Thursday, 5 May 2011

More De Smet items found

On 3 May 2011 I paid visit to the wonderful library of United Theological College, Miller's Road, Bangalore, to try and find the contributions of De Smet to the proposed Dictionary of Indian Christian Theology. I had learned through a friend who had spoken to prof. O.V. Jathanna, one of the editors of the Dictionary, that the work had never been brought to completion. This time I met the professor myself; he was very gracious, told me that unfortunately the College had not found it possible to set aside one or two persons for the job, which is why the job remained unfinished. However, he said, the files were available in the Archives, and he himself requested the Librarian to let me have access to them.

There are 4 files containing the various contributions, as well as the correspondence. They are, I think, a treasure trove of matter; unfortunately, as I have said above, never published, and now somewhat out of date. But surely some day a job waiting to be done: it would provide a wonderful cross-section of theological thinking in India in the 1980s (the correspondence dates from around 1985 to 1987, from my cursory glance).

I found the 3 items of De Smet: a two pp. typescript on Pierre Johanns; 1 p. on Thomas Aquinas; and 1 p. on Analogy / Laksana.

I resisted the temptation to copy other material, restricting myself to a 1 p. typescript by Hans Staffner on The Krista Purana of Thomas Stephens, and another 1 p. typescript by Bede Griffiths on Jules Monchanin, founder of the Shantivanam monastery at Kulitalai on the banks of the Cauvery.

But the other great find, and unexpected, was what I think is De Smet's study of "The Christian Encounter with Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Four Centuries," published as late as 2010 under the title "Christianity and Shankaracharya" in vol. 3 of the St Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery (Thrissur, Kerala), 22-42. The article is 20 pp. of fine print, large format, and perhaps corresponds to the typescript in the possession of Daniel De Smet, which is some 40 pp. plus.

The date of completion of the above is a problem, given that vol. 2 of the Encyclopedia was published in 1973, and vol. 1 in 1998, with vol. 3 coming only last year, in 2010. A cursory look at De Smet's notes in the published text reveals that it could not have been written earlier than 1976 (the most recent item there is 1975: see 41n65 Mattam and 42n121 Marathi Tattvajnana Mahakosa). However: in the 1980 article "Sankara Vedanta and Christian Theology" Review of Darshana 1/1 (1980) 33-48, De Smet says:

This survey of the attitudes adopted by Christian scholars towards Śāṅkara Vedānta in this century is summed up from a monograph (now in the press)[i] in which I have studied the four centuries of encounters between Christians and Vedānta beginning with Robert de Nobili (1577-1656).

This would seem to indicate that the piece published 2010 was ready in 1980. The note added by me [this is from the draft of Understanding Sankara: Essays by Richard De Smet, to be published by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi], will accordingly have to be modified. 

Two points to be cleared up: (1) the mention of a 'monograph' had led me to expect a book length essay. (2) In 1990-91 - long after he had probably sent his contribution to prof. George Menachery - De Smet said he was still working at the MS; more precisely, he said he was 'enriching' it with matter from the Jesuit Archives. One possibility of clearing up the second point is to inquire from prof. Menachery himself.

[i] [This monograph was, unfortunately, never published. From conversations with De Smet in 1990-91, I recall that he was still working on it during his year long residence at the Jesuit Casa degli Scrittori, Rome. However, it would seem that a 40 page typescript is available with Daniel De Smet, with the title, “The Christian Encounter with Advaita Vedānta: A Survey of Four Centuries,” together with another fragment with pagination running from 33 to 65. The latter item, in fact, echoes the subtitles of the present article: The Creative Assimilationists; The Apophatists; Christians in Dialogue with Advaitins.


  1. To the reference to De Smet's exhaustive article on Sankaracharya I would like to mention ( as my name has been mentioned by you) that De Smet sent me the monograph-length article in 5 instalments in ca. 1975 -76 from various different Jesuit libraries / residences. I regret that I was not able to publish his great contribution while he was still alive. p.s. He had asked me to send him 1000 offprints of the article assuring me that he would pay for those offprints. I thought I would be able to send the offprints free of charge as my token of appreciation for his great contributions and immense scholarship. But alas ! that was not to be. Prof. George Menachery, Editor, The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India.

  2. Dear Prof. Menachery,

    First of all, my warmest congratulations on your great achievement. While at UTC, I had the opportunity to browse through your introductions / prefaces, and realized the enormity of the labour you have undertaken. I have ordered copies of the Encyclopedia for our library. I hope copies are still available!

    Secondly, thank you very much for this response: it enables a rather precise dating of this important text. Finding it was a wonderful and unexpected fruit of my trip to UTC.

    I would be happy to be in touch with you, especially in connection with the Library of Indian Christian Writings that you had initiated.