MADATHILPARAMPIL MAMMEN THOMAS
Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas (Pennamma), MM's wife.
She passed away on 22 December 1969
in her 51st year due to cancer.
Madathilparampil Mammen Mammen
Printer, Publisher, Freedom Fighter
Father of M.M.Thomas
Mrs. Mariamma Mammen
Mother of M.M.Thomas
May 15: Born to Mr. M.M.Mammen (Printer, Freedom
and Mrs.Mariamma Mammen (Teacher);
Girls School (till 4th standard)
College, Trivandrum, Kerala
Medal for good conduct;
of BA in Chemistry with first class
At Christava Ashramam, Alappuzha
among street children, giving technical
Youth Christian Council of Action;
against the construction of the statue of
With Dr Kheytan at Bangalore,
with A.K. Thampi.
Active member of
Christian Council of Action.
at Christava Ashramam, Manganam,
with A.K. Thampi and E.V. Mathew
Life of M.M.Thomas
Madathilparampil, Kozhencheri, Kerala, India
St Thomas High School, Kozhencherry
1935-37: Teacher, Ashramam High School, Perumbavoor
education to make them self sufficient
Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Ayer
Reading and study
First term as General Secretary,
Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam
Secretary, World Student Christian Federation,
organising the World Christian Youth
at Oslo (August 1947);
in the making of the book on
and society published
connection with the WCC inaugural Assembly
December: Leadership Conference of WSCF
Candy, Sri Lanka
WSCF Vice Chairperson from Asia
also serving as its part-time Secretary
International Youth Christian Conference
Bharathathile Rashtreeya Chinthagathikal;
of Committee for Literature on Social
Reading and Study at Union Theological
1944-45: SCM activities; Editor of the Student Outlook
1945: Marriage with Ms. Elizabeth Thomas (Pennamma)
1949: Conference of Asian Church Leaders, Bangkok
WCC Central Committee at Luknow, India.
1954: WCC Assembly at Evanston
Associate Director, CISRS;
of its journal, Religion and Society
Secretary of the Committee on Social
by the East Asia Christian Conference;
the Asian journal, Church and Society
to Study Church and Society, WCC
Chairperson, Third World Conference towards the
of a Christian Social Ethics, Geneva.
Visiting Professor, Union Theological Seminary,
Chairperson, WCC Central Committee
in the Uppsala Assembly of WCC in 1968,
till the Nairobi Assembly in 1975);
Guardian Weekly, Madras
Pennamma (MM’s wife) passes away due to cancer
her 51st year.
Activism and writing against the Emergency
1961: WCC Assembly, New Delhi
1962-76: CISRS Director
1972-73: William Patton Fellow, Selly Oak College
Chairperson, Kerala People’s Union for Civil
Writing and publishing of Bible reflections
interpretations in Malayalam for
Visiting professorship at Bochum University,
Seminary, USA (1980, 1982-88),
Dover Newton, Boston (1981),
Methodist University (1989)
Governor of Nagaland
K.C. Varughese: MM Thomas: Mathathmaka Chinthakalile Darshanika
Tiruvalla: CSS, 1996)
World Council of Churches,
Institute of Study of Religion and Society
Christian Literature Society (CLS), Tiruvalla.
1996 December 3: Death
Mammen Thomas Family
Arun,Thampy, Ajit, Ammu, Anila
Syamala John Family
John, Sunil, Syama, Tina
Kurien Thomas Family
Rohan, Pushpa, Kurien, Roshen
Manjadi P.O., Tiruvalla - 5,
Pathanamthitta District, Kerala.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
22 August to 4 September, 1948
Man's Disorder and God's Design
was on the 23rd of August 1948, in Amsterdam, that the World Council of Churches
officially founded. 147 churches from different confessions and many countries came
the assembly in Amsterdam, four sections were organized to examine aspects of the
"Man's Disorder and God's Design":
• the universal church in God's design
• the church's witness to God's design
• the church and the disorder of society
• the church and the international disorder.
First assembly, Amsterdam 1948
together to commit themselves to the ecumenical movement.
Evanston, Illinois, USA
15-31 August, 1954
Christ - the Hope of the World
only WCC assembly to date held in the United States, it
some degree reflected - and certainly reflected on - the
tensions of the cold war. The Assembly divided
work into six sections:
Our oneness in Christ and our disunity as churches
The mission of the church to those outside her life
The responsible society in a world perspective
Christians in the struggle for world community
The churches amid racial and ethnic tension
The laity: the Christian in his vocation.
New Delhi, India
19 November to 5 December, 1961
Jesus Christ - the Light of the World
remembered for the incorporation of the International
Council into the WCC, and the admission of 23
member churches, including significant sectors of
Orthodoxy and churches from newly independent
the Assembly focused on the theme "Jesus Christ -
Light of the World" with three sections on witness ,
Second assembly, Evanston 1954
Third assembly, New Delhi 1961
service and unity .
Behold, I make all things new
assembly at Uppsala bore further testimony to the
membership of the Council, as well as the
breezes of Vatican II that brought Catholic
to participate in the meeting and discuss
opportunities for cooperation. Sections were
under the headings:
• The Holy Spirit and the catholicity of the church
• Renewal in mission
• World economic and social development
• Towards justice and peace in international affairs
23 November to 10 December, 1975
Jesus Christ Frees and Unites
Christ frees and unites" the delegates sang in the midst of Nairobi's life: people
around the earth, standing before God in their captivities and disunities and naming
assembly section titles echo concerns of that turbulent decade:
• Confessing Christ today
• What unity requires
• Seeking community
• Education for liberation and
• Structures of injustice and
• struggles for liberation
• Human development
Fourth assembly, Uppsala 1968
Dates: 4-20 July, 1968
Place: Uppsala, Sweden
• Towards new styles of living.
Fifth assembly, Nairobi 1975
M. Thomas (left),director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society in Bangalore,
and Rev. T. C. Thomas, Principal of Mar Thoma College, Kerala, India, are delegates to the fourth
M.M.Thomas Speaking in the Podium WCC
Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Uppsala, Sweden, 1968
Central committee moderator M.M. Thomas
M. Thomas of Bangalore, India,
of the WCC Central Committee,
an honorary member of the
Indian Tribe of Oklahoma
he was presented with the tribe's
the Rev. Thomas Roughface (right),
Methodist district superintendent.
Mr Roughface it was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition. "I've always wanted to meet
told Mr Thomas.
Thomas was christened
Executive Committee Meeting, Tulsa, January 1969.
Juvenaly of Zaraisk;
Eugene C. Blake,
at the American Museum of Natural History);
M. M. Thomas,
of the Christian Institute for religion and society(;
in the National Assembly of Madagascar
mayor of Tananarive).
Left to right:
World Conference on Church and Society, Geneva, July 1966
Hall at Raj Bhavan, Kohima
Baptist Church of Kohima
Ceremonial Procession During Nazo Festival By Nagaland Tribes
and the associated fertility cults were the sources of inspiration for all aspects of Naga culture
religion, folklore, the arts. Thus, skulls were generally exhibited at what was considered the village's most
place, e.g. inside the morung, the chief's house, the log-drum house, at the fertility pole or at the
Funeral of Dr MM Thomas
Bishop Dr. Paulose Mar Paulose and priests
leading the prayer at maliackel
The last journey starts
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
The Procession through the Tiruvalla Town
The State Salute to an ex-governor, thinker, theologian and activist
A Diaconal Approach to Indian Ecclesiology
Salvation and Humanisation: Some Crucial Issues of the Theology of Mission in
M. M. Thomas
1916 - 1996
Dr. M.M.Thomas was one of the foremost Christian leaders of the nineteenth century.He
was Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and Governor
of Nagaland. An ecumenical theologian of repute, he wrote more than sixty books on
Theology and Mission, including 24 theological commentaries on the books of the bible in
Malayalam (the official language of the Indian state of Kerala).
Books authored or edited by Thomas, M. M.
• New Creation in Christ: Twelve Selected Sermons Given on Various Occasions
Ideological Quest Within Christian Commitment (1939-1954)
My Ecumenical Journey, 1947-1975
The Realization of the Cross: Fifty Thoughts and Prayers Centred on the Cross
The Church's Mission and Post-Modern Humanism: A Collection of Essays and
The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance
Towards an Evangelical Social Gospel: A New Look at the Reformation of
Response to Tyranny: Writings Between July 1975 and February 1977
Risking Christ for Christ's Sake: Towards an Ecumenical Theology of Pluralism
The Nagas Towards A. D. 2000
The Gospel of Forgiveness and Koinonia: Twenty-Five Selected
including Some to Academic Communities and Some
Recalling Ecumenical Beginnings
The First-Born of All Creation: Letter to the Colossians, Philemon
In the Beginning God: Genesis 1-12:4
God the Liberator: Exodus
Christian participation in nation-building
Christian Council of India and Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and
Towards an Indian Christian theology Christava Sahitya Samithi, 1998
Comrade Koshy YMCA Publishing House, 1953
The secular ideologies of India and the secular meaning of Christ
for The Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society by The
Literature Society, Madras, 1976
Church and human community ISPCK, 1985
New Creation in Christ: Twelve Selected Sermons Given on Various Occasions
The Church's Mission and Post-Modern Humanism: A Collection of Essays and
The Gospel of Forgiveness and Koinonia: Twenty-Five Selected
including Some to Academic Communities and Some
Recalling Ecumenical Beginnings
The Indian Churches Of Saint Thomas by Late Mathew C.P and Late Thomas.
Confronting Life : Theology Out of the Context by I.S.P.C.K. (Organization), M.M.
M. P. Joseph
Some theological dialogues Published for the Christian Institute for the Study of
& Society, Bangalore, by the Christian Literature Society, 1977
Man and the universe of faiths for the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion
Society, Bangalore, by the Christian Literature Society, 1975
Renascent Religions and Secularism in India The Princeton Seminary Bulletin
A Spirituality for Combat The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 5:2 (1984)
The Core of the Gospel and the Whole Gospel The Princeton Seminary Bulletin
M. Thomas Reader: Selected Texts on Theology, Religion and Society by (ed.)
Outlook in India Today: A Pre-election Study by (ed. and contributor) Thomas, M.
and Chandran, J. Russell
Changing Pattern of Family in India (Enlarged and Revised Edition) by (ed.) Thomas,
M. and Devanandan, P. D.
Religion and Society: Essays in Honour of Richard W. Taylor by (ed.) Chatterji,
K. and Mabry, Hunter P.
Prospects in India: A Post Election Enquiry by (ed. and contributor) Chatterji,
in Indian Christian Theology Volume 1 by (ed.) Hargreaves, Cecil and
Books with a contribution by Thomas, M. M.
The Asian leaders conference 1949
India's Quest for Democracy by (ed. and contributor) Devanandan, P. D.
Religious Freedom by (ed.) Thomas, M. M. and Chandran, J. Russell
Cultural Foundations of Indian Democracy by (ed.) Thomas, M. M. & Devanandan, P. D.
Christianity by (compiler) Rao, K. L. Seshagiri
Prejudice: Issues in Third World Theologies by (ed.) Nehring, Andreas
The Christian Teacher by (ed. and contributor) Thangasamy, D. A.
Christian Contribution to Indian Philosophy by (ed. and contributor) Amaladass, Anand
and Society Vol. 26 No. 1, March 1979: The Praxis of Inter-Faith Dialogue by
Chatterji, Saral K.
Expressions of Christian Commitment: A Reader in Asian Theology by (ed. and
Francis, T. Dayanandan and Balasundaram, Franklyn J.
Issues in the Struggles for Justice: Quest for Pluriform Communities (Essays in
of K. C. Abraham) by (ed.) Chetti, Daniel
Love Community: Festschrift in Honour of Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios
(ed. and contributor) George, K. M.
State and Communalism: A Post-Ayodhya Reflection by (ed.) John, J. and
Boundaries: Perspectives on Faith, Social Action and Solidarity, a
in Honour of Bishop A. George Ninan by (ed. and contributor) Sail, Rajendra
Witness: Dr. K. Rajaratnam's Platinum Birth Anniversary Commemoration
1 by (ed. and contributor) Kumari, Prasanna
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
Rural Work in the Seventies - YMCA's Vision by (ed.) Sundarsingh, John D. K.
The Bible in Today's Context by (ed. and contributor) David, S. Immanuel
Bread and Breath: Essays in Honour of Samuel Rayan, S.J. by John, T. K.
The Future of the Church in India by (ed.) Gnanadason, Aruna
The Community We Seek: Perspectives on Mission
Renewal for Mission by (ed. and contributor) Lyon, David and Manuel, A. D.
Orthodox Identity in India: Essays in Honour of V. C. Samuel by (ed.) Kuriakose, M. K.
Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader by Mabry, Hunter P.
K. and Muricken, Ajit
Bread and Breath: Essays in Honour of Samuel Rayan, S.J. by John, T. K.
Tribal awakening Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1965
a Re-Reading of M.M. Thomas
Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, Bangalore, G. Shiri
Introduction to Indian Christian Theology
Boyd, Robin H. S. Christianity by (compiler) Rao, K. L. Seshagiri
M. Thomas: The Man and His Legacy
(ed.) Athyal, Jesudas M.
Mohan, Interpreting Society: A Study of the Political Theology of M. M. Thomas
Its Implications for Mission
Word Became Flesh: A Christological Paradigm for Doing Theology in India
Kuruvila, K. P.
M. Thomas Reader: Selected Texts on Theology, Religion and Society
(ed.) Thomas, Jacob T.
and Religion: Essays in Honour of M. M. Thomas
the Twentyfirst Century: Essays in Honour of Dr. M. M. Thomas
(ed.) Robinson, Gnana
Stanley “Theology of Mission in Indian Context; A Study of Madathilaparamil
Thomas”, Doctoral Thesis submitted to Eberhard Karls University, Tubingen,
T Wolters, Theology of prophetic participation : M.M. Thomas' concept of salvation
the collective struggle for fuller humanity in India.
Christus im neuen Indien Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989
Christians in the technical and social revolutions of our time : World Conference on
Church and Society, Geneva, July 12-26, 1966 : the official report with a description of
the Conference / by M.M. Thomas and Paul Albrecht
BOOKS ON MM
Paths of Indian Theology by Mundadan, A. M.
: Published for the United Theological College by the Indian Society for Promoting
M Philip , The encounter between theology and ideology : an exploration into the
theology of M.M. Thomas
for the Newday Publications of India by the Christian Literature Society ;
S. India Distributed by C.L.S. Bookshop, 1986.
Philip, Beyond humanisation : a Trinitarian search on mission
: Dharma Jyothi Vidya Peeth ; Tiruvalla : Christava Sahitya Samithy, 2004
Jacob Thomas, Ethics of a world community : contributions of Dr. M.M. Thomas based
K.C, Christian Witness in Society.
Tribute to Dr M.M. Thomas (1916-1996). 1998,
Thomas, Ethics of a World Community - Contributions of Dr. M.M. Thomas Based
in the Cultural Context: An Exploration of Dr. M.M. Thomas' Theology of Religions
Abraham Stephen BANGALORE THEOLOGICAL FORUM XXXV December 2004
Devanandan, M.M. Thomas and the task of indigenous theology, Morton. S,
Univ. (United Kingdom) 1981
United Kingdom, Humanities, psychology and social
Bird, “M.M. Thomas: Theological Signposts for the Emergence of Dalit Theology”
Thesis submitted to University of Edinburgh, February, 2008
Calcutta : Punthi Pustak, 1993
journey has taken me through a critique of "missions" in the narrow sense to the more inclusive
of the "mission" of the church in the modern world. Perhaps I can share this best by
My Pilgrimage in Mission
M. M. Thomas
M. M. Thomas is a lay theologian of the Mar Thoma Church in India, and the authorof many theologicalstudiesin both English and
Malayalam. He is widely known as an ecumenical statesman of the church, both in India and in the World Council of Churches, where he
has served as chairman of the Central Committee.
concentrating on some important turning points in my spiritual-theological pilgrimage
was through an evangelical spiritual experience as a first-year college student in Trivandrum in
that Jesus Christ became real to me as the bearer of divine forgiveness and gave my life,
to adolescent urges, a principle of integration and a sense of direction. It led me to take
three Christian youth fellowships then active among students:
an informal fellowship group helping students to find new life in Christ,
the Youth Union, which was part of the Mar Thoma Church congregation, and
the parish Youth Union I became devoted to the church; and besides availing myself of its
and sacramental resources, I joined a youth team in regular visits to a locality of low-caste
residences to preach Christ to them, and during the vacationsI joined a student group visiting
Mar Thoma parishes to share Christ with young people.
Student Christian Movement under the leadership of K. A. Mathew, through its Bible studies and
on inter-church relations and current national issues, and through student surveys of slum
and organizing games and literacy work among the street boys, was seeking to bring
an awareness of the ecumenical and social implications of the gospel. The emphasis in my
at that period was personal devotional life and personal evangelism. I remember that for a long
Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ was the basis of my daily self-examination; and books like
Weatherhead's Transforming Friendship, Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God,
Alan H. McNeile's Self-Training in Meditation were resources for building my spirituality. The book
Hyde by Basil Miller impressed me so much that after my graduation in 1935 I organized the
informal fellowship of friends into an Interceding Fellowship and made my own
1935 I joined the Mar Thoma Church Ashram at Perumpavoor. There I was part-time teacher in the
and part-time engaged in organizing evangelistic activities of the ashram in the neighboring
I remember organizing an evangelistic team to a rubber estate to conduct evangelistic
for the workers, and coming away with the feeling that the gospel of salvation we preached
not have much relevance to the oppressive conditions of work and housing in which the estate
lived. It raised many questions for me. This was also the time when my friend M. A. Thomas
begun work as secretary of the Inter-Religious Student Fellowship. It opened for me contacts with
and non-student leaders of Hinduism and Islam and with their religious experiences. Debates
All-Kerala Conference to which Mahatma Gandhi sent a message asking that "all religions
be treated with equal respect" and warning that if there are "mental reservations there will
no heart-fellowship" remains in memory. The "Aim and Basis" of the Inter-Religious Student
created a lot of discussion. Gandhian nonviolence also raised the social implications of
and the meaning of the cross for politics. M. A. Thomas and I spent hours together in
about the truth and meaning of Christ in the inter-religious setting.
(3) the interdenominational Student Christian Movement.
intercessions elaborate and systematic.
on interfaith relations were lively in the meetings of the fellowship.
was against this background that I was roused to my inquiry on Christology. It was an intellectual and
struggle. Out of it came my reflections on The Realisation of the Cross (1937) affirming the
of the crucified Jesus for the movement of the kingdom of God in history, which included
work in all religions and all urges toward love and justice. (This was published in 1972 by
1937 I joined the Christavasram at Alleppey where the fellowship under the leadership of Sadhu
had a comprehensive vision of the gospel. They were in charge of the church's missionary work
some coastal villages; they conducted a Home for Waifs and Strays (street boys) of the town;
had inter-religious dialogues. It was there that I met Svi Baliga, the Brahmin who acknowledged
without leaving the Hindu fold, and from whom Mathai had received Kavi dress initiating him into
life of a Christian sadhu patterned after the Hindu samngasa. Spontaneously Sadhuji became my
He put me in charge of the worship side of the ashram life; and I produced a book of daily
in Malayalam (published later), which emphasized Christian spirituality as the basis of the
misison in the world of religions and the social life of the nation. But Sadhu Mathai felt that my
was too pietistic and subjectivist and not sufficiently world-oriented. It was in search of the
of interiority with active life that in 1938 I returned to Trivandrum, where I had my college
to organize a home for street boys with the help of the Student Christian Movement (SCM)
under an inter-religious foundation. I also took the initiative to tackle the beggar problem in the city
organized charity in cooperation with the municipal authorities. Charitable social service
was during the period of my social service activities in Trivandrum that the political agitation for
government increased in the princely state of Travancore. The Student Christian
at its annual conference supported it and formed the Kerala Youth Christian Council of
(YCCA) to promote Christian witness in national politics. I got deeply involved in it from the
as its secretary. The YCCA became a dynamic movement of thought and action among the
young people of Kerala, with its base in Christavasram of Sadhu Mathai (which had now
of the YCCA's most challenging programs was the study courses to help young people to
liberal secularism, Gandhism, and Marxism-ideologies influencing the Indian national
to evaluate them in the light of Christian. faith. R. R. Keithahn's village-oriented
coupled with his prophetic passion and Leonard Schiff's combination of AngloCatholicism,
Neo-orthodoxy, and Marxism, made a tremendous contribution to our spirits and minds.
studies raised for me the role of the politics of justice in Christian social witness and the relation
Christian Literature Society, Madras, as Lenten meditations).
became the expression of my personal commitment to Christ, without emphasizing verbal witness.
moved from Alleppey to its new house in Kottayam).
between faith and ideology in Christian social ethics.
pursuance of these questions I spent a year in Bangalore reading in the theology of society and the
understanding of our Indian social reality. The Neo-orthodoxy of Nicolas Berdyaev and
Niebuhr coupled with an appreciation of the Marxist analysis of Indian social history gripped
I returned to full-time work with the YCCA convinced that Marxism was a necessary ideological
for political action for social justice in India but that its utopianism, which elevated it to a scheme
total spiritual salvation, was a source of tyranny; and that therefore the Christian has the double task
cooperating with the communists in the politics of class-struggle and intensifying the spiritual
against the character of communism as a scheme of salvation by works. Here class politics
justice and evangelistic witness to justification by faith became equally central to my understanding
Christian mission in India. The evangelistic witness to Christ, to be relevant, has to be within the
of a politics of justice and not in isolation. The church as the fellowship of transcendent
and mutual forgiveness must be present as the ultimate destiny of those involved in the
tragic powerpolitical struggles in a sinful world. An amendment I proposed for the "Aim and
of the Youth Christian Council of Action wanted it to "accept the Catholic Christian Faith and
Scientific Socialism," reacting against "both Fundamentalism that is indifferent to science and
questions and the Liberal Social Gospel which denies the fact of sin" and to offer "the Orthodox
Faith as in the long run the only possible basis for social and scientific realism." It was to
this double task of the Christian mission that I asked for ordination in my church and for
Bishop [ohanon Mar Thimotheus (later Mar Thoma metropolitan), who had participated in the
activities for several years and perhaps had faith in my theological integrity, urged the church to
the early 1940s Malcolm Adiseshiah of the Madras Christian College, Tambaram, began inviting me
speak at the SCM Leaders' Training Courses. For a period I was also the editor of the SCM Student
I also became involved in the dialogues of the Indian SCM with the British SCM and the
Student Christian Federation (WSCF) on the Indian political situation. All this led to my being
1947 to 1950 I was full-time secretary and from 1950 to 1953 an officer. This gave me
for dialogue with the "West" within the setting of the ecumenical movement. My
in the volume on Church and Society in preparation for the first assembly of the World
of Churches (WCC) and especially my conversations with J.H. Oldham, the chairman of the
and Society Committee; and the endless discussion in the Political Commission of the WSCF,
led to the publication of the book, by J. D. McCaughey and myself, TheChristian in the World
(1951)-all made for new thinking. I had also to rethink my ideological stance in the light of
independence and Nehru's ventures into nation-building. I began to question my thesis that
technology was a matter only of "natural necessity" and that divine justification was
only "after politics."
led me to a new appreciation of the ideologies of liberal democracy and Gandhian nonviolence
to a revision of my understanding of Marxism in their light. In my talk at the WSCF General
in 1952 I referred to this change in my approach as follows: "There was a time when I
that the New Age of Christ was so much beyond history that it could be experienced in politics
as Forgiveness and not as Power; that political philosophy could be only a philosophy of sinful
where the cross was relevant only as forgiveness to the politician, and not as qualifying
political parties, techniques and institutions as such." Of course, the depth of sin in collective
made for a permanent tension between the politics of justice and redemptive love until Christ came;
membership in the Communist party. Both rejected me, for opposite reasons.
appoint me its youth secretary. That was in 1945.
invited to Geneva as a secretary of the WSCF.
but "it is possible for politics itself to be redeemed of its extreme perversions and be made more or less
Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society was founded in Bangalore in 1956 with
Devanandan as director and myself as associate. It was founded by the NCC of India (then the
Christian Council, now the National Council of Churches) to help the churches understand the
religious and social environment in which they had to discharge their mission in independent
Devanandan was convinced that the church's faith and evangelistic mission must be set
and challengingly within the context of Christian participation in nation-building and of the
dialogue on the nature and destiny of human-being-in-society (anthropology) inevitable in
participation. Devanandan saw Christ at work in the struggle of Hinduism to grapple with the
anthropology" derived from Christianity and Western culture informed by Christianity, and in the
this grappling exerted on the "classical theology" of Hinduism. I had long been concerned for
secular dialogue with the political ideologies of India. Under Devanandan's influence I incorporated
my concern dialogue with NeoHindu religious and cultural movements. And I became interested
only in the anthropological basis of national politics but also in the exploration of an Indian theology
Christ, church, and Christian mission in this context. After the death of Devanandan in 1962 it was
effort to make the institute an instrument of this exploration. My own studies Acknowledged Christ
the Indian Renaissance (1969), Secular Ideologies of India and the Secular Meaning of Christ
and Salvation and Humanisation (1971) deal with the theology of mission in its several aspects.
same theological concerns within the larger world-setting of secular ideological and religious
were present in my participation in the life and work of the World Council of Churches over
I spend my time in Kerala mostly doing two things-
keeping contact with the radical Christian social action groups in India and their theological
writing my theological reflections, on biblical books, in the Malayalam language.
me, technical socioeconomic developmental creativity and the politics of liberation of the poor and
oppressed are the realms of modern life that most need the judgment and redemption in Jesus
to make them the signs of the kingdom. But my tragic sense of history prevents me from
any historical movement of human creativity or political liberation as totally continuous with
movement of the kingdom. The church's message is power to transform-always through judgment
forgiveness in the crucified and risen Christ.
human, if it recognizes and receives into itself the power of the gospel."
Church leaders celebrate the life and
work of Dr M.M. Thomas
Dr Hielke Wolters and Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma at the centenary celebration of M.M.
birth in Kerala, India. © Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India.
centenary of the birth of the late ecumenical leader and Indian theologian Dr M.M. Thomas
was celebrated in a seminar at his home state in Kerala, India on 31 August,
by his home church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, in India. The participants paid
to Thomas’ significant contribution to the ecumenical movement.
served as moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee from 1968
1975. His work as a WCC moderator for the Church and Society Commission, as well as his
for other ecumenical organizations, was recalled by seminar participants. The first member of
laity to serve as WCC moderator, Thomas was director of the Christian Institute for the Study of
and Society in Bangalore from 1962 to 1975 and served as governor of the Indian state of
from 1990 to 1992.
Dr Hielke Wolters, associate general secretary of the WCC, delivered the keynote address at the
He stated that “contributions from M.M. Thomas were not confined within the four walls of the
02 September 2015
His profound theological and ecumenical thoughts created ripples in society thereby fostering
change in ‘doing theology’.” The presentation by Wolters addressed the theme “Dr M.M. Thomas’
of Prophetic Participation in Salvation and the Struggle for Humanization” and highlighted
of justice and peace in faith as practiced and promoted by Thomas.
mentioned aspects of M.M. Thomas’ theological articulations, which he said are “still helpful in
the WCC vision of a pilgrimage of justice and peace”. Wolters said that upon “studying his
one discovers that M.M.’s theological methodology shows a refinement which might be
for a pilgrimage of justice and peace”.
Dr Joseph Mar Thoma, Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, said that “M.M. Thomas
a man of deep commitments, faith and ideological convictions which enabled him to lead a simple
profound life committed to ecumenism that upholds the values of humanization.” Metropolitan
Mar Thoma officially inaugurated the birth centenary celebrations of Thomas.
Mathews George Chunakara, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), spoke
contributions by Thomas to the worldwide ecumenical movement. He highlighted Thomas’
Thomas gave new insights to the ecumenical movement which have sharpened the WCC and
programmatic directions over time and helped these ecumenical bodies in taking radical action
Rev. Dr T.M. Philip, a biblical scholar and contemporary of Thomas, gave a presentation on
between theology and ideology” in which he highlighted theological developments made
Thomas K. Oommen, deputy moderator of the Church of South India, Rev. Dr K.M. George of
Malankara Orthodox Church and Bishop Dr Zacharias Mar Theophilus Suffragan Metropolitan
seminar took place a day before the annual meeting of the Representative Assembly of the Mar
Church, which had the theme "Faith and Witness in the Public Space". This meeting was
by over 1000 delegates and participants. Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters participated in the opening
and delivered a devotional talk. He highlighted the significance of the theme for the WCC
contributions in shaping the WCC’s ideological and theological values.
to address the emerging concerns in the world,” he said.
by M.M. Thomas in his work and their relevance to the present context.
chaired various sessions of the seminar.
Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.
15, 2015 marked the birth centenary of Dr.M.M.Thomas, the renowned theologian, social thinker,
and practitioner of new humanity. Dr. M.M. Thomas was India's precious gift to the world in
twentieth century. He presented varied and new visions in theology and was a strong
of the ecumenical movement and an exemplary humanitarian. As one whose life
his message, MMT began his church life as the first General Secretary ofthe Mar Thoma
Sakhyam in the early 1930s. As a
par excellence, he was a true model for the youth. He gave Yuvajana Sakhyam a visionary
model, the basis of which was a theology with deep-rooted social commitment. In the 1940s,
interpretations of political and independence ideologies made an impact on college campuses,
M.M. Thomas had a unique role in forming a distinctive stream ofthought. It is worth noting the role
U.C. College, Aluva, in moulding great people with visionary ideologies made an impact on college
Dr. M.M. Thomas had a unique role in forming a distinctive stream ofthought. It is worth
the role of U.C. College, Aluva, in moulding great people with visionary background and
them to the society. It had its influence on Dr. M.M. Thomas as well.
on May 15, 1916 as the son of Madathipparambil M.M. Mammen and Mariamma of
and growing up in the spiritual, social, and educational milieu of Kerala, spreading
across the large horizon of universal humanist philosophy, yet being an iconic figure of ideals
humble lifestyle, In world history, the twentieth century is considered an era of change. National
progress of science, impact of education, commitment to value-based democracy,
new trends in communication, all have contributed to change in all aspects. In the early years
last century, faith and hope in the imminent Kingdom of God was clear and active in the hearts
But the II World War shattered those dreams. Even though many nations became
they later fell prey to dictatorship and military rule. Despite the realization of Gandhiji‘s
for an independent India, his dream ofa new India where the oppressed,the exploited, the
and the marginalized will enter the mainstream of independent India and make a Ramarajya
in the world as well, there was a pervading feeling of hopelessness, frustration, and in
amid questions of what needs to be done. It is in this global context and especially from the
of the tragic events of the II World War there emerged a Theology of Resurrection like a Phoenix
fluttering its wings of hope. The emergence of this stream of thought in theology provided a
Theology of Liberation to the Christian Church, with Dr. M.M. Thomas being its leading
spokesperson, and practitioner. This thought pattern spread across the world in the form of
DR. M. M. THOMAS: PROPHET OF NEW HUMANITY
IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma, Metropolitan, Marthoma Church.
that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless
(NRSV). This resulted in the development of a theology based on the Creator of a Created order.
influence of both Manganam Christhavashram and Students Christian Movement inspired Dr. M.M.
to creatively respond to Liberation Theology.
words and deeds of Dr. M.M. Thomas were a reminder that it is the dharma of the church to stand
solidarity with those who suffer pain, are oppressed, exploited, and marginalized, and also to act
taking the’ U stance for righteousness in political and secular spheres. He was careful to
a model for Christian witness in India by bringing about the harmony of Christian dharma and
heritage. The Acknowledged Christ of Indian Renaissance (CLS Madras: 1970), The Secular
of India and Secular Meaning of Christ (CLS Madras: 1976), and Bhagavad Gita: A
Appreciation (Malayalam, CLS Madras: 1987), are his books that laid the foundations of
firm roots on Indian soil, Dr. M.M. Thomas was instrumental in sowing the seed for the
of a post-colonial theology by bringing the subaltern voices of the marginalized in society
the purview of philosophical discussion. The visions and actions of Dr. Thomas also had a great
on the approach of the church towards providing space for those who lacked a living space. For
South Travancore missionary Vedanthachari was a person who worked within a framework
his o\vn. After his death his followers were stranded as sheep without a shepherd.
churches and fellowships in the area were unwilling to receive them. Even though they
the Mar Thoma priest in Trivandrum, it remains a fact that even the Mar Thoma Church
a cold shoulder to their needs.However, in those days, Dr. M.M. Thomas, Dr. K.K. George and
who were then students at the University College. Trivandrum, ventured to visit those flocks
a shepherd and catered to their spiritual growth. This is how the South Travancore mission
of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association got established and later parishes formed.
theology of Dr. M.M. Thomas is that of a new humanity. The foundational principle of post-colonial
which swept over Europe and third World nations was new humanity. In the discipline of
it assumed the form of Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Dalit Theology, or Feminist
Dr. Thomas played an important role in evolving this vision of new humanity as the form of
Thomas sojourned through the path of Reformation in the Mar Thoma Church. Mar
Church has a heritage of resistance against the Portuguese invasion and the influx of foreign
disputes. The reformation ideals of the church influenced Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma
Dr. M.M. Thomas, Mr. T.M. Varghese, Adv. K.T. Thomas and others in taking a firm
in the struggles against the move towards Independent Travancore at the time of independence
later against the state of Emergency in the seventies.
Thomas's views about the church, and his creative criticisms gave a sense of consciousness to the
churches in India. His use of terms like Open Church. Secular Koinonia, gave more clarity
his book on the reformation of Abraham Malpan. In the contemporary social, economic, and political
where the rights of the minorities are eclipsed and the process of marginalization of the weak
In the words of a South American theologian, whose thought was captured
when he read
and reflected on Psalm 145: 9-l0."The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over
witness for the Indian Church.
and content to his
ecclesiology. Dr. Thomas explains the plausibility of the witness ofan open church
accelerated, the ecclesial theology of Dr. M.M. Thomas becomes all the more pertinent.
election as Moderator at the Nairobi Assembly was a great endorsement for his vision and
The Christocentric theology of Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hendrik Kraemer helped
his ecumenical social thinking and missionary outlook. Jiirgen Moltmann was his contemporary
both of them benefited each other in streamlining their theological discourse.
and visions of Dr. Thomas who declared that the ecumenical vision of the Mar Thoma
involves universal brotherhood and solidarity with the weak, will always remain a source of
not only to the Mar Thoma Church but the global Christian Church as well. He could not
as a priest in the church though he had wished to become one in yester years. However, he did
service than any priest by his active presence in the ecumenical endeavours of the church and
his lucid contributions to the understanding of theology.
priestly vision of the Mar Thoma Church is open. broad, and democratic. It is the tradition of the
Thoma Church to give ample role to the laity and to encourage their diversified ministries. Dr.
presence and suggestions in the committee for selecting ministerial candidates in the
were greatly honored. His contributions towards upholding the legacy of the Mar Thoma
in the ecumenical realm will always be appreciated. His contributions in the ecumenical arena
CISRS and WCC were honored by all. Dr. Thomas‘ life partner Mrs. Pennamma, his sister Mrs.
and her husband Mr. A.K. Thampy complemented and enriched his visions and actions.
holding to ethical integrity. Dr. Thomas had an impact on the perspectives of Dr. T.V. Philip
death is an irreparable loss to the church and society. Society must continue to discuss his
and standpoint. Such continuing thought processes and discussions will make an appropriate
to his legacy during the birth centenary celebrations. As prophets of new humanity, let us march
in the divine plan to create a new church, a new humanity, and a newworld.
the birth centenary commemoration of Dr. M.M. Thomas make the dream ofthe Book of
of the apostle St. John that ‘I have seen the new heavens and the new earth,’ a real
Dr. M.M. Thomas is the gift of the Mar Thoma Church to the world ecumenical movement.
and Dr. T.K. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas passed away on December 3,1996.
experience giving us all a new vision and sense of direction.
is a great honour for me to be invited by His Grace the Most Rev.Dr Joseph Mar Thoma
to give an address about the work of Dr M.M. Thomas. My own theological
started with my study in the Netherlands and in Bangalore at the United
College. My stay in Bangalore brought me in contact with M.M.Thomas and
me to study his theologicalthinking. In those days, we very much focussed
what was called ‘doing theology’ as we felt that academic theology can only be
if it is rooted in the day to day struggle of people for their basic needs. To me
theological journey seemed to be an excellent example of ‘doing theology’ as
did not began his reflections in an academic setting, but through his involvement with
concerns. My study of his thinking was therefore inspired by an eagerness to
Dr. M.M. Thomas’ Theology
Prophetic Participation in Salvation
the Struggle for Humanisation
Presentation at the seminar of the Birth Centenary Celebration of M.M.Thomas
in Tiruvalla, 31 August 2015 by
Rev.Dr Hielke Wolters, Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches
know from where he got his ideas and theologicalinsights: from being involved of the
struggle for fuller humanity or from studying theologicalbooks. Fortunately,
had the good habit to archive almost every piece of writing, from very small
to extensive papers and articles. So I started off to read all these documents as
of his theological journey. It was a blessing to visit him several times here in
In the mornings we reflected on his thinking in the various stages in his life, in
afternoon we played chess and in the evenings we had a walk meeting several
his friends. This personal encounter with Thomas has very much shaped my own
reflection. I am extremely grateful for his guidance, his humour and his
reflect on Thomas’ thinking during this Birth Centenary Celebrations has placed me
a dilemma. Thomas’ theological reflections have a profound contextual nature.
developed his thinking in response to developments in the society, the churches, the
movement. He tried to discern insights which might help us further in
our Christian responsibility. His theology is by nature a dialogical
developed in the conversation with people of his time. So, if we want to honour
we need to do that by inviting him to participate in our current theological
It is for this reason that I want to ask him: Dr Thomas, what is your idea about
new proposal from the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan that the
should join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace? After all, you have been
of the WCC’s central committee. What would you have said as moderator
people would have come to you with this new initiative? What would have been
my presentation this morning, I propose to open the conversation with Thomas by first
his own ecumenical journey of ‘understanding and responsibility’ as he called
in his unpublished autobiography.1 How did he develop an effective balance between,
instance, participation in the nation building processes and prophetic witness against
economic and political injustice in India? How did he sharpen his understanding
justice and peace while reflecting on the theological concept of divine grace? What
his contribution to the ecumenical debates of his days on the relation between
and humanisation? Is his work on spirituality, spirituality for combat, still
for our search for pilgrimage spirituality? I am sure that he would have loved to
in the ecumenical debate on a pilgrimage of justice and peace, and that his
would have been challenging, ‘challenging relevant’, to use a phrase of A.G.
(1875-1954), frequently cited by Thomas.
before we go deeper into Thomas’ reflections I need to say a few words about
WCC’s initiative to launch a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.
was the 10th assembly of the World Councilof Churches, held from 30 October to 8
2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea, thatcalled for a pilgrimage of justice and
The assembly message says: “We intend to move together. Challenged by our
in Busan, we challenge all people of good willto engage their God-given
in transforming actions. This assembly calls you to join us in pilgrimage.” (2) A
of aspects are interesting in this call to join a pilgrimage. Why did the WCC call
patience with me.
your theological response?
The call to move together
for a pilgrimage?
the churches and ecumenical movement around a thematic decadehas a long
The last thematic decade, the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001 - 2010),
with an impressive International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston,
17-22 May 2011.The possibility of a next thematic decade was already
while reflecting on the results of the Decade to Overcome Violence. There
still enough work to be done around Just Peace with the on-going economic and
problems. Also newly emerging concerns, for instance around religion and
made clear that the peace-agenda was not completed. Yet, the general feeling
that a joint ecumenical action and reflection process should not be shaped again in
form of a decade.
leadership of the WCC had at least three reasons to move from the concept of a
towards a more ecclesial metaphor.Firstly, the WCC felt that the added value of
ecumenical body in the public debate is not only to advocate for political solutions,
important they may be. The unique contribution of ecumenical advocacy work is
it can mobilise churches through addressing spiritual and theological dimensions of
problem.At the same time the theological approach helps to deepen the political
addressing social, cultural and religious root causes. Secondly, a new
was needed to highlight a new methodologicalapproach. Earlier ecumenical
have shown a regular tendency of self-confidence: we know what needs to be
in this world; we have an alternative. In recent years, this attitude has slowly
towards a more modest self-understanding: would it be possible that we develop
relevant contribution to the public debates knowing that the search for alternatives is
and needs the wisdom of all. Thirdly, the terminology of a decade was felt to be
from a planning perspective. The WCC has every seven or eight year an
have planning cycles of 10 year questions the role of assemblies in the process of
the agenda and evaluating the results.
theological, methodological and practical considerations have helped to
that in the ecumenical movement the metaphor of a pilgrimage is more
than the concept of a thematic decade. This change in understanding our
calling today can already be found the wording Assembly message. It says:
intend to move together.” Moving together is at the very heart of a pilgrimage.
the words ‘we intend to move together’ is also an implicit reference to the
of the First Assembly of the WCC, Amsterdam, 1948, which said: “We intend to
together.” The major achievement of the 1st assembly was that churches were able
establish a Council in spite of the severe political and ecclesial divisive forces of those
The reference in Busan to Amsterdam was based on an assessment of the needs
the day. Unity among churches cannot be limited to mutual recognition of important
aspects, such baptism, eucharist and ministry. It also needs to empower
to work together ecumenically. Unity finds its expression in mission. This does
mean that Busan wants to replace the unity affirmed in theological and cclesiological
by practical unity in the form of ecumenical cooperation. Busan rather
the need for a more holistic understanding of unity.
quest for an integrated understanding of unity and mission was clearly expressed in
Unity Statement of the 10th assembly. This Statement tries to articulate the unity
for the coming years in the light of current developments in the world, in
and in the ecumenical movement. It says: “The unity of the Church, the unity of
human community and the unity of the whole creation are interconnected. Christ who
us one calls us to live in justice and peace and impels us to work together for
and peace in God’s world.”(3) The three layers in the search for unity - church,
community and the whole creation - need to strengthen one another. Although
holistic understanding is not entirely new in the ecumenical movement, it helps to
for a sound theological understanding of the pilgrimage.
we have embarked on this pilgrimage, further theologicaland ecclesiological
is urgently needed. The metaphor of a pilgrimage is rather new in the
movement and needs to be developed further as an inspiring concept that
motivate churches and ecumenical bodies to move together. Similarly, the
of justice and peace needs further reflection to avoid that secular
are copied into ecumenical language and approaches without critical
way of encouraging theological and ecclesiological reflection on the pilgrimage of
and peace is to open the conversation with the fathers and mothers of the
movement. Can their experience and insights help us attain a deeper
of our current journey?
would M.M.Thomas have said about this proposal to begin as ecumenical
a pilgrimage of justice and peace?
know his answer we cannot only refer to his major publications, but we need to
his own faith journey. After all we are talking about his response to the idea
a pilgrimage, a journey through which we try to discern what the Holy Spirit wants us to
about Christian responsibility for promoting justice and peace. What can we learn
Thomas’ theological journeyhe did not start with a fomal theological
He graduated in chemistry and started his career as a teacher at the
Asram High School (1935-1937). During his years as student and later at
High School he got in touch with the SCM and the Mar Thoma Youth Union. Being
to learn more about Christian faith, he started reading books, whatever was
to him. He began with books which strengthened his spiritual life, from authors
Thomas à Kempis, Weatherhead, Baron von Hügel, William Temple, Canon Streeter,
Carvie, W.R. Malthey. Through the SCM he also got to know scholars like Reinhold
Nicolas Berdyaev, John Macmurray, V.A.Demant and Hendrik Kraemer. These
helped him to understand the wider perspective of Christian faith.
1984 in a meditation at the Princeton TheologicalSeminary, where he was visiting
at that time, he referred to a saying of Hendrik Kraemer that every person
from Thomas’ own faith journey?
Towards a theology of prophetic participation
to go through two conversions: the first conversion from self to God and the
from God to the world.(4)
spiritual and theological formation very much followed that pattern. First, he
his personal, pietistic faith through reading spiritual literature; later his
in society was theologically undergirded by reading scholarly articles and
about Christian responsibility in social, economic and politicaldevelopments.
later explained that this way of doing theology through practical engagement in
day-to-day reality of the people needs to be at the heart of every theological
In the Introduction to hisMan and the Universe of Faithș he explained that
have to move between looking at religion as a function of society and looking at
as a function of religious truth, of man’s search for and faith-response to God,
is, between sociology of religion and theology of society”.(5) His own theological
is an example of this interaction between analysis of developments in society
theological reflection on the meaning of Christian faith.
his early years, Thomas’ theological thinking was very much influenced by what he
called an ‘evangelical and sacramental piety’. In the late 1930s he developed a
perspective through his work with street boys in Trivandrum and his reflection on
concerns. Later he testified that this practical engagement with young people had
him tremendously to understand the meaning of genuine love and human
concepts that are central in his later writings. His pietistic faith and social
got increasingly integrated through his reflections on the meaning of the
He later published his mediations and prayers of those days in a booklet with the
title The Realization of the Cross (1972). Focus on God’s self-emptying love as
core of Christian faith brought him closer to Gandhi’s philosophy and political
of non-violence. In his article ‘Gandhism and the principles of Jesus’, he used
description of Jesus as the ‘transcendentsatyagrahi’.7 Faith in God’s
love, revealed through the cross of Christ, finds expression in a non-violent
of the people for freedom and justice.
the 1940s, Thomas became more critical of this approach. He discovered, with so
others in those days, that the concepts of love and non-violence are not strong
73)’. Where is God in the coastal regions around Shertallay where people die of
and thirst due to the war in Europe? He reflected: “Mankind is one brotherhood –
man will not learn it through love, he shall be taught it through judgement. What man
to take to heart in a kiss, he shall realise in a catastrophe.”8Here we see that
became more critical to his earlier trust in the power love and non-violence. In
early 1940s he came closer to Marxist thinking, having doubts about the ffectiveness
Gandhi. His theological reflection was more and more influenced by people like
Berdyaev and Reinhold Niebuhr. He felt the need for a more realistic
my research, I discovered that his thinking went through a number of stages
he arrived at the theological approach as known in his later books, such as
to fight social, economic and politicalinjustice. One of his most impressive
of those days is the one published in a ‘Famine Special’ of Arunodayam
(November 1941) with the title ‘Where is God?
esponse to what he saw as a crisis in modern civilization leading
dehumanisation and the disintegration of the human person as well as the community.
critical analysis of the developments in society helped him also to revisit his
understanding. At a SCM Leaders’ Training Course in 1943, he presented a
which he later gave the title ‘From Utopianism to Tragic Realism’. In this paper he
“The liberal understanding is only a conflict between human righteousness
human unrighteousness; but the Christian understands that the basic conflict is
human righteousness and divine righteousness, or to put it differently, between
righteousness turned to proud or self-righteousness and divine righteousness.
it is that history must be understood as the story of man’s sin and God’s
is quite a different theologicalinterpretation of the developments in
than he had in the 1930s. The tragedy of famine and war and the influence of
thinking in Kerala, helped him to see the dark side of humanity. He articulated
crisis in modern civilization and of the modern human person in terms of
spite of this far more critical theologicaland ideological approach, compared to his
‘divine love / non-violence’ framework, there are important elements of continuity
his thinking. Probably the most important are his focus on the Christian understanding
the human person and the community. His critique on liberal thinking made him aware
the human person is not result of human efforts but is essentially a divine gift.
his critique on individualism helped him to understand that the human person
profoundly a person-in-community. This theologicalbasis for understanding the
person as a divine gift becomes the ground for prophetic witness. His critique on
society, its disintegration and search for totalitarian solutions, challenged him to
a kind of a ‘negative theology’: in the name of humanity, the Christian has to
a prophetic witness against dehumanizing social, economic and political
For this reason, Thomas never fully embraced Marxism and rejected its
emphasising the discontinuity between human efforts and divine grace, he further
his understanding of the church. Influenced by St. Augustine’s reflections on
two cities, Thomas saw the church as the order of grace, while the social
the state, represents the order of law. It is interesting to see that Thomas
the struggle for justice as being part of the order of law which is necessary but at
same time problematic. In 1945, he wrote: “Justice means the affirmation of the due
of human nature; and rights mean also power to affirm them, for power is a
element of the natural structure. Hence the problem of justice is a problem of
humanity, according to Thomas at that time, could only be found in the order of
being the church. “Charity is not continuous with Justice in the fallen world. … To
theology of the two cities was soon very much challenged by his own experience,
also by the dialogues with his colleagues in the WSCF, which he had joined in 1947
its Asia secretary. His recognition of the tremendous task of the rebuilding of
and political structures in the newly independent states in Asia, and especially
totalitarian interpretations of human reality.
live a responsible life is to live a life of tragic tension.”(11)
growing awareness of rapid social changes in these countries, made him aware that
‘negative theology’ was not sufficient.
theology was needed that could give guidance to ‘nation building’. His radical
position was also challenged by his new colleagues. For instance, Philippe
wrote to him:
must confess that I am very puzzled and disturbed by that dichotomy you establish
political and theological realms. … In the same way, I should refuse to make
distinction between the theology of Justice and a theology of Grace. There is no
to the wider reality of Asia and engagement in ecumenical conversations,
Thomas to rethink his theology.
years later, in 1952, in an address to the WCSF central committee, he confessed:
was a time when I thought that the New Age of Christ was so much beyond
that it could be experienced in politics only as forgiveness and not as power, that
philosophy could be only a philosophy of sinful necessities where the Cross was
only as forgiveness to the politician, and not as qualifying politics, political
techniques and institutions as such.”
he continued wondering: “Cannot forgiveness be realized as power in the structures
the collective and institutional life of man in society?”(13)
question has guided him for the many years to come. Is the power of God’s grace
redeeming and giving direction to the social, economic and political struggles for
and peace? He had discovered that his early understanding of God’s self-giving
revealed through the ‘transcendent satyagrahi’, was not realistic enough to cope
the deadly forces in society. He also learned that a too strong separation between
order of grace and the order of law, would not help to root the struggle for justice in
reality of divine grace. In other words,a sound theological interpretation of the
for justice and peace needed a deeper reflection on, as he phrased it, the
between salvation and humanisation. This would be a theology which provides a
ground for prophetic witness, but at the same time helps Christians to take up the
for participation in society. In other words, he arrived at what I called in my
a theology of prophetic participation.(14)
In these publications, he further elaborated and applied a theological
which is still very relevant and useful, especially for the ecumenical
justice but the justice of the Grace of Jesus Christ.”(12)
Salvation and humanisation
and Humanisation’ is the title under which Thomas published his Carey
Lectures of 1970 in Bangalore. In fact, the title captures his entire theological
in the first half of the 1970s. It includes his well-known studies onThe
Acknowledged Christ of the Renaissance(1970), Indian The Secular Ideologies of India
and the Secular Meaning of (1976), and his Christ Man and the Universe of Faiths
pilgrimage of justice and peace, as we will see later.
core of this methodology is as we saw above, a constant interaction between
of religion and theological of society. The question where to begin has been
subject of many theological debates. Several schools of Christian theology are
that any theology or missiology needs to begin with reflection on the Christian
Thomas was fully aware of these discussions. Reflecting on the mission
in his publication Salvation and Humanisation, he saw the value of both
of entry. “The question is not where you enter, but whether you reach a point
you are aware of the inter-relatedness of the historicaland the eternal.”(15)
he later addressed a similar question from the perspective of inter-religious
he affirmed the need to put the human quest at the centre. “Our thesis is that
among faiths at spiritual depth can best take place in the modern world at the
where they are all grappling with the spiritual self-understanding of modern man,
the problems of true self-realisation or fulfilment of true humanity within modern
many of his writings, whether books, articles or comments on current affairs, he
this approach. In his analysis of current social, economic and political
he tried to understand what is behind the facts and events. How to
their spiritual dimensions? Doing so his analysis focussed on the human
of his writings in the 1970s, focussed therefore on the theological interpretation
the human self-understanding in modern societies. This has raised several
and conflicts especially with theologians from conservative and
circles. The most ardent critique came from the evangelicalmissiologist
Beyerhaus who accused him of leading the ecumenical movement into a direction
replaces theology by anthropology which finally may (14) I gave my study of the
of Thomas’ thinking the title Theology of Prophetic Participation as an
of this search. lead to developing anti-Christian symptoms.(18)
others did not always fully accept Thomas’ approach as for instance
with Bishop Newbigin shows.(19)
most systematic exploration of the meaning of human self-understanding can be
in Man and the Universe of Faithṣ There he pointed at four important dimensions.
the human person experiences ‘self’ as freedom and power of creativity.
freedom is seen as self-determination and a search for self-identity. Thirdly,
modern human being sees the destiny of his/her‘self’ in the involvement of history,
movement of human liberation. Finally, Thomas acknowledged a new awareness
human freedom is realised in universal love. This way of describing the
in human self-understanding is in many ways interesting. Especially the
on creativity and freedom is helpful in understanding modern scientific,
social and economic developments. The human being understands these
“Christian theology is not just the Gospel but the interaction between
Gospel and the self-understanding of humans in every age”, he wrote inReligion and
the Revolt of Oppressed.(17)
developments as expressions of freedom and creativity. They are our historical destiny.
the same time, Thomas also acknowledged that there is a growing awareness that
freedom is realised in universal love, a new spirituality which is open for dialogue
did not begin with judging these developments as being good or bad. He rather
to understand them as expressions of modern human self-understanding and was
aware of the positive and negative, creative and destructive, sides of human
and creativity. It is precisely at this cutting edge that the Gospel needs to be
before doing so, he further deepened the analysis of human
from the religious perspective.
he pointed at the messianic nature of modern self-understanding. As an
thinker, he was fully aware of the vitality of Eastern religions, like Hinduism and
However, the impact of Western politics, economy, science, technology and
Christian faith, has brought a new spiritual ferment to the Eastern
“Our thesis is that the universe of unitive faiths is today being brought into the
and ‘theological’ circle of messianic faiths in a radical way”(20), he
interpretation of the developments allowed him to analyse the spiritual
of modern human self-understanding from the perspective of messianic faiths,
analysing the messianic dimension of current developments, Thomas saw the
to get a deeper understanding of the nature of messianism. He referred to
distinction between the national messianism of the Conquering King and the
messianism of the Suffering Servant. The endless conflict between these two
became already clear in the history of the Hebrew people. The kings
the national, conquering forces, while they were throughout the history of
Hebrew people challenged by the prophets calling for justice and peace in the name
God. This prophetic tradition is essential to Christian faith, as Berdyaev sees it.
also the history of Christianity is a manifestation of the conflict between the
is interesting to note that around 40 years later two students of Beyerhaus and
Thomas Schirrmacher and myself, were instrumentalin bringing together the
of the World Evangelical Alliance and the World council of Churches into a
retreat (February 2015) as a significant sign of growing Christian unity.
messianisms. Berdyaev saw even a continuation of this fundamental conflict in
modern secular ideologiessuch as communismand capitalism.
used this interpretation of history as a continuous conflict between the
of the Conquering King and that of the Suffering Servant to explore what the
response to the modern search for human self-understanding needs to be. He
first alternative is the one in which several conquering messiahs compete with one
leading to balances of power. This alternative will not lead to a human solution,
Thomas saw it: “For, with the power which technology has put at the disposal of
this becomes a balance of terror, with the sense of chaos and deadly conflict
and relations, broadening the community to include all mankind.
What is the religious and theological interpretation of modern developments?
whether religious or secular.
at hand.” One can recognise the truth of this observation in many of the current
and political conflicts in different parts of the world.
second alternative, Thomas observed, is to put a break on the growth of human
and creativity. This alternative means in a way the return of messianic faiths to
spirituality of what Thomas called the ‘unitive’ faiths. This is probably what many
of a ‘green’, sustainable development would see as the best alternative.
saw the potential of this way, but had serious doubts about its viability:
this path will help humankind to save itself from self-destruction in
but only at the cost of the responsibility of growth to mature manhood.”
did not only reject this alternative as unrealistic. For him, growth of humanity
a greater maturity is at the heart of his theologicalcritique of the so-called
religions. His experience of poverty, casteism, and oppression in the Indian
helped him to see that a static society sanctioned by religious beliefs, prevents
he proposed a third alternative which does not stop growth and also does not
to self-destruction. This alternative is “the path of the reinterpretation of the modern
forces and spirit within the framework of the messianism of the suffering
and faith in the cruciform humanity in Christ as the ultimate destiny of mankind.”
sentence is key in Thomas’ interpretation of the relation between salvation and
He translated his affirmation of the messianism of the suffering servant
a language that relates to the human self-understanding in modern developments,
coined in that discourse the concept of cruciform humanity.
further exploring what he meant with this concept, it is good to note the relevance
these three alternatives for the current ecumenical debates on justice and peace. It
that in these debates several voices tend to support the second alternative, a
to further growth. The ecumenical movement has in this respect a strong affinity
the so called ‘green’ social justice movements without exploring in depth the
implications. Thomas’ doubts about the second alternative and his proposal
explore a third, are rooted in his search for a Christian theologicalinterpretation of
and creativity leading to justice and peace. One wonders what that exploration
mean for a better understanding of the ecumenical contribution in the pilgrimage of
and peace to the current ‘secular’ debates on sustainable development,
order to fully understand what Thomas meant with his concept of cruciform humanity,
is important to study his more general observations on Christology. He developed his
reflections primarily in dialogue with the major religious and ideological
in India, especially Hinduism and secular ideologies. Being aware of the
plurality in the India and Asia, he stated that there is also need for more than
Christology. He wrote: “There is therefore the need for pluralism in Christology to
growth towards a mature understanding of human freedom and creativity.
resolution and peacebuilding.
the diverse needs of the situation. We must think in terms of Christologies rather
Christology. Each type will have its own apologetic problems … The Indian religious
is more prone to emphasise the divinity of Jesus at the cost of his humanity …
peril from secular temper is that it might deprive Christ of his divine nature.”(24)
preference for contextualising Christology again underlines Thomas’ theological
of moving forward and backward between social and religious analysis
extensively developed his Christological reflections in relation to Renascent
The primary question in this dialogue is the relation between the universality
particularity of Jesus Christ. Several Hindu thinkers do not have difficulties with the
Gandhi affirmed the universality of the message of Christ. The sacrificiallove
by Christ gave full support to Gandhi’s principle ofahimsa.But Gandhi,
observed, did not “move through the principles to the Person”.
essence of incarnation is that Jesus Christ was fully divine but at the same time fully
In order to emphasise the particularity and historicity of Jesus Christ, Thomas
stressed the need to locate him in the prophetic tradition in the history of the
inter-relation between universality and particularity of Jesus Christ is important for
way in which one understands his crucifixion and resurrection. Thomas never
the theological view of thedivine absence in the event of the cross. He rather
the cross as a moment of divine revelation. One can find this interpretation
in his meditations of the 1930s; it was still the core of his understanding the
and 1980s. Reflecting on Revelation 13:8, he explained that “the Book of
speaks of the Cross as the eternal reality in the life of God, with the Lamb
from the foundation of the world”.(26)
cross reveals God as a suffering God whose very nature is self-giving love.However,
than in the 1930s, he later gave a far more critical dimension to this
more critical interpretation was certainly influenced by his deeper involvement in the
economic and political struggles in India. It was certainly also influenced by the
debates on liberation theology and people’s theologies. In a sermon on ‘The
of the Cross for our Times’ on Good Friday 1972, he said: “The Cross is the
of God with the suffering of the poor and the oppressed, of the refugee and
disinherited, of the Negro and the outcaste, and is therefore a source of hope for their
clearly shows how Thomas saw a great value in liberation theology as it
the divine solidarity with the suffering of human beings.
and theological reflection.
interpretation of the cross.
liberation and their future”.(27)
the divine solidarity with the suffering is only one dimension in his
of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. His writings show also another dimension
is rooted in his theological developments of the 1940s, when he discovered that
fundamental human problem is not that of lack of righteousness but the inherent
on this aspect of the cross, he came closer to the classical theologies of
by faith. In his attempt to develop theological insights for a secular
he pointed at the centrality of divine forgiveness: “The Cross of Jesus is
the answer to the human problem of justification of human existence. Responding in
to the free Divine forgiveness and acceptance offered by the Crucified, man is
from the necessity to seek security and justification by his own spirituality and
he highlighted the liberating aspect of divine forgiveness in an almost pastoral way.
other places he pointed at the far more critical dimension of the need of faith in divine
Acceptance of divine forgiveness and divine grace is the only way to avoid
self-righteousness ends up in violence and destruction in the name of secular or
we have seen earlier, this attempt to find a theological basis for resistance to human
turning violent has been the ground for his prophetic witness against
ideologies and regimes. However, it was also his theological motivation to be
with people’s movements and people’s theologies. In his address to the 5th
struggle for liberation and justice. But he also expressed his hesitation to the spirit
the report: “I find it difficult to identify the People with the Messiah, and people’s
of liberation with the movement of the revelation of God and the Kingdom in
– which the Introduction tends to do.”(29)
then he continued to give a theological motivation: “Such idolatry of the people will
bring into the movement of justice a spirit and ideology of self-righteousness which
betray the human ends of liberation from within.” This observation reminds us of the
of people like Berdyaev and Reinhold Niebuhr who taught Thomas that
saw the need to further develop in an interrelated way the two dimensions of his
of the cross: the divine solidarity with the suffering as wellas the divine
as judgement of self-righteousness. He is also aware that these two dimensions
led to severe tensions in the ecumenical movement at different levels. Especially,
the period after the 4thly in Uppsala, 1968, when liberation theology in all its varieties
and the tension was growing between supporters of those theologies and the
of the more traditional theological interpretations of cross and resurrection. In
address as moderator of the central committee to the 5th assembly of the WCC in
1975, he referred to this growing tension in the ecumenical family and beyond
between the ecumenical and evangelicaltheologians and churches. As an Indian
leader and theologian, he fully supported the struggle for justice in solidarity
the poor and oppressed. He saw the need for changing the existing power
tendency towards self-righteousness.
moral or social idealism.”(28)
religious ideals of good or God.
of East Asia Christian Conference, July 1973, reviewing the Introduction of
E.A.C.C.-Urban Industrial Project he affirmed the need to work together in the
revolutions easily turn to be self-righteous, destroying its own children.
structures as an important agenda for the ecumenical movement. But he wondered:
can the struggles and conflicts to bring human dignity to the poor and the
even the power politics which oppose institutionalized violence with
be kept within the spiritualframework of the ultimate power of the
Christ and the ultimate goal of recognition of all people in Christ?”(30)
him it was important to see that our struggles, even our struggles for justice, have a
nature. He quoted the Latin American liberation theologian J. MiguezBonino:
of our battles is the final battle. None of our enemies facing us is the final enemy,
ultimate evil. … Similarly, it prevents us from seeing our achievements in absolute
He also went back to Beryaev, affirming that “Christians know that social justice
not solve all human problems”. For Thomas the key question, so relevant for the
in the Nairobi assembly, was: “How can the Church be the visible expression of
double awareness, that of the significance and urgency of all politics of justice, on
one hand, and that of the ultimate tragic character and the inescapable relativity of all
achievements, on the other?” He wondered how the church can participate in
struggle for justice with this awareness and concluded that “We need a theology of
engagement that will help Christians and churches in such participation, a
that will clarify the dialectical relation between faith and ideology in the light of
cross and resurrection”.(31)
dialectics between the ultimate and the penultimate was developed further by him in
reflections on the meaning of cross and resurrection in relation to the human
up elements of his early theology, he stressed the need to look at the cross and
as a revelation of the divine way of addressing dehumanising forces in their
manifestations. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ has to be
as one event or movement. Resurrection is not God’s victoryover the cross,
as the victory of God’s way of the cross. “The Cross is the Kingdom of God moving
power into the history of mankind, taking control of the powers of this world, bringing
men the righteousness of God in which every man becomes a brother for whom Christ
the two dimensions, as described earlier, are coming together from the
of the overwhelming life-giving power of the way of the cross, affirmed by
in the resurrection. He developed this thinking further from the perspective of the
Christ as the first fruits of the new creation.
reading of the letters of St. Paul and the influence of the reflections at the WCC
in Uppsala, 1968, especially around the document ‘Renewal in Mission’,
him to deepen his understanding of the meaning of cross and resurrection for
for human self-understanding.
foundation, the source of judgement, renewal and ultimate fulfilment of the
of mankind today for its humanity.”(33)
increasingly used the phrase ‘new humanity’ as he articulated inSalvation and
“Jesus Christ and the New Humanity offered in Him are presented as the
concept of new humanity gave him a theologicalanswer to the quest for human
expressed in the search for freedom and creativity in the current
Thomas’ use of language suggests that he understood salvation as personal
he increasingly made clear that God’s grace revealed through cross and
concerns the human, social and the cosmic dimensions of creation. As we
seen earlier, he already wondered whether salvation could include redemption of
collective and institutional aspects of live. In his later writings he also included the
dimensions while reflecting on the risen Christi as the first fruit of the new
Some of the critical voices, however, have stated that this broader concept of
has not led him to a well-developed theology of care for creation. Probably he
concept of ‘cruciform humanity’ has the potential to be elaborated as Christological
for a prophetic participation in the struggle for social and ecological justice.
the concept of ‘new humanity’ primarily refers to the reality of the resurrected
the concept of ‘cruciform humanity’ points more to the life-giving power of the way
the cross. It brings together the perspectives of hope through faith in resurrection and
moral perspectives of the suffering servant. The concept of ‘cruciform humanity’
not block the further development of human freedom and creativity but redefines
from the perspective of the divine revelation in cross and resurrection. This means
the search for human self-understanding in the modern social, economic and
developments needs to be nurtured and guided by a spirituality of cruciform
he in his moderator’s address to the Nairobi assembly struggled with the tensions
the ecumenical movement around the understanding of Jesus Christ crucified and
he pointed at the need for a stronger focus on spirituality. It should be noted
in the 1970s many became aware that spirituality is an important dimension in the
struggle for justice. In his closing address to the assembly in Nairobi, the then
Secretary Phillip Pottercharacterized the 1960s as a period of Exodus: “At
the mood was one of Exodus, going out to change the structures of society and
relations between persons, especially between races. Now we find ourselves in the
A pilgrim people in conflict and penury, we have discovered a need for
a spirituality of penitence and hope.”(34)
referred not only to the changes in the ecumenical movement, but also if not more to
disappointment in the nation building processes in many newly independent
The initial optimism that justice and peace could be established through a
period of struggle turned into disappointment and frustration. Many realised that
and peace is not around the corner and that the struggle for it would take a long
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
was too much engaged in the social questions of the 1970s and 1980s.
Thomas saw the need for a spirituality that would help people to walk this long road
justice and peace. In his lectures at the UTC in Bangalore, 1980, published as
Religion and the Revolt of Oppressed, he explained: “We should find a spirituality
can keep people in the power-struggle without turning corrupt and oppressor.
the gospel of forgiveness or justification by faith has great relevance to collective
movements, in moulding their spiritual Unity for struggle, liberating the
movements from becoming self-idolatrous.”(35)
identified two possible dangers when the struggle for justice becomes seemingly
One danger is that defeatism: people lose hope and give up the
for justice. The other danger is that people betray the struggle for justice
radicalism, turning corrupt, oppressive and self-idolatrous. A spirituality that can help
to avoid these two dangers has to be informed, as he saw it, by a theology in
the struggle for justice is rooted in the Gospel of divine grace.
the second half of the 1970s, he frequently used the phrase ‘spirituality for combat’.
many ascribe this expression to Thomas himself, it was actually David Jenkins,
director of the WCC Humanum Studies (1969-1975), who closed his paper
Inquiry Concerning Human Rights’ with proposal to develop a ‘spirituality for
“Perhaps what Christians are particularly called to work out (probably along
men of other faiths and conscience, religious commitments) is what might be called
spirituality for combat … How might we help one another to so conduct our struggles
they become part of our worship?”(36)
call for a ‘spirituality for combat’ resonated with the need for a new stage in the
commitment to justice and peace, as felt by so many in those days.
began his exploration of the significance of spirituality for the people’s struggle
in the early 1970s. In his opening address to the CWME conference on
Today’, in Bangkok 1972, he reflected on spirituality defining it as follows:
spirituality, one might say, is the way in which man, in the freedom of his
seeks a structure of ultimate meaning and sacredness within which
can fulfil or realize himself in and through his involvement in the bodily, the material
number of elements are important in this definition. First of all Thomas was convinced
spirituality needs to come alive through the involvement in the day-to-day reality of
life. Within this reality the human being has the freedom of self-transcendence.
freedom is important for Thomas, especially in his assessment of Hinduism and the
ideologies in India. He rejected the divine or cosmic determinism of Hinduism,
he also criticised the economic determinism of Marxist-Leninism. As we have seen
from participation in the historical reality and the gift of transcendence, Thomas
a third element to his understanding of spirituality, namely transformation or
to dialogues with secular and religious faiths, he said: “Human
is integrally related to the sense of human self-hood, in which it knows itself to
participating the necessities of nature and transcending nature in a historical
and transforming nature in relation to that destiny. Man’s relation to Nature is
and the social realities of his life on earth.”(37)
earlier, human freedom and creativity are essential elements in Thomas’ theology.
characterised by participation, transcendence and transformation.”(38)
is our participation in society that needs to be transformed. He frequently used
expression that the problem of my own bread is a material question whereas
these three dimensions of spirituality in mind, we have to go back to his address to
CWME meeting in Bangkok in which he made a distinction between true and false
core of the definition he offered in that address isthat the human being seeks “a
of ultimate meaning and sacredness” as a reference and inspiration for
transcendence and transformation. The choice of the right ‘structure’
therefore very important.
assessed the different religions and secular ideologies with this question in
do they encourage participation, do they acknowledge transcendence, and do
inspire transformation? And again he comes back to his Christological startingpoint:
secular strivings for fuller human life should be placed and interpreted in their real
to the ultimate meaning and fulfilment of human life revealed in the divine
of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.”(39)
stated in the beginning, the key question of this address is to learn what Thomas’
could mean for our understanding of a pilgrimage of justice and peace as
for at the 10 th assembly of the WCC in Busan, 2013. Are his theological reflections
relevant,knowing that the social, economic and political realities have changed and
ecumenical movement has entered a new phase? What would have been his
to the central committee of 2016 on the pilgrimage if he still would have been
a number of aspects in his thinking may be helpful while the WCC and its
churches and ecumenical partners try to shape the pilgrimage of justice and
WCC central committee adopted, in its meeting of July 2014, a paper in which the
aspects of the pilgrimage of justice and peace are described.(40)
The first dimension proposes to celebrate God’s great gift of life, the
of creation and the unity of a reconciled diversity. The second dimension leads to
places of violence and injustices in which God’s incarnated presence in the midst of
exclusion and discrimination, is discerned. The third dimension leads to
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
problem of my neighbour’s bread is a spiritualquestion. Thomas concept of
has very much the nature of transformative spirituality, the importance of
has again been highlighted in the latest ecumenical mission affirmationTogether
A pilgrimage of justice and peace
peace for the coming years. They are:
1. A refining of the theological methodology
paper highlights three dimensions of the pilgrimage which might be seen as the
of a theological methodology. It distinguishes between celebrating the gifts
positiva), visiting the wounds (via negativa), and transforming the injustices (via (via
acts of transformation encouraging a life in true compassion with each other
with nature. These three dimensions remind us of the methodology of ‘see, judge
would probably not deny the value of this approach. However, studying his
one discovers that his methodology showed a refinement which might be
for a pilgrimage of justice and peace. In his analysis of what the central
paper calls the via negativa he added a few steps which do not immediately
to judging what is wrong but rather to a deeper understanding of what is behind
and oppression. Reviewing what he sees as current events and movements, he
to analyse the revolutionary forces in today’s reality, than interpret the human
in them, and finally discern the spiritualdimension in the human
At that level, he formulated what the response of Christian faith
be reflecting the elements of God’s gift of life and cruciform humanity. Doing so, he
a too easy shortcut between social analysis and biblicalmoral teachings which
do not reach the heart of the struggle for justice and peace.
is the first line of interpretation: moving from analysing the events and movements
interpreting the human self-understanding and finally reflecting on the spiritual
The second line of refinement of his analysis is the way back from reading
Scriptures towards understanding the day-to-day reality. For instance, histheological
on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ helped him to see thereality from
specific perspective. His discovery of the theological value of the concept of cruciform
helped him to see more clearly the messianic nature of the human
in freedom and creativity. His methodologicalapproach is therefore not
moving from analysis towards theologicalresponse, but a double movement,
forward and backward between sociology of religion and theology of society.
could object that this methodology has a too strong anthropologicalfocus, ignoring
fact that the current oppressive systems not only have an impact on human life but
that on the environment, endangering the future of all life on earth. Thomas
not deny this wider impact on the entire creation, but would probably also assert
the human being is the determining factor in the current processes of social,
and ecological injustices. For him that was the reason to discern the
of human self-understanding in the current destructive processes but also to
the responsibility of humans to transform destruction into life-embracing
Thomas did not deny the importance of faith in the Holy Trinity, his theology is
the core Christology. In that sense he fully resonated with the theologicalfocus of his
in the ecumenical movement as well as in the wider theological circles. Today the
theological reflection has shifted its emphasis more towards pneumatology.
the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and his salvation, the new statement
“some key developments in understanding the mission of the Holy Spirit within
and act’ as common in several liberation theologies.
2. Revisiting Christology
A good example of this shift is the new ecumenical mission affirmationTogether
Towards Life. While the earlier mission statement of the World Council of Churches
the mission of the Triune God (mission Dei)”.(41)
new statement elaborates this approach under four headings:
Spirit of mission: breath of life;
Spirit of liberation: mission from the margins;
Spirit of community: Church of the move; and 4) Spirit of Pentecost: good news
wonders whether Thomas would have easily embraced this shift. His theology was
only too much shaped by the discussions of his time; the focus on the work of the
Spirit without constantly rooting it in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ
easily lead to a superficial interpretation of the darker side of human nature, or
one should say, the darker side of all life. How does the pneumatological
help to understand the deep abyss of wilful destruction and the self-righteous
theological problem here is that the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not
great signs of divine grace and a solid ground for our hope. The cross is as much an
of human reality. In the light, or rather the shadow, of the cross we discover
we are. In that sense, the cross and resurrection are not only the answer to our
they also help us to understand our reality. The current general secretary of the
Council of Churches, Rev.Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, pointed to this aspect of the cross
resurrection in his sermon during the installation service in 2010. In an article based
that sermon he explained: “The cross is more than a sign of our religious identity. It is
‘reality check’ of our churches of our ministry, of our ecumenicalmovement, of our
then refers to Martin Luther’s saying:Crux probatomnia,the cross puts everything to
test. This everything includes the dehumanising forces which we see in religious,
pilgrimage of justice and peace needs therefore to be based on a Trinitarian theology
which the divine revelation of grace and judgement becomes a point of entry to
and understand the realities of injustice and oppression as much as a source of
that inspires transformation.
urge to discern the meaning of a Trinitarian theology for a pilgrimage of justice and
is related to the need to further reflect on Thomas’ concept of cruciform humanity.
concept has the potential to become a guiding principle for Christian life and more
the Christian involvement in the struggle for justice and peace as well as an
seemed to have used these ancient Christian spiritual traditions but placed
in the wider context of the Christian involvement for the struggle of justice and
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
rejection of the life-giving community?
social, economic, and political developments.
3. Elaborating the concept of cruciform humanity for ethical guidance
motive for developing a pilgrimage-spirituality. The concept has deep roots
the history of Christianity and its spiritual fathers and mothers. For instance, several
aspects can be found in Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ.(43)
There is a related aspect which has not been central in Thomas’ writings. Christians in
parts of the world experience persecution, especially today now several religions
through reviving radicalism and violence. Several Orthodox Church leaders in the
East, but also Pope Francis, point at the new experiences of martyrdom.
is not seen by them as necessarily negative, but as an essential marker of
Christ. Further reflection on Thomas’ concept of cruciform humanity needs to
a fuller understanding of martyrdom, including the question what cruciform
reflection on the pilgrimage needs to include a deeper understanding of the
of justice and peace. Usually, it is taken for granted that we know what justice
peace mean. Lack of theological reflection on these concepts might result in
copying them from a secular discourse. Then the question is for instance:
the ecumenical movement follow the theory of justice as developed by John Rawls
is the egalitarian understanding of justice as supported by socialism embraced?
was convinced that the concepts of justice and peace need to be interpreted
a theological perspective. As we have seen earlier, he understood the struggle for
as part of necessary power-politics. Following Reinhold Niebuhr’s warning that
easily leads to corruption and violence, Thomas frequently cautioned of the
grace and judgement. Can this approach help us to develop a theological
of these important concepts in the pilgrimage?
plea to develop a theological understanding of justice was undergirded by his
to have a spirituality that keeps one on the right track between defeatism and
Both options are part of the reality in the churches and in the ecumenical
There are several theologicaltraditions in the Christian history that have
up the struggle for justice and peace. Some have done so because their faith
are deeply rooted in a two-cities theology. Theyconsider this world as being
Others believe that the church should not interfere in political matters. Again others
given up their involvement in justice and peace efforts out of complacency,
that social, economic and political realities are too complex and too much
by forces beyond our control.
other option is to end up in radicalism and violence in the name of justice and peace.
radicalism and violence have become again an urgent concern in many
Christianity is known for religious radicalismand violence at certain stages in its
In other instances Christian faith has been used by political forces to legitimise
means for churches and Christians that do not experience martyrdom.
4. Need to root the understanding of justice and peace in faith in divine grace
in the struggles for justice. He expressed the need to
justice in the context of divine righteousness: the struggle for justice has a
nature needs to be inspired as well as guided by the pen-ultimate reality of
5. Developing a spirituality of pilgrimage to keep people on the right track
between defeatism and radicalism
violence and oppression.
saw the need for a spirituality which is able to help people to avoid defeatism
radicalism. Can his insights help the pilgrimage of justice and peace to keep people
the right track? Can we find ‘a structure of ultimate meaning and sacredness’ that
the courage to work for justice and peace without resorting into radicalism?
theological thinking provides us with a relevant approach that is worth exploring
review of Thomas’ theology started with the question what would happen if he still
have been the moderator of the central committee? Would he have encouraged
World Council of Churches, its member-churches and ecumenical partners to
on the pilgrimage of justice and peace? Studying his writings, I conclude that he
wouldhave welcomed the call from the assembly. At the same time he would
raised a number of critical questions as a positive contribution to the development
a right theological approach to the pilgrimage. He probably would have offered the
of cruciform humanity as a startingpoint for further reflection on practical and
engagement. He would have challenged us to deepen our understanding of
and peace from a theological perspective. He would have encouraged us to
a spirituality that can prevent the pilgrim from ending the journey in defeatism
from self-righteously marching on into the extreme, losing a reflective eye on God’s
Assembly of the world Council of Geneva: WCC Publications, 2014, p.36.
Encountering the God of Life.Report of the 10th Assembly of the world Council of Churches.p.40, par.1
‘A Spirituality for Combat’, in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 1984, p.
Man and the Universe of Faiths. Madras: CLS, 1975, p. xi.
Ideological Quest within Christian Commitment 1939-1954 . Madras: CLS, 1983, pp. 1ff.
Republished in Ideological Quest ..., p.36.
Republished in Ideological Quest ..., p.100.
Ideological Quest ..., p.131.
M.M.Thomas, Some Theological Dialogues. Madras: CLS, 1977, p.15.
Towards aTheology of Contemporary Ecumenism . Madras: CLS, 1978, p.36.
I gave my study of the development of Thomas’ thinking the titleTheology of Prophetic Participation as
of John Hick who called his lectures: God and the Universe of Faiths. Conform Thomas note at page
Man and the Universe of Faiths, p.45.
Man and the Universe of Faiths , pp.37ff.
The Christological Task of India”, Religion and Society, Vol.XI, No.3, September 1964, pp.5f
The Acknowledged of the Indian Renaissance, p.239
M.M.Thomas, ‘Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility’.Unpublished manusript.Archives
the United Theological College in Bangalore.
Erlinda N. Senturias and Theodore A. Gill, Jr. (Eds.), Encountering the God of Life. Report of the 10th
6 Hielke T. Wolters, Theology of Prophetic Participation. M.M. Thomas’ Concept of Salvation and the Co
llective Struggle for Fuller Humanity in India. Delhi/Bangalore: ISPCK/UTC, 1996, pp.12-74.
expression of this search
Salvation and Humanisation , pp.9f.
16Man and the Universe Faiths, pp.xi-xii. (The title of Thomas’ book shows an opposite approach to t
M.M.Thomas, Religion and the Revolt of the Oppressed . Delhi: ISPCK, 1981, p.55
19 Some Dialogues, chapter 7.
26 M.M.Thomas, New Creation in Christ. Delhi: ISPCK, 1976, p.18.
The Secular Ideologies of India and the Secular Meaning of Christ , p.199.
Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism , p.203.
Paton (ed.), Breaking Barriers Nairobi 1975. London/Grand Rapids: SPCK/ Eerdmans, 1976, p.
the lack of gender awareness of those days.
Salvation and Humanisation , p.4.
Breaking Barriers, p.208
Religion and the Revolt of the Oppressed , p.53.
David Jenkins, ‘Theological Inquiry Concerning Human Rights’, The Ecumenical Review, Vol.XXVII,
April 1975, p.103.
Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism , p.179.
Religion and the Revolt of the Oppressed , p.54.Italics by Thomas.
Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism , p.181
Invitation to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace Revised’, Central Committee, July 2-8, 2014, Gen
Fykse Tveit, Christian Solidarity in the Cross of Christ. Geneva: WCC Publications, 2012, p. 14.
Thomas was inspired by this book already in the early 1930s.
32New Creation Christ, p.20. While reading passages like these, one notices how Thomas’ language r
eva Switzerland, Document No.5 rev.
41Together Towards Life.Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes , paragraph 11.
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has been attributed and widely recognised that in the history of the ecumenical movement M.M
belongs to the generation of ecumenical leaders who have shaped not only ecumenical
metamorphosis of the ecumenical thought of M.M Thomas was an outcome of his direct involvement
the ecumenical movement for more than six decades. He made remarkable contributions in the Indian,
and global ecumenical movement through various Christian, ecumenical and secular
and platformsincluding the Mar Thoma Youths Union, Student Christian Movement, Mar
Council youth forum, World Student Christian Federation, World Ecumenical Youth
International Missionary Council,
Thomas started his international ecumenical journey by the usual route in the years preceding the
of the WCC: through his leadership in the Indian Student Christian Movement and in the World
capacitiesuntil 1953 operating from India. He was instrumental in preparing the study on ‘The
in the World Struggle’ together with David McCaughey, which
an influential guide to Christian student groups in that period.This study was the first ecumenical
to the "revolutionary changes" resulting from the worldwide political upheaval following the
Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church
Dr. M.M. Thomas Birth Centenary Celebration Seminar
S.C.S Campus, Tiruvalla, Kerala
31 August 2015
M.M. Thomas’ Contributions
to the Worldwide Ecumenical Movement
Mathews George Chunakara
Dr. Mathews George Chunakara currently serves as theGeneral Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). He served the
World Council of Churches in Geneva as Asia Secretary (2000-2009) and Director of the Commission of the Churches on
International Affairs ( 2009-2014).
theology but the global ecumenical movement itself.
Thoma Youth League, Youth Christian Council
ofAction, Inter-religious Student Fellowship, National
World Council of Churches, East Asia Christian Conference (EACC)
now known as the Christian
Conference of Asia (CCA) and the Christian Peace Conference.
Student Christian Federation (WSCF).
He was on the staff
of the WSCF from 1947 to 1949 in Geneva and continued to work for WSCF in
Second World War, and the national independence movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America.His
as a WSCF staff in the Geneva secretariat brought Thomas in contact with leading theologians
ecumenical leaders in Europe and North America allowed him to be part of the discussions of the
gained international recognition for his contribution to the first World Christian Youth Conference held
Oslo in 1947. M.M was invited the same year to take part in the preparations for the consideration of
and political questions at the first WCC assembly in Amsterdam. He was the only person from the
World who was part of the preparatory discussions on a sub theme of the Assembly, "The
and the Disorder of Society". Five years later in 1952, M.M. chaired the second World Christian
Conference held in Kottayam, Kerala, India - the first to be convened outside the Western
Immediately after the Kottayam Youth Conference, he was invited to be one of the leaders
a WCC-convened study conference in Luknow on the church and socialissues in Asia. It was based
the LuknowStudy Conference report thatEvanston Assembly made a recommendation that the
should focus for the next seven years on the social and political questions facing the churches in
programme on "The Common Christian Responsibility towards Areas of Rapid Social
in 1955, M.M. was also selected as a member of the Working Committee and he became the
(CISRS). At the international Christian Conference on "Rapid Social Change" in Greece in 1959,
and John Bennett of the USA co-chaired the section on "Christian Responsibility in Political Action",
work increased M.M.'s responsibilities and role inWCC. He presented the findings of the Rapid
Change study at the New Delhi Assembly together with Egbert de Vries of the Netherlands.
and secular ideologies. M.M was directly involved in the preparations for the First
of the WCC in Amsterdam. He was made a consultant for various preparatory meetings of
Assembly. He attended the first Central Committee meeting of WCC held in Whitby, Canada in
as a substitute for Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan. At the Evanston Assembly Thomas spoke
Religion and Ethics at the Union Biblical Seminary Pune, who made an effort to expound the
of M.M Thomas, observes M.M’s presentation at Evanston was basically in agreement with
understanding that the Church as the servant of the world. Sumithra says,as a layman, Thomas has
emphasised the secular witness of the Church and thus secularity came to stay in his views of
theology of mission. According to Sumithra, all the elements – “the necessity to express the
Faith in secular activities, the idea of participation, the inevitability of common struggles, the
as a speaker. In his presentation of a paper on the
“The Christian Witness in the Society and Nation”, he anchored his thoughts and ideas based
a generalised thematic framework of his presentation at the Evanston Assembly and spelled out
the witness to Christ as redeemer of society and nation means. M.M.’s speech at the Ghana IMC
was seen as a decisive development in the theology of the WCC, namely a positive
formation of the World Council of Churches prior to its official founding in 1948.
"developing" countries. When the
newly created WCC department on Church and Society launched a
staff representative in Asia for this project. At the same time his
contributions to the wider ecumenical
concepts and principles were demonstrated
through the Christian Institute of Studies in Religion and
producing a report which became a guide for worldwide Christian
reflection and action.This kind ofa
M.M.’s contributions in shaping WCC’s ideological and theological values were
evident mainly through
his direct involvement in various areas of WCC’s programs
such as Mission, Church and Society and
on “Christians in the Struggle for a Responsible
Society in India”. Sunand Sumithra of the faculty of
criteria of responsibility, human freedom and social justice and the
ideal of secular society – have
continued both in Thomas’ theology as well as in the theology of WCC”. 1
At the International Missionary Council (IMC) meeting held in Achimota, Ghana in 1957-58,
and it emphasised plurality as a needed element of the theology ofmission, brought the world
Christian mission as its essential part and paved the way towards the ideological interpretation of
the New Delhi Assembly where the IMC merged with WCC, M.M. gave a major address on the
Challenge to the Churches in the New Nations of Africa and Asia”. He articulated his views in
presentation that “Christ is present and active in the world of today, engaged in a continuous
with men and nations, affirming His kingly rule over them through the power of His Law and His
M.M also advocated his convictions of a Cosmic Christ.All these ideas and theological
M.M spoke of at the New Delhi Assembly were taken up into the Message of the assembly
are counted among the ideological influences in the milestones of the modern ecumenical
After the merger of the IMC with WCC in 1961, the newly formed Division of World Mission
Evangelism had its first meeting in Mexico City in 1963. Thomas had spoken at the Mexico meeting
“The World in which We Preach Christ” and he presented the contemporary situation of the world as
which would do justice to emerging concerns such as the technological revolution, the
of the people for social justice, and the resurgence of religions. He was of the opinion at that
“the search for a new pattern of human society and for an adequate spiritual dynamic for this
are realities of the contemporary world which are relevant to the task of defining missions
3 While emphasising the goal of unity of mankind as a feltneed, he emphasised on various efforts
achieve it and said at the Mexico meeting that, “. There is a growing sense of humanity and human
in the world which finds its expression in mutual concern, a sense of participation in the
of others for their fundamental rights” 4
spoke at the Conference on the theme “Modernisation and the Struggle for a New Cultural Ethos”,
said at the conference, “that the spiritual dimensions of the contemporary awakening of the
cultural formulations for modernisation”. The Conference message acknowledged the fact
“as Christians, we are committed
working for the transformation of society”. 5 The report of the Conference underscored that Christian
must expound and defend the understanding of the “human” as a criterion for judging
and social change. M.M’s understanding of society, revolutions and ideology were discussed
and subsequently he was appointed as secretary of the Asian Branch ofthe study series on
Social Change’. In that capacity he organised a series of study conferences in India. The Indian
to the Study was included in M.M’s book, ‘Christian Participation in Nation Building’ which
of WCC at Uppsala in 1968, it was also due to the contributions of M.M. In his presentation at
special session of the Assembly where he was reporting about the Geneva Church and Society
Thomas raised the question: “What does it mean to the life and work of the Church to be
in a world of revolutions?”. He was of the opinion that a dynamic reinterpretation of the Christian
is needed as traditionalinterpretation of the Christian doctrines has generally been static. At the
Assembly M.M was named an official delegate of the Mar Thoma Church and he was elected
mission in the years to come. 2
a revolutionary world. His main thesis out
of his concern was about the development of an effective
The World Conference on Church and Society organised by the Church and Society
WCC held in Geneva was influenced by the thinking of M.M. He was
the chairman of the Conference
people of Asia and Africa, stimulated by the Western impact and their search for a
was a summary of a series of meetings he organised in India.
When the impact
of the Geneva Church and Society conference significantly influenced the Fourth
the moderator of WCC Central Committee. During the period from 1968-1975 when M.M. was Chairman
the Central Committee of the WCC, his thinking influenced substantially the programmatic emphasis
WCC., It was a known factor that there was a fear among European church leaders that M.M. was
and theological thoughts started influencing and shaping the ecumenical movement many people
international ecumenical circles thought or misunderstood M.M Thomas. Some of them expressed
or indirectly the unspoken western anxiety that the leadership of the ecumenical movement may
be safe in the hands of non-European Christians like M.M. Thomas and the then General Secretary
Dr. Philip Potter. There were criticisms from different corners about M.M’s theological interpretations.
late Metropolitan Paulose Mar Gregorios who was WCC’s Associate General Secretary once
that several critics in international circles thought that M.M was substituting “Revelation by
Mar Gregorios further describes how his colleague, Prof. Hans Heinrich Wolf, the then
of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, attacked M.M. in terms of his theological positions.
to Paulose Mar Gregorios, M.M. never absolutised any Revolution, but what Prof Heinrich
expressed was “merely a sub-liminal fear of the German psyche stemming from some 19th century
making them terribly scared about the word ‘Revolution’.” What M.M. stood for was full
of the human race -- the development of the awareness of dignity, freedom and
in every human being. So when the Human Rights movement was launched in the middle
the seventies, it was a confirmation of what M.M. stood for -- the centrality and priority of the
Mar Gregorios says, “It was a good thing that M.M was not a systematic theologian. If he were
would have been lost in the labyrinths of methodological precisions and terminological exactitudes
would have made him unreadable.” 6
the Western world started admiring the contributions of M.M. to the ecumenical
and the theological basis and the ideological clarity he was introducing. In this context,
citesan instance of Western Christianity’s recognition of M.M’s contributions to the
movement. When M.M was distinguished for his contribution by the theological faculty of
M.M. and said, “By conferring on you an honorary doctorate in theology, we want to express
great significance as a lay theologian… And as the Chairman of the WCC’s Central Committee, in
the man who points to the very centre of our faith and the decisive role of theologicalreflection. We
among others particularly to you, that theologians and laymen, and First and Third World, can stay
fact, his leadership as the Moderator of WCC Central Committee was also unparalleled.Norman
noted that“the most significant symbolic change” at WCC’s Uppsala Assembly “was the
of an Asian, M.M. Thomas”. As the moderator of WCC’s Central Committee, Thomas did not
his responsibility to delivering only a moderator’s address at the Central Committee meeting. His
on Salvation Today (1973) organised by the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism
WCC in Bangkok.When he delivered the keynote address at the Bangkok Conference, Thomas’s
loaded with theological exegesisthat social justice, physical welfare, political freedom and
sufficiency form the background against which Salvation in Christ become meaningful in the
real unity” of the churches is their unity in participating in people’s struggles. This is what he said, “a
watering down the good old European tradition of Christianity.
While his contributions and ecumenical
the University of
Leiden, Netherlands, with an honorary Doctorate in Theology, Prof. Hendrick Berkhof
a period when many believed that the
ecumenical movement could do without theology, you were and
theological insights and deep Christian convictions were shared in a more pragmatic
stimulated the ecumenical movement and helped to address the cardinal
social issues as part of the
prophetic witness of the Church. A classical example for
such a contribution was evident at the World
unity of the churches which comes of internal adjustments in the interests of the preservation of
meeting at Canterbury in 1969, M.M bluntly stated that “the churches are under divine
for their lack of solidarity with men in their struggle”. In the Berlin Central Committee meeting
said “it is time for the Church to witness to Christ and His purpose for mankind” and he replaced the
of the Church by “participation in the struggles for the humanisation of societies”. At the
educate, train and support their laymen, women and youth to respond to the Asian
within their secular vocations and through their associations. He added that the pastors and
9 He insisted in his speech at the Singapore EACC assembly that the church should get
in the movement of the people for power as the path to justice”. He believes in such
interpreted his concept of spirituality as a basic issue in these quests, and affirmed that the church
lost its mission if it does not get involved in the struggle of the marginalised people and
for these goals.: “Here lies the mission of the Church: it is to participate in the movements
human liberation of our time in such a way as to witness to Jesus Christ as the Source, the Judge and
human spirituality and its orientation as it is at work in these movements, and
as the Saviour of Man Today”. The Bangkok Conference did not negate the fact that salvation
mean various things to people in various contexts and as such pluralistic approach of mission was a
point of the BangkokConference. This was not digestiveto all Christian groups or churches in
days and precisely for this reason the pluralistic understanding of the Christian mission was
criticised by the evangelicals at the Bangkok Conference. However, the Bangkok Conference
influence WCC’stheological and programmatic direction in the following years for which M.M’s
as a legitimate goal. In fact, M.Madvocated the need and importance of “accepting the
framework or ad hoc political goals”. In his Moderator’s Report to the 1972 Utrecht Central
Assembly held in Nairobi, where M.M concluded his role as the moderator of the Central
a landmark and turning point in ecumenical history. The theme of the Nairobi
and salvation discussed at the Bangkok Conference. When Nairobi affirmed and accepted the
of the unity of mankind as a legitimate goal and a shift in emphasis from ecclesiastical
to secular ecumenism, it was M.M.’s contribution that was substantial in shaping the
of the new direction and goal of the ecumenical movement at that time. In his address at the
assembly, M.M. shared a vision he developed on Christ centred approach to other religions and
need to shape a theology of dialogue between religions and WCC’s future programmatic
Sunand Sumithra summarised the role of M.M. at the Nairobi assembly and he says: that
idea of unity of all mankind in Christ, the need for a spirituality for combat and the understanding of
as a movement of the tension between freedom and unity were all Thomas’ emphases at Nairobi,
they became the emphases also of the theology of the WCC in the coming years.
common interests is not of much theological value;
the unity of the churches is to be realised through
their participation in the struggles
for the unity of mankind”. 8 In his Moderator’s report to the Central
EACC Assembly in Singapore in 1973,
he emphasised that the congregations must spiritually and
theologians have a large
responsibility to sensitise the churches to the ethical demands of the Asian
participation that the Church as a fellowship of forgiven sinners,
rejects the identification of “any city of
man with the city of God” 10
contribution was significant. The program unit of
Inter-religious dialogue and ideologies came to be
recognised as an important
aspect of the work of WCC and paved the way for accepting the unity of
Committee meeting he emphasised the need for common action with other faiths and ideologies. 11
assembly, “Jesus Christ Frees and
Unites”, was influenced by the discussions and interpretations of
also articulatedhis ideas and concerns on Christian approaches and responses to revolutions. At
Strasbourg World Conference of the WSCF, M.M.categorically rejected the argument that revolution
and a pietistic approach has a lopsided understanding of man and Christ”. . He had
the question whether radical and rapid changes in society necessarily involve force and
This issue was again brought to the limelight for discussion at the Christian Peace Conference
Assembly in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1968. He posits that the concern for the human should
theology of revolution was based on the conviction that people’s participation as the necessary
to effect change in power structures through any revolution.
involvement and radical action to address the emerging concerns in the world. The
underpinning he emphasised on spirituality was another example of his contribution to the
ecumenical movement, especially in the context of the Apartheid in South Africa. He
the theological and ideological bases which was summarised in an ideological framework he
“Spirituality for Combat”. Thomas classified spirituality in three ways: the mystical spirituality
concerns the expression of the union of the believer with God; a second type is the Sadhu kind of
which emphasises not only on the union with God but on the renouncing of the world;and the
he describes is prophetic or incarnationalspirituality, whose essence is involvement and sharing in
suffering of others in order to liberate them from their suffering. He had a firm conviction that neither
mystical spirituality of the sacraments, nor the ascetic spirituality of the monks, nor even the
in a spirituality which motivates one to legitimate struggles. A spirituality for combat which gives
very life, the spirit with which to struggle. When WCC was spearheading the campaign to end
in South Africa, the theological and philosophical bases underscored by M.M. gave real
for the accompaniment in the struggle against apartheid. Although it was not a smooth road to
the ideological and theologicalpositions of WCC and the mobilising support for an international
beginning of its founding. At the first meeting of EACC in Prapat, Indonesia in 1957, he spoke on the
“The Mission and Its Encounter with the Asian Revolution”. He shared his conviction that
in State cannot live on in a society with an authoritarian tradition. In doing so, he was
to the Asian church leaders who gathered at the historic meeting in Prapat to discuss
future mission and evangelistic tasks of the Asian churches andtheir involvement in such
settings. In this context, he defined mission of the church “to witness to Christ as Lord
thinking was often shared in EACC conferences. His understanding and interpretation of Christ as
Lord not only of the Church or of the world but of the whole cosmos. He lined the elements of his
to colonialism and Christian mission. In his speech at the 1959 EACC assembly, he connected
mission integrally with politics. He stated: “We cannot have a new vision of the Christian
in Asia without a Christian interpretation of Asian nationalism”. In a way when M.M was
the Lordship of Christ, he was validating political actions as part of the Church’s mission in
is a revolt against God by stating that “Jesus
who is the lover of my soul is also the Lord of the world
be the criterion in strategy of any revolution.
M.M.’s interpretations about spiritualitygave new insights to the ecumenical
movement to sharpen its
incarnational spirituality of sacrificial love is relevant, but a spirituality which struggles and fights.
convince every member of WCC’s constituency to be part of this struggle,
M.M greatly contributed to
M.M.’s contributions in shaping the theological and ideological bases of EACC were evident
and Redeemer of the whole man” .The question of
Christ’s Lordship which became a cardinal point in
thinking of Christ’s relationship with Asian revolution as well
as mission of the church in response to
emerging political realities in Asia.He approached theology of
mission through politics, especially in
to give a Christian justification of revolution. Again at the 1964 Assembly of EACC in 1964, he said
task of the Christian community as being defined by its relation to the struggles of the human
in which it lives”.This thinking of M.M has influenced EACC during the first years after its
in 1957. In subsequent years M.M. continued to use EACC platforms to echo his views and
for the Asian ecumenical movement mainly in the context of Asia’s pluralistic religious and
contexts and Christian Action in Asian struggles. At the EACC assembly in 1964, he
stated that secularism should be the framework for the coming dialogue on common
between world religions for Asia’s pluralistic contexts. When he reminded the delegates of the
a signal to the Asian churches and Christians to be mindful of emerging religious fundamentalism
their own situations. Already in 1959 at the Kuala Lumpur assembly of EACC M.M spoke of the
and theological renaissance as the valid basis for Asian politics. He argued at the 1973 EACC
that any action involves a framework of spiritualand ideological direction, without which there
no meaningful social life. He recommended to the 1973 assembly that it should give serious thought to
question of the ethos of Asian struggle.
cooperation with the East Asia Christian Conference M.M. soon became the strategist of a vital Asian
programme on social issues. A quick and clear drafter, he produced in these years a stream of
on Christian social witness, challenging clergy and laity in the churches of Asia to reflection
action on economic and political goals of nation-building.M.M. Thomas, a layman who engaged
his career in a search for the theological and ethical basis of a Christian understanding of
witness to the tumultuous social and political developments continuously sensitised the churches
the worldwide ecumenical movement through his contributions in different areas. Swedish Church
Alf Tergel succinctly sums up M.M. Thomas' remarkable ecumenical contribution: "Along with
Sumithra, Revolution as Revelation, International Christian Network , Tubingen, West Germany, 1984, p. 10.
ibid p 16).
Report of the IMC Mexico meeting, 1963, p.78
Religion and Society June 1964, p. 8.
Message of the World Conference on Church and Society
Religion and Society, March 1970, p.2.
Report of the CCA Assembly, 1973, p.10.
Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism, CISRS / WCC, 1977
Bangkok EACC Assembly about the tide of secularisation rising all
over the world, he was in a way
Visser 't Hooft, M.M. Thomas has had the greatest influence on the modern ecumenical movement."
Paulose Mar Gregorios, …M. M. Thomas A Tribute ……………..
Downloaded from www.marthoma.in
A Tribute To Dr. M. M. Thomas
On His 70th Birthday
Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios
| All Saints Company. The Dancing Saints Icons project at Saint Gregory Nyssen Episcopal
first met M. M. in New York. I think it was 1953. He was spending a year reading at
Seminary. I was an ordinary B. D. student at Princeton. He was already a Guru,
known in Indian Christian circles, as well as in WSCF circles. I was totally unknown
India, having left the country in 1947. My few youthful exploits in Ethiopia and the
attached to them were most likely unknown to MM as they were
to many Indian Christians until much later.
went to see him to learn and to be inspired. But I did it in the typical Indian way. I just
in and introduced myself, a procedure MM did not particularly like. He made me
understand clearly that he had come to America to do some reading and did not have
time for idle conversation. Anyway there was no idle conversation. I left after
I come back to India and became an active, worker in the Student Christian
of India, contacts became easier and more frequent. We began sharing
and traveling to conferences together. I remember the WSCF conference in
That must have been 30 years ago. I had just joined the staff of Emperor
M. M. Thomas and Mar Gregorios as depicted in the mural
about 5 minutes, with the satisfaction that I had met the great man face to face.
Haile Sellassie, and had come to Burma from Addis Ababa, via India.
We got to Rangoon at about 4 a.m. and since the conference was in a High School, our
were limited. MM desperately wanted a cup of tea. Harry Daniel was with us as
as our brother from Sri Lanka, whose name now escapes me. Harry taunted us,
“I am born in Burma. I assure you, if you want a cup of tea, just walk around near
school, and you will find some Malayalee pouring out tea.” So that is what we did --
four of us wandering around the school in Rangoon, at about 4.30 a.m. We did not
to walk far before we found a Malayalee tea-shop, and all of us were so pleased, I
those days, I had a reputation as an interpreter of M.M.Thomas. My mind was much
than his. What he expressed in complex technical terminology. I could,
of course, summarise in simpler language. Quite often, after MM had
in English, I would be asked to summarize in English, or if he spoke in
contacts became more frequent after 1961, when he was Moderator of the
of Church and Society in the WCC and I became WCC’s Associate General
both had come through the fifties when “nation-building" and Christian contribution
“Asian Revolution” had become the main concerns for thinking Christians in the
independent countries of Asia. MM saw at that time two forces sweeping our
along with the surge and emergence of formerly subject peoples
the impact of science and technology on our cultures and ways of living, and the
road-roller of secularisation crushing old ideologies and religions.
was a “Rapid Social Change’ man, welcoming the acceleration of the pace of social
but warming people not to idealize or idolize any particular ideology or
No political order or political party or moral system or ideology was to be
with the Kingdom of God. This he had learned from Barth and the Niebuhrs.
he saw Jesus Christ at work in the social revolution. For him Jesus Christ was more
work in what was happening outside the Church than inside it. But there was no room
any utopianism, no ideology of the inevitable success of the revolution, no easy
about higher standards of living yielding greater human dignity and freedom.
misunderstood MM that he was substituting Revelation by Revolution. In fact my
on our staff in Geneva, Prof. Hans Heinrich Wolf, the Director of the
Institute in Bossey, attacked MM in those terms. In fact, however, MM never
any Revolution. This was merely a sub-liminal fear of the German psyche
from some 19th century experiences, making them terribly scared about the
MM stood for was full humanisation of the human race -- the development of the
of dignity, freedom and responsibility in every human being. So when the
Malayalam, to reformulate it in the same language, for the benefit of the audience.
Secretary and Director of the Division of Ecumenical Action.
Human Rights movement was launched in the middle of the seventies, it was a
of what MM stood for -- the centrality and priority of the human.
the period from 1968-1975 when MM was Chairman of the Central Committee of
WCC, there were a number of attacks on MM's theology from good friends like
Lesslie Newbigin, Prof. Wolf and others. Behind these was a fear that M. M.
watering down good old European Christianity and the unspoken western anxiety
the leadership of the Christian Ecumenical Movement may not be safe in the hands
non-European Christians like M.M. Thomas and Philip Potter. Is Christianity safe in
hands of the West?
is a good thing that MM is not a systematic theologian. If he were he would have been
in the labyrinths of methodological precisions and terminological exactitudes which
is a pious liberal Christian, devotedly committed to Jesus Christ, but not to the
believed by the Church. It is a Christ about whom he learned much from Marxism
Gandhism, and whose main work is in society rather than in the Church or in the
soul. Christ is at work in technology, in the Asian Revolution, in allsocial
is no doubt that for many Protestant Christians and others committed to social
MM has been a source of great inspiration and encouragement. I remember
Fermandez, who, if anything is a Roman Catholic, saying in a Delhi meeting
which I was presiding, that he was prepared to fall at MM's feet and kiss his feet.
added also, for my benefit, that he could do that with no other Christian leaders. MM
a great teacher and a prolific writer, even as he enters his seventies. May God
him many more years of mental and bodily health and vigour to further clarify the
of his thought. I would like, personally, to see his thought move and develop
two different directions. First, his ecclesiology, with its sacramentaltheology, will have
show more clearly the distinctions and relations between the work of Christ and the
Spirit in the community of faith on the one hand and in the world as a whole on the
Second, in developing the latter aspect, i.e. the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit
the world, he would have to make the Cross on which the world is today hanging a
more clear. That Cross has a North-South beam and an East-West beam. He
still have to work out the relation between the East-west tensions as not just
rivalry, but also as a conflict which has its roots in the exploitation and
is both an ex-Marxist and an ex-Gandhian, though his actual involvement anddeep
of Marxism and Gandhism was of somewhat short duration. He is seeking
make that Cosmic Christ make sense to Christians and non-Christians alike in the
of today's world is a big challenge indeed, to him as well as to the rest of us.
would have made him unreadable.
change everywhere. Christ is also the norm for our participation in all change.
oppression of the many by the few.
to go beyond both Marxism and Gandhism through his perception of a Cosmic Christ.
salute M. M. and pay my humble tribute to him. May God guide him and use him for
more years to come.
If at all ecumenism needs to be practical, relationship between Churches has to become
said the Supreme Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I. Ecumenical Movement
face the challenges of 21st Century only if relations between Churches get deeper, added the
who is also the Moderator of World Council of Churches.
key note address at the Ecumenical Meeting held at Old Seminary, Kottayam under the
of Kerala Council of Churches, Catholicos Aram I stressed that India has always been
and multireligious and the harmony of this Indian society is seen by the world nations as
by Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios and Dr. M.M. Thomas, whom Kerala has given birth, are
upon by the World Ecumenical Movement with utmost admiration”, remembered the Armenian
Elect of the Malankara Orthodox Church Paulos Mar Milithios presided over the function.
of Marthoma Church Zacharias Mar Theophilos inaugurated the meeting.
from the Malankara Syrian Church Thomas Mar Thimotheos and Geevarghese Mar
Bishop of Central Kerala Diocese of the CSI Church Thomas Samuel, Secretary of Kerala
of Churches Prof. Philip Ninan, and Principal of Orthodox Theological Seminary Dr. K. M.
spoke on the occasion.
initiative to organize a seminar on the theological contributions of M.M. Thomas and to
the presentations is greatly appreciated. M.M. Thomas is one of those thinkers and leaders
have inspired a whole generation of Indian theologians and ecumenists, whether or not they
with him. His addresses, articles and books are thought-provoking and can hardly be ignored.
his visible role in debates in India and outside ended, one got the impression that his influence
fading. New concerns and developments in India and in the world and new theological trends
and seminaries. New issues that were not at the heart of Thomas’ reflections increasingly
attention, for instance, the perspectives offered by feminist and Dalit theologians, the concerns
of the changing agendas in theological reflection and urged younger theologians to take up
new subjects in their study.
volume shows that this is not the case. The centenary celebrations of his birthday have revived
interest in his writings. Several platforms and institutions, including the Mar Thoma Church to
were determining the agenda of
debates in churches, the ecumenical movement and theological
around ecological justice and, later,
increasing religious radicalism and violence. Thomas was fully
It was felt that with these changing agendas
the relevance of Thomas’ thinking would also diminish.
which he belonged, have felt that it is worth going back to his writings. They try to discern what his
eading his articles and books, one hardly gets the feeling that Thomas developed a
academic theological methodology. Some remarks and insights can be found throughout
body of his writings, but he did not bring them together in a well-developed study on methodology.
does not mean that he would play down the importance of a sound theological methodology. On
contrary, his reflections on current issues in society, churches and the ecumenical movement,
Bible studies, meditations and sermons, all witness a deep awareness that theology implies a
volume of studies on Thomas shows that his theology can rightly be called a theology of dialogue.
would like to add a dimension to the dialogical nature of his thinking which has often not been
His thinking has also a ‘journey’ dimension, or as we would call it today in the ecumenical
his thinking can be seen as a personal pilgrimage of justice and peace. In his unpublished
‘Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility’, he tried to write, probably challenged by
of his friends, an autobiography. At that time his attempt was not really a success as he more or
had brought together significant passages of his most important articles and annotated these
with some notes with reference to the context in which they were written. It was never
as a book as it would probably not have appealed to a wider audience. However, this
manuscript is of great importance for those who want to study the development of his
title of this unpublished manuscript is very meaningful to understand Thomas’ personal faith
and engagement in and understanding of socio-cultural, economic, and political affairs. He
it ‘Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility’. These four words precisely mark the key
in his thinking: his personal faith and spirituality, the need to analyse and understand, and
urgency to take up responsibility. The word “seeking” forms a crucial marker for his methodology in
together faith, understanding and responsibility. For him it was a journey in which answers
solutions were not given once and for all. Comparing his early articles and meditations and his
books helps us to see that he has gone through a development in his thinking which is on the one
a continuous response to current issues and on the other hand a growth in theological
of them leading to Christian responsibility.
methodological approach is still very relevant. I hope that re-reading his articles and books will
us in our own faith search for understanding and responsibility. M.M. was a person who
seeking out people with pastoral care and encouragement. But he was also a person
liked critical dialogue challenging easy and comfortable assumptions. I hope that this volume will
approach to the questions and concerns of his days would mean
today. SAHTRI’s choice to focus on
Thomas’ contribution to reflections on theological methodologies is therefore very timely and relevant.
continuous interaction between sociology of religion and theology of society, as he formulated
book Man and the Universe of Faiths.
help the readers to engage with him in
a heuristic conversation.
Rev. Dr Hielke Wol
Thomas, M(adathilparampil) M(ammen)
Indian church leader and world ecumenical leader
Born in the Travancore region of Kerala, Thomas was raised in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, whose
combination of ancient sacramental liturgy with modern evangelical spirituality undergirded his life and
ministry. His early Christian youth work and social action in India projected him onto the scene after
World War ll. From 1947 to 1953 he was on the staff of the World Student Christian Federation in
Geneva. The Christian in the World Struggle, written by Thomas in 1952 with colleague David
McCaughey, was an influential guide to Christian student groups in its time.
Thomas served the World Council of Churches (WCC) as moderator of its Central Committee fro 1968
to 1975. Earlier, he was Asian staff member of the WCC church and society department, then chair of
the departmental working committee and co-chair of the World Conference on Church and Society in
Geneva, 1966. He was also secretary of the East Asia Christian Conference for church and society
concerns. He was a tireless speaker and writer, stimulating ecumenical debate and forging consensus,
expressed in countless conference and meeting reports he helped write. Towards a Theology of
Contemporary Ecumenism (1978) presents some of this work.
In India, Thomas served as associate, then director, of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion
and Society from 1958 until his retirement in 1975. His work produced a libraiy of studies and
conference reports on the religious and social dimensions of Indian life in Christian perspective. He also
wrote extensively in his own name, interpreting Christian faith in light of the Asian revolution, in Indian
society, and in encounter with Hinduism and secular ideologies. In retirement, he continued to write
biblical studies and theology in Malayalam, his mothertongue. He sewed as governor of Nagaland, by
appointment of the government of India, from 1990 to 1992.
Charles C. West,
“Thomas, M(adathilparampil) M(ammen),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed.
Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 666-7.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionaiy of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference
copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY.
M. M. Thomas (1916 -1996)
Madathiparampil Mammen Thomas was one of the most remarkable Indian theologians, a renowned
ecumenical leader, and an outstanding scholar who made an indelible mark on the twentieth century
ecumenical movement. Thomas was a prolific writer both in English and his native language
Malayalam, and wrote over 60 books and close to a thousand articles. some unpublished.
Thomas was born on May 15, 1916 in the South Indian State of Kerala in a devout Christian family
belonging to the Syrian Marthoma Church, where he was raised in evangelical piety. After earning a
university science degree, Thomas took up a teaching job which he left in 1937, becoming involved in
social service and youth movements.
Thomas underwent a spiritual transformation which he called, “an evangelical spiritual experience.” His
personal commitment to Christ, his upbringing in a strong Christian tradition, and his own personal
meditation and study of the Bible and other devotional literature nurtured Thomas’ spirituality which he
later sought to relate to his social involvement. Thomas was influenced by Gandhi, but later became
more inclined towards Marxist ideology. From 1943, Thomas associated himself with the Student
Christian Movement, and in 1947 he became the Secretary of World Student Christian Federation
(WSCF). This new position brought Thomas in contact with leading theologians and ecumenical leaders
in Europe and allowed him to be part of the discussions of the World Council of Churches prior to its
formation. In Europe, his exposure to western liberal democracy and his disillusionment with new
developments in communism both in India and Eastern Europe led to an ideological shift away from
Between 1953 and 1961, Thomas became actively involved in the developing Asian ecumenical
movement and participated in the WCC assembly of 1954 (Evanston). A significant event was the
formation of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CISRS), Bangalore, India in
1957. P. D. Devanandan was appointed the first Director of CISRS and Thomas became the Associate
Director. Thomas also played a major role in the formation of the East Asia Christian Conference
(EACC) in 1959, which became the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in 1973.
The period from 1961 to 1975 was another significant phase in Thomas’ ecumenical journey. He
became actively involved in the WCC with its New Delhi assembly in 1961, where he was elected
Chairperson of the department of Church and Society. Thomas ably led the department during a period
of turmoil and upheaval around the world. In 1962 Devanandan died and Thomas assumed the
directorship of CISRS.
An important milestone in Thomas‘ life was his appointment at the Uppsala assembly in 1967 to be the
Director of the Central Committee of WCC.
After long association with WCC, Thomas retired from both the Central Committee (1975) and also
from CISRS (1976). This period also witnessed Thomas‘ active engagement in India with political
issues of the time. He reacted to the emergency under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through his
writings and organized campaigns for human rights and freedom. In 1990, the Indian government
recognized Thomas’ contribution to public life by appointing him Governor of the Northeastern State of
Nagaland. Thomas resigned as Governor in 1992, and devoted the rest of his life writing, including the
production ofa series of commentaries on the books of the Bible until his death in 1996.
As an ecumenical theologian and a social thinker, Thomas was deeply concerned about Christian
mission. Thomas located his framework for mission in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, the
God-for-Man, and thus his theology of mission is grounded in his Christocentrism. He recognized the
redemptive work of God in the person of Christ and the proclamation of this message for the salvation
of humanity. This evangelistic dimension of mission, for Thomas, was essential and the cutting edge of
Christian mission. However, he did not confine mission only to this concept, what he called the ultimate
destiny, but believed that mission must be understood in a broader perspective of the struggle for
humanization, the historic destiny—human rights and social justice. For Thomas, salvation was
eschatological, but the eschatological framework must embrace “the task of humanisation of the world
in secular history.” Therefore, he maintained that humanization is an integral part of the Christian
message of salvation, and it was intrinsic to salvation. He believed the search for humanization was
embodied in the contemporary revolutions in which he discovered the mission dimension. Thomas saw
Christ at work in revolutions, and he called upon the church to discern it and participate in this mission
for an increased human dignity and fuller humanity.
by P. V. Joseph
Thomas, M.M. The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution. London: SCM, 1966.
. The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance. London: SCM, 1969.
. Salvation and Humanisation: Some Crucial Issues of the Theology of Mission in Contemporaiy
India. Madras: CLS, 1971.
_. The Realization of the Cross. Madras: CLS, 1972.
i. Man and the Universe ofFaiths. Bangalore: CISRS & Madras: CLS, 1975.
_. New Creation in Christ. Delhi: ISPCK, 1976.
_. The Secular Ideologies of India and the Secular Meaning of Christ. Bangalore: CISRS, 1976.
_. Some Theological Dialogues, Madras: CLS, 1977.
. Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism: A Collection of Addresses to Ecumenical
Gatherings (1947-1975). Madras: CLS, 1978.
. Religion and the Revolt of the Oppressed. Delhi: ISPCK, 1981.
. Ideological Quest within Christian Commitment: 1939-54. Madras: Christian Literature Society,
. Faith and Ideology in the Struggle for Justice. Bombay: Bombay Urban Industrial League for
. Risking Christ for Christ’s Sake: Towards an Ecumenical Theology of Pluralism. Geneva: WCC,
. My Ecumenical Journey, 1947-1975. Trivandrum, India: Ecumenical Publishing Centre, 1990.
. The Gospel of Forgiveness and Koinonia. Tiruvalla, India: CSS, 1994.
. A Diaconial Approach to Indian Ecclesiology. Rome: Centre for Indian and Inter-religious Studies
& Tiruvalla, India: Christava Sahitya Samitha, 1995.
. The Church’s Mission and Post-Modern Humanism: Collection of Essays and Talks, 1992-96.
Delhi: ISPCK, 1996.
i. God the Liberator, trans. T.M. Philip. Tiruvalla, India: CSS, 2004.
_. Spiritual Body, trans. T.M. Philip, Tiruvalla, India: CSS, 2005.
_. To the Ends of the Earth, trans. T.M. Philip, Tiruvalla, India: CSS, 2005.
Thomas, M. M. and Paul E. Converse. Revolution and Redemption. New York: Friendship Press, 1955.
Abraham, K. C., ed. Christian Witness in Society: A Tribute to M. M. Thomas. Bangalore: Board of
Theological Education of Senate of Serampore College, 1998.
Athyal, Jesudas M. M. M. Thomas: The Man and His Legacy. Tiruvalla, India: Thiruvalla Ecumenical
Charitable Trust and CSS, 1997.
Bird, Adrian. “M.M. Thomas: Theological Signposts for the Emergence of Dalit Theology." PhD
dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2008.
Chacko, Mohan. Interpreting Society: A Study of the Political Theology of M. M. Thomas and its
Implications for Mission. Dehardun, India, 2000.
Mitchell, Eric Robin. “M.M. Thomas’ View on Church and Society: A Comparison with the Liberation
Theology of Gustavo Guttierrez." PhD dissertation. Drew University, New Jersey, 1985.
Miyamoto, Ken Christoph. Gods Mission in Asia: A Comparative and Contextual Study of
Holiness and the Theology of Missio Del in M. M. Thomas and C. S. Song. Eugene, OR: Wipf and
Morton, Stephan Andrew. “P.D. Devanandan, M. M. Thomas and the Task of Indigenous Theology."
dissertation. University of Nottingham, 1981.
Ninan, M. M. Life, Legacy and Theology ofM. M. Thomas: An Anthology. Global Publishers, 2009.
Philip, T. M. The Encounter Between Theology and Ideology: An Exploration into the Communicative
Theology of M. M. Thomas. Madras: CLS, 1986.
Sumithra, Sunand. Revolution as Revelation: A Study of M. M. Thomas’ Theology. New Delhi:
Theological Research and Communications Institute, and Tubingen: International Christian
Thomas, T. Jacob. M. M. Thomas Reader: Selected Texts on Theology, Religion and Society. Tiruvalla,
India: CSS, 2002.
Wolters, T. Heilke. Theology of Prophetic Participation: M. M. Thomas’s Concept of Salvation and the
Collective Struggle for Fuller Humanity in India. Delhi: ISPCK, 1996.
“Dr. M. M. Thomas: Images, Memories."
“Pennamma Bhavanam: A Mother Home for Liberative Faith. Politics and Praxis."
“M. M. Thomas: Ecumenical Reading Forum."
am not a scholar and not at all an M. M. Thomas scholar. l am interested in contextual theology and
how we could bring a contextual approach to the Asian American experience. It's usually
asking the right questions, so l have a question for you. What if M. M. Thomas came to the
States, say on August 12, 2015 having read the newspapers for the last year, updated on our
to speak to this group? What issues would he raise for us as critical to the project of liberation?
are the tools at hand to accomplish it? What is our responsibility?
inspiration, l took the traditional path of the liberation theologian through the Exodus narrative with
guidance of M. M. Thomas as translated into English by Rev. Dr. T. M. Philip in a slim volume
text is from a series designed to offer theological and historical-critical analyses of the scripture
a liberation lens for lay people. The series of 25 books was written between 1977 and 1996.
sources are cited on the final page. There are no footnotes. The introduction includes liberation
like “Human history, from beginning to end, is the history of God's acts of liberation."
points out early on that a solely spiritual liberation, like we have in the Evangelical movements
is a misunderstanding of the fundamental teachings of the text. Liberation, in his understanding,
we gather here...
come having been told the stories of liberation of our ancestors, both historically and spiritually.
questions for us are:
this place where we find ourselves...
are the movements for liberation today?
do we connect with them?
for us And
entitled God the Liberator.
[God the Liberator, p. 32]
occurs in history. Holy Scriptures root the narrative of God's action in the world.
what or towards what do we seek liberation?
does the text, and maybe more importantly today, what might M. M.
have to say to us?
need to start out by saying that I was raised in a Mar Thoma, Jacobite, CSI home. We were
until I was a teenager. What I teamed from growing up within those communities was that
community was very inward looking and striving to ensure economic security and some status or
I suspect many who were invisible or silent in the churches were also struggling simply to
on modest wages or public benefits; many were committing and surviving acts of violence and
many were struggling to survive psychological distress; and many must have been
racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
noticed as a child the difference between what little my parents said about the churches they had
up in in India, and the churches we now attended. M.M. Thomas was the youth leader in my
youth group in Kuviyoor. My mother remembers reading pieces written for teenagers and
adults in general publications. Liberation Theology was a part of the formation of young Malayali
in the 1950's and 60's. It is hard to believe that those same people founded the kinds of
communities I was raised in and from whose children and grandchildren I regularly hear that
l am no scholar of M. M. Thomas, I thought I would bring today's world into this conversation,
we can all pretend M. M. Thomas is here to provoke us to join these struggles for justice today.
should never become a permanent order." [p. 24]
would say slavery should never be. But may be Exodus only goes so far as to say it should not be
permanent condition. We do not have slavery per se in the United States nor in India, but by default,
do. We have traces of it in our social order.
the United States, it is the prison industrial complex that replicates the conditions of slavery. If the
of the text is that all human life is redeemable and no debt should eliminate a person's hope fora
life with dignity, the criminalization and imprisonment of the poor. Over whelmingly young men
women who are black, Latino, or Native American is our modern day rendition of slavery.
wonder what M. M. Thomas would expect of the church in the United States in response to the
crisis in policing and prisons?
a student at the Union Theological Seminary, someone would usually link me to new students from
who were coming to do an STM at Union in preparation for a Ph.D. Many of them had been
of M. M.Thomas. Some had lived in rural villages for many years alongside poor villagers with
evangelical agenda but to accompany them, seeing the face of Christ in them and finding
as outsiders, not the people they went to live with, changed, coming to a greater
of their humanity and the humanity of these their new neighbors, an understanding that
deeply challenging to the traditions of the communities they had come from. I wonder what a
of teaching ike that would look like here. We cannot very well enter prisons and live among
accompanying them in their daily life without a marked power differential. We can go and
in communities in which the police treat the community more like a prison than a neighborhood.
can live in rural and urban areas in which Americans and American children go to bed hungry
night We can find communities of migrant workers here in New Jersey and in NewYork. where
have even fewer rights, barely ciinging to the edge of survival while participating in every step of
production of the clean, cheap and nutritious food we have come to this country to have in great
they can find no place for their interest in social justice in their Congregations.
abundance. We should hope for our young adults that companionship with those most on the margins
think I know what M. M. Thomas might demand of us in this time, but I wonder. because I did not
him, and among the generation that did, I don't see churches that give of themselves radically, or
to one another in the hopes that they might be transformed into their full humanity through
the face of Jesus the Christ
community should also manifest the dignity of the humans who are created in God's own image,
mutual responsibilities included in freedom and God's justice in the midst of human
this M. M. Thomas is talking about the wandering in the desert and the lament of the people that
had been good enough under slavery. When we talk about gender equality in the Malayalee
I think sometimes we are talking about something like fleshpots in Egypt. lhings were not
under slavery but maybe they were good enough. Maybe things are not ideal today, but may be it
course inequality is not good enough. When women and girls are not included in all aspects of
life, it is not good enough. It is an embarrassment which means you have half or less of the
available to you that God has blessed you with undeservedly for the leadership of the church,
by definition you are only recruiting men who are somewhat comfortable functioning within that
has meant that in a society in which the abuse of women is a primary concern, the church says
nothing, although some stalwart women activists will show up and speak on Women's Day and
our embarrassment even young men find this to be good enough. The church gives away too much
ground and is foolish to wonder why society is not bothered when the church makes a moral
What could be a more significant moral proclamation than to protect the bodies of
and the most vulnerable? What would be more reflective of the fullness of God than men and
my experience it has been generations of young nurses who have made it possible for so many
families to survive at home and claim a respectable. middle class status on the backs of their
and acceptable for women to work outside of the home. Their work is highly valued, and even
saving resource for our families, and still they are devalued and put in their place socially by their
liberation and development in society is the essence of the law. It is to be recalled in this
that Jesus taught, quoting the Old Testament Scriptures that the essence of the law is
in the twin commandments: love God and love one’sneighbor.‘ [p. 23]
2015 in the United States, Black Lives Matter tells us who our neighbor is. This movement,
is as much a hashtag as it is a traditional movement, is a space in which black people in
U.S. have been reporting acts of violence against Black people, particulany at the hands
the police, and so forcefully and effectively, that they are forcing media coverage, which
in the U.S. is a part of their Christian formation.
is good enough.
kind of discriminatory space.
women in leadership and service at all levels of Christian institutions?
In the United States it is young women who are leading the movements for social justice.
labor. In this case it is as
though we have been granted the beginnings of freedom. We have made it
religion. What a perversion of the liberative tradition we inherit.
Who is my neighbor?
police investigations, which have forced body cameras, and has given the President of
United States a space in which to speak out on the disproportionate violence directed at
and brown people by the police. It is a mighty movementwhich isjust getting started.
immigrants we root in the neighborhoods we find ourselves in. I grew up in Dallas in what was
white and is now an Asian suburb. The people who were not white were few but there. l have
who grew up in all-black neighborhoods in Chicago, or in Queens in majority Indian
history of the United States plants us firmly in a racist state. It was the liberation struggle of
ceoole in the U.S.. insbired in cart bv the places. Resonant with our own stories of
or exclusion. We should be the most strident. Those of us who found it hard to walk
airports in 2002 and 2003, and who get mistaken for Latino, Black, Arab should not worry
clarifying that we are not; in the tradition of M. M. Thomas we have achieved blast otf. We find
so unwittingly in solidarity with the outcast that we are mistaken for them, or maybe
people of Israel declare that living under slavery is better than dying in the struggle for freedom.
leaders of revolutions raise the slogan: either freedom or death.... The awareness that their life’s
and sense of security rest with the system of slavery is deeply rooted, not only in the
but also in the oppressed. This in fact is the real spiritual slavery. In such a situation the
will always view freedom and responsibility not as a means for the growth of humanity but
let's tackle the most difficult social issue for ourcommunity. Sexuality. By this I mean
and the LGBT movement, but there is more to be said about the idolatry of family
as culture which places many of our people outside of the bounds of our Christian
We are actively creating other marginalized communities in which we could root
would happen if we accepted LGBT persons and taught a healthier understanding of human
in our churches?
M. Thomas’s understanding of sites of freedom as space for the growth of humanity is profound.
most of us some part of the justice work we are passionate about will be achieved in our lifetime,
it cannot be that the work is simply to make ourselves comfortable. It must be that those growing
where freedom is being sought are constantly drawing us because we are followers of Jesus.
insight that in these places we must first confront our own fears is convicting. It is one thing to
our personal fears in working for our own liberation, but it is hard to consider that the fear of
one’s comfort or privilege, even as a wandering, newly freed slave, might be what causes us to
danger or evil when we should be hearing a crying out for liberation.
liberation is universal... ‘Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?’ says the
‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians
M. Thomas writes that where we see liberation we see the action of God. Not a spiritual liberation. It
not solely personal and intemal, but in the acts of history which means movements of people for
recognized as one of them, as followers of Jesus.
as a dangerzone." [p.95]
ourselves to team about the marginalized, which isabsurd.
Are we enslaved to one understanding of family and an ordering of desire?
from Kir?‘ (Amos 9:7) whether the(a people) recognize this truth or not. . ." [p.26]
And, as he says above in response to the Amos, whether the people acknowledge it or even
it of God or not, God seems lo be involved in the very act of liberating, almost as if God is
is the presence of God. In Galatians (5: 1), one of the earliest letters of Paul, he writes that it
for freedom that Christ has set us free. As we are, in our true and lull humanity as M. M. Thomas
M.M. God the Liberator, trans. Rev.Dr. T. M. Philip, Thiruvalla, India: Christava Sahitya
2004. . .
would say, the task for us is what work does that give us to do in this time and in this place.
“Where is God?”
written following the great famine of Shertallay, Kerala, India, 1941
There was heaviness in my heart,
A loneliness cut me through,
Have I put my trust in God in vain?
Have I placed my feet on slippery ground?
was the faith in a caring God
was the trust in a loving Father,
God is with the wicked in their pleasures,
slave of them of them that seek for themselves,
prepares a table for them anywhere they want,
spreads a carpet for them wherever they walk,
makes them shine like holy men,
gives the honoured places in His Church,
And in His Heaven, palaces decked with jewels;
for these, they must fade and fall,
flowers in the forest,
not a soul to watch, nor a tear to mark their end;
dust they came, and to dust they return,
no God cares.
then thought I,
sun had set and it was dark,
around was silence --
silence of Death;
while I looked, I saw a flickering light far off;
made for it; a man was digging a little grave;
I, who must this man be,
has strength enough to dig a grave for his little child?
was weeping as he dug;
sighs were deep, and his sobs loud,
he was alone, amidst the corpses that lay all around.
fear in my heart,
approached the man digging the grave,
the flickering light,
turned his face to me;
eyes were red with weeping, and his face wet with tears,
said to me in a low voice, through sobs,
dost thou do this to me?
thirst, I starve
in as much as ye did it not to these, ye did it not to me.
Lo, it is Christ!
am dying. I
dost thou break my heart?
in their afflictions am I afflicted
their deaths I am crucified.
was my heart grieved and I was pricked in my reins,
had almost said in my heart, Thou dost not Care,
foolish was I and ignorant,
was a beast before Thee.
who praise him in the sanctuary,
who call on him with doors all shut,
Open your eyes and See your God is not Before ye,
is there in the land of desolation,
with the millions that starve,
with the millions that Die
St. Gregory Episcopal Church is widely known for its experimental liturgies which mix elements of
orthodox and western Christian practice, and for its unusual building with its gigantic mural of
St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, De Haro and Mariposa Streets, San Francisco
There is a church on Potrero Hill called Saint Gregory Nyssa Episcopal Church, and it is
filled with dancing. Saints dance on the walls, and people join them below. Dance as part
of the liturgical rite dates back to ancient Christian practices. (“Once there was a time
when the whole rational creation formed a single dancing chorus looking upward to the
one leader of this dance. And the harmony of motion that they learned from his law found
its way into their dancing."—Gregory of Nyssa, fourth-century Cappadocian bishop and
theologian, in his commentary on Psalm 50.)
Inside this San Francisco church, you look up and see men and women, children, and
elders; Muslim, Jewish, Christian; some dead four hundred years, some only a decade or
two. The figures are in bright blues and reds and whites, with golden orbs around their
heads. All are connected in a spiral dance, arm in arm, circling the walls of Saint
Gregory’s, inviting the community of here and now to join them. What is it about that
invitation to the dance? And how does it work to enhance a community’s spiritual life?
Many religious traditions use the body and motion in prayer. Watch an Orthodox Jew,
wrapped in prayer shawl, as his body sways back and forth in prayer. See a room full of
Muslims as they prostrate themselves on the floor, heads touching the ground, facing
Mecca, in submission to the Divine. There is something amazingly beautiful as a whirling
dervish twirls around and around as music and prayer intensify. Our bodies help us both
draw inward toward the inner presence of the Divine and reach out to the transcendent
creator of the universe. At Saint Gregory’s, however, movement and dance go beyond
traditional use of the body in prayer.
If you walk into the church on a Sunday morning, there are some things you notice right
away. One is that there is both stillness and movement. You sit and listen to words and to
silence. And then you move. You move from one space to another, from the quiet, still
space to the wide and open rotunda where the altar sits, and you dance, around and
around the table. Just like the shared silence, movement is a community action.
Another thing you notice is that you are not alone at Saint Gregory’s. The spiritual
experience is a shared one; it is intertwined. There is something profound about being
invited to place your hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you and move into a
circle of prayer and communion. You go together, holding on to someone who is holding
on to you. You become an integral part of the movement, a link. And the icon saints who
dance in a circle above your head are not there for ornamentation; they are truly part of
that community. They raise you both figuratively and literally into the dance.
But does spiritual practice have to contain movement? Not always. As in the discipline of
tai chi, there is significant value to balance. Stillness is good. Movement is good.
Together, they can create wholeness. So what does it mean to go from an observer’s
experience of spiritual connection to one of bodily connection, where you are not only
moving your own body but you are moving in rhythm with so many others? One member
of the congregation said, “When I need solitary prayer, I can find it in the quiet moments.
But on Sunday mornings, I am pulled into the dance. I have to recognize that God wants
all of me, body and soul, and we are in this together. I look up at those saints—and I do
have my favorites—and realize that I have to keep moving too. One foot in front of the
other. There are times when I can barely recognize the melody, much less do the dance,
but most often, those dancing saints keep me focused and inspired. I dance because
they dance. I am here because they are here.”
Saint Gregory Nyssa Episcopal Church (www.SaintGregorys.org) is located at the corner
of Mariposa and DeHaro Streets on Potrero Hill. Megory Anderson, a longtime member
of the congregation, is the founder and director of the Sacred Dying Foundation
(www.SacredDying.org) in San Francisco.
Gregory’s Episcopal Church
De Haro Street
CELEBRATING THE LIFE &WORK OF DR.M.M.THOMAS
The Dancing Saints
San Francisco, CA 94107
St Gregory's Saint Selection Committee offers these eighty saints (there are ten more not
yet listed here), to be painted as a grand icon in our church rotunda, a single statement of
God's remarkable and remarkably diverse work in human life.
Many, many more obviously belong to this group-Martin Luther King Jr., Mary and Martha
of Bethany, Raoul Wallenberg, Hildegard of Bingen, Erasmus, Emily Dickinson, Oscar
Romero, Helen Keller, Stephen Biko, and easily hundreds and thousands more we could
name and research, not to mention the legions of unknown and now forgotten holy ones
(represented for us by the Alexandrian Washerwoman).
In addition to our primary goal of showing an image of God's many and diverse ways of
working in people's lives, we aimed to achieve a reasonable representation of men and
women (and a few children) from different historical periods, life roles and kinds of work.
Whenever we heard or felt, "of course, we have to include…", we paused and gave that
person an extra skeptical scrutiny, trying to push our list beyond a self-evident "hall of
fame" and further, beyond mainstream church consensus, stretching our thinking and
enlarging our gratitude for grace overflowing in so many startling and different lives.
We were aware of our particular place and time and tried to honor its gift and see past its
limitation. Sometimes in a choice between two worthy people, we gave preference to the
local figure, emphasizing God's work here among us. We represented important events
of our historical moment, late 20th Century America - the U.S. Civil Rights movement and
World War II - but we also stretched to include other kinds of 20th century people and to
create a balance with other historical periods.
If we have done our work well, a hundred years from now, the congregation of St.
Gregory's and its visitors will recognize a voice from 1997, undoubtedly sensing some of
our historical prejudice and also, we hope, seeing us stretch beyond it to show a
sweeping, universal vision of God shining through human life.
Saint: M. M. THOMAS
(MADHATHILPARAMPIL MAMMEN THOMAS)
(1916 - 1997)
Right most wearing a blue Indian Dhothi and jubba, next to St.Framcis of Assisi
with his wolf.
A layman from the Mar Thoma Church, Kerala. Pioneering ecumenical leader, onetime
chair of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, director of the Institute
for the Study of Religion and Society in Bangalore, and in 1990, he became the governor
of Nagaland. M. M. did the unprecedented thing of retiring to his local village, where he
lived among the people, and began a Biblical commentary in the local language. He died
travelling on a train from Madras.
The Dancing Saints
The Dancing Saints icon is a monumental, surprising and powerful statement of faith for
the ages, created by iconographer Mark Dukes with the rectors and congregation of Saint
Gregory’s. When completed in 2008, it will be a 3,000 square foot painting wrapping
around the entire church rotunda, showing ninety larger-than life saints; four animals;
stars, moons, suns and a twelve-foot dancing Christ.
The saints—ranging from traditional figures like King David, Teresa of Avila and Frances
of Assisi to unorthodox and non-Christian people like Malcolm X, Anne Frank, and
Margaret Mead—represent musicians, artists, mathematicians, martyrs, scholars,
mystics, lovers, prophets and sinners from all times, from many faiths and backgrounds.
As the congregation dances around the altar, the saints dance above, proclaiming a
sweeping, universal vision of God shining through human life.
“I have two expressions to my iconography; my personal and my liturgical. My liturgical
work I have expressed chiefly through my Neo-Byzantine icon project The Dancing
Saints Icon of St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, San Francisco. This is a 2500 plus square
feet icon mural that decorates the rotunda of the church's sanctuary and consists of a
depiction of 90 oversize traditional and nontraditional "saints" from diverse times and
cultures from all over the world. They are all dancing with an even larger size Christ.
Among the selected 90 saints are people like Malcolm X, Queen Elizabeth, Rumi, Ella
Fitzgerald, Gandhi, Anne Frank, Cesar Chavez, John Coltrane (of course) and
Sorghaghtani Beki, the mother of Kublai Khan. The artistic challenge was to translate the
ancient Byzantine stylization and bring it to fresh and contemporary places while still
honoring the ancient tradition. The iconographic difficulties of recognizable likenesses,
culturally diverse costumes, ethnic diversity and different spiritual traditions, all brought
together in a large scale work has given this project a unique place in the history of art
and religious iconography.”
Deacon Dukes, Iconographer