In the November number of the Atlantic for 1870 some striking resemblances were pointed out between the Buddhist and Roman Catholic religions. This similarity, which has long been recognized, can be accounted for only in two ways: either Roman Catholics must have borrowed from Buddhists or Buddhists must have borrowed from them. The latter supposition has been generally adopted; the coincidences being traced to the teaching of Nestorian missionaries in India. Some say the Apostle Thomas carried Christianity into India, and that the resemblances are the fruits of his preaching. But there are many reasons why both these conclusions seem improbable.
Early in the fifth century Christians began to call Mary the “Mother of God.” Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the phrase, saying she had never been so considered by the Apostles, and that such a title was calculated to remind people of the genealogy of the heathen gods. This brought him into a very warm controversy; and he, being a devout believer in the divinity of Jesus, though opposed to the adoration of Mary, took the ground that Jesus had two natures, one human, the other divine, and that Mary was mother only of the human portion. A Council of Bishops was called at Chalcedon to settle the disputed question, and they decided that Mary was the Mother of God. Nestorius and his followers maintained the ground they had taken, and were so hotly persecuted as heretics, that they fled to countries beyond the jurisdiction of the Christian Church. Many of them settled on the coast of Malabar, where over two hundred thousand of their descendants still remain, and are called Nazarenes by the Hindoos. One sect of them is known by the name of Christians of Saint Thomas, which probably gave rise to the idea that they were founded by the Apostle Thomas. Some have stated that his tomb is to be seen there; but many scholars say that the inscription indicates the burial-place of a Nestorian missionary named Thomas. But whoever was the original teacher of this ancient sect, there is certainly nothing in their customs or worship to remind one of the elaborate ceremonials of the Buddhist or of the Catholic Church. Living isolated from the Christian world, they have not been affected by the immense changes that have passed over Christianity in an interval of time certainly embracing more than a thousand years. They retain the primitive habits of the early centuries. They still celebrate the Love Feasts, called Agapæ, said to have been introduced in the time of the Apostles. There are no monasteries among them, and their priests are allowed to marry. With regard to the administration of the Lord’s Supper, they incline to the ideas of Protestants. The cross is the only symbol in their churches, and they have an extreme hostility to pictures and images. When some Jesuit missionaries offered them an image of the Virgin Mary, they replied, “We are Christians, not idolaters.”
If the Apostle Thomas ever travelled into India, it is difficult to imagine what could have induced him to teach the people to prostrate themselves before images, to establish monasteries, to say their prayers on rosaries, and believe in miracle-working relics. The Jews, among whom Thomas was educated, were accustomed to none of these things. They formed no part of the teaching of Jesus, in which we find none of the characteristic features of Oriental asceticism. His enemies reproached him that he “came eating and drinking,” and that he did not impose frequent fasts upon his disciples. He sanctioned a wedding with his presence, and said nothing to indicate that celibacy was essential to holiness. We have no means of knowing whether his disciples were generally married men; but that Peter had a wife is implied by the Scripture, which informs us that her mother “lay sick of a fever.”
It also seems unlikely that Nestorians, of any sect, should have introduced monasteries, rosaries, etc., into India, for they were separated from the Christian Church early in the fifth century, and the first monastery in Christendom was established by Saint Benedict full a hundred years later; and this was followed by the introduction of rosaries to facilitate the recitation of prayers. In brief, these and many other customs of the Catholic Church cannot be historically traced to the Jews, or to Jesus, or to the Apostles, or to the Christian churches in the first centuries, or to Nestorius, who was cut off from the Christian Church because he objected to the worship of the Virgin.
But in ancient Hindostan, ages before the birth of Jesus, we do find models for these things. Their earliest Sacred Books teach that the soul of man, by entering a mortal body, had become separated from the Supreme Soul of the Universe, and that the only way to become one with God again was to mortify and abuse the body, and keep the soul constantly occupied with the contemplation of divine things. Some of the Hindoo devotees stood for years on one foot; others lived sunk up to their chins in deep narrow holes of the ground, dependent upon charity for the food that kept them alive. Simeon Stylites, the Christian devotee, made his body about as uncomfortable, by living thirty-seven years on the top of a high pillar that afforded merely room enough to stand upon. Long before our era there were communities of Hindoo hermits who took vows of celibacy, fasted to extremity, and spent their lives repeating prayers on strings of beads. Some of them were vowed to perpetual silence, and kept skulls constantly before them, to remind them of the emancipation of the soul by the dissolution of the body. They had very close imitators in the Catholic monks of La Trappe, who daily dug their own graves, and never spoke, except to salute each other, as they passed, with the words, “We must die.”
An historical glance backward will help to explain many things that might otherwise seem unaccountable. At the time that Christianity began to assume the form of a distinct religion the world was in an unprecedented state of activity, intercommunication, and change. The conquests of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great had brought remote nations into contact. The pathway of commerce was immensely extended, and philosophers and devotees from all points of the compass followed in her train. Two new forces were beginning to agitate the world, both of them animated by the zeal which characterizes reformers before their ideas become established. Buddha had striven to teach his countrymen that their religious ideas were too narrow and exclusive; that the road to holiness was open to all classes and conditions; to women as well as men, to foreign nations as well as to Hindoos. Expelled from Hindostan by reason of these doctrines, his disciples had spread over various Asiatic countries, and eighty thousand of their missionaries were perambulating the world. Among the Jews, who considered themselves the chosen people of Jehovah, in whose sight all other nations were unclean, had arisen a great reformer, who held communication with despised Samaritans and publicans, and taught that all men were brethren. His disciples were also driven from their native land, and spread into the neighboring kingdoms of Asia, among the Grecians in Europe, and throughout the Roman Empire, where their countrymen were already more numerous than in Palestine. And wherever these missionaries went they proclaimed the doctrine that God was equally the Father of all; that in his sight there was “neither Jew nor Gentile, bond or free, men or women; but all were one in Christ Jesus.” To those who look upon all mankind as brethren, there is something beautiful in both these great tides of reform, enlarging the scope of human sympathies, and sweeping away the ancient barriers that had separated classes and peoples.
Antioch, where the first church of Christians was gathered in Gentile lands, was on the high road between Europe and Asia. Ephesus, one of the earliest head-quarters of the Christians, was always swarming with foreigners, especially with Orientals. Rome, where a Christian church was very early gathered, was full of the spoils of many conquered nations, and of their theories also. Alexander the Great had built the new Egyptian city of Alexandria, to which he was very desirous to attract the learning and commerce of the world. For that purpose he encouraged the greatest freedom of discussion, and unbounded toleration of opinions. Thither flocked zealots and philosophers from all quarters, eager for controversy. Such a seething caldron of doctrines the world had never witnessed. Dion Chrysostom, who wrote in the beginning of the second century, informs us that Greeks and Romans, Syrians, Ethiopians, Arabians, Persians, and travellers from India were always to be found in that cosmopolitan city. In this focus of diverse ideas the Christians early planted a church. Jewish converts to Christianity were for a long time extremely tenacious of their old Hebrew traditions and customs; while Gentile converts, from various nations, manifested a great tendency to amalgamate the teaching of Jesus with the old ideas and ceremonies in which they had been educated. In the conflict of sects arising from this state of things it was almost inevitable that the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles should become more or less largely interfused with ideas from various religions; especially with those from Hindostan and Persia, which prevailed so extensively at that period.
These Oriental ideas have had such a very important influence, not only on the faith, but on the social conditions of men, that it is worth while to trace them briefly to their abstract source. Orientals conceived of the Supreme as the Central Source of Being, dwelling in passionless repose in regions of resplendent light. He did not create anything; but all spirits radiated from him, in successive series of emanations, from the highest seraphs down to the souls of men. Coeternal with him was an antagonistic principle called Matter; a dark, inert mass, which gave birth to the Devil and all forms of evil. When some of the lower series of Spirits of Light approached the region of Matter, the Spirits of Darkness were attracted by their splendor and sought to draw them down among themselves. They succeeded; and thus mankind came into existence, with ethereal souls derived from God and material bodies derived from the Devil. The only way for these Spirits of Light, imprisoned in Matter, to get back to the Divine Source whence they emanated was to subdue the body by all sorts of abstinence and tormenting penance, while the soul was kept in steadfast contemplation on spiritual things.
The Jews had quite a different theory of creation. They conceived of God as an active Being, who made the body of man with his own hands and then breathed a soul into it. Thus regarding the body as divine workmanship, they had no contempt for it and did not consider its senses sinful.
When these different ideas, coming from afar, met front to front in the Christian churches, they gave rise to a motley amalgamation of doctrines. The most conspicuous specimen of this is to be found in the numerous sects classed under the general denomination of Gnostics. The name is derived from the Greek word “Gnosis,” signifying wisdom; and it was bestowed on them because, however they might differ on other points, they all believed that by subjugation of the senses human souls might be restored to their original oneness with God, and thus become recipients of intuitive wisdom directly emanating from him. With few exceptions, all these Gnostics were of Gentile origin, and their doctrines bear the obvious stamp of Hindostan and Persia; though it is likely that they derived them from various intermediate sources. Many of their leaders were men of uncommon talent and learning, wedded to ancient theories, but sincerely attracted by the teaching of Jesus. They troubled the Christian churches as early as the time of Paul, who alludes to them as “seducing spirits, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats.” Their theories proved very attractive, especially to scholars prone to abstract speculations. The celebrated Saint Augustine was for several years a Gnostic, and Christian converts were not unfrequently drawn aside into their erratic paths. They increased with such rapidity, that at one time their flood of Oriental ideas threatened to sweep away the Jewish foundations of Christianity. In the middle of the fifth century, the Bishop of Cyprus records that he found a million of them in his diocese, and succeeded in bringing them all within the fold of his church. How much it was necessary to compromise with their ideas in order to accomplish that object he does not inform us.
The different elements that were jostled into contact during this transition state of the world gave rise to much controversy that sounds odd enough to modern ears. The Jews were such an exclusive people, that Gentile nations had very little opportunity to become acquainted with their religious views, till they met together on the common ground of reverence for Jesus. Jehovah was to them an altogether foreign God; and having no traditional reverence for his name, they discussed his character as freely as we do that of Jupiter. It was a revolting idea to them that the Supreme Being could have formed anything out of Matter, which in their minds was associated with everything evil and unclean. And believing that all Spirits were evolved, without effort, from the Central Source, by the mere necessity of outflowing, they ridiculed the idea that God worked six days to make the world, and then had to rest from his labors. They declared that if Jehovah confined his care to one people, and was jealous when they gave glory to other gods, if his anger waxed hot when they disobeyed him, if he commanded them to slaughter their enemies, and promised them mere earthly rewards for obedience to his laws, he could not possibly be the Supreme Being, for he was altogether free from passion. Some of the Gnostics admitted that Jehovah might belong to one of the inferior orders of Spirits, evolved from the Source. of Light; others maintained that he must be an Evil Spirit, and that the Scriptures said to be inspired by him were obviously the work of the Devil. They all believed Jesus to be one of the Spirits of Light; but their ideas concerning the inherent wickedness of Matter led them to reject the idea that he could be born of a woman. They said he merely appeared to have a body, for the purpose of performing on earth the benevolent mission of helping Spirits out of the prison-house of Matter, and restoring them to their original oneness with God. Paul probably aimed a shaft at this doctrine, when he said, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus is Christ come in the flesh is not of God.” Asceticism, in a greater or less degree, characterized all the Gnostic sects. They despised all luxuries, ornaments, shows, and amusements everything, in fact, which contributed to the pleasure of the senses. They abstained from wine and animal food, and ate merely sufficient to sustain life. They all regarded matrimony as incompatible with holiness; and some thought it a great sin, inasmuch as the reproduction of human bodies was entering into a league with Spirits of Darkness to help them to incarcerate Spirits of Light in the prison-house of Matter.
These ascetic ideas, so conspicuous in very ancient Hindoo writings, were, in one form or another, afloat almost everywhere at the time the Christian Church was in the process of formation out of a great variety of nations. By early emigration, or otherwise, they had come to prevail extensively in Egypt, where the deserts swarmed with hermits vowed to celibacy and severe mortification of the senses. In Grecian mythology, copied by the Romans, there was no antagonism between Spirit and Matter. Those nations had never been taught that their bodies came from the Devil, and consequently they had no contempt for the senses. They revelled in physical enjoyment, and ascribed the same tendencies to their gods. Bacchus was their jovial companion, and Venus adored as the beautifier of life. But though the people were on such gay and sociable terms with their deities, philosophers had introduced from Egypt the sombre ideas of the Orient. Plato taught that Matter was the original Source of Evil, antagonistic to the Principle of Good. Plotinus, the most celebrated of his later followers, was ashamed of his body, though it is said to have been a remarkably beautiful one. He blushed for his parents that they had given birth to it, and any allusion to physical instincts or necessities was deeply mortifying to him. While Egyptian zealots and Grecian philosophers were strewing abroad the seed of ancient asceticism, Buddhist missionaries were also industriously propagating it. We are told that travellers from India were always in Alexandria, which was the great focus of Gnostic sects. Bardesanes, one of the leaders of the Gnostics in the second century, wrote an account of religious communities in India, the members of which merely endured life as an inevitable bondage, and sought, by devout contemplation and severe mortification of the senses, to rise above the prison-house of the body. Mani, who lived in the third century, and was perhaps the most remarkable of all the Gnostics, studied a book called “The Treasury of Mysteries, by Buddha, said to have been born of a Virgin.” And it was a common doctrine with these sects that Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus were the same Spirit of Light appearing on earth in different places and forms, for the benevolent purpose of bringing back to oneness with God those stray Spirits which had become separated from him by being shut up in material bodies. These sects, standing between the old religions and the new, were hotly persecuted by both. They finally vanished from the scene; but for several centuries their theories, under various modifications, reappeared to trouble the churches.
Every one knows that the Roman Catholic Church abounds in ceremonies and traditions of which no trace can be found in the Old Testament or the New. The teachers of that church say they are derived from the Christian Fathers, whose authority they deem sacred. The prominent preachers of Christianity during the first three centuries, called Fathers of the Church, were, almost without exception, converts from the Gentile religions, mostly Greek and Roman. The rejection of foreign customs had been religiously inculcated upon Jews; and those of them who accepted Jesus as their promised Messiah retained that extreme aversion to innovation which characterized them as a people. But Gentile converts, who were far more numerous, had received quite a different training. Grecians easily adopted the festivals and the gods of other nations; and Romans manifested still greater facility in that respect. They never attempted to convert the numerous nations they conquered. If they found among them religious festivals which seemed useful or agreeable, they adopted them; and if they took a liking to any of their deities, they placed their images in the Pantheon with their own gods.
These elastic habits of mind may have had considerable influence in producing that system of politic adaptation to circumstances observable in the Christian Church, especially after Constantine had made Christianity the established religion of the state. I believe it is Mosheim, who, in allusion to this process of adaptation to the customs of converted nations, says: “It is difficult to determine whether the heathen were most Christianized, or Christians most heathenized.”
The Emperor Constantine was for forty years a worshipper of Apollo, God of the Sun, whom he regarded as his tutelary deity, his own especial guardian and benefactor. Many things show that this long habit of trust and reverence was never quite obliterated from his mind. One of the earliest acts of his reign was to require the universal observance of the Suns Day for which purpose he issued a proclamation: “Let all the people rest on the venerated Day of the Sun.” Saturday, the seventh day of the week, was the Sabbath of the Jews, and converts from Judaism to Christianity long continued to observe that as their holy day; but Christians were accustomed to meet together on the first day of the week, in memory of the resurrection of Jesus; and as that harmonized with the proclamation of the Emperor, and with an old custom in Grecian and Roman worship, the Sabbath of the Apostles was superseded by Sun-Day.
Festivals that were universally observed, and endeared to the populace by long habit and as occasions for social gatherings, were generally retained by the Christian Church, though the old forms were consecrated to new ideas. Almost all the ancient nations hailed the return of the sun from the winter solstice by a great festival on the 25th of December, during which they performed religious ceremonies in honor of the sun, feasted each other, and interchanged gifts. To have abolished this day would have been as unpopular among the masses of Gentile proselytes as the abolition of Thanksgiving day would be in New England. It was accordingly retained as the birthday of the “Sun of Righteousness,” concerning whose real birthday history leaves us entirely in the dark.
The ancient Germans observed in the early spring a festival in honor of Ostera, who was probably their Goddess of Nature, or of the Earth. Scholars derive her name from Oster, which signifies rising. The festival was to hail the rising of Nature from her winter sleep. Oster-fires were kindled in honor of the returning warmth, and Oster-eggs were exchanged; the egg being an ancient and very common symbol of fecundity, or germinating life. Teutonic converts to Christianity were allowed to keel) up their old festival, but they were taught to do it in honor of the rising of Jesus, instead of the rising of Nature. Easter-fires are still kindled, and Easter-eggs, variously ornamented, are still exchanged in several Catholic countries. Almost all ancient nations had a great festival in the spring. The Jewish Passover occurred at that season. Converts from all nations were well satisfied to keep up their old holiday and accept its new significance.
Religious ceremonies in honor of departed ancestors were universal in the ancient world. Beside the prayers and offerings at tombs by private families, the Romans annually set apart a day for religious ceremonies in memory of all their deceased ancestors. This custom was perpetuated by the Catholic Church under the name of All Souls’ day. The day kept by Romans in honor of their departed heroes and benefactors was transferred to the honor of the Christian martyrs under the name of All Saints’ day.
Mortals, finding themselves surrounded by solemn mysteries, feeling the need of constant protection, and unable to comprehend the Infinite Being from whom existence is derived, have always manifested a strong tendency to bring God nearer to themselves by means of intermediate spiritual agents. Almost every ancient nation had some Mother Goddess, whose favor they sought to propitiate by prayers and offerings. As Osiris and Isis were believed to take especial care of Egypt, so other countries had each some spiritual protector especially devoted to its interests. It was the same with cities; each was presided over by some deity, as Athens was by Pallas. Trades and individuals had each a tutelary deity, on whose care they especially relied, as the Emperor Constantine did on the God of the Sun. To us these ideas have become mere poetic imagery, mere playthings of the fancy; but it was quite other. wise with our brethren of the ancient world. They verily believed that Naiads did take care of the rivers, and Oreads of the mountains; that Neptune did regulate the waves and storms of the ocean; that Apollo did inspire poets and orators; that Bacchus did fill the grapes with exhilarating juice; that Pan did watch over shepherds and their flocks. To propitiate these numerous Guardian Spirits they placed their images and altars in temples and houses, vineyards and fields, and sought to secure their favor by sacrifices, oblations, and prayers. Gratitude for benefits received was expressed by offerings suited to the occasions. Warriors who had conquered in battle dedicated to Pallas or Bellona spears and shields made of brass or gold. Those who escaped from shipwreck placed in the temple of Neptune oars and models of ships made of wood, ivory, or gold. Beautiful drinking-vessels were dedicated to Bacchus, as thank-offerings for productive vineyards. Successful poets and orators adorned the temples of Apollo and the Muses with crowns and harps of ivory inlaid with gold. Individuals commemorated the birth of children, or recovery from sickness, or escape from danger, by offerings to their tutelary deities, more or less costly according to their wealth, such as garlands, cups of gold or silver, sculptured images, embroidered mantles, and other rich garments. Every five years the people of Athens expressed their gratitude to Pallas for protecting their city by carrying to her temple, in grand procession, a white robe embroidered all over with gold. Pictures were often hung in the temples representing some scene or event which excited peculiar thankfulness to the gods. When people changed their employments or modes of life, it was customary to dedicate implements or articles of furniture to some appropriate deity. When beautiful women grew old, they placed their mirrors in the temple of Venus. Shepherds dedicated to Pan the pipes with which they had been accustomed to call their flocks, and fishermen offered their nets to the Nereids. The particular occasion which induced the offering was sometimes inscribed on the article; and where that was not convenient, the story was written on a tablet and hung up with it. The pillars and walls of the temples were covered with these votive tablets.
When Christianity superseded the old religions, the ancient ideas and forms took new names. By a gradual process of substitution, the Saints of the Catholic Church glided into the place of the old guardian deities. Nations that had been accustomed to worship the Goddess of Nature as a Mother Goddess easily transferred their offerings and prayers to the Virgin Mary, their Spiritual Mother. Every country had its own tutelary Saint, as Saint George of England, Saint Denis of France, Saint James of Spain, and Saint Patrick of Ireland. Each city also had its chosen protector, as Saint Genevieve of Paris, Saint Mark of Venice, and Saint Ambrose of Milan. Every class and trade was under the care of some Saint. Saint Nicholas, whose name has been shortened to Santa Claus, took care of children and of the helpless generally; Saint Martha, of cooks and housekeepers; Saint Eloy, of goldsmiths and workers in metals; Saint Crispin, of shoemakers Saint Blaise, of wool-combers; Saint Jerome, of scholars and learned men; Saint Ursula, of schools and teachers; Saint Magdalen, of frail and penitent women; and Saint Martin, of penitent drunkards. Families and individuals were also under special guardianship. The Medici family were under the protection of Saint Cosmo and Saint Damian. Children in Catholic countries generally receive the name of the Saint on whose Festival-Day they are born; and that Saint is ever after honored by them as their especial protector through life.
The walls and pillars of Catholic churches are as much covered with votive offerings and tablets as were the ancient temples. The jewels and rich garments thus dedicated could not be easily counted. Ferdinand, king of Spain, embroidered a petticoat for the Virgin with his own royal hands and so elaborately was it ornamented, that it occupied him several years. Wealthy people who wish to propitiate this “Queen of Heaven,” or to thank her for some benefit received, often present her with robes and mantles of silk or velvet, richly embroidered, and sometimes adorned with precious gems. But the most common gifts are dresses glittering with tinsel and spangles; while the poorest peasants bring her their simple offerings of ribbons and garlands. Some images of the Virgin are all ablaze with the offerings of her wealthy worshippers, such as golden coronets, diamond rings, costly necklaces and bracelets, and jewelled belts.
Pictures are a common form of votive offerings. In these paintings the donor is usually represented as kneeling before the Virgin, with his own Patron Saint near him, while other Saints, appropriate to the occasion, introduce him to her notice. Pictures intended to express thanks for military success are dedicated to the Madonna under her title of “Our Lady of Victory”; and the kneeling worshipper is introduced to her notice by Saint Michael, Saint George, and Saint Maurice, who are the Patron Saints of soldiers. Pictures to avert epidemic dis- eases are dedicated to the Madonna under her title of “Our Lady of Mercy.” In such cases the suppliant is introduced by Saint Sebastian and Saint Roch, they being protectors against pestilence, and guardians of hospitals. In chapels dedicated to prayers for the dead are many votive pictures representing angels pleading with the Virgin for mercy to the deceased, while lower down are seen other angels drawing liberated souls out of purgatory.
The numerous deities of Greece and Rome were distinguished by symbols, signifying their characters or achievements. Jupiter was represented with a thunderbolt, Neptune with a trident, Minerva with an owl, Apollo with a lyre, and Mercury with a rod twined with serpents. The host of Christian Saints are also distinguished by emblems indicating well-known traditions. Saint Peter is represented with two keys, Saint Agnes with a lamb, Saint John with a sacramental cup, Saint Catherine with a wheel, Saint Lucia with a lamp. Some of these Saints are of universal popularity, others are local favorites. In various subordinate degrees they share the honors paid to the Virgin. Churches and chapels are dedicated to them, adorned with their pictures and symbols, and with their images in marble or ivory, clay or chalk. The walls are hung with votive tablets, written or printed, describing their miraculous intervention to avert dangers or cure diseases. If a cripple has had the use of a limb restored, he hangs up in the church of some Saint a written record of the miracle, often accompanied by an image of an arm or a leg, made of marble, ivory, or wax. Saint Agnes, who is the guardian of youth and innocence, has her altars covered with votive garlands and images of lambs. Saint Margaret, who presides over birth, shares with the Madonna many votive offerings of baby-dolls, more or less richly dressed.
Thus is human life in all its phases presented to the notice and protection of tutelary saints, as it formerly was to tutelary deities. It is curious to trace the manner in which the multifarious traditions of these saints have grown up.
Professor Max Muller, in one of his lectures, describes a singular migration from the records of Eastern Saints into those of the Western. Johannes Damascenus, who was a famous Christian theologian a thousand years ago, had passed his youth in the court of the Caliph Almanzor, where his father held a position of trust. There he stored his mind with Asiatic lore, and the Life of Buddha was among the books he read. His imagination was captivated by the account of that prince, whose tenderness of heart had led him to renounce his rank and devote himself to prayers for his fellow-creatures and to the alleviation of their misery. Damascenus wove the main points of the story into a religious novel entitled “Balaam and Josaphat.” A later age accepted it as the veritable history of a Christian Saint; and thus Buddha became regularly canonized under the name of Saint Josaphat, whose festival is observed by the Creek Church on the 16th of August, and by the Roman Catholic Church on the 27th of November.
Whether there was the same facility in adopting widely extended and deeply rooted doctrines, that was manifested in the adoption of old customs and legends, is an open question. In ambitious minds, a desire to extend the power and increase the wealth of the Church would prove a very strong temptation to compromise with the preconceived ideas of influential converts; and even devout, unselfish men might be drawn into it by a benevolent wish to bring peoples into a better form of religion by such processes as were readiest at hand. Paul, whose life was spent in Gentile lands, seems to have lost much of Jewish exclusiveness, and to have acquired something of Grecian and Roman facility of adaptation to circumstances. To the church at Corinth he wrote: “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are without the Law [of Moses] as without the Law, that I might gain them that are without the Law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
Such intermingling of various elements is by no means peculiar to the Christian Church. It is according to the laws of human nature. The same mosaic of patterns and colors can be found throughout the worlds history, in all changes of Church or State, by whomsoever seeks the separate stones that form the picture. The modern theory that nothing is created entirely new, but that every form of being is the development of some antecedent form, may or may not be true in natural science, but it is certainly true of all spiritual progress.
When mortals find a kernel of truth, they seek to appropriate it as exclusively their own and whatsoever kernel is picked up by others is declared to be a stone, from which no bread of life can ever be produced. But the great harvest-field of the world is managed on different principles by the Father of All. While men are planting in narrow enclosures, he sends forth seed upon the winds; he scatters them on great floods, whose waters subside and leave them in rich alluvial soil; and birds of the air, unconscious of anything but their own subsistence, are his agents to scatter them abroad all over the earth. And when we think we have the harvest all to ourselves, lo! we find the same grain waving in far-off fields.
Undeniably there is a strong resemblance between the Buddhist and Roman Catholic churches; and whether India is the borrower or the lender does not affect the assertion that John Chinaman and Patrick O’Dublin have an equal right to the free exercise of their religion under our impartial laws. All we have to do, in either case, is to spread abroad as much light as possible, that all men may have a chance to distinguish between the true and the spurious. Having done this duty, we must leave the result to time.
Enlightened travellers would doubtless find in Buddhist countries a vast deal that seemed like very puerile and absurd superstitions and gross immorality under the garb of religion; but a similar impression would be produced on their minds by a sojourn in Italy or Spain. The Catholic Church abounds in holy sayings and examples, and because it is a Christian church they do not excite our surprise; but when we find similar things among the Buddhists, we ask with astonishment whence they could possibly have come; forgetful that “God is the Father of all,” and that “every good gift cometh from him.” The Commandments of the Buddhists are very similar to our own. There are commands not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to be licentious, and not to utter slanders; and to these are added, “Thou shalt not drink wine, nor any intoxicating liquors.” “Thou shalt not excite quarrels by repeating the words of others.” “Thou shalt not speak of injuries.” The following are among the maxims of Buddhist Saints: “Glory not in thyself but rather in thy neighbor.” “Be lowly in thy heart, that thou mayest be lowly in thy acts.” “Judge not thy neighbor.” “Be equally kind to all men.” “Use no perfumes but the sweetness of thy thoughts.” In some respects Buddhism can show a cleaner record than Christianity. It has had no such institution as the Inquisition, and has never put men to death for heretical opinions. They treat with reverence whatsoever is deemed holy by other men. When the king of Siam was told that an image in his court was Saint Peter, he immediately said to his little boy, “Do obeisance to it, my son; it is one of the holy men.” When the Jesuit missionaries Huc and Gabet explained to one of the Lamas that they were from France, he replied: “What matter where you are from? All men are brothers. Men of prayer belong to all countries. They are strangers nowhere. Such is the doctrine taught by our Holy Books.” He took up their breviary; and when they informed him what it was, he raised it reverentially to his forehead, saying, “It is your book of prayer. We ought always to honor and respect prayer.”
Though the Founder of Christianity preached a Gospel of Peace, the religion that took his name was far from being peaceful in its progress, after the first three centuries. Into Armenia, Norway, and Germany Christianity was introduced at the point of the sword. Conquered armies had no alternative but baptism or slaughter. And the number of Jews, Romans, and heretics who were slain to bring about the unity of the Christian Church is too large for calculation Though Buddhism spread through many countries, I have found no record that it was in a single instance established by force.
The fact is, the more we know of our brethren in the East, the more the conviction grows upon us that Buddha was a great reformer and a benevolent, holy man. The present state of the world is in some respects similar to its condition at the commencement of our era. Electricity and steam bring remote countries into acquaintance with each other. Old traditions are everywhere relaxing their hold upon the minds of men. From all parts of the world come increasing manifestations of a tendency toward eclecticism. Men find there are gems hidden among all sorts of rubbish. These will be selected and combined in that Church of the Future now in the process of formation. We shall not live to see it; but we may be certain that, according to the laws of spiritual growth, it will retain a likeness to all the present, as the present does to all the past. But it will stand on a higher plane, be larger in its proportions, and more harmonious in its beauty. Milan Cathedral, lifting its thousand snow-white images of saints into the clear blue of heaven, is typical of that Eclectic Church, which shall gather forms of holy aspiration from all ages and nations, and set them on high in their immortal beauty, with the sunlight of heaven to glorify them all.
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