The King’s Spiritual Perception
The king expressed himself in words and thoughts Phaulkon never expected to hear from an Eastern monarch. King Narai earnestly desired to know the ways of Western thought. He questioned why the King of France took an interest in matters that should only belong to the gods. “It appears,” he said, “that a Divine God has given us the right to choose as we please. The animal world itself has its own ways of living, and so do the flowers and plants have their own way of showing beauty and glory. Should one flower brag to another that its beauty and glory is truer? Must we not believe the Divine God is just as pleased to be worshipped by different peoples of different traditions and ceremonies, and to be praised by all the inhabitants of the earth in their own manner?”
Phaulkon could only listen. He realized now as never before how deep a thinker King Narai was. King Narai was an intellectual who had questions that needed intellectual answers which, during his time, not many people in the kingdom could give-Phaulkon excluded.
“I explicitly desire for you to inform the French ambassador,” began the king, “that I will omit nothing in my power to preserve the royal friendship of the most Christian king, or should I say ‘Catholic king’? You will have to teach me the difference of such terms one day.”
Phaulkon assured the king he would inform the French ambassador the matters just discussed. “I know not how he will react,” he said and grinned, “but I can imagine, knowing the Catholics, he will let it be known that there is indeed a big difference between man and beast; between reasoning and instinct.” Phaulkon was getting to the soul of the matter and the king listened with keen interest. These were the very things, in western thought, that puzzled King Narai for so long.
Phaulkon continued, “I do believe, Your Majesty, since God gave man the power of reasoning, it is only logical and an act of appreciation, and I might even add-obligation, that man must use his reasoning first and foremost in knowing his creator before proceeding with other duties in life.”
The king pondered his words and Phaulkon continued. He explained that it was fact chat different people praised God in different ways, according to the traditions of their ancestors, but only God alone can dictate how to be worshipped, according to his divine pleasure.
Phaulkon could see the king was somewhat skeptical. He gave an example: “In like manner, Your Majesty’s officers all claim to be your subjects, and all adhere to Your Majesty’s interests, but not all are sincere. Likewise, all men indeed claim to adhere to God, but not all are sincere. Some men, like beasts, live according to their unruly passions, professing their belief in God but without examining his teaching. Others, seeing themselves so far raised above the beasts, they use their power of reason to seek their own glory rather than seek out the glory of the God who made them, that they may worship Him according to His desire and will. And to this sincere quest God has attached the salvation of man. It follows then, Your Majesty, which is what I believe, that the negligence of such a quest in seeking God’s will makes man guilty in the eyes of Him who is the supreme God.”
The king praised Phaulkon for his fine spiritual discourse on God. He told Phaulkon how he enjoyed these discussions, and the probing of man’s mind, but it was a heavy subject and his own mind was getting tired and he needed to retire. The fact was, even Phaulkon surprised himself, that he was able to discuss these religious matters with the king, aware that he was not much of a spiritual man himself before he began reading the Greek Bible.
The Undiplomatic Ambassador’s Persistence
One afternoon Phaulkon escorted Chaumont and his embassy to a site where a new hospital and school were under construction. The architects were French missionaries and missionaries were doing the construction. Phaulkon asked the foreman how long it would take to complete the project. He replied it depended upon how many workers they had. It was missionaries who had volunteered to help.
As they walked past a Buddhist temple, Phaulkon went inside and entered the monk’s quarters. He went alone while Chaumont and the others waited outside as they considered it a sin to enter a pagan temple. Phaulkon politely told the monks about the new project and informed them their help would be appreciated.
As they continued their tour, Chaumont asked Phaulkon about the memorandum that he wrote to the king. Phaulkon said that for the first time he and the king had a religious discussion. He explained he had to be careful not to lead the king into avenues he was not familiar with as the king has a very sharp and inquisitive mind.
Chaumont commented that if Phaulkon had enough sleep, his mind then might be well enough rested to convert the king. “I have heard from Father Thomas that you have been staying up nights reading the Bible,” he said. He reminded Phaulkon that in years past, reading the Bible was punishable by death. He told Phaulkon to get rid of the Bible as it is only confusing him, that he was not capable of understanding it. “It’s not a matter of intellect but one of divine spirit.” He further reminded Phaulkon that if there was something he needed to know about the teachings of the Catholic Church, he must consult him, Father Thomas, or other Catholic missionaries. He then asked how much more time was needed before the king was ready for baptism.
Phaulkon admitted that he didn’t know. “Why does time matter?” he asked after a moment of reflection. “You say the king’s conversion is important. That may be true, but why the urgency? Why do we have to attach a time ultimatum to it?”
“Why? Because I cannot wait forever in this savage land,” he replied sharply with malice. “I have been here months, and I am sick of rice, and the smell of these strange odors everywhere I go! Besides, there are more important things to do back in France. So, my prince, I am commanding you, on behalf of King Louis XIV, press harder for the king’s conversion. If you do not succeed, I will return and regretfully report to the king our failure, in which case Siam will no longer have France’s backing. I trust you understand.”
Phaulkon was aware of the delicate position he was in. The ambassador’s comments aroused in him a desire to speak his mind, but he knew that would be fatal. He had to bear in mind that he could become disgruntled with such obstinacy. He made a suggestion, remembering what Marie had told him. If the king was agreeable, perhaps he, Chaumont, could conduct the discussions himself. Chaumont was delighted. “Marvelous!” he sang. “That means I don’t have to wait long in this heathen land.”
When Phaulkon returned home he asked Marie if she knew how Father Thomas knew about his obtaining the Bible. He explained to her he could be excommunicated for his merely reading the Bible. Marie answered in wonder, “Constantine, how can they do this to you? Without you they wouldn’t be here. You support the Christian faith more than anyone else. I was only sharing my concern with Father Thomas about your lack of sleep with all the pressures facing you.” She explained to Phaulkon the best she could that she had confided in the priest simply to express how deeply worried she was about her husband, and she didn’t know how she could help matters.
“Just trust me, my sweet,” Phaulkon said. “I know what to do. The fate of Siam rests upon me. Believe in me as you always have. That’s all the help I need and only you can give that. Have I ever failed you?” They held each other and Phaulkon fell asleep in her arms.
Finally, an English Bible
Phaulkon was pleased with the Greek Bible, and he took great delight in reading scriptures to Marie. He might have continued to be satisfied with the Greek Bible but then one day a package arrived from Captain Hollingsworth in England. He quickly opened it to find books on poetry and current literary writings from noted English writers, and there were newspaper clippings, general topics about happenings in England. Phaulkon loved these packets from the captain for they brought him up to date as to what was happening in England. But then, as he began scrutinizing the newspaper he found at the bottom of the pile a book with the cover removed, he took it in his hands and opened it to the first page. It was a Bible, an English Bible. He immediately called Marie. “Look what I have for you,” he said. ”A present from my dear friend in England, Captain Hollingsworth.” Marie was thrilled.
“Now I have my own Bible to read,” she sang with delight. But before giving the book to Marie he took it to his study and began reading it at length. How strange. It had been translated from the Greek text but not all of it was the same. He found discrepancies that came as a revelation. The church teaches that Jesus Christ is God. But he is the Son of God, not God. Why would Jesus be praying to God if he was God? It was clearly recorded that Jesus was always praying. To himself? And the cross, Jesus wasn’t nailed to a cross. He was nailed to a torture stake. The Bible said so. And why did they cut out God’s name, Jehovah, and call Him ‘Lord’ instead? Why? Why? He soon realized why the church didn’t want the Bible to be read by the common people. They had interpreted the scripture to their own liking, to serve their own purpose. He had much to discuss with the king now.