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Home > Unfolding Consciousness > Spirituality & the Tamil Nation > Grace in Christianity and Hinduism
Bishop, Jaffna Diocese, Church of South India
excerpts from 'Grace - A Comparative Study of the Doctrine
in Christianity and Hinduism' 1964
|"...Even though in comparing the teachings of religions there
can be nothing like a neutral criterion, there has to be some criterion. I am
writing this book as a Christian minister; and since it is my belief that the
great watchwords of the Reformation, viz: Sola gratia and Sola fide,
best represent the position of St. Paul, the chief writer on the subject
in the New Testament, and therefore the true Christian position, I have
adopted them as my criterion...
There is an opinion in certain influential quarters, strongly held and widely disseminated, that if you want to study religions you should go not to their classical sources but to the persons who profess those religions at the present time...No doubt each person in his heart modifies the religion he professes, according to his individual experience, education, training and disposition. That, however, does not mean that we cannot find out anything about his religious beliefs. It simply means that in this matter we begin at the wrong end if we start with the individual. A person’s religious beliefs are seldom independent of the classical systems under whose influence he has lived, even when he has given up his faith in it. The basic ideas of the great systems seep down into the religious and intellectual heritage of communities. They have a habit of persistence and a gift of endurance. The great systems live on, not so much in the big books which are hardly read, as in the people who usually do not read them..."
The Human Predicament
Religion and the Human Predicament
Reasons for the Attitude in Religions
What is Grace?
Misgivings about Grace
Facing the Issue
.... There may be many who think that there are a large number of subjects of greater immediate interest than that of Grace; and that it is on them that books should be written. But to say that a subject is of immediate interest is not to say that it is a subject of importance; almost anything can become a subject of immediate interest. It is better, therefore, to let important matters become matters of immediate interest than unimportant matters; that is, to let matters of ultimate interest become also matters of immediate interest. And one method perhaps of helping to bring this about is to write a book on a subject of ultimate interest.
The subject of Grace was the chief concern of St. Paul, as it later was of St. Augustine. It was the subject round which the battle raged at the time of the Reformation and produced the greatest split that has ever occurred in the Christian Church. Obviously, therefore, it is not a subject whose study we can afford to neglect; but it is one which for a long time has certainly suffered serious neglect, anyway in the English- speaking world. One illustration of this may be found in the fact that probably the only English translation of St. Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings ever made was made as late as the seventies of the last century; and that it has been reprinted only once, and that quite recently.
A proved method of studying a subject is by comparison and contrast. But if such a method is to be adopted in this instance, it will not be enough to study the differences and agreements between Christian writers themselves. Christian writers write in the same atmosphere and context and go back to the same sources. It will be necessary to compare and contrast Christian teaching with the teaching on the subject in other great religions in the world.
The field of Comparative Religion used for long to hum with activity. During the greater part of this time other religions were compared with Christianity to their disadvantage; but during this century the trend changed materially. All this activity, however, came to a sudden stop when Hendrik Kraemer’s book The Christian Message in a non-Christian World came almost crashing into the field twenty-five years ago. The impression spread that with his immense authority Kraemer had pronounced the whole project of comparison utterly senseless. Yet all that Kraemer wanted to do was to draw attention to what Schleiermacher had insisted on much earlier:
that each religion was integrated round certain central doctrines and formed one essential whole; and that, therefore, ideas and doctrines should not be taken out of their context and compared to one another as independent entities, or be judged by neutral standards.
The fact that Kraemer himself wanted to compare the teaching on Grace in Christianity with that in Hinduism, and the fact that he has actually done many elaborate comparisons on other subjects, prove that he by no means considered comparisons between the teachings of various religions as illegitimate per se.
If the subject of Grace is to be studied by comparing Christian teaching with that in any other religion, no field will be more profitable for it than that in reference to Hinduism. It is, therefore, a pity that even at the time when comparative investigations used to flourish not much systematic study was done in the matter. Whatever attempts were made were fragmentary and consisted of remarks made during a general survey of the two religions. The one writer who attempted anything systematic along this line was the great German scholar, Rudolf Otto; but his book, India’s Religion of Grace, published in 1930 is extremely small for the purpose, deals chiefly with the school of Rämanuja and gives no adequate background for the reader to form his opinion. It may, therefore, be seen that this book has some justification.
Even though in comparing the teachings of religions there can be nothing like a neutral criterion, there has to be some criterion. I am writing this book as a Christian minister; and since it is my belief that the great watchwords of the Reformation, viz: Sola gratia and Sola fide, best represent the position of St. Paul, the chief writer on the subject in the New Testament, and therefore the true Christian position, I have adopted them as my criterion.
And since the Pauline standpoint is normative on the subject for the Christian Faith, I have thought it outside my scope to make a complete survey of all those who have taught on Grace on the Christian side; but I trust that what has been done is sufficiently representative. Therefore, while I have shown the difference between Augustine and Aquinas on the one hand and Luther on the other, I have thought it unnecessary to go further into the differences on the subject between Protestants and Roman Catholics. But Karl Barth and Fr. Hans Kung have recently agreed that if either represents his own side, the differences do not exist.
In regard to Hinduism, I have followed a different method. I have not merely tried to give the views of each school, but have also tried to set forth a historical picture of all Hinduism and put each school where it belongs in the picture. The reasons are as follows:
(a) There are many schools in Hinduism; and what may be called the Hindu Canon - the Upanishads - allows of such diversity of interpretation as practically to rule out a generally accepted standard. Therefore, the view of each school is entitled to consideration; and it is necessary to know not merely what it says, but why it say’s it.
(b) An English-speaking public may not know much of Hinduism; and, therefore, to treat of the doctrine apart from the history of the religion would have meant talking in the air.
(c) A Christian writing on Hinduism is exposed to the charge of prejudice or arbitrariness in the choice of his material. Therefore, it is best to lay bare the whole history of Hinduism and let the reader see the doctrine in its setting.
There is an opinion in certain influential quarters, strongly held and widely disseminated, that if you want to study religions you should go not to their classical sources but to the persons who profess those religions at the present time.
Evidently such a school of thought has existed now for some time, since we find Max Muller late in the last century trying to meet their arguments. “Religion”, he says, “becomes a ‘mysterious thing’, when it is sought for in the heart of each individual.”
No doubt each person in his heart modifies the religion he professes, according to his individual experience, education, training and disposition. That, however, does not mean that we cannot find out anything about his religious beliefs. It simply means that in this matter we begin at the wrong end if we start with the individual. A person’s religious beliefs are seldom independent of the classical systems under whose influence he has lived, even when he has given up his faith in it. The basic ideas of the great systems seep down into the religious and intellectual heritage of communities. They have a habit of persistence and a gift of endurance. The great systems live on, not so much in the big books which are hardly read, as in the people who usually do not read them.
This book consists of exposition and comment. Therefore, a citation of authorities for and against has been a constant necessity. It had to be made clear that I was dealing with real opinions held by authoritative persons and not merely with my own opinions.
Work on a book always begins long before it comes to be written. When such work in this instance definitely began I cannot now say. I delivered some addresses to the clergy both in my diocese and in that of Tinnevelly, South India, in the early fifties; but I cannot by any means say that they form the basis of this book. I did some serious reading on the subject when I was on a holiday in Bangalore in the latter part of 1953 and the early part of 1954.
This book took shape during the eight months I spent at the United Theological College, Bangalore, from May 1959 to January 1960. The first draft was almost finished when I left Bangalore but it was worked over a good deal in the light of subsequent reading, and a second draft completed and sent to various scholars in August 1960. The final draft was sent to London early in 1961.
An explanation may be necessary upon certain points in the book:
(i) I have cut down on the use of diacritical marks, since most of them will convey no meaning to those who do not know the original pronunciation. Where alternative methods of transliteration are allowed they have been used. The only diacritical marks I have retained are those over long vowels.
(2) For rendering the Upanishads into English I have drawn from various translations; for the Bhagavad Gita I have mostly drawn from Mrs. Annie Besant’s popular version.
(3) The version of the English Bible generally used is the American Revised Standard; but I have occasionally fallen back upon the more familiar English Revised.
...I have made it clear from what standpoint this book has been written. Whether others agree with the views expressed or not, I can assure them that I have made every effort to be always fair and, as far as I could, to ensure strict accuracy at every point. If I have tripped anywhere, it certainly has not been willingly. I thank God for the opportunity given me to write this; and trust He will make it useful.
The Human Predicament
Kierkegaard, the Danish thinker of the last century, has said that “despair” is something inherent in the human situation. One might say, he asserts:
There lives not one single man who after all is not to some extent in despair, in whose inmost parts there does not dwell a disquietude, a perturbation, a discord, an anxious dread of an unknown something. . . . It is not a rare exception that one is in despair; no, the rare, the very exception is that one is not in despair. (1)
The word “despair” is a Latin derivative, meaning separation from hope. The Roman Catholic Church has rightly called the act of deliberately separating oneself from hope one of the seven deadly sins. Any person committing that sin makes an intentional choice; but despair does not always involve such choice.
The despair that Kierkegaard speaks about is something natural to the condition of a human being. It surrounds him, besets him and presses upon him constantly. It is impossible to be human and yet avoid this state. One does not dispose of this despair by imagining that one does not have it, even as one does not dispose of a disease by imagining one does not have it. Tranquility itself, says Kierkegaard, may be a form of despair; and “the most attractive dwelling place is in the very heart of immediate happiness”; for fundamentally the despair that besets man is not despair over something but over himself. Nevertheless, the possibility of this despair or sickness, says Kierkegaard, is man’s advantage over the beast. Beasts do not suffer from any inner contradiction.
The contradiction in man is born of an encounter of the self that is with the self that is not; for man’s “existence is not only at variance with his ideal nature, but its polar opposite”. At every turn he feels his impotence. No human being has yet been born, who has said to himself,
“There is nothing wrong with me. I am what I should be. I lack nothing. I have all the courage, wisdom and power to live in this world.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great saints of modern times, after he had been taken for a hero, asks - all the time he was in a Nazi prison - which was his true self, the self which he knew or the self which his friends saw:
Or am I only what I myself know of myself,
Restless, and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
Since man must look at life from his own standpoint, the contradiction appears first in himself; but it does not stop there. A vision that is entirely limited to oneself is not far removed from blindness. It would not be vision. Therefore, the contradiction is seen not merely in oneself, but in life as well. Life is not what it ought to be.
It is possible to urge that all this is sheer morbidity, a kind of abnormality, a kind of dangerous introversion, an expression of what Matthew Arnold termed “Hebraism” in contrast to “Hellenism”. Arnold was protesting against the undue influence that he felt “Hebraism” had gained over the Western mind. Hebraism, he said, was concerned with conduct, obedience, conscience, self conquest; whereas Hellenism was concerned with spontaneity, charity, sweetness and beauty.
One must rub one’s eyes, he says, as one passes from Plato to Paul and ask whether man is indeed a gentle and simple being, showing traces of a noble and divine nature; or a chained and unhappy captive, labouring with groanings that cannot be uttered. Arnold gives the impression that the Greeks were not concerned with the heartbreak in things, the sin, and the sorrow, the frustrations, the failures that are a matter of everyday observance in life; what used to be called by the Romans the lacrimae rerum. When Gautama Buddha as a young man saw all these around him, he withdrew into a forest and to years of severe asceticism to contemplate its meaning and its solution. Arnold asks us to believe that the Greeks were not concerned with all the sombre questions that arise from the deeper levels of life, but were concerned only with correctness of thought, spontaneity of self expression and the “joy-giving expression of nature.
This view of ancient Greece, as the seat of a carefree people living in the enjoyment of a friendly nature and under the guidance of good-natured gods, has been seriously challenged as being at variance with what is known about Greek life, its ethics, its tragedies and its political history.(2) Etienne Gilson holds before us the grim scene in the Iliad, in which Hector and Achilles are engaged in mortal combat and Zeus takes up his sacred scales and, as Hector’s scale sinks in the hands of Zeus, Phoebus Apollo leaves him. Zeus himself, the father of the Gods, is powerless, controlled by something more powerful than himself. Paul Tillich, in his profound endeavour to understand Greek thought and life, also arrives at the conclusion that
“Greek Philosophy, like Greek tragedy, religion and mystery cult, is a struggle against fate”.
The characteristic of Greek thought was not, he says, its ignorance of or lack of concern with the problems of existence, but its effort to transcend them. If Greek thought betook itself to the realm of Pure Being, this could be understood only as the consequence of a dire need, the need to overcome fate and tragedy. Tillich describes how, after this brief conquest, the Greek mind succumbed again, how Fate became powerful once more and how astrological preoccupations and the fear of demons began to occupy the descendants of Plato.(3)
The kind of view of Greece represented by Matthew Arnold has rightly been. called a “popular” and “pinkish” view. It is difficult to believe that such a profoundly intellectual race as the Greeks were as light-hearted as Arnold would have us believe. No culture that ignores the deepest problems of life can ever flourish; for life may not be lived on such terms. In fact, there is only too much evidence in the history and literature of the world of the awareness of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that the mind suffers and “the sea of troubles” that ever besets human life on earth.
Religion and the Human Predicament
Now it may be asserted that the function of religion is to help men to reconcile and conquer this contradiction.
What am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry,
sang Tennyson. If this is a cry of despair, it is also a cry against despair. Nobody likes to live hugging despair to his heart. In this desire to overcome despair lies the birthplace of the religious instinct. Generally it is religion that gives man the belief that the contradiction in him is meant to be conquered and can be conquered, the hope that he will conquer it, the strength and the power to be able to do it, and the joy that comes in knowing that victory and not defeat is meant to be the outcome of life. Therefore, in spite of the wide divergences between religions, the religious instinct is a common factor.
Since the religious instinct may be looked upon as the cry of man out of his helplessness for help from outside, it may be assumed that it is largely a plea for an aid that cannot be repaid; whether it comes from the One and only One or from the Many. Since the aid needed is something without which man cannot resolve his difficulties, it must be something whose worth is not translatable into terms of human repayment. The well-known picture of G. F. Watts entitled “Hope” is meant to show the human predicament. It portrays a maiden, sitting upon the globe, holding a harp in her hands. Its strings had been her own tresses; but all tresses have snapped except one.(4) A copy of this picture has the following lines underneath it:
Borne through the cold and soundless deep
With ruin riding down the air,
She bows, too heavenly to weep,
Too human to despair;
And ever on her lonely string
Expects some music from above,
Some faint confirming whisper of Fatherhood and love.
The words may be said to express the human situation vis-ŕ-vis the problems posed by life; its helplessness, the failure of its dependence on its own resources, its need and longing for help from outside. When that help comes, one may expect it to be received in a state of humility and gratitude and wonder, and not as one side of a business transaction. One might expect an awareness of being in a realm where accounts are not squared easily. To see this is to realize the meaning of what in religious and theological language is called Grace.
Considering therefore the general function and significance of religion, it might be expected that religions would generally be religions of grace. Grace is unearned; given because it is needed. If man can earn his help, it may be said that he was never very much in need of it. He was always more or less master of the situation; it was the very helplessness of the human situation which necessitated help from outside. It may, therefore, be presumed that religions would generally teach of grace from the power or powers outside the human sphere.
Nevertheless, while religions do not and cannot get away from the stark reality of the infirmity of man, as he is, and while generally speaking they offer to teach a way out of that impasse, they usually imagine that it can be done in a business-like manner. It is a curious fact that most religions are based on the assumption that there should be no such thing as free and unmerited favour. It would seem that a good deal of religion is an effort to wipe out all need for a sense of obligation on the part of man for what he receives. It would seem that religion is oftentimes built as a bulwark to protect man against any claim that may be made upon him from outside. The necessity of a state of unending obligation on the part of man has little appeal to most people. Manu, the great law-giver of Hinduism, has said: “All dependence on others is painful. All self-dependence is happiness”. (5)
Reasons for the Attitude in Religions - Mysticism & Moralism
There are two main tendencies forming an important part of most religions but inimical to grace. These tendencies are: Mysticism and Moralism. If these tendencies had not been looked upon as an important part of religion, they certainly would not have had the influence they are known to have had. Something completely external to an organism would not find ready admission into it, and even after admission would always be regarded with suspicion. The danger of mysticism and moralism has lain precisely in their close affinity to religion. Mysticism, it has been said, is the practice of the presence of God. We are therefore on holy ground, the innermost shrine of religion. Hence the attraction of mysticism and hence its danger. Moralism is concerned with morals; and who can deny that religion has much to do with morals? A religion that does not make morals an important part of its teaching would be a mere metaphysic, if it were not a mere superstition. It would not merely command no allegiance, it would have no relevance to this world. It is the very importance of morals in religion that endows moralism with its danger.
What is the danger of mysticism? The danger is that it tends to reduce, if not eliminate, the difference between God and man. In proportion as the difference between God and man is reduced, the need for grace is also reduced. As against this, it might be urged that the whole purpose of redemptive religion is to reconcile man and to bring him nearer to God. But despite such reconciliation, however complete, there always should remain an unbridgeable gulf between Creator and creature. W. R. Inge lays down holiness as an essential qualification for the mystic. But in spite of all his holiness, a man should still be standing on this side of the gulf and echo the words of the prophet:
The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth;
before whom the angels cover their faces and cry “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts”. Between man and God there is, said St. Francis of Sales, “a great though secret affinity, an affinity that each knows, and that few understand, an affinity that cannot be denied but that cannot be fathomed”. But what kind of an affinity? It should be an affinity that is based on a difference and not on an identity. It should be the necessary affinity between the Creator and the creature. It is the misinterpretation of this affinity that makes mysticism a menace.
Mysticism may be in hand; but very often gets out of hand; and its general tendency is to corrode the need for grace wherever it gains control.
Mysticism has found its way unto all religions, even into religions where one least expects it, and has shown the same tendency. Theravada Buddhism, the Buddhism preached by Buddha, has no place for God. It does not admit Nature and it abolishes the human self, but it has a strong mystical element. There is a well-known story of a Buddhist who had been praying and who, when asked to whom and for what he was praying, replied that he prayed to no one and for nothing. He only failed to add that there was no one praying. Buddhism is not a religion in the sense that it teaches man’s relationship to a divine power. But it is a religion in the sense that it recognizes the impasse in which man finds himself and teaches a way out of it. It finds the way out by abolishing both what is and what ought to be. When there is nothing, there is no contradiction. It is the reductio ad absurdum of mysticism; but it is mysticism nevertheless.
Islam is a religion that lays a great stress on the transcendence of God. But the Sufis in Islam who follow the path of mysticism have tended to do what many mystics in other religions have done, that is, lose the sense of difference between the worshipper and the Creator. One of the earliest Sufis was put to death for crying out in an ecstasy “I am the truth, I am God”. According to the most dominant school in Hinduism, to say “There is a God” is to be at the lower stage of religion; to say “I am God” is to be at the higher stage. The case of Rămakrishna Paramiahamsa, the Hindu saint of the last century, is well known: how, in successive stages, he went through the experience of feeling that he was Krishna, Christ and Mohammed.
A study of the mystics will strongly incline one to agree with the verdict of William James that there is about their utterances an eternal unanimity. Rudolf Otto points out a number of differences between the Hindu mystic Sankara and the Christian mystic Eckhart. Yet Eckhart himself wanted to get beyond God (Deus) to the Godhead (Deitas); and Erigena, the ninth-century Christian mystic, could say Deus per excellentiam non inmerito Nihilum vocatur (God is called “Nothing” not because of His unworthiness, but because of His great worth); not realizing that nothing is the same, whether reached by ascent or descent. In the trackless region where men have sought intimacy with the Deus absconditus (the hidden God) there are no signposts and no standards; and, therefore, no distinction between anything and nothing or between success and disappointment; there one can always feel at home. Hence the fascination it has exercised over the religious mind.
It may be that in this region individual mystics may not have lost their grip on the awful difference that should always exist between the devotee and the Deity. Yet the whole tendency of mysticism is to behave as if the difference, if it does exist, is of no consequence at a certain level. The desire of mysticism to practise the presence of God is right. But the temptation of mysticism is, on the basis of this proximity, to claim a certain equality with God. To be in the presence of God is an expression of religion; but is it on such terms that one claims insolent familiarity, if not equality with Him, or such that one does not lift one’s head but cries “Be merciful to me, a sinner”?
Of the two main factors in religion that militate against a doctrine of Grace, if mysticism has an appeal to the religious mind, to the practically and socially-minded moralism has an equal appeal. It may be said that the attraction of mysticism is for the few; the attraction of moralism is for the many. The mystics are a class apart. Not everybody may have the qualification, the temperament or the opportunity for indulging in mysticism. A person is expected to have reached a state of “spiritual advancement” before he can become a mystic.
To enjoy the luxury of attaining a place in the world of mysticism he must have the ability to be detached from worldly interests and be possessed of a sufficient desire to leave the cares and problems of the world alone and forego the need to attend to his daily duties and earn his daily bread. To the ordinary man mysticism is far too unrelated to the world. He feels that he will cut a sorry figure, if he attempts to become a mystic; but moralism though allied to religion is something that is very much in the world. It has to do with our life, here, among our fellow beings. It therefore has a much wider appeal.
In a very patronizing essay in his book entitled St. Paul and Protestantism, Matthew Arnold contests the prediction of Renan that the influence of Paul would soon come to an end. The real reign of Paul is only beginning, says Arnold. Till the middle of the nineteenth century, according to Arnold, Paul had been much misunderstood and misinterpreted. His teaching had been overlaid with error and exaggeration. What was primary in Paul had become secondary and what was secondary had been made the gospel of Protestantism. Paul, he says, was concerned with righteousness; which, according to Arnold, means right moral conduct. Elsewhere he says that Paul used terms like “Grace”, “New birth” and “Justification” only in a fluid and passing way.
“The object of religion is conduct; and conduct is really, however men may overlay it with philosophical disquisitions, the simplest thing in the world.” “Trust in God is, in a deeply moved way of expression, the trust in the law of conduct.” Arnold would certainly not be accepted as speaking on behalf of any branch of the Christian Church; but he was voicing the inarticulate theology of many. In effect he says that the value possessed by religion is an instrumental value. Its function is to implement morality. Harnack, in his book What is Christianity?, says that the gospel amounts to the teaching of “higher righteousness” by Jesus.
Many others have accused the Christian Church of putting the stress in the wrong place; of proclaiming what is called “The Gospel”, when it should have been teaching ethics. If the stress of the Christian Church is in the wrong place, there is at least no doubt as to where it has placed the stress. If the teaching of the Church is wrong, there is at least no doubt as to what the teaching is. As to the accusation that the Church was misinterpreting Paul, it is not exactly a point on which Matthew Arnold’s authority is binding.
In the Gospels we often see Pharisaism at its worst. We often see its hypocrisy, its formalism, its concern with the minutiae of the law, its hardness, its intolerance and fanaticism. Pharisaism might have been concerned with unimportant regulations of the law like the tithing of mint and anise. But at its best it was concerned with the important regulations of the law. However, why were the Pharisees concerned with unimportant matters? For the simple reason that they considered them important. They formed part of the Pharisees’ conduct, their ethics. The danger of Pharisaism was the same at its best as at its worst. It was that it made conduct the basis of a sure claim on God. God is made a debtor. A God who is a debtor cannot be a God of grace. He cannot in fact be God at all. As against such a God, man has become self-sufficient, dependent on his own resources.
When St. Paul constantly inveighs against the doctrine of “works” and Luther inveighs against the attempt to cultivate holiness, they are not fighting against the half-heartedness, the formalism and insincerity that might have occasionally betrayed themselves in such religion. What they were fighting against was the whole-heartedness and sincerity that were usually behind it. Paul was not half-hearted in his Pharisaism, when he was a Pharisee. Neither Paul nor Luther was against this or that display of moralism. They were fighting against the basic principle of moralism; and the basic principle of moralism is that man through morality achieves his own salvation.
Some people have been astonished that moralism could flourish outside religion, that people without a religious faith are oftentimes more ethical in conduct than those with one. When the attention of Phillips Brooks, the American preacher, was drawn to this, he remarked “They have to be that, because they have no loving God to forgive them.” Moralism is in a more natural context outside religion than inside. When inside religion, it is not something that has any real need for God; outside religion it feels much freer, more dignified and logical. John Dewey thinks that since the use of the supernatural in religion is to provide sanctions for ideal values and since the validity of such values is now sufficiently well established in the human mind, there is no need to encumber ourselves with the supernatural. He is happy to note that some persons inside the religious fold frankly admit that they themselves do not require such an outside force to back up moral values, but retain it for the sake of the masses.(6)
It may be said that mysticism arises because of a low view of God, out of the idea that God is not a holy God before whom man stands in awe, but a God with whom man can be on easy terms. Such an idea is the reduction of God to mere Being (when it is not a reduction, in extreme cases, to nothingness). It may be said that moralism arises out of a high view of man. Man may be in an impasse due to ignorance or the exigencies of a finite existence and the consequent accidents of history; but the contradiction in which he finds himself is capable of easy remedy. Any talk about intrinsic human sinfulness is a libel on human nature. Both the views, however, are at bottom one. It is the view that there is little difference between God and man. This constituted the original sin of man, his attempt to make himself equal to God.
The attempt to give morality an autonomous status reached its first systematic formulation in the Western world among the Greeks. The gods of Homer were ceasing to be a factor in men’s lives. Surely, the Greeks began to say, there must be something more than these gods, devoid of their caprices, their wiles, their weaknesses and passions; It must be Being itself. In such a context the absoluteness of moral values took shape. Neither the gods, nor the God beyond the gods, Being, could be expected to be a validation of the good. Therefore, moral values should have an autonomous validity. The rise of moralism as a definite and systematic idea in such circumstances, though pathetic, is certainly intelligible. But the implications are dangerous in any religion which demands belief in a sovereign God, whose will is man’s delight and destiny.
In the East both mysticism and moralism arose in almost the same circumstances as in the West. What is called uttara mimamsa or the higher philosophy in Hinduism rose in reaction against what was called pürva mimamsa, or the earlier philosophy, which was an elaborate sacrificial code, concerned with regulating the right ritual towards the innumerable gods of ancient India. The higher philosophy or Vedtinta, based upon the Upanishads, began to identify the God behind these sacrifice- loving gods with Being itself; but a guarantee for moral values became necessary. So an inexorable law was postulated as operating. It was called the law of Karma (kri=to do). It operated with inevitability, without exception, as effect follows cause. Ages go by, but there is no hitch about the working of the machinery of Karma. “As among a thousand cows a calf finds its mother, so the deed previously done follows after the doer”, says the Mahăbharata.(7) So deeply ingrained did the unerring operation of this law become in ancient India, that the Buddha, who was willing to dismiss the existence of God as irrelevant, and that of individual personality as unreal, could yet build his whole philosophy and doctrine on this law. As it was not certain to him that God existed or mattered, something had to exist and matter; and that was the moral law. The one person in the universe who could exert himself was man. It mattered not if man did not really exist; what mattered was that he certainly could exert himself. This he was asked to do through the one reality known to exist, the moral law. The implications of mysticism and moralism being what they are, it will be admitted that they act as corrosives inside a religion that proclaims a doctrine of Grace.
However, other factors beside the above may also be considered as inimical to grace; particularly magic and sacrifices. They are an attempt to make the favour that comes from outside obligatory and create a certain desert or merit on the part of the receiver. Magic, however, is irrelevant to religion. To equate the sphere in which magic moves with the sphere in which religion moves will be a libel on religion. When religion does not deal with God, it deals with gods. These powers may not always come up to the standards we require of them; but they are often the highest and the best that their worshippers could conjure up. Where any particular god seems possessed of terrible and destructive powers, that god usually occupies a subordinate place in the pantheon. He is deliberately invested with such powers, because there had to be somebody even in the celestial hierarchy for doing things which the other gods would not have felt it proper on their part to undertake. Magic had no vogue in the world of the gods. It may be said that its influence was in the rival camp. People might have wanted power or health or wealth through magic; but they were certainly not negotiating for grace; nor negotiating with One who is considered the source of grace.
While magic dealt with the powers of darkness, sacrifices are often offered to the gods; nor are they offered to those in the pantheon who were in a position to cause trouble. They often form part of the routine of worship. Purva mimamsa, as it found expression in the books called the Brahmanas of ancient Hinduism, prescribed detailed and comprehensive codes for this purpose. Innumerable duties and obligations in regard to them were laid down and penalties for breaches attached. So it is in the book of Leviticus. But sacrificialism need not be considered apart from moralism. It is the expression of a certain type of moralism. It is the righteousness of that type of mind. It was ceremonial righteousness, that believes that questions of right and wrong lie in the right and wrong performance of sacrifices and ceremonies. Where it prevailed or still prevails, it prides itself in being a superior kind of righteousness, since it is concerned about dealings with God and not with men. It is, therefore, always found inside a religion; but its danger as in any other type of human righteousness lies in the fact that it tends to become the basis of Justification. It presumes that sacrifices when rightly performed leave no alternative with God. He is bound. He in fact has become unnecessary. As against such a God, man is self-sufficient and entirely dependent on his own resources.
What is Grace?
Augustine defined grace, when he said Gratia non est gratia nullo modo, si non est gratuita omni modo (Grace is not grace at all, if it is not gratuitous in every respect). Grace cannot depend on merit. The word used in the New Testament is charis. This word had originally meant joy. Thus when the one messenger who brought news of the Greek victory at Marathon came riding into Athens he cried: Rejoice, let us rejoice.
But already in classical times the word had begun to acquire the meaning of unmerited favour, and Aristotle defines it as “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor that the helper may get anything, but for the sake of the person who is helped”.(8) The writers of the New Testament, writing in Greek, had to use the words at their disposal; but in their hands many of these words acquired a Christian content. Certainly the word charis received at the hands of Paul the stamp it has ever borne since his time. The characteristic word used in Sanskrit literature is Prasada, which etymologically had the sense of “being clear” and then came to mean “being glad” or “favourable” and thus acquired the meaning with which it is now associated. The other words used with the same meaning in Indian religious literature are daya (from root meaning “grant”), kripa (from krip meaning “long for”), karuna (from the root word meaning “do”), anugraha (from the word meaning “uphold”).
The word used in Saiva Siddhanta is Arul (the original root being said to be associated with movement). Whatever be the etymology of these words they have come to denote the idea corresponding to grace in the West.
Grace is different from pity, as pity involves a certain amount of contempt on the part of the person showing it towards the person receiving it. Thus Nero is said to have disclaimed any attitude of pity towards the Greeks, when he presented them with self-government. (9)Pity is generally very casual. It is expressed in a certain circumstance. When the act of pity has been done, the benefactor cares no more about it. The giver is not behind the gift. He takes no real interest in the beneficiary.
Mercy, on the other hand, does not imply contempt; and has the same sense as grace, in its being shown without any basis of obligation. Thus when Napoleon asked a woman who appealed for mercy towards her son, who was under sentence of death, whether he had done anything to deserve it, she answered, “If he has, I would not ask for mercy.” “Then”, replied Napoleon, “he shall have it.” But while the quality of mercy may not be “strained” and may drop as the gentle dew from heaven, it is a quality we ascribe and appeal to in men also.
Grace is associated with God. We may ascribe graciousness to men; but we ascribe grace only to God. We say the Queen is Queen, Dei Gratia. Grace, said Aquinas, is aliquid a Deo acceptum (something received from God). It is favor Dei (favour of God). While, however, anything coming to us from God may be said to come by this grace, it is specially associated with and in theological discussion almost exclusively applied to His redemptive will towards man.
Of those religions in the world, which have a considerable following, Christianity and Hinduism are the religions where the teaching on grace plays a considerable part. It is my intention in the first two sections of this book to give a factual survey of the history of the doctrine in both religions. But facts without interpretation are meaningless. Any interpretation can be made only from one’s own point of view. But to interpret facts is one thing; to interfere with them or distort them is another thing. Interpretation also, of course, involves selection; but the selection must be made with absolute fairness. Any selection that involves either suppressio veri or suggestio falsi is not merely unfair, but an idle and entirely useless procedure, when one is engaged in a Comparative examination.
One would pronounce judgments on an imaginary picture that has no real existence. The writer’s own viewpoint is that expressed in the old watchwords of the Reformation, Sola gratia and Sola fide, each forming one side of the same idea. These watchwords are in my opinion the best expressions of the doctrine of Grace.
In the third section it is my intention to examine the Hindu conception in the light of the Christian conception. When a doctrine on the same subject is proclaimed in two religions that exist side by side, an encounter, a comparison and a mutual examination are inevitable. It may, therefore, be possible for me to think that I am doing a necessary task.
Misgivings about Grace
Though the doctrine has found a place in both religions it has certainly not been accepted without a protest. Rămănuja, the greatest exponent of Bkakti religion in Hinduism, quotes the opponents of his doctrine as saying that the idea that absolute subordination is the highest joy of the world is opposed to the understanding of the whole world. They held that since all sentient beings have independence as the highest object of desire, dependence is extremely painful.’(10) Sankara, who occupies high rank among all teachers of Hinduism and is by many regarded as the greatest and best of them all, allows a religion of grace only as a concession to popular need. He saw that people liked to offer worship. They liked to take their troubles to the gods. But he did not like to take this kind of thing to an intellectual plane. These things are good in their own place, at the emotional level, not any level higher - a point with which George Santayana would have agreed whole-heartedly.
But to Sankara grace and faith do not have roots in ultimate Reality. While Christianity, both in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, is committed to the doctrine of Grace, neither in the past nor in the present has the doctrine been always accepted with complete equanimity. In the fifth century, when it became an issue, it was bitterly fought in spite of authoritative pronouncements by Councils, Popes and Emperors, the authorities themselves showing an occasional tendency to trip.
What was called the Pelagian controversy dragged on long after the great opponents themselves had passed away from the scene of controversy. Nor has the Pelagian viewpoint passed out of the Christian Church altogether. It is not that Pelagius arguments left such a lasting impression upon Christian thought. Many espouse his viewpoint, who have never heard of his name. It is that Pelagius was expressing a fundamental instinct in man, which Ramănuja’s opponents expressed in India and which the Greeks had expressed in their own time; the instinct of self-dependence.
Immanuel Kant was speaking for many in his belief that he was making room for the Christian religion, when he published his Critique of Practical Reason: but the religion for which it was making room can scarcely be called the Christian religion. Kant sets forth the moral law as standing at the centre of human life, compulsive and inescapable, demanding obedience. God is a postulate assumed to give meaning to the situation and ensuring that happiness shall at the end crown obedience to this law. The religion for which the way has been cleared does not involve either grace on the part of God or faith on the part of man.
Protestantism came into being by its uncompromising emphasis on the So/a gratia, So/a fide interpretation of a doctrine always proclaimed by Christianity; but many calling themselves Protestant would be extremely unwilling to accept its implications. While there has always been a willingness to acknowledge Luther’s service in leading people out of the “bondage of Rome”, there has often been an unwillingness to acknowledge the life-and-death nature of the issue involved in his struggle. Modern preachers seldom refer to the subject. To many, the mention of the subject simply brings back memories of Calvin’s doctrine of double-predestination. Many others would regard an acknowledgment of God’s loving-kindness in Nature as a sufficient disposal of the subject. Unlike even Pelagius, they would scarcely pay the issue the compliment of ~hjnkiflg it important. To some the Incarnation as the illustration of God’s care for man is the complete expression of His grace.
Facing the Issue
There has been considerable reluctance to face the question of redemption, which is the central issue of the New Testament.
Harnack, as a Protestant, is happy about Paul and Augustine and Luther, since their teaching supplies the basis of Protestantism; but he shies away from the doctrine of Grace. “Who can fail to recognize”, he asks, “that the doctrines of objective redemption have been the occasion of grievous temptations in the history of the Church, and for whole generations have concealed the true meaning of religion?” Even a writer of such ripe wisdom as John Oman, recognizing that “no other controversy has so much life-blood in it” as the controversy on grace, yet speaks in favour of grace with considerable hesitation. He is afraid of the “temptation to seek an easier deliverance than victory over evil thoughts and evil habits, to hope to vanquish desire as easily and as pleasantly as one succumbed to it, to excuse ourselves, in short, from the moral struggle by which alone real character is formed”.(11)
Two fears seem always to overhang the thinking of many high-minded people in regard to the doctrine of Grace. First, that it is unethical, and secondly, that it violates human personality. Both fears express themselves constantly in controversies on the subject. Here it is enough to say about the first that the longing for grace arises from man’s deepest ethical impulse, in the longing to be at one with God, before whom he stands. And as for the depreciation of human personality, one may repeat an apt saying about one of the Reformers:
“If Calvin places God on the throne and man in the dust, it is only that men may be raised again to the dignity and privileges of the sons of God.” (12) Both fears arise from the attempt to consider the subject apart from God. It is the belief of Christianity that ethics has validity and human personality worth only in conscious reference to God; and it is only in such a context that the issue of grace has any meaning. That however is the context of all life.
However, many of the profound minds which have struggled with the issue in recent times have acknowledged the necessity and reality of grace: Forsyth, Mackintosh, Niebuhr and Tillich. “If evil has a demonic structure, its conquest can only come by divine structure, or the gestalt of Grace”, says Tillich (13) Even F. H. Bradley, by no means an exponent of Christianity but certainly a thinker of great penetration, could say of the doctrine of Justification by Faith: This doctrine, which Protestantism has made its own and sealed with its blood, is the very centre of Christianity; and where you have not this in one form or another, there Christianity is nothing but a name.(14) And of course the whole significance of the schools associated with Karl Barth and Emil Brunner lies in their effort to go back to this central doctrine of the Reformation.
It has been said that grace is fundamentally inconceivable. Many categories that religion operates with are intelligible: man’s infirmity and his efforts to set himself right, God’s justice, which preserves the moral order of the universe, His power and His omniscience, etc. In all such matters man may reason by analogy; and a good deal of religion is based on the argument by analogy. Even a recognition of the need for grace may be easy; but its possibility is ultimately something hard to understand or believe. We may define the character of grace; but that very definition makes its possibility difficult to understand. It makes it apparent that it is contra rationem et contra legem (against both reason and law). Speaking on the subject of deliberate sin, Socrates is recorded as having said, “God may forgive it. But Plato! Plato! I cannot understand how.” On the subject of grace it is natural that the attitude of many religiously minded persons should be the same: We cannot understand how. But we are not asked to understand grace; we are only asked to acknowledge it. We may argue on the basis of that acknowledgment.
(1) S. Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, Princeton University Press, p. 32.
(2) E. Gilson, God and Philosophy, Yale University Press, p. 12.
(3) P. Tillich, The Protestant Era, Nisbet & Co., London, p. 5.
(4) Of course in the picture there is a gleam of light in the distance.
(5) Manu IV, 160, quoted by Ramănuja, Vedarthasamgraha, p. 187, and Laws of Manu (E.T. in Sacred Books of the East, p. 154).
(6) J. Dewey, A Common Faith, Yale University Press, p. 44.
(7) Quoted in S. Cave, Redemption Hindu and Christian, Oxford University Press, p.181
(8) Rhetoric II. 7, quoted in J. Moffatt, Grace in the New Testament, p. 25.
(9) J. Moffatt, Grace in the New Testament, Hodder & Stoughton, London, p.118
(10) Vedtarthasamgraha, Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, p. 187.
(11) J.Oman, Grace and Personality, Cambridge University Press, p. 76.
(12) William Alexander, quoted in The Doctrine of Grace, ed. Whitley, S.C.M. Press, London, p. 228.
(13) P. Tillich, The Protestant Era, Nisbet & Co., London, xxxvi.
(14) F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies, p. 219; quoted in H. R. Mackintosh, The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, p. 124.