Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)


“The Truth will make you free”

Vol. 16, No. 4                          New Delhi          July – August – September 2006                         

Philosophical Foundations of
Fr Placid’s Theology

                        Fr Joseph Varghese Kureethara CMI

 Part I

"There is no province of human experience, there is nothing in the whole realm of reality, which lies beyond the domain of philosophy," thus writes John Carid. Adherence to the theological precepts never makes any one devoid of philosophical insights. The role of real philosophers is to help to build the world anew. A humble attempt is made here to appreciate the role of philosophy in the life of Fr. Placid, the great ecclesiastical luminary of the Indian Church in the 20th century.
Man is not merely a socio-psycho-physical being. He is, indeed, a spiritual being. Hence, philosophy is concerned with rational and systematic explanation or interpretation of all types of human experience. Thus, it is evident that the scope of philosophy is quite vast and covers all such things, which are of concern for human beings. Philosophy is not merely a way of thought, but is a way of life. In India, philosophy is for life, it is to be lived. The various systems of philosophy in India are not merely interested in intellectual satisfaction, but they have the touch of humanity.

Fr. Placid was not an exception to this. As a profound historian and theologian of 20th century, he is in the line of the Fathers of the Church. He revolted against the colonial attitude of the Latin Church, stood for the restoration of the identity of the individual churches and researched relentlessly to unveil the authentic identity and the true history of them. He philosophized his daily-lived experience. He had a way very distinct from his contemporaries. Actually, this is the true mode of every philosopher. He dealt ecclesiology, Church History, Liturgy, Canon Law and many other theological disciplines with such a vision that everything originated from him had something philosophical in the essence. To have in writing, what actually 'his philosophy' is, it may lack the systematic formulations. However, I use here some of his writings, which bring about a few of his philosophical insights which are very much connected with the Oriental Churches.

The concepts of identity, individuality, truth and many other philosophical themes are directly or indirectly shone forth in his writings, his deeds and above all throughout his life. Since philosophy is the science of sciences, and it deals with everything, I am so proud enough to name the philosophy promulgated through Fr. Placid's life as 'ecclesial philosophy.'

The philosophy and vision of Fr. Placid has become a part of the thought-structure of the modern Church. His influence is not limited to the East, but is also penetrating to the West. The existential concerns of the present century got a parallel counterpart in the field of ecclesiology.

Fr. Placid is undoubtedly one of the most gifted original thinkers of the liberative movement of the Oriental Churches in the 20 th century. As he himself once put it, he was neither pro-oriental nor an anti-occidental, nor he was of any syndicate, but an obedient son of the Catholic Church, who believed in the identity and individuality of churches. In the process of analyzing the thought process of Fr. Placid, I have tried to acquaint my readers with one of the premises of his basic philosophy i.e., each individual is unique and this uniqueness provides ample explanation for the communion of individuals.

This article examines and analyses the philosophical foundations of Fr. Placid's ecclesiology with a view to bring out his seminal contribution to the study of history and greatness of Churches, which are as old as Christianity itself.   I may peep into Fr. Placid's penetrating analysis of the Church, especially the individuality of Churches. Fr. Placid, unlike the so-called philosophers, was not a system-builder. No philosophical treatises are ascribed to him. Drawn into the vertex of reformation movement, he was reaching to particular events, sometimes creating them also.

A correct perspective is often developed by one's objective approach to the social process as well as by the issues and the influences of different ideological currents and events on that particular individual. It is from these different aspects that an individual's thought-pattern or his ecclesial vision is formed. Fr. Placid's ideas lie scattered in many of his writings, speeches, articles contributed to journals, lectures and activities. However, a survey through all these brings to one's notice, an inner consistency of ideas which is a unique characteristic of philosophizing. His preoccupation with the concepts of identity, equality, freedom etc. which appear explicitly and implicitly in all his writings and utterances weave a consistency which go in for making the core of his philosophy. He developed an 'ecclesial philosophy,' which is obviously visible if we make an empirical examination and a critical analysis of his life and works.

Authenticity of Fr. Placid's Personality
An authentic person is one who knows his way, walks along it and leads others through it. This authenticity makes a person a real philosopher. Fr. Placid knew, walked and led others in the right way. Fr. Placid's one and only aim in life was "to be the witness of truth."   Truth meant to him is not a biased or a diluted one, but the ultimate truth. He searched incessantly for the unchangeable truth. He not only searched but also did researches on the proved and believed truths in the field of ecclesiology and church history. To his great dismay, he found that much of the concepts in the mind of the folk of the Church in his time were mere shadows of truth. They resembled truths but were not exactly truths. Whatever be the criterion, truth is ultimately one and the same.

There was a consistent struggle between the Patriarchs of both East and West, over their supremacy. During his seminary days, young Placid had quietly prepared a very scholarly book entitled "The Patriarch of Antioch." It was a historic-dogmatic polemic for the primacy of St. Peter and his successors. With more than 400 citations from the Scriptures and from the early Christian writings he proved that Rome and not Antioch was the seat of the primacy of Peter. It was a prophetic call to the separated Jacobite brethren of Kerala to return to the mother Church and to reunion with Rome. The book was found to be of such topical interest that it was from the pen of a person who is often referred as one with strong oriental feelings.

Jiddu Krishnamurthi, one of the most famous contemporary religious thinkers and philosophers, once said: "Truth is what you are. Truth is a living thing." In the life and works of Fr. Placid, we can see this impressive idea. He truly lived and his was truth itself. All his works were the ex-pression of truth. As in the case of Krishnamurthi, he also considered truth as a living thing. In as many fields he engaged, such as ecclesiology, church history, liturgy etc., he was the proponent of truth. He never swallowed ideas without critical evaluation. Through his life, he poured out the authentically unquestionable and worthily mentionable variety of the trait of personality. His searches and researches were for practicality rather than for mere ideology.

Less words, more deeds
Great men of the world are not of words but of deeds. As Charles Sanders Pierce says, "Beliefs are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits."   This does not mean that words are not necessary. Words are necessary and essential for everyone. But greatness is weighed only by considering how one's words go hand in hand with one's actions. Fr. Placid could do a lot to the church as a whole and Indian Church in particular. His field of activities never bound him to a particular section. He was fully to the universal church. He was a peritus ( expert) in the II Vatican Council, consulter to many bishops, professor of a number of great sons of the Church, member of the Pontifical Commission of the codification of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches, consulter to the Holy See etc. It is mainly because of his relentless work in Rome, Oriental Churches in India could extend their boundaries outside Kerala and in particular Syro-Malabar Church is raised to the status of a Major-Archie Episcopate, functionally equal to a patriarchate.

Man for a cause
In a flash back to the history of mankind, we see that only a few persons could live for a certain cause. They are the ones who are actually the makers of history. They are always single-minded. They never go for a compromise at the cost of the cause they stand for life. They are rebels in the eyes of people with vested interests and because of their propaganda, in the eyes of all who watch them from a distance. The acid test for such persons is the test of time itself. Billions and billions of people were born and lived in this world through centuries. But only a few are still remembered. These died-but-living personalities contributed much to the social, cultural and religious upliftment of the generations. One such luminary is Fr. Placid. He lived for a cause, a cause which many dare not to take up; a cause which was to the integral development of Oriental Churches. His mindset was sharp and transparent in this regard. Whatever hiccups he got, no matter how others treated, he was alone in the battlefield. He fought steadily and earnestly for the establishment of truth.

Part II

Being, not Having
One of the most famous existentialist philosophers of the 20th century, Gabriel Marcel, proposed the idea of "being and having." In his view, there are two basic attitudes in humankind. One is either a person of being or a person of having. Person of "having" mentality finds every other as an object. He always looks for the benefits he could receive from others. Achievement is the motivating factor for his life. On the other hand, a person of "being" is one who, shares, cares and gives oneself completely. He upholds the ideas of communion and fellowship. Fulfillment is the motivating factor in his life.

Taking into account, the life and principles of Fr. Placid, we can categorically affirm that he was a man of being. He was what he was. Or he was not what he had. His practice of religious life was never vertical to the horizontality of ideal religious life. In Fr. Placid we see the functionality of the ideas of Marcel. The philosophical mindset of Fr. Placid could overshadow the petty thoughts for life and fame. Fr. Placid's unassuming power of living a life of authenticity is a model to all in this age of increasing complexity. As time and space changes, truth can be repositioned. But ultimate and universal truth never moves a bit from it position. Fr. Placid lived quarter a century as a shining star in the holy city Rome, but nothing affected his life principles. He proved himself as someone of a rare breed.

Togetherness as the focal point of values
Togetherness is an important value. Fr. Placid emphasized 'togetherness' in every field of activity. Values grow only in the context of togetherness. Considering the special situation of India, it is necessary and must to have the feeling of togetherness. Ours is a pluralistic society.  Here, churches have a very special role to witness Christian life and faith in the field of their apostolic activities through mutual cooperation, dialogue and collaboration. Desolation of the identity and thus merging as one church or as one rite is not an intelligible idea for the churches in India. Because, as Buber puts it, "Only in the context of a strong 'I', 'We' grows and only in the context of a strong 'We', 'I' grows." By mutually sharing and caring every church can grow into its potential, a state every church is supposed to attain. Fr. Placid stressed the idea of 'togetherness' not exactly as the philosophers used, because his field of activities centered round the church. As a whole, we can see the idea of 'togetherness' beetling in the life and works of Fr.Placid.

Accepting the Other as a Person
A person becomes a person only in the context of another. We see in the person of Fr. Placid, this unassuming quality. He fought to wipe out the casteism and untouchability prevailed in the ecclesial circles. Whatever be the denomination, Latin or Syrian or Malankara, everybody has the same position, dignity right and mission as far as Catholic teachings are concerned. In other words, one is not superior to other in any respect. Catholic Church is a union of 22 individual churches of five different traditions. Latin Church is one among them only, which even today many do not know or pretend to be ignorant of.

Identity of Individuality
Principle of individuality is defined as "the idea that which uniquely identifies an individual." Natures' goal is man's individuality. In the case of Churches also this characteristic note is valid. In the ecclesiastical circles, the term individuality frequently occurs now in the discussion of personal identity and of the way in which an individual Church is to be identified in relation to others. Dun Scotus' theory of haecceity  is almost similar to Fr. Placid's idea of the identity and individuality of Churches. Haecceity means 'the formal property of a person or an object by virtue of which it is uniquely individuated as just this person or object.

Identity of Individual Churches

The concept of identity is a multiloquent one in this age of cross-cultural cooperations. Whether one has to preserve one's identity or to lose it depends on the type of personality trait one has developed. Every individual has an identity of his own. So also is the case of every community. Being unaware of one's identity is ridiculous in nature. Hence Fr. Placid, being an authentic personality, undoubtedly made use of the sense of identity.   In the dispute of identity of his mother church, he researched and brought into limelight the special notes that identify her. In this process, it is very evident that, his philosophical mind is revealed. For, the Latin proverb tells, Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet, which means 'no one can give what one does not have.' His concept of the identity of the church of St. Thomas Christians is clearly put in the article ' Hindu in Culture, Christian in Creed and Oriental in Worship' which is published in 1973.

View on individuality of churches
According to Fr. Placid, each Church is an ex-pression of faith by a community who shares and lives according to the evangelical counsels. Every Church is individual in itself. Because of their individual nature, they are free too. Throne of Peter is in the Latin Church. It does not mean that every other Church is subservient to it. Bishop of Rome, Pope, is first among equals only. Everyone has the right to be free, to be authentic and to be unique. In the Catholic Church, the order of values is not 'maximum control and minimum freedom' but, 'minimum control and maximum freedom.'   It is this concept that is stressed in II Vatican council. The council termed it as the principle of subsidiarity, which is in fact coined by Pope Pius XI. Church always proclaims freedom of the individuals. This freedom is valid not only for individuals but also for every Church, which is in communion with the Catholic Church. The term Church refers not only to the universal church but also to every individual community of the faithful.

Only in a close encounter between the churches, freedom can be satisfactorily experienced. Churches in India are facing this situation now. Today, church needs, not uniformity but unity; it needs not centralization but a centre. Fr. Placid reiterated the need for having more freedom and self-reliance for the Churches of every nation and continent to solve the problems, hassles and obligations. This is actually the practical side of the 'principle of subsidiarity.'


Fr. Placid was a profound and authentic authority regarding the ancient history of the Church of Kerala. Fr. Placid approached historical ventures with an objective examination and subjective evaluation. "Fr. Placid was a person who wrote historical treatises only after studying the true documents. Therefore it is befitting to say without the least exaggeration that whatever he wrote, were 'original.'" Usually, history is written by the winners. Hence all the histories, in one way or the other, contain biased materials to support the part of the winners. There are many persons who wrote the history of St. Thomas Christians of Kerala. Most of them are written either to support certain blocks or as a result of mere speculations. There are a few historical documents remaining in Kerala about the pre-Portuguese period. So, it is very difficult from the part of the writers to show justice to the historical writings. It needs an earnest mental disposition to take pains to conduct researches and to write. Hardly, we see these qualities among the historians. Fr. Placid was an exception to this natural phenomenon. He had the metal to be different. All his works bring forth originality and authenticity. From the very dawn of his historical excavations, he was loyal to the sources and that made him what he was. Frankly speaking, fidelity and faithfulness to the sources was seen in all his endeavours. "Fr. Placid is hailed as the historian of the Malabar Church. His researches and investigations into the stygian darkness of the past brought to limelight the pristine practices and traditions of our ancient Church."


"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Robert Frost

There are plenty of paths, which are already used by many. There are many other ways, which are liked by many. But, only a few could walk through the less traveled paths. This few are the extra-ordinaries among the ordinaries. They are the product of the time. They have been formed to open up virgin paths so that others can walk along them. Fr. Placid was one such a person. He was a person having a universal outlook and unique lifestyle.   He was a man of great vision; a man of insight and foresight. He lived ahead of his time. He was an exemplary religious. He never lost his identity even in the midst of the strong undercurrents, which resulted in the eradication of many. He never sacrificed principles for momentariness. He lived a church-oriented life, stemmed out of his God-orientation. Every form or genuine greatness is a reflection of the "all Holy." Hence, he had genuine greatness. He had no pretensions whatsoever and he stood for his ideals. He had the natural simplicity of a villager shone forth in his words and deeds, though he is counted among the megastars of the Church at that time. Even at the highest of his power and influence, he was courteous and very respectful to even the least.
The history of mankind, down through the centuries, reveals and affirms one fact; the persons who went through life with a precise goal, a definite idea, with one ambition, a motive force, always succeeded in their lives. Failures never daunt their virile spirit. Fr.Placid's definite goal spurred him on to great success. Difficulties and trials manifest genuine stuff, what one is! Suffering reveals one's true personality, the genus of courage, fidelity and heroism. Confucius, the wise from China, once said: "The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man be perfected without tears." Fr. Placid was exactly a very extraordinary stuff of person who marched alone along the path of opposites. At the same time, he was a prophet of coexistence, mutual sharing and caring.

Commemoration of Marthoma Sleeha

The number eight has symbolical significance in both Jewish and Christian spiritual  tradition.  It signifies more than completion and fullness; it signifies the Kingdom of God and the life of the world to come since seven is the number of earthly time.   The Sabbath, the seventh day, is the blessed day of rest in this world, the final day of the week.  The "first day of the week," the day "after Sabbath", stressed in all of the Gospels as the day of Christ's Resurrection (MK 16:1, Mt 28:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1, 19), is, therefore, also the eight day, "the day beyond the confines of this world, the day which stands for the life of the world to come, the day of the eternal rest of the Kingdom of God (see Hebrews 4).

The Sunday after Easter, called the New Sunday by the Marthoma Nazranis and St Thomas Sunday by the  Orthodox Christians all over the world, is the eighth day of the Easter celebration.  Being with this first Sunday after Easter, the Church dedicates every sunday of the year to the Lord's Resurrection.  Sunday is called the Lord's Day.  On New Sunday, the stress is on Marthoma Sleeha's vision of Iso' - Msiha and the significance of the day comes to us in the words of the Gospel:

Then He said to Thoma, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.  "Thoma answered Him, "My Lord and my God !" Iso' said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me ? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:27-29).

We have not seen Christ with our physical eyes nor touched His risen body with our physical hands, yet in the Holy Spirit we have seen and touched and tasted the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1-4), and so we believe.  The Gospel lesson for the New Sunday (John 20: 19-31) has a message within it.  Obviously the most famous theme is that of faith.

But there is another important message, which is often overlooked, and that is the teaching that our task as Christians is a missionary task.  We usually look to the feast of Pentecost as the time when the Apostles were given the  the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.  But here, while still in hiding in the upper-room, Christ comes to His disciples and says to them, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spiirit"  Christ here tells them to go out and preach the Resurrection just as Christ was sent by God the Father to man to preach the Word.

Looking deeper into this passage, we can learn that our Faith is a faith based and founded on missions.  From the very beginning Christians have been called to peach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.  It is unto all the world that Christ is Risen and it is unto the entire world that we are called to proclaim the Risen Lord.  This Gospel challenges us to not only greet our Christian friends and family members with the Easter Greetings, but to go out and greeet all the world and especially those who don't know, those wo don't care or believe !                                             J.T.

........And of his Kingdom, there will be no end...
Iso' -Msiha is the royal Son of David, of whom it was prophesied by the angel at his birth:  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most HIgh; and the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end (Lk 1:32-33).  Through his sufferings as the Christ, Iso' - Msiha achieved everlasting kingship and lordship over all creation.  He has become "Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords," sharing this title with God the Father Himself (Deut 10:17; Dan 2:47; rev 19:16).  As a man, Iso' is the King of the Kingdom of God.

Christ came for no other reason than to bring Dod's Kingdom to men.  His very first public words are exactly those of his forerunner, John the Baptist: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Mt 3:2, 4:17).

All through his life Iso' - Msiha spoke of the kingdom.  In the sermons such as the Sermon on the Mount and the many parables, he told of the everlasting kingdom.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven....
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...
He who does these commandments and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. But seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all things will be yours as well.  Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mt 5-7).

The mustard seed, the leaven, the pearl of great price, the lost coin, the treasure in the field, the fishing net, the wedding feast, the banquet, the house of the Father, the vineyard...all are signs of the kingdom which Iso' - Msiha has come to bring.  And on the night of His last supper with the disciples He tells the apostles openly:

You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Lk 22: 28-30).

Christ's kingdom is "not of this world" (Jn 18:31).  He say this to Pontius Pilate when being mocked as king, revealing in this humiliation His genuine divine kingship.  The Kingdom of God, which christ will rule, will come with power at the end of time when the Lord will fill all creation and will be truly "all, and in all" (Col 3:11).  The Church, which in popular Eastern doctrine is called the Kingdom of God on earth, has already mysteriously been given this experience.  In the Christ, Christ is already acknowledged, glorified, and served, as the only king and lord; and the Holy Spirit, whom the saints of the Church have identified with the Kingdom of God, is already given to the world in the Church with full graciousness and power.

The Kingdom of God, therefore, is a Divine Reality.  It is the reality of God's presence among men.  "For the Kingdom of God...means...peace and joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).  The Kingdom of God as a spiritual, divine reality is given to men by Christ in the Church.  It is celebrated and participated in the sacramental mysteries of the faith.  It will become the universal, final cosmic reality for the whole of cration at the end of the ages when Christ comes in glory to fill all things with Himself by the Holy Spirit, that God might be "all and in all" (1 Cor 15:28).