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C. F. Andrews: Gandhi’s Friend

From Missionary to Interfaith Pioneer

by Marcus Braybrooke

Often the friendships made at a conference are remembered long after the keynote speeches are forgotten. In the ancient and mediaeval worlds, friendship was very highly valued. For Aristotle, friendship was the very fabric of a healthy society, and Cicero stressed the importance of friendship. The mediaeval monk Aelred even translated the Biblical verse “God is love” as “God is friendship.” (1 John 4: 8).

C. F. Andrews – Photo:  alittlehistoryofthesikhs.org

C. F. Andrews – Photo: alittlehistoryofthesikhs.org

Friendship played a vital part in the life of C.F. Andrews (1871- 1940), of whom Gandhi said, “I do not think I can claim a deeper attachment to anyone.” “I do not own on this earth a closer friend.” Indeed, it has been said that Andrews’ life was a catalogue of friendships; each stage is marked by a new friend, each one, as he would characteristically say, “dearer than a brother.”

Andrews’ parents were “Irvingites” – members of the “Catholic Apostolic Church” founded by followers of Edward Irving, who encouraged speaking in tongues and expected the imminent return of Christ. Just before he started at Cambridge, Andrews had a conversion experience and, breaking with his father, became a member of the Church of England. Later he was ordained and went as a missionary to join the Cambridge Brotherhood in Delhi.

He was soon uneasy with the Brotherhood’s English way of life and religious practice. He became increasingly critical of the corrupting and humiliating effects of the racial superiority accorded the British, especially as his friendship grew with S.K. Rudra, whose inner life had been transformed by Christ but who remained a Hindu in outward things. Andrews also got to know Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929) – a Christian who adopted the dress and way of life of a Hindu sadhu. He also questioned some orthodox beliefs – such as “only Christians would go to heaven.”

Gandhi and C. F. Andrews, December 1938                             – Photo:  mkgandhi.org

Gandhi and C. F. Andrews, December 1938                             – Photo: mkgandhi.org

Andrews was also critical of many aspects of imperialism – especially “indenture.” The Indian indenture system was a form of debt bondage. Some 3.5 million Indians were transported to various colonies of European powers to provide labor for the (mainly sugar) plantations. It was in effect not much different from slavery, and the methods of recruitment were corrupt. In 1913, Andrews went to South Africa to join Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance campaign to bring an end to these evils. He also travelled to Fiji, Malaya, and Kenya in support of Indian workers. In 1920, Indian indentured labour was abolished.

As Andrews’ friendship with Gandhi grew, he came to see him as Christ-like and called him a twentieth-century St. Francis. He said Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence was the “moral equivalent of war.” Gandhi’s influence led Andrews to become pacifist. “Christ was unmistakeably clear in his utterance, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.’”

Andrews wrote three books on Gandhi, hoping to dispel the deep mistrust in England of Gandhi’s integrity. Even so, he was at times critical of Gandhi, especially the claim that “all religions are equal” and Gandhi’s opposition to conversion. Andrews pointed out that Gandhi himself had said, “I cannot remain a Hindu, if untouchability is part of it.”

Yet, although Andrews regarded Gandhi as a saint of the heroic type, he seems to have been more at one with Rabindranath Tagore – a “saint of contemplation” rather than a “saint of action.” When in 1912 Andrews met Rabindranath Tagore, whose Gitanjali was to becomepopular in the West, he found in him “a depth of stillness and quiet calm which I have never personally witnessed before.” The next year, he visited Tagore’s ashram and educational centre at Santiniketan (“The Abode of Peace”) and resolved to give himself “wholly into the hands of God… and take up whatever work he gives me to do.” He realised also that he had to “live and move among the people of India as one of themselves and not as an alien and a foreigner.”

Andrews (right) with Rabindranath Tagore (seated), whose writing earned Asia its first Nobel Prize, and members of Tagore’s family – Photo:  frontline.in , The Hindu Archive

Andrews (right) with Rabindranath Tagore (seated), whose writing earned Asia its first Nobel Prize, and members of Tagore’s family – Photo: frontline.in, The Hindu Archive

Just as Andrews rejected racism and color prejudice because in Christ all such divisions were overcome, his attitude to religion became more universalist. He recognised “clear-cut distinctions between Christians, Hindus and Muslims” but also felt there was “a universal note … common to these living religions,” whilst himself remaining a committed follower of Jesus.

In this, Andrews drew on the teaching of Brook Foss Westcott, then Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and later Bishop of Durham. Westcott was a leading exponent of the Lux Mundi (Light of the World) tradition in Anglicanism, now largely forgotten, which emphasised the incarnation of Jesus rather than his atoning death. Wescott, like some early Greek Fathers, said that “God became human so that humans might become divine.” Archbishop Temple – in the same tradition – wrote, “By the Word of God – that is to say by Jesus Christ – Isaiah, and Plato, and Zoroaster, and Buddha and Confucius... There is only one divine light; and every person is in measure enlightened by it.” Westcott himself told Andrews, “Remember nothing, nothing [his italics] that is truly human can be left outside the Christian faith.”

The bust of C. F. Andrews over his grave, in the Calcutta Christian Cemetery – Photo: Wikipedia, Grentidez

The bust of C. F. Andrews over his grave, in the Calcutta Christian Cemetery – Photo: Wikipedia, Grentidez

This means that from the first Andrews had a more positive and appreciative view of India’s religions than was usual among missionaries. He wrote, “We may surely believe that the Eternal Word was the Light of the Buddha and Tulsi Das,” who retold the Ramayana in Hindi, “which shines most brightly in Christ.”

Looking to the future, he wrote in 1924, “The higher religions of humankind, coming into closest geographical contact for the first time, may in the natural order of things enter into a greater and more inclusive unity than had ever been possible, or conceivable before. Whether they will all still remain integral units within a larger unity, no one can foresee.”

He quoted words of an elderly member of the Cambridge Brotherhood who told him that if he was starting his life again, he would urge all people of faith to unite in opposition to violence and materialism.” Each religion, Andrews recognised, had a message for all humanity, and we still need his reminder “to seek always to see the best in one another; for that is an essential feature “of love.”