Exploring the concept of spirituality III: Pauline and Christian roots

St Paul in prison by Rembrandt [Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]
Margaret Chatterjee’s writings on the concept of spirituality suggests that Christian thinking on what constitutes spirituality emerge from St. Paul’s thoughts on the matter. If one goes by biblical records, Jesus himself spoke about the Spirit of God less than a dozen times while Paul mentions the spirit over a hundred times.

Jesus did recognize the importance of the body, evident when he healed the sick and fed the hungry. He did not present any apparent dichotomy between the spirit and the flesh but he was certainly concerned with the dichotomy between the present human state and the future of the Kingdom of God that was to come. In other words, there was a contrast between the things of the spirit and mortality. This awareness, Paul addresses, by assigning a new set of roles to the Spirit. It is the Spirit, he says, which reveals, teaches, inspires, strengthens, sanctifies, infuses love, and “sets us free” (from the travails of mortality?).

In this theological treatment, Paul advises the newly formed churches to guard against two enemies to the inner experiences of the Spirit – elements within human nature and powers in the human community. To combat these enemies, Paul tailors a spirituality to test whether their activities are a result of the “indwelling of the spirit of Christ”, the criteria being whether love prevails and whether the benefits of life in Christian love accrues to the community. In summary, love directed towards the here and now implies the indwelling of the spirit.

Yet, this contrasted with the expectation of early (and present day) Christians of a future Kingdom to come. Rather, the early Christians’ commitment to a life in the Spirit led only to persecution. Paul’s guidelines for living in the spirit came to be interpreted in the light of emerging theologies and other sacramental observances. By the 12th century, the Latin word spiritualitas came to be contrasted with materialitas. Further distinctions emerged, contrasting the eccelesiastical with the civil – illustrated in the persecution of St. Joan of Arc by civil and church authorities for following the guidance of her “spirit”.

Other influences stemming from the Eastern Church emphasized the fruit of spirituality in a “transfigured human community” while Protestantism highlighted a sanctified private life. The notion of worldliness further set the stage for the pioneering communities in the 17th century (like the Hutterites) with their own forms of worship, authority and spirituality embedding a strong sense of community. New forms of (Christian) religious experience associated the spiritual not always with the “interior” or the “mystical” but more with the social, evident in Christian philanthropy.

Summarizing the Christian interpretations of the concept of spirituality is easier said than done. What emerges though is a common root associating the inner experiences of Christian life with a certain form of visible living. It would be interesting to see how this contrasts with the concept of spirituality in the Indian group of religions.




Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society

Whenever scientists achieve a breakthrough in understanding the fundamental laws of nature, it is often accompanied by an age-old question: has science nailed its final nail on the coffin of religion? This debate was reignited in 2016 with the detection of gravitational waves.

Merging of two black holes [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
On 11 February 2016, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) announced that the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors in the US in Hanford, Washington and in Livingston, Louisiana had directly observed gravitational waves on 14 September 2015. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 on the basis of his theory of general relativity. These waves are ripples in space-time (space and time as a continuum of four dimensions) created by large cosmic events such as the merger of two massive black holes. The 2015 LIGO detection not only confirmed Einstein’s prediction but also strengthened the emerging field of gravitational-wave astronomy, allowing us to observe early cosmic processes, including events that immediately followed the Big Bang. Does the observation of gravitational waves have any significance for understanding the relation between scientific knowledge and religious faith? What are the societal implications for this never-ending debate? Continue reading “Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society”