Schwartz, Christian Friedrich - Founder
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Born at Sonnenburg, Prussia, Schwartz was trained in Halle like his predecessor Benjamin Schultze, was ordained in Copenhagen in 1749, and arrived in India in 1750. He served for 11 years at Tranquebar, where he mastered Tamil, Portuguese, and English. In 1762 he followed some Indian converts to Tiruchirapalli, an important fort-town ruled by the nawab (prince) of Arcot, where he ministered not only to Indian Christians of the Tranquebar mission but also to Hindus and soldiers of the English garrison. He learned Urdu in order to converse with Muslims, in particular, the representatives of the ruling prince. Visitors reported that he did the work of several missionaries.
Along with his untiring zeal as an evangelist and his deep understanding of Indian character, Schwartz displayed a saintly disposition and integrity that go far to account for his extraordinary influence. It has been rightly said that “he retrieved the character of Europeans from imputations of general depravity.” His ecumenical spirit, which led him to accept an appointment as chaplain to the British community in Tiruchirapalli, was another important factor. But he never neglected his duties as a missionary to non-Christians or abandoned his loyalty as a Lutheran.
Another remarkable aspect of Schwartz’s ministry was his involvement in politics. After he had moved to the town of Tanjore, he quickly gained the confidence of the Hindu rajah, who on his deathbed appointed Schwartz guardian and trustee of his young heir. Although Schwartz declined, he later assisted the young prince. He also tried to be of use to the British, who on one occasion sent him as a special envoy of peace to Haider Ali, the despot of Mysore. Schwartz returned with respect for the Muslim ruler but complained of the insincerity and avarice of the British.
Finally, Schwartz contributed significantly to the strengthening of an indigenous church in India. He made every effort to find and train young Indians for the ministry, often supporting them from his own pocket. He also encouraged the spontaneous expansion of small groups of Christians, such as those discovered during a visit to Palamcottah in 1778, the nucleus of what later became the large and vigorous Tinnevelly church. He was also responsible for the education of Vedanayagam, son of a catechist who trained under Schwartz; Vedanayagam was to become one of the greatest Tamil poets and hymn composers. Schwartz died in Tanjore.
Hans-Werner Gensichen, “Schwartz, Christian Friedrich,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 606-607.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.