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After some further delay, the famous and very learned Benedict the XIV. having been raised to the Papal chair, and wishing to put at once a stop to this contest by a decisive step, issued a very rigorous bull or decree, by which, in several articles, he formally and expressly condemned and reprobated all the superstitious practices, (a list of which was contained in his decree,) till then tolerated by the Missionaries, and required that all Missionaries, of whatever order or quality they might be, should bind themselves, by a solemn oath, taken before a bishop, to conform themselves, without any tergiversation whatever, to the spirit and letter of the decree, and that those who refused to take the oath, should be deprived of their spiritual powers, and sent back to Europe. It was, besides, ordered, to read and publish the decree on Sunday, in all churches and chapels, in presence of the congregations of Natives; and a promise of submission to it was to be required from all Christians.
This decree was obeyed by the Missionaries, though with extreme reluctance. At the same time, what they had foretold happened: a great number of converts chose rather to renounce the Christian religion than to abandon their practices; a stop was put to conversions, and the Christian religion soon began to become odious to the Indians, on account of its intolerance.
At that very time happened the European invasions; and those bloody contests between the French and the English Europeans, till then hardly known to the Natives in the interior of the country, introduced themselves in every part of the country, The Natives now became convinced that those Missionaries, whom their colour and other qualities had represented to them as such extraordinary persons, as men coming from another world, were nothing more than disguised conquerors, and that their religion, their original education and manners, were the same with those of the vile, the contemptible people who had of late overrun their country.
This proved the last blow to the interests of the Christian religion in India; apostacies became then almost general; no more conversions were made; and the Christian religion became more and more an object of contempt and hatred, in proportion as the European manners became better known to the Indians.
At that same period the total destruction of the order of Jesuits in Europe took place; and, there being no longer a sufficient number of European Missionaries, a National Black Clergy was formed, and the attendance on the remaining congregations of Natives intrusted to their care: these latter, being in general men without education, and generally showing themselves more attached to their own interests than to those of religion, enjoy no confidence nor consideration, even among their flocks, and are held in the greatest contempt every where among the Natives.
Such is the abridged history of the rise, the progress, and the decline of the Christian religion in India. The low state to which
it is now reduced, and the contempt in which it is held, cannot be surpassed. There is not now in the country (as mentioned before) a fourth part of the Christians who were to be found in it 70 years ago; and this reduced number diminishes every day by frequent apostacy.
The Christian religion, which was formerly an object of indifference, or at most of contempt, among the Natives, is now become an object of horror. It is certain, that in a period of 60 years no more converts have been made to it: those who are yet to be found in the country, and whose number, as I have just said, diminishes every day, are the offspring of the converts made by the Jesuits before that period; or, if a very small number of proselytes are still made, from time to time, it it is only among the lowest castes, or among individuals, who, driven out from their tribe on account of their vices, have no other resource left than to become Christians; and you will easily fancy that such an assemblage of the offal and dregs of the community only tends to increase the aversion entertained by the other castes against Christianity.
In fact, how could the cause of this religion prosper against so many insurmountable objects? A person who embraces it becomes, in doing so, a proscribed, an outlawed man: he loses all that may attach a man to life. A father is forthwith forsaken and deserted by his own wife and children, who obstinately refuse to have any further intercourse with their degraded parent and husband: a son is driven out from his paternal house, and repudiated by those who gave him birth. By embracing the Christian religion, an Indian loses his all; relations, kindred, friends, all desert him; goods, possessions, inheritance, all disappear. Where is the man capable of bearing such severe trials as these?
The very name of Christian carries along with it the badge of infamy; and the mere proposal to become a convert to Christianity is considered, (as I have seen in repeated instances,) by every honest Indian, as an insult. Such a proposal ought always to be made with much prudence and caution, in order not to expose the party making it to severe retorts from those to whom it is addressed.
The name of Christian is now become so odious that, in many parts of the country, an Indian who should happen to have friends, or a familiar intercourse with persons of this religion, would not dare to avow it in public; or, should he do it, he would be exposed to severe reprimands for keeping connexions with such vile men.
Such is the state of degradation to which Christianity has been reduced in these latter times; which evil must be, in a great measure, imputed to the immoral and scandalous conduct of the Europeans now living in every part of the country.
Besides the Native converts of the Catholic persuasion, there are still, in some parts of India, small Christian congregations, of the
Lutheran sect; but these are held, if possible, in a still higher degree of contempt than the former.
The Lutheran mission was established at Tranquebar, about a century since. There were at all times, among the Missionaries of this persuasion, many respectable persons, commendable for their virtues and talents; but their labours made no impression on the Natives, and they had at all times but very trifling success. It could not be otherwise. The Protestant religion is too simple in its worship to please Indians; and, as it has no show, no external ceremonies, it has been, on this account, in every case disliked by them, and has never made any impression.
If any of the Christian modes of worship be calculated to gain ground in India, it is, no doubt, the Catholic one; which you, Protestants, style an idolatry in disguise. It has a poodja, or sacrifice; (mass is called, by Indians, the poodja ;) it has processions, images, statues, tirtam, or holy water, titys, or prayers for the dead, invocations of saints, &c. &c.: all which practices bear more or less resemblance to those which are practised by Hindoos. Now, if even such a mode of worship is become so hateful to the Indians, how can it be rationally expected that any of the simple Protestant forms shall ever be liked by them?
The contrary has been, in fact, the case till now; and, as I have before observed, the Lutheran Missionaries had, during a century past, no sensible success in the work of proselytism. At present, their congregations are reduced to four: one at Vepery, near Madras, composed of about 700 or 800 Christians; another at Tranquebar, consisting of about 1200; a third at Tanjore, of between 500 and 600 persons; and the fourth at Trichinopoly, of about the same number. They have still some Christians dispersed here and there, but in so small a number that they do not deserve the nam of congregation.
Meanwhile, I do not believe that even these four congregations are composed of converted Hindoos; two-thirds, at least, of these Lutheran Christians are Catholic apostates, who went over to the Lutheran religion in times of famine, or other distressing circumstances; as the Lutheran mission, which was always in affluent circumstances, used, in such distressing times, to give assistance to the distressed Catholic Natives, on the condition of their becoming converts to their persuasion. This fact is well known on the coast; and you may depend upon it.
Such a way of making converts will not, perhaps, appear very fair to many; nor conversions, made through such means, very sincere; but it is the same: they avail, at least, to swell the lists of conversions kept by the Lutheran Missionaries, which, without that, would prove very small indeed.
It is extremely common, on the coast, to see Natives who pass
successively from one religion to another, according to their interests. When I was at Madras, three years ago, I knew a number of Native Christians who regularly changed their religion twice a year, and who, for a long time, were in the habit of being six months Catholics, and six months Protestants!
Besides the Lutheran sects, the Moravian Brethren sent also Missionaries to India, about eighty years ago, to make converts to their own persuasion. These founded an establishment at Tranquebar; but, on their first arrival, they were so amazed and appalled at the difficulties to be overcome for the purpose, among a people constituted as Indians are, that they very judiciously dropped their design, without even making the attempt. They afterwards tried to convert the savages of the Eastern Islands, but without any success; at last, after remaining at Tranquebar, under the title of artificers, during a period of nearly sixty years, they were called home, about twenty years ago; and this sect now no longer exists in India.
The sect of Nestorians, in Travancore, is generally known. A curious account of them is given by Gibbon, in his History of the Roman Empire;' but a still more detailed account, in two volumes, had been before given in French, by the historiographer to the late Frederick, King of Prussia. Other French authors speak of them; but I am surprised at the gross exaggeration of these authors, on this and many other points.
The truth is, that these Nestorian Christians, whose ancestors are supposed to have reached the Travancore country, about the seventh century, when Nestorianism was violently persecuted in Persia, amounted once to more than sixty thousand. The Portuguese, on their first arrival in India, about 300 years ago, hearing of them, introduced themselves into their country, and, in one way or another, converted the most of them to the Catholic persuasion. Their liturgy has always been, and still is, in the ancient Syriac language, and it is used in all their religious ceremonies. There remain still among them large congregations, to the amount of about 45,000 Christians, of whom about thirty thousand are Catholics, and fifteen thousand Nestorians. They are designated in their country under the vile appellation of pariahs, and held by Hindoos in a still greater contempt than the Christians of these countries. The Hindoos chiefly keep them at the greatest distance, and they form quite a separate body in the community. Both Catholics and Nestorians have a Native clergy of their own, and they are equally ignorant, neither having the means of receiving a proper education. As the liturgy of both is in Syriac, all the science of their clergy is reduced to reading, or rather spelling, this dead language, in order to be able to perform their religious ceremonies; but you may rest assured that there is, at this time, no one, either among the Catholic or the Nestorian clergy, capable
of understanding and explaining two phrases of their church books. They have no houses of education, no teachers, no professors, but only some schools kept by these ignorant priests, for the purpose of teaching the reading of this language to the young persons destined to become clergymen.
When the Jesuits flourished in India, they took particular care to give a good education to the persons of this description; and those among them who showed any capacity for the sciences, were sent to Goa for education, whence they were sent back to their country to be promoted to holy orders; but, since the destruction of the Jesuits, the clergy being reduced to their own resources, it must not appear surprising, if their education is fallen to the low state in which it is now seen.
Those famous Christians, whose merit Buchanan extols so much, and among whom, he says, we ought to seek for the purity of the doctrine of the primitive church, are a set of ignorant beings, notwithstanding that the Reverend Gentleman was so anxious to introduce them to the notice of the church; in which attempt, however, it appears his zealous endeavours proved unsuccessful.
The Catholic Syriacs depend for their religious concerns upon the bishop of Cranganore, near Cochin; and the Nestorians have a bishop of their own sect and caste. I was not a little surprised, in perusing Buchanan's book, to see him, in speaking of his interview with this bishop, put him in parallel with the famous, the learned, and eloquent John Chrysostom, Bishop of Antioch, in the fourth century, and one of the pillars of the church at that period. There is a degree impudence (not to say blasphemy) that cannot be borne in so extravagant a comparison. The truth is, that this new John Chrysostom was insane when Buchanan visited him; so insane that he was not allowed to perform his religious functions. He died about five years ago; and, as the state of insanity under which he laboured did not allow him to consecrate his successor before his death, this circumstance threw all his clergy into the greatest difficulties, because, the deceased bishop having left no successor, no inferior clergy could afterwards be ordained. In order to supply this defect, the priests had recourse to the following trick, which is curious enough to be related here: Having, before beginning the ceremonies of his funeral, pointed out a priest to be the successor of the deceased, they carried the corpse to the church, had it dressed in his pontifical robes, and placing it in an arm-chair, the new candidate knelt down at its feet, whilst two other priests, lifting up the hands of the corpse, imposed them on the head of the priest; and, after this impious and sacrilegious ceremony, they proclaimed him as lawfully ordained by the imposition of hands, and as the new Bishop and successor of the deceased. However, the trick was discovered, and all the congregations refused to acknowledge this new bishop, ordained by a corpse.