The “Incarnational” Dimensions: Asian Christian Writings

(This is Neil.) Again, I’ve been rather busy, which explain my relative silence on the blog. I do want to very quickly and briefly attract your attention to an interesting recent article in the Asian Journal of Theology on a subject about which I know embarrassingly little. Dr John C. England of the Programme for Theology and Cultures in Asia (based in Auckland) writes on “Bamboo Groves in Winds from the West: Indigenous Faith and Westernization in Asian Christian Writings of 16th and 18th Centuries.”

After examining case studies from Japan, India, China, and the Phillippines, Dr England tells us to note the “incarnational” dimensions of these writings. He writes (the emphasis is mine):

The conclusion cannot be avoided that … the response of local Christians is not shaped primarily by their assessment of particular missionary teachings or practices. It is rather their aspirations for a quality of human life in community – shaped both by the classical and folk traditions of their people and by the present socio-political context – which determines the questions they address to the western Christianity of their time and which also determines the creative response they make to it.

So, for instance, in the “neo-Confucian-Christian Orthodoxy” of Yang Tingyun, we see a process of mutual enrichment as Christian faith amplifies and intensifies neo-Confucian teaching as Yang attempts to discover “the practicality – which is a real learning he declares – of moral value and active compassion in both personal and political life.”

I was most interested to read Dr England’s description of “Early Church Sanskrit” in India. I think that at least one of its intentions will be quite clear:

Early Church Sanskrit” is a body of didactic and devotional writings in classical Sanskrit, from the 17th to 19th centuries, in which Christian meaning was discerned in the religious insights of the Hindu texts. It is thus an early example of contextualizing. Any precise dating for origins are impossible, but the earliest examples may come from the mid 17th century, being known also in Europe early in the following century, in Sanskrit and French. The anonymous authors seem to have included Indian Sanskrit scholars along with French Jesuits, from both north and south India, as the Sanskrit reflects both Bengali and Tamil influence.

Two of the earliest and most notable of the manuscripts are the dialogues Ezour Vedam (Jesus Veda) and Chamo Bedo (Final Rest [?] Veda), in which Vedic sages present on the one hand the monotheistic beliefs of pristine (proto) Hinduism, in contrast to the corruptions of contemporary Hinduism on the other. The texts are wholly in Hindu language and idiom; in particular in the terms used for God (Deva, Prabhu), in choice of the divine attributes (sat, cit, anada) and in the literary form of the dialogues themselves.

The authors clearly believed – on the basis both of classical Hindu insights and a “Thomist harmony” of nature and grace – that the central truths of Hinduism were “wholly congruent with the Christian faith.” To them the Veda presented the Sanskrit equivalent of Mosaic teachings, showing that uncorrupted “Hinduism” already contained the basis for Christian faith. But reading some of the verses in Chamo Bedo, for example, verses praising “the most high God,” go further. Placed in the mouths of historical figures that are depicted as recovering the knowledge of early sages, the one God is addressed as “Creator,” “sustainer,” “pure spirit,” “source of all knowledge,” “merciful deliverer,” “the only source of salvation.” This is to claim that distinctively biblical and Christian truths are embedded in ancient proto-Hindu beliefs and this constituted a major reshaping of missionary teaching from the west.

Other expatriate writers such as Jean Calmette (1693-1740), William Carey (1761-1837), W.H. Mill (1792-1853), and John Muir (1810-1882) continued the tradition of Church Sanskrit in many forms including prayers, biblical paraphrases and meditations. But a number of important contextualizations of belief, for example the uses of sat, cit, and ananda for divine attributes and even the Trinity itself, became central to the work of such nineteenth century Indian theologians as Keshub Chunder Sen, Bramabandhav Upadhyay and their successors.

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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to The “Incarnational” Dimensions: Asian Christian Writings

  1. María Gilda says:


    A big change is going to approach in our world Earth; in a no very far future. It doesn’t say me time (I think about 40 or 50 years). Our world will be state federations; all world a nation, without frontiers, armies, etc. Weapons for killing will be useless. Man will reach a high culture level. Things and ideas at present will be late. Armies, religions, social classes, etc. will have passed to history, considering already these things as proper of uncultivated people. Man will work in all fields; scientific, doctor, chemist will be like another worker; as an assistant or a workman and all together like collaborators of human progress. Capitalist will not exist already. Man will be ashamed in future world; if he is not useful others. Money will be disappearing. Very advanced spirits will invade our Earth and as a consequence will be born very advanced human beings. Vices, robbery, crime, sexual abuse, etc. they will not be “sin” like now. So these things will be considered as simple mental illness, and as a matter of fact they are, but many men ignore now. Actual Marxism and Communism are not anything compared with a culture communist is going to come near. Nobility titles, treatment of you, highness, holiness, etc. will not exist already, they will be motive of benevolent smile to remember pass times and they are present now. It will live physically more years. Illness will disappear and to progress mentally; hate, selfishness, revenge, rabies, anger, etc. logically they will disappear too. . Many spirits which they still embody in our world, will be carried to others backward worlds to give pass to more advanced spirits. As a consequence our world is going to convert in a spiritual one. It means, in the spirit kingdom so predicated and waited for all religions: Messiah but so unknown and bad interpreted. As The only way which has to serve and to adore to God are what religions are ignored and the great majority of human beings: MENTAL AND SPIRITUAL PROGRESS. We see now for this, big cathedrals and many religions, but a very small and delayed spirits, except some exceptions. In this future will be yet advanced spirits, developed and they will not have more cathedral than infinitive Universe, neither religion more than truth, with all its attributions of peace, justice, love, understanding, culture, etc. In a word, each human being will be its own priest. Of course we shall have help from other world beings; our old brothers, who in their days were like us too. This is Universal Law of God Creator of all things. It is clear from right now many of us can and have to make something to prepare the way to true MESSIAH and to accelerate his coming, preaching and practicing all that this message will be us possible.

    Cayetano Martí Valls, 1976
    Ramón Muntaner Street, 46, 4, 2
    07010 – Palm of Majorca, Balears. Spain.

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