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Church Missionary Society's early work among the Syrians-General
Munro—Dr. Buchanan-Early letters of the Secretary of the
I now address myself to a review of the Church Missionary Society's early work in Travancore. I have wished, if possible, to track our work in all its vicissitudes, believing that thereby valuable lessons will be found for future guidance.
This has been, in many respects, an arduous, though an interesting task. Many an hour have I spent in ransacking old documents, preserved happily by our predecessors, but well nigh forgotten; and in referring to the published reports of the early missionaries, scattered through many volumes. My gleanings will, I fear, take some time to read; and the reading of extracts from Letter of General Munro.
letters and reports may, perhaps, sometimes be rather dry; but I have thought that I ought to preserve so much, as I have said, for future, if not for present use.
The first decided steps for the improvement of the Syrian Christians of Travancore were taken by the British Resident, General (then Major) Munro, whose plans resulted in the establishment and endowment by the reigning princess of a Syrian College at Cottayam, for the instruction of both Syrian priests and laymen.
Dr. Buchanan, indeed, led the way, by bringing the Syrians to the notice of Christian England, by carrying home the well-known Peschito MS., from which the present printed text that is in use amongst us was made, and by forming plans for the translation of the gospels into Malayalim. But with Major Munro rests the credit, under God, of having originated the measures which have since been worked upon for the education and improvement of the Syrian Christians. The Resident's wish was English clergyman to be located in Travancore ; and to this end he put himself in communication with Mr. Thompson, the secretary of the corresponding committee of the Church Missionary Society in Madras. We find him in August, 1815, writing as follows to Mr. Thompson :
“I am more anxious than ever to attach a respectable clergyman of the Church of England to the Syrians in Travancore; and I should wish that Mr. Norton might be sent to me for that purpose at the earliest convenient
period of time.
He ought, perhaps, to be placed at my disposal ; and he may depend upon receiving from me the most cordial support and assistance.
During my absence from Travancore a considerable degree of animosity was manifested by certain Nairs and Brahmins against the Syrian Christians--a circumstance
-a which I regard as fortunate, because it will convince these Christians of the advantage which they will derive from the presence and protection of an English clergyman.
'I propose to proceed to Quilon early in September, and I shall employ the best endeavours in my power to obtain a good translation into Malayalim of the whole of the Syrian Scriptures. I am now in communication with the Syrian Bishop on this subject; but the unfortunate difference between him and the Remban, opposes many difficulties to the execution of all the plans which I have had in view for the benefit of the Syrian Christians.'
Mr. Thompson also wrote about the same time to the parent Committee on this subject.
The mission to Travancore,' he writes, should not be delayed one day unnecessarily. We could greatly wish for an establishment there of three missionaries at least. Soon might we then hope, through Divine mercy, under their ministry and the patronage of the Resident, that the Syrian churches might revive, and Travancore not only yield a large increase of native Christians, but also supply missionaries, peculiarly qualified, above Europeans them
Object of General Munro.
selves, to a large extent of country, and gather in multitudes to the fold of Christ.'
Such were the bright hopes with which the mission to the Syrians was inaugurated ; hopes, however, which have been flickering, like the flame of a lamp in a gusty room, from that time to the present—for fifty years—sometimes bright, sometimes apparently extinguished, but still burning. May the time yet come when the Syrian priests shall become the missionaries' of South India, 'gathering in multitudes to the fold of Christ.'
The object which General Munro had in view, and in compassing which the Church Missionary Society lent him all the assistance in their power, was indeed a noble one; but the letter from which we have quoted above hints at the fact that from the very first these attempts were beset with difficulties. General Munro speaks of the difference between the Bishop and the Remban, and the consequent difficulties' that beset all his plans for the benefit of the Syrians. The fact is, the Syrians seem never to have acquiesced beartily in the efforts made by the Resident on their behalf. We find such passages as the following in General Munro's early letters to Mr. Norton, the first missionary :The Bishop should take measures to collect teachers and students. I beg you will have a communication with him on this point, and urge him to carry into effect the injunctions which I have repeatedly conveyed to him concerning it. ': . . I will also
thank you to see to the progress that has been made in translating the Scriptures into Malayalim, and in examining a MS. translation of a part of the New Testament which I put into the Bishop's hands nearly two years ago. The Bishop is naturally slow, and will lose much valuable time unless he is stimulated by our advice. This letter is dated July 22, 1816. Then again, on August 14 of the same year, he says : The Bishop should be particularly urged to employ all his exertions in completing the translation of the Scriptures into Malayalim; and may be informed that I am rather displeased at the little progress
made in that work.' Then again, in 1817:41 gave positive injunctions repeatedly to the late Metran to hasten by every means in his power
progress of the translation; and it appears that nothing has been done.'
Was this delay of the Metran's all supineness? Did the Syrians ever really cordially meet the views of the Europeans? It is true that some of the Metrans apparently appreciated what the Resident had done for the Church ; but it would appear that no sooner did a Metran of doubtful character arise, than the whole Syrian body sided with him, whether secretly or openly, to the prejudice of all the good intentions of Europeans. Indeed difficulties and hindrances of various kinds beset the missionary operations then commenced, from the very first. .
The Resident, however, was evidently not a man to be cowed by difficulties; and we cannot but admire the