world council of churches

Samartha will be remembered as a great scholar and teacher
K.C. Abraham

For many of us, Dr. Stanley J. Samartha was ‘teacher’ par excellence. He brought a distinct style to his teaching. Impeccably dressed and with measured steps he would walk into the class at the scheduled time, not a minute earlier not one later. With a liberal use of the black board he would systematically expound the most unsystematic of all religious thoughts, i.e. Hinduism. The words were aptly chosen and the ideas were clear and crisp. He tried to inculcate in to the minds of the young students an attitude of reverence and respect for the other religious traditions. Most of his students were from evangelical backgrounds and it was difficult for them to accept Samartha’s views. They were disturbed. But Samartha walked with them and helped them to see the reality of other faiths in a new way. We came away from his classes enriched and the horizon of our faith got enlarged.

Undoubtedly his passion all his life was interfaith dialogue and cooperation. In this area, he has made commendable contributions to the Church. He stoutly refuted the stereotypes and prejudices about other religions, which we have inherited from the early European scholars. A case in point is his study of the Hindu view of history. Drawing on the difference between a linear view of time, a characteristic of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the cyclic view of time of Asian religions, it was surmised that there was no view of history found in Hinduism. Samartha has successfully challenged this and shown how in Hinduism there was a spiral movement of time projecting a sense of history, though different from that of Christian faith.

Samartha was impatient with people who use interfaith dialogue as a technique to convert the souls of non-Christians. He worked towards a new understanding of interfaith cooperation. In the age of pluralism, he firmly believed that we are called upon to cooperate with people of different faiths and of no faith to build a peaceable and just world. It is in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation that we should witness to the Gospel. How timely this message is.

One last word. Personally I am grateful for his guidance and help in the program of the South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI), Bangalore, ever since its inception in 1989. I was in charge of it till 2001. As senior colleague, he gave his full support to the programme by his contributions to the seminars and by guiding doctoral students in religion and theology.

Samartha will be remembered as a great scholar and teacher. He left behind towards the end of his life a great legacy: a little testament of faith entitled, ‘I could not go to Church on Good Friday’. These reflections came out of his struggle with cancer, which took away his life. Based on the book of Job, he reflects on the problem of suffering. His acceptance in faith of illness and the eventual death is part of that witness. He refutes the purveyors of cheap grace, who turn faith into manipulative techniques. A courageous faith indeed! And let us give thanks to God.

Go to Memorial Service for Dr. S.J. Samartha, St. Mark's Cathedral - August 4, 2001, O.V. Jathananna
Return to Current Dialogue (38), December 2001

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