I was introduced to Raimon Panikkar in the mid-1960’s by a colleague of mine, Thomas Berry, at Fordham University in the Bronx. While the three of us walked to a local restaurant for lunch, Panikkar sketched his whole concept of the world’s religions as expressions of the Trinity. In his theory, the silence of the Father is expressed in Buddhism, the logos is found in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and the varied movements of the Spirit are present in multiple forms in Hinduism.
Born in 1918, Raimon Panikkar, is, I believe, the greatest global theologian of the 20th century and into the 21st century. To explain this, I refer to Jean Leclercq’s theory of mutation, which interprets the historical process as moving either by evolution or mutation. Such a mutation on a personal level demands a unique creativity, which gives birth to the creative power of both the past and the future. Panikkar is such a mutational person, one whose awareness has evolved into a new form of consciousness. By birth he is cross-cultural, being the son of an Indian, Hindu father and a Spanish, Roman Catholic mother; and he has attempted to assimilate the fullness of these traditions into his personality.
In his professional training and career he is a multidimensional person: a natural scientist and spiritual teacher, a philosopher and man of prayer, a phenomenologist of religion and theologian sensitive to mystical intuition and skilled in rational speculation. In Panikkar the great cultural traditions converge, making him the heir to the spiritual heritage of humankind. All of his writing operates within this framework.
Three recurring and interpenetrating themes in Panikkar’s work are the Trinity, Christology/Christophany and interreligious dialogue. In his Christophany: The Fullness of Man, he is able to present a dynamic Christology/Christophany because of his Trinitarian grounding. The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery is probably Panikkar’s most Trinitarian work. This is so because his Trinitarian sense is rooted in the logos. As Panikkar says in Christophany, All dogmas are intrinsically related. We might add relationship as a fourth themea deep relationship with God and with persons of other faiths. Underlying all of Panikkar’s writing are his love of language and his care and precision in choosing words. Hence the choice of man in the subtitle in his recent book Christophany: The Fullness of Man is made because man, for Panikkar, is capable of divinization beyond the human.
In Christophany: The Fullness of Man, Panikkar writes, I have been meditating and writing on this topic for more than fifty years. He makes a strong case for a new discipline of Christophany and for the experience of being an alter Christus. Throughout he is Trinitarian, frequently speaking of the dynamic relationship of the Father and Son, and on the openness of the intra-Trinitarian relationship. But there is much more. Panikkar opens up for us our own relationship to the Father as being Christ-centered, that we as the children of God are part of the divine outpouring of the Father. Speaking of the Father, he says, In our case there is a Fountain, a source of my being, a mysterious Fountain of Being that is neither my ego nor my non-ego. The inner fountain or divine indwelling in the human person is an invitation to manifest the divine. It is becoming another Christ. This is what Panikkar means by the fullness of man. All along he is telling us that if the mystery of Christ is not our very own...it might as well be a museum piece. Christophany, for Panikkar, must come from the most interior part of us. In that deep place the finite and the infinite meet.
In The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery, Panikkar best conveys the Trinitarian mystery that penetrates all his work, and the power and fullness that comes out of what the Greek fathers called fount or source. This source, for Panikkar, is the emptiness and silence of the Father, which is the very ground of the Trinitarian plenitude.
Panikkar begins by trying to free us from the confines that the very word God imposes on the reality of God. He holds that God is beyond all naming. The very word God is a linguistic limitation on that which we seek to name. Even to think of God as that is to objectify what is beyond objectification and beyond being. If there is a place where God can be found, it is in the silence of the mind, will, and heart, a trilogy similar to that of the indwelling of the Trinity in the memory, understanding and will found in Augustine and Bonaventure. Panikkar frequently turns to the early fathers of the church and to Scripture, and he often nuances a Christian phrase with a counterpart from Sanskrit or Buddhist texts.
God, for Panikkar, is not purely transcendent. The corporeality and temporality of the word made flesh make the experience of God possible. Quoting Iranaeus, Panikkar says that it is out of the primordial silence that the logos emerges. Here, as in his earlier works, Panikkar returns to the motif of the silence of the Father. He has a similar theme, that the human person needs silence to evoke the experience of God. This experience is one of relationship and journey. This is not to say, however, that the experience or the relationship will be idyllic. Panikkar wrestles with the problem of evil allowed by God to the just. Even transgression, he claims, can become a means of transformation.
The Experience of God is a meditation in which we come to realize that in living the experience of God it is not our experience but God’s experience living in us. We become, like St. Paul, Christ living in us, or the whole Christ. This, claims Panikkar, is divinization. It is Christ within and Christ without, and at the same time it is the experience of contingency.... God is in all things, yet the source of relationship with God is silence. Panikkar is adamant on this point. He writes: I insist once again that silence is not only the condition but also the atmosphere in which the experience of God can breathe without getting drowned in dialectics. Just as the source of the Trinity, for Panikkar, is in the silence of the Father, so the ground of relationship of the human person with God is also in silence. It is in silence that Panikkar finds the experience of our profound Self and the Mystery that governs our lives from both within and without.
What I learned from Panikkar that first day in the Bronx, I learned in essence. Yet, his insights are so profound that they would take a lifetime to explore them fully. It is hoped that he continues to write books that are new and throw more light on the mystery he has written about all his life. As he says in The Experience of God, speaking of God...does not exhaust the Divine.
The Fullness of Man
Orbis Books 214p $30
ISBN 1570755647 (paperback)
The Experience of God
Icons of the Mystery
Fortress Press 141p $16
ISBN 0800638255 (paperback)