Christian Initiation in India: Actuality and Possibilities of Inculturation in the Syro-Malabar Church

George Paimpillil

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Actuality and Possibilities of Inculturation in the Syro-Malabar Church

    This study aims to explore the possibilities of inculturation in the Syro-Malabar Church in South-West India (Kerala) whose historical roots go back to the first centuries AD. Vatican II envisioned various possibilities of inculturation in the Church of today. The “Aggiornamento” (updating) proposed by Pope John XXIII gave an important stimulus to liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church all over the world and was a leap into the future. This updating was to be realized mainly through a genuine inculturation. Our present study examines how the concept of inculturation proclaimed by Sacrosanctum Concilium 37-40 is reflected in the liturgies of the Syro-Malabar Church today and to what degree the possibilities for change in the initiation rites of children have been realized. It is relevant here to show how the concept of “inculturation” was developed and understood by some of the leading Roman Catholic liturgical scholars who specialized in this subject, namely Anscar J. Chupungco, D.S. Amalorpavadass and Joseph Cardinal Parecattil, and to what degree their views about inculturation have been realized, or not realized, during the reform of infant baptism as it has been carried out in the last few decades.

    The objective of this historical and analytical study is to discover and analyze the elements of inculturation that have already been adopted by the Syro-Malabar Church and to suggest possibilities for further inculturation. Feeling “at home” in the liturgy is an essential condition for celebrating it meaningfully in a modern multi-cultural society. This is only possible when the message of the Good News of the Gospel is integrated in the cultural, spiritual and social heritage of the local community. It emerges from this study that inculturation was never properly realized in the Indian Church. Because of its connection with the East Syrian Church, until its drastic Latinization after the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, Syrian rather than Indian elements were predominant in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. The reforms of the initiation rites of the Syro-Malabar liturgy that took place after Vatican II, did not take into consideration the provisions given by Vatican II, and resulted in a pure Chaldeanization, a return to the East Syrian initiation rites as they had existed among the Syro-Malabar Christians before the Synod of Diamper 1599, which marked the beginning of their Latinization.

    This prompts the question whether one may imagine alternative solutions and to what extent further inculturation of the initiation rites of the Syro-Malabar Church, based on Vatican II, is desirable and possible? In search of an answer to this question, we made an extensive study of the Hindu saṃskāras: the basic Indian initiation rites in Hinduism, by means of which a Hindu becomes a full member of the socio-religious community. Initiation in different stages is the most characteristic feature of the initiation rites in India. Hinduism has over fourteen initiation rituals. Every important occurrence in a person’s life relates to a special initiation ritual. These rituals are fully Indian in nature and content. They reflect a holistic view of life, based on cosmic and eco-centric spirituality. In terms of inculturation, for the Syro-Malabar Church these saṃskāras may form the starting-point for developing authentic possibilities of inculturation of Syro-Malabar initiation rites, in line with the provisions given by Vatican II: fully Indian and fully Christian
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Tilburg University
    • Rouwhorst, G.A.M., Promotor
    Award date10 Apr 2018
    Place of PublicationBergambacht
    Print ISBNs9789490393649
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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