The Bible Less Authenticated than Any Other Sacred Book

This last argument is as ill-considered as it is naively expressed. We do not know of any book in the whole world less authenticated as to date, authors' names, or tradition, than our Christian Bible. Under these circumstances the Siamese have as much reason to believe in their miraculous Sommona-Cadom as the Christians in their miraculously-born Saviour. Moreover, they have no better right to force their religion upon the Siamese, or any other people, against their will, and in their own country, where they go unasked, than the so-called heathen "to compel France or England to accept Buddhism at the point of the sword." A Buddhist missionary, even in free-thinking America, would daily risk being mobbed, but this does not at all prevent missionaries from abusing the religion of the Brahmans, Lamas, and Bonzes, publicly to their teeth; and the latter are not always at liberty to answer them. This is termed diffusing the beneficent light of Christianity and civilization upon the

* The date has been fully established for these Pali Books in our own century; sufficiently so, at least, to show that they existed in Ceylon, 316 B.C., when Mahinda, the son of Asoka, was there (See Max Müller, "Chips, etc.," vol. i., on Buddhism).

darkness of heathenism!

And yet we find that these pretensions — which might appear ludicrous were they not so fatal to millions of our fellow-men, who only ask to be left alone — were fully appreciated as early as in the seventeenth century. We find the same witty Monsieur de la Loubere, under a pretext of pious sympathy, giving some truly curious instructions to the ecclesiastical authorities at home,+ which embody the very soul of Jesuitism.

"From what I have said concerning the opinions of the Orientals," he remarks, "it is easy to comprehend how difficult an enterprise it is to bring them over to the Christian religion; and of what consequence it is that the missionaries, which preach the Gospel in the East, do perfectly understand the manners and belief of these people. For as the apostles and first Christians, when God supported their preaching by f "A New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam," by M. de la Loubere, Envoy to Siam from France, 1687-8, chap. xxv., London; "Diverse Observations to be Made in Preaching the Gospel to the Orientals." The Sieur de la Loubere's report to the king was made, as we see, in 1687-8. How thoroughly his proposition to the Jesuits, to suppress and dissemble in preaching Christianity to the Siamese, met their approval, is shown in the passage elsewhere quoted from the Thesis propounded by the Jesuits of Cen ("Thesis propugnata in regio Soc. Jes. Collegio, celeberrimx Academix Cadoniensis," die Veneris, 30 Jan., 1693), to the following effect: ". . . neither do the Fathers of the Society of Jesus dissemble when they adopt the institute and the habit of the Talapoins of Siam." In five years the Ambassador's little lump of leaven had leavened the whole.

so many wonders, did not on a sudden discover to the heathens all the mysteries which we adore, but a long time concealed from them, and the Catechumens themselves, the knowledge of those which might scandalize them; it seems very rational to me that the missionaries, who have not the gift of miracles, ought not presently to discover to the Orientals all the mysteries nor all the practices of Christianity.

"'Twould be convenient, for example, if I am not mistaken, not to preach unto them, without great caution, the worshipping of saints; and as to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, I think it would be necessary to manage it with them, if I may so say, and not to speak to them of the mystery of the Incarnation, till after having convinced them of the existence of a God Creator. For what probability is there, to begin with, of persuading the Siamese to remove Sommona-Cadom, Pra Mogla, and Pra Scaribout from the altars, to set up Jesus Christ, St. Peter, and St. Paul, in their stead? 'Twould, perhaps, be more proper not to preach unto them Jesus Christ crucified, till they have first comprehended that one may be unfortunate and innocent; and that by the rule received, even amongst them, which is, that the innocent might load himself with the crimes of the guilty, it was necessary that a god should become man, to the end that this man-God should, by a laborious life, and a shameful but voluntary death, satisfy for all the sins of men; but before all things it would be necessary to give them the true idea of a God Creator, and justly provoked against men. The Eucharist, after this, will not scandalize the Siamese, as it formerly scandalized the Pagans of Europe; forasmuch as the Siamese do not believe Sommona-Cadom could give his wife and children to the Talapoins to eat.

"On the contrary, as the Chinese are respectful toward their parents even to a scruple, I doubt not that if the Gospel should be presently put into their hands, they would be scandalized at that place, where, when some told Jesus Christ that his mother and his brethren asked after him, he answered in such a manner, that he seems so little to regard them, that he affected not to know them. They would not be less offended at those other mysterious words, which our divine Saviour spoke to the young man, who desired time to go and bury his parents: 'Let the dead,' said he, bury the dead.' Every one knows the trouble which the Japanese expressed to St. Francis Xavier upon the eternity of damnation, not being able to believe that their dead parents should fall into so horrible a misfortune for want of having embraced Christianity, which they had never heard of. . . . It seems necessary, therefore, to prevent and mollify this thought, by the means which that great apostle of the Indies used, in first establishing the idea of an omnipotent, all-wise, and most just God, the author of all good, to whom only everything is due, and by whose will we owe unto kings, bishops, magistrates and to our parents the respects which we owe them.

"These examples are sufficient to show with what precautions it is necessary to prepare the minds of the Orientals to think like us, and not to be offended with most of the articles of the Christian faith."*

And what, we ask, is left to preach? With no Saviour, no atonement, no crucifixion for human sin, no Gospel, no eternal damnation to tell them of, and no miracles to display, what remained for the Jesuits to spread among the Siamese but the dust of the Pagan sanctuaries with which to blind their eyes? The sarcasm is biting indeed. The morality to which these poor heathen are made to adhere by their ancestral faith is so pure, that Christianity has to be stripped of every distinguishing mark before its priests can venture to offer it for their examination. A religion that cannot be trusted to the scrutiny of an unsophisticated people who are patterns of filial piety, of honest dealing, of deep reverence for God and an instinctive horror of profaning His majesty, must

* In a discourse of Hermes with Thoth, the former says: "It is impossible for thought to rightly conceive of God. . . . One cannot describe, through material organs, that which is immaterial and eternal. . . . One is a perception of the spirit, the other a reality. That which can be perceived by our senses can be described in words; but that which is incorporeal, invisible, immaterial, and without form cannot be realized through our ordinary senses. I understand thus, O Thoth, I understand that God is ineffable."

In the Catechism of the Parsis, as translated by M. Dadabhai Naoroji, we read the following:

"A. Our God has neither face nor form, color nor shape, nor fixed place. There is no other like Him. He is Himself, singly such a glory that we cannot praise or describe Him; nor our mind comprehend Him."

indeed be founded upon error. That it is so, our century is discovering little by little.

In the general spoliation of Buddhism to make up the new Christian religion, it was not to be expected that so peerless a character as Gautama-Buddha would be left unappropriated. It was but natural that after taking his legendary history to fill out the blanks left in the fictitious story of Jesus, after using what they could of Christna's, they should take the man Sakya-muni and put him in their calendar under an alias. This they actually did, and the Hindu Saviour in due time appeared on the list of saints as Josaphat, to keep company with those martyrs of religion, SS. Aura and Placida, Longinus and Amphibolus.

In Palermo there is even a church dedicated to Divo Josaphat. Among the vain attempts of subsequent ecclesiastical writers to fix the genealogy of this mysterious saint, the most original was the making him Joshua, the son of Nun. But these trifling difficulties being at last surmounted, we find the history of Gautama copied word for word from Buddhist sacred books, into the Golden Legend. Names of individuals are changed, the place of action, India, remains the same — in the Christian as in the Buddhist Legends. It can be also found in the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, which was written in the thirteenth century. The first discovery is due to the historian de Couto, although Professor Müller credits the first recognition of the identity of the two stories to M. Laboulaye, in 1859. Colonel

Yule tells us that* these stories of Barlaam and Josaphat, are recognized by Baronius, and are to be found at p. 348, of The Roman Martyrology, set forth by command of Pope Gregory XIII., and revised by the authority of Pope Urban VIII., translated out of Latin into English by G. K. of the Society of Jesus. +

To repeat even a small portion of this ecclesiastical nonsense would be tedious and useless. Let him who doubts and who would learn the story read it as given by Colonel Yule. Some} of the Christian and ecclesiastical speculations seem to have embarrassed even Dominie Valentyn. "There be some, who hold this Budhum for a fugitive Syrian Jew," he writes; "others who hold him for a disciple of the Apostle Thomas; but how in that case he could have been born 622 years before Christ I leave them to explain. Diego de Couto stands by the belief that he was certainly Joshua, which is still more absurd!"

"The religious romance called The History of Barlaam and Josaphat was, for several centuries, one of the most popular works in Christendom," says Col. Yule. "It was translated into all the chief European languages, including Scandinavian and Sclavonic tongues. . . . This story first appears among the works of St. John of Damascus, a theologian of the early part of the eighth century. "§ Here then lies the secret of its origin,

* "Contemporary Review," p. 588, July, 1870.

f "Book of Ser Marco Polo," vol. ii., pp. 304, 306.

J Ibid.

for this St. John, before he became a divine, held a high office at the court of the Khalif Abu Jafar Almansur, where he probably learned the story, and afterwards adapted it to the new orthodox necessities of the Buddha turned into a Christian saint.

Having repeated the plagiarized story, Diego de Couto, who seems to yield up with reluctance his curious notion that Gautama was Joshua, says: "To this name (Budao) the Gentiles throughout all India have dedicated great and superb pagodas. With reference to this story, we have been diligent in inquiring if the ancient Gentiles of those parts had in their writings any knowledge of St. Josaphat who was converted by Balaam, and who in his legend is represented as the son of a great king of India, and who had just the same up-bringing, with all the same particulars that we have recounted of the life of the Budao. And as I was travelling in the Isle of Salsette, and went to see that rare and admirable pagoda, which we call the Canara Pagoda (Kanhari Caves) made in a mountain, with many halls cut out of one solid rock, and inquiring of an old man about the work, what he thought as to who had made it, he told us that without doubt the work was made by order of the father of St. Josaphat to bring him up in seclusion, as the story tells. And as it informs us that he was the son of a great king in India, it may well be, as we have just said, that he was the Budao, of whom they relate such marvels."**

The Christian legend is taken, moreover, in most of its details, from the Ceylonese tradition. It is on this island that originated the story of young Gautama rejecting his father's throne, and the king's erecting a superb palace for him, in which he kept him half prisoner, surrounded by all the temptations of life and wealth. Marco Polo told it as he had it from the Ceylonese, and his version is now found to be a faithful repetition of what is given in the various Buddhist books. As Marco naively expresses it, Buddha led a life of such hardship and sanctity, and kept such great abstinence, "just as if he had been a Christian. Indeed," he adds, "had he but been so, he would have been a great saint of our Lord Jesus Christ, so good and pure was the life he led." To which pious apothegm his editor very pertinently remarks that "Marco is not the only eminent person who has expressed this view of Sakya-muni's life in such words." And in his turn Prof. Max Müller says: "And whatever we may think of the sanctity of saints, let those who doubt the right of Buddha to a place among them, read the story of his life as it is told in the Buddhistical canon. If he lived the life which is there described, few saints have a better claim to the title than Buddha; and no one either in the Greek or the Roman Church need be ashamed of having paid to his memory the honor that was intended for St. Josaphat, the prince, the hermit, and the saint."

The Roman Catholic Church has never had so good a chance to Christianize all China, Thibet, and Tartary, as in the thirteenth century, during the reign of Kublai-Khan. It seems strange that they did not embrace the opportunity when Kublai was hesitating at one time between the four religions of the world, and, perhaps through the eloquence of Marco Polo, favored Christianity more than either Mahometanism, Judaism, or Buddhism. Marco Polo and Ramusio, one of his interpreters, tell us why. It seems that, unfortunately for Rome, the embassy of Marco's father and uncle failed, because Clement IV. happened to die just at that very time. There was no Pope for several months to receive the friendly overtures of Kublai-Khan; and thus the one hundred Christian missionaries invited by him could not be sent to Thibet and Tartary. To those who believe that there is an intelligent Deity above who takes a certain concern in the welfare of our miserable little world, this contretemps must in itself seem a pretty good proof that Buddhism should have the best of Christianity. Perhaps — who knows — Pope Clement fell sick so as to save the Buddhists from sinking into the idolatry of Roman Catholicism?

From pure Buddhism, the religion of these districts has degenerated into lamaism; but the latter, with all its blemishes — purely formalistic and impairing but little the doctrine itself — is yet far above Catholicism. The poor Abbé Huc very soon found it out for himself. As he moved on with his caravan, he writes — "every one repeated to us that, as we advanced toward the west, we should find the doctrines growing more luminous and sublime. Lha-Ssa was the great focus of light, the rays from which became weakened as they were diffused." One day he gave to a Thibetan lama "a brief summary of Christian doctrine, which appeared by no means unfamiliar to him [we do not wonder at that], and he even maintained that it [Catholicism] did not differ much from the faith of the grand lamas of Thibet. . . . These words of the Thibetan lama astonished us not a little," writes the missionary; "the unity of God, the mystery of the Incarnation, the dogma of the real presence, appeared to us in his belief. . . . The new light thrown on the religion of Buddha induced us really to believe that we should find among the lamas of Thibet a more purified system."* It is these words of praise to lamaism, with which Huc's book abounds, that caused his work to be placed on the Index at Rome, and himself to be unfrocked.

When questioned why, since he held the Christian faith to be the best of the religions protected by him, he did not attach himself to it, the answer given by Kublai-Khan is as suggestive as it is curious:

"How would you have me to become a Christian? There are four prophets worshipped and revered by all the world. The Christians say their God is Jesus Christ; the Saracens, Mahomet; the Jews, Moses; the idolaters, Sogomon Borkan (Sakya-muni Burkham, or Buddha), who was the first god among the idols; and I worship and pay respect to all four, and pray that he among them who is greatest in heaven in very truth may aid me."

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment