for the Brahman to do. These books were not only forbidden to outsiders but also to all men not of the twice-born castes and to all women. Punishment for revealing them could be severe. We do not now know what specific texts were made available to Nobili, but he was the first European to have access to some of the Sanskrit texts at the heart of Hinduism. He was then fully equipped to enter into genuine discussions, both philosophic and religious, with Brahmans and others of high caste. He did slowly gain some converts from the higher castes. With the agreement of the Bishop of Cranganore, he allowed them to continue to wear the signs of their caste, to conform to its customs and to continue to take part in many, though not all, of their family and caste festivals. These Christians were deemed by other Indians not to have lost caste and thus remained part of Indian society.

Nobili then turned to the rest of southern Hindu society. He reached out to them, the majority of caste Indians, through the means of a new religious order of pandaraswami. These were Jesuits who accepted the life of a penitent seeking holiness, while conformingto the rules of a class of holy man who could relate to the rest of Hindu society, including, under certain severe restrictions, relating to outcastes. Again the converts they made were allowed to retain enough of the customs of their caste so as not to be seen as parangi.

The Portuguese authorities were unhappy about the specific rejection of Portugal by this movement, while missionaries from other orders saw the whole movement as one which betrayed the faith. Despite the fierce condemnation that the Jesuit policy produced, the matter was settled in favour of the Jesuits when Pope Gregory XV ruled in his Apostolic Constitution, the Romanae sedis antistes of 1623, that Nobili's procedures were acceptable. With this support, a genuine, if geographically limited, encounter of Christianity and Hinduism continued. By the time that Fr John Britto, the outstandingJesuit pandaraswami of the period, was martyred in 1693, the Hinduized Christian or Christianized Hindu community in the south Indian kingdoms of Mathurai, Thanjavur, Gingi, and Vellore amounted to between 1 and 2 per cent of the total population of the area.8 All, however, was about to change.

In the original defence of his position, Nobili had referred, not only to the support he believed he had in the theology ofthe Church Fathers, but also to the work going on in his own time in China, inspired by his fellow Jesuit, Matteo Ricci. By 1700, Ricci's policy of the enculturation of Christianity within the world of Confucianism had been under bitter attack in Rome for some time.9 Into that situation there arrived in Rome a formal letter of complaint from the French Capuchins of Pondicherry, the French post on the Coramandel coast of India, which raised thirty-six points against the practices of the churches

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment