Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

continued, a single clergyman performed that sacred rite to more than five thousand Mexicans in one day, and did not desist until he was so exhausted by fatigue that he could not lift his hands. In the course of a few years, after the Spaniards hadcompleted their conquest, the same sacrament was administered to upwards of four millions of the natives. Proselytes adopted with such inconsiderate haste, and who were neither instructed in the nature of the tenets to which it was supposed they had given assent, nor taught the absurdity of those which they were required to relinquish, retained their veneration for their ancient superstitions in full force, or mingled an attachment to its usages with that slender knowledge of Christianity which they had acquired. These sentiments the new converts transmitted to their posterity, into whose minds they have sunk so deep that the European priests, with all their industry, have not been able to eradicate them. Hence the religious institutions of their ancestors were long remembered and held in honour by many of the Indians both in Mexico and Peru; and whenever they thought themselves secure from the inspection of their conquerors, they assembled to celebrate their idolatrous rites.

Nor were those the only obstacles to the progress of the gospel among the native population of South America. The powers of their uncultivated understandings were so limited, their observations and reflections reached so little beyond the mere objects of sense, that they seemed hardly to have the capacity of forming abstract ideas, while they possessed not language fitted to express them. To such men, the sublime and spiritual doctrines of Christianity must have been, in a great measure, incomprehensible. The splendid ceremonies of the popish worship, no doubt, caught the eye, and pleased the imagination; but when their instructors attempted to explain the articles of faith with which the external observances were connected, they so little conceived the meaning of what they heard, that their acquiescence could not merit the name of belief. Nor was their indifference

less than their incapacity. Attentive only to the present moment, and engrossed by the objects before them, neither the promises nor the threatenings of religion made much impression upon their hearts. Astonished equally at their slowness of comprehension and insensibility, a council held at Lima decreed that they ought to be excluded from the solemnity of the Eucharist ; and after the lapse of two centuries, during which they continued members of the church, so small were their attainments in knowledge that very few possessed such a portion of spiritual discernment as to be deemed worthy of being admitted to the holy communion. Even now, after the most perfect instruction, their faith is held to be feeble and dubious; and though some of them have gone through the ordinary course of academic education with applause, their constancy still so much suspected that they are rarely elevated to the priesthood, or received into any religious order.*

A similar lesson may be derived from the hasty proceedings of the Portuguese among

the
savages

of Africa. When Bemoy, a native prince, appeared at Lisbon to solicit military aid from the king, he was informed that, in order to entitle himself to the favour of his majesty, he must consent to be previously washed in the waters of baptism. It does not appear that the heathen chief manifested any reluctance to comply with a condition from which he was to derive such an important advantage. Decorum, however, requiring that some form of instruction should be observed, he was placed under the tuition of several learned doctors; and no sooner was a

Torquemada, Monarchia Indiana (3 vols folio, Madrid, 1723), lib. xvii.chap. 13. Ulloa, Voyage Historique de l'Amerique Meridionale (2 vols 4to, Paris), vol. i. p. 343. Robertson's History of America (4 vols 8vo, Lond.), vol. iv. p. 57. Clavigero has attempted to invalidate the statement made above, as to the exclusion of Indians from the sacrament and holy orders ; but he ventures not to deny that the doctrines of Christianity were received with apathy, imperfectly comprehended, and frequently postponed to the more captivating usages of the native superstition.

favourable report made of his attainments as a catechumen than he was formally admitted within the pale of the visible church.

At a later period, the King of Congo was baptized, together with all his nobles, and a hundred thousand of his subjects. In return for his zeal in this speedy conversion of his people, he was presented with a standard bearing a cross, the same, we are assured, that Innocent VIII. had granted to the crusaders for the · war against the infidels. But although nothing could be more promising than this establishment of the catholic faith in the realm of Congo, insuperable difficulties were soon created. After the first ceremonies had passed, the missionaries considered it their duty to intimate to the king, that as a proof of his sincerity in the new belief, he must consent to dismiss his numerous seraglio, and confine himself to one wife. This restriction appeared to the monarch so intolerable, as well as inexpedient, that, rather than submit to it, he forthwith renounced Christianity, and returned with all his chiefs to the practice of his wonted paganism. Such an event, which might have discouraged less resolute agents, neither cooled the zeal nor improved the wisdom of the Portuguese. Having formed establishments along the coast, they received, under the sanction of the papal court, a body of missionaries; who, being monks of the strictest order, and deeply imbued with all the prejudices of their class, failed equally in communicating the best form of religion, and in the most conciliatory manner. These were followed by a detachment of capuchins, who assumed a station at the mouth of the river, where a convent was built, with the concurrence of the pagan monarch, who at once supplied to them all the comforts he could provide, and a great number of willing converts who vied with each other in the desire for baptism.

Almost every mission, at the commencement, proceeded in a very prosperous manner. So long as the exertions of the spiritual fathers were confined to that rite, to the exhibition of images, and the distribution of beads, the

people were delighted by becoming Christians. But they seem not to have apprehended that this profession would in any degree interfere with their ancient habits and superstitions. When these were attacked, and more especially when the arrangements respecting their females were called in question, a violent controversy always arose.

Nevertheless the capuchins persevered, and by the several journeys which they accomplished into the interior, they brought to the knowledge of the European world many important facts, illustrative of the customs and manners of the several tribes, as well as of the mysterious regions which stretch between the Congo and the great desert. On their way they occasionally saw the roads covered with persons coming to be baptized. Whole villages flocked to them ; so that they were often obliged to spend successive days in the pleasant labour of admitting their numerous converts into the church. At Congo-Batta they found their services in such request that they could scarcely find time for food or sleep. But after nearly the whole city and neighbourhood had been christened, they made a discovery not less mortifying perhaps to their spiritual zeal than to their human pride. According to the Roman ritual, one part of the ceremony consists in placing salt upon the mouth ; which circumstance, as that substance in Africa is scarce and an object of luxury, was found to have no small effect in producing the cheerfulness with which the nation came to the washing of regeneration. When the reverend fathers had acquired a knowledge of their language, they perceived that the sole idea which the natives attached to the rite was the eating of this small quantity of salt; nor by their utmost efforts did they succeed in changing either the language or the feelings so unhappily connected with this most important subject.

These instances of premature conversion have been adduced, with the view of illustrating the inconvenience which must always arise from the attempt to combine with the rude conceptions of the heathen mind the elevated doctrines of Christianity. The mysteries of the

incarnation and atonement, which are received by the faithful in enlightened countries with a reverential silence and the most profound humility, are described by the young disciples in savage lands, in terms that cannot fail to give offence to piety, being destitute at once of respect and decorum. The associations formed in the fancy of an idolater between a god and his progeny, are very unhappily applied to the mysterious event which took place at Bethlehem; and the language arising from such gross ideas seems to contaminate the purer notions with which all the essential tenets of the gospel are linked in the imagination of a European. For examples of the evil to which allusion is now made, we might refer to some portions of Polynesian history, where the Redeemer is mentioned and his offices described in words not more spiritual than might be applied to a son of Oro, or a descenda of Taaroa.

It is almost inseparable from the duties of an uninspired missionary to exaggerate the amount of his success by contemplating the increased number of his proselytes. This weakness has been displayed in many instances both by Protestants and Roman Catholics. They have too frequently been satisfied with qualifications extremely meagre and imperfect; admitting to the most sacred ordinances numerous individuals who ought not to have been considered above the rank of mere cate. chumens. Of this imprudent haste the missions sent into Africa and New Spain afford memorable examples ; followed, too, by the natural result, a total failure in the mean time, and an increase of difficulties for the future. Even in Eimeo, one of the Georgian Islands, a manifest eagerness was displayed to obtain the names of persons who might rank as converts before the principles of Christianity were either explained or understood. Thirty-one, who had declared that they had renounced the idols and every practice connected with their ancient superstition, requested to be enrolled among those who desired to worship Jehovah, and to become sciples of Christ. But others who “intended to cast away the

« ForrigeFortsæt »