Wednesday, 31 October 2012


VISION OF FR. A. MATHIAS MUNDADAN CMI AND THE MAKING OF DVK Saju Chackalackal CMI President, DVK Rev. Prof. Dr. A. Mathias Mundadan, CMI, was Professor of Church History and allied theological subjects at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram. He taught at Dharmaram from 1960 and had been instrumental in a number of innovative programmes, including a leading personality in the promotion and realization of the Indian thrust through art, music, theology, and worship. Having been acclaimed as one of the leading Church historians in India, he had been instrumental in shaping the Church History Association of India (CHAI), especially with its flagship programme of publishing the “Indian Church History Series” and the Church History Association of India Review in the capacities of the General Editor and the Chief Editor, respectively. His research in the domain of the history of the Church in India is unique as he was more a theologian at heart who could offer valid theological insights in understanding the historical developments and milestones in such a way that his contributions in Church History are rated to be at the same time significant contributions in Indian Christian theology as well. Having been associated with the pioneers of Dharmaram (especially from 1960 onwards), Fr. Mathias Mundadan imbibed the original vision and spirit for which this temple of learning, a house of religious and priestly formation, was established. When seen from this angle, his life and contributions could be understood as a continuous attempt to cherish and crystalize, perpetuate and establish the vision that he had bequeathed both from the Founding Fathers of the CMI Congregation, who are acclaimed even today as great Malpans, and the Founding Fathers of Dharmaram. True to the spirit of the saying, “their vision is our mission,” Fr. Mathias realized that “it is the task of the new generation to recapture the vision of Bishop Jonas Thaliath and other pioneers of Dharmaram and realise it in an on-going process.” The life and contributions of Fr. Mathias attest to the fact that he had successfully imbibed the vision of the pioneers of Dharmaram and had translated that vision into his life, particularly in his teaching and research and in his initiatives to support his colleagues and students to make significant contributions in the field of Indian Christian theology, Indian Christian art forms, Indian Christian worship patterns, etc. From the point of view of the administration of Dharmaram, Fr. Mathias has a unique place in blending wisdom and practical sense, erudition and common sense, authority and animation, and above all, especially in relation to his students, academic rigour and humanness, discipline and benevolence, gentleness and charity. It was during his tenure as the Rector of Dharmaram College that the Dharmaram Pontifical Institute (DPI) was constituted, in 1976; providentially, it was the lot of the then Rector, Fr. Mathias to take up the reigns of the newly established DPI as its first president. As it is known to most of us, the development of DPI, later into DVK as it was elevated to the status of a Pontifical Athenaeum (1983), is an organic extension of Dharmaram College. Fr. Mathias shouldered the responsibility of elegantly administering both Dharmaram College and Dharmaram Pontifical Institute. It was his success that a gradual transition from the seminary system into a centre of advanced learning was smoothly carried out; indeed, the transition also saw to it that DPI had its autonomous development in view of developing the required academic systems and infrastructures. The difficult task of making a system from nothing was facilitated by the well-balanced approach of Fr. Mathias, who also worked closely with his colleagues, especially with Fr. John Britto Chethimattam. As DPI has evolved into Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, with its different faculties and institutes, and with a lot more academic programmes and students, the solid foundation and the sound legacy that were laid at its opening phase by Fr. Mathias and his colleagues have set the tone and texture for an institution of higher learning and research. His theological vision and far-sightedness also played an important role in paving the way for the future growth of DVK. Theological Legacy of Dharmaram and Its ‘Indian Touch’ According to Fr. Mathias, “Dharmaram is a decisive milestone” in the realization of the inherited legacy of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in priestly training. While the CMI Founding Fathers, especially Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, had a decisive role in transforming the traditional malpanate system of priestly training into a system of seminary formation, cherishing and realization of Dharmaram dream turned out to be a decisive step in tuning in and transforming the traditional mode of seminary education to a more comprehensive content wherein the Indian sources were considered important both in the intellectual and spiritual development of the priestly candidates. It is a matter of pride that Dharmaram was instrumental in giving momentum to “the movement towards indigenization or Indianisation started before the Vatican Council II” by incorporating the learning of Indian philosophy into the seminary curriculum and the adoption of Indian art and cultural forms into the art forms, structures, and cultural activities. It was, in fact, rightly in tune with the vision of the founding Fathers of Dharmaram, as it is clearly visible from the statements of late Bishop Jonas Thaliath: “… right from the beginning, it was the desire of all of us that our study house should specialize in giving an Indian touch in our approach to theological studies. In this way, we thought, the seed planted by St. Thomas the Apostle would grow better in an atmosphere congenial to it. Therein also lay, we felt, the genuine development of our Oriental traditions.” Looking at the way Dharmaram has evolved, especially in its emphasis on the Indian touch, Fr. Mathias wrote with satisfaction: “Dharmaram, true to its name, was from its inception giving special attention to the Indian touch in its approach not only to studies but also to spiritual, cultural, literary, and other endeavours. The cultural and literary activities, the musical and visual art presentations at Dharmaram were attuned to this vision. The Dharmaram chapel, with the image of Christ executed in ceramic tiles and presented as an Indian Guru on the façade, stands as a living symbol of all these endeavours at inculturation. The starting of the Centre for the Study of World Religions (CSWR), in 1971, and the programmes arranged by its organizers, the seminars and classes, the Fellowship in Inter-Religious Experience (FIRE) (sic), the extension centres established in India and abroad, particularly the Centre for Indian and Inter-Religious Studies (CIIS), functioning in Rome since 1977, the launching of Dharmaram Publications (mid-1960s), and Journal of Dharma (from 1975 on), were all intended to promote the Indian touch, inculturation, and dialogue with religions and ideologies.” According to Fr. Mathias, the Indian touch with which Dharmaram has been progressing from its inception is recognized and approved by many, especially the Church. It is interesting to note that the decrees of instituting the Faculties of Theology (1976: “Nobilissimae Indiarum gentes”) and Philosophy (1983: “Antiquissima Indorum philosophica ac religiosa tradition”) affirm the Indian emphasis of Dharmaram. Fr. Mathias comments affirmatively: “From the content of both the decrees it is clear that the Congregation has given due recognition to the Indian orientation Dharmaram has conceived, adopted, and developed.” The personal achievements of Fr. Mathias in the field of church history and theology are immense. He has published many scholarly books and many more articles in national and international journals and other periodic publications. His theological acumen coupled with a sense of scientific precision and open-ended research has led Fr. Mathias to carve out an unrivalled position among his peers and critics, especially in the domains of theology and church history. Looking at the theological contributions of Fr. Mathias, especially seeing them as also achievements of Dharmaram in the field of Indian Christian theology, I can justifiably quote Sebastian Athappilly, who wrote in his foreword to a book of Fr. Mathias: “Prof. Mundadan is one of the eminent scholars of whom the CMI Congregation and especially Dharmaram can be proud. Being a renowned scholar in Church History, particularly, the history of the Church in India, and also a great visionary, he has been inspiring and challenging us for developing new paths in Indian theology.” Fr. Mathias was a theologian with a distinction for his openness and critical acumen. He wanted that the staff and students of DVK are initiated into critical and creative theological and philosophical discourse. He wanted them to go strong even in the wake of criticism, but by paying serious attention to the criticisms and, thus, making room for improvement and perfection. According to him, theology should not be looked at as a monologue; there should always be the spirit of dialoguing in such a way that a theologian must always be a partner in dialogue. In the wake of the criticisms and challenges posed by Fr. John Britto Chethimattam about some of the theological positions of the professors of DVK, Fr. Mathias opined that “this debate should continue if Indian theology is to acquire further maturity.” He, however, carefully added: “it must be done constructively and with mutual respect.” Apart from his quest for developing critical and creative theology, Fr. Mathias ultimately wanted that the fundamental Christian spirit of charity would ultimately prevail even when it comes to doing critical Indian Christian theology. However, it must also be said that Fr. Mathias was not a theologian who could be silenced by criticism or rebuke. Even though he was sad with the turn of events at a later stage in the development of Indian Christian theology and worship patterns, especially by the interventions from his own religious superiors and ecclesiastical authorities, he believed that the process of Indian theologizing should go on. He, therefore, wrote: “Despite opposition from some conservative circles, Catholic theologians took bold steps and Indian theology made great strides. Indian theology of liberation and dialogue with other religions, so too the ashram-centred spiritual-contemplative theology, has come to acquire a distinctive Indian character. It is these special aspects of Indian theology which have become the butt of criticism by some Roman theologians. This criticism is the source of some of the anxiety and apprehension shown in some quarters of the Roman Curia. But the theologians area dauntlessly forging ahead to respond to the general quest for a real Indian Christianity.” This affirmative statement on the course that Indian Christian theologians should daringly adopt ends with yet another approving statement on the involvement of theologians of Dharmaram in the on-going theological discourse: “Dharmaram is vitally involved in all these efforts.” He continues with a sense of approval and satisfaction on the contributions of Dharmaram in furthering philosophical and theological research along the track that was set by its founders: “Dharmaram is coming into its own by realizing the sublime dreams and inspiring visions of its brilliant and farsighted founders. This claim is attested by the achievements I have referred to earlier, the pages of Journal of Dharma, the recently published catalogue of Dharmaram Publications, the records of CSWR, the different endowment lectures and extension lectures, the associations and organizations of which the staff members are part, the national and international seminars they have conducted, seminars and consultations in which they participate and to which they contribute, the literary contributions they make to national and international periodicals and collected works, the literary and cultural activities of the students’ body, etc.” Dharmaram and the Inculturation of Christian Worship Fr. Mathias is straightforward in his query: “If inculturation in art, architecture, music, cultural performances, theology, and spirituality is ideal, it is reasonably asked why not in worship or liturgy, which should incorporate and celebrate all our concerns, ideas, ideals, efforts, our whole life.” Naturally, such thoughts had initiated a series of researches and activities in Dharmaram, prompting itself into a new experiment in the second part of the 1960s. Fr. Mathias recalls with pride and a sense of contentment that Dharmaram successfully geared the initial phases of inculturation in worship after the noble thoughts emerging out of the Vatican Council II. According to him, “it all began with a kind of para-liturgy, an Indian style worship service,” which was originally conducted for Dharmaram community, in 1966, and, later, before the bishops of the CBCI Plenary Meeting. Later on, Dharmaram took lead in preparing “a real Eucharistic celebration in Indian style.” After consulting experts and with the knowledge and blessings of the authorities concerned, a group of Dharmaram staff started to evolve “a worship form fundamentally based on the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church.” After successfully developing an Indian form of Eucharist for its meaningful and enlightening celebration, it was celebrated both for the Dharmaram community and for the other faithful from the locality, initially, and, in culmination, for the delegates of the “All India Seminar” (on 23 May 1969). It is a known fact that Fr. Mathias was a key person, along with many other staff and students, involved in the development of this Indian style Eucharistic celebration. He had taken pains to pool together the resources and to ascertain that everything was rightly set for the said purpose. After narrating the historical circumstances in which the whole Indian liturgy was celebrated and well-received by those who participated in it, Fr. Mathias writes movingly, expressing his sadness over the turn of events and the final rejection and suppression of the entire movement: “It is with a heavy heart I record that this well received experiment had to be discontinued at the direction of the superiors of the congregation. Many felt that this dealt a death blow to a promising future of inculturation in worship, the end of one of Dharmaram’s lofty dreams.” The incisive analysis and pointed criticism of a progressive theologian in the person of Fr. Mathias can be easily detected in his subsequent remark, which gives away his evaluation on the way even the pathbreaking teachings of the Vatican Council II are neglected, rejected, or misrepresented. He wrote: “It may be pointed out that this [suppression of the Indian style Eucharist] happened at the beginning of a retrograde period, a period of slow backsliding from the very creative atmosphere ushered in by Pope John XXIII and the Vatican Council II. Conservative elements that had been lying low were slowly raising their heads to backtrack the Vatican effect, which, they felt, went too far.” CONCERNS OF FR. MATHIAS ON DHARMARAM Towards Prominence to Church History at DVK Being a committed researcher in Church History who invested his whole life for unveiling truths about the development of the Indian Church over the centuries and recalling the desire of Bishop Jonas Thaliath to do more quality research into the Indian Christian history dating back to St. Thomas the Apostle, Fr. Mathias regrets that “Dharmaram has not developed a centre or department for [Indian Church History]… [S]erious thought must be given to form a centre or department of research into Indian Christian History to foster research and study of history of the Indian Church in a wider and enlightened perspective.” To him, it is an area where Dharmaram could contribute a lot, especially as DVK has emerged to be both the pioneering and leading ecclesiastical education institution among the Churches in India, in general, and the Oriental Churches in India, in particular. Missionary Orientation of Dharmaram One of the specific goals of instituting Dharmaram in Bangalore was to prepare world class missionaries, who would go out into the world as catalysts of the Good News by being equipped in not only understanding the world and its problems and prospects, but also having being equipped with the deeper knowledge of various traditions and ideologies and also with the skills needed to reach out to the needy and effect changes as called forth by the incarnate Word. Fr. Mathias perceived that Dharmaram, particularly her staff and students, would make the best out of the facilities, only if they are convinced of their call as missionaries. Rightly, therefore, Fr. Mathias maintained that from the very inception, Dharmaram maintained its missionary thrust: “Dharmaram was first and last oriented to this missionary thrust. A good missionary priest will be found to combine in himself three distinctive qualities: spiritual, intellectual, and practical qualities.” However, Fr. Mathias opines that “in the evolution of Dharmaram to the greater heights, perhaps, the practical has not been realized in the measure in which it was expected.” If so, again, another invitation for the members of both Dharmaram College and Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram is to make sure that the missionary thrust is reinstated into its daily activities. The excellent facilities offered by Dharmaram must be made use to their optimum so that all of us would succeed in preparing for the dynamic world which is in need of us, when we are properly equipped. If we fail in preparing the best possible way, Fr. Mathias knew that we would fail not ourselves, nor our systems, but certainly the Word of God itself. Prophetic Role to Usher in Indian Christianity One of the foremost concerns that was clearly articulated by Fr. Mathias is to tune in Dharmaram to play a prophetic role in “the process by which Christianity in India becomes Christianity of India, Indian Christianity.” In this connection, Fr. Mathias indicates that Dharmaram has to play the role of mediating integration among divergent currents of theology and ideologies. He considers that the vital contacts with the Eastern as well as Western Christianity, “despite some drawbacks,” “should be considered as enriching the Indian Church. They are assets and not liabilities if approached in the right perspective.” As Fr. Mathias realizes that “the role [of St. Thomas Christians] is congenial to the genius of India, manifested in its marvellous capability to absorb and assimilate from anywhere whatever is true, good, and beautiful and, at the same time, to retain the essentials of its identity,” he proposes that “Dharmaram is that beautiful, academic, spiritual, and cultural garden (aram) where this task has to grow and produce hundredfold fruits and, thus, fulfil its prophetic call.” This concerned call from Fr. Mathias needs to be addressed by the present staff and students of DVK as they continue to respond to the founding legacy of Dharmaram. The integration mantra that has been cherished and perpetuated by Dharmaram over a period of five decades has not yet come to its full realization; as the younger generations adopt the same mantra, it is necessary that we cherish and perpetuate the best from different traditions, systems of thought, and practices of the people so that culture that Dharmaram gives rise will be unique in its character and dynamic in its application; let us hope that the call for a prophetic role in a world of isolation and suppression, Dharmaram would turn out to be a beacon in letting the spirit of integration, of both the East and the West, Christian and Indian could be finally attained. As a prophet is called for relentless action, till the goal is achieved, Dharmaram shall not adopt an attitude of complacency, especially with regard to the call for integration: it shall be an incessant journey into which we shall invest all our energies at our disposal so that it can finally be achieved and established. Unfinished Agenda of Inculturation In connection with this call for integration, I would like to recall another incomplete dream of Fr. Mathias, especially in connection with the pioneering activity of Dharmaram in the field of inculturation. Although a lot has been done, and Dharmaram rightly claims a prominent place in history for its contributions towards developing a true Indian being for Christianity in India, by way of its theology, artistic and cultural forms, worship patterns, the truth is that Dharmaram has lost its orientation for inculturation almost in every dimension. The meaningful bhajans produced by Dharmaram are being used by many, but the members of Dharmaram, especially the new generation, do not even know that they are the cherished contributions of Dharmaram. Moreover, over the years, the perspectives and orientations have taken different directions; it has led to a loss of direction or unified vision. It must also be admitted that the resources of Dharmaram are, accordingly, spent without a unified direction. While an integral approach calls for paying attention to all divergent thought patterns and ideologies, both in philosophy and in theology, ultimately, the loss of direction has led us astray from the original vision of the founders of Dharmaram. Taking cue from the concerns expressed by Fr. Mathias (and many others), it is right time now to once again revisit the sources and original inspiration of Dharmaram so that, as much as possible, members of Dharmaram would succeed in once again paving the way for the emergence of a truly “Indian Church.” Particularly, Fr. Mathias was sad that the initiatives of Dharmaram for the development of a genuine Indian Christian Liturgy, specifically for an Indian Eucharistic celebration are almost forgotten or neglected. We need to harness our powers, with the backup of the collective will of Dharmaram, to bring back the vibrant and enlivening spirit of developing a living theology and a life-giving liturgy in the Indian Church, particularly within among the St. Thomas Christians. Dream of University Status to Dharmaram According to Fr. Mathias, “the aim before the pioneers was to make Dharmaram an Athenaeum with faculties in theology and philosophy, to prepare the way later on for its evolution into a full-fledged ecclesiastical university.” He continues elsewhere: “… the pioneers of Dharmaram aimed very high in the intellectual level. Their aims have been more or less completely realized as Dharmaram, with two full-fledged faculties of theology and philosophy, Institute of [Oriental] Canon Law (1999), and the Vinayasadhana Institute of [Formative] Spirituality and Counselling, is very close to its evolution into an ecclesiastical university.” While gratefully acknowledging the fact that the pioneers of Dharmaram and the subsequent generations, including Fr. Mathias, have effectively carried out the task of enhancing the academic ambience and research culture of Dharmaram, the task of completing their dream is now vested with the present generations of Dharmaram. We have bequeathed a great legacy of philosophical and theological education from stalwarts like Fr. Mathias; now, the onus on us is to continue to make significant contributions in the different areas of studies that are developed by DVK: it is both a personal responsibility to be exercised by each one of us and a responsibility that we will have to exercise collectively so that DVK as a whole would make an academic impact in such a way that the next phase of its development into an ecclesiastical university would be realized. To my mind, apart from and along with the juridical and infrastructural requirements, the most essential component that would constitute a university culture here at DVK would be quality research, integral approach, and a universal outlook. In our march further forward, backed up by the spirit and prayers of all our predecessors, including Fr. Mathias, DVK shall realize its dream of becoming an ecclesiastical university, if it would be good for the people of God, provided we are united in heart and mind. Indeed, that was also a cherished dream of Fr. Mathias and many others who loved Dharmaram and cherished its growth stage by stage. Before I conclude, I am happy to inform everyone at DVK that we will hold a three days colloquium to scientifically deliberate about the contributions of Fr. Mathias during the next academic year, preferably in July-August 2013. Paying respects to the person of Fr. Mathias, and promising that DVK will cherish both the memories and visions of Fr. Mathias and that we would try our best to perpetuate and realize them as best as we can, I remain.

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