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This instance will give you an idea of the character of the persons to whom it relates,-of those depositaries (in Buchanan's opinion) of the primitive faith of the church of God.
You may depend upon the authenticity of my accounts, with respect to these Syriac congregations. I derive my information on these subjects from several Syriac priests, and a great number of other Christians of the same rite, with whom I conversed in my last stay on the coast. They all remembered well Buchanan's visit to them, and related many stories on the subject.
I shall here put an end to the first part of the discussion I have undertaken. What I have said on the state of Christianity in India, in this, and in former letters, will, I believe, be sufficient to make out what I advanced, that there remains, in the present circumstances, no human possibility of introducing the Christian religion among the Natives, with any hopes of success. I will now pass to the second point: that is, that, should such a possibility exist, the means now employed for the purpose, and, above all, the translation of the Bible into the idioms of the country, circulated among the Natives, will prove not only quite inadequate to this object, but also prejudicial to the interests of religion. This argument will appear a paradox to many who are but imperfectly acquainted with Indian prejudices; but I have no doubt of proving it to your satisfaction.
You would, perhaps, look upon me as unfit to give an unbiassed opinion on this topic, if, in common with many Protestants, you entertained the unfounded idea, that the reading of the Holy Scriptures is forbidden to Catholics: this is one of the many calumnies spread against Catholics, to make them odious to the other sects. So far from this being the case, at least in France, the study of the Holy Scriptures is every where strongly recommended, and forms a leading feature of education in every seminary. What is forbidden Catholics on this subject is, that they shall not presume to interpret the text of the Scriptures in a sense different from that of the Church. As for me, from the age of twenty years, my Bible has accompanied me every where, and hardly a day has passed without my reading something of this divine book: it has constantly proved my consolation in all the trials to which I was exposed; and this book is the one I have always read over without weariness or disgust.
After having put you in the right on this point, I will resume my subject, and prove that the naked text of the Bible, exhibited without a due preparation to Indians, must prove detrimental to the Christian religion, and increase their hatred against it, inasmuch as this Sacred Book contains, in a thousand places, accounts that cannot fail deeply to wound their feelings, by hurting their prejudices, held most sacred.
To you, who are acquainted with Indian manners and prejudices, I will put the following questions :
What will an honest Indian think, when, in reading over this holy book, he sees that Abraham, after receiving (without knowing them). the visit of three angels, under a human shape, entertains his guests, by having a calf killed, and served to them for their fare? The prejudiced Indian will, all at once, judge that both Abraham and his heavenly guests were nothing more than vile and infamous pariahs; and, without further reading, he will immediately throw away the book giving, in his opinion, such odious accounts.
What will a Brahmin say, when he reads in the Bible the accounts of the bloody sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic law in the worship of the true God? He will assuredly say, that the God who was pleased with the blood of the victims immolated in his honour, ought to have been a deity of the same kind and dispositions (far be from me the blasphemy) with the mischievous Indian deities, Caly, Mahry, Darmarajah, and other infernal gods, whose wrath cannot be appeased but by the immolation of living victims, and the shedding of blood.
But, above all, what will be thought by a Brahmin, and every other honest Hindoo, if he peruse in our holy books the accounts of the immolation of the victims held most sacred by him? What will be his feelings, when he sees that the immolating of bullocks and oxen constituted a principal feature of the religious ordinances of the chosen people, and that the blood of these most holy victims was almost always shed at the altars of the God they adored?
What will be his feelings, when he sees that, after Solomon had, at immense expense and labour, built a magnificent temple in honour of the true God, he makes the protesta or consecration of it, by having twenty-two thousand bullocks slaughtered, and by overflowing his new temple with the blood of these sacred victims ? He will certainly, on perusing, in his opinion, such sacrilegious accounts, be seized with the liveliest horror: he will look upon the book, in which are contained such details, as an abominable work; (far be from me, again, the blasphemy-I am expressing the feelings of a Pagan;) throw it away with indignation; consider himself as polluted for having touched it; look on his house as defiled, too, for having ignorantly kept it in it; go immediately to the river for the purpose of purifying himself, through ablutious, from the pollution he contracted by touching and reading this book; and, before he again enters his house, he will send for a Poorohita Brahmin, in order to perform the requisite ceremonies for purifying it from the defilement impressed on it, by ignorantly keeping in it so polluted a thing as the Bible. At the same time, he will be more and more confirmed in his prejudices against the Christian religion, and become fully persuaded that a religion whose origin is derived from so impure a source is quite detestable, and those who profess the most vile and base of men. Such are the effects that, in my humble
opinion, the reading of the naked text of the Bible cannot fail to produce on the unprepared minds of the prejudiced Indians.
I have only quoted the above instances (these being the first which occurred to my mind in writing these pages); but I could point out, in almost every page of our Holy Books, passages almost equally exceptionable, and which it would prove equally unwise to exhibit, without previous preparations and explanations, to the prejudiced Natives.
It is, therefore, my decided opinion, that to open all at once, and without due preparation, this precious treasure to Indians, is the same with endeavouring to cure a person labouring under severely sore eyes by obliging him to stare at the rays of a shining sun, at the risk of making him blind, or at least of being dazzled and confounded by an excess of light: it is exactly (to use the language of Scripture) to give that which is holy unto the dogs, and cast pearls before swine;' it is to put new wine into old bottles, which break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish.'
In order to give you an instance of the delicacy of the feelings of all Hindoos, with respect to the accounts found in our holy books that are in opposition to their prejudices, I will relate the following example:
Being at Carrical, about twenty-two years ago, I preached, on a Sunday, to the assembled congregation, a sermon on the divine origin of the Christian religion. Among many other topics to prove my subject, I insisted on the intrinsic weakness of the means employed in the establishment of this religion, entirely destitute of all human support, and left to its own resources. I many times, said, in treating this topic, that it had for its founder a man of Galilee, the son of a humble carpenter, who took for his assistants twelve ignorant fishermen. These words, the son of a carpenter,' 'twelve fishermen,' often repeated, gave offence to my audience, all composed of Christian Natives; and the sermon was no sooner finished, than three or four of the principal among them came and told me that the whole congregation had been scandalised, by hearing me apply to Christ very improper apellation of 'the son of a carpenter,' and to his apostles that of fishermen ;' that I was not ignorant of the caste of both carpenters and fishermen being two of the lowest among the Hindoos; that it was, by all means, very improper to attribute to Christ and his immediate disciples so low and vile an origin; that, if Pagans, who sometimes come through motives of curiosity to their religious assemblies, heard such accounts about our religion, this would only serve to increase their contempt and hatred for it, &c. &c.; and, finally, they advised me, if in future I had occasion to mention in my sermons the origin of Christ and his Apostles, not to fail to say that they were born in the noble tribe. of Chatrys or Rajahs, and never to make mention of their low professions.
Another instance of this kind happened to me in Mysore, some years ago; when, on explaining to the congregation the parable of the Prodigal, in the Gospel, (Luke xv.) I mentioned the circumstance of the Prodigal's father, on the coming back of his converted son, having through joy killed a fattened calf, to entertain his friends. After the lecture, the Christians said to me, rather in bad humour, that my mentioning the fattened calf was very improper; and that, if Pagans had, as it oftened happened, been present at the lecture, they would have been highly scandalised, and confirmed, on hearing of the fattened calf, in the opinion they entertained of our religion being a pariah religion. At the same time, they advised me, if in future I gave an explanation of the same parable, to substitute a lamb in the place of the fattened calf.
In fact, even with our Christian Natives, we are compelled to avoid in this respect all that is calculated to offend their feelings, and increase in the public the jealousy and hatred entertained against them and their religion. Thus, for example, as the use of intoxicating liquors is extremely odious to all well-educated Indians, and considered by them as one of their capital sins, when we explain verbally, or by writing, in our catechisms, the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are cautious not to say openly that the matter of the Sacrament is bread and wine, or charayom : this last word would prove too revolting to their feelings. We have, therefore, been obliged to soften it by a periphrase; saying that the matter of the Eucharist is bread of wheat, and the juice of the fine fruit called grape, which expressions become more palatable to the extremely delicate Indian taste.
In the mean while, should a translation of the Bible into the several dialects of the country, circulated among the Natives, be able, as some persons think, through its intrinsic worth, to produce its effects, and fix their attention on this Divine book-even in this case, which I am far from admitting, an almost insurmountable difficulty would still remain; that is, a proper translation of the work-for the idiom and style of the Indian languages are so widely different from those of European tongues, that a literal translation would, in my opinion, prove perfect nonsense.
I was not a little astonished when I saw, a few years ago, announced, with much emphasis, in the newspapers, by the Missionaries at Serampore, a design of having the whole of our Holy Scriptures thoroughly translated into fourteen or firteen Asiatic languages, the Chinese not excepted. To persons who know nothing of the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of such an undertaking, the project is likely to appear noble and dazzling. As for me, at the very first sight, I considered it as mere quackery, and could not conceive how a small society of five or six individuals could seriously think of undertaking such an Herculean labour, which, if fairly carried
on, would occupy, for at least a century, all the learned to be found in Asia.
It is a well-known fact, that, when England separated herself from the Church of Rome, not finding the Vulgate version of the Bible, till then used, exact enough, and wishing to have a more perfect translation made from the Hebrew Original, this translation took a period of eighteen years to be performed, and yet modern criticism has discovered a great number of errors in this English translation. Now, if, even in Europe, with all the assistance that able and learned translators were enabled to obtain in every respect from an enlightened body of scholars, it proved so difficult, and required such long labour to go through a genuine translation of the work, what are we to think of the project of five or six individuals, however enlightened they may be, who, without the assistance of any criticism whatever, dare boast of then being able to get literal translations of the same work done into intricate idioms, with which they have only a very imperfect acquaintance?
It is admitted, that, in order to make a genuine translation from one language into another, it is indispensably necessary to possess a thorough grammatical acquaintance with both. Now, where are the Europeans who possess such a perfect and thoroughly grammatical acquaintance with the Asiatic tongues? Or where are to be found the Indians who possess the same advantage with respect to European languages? If persons of this description are to be found any where in India, they are very rare indeed.
Some translations of a part of the Holy Scriptures are to be seen in the country; but, in my humble opinion, they have entirely missed their object. I have by me a translation of the New Testament into Tamul, executed by the Lutheran Missionaries; but the translators, by endeavouring to make it literal, have used such low, trivial, and, in many places, such ludicrous expressions, and the style is, besides, so widely different from that used by Indians, that the persons unaccustomed to it cannot, as I had repeated opportunities of seeing, read over ten lines without laughing at the manner in which the work is executed.
In my last stay on the coast, I had occasion to see a letter on the subject, from a missionary in Travancore, to a person of the same profession at Pondicherry, in which were the following expressions: Two thousand sets of the New Testament, translated into the Malayan dialect, have been sent to us, without our asking for them, to be circulated among our Christians. I have perused the work; the translation is truly piteous: one cannot read over four verses without shrugging. At the same time, this large collection of New Testaments now in our hands puts us in a very awkward situation. If we leave them to rot in our houses, we