Monday, August 4, 2008

MM Thomas' article on Abraham Malpan

ABRAHAM MALPAN (1796-1843)

Dr. M.M.Thomas

From"Indian Christian Theology: Life and Thought of some pioneers

The New Day Publicationsof India, Tiruvalla 1992


Abraham Malpan was born in 1796 in the Palakkunnathu family of Travancore (now part of Kerala). The family belonged to the ancient Church of St. Thomas and traced its connection to one of tile families converted to Christianity by the Apostle Thomas. The family had given to the Church several leading clergymen and bishops in its long history.

At tile age o1' three, Abraham became all orphan and he was brought up by his paternal uncle, a clergyman of repute and piety. He got the best education available at the time, and when he finished his course in the native language (Malayalam) he was called to the deaconate. As deacon he got his training under The Rev. Kora Malpan (Malpan-teacher) of Puthupally who gave him thorough instruction in Syriac liturgy and the Bible. He learned the Bible in the Syrian language, as it had not been translated into Malayalam at that time. He was ordained priest in 1815 by the Then reigning Metropolitan of tile Malabar Church, Mar Thoma VIII.

Abraham was of staunch orthodox Jacobite belief. Since he had doubts about the validity of the apostolic succession of Mar Thoma VIII he had doubts about the validity of Iris own ordination. Consequently he received reordination from a Syrian bishop who visited Malabar. For thus flouting the authority of the Metropolitan who was the acknowledged head of the Church by Royal proclamation. Abraham had to undergo jail a sentence. He gladly went to jail for his conviction.

This was the period when the Protestant missions had started working ill the area -- the Basel Mission in British Malabar. London Mission in South Travancore and the Church Missionary Society Mission of Help to the Malabar Church in Central Travancore. They emphasized English education. As in other parts of India, evangelistic and educational mission was to bring new ideas in religion and society which would produce a movement against crude forms of idolatry and caste oppression in religion and religious culture, Since Abraham was called as Malpan to teach

Syriac in the theological seminary started, jointly by the Church and the C. M. S.. he had come under the influence of such new ideas earlier than the Hindu leaders of cultural and religious reform.

In the light of the new evangelical Christian teaching he received, be found his Church was steeped in corrupt and idolatrous practices and was lacking in an understanding of the gospel of personal salvation through faith in the grace of God m the Crucified and Risen Christ and its implications for personal responsibility For righteous living. So he sought to reform the Church.

His two symbolic but significant acts were the following. First, he put an end to a festival of tire Church centered in his parish, Maramon, a festival which he considered idolatrous. There was a wooden image of a saintly ancestor, which was consecrated by the people: and there was an annual festival in honor of this ancestor when the image would be taken in procession with prayers and offerings. It was a source of considerable income for the parish. Abraham Malpan found this festival idolatrous, spiritually degrading and superstitions. So the day before the festival he threw the image into a deep dry well and destroyed it. The enraged pilgrims spread wild rumors about his destructive tendencies, But be was teaching them a spiritual lesson.

Secondly, the Malpan, with cloven other clergymen, produced a manifesto (in the form era memorandum submitted to the British resident) indicating twenty-three corrupt practices in faith and morals in the Church. It was a call for spiritual and moral reformation. Since the liturgy of file Eucharist (Quarbana) was the central act of worship in the congregation's life and the recognized means of confessing the Faith and educating the people in faith and morals, they also made certain changes m the liturgy to make it more biblical as they understood it. Whenever Malpan officiated at the seminary and in the congregations, especially in his own parish, he used the revised liturgy for the communion service. He also put an end to auricular confession, invocation of the Virgin and the saints and the celebration of the Eucharist when no one was there to communicate along with the priest. He gave the bread and wine separately as in Protestant churches.

The ruling bishop Mar Dionysius did not approve of these reforms and lie excommunicated the Malpan and his entire congregation; and he refused to ordain to priesthood any deacons trained under the Malpan. This was a terrible blow to the Malpan who attached much importance to episcopacy. So, eager to get a Metran sympathetic to the reform movement, he sent his nephew, Mathew. a young man of remarkable ability and education, already a deacon, to Mardin in Syria to seek consecration as bishop. The Patriarch ordained him, and later consecrated him as bishop under the name Mathews Mar Athanasius

Mar Athanasius returned to India in 1843. But anxious to be acknowledged head of the whole Church, he celebrated communion in some parishes with the unrevised liturgy. This disappointed Abraham Malpan. and he died in 1846 and did not see Mathews Mar Athauasius declared by royal proclamation as head of the whole church. thus leading the reform movement.


As in the case of many early Indian theologians, Abraham Malpan's theology has to be derived from his life and acts., because he did not write any book. But the reformation in faith and morals, which he led, indicates his theological line

The Malpan had a high conception of the Church and was eager to preserve the Eastern character of the Church of the St. Thomas tradition. Otherwise he could have joined the Anglican Church which the CMS mission formed when their relation with the Orthodox Church in Malabar was terminated. But the Malpan was equally anxious that the Church should be reformed from within in the light of the Bible, which had now been translated into Malayalam. and the Church made Eastern and Evangelical, What he had in mind was a sort of Reformed Orthodoxy as Anglican Church was Reformed Catholic. But his main emphasis was on the gospel of personal salvation through faith in Christ and the renewal of personal life and relations which justification by faith would make possible. This of course was the new emphasis he had learned from the western mission. It was with this end in view that he made the revision in the liturgy of Holy Communion. Besides emphasizing .justification by faith rather than by religious works, the Malpan gave expression to the priesthood of the whole people of Christ over against the priesthood of the clergy.

The crucial result of the reform was the revival of personal religion and the awakening of the Church to spread the gospel among people of other faiths, especially the outcastes. The Church in Malabar had accepted the hierarchy of the traditional caste~structure since it gave them a middle status: and the members practiced untouchability to keep that status. Malpan's reform brought home to a group in the Church (and eventually to the whole Church) the urgency of the Church's evangelistic mission. Further, the Malpan's emphasis on personal salvation and personal decision brought a new sense of moral responsibility and spiritual renewal to the traditional culture of Kerala. This became clear in the later history of Kerala and the Kerala Churches. In one sense Abraham Malpan's reformation of the Christian community was a foretaste of the reformation of Sree Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swami in the Hindu Society based on the discovery of personal freedom and equality among persons.



  • W. S. Hunt: Angfican Church in Travancorc and Cochin. 1816--1916, Kottayam, 1920.
  • P. Cheriyan: The Malabar Christians and the the Church Missionary Society, Kottayam 1935.
  • K. K. Kuruvilla: A History qf the Mar Thoma Church and its Doctrines, Madras. CLS 1951.
  • C. P. Mathew and M.M. Thhomas: The Indian Churches of St. Thomas, Delhi, ISPCK, 1967.
  • Juhanon Mar Thoma: Christianity in Indiaa and its Brief History of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Madras 1952.
  • M. M. Thomas: Towards an Evangelical Social Gospel A New Look at the Reformation of Abraham Malpan, Madras, CLS., 1977.
  • Sunday, August 3, 2008

    M. M. Thomas A Tribute by Paulose Mar Gregorios

    M. M. Thomas

    A Tribute on His 70th Birthday

    Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios

    I first met M. M. in New York. I think it was 1953. He was spending a year reading at Union Seminary. I was an ordinary B. D. student at Princeton. He was already a Guru, well known in Indian Christian circles, as well as in W.S.C.F. circles. I was totally unknown in India, having left the country in 1947. My few youthful exploits in Ethiopia and the legends attached to them were most likely unknown to M. M. as they were unknown to many Indian Christians until much later.

    I went to see him to learn and to be inspired. But I did it in the typical Indian way. I just barged in and introduced myself, a procedure M. M. did not particularly like. He made me to understand clearly that he had come to America to do some reading and did not have much time for idle conversation.

    Anyway there was no idle conversation. I left after about 5 minutes, with the satisfaction that I had met the great man face to face.

    After I come back to India and became an active, worker in the Student Christian Movement of India, contacts became easier and more frequent. We began sharing platforms and traveling to conferences together. I remember the W.S.C.F. conference in Rangoon. That must have been 30 years ago. I had just joined the staff of Emperor 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 facilities were limited. M. M. desperately wanted a cup of tea. Harry Daniel was with us as well as our brother from Sri Lanka, whose name now escapes me. Harry taunted us, saying “I am born in Burma. I assure you, if you want a cup of tea, just walk around near the school, and you will find some Malayali pouring out tea.” So that is what we did - the four of us wandering around the school in Rangoon, at about 4.30 a.m. We did not have to walk far before we found a Malayalee tea-shop, and all of us were so pleased, I remember.

    In those days, I had a reputation as an interpreter of M. M. Thomas. My mind was much simpler than his. What he expressed in complex technical terminology. I could, inadequately of course, summarise in simpler language. Quite often, after M. M. had spoken in English, I would be asked to summarize in English, or if he spoke in Malayalam, to reformulate it in the same language, for the benefit of the audience.

    Our contacts became more frequent after 1961, when he was Moderator of the Department of Church and Society in the W.C.C. and I became W.C.C.’s Associate General Secretary and Director of the Division of Ecumenical Action.

    We both had come through the fifties when “nation-building” and Christian contribution to “Asian Revolution” had become the main concerns for thinking Christians in the newly independent countries of Asia. M. M. saw at that time two forces sweeping our nations, 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 sweeping road-roller of secularisation crushing old ideologies and religions.

    He was a “Rapid Social Change’ man, welcoming the acceleration of the pace of social revolution, but warming people not to idealize or idolize any particular ideology or institution. No political order or political party or moral system or ideology was to be indentified with the Kingdom of God. This he had learned from Barth and the Niebuhrs. But he saw Jesus Christ at work in the social revolution. For him Jesus Christ was more at work in what was happening outside the Church than inside it. But there was no room for any utopianism, no ideology of the inevitable success of the revolution, no easy optimism about higher standards of living yielding greater human dignity and freedom.

    Many misunderstood M. M. that he was substituting Revelation by Revolution. In fact my colleague on our staff in Geneva, Prof. Hans Heinrich Wolf, the Director of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, attacked M. M. in those terms. In fact, however, M. M. never absolutized any Revolution. This was merely a sub-liminal fear of the German psyche stemming from some 19th century experiences, making them terribly scared about the word “Revolution.”

    What M. M. stood for was full humanisation of the human race - the development of the awareness of dignity, freedom and responsibility in every human being. So when the Human Rights movement was launched in the middle of the seventies, it was a confirmation of what M. M. stood for - the centrality and priority of the human.

    During the period from 1968-1975 when M. M. was Chairman of the Central Committee of the W.C.C., there were a number of attacks on M. M’s theology from good friends like Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, Prof. Wolf and others. Behind these was a fear that M. M. was watering down good old European Christianity and the unspoken western anxiety that the leader­ship of the Christian Ecumenical Movement may not be safe in the hands of non-European Christians like M. M. Thomas and Philip Potter. Is Christianity safe in the hands of the West?

    It is a good thing that M. M. is not a systematic theologian. If he were he would have been lost in the labyrinths of methodological precisions and terminological exactitudes which would have made him unreadable.

    M. M. is a pious liberal Christian, devotly committed to Jesus Christ, but not to the Christ believed by the Church. It is a Christ about whom he learned much from Marxism and Gandhism, and whose main work is in society rather than in the Church or in the individual soul. Christ is at work in technology, in the Asian Revolution, in all social change everywhere. Christ is also the norm for our participation in all change.

    There is no doubt that for many Protestant Christians and others committed to social change. M. M. has been a source of great inspiration and encouragement. I remember George Fermandez, who, if anything is a Roman Catholic, saying in a Delhi meeting over which I was presiding, that he was prepared to fall at M. M.s feet and kiss his feet. He added also, for my benefit, that he could do that with no other Christian leaders.

    M. M. remains a great teacher and a prolific writer, even as he enters his seventies. May God grant him many more years of mental and bodily health and vigour to further clarify the framework of his thought. I would like, personally, to see his thought move and develop in two different directions. First, his ecclesiology, with its sacramental theology, will have to show more clearly the distinctions and relations between the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the community of faith on the one hand and in the world as a whole on the other.

    Second, in developing the latter aspect, i.e. the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the world, he would have to make the Cross on which the world is today hanging a little more clear. That Cross has a North-South beam and an East-West beam. He would still have to work out the relation between the East-west tensions as not just super-power rivalry, but also as a conflict which has its roots in the exploitation and oppression of the many by the few.

    M. M. is both an ex-Marxist and an ex-Gandhian, though his actual involvement and deep penetration of Marxism and Gandhism was of somewhat short duration. He is seeking to go beyond both Marxism and Gandhism through his perception of a Cosmic Christ.

    To make that Cosmic Christ make sense to Christians and non-Christians alike in the context of today’s world is a big challenge indeed, to him as well as to the rest of us.

    I salute M. M. and pay my humble tribute to him. May God guide him and use him for many more years to come.

    A brother pays homage to his big brother.: MM Ninan's Tribute to MM Thomas

    Dr. M.M.THOMAS

    If you don't love, who will?

    A brother pays homage to his big brother.

    M.M.Thomas was my eldest brother. He was born in 1916 and I was born in 1934. He was the first born in the family and I am the last born. With an age difference of 18 years, my memories of him are only as an active social worker. In those days when a degree was considered the ultimate status in society, instead of taking up a lucrative job - which was easy to find - he went down to the capital of Kerala and started an orphange; where he trained children in technological skill so that they may become useful and productive citizens. He was influenced both by the Indian Independence Movement (following the footsteps of our father M.M.Mammen) and by the Marxist Movement. My father, being in the publishing field, provided the impetus for Thomas to go over from mere passive social work to political activism; as he himself was involed in the Indian Independence struggle in cooperation with Gandhi while maintaining his personal committment to Christ . With such a Christian upbringing at home, our morals were always fixed in the Bible and in Christ's teachings. Even when some of us went to extreme groups, we still maintained the strong christian convictions and ideals. It was this christocentric upbringing confronted with the demands of a pluralistic society and secular politics that produced M.M.T.

    He left for Geneva while my thought patterns were being formed, again under the same christian background with almost similar conditions. Soon I left for Africa and MM returned to India. I got involved in the missions is the Sudan and in Yemen. But as a young Christian my first understanding of the Sovereignity of God came through my brother. I could not at times explain the problems I was facing in my workplace and in the Christian field. One simple question put to me by my brother, echoes in my ears over and over again -and that put me in the right perspective. "Who is important? You or God?" Without that understanding I could not have survived. He learned it in the hard way when his beloved wife left him. Pennocha (Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas) died of cancer. This changed his life completely and came to know of a God who was sovereign. Instead being bitter he grew closer to God in a personal way and prompted him into action based on the royal law of love. His favorite poster that hang behind his old Kerala Charu Kasera was the picture of a cruicified Christ with the words. "If you don't love, who will?" His theology and actions were controlled by the centrality of the Crucified Christ and he transmitted this to all around.

    He encouraged everyone to write. "Stop studying alone and start writing along with it" was his last advise to me when we met in San Jose in May 1996. We transfer our heritage and a life time of learning by putting our thought and experience in writing-which may otherwise be lost to the generations. This was his passion for many years. This impetus has created many of his students to be excellent communicators and theologians.

    As the Madathilparampil Family remembers him - our Big Brother, we proudly present a life well worth lived. From a simple home in Kozhencheri he ascended the Sarvanjapeeda of theological world and rose to become the Governor of Nagaland. He refused to compromise his faith and ideals and left the honor and power the world gave him with greater dignity. He has fought the valiant battle, he has kept the faith, and now a crown of glory awaits him. It is difficult to give any tribute to my brother's life without acknowledging his vast contributions to society and Christianity. I thought this is best done by quoting a tribute rendered by the Princeton Seminary Faculty. No one could summarize his contributions better than this. I quote:

    A Tribute

    (May 15, 1916 - December 3, 1996)

    Charles C. West, the Stephen Covwell Professor of Christian Ethics Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered this memorial minute at the February 26, 1997 meeting of the Seminary faculty

    As published in

    The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Volume XVIII Number 2 New Series 1997, 208-210

    Between 1980 and 1987 Madathilparampil Mammen Thomas, known to almost everyone as MM was for a semester each of six years a guest professor of Ethics, Mission, and ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was just before the John A. Mackay Chair in World Christianity was established. Otherwise, he would certainly have been its first incumbent . He taught such courses as The Gospel in a Pluralistic World; The Church in Mission and Unity; Christian Social Ethics in Asian Perspective; and above all, The Ecumenical Movement: Its Past, Its Present, and Its Future. To say that he taught these subjects is, however, hardly inadequate. He was the ecumenical movement in our midst. He embodied the world church mission and, through his teaching presence, made us a part of it.

    M.M.Thomas was born May 15, 1916 to a devout Mar Thoma Christian family in Kerala, South India. In that church, with its Syrian Orthodox liturgical tradition and its evangelical piety, his christocentric spirituality took form. It was the beginning of a life long adventure, a living encounter with Hindu faith and practice, especially that of Gandhi, on the one side and with Communist commitment and ideology on the other. At one point in his youth, he applied for ordination in the Mar Thoma Church and for membership in the Communist Party. The Church rejected him because of his Marxist leanings of his social ethics; the Party rejected him because of his Christian faith. As it has turned out, the Communists were right and the Church was mistaken. He became, with only a college degree, a self educated theologian, in later life a dialogue partner with the major Christian scholars of his day. At the same time his social ethics, though deeply committed to the struggle of the poor for justice and humanity, broke sharply with the total claim of Marxist-Leninist ideology and Communist policy. But the heart of his ministry was ecumenical study and action, where spirituality, theology, ideology, and social conscience met in Christian witness to a world in revolution.

    The vehicle of his ministry was the ecumenical movement, in India and abroad. MM was first secretary of the Youth Christian Council of Action in his native Kerala, then Student Christian Movement secretary in Madras, and Youth Secretary of the Mar Thoma Church. From 1947 to 1952 he served on the staff of the World Student Christian Federation in Geneva, with special emphasis on Christian political witness. He took part in the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and in the formation of the Council’s Department of Church and Society, of which he became an active member and chairman from 1961 to 1968. In this capacity he also chaired the World Conference on Church and Society at Geneva in 1966. From 1968 to 1975 he served as Chairman of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches itself, guiding it through some of the stormiest years of its history. Through the power of his thought, the breadth of his vision, and the genius of his diplomacy, he influenced the mind and policy of the ecumenical movement more than any other person save its architect, W.A.Visser’t Hooft. The honorary doctorate conferred on him by the University of Uppsala in 1978 was a belated recognition of the status he had already earned.

    The centerpiece of M.M.Thomas’ work was, however, in India itself. Returning from Geneva in 1952, he threw himself into social work and joined with India’s leading theologian, P.D.Devanandan, in 1957 to form the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, which he served first as Associate Director and then, upon Devanandan’s death, as Director until his retirement in 1976. Over these years the Institute poured out literature for the guidance of both church and society in India on social policy, cultural encounter, Christian-Hindu relations, political analysis, family problems, and ecumenical affairs. This literature was usually the product of study groups composed of some of the best minds of India, working intensely to produce something close to consensus report, which was then edited and published under the names of Thomas and Devanandan. We will never know how much of these reports was M.M.’s own work. He plowed his genius into the common process and made it fruitful. This did not prevent him, however from producing a large and diverse literature of his own, in his native Malayalam and English, on themes as diverse as Man in the Universe of Faiths; Secular Ideologies and the Secular Meaning of Christ; The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution; The Acknowledged Christ of Indian Renaissance, Meditations of The Realization of the Cross, and a series of Bible studies for the church in Kerala. It also did not prevent him from opposing, at serious risk of arrest and imprisonment, Indira Gandhi’s suspension of democracy in 1976. This led indirectly to his appointment as governor of the largely Christian state of Nagaland in North East India in 1991, a post in which he was as much a pastor as official until his resignation in 1993, in protest against central government corruption.

    M.M.Thomas came to Princeton as a guest professor after his retirement from the Christian Institute. His contacts with the Seminary, however, are older and newer than this. In earlier years he sent two of his colleagues, E.V. Mathew and Saral Chatterjee, to study here on visiting fellowships. Over the years he has recommended many other students for our consideration, most recently from the Christian student fellowship that has had, and still has, its headquarters in Thiruvalla, Kerala home. At the time of his death on December 3, 1996, he was actively promoting three-year research project on mission and evangelism in India, for which he had recruited as advisers two members of the Princeton Seminary faculty. The ecumenical ministry that was his is ours as well. He was for a while our teacher and our friend. He remains our inspiration and our challenge.

    MM Bibliography

    Contextual Theological Bible Commentary
    by M.M. Thomas, T. M. Philip January 2003 Christava Sahitya Samithy and Board of Theological Text Book Programmes

    The Indian Churches of Saint Thomas
    by M.M. Thomas, C. P. Mathew

    Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
    Pages: 206
    My Ecumenical Journey: 1947-1975

    Contextualization, a Re-Reading of M.M. Thomas
    by M.M. Thomas, Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, Bangalore, G. Shiri

    Publisher: Christava Sahitya Samithi and Christian Institute for Study of Religion and Society, Bangalore
    Pages: 142

    Christian Response to the Asian Revolution
    by M.M. Thomas
    August 2008

    June 1968M.M. THOMAS READER - Selected texts on Theology, religion and society - Ed. Jacob Thomas

    Contextual Theological Bible Commentary.

    IN THE BEGINNING GOD - M.M. Thomas -Translator Rev.Dr. T.M. Philip

    THE FIRST BORN OF ALL CREATION-M.M. Thomas - Translator Rev.Dr. T. M. Philip
    GOD THE LIBERATOR - Dr. M.M.Thomas - Translator Rev. Dr. T.M. Philip

    Author: M.M. Thomas, T. M. Philip
    Format: Book
    Publish Date: January 2003

    Hielke T. Wolters, Theology of Prophetic Participation; M. M. Thomas' Concept of Salvation and the Collective Struggle for fuller Humanity in India, Bangalore/Delhi: UTC/ISPCK, 1996

    TOWARDS THE INDIAN CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY - Life and thought of some pioneers M.M.Thomas, P.T.Thomas


    In memoriam: M.M. Thomas by Paul Abrecht

    In memoriam: M.M. Thomas; Paulos Mar Gregorios - Obituary

    Ecumenical Review, The, Jan, 1997 by Paul Abrecht

    The deaths -- in India in late November and early December 1996 -- of Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios and M.M. Thomas have brought to a close the ecumenical careers of two of the most creative leaders of the World Council of Churches in the period of its early development and rapid growth 1948-68.

    During more than four decades, from the formative period of the WCC until its seventh assembly (Canberra 1991), these two Indian Christians made, often in strikingly different ways, large and lasting contributions to the Council's theological and ethical thought on social issues, especially as developed in its programmes on church and society, international affairs and work with the laity. Those involved in the WCC in these years will recall with deep appreciation the stimulating witness of these two churchmen, both products of the Christian community of Kerala, India's most populous Christian state.

    M.M. Thomas began his ecumenical career by the usual route in the years preceding the creation of the WCC: through his leadership in the Indian Student Christian Movement and in the World Student Christian Federation, on whose staff he served from 1946 to 195 1. He gained international recognition for his contribution to the first World Christian Youth Conference in Oslo in 1947. That same year he was invited to take part in the preparations for the consideration of social and political questions at the first WCC assembly in Amsterdam -- the only person from the third world in these preparatory discussions on "the church and the disorder of society". In December 1949 he was the drafter of a statement on "The Church in Social and Political Life" at the first meeting of the newly created East Asia Christian Conference. The study on "The Christian in the World Struggle" which he and Davis McCaughey completed for the WSCF in 1951 was the first ecumenical response to the "revolutionary changes" resulting from the worldwide political upheaval following the second world war, including the national independence movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

    In early December 1952 M.M. chaired a World Christian Youth Conference in Kottayam, South India, the first to be convened outside the West, a dramatic meeting in a memorable setting for the 800 Christian student and youth who participated. A few weeks later he was in Lucknow, North India, one of the leaders of a WCC-convened study conference on the church and social issues in Asia and principal drafter of its pioneering report on "The Responsible Society in East Asia in Light of the World Situation". In 1953 he joined the preparatory group on social questions for the WCC's second assembly (Evanston 1954).

    Largely on the basis of the Lucknow report, Evanston recommended that the WCC should focus for the next seven years on the social and political questions facing the churches in the "developing" countries. When the newly created WCC department on church and society launched a six-year programme on "The Common Christian Responsibility towards Areas of Rapid Social Change" in 1955, M.M. was named a member of the working committee and the staff representative in Asia for this project. This was the beginning of his career as a full-time ecumenical scholar, especially on social questions in Asia, working out of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, which he and his mentor and friend Paul Devanandan had founded in Bangalore in 1953. In cooperation with the East Asia Christian Conference M.M. soon became the strategist of a vital Asian study programme on social issues. A quick and clear drafter, he produced in these years a stream of literature on Christian social witness, challenging clergy and laity in the churches of Asia to reflection and action on economic and political goals of nation-building. At the international Christian conference on "Rapid Social Change" in Greece in 1959, he and John Bennett of the USA co-chaired the section on "Christian Responsibility in Political Action", producing a report which became a guide for worldwide Christian reflection and action.

    Such creative work increased M.M.'s role in the World Council of Churches: 1) in 1961 he and Egbert de Vries of the Netherlands addressed the WCC's third assembly in New Delhi on the findings of the Rapid Social Change study; 2) in 1962, as chairman of the WCC working committee on Church and Society, he guided the preparations for -- and chaired -- the world conference on "Christians in the Technical and Social Revolutions of Our Time", convened in Geneva in July 1966; 3) in 1968 he was named delegate from the Mar Thoma Church to the WCC's fourth assembly in Uppsala. There, on the recommendation of Eugene Carson Blake, the WCC's general secretary, he was chosen to chair the WCC central committee -- the first lay person and non-westerner elected to this leading position; 4) in 1975, at the end of his term as central committee moderator, he chaired the

    WCC's fifth assembly in Nairobi. Swedish Church historian Alf Tergel succinctly sums up M.M. Thomas's remarkable ecumenical career: "Along with Visser 't Hooft, M.M. Thomas has had the greatest influence on the modern ecumenical movement."

    After his retirement from the World Council M.M. concentrated on producing a series of twenty Bible studies in his native Malayalam, highlighting those passages which had been decisive for him in his reflection on the life and witness of the Christian in the modern world.

    In May 1990 the Indian government appointed him governor of Nagaland, home of the Naga, a largely Christianized tribal people in northeast India. He had served in this capacity for just under two years when the Indian government asked for his resignation because he was encouraging the people in the development of their own views on their social and cultural future rather than acting as the pliant tool of the central government in New Delhi.

    M.M. Thomas was a layman who engaged throughout his career in a search for the theological and ethical basis of a Christian understanding of and witness to the tumultuous social and political developments that followed the second world war; Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios (earlier Paul Verghese) was an ecclesiastic of one of the ancient churches of Christendom who sought to relate his own oriental Orthodox theological heritage to the demands of the ecumenical movement and to the challenge of rapid political and social change. That difference helps to explain the disagreements on social ethical issues which often divided these two Indian Christians in their respective roles within the WCC and the broader ecumenical movement.

    Father Paul began his international ecumenical career in 1962 when he was appointed associate general secretary of the WCC and director of the division on ecumenical action, which grouped together all ecumenical work with the laity. After training for the priesthood, he had studied theology and philosophy in North America and Europe and was a gifted linguist and biblical scholar. He was also deeply interested in the situation of the church in Eastern Europe and in Africa, where he had served for three years as a private secretary to the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. As the first Orthodox theologian on the WCC staff, he was much sought after as a leader of Bible study, especially with lay persons. His biblical studies for the section on international issues of peace and war at the 1966 Geneva conference on church and society left a deep and lasting impression on the 100 or so Christian political and economic leaders in the group.

    Paul Verghese left the WCC staff in 1967 to become principal of his church's theological seminary in Kottayam. In this capacity he represented the Syrian Orthodox Church of Malabar as a delegate to the WCC's fourth assembly (Uppsala 1968) and subsequent assemblies up to Canberra 1991. Named metropolitan of New Delhi in 1974, he became a member of the WCC central and executive committees from 1975 to 1983 then was elected a WCC president from 1983 to 1991.

    A forceful and often acerbic speaker, he sometimes stimulated and annoyed his audiences in about equal proportions. He was not neutral between East and West -- he was anti-West: for its racism and for its conservative political-economic influence on world social and economic development. Some mistook his concern for the church in the Soviet Union and his participation in the Prague-based (and Soviet-influenced) Christian Peace Conference as a sign of a pro-communist stance. But he joined the majority of the executive committee in voting for a statement that was sharply critical of the USSR when it invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

    In these ideological and political matters Metropolitan Gregorios often differed fundamentally from M.M. Thomas, who was also an Indian nationalist critical of the West and an advocate of radical social change, but was deeply committed to the essential values of Western democracy and freedom and an opponent of all forms of totalitarianism in both East and West. The differences between these two Indian ecumenists emerged publicly in 1975-76, in their opposing responses to the "amended maintenance of internal security act" which empowered Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi to detain without trial and deny other judicial remedies to people arrested on political grounds. M.M. was one of the leaders of a strong Christian protest in this period of "national emergency", while Gregorios became a leader of a group which approved the emergency measures. He took this position not only as evidence of the loyalty of the Christian minority community to the Congress Party and to Indira Gandhi, but also because of his conviction that excessive freedom had become a hindrance to economic development and social justice in India. The WCC through both general secretary Philip Potter and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, fully supported the position of those opposing Mrs Gandhi's action, despite the fact that Gregorios was then a member of both the central and executive committees.

    Despite these differences, in 1976, by action of the central committee, Gregorios was made moderator of the working committee on Church and Society and thus leader of the preparations for the world conference on "Faith, Science and the Future", convened at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979. With more than 400 official participants and an additional 500 press and invited guests, this was undoubtedly one of the most significant WCC-sponsored encounters of the 1970s, and the metropolitan responded to the challenge brilliantly: as chairman of the conference he captivated the assembled scientists and technologists and the MIT community by his understanding of the social ethical problems in their disciplines. Undoubtedly it was one of his greatest contributions to the life and work of the WCC and to the witness of the ecumenical movement in the contemporary world.

    These two ecumenical pioneers from India were instrumental, in their varied ways, in formulating the spiritual, social and ethical perspectives of the whole twentieth-century ecumenical movement. The church in all the world is deeply in their debt.

    Paul Abrecht was director of church and society for the WCC from 1949 to

    COPYRIGHT 1997 World Council of Churches
    COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

    Paul Abrecht "In memoriam: M.M. Thomas; Paulos Mar Gregorios - Obituary". Ecumenical Review, The. Jan 1997. 03 Aug. 2008.

    The Church’s Mission and Post-Modern Humanism by M. M. Thomas