A History Forlorn. By Kenny Lee Kian Yee. Malaysia.


It has always been a temporal truth that Christianity, regardless of which sect, has always been a continuous attempt of emulation and implementation of the Old and New Testaments philosophies in the context of our current daily lives. From the limit

Hitherto, when reflecting upon the schism of the Christian community, this sorrowful reality is often contemplated with the company of bitter tears and melancholy. It seems all a paradoxical truth that in the consumption of theological faith that the risen Christ had -in intellectual and spiritual elation from above- overlooked the segregation of human division from below, it becomes an axis of separation, no other religion can conveniently and shamefully boast. When one historian remarked that 'Reformation came not so much because Europe was irreligious as because it was religious', a better word to substitute religious is 'sectarian'.

In the great Catholic intellectual tradition, flexibility and conservatism of Catholism, both in spirituality and non-spirituality, are two Catholic traits famously known to people of other Christian communities and religions -and this, the author hold with humble pride. Scarcely do they, the other communities, see Catholics as door-slamming preachers, rather, as potential priests and nuns leading Carmelite lives helping the poor and sick. On a deeper level of contemplation of this other-than-Bible doctrine -evident in our veneration of Mother Mary, saints, and sacraments- there should be no reason for any scholastic battle pitting against Protestanism's sola scriptura (Bible-only) doctrine. In actual fact, whether we realize this or not, in the embrace of Catholic universalism -God and His grace as both seen and unseen- Catholicism is actually, in equal terms with the Bible-only approach, which carries the message of God's divine ubiquity. Theologian, Richard MacBrien, stated that 'Everything is, in principle, capable of embodying and communicating the divine'. The author could agree no more. In fact, when the Augustinian, Martin Luther ignited Europe with his then, 'revolutionary thoughts', little did he realize (or maybe he did), what he had taught and struggled for was authentic Catholic doctrine, littered then, with centuries of virulent corruption and deviation.

While for decades the verdict is out that Christianity requires a strong dose of reconciliation and unification to be the one Church, Christ had established, the vital question now is how. It would not really help if we 'agree to disagree' by harping on differences peacefully in every conference, seminars, books and inter-religious dialogues -the subtle sullen intimidation is difficult to be fazed and constantly unearthed with the spade of our human inadequacy. Christians must venture, far and wide, in the midst of uneven and myriad landscapes, a common Promised Land, where every Christian, orthodox or unorthodox, can dwell in the comfort of agreement and sharing of spiritual fruits of Eden without inhibition.

While the Bible remains as the vital sources of reference, almost like the dire ventilation machine, for the Catholics and Protestants to cling together in one breath as Christians, there is actually another resource we Christians have failed to fully unplug -our historical achievements. How often have we Christians, in our solemn studies of the Book of Wisdom and Job; in our maddening flood of religious books; hysterical and garrulous religious debates; or God fearing and human-collapsing retreats, ever pondered and appreciated what Christian civilization has given to humanity. This one vast source is unperturbed by Christian footsteps, but perhaps only by the very few shadows care to peer into it for the very few moments. From personal experience, Christian 'historical renewal' can be a synergistic fuel to our spiritual renewal. Spirituality, after all, is in a state of dualism with substance -as much as it is idea with expression and song with music- by which the former cannot be expressed without the latter, and vice versa. Christian achievements are indeed potential substances for our spiritual growth and maturity. Hence, it came as no surprise, when the newly elected head for the Church of England, Dr. Rowan William, stated that "If there's one thing I long for above all else, it's that the years to come may see Christianity in this country able again to capture the imagination of our culture, to draw the strongest energies of our thinking and feeling". In the perusal of old scholastic writings, from St. Thomas's Summa Theologica to Woodsworth's Lyrical Ballads, their unrivalled articulation skills evoke the divine spirit of the Lord best described as subtle yet vibrant, disturbing yet peaceful, happy yet tearful.

For a medical student, it has always been a pride to be a Christian, for what Christianity has given to humanity. The countless surgical inventions, medications, healthcare systems and philosophy of care should all be part of our Christian tradition, not suppressed by obliviousness, but cherished in Christian humbleness by generations to come. As Catholics, the veneration of saints has the noble purpose of, not just intercession of intentions, but in the same spirit as Confucianism, to exemplify the piety and holiness of their previous lives. In a similar way, lives of the past and present great Christian men and women, regardless of their denomination, should be models for us to be desirable Christians. In lives of all these Christian great men -regardless what field they are in- lie the same fiery zeal, humanistic compassion, and incorruptible salvation for Christ, which in turn, had inspired such Pentecostal labour and sacrifice for the services to mankind and discoveries of groundbreaking innovations. This is one area where Catholics and non-Catholics can share happily the bread and wine Christ had, in similar ways, shared for Jews and non-Jews. There are just too many examples of Christian scholars and inventors who made their name into the acme of human history in literature, theology, medicine, science, technology, economy, humanity and charity and politics. And to all of us Christians, it is almost a gift from God for us, to relate and emulate their achievements and salvation in relation to our chosen carrier.

In science and medicine, many staunch Christian scholars like Joseph Lister, Mendel, Charles Darwin, Harvey Cushing and William Osler have always inspired many Christian doctors to love, work hard, care and strive for the optimum care for patients irregardless of their race, religion, and economic status. It is not exaggerated if to say Christian history has constantly embellished the world with immense spirit of care, severe sacrifices and deep intellectual endeavour. And it is to them, the scholars, we, the new generation deeply owe them the strength of the church's glorious history and enviable tradition. Their lives are of one unique lot, in direct imitation of the Lord's love and sacrifice, which, currently are in the state of draught. Harvey Cushing, a staunch Christian and the Father of Neurosurgery, was accredited for his pioneering efforts in operating techniques of brain where no human in his time had attempted before, blood pressure and pulse monitoring during anaesthesia, discovery of many diseases (Cushing's syndrome is the well known one), signs of brain swelling (Cushing's Triad), and not to forget the training he had unselfishly given to many surgeons. Yet, in spite of all these, he humbly despised any accolade lavished upon him. His deep Christian spirit of care was well known and admired. When he graduated with MD from Harvard University with cum laude, he abandoned his graduation for the reason he had to care for a patient. Since when the last time we Christians have heard of such compassionate story?

Another son of Baptist minister, Sir William Osler, is one of the most admired Christian scholars in the world of medicine. Initially, he studied in Trinity College, Toronto, set to be groomed into the ministry, he abandoned the vocation to pursue a career in medicine. Refused to be shaken from the foundation of Christianity, he brought the spirit of church into medicine. His potential of relentless preaching was channeled into caring the sick, and of his vibrant oration skill into astute clinical observation and new discoveries. He laid the modern foundation of our clinical care and made medicine into an art. In the dark period of American conscience, where the treatment of certain races was best described as subhuman, he went far ahead and described 'Distinctions of race, nationality, colour and creed are unknown within the portals of the temple Esculapius'.

In every field, the author is sure there is someone distinguished for all Christians to share and reflect together as angelic guidance. Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilee, both brilliant Christians, suffered both emotional and spiritual suffocation from dark ages bigotry persecution for what the scholars discovered as natural truth that had nothing to do with wrestling the authority of the Church. Sir Isaac Newton's genius is certainly well known, but less is known about his devotion to religion and the fact that he was the first person to have translated the Book of Daniel into English. In all these great Christian men's penning of words and deep scrutiny into the microscope, they saw the illumination of God's supreme power, the faces of crying children, the sight of limping lepers and the bleeding Christ upon the Cross. To these people, scholarships and careers are not merely choices of interest, myopically viewed these days, but Godly mission and obligation, shouldered and observed with the exertion of effort and love second to none.

Without even going too far, our country, Malaysia has been blessed with extraordinary Christian personnel from Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, Datuk Wong Pow Nee, Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu and his wife Drs. Sybil Kathigasu, -just to name a few- who had been more than just good Samaritans. They shaped the social and political landscape of Malaysia with the Gospel's message of love and justice for the poor and suppressed. So much was Dr. Tan Chee Khoon ingrained with the Christian spirit of justice and humanity, our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, once remarked how the Methodist spoke like 'a preacher' for the relentless echoes of Biblical quotations within the walls of Parliament. And who can forget how the Kathigasus, both staunch Catholics, tortured for their bravery to care of the sick and injured. To these people, they took it literally Christ's message of "What you have done to lest of your brethren, you have done it upon Me".
Of course, it defeats the purpose of reconciliation if we Christians choose to provoke egregious issues and revere in greatness those individuals who had 'rebelled'. Rather than to leave our spirituality to rot in the complexity and narrow mindedness of the loathsome past, we can choose to share our Catholic and Protestant scholarships in unity of Christ. There are more common things to be offered than the minute differences we are so at ready to execute. There should be more studies of our many great Christian individuals, whether at individual or group level, so their sacrifices are not left unappreciated and can be handed down in similar spirit as the consecrated bread of Holy Communion. In doing so, Christianity then offers a sense of pride to all Christians, and hopefully not merely a vessel of monotonous void and hopelessness, as in Jean Jacques Rousseau's own description of Christianity as 'impotent, vacillating, dualistic, masochistic faith'.

Kenny Lee Kian Yee

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