The Oxonians and Theosophy Again
Journal of The Theosophical Society, February, 1884
Barring an occasional drop of gall in the cup of Hippocrates, our esteemed antagonists of the Oxford Mission are very kind towards us. In fact, being both gentlemen and scholars, they go far to make us forget the priest and see only the friendly critic. If all Asiatic missionaries had been such Christ-like Christians, the page of our history would have been unsoiled by one savage retort. They seem to treat all in the same kindly, self-respectful tone. We scarcely recall a more tender, genial narrative than the Epiphany’s account of the cremation of our gifted foe, the late Babu Keshub Chunder Sen, whom they nevertheless were obliged to regard as a serious opponent to their evangelising work. The issue of their journal for January 12th contains the following significant article upon Theosophy:—
We are sometimes asked why, in a Missionary paper, we speak so much of Theosophy. Our answer is twofold:
First, every Theosophist professes to be aiming at a life higher than he now lives, and we naturally wish to offer to him the Christian solution of the problem which he has, in common with us, to solve.
Secondly, we recognize in Theosophy, or in The Theosophist Magazine, or in Theosophists, (choose your own expression) the most formidable foe of Christianity in India amongst educated natives.
The revival of Aryan thought commends it to them; the subtle philosophy which avoids the stigma of Materialism, while soaring far above the confessed humility and helplessness of the Christian and the Theist, fascinates them; it gives a grand thirst for knowledge, a sense of power. But above all the unmistkable depth of the intellect enlisted in its service, both among Europeans and Natives, makes it worthy of our attention. Some people speak of Theosophy as a mere juggle; but those who read Theosophical publications know that it is a profound theory of the Universe, the nearest perhaps to the revealed truth of any, as far as it goes, while the furthest from the revealed truth, when it stops short and denies all beyond its arbitrary limit. Often do we feel how almost hopeless it is for the Editors of the Epiphany, immersed in other work, to deal fairly with the mass of clear thought and clever speculation monthly poured out in the pages of The Theosophist, not to speak of the various other publications of the Theosophical Society. We wish that we could obtain for the Epiphany so ardent and laborious a band of contributors.
But our very appreciation of The Theosophist makes us very sorry to see it using hostile language. Two articles in the last issue of it (Number 51) have seemed to us unworthy of its general tone. Both occur in the Supplement. One is called “The Saracens of Theosophy and the Madras Crusaders,” . . . It is without signature and appears to us to be an editorial. The other is called “An Anglo-Indian Theosophist on the Bishop of Madras,” and is signed H. R. M. (F.T.S.). . . .
It is very painful to a Churchman to read in the letter of H. R. M. . . . so complete a misconception of the Church in India and its position. . . .
[here followed a defense of the Bishop of Madras]
Now what are we to say to the charge of unduly using official position and to the threat of disestablishment? We can only say that Christianity is certainly not spread by force or by fraud, but by personal influence. If Christianity were really the religion of love which it theoretically is, we can imagine even bigoted Hindus looking quietly on while Viceroys and Judges abused their official position to spread it. They would say—“They love us, let them convert us by love if they can.” But alas! the unhappy Christma-tide of 1883 is still re-echoing with the war-cries of un-christian Christians and irritated non-Christians.
The spread of Christianity is looking on with a jealous eye, and the Government policy of religious neutrality carefully claimed as bare justice.
That policy is in no wise infringed by the Bishop of Madras.
The Bishops and the Chaplains are paid by a Government which favours all religious sects in some degree, to teach Christianity to its Christian officials and their children. But Government is perfectly aware that Mission work is an essential part of Christianity. . . . The established Bishop . . . must also remember that he is quite as much the Bishop of the Missionaries whom he is not paid to take care of, as of the Chaplains whom he is paid to take care of. He is a Bishop of the Church, there is an “imperium in imperio,” and the commission of God over-rides the commission of the State. If they clash, the state must expect to see her commission disavowed, and must and will withdraw it. . . .
Any Bishop or Chaplain who neglected Mission work would neglect an important factor in his “official” work, as well as an important command of Christ. He would be false to the Christian tradition of love. . . .
When will Statesmen and Theosophists recognize the supreme carelessness with which the Church of Christ regards these things, except in so far as she desires that national recognition should be given to the truth of her Mission, so long as the English nation honestly accepts that truth? . . .
Let us call our respected adversary’s attention to the following points, suggested by the above:—
1. If Theosophy is “the most formidable foe of Christianity in India amongst educated natives,” it must be because exoteric Christianity does not win their approbation, while the vital essence of Esoteric Christianity, or its Theosophy, has never been preached to them. Certainly, we Founders have never handled the former with clutch and claw, after the methods of Western Freethinkers and Secularists though we have uniformly affirmed that the “Secret Doctrine” underlies external Christianity equally with every other form of theology.
2. We confess with pain that we have at various times been goaded into reprisals, when we have seen the majority of so-called Christian clergy and laity as if conspiring to traduce our characters and malign our motives. The loathing felt by the Oxonian Brothers for such a tone as that adopted by the Rev. Mr. Hastie towards the whole Hindu nation, was no more righteous than that which we feel for others bearing the ear-mark of Christianity in view of their treatment of Theosophy.
3. In saying that the Rt. Rev. the Bishop of Madras is justified in doing what he can, while a paid official of a professedly neutral Government, to promote religious apostasy, and adopt any “special measures” to check the Theosophical movement because he is a Bishop and “there is an ‘imperium in imperio’,” is simply the setting up of the old Papist claim of theocratic supremacy. “The commission of God over-rides the commission of the State.” Does it? By all means let that be officially promulgated as an Appendix to the Queen’s Proclamation of religious neutrality to her non-Christian subjects. Or if this be not so, then it would surprise nobody to see the law-making authorities taking the Epiphany party at its word, and, to avoid the “clash of commissions,” seeing the State’s “commission is disowned . . . withdraw it.” There is nothing like honesty. If the guaranteed religious neutrality were a bait and a sham, as it most assuredly would be, under such a partisan view of a Bishop’s duties, the gravest consequences would inevitably ensue. The peace of Asia is maintained because the good faith of the above Proclamation is thoroughly believed in. As Dr. Gell, the private gentleman and sectarian, his Lordship of Madras might do his best to break down Idolatry and stamp out “Heathenism.” But in his episcopal capacity he has—as our eminent correspondent H. R. M. pointed out—no more right to sink his public prerogative in his private personality and break the religious peace, than the civilian has the right to embark in trade. The world’s mind is large enough to house all sects and schools—provided they do as they would be done by.