A SYMPOSIUM ON
SYRO-MALABAR THEOLOGY IN CONTEXT
(Held at Paurastya Vidyapitham, Vadavathoor, Jan 21-24, 2007)
It was in 1973 that the All India Consultation on Evangelization was held in Patna. Fr Amalorpavadas, the hero of those days, in his introductory speech remarked that the Church in India was at that time a communion of 93 (?) particular Churches. During discussion time I dared to give a correcting remark saying that the Church in India, it must be remembered, was also a communion of three Individual Churches. That statement spread shock waves in the Consultation. Some even called me names (?) in their private conversations! In the first CBCI meeting in which I participated, there was in the beginning no provision for the Oriental bishops to celebrate their own liturgy during the ordinary days of the meeting. When we started talking about the Individual Churches in the 1960’s and 70’s, it was said that the people raising the issue just wanted to become Patriarchs! They were also accused of dividing the Church! (See Vaidika Mithram etc.)
[One Rite Movement]
This was not a situation peculiar to India. It is true that the vision of the nature of the Church was different in the first millennium. As Fr Tillard states, “the nature of the Church, as early tradition understands it, is, therefore, summed up in communion, koinonia. It is the Church of Churches understood in its full context, ‘communion of communions’, appearing as a communion of local Churches, spread throughout the world, each one itself being a communion of the baptized, gathered together into communion by the Holy Spirit, on the basis of their baptism, for the Eucharistic celebration” (JMR Tillard, Church of Churches, 1993, p. 29).
This perception was practically lost in the West by the second millennium, although the East, even in its liturgical expressions etc., seemed to hold on to communion ecclesiology. Most of the western theologians even thought that Patriarchs, primates, and bishops had only the powers granted or recognized by the Pope. The Oriental Churches were for them not sui juris Churches, but communities with some ‘ritual’ differences Hence they were often called ‘Rites.’
The Second Vatican Council brought in a new perspective. The ground, of course, was already prepared in the West by theologians who delved deep into patristics, liturgy and Church history. The Council was clear on the point that the Church was a communion also of Churches sui juris and that bishops and patriarchs were not “vicars” of the Pope. Comparing the writings of the 19th century and the principal documents of the Council, Fr Tillard says that he was struck “ not only by the difference in language and time, but also by the climate in which they were written” (ibid, Forward). He goes on to say that ‘communio’ was the key concept underlying the documents of Vatican II: “ The difference comes from the fact that at Vatican II “communio” – however rarely mentioned- represents the horizontal line on which the major affirmation about the Church and its mission stand out clearly” (ibid). (Also the efforts of Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985)
The Council was very clear on the idea that the Catholic Church was the communion of different churches which had equal rights and obligations, united ‘cum et sub Petro’ in Roman parlance. According to Lumen Gentium, ‘By divine providence, it has come about that the various churches established in diverse places by the apostles and their successors have in the course of time coalesced into several groups organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoying their own discipline, their own liturgical usage and their own theological and spiritual heritage” (LG 23). “It is in and from these Individual Churches that the one and only Catholic Church came into being” (LG 23). Such a position would have been unthinkable in a former age.
Instead of uniformity being the hallmark of the Catholic Church, a deep “unity in diversity” was perceived as fundamental to it. The Council declared in unmistakable terms: “The Churches of the East while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church have the power to govern themselves according to their disciplines” (UR 16). The Council Fathers emphasized that the diversity of the Churches is a blessing: “The variety within the Church in no way diminishes her unity, but rather manifests it” (OE 2).
But things changed here in India also in course of time. Today in the CBCI meetings and at the CBCI Centre there are provisions for the liturgical celebrations of these Churches. But more than that an attitudinal change has come about as a result of mutual dialogue, promulgation of the two Codes, the Papal interventions and better reception of the Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents. Of course, the dialogue within the CBCI, especially with the help of the Inter-Ritual Committee in 1980’s was another significant factor in the evolution of the consciousness of the Church in India on this issue. It is interesting to note, in contrast to the situation of 1972 / 3 (?) that at the last General Body meeting of the CBCI, I was deputed to present the agreement arrived at by the Special Commission for Evangelization for the pastoral care and evangelization rights of the Orientals in India. (A few paragraphs from the documents may be quoted here)
The letter of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of India in May 1987 was a landmark in the history of inter-ecclesial relations in India. It was, I presume, the culmination of the series of dialogues in India regarding the pastoral care of the Syro Malabar faithful outside the “proper territory” of our Church, and our interventions in the Extra ordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 and the Report following the Apostolic Visitation of Mar Antony Padiyara. But it was a bold step taken by the great Pope in spite of the opposition from certain quarters. It was the realization in a concrete way of our right to give pastoral care for our faithful anywhere. Later the establishment of the St Thomas diocese of Chicago by the same Pope, was also a vindication of our rights.
It was interesting in this connection, to read in the Examiner of 13 January 2007 the final Statements of the XIII General Body meeting of the Indian Liturgical Association (Shillong, Nov 20-22, 2006): “We are happy that the Church in India which is a communion of the three Individual Churches is blessed with a variety of ways of celebrating the Liturgy of Hours (They were discussing the relevance of the Divine Office). This enriches the sacramental expressions of the Church in our country” (Examiner, 13 January, p. 12). This is indeed a long way from the terminology of the Patna Consultation!
There was a meeting in Rome of the representatives of the Indian bishops and the Roman dicasteries in October 1996 (I too was present). In the Note enclosing the conclusion of the meeting there were very valid observations regarding sui juris Churches in India.
“It was underlined that all the theologians (priests, lay, religious) must be rooted both in the faith of the Universal Church and in the spiritual heritage of their own Tradition.
This supposes on the part of everyone, and particularly of every community or individual Church (which Canon Law indicates as a sui juris Church), a continuing deepening of its own identity, expressed in its own liturgical, spiritual, theological and disciplinary traditions. This affirmation of a proper identity is not to be understood as a means of setting one ritual Church against another, but it should bring about a mutual esteem and respect, a witness of charity and effective communion.
Regarding this last point, it seems very appropriate that the Bishops, by means of regular meetings, and especially within the CBCI, show themselves disposed, and also desirous, of favouring the development of the individual local communities, assuring the faithful of the other ritual Churches under their jurisdiction the necessary pastoral assistance in accordance with the prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council (CD 23 & 3) and both Codes (CIC 383 & 2, 476, 518; CCEO 293 & 2, 246, 280 & 1).
In particular, fidelity to the Oriental tradition of the two churches (Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara) in the inner-connectedness of all its parts (theology, spirituality, liturgy, discipline) will be of great assistance in maintaining an absolute fidelity to the mystery of Christ the Lord of the universe, which is the foundational and necessary criterion of theology. This will prevent the possibility that the liturgy become a vehicle for elements, which are not fully faithful to Christian identity, or at least sufficiently tested. To be avoided is a situation where what is not doctrinally acceptable, and thus not able to be pursued in theology, should pass over into a so-called “inculturated” liturgy. Such a situation would be even more dangerous, since the liturgy, using symbolic and analogous language, runs the risk of being even more effective than teaching is in conveying questionable elements. Rater, a deep rootedness in the oriental liturgy, even in its adapted form, would offer the guarantee that the community would be ever more surely rooted in orthodoxy of faith. The fact that the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara Churches dedicated themselves with such great zeal to the mission shows the lasting quality of a healthy Christology and a correct attitude with regard to the non-Christian religions.”
II IDENTITY CRISIS
Now the problem is rather within our ranks. Are we in agreement with regard to the nature and specificity of our individuality as a Church? Consequently can we transmit the same patrimony to the next generation and to others around us? Ideas which were unheard of in the past are being aired by some people in recent times. Some say that we are not even an Oriental Church, ignoring the present vocabulary of the Church and implicitly denying the validity of the Codes of Canon Law.
While our forefathers swore by their East Syrian heritage and affiliation some are out to disown them. They dream about an Indian liturgy prevailing here in the first centuries! Others have characterized this view as a creation of some people’s imagination and compare the search for this early liturgy as “a search in a dark room for a black cat which is not there!!” Some want to consider the obvious latinisation of the recent centuries as part of our heritage and to carry on with them. This is a continuation of the late 19th and early 20th century’s attitude. There are others, who, in the name of inculturation, want to create a new tradition for our Church. Any attempt to theologize without any reference to our tradition is also a variant of this approach.
I often feel that we are in a painful situation in our Church: There was a time when Poland was divided into two by the Great Powers. The Polish people were deeply patriotic and national minded. It was therefore said of this divided nation that the “soul” of Poland was in search of a body. I have often wondered taking into account the many opinions about the identity of our Church, whether our Church is not a body in search of a soul! For, the soul of a Church is its identity, its faith tradition. Every Church is built around a faith tradition manifested in its Liturgy, Theology, Catechetics, Spirituality etc. It is true we have our structures; especially now we have all the structures of a major archiepiscopal Church. And often people say we are a vibrant community and a missionary-minded Church. Yet, what is our sense of identity today?
When we come to speak about the soul of the Church, its faith tradition, its specificity we are at odds- we are not in agreement. It may be good to think a little while some of the positions about which we differ. The fact is that our faith is the response to the self-revealing God. This revelation came to a fulfillment in Christ. He entrusted his mission to the Apostles: “As the Father has sent me I send you (John 17/18). It was on the faith of the Apostles that the Church was built to carry on the Apostolic Tradition. What we know about Christ and the revelation of God we inherit from the Apostolic Tradition. We cannot have a Gospel different from what they preached and bequeathed to the apostolic communities to be sustained under the guidance of the Spirit. This was St. Paul’s position (Gal. 1/6-9).
What God has revealed through the centuries and which was fulfilled in Christ has reached us through the Apostles and their immediate successors. This sacred tradition was in a way concretized and enshrined in the Scriptures, in the Common Creeds and in the early liturgies. We cannot add to what has been revealed and embodied in this Sacred Tradition. We can certainly better explain the truth expressed in them in various ways. Along with the Creeds and the Scriptures, the patrimony of our faith was variously expressed in the liturgies, which form the core of particular traditions. It is in the early liturgies that the different apostolic traditions are centred, as they are the celebrations of the different faith traditions. Spirituality and Theology have their source in the liturgy and help to lead us to that summit of our Christian life.
There are some who think that new liturgies or Rites can be created on the basis of Scripture and changing cultures. This is an extension of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ principle – which denies the value of tradition. We may do well to remember what Card. Ratzinger said in The Spirit of the Liturgy. I quote: “With radicalization of the Historical-Critical method, it has become very clear today that the ‘Sola Scriptura’ principle cannot provide a foundation for the Church and the community of her faith. This makes it all the more absurd that a not insignificant number of people today are trying to construct the liturgy afresh on the basis of ‘Sola Scriptura.’ In these reconstructions they identify Scripture with the prevailing exegetical opinions, thus confusing faith with opinion. Liturgy “manufactured” in this way is based on human words and opinions. It is a house built on sand and remains totally empty, however much human artistry may adorn it” (Ratzinger, ibid, pp 167-68).
We saw above that each of the various ritual families grew out of the apostolic Tradition, and that the connection with the apostolic origins is essential to define them. From them it follows that there can be no questions of creating totally new rites. However there can be variations with the natural families” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius 2000, p.109). What can happen in the Divine Liturgy is an organic growth, not specially contrived productions. Card. Ratzinger is firm on the point that ‘Creativity’ cannot be an authentic category for matters liturgical. As he reminds us: “Only respect for liturgy’s fundamental unsponaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture but receive as a gift” (ibid p. 108).
It is unhelpful for the proper growth of our Church to go on discussing hypotheses that have no roots in history or programmes that contradicts sound liturgical principles and the teachings of the magisterium. In this context, Msgr. Gujroti’s intervention at the Syro-Malabar Synod meeting held in Rome in 1996 becomes very pertinent. He said: “In our task of liturgical renewal there is a central point that we must recognize and before which we must renew our past commitments, if we ever hope to persevere into the future and avoid standing from nothing every time we meet. We need a point of departure, a base tradition accepted by everyone which can be adapted, inculturated, and so forth, without however defacing its central features.
This tradition has already been singled out as the ‘Syro-Oriental tradition. While discussion continues about its implications, it must be seen us an unquestioned fact- even if it is only for working purposes-; otherwise reflection will always begin from zero” (Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the SM Church, 1996, p.139)
The fact is that even with efforts in many quarters, we have not found evidence for elements that could constitute “liturgical corpus” in the so-called “pre-Syriac” era. “We have only the Syro-Oriental (Indo-Chaldean) liturgical corpus, with the recent Latin addition, which we may call our own. As Msgr. Gujroti puts it: “The Syro Malabars have found themselves perfectly at ease with it (Syro-Oriental Corpus) and have fought to preserve it whenever it was threatened” (ibid, p.139). Only thus can we maintain our continuity with our Apostolic origins.
III THEOLOGIZING IN OUR CHURCH
Having said so much about the ‘identity’ of our Church we must, now turn our attention to the question of theologizing, which you have been dealing with in the last few days.
Liturgy, it must be said is the focal point of any apostolic tradition and of the ‘sui generis’ Church formed around it. Liturgy sustains and manifests a certain theology, spirituality and discipline. In the oriental perspective liturgy is the “epiphany” of the Church’s faith- the transforming experience of the mystery of the Church. Theology cannot be de-linked from liturgy, which is the highest manifestation of the faith tradition. Liturgy (Eucharist) constitutes the Church and is the fulfillment of her very nature. For the Orientals, liturgy is not a matter of mere externals or prayers or sharing of ideas. It sums up one’s whole Christian life and inspires it.
Liturgy is the ‘locus classicus’ or the source of all theological synthesis. Some people forget the old maxim ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ and try to do theology without reference to this connection. This is far from the oriental approach down the centuries. The alienation between lex orandi and lex credendi during the post patristic period had devastating effects on later western theology. Some of us seem to be captives to this western trend of the second millennium.
Let us also remember that Individual Churches have a relation to places where Christianity originated and the apostles preached. They are also rooted in the time and place where the event of divine revelation took place. The Church cannot forsake her roots. Just as we pray with the Fathers in our liturgy, so also we theologize with the Fathers of this great Tradition.
I do not know how you have explained theologizing in our Church. Theologizing in any Church must be basically related to liturgy and apostolic tradition particular to the Individual Church. If one emphasizes context and ignores this relationship that would not be ‘catholic theology.’ Rationalizing merely on the basis of one’s social and cultural context or ideology would be mere ‘philosophy’ or ‘sociology.’ If one opts to make or try to formulate a theology based on the Scripture and context alone that could be considered ‘Protestant theology.’ Catholic theology has to be based not on ‘sola scriptura’ but has to evolve from Scripture and Tradition. And the oriental tradition as we know, is best expressed in the Divine Liturgy.
In conclusion, let me quote the words of Cardinal Ratzinger once again: “Rites are not, therefore, just products of inculturation however much they may have incorporated elements from different cultures. They are forms of apostolic tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of Tradition” (Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 164). Theologizing must help explain this tradition in fidelity to the great communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.