Sie sind auf Seite 1von 9

BERNARD KELLY, RICHARD DE SMET AND THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN

THOMAS AQUINAS AND ADVAITA VEDANTA1

Scott Randall Paine

1. Two pioneers

In the centuries of philosophical discussion both within the Vedanta tradition, as well as
between that tradition and the Jain and Mahayana Buddhist traditions—and more recently,
between all these and relevant currents of contemporary Western philosophy—issues regarding
the nature and inter-relationship of Brahman and atman, and especially the absolute or relative
character of personhood, have been repeatedly explored and developed.
One particularly pertinent body of Western reflection, however, has curiously been absent,
not only from many a discussion of post-medieval thought in general, but also from precisely
these exchanges between Vedanta and its interlocutors, where its contribution would seem to be
particularly apposite. I am referring to the relevance of the metaphysics and philosophical
anthropology of Thomas Aquinas in engaging especially Advaita Vedanta. Two pioneers of
such engagement deserve special attention. Neither has figured as prominently in 20th or early
21st century discussions of the aforementioned topics as they deserve, in part due to
circumstances that simply kept them out of view.
Bernard Kelly (1907-1958) was a British banker, not an academic, and his numerous essays
were printed only once. In 2017 they were finally anthologized. 2 His insights into how Vedanta
and Thomism seem destined to interact invite surprisingly fruitful interpretative penetrations
into both. The other pioneer was one of a number of Jesuits who lived and taught in India in the
last century, learned Sanskrit, studied Vedanta, and were singularly equipped by their
theological training to bring Aquinas into the mix. Richard De Smet (1916-1997) taught in India
for half a century, and for reasons of his own, chose to publish his dozens of articles only in
those Indian journals (often non-Christian) that happened to invite his submissions. Still, sutra-
like, he wove an extensive and coherent discourse about how an encounter between medieval
Western thought (in particular that of Aquinas) and the Vedanta of Sankara could illuminate
dimensions of both traditions either understated or misunderstood without such shared light.
Significantly, a mimeographed copy of his early 1950s PhD dissertation on the Vedanta
circulated widely among both Indian pundits and Western missionaries. Commented [IC1]: scholars?
Two of Kelly's articles offer rarely highlighted East-West conceptual convergences which
lend new ground and transcendence to ideas from both sides: "A Thomist Approach to the
Vedanta" and "The Metaphysical Background of Analogy" (both published in Blackfriars).3
Two of Kelly's suggested points of contact between the separate traditions deserve to be singled
out: the concept of Self (one common translation of atman) as applied to the Abrahamic notion
of God, presented in the first article; and the Thomist notion of analogy, addressed in the
second. Western theological understanding of ultimate beatitude as consisting in the face-to-face
vision of God has sometimes discouraged attempts to approach union with God as anything
other than a subject-object encounter. Some limitations of this notion become manifest when
one explores the constraints such a paradigm of knowledge (modelled on how we know material
objects) imposes; also when one ponders what a fusion of subjectivities might entail. Rather
than God being ‘viewed’ or somehow presented to the human subject as its supreme object, that
subject could be seen as infused with the divine participated presence, such that one would see
God by seeing with God, as it were—ones’ own self experienced as a distinct yet fused (but not
confused) function of the higher Self.

1
A large part of this article is adapted from my Introduction to A Catholic Mind Awake: The Writings of
Bernard Kelly, ed. Scott Randall Paine (Angelico Press, 2017). Used here with permission.
2
A Catholic Mind Awake: The Writings of Bernard Kelly, ed. Scott Randall Paine (Angelico Press, 2017).
3
"A Thomist Approach to the Vedanta," Blackfriars 37/430 (Jan 1956) 4-12. "The Metaphysical
Background of Analogy" ??
2

The other concept investigated by Kelly, that of analogy, is explored in a far-reaching


meditation on the relationship of knowing and being in Aquinas’s thought. Here comparisons
with Advaita Vedanta are explored which transcend those so often haunted and hampered by
confused notions of pantheism.
De Smet's contributions are more voluminous, and thanks to two quite recent anthologies
are finally available for perusal and evaluation as an ensemble.4 A Festschrift published at the
turn of the century also offers several academic appreciations of De Smet's opus, as well as a
biography and bibliography.5 One might isolate three particular aspects of De Smet's proposed
re-evaluation of the Vedanta tradition: 1) that Sankara should be seen as a theologian, a
srutivadin, a commentator of Scripture, and not first and foremost as an analytic philosopher; 2)
that the Sanskrit tradition does deploy a notion of analogy, laksana (here unfolding Kelly's
intuition), which permits us to distinguish with greater discernment the modes of predication
used by Sankara; and, perhaps most significantly (and polemically): 3) De Smet suggests that
the Vedanta commentarial tradition's relegation of personhood irretrievably below paramatman
and within the already partially relativized dimension of saguna brahman may not square
entirely with Sankara’s intentions. The reduction might be justified if one held exclusively to
modern, psychological, and thoroughly anthropomorphized notions of person, but perhaps is
less applicable to a properly metaphysical construal of person as elaborated in Christian Patristic
and Scholastic analyses. This last is probably the most seminal suggestion to emerge from a
careful reading of Advaita Vedanta through the lenses of the Thomist theory of personhood.
Thomas identifies persons as the most dense and intense instances of all that is, as the supreme
form of esse (being). All of this might involve just as surprising a re-reading of Sankara as the
exegesis of Aquinas himself underwent in the last century, as his thought was re-examined in
relative independence of its traditional commentarial framework.
As Kelly is the less known of the two writers, what follows will serve to present him to
those as yet unfamiliar with his work. The text is from my introduction to a collection of his
essays (published in 2017),6 which appropriately concludes by comparing him to Richard De
Smet.

2. Who Was Bernard Kelly?

Bernard Philip Kelly7 died in November 1958, at the young age of 51, less than a month after
the election of Pope Saint John XXIII, and two months before that pope would make known his
intention to convoke an ecumenical council. This is significant in approaching the writings of
Kelly, as his untimely departure spared him confrontation with many of the issues and debates
occasioned by the Second Vatican Council. We can only wonder what might have been his
reaction to the changes soon to come. In retrospect, however, it is perhaps a blessing that his
writings stand clear of much of the fuss and fury soon to afflict Catholicism—from both
progressive and conservative quarters. His reflections enjoy the kind of measure, nuance and
depth one finds only in a mind not overly distracted by polemics.
Bernard Kelly was neither a clergyman nor an academic, although his affinity for St
Thomas Aquinas drew him to become a tertiary of the Dominican order. By profession, like his
contemporary T.S. Eliot, he was a bank-clerk, just barely managing to feed his large family of
six children. Born in Croydon, England, third of five sons, his father had guided him early on to
a career in banking. He married Brenda Evans in 1932, and finally settled in Windsor, raising

4
Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet, ed. Ivo Coelho (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2010),
and Understanding Sankara: Essays by Richard De Smet, ed. Ivo Coelho (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
2013).
5
New Perspectives on Advaita Vedanta: Essays in Commemoration of Professor Richard De Smet, ed.
Bradley J. Malkovsky (Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill, 2000).
6
Cf. note 1 above. The introduction is reproduced here with permission of Angelico Press
(angelicopress.org).
7
Not to be confused with roughly contemporary and prolific Catholic author, Rev. Bernard Joseph Kelly
C.S.Sp.
3

his children and cultivating life-long interests in rugby, target-shooting, long walks through the
English countryside, Egyptology and sculpting (the few pieces the present writer saw in his
daughter’s home were quite impressive). Aside from being spotted as a particularly bright child
by his teachers, his early biography hardly seems to presage a high-calibre philosophical
vocation. Nonetheless, while perusing his writings, one will find a level of discourse that easily
emulates, and often surpasses, much of what academic philosophy churned out in the 20 th
century.
Under a kind of contemplative compulsion—during a short life with multiple practical
commitments and avocations—he found himself taking pen in hand and writing. He once
described his urge to writing as a kind of call to prayer. Most of the texts included in A Catholic
Mind Awake were published, only once, in the Dominican journal Blackfriars, which is itself a
witness to their sophistication. An uncommon wisdom breathes forth from Kelly’s writing, and
one wonders how such treasures could have remained unpublished beyond their inaugural
appearance in a specialized academic journal.
Those who knew him best spoke of his unassuming nature and profound Catholic piety.
Close friend Barbara Wall referred to him as “the self-effacing stammering teacher, the
visionary.” He was a great fan and reader of G.K. Chesterton, and personal friend of sculptor
and engraver Eric Gill.
Kelly’s intellectual trajectory in some way foreshadows the struggles Catholic thought
would undergo in the decades after his passing. His first wave of writings, from the early 30s
until just after World War II, puts him in the company of the best Catholic apologists,
philosophers and theologians of his day such as Thomas Gilby, E.I. Watkin and Chesterton
himself. Book reviews, essays, poems and a fine short study of the poetry of Gerard Manley
Hopkins appeared during this period. Early on, he also displays an uncanny grasp of one of the
most recondite dimensions of Thomistic metaphysics, the analogia entis. An initial and quite
penetrating exposition of the question was published in this period, later to be brought to full
articulation in his very last article, published in the year of his death.8
However, his Catholic Church was destined to be increasingly summoned to deeper
reflection on both its nature and its position among the world’s multiple traditions, as reams of
scholarship on non-Christian religions and metaphysical traditions began to demand theological
attention. Also, the contemporary movements of ressourcement and what came to be known (at
first disapprovingly) as the nouvelle théologie, in their recapturing of Patristic thought and its
pre-scholastic approach to the data of revelation, would finally issue in Vatican II documents on
ecumenism and inter-religious understanding. Kelly had his own rehearsal of this challenge. In
the year 1940, Gill introduced him to the writings of one of the most searching contemporary
expositors of cross-cultural comparison: the art historian and metaphysician, Ananda K.
Coomaraswamy. Thus ensued a rich correspondence between Kelly and Coomaraswamy, from
the early 1940s until the latter’s death in 1947.
In these letters, we find Kelly and his Hindu interlocutor discussing metaphysical,
epistemological, and anthropological notions both in their Greek and Sanskrit formulations.
Together, they identified and discussed common themes in a perennial tradition, native to both
East and West. Kelly would write reviews of some of Coomaraswamy’s works and also an
obituary. All the while, he remained true to his Catholic commitments, and pursued inclusive
and yet distinctive ways to defend the singularity of Christ.
From the mid-40s until the mid-50s, ten years follow in which Kelly published nothing at
all except a single essay at the beginning and three at the end, book-ending a long silence and a
kind of ressourcement of his own. A two-year struggle with tuberculosis marks the middle of
these years, and at their conclusion, the cancer to which he would finally succumb. But although
these maladies forced his body to look to the vespers of his life, his mind was looking to the
East. All four of these late essays address the speculative challenges posed to Western
philosophy and theology by Eastern thought: first, “How May We Approach the Spiritual
Traditions of the East?” (1944), and then, a decade later, “Notes on the Light of the Eastern
Religions” (1954), “A Thomist Approach to the Vedanta” (1956), and, what could be regarded

8
[ARTICLE DETAILS] ??
4

as his consummate metaphysical statement (germane, as perhaps no other to the interface


between East and West): “The Metaphysical Background of Analogy” (1958).
The encounter with Coomaraswamy’s encyclopedic scholarship and intellectual hospitality
seems to have occasioned years of meditation and a maturing of Kelly’s own philosophic vision.
He wondered especially how Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of the analogy of being could show a
Catholic mind the way towards a fruitful engagement with India. He undertook the study of
Sanskrit to aid in identifying common conceptual roots, bringing Thomas’s deepest
metaphysical inquiries into dialogue with perhaps its most cognate counterpart in India: the
Advaita Vedanta. For anyone who has studied Thomism in earnest, and has also found a way to
access the metaphysical speculation of the Vedanta (not as easy as it might sound), these last
articles are nothing less than masterpieces. It was in discovering these essays that the present
writer decided to search out the other writings of Kelly, and finally to anthologize them.
Although these pieces are probably his most accomplished writings, the earlier texts do not
disappoint, and often serve as intricate foils to these four philosophical gems.
I said Kelly published nothing but these four texts. There was an exception. In one last
piece, already in declining health, he turned in a special way to his faith and the mystery of the
Redemption: “Notes on the Stations of the Cross” (1956). He no doubt would have wanted these
Holy Week meditations to supplement the luminosity of his last theoretical essays with the
warmth of prayer and devotion. For Kelly, it would only be in the Paschal Mystery of Christ
that the metaphysical drama of Aquinas’s view of God as Ipsum Esse Subsistens (Subsistent
Being Itself) would find its dramatic and most revealing articulation: the encounter with the
God who is Love.
Upon reading everything Kelly wrote—at least that which was published, for he left a pile
of unpublished notes and hundreds of letters seen only by his correspondents—an inner division
of their dominant themes becomes evident. A first group of articles includes the four later works
mentioned above, together with a few other texts and reviews bearing reflections on
metaphysical questions; these are all framed within a context of comparative philosophy,
inviting mutual illumination from both sides of the Indus.
A second category of writings addresses the world of spirituality, prayer, and—an
association that might put Kelly in the company of Hans Urs von Balthasar—beauty.
Kelly’s love for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and for the philosophy of art on
exhibition in Coomaraswamy’s writings inspired a small book, an article and two book reviews
regarding Hopkins, plus two further reviews of works by Coomaraswamy, all on the poetic
mode of knowledge and the traditional arts and crafts.
Kelly, however, like Chesterton before him, did not restrict his writing exclusively to the
poetic, metaphysical and spiritual, but looked also to the issues addressed in the Catholic
Church’s ever-growing body of social doctrine. So to the three previous classes of his articles
we must add a fourth, dealing with social, economic and political questions.

3. The Importance of Bernard Kelly

Kelly’s beloved Hopkins had been received into the Catholic Church by that other great convert,
John Henry Newman, in 1866. The twenty some years of Kelly’s literary productivity would
straddle two generations of further British converts, from Chesterton, E.I. Watkin, Christopher
Dawson and Ronald Knox earlier in the century, to Peter Geach, Elizabeth Anscombe, Michael
Dummett, E.E. Evans-Pritchard and R.C. Zaehner (all five dons at Oxford) in the 40s. This
influx of high British intellectuality into the Church of Rome produced a period of rich
apologetic activity, and Kelly found his modest niche in this movement through his
contributions to Blackfriars. But what increasingly marked his writing was a readiness to look
first as deeply as possible into the mind of the Church’s greatest metaphysician, and then to
follow his most far-reaching insights as they impinge upon questions raised by perennial Indian
thought. It was his contact with Coomaraswamy that first seeded this second engagement, but it
also introduced him to the French esoteric thinker René Guénon (1886–1951), and to the
younger Swiss philosopher, Frithjof Schuon (1907–1998).
5

This trio of writers has been grouped by posterity (especially through the followers of
Schuon) into a “school” with a philosophical orientation alternatively called “perennialism”
(highlighting its attention to enduring, unchanging truth) or “traditionalism” (referencing its
marked aversion to modern thought and culture). Kelly died too soon to read or evaluate the
multiple books to be written by Schuon in coming decades, and only mentions a few of his
texts. Although he speaks highly of the Swiss writer and showed growing appreciation of his
thought in his last letters, his relationship to Schuon remained inchoate. He did read selectively
as well from the works of Guénon, but it was to Coomaraswamy that Kelly had grown
particularly close via their correspondence. It was his approach to “perennial” studies that we
find most emulated and exemplified in Kelly. Guénon’s writings on Christianity—for anyone at
all well read in Church history and theology—are flawed by strange blind spots and
shortcomings in objectivity and scholarship. Kelly refers once, disapprovingly, to Guénon’s
“ultra-traditional” way of speaking at times, and maintained a certain distance from the
Frenchman’s more radical views.
Coomaraswamy’s meticulous scholarship and more deferential attitude to his sources—
insisting, as he said, never to make a claim that could not be supported by chapter and verse in
some traditional Scripture—seems to have appealed more to Kelly. In contrast to Guénon, both
Coomaraswamy and Schuon emphasized also the aesthetic dimension of perennial truth, an
interest strongly shared by Kelly and in evidence in several of the essays in this anthology.
There was also another feature of the perennialist galaxy that could not have been lost on
Kelly. Guénon and Schuon both left their Christian affiliations (Catholic and Protestant,
respectively) and found what they held to be more suitable vehicles for their convictions within
the Islamic tradition—and in Schuon’s case, also in Native American lore and ritual. Many of
today’s self-identified perennialists have followed suit. The few Christians who might be found
in their ranks today will either be of Eastern Orthodox persuasion, or perhaps among small
groups of sede-vacantist Catholics.9 Erstwhile perennialists today in communion with Rome
will likely have distanced themselves from “strict observance” perennialism, only selectively
partaking of the more proven insights of the movement’s many authors. A notable case of this is
the French philosopher Jean Borella.10 Another Catholic author (recently deceased) who
acknowledges the importance of the perennialist authors, but also of careful discernment in
approaching them, was Stratford Caldecott.11 Some strict Guénonians—a somewhat maverick
group, present especially in France—may still hold that the Catholic sacraments have lost their
“initiatic” character (a point on which Guénon and Schuon differed); nonetheless, even a more
nuanced view of the whereabouts of “esoteric Christianity” in the modern world—a world most
perennialists view as increasingly lost in a downward spin—would seem to demand a rejection
of Catholic aggiornamento and the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.
The paradox, however, is this: it has only been since, and because of that council, that the
Catholic Church has taken a more welcoming view of non-Christian religious traditions. By and
large, more traditionalist Catholics who reject or are suspicious of Vatican II will also tend to be
distrustful of engagements with Oriental religious thought, and perhaps view the perennialists as
“gnostics.” But even in the face of this more welcoming attitude in contemporary Catholicism,
most Christians would agree that joining a robust Christianity with perennialism is not an
obvious or easy fit; it would seem to involve serious qualifications of some of the faith’s more
distinctive claims. Such radical reinterpretations of a traditional faith do not seem to be
demanded, at least in the same measure, by other major religions to which perennialism
customarily attaches.
Hinduism, Islam and even Buddhism appear able to find comfortable beds within the
perennialist household; Christianity’s appointed berth, however, seems to many followers of
Christ to look a tad Procrustean. Hinduism’s doctrinal hospitality and protean adaptability made

9
Those of the view that the Chair of Peter is not occupied currently by a true pope.
10
As an introduction to Borella’s many works, one might recommend the anthology The Secret of the
Christian Way, ed. G. John Cahmpoux, SUNY Press, 2001.
11
One example would be in his chapter on “Non-Dualism” in The Radiance of Being, Angelico Press,
2013.
6

it, according to Guénon, the most integral vehicle of perennialist doctrine. Hence the
perennialists customarily count Coomaraswamy as one of their own. And despite Guénon’s
initial hesitation, Buddhism’s apophatic emphasis (that is, its penchant for “negative theology”)
and—in many of its forms—acceptance of a large variety of upaya (“skillful means”) as roads
to enlightenment, can also serve to open multiple doors to a perennialist construal. Even Islam,
especially when seen through the more inclusive eyes of Sufi mystics, allows generous
approaches to potentially numerous cases of prophets and messengers preceding Mohammed.
The peculiar challenge of fitting Christianity into the scheme is perhaps especially due to
the following: Most perennialists will underscore the importance of the binary pattern of
exoteric/esoteric as the conceptual key for the differentiation of that which is extrinsic and
diverse, in both ritual and doctrinal expression, in the world’s religions (the “exoteric”), from
the single and identical body of doctrine and practice of a metaphysical and mystical nature
within and behind these exteriors (the “esoteric”). This approach, however, comes up against a
stubborn problem in Christian teaching. Although there is clearly a progress in divine revelation
from Old to New Testaments, and also within each (e.g., from Law to Wisdom to Prophecy;
from Gospel to Epistle to Apocalypse); and although there is a pronounced gradient of
interpretative appropriation in the understanding of its content (Newman’s “development of
Christian doctrine”); and although there are likewise stages of spiritual growth for every soul,
which lead to unveilings of ever-deeper dimensions of the mysteries of the faith; still, the very
core of Christian revelation—something non-negotiable for most mainline believers—is that
God has revealed His innermost mystery in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This is no
metaphor for the metaphysical mystery of the Trinity, but rather its manifestation. And these
events are believed in as hard, historical facts, and emphatically not as symbols of some esoteric
abstraction. Thus, the “inner secret” of God as Love is overtly on display in the crucified and
risen Lord, and to that extent the distinction between exoteric and esoteric is transcended. Any
attempt to get “behind” the revelatory Fact of the Paschal Mystery to something esoteric, and
hence more important or more essential, is not easy to square with orthodox Christian theology.
Also, the “availability” of this mystery to one and all—including the simplest and unlettered—is
at the very heart of the Gospel message. A functional elite exists (the clerical hierarchy); a
spiritual elite does not.
In any case, there is nothing in Kelly’s writings which would suggest he ever contemplated
modulating his central Christian convictions to adapt them to some meta-religious ideology, or
of severing his fidelity to the See of Peter. As mentioned before, St John XXIII was just
commencing his pontificate and Kelly had no opportunity to pronounce on the direction the
Church would soon take. The present writer’s best guess is that he would have joined Etienne
Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac and Dietrich von Hildebrand—in the mid and late
60s—in decrying abuses arising after the council, and perhaps published a book of discrete
criticisms, as each of those writers did.
Whatever may have been Kelly’s reaction to imminent reforms in his church, at least his
openness to Eastern thought was something quite in step with the changes to come.
Furthermore, it makes more sense to understand Kelly’s interest in Eastern thought as due, not
in the first instance to perennialist influences, but rather to something deeper in his makeup. It
was that something which attracted him to selective engagement with this circle of authors to
begin with. Some of his most important metaphysical—and indeed “perennial”—insights are
already present in the years before his correspondence with Coomaraswamy. We can see this
already in his writing of the 1930s, such as the essay, “Passage through Beauty” (1935) and the
book-review, “Symbolism and Belief” (1938). What led him to learn from his Hindu friend, and
then to a lesser extent from Guénon and Schuon, was the example of his beloved Thomas
Aquinas. The Dominican saint had learned eagerly from the pagan Aristotle, from the non- and
sometimes anti-Christian Neo-Platonists, from the Jew Maimonides, from the Muslims
Avicenna and Averroës, and indeed from anyone else who seemed to have an eye on important
truths. Aquinas, after all, had written that “all truth, by whomever it is spoken is of the Holy
Spirit.” 12

12
“Omne verum, a quocumque dicatur, a Spiritu Sancto est.” S.Th. I-II, 109, 1, 1m.
7

Far from surrendering to a shadowy theosophy, Kelly simply followed Aquinas in


venturing, like a missionary, into new territories of human thought, mapping truths wherever
they might be found. Like Aquinas too, he was free of the antiseptic attitude of some believers
who are fearful of alien wisdom. He would regard such purists as standing in peril of losing
what wisdom they had by a paranoid obsession with building impervious blockades around
endogamous doctrines. A Christian mind oriented to perennial truth, Kelly might have said,
prefers to live in the typically gated communities of Catholic thought, with sentinels adroit in
discernment indeed, but also enlivened by charity and hospitality. Catholic truth is a living
thing, and interacts with the world around it and even with ideas that have not yet found a place
within its scope. It is decidedly not a static museum piece or something that can be pickled in
vinegar.
Kelly’s reflections suggest that the difference between East and West does indeed diminish
to the extent one accesses the deeper metaphysical traditions of either, and yet the light that
those traditions in turn shed upon one another illuminates contrasts no less important than
similarities. More yet, the light is often especially illuminating precisely because its provenance
in one tradition enables it to reveal dimensions of the other tradition easily overlooked, and
often enough habitually forgotten. This Kelly learned from Coomaraswamy, and the insight
took him not into rarefied theosophical generalizations, but rather deeper into the details of his
own faith. What he wrote of his Hindu friend in Coomaraswamy’s obituary could well be said
of Kelly himself:

To read such work, even with an understanding lagging far behind his scholarship, and the angelic
simplicity of his exposition, is not to be assailed by any superficial, because generalized, theory of
the universality of religions, but to be made witness, if not participant in, the penetration of light by
light: East and West respectively illuminating each other while retaining their distinctive idioms.13

The general development of comparative philosophy and theology in recent times would
seem to confirm Kelly’s approach.14 One sees, for example, that comparisons between
Christianity and Islam are only imperfectly aided by pursuing parallels between Christ and
Mohammed, or between the Bible and the Qur’an, but are brought forward when it is Christ and
the Qur’an that are compared and contrasted: both claiming, though in very different ways, to be
the Word of God, mediated through the selfsame angel (Gabriel), and destined for recipients—
that is, the Virgin Mary and Mohammed—who were open in the fullest sense possible (one in a
virginal relationship to conception, the other in an illiterate relationship to writing). Here is a
juxtaposition that provokes reflection and invites further inquiry, discouraging both facile
conflations and unnecessary antagonisms. Another approach would be to affirm that there are
analogues indeed in Christianity to Muslim messengers and prophets, Hindu avataras and
Buddhist boddhisatvas, but that they lie not in the Incarnate Word but rather in the angels and
prophets so abundant in the Bible.
All this is only to say that when deep readings of the respective traditions are pursued, a
coherent pattern of mythical, metaphysical, moral and mystical correspondences emerges to be
sure, and they may well imply, in significant measure, a primordial source common to all. Still,
its proper delineation and theological interpretation—if performed in a manner true to the
peculiar character of Christian revelation—will serve also as the needed backdrop for the
identification of equally important differences. Neglecting such differences can only frustrate
authentic understanding.
Divergence, however, need not entail contradiction, which can only exist, at any rate, when
one tradition patently denies what another just as patently affirms. In the last analysis, Christian
teachings about who Christ is and what he did possess a kind of incarnational, historical and
personalist edge not found with the same prominence in the key figures of other traditions, nor

13
Kelly, A Catholic Mind Awake 91.
14
Two of numerous possible examples: Ben-Ami Scharfstein, A Comparative History of World
Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998); and
Francis X. Clooney, Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders (West Sussex:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
8

is its peculiar metaphysical character even addressed. And that which has not been addressed
can hardly be denied.
That the creation is non-divine, but a true manifestation of the divine; that the Incarnate
Word is something distinct from (but not opposed to) a prophet, an avatara or a bodhisattva;
that the Holy Trinity involves personhood in God that goes “all the way up,” and is not a mere
façade or accommodation; and, finally, that love is not secondary or servile in regard to
knowledge in the divine mystery, but at least co-equal—these are just a few of the exigencies
Christian faith imposes on a Christian mind that is truly awake. Still, in no way do they preclude
that other traditions may not only throw new light on our understanding of each of these beliefs,
but at times even cause them to stand in a new and unexpected context. Is it not the very
character of a mystery that it can never be fully understood, and yet invites us to enter ever more
deeply into its unending light? If God is indeed Infinite Mystery, then even our most cherished
theological principles can only hope to serve as curbs on the road of the mind’s journey into
God’s intimacy, keeping us securely on the pavement and free of the mud on either side. But
they need not exhaust in advance all the curves and surprises in the long pilgrimage ahead.
Perhaps the greatest challenges all of us face in attempting to understand other religions
revolve around the question of how one philosophically, and theologically, articulates—in
human language—the relationship between the Absolute and the Relative, or, in Abrahamic
terms: God and creation. This has always produced a rough terrain of semantic snares for the
theistic traditions. The respective metaphysical demands of God’s transcendence and
immanence are not easily negotiated. But the understanding of the functioning of analogy in the
way we use words about anything at all—and a fortiori how we use words to speak of a God
who is utterly beyond, and yet ever-so near—is something Kelly intuited in a time in which the
issue was just beginning to gain profile in contemporary theology and metaphysics. Karl Barth
famously rejected the Catholic view of analogia entis, and it was left to an obscure but brilliant
Jesuit philosopher, Eric Przywara, to reply by writing a dense tract in its defence in the 1930s.15
To be fair, Barth’s own view would become more nuanced as he grew older, favoured probably
by his friendship with Hans Urs von Balthasar, himself an eloquent proponent of the analogy of
being.
Bernard Kelly’s final article, and probably his densest, deals with analogy, and
significantly, his treatment takes its bearings not from the East, but from Aquinas, Meister
Eckhart, and (Pseudo-)Dionysius the Areopagite. The Upanisads, Guénon and Ibn Arabi are
cited, but only as footnotes to points highlighted from within the Western tradition. He mentions
in one of his final letters the numerous projects he had in mind for future research and writing;
nonetheless, it is hard not to see the appropriateness of his reflections on analogy serving as his
intellectual swan song. Philosophers and theologians were to be increasingly occupied with this
question far beyond the death of Kelly. It is a tribute to his understanding of Aquinas, and to his
grasp of the wide-ranging implications of analogy for comparative philosophy and theology,
that this short essay by a British bank-clerk could arguably serve as one of the best introductions
to the topic.16
A distant echo will confirm this, all the way from India. Another little known author, whose
articles were spread over an array of Indian journals for over forty years and, like Kelly’s, were
only recently anthologized, was Richard De Smet, SJ.17 Among the studies this Belgian Jesuit
contributed to our understanding of the Advaita Vedanta—and specifically of its foremost
exponent, Sankara—are articles highlighting the hitherto underestimated use the Indian
Advaitin made of the notion of analogy (as he translates the Sanskrit term laksana). De Smet
shows it to be an essential key both to understanding the intended philosophical and theological

15
Eric Przywara ??
16
Examples of treatments of analogy in recent times: E. Przywara, Analogia Entis, tr. J.R. Betz and D.B.
Hart (Eerdmans, 2014); The Analogy of Being, ed. T.J. White (Eerdmans, 2011); J. Borella, Penser
l’analogie (Ad Solem, 2000); and other notable treatments of analogy by S. Ramírez, M. Penido, G.
Söhngen, G. Klubertanz, B. Montagnes, R. MacInerny, D. Burrell, among others, and passim in the
theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the philosophy of Cornelio Fabro.
17
Cf. note 4 above.
9

stance of Sankara, and to bringing his thought into meaningful dialogue with the metaphysics of
Aquinas. Here again, Kelly anticipated the destiny of a particularly abstruse and novel approach
to inter-religious thought in the decades that were to follow his death.

***

The rediscovery of Bernard Kelly and Richard De Smet provides us with two examples—one of
a simple layman and the other, of a highly educated Jesuit scholar—illustrating how the best
metaphysical thought, whether of West or East, can find itself reflected, refracted and then
perfected by engaging with the best metaphysical thought of its “geographical” counterpart. As
Kelly puts it, such engagement provides what both West and East most need—not just
pronouncements of mutual appreciation from the two sides of a chasm, but rather the
“penetration of light by light.”