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Post Info TOPIC: From De Nobili to Clooney: The Christian Methods of Inculturation


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From De Nobili to Clooney: The Christian Methods of Inculturation

From De Nobili to Clooney: The Christian Methods of Inculturation

Posted November 14, 2005
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao
Presented during the 12th session of Tamilnadu History Congress
Mayiladuthurai, Tamilnadu, on 30th October to 2nd October 2005.


Inculturation, as propounded by the Vatican Council II Documents 1, is the plan of Christians being within the folds of culture, tradition and heritage of any people, posing as faithful devotees and declare the "hidden Christ" at right moment, so that they (dubbed as heathens, infidels, unbelievers) become "Christians". Till such time, they have to adapt and adopt their culture and related customs, practices and manners. They even build Temple-like Churches, use Hindu symbols and paraphernalia extensively and the Christian priests roam as Hindu Sanyasis and Sadhus 2. By the Vatican Directive Prot. N. 802/69 dated April 25, 1969, Twelve Points of Inculturation were permitted in India. So far, the "Inculturation" activities carried out by the Christian missionaries among the Saivites have been the topical discussed in selected for a and published in books also 3. Perhaps, for the first time, the authors have come across a Jesuit, who has been carrying out his activities among the Srivaishnavas for around 30 years. He is Professor FX. Clooney from Harvard University's Divinity department, following the steps of Roberto de Nobili 4.

It is well known as to how Roberto de Nobili, a Jesuit came from Italy claiming as a "Roma Brahmin", donned ochre robes, learned Indian languages, forged "Yasur Veda", was tried by the Eccelestical Court and finally died in Chennai itself without any news.

Roberto de Nobili as a Role Model: In 2000, after the Pope's condemnation of practice of Yoga and other Eastern Meditation methods by the Catholic priests and others, some Christians have also started criticizing the inculturation-programs 5. However, the ongoing activities by the inculturation and Inter-religious / Faith groups / programs clearly prove that they are pursued vigorously with the same old plans 6.

Though, Fr. Bede Griffiths has not openly recorded in his writings, Jesuits like Ignatitius Hrudhayam, Francis X. Clooney, Amaladas and others have revealed that they follow Roberto de Nobili as their role model. Thus, the succeeding Jesuits in India have taken his method of "Inculturation" as a "role model" overtly and covertly. The mushrooming Catholic Ashrams and increasing ochre rob clad Christian priests and preachers amply prove their game-plan.

Gullible Hindus Helping Inculturation: Invariably, Hindus directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly help the Christians involved in such "Inculturation" activities.

- They simply think that these Christians want to know Hinduism;

- They are happy that the white skinned foreigners too want to follow their religious practices;

- They appreciate that they follow sincerely, when their fellow Hindus do not do so.

Thus, they fall prey and help them in all aspects, even giving place in their own homes, treating them as their family members. As Sivadharma helped Roberto de Nobili, there have been many Vaishnavites, who have helped and still been helping Clooney. To quote himself in this regard 7 –

"Of my guides in India, a few come to the fore; Professor A. Thiruvengadanathan, with whom I read commentaries for the first time in the summer and fall of 1983; Professor M. A. Venkatakrishnan, who helped me obtain necessary texts and with whom I read during 1992-93;…………..Mr. M. V. Mohanarangan, a friend who graciously assisted me on where to go, whom to meet, which books to buy; in Mylapore, K. Ramadurai Bhattacharya of the Matava Perumal temple and Sri Satakopacharya of the Kesava Perumal temple, who welcomed me into daily life and great festivals at those temples; Sri Anaviar Srinivasan, a friend and guide to all things Vaishnava, who invited me to Alvartirunagari in January, 1993 and welcomed me into his home, so that I could share the winter festival in celebration of Tiruvaymoli and, for once, seem to stand almost inside tradition I was studying; Sri Kumaravati Ramanujacharya, who graciously allowed me to join his weekly circle of students in studyting the commentaries on Tiruvaiymozhi, and who helped me to understand both the meanings of the texts and what it means to live a life infused with their vitality; and most especially, Professor T. E. Sampath Kumaran, retired professor of philosophy from Vivekananda College, who generously shared with me endless amounts of his time, his insight, and his love of the songs – day after day- helping me to see the brilliance and depth of Nampillai's Itu, as well as what it is like to sit with a true acharya."

Thus, it is evident that he has learned everything from Hindus as a "Karna". However, his recent book 8, "Divine Mother, Blessed Mother" has made them awakened and storm is brewing among the involved faithful believers.



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"Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary": This is the subtitle of the recent book of Clooney mentioned above, which has been dissented, refuted and disapproved by the involved Vaishnavites. They have been totally dejected and dismayed, the way in which he collected the inner information from them and now using, rather misusing in different way. Under the guise of "Comparative Theology", he has tried to compare certain Hindu Goddesses with the Mary taking the following six works:

Title of the work
Author / Composer
Period / date

Sri Guna Ratna Kosa (Auspicious Treasury of the Jewels That Are Sri's Quality)

Parasara Pattar

12th century CE


Saundarya Lahiri (Wave of Beauty)

Attributed to Sankara

10th cent. or before.


Apirami Antati (Linked verses for Apirami – the Beautiful One)

Apirami Bhattar

18th cent.


Akathistos (Sing while Notseated)

Not mentioned

6th cent.


Stabat Mater


13th cent.


Mataracamman Antati [Antati verses in Honour of the Queen among women – the Goddess (of Mylapore)]


19th cent.


Here, the important differences are tabulated as follows:

Hindu tradition

Christian tradition

1. Godhead has been accepted both as Male and Female.

1. Godhead is always considered as Male.

2. "Mother / Female Goddess" concept is perceived, conceived and applied in all aspects.

2. "Mother / Female Goddess" concept is anathema to the "Father / Male God". Even, Mary is considered as only "Mother of God".

3. It is very common that God can be imagined with female and male characteristics – individually, separately and in combine also.

3. In Christian or Semitic theology, God cannot be imagined with female and as well as male characteristics.

4. Brahma-Saraswati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Siva-Parvati etc., have Male-Female representation with Father-Mother Status.

4. In attempted comparison, Male Jesus is placed with Female Mary, who are repeatedly mentioned as Son (the only Son) and Mother (the Virgin Mary).

5. The above Male-Female combinations have been very common since time immemorial in all forms and representations.

5. Holy Spirit-Mary, Joseph-Mary, etc., are unthinkable and forbidden making the researchers in dilemma. Of course, the pundits and experts of "Comparative Theology" tactfully avoid and explain away.

6. The Vedic scriptures have been dated to c. 5500 to 2500 BCE.

6. The Biblical scriptures are dated to first centuries of the Current / Common Era (CE).

Clooney's Claim of Understanding of Hindu Goddesses through Mother Mary : The following description has been faithfully taken from his recent work without changing crucial words.

- Hindus Goddesses have fascinated Clooney for many years since 1973.He has approached his counterpart-theology as a Christian, as a Roman Catholic and a Jesuit priest encountering the faith and cult of goddess tradition.

- He claims that he has himself translated and read the Hindu works of hymns quoted closely in light of their traditional commentaries.

- However, he admits that it is no small matter to recommend that Christian theologians take Hindu Goddesses seriously and study the goddess hymns with theological care, as Christian theology is rooted in biblical tradition deeply dedicated to the one true God and also, seems, to dismissal of the idea of goddess.

- He also confesses that although Christian tradition does include instances of reflection of God as mother, their implications are minimally developed.

- With all the prohibitions of Christian dogma, he notes that several books have helped him understand that the rich and unsettling possibilities of the cult of Mary, and to see how Mary, the one who helps Christians to understand Sri, Devi and Apirami.

- Here, he reveals his real intention to elevate Mary and degrade Hindu Goddesses.

- Realizing his theological attack now on their Goddesses, Vaishnavites condemn his prejudiced convictions, professional bias and unethical professional handling of "Comparative Theology" coupled with religious superiority, theological arrogance, holy imperialism, all definitely leading to fundamentalism and terrorism.

The traditional and modern Vaishnavite scholars have also surprised to note and doubt as to whether a mischievous religious fundamentalist and communalist had hidden under the veil of professorship, that too, coming from big Universities to make such comparison and representation. The inter-religious dialogue should be frank and mutual, giving equal respect to the respective beliefs dealt with. The "believers" with whom Clooney had such "dialogues" should have been informed about his motive, norms and standards. But, he did not so. He approached them as a researcher, posing as devout person to understand Hindu Goddesses, made close friendship with temple priests, entered temples and mutts, observed rituals and rites (liturgy), learned the nuances of Vaishnavite theology and finally tried to denigrate and disparage with his sophisticated language, professional bias and scholarly colonialism. He cannot have any standards to measure the divinity of Mother Goddesses, when he cannot accept to have any "Mother" equal to his "Mother Mary". He cannot coolly claim that Mary helped to understand Hindu Goddesses, when he has cheated genuine and honest believers, in fact, who have helped him. Thus, it is really, theological fraud, religious deceit and (un) faithful sham inflicted on Hindus under the guise of Inter-religious dialogue and inculturation, which will have serious consequences in Indian society.



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Historical Mother Goddess, Hindu Goddesses and Christian Mary: The Mother Goddess concept, worship and their archaeological evidences have been abundant in ancient civilizations, thousands of years before the advent of Christianity and elevation of Mary, though not as an independent Goddess, but as "Mother of God", as Jesus was the "Only Son of God". Scholars 9 have also pointed out the development of Virgin goddess myth from the Zodiac, the Black Virgin / Goddess, Ishtar, Isis, Mayadevi, Devaki and others. For example, the Black Virgin depicted in four scenes on the inner walls of the Temple of Luxor inscribed by King Amenhotep III is dated to 1538-1501 BCE. The cult of Virgin Mary, thus developed out of such images and in later times, was overlaid the cult of Jesus and its adoption led to the issue of Mother and Woman. However, Christian clergy have never wanted to place Mary above Jesus Christ. Of course, surprisingly, for Joseph, there is no place here. There is no such problem of Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth etc., in Indian context. Perhaps, that is why Pius IX decreed in 1854 that Mary was free from original sin "in the first instant of her conception". As pointed out Hindu Goddesses can exist independently or with their counterparts. Son-god is always placed below Mother-god in the divine pedestal, whereas, in Christianity, there has been a lot of theological controversy and dogmatic debate about such exigency. The name "Mary" is considered to have been derived from different myths 10 –

- Mirium, a name already existing among the Jews and Gentiles;

- Myrrha, mother of Adonis in Syrian cult;

- Maira, mother of Hermes in Greek mythology;

- Maia, daughter of atlas;

- Maya, mother of Buddha.

- Merris, the Egyptian princess who found the babe Moses.
- Meri, one of the daughters of Ramses II.

But, Sri, Devi or Apirami has no such confused mythical development. Their origin is traced back to Vedic and pre-Christian periods. Thus, they have clear independent concept, worship and religious incorporation. In fact, the male-female rivalry noticed in Puranas have been settled through Artha-narishwara concept (Male-Female Combined Godhead or to show that God is neither Male nor Female at higher / divine level and stressing gender equality a lower / human level). Why Clooney has not touched upon such concept is not known. Moreover, as he has taken three Hindu hymns depicting three different Hindu Goddesses, he could have taken three Christian Goddesses for comparison or better understanding.

Thus, if he could understand Hindu Goddesses through Mary, being "a scholar, professor and member of the academic community", ignoring other aspects, it is not known as to how his study could have been objective, reasonable and comparative so that he could "welcome his fellow scholars for their reactions", as he has offered in his Preface (Nearer the Goddess). As a scholar, he must have recorded the historical background of Mary also for understanding of Christian and Hindu Goddesses in his Comparative theology.

Conclusion: In view of the above discussion, it is evident that the Christian missionaries and Jesuits have not been honest enough to have fair, just and reasonable in having "dialogue" with Hindus. It is unfortunate that they simply discuss with Hindus as foreigners, strangers, "friends", professors and so on, but later record such acquaintances as full-fledged dialogues. A dialogue cannot be dialogue, if the persons with whom the person has dialogued do not know about such dialogue. Thus, in such a one-sided "dialogue", if the Christian priests, that too, being Jesuits indulge in unbecoming acts clearly with intention to hurt the religious feelings, it is evident that they have only religious motives and not research or scholarly pursuits.

If believers of Gods abuse Gods, seekers of Gods destroy Gods, faithful followers of one religion question the faith of others and, against all moral and ethical codes and Universal principles, conduct pseudo-spiritual and psychological-religious warfare against one religion, then these activities are not "inculturation" but "outculturation", as religion and culture are inseparable for Hindus.

"Theo centric and theocratic eclectics are dangerous as nuclear, chemical and other warheads. The concept of "My God is your God, but your Gods is No God" does not foster understanding, co-operation and goodwill." The concept should be changed to "Your God is my God and my God is your God" and accepted by all religions.(11)

This is the only way for humanity today. Super God Rivalry, religious superiority, racial / arrogant theology, theocratic world domination and neo-spiritual globalism cannot make "believers" live in peaceful existence. Therefore, the behaviour, attitude and psyche of the inter-religious theologists should change making "dialogue" a "dialogue" but not a secret "monologue" to undermine, disparage and denigrate other Gods, scriptures and religions. Historical facts, established parallels after borrowals and chronological developments and changes should be mentioned clearly. They should clearly spell out their purpose of dialogue and standards before initiating dialogues.

Notes and References

The authors, G. P. Srinivasan and K. V. Ramakrishna Rao have been studying this issue for the last 25 years. The latter has meetings and correspondence with Fr. Bede Griffiths, Ignatitius Hrudhayam, Swamy Kulandai Swamy (Fr. Victor J. F. Kulanday), Hans Staffner, Fr. Francis X. Clooney and others. There has been a lot of correspondence appeared in Indian Express (Madras edition), Catholic journals (Laity etc) during 1987-89 on this subject, later published in the form of books.

1. Vatican II Documents, St. Paul Publications, Bombay.
Report of the General Meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

2. Bede Griffiths, Return to the Centre , UK, 1986. See the website on him.

3. Christian priests and researchers have infiltrated many Saivite temples, mutts and religious places, collected valuable manuscripts and tried to interpret that Christianity is the reason for the development of Saiva religion and Saiva Siddhanta philosophy itself.

4. About the complete bio-data of Francis X. Clooney, see the website: (1 to 19 pages). 

For his complete activities see the following websites:

5. Sia Ram Goel, Catholic Ashrams – Sanyasins or Swindlers , Voice of India, New Delhi, 1988.

For Christian view, see the following:

Swami Kulandaisami (VictorJ. F. Kulandai), The Paganization of the Chuch in India, "Galilee", 6, Nimmo Road, San thome, Madras, 1988.

6. … History of Hindu-Christian Encounters , Voice of India, New Delhi, 1989 and other editions.

7. Francis X. Clooney, S.J, Seeing Through Texts – Doing Theology among the Srivaisnavas of South India , State University of New York Press, Preface, pp.xx-xxi, 1996.

8. … Divine Mother, Blessed Mother – Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin May , Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.

9. Edward Carpenter, Pagan and Christian Creeds , Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1920, pp.32-33.

John M. Robertson, Hindu Mythology and Christianity, Swati Publications, New Delhi, 1989.

C. F. Volney, The Ruins, or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature, Truth Seeker Co., New York, 1890.

10. John M. Robertson, opt.cit, pp.319-320.

11. Major T.Vedantam, "Christianity a political problem" pp 12.,1982.

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