her sister a few months
later. Ramabai married Babu Bipin Dshan Das Madavi, a Sudra (low caste)
man. By this time she had lost her faith in traditional Hinduism and had
become a Brahma Samajist. Her husband died two years after their marriage,
leaving her with a baby girl.
After the death of her husband, she and her baby Manorama moved to
Poona where she joined the Brahmo group, Pratana Samaj, and established
292 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

the Arya Mahila Samaj in Bombay and other towns of Maharashtra for the
education and emancipation of Hindu women. She wrote the book Stree
Dharma Neethi, dealing with questions of morality and justice for women
in Hindu society. Through some mission contacts Ramabai had come to
know of Jesus Christ and Christianity. While in Bombay, she came to
know Nehemiah Goreh at the Cowley Fathers Mission and had conversations
with him on Brahmoism and Christianity. However, she remained a
Brahmo theist.
Ramabai left for England, and it was during her stay at the Community
of Anglican Sisters at Wantage that she corresponded with Sashtri Goreh
further about Christianity. This resulted in her conversion to Christianity
and subsequent baptism on 29 September 1883. She travelled to America
to enlist support for establishing a House for Brahmin child widows. On
her return to Poona she started the Sharada Sadan as a secular rather than a
Christian institution, which the Christian community in Poona did not
appreciate. A famine in Maharashtra led her to start the Mukti mission at
Kedgaon conceived as a Christian settlement.
Ramabai’s great contribution was her pioneering leadership in the
movement for the liberation of Indian women. Although her conversion
from traditional Hinduism to Brahmoism was accepted, her conversion
from Brahmoism to Christianity created a great controversy among Hindu
reformers. She considered herself a non-denominational Christian,
participated in the Hindu liberating movement and continued her recitals
and lectures on the Hindu Puranas. This caused many Christians to question
her Christian conviction, resulting in her leading a life of isolation from
Christians and Hindus alike. However, in the end she attained the
Pentecostal experience of the indwelling Christ.
Pandita Ramabai’s main contribution to Indian theology lies in the
fact that her upbringing as a Hindu and her love for freedom led her to
question and turn against the relevance of the established dogmatic
Christianity imported to India from the West, and her honest search for a
spiritual authority for an Indian experiment defining the Christian faith in
simple metaphysical forms in relation to service in society. No doubt,
Nehemiah Goreh helped her see that Christ transcended Brahmo theism,
but in argument with the Anglicans, she asserted that Christ transcended
the Anglicanism of Goreh and the Community of the Sisters of Wantage.
Indian Christian Theology 293

In the direct experience of the Holy Spirit, she saw the possibility of a form
of Christianity which corresponded to the ethos of liberation from all
established traditional forms and dogmatic formulations and of individual
liberty. Although the Sisters were tolerant of her vegetarianism up to a
point, they considered it pure caste prejudice to which Ramabai’s answer
was, ‘I like to be called a Hindu, for I am one who also keeps all the customs
of my forefathers as far as I can’. She had serious doubts about some of the
Anglican doctrines. She did not see her confession of Christ as leading to
the automatic acceptance of all Anglican doctrines. She contended that
faith was not just blind acceptance, but involvement in an attempt at
understanding, in the light of reason, Hindu tradition and Christian
experience. She wrote:
You have never gone through the same experience of choosing another religion for
yourself, which was totally foreign to you as I have.
The denominational structure within the church confused her. In a letter
to the wife of Justice Ranade, she complained that to an already caste-
divided Hinduism, Christianity adds denominational divisions; and the
only answer to it for missionaries and preachers of all denominations is to
establish ‘one united Christian church—an indigenous church to Indians’,
for only then will they ‘be worthy’ to preach Christ to the Indians.

Narayan Vaman Tilak (1862-1919)

Narayan V Tilak was born into a Chitpavan Brahmin family at Karazgaon
in Bombay district in 1862. His mother, a pious woman of soft
temperament, and his father who lived as a Sadhu in the last part of his life,
influenced him. He could not continue his education for a long time, and
had to find work as he had the responsibility of looking after large a family
of brothers and sisters. When he left school he got married, but leaving his
wife at her home he had a few years of a wandering life. He spent time on
speeches and songs in different places and working as a teacher in various
schools. He got interested in education and became the editor of the Vedic
literature gathered by a wealthy citizen, Appa Saheb Butt. He entered the
religious controversy then raging in Maharashtra, where he showed his
knowledge of the Hindi Sastras and earned the name Sastri (Pandit). He
then started studying the Hindu Sastras more intensely and began to be
critical of Hindu orthodoxy. This was also the time when he became more
294 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

interested in the political awakening in Maharashtra and started thinking

of the future of India as a nation.
A chance encounter with a Christian stranger who gave him a
New Testament resulted in his being convinced of the Christian faith. Tilak
was baptized in 1895. Tilak worked within the framework of the
American Marathi Mission, and taught Hinduism and Indian languages in
its theological seminary. He was ordained in 1904. At the end of the
19th century, he was one of the acknowledged leaders of the ‘romantic
revival’ in Marathi literature. He became a Christian sanyasi in 1917, seeking
to gather round him a group called ‘God’s Darbar’, a ‘brotherhood of the
baptized and unbaptized Disciples of Christ’.73 Christian poems written
by Tilak include many lyrics, which are used in congregational worship as
well as for evangelistic proclamation.
Narayan Vaman Tilak’s theological ideas are embodied in his poems and
lyrics. Marathi poetry has a rich tradition, and it has provided many a saint-
poet of the past such as Jnanesvari, Namadev, Eknath and Tukaram. Tilak
followed that tradition in his poems on Christian themes, in which he deepened
his appreciation of the rich Marathi religious tradition. The Marathi-Hindu
religion’s poets and traditions greatly appealed to him; and he was a pioneer
in innovative movements in Marathi poetry. He considered the Marathi saint-
poets as a preparation for the Gospel. His greatest contribution to the nation
was his poems of which he left a very large collection. He also gave the western-
Indian Church many devotional lyrics to express their devotion to Christ.
His aim was to establish a mission in Maharashtra in terms of ‘a Tukaram and
St Paul blended together’, and he felt that ‘the Hindu saints form our first
Old Testament’. In the process of writing, he deepened his appreciation of
the rich Marathi religious tradition. He believed it appropriated Christ ‘over
the bridge of Tukaram’s verse’.
Tilak sings praises to God, the one Creator of heaven and earth, which
reveals His glory, and he speaks of God as ‘the Home of all our trust’, as
father-mother, source of life and love and as the foundation of all existence.
For Tilak, Jesus Christ is God’s avatar, the love incarnate, historically
once-for-all event, but existentially a daily occurrence for Christians and
in the life of the church. It was the cross of Jesus Christ that made the
deepest impression on Tilak. He saw and experienced a certain ecstasy in
his vision of the crucified Christ; he sang, ‘Hast thou seen the Lord,
Indian Christian Theology 295

Christ crucified? Hast thou seen those wounded hands? Hast thou seen
His side? Hast thou ever, ever seen love that was like this? Hast thou
given up thy life wholly so be His?’74
In his poems, sin and salvation by grace have an important place. He
uses terms like adhi, vyadhi, bhranbi and avidya to characterize sin, and
bhakti salokotta, sanipatta, sarupata and sayujata for salvation in Christ.
Tilak was firmly committed to the indigenization of the Indian Church’s
worship, pattern of life and mission, and certainly his lyrics and poems
made a great contribution towards this end. He believed in a church larger
than the institutional church of baptized Christians only; but the Durbar
of God and the church of his concept was ‘a brotherhood of the baptized
and unbaptized disciples of Christ’, which included adherents of other
religions who acknowledged the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, as their
guru and imitated his path of utmost love as manifested in the cross.

Vedanayagam S Azariah (1874-1945)

V S Azariah was born in Tinnevelly on 17 August 1874 into a Nadar (Shanar)
caste of (toddy) tappers as the son of a pastor of the Anglican Church. He
was educated in Tinnevelly and Madras Christian College. After his
education, he joined the YMCA in 1896 as a travelling secretary, when he
came into contact with Sherwood Eddy, John R Mott and J H Oldham.
Evangelization of the large masses of Indians by Indians was his greatest
urge, and he helped to organize the Indian Missionary Society of Tinnevelly
at Palayamcottah in 1903. Along with K T Paul, Kalicharan Banerjee and
other Christians nationalists he founded the National Missionary Society
of Indian Men with Indian money and Indian direction in 1905. He worked
as the first General Secretary. Urged by the desire to build up a growing
church in the midst of poor outcasts of Dornakal, Azariah was ordained
priest of the Anglican Church in 1907 and consecrated as the first Indian
bishop of Dornakal diocese. He attended the Edinburgh World Missionary
Conference in 1910 and later both Jerusalem (1928) and Tambaram (1938).
It was at the Tambaram Conference that he made a strong plea to the
church to recognize the centrality of evangelism. He took a very active role
in the Tranquebar Conference in 1919, which launched the South India
Church Union movement. Azariah was a veteran leader of the National
Christian Council of India for a number of years.
296 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Azariah was influenced in all his thinking and action by the nationalist
movement of India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1932 he
raised his voice against the communal award. He did not want the church
to be turned into a static community protected in its ‘minority status’ by
legal safeguards, but he wished the church to be without strict boundaries
and open to grow through evangelism. He wrote many books in English,
Tamil and Telugu, especially the structure of the church in the light of
evangelistic and transforming mission.
Being primarily an evangelist, Azariah’s contribution has been in the
theology of evangelism within the context of an emerging Indian
nationhood and of the existence of millions of Indians in the villages who
never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. His idea of theology is
embodied in the booklet, India and the Christian Movement (1936), which
is a revision of his earlier booklet, India and Missions (1909). Azariah
called for the theological recognition that evangelistic mission and the
corporate life of the church are integral to each other. He also believed
that a missionary church must move towards an organic unity, overcoming
the existing confessional divisions. The church should also become
increasingly indigenous to the people of India among whom it witnesses
to Christ. This meant the foreign missions and missionaries must become
friends and not masters, helpers and not directors of the indigenous
church. This was his passionate call at the Edinburgh conference in 1910.
The influence of Azariah in calling for the unity of the church is seen in
the Tranquebar Manifesto of 1919, which was the beginning of the
negotiations of church union in South India.75

K T Paul (1876-1931)
He was born on 24 March 1876 in a Tamil Christian family at Salem in
South India. After graduation from the Madras Christian College, he studied
law and entered government service. He became the headmaster of the
Arcot Mission School at Pungannur and later, a tutor in History at the
Madras Christian College.
Paul’s period of history was a time when the Indian National Congress
was demanding representation of educated Indians in the government. Paul
saw political nationalism as a self-awakening of India, which would transform
the totality of India’s traditional life. He understood the mission of an
Indian Christian Theology 297

Indian indigenous church in India. Along with other Christian leaders, he

founded the National Missionary Society (NMS) at Serampore (West Bengal)
in 1905 and became its General Secretary. He made it a nation wide
evangelistic agency; many newly formed Christian ashrams and several Indian
missionary societies joined it. Several times he travelled to the West and
advocated the cause of national self-government and an indigenous Indian
Church. In his book, British Connection with India he supported Indian
nationalism, written for Christians in the West as well as in India. He
served NMS for 7 years and the national YMCA for 18 years; then he
devoted his time to public service.
K T Paul’s main contribution to Indian theology is his interpretation
of the Indian national movement as a way to understand the self-awakening
of the people of India, and the subsequent response of the church. In his
speech at the all-India Christian Conference in Cuttack, he discussed
God in relation to human history. God’s purpose worked out in human
history makes it possible for us to speak of Divine Providence in the life of
nations, he believed. Therefore, the British-Indian connection and national
self-awakening he saw as covering not only the political but also the whole
life as falling within the framework of Divine Providence. He felt that the
Indian connection is good for the British because ‘there are forces
embedded in Indian personality and treasures enshrined in the Indian
culture’ which are useful for Britain as well as the world at large. His idea
of the reconstruction of Indian society meant synthesizing what is good
and true in Indian and western cultural heritages, and felt that the caste
system is full of evil; but the Hindu idea of dharma with its emphasis on
the discipline of social responsibility was, for him, a valuable inheritance,
and India needed to develop ‘a new dharma of citizenship’ which would
synthesize the values of Hindu dharma and those of democratic
individualism and equality from the West.
Paul was not at all keen on Christians receiving any special communal
self-protection, but instead they should get themselves involved in the
mainstream of national responsibility. He opposed the ‘communal’ attitude
of safeguarding the interest of the Christian community through communal
electorates and other means; as it not only threatened national unity by
increasing communal tensions; it is also a denial of the mission of the church
to be the corporate consciousness of the nation. He believed that the church
298 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

is called upon to evangelize and grow, rather than be a static minority

community. He also believed in the indigenization of the church. The church
should not only transcend the denominational but also the caste, ethnic
and racial dimensions so as to be the true fellowship in Christ.
For him, the essence of Indian nationalism is that Christ of western
culture has awakened Christ of Indian culture, preparing the people for the
new life and for the Gospel. He also advocated the ‘reconstruction’ of Indian
society, synthesizing what is good and true in both Indian and western
culture. For him, the Indian Church should be an indigenous one rooted
in Indian reality, drawing membership from various communities of India,
realizing fellowship in Christ, oriented to evangelism and witnessing in
secular areas of Indian life.76

Surend Kuam Datta (1878-1948)

Dr Surend Kuam Datta was born in 1878 in Lahore and was educated in
Lahore and Edinburgh universities. He worked in Foreman Christian College,
Lahore for a time and was also a member of the Senate of
Punjab University from 1908 to 1914. He served in the army during
World War I and later worked as the Secretary of the India-Burma-Ceylon
YMCA from 1919 to 1927. He was also appointed as a member of the
Lytton Committee on the education of Indian students in UK from 1921
to 1922; and was also President of the All India Conferences of Indian
Christians in 1923, 1933 and 1934. He also became one of the vice-
presidents of the World Committee of the YMCA. He was later appointed
as Principal of the Foreman Christian College, Lahore.
Datta, like K T Paul, was a nationalist and was against giving communal
franchise to the Indian Christians. He pleaded for a joint electorate and for
giving primary importance to the integration of the nation and not the
development of communal consciousness. He considered himself not as a
member of the Indian Christian community, but as an Indian who is a
member of the Christian church. He considered his interest in the national
movement as a Christian response.
Datta was conscious of the positive influence of Christianity on Indian
society. He believed that in India there is a search for truth, but Hinduism
cannot give a positive answer to it. To him, Hinduism is not a sufficiently
strong moral force and in Hinduism all sorts of immoralities are tolerated
Indian Christian Theology 299

in the name of religion. Like a number of people of that time, Datta thought
that it was a Dark Age in India. He questioned a number of the social evils,
superstitions and even some of the important doctrines of Hinduism such
as karma and transmigration of souls.
Datta believed that the Hinduism of his time could not meet the moral
and religious needs of India; only Christ could meet this. In his book
Desire of India, he explained his stand.77 He criticized the Indian Church
as having the following weaknesses: (i) lack of a spiritual awakening, (ii)
lack of a missionary spirit, (iii) absence of distinctive theology, (iv) not
governed by Indian Christians. 78 Datta believed that caste distinctions
within the church could not be tolerated. He gave various examples to
show that the Indian Christians maintained caste distinctions such as (i)
occupying separate seats in churches, (ii) going up at different times to
receive the Holy Communion, (iii) insisting on their children being seated
on different sides of the school, and (iv) refusing to eat, drink or associate
with people from a different caste.79

P D Devanandan(1901-62)
P D Devanandan was born in Madras; his father was an ordained minister.
Devanadan studied in Trichinopoly and Hyderabad. K T Paul took him
as his secretary on a trip to USA in 1924-25, stayed there for seven years
and earned his doctorate in 1950 on the Concept of Maya. On his return
to India, he became a teacher of Philosophy and the History of Religions
at the United Theological College, Bangalore. Later he moved to his last
and perhaps the most influential post as the Director of the Christian
Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CSIRS) till his untimely
death in 1962.
Devanandan’s theological works include, besides a number of articles,
the following books: Our Task Today, The Gospel and Renascent Hinduism,
Christian Concern in Hinduism, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes (Sermon and Bible
studies with a biographical Sketch) and the posthumously published
Preparation for Dialogue.
The very decision of Devanandan to study the concept of mãyã in
Hinduism shows that his entry into theology was through the study of
religions. He considered religion or, more accurately, faith, as a series of
concentric cycles—creed, cultus, and culture (a system of doctrinal beliefs,
300 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

the religious rites and ceremonies, and the worldview and lifestyle
respectively). Devanandan affirmed that these resurgent or renewal
movements in a religion are of four types—reform movements, renewal
movements, renascent movements and revolt movements.80 He further
affirmed that in modern Hinduism there is a new renascent movement
taking place, and the new values of person, society and history are definitely
foreign to the age-old Hinduism with its caste systems and karma sansara.
In his, The Gospel and Renascent Hinduism we see the ‘Devandandan
discovery’ in Christian theology. It is that the new Hinduism is the result
of the Christian message and the interaction with the gospel of Jesus Christ
that neo-Hinduism has imbibed. Devanandan believed that when Christians
entered into dialogue with Hindu friends, they would often find that the
hidden Christ was there at work in them in Hinduism before Christian
contact. This is a useful point of contact for Christians with Hindus.
Devanandan called this discovery a second spiritual crisis, a second
conversion, equivalent to his own experience of conversion to Jesus Christ.
In such a dialogue Devanandan sees three steps: (i) there is a study of the
different types of Hinduism, (ii) there must be a clarification of the
terminology so that the concepts used are properly understood both by
Christians and Hindus, and (iii) there must be an Indian theological
expression of Christian faith.81
Devanandan opposed the theological liberalism of the day and found
in Kraemer and Barth a basis for making a new start. He rejected Kraemer’s
negative approach to the ‘non-Christian world’. He was on the side of the
authors of Rethinking Christianity and totally rejected the Barthian idea
that all non-Christian religions are basically human enterprises. His attitude
to the Creed is orthodox, and we find little that is especially ‘Indian’ in
what he says about the Scripture, the atonement or the church.
Devanandan’s approach to Hinduism is thoroughly modern and
practical. As a Christian, he tried to share the rich and varied life of
contemporary India, and to join his Hindu friends in a ‘dialogue’ or sharing
experience. He tried to understand his Hindu contemporaries and make an
analytical study of the different modern movements. After preliminary study,
he entered into frank dialogue in which he not only shared with the Hindu
friends, Christian insights and the whole meaning of the new creation in
Christ, but also their understanding of the high values of Hindu culture.
Indian Christian Theology 301

M M Thomas (1918- 95)

Madathilparampil Mammen Thomas was born in 1916 in Kozencherry,
Kerala and belonged to the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. His father was
pious and quite well-to-do, a well-known evangelist, also an enthusiastic
patriot who wore khaddar. Thomas had his early education at his native
place, then university education at Trivandrum. It was during the first year
at college, that he came into contact with Christ in a meaningful way. After
his college education he worked as a teacher at Perumpavoor Ashram School.
At the same time he was actively involved in the creating of an international
fellowship of students. Here he rejected both evangelism and the exclusive
claims of Christianity, and held the view that ‘love is at the heart of
the universe’ and in love we need not pressure one another to change
their conviction.
A significant event in Thomas’ life occurred in 1938 when he became
the co-founder of the Youth Christian Council of Action, whose primary
objective was to bring out the social implications of the gospel, to express
the evils within and without the church and to act to remedy them. In
his autobiography, he wrote that he wanted to have a double orientation
by getting ordained into the ministry of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church
and by becoming a member of the Communist Party of India. But both
of them refused, the church’s ordination committee on the grounds that
he was not Christ-centred enough because he did not adhere to the ethic
of truth and non-violence, and the Party on the basis that his religious
conviction would bring disruption to the party ranks and pave the way
for reaction.82
Although he made an impossible attempt to reconcile the spirit of
Christ to the Marxist-Leninist ideology, this has remained a dominant
characteristic and thought throughout his life. Thomas also crystallized
his views on the church: ‘I have come finally to that strong conviction
that as things are now I can better serve the church by being outside the
official ministry.’83 The anti-clerical attitude of Thomas has remained
throughout and he has worked only with para-church organizations. In
1941 he was instrumental in defining the social creed of the Mar Thoma
Student Organization, which also became the social manifesto of the
church. The basis of the manifesto was the divine purpose of human
brotherhood, the work of human brotherhood, the work of human
302 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

personality and the equality of men in the sight of God; these elements
have remained with him.
During the period 1943-45, he joined the Student Christian Movement,
and this association led him to Geneva as a political secretary to the World
Student Christian Association, during which time he toured and organized
conferences such as the Asian Leaders’ Conference at Kandy in 1948; attended
the World Youth Conference at Kottayam in 1947; attended the Oslo Youth
Conference the same year; and eventually became an outstanding personality
in the World Council of Churches (WCC), having served as the Moderator
of the WCC from 1968 to1975.
Thomas’ theological output is enormous. Besides hundreds of articles,
he has written many books. Some of the outstanding ones include: The
Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, Man and the Universe of Faiths,
Salvation and Humanization, The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution,
Christian Participation in Nation Building, Secularism in India and the Secular
Meaning of Christ, Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism, and Risking
Christ for Christ’s sake.
Thomas is not an academic theologian. Therefore, his method of
approach is quite different from many others. The first step in his theology
is what can be called a contextual or situational approach. Thomas starts
with the world. He looks at it, analyses what is there and explores what the
Christian solution can be. Since he speaks only to those issues, which are
relevant, that becomes selective theology, and since the human situation is
his starting point, his theology asks for pluralistic answers. Some may feel
that his theology is too action-orientated. Like the Liberation theologians
of Latin America, he places praxis before orthodoxy. Responsibility is the
key word here. WCC calls this the action-reflection method. He finds the
basis for this in the New Testament as ‘faith working through love’. Boyd
labels Thomas’ theology as ‘The Way of Action’.84
One can study Thomas’ thought under the following headings: Man’s
quest, Christ’s offer, the Mission of the Church and the Goal of History.
Thomas starts with what is happening in the world, that is history, and as
he looks at it he discovers that above all phenomena, revolutions are
predominant. He also finds basically three revolutions in the world: (i) the
scientific and technological; (ii) the revolt of the oppressed groups, nations,
classes and races demanding social and international justice; and (iii) the
Indian Christian Theology 303

break-up of the traditional integration between religion, society and the

state in the secularization of human life.85 Between these revolutions, Thomas
sees another revolution in the human spirit. He says that the traditional
understanding of man as being created in the image of God as ‘the obligation
to respond to the call in freedom is the core of his personality, the basis of
his eternal status as a person’.
Thomas visualizes a new spirituality which is his famous ‘Christ-centred
syncretism’. He comes to the conclusion by continuing on the process of
revolutions as seen in society. He says there must be a fundamental change
in our understanding of spirituality, which he defines as ‘the way in which
man in the freedom of self-transcendence seeks a structure of ultimate
meaning and sacredness’, the goal being self-realization through involvement
in history. He sees the goal being either the kingdom of God or the Marxian
classless society and since religion is a most potent source for strife in the
world, it does not help towards a classless society, and so there must be
inter-religious dialogue, thus deriving his Christ-centred syncretism.86
Thomas affirms the universal lordship of Christ, ‘the certainty that
Christ reigns as the sovereign Lord of the cosmos and will sum up all things
in Christ is an essential part of the biblical faith’. He sees the whole world
as being under the hidden kingship of the risen Christ and moving towards
the day of His open reign at His second coming. Thomas states that the
mission of the church is to participate in the revolutions of our time, and
this is primarily an act of humanization and not salvation. For him, salvation
or redemption is only one aspect of humanization, catering to the inward,
the spiritual aspects of humanity. He comes to the conclusion that evangelism
in our time equals service, and unless the church exercises the priestly
ministry of the suffering servant, it has lost the salt. He goes on to give
details of the task of the church in several national and international spheres
—the political, the economic, the cultural, the social, the religious.
Thomas being a critic of clericalism emphasizes the ministry of the
church in the world, when he talks about the church. Thomas’ insights
have led him to the formation of the church in Hindu and other religious
systems: ‘Once we acknowledge that the Christ-centred fellowship of the
church and ethics transcends the Christian religious community, are we
not virtually saying that the church can take form as a Christ-centred
fellowship of faith and ethics in the Hindu religious community?’ He calls
304 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

for a ‘Christ-centred Hindu church’. Regarding the goal of history, Thomas

takes the Marxian analogies of history as class struggle, and so the goal is, in
his own words, the unity of all things, his equivalent of classless society. It
seems evident that Thomas’ theology is quite unlike theology in the sense
that it looks more like a political or sociological history of humanity. Thomas
does not see the spiritual aspect of man isolated but as integrated with all
other aspects.87

Paulos Mar Gregorios (1922- 95)

Paulos Mar Gregorios (T Paul Varghese) was born on 9th August 1922 in
Kerala. He had his earlier education in Kerala and then in
Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, also at the Yale University and at
the Serampore University, where he obtained his Doctor of Theology. A
turning point in his life was when he went to Ethiopia as a teacher where
he eventually became the personal advisor of Emperor Sellasie (1956-59).
He had held many highly distinguished posts and positions in both secular
and religious fields in India and overseas. He worked as Principal of Principal
of Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam. He was consecrated as Bishop
in 1975 and has been the Metropolitan of the Diocese of Delhi. As an
ecumenical leader he worked fruitfully in various capacities with the WCC
as the Associate General Secretary, Member of the Faith and Order
Commission, Central Committee Member, Executive Committee Member
as well as one of its Presidents. He is well versed in several languages—
English, French, German, Hindi, Tamil, Russian, Hebrew, Greek and Syriac
and so on. He had written more than a dozen books.
Paulos Mar Gregorios is critical of the western theology (both Catholic
and Protestants) based on Augustinian authority88 and secular philosophy
based on reason and objectivity. He took the eastern Christian spirituality
very seriously and drew his theological insights from the Capadocian Fathers
especially from Gregory of Nyssa. In addition to that of the ancient Fathers
there are other formative factors in his theological development such as
ecumenical theology, Indian philosophy, Marxian philosophy and his own
life experience of the incomprehensive nature of God. He has a very
different view from that of most of the current pluralistic theologians in
matters of Asian religions.
Some of his valuable theological contributions include re-interpretation
Indian Christian Theology 305

of western theology critically and introduction of new ways. He tried

reconstructing theology basing on eastern tradition and attempting to bring
out the Patristic theology. His theology is holistic, which includes reason,
adoration, meditation and even silence. Paulos Mar Gregorios gives more
emphasis on eastern Christian philosophy. He is certainly considered one of
the champions propagating inter-religious dialogue. In his development of
theological views from the ‘theological tension’ between East and West he
finds eastern theology as an answer to the 20th century questions of humanity.
He is a philosophically, religiously and mystically oriented thinker.
Paulos Mar Gregorios concentrates a lot on ‘Enlightenment’ both East
and West and proposes eastern enlightenment as an alternative to the western/
European enlightenment. He argues that European enlightenment was a
legitimate reaction against the oppression of the common people by the
clergy of the then powerful church (medieval Christendom). To him
European enlightenment is based on its spiritual boasting on the autonomy
of human reason and objectifies everything.89 He also argues against the
enlightenment based on secular culture of the west and its dualisms which
questioned tradition, ritual, symbol, mystery, religion, faith and so on and
promoted concepts and individualism. In contrast, he believes that the
East is better equipped than the West to guide the present world and
criticizes the present concept of ‘secular’ in India as a product of European
enlightenment which was unthougtfully borrowed by early Indian leaders
like Nehru. He further argues that the ‘secular’ of the West is inadequate
and unsuitable in the quest for Indian national identity. So, he proposes
Buddhist enlightenment as a paradigm for India’s secular identity i.e., the
sense of ‘spirituality-grounded secularity’. The main central part of his
argument is that ‘rationalism is supreme in the West, but spiritualism is
supreme in the Eastern Enlightenment, and suggests that India should ‘go
back to the original Buddhist Enlightenment’.
In his theology, he stresses the limitation of reason and the so-called
‘objectivity’ and also the incomprehensibility of God as an aspect of his
transcendence. Paulos Mar Gregorios tries converging eastern theology and
Indian philosophy and argues that there are common grounds despite the
difference between eastern theology and Indian philosophy. This he finds
between Gregory of Nyssa and Indian sages like Sankara and Ramanuja.
306 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity

A number of modern Indian historians have called the Revolt in 1857
(‘the Sepoy Mutiny’ as the western historians called it) the First War of
Independence, and with some justification too. Although it was not the
result of any national movement aimed at the creation of a united free
India, it was a spontaneous outburst of hatred against the foreign invader,
the British. It is interesting to note that it marks the beginning of the
Indian nationalism, which eventually led to independence.
There were among Indian Christians several examples of national upheaval
after 1857, which mostly led the form of opposition to missionaries. It seems
that the first of these movements started in Tinnevelly in 1858, when a group
of Nadar Christians broke away from the Church Missionary Society (CMS)
and formed the Hindu Church of the Lord Jesus, partly due to a dispute between
CMS and partly because of national feelings. They tried to indigenize the
church in various ways.90 In their zeal for caste Hindu nationality, they
rejected everything from their system, which appeared to them to be of
European origin – infant baptism and ordained ministry and the observance
of Saturday instead of Sunday as their Sabbath, for example. They cut
themselves off completely from European help in money and in influence.
There was also a new spirit among the Christians in Bengal, which
was evolved after the revolt. Lal Behari Day, an Indian pastor and author
in the 1850s, started a movement against the exclusive control of the
church, and demanded that the Indian ministers should be put on an
equal footing with the missionaries and have membership in the Scottish
Church Council. Alexander Duff quickly smashed the movement.91 Lal
Behari Day later brought forward a proposal for a National Church of
Bengal comprising all Christians—Orthodox and Roman Catholics
included—the only confession of which should be the Apostles’ Creed,
and which should give great freedom in matters relating to ministry and
liturgy.92 The missionaries dismissed this too as unacceptable. However,
in 1868, a number of educated Christians formed The Bengal Christian
Association for the Promotion of Christian Truth and Godliness, and the
Protection of the Rights of Indian Christians 93 among whom were a
number of radicals. One of the leaders of the radical groups was Kali
Charan Banerjee, born in 1845 as the son of a Bengali Kali Brahmin and,
around 1858, he entered Alexander Duff ’s college. He became a Christian
Indian Christian Theology 307

in 1869, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Bachelor of Law. In

1870, the group started a newspaper, The Bengal Christian Herald, which
was later called the Indian Christian Herald. In its very first issue they
stated that by becoming Christians, they have not ceased to be Hindus,
and they are Hindu Christians, as thoroughly Hindu as Christian; and
while embracing Christianity, they have not discarded their nationality.94
In 1877, K C Banerjee and J G Shome organized the Bengal Christian
Conference, and they criticized the missionaries for denationalizing Indian
Christians and making them compound-Christians. Although the
missionaries generally agreed, they doubted whether time was ripe for the
Indian Church to venture into that situation. Banerjee and Shome, in the
meantime, left their church in 1887 to form what they called The Calcutta
Christian Samaj,95 parallel to the Brahmo-Samaj and organized in a similar
way. In 1885, the National Church in Madras was formed on 12 September
1886.96 The missionary opposition coupled with the financial influence of
western missionaries did not encourage the progress of the National Church.
However, in 1894-95 the movement recorded some progress. A number of
Indian Christians in Tinnevelly, South Travancore and Bombay broke away
from the missions and desired to be connected to the National Church. In
the early 20th century a group of Christians in Kolar joined the church
and Palani Andi ordained a few voluntary pastors.
So one notices that the Hindu church of the Lord Jesus in Tinnevelly,
the Christo-Samaj in Calcutta and the National Church in Madras were
the pioneers in India to create a united, indigenous church. Although they
never became widespread movements, their influence on the thinking of
Indian Christians was considerable, especially in relation to their attitude
to Indian culture and religion. It is interesting to note that the first Indian
Christians who tried to formulate an indigenous Christian theology came
from Calcutta, Madras and Tinnevelly.
India has produced some of the foremost spiritual leaders of the Indian
renaissance, especially of Neo-Hinduism. Some of them are
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the prophet of Indian nationalism, Keshub Chander
Sen and P C Mazoomdar of the Brahmo Samaj, Swami Vivekananda and
Dr S Radha Krishnan representing Neo-Advaita and Mahatma Gandhi,
the Father of the Nation. The first persons who attempted an indigenous
interpretation of Christ in India were neither the missionaries nor Indian
308 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Christians, but Brahmo Samajists, especially men like Keshavan Charan

Sen, and P C Mazoomdar who inspired Indian Christians as well as
Brahmabandab Upadyay to take up the challenging task of indigenization
of Christian theology. M M Thomas in his book, The Acknowledged Christ
of the Indian Renaissance has given a full treatment of their theology.

An Early Christian Pioneer

Parani Andi
Parani Andi in his lecture ‘Are not Hindus Christians?’ held at the
Madras Native Christian Literature Society in 1884 attempted to engage
in a rather less scholarly, superficial manner the same view expressed by
Banerjee. His lecture began by ‘proving’ that Adam and Eve are the same
names as Paramesvara and Parvati, and their sons Subramanya and
Ganapathi no other than Cain and Abel. He then proceeded to show the
great similarities between the religious ceremonies of Hinduism and
Judaism. He claimed that different religions like Hinduism came up after
the Deluge, when mankind was split into nations, and when the priests,
in India the Brahmins, preserved the original true religion. He concluded
that in the original forms of Hinduism one can still find the true religion
from the days of creation, and if Hindus would turn to that, they would
discover that Christianity, instead of being a foreign religion, is Hinduism
as it was in the beginning.

The Liberals
The beginning of the 20th century saw the development of Indian Liberal
Theology, which was pioneered by missionaries and derived from theological
developments in the West. Although it did have its roots in traditional Indian
thinking, it made an important contribution to Indian Christian theology.
By and large, Liberal Theology was an attempt to present the Christian faith
as meaningful and acceptable in a scientific age. So it rejected the metaphysical
aspect of Christian faith and stressed the historical and ethical. The Christ
of this theology was the Jesus of history and not the pre-existent Second
Person of the Trinity. The crystallized Jesus’ ethical teaching in the Sermon
on the Mount was the greatest ideal for man’s moral striving. Similarly,
they did not understand the kingdom of God as a heavenly, other-worldly
Indian Christian Theology 309

abode but as the perfect society, or the new humanity gradually built up
on earth. So Liberal Theology became an offshoot of the social gospel.
Liberals tried to arrange the different religions on an ascending scale, the
lowest being animism, a more advanced being polytheistic religion, than a
still higher the monotheistic faith of Judaism and Islam, and the highest of
all the religion of Jesus. Therefore, to the Liberals, the theology of Christ
was universal and His teachings were not just the fulfilment of Judaism but
of all religions.
These ideas were not new in India. Ram Mohan Roy differentiated
between Christ and Christianity, and the concept of evolution played an
important role in Kesavachandra Sen’s theology. Vivekananda and other
Indian writers opposed ‘Christianity’ but adored Christ as a great
personality and an ethical example. What the missionaries and
Indian Christians did was to apply the idea of Liberal Theology in an
attempt to persuade the Hindu accept Christ even though he rejected
the Christian religion. E P Rice, an LMS missionary, read a paper at the
Bangalore Missionary Conference in 1908, which is typical of the way in
which missionaries distinguished between Christ and the church. His
idea was that a new type of Christianity, which discarded the metaphysical
doctrine and emphasized instead the character of Christ and the quality
of his teaching was needed.
The main contribution of the Liberals to an indigenous theology was
found in the Fulfilment Theory. They tried to present Christ as the fulfilment
of Hinduism, or rather, of religious aspiration found in Hinduism. Two
different lines of thought were developed; the first one represented mainly
by J N Farquhar in his book, The Crown of Hinduism and T E Slater in his
book, The Higher Hinduism in Relation to Christianity. Other less known
exponents were missionaries like William Miller (Principal, Madras
Christian College) and Bernard Lucas, of Bangalore. This Liberal Theology,
particularly its emphasis upon the historic Jesus, its distinction between
the simple teaching of Christ and the doctrinal formulae of the church,
and the way in which it applied the principle of evolution to the history of
religion strongly influenced a number of Indian Christians. Some of the
Indian Christian Liberals especially K C Kumarappa and S K George were
influenced by Mahatma Gandhi as well and combined their liberal outlook
with a Gandhian philosophy. S K George in his book, The Life and Teachings
310 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

of Jesus Christ, charged the church as having fulfilled the Gospel by defying
Jesus: the Jesus of the Gospels was not ‘the deified Christ (or) the Eternal
Logos of Christian dogma, but a living heroic man’.97
A number of non-Christians, too, were influenced by the Miller-Lucas
approach. O Kandaswamy Chetti, a member of the Vysia Beri Chetti
community in Madras, was born in 1867. He was greatly influenced by
William Miller and became Miller’s private secretary and for a time English
tutor in the college. He was a strong advocate of social reforms. Although
he came to believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour he did not want to be
baptized, the reasons for which were explained in his speech to the Madras
Missionary Conference in 1915 bearing the title ‘Why I am not a Christian?’
He later joined the International Fellowship, an association for the promotion
of better understanding among people of different faiths. In one of his
lectures in this association he spoke on the ‘Uniqueness of Christ’ which he
said should not be brought out through a comparison between Christ and
other religious prophets like Buddha, Sankara and so on: ‘The uniqueness
of Christ consists in the fact that He was the fulfilment, culmination and
climax of God’s revelation of Himself in the Jewish history and through
His death and resurrection the starting point of a universal history.’98

The Bhakti Tradition in Christianity

There has been a tendency both in the West and the East to consider pure
monism of Sankaracharya as the typical Indian religious philosophy. There
is also another tradition in Indian religion and philosophy, which equally
claims to be derived from the inspired Vedas. This is the bhakti religion,
which is defined as ‘faith in salvation through an eternal God and through
saving fellowship with Him’.99 The teaching of this is found in Bhagavatgita,
and Dr Radhakrishnan has given it a monistic interpretation.100 In the
10th century an emotional type of bhakti literature developed in which
personal devotion to the God of one’s choice is the theme. The great Vaisnava
reform movement in Tamil areas belongs to this period. But Ramanuja was
the one who gave solid theological and philosophical content to this
movement in the latter half of the 11th century. With the bhakti poets, he
longs for salvation through personal fellowship with a personal God. He
builds up his own system centred on God—Easwara, who has attributes.
Indian Christian Theology 311

Ramanuja’s tradition was followed by a number of his followers, especially

Ramananda, and theistic thought radiated in all directions and leaders of
the bhakti tradition arose in many parts of India—Tukaram for the Hindi
speakers, Namdev and Tukaram in Maharashtra, Caitnya in Bengal, Mirabai
on the borders of Gujarat and Rajasthan. So when Christianity began to
take roots in different parts of India, there was already a strong theistic
tradition of bhakti. There were those who felt that the bhakti tradition had
led them towards the light of Christ.
Christian bhakti started during the early 11th century. A few convert
Christian poets in Tamil Nadu deeply engrossed in the bhakti tradition of
Hinduism from which they had come were already writing Christian lyrics
which placed the offering of bhakti at the feet of Christ. H A Krishna Pilla
(1827-1900), born into a high caste Vaisnavite, non-Brahmin family
embraced Christianity in 1858. Rakshanya Yatrikam, an epic based on the
Pilgrims Progress, and Rakshanya Manoharam, which describes lyrically the
joy of salvation through Jesus Christ, are his best-known works.
It was mainly men belonging to the bhakti tradition who stepped
forward in self-expression of Indian Christianity. Practically all of them
were converts who brought from Hinduism their lyric ability and vocabulary.
The most famous of them was, perhaps, Narayan Vaman Tilak (1862-1919),
a poet from Maharashtra who came from the same Chitpavan Brahman
community which produced Nehemiah Goreh and Pandita Ramabai. Tilak’s
poetry is much more devotional than theological. Tilak had been nurtured
in the bhakti tradition and he had journeyed by the bridge of Tukaram to
the feet of Christ. The contribution of Tilak and other bhakti poets represents
a permanent treasury of devotion and theology for the Indian Church.
These can be compared to the Latin hymns of the early church, Luther’s
chorales or the hymns of Wesley of England.
Tilak’s theological ideas are enshrined in his poems and lyrics. Marathi
poetry has a rich tradition fostered by many saint poets of the past, and
he followed this tradition in his poems on Christian themes. This certainly
deepened his appreciation of the rich Marathi religious tradition. Tilak
was passionately committed to the indigenization of the Indian Church’s
worship and patterns of life and mission. His lyrics and poems made the
greatest contribution towards it. The Durbar of God and the Christ of his
conception was ‘a brotherhood of the baptized and unbaptized disciples
312 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

of Christ’ and he wanted to give some historical expression to this larger

church, as a universal family to be known as real friends of men and real
patriots through whom the world would gain once more a mission of the
Lord Jesus Christ so that the Christ who was originally Oriental may
become oriental again’ and ‘Christianity may gradually lose its foreign
aspect and become entirely Indian’.101

A J Appaswamy (1891- 1975)

A J Appaswamy was a leading figure in the Indian church as a writer, teacher,
pastor and bishop for a span of 40 years and was an Indian theologian who
identified himself with the bhakti tradition more than any other scholar.
He was born into the old Hindu family of Dewan Bahadur A S Appaswamy
near Palayamcottah (Tamil Nadu). His father was a government revenue
officer of the village, which was a hereditary post. The family was of the
Vellala caste and adhered to the orthodox Saivite religious tradition of
South India. He was brought up in a Christian home; his father having
been converted to Christianity at a very early age from Saivism. During his
school days, he came into contact with Christianity through the missionaries
of the Church Missionary Society. After completing his early education in
Palayamcottah, he joined the Madras Christian College where he completed
his college education. In 1915, he went to America to study theology,
during which time he learnt to appreciate in a way the culture and heritage
of India. He also made a special study of the religions of the world: Judaism,
Hinduism and Buddhism. Then he proceeded to England and studied
three years at Oxford for his doctoral studies on The Mysticism of the Fourth
Gospel in Its Relation to Hindu Bhakti Literautre. He developed a keen interest
in the work of Tamil devotional poets of both the Saivite and Vaisnavite
traditions, and felt that Indian tradition had a close affinity to Christianity
and it could be used as a lead to the fuller Indian understanding of the
faith. Sadhu Sunder Singh who visited England in 1920 also influenced
him resulting in his writing a book on Sunder Singh called The Sadhu.
On his return to India he continued his studies on Sanskrit texts as
well as Tamil. He searched for a philosophical basis of the bhakti tradition;
this attracted him to the study of Ramanuja and his system resulting in the
publication of two books Christianity as Bhakti Marga (1928) and
What is Moksa? (1931), which are expositions of the Gospel of John with a
Indian Christian Theology 313

wealth of illustration from the Tamil bhakti poets. To him, the Christian
life is seen as a loving devotion to God in Christ, and the only goal of life in
the moksha or release through salvation for which Hindus and Christians
long, is to be found in faith-union with Christ.102 ‘Abide in me’ as the
chief end of man is a theme to which Appaswamy remained faithful in all
his later writings; this seems to be the typical note of his theology. Later he
became a bishop of the Church of South India.

S Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavatgita, 1948, p 142.
op. cit., Boyd, p 4.
M M Thomas and P T Thomas, Towards an Indian Christian Theology, C S S Tiruvalla,
1998, p 1.
R H S Boyd. An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, Madras, 1975, p 8.
A Mookenthotam, Indian Theological Tendencies, Berne etc, 1975, p 24.
op. cit., Mundadan, Vol 1, p 519.
‘The Syrians believe that the nature of Christ is one; that the two natures were united with
one another; because in Christ the two natures were mingled together—the nature of the
Godhead and the nature of the manhood—like wine and water. And whereas it is said that
there is one nature in Christ, it is for the confirmation of the unity of the two natures one
with another. (E M Philip, The Syrian Christians of Malabar (1869) quoted in L W Brown
op. cit., p 292.
V C Samuel, art in IJT, XI/1 192.
op. cit., R Boyd, p 10.
Second Appeal (1821), p 58.
op. cit., Boyd, p 25.
op. cit., Second Appeal, p 86.
op. cit., Boyd, p 25.
C F Andrews, The Renaissance of India, 1912, p 113.
op. cit., M M Thomas Towards an Indian Christian Theology, p 46.
Lecture I, pp 388-9.
op. cit., Boyd, p 37.
The Spirit of God, 1894, p 10.
ibid., p 58.
op. cit., Boyd, p 59.
op. cit., MMT, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, p 115.
op. cit., Complete Works of the Swami Vivekananda, Vol 2, p 182f.
ibid., p 22.
op. cit., MMT, p 125.
ibid., p 148.
Mahatma Gandhi, My Experiment with Truth, London, ed, 1945, p 404.
314 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Quoted in Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas, ed Anand T Hisrigorand, Bombay, 1962, p 86.
Harijan, March 1936.
M K Gandhi, The Message of Jesus Christ, Bombay, (cited as Messages) Christian Missions,
Ahmedabad, 1940 (cited as Missions), p 8.
ibid., p 3.
op. cit., MM Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ… p 209.
ibid., MMT.
Message, p 29.
My Search for Truth: in Religion in Transition, Vegilius Ferm (ed), London, 1937, p 15.
Eastern Religions and Western Thought, London, 1939, cited as Eastern Religions, and
The Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Paul A Schilpp (ed), New York (cited as Slchilpp).
Eastern Religions, p 21.
ibid., p 22, 24.
Eastern Religions, p 8f.
ibid., p 97.
op. cit., Schilpp, p 41.
op. cit., MMT.
op. cit., MMT & PTT, p 17.
Eric J Sharp, Faith Meets Faith, SCM, London, 1977.
Sharp, op. cit., p 360.
op. cit., Boyd, p 89f.
op. cit., MMT & PTT, p 96.
op. cit., MMT & PTT, p 79.
ibid., MMT & PTT, p 151.
Johanns, In the Light of the East Series ed. by Rev G Dandloy, S J, Calcutta, Taken from
MMT & PTT, p 153.
op. cit., MMT & PTT, p 194.
Emmanuel Vattakuzhy: Indian Christian Sannyasa and Swami Abhishiktananda,
Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 1981.
ibid., M M Thomas.
M M Thomas and P T Thomas in Towards an Indian Christian Theology, C S S Tiruvalla,
1998, p 29.
ibid., MMT, p 35.
Sophia , January 1895, p 5.
The Clothes of Catholic Faith; Sophia, August 1898, p 122.
op. cit., PTT, p 85.
op. cit., Boyd, p 91.
Johanns, To Christ through the Vedanta, 1944, Part I Introduction.
op. cit., MMT, p 140.
V Chakkarai, Cross and Indian Thoughts, p 2.
Chakkarai, Jesus the Avatar, 1929, p 210.
op. cit., Boyd, p 1687.
Avatar, p 117.
Indian Christian Theology 315

ibid., Boyd, p 146.
Quoted by Dr A Thangaswamy, South Indian Churchman, June 1960.
op. cit., Appaswamy, p 19.
Sunder Singh, Reality and Religion, London, 1924, p 76.
op. cit., Kaj Baago, Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity, p 57.
J C Winslow, Narayana Vamana Tilak, the Christian Poet of Maharashtra, 1930, p 119.
op. cit., MMT, p 101.
ibid., p 118.
ibid., p 129.
In Desire of India, pp 108ff, he writes: ‘Hinduism is frankly agnostic regarding those
great truths which alone can save and give hope to a nation, the righteousness of God and
the moral order of the universe, the Fatherhood of God and His redeeming love for
mankind, the eternal value of the human soul and hence of this life in which man is
afforded this opportunity to develop character… He (Christ) alone has the power to make
men and nations believe that these truths are eternal verities and to render it possible to
build upon then in individual and corporate life.’
op. cit., PTT, p136.
op. cit., Sunand Sumitra, p 143.
M M Thomas, Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility, p 1.
Sunand Sumithra, Christian Theologies from an Indian Perspective, Theological Book
Trust, p 175.
He points out five distortions in the Augustinian theology and he finds in Gregory of
Nyssa a valued alternative and necessary correction to the dominant western theology.
Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill and so on
spoke of a sovereign and self-sufficient humanity. (Paulos Mar Gregorios, A Light too
Bright—The Enlightenment Today: An Assessment of the Values of the European
Enlightenment and a Search for New Foundations, Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1992.
Joseph Mullens, A Brief Review of the Ten Years Missionary Labour in India, London,
1863, p 51ff.
G Macpherson, Lal Behari Day, Convert, Pastor, Professor, Edinburgh, 1900, p 70 f.
Church Missionary Intelligence, 1871, 261.
Church Missionary Intelligence, 1821, 261.
Indian Evangelical Review January 1885, 372f.
A collection of papers connected with the Movement of the National Church of India,
Madras, 1893, p 17.
S K George, The Life and Teachings of Jesus, Madras, Natesan (1942) Preface.
op. cit., Kaj Baago, p 84.
316 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

R Otto, Christianity and the Indian Religion of Grace, p 13.
S Radhakrishnan,The Bhagavatgita (1948).
Op. cit., MMT, Towards an Indian Christian Theology, p 101.
Op. cit., Boyd, p 119.


Challenges for

the Indian
Church of the

21st Century

CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA is complex. Earlier chapters made this diversity

apparent. There is great denominational diversity. Geographically, Indian
Christianity has various pockets of concentration—the north-eastern region,
the Central Plains, and the coastal and some inland areas of southern and
western India. Indian Christians comprise both caste and tribal
communities, and among the castes, they range between the highest and
the lowest. Some Christian communities like the Syrian Christians were in
existence for hundreds of years, while some others such as those in the
north-east have not yet completed a century. Such a diverse church has
come about because of a long history of conversion in many different ways
to the faith.
According to the 2001 Indian census report, 80.5 per cent of the Indian
population are Hindus, and the second largest religious groups are Muslims
(13.4 per cent), while the Christian population is only 2.3 per cent. Contrary
to the impression of the general public, the growth in the number of Hindus
between 1981 and 1991 was 22.78 per cent, while that of the Christians
was only 16.89 per cent, much lower than the national general population
growth rate of 23.79 per cent. The numerical share of the Christian
population in India is actually decreasing. When one compares the
percentage of Christians over the last half a century, it reveals that it was
2.35 per cent in 1951, 2.44 in 1961, 2.60 in 1971, 2.43 in 1981 and
2.30 in 2001.1
318 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

A word of caution may not be out of place. A study led by some scholars
reported that in the collection of data for the census the pro-Hindu prejudice
of some of the enumerators played a significant role. There were cases where
some who are not followers of the Hindu faith were included in the report.
For example, tribal peoples say that they are entered as Hindus in certain
states when they are not. Some of those who have studied the census figures
would regard the population of Hindus to be a little over 60 per cent. If this
is true, it puts in doubt the percentages of those adhering to other faiths.

The First Challenge:

Conversion or Proselytism?
To understand the issues associated with this question today, it is helpful
to look at the way conversions to Christianity have taken place in the church
down the ages in India.

Conversion in Early Kerala

As mentioned earlier, Christianity reached India from different parts of the
world, through different historical movements and with different motives.
The early Christians of south India were the Syrian Christians who were
considered to be high caste Christians. The Syrian Christians regard
themselves as the descendants of high caste Nambudiri Brahmin converts
of Apostle Thomas. Whatever may be the case, the St Thomas Christians of
Kerala contradict all popular theories about the low caste origin of Christian
converts and their dependence on western political and religious authorities.
Compared to the converts from a low-status group, which owes its origin
to the European missionaries or reliant on the colonial powers, St Thomas
Christians have a long history of prestige and privilege, which they enjoyed
from different local rulers. Conquest or colonization is never written into
the social history of Syrian Christians.
Along with the St Thomas tradition there is another equally important
lore, which, as we have seen, is that of the merchant Thomas of Cana. He
came to the Malabar Coast in AD 345 with a number of Christians including
priests from Jerusalem, Baghdad and Nineveh, and received the rights of
trade in one of the ancient kingdoms of Kerala. Although there were
mercantile and spiritual links between the indigenous and immigrant
population, there remained a separate endogamous Christian group.
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 319

Conversion in Portuguese Goa and Beyond

The next major encounter of Indian Christians with peoples to the
west comes in the 16th century with the arrival of Portuguese bearing
Roman Catholicism. As we have seen, the Portuguese strategy was conquest
and conversion. Trade, conquest and Christianization went hand in hand.
The sword accompanied the cross in the search for spice, and Goa became
the trade centre for Asian activities. The Portuguese were cast in a military
and ecclesiastical mould. The king and the Pope joined hands and termed
their alliance the padraodo form of jurisdiction. The Pope issued a series
of Papal Bulls between 1452 and 1456 which gave the king the authority
to ‘conquest, subdue and convert all pagan territories’.
The Portuguese wanted to establish Goa as one of the key posts to
establish their political and military rule and to achieve this they needed
the support of the local population. They approached them primarily in
religious terms and converted them into their own religion. So, mass
conversion was linked to the need to create social allies.2
Conversion to Christianity took place between 1527-49, along the
southern coast of India among castes, with fishing and boat-building
skills—Mukkuvars and Paravars. In this region, trade and proselytization
were carried on in the shelter of forts. Available literature shows that Paravas
had a corporate caste structure, and they also had a profitable pearl fishing
industry. The Mukkuvars (fisher folk) had a more precarious material
existence. The Portuguese helped the Paravas to develop considerably in
terms of economic strength and occupational diversion.3 For both these
groups, Christianity helped them to strengthen their jati. Whatever may
have been the Portuguese motive in conversion, for these two groups
Christianity facilitated the making of a corporate identity. As both these
castes were involved in occupations considered low and ritually defiling,
the conversion enabled them to heighten a sense of distinctiveness and
difference from the agrarian caste groups.
The conversion process in Goa was through the interlock of state and
church. The state actively supported mission. Successive viceroys spared no
pains in communicating the progress of conversion efforts to the king of
Portugal. All the missionaries were not Portuguese, but they worked under
the orders of the king of Portugal.4 Primarily four missionary Orders worked
in Goa during this period: The Franciscans (1517) in Bardez, the Jesuits
320 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

(1542) responsible for the conversion of Tiswadi and Salcete, the Dominicans
(1548) and the Augustinians, a few years later.
The missionaries had access to the forces of the State to remove temples,
overcome resistance to conversion and subdue the defiant with the inevitable
result of mass conversion of both the high and the low caste. The Portuguese
enacted a number of laws against the Hindus, especially against those with
socioeconomic and religious dominance, the high caste gaucars
(village landholders and administrators) and the priests. These included
banishment of Hindus from the territory if they did not convert, which
also meant losing their property5 . Other laws involved banning of the
performance of Hindu religious rites, festivals and ceremonies and the
prohibition of the religious activities of Hindu priests. More restrictions
were meted out to the Hindu gaucars.
The Portuguese regime was concerned to stamp out the substance (if
not the form) of indigenous religious culture. They established an inquisition
to prevent recourse by converts to non-Christian customs, which covers a
large number of sociocultural practices. This was clear from the interaction
between Portuguese missionaries and Syrian Christians in South India, which
culminated in the contested establishment of Portuguese ecclesiastical
dominance by the Synod of Diamper of 1599. The synod decrees were
primarily concerned with the correction and systematization of the Syrian
rites and doctrines and the eradication of the Hindu ritual influences.
Another aspect of the strategy of conversion in Goa was the system of
denial of privileges and constraints. Jobs and offices were reserved for those
converted into the church, sacred images were removed and public practice
of Hinduism was prohibited. Owing to these compulsions, a number of
people left the territory, and a number of them resisted with violence
resulting in the death of a few Jesuits. However, such resistance was short-
lived; by and large the entire area of the original Portuguese conquest had
been converted. 6
Proselytization did not confine itself to the coastal area, and incursions
were made into the interior by Jesuits and other missionary Orders, to
inner Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and in Bombay, Daman and Diu. There
are also three successive waves of Roman Catholic converts from north Goa,
who fled to Mangalore and its neighbouring areas due to inquisition, famine
and political upheavals.7
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 321

Conversion in French Pondicherry

Pondicherry was another area where convergence of ecclesiastical and political
dominance produced favourable conditions for cross-caste mass conversion
in large numbers. Pondicherry was a small town with a population of Hindus
and some Muslims when the French arrived in 1672-73 and it remained in
their possession until 1954. Caste was an important basis for stratification
in the 17th century, and each group lived in its own locality. Jesuits were
the missionaries who converted the people and they used a combination of
ecclesiastical and political control to further their goal. As in Goa, benefits
and deterrents were central to conversion; employment and economic
benefits were restricted to those who were converted. They also used measures
to inhibit the practice of Hinduism and Islam. However, realizing the
importance of the commercial interests of the French East India Company,
they directed that Hindu festivals should be allowed and missionaries should
be cautioned in their dealings with the Hindus.

Conversion through Dialogue

The Protestant missionaries, as we have seen, adopted a different approach.
They attempted conversion through dialogue and accommodation on arrival
in Tranquebar in 1706. The Lutheran missionary, Ziegenbalg, studied Tamil
and made special efforts to translate doctrinal and liturgical material into
that language. He used familiar prosaic Tamil instead of the poetic, refined
form normally employed, and the first printing press arrived from Germany
in 1713. Individual conversions were very few during this period. Ziegenbalg
and Pleutschau were the pioneers of conversion to Protestantism directed
towards non-European in India. Robert De Nobili, an Italian Jesuit, who
separated from the padraodo, attempted to enter into dialogue with
Brahminical Hinduism in Madurai. He adopted the attire, diet and lifestyle
of a Brahmin sanyasi, and studied the sacred scriptures of Tamil and Sanskrit.
Nobili’s converts were high caste men who wore the sacred attire and received
the sacraments from select priests who maintained a Brahminical lifestyle
and called themselves sanyasis. He also created a Christian vocabulary using
expressions from sanskritic Hinduism. Terms such as veda, mantra and
prasatham were used in his writings and religious discourse.
322 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Conversion in Other Regions of India in the 17th century

In the north and in the east of India, prior to the 17th century, conversions
were rare. Where this happened, it was usually due to the patronage and
individual concern of a particular ruler. For example, as we have seen,
the Emperor Akbar invited Christian theologians from Goa to his court.
Akbar showed an interest in Christianity and the Portuguese missionaries
were allowed to propagate their faith within his empire, though the number
of conversions was not large. However, it was their efforts that gave rise to
small Christian communities in Bengal and in various parts of North India.
In Bettiah, Raja Dhurup Singh, the local ruler, patronized the missionaries.
The Capuchins under the leadership of Reverend Joseph Mary were invited
to set up a mission in his territory. A number of Christians from different
castes were converted and the ruler granted them land in a special mission
compound that was created: it formed the ‘Christian Quarter of the town’.
Some of the castes from which conversion took place were Kayasthas, Sonars,
Lohars, Kumhars.

Conversion in the British Period

The British did not use the Estado da India system adopted by the
Portuguese. In the early days of the British period, though the East India
Company employed chaplains for its own servants, it was at first hostile to
missionary activity. However, a change came during the early 19th century
after the chaplains who had worked in India and those returned company
servants such as Charles Grant exerted pressure on the British government.
They argued that the propagation of Christianity would produce obedient
citizens, and strengthen the foundations of the empire. Following a shift in
policy, the Charter Act of 1813 directed that missionary activities be
permitted, if not directly supported. In the decades that followed, the
missionary work was viewed with increasing favour, but at no point did
they adopt a missionary-cum-imperialistic attitude.
In the north-east, when the British shed their role as traders and
assumed that of rulers, they came in contact with the tribal people of hilly
regions whom the British considered unpredictable, primitive and difficult
to deal with.8 The prominent missionary societies that worked in the
northeast, as we have seen, were the Presbyterians and Baptists, though
Methodists, Roman Catholics and Anglicans were also present. The
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 323

government took an interest in the educational activities of the missionaries,

and funds were donated for the purpose of building and maintaining
educational institutions. In 1854, Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General,
took an interest in the educational activities of the Protestant missions and
began providing annual financial grants to schools, although the missions
managed them. Further, churches were built with vice-regal support and
that of the administration and local councils.
The Baptists started the conversion of the Santals during the first
half of the 19th century. The Santal Rebellion (1855-56), which drew
attention to the problem of the tribe, resulted in more conversion efforts
as the British Commissioner at Bhagalpur, Yule, noted that the Santals
who attended the missionary schools were not among those who
participated in the rebellion. A number of individual officers took an
interest in the reform idea and supported missionary efforts. Captain
Hannington, Commissioner of Chotanagpur, in 1845 invited missionaries
of the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Mission to preach among the Oraon,
and in 1854 four of these missionaries had come to work in India. The
Commissioner wrote to the Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible
Society in Calcutta asking him to send them to Chota Nagpur to work
among the Oraon.9 Colonel Balmain, the Commissioner of Chhattisgarh
division, patronized the German Evangelical Mission Society and invited
Oscar Lohr to work among the Satnamis.
The British also faced administrative problems with the Bhils and other
tribal groups of Gujarat and western India. The administration felt that
mission projects would be a critical tool to root out the problem, and convert
them into submissive subjects of the Raj.10 The mission began producing
educational and medical facilities. However the Bhils were proud of their
terrain; they hardly acknowledged the missionary message, though there
were some conversions among the much more inferior adivasi groups.
Missionaries and the colonial order were closely associated with each
other. Although missionaries kept up very close links with local people—
often ate Indian food, learned Indian languages and visited their homes—
they kept up a different lifestyle and leisure patterns in dress, time and in
the organization of their daily activities as they believed it was part and
parcel of their upbringing and western culture. With this type of distinct
lifestyle, the missionaries belonged to the community of white settlers.
324 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

They adopted a particular model very similar to the ideology of colonial

rule. For example, the evangelical missionaries of Chhattisgarh tended to
describe converts as ‘children’, and always retained a certain paternalistic
attitude towards them, though they viewed the converts equal in the
kingdom of God and invoked the principle of self-determination to assert
one’s religious freedom. So it seems that in the evangelical enterprise there
was a paradox within the culture of the colonial order.
The majority of converts apart from the mass conversion of untouchables
in some parts of the country during the British period were from the outlying
regions, in particular north-eastern tribal pockets. Conversion of tribal groups
is part of a large process of social transformation. These groups are isolated
both in geographical and religious terms from the traditions of Islam,
Buddhism or Hinduism; they had their own elaborated and highly parochial
belief systems.11
With the opening of the hills under the British, several material and
economic changes came; hitherto insulated Nagas were integrated with the
rest of the subcontinent; but it led also to an erosion of traditional village
institution and forms of authority. It also resulted in entire groups being
caught in a fluctuating social, cultural and political environment, which
meant they were amenable to conversion.12
During the mid 19th century, mass conversion took place among
the low caste groups. In the north, Chamars (leather workers), Chuhras
and Lal Begis (sweeper communities) in the Punjab were drawn into such
movements. 13 In the south of India a mass conversion movement was
effected in the mid 19th century among the Nadars.14 In Telugu country,
groups of Malas and Madigas converted en masse.15 Mass movements of
this type show a growing discontent among the depressed classes, probably
related to the extensive disruptive effects brought by colonial rule in many
parts of rural India. Traditional relations of production and distribution
were undermined rendering the lowest castes extremely vulnerable; at
the same time these groups had new opportunities to enhance their social
position or to acquire new skills, new patrons and new religious
attachments. Christianization was one among a number of potential means
(along with conversion to Islam, Sikhism, or the reformed Hinduism of
the Arya Samaj) available to them.16
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 325

Conversion and Social Status

Though the missionaries may have had their own agenda, the converts
appeared to have had theirs also. One such agenda was social mobility.
On the other side of the picture, in Goa, the higher caste tried to keep
hold of their caste privileges. A number of tribal groups believed that the
missionaries would undertake to stand up for the tribal peoples’ rights
and privileges, and they were often looked upon as intercessors in the
negotiations of the tribal with the law courts and the British-introduced
judicial system. 17 Even though the missionaries thought that they
understood what was going on in the community and could offer amicable
solutions to their problems, sometimes they made blunders or perhaps
misconstrued the manners and motives of converts as seen in the Nadar
‘breast-cloth’ controversy.18
The conversion strategy seems to take a different dimension when the
relationship between the state and religious authorities is relatively less
ambiguous. A case in point is that in Goa, though even there the two
sometimes came into conflict, and the king who was considered both
monarch and the patron of the faith was approached to find a final decision
between them, as in the case in the 1590s, when the then viceroy of Goa
wrote to the Portuguese king that while he agreed that all the temples of
Portuguese India should be destroyed, for a period of expediency it could
not be done in Diu, and he wrote, ‘If it were, all the vanisas would leave,
and commerce at this lucrative fort would grind to a halt’.19
When the western missionaries arrived in India, from the 16th century
on, they found that the caste system was deeply rooted in Indian culture
and society. Although they tried to eradicate the caste system, eventually
they seemed to have been reconciled to the idea. Some conversions, which
took place during the earlier periods, show that the converts themselves
resisted any missionary efforts to establish egalitarian relations. Sometimes,
particular castes resorted to defend the maintenance of status distinctions.
Bayly (1989), Robinson (1998) and Viswanathan (1993) have shown that
during the 16th and 17th centuries, conversion maintained and sometimes
even reinforced corporate caste distinctions. Bayly argues with regard to
Syrian Christians and early Catholicism in South India that ‘Indian
Christians did not opt out of the indigenous moral order; on the contrary,
the behaviour and social organization of those converts continued to reflect
326 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

perceptions on caste rank, honoured ritual procedure, which were shared

through the wider society’.
Christians should bear in mind that there were notions of hierarchy in
the church itself. When Christianity entered western and southern India,
it incorporated within itself a hierarchical vision of society. The Catholicism
prevalent in Europe at that time had three main orders of the social
structure: clergy, knights and labourers. Although common worship and
sharing in the Eucharist brought the different groups together, they remained
in a relationship of inequality. The status differences expressed in the caste
were maintained among the Christians of Goa and the Konkan region, and
in Tamil Nadu, ideas of servitude and respect, purity and impurity continued
in the relationship between castes among the convert communities. In both
these regions, there was a structure of rights and honours based on caste
developed around the celebrating of feasts in village churches similar to
patterns existing in Hindu temples.20
There are many faces of caste. In some communities, the church became
the centre for the manifestation and maintenance of status difference centred
on caste. On a par with Hindu temple celebrations, church celebrations
and processions began to express and articulate relations of rank and status,
hierarchy and honour in particular local churches. In Goa, as in some other
parts of India, the church replaced temples as the focus of socio-religious
life of the village communities following conversion and took on traditional
hierarchical characteristics.21
In some places, the privilege of hosting Christian celebrations for the
different feasts belongs to two lay associations in the village called major
and minor confraternities. Only the high caste Chardo gaucars may be
members of the major confraternity, which enjoys the privilege of organizing
the harvest feast celebrations and those centred on Good Friday and the
feast of the patron of the village. Chardos, Sudras, and other lower-caste
groups are members of the other confraternity.
There is a classic case of castes fighting for special concessions in the
church from the Tamil Nadu village of Vadkkankulam. The castes are in
constant dispute over rights and honours in the celebrations of the main
feast of the Holy Family Catholic Church. It was not uncommon for each
caste to use conversion and reconversion as ammunition to get the
Roman Catholic Church to concede to their demand for more privileges in
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 327

the local church. These tactical moves were used by different groups in the
19th century. As for instance in 1897 a number of Vellalars shifted their
allegiance to the Protestant London Missionary Society to protest against
the rights given by the Catholic Jesuit priests to Shanars in the Holy Family
Church celebrations. But when their demands were meted out, they returned
to Roman Catholicism. So the missionaries were obviously being pulled
the way the parishioners wanted; they had their own agendas of social
mobility. Thus the parishioners wanted to perpetuate caste and fought
against missionary efforts in this regard to get their demands met.
Spatial segregation, though nor formally sanctioned in any church,
often continued for many years in muted and less explicit ways. The
South Arcot Malaiman Udaiyan Christian men and children occupied the
middle rows of seats in the church, while the Udaiyan women sat in rows
on the right and the dalit Christians in the rows on the left.22 In some
south Goan villages, the benches closest to the altar were usually reserved
for the high-caste celebrants on the occasion of the church feasts. Low-caste
Kerala Christians usually occupied the backbenches when they worshipped
together with Syrian Christians. Although there was no formal ban on
Pulayas attending services in Syrian churches, only few of them did so.23 It
is true that low-caste sometimes suffered in terms of pastoral care, and they
were still visibly less represented in positions of authority and power in the
ecclesiastical hierarchy. However, the situation today is radically different
with Syrians as the low-caste members far exceed the traditional Syrians.
Caste conflicts may be quite intense in higher levels in the church
administration hierarchy in the south. The politics of caste is prevalent in
south India in the diocesan councils where the main bodies make decisions
affecting the clergy and the people in particular areas. The bitterness
generated by such controversial decisions sometimes lead to the bifurcation
of the diocese. For example, the new diocese in the North Arcot dalit
dominated area enabled them to escape largely from the hegemony of the
non-dalits in diocesan matters.24

Conversion As a Threat to Stability

Each religion holds its own views on the issue and reality of conversion to
and from one’s own religion. Christians have fairly easy conversion into and
even more out of their faith, but only resentfully accept people leaving the
328 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

Christian faith for another. Jews have difficult conversion into and even
more out of their faith. Although Muslims have easy conversion to their
faith, they have great difficulty with conversion out of Islam. When dalits
in great numbers decided to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism or
Christianity, it created great tension resulting in organized legislation against
conversion. Therefore conversion has, in many cases, become a great threat
and created tension for religious diversity and harmony.
Conversion takes place for many different reasons. It may be due to
dissatisfaction with one’s own religion or because of a life-changing experience
or by the use of force. Some of these may be quite genuine while some
others may not. The issue of conversion into the faith is an integral part of
both Christianity and Islam. To them it is a complex reality. Both religions
advocate ‘conversion to’ but oppose ‘conversion from’ in various ways. The
Qur’an is quite clear about no compulsion in religion (2:256). To a Jew,
conversion out of their faith is frowned upon as next to mortal sin. A Jew
sees a convert as almost a traitor. Conversion also further reduces a dwindling
minority, so is a particular threat. Jews, Christians and Muslims could recall
the story about Abraham, an idol worshipper, becoming a worshipper of
One God. Abraham, the ‘Father of faith’ was the one who brought Jews,
Christians and Muslims together.
The topic ‘conversion’ has today become divisive and has the potential of
putting not only people of different faiths against each other, but also of
creating friction among Christians themselves, and this has become problematic
for the church. No doubt, everyone should have the right to change his/her
religion. But should we be involved in persuading others to change their
religion? There are some who feel that seeking out others to convert them to
their religion is based on divine injunction, and so is a mandate. Many in the
West are likely to consider that a mission society engaged in the conversion of
people from one faith to another is just bigotry, intolerance and aggression.
There are even theologians who subscribe to this line of thinking. There are
some who claim that seeking the conversion of the other or targeting the
other for conversion is the same as proselytization, but many object and
claim that it is their obligation to follow the so-called Great Commission in
Matthew 28:18-20, and they will say that not only do they have an
obligation; it is also their right to seek the conversion of the other.
Proselytization has today gained a very loaded meaning. The
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 329

WCC Dictionary of Ecumenical Movement (1991: p 828) says, ‘To induce

someone to conversion is to proselytize’. Protestantism has become such a
negative word that even those who are involved in the conversion of others
would prefer using words other than proselytization. They would say that
what they are doing is an invitation to others to join the Christian faith.
They would add that they do not proselytize but they have a right to
teach. The right to express their ideas and the right to issue such an invitation
is supported by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Conversion and the Rights of the Individual

Article 18 in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(CCPR) (1966) is an important legislation on the freedom of religion or
belief. This in turn is built up on article 18 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (DHR) of 1948, which says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief,
and freedom, either alone on in community with others and in public or private,
to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.25
Although no one questions the right to communicate one’s faith, no one
should be coerced to maintain his/her religious belief and no one should
‘impair’ the right to change of religion. Included in the freedom of
expression is also the right to seek and to receive information. The freedom
of assembly and the freedom of association are important expressions of
the UN declaration.
However, those who quote the right to change religion and the right
to persuade others to change religion often forget that the UN Declaration
also talks about the right to maintain one’s religion or belief. No one
should be coerced to change his or her religion, and the right to religious
freedom is actually limited by other human rights. One’s religious freedom
is actually limited by the religious freedom of another. Therefore one
interesting field of exploration should be the interaction between the
freedom to propagate religion on the one hand and the freedom to practise
one’s religion without interference on the other. The CCPR has in
article 17 a clause on the right to privacy, which would protect the home
from forced invasion by seeking one’s conversion. Naturally, of course,
the question is how to balance the right to engage in faith persuasion
against the right to maintain one’s religion or belief.
330 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

It is necessary that Christians should make a distinction between

what is called ‘bearing Christian witnesses’ and improper proselytization.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) in one of the reports drawn up
in 1956 describes true witness or true evangelism as an essential mission
and a responsibility of every Christian and every church. Improper
proselytism represents a corruption or defamation of true witness, and
this may take the form of activities offering material or social advantages
with a view to gaining new members of a church or exerting improper
pressure on people in distress or in need. Perhaps it may entail the use of
violence or brainwashing, which is not compatible with freedom of
thought, conscience and the religion of others. The Third Joint
Commission of the WCC and the Roman Catholics drawn up a document
entitled ‘Common Witness and Proselytism’ says:
Proselytism embraces whatever violates the right of the human person, Christian
or non-Christian, to be free from external coercion in religious matters, or whatever,
in the proclamation of the Gospel, does not conform to the ways God draws free
men to himself in response to his calls to serve in spirit and in truth.
The topic ‘proselytism and mission’ has been and is discussed in bilateral
dialogue. A WCC document entitled ‘Striving together in Dialogue—A
Muslim, Christian Call to Reflection and Action’ says:
While recognising that mission and da’wa are essential religious duties in both
Christianity and Islam, Muslims and Christians need to uphold the spiritual and
material well-being of all. Many missionary activities, and the methods they use,
arouse legitimate suspicions. There are situations where humanitarian service is
undertaken for ulterior motives and takes advantage of the vulnerability of people.
Thus the clear distinction between witness and proselytism becomes crucial. It is
the basis for the recognition that people of faith can enjoy the liberty to convince
and be convinced and, at the same time, respect each other’s religious integrity,
faithfulness to one’s tradition and loyalty to one’s community.26
The question of mission to the Jews has been a recurrent theme in Jewish
and Christian dialogue. A number of ecumenical considerations for Jewish-
Christian dialogue are explicit on the issue. Although Christians are called
to witness to their faith in word and deed and the church has a mission and
it cannot be otherwise, Christians have often distorted their witness by
coercion and proselytism—conscious and unconscious, overt and subtle.
Steps towards assuring non-coercive practices are of the highest importance
in dialogue. Ways should be found for the exchange of concerns, perceptions
and safeguards in these matters. Proselytism should be rejected and respect
Challenges for the Indian Church of the 21st Century 331

for the integrity and identity of all persons and all communities of faith is
essential in relation to the Jews, especially those who live as minorities
among Christians.
Similar conversations have taken place between the WCC and Hindu
leaders, although the WCC has not yet formulated specific guidelines or
principles for the relationship between Hindus and Christians. A workshop
on the issue of Hindu-Christian relations was held in Madurai in
October 1995, trying to draw some preliminary guidelines in examining
how Hindus and Christians live together in India. The outcome
document says,
The Hindus find the absolute claims made for the Church, for Jesus, the
traditional methods of missionary activity and the labelling of non-Christians as
sinners etc. very offensive. There are also such accusations as extraterritorial
loyalties, deculturalisation, etc. already levelled against Indian Christians. It goes
on to speak of how Christians are uncomfortable with the tendency of Hindu
friends to minimise the differences that exist between religious traditions and
make Hinduism as an all-inclusive umbrella of truth. Likewise, they find it
difficult to understand the Hindu’s proclivity to downplay the reality of suffering,
oppression and discrimination by reducing them all to Karma and fate. The age-
old problems of untouchability, socio-economic exploitation, and gender injustice
still persist in the name of religious sanctions.27
Many Christians in India have been worried by the attempt to legislate
against conversion. Some of the Christians’ evangelization campaigns and
crusades antagonized Hindus. The Hindus either did not want or could
not distinguish which church proselytized and which church abstained
from such aggressive evangelism. A number of intra-Christian discussions
have taken place in the wake of legislative proposals and implementation,
and the issue of conversion is an inter-faith issue. The Evangelicals accuse
the mainline churches of not fulfilling and living up to the Great Commission
of Jesus Christ, and a question rings in their ear: ‘Does the ecumenical
church still have conversion on its agenda?’
Although for Christians, conversion is a command, the opponents see
conversion among the poor as an act of Christian cowardice. Gandhi is
reported to have said: ‘Why are you Christians converting the depressed
classes? Why don’t you come and convert us instead?’ But it is to be borne
in mind that the mass-conversion of dalits was not necessarily the direct act
of evangelism. From the beginning dalits were not targeted for conversion,
and historically, the message of Christ was focussed and individually on
332 Christianity in India Through the Centuries

high caste Hindus. But, in course of time, dalits came themselves and
understood conversion as Ambedkar understood it. This movement was for
social acceptance. The dalit conversion rocks the boat and challenges the
community and the society.
Leaders of all religions should endeavour to assess the reality of
conversion in relation to people of different faiths. So also leaders through
intra-Christian conversations should lead us to conversations with
Pentecostals and Evangelicals about conversion. We should also raise and
discuss issues like the following: inter-religious dialogue should not exclude
any topic, however controversial or sensitive, if that topic is a matter of
concern for humankind as a whole or for any sections thereof. And that
freedom of religion is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right
of every human being in every country of the world. While everyone has a
right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be
exercised by violating others’ rights and religious sensibilities. Moreover,
conversion by ‘unethical’ means should be discouraged and rejected by one
and all and that there should be transparency in the practice of inviting
others to one’s faith. Participants in such dialogue need to address also
issues of controversy. Though this may be difficult and cannot necessar