Monday, March 14, 2016

Raimon Panikkar, Christian Theologian for the 21 Centruy

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Raimon Panikkar

The Late Raimon Panikkar was born in Barcellona, Nov. 3, 1918, (died in sept 2010) to a Hindu father and a Christian Mother. He grew up in Spain with both traditions and just as comfortable with one as the other. In 1946 he became a Catholic Priest. He recieved a Ph.D. in Philosohpy and went to on to recieve a science degree from University of Maryland (1958) and in 1961 in Theology at Lateran University in Rome.He lived in India and the U.S. as well as Spain. He was visiting professor at Harvard in 1966 and taguht at University of California Santa Barbara in 70s and 80s. He's had a very distinguished academic career wining many prizes and awards. He is a comparative religionist who seeks to unite various faiths in a diverse range of understanding bound together by experience of the one God. God is beyond human understanding and utterly beyond humanity, yet intimately related and within the scope of our inner most being.[1] His major contribution to the world of theology is the unity of diverse religous elements he's worked out through his major concept, the Cosmotheandric or theo-anthropo-cosmic (dimension).

There are not three realities: God, Man, and the World; but neither is there one, whether God, Man or World. Reality is cosmotheandric. It is our way of looking that makes reality appear to us at times under one aspect, at times under another. God, Man, and World are, so to speak, in an intimate and constitutive collaboration to construct Reality, to make history advance, to continue creation: (The Triniity and the Religious Experience of man, London and New York 1975).[2]

He describes it in terms reminiscent of the undifferentiated unity of mystical experience. "The cosmotheandric intuition expresses the all embracing indissoluble union, that constitutes all of Reality: the triple dimension of reality as a whole: cosmic-divine-human. The cosmotheandric intuition is the undivided awareness of the totality."[3] The cosmotheandric awareness is undivided awareness of the Totality. Yet he describes this in Trinitarian terms: "the Trinitarian concept of reality." The triadic is intrinsic to reality. Divine, human, and cosmic reality are united in relationship. The aspiration to harmony--between God and humanity, and between cosmos and humanity--is established in reality when we are in accord presupposses manifestations of the structure of reality.

Now what does all of this mean other than a crescendo of the kind of abstract language Mauthner was using as an example of sickness? It's the basis of Panikkar's theological insight. He views western thought in a phenomenological way and understands the problem of modernity from the stand point of imposition of the subject/object dichotomy. He's habitually speaking in long strings of meaningless sounding academic-speak, yet I think it's very meaningful, just occupational hazard for anyone who lives in the academic world. What he's saying is that the enlighetmentment separated epistemology from ontology "by making knowledge the hunt for the object by the subject." That is a curial statement. It says that there should be a unity of subject and object, which a fundamentally phenomenological observation. This unity has been broken and a phony distinction imposed which causes the subject to objectify the other and to separating from the object rather allowing the sense data to suggest it's categories of thought. That's leads to setting preconceived filters into which sense data is grouped and thus we are not experiencing the world as it is but re-defining it according to an ideological standard.

Panikkar's answer is answer is linked to not only phenomenological method but Christian theology. "...rather the new innocence envelopes knowledge and the knower in the same act because it knows that the one is not given without the other”, without the relationship "(Ibid.).
If the Christian message means something, it is this experience of the cosmotheandric reality of all being, of which Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the paradigm. In Christ Matter is not on its own, nor is Man on one side and God on the other; none of these intrinsically united dimensions surpass the others, so that it does not make sense to affirm that Christ is more divine than human, more worldly than heavenly, or vice versa. The veil of separation has been torn, and the integration of reality begins with the redemption of man” (Culto y secularización. Apuntes para una antropología litúrgica, Madrid 1979).[4]
Mann describes Panikkar's thought on God by saying "The true essence of Western thought about God is aided by Eastern thought which has a much more radical sense that God is beyond all categories or thought: God is found best in silence!."[5] That statement reminds me of my major phrase in describing phenomenology that the problem of metaphysics is that we institute as filters preconceived categories of thought in which we herd sense data. Phenomenologically we would allow the sense data to suggest its own categories. This is what the mystic does and this statement in as much as it reflects Panikkar's thought unities him with the mystics. Mann further smmarizes Panikkar in his view of Christ:

  1. Christology is primarily a function of the trinitarian structrue that is the expression of God’s relation to humankind and the cosmos
  2. Father, Son and Spirit describe the poles of the God-human-world relatedness within God’s own being and thus are about the "cosmotheandric" center of all being
  3. Thinking of Jesus in historical terms is a symptom of the obsession with historical time that is a disease in the West and which leads to imperialistic claims about universal truth [6]

In terms of his eccumenism he is quoted as saying: “I left Europe as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian.”[7]

“He was one of the pioneers in opening up Christianity to other religions and learning from them,” Joseph Prabhu, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, and the editor of “The Intercultural Challenge of Raimon Panikkar” (1996), said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We can see the new waves of Christianity moving toward the non-European world in the 21st century, and he prepared the ground for an authentic dialogue between Christianity and other faiths, and beyond that for the cross-cultural conversation which marks our globalized world.”[8]

Panikkar clearly believed that each faith could be enriched by dialogue with other faiths, interfaith dialogue was central to his methodology and his principles. "There is no reason for Christians to abandon the conviction that they have the true religion, if they well understand that they must find all their truth in a Christianity that is open and dynamic. This will lead to an authentic religious dialogue."[9]

a list of Pankikkar's works.


[1] Mark Mann, "Panikkar, Raimon," Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology, online resource, 1997, url:
 accessed 8/12/13.
[2] Official site - set up by Fundació Vivarium Raimon Panikkar – Tavertet (Cataluny accessed 8/12/13.

[3] ibid

[4] Panikkar, La nueva inocencia, Estella 1993 quoted on website, op. cit.

[5] Mann, op cit.

[6] ibid.

[7] William Grimes, "Raimon Panikkar, Catholic Theologian, is Dead at 91," New York Times (sept. 4, 2010)

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

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