Early Anglican Mission Invovlement in India: Theological Reflections

by Daniel Jeyaraj

Date added: 31/05/2017

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Early Anglican mission involvement in India: Theological Reflections

The Reverend Professor Daniel Jeyaraj
Professor of World Christianity, Liverpool Hope University, England

Annual Mission Theology Lecture
Durham University (3 May 2017) and Lambeth Palace (30 May 2017)


This essay explores the place of Anglican missionary enterprise in 18th century India and its relationship with the Lutherans along the East Coast of India from Pālayamkōṭṭai in the south to Kolkata in the north. Lutheran presence in India dates back to the founding of the Taraṅkampāṭi (‘Settlement of singing waves’), popular known to Europeans as Tranquebar, in 1620 and the erecting of the rectangular Fort Dansborg soon thereafter. Anglican presence in India dates back to the establishment of Chennai as Fort St. George (1639) and Kolkata (1690). St. Mary’s Church, erected in Fort St. George in 1680, became the first Anglican Church in Asia. The relationship between the Lutherans and the Anglicans started, strangely not in Chennai or Kolkata, but in London in England. Lutheran and Anglican friends associated with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK, 1698) in London cooperated to support the work of the German Lutheran Pietist missionaries in Tranquebar. This cooperation lasted from 1709 to 1845; later it took different forms. This essay briefly considers only select aspects of this cooperation in 18th century India and offers a theological reflection.

Lutheran missionary work in Tranquebar: Origins

The Trade Treaty of Tranquebar, signed in 1620 by Rakunāta Nāyakkar (1600–1634), the ruler of the Kingdom of Tanjore (Tañcāvūr), and Ove Giedde (1594–1660), an admiral of a Danish ship that had stranded near Tranquebar, stipulated that the European inhabitants of Tranquebar had the freedom to practice their ‘Religion of Augsburg,’ namely Lutheranism. Rakunāta Nāyakkar required the Danes to maintain harmonious relationship with the Portuguese inhabitants in his domain. In spite of this agreement, the Danes in Tranquebar did not build a separate building for worship for 80 years. Only in 1701 they dedicated the Zion Church for worship services in Danish and German. Their colonial interest lay in trade with Indians and not in any religious concerns. Their Indian partners and employees were ill disposed towards Christians. The Danes ensured that their Indian traders, soldiers, spies, tax collectors, and other service providers remained satisfied; hence, they refrained from any overt missionary activity.

The year 1704, however, marked a turning point. King Friedrich IV (167 –1730) attempted to escape a domestic scandal and thought of establishing an oversea missionary enterprise. He hurriedly charged his court chaplain Franz Julius Lütkens (1650–1712) to find appropriate missionary candidates. The Danes, who were aware of the scandal, did not listen to Lütkens’ invitation. Therefore, he looked to his Pietist friends Joachim Lange (1670–1744) and others in Berlin, Germany, who in turn persuaded Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682–1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1677–1752) to travel to Copenhagen. King Friedrich IV issued the call for missionary work and ordered his Bishop Henrik Bornemann (1693–1710) to ordain these two Germans as missionaries. Consequently, they sailed from Copenhagen in November 1705 and reached Tranquebar on 9 July 1706. There they laid a firm foundation for the emergence of a Tamil Lutheran congregation. Their report on Tamil people, language, culture, religion, and converts, published in Berlin in 1708 attracted much attention in Germany. Its English translation (1709) appealed to few influential Anglicans in London, England.

Anglican reception of Lutheran missionary work in Tranquebar

Joachim Lange published the report of the missionaries as Notable News from East India (Merkwürdige Nachricht aus Ost-Indien). Its first edition sold so quickly that the publishers in Leipzig and Frankfurt/M printed a second edition in the same year (1708). These details opened the mind of the readers to reach beyond what ancient Greeks, Romans, and Jews had to tell them. They discovered a new world of people, language, culture, religion, scholarship, and social habits. Anton Wilhelm Böhme (1673–1722) translated this German report into English as the Propagation of the Gospel in the East: Being an Account of the Success of Two Danish Missionaries (1709). Böhme studied in Halle (Saale), Germany under August Hermann Francke, the renowned founder of the Orphanage (1698), which later evolved into the Francke Foundations. In 1701, he came to London to work among the German refugees. Heinrich Ludolf (1655–1712), who earlier worked as the secretary to Prince George, introduced Böhme to the Danish Prince George, the husband of the Anglican Queen Anne (1665–1714) of Great Britain. The Anglican clergy excluded Prince George, a Lutheran, from receiving Eucharist. Böhme’s appointment solved the problem. During his tenure there, Böhme became a member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK, 1698). This Anglican mission agency took note of the activities of the Tranquebar missionaries. They quickly realized that these Lutheran Pietists were already doing what the SPCK had desired to accomplish. Therefore, in 1710, they invited Ziegenbalg and his colleague Johann Ernst Gründler (1677–1720) as their Corresponding Members.

The Propagation of the Gospel in the East had profound impact on its English readers: the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (1701), a premier mission agency of the Church of England, bought 500 copies and distributed it to its leaders in and outside of England. One of the English readers who benefited from reading this booklet was Susanna Wesley (1669–1742), the mother of John and Charles Wesley. When she was sick in February 1712, she happened to read this book, appreciated the work of the Lutheran Pietist missionaries in Tranquebar, and undertook her own missionary work with her children. Every night discussed this missionary concern with her children and followed this order: “On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles; and with Emily and Sukey together on Sunday.” Thus, she had sown the seeds of missionary desire into the hearts of the Wesley brothers, who later involved in different types of missionary work both at home and abroad.

Following the publication of this book, Henry Newman (1670–1743) attempted to recruit English volunteers for missionary work. He studied at the Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. His business brought him to London. There he befriended Thomas Bray, the founder of the SPCK and other influential Anglicans. He served as the secretary of the SPCK for a long time. In this capacity, he contacted the Anglican Bishop Thomas Wilson of Sodor and Man and requested him to find out English candidates for missionary vocation. Two English men came forward. They received offers to work as missionaries in India; but they failed to travel to India. As a result, the SPCK had to count on the German Lutheran Pietists and their works in India. Newman also sent a copy of The Propagation of the Gospel in the East to his friend Cotton Mather (1663–1728), the well-known Puritan leader in Boston, Massachusetts. Mather read it with great joy and felt encouraged for his own work in Boston. Newman also assisted Ziegenbalg and Mather to exchange letters of mutual interest.

Originally, the Lutheran missionary work originally started as a noble attempt (“zum löblichen Versuch”). It did not envisage the conversion of the Tamil people. Therefore, it did not have any definite plan for an indigenous church. It battled against the economic and political hurdles, which the Danish colonial administration deliberately laid on the way. In 1715, Ziegenbalg despaired that he “had believed even against the hope.” This perseverance of the missionaries and the daring cooperation of their Tamil converts, mostly from the lowest strata of the Tamil society, resulted in the formation of the first Tamil Lutheran congregation named the Jerusalem Church (1707). They jointly established the first schools for Tamil boys and girls. These schools for girls signaled a socio-cultural transformation that would become more evident only in the 20th century. The missionaries continually wrote reports on their small, but significant beginnings and sent them to their sponsors in Halle (Saale), Germany, who in turn published abstracts and extracts of these reports for wider circles of readers. Böhme translated these published texts into English and had them printed. The third part of The Propagation of the Gospel in the East appeared in 1718.

The newness of materials found in these translated reports intensified the curiosity of several English readers. One of them was Jenkin Thomas Philipps (d. 1755), a Welsh linguist. He read the German version of the Malabarian Correspondence. Ziegenbalg and Gründler had translated 99 letters from Tamil into German. Various Tamil scholars composed these lengthy letters and helped the missionaries to understand Tamil culture and religion little better. On reading them, Philipps felt that “For a thousand Years past very few Productions of this Nature (written by the Heathen themselves) have been seen in Europe”. In 1717, he published An Account of the Religion, Manners, and Learning of the People of Malabar, in several Letters written by some of the most learned Men of that Country to the Danish Missionaries, translated from the High-Dutch [i.e., German into English]. This publication contains 55 letters, which Ziegenbalg had translated from Tamil into German. Two years later, Philipps printed his Thirty Four Conferences Between the Danish Missionaries and the Malabarian Brahmans (Or Heathen Priests) in the East Indies. It contains Philipps’ own version of Ziegenbalg’s extensive protocol on his conversations with few Tamil scholars in and around Tranquebar. Thus, Anglicans in England began to take note of the Lutheran missionary work in Tranquebar and tried to learn from these missionaries.

Lutheran-Anglican tensions: theological and practical issues

In the meantime, the Ziegenbalg and Gründler had successfully installed the mechanized printing press, which the SPCK had sent to them in 1712. In 1715, they published a bi-lingual Tamil-Portuguese catechism for the benefit of the Tamil and Portuguese-speaking Lutherans in Tranquebar. In modern transliteration the Tamil title reads: ஒரு கிறீத்தவன் மோட்சத்தை அடைகிறதுக்கு வேதபிரமாணத்தின்படியே அறியவேண்டின விளக்கங்களையும் மந்திரங்களையும் படித்துச் செய்யவேண்டின ஞாயங்களையும் போதிவிக்கிற உபதேசம் (i.e., oru kiṟīttavaṉ mōṭcattai aṭaikiṟatukku vētapiramāṇattiṉpaṭiyē aṟiyavēṇṭiṉa viḷakkaṅkaḷaiyum mantiraṅkaḷaiyum paṭittuc ceyyavēṇṭiṉa ñāyaṅkaḷaiyum pōtivikkiṟa upatēcam). This title has the following meaning: The Doctrine that teaches the details and the prayers, which a Christian should know about the Way to Salvation and what he should do about them. Its Portuguese title, by contrast, does not fully represent the richness of the Tamil concepts: Sumario das Doutrinas Christaas por uso dos Catechumenos (i.e., Summary of Christian Doctrines for the use by Catechumens). This catechism begins with the Ten Commandments and presents them according to the Lutheran convention. Its first commandment requires the devotees not to have other deities besides God (சறுவேசுரன் Caṟuvēcuraṉ, ‘All-Lord’). For this purpose, they should neither make nor worship anything that resembles a living thing that is in either heaven or earth or waters. Thus, this catechism combines the first two Commandments of the Anglican tradition into one: 1) I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other god before Me. 2) You shall not make any graven image. William Wake, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1715 to 1737, took note of this difference and expressed his dissatisfaction. However, Henry Newman of the SPCK and other influential Anglican friends of the Tranquebar missionaries managed all theological, traditional, and institutional differences. They emphasized the need for a concerted help to support the missionaries and their Tamil Christians. For example, they continued the Propagation of the Gospel in the East until 1718.

In the meantime, the political and economic conflicts between Ziegenbalg and the colonial authorities became so acute that Ziegenbalg travelled to Denmark, sought King Friedrich IV’s intervention, and solved the tension temporarily. On his return voyage, he visited Henry Newman and other dignitaries of the SPCK (January 1716). Newman had arranged an audience with King George I, who received Ziegenbalg and heard about his work. In his letter to Ziegenbalg (September 1717), he promised to assist Ziegenbalg’s missionary work in his “Kingdom” of India. This promise remained a promise for a few years. As discussed below, this promise would assist Benjamin Schultze (1689–1760) to establish a significant Lutheran presence in Chennai (1726).

The Anglican chaplains in Chennai showed some interest for the work of the Lutherans in Tranquebar. For example, George Lewis, an Anglican Chaplain at Fort St. George (i.e., modern Chennai), visited Ziegenbalg and Gründler in 1713 and their charity schools (தர்ம பள்ளிக்கூடம் tarma paḷḷikkūṭam, ‘charity or religious school’). After his return to the United Kingdom, he promoted British contributions in Tranquebar. After his return to the United Kingdoms, he published the booklet entitled Account of the Method of Instruction Used in the Charity-Schools of the Church, call’d Jerusalem, in Tranquebar (1715). It explores the uniqueness of these schools and their contributions to the welfare of the Tamils. Lewis invited his readers to understand and appreciate the exemplary work of the missionaries in their schools. Perhaps, the charity schools of the SPCK in England and other British countries should learn from the achievements and good practices of the Lutheran missionaries in Tranquebar. Chaplain William Stevenson, who came to Chennai in 1713, succeeded Lewis and ministered there from 1716 to 1719. He remained a friend of the Lutherans. After Stevenson, Thomas Wendey became the Anglican chaplain for Chennai and had letter correspondence with the Lutheran Pietists in Halle (Saale). 

Available documents illustrate the fact that most of the German Lutheran Pietists missionaries were well disposed towards the Tamils; however, their socio-culture upbringing and manners forced the Tamil Lutherans to long for their own Tamil pastor. Accordingly, on 28 December 1733, the missionaries ordained Aaron as their first Tamil Lutheran clergy with equal standing to the European clergy. Anglicans, however insisted on episcopal ordination that ensured their notion of the Apostolic Succession. At that time, Gotthilf August Francke (1696–1769), the son of the A.H. Francke, directed the works of the Francke Foundation in Halle (Saale). Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen (1694–1776), a Pietist associated with the Francke Foundations, served in London as chaplain to the Hanoverian kings of Great Britain. According to Bishop Stephen Neill, both Francke and Ziegenhagen had to inform the Anglicans in London that the missionaries in Tranquebar, by virtue of their office, possessed the necessary power to ordain (potestas ordinandi) worthy Christian leaders as pastors of local congregations.

Gradually, the SPCK understood the eligibility of the Lutheran missionaries, whom it supported, to ordain others. Thus, in January 1787 Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726–1798) ordained Johann Kaspar Kohlhoff (1762–1844) as a Lutheran pastor. In 1790, Schwartz also ordained Sathiyanathan (i.e., Catiyanātaṉ) another Lutheran pastor. Neither the SPCK nor any Anglican clergy in India or Great Britain seem to have objected to these ordinations. The SPCK and the Lutheran missionaries were more concerned about their ecumenical cooperation in practical aspects than their institutional requirements and conformity.

Lutheran-Anglican engagements in Chennai

Benjamin Schultze (1689–1760), a German Lutheran Pietist missionary in Tranquebar from 1719 to 1726, founded the Madras Mission (1726). Before he went to Chennai, he maintained letter correspondence with several Anglicans in the SPCK and even wrote (in December 1723) to King George II of Great Britain. He informed his recipients about the state of the mission schools. On his arrival, Gründler taught him the Tamil language. He also ordained him in 1720 as a pastor-missionary. Schultze strength lay not so much in his personal relationships with the Tamil people or his colleagues, but in his way of translating the Bible, German hymns, and devotional literature by Johann Arndt (1555–1621) and M. Wolfgang Seber (1573–1634). His self-understanding as the master of the Tamil language and translation did not permit him to cooperate with Christoph Theodosius Walther (1699–1741), another competent linguist. Walther was German Lutheran Pietist missionary. He reached Tranquebar in 1725. Before he left Germany, he had earned a doctoral degree in Hebrew language. After his arrival in Tranquebar, he picked up Tamil and wanted to revise Schultze’s earlier translation of the Tamil Bible. Schulze rejected this attempt, left Tranquebar, and settled in Chennai.

At that time, Chennai emerged as a powerful capital city of the British colonial aspirations in South India. As already mentioned, Fort St. George came into existence in 1639; the St. Mary’s Church (1680) catered to the needs of the British expatriates in Chennai. Indians did not access to this building. Schultze founded worshipping congregations and schools for those Tamils and Telugus who hailed from low social and economic strata of the society. His institutions became the first Protestant organizations in Chennai that especially catered to the needs of Indians.

Anglican chaplains in Chennai such as Thomas Consett and Robert Wynch assisted Schultze’s work. No sooner Schultze started his work in Chennai than he fully translated the Book of Common Prayer into Tamil. I discovered a copy this translated text in a palm leaf manuscript (AFSt/P TAM 69). Schultze’s handwritten English title on this manuscript reads as follows: The Book of Common-Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments according to the Use of the Church of England together with the Psalms of David translated from the English in the Malabarish Language by Benjamin Schultze, Protestant Missionary, 1726. This manuscript marks the beginning of a Tamil-speaking Anglican community in Chennai. It is remarkable that a German Lutheran Pietist founded it. Two years later, in 1728 the SPCK accepted him as their English missionary. English officers of the East India Company permitted him to stay and carry out his missionary work. Schultze again had difficulty with the newly arrived German Lutheran missionaries Johann Anton Sartorius (1730–1738), Johann Ernst Geister (1743 – 1746). At this time, Henry Newman, the above-mentioned Secretary of the SPCK, requested Chaplain Robert Wynch and Chaplain Howard to establish peace in Chennai.

Finally, Schultze left Chennai in 1743. By that time, he had accumulated deep insights into the Tamil, Telugu and English ways of life and making meaning. After he had settled down in the Francke Foundations in Halle (Saale), he composed among other things an entertaining booklet entitled The Large and Renowned Town of the English Nation in the East-Indies upon the Coast of Coromandel, Madras or Fort St. George (1750). It reveals how Anglicans lived in Chennai as merchants, administrators and soldiers, what they ate, with whom they associated and what they thought about Indians.

Illustrious German Lutheran Pietists succeeded Sartorius and Geister: Philip Fabricius (1740–1791) and Christian Wilhelm Gericke (1743 – 1803) as representative examples of these Lutheran missionaries in Chennai. In January 1746, Sartorius re-introduced the catechism of the Anglicans to the Tamil Lutherans. Fabricius provided the best translation of the Bible, known as the Golden Bible, for the Tamil Lutherans. His translated hymns addressed the heart, mind, and emotions of the worshippers. Hence, his hymnbook earned the nickname Neñcurukkinūl (‘Heart-melting book’). In spite of these worthy achievements, his careless mismanagement and loss of the money, entrusted to him for safekeeping by others, landed him a prison. Like Geister and Sartorius, Gericke served first in Cuddalore (1767 – 1782) and then moved to Vepery, a suburb of Chennai (1788). There he took care of the Female Asylum there; many Anglicans supported this asylum.

Johann Peter Rottler (1749–1836) succeeded Gericke in Vepery, Chennai, served as the missionary of the SPCK, the chaplain and secretary of the Female Asylum there. Until 1803 he professed Lutheranism, worked in Tranquebar and engaged in botanical studies. His herbarium, now housed in the Kew Gardens in London, England, earned him an honorary doctoral degree. At the request of the SPCK he moved to Vepery and officially became an Anglican. His epitaph, set up in St. Mathias’ Church in Vepery by “European East Indian and Native Christians” portrays Rottler a teacher of the New Testament to a Brahmin man seated under a banana tree. He is acclaimed as an “excellent man” and a “venerable servant of God,” whose life and death had demonstrated God’s “mercy, faithfulness and grace.” First he served in Tranquebar and then was employed “in the service of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.” To honor his contributions to the people of Chennai, botany and Tamil lexicography, the Rottler Street in Choolai is named after him. This missionary scholar transcended confessional confinement of Lutheranism and Anglicanism and combined them both in his life.

Lutheran-Anglican engagements in Kolkata

Probably, the first formal British presence in Kolkata began around 1690s. Gradually, it evolved into a mighty capital city of the English East India Company (1772) and remained so until the British decided to move it to Delhi in 1911. The defeat of Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah at the Battle of Plassey (1757) by the British army mostly through treachery, bribe, and betrayal and in collaboration with the traitor Mir Jafar marked the beginning of British supremacy in Bengal. Robert Clive (1725–1774), who had engineered this defeat, knew the Lutheran Pietist missionaries in Cuddalore, who suffered under the French siege of this city in 1758. John Zacharias Kiernander (1710–1799), the only Swedish Lutheran missionary of the Tranquebar Mission, fled from Cuddalore to Kolkata and ministered there from 1758 to 1799. His first wife Gratia Kiernander died in 1749, i.e., in the 9th year of his work in Cuddalore. In August 1750, he married Wendela, she gave birth to Robert William Kiernander (1758–1791) and died in 1761. Kiernander chose the name Robert in recognition of his patron Robert Clive. Clive became the godfather of Kiernander’s son. In February 1762, Kiernander married a third time. His wife Ann (born Gunvy 1730–1773), was a widow of Thomas Wooley, a captain of a ship. She was born in Vishakhapatnam (in modern Andhra Pradesh). Since Kiernander did not obtain permission from the SPCK to start his work in Kolkata, the SPCK did not support him financially. However, Ann sold her jewels and other valuables and supported Kiernander’s ministry. Soon after his arrival in Kolkata, Kiernander had started school. Already by the end of 1759, this school educated 174 children of Armenian, Portuguese and Bengali background. He struggled hard to pay school teachers, who could earn more money with the English East India Company. At this request, his colleagues sent him Malaiyappan, a young Tamil man. In January 1762, this school, housed in the Collector’s Office in Kolkata, educated 242 children. His wife Ann helped him in every possible way. Together, they built and dedicated (1770) the large church Beth Thiphila (‘House of Prayer’), also known as the Lal Girija (the ‘Red Church’) or the Old Mission Church. After her death in 1773, Kiernander sold her jewels and used the money to support his school and church. He disagreed with his junior colleagues: Johann Christmann Diemer (1745–1792) joined him as a missionary in February 1775 and remained unhappy. He married Mary Weston, a daughter of a Portuguese merchant in Kolkata, left the mission in 1785 and returned to London, England.

At the suggestion of his son Robert, Kiernander engaged in a real estate business, but soon lost all money. He and his son had to move to Chinsura, a Dutch enclave near Kolkata. He was unable to maintain his school, which gradually disintegrated. He could not look after the church and it was about to be auctioned to pay off his debts. At that time, Charles Grant (1746–1823), who would become the celebrated director of the East India Company, the Anglican Chaplain David Brown, and William Chambers, another influential Anglican in Kolkata, bought the Beth Thiphila and conducted Anglican worship services. Claudius Buchanan (1766–1815) and Henry Martyn (1781–1812) and other Anglican chaplains paid attention to Anglican witness. David Brown and Buchanan encouraged Martyn to look after the church services at Beth Thiphila, but his love for Persians took him away from Kolkata and he died in Armenia. In the meantime, the arrival of William Carey (1761–1834) in Kolkata in 1793, obviously without the approval from any Anglican clergy in England, added Baptist voices to Christianity. After he and his junior colleagues settled in Serampore, the Danish colony not far from Kolkata, Buchanan and Charles Grant helped Carey.

The Anglican establishment in England had a mixed view about the success of the Baptist missionaries in Kolkata. By that time, Charles Grant had returned to London. He joined William Wilberforce (1759–1833) and other Anglican members of the Clapham Sect. Wilberforce and Grant persuaded the British Parliament to pass the ‘Pious Clause’ (1813) and thus to “promote the interest and happiness of the Indian peoples” and to provide “useful knowledge and religious and moral improvement.” Wilberforce argued not for the Baptists and others in India, for the presence and witness of Anglicans in India. Accordingly, Thomas Middleton became the first Anglican bishop of India and established his office in Kolkata in 1814. After his death (1823), Reginald Heber followed him. He travelled to visit Christians in Chennai, Tranquebar, Tanjore, Tiruccirāppaḷḷi, popularly known as Trichy, and other places. But he died in his bathroom (1826). The period of Bishop Daniel Wilson (1832–1858), who, as Bishop Graham King asserts, aspired for equality of all Christians from the days of his curacy in Islington, was turbulent. He banned caste distinctions among Indian Christians. Those Christians who observed caste distinctions were excluded from the Eucharist. Many Lutherans, including the celebrated Tamil poet Vētanāyakam Cāstriyār (1774–1864) protested against this ban. Successive Anglican bishops such as George Cotton (1858–1866), Robert Milman (1866–1876) and their successors demanded the Lutheran missionaries in India to obtain licenses to solemnize marriages and to carry out funeral services. Their assumption that all Christians in India should follow Anglican patterns and customs of life frustrated several German Lutheran missionaries. Some of them including Wilhelm Germann (1840–1902) of the Leipzig Evangelical Mission left India (1867). At the same time, in South India, the Lutheran-Anglican relations took new shapes and expressions.

Lutheran-Anglican engagements in Cuddalore, Tiruccirāppaḷḷi, Tanjore, and Palayamkōṭṭai

Lutherans and Anglicans met in Cuddalore, Tiruccirāppaḷḷi, Tanjore, and Palayamkōṭṭai. The officers of the East India Company invited Ziegenbalg and Gründler establishing a charity school in Cuddalore (i.e., Kaalūr). At this request, the missionaries deputed in 1717 Savarimuttu (i.e., Cavarimuttu), a Tamil teacher, to go there and to start a charity school. He shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with his students. One of them was Āṟumukam Piḷḷai, who embraced Christian faith and went to the missionaries in Tranquebar. Ziegenbalg baptized him 1718 with the symbolic name Aaron, the first priest of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible, and employed him in the mission. Gradually, Aaron rose from being a teacher to a beloved catechist. On 28 December 1733, Walther and his colleagues ordained him as the first Tamil Lutheran pastor and sent him to care for the Lutheran congregation in Māyāvaram. The above-mentioned Sartorius, Geister, Kiernander and others worked in Cuddalore. They interacted with the Anglican employees including Robert Clive and chaplains of the East India Company, who lived in their Fort St. David. After the French had captured it in 1758, these missionaries went to different places. As already discussed earlier, Kiernander proceeded to Kolkata. Sartorius and Geister served in Chennai.

The next most important place where the Lutherans and Anglicans met each other was the small town of Tiruccirāppaḷḷi. The Shaivites worship their Śiva in various temples along the River Kāvēri. The Vaishnavites flock together in Sri Rangam and worship their Viṣṇu. In 18th century, it became a battleground for the armies of the English and French. Muslim leaders with divided interests supported both parties. Thus, towards the end of the Third Carnatic War (1756–1763), whose roots lay not in South India, but in the Seven-Year War between Britain and France, an ammunition depot of the British army exploded in Tiruccirāppaḷḷi (1762). Christian Friedrich Schwartz was present in the city and attended to the needs of the dead, dying and wounded. His passionate service to the needed attracted the attention of the British officers. They requested him to guide them as their chaplain. First years later, in 1767, the SPCK accepted him as their Anglican representative and paid his salary. While he was there, he built the Christ Church near the Fort and started a school. This church still exists. This school has evolved into the current Bishop Heber College. Both institutions had their roots in Lutheranism; nowadays they belong to the Church of South India.

In 1772, Wilhelm Berg, a German captain in the service of Tulāji, the King of Tanjore, invited Schwartz for an audience with the king. Circumstances led him then to shift his residence from Tiruccirāppaḷḷi to Tanjore. In 1777, the SPCK sent Christian Pohle (1744–1818) to Tiruccirāppaḷḷi to continue the work. Schwartz concentrated his time and energy to consolidate his ministry in Tanjore. When the dying King Tulāji appointed Schwartz to be the guardian of his adopted son Serfojee II, Schwartz was drawn into politics. Almost all officers of the English East India Company, at least nominally, professed Anglicanism. Schwartz interacted with Major Stevens, Hector Munro (1727–1806), Colonel Eyre Coote, Governor Thomas Rumbold, William Chambers, and many other Anglicans. He reminded these Anglicans to defend their subjects in a just manner and added the following: “Every Government is to be supported by a rational administration of justice without which both King & Subjects cannot prosper. This proposition needs no proof being self-evident. All Nations confirm it at least in Theory, Experience, nay, all history gives us the strongest proof that a Country without justice is a ruined Country.” However, these Anglicans considered economic gain and control over land as more important than justice and fairness.

The employees of the East India Company were embroiled in several local and national conflicts: After Warren Hastings had promulgated the Regulatory Act of 1772, many existing problems acquired new dimensions. The Anglo-Mysore Wars affected the wellbeing of the common people. In 1781, Eyre Coote defeated Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore. His son Tippu Sultan hated the British. In September 1786 Lord Cornwallis became the Governor General of Bengal. In February 1793, he appointed Schwartz as the legal guardian of Serfojee II. And, Schwartz requested his friend Gericke to teach Serfojee II in Chennai. Schwartz did not merely consider Serfojee as his student, but as a friend. Therefore, he required him to make progress in his studies and to keep a good account of his income and expense.

Schwartz continued to enjoy the goodwill of several Tamil and Marathi leaders of Tanjore and Rāmanātapuram, the support of his British friends. With their support, he established Provincial Schools in Kumpakōṇam, Tanjore, and Rāmanātapuram. These schools became the seedbeds for training Tamil leaders, who would meet the British authorities face to face and negotiate (commercial and political) terms with them. In order to achieve stability and better communication, these Provincial Schools offered the English language as a subject. For example, in January 1797, 15 students were enrolled in the English School in Tanjore, 52 students studied in the Tamil School, and 16 students in the Provincial School. Gradually, the number of these students increased in all schools, where Schwartz, his missionary colleagues, catechists, and especially appointed teachers (both British and Tamil) offered lessons. St. Peter’s Higher Secondary School in Tanjore is the offspring of Schwartz’s schools there.

The history of the school in Rāmanātapuram deserves a special attention, as narrated by Schwartz in October 1784: Lord George McCartney (1737–1806), who was the Governor of Madras (1781–1785), deputed the John Sullivan (1749–1839, the resident of Tanjore, to redress the grievances of the Prince of Rāmanātapuram. Schwartz did not name the prince. In all probability, he must have been Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I (1760–1794). John Sullivan requested Schwartz to accompany him as his translator. They met this Prince on a Sunday in his residence at Sivagangai. At that time, Sullivan proposed the idea that Schwartz should start a Provincial School there and the prince should provide financial aid. Among other things, the students should learn the English language. The Prince accepted this proposal and agreed to give the entire income of a village to support this school. income for the school Sullivan and Schwartz met the prince of Sivaganga who welcomed this idea. The current Schwartz Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Rāmanātapuram traces its origin to 1785. One of its illustrious students was A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (1931–2015), the most beloved President of India (2002–2007). In his autobiography entitled Wings of Fire, Kalam fondly remembered his teacher Iyadurai Solomon and how he instilled in him the spirit of self-worth and encouraged him to succeed in life by understanding and mastering “three mighty forces – desire, belief, and expectation.” This school was the joint effort of the Lutheran Schwartz, the Anglican John Sullivan and the Hindu Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I, and it continues to impact the lives of countless students to this day.

Besides establishing schools, Schwartz also erected church buildings and helped the Tamil Lutherans to have an alternative place for worship, study, and socialization. In 1779, he founded the Christ Church – Fort in Tanjore. It is also known as Schwartz Church. Major Stevenson and General Hector Munro assisted him in securing this place. On 10 March 1799 Munro laid the foundation stone for this church building. Schwartz persuaded Munro to discourage Governor Thomas Rumbold in Chennai from fighting against Hyder Ali. Munro, in turn, convinced Rumbold to send Schwartz as an English ambassador to negotiate peace with Hyder Ali. Schwartz and Hyder Ali ensured peace, but Rumbold broke his promise and waged a war against Hyder Ali. Schwartz’s embassy to Hyder Ali increased Schwartz’s reputation as an impartial negotiator, whom Hindus, Muslims and the Anglicans could trust. Serfojee II loved Schwartz as his father. In order to express his deep esteem for Schwartz, he ordered a monument from England and erected it in the wall opposite to the altar. This monument depicts him as laying his left hand – representing heart – on the heart of Schwartz. It states that Schwartz’s ministry resembled that of the “first preachers of the Gospel.” He possessed the “simple sanctity of the apostolic character.” Additionally, his “natural vivacity won the affection [… and] reverence of the Christian, Mahomedan [sic! = Muslims], and Hindu.” Serjofee reiterated that “sovereign princes, Hindu and Mahomedan selected this humble pastor as the medium of political negotiation with the British Government.”

Besides the Christ Church in Tiruccirāppaḷḷi and the Christ Church in Tanjore, Schwartz is celebrated as the one who dedicated the Clarinda Church (23 August 1785) in Pālayamkōṭṭai. Captain Harry Lyttelton saved a Brahmin widow from being burnt alive with her dead husband on a funeral pyre in Tanjore. He also taught her the basics of Christianity, i.e., Anglicanism. She approached Schwartz for baptism; but Schwartz declined to baptize her because she was not married to Harry Lyttelton, but lived with him. When Lyttelton was transferred to the British Garrison in Pālayamkōṭṭai, she went with him. It seems that he gave her this name Kuḷōrintāḷ (i.e., in anglicized form Clarinda). Shortly thereafter he died. Schwartz baptized her (3 March 1778) in Pālayamkōṭṭai. Then, she gathered a group of Christian converts from diverse caste backgrounds, founded a congregation, and invited Schwartz to dedicate her new building. Nowadays, this little church stands as the Mother Church for all Protestant Christians in Tirunelvēli in general. It belongs to the Diocese of Tirunelvēli, Church of South India. Its Lutheran heritage is no longer evident; instead, it reflects the Anglican piety of Protestant Christians in Tirunelvēli.

Lutheran-Anglican tensions, especially about caste and Anglican rites

The English Wars with Denmark, as part of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), directly affected the history of the Danish colony of the far away Tranquebar. British armies occupied Tranquebar twice (1801/2 and 1808–June 1815). The British, either willingly or unwillingly, represented Anglicanism in Tranquebar or worshipped in the Zion Church. As mentioned earlier, this period marked the establishment of the Anglican Bishopric in Kolkata (1814). The provision of the Pious Clause in the Charter of the English East India Company in 1813 allowing the Anglicans to work in its territories in India and its expansion of 1833 permitting representatives of all Protestant mission agencies from Europe and North America changed the landscape of Christians in India. The Leipzig Mission Society, founded in Dresden in 1836 (known since 1848 as Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission), inherited the Lutheran congregations and properties in Tranquebar and other places. However, several congregations in Tranquebar, Tanjore, Tiruccirāppaḷḷi, Cuddalore, Chennai, Pālayamkōṭṭai and Kolkata, where Anglican missionaries were working, remained firmly in the hands of the Anglicans. The Lutheran origins of these congregations found the Anglican Church polity difficult. The Lutherans, following the teachings of Karl Graul (1814–1864), their Director in Germany, viewed caste as an essential social institution that conferred dignity, safety and care for the people. By contrast, the Anglican missionaries, especially in the persons of Robert Caldwell (1814–1891) and George Uglow Pope (1820–1920), opposed the Lutherans. They opined that caste, which separated people from fellow people and placed them in a socio-religious hierarchy of birth and ritual purity, was incompatible with the egalitarian spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1853, Pope, who served in Tanjore as the missionary of the High-Anglican Society for Propagating the Gospel, attacked the Lutherans with his booklet entitled The Lutheran Aggression: A Letter to the Tranquebar Missionaries regarding their Position, their Proceedings, and their Doctrine. Poet Vētanāyakam Cāstriyār (1774–1864), who studied under Christian Friedrich Schwartz and appreciated the Lutheran ways of social life, opposed the move of the Anglicans, but failed in the end. The leading Lutheran missionaries of that time (including Johann Heinrich Karl Cordes, 1813–1892) published their counter argument entitled The Evangelical Lutheran Missionaries; Defence of their Position, their Proceedings and their Doctrine (1853). However, these arguments did not produce any lasting cooperation between the two denominational bodies of Christians.

The bishops of the Anglican Bishopric in Kolkata and their chaplains working in the Tamil country were unsympathetic towards Protestant Christians observing caste distinctions. Similarly, they were unhappy with those Lutheran congregations, earlier supported by the SPCK, not following the Anglican rite of worship. After the Danish Government had sold their colonies to the British in 1845, the desire for uniform observance of Anglican polity in India grew; but the European and Tamil Lutherans were unwilling to follow it. For example, in August 1853, J.M.N. Schwarz of the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission reported the following: since 1746, Geister in Chennai tried to replace the Lutheran rites with the Anglican ones in Chennai. Likewise, Fabricus, Rottler, and Kiernander tried to follow the Anglican rites, but their love for the Lutheran rites persevered. Even in 1816, the Clarinda Church in Pālayamkōṭṭai followed the Lutheran ways of worship. James Hough, the Anglican Chaplain, who went to Pālayamkōṭṭai in 1816, wanted to send them the Book of Common Prayer for worship. These and other tensions between the Anglicans and the Lutherans continued to exist well into the history of the 19th century.

Theological reflections

The dawn of Lutheranism in Tranquebar opened a new chapter in the history of Christianity in India. It offered the Tamils an alternative way of organizing their life and negotiating meaning for their existence, growth, and flourishing. As they embraced the Lutheran faith, as introduced to them by the German Pietists, did not erase their pre-Christian identities as Tamils and inheritors of a proud literary and cultural heritage. They found in Lutheranism an affirmation of their individual personhood, freedom to make informed choices of their linking, and dignity of work. Their congregations provided them a sense of family that was not biological, but remained faith-based. They and their children aspired, hoped and worked towards a better future, especially in a society that was saturated with the practice of caste-based untouchability and discrimination. This inherent policy of segregation kept a large section of the Indian society away from privileges, opportunities and rights for self-affirmation, social upward mobility, and human flourishing. Ziegenbalg, for example, understood his mission practice as a ‘service to the soul’ and a ‘service to the body.’ He insisted that these two aspects of a missionary enterprise should stay and operate together for the overall benefit of its recipients.

These Lutherans perceived their Lutheran notions of identity, biblical knowledge and social development through their pre-Christian socio-cultural lenses. They appreciated the distinctiveness of Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection, broke the cycle of endless births and deaths and offered forgiveness for sins and a promise of a better future. The Lutherans read the Bible in their mother tongues (Tamil or Telugu) and derived guidelines for their belief and life.

Mission that creates friendships and relationships in a particular place has transcontinental implications: what began as a domestic unrest in the royal house of Denmark moved the German Lutheran Pietists in Berlin, involved the Anglicans associated with the SPCK, and impacted the Tamil Lutheran converts in several parts of India. This ecumenical interdependence included mutual responsibility in theology, biblical exegesis, educational policies, and worship patterns. Friends and like-minded people in Denmark, Germany, England and India made this ecumenical experiment to succeed. They looked beyond their confessional and institutional loyalties and concentrated their efforts on the tangible missionary work among the people, to whom it really mattered.

When a particular group like the Anglicans in India became politically dominant, it was evident that they wanted to dominate other politically less powerful groups such as the Lutherans. Every attempt to coerce change backfires and old customs, especially memories and emotions attached to them, persist for a long time. Imposing doctrinal and ecclesiastical divisions of Europeans on Indians, who did not experience the ravages of the interdenominational (e.g., Roman Catholic Christians vs Protestant Christians in Europe) and inter-confessional (e.g., the Lutherans vs the Reformed) wars, confused, weakened and disempowered Indian converts. These divisions may have been a political necessity in Europe, where Christians were a majority. By contrast, they amounted to scandals in India, where Christians constituted a negligible minority. Only friends who realized the importance of cooperation in mission field could promote theological conversations in safe ecumenical contexts at local, national and international levels. The Decennial Mission Conferences of 19th century (1873 in Allahabad, 1883 in Kolkata, 1893 in Mumbai and 1902 in Chennai) facilitated these conversations. Theological issues played a decisive role. Leaders tended to link them with the politics of the land. Sometimes they interpreted them through the lenses of moveable (i.e., income in cash or goods or investments) and immovable assets (i.e., ownership of lands, buildings, schools, and similar institutions). At times, leaders, supported by a large number of followers, became powerful heroes. In these situations, theology mixed with non-theological factors and made cooperation difficult and nearly impossible.

In spite of these hurdles and challenges, the missionaries in Tranquebar, with the help of their Tamil partners, produced valuable treatises on Tamil grammar, literature, cultures, religions, and places. These reports preserve unique sets of cultural memories that are not found anywhere else.

The missionaries used affirmative and combative approaches towards the people of other religions. Mostly, they admired the moral sensitivity and achievements of the Tamils; but they admitted the most important problem had to do with the Tamil people, who rejected European expressions of Christianity. At the same time, their determination to discover the sources of Indian religious systems enabled fellow Indians to revisit their ancestral religions and to improve them. For example, they applied Christian methods of interpreting ancient texts. In this process, the non-Christians of India began to appreciate their own heritage through study, documentation and preservations. The more Tamils discovered Christianity as a system of beliefs and practices that either confirm or oppose their Bible, they more they discovered and consciously promoted their own ancestral religious, cultural and social heritages. In other words, the missionaries contributed to the indigenous discovery of their own living contexts.


The Dutch missionary engagements (e.g., by Abraham Roger and Philippus Baldaeus) marked the first Protestant presence among the Tamils in seventeenth century South India. The small congregations that they had established in places like Paavērkāu near Chennai and Nākapaṭṭiam on the Coromandel Coast soon disintegrated. By contrast, the congregations established by the German Lutheran Pietist missionaries in Tranquebar and other places remain to this day. In the course of 320 years, they interacted with the Anglicans. Lutherans and Anglicans had two distinct types of theologies, church polity, and identities. Until the English had gained political supremacy in India, both groups worked together. When the British Parliament permitted the East India Company to allow first British missionaries (since 1813) and then missionaries from diverse European and North American denominations (since 1833), both the Anglicans and the Lutherans became more self-conscious about the specificity of their own theologies, church polities and identities. Cooperation became competition between two politically unequal partners; the more powerful group, namely the Anglicans, asserted their power over the Lutherans. The foundations, which the German Lutheran Pietist missionaries and their Indian partners laid in major centers of influence along the east coast of India from Tranquebar and Pālayamkōṭṭai in the south and Kolkata in the north, remained strong. Missionaries of other Protestant Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, interacted with the missionary methods of the Lutherans and refined their own. The Lutheran-Anglican engagements that started in the beginning of 18th century India, United Kingdom, and Germany continue in different ways.

Suggested readings

Fenger, J.F.: History of the Tranquebar Mission, Tranquebar: Evangelical Lutheran Mission Press, 1863.

Fihl, Esther and A.R. Venkatachalapathy (eds.): Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling Across Cultural Borders in South India, New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2014.

Frankesche Stiftungen zu Halle (Saale): Datenbank zu den Einzelhandchriften in den historischen Archivabteilungen, availabl online at

Iversen, Hans Raun and George Oommen (eds.): It began in Copenhagen: Junctions in 300 years of Indian-Danish Relations in Christian Mission, Delhi: ISPCK, 2005.

Jeyaraj, Daniel: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg: the Father of Modern Protestant Mission, New Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006.

-----: “Protestant Missionary Work in India, particularly in Calcutta before the arrival of William Carey, ” Mission in the past and present: Challenges and perspectives, ed. Samson Prabhakar, Bangalore, Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College and South Asia Theological Research Institute, 2006, pp. 1–30.

-----: “Mission Reports from South India and Their Impact on the Western Mind: Tranquebar Mission of the Eighteenth Century,” Converting Colonialism: Visions and Realities in Mission History, 1706–1914, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008, pp. 21–42.

Lehmann, A.: It began in Tranquebar, Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1956.

Liebau, H., et. al (eds.): Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India, 3 Vols, Halle: Verlag der Franckeschen Stiftungen, 2006.

Nørgaard, A.: Mission und Obrigkeit: Die Dänish-hallesche Mission in Tranquebar 1706–1845, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn, 1988.

O’Connor, Daniel: The Chaplains of the East India Company, 1601–1858, London: Continuum, 2011.

The History of Parliament: British Political, Social and Local History, available online at http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/



Daniel Jeyaraj

Daniel Jeyaraj



Revd Johnson Jesudoss (31/05/2017 at 18:37)
Church of South India
Well written article. Congratulations to Revd Dr Daniel Jeyaraj for his scholarly contribution to the history of Christianity in India. Wish him God's Providence to write many articles on the history of Indian missions.
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