A substantial body of scholarly work in the recent decades has focused on Hindu-Christian studies. The studies have helped in the elimination of stereotypes against the followers of Hindu religion and encouraged Christian thinkers to reflect on the foundations of their religious beliefs through the motifs of Hindu.
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Ways of conceptualizing the divine reality as “gracious” in Hindu devotionalism remain a relatively unexplored theme mainly because the doctrine of grace in Christianity is related to a group of other notions like justification, and creation out of nothing, which lack clear analogue in the Hinduism.
This paper is aimed at discussing the similarities in the Christian and Hinduism understanding of “grace” in reference to Karl Rahner’s theological thoughts, and South Indian SRI-Vaisnavism figures by showing how the concept of divine accessibility and divine freedom to human beings is confirmed in their specific theological contexts.1
Rahner’s Christian Theology
Karl Rahner is one of the most influential and popular Roman Catholic theologians in the modern world. He is a prolific writer whose ideas are widely accepted in shaping the future of the Catholic Church. In his doctrine of Christianity, death and resurrection of Jesus are among the most important teachings. Rahner argues that after a person’s death, the soul leaves the body but its relationship with the material remains.
He argues that after death, the soul retains transcendental relationship with the body until the final resurrection. Rahner popularized the position of the anonymous Christian. This is the belief that God can save human beings through Jesus Christ even though they may lack knowledge of who Christ Jesus is and are not converts of Christianity.
He highlights that it is possible for people who have not had the opportunity to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ to get salvation. According to him, people can get saved without allegiance to the Christian church. Christ reaches human kind from different places to save them. The term “anonymous” refers to people who experience God’s grace through Jesus Christ regardless of their religious background.2
Hinduism is among the oldest world religions. It is a complex and diverse religion with millions of gods. The religion exists in different sects with a variety of beliefs. It is the third largest religion in the world after Islam and Christianity, but primarily exists in Nepal and India.
The main Hindu texts are Upanishadas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Vedas. The writings contain stories, poems, rituals, incantations, hymns, and philosophies that form the foundation of Hindu religion. Other texts like Aranyakas, Sutras and Bramanas are used by followers of the religion.
Hindu is categorized as a polytheistic religion because Indians recognize and worship more than 330 million gods. However, they have one supreme deity known as Brahma. They believe that Brahma exists in three different forms that are Shiva-destroyer, Vishnu-preserver and Brahma-creator.3
Similarities between Rahner’s Christian theology and Hindu Theology
One of the most influential theologians in the Roman Catholic Church in the last century is Karl Rahner. In his teachings, Karl Rahner emphasized gratuitousness of grace but denied that grace is offered only to a few chosen people by the divine will.
In Sri-Vaisnavism universe, which is structured by different understanding of divine-human in relation to Upanisadic framework, the question of whether human beings can be offered divine grace freely remain a major issue among theologians. An outline of the Christian understanding of antecedent grace is discussed after which similarities in the conceptualization of the divine agency in traditional religious values of Hindu religion will be considered.
Diagnosis of Christian human predicament shows that the fault of human beings has destroyed their relationship with God and unaided efforts of human beings cannot bring back the relationship. The language of sin is used to express human consciousness of the fault. In these contexts, Paul used the Greek word “hamartia” that means failure to hit the goal or mark.
The goal refers to the “supreme being” in front of whom sinners are conscious of facing judgment for their untruthful relationship with God.4 Through the astonishing death of Jesus Christ, God brought reconciliation to the world through the blood of Christ, which was shed on the cross through which the sinful nature of humankind was washed, thus drawing them graciously to God.
The dialect between divine accessibility and divine freedom in Karl Rehner’s Catholic theology appears in his attempt to steer a middle course between the notion of intrinsicism of the nouvelle theology and extrinsicism in neo-scholasticism.
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According to Rahner, 16th and 17th century neo-scholastic writers came up with extrinsicism that created a sharp difference between the supernatural grace, which disturbs extrinsicism in extrinsic manner, and extrinsicism, which differentiates the pure nature in which human beings are circumscribed ordinarily.5
The neo-scholastics argued that natural individuals must be elevated through creating grace of God and orientation through the indwelling Holy Spirit and changes of the entity toward God. Uncreated grace was meant to function like created grace. According to Rahner, this revelation counteracts that of Paul who argued that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was manifested through created grace.
The orientation of nature is not always toward God, and it is termed as a self-sufficient realm. Grace may appear as imposition of external superstructure imposed on nature meaning that an individual remains locked into a pure natural state unless he or she experiences grace through verbal revelation in the church during preaching of the gospel.6
The neo-scholastic hold the belief that unless seized by the grace, individuals’ ordination to the supernatural remains purely exterior and mistakenly assumes that the likelihood to experience grace as grace and likelihood of experiencing grace are similar things.
According to Rahner, the argument is based on the false assumption that the spheres of nature and grace can be neatly delimited to extract experiences attributed to supernatural grace from the conscious personal experiences in life. Rahner argues that the divine salvation will encompass human beings. Therefore, no neat horizontal can be drawn to differentiate the chemically pure nature and the realms of the supernatural grace.7
According to Lester, the major concern is whether the tragedy of death and our deep yearnings and other existential experience that happen naturally could be what they presently are. Moreover, it examines whether they were not under exposure of the permanent dynamic nature of grace and Gods eternal communication of grace and if they would not feel the loss based on continual ordain in inmost depths.
Rahner argued against intrinsicism of French Catholic theologians who argued that somehow God was obligated to satisfy natural desire or intrinsic for God. His concerned is whether grace is truly gratuitous and stresses that the supernatural order incorporates human nature and its dynamism provides human beings with existence toward God.
He argues that human beings are oriented toward God in their concrete historical experiences and have strong grace but through self-communication, God is the creator of the existential capacity. He concludes that the virtue of nature is not contained in our God’s desire, but the divine grace creates an everlasting disposition of receptivity in us. That remains at the core of our existence as the supernatural existential.
Individuals who receive the unmerited redeeming quality of God such that her deep longing of God is given to him as a gift rather than the natural inherent dynamism realize the light of revelation. Human beings are drawn toward justifying and saving grace by the excessus or transcendence of the spirit toward God’s infinity, which is inspired to them by the supernatural existence. It is upon human beings to choose to make a choice, to accept, or reject.
However, grace in human heart is not enough for justification unless the divine self-communication with love and faith and other acts resulting from grace as if good moral decisions termed as supernaturally salutary are accepted freely. An individual becomes conscious of the gracious reality after receiving the message that he or she lacked conceptual knowledge but was already encompassed.8
Karl Rahner and Sri-Vaisnava theologians are attempting to negotiate the tension between affirming the world’s sovereignty of divine reality and still the most intimate in their distinctive contexts. Both emphasize the graciousness of the divine reality in the particular theological vocabulary.
Human beings access grace when they seek with the help of the divine help in finding their way to transcendent home. In his work, J. B Carman, shows how Ramanuja emphasizes the supremacy, perfection, and Lords accessibility to the devotee. He states that the same tension that Ramanuja senses in the Lord apprehension revealed through Sri-Vaisnava tradition and Vedas to him can be felt in the Christian faith.9
The tension is caused by the inner dynamic of utter availability and supreme lordship within the same divine person and divine nature. This is why Christians can grasp and appreciate much of his thoughts although their beliefs go against Ramanujas teachings. There are two implications of this mutual emphasis of Hindu-Christian dialogue on the issue of grace.
This is mainly on the context of common statement that the deity of graciousness is not conceptualized in the traditions of Hindu religion. First is the position of Sri-Vaisnavism. It is clear that some of its strands emphasize the Augustinian argument of gratuitousness of grace by stressing that the Lord’s assistance is offered freely to the embodied selves without referring to the karmic records.
The main difference between Vedantic theology and Christian Orthodox is that super nature and nature are drawn more readily in Christian Orthodox than in Vedantic theology. This is mainly because of the difference in nature in relation to contingent self, which lacks the knowledge that serving the Lord is the true destiny and super nature in relation to Lords assistance received in the process of liberation, which Ramanuja’s are not aware of in their worldview.10
The embodied selves are already engraced, sustained and included as parts of His divine Body by Christ. The Lord as their innermost element supports human beings graciously for He is not under internal or external constraints during manifestation of the world as His play and He guides them in their journey towards himself through samsara.
Rahner goes beyond theological boundaries of worldviews to discuss supernatural existential, which implies that the divine self-offering is absolutely unmerited and prior to consciousness, freedom, and human experiences. The other implication is that one the elements constituting human self-transcendence is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Rahner argues against the notion by Augustinian- Calvinist that God’s favor does not encompass some people. According to Rahner, God’s grace influences human beings throughout. He added that unavowed supposition that grace cannot be grace if God does not distribute it generously has for long bedeviled theology.11
Human beings may not be justified by grace, especially before they have heard and responded to the doctrine of Christianity but they are included in the realm of salvific divine will. His view is that God’s nature is not only Gods external decree but also constitutes active human dynamism toward grace. Therefore, it helps us to reexamine the claim that Hindu religious traditions lack grace based on Christian doctrine that grace is given unconditional and it is different from human nature.
On the question of Lord’s “uncaused grace” both groups agree that the approach of Lord to the world is innate (sahaja) and Unconditional (nirhetukakipa) because the action of rising of the bound selves out of the rebirth cycle through the power of God.
The Christian theology of Karl Rahner and Hindu religion are similar in many ways although there are some differences. Karl Rahners theology has helped in elimating stereotypes against the Hindu religion by the Christian community. Many Christian recognize, appreciate and value Hindism like other religions.
Bruce, Reichenbach. “Karma, Causation and Divine Intervention.” Philosophy East and West 39 (1989): 135-49.
Clooney, Francis. “Evil, Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom: Vedanta’s Theology of Karma.” Journal of Religion 69 (1989): 530-48.
Karl, Rahner. Nature and Grace. In Theological Investigations Volume IV. Translated by Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966. Print.
Lester, Robert. “Ramanuja and Sri-Vaiglavism: The Concept of Prapatti or SaraJ;lagati.” History of Religions 5.26 (1966): 6-82.
Lott, Eric. “The Conceptual Dimensions of Bhakti in tile Ramanuja Tradition.” Scottish Journal of Religious Studies 2 (1981): 97-114.
Mumme, Patricia. “Grace and Karma in Nammalvar’s Salvation.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (1987): 257-66
Rahner, Karl. Concerning the Relationship between Nature and Grace, in Theological Investigations Volume 1: God, Christ, Mary and Grace. Translated by Cornelius Ernst. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1961. Print.
Rahner, Karl. Some Implications of the Scholastic Concept of Uncreated Grace. In Theological Investigations Volume 1: God, Christ, Mary and Grace. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1961. Print.
1 Rahner, Karl. Nature and Grace. In Theological Investigations Volume IV. Translated by Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966. P. 180.
2 Reichenbach, Bruce. “Karma, Causation and Divine Intervention.” Philosophy East and West 39 (1989): 145
3 Francis, Clooney. “Evil, Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom: Vedanta’s Theology of Karma.” Journal of Religion 69 (1989): 530
4 Eric, Lott. “The Conceptual Dimensions of Bhakti in tile Ramanuja Tradition.” Scottish Journal of Religious Studies 2 (1981): p.100.
5 Eric, Lott. “The Conceptual Dimensions of Bhakti in tile Ramanuja Tradition.” Scottish Journal of Religious Studies 2 (1981): p.110.
6 Lester, Robert. “Ramanuja and Sri-Vaiglavism: The Concept of Prapatti or SaraJ;lagati.” History of Religions 5.26 (1966): P. 13.
7 Ibid. p.20
8 Patricia Mumme. “Grace and Karma in Nammalvar’s Salvation.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (1987): p.259
9 Ibid. p.260.
10 Karl, Rahner. Concerning the Relationship between Nature and Grace, in Theological Investigations Volume 1: God, Christ, Mary and Grace. Translated by Cornelius Ernst. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1961. P. 299.
11Karl, Rahner. Some Implications of the Scholastic Concept of Uncreated Grace. In Theological Investigations Volume 1: God, Christ, Mary and Grace. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1961. P. 303.