Chapter 23 – Preaching to the Heathens in Kudumiamalei

by Carl Manthey-Zorn
translated by Aaron Jensen

This is one of three translations of the final three chapters from Carl Manthey-Zorn’s memoirs of his time as a missionary in India entitled, “This and That from the Life of a Missionary to East India.” For more information on Zorn, please see his biography.

The meaning of this tricky name is “Pigtail Mountain,” and it refers to a place fifteen miles away from here which lies at the feet of a rocky cone. In it are a famous pagoda of Shiva and other shrines, also hosts of Brahmins, and round and bulbous temple prostitutes, their constant consorts. The king of Pudukottai used to rest from his hunting there. Now, since he no longer hunts, he goes there to serve his idols. From where did its name come? For it is clear that it is, as the Tamils say, a “Karanaper,” which means, “a name which came about by a definite fact.” And so it is here. As the legends of the temples tell it, a king once came into the pagoda to worship. Now when a king worships it is customary for him to get whichever of the flowers with which the God is decorated. On that day, however, the priest had unfortunately wound the holy flowers around a prostitute and so came into a predicament.

He ran to her and said, “Hey, prostitute, give me the flowers so that I may garnish the great king with them!”

Hurriedly the flowers were taken from the girl’s hair and neck and given to the priest. He hung them on the god and from the god to the king.

“Sami (Priest),” the king said, “there is a hair here in the flowers. Where did it come from?”

“O king, that is from god’s pigtail.”

“What? The god who is from stone should have a pigtail?!”

“Tomorrow, O king,” said the priest, “I will show it to you.”

And when he was alone with the god, the “holy” knave, he cast himself down before it, prayed, and said, “O Shiva, Shiva! Ox-rider, Kali-dancer! Great god and end of all things! Help me from this need of mine and make my lie true, O Shiva!”

And behold! Shiva’s stone face brightened to a friendly smile. His mouth opened and said, “Tomorrow your lie shall be true.”

In the morning the king came to see the divine pigtail, and the priest was fretting over whether the god had not lied too. But no! An enormous pigtail had sprung forth from the part of his stone hair. The king was amazed by it, and sensing deception, he sent for tongs to pull out a hair to see whether it was really stuck in the head. They tugged and ripped. A hair was uprooted and a river of blood sprang forth and filled the shrine, making it unapproachable. Everyone worshipped and the honor of the priest was saved.

So says the “holy” legend of the place, and they are recited with “pious enthusiasm.” Can there be a more abominable thing?

Cornelius, the catechist from Wailocham, and I went to this place on Sunday afternoon, January 17, 1875. The Gospel has likely never been preached there. A true, genuine nest of heathens. Through all kinds of friendly streets we came to a wide place in whose background the pagoda rises impressively. Enormous pavilions, colonnades, and idol carts on every side. On one side is a mighty “church” of Ganesha, the son of Shiva and the god with the trunk. Never before have I seen such a great temple of this “god of science and publicity.” In the vast halls with colorful columns in front they trained fifty children, both boys and girls, and at the feet of the garnished god sat a greasy old schoolteacher writing verses on palm leaves. Here a Tamil school means as much as a Jewish school back home, by which I mean, it is a ruckus. I entered and inspected the children, among whom I saw a host of nice little girls from four to ten years old. I wrote to escape the ruckus to some extent until the period of holy meditation and then sat down next to the school teacher at the feet of Ganesha. My people, a little shy, remained outside, but I called them to sit down by the children. The schoolmaster thought, “Why did you sit down there?” a question which I “did not understand” and simply replied with a friendly “Beautiful!”

Now it didn’t take long at all before the houses and even them temples opened up and dismissed and sent away hosts of men, women, children, Brahmins, and also several dozen dancing girls, or temple prostitutes. I asked all of them to sit down around me, and this invitation was accepted eagerly enough by the male part of my audience.

Now I first expressed my joy that also girls learned in the school, but to my terror I was informed that the poor little children were being trained to be “Devadasis” which means “maidens of God,” true temple prostitutes. I tucked this information away for the further course of the conversation. Then I saw the school books, that is, the palm leaf bundles, and when some silence gradually came on, with a raised voice I asked everyone to listen to a story, and in a free and Tamil way I told the parable of the man who fell among the murderers and the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Next I showed them our sinful corruption, about which I was really able to “write the book,” and I showed it to them not only “in general,” but entirely, clearly, and vividly. Yes, I did not need to look far for illustrations: the temple prostitutes were standing around and the little casualties—those little schoolgirls—sat very nearby. It became very obvious to one high lord and he shook like a wet poodle and sought to keep away from him the thing with which he scolds the prostitutes. But I made him stop immediately by saying, “Where there are no buyers there is no market, old man! You and your cursed service of idols and your filthy desires have made these prostitutes into what they are.”

“Yes, God in heaven,” he said, “has not granted it to all men to be as holy as you.”

I said, “We, you and I, are one race. But God’s grace has given me what it now offers you today through me: the forgiveness of sins and a new heart.” And then I preached about the merciful Samaritan, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and the oil and wine which he pours into our wounds, and the inn to which he carries us.

Now the head Brahmin of the place got up, a man of very keen understanding and logic of thought, who astonished me and gave me joy. At the same time he possessed a rare honesty, both in the recognition of certain facts and in the Germanic expression of his opinions and doubts. Then I had a longer conversation with him—about an hour—and in it we both made such an effort that he and I became hoarse and got into a sweat.

Yes, on both sides the exact proceedings of everything which came into question left nothing to be desired. And shouldn’t that be the case? Should the missionary hold back the clear, certain, scriptural answers which our church confession has already given to many of the questions which always come back up? Of course, it is often said that the confessions and their emphases are good in the home but not in heathen lands and that it would excite absolute horror if missionaries would “go to the heathens with the Lutheran confessional writings under their arms.” But that is an unworthy caricature. This is the thing: Of course we are not allowed to have our confessional writings merely “under our arms” but in our heads and in our hearts and on the tips of our tongues. Those who do not want any confessions say that we should preach to the heathens only the general Christian truths. Now, I certainly do not despise the “general Christian truths” and I hope to God that they who preach this and only this achieve something to God’s honor. But this is why I still deliberately and decisively reject that encouragement that we should preach only this and preach this “only generally.” To whom are the treasures of the Reformation given? To several theologians for some elegant carping or as historical antiquities, or to the people for food? Yes, certainly, to the people for food that the soul becomes “fat” on the knowledge of God and its salvation. Certainly it is given to the people, and it is given to the theologians for the people. And as far as people are concerned, our Tamil are just as good as the Germans even if they also have brown skin. Don’t misunderstand me. Even I who write and maintain this have never, in all the time I have been a preacher, been blamed for preaching “too loftily.” I know full well that you don’t have to stand in the pulpit to preach way over their heads and I make an effort to speak to the people in their language and ideas, and I am also understood. But the content of our confessional writings, and the full, unabridged content of our confessional writings, can be full well contained in all that and applied to the people. And it should be.

“But you still cannot come to the heathens with it, can you?”

At first the eyes of the heathens are closed to seeing in what excrement they are rolling, namely, in the excrement of damnable sins, and what food they eat, namely that of a “lost” human reason and blind reason. And then you tell them about Christ the world’s Savior, who has already acquired justification and eternal life for them and brought it to them and that these blessings are near to them, very near, and reachable in the Word which is at that time echoing in their ears and hearts, encircling them, and penetrating them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So isn’t this true? Or are these not the true “general Christian truths?” At any rate, we should still not, as frequently happens, include in the term “general Christian” the errors of Rome and all sects and all invasions of modern theologians and non-theologians. And we should not understand by this term only what is left over of Christian truth after their errors because we want to say only what does not violate the aforementioned errors. For nowadays people are not too shy to infringe upon the Lord God’s holy Word, but perhaps they are much too shy to infringe upon the fantasies of this and that great man. If the “general Christian” truths are true, then above all the full content of our Lutheran confessions will also shine forth from them, friendly and clear and comforting and entirely evident when inquired about.

Yes, when inquired about, for the heathen Indians are not so dumb that they let themselves be satisfied “with generalities” without desiring closer inquiry and exact information. I have often experienced and seen that, and may the following also serve as proof of it.

So that Brahmin began the questioning and asked next whether all men are the same. When he referred to my sermon, I answered, “Yes.” He followed with a quick “No!” And he reasoned it in this way: “First, Christianity is good, but second, not all men have A: the opportunity, B: the insight, or C: the strength to take hold of it. Therefore there is a difference both in the divinely ordained position and in the moral condition of men.” In order to provoke him to further questions and considerations I next explained the teaching about original sin and both of its parts, divine displeasure with eternal damnation and man’s lack of moral freedom.

His next question was, “Then what do you require of us?!”

I said, “I require nothing but I am disclosing and giving something to you” (the blessings about which I had preached) “namely, God’s grace, the illumination of reason, and the freedom of the will. And then in the name of God I require you to not resist the Holy Spirit.”

He said, “I want the grace of God, but I do not see it. Where shall I take hold of it? And how?”

I said, “The grace of God is near you presently. You should look into the Word which I am preaching to you at God’s command. While it is present you should take hold of it in that same Word with faith: with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

He said, “Why should I believe if salvation has been acquired?”

I said, “This is God’s will and therefore an unbreakable order.”

Then I find you guilty!” he shouted almost crudely and without addressing me formally.

I said, “Why?”

He said, “You have been in Pudukottai for three years. This village is only fifteen miles away. You are here today for the first time, and how many people have died without your word since then!”

My mission servants wanted to defend me, but I said, “I concede my guilt. God will judge such people. He will judge me too. Speak on!”

He said, “You mean he will judge me. But now what if a man cannot believe?”

I said, “It is God who grants that we are able to and really do believe.”

He said, “Then may I think it over?” (Here he wanted to catch me.)

I said, “Think it over!”

He said, “But what if I die while disagreeing, doubting, or thinking it over?”

I said, “Then the one who studies hearts and minds and knows your innermost parts will judge. There is no complete indecision before God.”

Cornelius told me later that during the Brahmin’s last question he became very nervous about what to answer. He, the Brahmin, still asked whether I would immediately receive him into my congregation if he confessed to have sought but still not have found.

I said, “I am a servant of Christ. And Christ spreads out his arms for you. So I will too. But in the external union of the congregation I will not receive you until you confess and I believe that you have knowledge.”

With that I stood up and left, followed by many people until I was outside the village. I do not believe that the Brahmin would have been content with “generalities.”

Reflections on missionary work in India.

 Mar 5, 2011