Why Anthony de Mello matters to Indian Christianity
Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest who founded the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling in Pune. After working as a “retreat master and spiritual director” for Christian retreats, he published his book: Sadhana – A path to God with the caption: ‘Christian exercises in oriental form in 1978.
The book, while primarily aimed at Christian clergy, became immensely popular with all 80s seekers who cross religions.
Initially, given the constant attempts at appropriation and the strategies devised by the Church, the book may look suspiciously like another similar attempt. But that was not the case.
De Mello openly acknowledged the sources and their distinct spiritual greatness with gratitude. In the introduction to the book he writes:
Inside the book is this:
In his book The song of the bird (1984) de Mello wrote of the Dancing God:
Two years later, he will elaborate and make both Jesus and Judas movements complementary to this vast cosmic dance of the Divine.
… I see Jesus Christ and Judas,
I see victims and persecutors,
the killers and the crucified;
a melody with contrasting notes.
I think of people who don’t like me and attack me
and I see them and me as different,
yet not two,
engaged in a task,
a work of art.
Finally, I stand before the Lord.
I see him as the dancer
and all this maddening,
what we call life
like her dance. (Wellsprings: A Book of Spiritual ExercisesImage: Doubleday 1986, pp.152-3)
At the same time, he was clear about his religious identity. This is what he communicated to his readers unequivocally, especially when writing for readers of all religions and no religion.
The dedication he wrote for The song of the bird reveals her faith and dedication to the Church as her spiritual foster mother:
In his A moment of wisdom (1985) the Master he presented, is described as follows:
Two important aspects should be observed here:
First, the marginalization of historical centering that so characterizes and forms a significant basis of Christian theology.
Second, the placement of Jesus as no the only but one among the spiritual personalities of the world.
Both are very significant leaps.
In 1987, Anthony de Mello SJ suffered a heart attack and died.
His legacy lives on like a breeze. And then the Empire fought back.
On June 24, 1998, the day considered the birthday of John the Baptist, the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (CDF), formerly known as the “Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition” , posted a ‘notification’ – ‘Regarding the writings of Fr. Anthony De Mello SJ‘:
When a Catholic priest wants to publish a book concerning religion, the book must have the Imprimatur (‘Let it be printed‘) of the authority of the Catholic Church (Bishop or, in the case of the Jesuits, the Provincial of the Order or of the Congregation).
All nine of Anthony de Mello’s books were published after obtaining the Imprimatur. Yet the result of the “notification”, although not an official ban, was that Gujarat Sahitya Prakashthe Jesuit publishing house with the secular name, was prevented from printing new editions of the books and they ‘disappeared from the shelves of Catholic bookstores overnight until the controversy was resolved.’ Today, books are allowed to be published with the following rating:
The phenomenon of Anthony de Mello and the subsequent response of the Church show both the opportunities and the problems of Hindu-Christian encounter.
Mark Tully, the former BBC “South Asia” correspondent wrote in 1996 of an Indian Catholic priest:
The Indian Catholic Jesuit’s closeness to Krishna may be mainly due to the non-rigidity and accommodating space of theo-diversity that Hindu culture has cultivated through and around Sri Krishna.
The whole Anthony de Mello phenomenon can then be seen as exhibiting this characteristic – at varying levels of dormancy and manifestation, among Indian Christians. Although they may have been Christians for generations, the very fact that they are immersed in the inevitable Hindu ocean of theodiversity with all its colors of festivals and celebrations, rituals and art forms, has created a summary. A synthesis that the global Christian community can use: to adapt to the post-colonial world. A world where the cosmic visions unveiled by science demand a universal religion. A religion which is qualitatively different from a monopolistic expansionist faith and which should even include and recognize atheism as a spiritually valid way of life.
In India, the Church has tried to respond to this challenge by creating a story centered on history with ethnic overtones – a Dravidian St. Thomas; Christianity being corrupted by Aryan Brahmin Hinduism. Such pseudo-scientific and racist narratives are dangerous and can only generate more conflict.
On the other hand, recognizing the flourishing of many more Anthony de Mellos and not trying to restrict and control them, can benefit humanity as a whole beyond religious and Church boundaries. herself.