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Synthesizing the Vedanta

The Theology of Pierre Johanns S. J.


Sean Doyle

Fr Pierre Johanns is a key figure in the history of Christian intellectual engagement with Hindu philosophy. He was the most articulate figure in a group of Belgian Jesuits in Calcutta who sought to develop the theological project initiated by Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, a convert to Catholicism whose theology conveyed a positive appreciation of aspects of Hindu advaitic philosophy. Johanns began to publish a steady stream of articles in the monthly Light of the East that analysed pertinent features of Vedantic thought from the perspective of his neo-Thomistic presuppositions. Johanns engaged in a thorough explication and analysis of the thinking of the Hindu teachers Sankara, Ramanuja, and Vallabha. He attempted to fashion a creative synthesis of their views, constructing a new, holistic metaphysic from the raw material of their respective philosophical theologies.
This book examines the theological writings of Pierre Johanns by situating him within his historical context, by discussing how Johanns interacted with Vedantic philosophy, and by assessing the success of his project.


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Section One


Chapter One Theological methodology of Johanns Introduction This chapter explores the theological methodology which informed the evaluation of the Vednntic systems by Johanns. Johanns completed a lengthy process of theological education before arriving in Calcutta, and he was remarkably well-read in the historical development of both theology and philosophy. Johanns had diligently studied such diverse thinkers as Fichte, Kant, Hegel, Ìaœkara, Madhva, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus, and he was comfortable discuss- ing modern as well as medieval intellectual systems. The eminent neo-Thomist Pierre Scheuer, his instructor at Louvian, recognized Johanns’ sophistication in matters of speculative thought and his acumen in theological reflection. He commented that Johanns was the brightest mind he had ever taught. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Johanns self-consciously developed an approach to the Vednnta based upon certain theological presuppositions. First, he drew inspiration from the irenic attitude displayed by the Greek Fathers and by Thomas Aquinas toward philosophies which were not specifically Christian. Second, he developed a specific project of synthesizing the viewpoints of Ìaœkara, Rnmnnuja, and Vallabha. Third, he espoused a form of fulfillment theology which reflected the nature-grace distinction historically affirmed by Thomists. Each of these three features are examined in turn. The explanation of the specific approach of Johanns with regard to this methodology is supplemented with pertinent background information concerning Thomistic theology, the Vednnta, and fulfillment theology, in order to provide clarity to the discussion and to the terminology employed. 38 Use of the method of the Church Fathers...

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