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)

Visit essay.ws writing service


Archives

                     THE NAZRANI        "The Truth will make you free"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol. 20, No. 5           New Delhi        Placid Special, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PLACID AND HIS ECCLESIOLOGICAL VISION

Prof. Emeritus Xavier Koodapuzha 

 

As his student, a close friend, and as one who maintained mutual sharing of views with Fr. Placid until his death at Chethipuzha on April 27, 1985, it is with deep conviction resulting from my personal experience that I write these lines on his ecclesial vision. Fr. Placid continues to be a source of great spiritual and theological inspiration to me. The profound love and loyalty to the Church, self-effacing service, religious discipline and asceticism, nobility of character, openness to truth and courage of conviction are some of the awe-inspiring and shining aspects of his great personality. Fr Placid played a unique prophetic role in the history of the Church of the St Thomas Christians of India. His contributions are multidimensional and lasting and have made great influence in the spiritual and ecclesial life of the St Thomas Christians.  

 

 In particular, the Syro-Malabar Church is profoundly indebted to Fr Placid who has rediscovered its unique identity and laid a solid foundation to build up its individuality. Through his various writings Fr. Placid has brought to the attention of the Christian world the unique importance of the Church of the St Thomas Christians which he qualified as “Indian in Culture, Christian in Religion and Oriental in Worship”. The fruits of his studies have laid a solid ecumenical foundation for the reconciliation of the Churches of the St Thomas tradition. The coming generations will continue to draw inspiration from this great ecclesiastical luminary who can rightly be called a great Father of the Church of the St Thomas Christians.

 

1. Role of the Oriental Churches within the Catholic Communion:

 

Fr. Placid firmly believed in the equality of the Churches in dignity, rights and obligations within the Catholic communion. He pointed out that the Eastern Catholic Churches would become real obstacles to catholicity and ecumenism if they deviate from their authentic identity and lose their venerable heritage by blindly imitating the Latin Church! As a typical example he pointed out the sad plight of the Churches of the St Thomas Christians of India which fell prey to the western colonialism. During the colonial period their liturgy was Latinized, spirituality became a carbon copy of the medieval Latin devotional practices, discipline was conformed to the western canonical system, theology shaped after the Latin scholasticism and its traditional administrative system was uprooted from the indigenous foundation. In short, the Church of the St Thomas Christians deteriorated into a carbon copy of the Latin Church.

 

A Latinized Oriental Catholic Church is a counter-witness to ecumenism. It will give the impression that communion with Rome will necessarily lead to the loss of ecclesial heritage and Romanization! Uniformity is against catholicity. It is in this historical context that Fr Placid dedicated himself to the cause of the Catholic Orientals and their venerable heritage. 

 

Unity in faith does not demand uniformity in theology. For example, Fr. Placid studied the Christology of the Persian Church. He pointed out the legitimate diversity of the Christology of the Persian Church which was different from that of the Roman Church. But it holds the same faith in Jesus Christ. 

 

2. Petrine Ministry at the service of unity and catholicity

 

Fr. Placid did not write a theological treatise on ecclesiology. He wrote on the important role of the Petrine ministry and the Roman Primacy. He has given a clear vision of the Church, which is truly apostolic, Catholic and universal and at the same time local and indigenous. Though Fr Placid had his theological formation during the pre-Vatican II period he had deep insights into the nature of the communion of the Churches and the role of the Petrine ministry. He was very obedient to the Petrine See and at the same time fully committed to his mother Church and its apostolic heritage. He stood for unity and catholicity.

Fr. Placid reflects on the unity and diversity of the Catholic Church within the Trinitarian dimension.

 

“God Triune must be the model for different rites and jurisdictions that exist in the same place. Each of the persons of the Trinity is distinct One from the other, but there is only One God. Since the persons have one and the same divinity or divine nature. Again, the distinction of these persons being kept intact, each Person is in each of these other two. The different rites in the same territory can in like manner be united among themselves” . (Rise and decline…p. 56).  

 

3. Identity and Heritage of the Church of the St Thomas Christians:

 

St Thomas Christians have developed a unique ecclesial identity maintaining hierarchical alliance with the neighbouring Church of Persia. According to Fr. Placid this was the natural outcome of the regional grouping of the Churches which took place both in the West and in the East. Liturgy with its apostolic roots was commonly shared by the neighbouring Churches. According to Placid the common sharing of the spiritual heritage of the Churches transcends the barriers of narrow-minded nationalism. At the same time, he showed that the Church in India was never any filial Church of the Persian Church. It enjoyed its autonomy in universal catholic communion.

 

“The reason is that the Indian Church of St Thomas Christians was neither an output, nor an integral part of the East while it has also a special constitution with the Church of the East from which it received its Metropolitans and bishops for a long time until it began to undergo Latinization” Placid J. Podipara, Mariology of the East, (OIRSI), Kottayam, 1980, p.7).

 

This hierarchical alliance did not imply any kind of surrender of   the individuality and identity of the Church of St Thomas Christians of India.

 

4. Jewish affinity of the Thomas Christians and the Syriac Heritage

 

The origin of Christianity in India is intimately associated with the Jewish colonises which existed in south western coast of India from 5th century B.C. Aramaic was the language of commerce. The Jewish presence as well as the wide use of the Aramaic language for commercial relations paved the way for the coming of the Apostle St Thomas and formation of the liturgical traditions in communion with the Church of the East.

 

“The probable ethnical relationship, therefore, between the Thomas Christians and Malabar and the Sumerians (Chaldeans) - not to speak of the other relations- may not be set aside while dealing with the afore-said Thomite spiritual relationship that existed between the  (Malabar) Church of the Thomas Christians and the Church of the Middle East mentioned above. Could not the Chaldean liturgy too be included in this spiritual relationship? At any rate, as we say, the Thomas Christians of Malabar connected this liturgy with St Thomas”. (Rise and Decline… p.9).

 

5.  On the loss of Oriental identity and clerical formation:

 

His book “Rise and Decline of the Indian Church…”   was written to analyse the nature of the alienation of the Syro-Malabar Church from its authentic Oriental traditions. He pointed out that the alienation took place through the defective Seminary formation, which followed exclusively the Latin pattern. After such a kind of seminary formation students are sent for specialization to the universities of the Latin Church.

 

“The clerical formation which was followed up exclusively by the foreign missionaries continued the same Latin pattern and set the scene to perpetuate the alien system”

The effect of the training and the studies mentioned above is deplorable. Many have developed a kind of “universal outlook” of their own, and condemn the ideal of particular rites and particular liturgies. As they whole they despise Oriental as antiquated and as of no value. Things Latin, though they do not know them sufficiently, are their ideal though in theory only”.

 

It is in this context he stood behind the erection of a separate seminary for the Syro-Malabar Church. The Vadavathoor Seminary and Paurastya Vidyapitham are its results. The attempt of the hierarchy to appoint a Belgian Jesuit as its rector was strongly objected by Fr. Placid.

 

6. Equality of rights and obligations of the Church:

 

Though the Church of the St Thomas Christians had spread into different parts of India and even outside, during the Latin rule the Church was restricted into a very narrow territory in central Kerala between the between the rivers Pampa in the south and Bharathapuzha in the north. Even within this limited territory parallel dioceses of the Latin Rite were also established.

 

Fr Placid who was Consultor of the Oriental Congregation and Cardinal Tisserant’s official secretary during his visit to Kerala in November –December 1953, had already brought to the attention of Rome the sad situation including the unjust territorial restrictions of the Oriental Churches in India. It is said that when Cardinal Tisserant was going from Changanacherry to Trivandrum he had to cross the ferry across the river Pampa. Fr. Placid wittingly told the Cardinal that the river Pampa is so deep to the Oriental Catholics that by crossing it they lose their ecclesial heritages!

 

7. Contribution to Vatican II:

 

During the Council discussions Archbishop Athaide OFM of Agra spoke that it would be dangerous to grant mission territories to the Syro-Malabar Church. Fr. Placid and some others urged our bishops to give an adequate reply. I was also present on the occasion. We got the necessary permission from the Council Secretariat. Who will prepare the paper which had to be submitted to the office in advance for getting the approval?  At this juncture Fr. Placid came forward and promised to prepare it. On the same evening he prepared a very scholarly paper refuting the arguments of Archbishop Athaide of Agra and proving the legitimate claim of the Oriental Churches of India to undertake missionary activities. The paper was presented in the Council by H. E. Mar Sebastian Vallopilly of Tellicherry. As the commentators have already pointed out the Nos 3 & 4 of the Decree on the Oriental Chruches granting equality of rights and obligations of the Oriental Chruches for evangelization and pastoral care can right be claimed a result of this scholarly paper of Fr. Placid.

 

8. Guidance of Fr. Placid to research Scholars:

 

The guidance of Fr Placid has been very useful to many including myself who were doing doctorial research in the various universities of Rome. The pioneering leadership of Fr Placid has held his students to go further. As his student this author remembers with gratitude the inspiration I received from him to go further and deeper into the ecclesiology of St Thomas Christians. The professors of the Roman universities used to acknowledge publicly the expertise of Fr Placid in the subjects related to the Church in India.

 

9. Conclusion

 

Fr. Placid was a historian, canonist, theologian, ecumenist and liturgist. Therefore, his studies project a more comprehensive vision of theology and the Church. Fr Placid brought to the attention of the Christian world how the fundamental rights the Oriental Churches were denied to the Catholic Oriental Churches in India

The ecclesial vision of Fr Placid is in quite harmony with the ecclesiology of Vatican II which was convened for the renewal, and reconciliation of the churches. This Council rediscovered this true nature of the Catholic Church as the communion of the Churches which are equal in dignity enjoying the same rights and the same obligations. The degradation of the Syro-Malabar Church into a hybrid form pained him. The inferiority complex and a kind of servile attitude of the Syro-Malabar leadership towards the Latin Church pained him. Some leading members of the Syro-Malabar leadership entertained the false impression that Latinization is the sign of catholicity and progress!  Such a misunderstanding was a real obstacle for the growth of the Syro-Malabar Church. This sad situation pained him much.

 

The contribution of Fr, Placid in rediscovering the true nature of the Indian religious culture is also equally important. He has proved that the roots of Indian culture are not confined to the present Indian political and territorial reality. They go far beyond extending to the neighbouring countries. He showed how the St Thomas Christians developed their ecclesial identity together with their form of worship in the wider Asian perspectives of the Indian culture.

 

 

Prof. Rev. Dr.  Xavier Koodapuzha

Mar Thoma Sleeha Dayara (Monastery)

Nallathanny, Murinjapuzha P. O., PIN 685 532

Tel. 0486 9 288 207.  e-mail: [email protected]