The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
The New Testament in Touch with the East
There are a few passages in the New Testament which seem to bear on the subject we have in hand. I propose to touch upon them in this chapter.
The visit of the Magi will at once occur to the mind of every Christian reader as having (or as being intended to have) some bearing on the relations of Christianity to the country or countries from which the Wise Men came. The account given in St. Matthew presents many difficulties owing to the apparent impossibility of giving a scientific explanation of the star which is said to have guided these Eastern sages to the cradle of the Infant Saviour, and many, even devout, Christians are disposed in consequence to treat the visit as unhistorical. We have not at the present day the evidence required to prove the historicity of the story, and it would not therefore be wise to lay too much stress on the account of the Gospel record. But certain deductions are evidently legitimate. It is quite clear that St. Matthew believed the story when he inserted it in the forefront of his narrative. Or, if it be maintained that the narrative forms no integral part of the original Gospel, it is evident that the later interpolator recognized the story as having some important bearing on the preaching of Christ in the Orient. St. Matthew's Gospel—thanks, it may be, to the Jews of the Dispersion, for whom he wrote quite as much
as for the Jews of Palestine, early met with favour in the remote countries where the Mahāyāna took its birth. Pantænus of Alexandria 1 found it in India when he went to that country as a Christian missionary at the end of the second century, and the story of the visit of the Magian pilgrims to Bethlehem evidently had a vogue of its own in Central Asia. An expanded version of the story has but recently been recovered from a sand-buried ruin in Turkestan, and given to the world of students. 2 It is true, it may be argued, that the Magi were Parthians, and that the Parthians have had but little proveable connection with Indian forms of religion; 3 but we know that there were Parthian Buddhists, and must remember that, besides the great Parthian Empire with which the Romans of the period so often came into conflict, there were at the time the Indo-Parthian satrapies in the Indus Valley, which were almost as good as independent sovereignties, and in parts of which the followers of Zoroaster lived side by side with those of S’akyamuni.
The second point is evidently the selection of
[paragraph continues] Capernaum as the centre of our Lord's ministerial activity. "Galilee of the Gentiles" was a country with a mixed population. It lay on, or near, some of the greater trade-routes between Rome and the unknown Orient; it must have been constantly visited by strange figures from the lands of Asia. The custom-house at Capernaum must have been frequently called upon to appraise, and to pass through, bales of precious merchandise from Persia, India, and beyond, and he who, before his vocation to be an evangelist, had served as head of that establishment must have had many opportunities of making the acquaintance of travellers front distant countries. The silk trade between Asia and Europe was in the vigour of its early development. Varro is the first Roman writer to mention the subject. As’vaghosha, 1 the first great teacher and inspirer of the Mahāyāna, is honoured in Japan as the patron saint of the silkworm culture, and it was the Jews 2 who were the active promoters of this trade all along the lines of the trade routes from Antioch and Alexandria to their outpost colony in Kaifongfu, 3 in the province of Honan. It is evident that the tradal affinities of Galilee of the Gentiles lay much more with the East than the West, and the personal influence of the evangelist who sat at the receipt of customs at Capernaum must have tended to spread the gospel he was commissioned to preach amongst the Jews of Babylonian, Indian, and Central Asian Dispersions, and, through them, to the heathen amongst whom they dwelt.
I find a third point of possible contact in St. John xii. 20. We are there told that the Feast of the Passover at Jerusalem was visited not only by Jews, but also by Greeks (Ἕλληνες, not Ἑλληνισταί), 1 and that, on the occasion of the great Passover which saw the consummation of Christ's work, some of these Greeks came to Philip with the request that they might see Jesus. We are not told that Jesus saw them, but St. John tells us how Jesus recognized in the coming of these Gentile inquirers a sign that His work was drawing near to its accomplishment. "The time has come," He said, "for the Son of Man to be glorified. In most solemn truth I tell you that unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains what it was—a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.… Now is My soul troubled.… Father, save Me from this hour.… Father, glorify Thy Name.…" Then followed a voice from heaven, which they that heard it failed to comprehend. "It is not for My sake," said Jesus, "that the voice came, but for yours. Now is the judgment of this world: now will the prince of this world be driven out.… And I—if I am lifted up from the earth—shall draw all men to Me."
Who were these Greeks, and where did they come from? After Pentecost, and still more so after the subsequent dispersion of the Apostles and the recognition of St. Paul as the Apostle of the Græco-Roman world, the gospel of Christ spread rapidly throughout the bounds of the Roman Empire. Nay, it is clear that the zeal of unofficial preachers of Christ outran the slower movements of the authorized evangelists, and that the good news reached the extreme West, Spain, Gaul, and Britain, long before the arrival of Christian missionaries. 2
[paragraph continues] But there is no trace or sign of any interest taken in Christ, during His earthly life, by any European Greek. The centurions mentioned in the Gospels and Acts were Romans, not Greeks, and the Greek influence exercised in Palestine through Herodians and Sadducees was notoriously and actively opposed to Christ's claims and teachings. It is evident that the Greeks of whom St. John tells us were of a different kind from the friends and abettors of Herod.
We will call to mind the statement made by Irenæus 1 that the Gospel of St. John was written for the purpose of combating the heresy of the Nicolaitans, and we will anticipate matters a little by stating that there is very good reason for believing that the Nicolaitans professed a form of Buddhism almost identical with the still-existing Shingon sect of Japan, a sect which pins all its faith on the mercies of an abstract and eternal Buddha of the name of Vairoc’ana, and which, significantly enough, gives to S’akyamuni the title of the "Lord of this World." 2 We will also remind ourselves of the fact that there existed an Asiatic colony of Greeks 3 in the valley of the Indus,
who professed Buddhism as their religion, and who were still under the rule of their own Greek princelets during the time of Christ's earthly life.
It is quite clear to all students of the history of North-West India and the lands around the Hindu Kush that things were in a state of religious ferment at the period of which we are speaking. Some change was imminent. The Mahāyāna was approaching the end of its period of gestation; the vague prophecies of a teacher to come had filled men's minds with anticipation. The Greeks of Asia had felt it; they had also heard, from the hearsay stories of caravan travellers, of the great Teacher who had appeared ill the neighbourhood of the Sea of Galilee, and some of them went to the Passover at Jerusalem, "desiring to see Jesus," not from any idle curiosity, but because they had been taught to look for some such solution of their difficulties.
And Christ recognized the significance of their appeal. There was nothing yet to differentiate Him front him whom the East worshipped as the "Lord of this Saba-world," but He knew the lurking potentiality. His death, His uplifting, would give Him the magnetic power He needed. He would then begin to draw all men to Himself.
Two further points of contact between the infant Church of Christ and the East will be found in the Acts of the Apostles.
Men from many lands heard St. Peter's first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost. If the Acts are a genuine record of facts, Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, as well as Jews of Libya and Cyrene, and proselytes from Rome, listened to that great announcement of the gospel of Christ. It is hard to believe that the men who heard and believed, and were pricked to the heart by what they
heard, should not have told their fellow-townsmen of the great events that they had witnessed at Jerusalem. There is also something peculiarly significant in the selection of Antioch as the headquarters of Gentile Christianity. No town, not even Alexandria, was more advantageously situated in this respect than Antioch. I shall reserve to the next chapter what I have to say about these two great cities.
I find one more point of contact with the Far East in the Book of the Revelation, in the vision of the man with the bow, who rides on a white horse and goes forth conquering and to conquer. Again I must content myself here with a bare mention of the fact. It will require a chapter to itself if the point is to be so put as to carry conviction to the mind of the reader, to whom it may possibly come with a shock of surprised horror.
52:1 Cf. Eusebius, "Eccl. Hist.," V.
52:2 By Dr. Müller in the Transactions of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde.
52:3 Amongst the Sūtras translated into Chinese by the batch of Buddhist missionaries who arrived at Lōyang in A.D. 147 is one on Astrology, of which an English translation was given in the Contemporary Review for February, 1876 (vol. xxvii. pp. 417–424), by the late Prof. Childers. It is directed against the practice of astrology as a useless and misleading superstition, and shows how foolish it is to suppose that the stars can possibly have any influence on the welfare or happiness of man. This would seem to show that the particular form of Buddhism preached by these men (which seems to have been a kind of undeveloped Amidaism) was strenuously opposed to fortune telling and astrology. Nevertheless, it will be seen, there were some sects of Buddhism which allowed their followers to have recourse to the soothsayer. There are such in Japan to-day. But see what I have to say in my chapter on the Han translators.
53:1 "Bukkyō Mondō Shū," p. 33 ff.
53:2 I believe it is Dr. Graetz, in his "Geschichte der Juden," who brings out this point. The Jewish Diaspora must have been a great means of spreading a knowledge of Christ in remote regions. Think how Arab traders carry Mahometanism in Africa.
53:3 This little colony of Chinese Jews still exists, though on the verge of extinction.
54:1 The Hellenists (Acts vi.) were Jews who spoke Greek; the Hellenes were Gentiles not in connection with either Judaism or Christianity.
54:2 See J. W. Taylor, "The Coming of the Saints."
55:1 See Irenæus, "Adv. Hær.," iii. xi.
55:2 The Japanese Shingon hold that S’akyamuni was only a partial manifestation of Vairoc’ana, and that his value as a teacher of religion is entirely confined to the things of this world. For all higher truths, they say, we must have recourse to the Supreme Buddha Vairoc’ana. See next chapter.
55:3 These Greek principalities were the remnants of the Greek kingdom of Bactria, established by Diodotus in B.C. 248, and recognized by Antiochus B.C. 208. It was divided in B.C. 175, Eucratides retaining Bactria, and Demetrius ruling in the Indus valley, which he had conquered. The Bactrian portion, broken into many principalities, was overrun by barbarians in B.C. 130, Hellocles being the last Greek ruler north of the Hindu Kush. The Greeks of the Indus valley continued to hold to their little principalities for two centuries longer, though much troubled by the Indo-Parthian sovereigns, who robbed them of much territory. The last Greek prince in India, Hermaios, finally succumbed to the Turkish or Scythian invader Kadphises I. about A.D. 50. See Smith, "Early History of India."