Guide Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East

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The word doctrina was used for a fuller exposition of the faith, quite often in the form of a series of questions and answers, that is, what is currently understood as a catechism I am grateful to Nicolas Standaert for his observations on this point. Sweet and edited by Leonard Zwilling, Mission to Tibet. The troubles of the society originally had a great deal to do with the negative reaction provoked by the experiments inaugurated by Ricci in China, and a few years later by Roberto Nobili in India.

In all these cases, it is worth noting the prevalence of a minority of well-educated, sophisticated Italian missionaries working in cutting-edge missions in the loose context of the Portuguese padroado, and the resentment created by this national and educational imbalance certainly contributed to the suspicion with which the more radical uses of accommodation were often assessed. But if national jealousies help explain the origins of the conflict in the mission field at the turn of the seventeenth century, one hundred years later the issue had become about hatred and suspicion of the Jesuits more generally, and the Roman authorities were increasingly unable to manage the conflict.

As I have argued elsewhere in relation to the interpre- tation of the evolution of the rites controversy, for a full assessment of the missions as a form of cultural encounter it is often crucial to distinguish two different logics, one that belonged to each particular mission field, and another that concerned its Euro- pean context of reception, propaganda, and conflict. The conflicts about rites in China and India were coming to a head precisely at the time when the clash about the jurisdiction of the Tibetan missions emerged. In fact, Tibet became like a secondary stage in a kind of vast chess game pitting the Jesuit order against a vast array of adversaries in Europe and overseas that included Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jansenists as well as, of course, many enemies outside the Catholic Church.

In Tibet, Desideri clashed 25 Luciano Petech, ed. Rome: Libreria dello Stato, —57 ; Michael J. Leonard Zwilling Boston: Wisdom, There was a previous English translation by Filippo de Filippi in , but this new version offers a superior text, a thorough introduction, and excellent annotation.

A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Interview with Ronnie Hsia

The contentious issue was simply about priority rights and the unwillingness of different orders to cooperate in the same fields of mission. Hence, we must resist the conclusion that the rites controversy was alone the key to the various conflicts experienced by the Society of Jesus. Rather, what is most symptomatic of the new epoch of Jesuit decline concerns the ecclesiastical con- text by which, decade after decade, the order created by Ignatius had been increas- ingly put on the defensive in Rome, despite its earlier missionary success, symbolized by the saintly status of Francis Xavier.


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In other words, beyond the issue of rites, there was a wider context of entrenched rivalry between orders and a widespread political suspicion of the Jesuits, which fed a fatally negative interaction within the Catholic Church. In this reading, Desideri was a pawn that the General of the Society, Michelangelo Tamburini, sent to Tibet in order to contest the Capuchin move, perhaps hoping that they would retreat, or maybe in order to facilitate other negotiations in the contested fields of India and China.

While Pomplun offers the traditional view expressed by Desideri in his writ- ings that Freyre simply failed in his missionary vocation in the face of the difficult cli- mate and living conditions he was used to the heat of North India and was hoping to get back , Michael Sweet has suggested that Freyre had secret instructions from his superiors in the Province to find the place where the Capuchins operated.

Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encountrer with the East – M. Laven

In this account, it was this plan that dragged Desideri to Lhasa, only to be left there all alone by Freyre, to fight the ground against the rival order. Desideri, in fact, was quite accommodating toward the Capuchins, suggesting that they could complement each other. To make things worse, however, at the point of his forced retreat Desideri was imbued with such a powerful sense of his personal voca- 27 In this division of opinion, Sweet and Zwilling seem to stand in the tradition of Henri Hos- ten and Petech in believing that Desideri received the instruction from Rome, as he eventually claimed.


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Pomplun, by contrast, seems to be the heir of Cornelius Wessels in his view that we do not really know whether he intended to open or perhaps reopen the Tibetan mission when he left Rome. The battle that ensued became bitter, but the pawn was nevertheless sacrificed. His personal calling to Tibet was in his mind noth- ing less than obeying what he understood to be the will of God, in effect reproducing one of the key psychological mechanisms of the Jesuit spiritual exercises.

The paradox was that, in the end, it became impossible to disentan- gle personal desires from selfless dedication to a divine cause. Indeed, where Hsia is historiographically austere, Pomp- lun is eager to situate his study at the heart of a number of controversies. Methodo- logically, he embraces the importance of images as part of the Jesuit training, in a way openly reminiscent of Jonathan Spence. In relation to existing controversies, he seeks to situate his study as a contribution to the analysis of cross-cultural dialogues, not only in relation to the meaning of accommodation but also concerning the extent to which Tibet became a myth in the Western imagination, very much in the wake of the work of Donald Lopez, whose thesis Pomplun seeks to vindicate.

It is a pity that this aspect is not discussed in the monograph, on the grounds that it belongs to a subsequent research project. It is also apparent that Desideri mainly learned about Madhyamaka philosophy, a tradition within Buddhism that by contrast with some Chinese and Japanese schools is particularly skeptical concerning the existence of intrinsic natures, and was rather dominant within the Geluk monasteries where he studied.

But, of course, he had no need to. While Confu- cianism might be interpreted however controversially as a civil moral philosophy, no compromise with Buddhism was possible, as it was perceived as both idolatrous and atheistic, hence inadmissible to Christians on two counts. The obvious analogies with Christianity in other matters were therefore not a bridge to build upon but, rather, a potential trap to be rejected. One must be careful for example, not to treat Athanasius Kircher as a normative figure within his order in this respect his views can be fruitfully con- trasted to those by Pierre-Daniel Huet, with whom father Jean Bouchet, whom Desi- deri knew in South India, had corresponded.

He very rightly notes that other orders practiced some forms of accommodation and following J. Cummins and other critics rejects the identifica- tion of the Jesuits as some sort of progressive rationalists battling against obscurantist friars.

Jesuits and China

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Browse titles authors subjects uniform titles series callnumbers dewey numbers starting from optional. See what's been added to the collection in the current 1 2 3 4 5 6 weeks months years. At a time when Western rulers vacillate in their attitudes towards ethnic minorities and flit between policies intended to encourage cultural diversity, it is particularly timely to consider how "our" European ancestors handled cultural difference, she argues, and it is in this context that she approaches Ricci in a different vein.

Since the mission has proved "a rich seam for intellectual historians", as Ricci was a "thoroughly intellectual man", Laven claims that a "more tangible history" grounded in China is needed, rooted in the objects, emotions and human relationships essential "to the everyday unfolding of the mission". For example, the book's first chapter, on the Jesuits' residence in Guangdong province from to , stresses the "interplay of curiosity and hostility that would come to mark the mission as a whole".

Later in the book, Laven's consideration of Ricci's first treatise in Chinese, On Friendship , leads to an analysis of the Jesuits' dependence on both patronage and strategic and functional friendship. Laven avoids the major themes of Ricci's apostolate by looking for alternative viewpoints. While recognising the central place of science in the Jesuit mission to China, she nevertheless focuses on the mathematical instruments and clocks displayed as ornaments by the Chinese, and the prisms valued as tools of alchemy.

Furthermore, the Jesuits' relationship with the Confucian literati is here overshadowed by their links with the court's eunuchs. In the book's final chapter, Ricci's catechism, "The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven", which targeted the educated elite by shaping doctrine through reason, here becomes a springboard from which to immerse the reader in the "marvels" and "miracles" of the evangelisation experience, especially the cases of female converts.

Although the "doggedly cerebral" Jesuits insisted on "the power of reason, books and science" to convert the Chinese literati, Laven contends, their mission to China went beyond reason. She emphasises how much more effective evangelisation could be when steeped in non-verbal communication by means of images, objects and rituals - something that is not difficult to understand, given that the Jesuit culture was rooted in emotive devotion.

Jesuits and China - Oxford Handbooks

However, it is by no means certain that notions of devotion and effectiveness were the same in China as in Europe. In sum, Laven artfully and playfully chooses topics that arouse the reader's curiosity, and makes interesting use of some of her sources.

But at times her either-or approach, for example seeing reason in opposition to emotion, risks undervaluing many preceding attempts to tackle a theme that can probably never be overstudied. Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.


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