Raimon Panikkar 1918-2010

Portrait of Raimon Panikkar by Ilvio Gallo

I left Europe [for India] as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a Christian.

— Raimon Panikkar

I am saddened to hear of the death of theologian and visionary Raimon Panikkar, who died in Spain on August 26. He was 91 years old. Born of a Indian Hindu father and Spanish Catholic mother, Panikkar became one of the most admired and renowned theologians of the great interfaith conversation between east and west in our time. Raised in Spain and educated by the Jesuits, he was a friend of some of the most renowned Christians of our time, including Jean Danielou, Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthazar, Bede Griffiths, and Swami Abhishiktananda.

I first learned about Panikkar when I began working at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Several of the monks, independently of one another, suggested to me that I should read Panikkar, particularly his Christophany: the Fullness of Man. I picked up that book and found it to be electrifying: an exploration of Christ, suggesting that “Christology” is too rationalistic and, therefore, limited; Panikkar offered the far more mystical concept of “Christophany” to suggest that the point is not to talk about Christ, but rather to seek to encounter him. True to his dual heritage and his towering intellect, Panikkar drew from both Biblical and Vedic sources, as well as John of the Cross and the church fathers to articulate a vision of Christ that is rooted in Christian tradition but fully transcends it, to encompass the wisdom of science and the great mystical traditions of the east. The result is a celebration of Christ that is deeply Trinitarian, profoundly post-tribal, and thoroughly mystical. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Of course, it’s not a beach read. But it’s well worth approaching in a lectio divina sort of way. Incidentally, if you’d like a more accessible introduction to Panikkar’s thought, check out his The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery; and if you really want to sink your teeth in his thought, look for The Rhythm of Being, a 400-page opus in which Panikkar considers “the unity of cosmic Mystery in this distillation of the wisdom of East and West, North and South” (from the back cover of the book; I haven’t read it yet).

If you don’t have time to read an entire book by Panikkar, check out this article online: Nine Ways Not to Talk About God.

In The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, I finish my list of “the communion of mystics” with five living persons who I believe history will recognize as great Christian mystics. Of the five, the one I felt most confident about including was Raimon Panikkar. And now he has gone to join the communion of mystics on the other side of eternity.

Rest in peace, Father Raimon. May light perpetual shine upon you.

For a more detailed account of his life work, please visit Raimon Panikkar’s Obituary at National Catholic Reporter.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Ellen N. Duell

    I rejoice to learn of this good man, his life “on this earth”–thank you for sending this post, and his picture. Surely, in his new life as God directs it, he is still smiling that beautiful, loving smile.

  • brazenbird

    Thank you Carl for sharing this lovely post about Raimon Panikkar. Another great mind and spirit to get to know through his writing.

  • CMT

    Thank you Carl, for sharing this news. He will be read and reread through time. One great soul now in the “cloud of witnesses.” Thank you Fr. Panikkar.

  • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere Yewtree

    Hi Carl,

    Thanks for writing about the work and life of this wonderful man. I now want to read both the books you mention.

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, by the way, and hope to post a review soon (but be warned, I dislike writing reviews).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I’ll look forward to your review, which I hope will not be too onerous to write.

  • Doug

    thanks, Carl. Who are the other four? I hope to pick up your book one of these days.
    I’ve been enjoying your blog.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Jean Borella, Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr.

  • Doug

    much obliged, Carl. I have a book by the 3rd, have read some of Richard Rohr (on the Enneagram-very intriguing), heard of the 2nd person (want to check out her book on Chanting the Psalms). Borella is a new name for me.