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Statement Respecting the Madagascar Mission
of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
21st July 1871.

no place: no publisher, [1871]

THE Standing Committee, in reply to numerous friendly inquiries for information, have caused the following Statement to be drawn up respecting the origin of the Society's Mission to Madagascar, the proposal to extend it, and reinforce it with a Bishop and additional Missionaries, and the treatment which that proposal has received.

1. The large island of Madagascar containing between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 heathens, afforded a field in the last century for Roman Catholic Missionaries, and in the early part of this century for much effective work of the London Missionary Society. The progress of Christianity was arbitrarily stopped in 1828 by the heathen Government, and the island was entirely secluded from the rest of the world for 33 years.

2. In 1861 on the death of the Queen the island was opened to intercourse with other countries. Bishop Ryan of Mauritius, in a personal interview, in August 1862, with the heathen King Radama II. obtained his general sanction to a mission from the Church of England, and an invitation to labour [1/2] either at the capital (Antananarivo) or in any other part of the island. The Bishop communicated this invitation to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Longley), the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Church Missionary Society, and urged the sending of Missionaries. The S.P.G. in 1863 sent two Missionaries with instructions to begin work at TAMATAVE (the second city, and principal port of the island), under the direction of the Bishop of Mauritius; and this Mission has been maintained to the present time. One English Missionary has died in the service; another has been disabled; another, aided by native catechists, labours on, waiting for reinforcements, and superintends ten native congregations.

3. The Society entered on the work in consequence of one of those providential openings in the great Mission Field which appear to be the calls whereby the LORD of the Harvest summons labourers unto HIS harvest. Far from commencing in a spirit of antagonism to any other Christian community, the Society before engaging Missionaries opened a correspondence with the L.M.S. (whose work at Antananarivo had been resumed under Mr. Ellis in 1862) with reference to the pecuniary management of its missions, in order that no undue extravagance on one hand or parsimony on the other might create feelings of dissatisfaction among Missionaries and hinder the work. And moreover in announcing the departure of its first Missionaries in 1863, the Society published for the information of its own subscribers in the most widely circulated of its periodicals a full statement of he zealous and efficient labours of the Missionaries of the L.M.S., the general results of their work, and the perseverance of their converts unto martyrdom for the faith which they had received.

[3] 4. The Missionaries of the S.P.G. and Bishop Ryan became convinced by experience that it was absolutely necessary for the safety, support, and extension of their Mission (1) that there should be some representative of the Church of England at Antananarivo, which is the seat of the ruling tribe, from which Tamatave and the rest of the island is governed; and (2) that the mission should be under the direction of a Bishop residing among the Missionaries, not at the distance of several hundred miles across a difficult sea.

5. Early in 1866 Bishop Ryan wrote to the S.P.G., the C.M.S., and the L.M.S., informing them of his opinion that the time had arrived for sending Missionaries of the Church of England to the Capital. The L.M.S. protested against the proposal on the grounds that it involved a breach of an agreement made between Bishop Ryan and Mr. Ellis in 1862; and (as they said) must lead to collisions disastrous to religion between the representatives of Protestant Christianity in the Capital. Bishop Ryan, in a printed letter dated 30 May, 1866, defended himself and his proposal against this objection, repudiating the meaning attached by the L.M.S. to the oral communications which had passed between himself and Mr. Ellis; and the S.P.G. passed a resolution to the effect that it "felt now perfectly at liberty to send a Missionary to the Capital, and entertained a hope that where the field is so large, and the labourers so few, no conflict or collision will take place between the Missionaries of the two Societies."

6. Here it may be observed that the Society has lately been charged with intending to violate a compact with the L.M.S. by proposing to send a Missionary to the Capital. The answer is that the Society never by any act of its own made itself a party to any compact with the L.M.S. If the so-called [3/4] compact is to be understood of the arrangement in 1862 between Bishop Ryan and Mr. Ellis, as to the terms of which there is some diversity of statement, then the spirit of this understanding, as explained by Bishop Ryan, has been respected by the Society, although certainly not in virtue of any compact with the L.M.S. Or if the alleged compact is to be understood of the agreement entered into, in 1863, between Mr. Venn, the Secretary of the C.M.S., and Dr. Tidman, the Secretary of the L.M.S., respective acting on the part of their Societies, at a meetingin 79, Pall Mall, then the S.P.G. had no part in such an agreement. Mr. Hawkins, the Secretary of the S.P.G. was present, indeed, at that meeting, which was summoned merely fort the purpose of conference; but he was present as a member of the Madagascar Committee (a body acting independently of the S.P.G.), was not accredited for any purpose whatever by the S.P.G., and, as has been recorded by one of the two parties to that agreement, though present, made no statement. Nothing took place which could commit the Society.

7. The L.M.S. heard in 1869 that the S.P.G. was taking steps for sending forth a Bishop to Madagascar, and for the reinforcement and farther development of the Missions. They entered on a correspondence with the Standing Committee of the S.P.G., expressing strong apprehension lest a Bishop labouring in the capital should intrude and interfere with their own operations, and urging the entire abandonment of the scheme. The substance of the replies of the Standing Committee is given in the Appendix.

8. As early as 1863 the Madagascar Committee, which included no less than seventeen Archbishops and Bishops, recommended the appointment of a Bishop for Madagascar, as the "best means of promoting efficiency and harmony, and [4/5] preventing undue interference with the plans and agencies of other bodies." But it was not till December 1869 that the Society provided the necessary funds for the salary of a Bishop, and for an increase of its small Missionary staff; and in 1870 a clergyman was selected for the office of Bishop, and his appointment was sanctioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who applied on November 7, to H.M. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for a licence under the Jerusalem Act to proceed to consecration.

9. The C.M.S., in a Minute dated 12th December, stated their reasons for declining to place their Missionaries under the new Bishop if he should be appointed. Earl Granville, replying to the Archbishop on January 11, 1871, expressed his opinion that in the face of objections the creation of the proposed Bishopric would be neither desirable nor expedient: and that a licence should not be granted for the consecration of a Bishop, whose advent in the island would be calculated to produce schism in the Anglican community, and therefore have an injurious effect on the conversion of the heathen inhabitants to Christianity.

10. The Society has been thought guilt of discourtesy in taking steps with a view to the appointment of a resident Bishop of the Church of England without first opening an official correspondence with the C.M.S.

11. But the Society has never since the commencement of its work had any direct correspondence with the C.M.S. with reference to the Madagascar Mission. The two Church Societies stood on a different footing from the commencement. The S.P.G. acted only on the providential call which came to it, and on the desire to carry on a Mission [5/6] of the Church under a resident Bishop. It had no share either in the generous invitation originally given in 1861 by the L.M.S. to the C.M.S., to assist in the evangelization of Madagascar, or in the subsequent agreement in 1863 between the C.M.S. and the L.M.S., which provided that the Missionaries of the C.M.S. should be superintended by the Bishop of Mauritius rather than by the appointment of a resident Missionary Bishop in the Island. Thus the two Church Societies occupied different ground. Bishop Ryan, who is a Vice-President of both Societies, and has had the Episcopal oversight of both Missions, has kept up constant communication with the officers of both Societies on matters of common interest. Reports--the accuracy of which has been attested by Mr. Venn's letter dated 22 March, 1870--reached the S.P.G. to the effect that the C.M.S. was decidedly opposed to the appointment of a resident Bishop in Madagascar.

[One reason for still adhering to this is thus stated by Mr. Venn:--"Another evil to be apprehended from the residence of a Bishop in the Island would be the introduction of questions respecting the validity of the orders of the L.M.S., questions of re-baptism, &c. Such sources of discord would be introduced by the enemies of Christianity, notwithstanding the utmost prudence and candour of the Episcopal staff, and would great imperil the growth of true Christianity.]

12. In consequence of this information the question of opening a correspondence with the C.M.S. was never brought before the Society. The great principle of placing a successful Mission of the Church of England at the earliest possible period, under the personal direction of a resident Bishop, was sufficient to induce the Society to take steps for the appointment of a Bishop in Madagascar, although, from the circumstances of his appointment, no legal jurisdiction could be given to him, while his authority would be binding [6/7] only on the Missionaries of the Society, and on other persons who might choose voluntarily to submit to it. The appointment of such a Bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury would not, it was thought, compromise the C.M.S. in respect of its relations with the L.M.S. and would leave the existing relations between S.P.G. and C.M.S. unaltered: at the same time, such a Bishop would be practically available for any Episcopal functions which might be required of him by any Society or persons in connection with Anglican Church.

13. The plan originally suggested by Bishop Ryan was that the Missions of the Church should begin at the coast, and extend in the direction of the capital. On this the Society has hitherto acted. On the one hand, however, it cannot consent to place its Missionaries in the invidious and disadvantageous position of the only ministers of religion in the world labouring under an express exclusion from the capital, to which their converts frequently resort, and in which their interests require to be represented. On the other hand, though the Society has no present intention to remove the head-quarters of its Mission from Tamatave, or to make the capital the centre of its operations, yet it considers it neither wise nor consistent with the development of its missions to pledge itself against taking up a position there hereafter. The millions of avowed heathens and not the converts of the L.M.S. are the sphere of labour for the Missionaries of the S.P.G. To those heathens, and to the converts connected with the Church of England, the Society hopes that the evangelistic and pastoral energy of a Missionary Bishop and of those who labour with him would be given.

14. Desiring to avoid collision with other Missionary Societies, the S.P.G. still feels bound, even if it should not [7/8] be able to secure the co-operation, which it much desires, of the C.M.S. to uphold the principle of placing a Mission of an Episcopal Church, at the earliest possible period, under the direction of a resident Bishop. The Society at first entered on the Mission to Madagascar in obedience to what seemed a call from the great LORD of the Harvest to the Church of England; and the Society desires to carry on the Mission, so long as the Church supplies the men and the means, in manifest accordance with the distinctive principle implied in its declaration, "that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church--Bishops, Priests and Deacons." The Society is convinced that, as the Christian faith advances, the want of a resident Bishop, already sufficiently apparent, will become more and more imperatively felt. In a country full of perils and temptations like Madagascar, Missionaries, some of whom may be young in years or young in the faith, require to be led in their war against heathenism and immorality by some wise and holy guide, present among them, sympathizing with them, encouraging, sustaining, uniting, and directing their energies; protecting them, and sharing their daily labours and their daily prayers. Such a leader is surely more to be desired for constant reference than any external basis of operations, whether in Mauritius or in England. And on the grounds of principle and practical usefulness the Society is prepared to continue its efforts to procure the consecration of a Bishop for Madagascar, thankful if allowed to attain that object with peace and goodwill, but regarding it as a duty to seek to attain it.


From a Letter dated 31 July, 1869, of the Secretary to the S.P.G. to the Secretary of the L.M.S.

1. The proposal to which you call attention is, "That a Bishop shall be at once sent forth to Madagascar, with a reinforcement of Missionaries under him, in order to the maintenance and further development of the Missions." You ask that the Society should re-consider the proposal, and "altogether lay it aside," on the ground that "by holding up before young converts another form of worship, a view of the Church and of its ministry and a system of discipline different from what such converts have been taught," it will interfere with the labours of the London Missionary Society, and oppose the development in Madagascar of an indigenous Church, which shall contain all necessary elements of growth within itself.

2. The Standing Committee, after giving to your request the full consideration which is due to the courtesy with which it has been brought before them, can only regret that the proposal to which, as members of the Church of England, they still feel compelled to adhere, should be distasteful to you.

3. You are aware that in every Mission of the Church of England the presence of a Bishop as the local centre of action is, sooner or later, an absolute necessity; and the Standing Committee feel sure you will allow that the Church itself from which the Mission proceeds may justly claim to be fully competent to decide the exact time when that necessity has occurred.

4. Moreover, the Standing Committee, though anxious not in any way to disparage the system upon which the Missions of the London Missionary Society are conducted, feel that the London Missionary Society itself would scarcely expect them to abandon in the development of a Church of England Mission those distinctive principles of action upon which all Church Missions must ever be conducted consistently with its fundamental tenets. The Standing Committee are not blind to the danger which may arise to the faith of young converts from the spectacle being presented to them of divisions among Christians; but they are, nevertheless, constrained to consider that the Church of England would be false to its own doctrine and discipline, if simply for this consideration it failed to carry out, at the proper season, the principle of Episcopal supervision.

5. If in carrying out the rules of our Church amongst ourselves we appear to you to be interfering with your labours, we can only hope that on farther consideration you will see that we are using in a legitimate way that liberty [9/10] which is allowed to every religious body within the empire; and we fail to see in what way your own efforts would be impeded by our action.

6. The Standing Committee cordially agree with you in looking forward with desire to the development in Madagascar of a native Church, independent, as to its support and government, of all external Churches. No pretension is made on our part to exclude any religious community which may be led, as the Church of England has been, by providential circumstances, to contribute its share towards the ultimate establishment of such a Church.

7. In conclusion, if we are not allowed to hope that others will be of one mind with ourselves in views of the Church, its ministry, and its discipline, we shall, at least, endeavour to conduct ourselves with Christian forbearance towards all persons who equally with ourselves are persuaded that they are acting on the injunction of our Lord and Saviour, who bade His followers go into "all the world," and preach the Gospel "among all nations."

From a letter dated 25 February, 1870, of the Secretary of the S.P.G. to the Secretary of the L.M.S.--

You ask the Committee to withdraw that "countenance and support which they have proposed to give" to the appointment of a Bishop in Madagascar; and "whether a Bishop after his appointment will labour in the capital or not?"

The appointment of a Bishop was resolved on, as you are aware, in May 1863, at a meeting at which the Archbishop of Canterbury presided and nine other Bishops were present, and the time then named for carrying out the scheme, so as not to interfere with certain arrangements made by Bishop Ryan, was at the end of two or three years. These facts are stated in the published letter of Bishop Ryan, dated 30th December 1866. The reasons on which the Standing Committee decided to adhere to this plan are stated in my letter of July 1869, to which you refer; and as they still remain in full force, the Committee cannot withdraw their support from the plan.

It would not, the Committee conceive, be consistent with the constitution of the Church for a Committee of a voluntary Society at home to assume authority to prevent a Bishop from visiting any part of the region to which he is sent; and if such authority were assumed, it would doubtless be found invalid. The Missionaries of the Church of England, as well as those of various religious bodies, English, Roman, Norwegian, have visited the capital in the course of the last two or three years, as they judged best for the advancement of their Missions; and the Committee are not aware of any ground on which a Bishop desiring to go thither could be prevented from exercising his own discretion in the same way.

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