Connecting Faith and Life

Hambye and Perumalil: Christianity in India

This is a well written historical work edited by H. C. Perumalil and E. R. Hambye. The various chapters in the book are written by eminent Christian historians. This book was published on the occasion of nineteenth hundredth celebration of the death of St. Thomas., the apostle to India.The book is divided into twelve chapters each dealing with an era in the Indian Christian history. The approach is chronological in nature.

The first chapter discusses the origin of Christianity in India. This segment of the book is well scripted by A. M. Mundadan. As an authority in the field, Mundadan has presented the various traditions related to St. Thomas’ arrival in India. He gives convincing arguments for the possibility of St. Thomas apostolate in South India. As in most of the Indian Christian history books, very little is said about the era between first century A.D. and thirteenth century A.D. The reviewer wonders whether it is because of the lack of new research in this area or because of absolute dearth of resources. Thus, what we have in the second chapter is a scanty account of Medieval history. Chapters three and four discuss the coming of the Portuguese and the work of Padroado in India. The contributors J. Vicki and A. Meersman in this section have presented a detailed account of Latin missions. Moreover, instead of being merely narrative, they have been successful in providing an unbiased estimation of the work done by Padroado. Two eminent missionaries and their work have also been highlighted in this section, namely that of Francis Xavier and Robert De Nobili.

The fifth chapter traces the relationship that existed between the St. Thomas Christians and the Portuguese Padroado in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mundadan, yet again, vividly enraptures the forceful attempts of Roman catholic priests in absorbing the Syrian Christians into their fold. This chapter contains thrilling episodes of synod of Diamper and the Coonan cross revolt of 1654. The sixth and seventh chapters are the accounts of the Roman Catholic Latin missions under Propaganda. This section also depicts the differences in mission approaches between Padroado and Propaganda. Moreover, this segment also focusses on the conflicts that existed between the two in the eighteenth century. The eighth and ninth chapters are fairly long and they discuss in detail the developments that happened among the St. Thomas Syrian Christians of Kerala until 1970. There is also a detailed narration of the divisions that occurred both in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jacobite groups at various periods for varied reasons. The tenth chapter deals with the coming of Protestant missions in India. It has a good coverage of introductory notes on the work of Tranquebar mission and Serampore mission. Moreover, the contributor of this chapter has attempted to include the beginnings of various denominational mission stations in India.
The last two chapters have attempted to scan through the rapid growth of Protestant and Roman Catholic missions since the mid-nineteenth century. Under the Protestant section, mention is made to the rise of indigenous mission movements and church unions.

Like any other book, this book too has its merits and demerits. First, to their credit, the editors have attempted to produce a history of Christianity with an ecumenical perspective. This is worth appreciating. There is a high possibility to be one-sided and biased in producing Christian history like any other history. An ecumenical perspective would curtail much of this. Second, although the book has no innovations in the chronological arrangement of various eras, the chapters are well structured and the stories are easy to follow. In other words, the materials are arranged in a coherent manner. Third, the contributors are from some of the major denominations, writing about their respective traditions. This gives more credibility to their accounts. Moreover, one can find professional integrity in their treatment of the traditions. Fourth, an attempt is made in the book to give sufficient and updated information though with some limitations. To cover the Christian story in India from first century A.D. unto the 1970’s in a small book like this is indeed an immense attempt and this has to be commended. Nevertheless, the book has a few shortcomings as well. Much of the material is same as what is found in C. B. Firth. The book though makes an earnest attempt to produce a unified history of the Christian Church in India, it turns out to be a collection of separate denominational histories. The ecumenical aspect has not come out well as it would ought to. Perhaps, this might be because it has been written by separate authors. Although it is a good idea to have contributors from different denominations, care should be taken for an overall emphasis. Moreover, the common man’s life is not depicted in the book. It looks more like a mission history written from a missionary perspective. Nevertheless, overall, this is a good resource material for a basic introduction towards Indian church history.

Prakasam Publications, Alleppy, 1972. Pp 1-305.

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