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Blurred lines in India

17 January 2012

Bernard Palmer reads about mission and unity in the subcontinent

Romance: an early Imperial Airways poster, from History in the Arab Skies: Aviation’s impact on the Middle East by Gerald Butt, our Middle East Cor­res­­pondent, a life-long enthusi­ast for aviation, which has been “decisive and fateful” in shaping the region, he says (Rimal, www.rimalbooks.com; ¤20; 978-9963-610-73-0)

Romance: an early Imperial Airways poster, from History in the Arab Skies: Aviation’s impact on the Middle East by Gerald Butt, our Middle East Cor­re...

We Began at Tranquebar. Volume II: The origin and development of Anglican CSI episcopacy in India (1813-1947)
Joseph G. Muthuraj

ISPCK £15*

ON 9 July 1706, two German Lutheran missionaries landed at the little Danish settlement of Tran­quebar, 200 miles south of Madras. Before long, their evan­gelistic activities gained the support of the Society for Promot­ing Christian Knowledge, acting on behalf of the Church of England.

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century, however, that the two main Anglican missionary societies, SPG and CMS, came on the scene. So, for almost a hundred years, all nominally Anglican work in South India was carried on either by Lutheran missionaries who had not been episcopally ordained or by the Indian ministers on whom they had themselves conferred holy orders.

Such is the background to this impressively learned work by the Professor of New Testament at the United Theological College, Bangalore. Tranquebar features in the second volume because it was there, in May 1919, that delegates from the four Anglican dioceses in South India and from the South India United Church (SIUC) discussed the possibility of a merger. (Presiding at the conference was the famous Bishop of Dornakal, V. S. Azariah.)

The SIUC was made up of Presbyterians and Congrega­tionalists; they were later joined by the Methodists of the region. Discussions continued at a leisurely pace for the next 20 years or so, as the churches involved sought the support of their parent bodies in Britain. The proposal for a United Church was debated at the Lambeth Conferences of 1920 and 1930, rival views on episcopal succession playing a substantial part in the discussions.

Of Dr Muthuraj’s two volumes, the second is likely to be of greater interest to Anglican readers, as it concentrates on the century-long extension of the episcopate in the subcontinent. The author examines the doings of individual bishops, their idiosyncrasies, and their differing attitudes to caste. The narrative sweeps to an enthusiastic climax with the inauguration on 27 September 1947 of the Church of South India (CSI).

In its early years, the CSI was often the subject of intense controversy among Anglicans as they argued about whether the Church of England should allow intercommunion with a united Church many of whose ministers had not been episcopally ordained. Nowadays, much of the controversy seems sadly dated, but at the time it appeared real enough.

(The Church Times, which had hitherto opposed CSI, was casti­gated by many Anglo-Catholics for trimming its editorial sails by publishing a seminal leader on 8 July 1955 which did not automat­ically condemn a decision by the Convocations of Canterbury and York favourable to CSI.)

Anyone wanting to read a fresh account of the development of the Anglican episcopate in India is likely to find Muthuraj’s second volume (which includes a commendatory foreword by Bishop Tom Wright) rewarding. It has to be stressed, however, that English is not the author’s first language, and, though in his preface he thanks his proof-reader, “who polished and improved my English”, he admits that “the mistakes and poor grammar are mine.”

It is a great pity that the pub­lishers could not have arranged for both volumes to be properly edited; as it is, verbal infelicities abound and sometimes impede the smooth flow of the narrative. It is also a pity that, though possessing full biblio­graphies, scholarly volumes such as these should in neither case have been provided with an index.

*Obtainable from the publisher’s website: www.ispck.org.in

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