Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy

Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy

Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy (September 3 1891 - 1975) was an Indian Christian theologian, and bishop in the CSI.

Early Life and Family

Appasamy was born in Tamilnadu (South-India) on the 3rd of September of 1891. [ Gurukul Theological Research Group of the Tamilnad Christian Counsel. “A Christian theological approach to Hinduism: being studies in the theology of A.J. Appasamy, V. Chakkarai and P. Chenchiah”, 1-2.] His parents were Christians and his father had been converted from Shaivism to the Christian faith at the age of 24. Appasamy often writes on the influence of his family – and especially of his father – on him. [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 134-136.] The family belongs to the highest castes of Tamilnadu, to the Pillai caste. [ Wagner, H. “Erstgestalten einer einheimischen Theologie in Südindien – Ein Kapitel indischer Theologiegeschichte als kritischer Beitrag zur Definition von ‘einheimischer”, 11.]

After his conversion his father carried on, along with his study of Christianity, a careful study of Hinduism. In his 67th year a strange new passion began to consume him, the passion to see God. He had come into contact with a Hindu guru who taught him a method of meditation. He began to practice yoga regularly and seems to have passed through many mystical experiences. [ Gurukul Theological Research Group of the Tamilnad Christian Counsel. “A Christian theological approach to Hinduism: being studies in the theology of A.J. Appasamy, V. Chakkarai and P. Chenchiah”, 1.] He emphasised the value of the prayer of dhyana (contemplation) as a method of attaining truth. His son – A.J. Appasamy – is aware of the dangers as well as ‘the immense value’ of this view on prayer. He is convinced that this practice of yoga had made a profound, positive difference in his fathers life. [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 137-138, 141.]

tudy and Other Influences

After this, in 1915, he went abroad to continue his study. Appasamy studied philosophy and religion at Harvard and later at Oxford where he received a doctorate of Philosophy. During this study it became quite evident to Appasamy that ‘if the Christians in India are to make any impact upon national life, they must be well-educated men who are quite familiar with the literature of the country, though they may not follow the Hindu religion.’ This happened by a comparison with the role of Christians in Ancient Rome. [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 144.] The influence of ‘many great scholars and inspiring teachers’ such as Dr. J.N. Farquhar, Canon B.H. Streeter, Baron F. Von Hugel, Archbishop W. Temple, Prof. Heiler and Prof. R. Otto, led him to the conclusion ‘that we had a good deal to learn from the life and experience of the bhakti writers of India.’ [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 145, “The Christian Task in Independent India”, 95-96.] Another deep influence on his life, which began at this time, was that of Sadhu Sundar Singh, who visited Oxford in 1920. Appasamy came to know him well, and collaborated with B.H. Streeter in writing a book on him, The Sadhu. [ Boyd, R. “An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology”, 119; 132-133.] After returning to India in 1922 Appasamy became an editor of the Christian Literature Society. This enabled him to continue his studies, turning now to Sanskrit texts as well as Tamil. For this goal he turned to Sanskrit pandits to teach him to read those texts. He was particularly interested in ‘how Ramanuja had constructed into a theological system his deep personal experience of God.’ [Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 146. Boyd, R. “An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology”, 119.]

Ministry

From 1932 to 1936 Appasamy was teaching in Bishop’s College in Calcutta (Kolkata). There, he made extra study of the neo-Hindu movements in India, such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission. [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology”, in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D, 146.] After 1936 he worked several years in a village of seven hundred people at a night school for the education of the adults. [ Appasamy, A.J. “The Christian Task in Independent India”, 49; 108-109.] Appasamy was also concerned in the ICM conference in Tambaram in 1938. He associated himself to the ‘Rethinking Group’, of which P. Chenchiah and V. Chakkarai were the leaders. . [ Schouten, J.P. Jezus als goeroe – Het beeld van Jezus Christus onder hindoes en christenen in India, 108.] In 1946 he became archdeacon and served from 1951 till his retirement in 1959 the Church of South India (CSI) as bishop in Coimbatore Diocese. In his works Appasamy quite often mentions all kind of people: some as mere illustration, some to disagree with and some as examples to learn from. Here follows a list of some people he admirers: St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Ramanuja, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Manikkavacakar, St. Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Thomas à Kempis, Kabir, Luther, Tukaram, George Fox, John Wesley, John Henry Newman, H.A. Krishna Pillai, pandita Ramabai, M.K. Gandhi, C.F. Andrews, Albert Schweitzer, Sadhu Sundar Singh. Some people he often disagrees with are: Shankara, Eckhart, Suso, Chaitanya.Appasamy can be seen as a forerunner for interfaith dialogues and inter-religious co-operation. In this respect he influenced theologians such as P.D. Devanandan and M.M. Thomas. He also had many Hindu, Muslim and Sikh friends, himself. [ Francis, T.D. “A.J. Appasamy: An Advocate of Indigenous Christian Theology” in A.J. Appasamy, Christianity as bhakti marga – a study of the Johannine doctrine of love, xiv.] He passed away in 1975 and he is remembered as a witness of Christ in word and deed. [ Wagner, H. Erstgestalten einer einheimischen Theologie in Südindien – Ein Kapitel indischer Theologiegeschichte als kritischer Beitrag zur Definition von ‘einheimischer Theologie’, 106.]

Important Publications

In 1964 Appasamy mentioned in an article on his theological quest the most important books he had written thus far. [ Appasamy, A.J. “My Theological Quest – The Need for an Indian Theology” in The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A collection of his writings, Francis, T.D., ed., 147.] . In my short characterisation of his works I have followed his list and added the last two books to it.

*"Christianity as bhakti marga" (1928). This book is based on the thesis Appasamy wrote in 1922 for the Oxford University for a doctorate of Philosophy. The title of this thesis is: The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature especially in its relation to the Mysticism of the Fourth Gospel. Appasamy made further study of the subject and rewrote his thesis to ‘be of help to a wider circle of readers’. [ Appasamy, A.J. Christianity as bhakti marga – a study of the Johannine doctrine of love, vii.]
*"What is moksha?" (1931). This is the second and last part of the enlarged revision of his thesis. Also in this book Appasamy focuses on the Johannine doctrine of love and devotion with special reference to Hindu bhakti literature. With ‘the Johannine writings’, Appasamy refers to the Fourth Gospel and the letters of John. These two books also provided Appasamy with a firm basis to construct his theology of Christian bhakti, propounded in his further writings. [ Francis, T.D. “A.J. Appasamy: An Advocate of Indigenous Christian Theology” in A.J. Appasamy, Christianity as bhakti marga – a study of the Johannine doctrine of love, ix.]
*"Christ in the Indian Church" (1935). This book explains the Christian truth in a simple and popular form, calculated to be used for the instruction of young men and women entering, or growing up in, the Christian Church. [ Gurukul Theological Research Group of the Tamilnad Christian Counsel A Christian theological approach to Hinduism: being studies in the theology of A.J. Appasamy, V. Chakkarai and P. Chenchiah, 2.]
*"The Gospel and India’s heritage" (1942). This book was written at the request of the National Christian Council. Appasamy had a dual purpose with it: first, to present the Gospel story in a form which will appeal to Indian readers; secondly, to bring it into relationship with the best traditions of Indian religion. With this last remark Appasamy means obviously the Hindu bhakti heritage. [ Gurukul Theological Research Group of the Tamilnad Christian Counsel A Christian theological approach to Hinduism: being studies in the theology of A.J. Appasamy, V. Chakkarai and P. Chenchiah, 3.]
*"The Theology of Hindu Bhakti" (1970). In this book – which is mainly about the theology of the bhakti in the tradition of Ramanuja – Appasamy seeks to find out if there is anything in the bhakti movement that needs to be absorbed in the life and essence of world Christianity. [ Francis, T.D. “A.J. Appasamy: An Advocate of Indigenous Christian Theology” in A.J. Appasamy, Christianity as bhakti marga – a study of the Johannine doctrine of love, x.]
*"The Christian Bhakti of A.J. Appasamy – A Collection of his writings" (1992). This book was published by T.D. Francis for the Christian Literature Society. The collection of articles of Appasamy is grouped into four parts: part one on ‘inner life’, part two on ‘Christian theology: an Indian perspective’, part three on ‘Hinduism’ and part four on ‘Christ and Hinduism’.

References


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