HL Deb 08 May 1866 vol 183 cc564-6

said, that seeing the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in his place, he would take the opportunity of making an inquiry on a subject not pressing immediately on any National interest, but which was of a certain degree of importance in a religious and social sense. Their Lordships were aware that in the kingdom of Persia there was a considerable body of Christians, established there from the earliest period, under the name of Nestorians, probably deriving their name from Bishop Nestorians, who flourished some time in the 5th century, and who was Bishop of Constantinople, and who, in his early days, was a vigorous persecutor of Christians, and ended by becoming a vigorous upholder of Christianity. These Nestorians were remarkable, as he understood, for the purity of their Christian faith and the simplicity of their character; and if anything were wanting to satisfy their Lordships that they were right-minded in that respect, it would be the fact that the Nestorians had suffered a good deal of persecution partly from the Mussulmans, and partly, he was sorry to say, from fellow-Christians of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who were anxious to bring them over to the See of Rome, and, not succeeding in that object except to a limited extent, had set up the Persian and Mussulman population against them. It appeared that lately, from advices from this country, proceeding, perhaps, from the Office over which the noble Earl presided, and very much to his credit in that case, the present monarch of Persia had not only ceased all persecution of the Nestorians, but had offered them protection, and had also given them a site for the erection of a church in the part of the country where they lived, and had himself given a most remarkable example by presenting a sum of £100 towards the erection of the church. He (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) had been at Constantinople, and had witnessed the progress of Liberal ideas there and in the East, but this surpassed anything he had the good fortune to see in that quarter. Under these circumstances, it would be satisfactory to find that the Government had received information similar to that which had reached him from what he believed to be a very authentic source; and in that case it would be a still greater satisfaction to find that Her Majesty's Government viewed the circumstances in the same light as he did, and were disposed to give some evidence of their appreciation of the Shah's conduct on this occasion, and some encouragement to the prosecution of Liberal ideas so favourable to Christians and to the common interest to persons connected with the East. The Question he wished to put to his noble Friend was, Whether the information received by the noble Earl was similar to that which he had received himself; and whether the Government had taken any step, or had in contemplation to take any step, which would show that they appreciated the Shah's conduct in giving protection and encouragement to these people?


In answer to my noble Friend's inquiry, I can merely give a confirmation of the statement he has made, In the first place, I believe the Nestorians in Persia were established at an earlier date than that mentioned by my noble Friend, and that their rites and doctrines so very much correspond with our own that they have been called the Protestants of Asia. They have been subject to the greatest oppression, not only from those amongst whom they live, but by the Mahomedans who have been placed over them as rulers. These continued oppressions having come from a variety of sources to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, Mr. Alison, our Minister in Persia, was directed to bring the whole subject under the consideration of the Persian Government. Mr. Alison had also suggested that it was very desirable that they should cease to be governed by a Mahomedan Prince, and that a Christian ruler should be placed over them. This suggestion was approved, and he was desired to bring it before the Persian Government; and after communicating with the Persian Prime Minister he communicated direct with the' Shah, The Shah not only agreed that a Christian ruler should be placed over the Nestorians, and gave them a site for the building of a church, but he did what my noble Friend has described as an unprecedented example—he subscribed £100 towards the building of the church. As soon as these circumstances came to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, Mr. Alison was desired to return their warmest thanks to the Shah; and they also desired him to subscribe £80 towards the building of the church. I have also the satisfaction of stating almost all sects joined with Mr. Alison in the subscription. The matter having been brought to Her Majesty's knowledge, Her Majesty desired that Mr. Alison should seek an audience with the Shah to express in her name the interest she took in these Christians and her warm acknowledgment for the Shah's valuable assistance and the protection he had extended to the Nestorians. The Christian ruler, a man of high rank, has since been appointed; and although my noble Friend will understand there is some difficulty in establishing the state of things he desires, I think there is every reason to hope that this sect will henceforth be free from persecution. I cannot conclude without bearing my testimony to the great tact, judgment, and ability which have been exhibited throughout an affair (which I am sure my noble Friend will understand could not have been brought to this satisfactory issue without some difficulty) by Her Majesty's representative in Persia.


said, he had received letters confirming the statements which had been made; and only to-day he had seen a gentleman who stated that this was a legitimate occasion for promoting the Christian religion in the East, He should like to point out to his noble Friend the circumstance that the Secretary to the Foreign Minister of the Shah gave £50 as a precedent which was worthy of imitation.


said, he desired to offer a single word in correction of what had fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office. He unfeignedly rejoiced at the protection which had been extended towards these our brother Christians, and at all the good that might come from that protection; but if the right rev. Bench were to sit perfectly still under the statement that in all its particulars the Nestorian doctrine agreed with the doctrine of the Church of England, that would give a great shock to many Christians in this country. That was not the case. The Church of England agreed with these people in protesting against the assumption and aggression of the Church of Rome, but did not agree with them in all matters of doctrine—which constituted the Nestorians a separate sect.