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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
This word is employed in modern language to designate such individuals as have abandoned their faith and embraced another, and who, in general, devote all their energy to the expansion of their new creed. The endeavor to gain others to one's own convictions. either by licit or illicit means, is called proselytism. Biblical representatives of this unfair system are the Pharisees. to whom Christ said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." Every religion that believes in itself must feel impelled to propagate its creed; the followers of a doctrine to whom it is indifferent whether the number of those who share it with them increases or decreases have no true faith. The Christians are especially active in winning converts to their religion, but this spirit is due entirely not to a selfish desire to enlarge their borders and increase their numbers, but to give to all the world the great truths to establish which Christ came into the world in the form of man and suffered death upon the cross. It is, moreover, because of the direct command given by the Saviour of mankind that Christians feel impelled to make converts of all non-believers. (See CHRISTIANITY); (See MISSIONS).
A very different thing it is, however, for anybody, or for bodies of men, to force conversion upon their fellows. The Jews were the chosen people of God. They had a right to consider themselves the armor-bearers of divine truth, and if they felt impelled to carry "the law and the prophets" to the strangers (גֵּרַים ), it was only a reasonable consequence of the divine revelation which they had enjoyed. But it was by the fair means employed that they could best indicate the moral sublimity of divine teachings over philosophic schemes and heathenish systems of religion. When, therefore, the Jews, after the establishment of Maccaboean rule, conpelled, under Hyrcanus, the Idumeans, and, under Aristobulus, the Iturians, no embrace the Jewish faith and to subject themselves to circumcision, there was an adoption of measures for which the Old-Test. dispensation furnished no warrant; and though it may be conceded that their object was probably to advance the interests of true religion, they yet, by the adoption of unauthorized measures, evinced an unrighteous zeal which must have been underlaid by a selfish purpose. Thus the Roman Catholics have constantly striven for the propagation of the Christian faith by measures wholly unwarranted and not in uniformity with the lofty state of its ethics.
The Jesuit Sambuga says, in defence of the Jesuitic proselytism: "The mania of proselytism in priests is no mania, but a holy zeal." The prince- cardinial von Hohenlohe approves of this defence in his Lichtblicke und E'rlebnlisse aus der Welt und desm Priester-leben (Ratisbon, 1836, 8vo), p. 39. But this defence is, after all, a simple Jesuitic sophism. The mania of proselytism is a mania, and because priests are subject to it, it does not become therefore a holy zeal; or else we must admit that anything done by avaricious and ambitious priests of all persuasions (Christians and pagans) was holy, or was the result of a holy zeal, and therefore not blameworthy, but, on the contrary, praiseworthy and commendable. When proselytes are gained in such a wily or violent manner as that resorted to by Jesuits; when the means employed are money and promotions on one side, threats and persecutions on the other, we perceive in it the evidence of a most, unholy zeal, against which the founder of Christianity pronounced his anathema in his condemnation of the priests of his time, the doctors of the law, and Pharisees. For this very reason Christ called them "children of hell." (See ROMANISM). It is a curious fact worth remembering that one of the main features of the times of the Messiah was to be, according to Jewish tradition, the utter abolition of proselytism, and the entire ceasing of all distinctions of an opprobrious nature among men. The evil repute into which the term proselyte had fallen in the times of Christ also caused the early converts to Christianity to adopt the name of Neophytes (newly planted) instead. (See NEOPHYTE). (J. H. W.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Proselytes'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/proselytes.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.