Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter XI. The First Divinity Colleges

WE have made the acquaintance of some of the Indian clergy, but we have not yet seen how and where they were trained. The fact is that most of the earliest ordained men were not trained at all, if by training we mean a systematic course in a regular divinity college. Such institutions belonged to a more advanced stage in the Missions.

But there was one exception--Bishop's College, planned, as we have seen, by Bishop Middleton, and to which the Societies made such handsome gifts. It was in full work before any Indian had been admitted to the ministry of the Church. It was not, however, a theological college pure and simple. Middleton had two designs for it: (I) to train Christian students "in the doctrine and discipline of the Church in order to their becoming preachers and catechists and schoolmasters"; (2) to teach "the elements of youthful knowledge and the English language to Mussulmans and Hindus," thus anticipating Duff's great scheme. The East India Company gave it a fine site near Calcutta, upon which fine buildings were erected, and the S.P.G. sent out a learned man, Dr. Mill, to be Principal. But from the first it disappointed sanguine hopes. Perhaps its double purpose created difficulties. Certainly there were in those days scarcely any Indian Christians who could take the divinity course arranged. Bishop Wilson, several years later, worked hard for it. "Your noble college," he wrote to the S.P.G. in 1834, "is never out of my thoughts. I am labouring with my whole soul to secure its efficiency." Later still, Dr. Kay was an admirable Principal. Yet, for one cause or another, it was never a success, and after more than half a century the buildings were sold to the Government, and the College removed to more modest quarters within the city, where it took new life under the auspices of the Oxford Mission and the principal-ship of Mr. Whitehead, now Bishop of Madras. The Bishops are now considering fresh plans for its usefulness, and there is doubtless still a great future before it. So we must go back to the simpler beginnings elsewhere. In the earliest stages of a Mission the training of converts for such purposes has necessarily to be done for individuals by individuals. The missionary, let us say, has a dozen adult men converts. He constantly gives them further Christian instruction. Two or three, we will suppose, show superior intelligence or exceptional stability of character, and these he attaches to himself, takes them with him on his bazaar preachings and village itinerations, gives them fuller instruction, trains their minds, invites them to help in the preaching and teaching. Or he has as yet no adult converts, but he has induced some of the people to let him teach their boys to read, and he opens a small school. Here, again, he presently picks out three or four of those whose hearts seem touched and their minds opening, and sets them to teach the others as best they may. Thus we have the embryo catechist and the embryo school-teacher. But as the Mission develops and expands, as the converts multiply, as the area of work widens, something more systematic is found necessary. Then come the Training Class for schoolmasters and the Preparandi Class for spiritual agents, and the setting apart of one or more missionaries to conduct them. And by-and-by come the Normal Institution and the Divinity College.

Both the Church Societies worked their Missions for many years without regular institutions for training, though the S.P.G. did use Bishop's College for the few men it needed in Bengal, among them Krishna Mohun Banerjea. In the Tamil Missions in the South, which were the most forward, what was called the Tinnevelly system was gradually developed by both the Societies. Each district missionary had several village day-schools, in which Christian and non-Christian boys were taught together. Carefully selected Christian boys were brought to the little boarding-school he had at his own station, where they were further educated under his own eye. Presently the Preparandi and Training Classes would be formed at the central station; and from these, in time, came catechists and school-teachers, and from among them the candidates for orders.

The S.P.G. started a regular seminary, comprising both sections, at Sawyerpuram in 1844, under Dr. Pope, afterwards Tamil lecturer at Oxford; and there a great many men were trained, some of whom went on to a higher institution opened at Madras four years later. This was called the Vepery Seminary, being first started at that place, but since 1879 it has borne the more important name of the S.P.G. Theological College. Up to 1900 no less than ninety-two of its students had been ordained. Its success was largely due to the ability and devotion of A. R. Symonds, Principal from 1848 to 1874. In later years Dr. Kennet and A. Westcott held that office, and since 1900 the Rev. G. H. Smith. The college is used for both Tamil and Telugu students, the latter having received their preliminary training in an institution at Nandyal.

The C.M.S. had started a regular college at Madras rather earlier, in 1838, under J. H. Gray, and some of the ablest of the first Indian clergy of Tinnevelly and Travancore were educated there. But after ten years, when Mr. Gray retired, the Society fell back on the simpler Tinnevelly system. For a long period E. Sargent conducted the Preparandi Institution, and trained many men, who turned out excellent pastors; while the schoolmasters were educated in a Normal School, in later years under T. Kember. In 1884 a regular Theological College was opened at Madras, for the higher training of some of the clergy. H. D. Goldsmith was Principal, and latterly E. A. L. Moore.

The two Madras institutions have kept up a friendly rivalry in regard to academical distinctions. Both have entered their men for the Oxford and Cambridge Preliminary Theological Examination, and both have done well. Alike in that examination and for the Bishop's Greek Testament prizes, they have in turn taken the first places.

In North India the S.P.G. has a Theological Class at Ranchi for the Chota Nagpur Mission, which was Started when that Mission was begun by J. C. Whitley, and has in recent years been conducted by his son. At Cawnpore, the Henry Martyn Divinity School has been begun. At Delhi, St. Stephen's College has been used. The C.M.S. has divinity schools at Calcutta, Allahabad, and Lahore, also a class of simpler type for the Santal Mission, also a small divinity school at Poona.

Of one of these, which in its way was a real "Beginning," more must be said. This was the Lahore College, founded by T. V. French, who was afterwards the first Bishop of Lahore.

We have already met French as founder of St. John's College, Agra, on the principles exemplified by Duff at Calcutta. Since then he had been twice driven home by severe illness. As a distinguished Oxford man he was naturally welcome at the Universities as an advocate of Missions, but he shrank from appealing for recruits unless he were also going out himself. So when R. Clark of the Punjab declared that "if those who ought to go won't, then those who ought not must," he once more buckled on his armour, in 1869, and went out to start another college.

But not a college like Duff's, or St. John's, Agra. This was to be a divinity college, and French had ambitious views regarding it. The Punjab Mission had only made slow progress, but it had several individual converts of superior parts, Moslems, Hindus, and Sikhs, and he believed that they could respond to a more complete theological training than had so far been thought necessary. The Hebrew Old Testament, the Greek Septuagint and New Testament, the Greek and Latin Fathers, were to be studied; and although English, with its wealth of Christian literature, was not to be excluded, the instrument of instruction was to be the vernacular Urdu. That is to say, the students were to read, say, Ezekiel in Hebrew and Ephesians in Greek, and French and his helpers were to lecture on these books in Urdu, with occasional use of Persian, Pushtu, Punjabi, Arabic, and Sanskrit. "Christianity," said French, "should be domesticated on Indian soil. A Moslem convert, prejudiced against English, should not thereby feel disqualified from theological study."

This scheme excited great interest in our Universities at home. At Oxford John Wordsworth, and at Cambridge Westcott, collected funds in its behalf. Another Oxonian, J. W. Knott, Fellow of Brasenose, who had been a disciple and friend of Pusey, and had been for a. time in charge of the church built by Pusey at his own cost at Leeds, joined French, but he died at Peshawar before the college was opened. The succession was kept up by the Principals who followed French--Hooper, Shirreff, H. G. Grey, being all Oxford men; but after them Cambridge had its turn, with E. Wigram and J. A. Wood.

The College began quite modestly, but students came from all parts of India, and even Afghans and Persians appeared. Most of them had been Mohammedans, but some Hindus or Sikhs. Some were baptized Christians from infancy, being children of converts; some were the fruit of Mission schools; some had found Christ in later life. The majority, naturally, were Anglicans, but others were not excluded. All were welcome, on one condition--they must wear Indian dress. French objected to all "Westernizing." Once a catechist came in European garb, and was allowed a week to change, but, persisting, was sent away.

French lasted out five years, and before he again left India, he rejoiced to see several of his men in definite posts of missionary service. The first two to be ordained were (I) Imam Shah, who had been a most bigoted Moslem, but had been struck by the term "Our Father" applied to God--so strange a phrase in Mohammedan ears--and then had been led to Christ by the Rev. Baud Singh (the Sikh baptized at the S.P.G. Cawnpore Mission,--and who has since been for forty years pastor of the native congregation at Peshawar; (2) John Williams, a Christian-born Indian doctor, officially qualified, employed by Government on the Afghan Frontier, but who joined the C.M.S. on a lower stipend. Among later men was J. Ali Bakhsh, who became tutor in the College, and is now Canon of Lahore.

In one thing French was mistaken, as his successor Hooper found out. Lahore could not supply all North India. For this reason: by the use of Urdu as the vernacular, French aimed at Islam, and he put Hebrew in the forefront, because of its affinity with Arabic, the language of Islam. But Hooper had been at Benares, and felt that the Hindu pundits ought to be dealt with in Hindi, with its philosophical and theological terms derived from Sanskrit; and they would appreciate Greek rather than Hebrew, because of its links with Sanskrit. It is a significant linguistic point. The practical result was that Hooper induced the C.M.S. to start another college on these latter lines at Allahabad, which has proved equally useful, with such Principals as Hackett, Johnston, Carpenter, Waller, and now an Indian clergyman, the Rev. S. J. Edwin; and Indian tutors like Canon Nihal Singh and the Rev. J. Qalandar.

French himself illustrated throughout his career the importance of Beginnings. He was five times a pioneer. He founded the College at Agra; he started a new Mission on the Afghan Frontier; he established the Divinity College; he was the first Bishop of Lahore; he laid down his life in the attempt to penetrate the closed doors of Arabia. His remains lie under the cliffs of that hitherto almost inaccessible Mohammedan preserve.

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