The Christological Thought of Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2003 »Volume 40 2003 Number 1 »The Christological Thought Of Michael Amaladoss S J

Ermis Segatti

Ermis Segatti lives in Turin, Italy where he is Diocesan Counselor for University and Culture. He is a member of the Interregional Faculty of Theology of North Italy, Turin Section. He lectures on the history of Christianity. His other areas of special concern are the history of the Orthodox churches, new theological trends in Asia and secularization in Europe.

A Claim for Autonomy

In a passage of his theological works Michael Amaladoss refers to the Chalcedonian formula. This reference highlights, to a full extent, a typical trend in contemporary Indian Christology that is confronting the whole of Christian tradition and the whole of its own as well. Both are strictly interconnected. On the Chalcedonian formula Amaladoss writes:

The council of Chalcedon said that the divinity and the humanity in Jesus should neither be confused nor separated. I think that the tendency in the Western Church has been to affirm the unity of the personhood in Jesus and highlight his divinity, while downplaying the difference of natures and his humanity. In the context of other religions, while it is easy for us to affirm the presence and action of God, the Word and the Spirit in them, it seems difficult to relate them to the historical manifestation of the Word in Jesus, except eschatologically and in mystery (2001:6).

He is polemicizing against the western tradition in Christology, but his most interesting reflections are intended to the pars construens of a new Indian christology, that he qualifies as being, up to now, just a ‘tentative theology.’ Amaladoss stresses once more a regularly recurring complaint among contemporary Indian theologians that the critical remarks against them are caused by a basic misunderstanding:

Indian theologians are often accused of not affirming or of downplaying Christ as the only savior. Reflecting on the mystery of Christ from their multireligious context they are trying to say something new. But they are not being listened to, let alone understood. This may not be due to illwill. I think that one of the problems is methodology (1999).

He highlights the methodological causes of such misunder-standing:

Most Western theologians look down on this as ‘pastoral theology,’ and consider their own exposition of presumably a-temporal a-priori propositions as ‘systematic’... What is worse is that, even when the Western theologians acknowledge that there is a context for their reflections, they claim to be universal (1999).

Against this lack of perspective Indian theologians voice in turn a claim for their own legitimate contextuality:

Every statement is made in a context. The fact that this context may not be explicitly acknowledged does not make the context disappear into thin air. A contextual theological reflection starts from below, from experience, and questions the traditional formulations of faith ... Indian theologians dismiss the kind of systematic theology which ignores its own contextual sources as irrelevant (1999).

According to a more general view, always inside of the controversy with traditional western theology, yet stating the premises for a crucial point in Christology — namely the question of uniqueness — Amaladoss does not identify himself with what he calls the ‘phenomenological method’:

The phenomenological approach is taken by the historians and philosophers of religion. They look at the different religions as it were from outside or from above any of these. All the religions are seen as species of one genus. ‘Religion,’ ‘Salvation,’ Savior,’ ‘Mediator’ are taken as univocal terms that can be illustrated from the various religions. The ‘realities’ that these terms refer to, can be compared and contrasted. Such an approach has the pretensions of being scientific, objective and neutral. The question of uniqueness becomes then a game of numbers: one or many. The paradigm: ‘exclusivism —inclusivism —pluralism’ come from this approach.

While the phenomenological or comparative study of religions can be a useful exercise to promote a basic understanding of the different religions, the question of uniqueness with regard to a particular religious tradition is not asked at this level. That many people who discuss the question of uniqueness seem to remain at this level, however, does not make the question itself meaningless. Because the question is not primarily a phenomenological question, but a theological one (1999a:6-7).

Then Amaladoss explains what should be understood when speaking of uniqueness in proper theological terms:

When the Bible affirms that there is salvation only in the name of Jesus, or when the Bhagavad Gita states that all true worship of whichever gods ultimately reach Krishna, or when Islam declares that every human person is born a Muslim, such affirmations are not based on a comparative study of religions (1999a:7).

The theological approach is an authentic one only when it takes into account that salvation is proclaimed ultimately inside of other faith experiences and that this proclamation requires to be accepted as such:

When I, as a Christian, say that Hinduism is legitimate, I do not mean to say that Hinduism considers itself as a legitimate religion. On the contrary, I consider Hinduism as legitimate from my own point of view, however I may qualify such legitimacy. That is why my affirmation of uniqueness becomes a problem. My affirmation of religious pluralism and of the uniqueness of my own religion is not phenomenological affirmations, but theological ones, that is, made from within my own faith perspectives (1999a:8).

In and from the multi-religious context Indian theologians should be able to find their autonomous way of rethinking Christology and to keep their legitimate, (why not?) polemic distance from Western tradition. In many parts of his works he outlines such a context, supposed to be not only Indian but also Asian, as the following passage of a recent report frankly speaks out:

Contemporary theologies of religions in the West tend to look at other religions in the abstract. For us Asians, they are realities of our daily experience. We are in contact with people in whom we can see their fruits. While the cosmic religions seem more open to perceive and accept the newness of the revelation in Jesus, the metacosmic religions of Asia, like Hinduism and Buddhism, have proved themselves adequate to meet the religious needs of their adherents. There have not been waves of conversion from these religions. Some have remarked that a passage from one metacosmic religion to another has always been through a period of unbelief in one’s own religious tradition, for whatever reason. Looking at the spiritual fruits that they have produced the Asians have felt that they have a role in the saving plan of God for the world and that God is present and active in them. How does one appreciate this role?

In the West, the tendency is to compare religions. One speaks of three paradigms in such comparison, namely exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. Exclusivism thinks that salvation is not available in other religions. Inclusivism thinks that the salvation available in other religions is actually salvation in Jesus Christ, though unknown to them. Pluralism asserts that all religions are equally ways to God and salvific. The Asians do not like these paradigms. First of all, it is not possible to put ourselves on a neutral high ground from which we can assess and compare the various religions. We can only speak as Christians. It is also gratuitous to consider the members of other religions as anonymous Christians. Pluralism suggests that each religion is valid in itself and equally salvific. We would like to say that, not only is God present and active in all the religions, but God does it in such a way that they are mutually interrelated in the plan of God. This interrelationship is not given, but can be realized only in history and has to be achieved through dialogue. It is not to be presumed a priori (1999:4).

The Uniqueness of Jesus as a Problem

Coming to the pars construens, these should be the basic presuppositions of an authentic Indian Christology:

  • salvation is worked out by God, by him alone and in a universal way
  • religions are concerned only with the task of mediating and supporting it
  • means may be limited, but salvation cannot be but full and unlimited:

Salvation can also be seen as sharing of life – the life of God. Life is opposed to death. Death is related to sin so that life is seen as redemption. One can have more life. But salvation as a passage from death does not have degrees. Either one is saved or not. If salvation is possible through other religions, then it does not make much sense to talk as if in Christianity one is more or better or more easily saved. One cannot compare religions at this level(1999:13-4).

Here comes the problem of how one should interpret the traditional and the New Testament’s affirmation in which it is clearly declared: only in Jesus is salvation.

In short: the uniqueness as a problem. Amaladoss puts the question in a set of basic items which contemporary theology has to face:

We Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is the only savior. We believe that every human person who is saved participates in the paschal mystery of Christ in ways unknown to us. At the same time we are beginning also to accept that people belonging to other religions are saved in and through their religions. They do not actually have any conscious relation to Jesus Christ. Some of them may even consciously distance themselves from him. How do we reconcile these two affirmations? Is it still meaningful to affirm that Jesus Christ is the only savior? Does the mission of proclaiming Jesus to the world still have a purpose? Should it perhaps change its purpose, if it has to continue? (2001a:219).

Amaladoss makes up a personal set of Christological answers to these questions. His own, as it comes out from the further development of his way of thinking, links up preferably with the fifth and the sixth solutions listed below (any way, as it will be mentioned below, this is a position that reserves the faculty of free perspective):

1.Contextual uniqueness

It affirms, starting from a theology open to contextuality, that uniqueness pertains of course to the New Testament and to the early tradition of Christianity, but nowadays should be reinterpreted in a changed multi-religious context. The New Testament context would be determined by the reaction to the emperor’s cult, by the milieu of persecution and of isolation of the first communities. The condition of a colonial church would have made stronger the idea of uniqueness. Today’s context is supposed to be no more conflictual or hegemonic. To affirm uniqueness then makes no sense.

There are, however, some reservations: this view is aprioristic as it puts together the poles of the dilemma presupposing only the starting point of the Christian reflection, without taking into consideration the believers of other faiths. These reservations maintain a general value also for the two following hypotheses.

2. Historical uniqueness

It says that the Spirit of God may be present under different forms in human history. However in Jesus it had spoken with ultimacy, without depriving other ways of meaning, but, on the contrary, disclosing their incompleteness.

There are, however, some reservations: it is necessary to explain what is its relation with other ways of salvation and how it can be explained.

3. Objective uniqueness

It maintains that the salvation operated by Jesus is so powerful that it dominates and replaces all other ways of salvation, whether their believers are aware of it or not.

There is, however, a reservation: why should the Christians only realize that Jesus is the unique Savior?

4. Transcendental uniqueness

The Word becoming flesh has assumed the whole of humanity, in a mysterious way. There is, however, a reservation: though the problem in hand is not only sociological but theological, it remains unclear how does the whole humanity relate to the humanity of Christ.

5. Christic uniqueness

It asserts the universal salvific action of God in the whole of human history. This mystery is revealed to us through the Christic nature of Jesus. But in other religions it assumes other mediations which are different from what has been historically accomplished in Him. Jesus is certainly the Christ.

There is, however, a reservation: is Christ more than Jesus?

6. Eschatological-kenotic uniqueness

It asserts the universal and all-comprehensive salvific action of God towards humanity. With it individual persons and various religious movements in history cooperate. The uniqueness of Jesus is not inclusive or exclusive, but dialogical, working, through a kenosis, towards a historical process of convergence of all faiths and of humanity in God.

There is, however, a reservation: this will happen only at the very end of time, which is absolutely out of our control.

Amaladoss considers as aprioristic or as ‘interpretations from above’ the first four Christological options because they aim at solving the above mentioned dilemma with suggestions that don’t take into consideration how believers of other religions would accept their significance. Therefore they fail to include their concrete religious conscience:

The problem is how does one proclaim this conviction to any member of another religion without insulting him/her. But more than that, one does not take them and their religious experience seriously. One has solved the dilemma by not taking seriously the second pole. All that we can tell the other believer is that by believing in Jesus s/he is becoming aware of what is truly happening to him or her and can, therefore live the mystery consciously. His/her own religion is not real. The inner, unknown reality of his/her religion is Jesus Christ. This attitude is even more insulting than a previous position which used to allow some good and holy elements in other religions or look on them as imperfect, seeking perfection in Christianity. One can say, of course, that we have to face the truth even if it is insulting. But today by recognizing that other religions authentically facilitate divine-human encounter we have given them a more positive and independent reality that we are allowing them here. One may call them extraordinary ways. But they are ways of salvation nonetheless (2001a :221).

Confronting Current Christologies

To render explicit his Christological option Amaladoss stresses some previous conditions.

First of all, he asserts his substantial loyalty to the basic tenets of traditional orthodox Christology. He claims for the majority of Indian theologians the explicit acceptance of the universal mediation of Christ in order to be saved.

Most Indian theologians affirm that all salvation, however understood, is from God in and through Christ. There may be a few who question this. But I think that Christian faith supposes such an affirmation. If this is not affirmed then we can stop the discussion right here, because there is nothing to explain or understand. I would like that people who question the orthodoxy of the Indian theologians would keep this in mind. Attempts to explain do not amount to denial simply because they do not correspond to one’s own explanation. The awareness that the believers of other religions make similar affirmations and that they should not be dismissed out of hand forms an element of our context (1999:328).

Only stating that there is a universal project of salvation of God—as Christ revealed to us—is not sufficient without acknowledging that such salvation comes true specifically through the mediation of the other religions too. Always making sure the principle that God alone saves, religions only mediate and help.

The affirmation that all salvation is from God in and through Christ encounters in India (Asia) another affirmation which says that other religions also facilitate salvation or the divine-human encounter. Most Indian theologians generally agree that the believers are saved, not in spite of their religions, but in and through them. One could discuss whether we should call religions ways of salvation (328).

With regard to what the Magisterium affirms about the possibility of grace reaching out also to the believers of other religions, but that the ordinary way of salvation remains the Church, because of its fullness (328), Amaladoss highlights the fact that this would not invalidate the basic assumption that salvation, however granted, could not but be full. In other words: if other religions are acknowledged as mediations of salvation, they must offer real salvation, even if the means are not perfect.

If we put this together with his acceptance that ‘the Spirit’s presence and activity affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures, and religions,’1 then we can make a good case that the other religions are extraordinary means of salvation and that, while the means that they possess may be partial (according to this view), the salvation that they facilitate can only be full, because one cannot be saved partially. What is important is that there is a divine-human encounter (1999:328).

Anyway it is necessary to take into account that the different interpretations given by Christology in the course of history and the terminology usually displayed are not definitely satisfying and seems not to be apt for an exhaustive description. The mystery of incarnation cannot be transformed in a solution that covers completely every aspect of its consequences. Salvation does exist, but how, ultimately, it is working we are not allowed to understand thoroughly and it does not help the dialogue with other religions to impose categorically our metaphysical mediations.

From this relativizing and at the same time possibilist point of view Amaladoss points out some theological models that try to give an answer to the questions put by Christology:

a. First of all the answers to the question: ‘How’ does the salvation operated by Jesus happen?

To this question many answers were given on the level of theological reflection during the past centuries. Amaladoss thinks that in any and as a whole they depend on ideological conditions due to the different periods.

They presuppose that the incarnation is aiming to reconcile humanity with God after sin. Then, incarnation and salvation are conceived chiefly in terms of redemption, according to four varying explanations:

  • atonement as transaction: the offense against God’s honor is satisfied by the sufferings of the cross (along with the common way of saying: ‘Jesus died because of our sins’).
  • conflict: evil’s power causes the passion of Jesus, the world is seen as a battlefield between the forces of good and evil, the last being defeated by his resurrection (using the common way of saying: Jesus suffered in our place taking our humanity in himself).
  • solidarity: all of us share in the reconciliation achieved by Christ because he accomplishes it in solidarity with us.
  • enlightenment: Jesus’ life and death show us the way we have to follow to achieve salvation.

With these four traditional theories of atonement that try to answer the question of ‘how’ does redemption work is intimately connected to a further ‘how,’ namely,

b. the question on ‘how actually’ salvation was and is perceived and accepted.

Apart from their theoretical—though legitimate—level, it is relevant to highlight the factual impact of these theories on the conscience of everyone.

Amaladoss stresses two main ways of taking them into one’s mind:

1.The first is called ‘official-popular’ and refers to the language of ‘merit’

Another aspect of the theories of atonement is how an event that happened once for all becomes salvifically significant for everyone and for all times. I believe that there are two ways of answering this. The more popular way speaks the language of merit. Jesus by his salvific death has gained an infinite quantity of merits, which are distributed to everyone who behaves according to his/her conscience with implicit or explicit faith in Christ. God can also communicate salvation even before the birth of Jesus in view of these merits, as happened in the case of Mary. This theory—dressed up in various symbolic forms—remains the official/popular view: indulgences and jubilees depend on this.2

2. The second is considered ‘more transcendental’:

The second way of answering the question is more ‘transcendental’. In becoming human Jesus is somehow uniting himself to the whole of humanity, so that what happens in him affects everyone. In Christ all of us are reconciled. The people, the world, are radically redeemed. A difficulty with this theory is that such divine-human reconciliation is already a reality in the incarnation, so one does not see clearly what the pascal mystery adds to it except to confirm it dramatically.

Amaladoss is very doubtful, however, whether these two positions can explain the meaning of salvation in the multi-religious context of humankind:

The problem with both these groups of theories is that if salvation is achieved once for all in this manner either historically or transcendentally, there is no real place for any other religions, and history has no actual significance. The transcendentalists are consistent in saying that every human person has to be Christian, either consciously or not. Such a view devalues history and the freedom of the people engaged in it. It seems particularly offensive to other believers, who are, in this way, turned into anonymous Christians (1999b:35-6).

Starting from this survey he comes to the conclusion that the traditional Christologies, when they try to explain the salvific and reconciling significance of Jesus’ incarnation give free place to inexactitude and inconclusiveness in connection both with the general theoretical parameters and with the subject whom they would aim to refer to.

Towards a Tentative Indian Christology

Thus, presupposing these unsatisfactory answers and taking into account the specific Indian context, he maintains that it is necessary to put forward new paradigms of interpretation:

I think that we need to look for a new theory. We should develop a theory to suit our facts rather than try to adjust or interpret our facts to suit our theories. The evangelists can still provide us with inspiration for this. Asking themselves the same question Jesus had asked them—‘Who do you say that I am?’—each gave a different answer according to his audience and the historical circumstances in which he was writing. The evangelists are an example for us to follow, not to repeat their answers but to fashion our own answers arising out of our historical situation (1999b:36).

So the theologians are authorized to shape a ‘tentative Christology,’ a Christological possibilist theory, based on the contextual needs of India. As such it could not avoid some typical characteristics, that is in contrast with the early church:

  1. The first Christians, in their eschatological tension, did not pay much attention to history. We, on the contrary, are very conscious of history even if it is in a context of hope.
  2. Being very impressed by the experience of Jesus, the evangelists did not give too much weight to other religions, they severed every link even with Hebraism, irrespective of the hard questioning of St. Paul. We, on the contrary, live in a context where ways of evangelization must be found in the presence of religions we respect.

Therefore the specific context of an Indian Christology should be historical and pluralistic.

Amaladoss outlines some prospects of it.

He starts from the requirements of the pluralistic context:

Supposing that God is working also within the other religions, we cannot consider them to be unrelated to Christian revelation, even if we are not allowed to assume it a priori, but rather need to discover it a posteriori through dialogue.

Supposing that God is working also within the other religions, we should not relate to them starting from universal, all-embracing and abstract schemes pre-emptively evaluating the working presence of God.

Supposing that God is working also within the other religions, we should not presume to know the ultimate end of history, predetermining the work of the Spirit and the role of other religions in history itself.

Then he starts from what is required if we pay attention to history:

Supposing that salvation brought by Jesus is universal, we should not risk emptying the whole of history, when we stress too much the specific historical context in which Jesus worked and assign a universal value to it.

Supposing that salvation brought by Jesus is universal, its typological and exemplary significance for other similar and possible events in history is proved right by the fact that, if God uninterruptedly works in history, his being present may surely assume some common characteristics, but at the same time it takes its specific historical-temporal mark.

Supposing that the salvation brought by Jesus is universal, then it is cosmic as well: it does not concern only individuals; it is also social and cosmic. The world as a whole is moving towards salvation.

Supposing that the salvation brought by Jesus is universal, it must at the same time be also eschatological, not only historical.

Precisely these prospects should direct an innovative Christology, able to face the present and the future of a multi-religious society:

Some events are particularly important to this history, determining its course in definitive ways. The Jesus event is one such. But however exceptional this event, its impact on history cannot be explained purely in terms of itself, but only in the context of other events in the ongoing dynamic of history. Just as the NT looks at the Jesus event in light of the history of Israel, the event can also be interpreted in light of the wider history of the world. The Jesus event, far from being an isolated happening in history, has given rise to a movement of people, the church, which has played and continues to play a role in history. It is in constant dialogue, willingly or unwillingly, with other historical forces. Its meaning and impact can be fully understood only on the last day, when history itself will reach its fulfilment. The early church saw this fulfilment in the past or in the immediate future. But we see the fulfilment in the future, and for us the historical significance of Jesus is not yet complete.

We do not see this future completion as an unfolding, in a logical, deterministic way, of what happened 2,000 years ago. It is a creative movement that involves the freedom of God as well as the freedom of the people who are making history. We still believe that this history is not chaotic; the Spirit of God is animating the whole process. We believe also that God’s self-manifestations to other peoples through other events (which have also given rise to other religions as movements of people) have their own role and significance in history. Jesus for us is not simply a model for us to imitate. He continues his involvement, made partially visible by the church. His liberative action is not ‘once for all’ in a limited historical way. It is eschatological, continuing in history and oriented to a goal. He has not pre-empted history but has entered into it with all of its pluralism and uncertainty(1999b:37-8).

This confirms the intentionally ‘tentative’ character that has to be assumed by every Christology.

The ‘Specific Uniqueness’ of Jesus

Further on Amaladoss defines more precisely his position stressing that when Jesus is called the ‘cosmic’ Christ beyond history, Indian theology should not be confused with Bultmann’s dialectics on the Christ of faith distinguished from the Jesus of history. Here we are not concerned with pure mental fictions because

nothing could be more real than the cosmic Christ. It is the reality of the mystery of the Word as it is present and active in the whole of the cosmos/history as, not separated, from the humanity of the Word in Jesus, which is limited to particular coordinates of space and time. In contemplating the historical Jesus of their experience St. Paul and St. John discern and discover in him the reality of the Word or of the cosmic Christ of whom he is the incarnate form. Therefore the cosmic Christ must never be de-linked (separated) from the historical Jesus, though it has to be distinguished from and not to be confused with it (1999:333).

Then, going back to the polemics with western theology, he points out once more:

This exercise in terminological clarification is set in the context of the theological discourse which is traditional in the Western Church. Other ways of looking at the mystery remain possible.

Once again emerges the dilemma about the vexata quaestio in Christology concerning ‘uniqueness’: ‘Is Jesus the unique Savior?,’ which, now, assumes even more insistence.

On the basis of his previous statements Amaladoss proposes first of all a clarifying statement:

The action of God in Jesus: it is not exclusive, even if it is specific.

The main goal of Jesus is, actually, to fulfil, to urge the Reign of God to happen, to make people, both individuals and religious-cultural groups acknowledge its working presence among men and women. The specific way of Jesus is to love and to serve, with a special option for the poor and the oppressed. This good news, confirmed by resurrection, brings a universal, but not exclusive, significance as far as the church continues announcing his message in harmony with the action of God in the universe of cultures and religions (2001a:224).

In other words, to the extent that it aims to show respect for the historical context to which it belongs, to the extent that it wants to reflect a really local faith in Jesus, an authentic Indian Christology will not speak in terms of ‘uniqueness,’ but instead of ‘distinctiveness.’

This position may be related to that of the Protestant theologian S. J. Samartha, who spoke of ‘relational distinctiveness’ to outline the new attitude of Christology responding to the requirements of the multi-religious context (Samartha 1974 and 1992).

Amaladoss, urged by an interlocutory remark of Gispert-Sauch, highlights further his opinion:

In my vision of God’s plan for the universe, I take seriously the historical intervention of God in Jesus Christ. The importance of this historical intervention is in no way minimized by other historical interventions of God. I do not agree with those who look upon the salvific mystery of God as an ongoing action of God in history which we call by the name ‘Jesus’, the implication being that other people call the same mystery by other names. This is a nominalistic position which does not appreciate the particularities of each divine manifestation and the special historical impact that it has in the historical realization or actualization of God’s salvific mystery. The historical impact of Jesus is continued in history by the group of his disciples, namely the Church. The Church, following the specific way of Jesus, through its mission-in-dialogue with other peoples, cultures and religions in the world, makes a qualitative difference to the history of the world after Jesus Christ"(1999c:601).

The specificity of the message of Jesus may also be outlined through the particular mission entrusted to the Church in a multi-religious context:

Taking together the deepening of the vision of mission as the mission of God and the discovery of the presence of God in the other religions, Asian theologians suggest a new paradigm of mission. The primary movement in mission is the mission of God that embraces the whole of history, manifests itself also through the Word and the Spirit. It can be discerned in the signs of the times. The mission of Jesus ‘visibilizes’ and humanizes the presence and action of God, without however monopolizing or exhausting it. It has, however, its own special character. Jesus represents a particular way of being in mission in history. In a situation of conflict between rich and poor people, oppressors (religious, cultic, political) and oppressed peoples, he chooses the side of poor and oppressed people, even though that choice leads him to his death. He does not come with religious or political power to dominate the situation, but comes as a ‘servant’, emptying himself, preferring to challenge people through love and non-violence. In his resurrection, God makes an absolute commitment to humanity. Though it has to be worked out in history, it is the source of hope for final fulfilment.

Jesus calls and sends the Church on mission to continue his own mission. The Church is a community of witnesses to the way of Jesus, making present, but not monopolizing the mystery of God in history. It is at the service of the process of cosmic reconciliation in which God will be all in all, manifested symbolically in Jesus’ life and action and started by him. The Church is not primarily a community of those who privatize salvation, but she is a servant in mission. Baptism is not a passport to salvation, but a call to mission(1999d:63-4).

This seems to be a largely shared opinion among Indian theologians trying to qualify their specific contribution to today’s theological debate. Such a position was already prefigured in the thought of the forerunners of Indian theology in the nineteenth century, who clearly perceived that in a context with no privilege and advantage for Christians, quite different from the previous one of colonization, religious Hindu tradition could become a possible and fruitful partner of dialogue if Jesus was announced avoiding any exclusive or inclusive language. The same Jesus - however - who had to be announced by those who believe in him as the unique Savior.

Which ways of believing will be shaped in this part of Asia where Jesus is being announced in his ‘specific uniqueness’, we are not allowed to assume in a short period.

Going Back to Chalcedon

The Christological formulations of Chalcedon—according to Amaladoss—are, consequently, not fully translatable in the Indian context:

The clear definition of Chalcedon is not quite intelligible in India. Some of those terms cannot even be translated into Indian languages (1999b:34).

He assumes that the Chalcedonian Christology itself was developed in an extremely simplified way within western theology, which gave to it its own exclusivistic and aprioristic character:

I think that the tendency in the West after Chalcedon has been to simplify its complexity. On the one hand, people preferred the high Christology from above, of Alexandria, almost onesidedly, at least in popular language and piety, so that one can speak of a hidden monophysitism. This takes the form of discussions about the pre-existence of Christ. On the other hand, the man Jesus was divinized and identified with God. Jesus Christ simply becomes God for all practical purposes. Of course one will speak of this God as one who empties himself and suffers on the cross and the pathos becomes all the greater. Such high Christology tends to be exclusive and does not leave much space for other manifestations of the Word in the world and in history. Sociologically, such perspectives in theology may have gone in hand with authoritarian structures both in the secular and in the sacred spheres. A high ecclesiology goes well with a high Christology. Once the context of these developments is forgotten the system tends to get absolutized. Only a living experience of other believers can free us from this straight jacket. This will be the contribution of the contextual theologies of Asia, because of the effective and fruitful presence of other developed religions in this continent (1999:337).

The ‘transcendental’ use of the formula of Chalcedon in western theologies, while stressing too unilaterally his divine nature, may involve a very unsatisfactory and rigidly exclusive interpretation of the a priori salvific action of Jesus Christ:

If we take history seriously, our enquiry on the role of Jesus in the history of salvation cannot be answered by a transcendental affirmation. There is no problem in making such affirmations within the Christian milieu. But if we go out on to the public place and engage in historical actions like proclamation and dialogue then we have to give some historical content to our transcendental affirmations. Otherwise it is better to proclaim our faith and refrain from explaining it (2000:163).

The Chalcedonian formula, however, could allow less one-sided developments in Christology :

If we take the admonition of Chalcedon neither to separate nor to confuse the divine and the human in the incarnate Word, then when we interpret such exclusive and universal statements about Jesus, we have to ask whether such and such a title is given to him in so far as he is divine or in so far as he is human. One cannot claim the unity of the ‘person’ to suppress the distinction of the ‘natures’, both in reality and in the language used to speak about them. If we do not confuse the divine and the human in the incarnate Word, then we can understand that the action of the Word of God goes beyond the action of the Word in its incarnate form (2001a:155).

Perspectives for Christology and Theology in the Asian Context

  • Drawing the conclusion from his paper and from his Christological proposal during the 21st Annual meeting of the Indian Theological Association, Amaladoss suggested seven questions that should be on the agenda of those aiming to develop a really contextual Indian Christology that would face the problem of the uniqueness of Christ. These questions sum up in a way the basic concern of his Christological research:
  • What is our methodology? Is it phenomenological, claiming to be objective and scientific or theological that starts with our own faith experience and affirmation?
  • Does the affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ necessarily involve the affirmation of the uniqueness of Christianity or of the Church?
  • What do we understand by salvation? How is it related to history, to the world and to eschatology?
  • What do we mean when we say that Jesus Christ is Savior?
  • How do we understand the person of Jesus Christ? How do we articulate the divine and the human in Jesus Christ?
  • Does our understanding of Christ as the unique Savior make place for other believers and their professed goals?

A final question: While this problem is not without meaning, even in the pluri-religious context of India with its tradition of religious tolerance, how urgent is it? What is the context and/or the experience that makes it seem so urgent?"(1999:17).

In the above mentioned paper on the perspectives of Asian theology, Amaladoss explains what he means by the context, that should be its 'starting point,' in comparison with Western thought, other conditions being equal:

I think that there is also an Asian way of thinking that is affecting Asian theology in subtle ways. It claims to be context-sensitive rather than objective. It is symbolic rather than conceptual. Symbols too provoke reflection. But it is interpretative rather than deductive. Symbols tend to be pluralistic rather than univocal. The pluralist is not relativistic, but relational. The subject does not decide what is truth, so that there are as many truths as there are subjects. S/he is rather aware that while the truth is one, his/her perspective, perception and expression are limited and related to his/her context. So s/he is open to dialogue with other subjects with other horizons and perceptions. It sees the Absolute in the relative, without relativizing it: not that the Absolute is seen in itself in some mysterious way, but that its relative manifestation points to the Absolute, even if the process is only apophatic. Unlike analogy that handles similarity in difference, one has to search to plumb the depths of the reality in and through its limited manifestations. The Asian approach to reality is holistic rather than dichotomous. It prefers to speak of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. Rather than oppose proclamation to dialogue, they are seen as two poles of one process. It respects the complexity of experience. A sense of harmony holds opposite poles in creative tension rather than denying one side or hierarchalizing them or instrumentalizing one of them with regard to the other. The Asians tend to be less sharp in their disagreements and more tolerant of diversity. They may not be happy with the seeming anarchy of some types of post-modern pluralism. But they welcome the move away from the claim of rationality to certainty and objectivity. Asian theologians have not developed these perspectives in the theory of knowledge. But one can see them operating in the way they approach their task of theological reflection. They are surprised when their openness to pluralism is condemned as relativism or their interest in dialogue is accused of undercutting proclamation (2001:9-10).


1. He refers to the no. 55 of the Encyclical ‘Redemptor Hominis’ of John Paul II. Amaladoss quotes also the opinion of the International Theological Commission that keeps open the question of the salvific nature of the religions themselves.

2. Amaladoss 1999b:35. See also 1999a:14-6: in this report he dis- tinguishes four types of atonement similar to the above quoted ones.


Amaladoss, Michael

2001 "Asian Theology: Bilan and Perspectives," paper given in Louvain-la-neuve (1. 05. 2001), pro manuscripto.

2001a "Jesus Christ as the Only Savior and Mission," The Japan Mission Journal 55.

2000 Jésus Christ, le seul sauveur, et la mission, Spiritus 41.

1999 "The Mystery of Christ and Other Religions: An Indian Perspective", in Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, (63), n. 5, May.

1999a "Is Christ the Unique Savior? A Clarification of the Question," inWhat does Jesus Christ mean? The Meaningfulness of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism in India, Proceedings of the 21st Annual Seminar of the Indian Theological Association, Dharmaram Vid-yakshetram, April 25-29, 1998, Bangalore.

1999b "Speaking of Jesus in India Today," in Theology Digest, 46, 1, Spring.

1999c "An Indian Christology: The Dialogue Continued," in Vidyajyoti, 63, August.

1999d "Mission and Servanthood," in "Third Millennium. India Journal of Evangelization," II, 4, October-December.

Samartha, Stanley Joseph

1992 The One Christ–Many Religions. Towards a Revised Christology, Bangalore.

1974 The Hindu Response to the Unbound Christ, Madras-Bangalore.

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