Gresham College Lectures

The Beginnings of Protestantism in Asia

May 11, 2022 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
The Beginnings of Protestantism in Asia
Show Notes Transcript

Early Protestant empires in Asia – in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan and elsewhere – brought missionaries with them. Like their Catholic predecessors, they learned that winning converts was formidably difficult, especially in empires that were principally commercial. 

As this lecture will show, some concluded that the effort was futile; others grew increasingly coercive; but others still began to explore ways of learning from and with indigenous peoples. The results, for good or ill, set patterns that still affect the region today.


A lecture by Alec Ryrie

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/protestant-asia

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- In 1712, George Lewis was a Welsh chaplain working for the British East India Company in the Port of Chennai, then known as Madras on India's Southwestern Coast. The job that the company had hired him and a handful of other Anglican chaplains for was simply to provide religious services to the company's expatriates and perhaps also for their illegitimate children. As perfectly decent living for a clergyman, definite opportunities to make some money on the side through trading in your own right, but as spiritual opportunities go unambitious and every so often these men's consciences had a way of stirring. In fact, in October 1712, George Lewis was in a state of some excitement. 250 kilometers South of Madras was a rather more modest imperial foothold, the Danish East India Company's settlement in the town of Tranquebar now called Tharangambadi. Over the previous six years, two young Protestant ministers had been working there, not with the small number of Danish expats, but with the Tamil population whom they hoped to convert to their brand of Christianity and George Lewis was impressed. He wrote to the Society for the Promoting Christian Knowledge, the SPCK a fledgling outfit in London that had taken an interest in what the Danes were doing. We'll be hearing more about the SPCK. And he said to them amongst other things, the missionaries at Tranquebar ought and must be encouraged. It is the first attempt the Protestants have ever made in that kind. And then he used a biblical image for nurturing and encouraging something fragile and tentative said, we must not put out the smoking flax. It would give our adversaries the Papist who boast so much of their Congregation de Propaganda Fide too much cause to triumph over us. We're going to come back to Southwestern India later on, but for now I want you to notice two things about this comment. First of all, the fact that Lewis immediately frames this missionary effort amongst an overwhelmingly Hindu population as a spiritual struggle, not with Hinduism, but with Catholicism. And second, his claim that this is the first attempt the Protestants have ever made in this kind. As we'll see, that's not exactly true, but it's not particularly surprising that he would've thought so. And it's certainly true that the beginnings of Protestant Christianity in Asia our subject this evening is a slow and uncertain story. And it's one that's quite different from the stories I've told in this series so far. The missionary context we've looked at in the previous lectures amongst native Americans and enslaved Africans were defined by imperial power. They happened in contexts of conquest, expansionist settlement enslavement. In Asia, the situation during our period up to the late 18th century was very different. There's certainly a European presence, imperial presence in parts of Asia. There were even a few territories, mostly islands or small coastal enclaves that had been brought under partial or complete military control by European powers though that control is always fragile, but as yet, there was no attempt at large scale conquest and no attempt at all to create settler colonies of the kind being found in the Americas or in Southern Africa. These weren't or they weren't yet territorial empires. The Portuguese who were the first Europeans to establish a presence in the Indian Ocean and in East Asia established a series of footholds in the 16th century. So Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Goa in Eastern India, Malacca in modern Malaysia, Macau on the South Coast of China and others. And in each case, the Portuguese fortified, used military force, held territory, but only as much as they needed to secure and defend what were essentially trading posts. And the reason that enormously powerful states like Safavid Persia or the Mogul Empire in India or Ming China, the reason that they were willing to let this kind of thing happen is that the Portuguese weren't interested in territorial conquest, but in maritime trade. And that is a globally commercial enterprise that the great Asian states generally saw as beneath their dignity. And they're perfectly willing to outsource it to these peculiar Europeans with their agile and heavily armed little ships. So the main rivals that the Portuguese faced for their dominance of the lucrative intra Asian trade were oddly enough not the other great Asian powers, but other Europeans. And it's a sign of how commercial that all this was, that those European rivals all chose to pursue their Asian ambitions, not through direct conquest or settlement in the old fashioned way, but through establishing trading companies. We've already met the British East India company. The oldest of those rivals to Portugal established in 1600 English, not British at that point. We've also met the Danish company, it's a comparative Titla but the most powerful and important for our whole period was the Dutch East India Company, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie established in 1602. We might think that we live in an age where multinational corporations can be more powerful than states, but these are companies that make Amazon or Exxon look lily-livered and squeamish. A better modern analogy might be the Russian energy company, Gazprom like a publicly traded company, but one which is majority owned by the Russian state and is plainly both a highly lucrative commercial enterprise and an instrument of Russian foreign policy. The Protestant maritime powers in Northern Europe in the years around 1600 were locked in a desperate struggle for survival with the joint monarchy of Spain and Portugal. This empire of antichrist, the Spanish Portuguese empire, as the Protestants saw it repeatedly tried to invade England until the 1640s is actively attempting to reconquer the Dutch Republic. The Protestants know that the financial lifeblood of the Spanish and Portuguese empires was their global reach, the gold and silver from the Americas and the staggeringly lucrative trade in spices and other goods from Asia. And so disrupting that trade as best they could and seizing some of it for themselves was a military necessity as well as a commercial opportunity. So these companies they're set up to be self financing, self-governing they keep the government and the publics of their home countries at arm's length, but they're also never just companies. They're weapons of war. In 1603, so this is the year after the foundation of the Dutch East India Company. Its Naval commander in the east, again, you might not think that's something that a company would normally have. Its Naval commander in the East Jacob van Heemskerck wrote a triumphant report back to the company's directors, outlining his early victories. And he commented may God's glory be exalted amongst so many different nations peoples and countries by means of the true Protestant religion. Perhaps the Lord will use a small despised country, a nation, he means the Netherlands of course, to work his mighty miracles. Was the money making a means of defeating the forces of antichrist or was throttling the Portuguese empire a means of making money? That wasn't a question they needed to answer. Though it won't surprise you to learn that money making has a momentum of its own and that entities which were created as mercantile means to political ends slowly become more straightforwardly commercial. Alongside this commercial rivalry between the Catholic and Protestant powers, or maybe another one of the arenas in which that rivalry was fought is a missionary rivalry. The Portuguese used their commercial empire as a vector for Catholic missions. Goa in particular became a hub priests quickly fanned out across India from there. This is with the permission and the support of Portugal and of the other Catholic powers, but behind it all stood the Papacy whose own missionary headquarters, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide which George Lewis mentioned was founded in 1622. There's a backhanded compliment to this institution's effectiveness in the meaning that Protestants then gave to the word propaganda. Because the reality was that while in commercial terms, the Protestants might be making some inroads, in religious terms, they are a long way behind. The first Protestants that we know of in Asia were in fact soldiers and Mariners working for the Portuguese. In 1552, a group of so-called Lutherans were detected by Portuguese inquisitor on Hormuz. In the same year, a Portuguese Jesuit in India described meeting Protestant English, Dutch, and German soldiers in Portuguese service, mercenaries would work for anyone. In the first half century after a formal inquisition tribunal was established at Goa in 1560, they tried around 50 cases of suspected Protestantism. Although that's a tiny sliver of their overall business, which is chiefly trying to police the orthodoxy of their new Indian converts. Protestants back in Europe are well aware that a march is being stolen on them. When the Dutch East India Company's charter is renewed in 1622, 20 years after its original foundation, the new charter includes an explicit statement that one of its purposes is the preservation of the public reformed faith. And the Dutch company and the Dutch in particular do see a missionary dimension to their work, but always within limits. In the spice islands of Indonesia, when the Dutch established settlements on islands that were under Muslim rule, they readily adopted treaties in which attempts to win converts either from Islam to Christianity or vice versa were strictly forbidden. And when Dutch preachers complained about this, they were ignored or silenced. The plainest maybe the most notorious case of this is Japan, where the association between Christianity and foreign backed subversion had become so strong that by the 1620s, Christianity was outlawed and brutally suppressed, and the whole Japanese empire was closed to foreigners of any kind. Christianity in Japan, of course, meaning Catholicism. So the only traders who managed to negotiate even a partial exemption to this almost total closure are the Dutch. In the 1630s, the Dutch were allowed to establish a trading Depot on the Island of Hirado off the Coast of Nagasaki. One of the conditions were that there'd be absolutely no hint of Christianity to their presence. Dutch churchmen vigorously protested about this condition to no avail. Dutch ships were required to seal their Bibles in caskets for as long as they were in Japanese waters. When the Dutch built a warehouse on the island and inscribed it with the date, according to the Christian calendar, Anno Domini 1640, they were ordered to demolish the entire warehouse and they did. A Swedish Lutheran soldier who was in Dutch service visited Japan on a trade mission for them in 1651 to two. And he recorded that when the ships arrive, placards are nailed to the great mast by diem. This is by the Dutch officials, not by the Japanese themselves who are doing this. Wherein all gestures indicating Christianity are openly forbidden not to mention the name of Christ on pain of death, or to read prayers before sitting down at, or when leaving the table in the evening or in the morning. Truly in my time, when I was there in their service, we were forbidden to change any of our clothes on Sunday so that we wouldn't by this means appear to be Christians. Willman was well aware of the bloody persecution of Christians in Japan and he found it horrific, even though all of the victims were Catholics. And his conscience was clearly troubled by these orders, but he said, the Dutch for the sake of money and profit can well stand and abide by whatever rules they might be given. But this isn't the whole story. The main reason that the Dutch East India Company's charter was revised in 1622, it was that it was now doing more than just trading, it was acquiring territory. The Island of Ambon in modern Indonesia, roughly halfway between Sulawesi and New Guinea is the first territory, the Dutch East India Company actually claims for itself, here it is, having expelled the Portuguese. Ambon was at that time the world's main producer of cloves. The Dutch in fact aspire to a monopoly of clove production. In 1625, they conducted a raid into the one part of the island that they didn't control burning some 65,000 trees in an attempt to wipe out the competition. That's also an early sign that this isn't just about economic war with the Catholic powers because they some early executed 10 English sailors. This is an incident which poisons diplomatic relations between England and the Netherlands for decades. Anyway, the Portuguese had governed the island for the best part of a century. And that included hosting Catholic missionaries. Took a pretty conventional shape. You will read accounts of Catholic missionaries of this era, carrying out mass baptisms almost indiscriminately with no attempt to ensure that the subject understood what was happening. And that's an exaggeration, but it's not completely baseless. Catholic missionaries were usually prepared to baptize anyone who was willing publicly to associate themselves with the God of the Portuguese and to recite certain formally. After all baptism is a profound, spiritual mystery, no mortal fully understands it. So, how can you justify excluding people from the saving grace of the sacrament by sitting in judgment over their understanding. Crucially Catholics, unlike Protestants believed and believe that baptism is an effective means of grace, not just an outward sign. It is a true spiritual washing that changes the status of a soul before God. So you shouldn't be miserly in giving a gift like that. And so when the Dutch took Ambon in 1605, they inherited a population of some 16,000 self-identified Catholic Christians. And this is an awkward responsibility that they are not at all prepared for. The company's instinct is to try to reproduce the religious settlement of the Dutch Republic on the Spice Islands. That meant a monopoly of legal public worship for the reform church and toleration for the private practice of other religions. The Dutch admiral who had captured Amboyna who is of course a long way from being any kind of clergyman and is making this stuff up as he goes along, signs a treaty with the indigenous people, stating that everyone may live in that belief that God puts in his heart or that he believes to be holy, but no one may molest another or cause him trouble, very nice. Even some of the Portuguese were allowed to stay on the basis that they were married to indigenous women, but public monuments of Catholicism had to go. Crucifixes, images of saints, these things are blasphemous idolatries as far as the Dutch are concerned. Three of the four churches on the island were closed and the fourth one was in theory taken over for Protestant worship. Trouble was the Dutch fleet weren't prepared for that. It was 10 years before even a single ordained Protestant minister could be found for the island. Until then they had to make due with an untrained layperson who'd been licensed to read services on board ship and with some prayers read by the company physician. Meanwhile, the Dutch were aggressively asserting their control over the island and that included a forcible monopoly on spice trading and using forced labor. And the everyday behavior of the Dutch traders and soldiers who were of course, an exclusively male community, well, let's say that the way these people behaved wasn't calculated to burnish Protestantisms reputation for high moral standards. By contrast Islam was gaining a foothold on the island, as it was spreading east through the Indonesian archipelago and the Dutch pushed back. There are incidents of mosque burning, of Muslims being forced to eat pork, of Christian converts to Islam being imprisoned. In the late 1610s, there's a major rebellion against Dutch rule on the island, which is put down with some ferocity, things are not going well. Protestant minister finally arrives in 1615, and this isn't a great success either. He tries to set up a school, he does learn some Malay, that's the lingua franca of the region, but he made no secret of his disdain for the Ambonese, he called them dull witted and lazy. The real beginnings of a change come with his successor, Sebastian Danckaerts. He's a Protestant minister with some years of far Eastern experience under his belt when he comes to Ambon in 1618. And this is how he assessed the situation after two years on the island. These people here call themselves Christians, but still seek secretly the devil, while they think that they affirm their confession by eating pork, so showing themselves not to be Muslims. Many of them indeed come to church on Sunday, but this is more a matter of compulsion than of conviction, because they'll be fined a quarter of a real if they don't. He guessed that maybe one out of 50 of them even knew what their Christian name was, the name given to them when they were baptized. Danckaerts redoubled the effort to provide services in Malay and crucially in 1619, he persuaded the company's governor general to offer a handsome bribe of a pound of rice per day to every child who attended the school. This is not subtle. It seems to be the origin of the term rice Christian, which right through into the 20th century is what Protestant missionaries in Asia called people who affiliated with mission churches in the hope of receiving handouts or other material help. But it worked sort of worked. The schools boomed, they began to expand employing local men as teachers using the Malay catechistical texts that Danckaerts and his predecessor had produced. In 1620, they began moving out into the countryside beyond Ambon town, taking hand copied texts with them in the absence of any other books or equipment. By 1633, there are 32 schools on the island with 1,200 pupils on their books. 50 years later that had grown to 46 schools and 3,200 pupils. The Christianization of the Eastern Malaykers under Dutch rule is not pretty. Dutch control is enforced with some ferocity and some rebellions are subdued with exemplary brutality. In some cases, entire populations were deported. Notoriously on the Banda Islands, the principle source of nutmeg, they were large scale massacres. But the process ground on, especially once the Dutch realized by mid-century that they were in a foot race with the expanding Muslim presence in the islands and that affiliation to Protestantism was a way of cementing company rule. On the larger neighboring island of Seram, from the 1670s onwards bribery is supplemented with open pressure. In one village in South Seram there's a mass baptism with the Dutch governor present, Protestants aren't supposed to do this kind of thing, but the company paid for two cows and four and a half tons of rice for the festivities. The governor presented cloth to the converts in order, it was said to arouse honest jealousy amongst the pagans living in the region. Meanwhile, the death penalty was threatened for venerating traditional religious images. The result after a generation or two in much of the archipelago was compliance with what indigenous people sometimes called Agama company, the religion of the company. Now that makes it sound like merely solemn compliance, but that's not quite the story. In some parts of the Indonesian archipelago, such as Northern Sulawesi, a real popular Protestantism was eventually built. A more typical example is the City of Batavia, this is the predecessor of the modern City of Jakarta, which again was seized from the Portuguese in 1619 and becomes the capital of the Dutch East India Company's empire. A census of Batavia from 1679 gives us an idea of how this is working. At that date, the city's total population is a little over 32,000. Just over 2,000 of those are European expatriates, so merchants, soldiers, company officials, sometimes their families. Just over 16,000, so half of the population are enslaved and this group are very multiethnic. Portuguese is still the dominant lingua franca amongst them. But the culture of slavery in this region is very different from that in the Caribbean and the Americas. These are mostly household slaves for both Europeans and higher status Asians. And one of the accepted symbols of status in this society was the ostentatious freeing of slaves after a period of service. And so alongside the enslaved population is a substantial group, a sixth of the population who were so called Mardikers, freed people that is former slaves or descendants of former slaves, mostly speakers of Portuguese Creole. And in Batavia by this date, most of these people were Christians. Now, the majority of these Christians, maybe two thirds of them were still Catholics, but there is a big and growing Protestant minority. The Dutch reform church in Batavia claimed a total of 500 members in 1658. That might not sound like much, but the reform church had a very different view of membership than the Catholics did. Even back home in the Netherlands, it was rare for more than about 20% of the population to be full church members because full membership is limited to adults who have formally testified to an appropriately sophisticated understanding of the faith and submitted themselves to and have had their morals approved by the church's disciplinary structures. The majority of church members in almost everywhere we look were women. In Batavia that figures as high as 75% of church members are women. Women found that having an institution that could publicly vouch for their moral standing was particularly valuable. So, we might presume that for every formal church member, there were two or three more adherence to the reformed faith. But as Mardikers, these freed people were drawn into the reformed church, that number of members began to shoot up. By 1674, there were 2,300 church members in Batavia, by 1700 there were 5,000 and what drove this was the creation of a new church office, the lay catechist. These men, all of them men, all of them of Asian descent, most of them are Mardikers themselves. They're each given a district of the city to visit. By the mid 1660s, there are 18 of these catechists, by 1706 there are 34 of them. They report directly to the ordained ministers and they maintain the lists of who is a church member and who isn't, it's a full-time job. They're going from house to house, providing Christian instruction to church members and their families, almost all of them in Portuguese or in Malay rather than in Dutch. The most tangible sign of this growth is the erection of new church buildings. This one that was built in 1682 doesn't exist anymore, but the Portuguese Buitenkerk erected outside the town walls in 1693 is still there, it's the oldest extent church building in Indonesia. There's a similar story in another Dutch colony, the island that we know as Sri Lanka and which they called Ceylon. And again, the Dutch inherited a mixed religious picture, longstanding Buddhist and Hindu populations mixed with a substantial number had converted to Catholicism under Portuguese rule. And again, the process of building a Protestant community is slow and painful, but it happened to some extent. Schools were founded, attendance was required, churches were built, many of them like this one in Colombos still standing and in use. During the 18th century, a printing press was established producing books in Tamil and Sinhalese for use in the schools and in the churches. And in this case and also in this one, you can see the imprint of the VOC of the Dutch East India Company on the title page. Seminaries were founded one in Jaffna, one in Colombo, which trained young men, both for colonial administration and for the ministry. At least a dozen local men were fully ordained as ministers during the 18th century. Some of them after further training in the Netherlands. When the British seized the island from the Dutch, during the Napoleonic wars, they counted the Protestant population with slightly dubious precision at 236,109 people, something like a fifth of the population of the Island's maritime provinces. And while the British thought that the Protestant church was scandalously understaffed, they reckoned that the educational system was sound and they took it over wholesale. So Solan Sri Lanka shows what the Protestant taught us could do when given time to match itself against the Catholic hair. They couldn't catch up and we all know that in real life tortoises don't win races, but it could put on a perfectly respectable showing in applauding institutional sort of way. But for many Protestants, this kind of grinding limited church building was deeply frustrating. This wasn't how the apostles had set the world on fire, luring or forcing children to schools, drilling freed slaves to memorize texts, hoping that over generations' habit would harden into something like faith. Surely there's a better way. In the Dutch empire, there was a surge of optimism in the 1620s. Four chief's sons from Ambon were sent to the Netherlands for education in 1621. And in 1623, the year after the Congregation de Propaganda Fide was founded in Rome, the Dutch minister, Sebastian Danckaerts, who we met as the founder of the school's program in Ambon, he's now on a trip back home. He persuaded the East India company to open a Collegium Indicum an Indian college to train ministers for missionary work in the far east. Maybe a few highly skilled ministers and some high status indigenous converts might be the spark that would set all Asia a light. But nine years later, when the Ambonese youths were sent home, at least the three of them who'd survived, the island, this Protestant minister was unimpressed. He said, it's lamentable that those people who've cost the directors so much aren't more thankful for what they've enjoyed because they've completely forgotten their study and shown no enthusiasm for the Christian religion. The following year, the Collegium Indicum was closed down having produced no more than 12 students. College, it has to be said is a grand name for an institution which had only one dedicated professor and had met in his house. The East India Company declared that it now had as many ministers as it could employ and that there was no need for a further recruitment stream. I'm not going to say that the Collegium had no impact because it does play a role in one other truly remarkable story from the Dutch empire, which will be coming back to in the final lecture of this series, but an equivalent to Rome's propaganda Fide, it was not. For most of the 17th century, Protestants in Europe talked, dreamt of taking their gospel to Asia, but didn't do very much about it. Books were published, sermons were preached, but the great trading companies knew how to run a tight ship and they wouldn't permit freelance religious enthusiasts stirring up trouble. Even the Dutch East India Company's own ministers were liable to be unceremoniously shipped home if they clashed with the company's governors. In so far as self starting enthusiasts made any impact, it was closer to home in the Ottoman Empire, the great Turkish ruled empire that embraced most of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as a suave of Southeastern Europe. The most eye catching efforts were those made by the Quakers that radically egalitarian Protestant movement that sprang up in England in the years after the civil war. The Quaker leader, George Fox fired off a series of prophetic letters to the Turkish Sultan, to the Emperor of China and so forth adjuring them to hearken to the light of Christ within them. A number of Quakers set out to deliver these messages in-person. As one Quaker historian puts it, their mission was a service abundant in persecution, but barren in fruit. In 1661, for example, two Quakers were inspired to travel to the Turks, ultimately hoping to go onto China and they set out bearing a sheath of these letters, including at the end a catchall one addressed to all the nations under the whole heavens. They made it as far as Alexandria, where the horrified English console reported that they did throw about pamphlets in the street in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin. The council managed to get them released to his custody and had them shipped home. It could have been much worse. Similar party were likewise intercepted by the English council in Smyrna, who wrote that we sufficiently have had experience of the carriage of that sort of people. And it is ridiculous and capable to bring dishonor to our nation. Some others made it a little bit further than that. One of the most remarkable stories though, it's thinly documented is that of the German Lutheran preacher, Peter Heyling. This isn't about Asia exactly, but I hope you'll agree it's part of today's story. Heyling set out for Egypt in 1633 intending not to convert Muslims, which conventional wisdom held to be both impossible and impossibly dangerous, but to bring the Protestant gospel to the ancient Christian churches of the East. Heyling learnt Arabic, managed to befriend senior figures in both the Syrian Orthodox and the Coptic churches, and then an unexpected chance came his way. The kingdom of Abyssinia or Ethiopia that had been Christians since ancient times, this map rather exaggerates its size, but it's considerable. Earlier in the century, Roman Catholic missionaries had established themselves there to try to bring the Ethiopian Orthodox Church into communion with Rome. But in 1634, a new Ethiopian emperor comes to the throne who breaks with the Catholics and renews his ancient links with the Coptic church in Egypt. Heyling sees his chance and travels to Ethiopia. We don't know whether the emperor would have proceeded to expel or execute all the Catholic missionaries without Heyling influence. We do know that Heyling remained in Ethiopia for 17 years. He married the emperor's daughter, won a reputation for studiousness and holiness and translated the New Testament into Amharic. But as so often in the end, nothing came of it, Heyling is killed in 1656 after a quarrel with a Turkish governor in Sudan, a Lutheran minister who is sent to a system rather embarrassingly converts to Catholicism or root and the whole mission fails. The hope that the way to the Middle East might lie through the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches is a common one. Muslim rulers violently objected to any Christian missionary efforts aimed at themselves. Whereas Protestants thought they might have better prospect with the Eastern churches who at least hated the Pope as much as they did. And they reasoned that if anyone stood a chance of converting Muslims, it wouldn't be foreigners, but a reinvigorated indigenous Christian Church. If there was an institutional route to doing this, again, it's the chartered trading companies. The English Levant company traded out of Aleppo in modern Syria, a series of English, Protestant chaplains there made cautious contacts with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. For enthusiasts back home, the existence of the Aleppo chaplaincy is an opportunity. And the way to exploit that opportunity, it seemed obvious was through distributing books. Robert Boyle, the brilliant Irish Protestant chemist was also a missionary enthusiast. And he was rich enough to bankroll a 1660 Arabic edition of the best selling tract on the truth of the Christian religion by the great Dutch philosopher, Hugo Grotius. It was apparently distributed by English merchants in Aleppo. Boyle also funded a Turkish edition of the New Testament, an Arabic edition of the English book of common prayer followed later in the century, none of these projects had any impact at all that we can trace. If Catholic missionaries believe that baptism had its own intrinsic saving power and should be administered as freely as possible, Protestant missionaries believe the same thing about books like those Quakers flinging books into the street in Alexandria, they knew that God's word was alive. If they merely scattered the seed abroad, it would surely take root. In 1720, the SPCK, the English publishing and missionary society I mentioned at the beginning was approached with a new scheme to print an Arabic New Testament and Salter with the apparent backing of the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch. I say apparent because it quickly became clear that the patriarch had no real interest in the project, he just wanted allies in his local intrigues against Roman Catholic missionaries, but the SPCK seized on the idea. Despite the lack of any coherent plan for distributing the books that would be produced beyond sending them in bulk to Aleppo. The patriarch who approached them died in 1724 and his successor doesn't even pretend to be interested in cooking up schemes with English heretics, but by now the SPCK was hooked on the idea. They set out to raise in this pamphlet an eye watering 2,400 pounds in the hope of printing 8,000 copies of these books, a sum which included paying to forge a new set of Arabic type and remarkably, they overshoot that mark. By 1737, there are a series of these editions, the SPCK has produced over 6,000 Arabic Salters, 10,000 Arabic New testaments, and 5,000 Arabic catechisms at a total cost of some 3,000 pounds. This was by far the single most expensive project that the SPCK had ever undertaken. And almost no one wanted them. Hundreds were indeed sent to Aleppo for distribution, where to the best of our knowledge, they sank without trace. Others were sent to SPCK correspondence as far a field as Russia or Persia or India, where I think we can presume that demand for Arabic language Christian materials was weak, but half a century later, well over half of those new testaments and catechisms were still sitting in the SPCK's warehouses in London, awaiting anyone who might be interested in them. Hundreds of copies from that same print run were being distributed by the British and foreign Bible society in the 1820s. Protestant books were indeed like Catholic baptisms. You could run up impressive numbers, but that didn't mean you were having the desired effect. So when George Lewis in Madras said about those Protestant missionaries in Tranquebar that it is the first attempt that the Protestants have ever made in that kind. He was wrong, but you can see what he meant, because it does have to be said that the Tranquebar mission is a bit different from the other ventures of the time and maybe a sign of things to come. This is a difficult subject to discuss because it's been very heavily mythologized. And as Lewis's comment suggests that methologization process is happening in real time, but scrape away the layers and it's still clear something pretty unusual was going on. Two things make this venture stand out. Vital combination of structures and people. The missions based in the Danish East India Company's territory, but it is not a company project. In fact, the company to begin with is actively hostile to it. The lead missionary Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg is actually imprisoned by the colonies governor for a few months in 1709 after he tries to intervene in a debt dispute between a Tamil widow and an employee of the company on the widow's side. The imprisonment is uncomfortable for him, but the episode hugely bolsters his credibility with the Tamil population. The mission's sponsored not by the company, but by King Frederick IV of Denmark himself. He's a convert to the evangelical Lutheran movement we call pietism whose hallmark was bypassing existing church and state structures and taking its preaching directly to the common people. This was the first opportunity for pietist religion to reach beyond Europe. And so when king Frederick becomes involved, this attracts the attention of the University of Halle in Prussia, the engine room of pietism and of the formidable religious entrepreneur August Hermann Francke, the professor of theology at Halle who sits at the center of pietism's networks. King Frederick provides the official permission to work in the colony, overriding the East India Company's objections. Halle provides the personnel. All of the missionaries who worked in this Danish sponsored mission throughout the century are in fact German not Danish. And pretty soon a third element enters the equation, the English SPCK take an interest. Their instinct, of course, because they're the SPCK is to throw books at the problem. They pay to have a printing press and especially made type shipped out to Tranquebar although logistically this is tricky, it's in the middle of a war with France, the ship gets attacked, the press ends up being taken to Brazil, it has to be ransomed. Eventually though the printer dies on the way, but the machine arrives, they find somebody who's able to operate it and the missionaries are eventually able to use it. They produce this Tamil New Testament in 1715. We might question whether this is the best use of the SPCK's funds, but the SPCK also become the main financial underwriters of the whole mission. They pay for almost everything in the end apart from the actual salaries of the missionaries themselves and crucially, they persuade the British East India Company to provide free passage for the missionaries and for their supplies. This unique three cornered, Danish, German, English arrangement proves remarkably stable and effective. All three parties bring something different to the table. Official backing from the Danish, a steady supply of personnel from the Germans, steady supply of cash from the English. And all three are able to commit to keeping that up over a period of decades. There are prickles in the relationship at times, Anglicans and Lutherans weren't very different in their religion, but there were certain well known disagreements and the missionaries themselves are acutely aware of the need to steer clear of delicate liturgical or jurisdictional issues. But this may even have been the mission's strong point because although it's sponsored by three different institutions, each representing a state church, the balance means that it's never under the control of any one of them, much less of a trading company. For a sign of the difference, look at what happens to George Lewis's enthusiasm where his attempt to get the British East India company to emulate what the Tranquebar missionaries are doing. His successor at Madras tries to copy the Tranquebar example by founding a school and that East India Company, the British East India company doesn't try to stop it, but they do direct the project in a particular direction. So the school that eventually opens at Madras in 1716 is an English language school and it is teaching the mixed race children of irregular liaisons between company staff and soldiers and Tamil women. Now, plainly making some provision for these unfortunate people was worthwhile, the missionaries at Tranquebar had by then also set up a small school offering instruction in Danish for the equivalent clientele there, but in their case, that's alongside for rather larger institutions offering tuition in Tamil or in one case in Portuguese. Their focus was always and primarily on the indigenous population, which is something that in Madras could not be done. Alongside its unique institutional basis, the mission's other gift is its people. There is no getting around the fact that Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg is an exceptional figure. Reading his correspondence is positively exhausting. He quickly decided that it was essential that he and others master the Tamil language, he devoted himself almost full time to language study for his first year. By the end of that year had written his first sermon in Tamil. He compiled dictionaries, made it his business to master the daunting Tamil literary tradition. He employed poets to teach him, he collected and copied huge numbers of the palm leaf books used in the region. He'd acquired over 600 of these in his first eight years. What makes this really remarkable is his openness to Tamil culture. He wrote several detailed ethnographic accounts of Tamil culture and belief, including a whole book on South Indian religion, which he wanted the university of Halle to publish back in Germany, but Halle refused arguing that the missionaries had been sent to stamp out heathenism, not to publicize it. Ziegenbalg had by then come to a rather subtler view of the matter. He quickly moves on from his initial descriptions in his letters of their ridiculous theology as useless trash, admittedly, he used the same term for Aristotelian philosophy. Instead, he discovered that in Tamil writings, as he said, one might discover things, very fit to entertain the curiosity of many a learned head in Europe. He called them a witty and sagacious people who lead a very quiet, honest and virtuous life by the mere influence of their natural abilities. The principle obstacle to winning them over to Christianity, he quickly concluded was the egregious moral example of actual Christians in India. And he said about ensuring that he and the other missionaries at least offered a different model. The mood of his correspondence is frustration with how slowly things were progressing. But when you step back, it's profoundly impressive. A stone church built within the first year, that's not there anymore, this is the replacement that was built in 1718, it's still standing and in use. Crowds were too big for the building attending at his twice weekly sermons. There were five free schools established within the first 10 years with combined registration of about 100 split equally between girls and boys. Actual baptisms were slower because as typical for Protestants Ziegenbalg is punctilious about catechizing and examining baptism candidates. He only admitted those of whose faith he could be confident. But by the time of his death in 1719, he'd baptized some 250 people. That doesn't of course include Indian converts from Catholicism who didn't need to be baptized, but who made up a substantial part of his congregation. Now one missionary winning 250 converts from a standing start in some ways is impressive, in others, it's trivial. And while some of Ziegenbalg successes in the Danish Halle SCPK mission in the rest of the century we'll meet one of them in particular in the next lecture, some of them were able to build in his achievements. It's also clear that those achievements are limited. But what makes the Tranquebar mission stand out in our story and what's made Ziegenbalg a widely respected figure in modern India is that he'd found a way of combining structures and people to build a community over the long term with the foundations that he and his colleagues lay underpinning what happened over the following decades. That intricate tripartite structure that was so valuable was also one that was very difficult to scale up or to copy. But the more serious problem that the Indian mission faced in the later 18th century was that it couldn't keep another formidably successful institution at arm's length forever. I mean the growing territorial empire of the British East India Company. In the final lecture of this series at the beginning of June, we will finally look directly at the subject that we have been circling around all year, the inescapable dangerous dance between missionaries and empires. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) - Given the significant number of Anglo Indian Christians now, how important was the conversion of mixed race Christians in India in this period? - It's very important and not just in India. In most of these settings, the existence of a mixed race community become one of the main entry points for Christianity and the same is true in the Catholic world into indigenous cultures. I mean, maybe the place where you see that most historically is in coastal Africa, where you've got trading communities, trading establishments, often slave trading establishments, where you have these groups of mixed race populations I'm afraid spring up around these outfits over a generation or two. And it certainly happens at a series of European establishments along the Indian Coast. In the Indian situation in particular where cast is one of the major issues for missionaries, obviously conversion would usually mean losing cast. The fact that these folks are to some extent, at least outside the cast system makes it much easier for them to be converted and so they can become a vector for not just, you know, more obviously, you know, more straightforwardly part of the Christian world themselves. And it's a way that's also a way of asserting status within an imperial world, but they can become a vector for onward transmission, so, yeah, very important. - Professor, you didn't mention Serampore which was a Baptist thing. It was originally Danish, and then it changed to the Baptists who were active there. And the other thing is that the hospital in Vellore, was that started by Catholics, or was that an Anglican Protestant establishment because they're very active still. - Indeed, I mean, there is of course a great, well, there are several stages of the missionary surge into various parts of India, but especially in south India from the early 19th century onwards. And I mean, the early Baptist mission there that William Carey becomes associated with is maybe the best known of those. My excuse for not talking about those is that lies, you know, just chronologically beyond the scope of the story that I'm telling today but it's tremendously rich. I'm afraid I can't tell you whether that's a Catholic or Anglican institution. It's a good question. - Thank you for really interesting series of lectures. I was wondering, could you talk more about, particularly with regards to Sri Lanka and South Asia. What is the social standing of the people that the early missionaries are trying to convert? You talked about cast, are they targeting everyone? Are they targeting outcasts? Are they targeting sort of chiefs and kings and hoping their followers convert? What is the strategy there? Is there a strategy? Thank you. - Thank you, it's a really good question. And there are different answers depending on where you are. And broadly speaking, the Catholic approach had been to work with outcast and low cast populations, where they can make a point of emphasizing their opposition to the cast system and human, spiritual equality and so forth, which is going to potentially have an appeal to those populations. I mean, this has remained a main state of Christian missionary effort in South Asia down to the present. And this is pretty much what the Tranquebar missionaries are also picking up. And this is partly cause of direct competition with the Catholics. And so once there's an effort to reach that population by one side, you know, Protestants are keen to convert anybody, but by they really, you know, that emphasis on blocking the Catholics and trying to convert Catholics is a persistent one. The Dutch in Solan Sri Lanka approached this a little differently. They're creating these educational institutions which they regard as compulsory for the entire population. They're trying to create a public church that ought to embrace the whole community on the model of what's happening of what they have back home. And of course, they never get anywhere close to that, but that frames the aspirations and in particular, it means that the schools that they're creating their insisting should be open to all and that there are fines for not sending your children to them. I mean, enforced very hit and miss, but nevertheless the aspiration is there and the seminaries as they call them that I mentioned the two institutions in Jaffna and Colombo are as much about training ambitious young men to work in the colonial administration as they are for training ministers. And so these are for high status roles within Dutch governments. And so these tends to be more for high cast individuals that those, that the seminaries are dominated by high cast folks. So, you've got two different strategies there, a kind of individually focused missionary strategy, which is trying to kind of scoop up as many souls as you can, or a more kind of structural church building top down approach that the Dutch are taking. - In your second, I think it's your second slide, you put up a quotation and there were errors of punctuation in it. And I just wondered whether the priests themselves had much of an education. They said, missionaries here, it's put in the generative case it's not appropriate. And somewhere else that's also the adversaries there in the third line from the bottom, again, that's not appropriate. So, I just wonder what the educational background was of the priests. - Oh, well, I'm going to spring to the Reverend George Lewis's defense here. It's 1712, norms of punctuation were rather more free and easy than we have them today. This was perfectly normal use for the time, in particular, you'll notice that he's using it to where you've got to wire the end of a word to avoid having to change the spelling to IE as we normally would. So, I mean, conceivably, it's a Welsh usage because he's a Welsh, but I mean, you see this sort of thing quite often in perfectly respectable English writing of the day, spelling and punctuation hadn't quite settled down. So, there's a lot you can criticize this for, but I'll defend him on that point. - We'd like to thank you for this lecture number five, and we look forward to the culmination of your series next time, lecture number six. Thank you very much, indeed. (audience applauds)