The Chinese Rites Controversy
As a means of connecting the ideas we discussed in our workshop to the E.S.L. teaching issues which I have described, Dr. Woodbridge has encouraged me to examine the Chinese Rites Controversy, which occupied the attention of the Catholic church from 1643 to 1742. I will begin by outlining the history of that controversy, after which I will present the most important insights which I obtained from reading about it.
A. Background of the Chinese Rites Controversy
Traditionally, three religious "ways" have been practiced in China. Of these, Confucianism is more of a theory of social relationships and duties than a religious system. The Confucian "classics" were compiled by Kung-Fu-tze (Confucius, d. 479 b.c.), and were themselves for the most part a codification of older texts, some of great antiquity. Confucianism became the cult of the state and ruling class, and the Confucian teachings about mourning for the dead and honoring one's ancestors were observed at all levels of society. The Confucian concept of hsiao (filial piety) was regarded as the basis of all morality. Confucian norms of social conduct (li) attempted to regulate every aspect of human behavior. "Neo-Confucianism," which arose in the 11th century, was an attempt to elaborate Confucian teachings into a complete philosophical and religious system. Taoism (the teachings of Lao-tze, a near-contemporary of Confucius) is explicitly religious. It is an elaborate system of animistic teachings, emphasizing paranormal experiences and manipulation of spiritual forces. In many ways, Taoism was a systematization of much older animistic beliefs, its appeal was to the lower classes and to eccentrics who sought to obtain magical powers and an extended span of life. In Chinese society, Taoism functioned as a counterbalance to the staid and respectable Confucian teachings. The third religious system of China, Buddhism, was brought by missionaries from India, perhaps as early as the first century a.d. Buddhism offered a fully-elaborated religious and philosophical system. Its emphasis was on doing good works with a view to obtaining a favorable incarnation in the next life. Northern (Mahayana) Buddhism, as practiced in China, was also influenced in many ways by folk religion and earlier animistic beliefs.
It is not known exactly when the first Christian missionaries entered China. The first documented missionary in China was the Nestorian A-lo-pen, who reached the Chinese capital in 635 a.d. He succeeded in establishing a church there which flourished for some time, even receiving financial support from the state. However, in 845 a.d., the Taoist emperor Wu Tsung issued an edict banning both Buddhism and Christianity, and both religions suffered severe persecution. Buddhism survived this era of persecution, but Nestorian Christianity did not. In 987 a.d., it was reported that no Christians were to be found in China, although small communities of Nestorian Christians continued to exist on the Chinese border in Central Asia. In the 13th century, China was conquered by the Mongols, some of whom were Nestorian Christians; during that same period, papal emissaries succeeded in reaching China and were received at the imperial court. Some of the Mongol ruling class were converted to Catholicism, and a bishop was appointed. However, with the collapse of the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in 1368, all forms of Christianity appear to have been again eradicated from China.
By the 14th century, China was the most populous nation on earth, and arguably the most civilized. Its rate of literacy was higher than that of any European nation. By this time, enough accurate information about China had reached Europe to make some Europeans became aware of China's great significance. The avowed purpose of Columbus' voyages of discovery was to reach China and convert the Chinese to Christianity. He and others believed that the conversion of China and the destruction of Islam were the two remaining obstacles to the return of Christ.
As trade with the Chinese became more commonplace, Europeans became fascinated with the high level of Chinese civilization. In particular, Chinese history was studied with a view to reconciling it with the Bible; Chinese books were brought back to Europe, and the Chinese language was avidly studied by scholars who believed that Chinese was the primeval language of mankind, that its grammar might be reduced to a set of logical algorithms, or that its written characters represented a language of pure symbols. In a letter of 1689, Leibniz conveys some of this excitement about China: "Europe and China are like two worlds separated by an enormous distance; may they mutually instruct and enlarge each other."
Sustained contact between Europe and China began during the late Ming dynasty. This was a remarkable period in Chinese history, with a marked openness to new ideas. Neo-Confucianism dominated the thinking of the educated classes, but many Chinese were eclectic in their beliefs. The 16th century novelist Wu Cheng-en went so far as to suggest that "The three teachings [i.e. Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism] are one." Thus, Catholic missionaries found Ming society open to at least listen to foreign religious teachings.
However, there were some serious obstacles to Christianity's taking root in China. First, Eastern and Western thought had developed along completely different lines. Jacques Genet has suggested that Christianity could not be assimilated into Chinese society because of fundamental East-West cultural differences, linguistic differences which prevented true comprehension of important concepts (e.g. the lack of Chinese words for "be" and "being"), and philosophical differences: Europeans thought in terms of "transcendant and immutable realities", while the Chinese saw reality in sensory terms, as transitory and ever-changing. While Buddhism taught that all appearances are illusory, European thought was dominated by Aristotelianism, with its clear-cut categories and precise logical procedures. The Christian concepts of an omnipotent God, a created world, and the immortality and indestructibility of the human soul had no Eastern parallels. Thus, "Chinese assumptions about life, death, good, evil, progress, history, society, and individuals were totally different."
The second obstacle to Christianity was the state cult of Confucianism. The rites of Confucianism (funerary customs, veneration of the emperor, of one's parents, and of one's ancestors) were seen as the glue which held Chinese society together. Any attack or attempt to modify these rites "would mean at least the partial recasting of the family, and this would be condemned as revolutionary, impious, and subversive to morals"—as an attack on both the family and the state.
B. History of the Chinese Rites Controversy
The first Jesuit missionaries to arrive in China were part of an organization already known for its adaptive approach. Founded in 1540, the Society of Jesus is "generally credited with the revival of the tolerant spirit" in Christianity. Jesuit missionaries in Ireland and in Ethiopia had been instructed to adapt themselves to local conditions. St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary to India and Japan, had taken the (then unprecedented) step of seeking to learn the local languages, and had even translated the Christian catechism into Japanese.
In 1582, two Jesuit missionaries, Matteo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri, settled in the coastal city of Chaoking, disguised as Buddhist monks. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was a truly remarkable man, whose influence was to shape the future of Christianity in China. A brilliant linguist, Ricci soon mastered the Chinese language and writing system to such a degree that he was able to compose numerous books in Chinese (beginning as early as 1583). His chief work, T'ien-chu shih-i, a presentation of Christianity, became well-known among all educated Chinese. Another work, Chi-jen shih-p'ien ("10 paradoxes"), went through several printings during 1607-08, and was also widely discussed. Ricci used mnemonic devices to commit the Confucian classics to memory verbatim, a feat which greatly impressed the Chinese.
Ricci and other Jesuits in China made use of the early Christian concept of arcana (startling doctrines which were to be withheld from pagans and catechumens). Thus, he never discussed the doctrines of Original Sin or the Trinity, even with Chinese converts who had been Christians for some years, only stating that "God once descended to become Yeh-su to save the world." In 1600, Ricci was detained while traveling to Peking because a crucifix was discovered in his baggage and was interpreted by the Chinese as an object of black magic aimed at the Emperor. After that, he never displayed it in public. When he learned that the Buddhist monks were held in contempt by the Chinese ruling class, Ricci adopted the silk robes of a Confucian scholar. In every way possible, sought to become completely assimilated into Chinese culture: "He would raise and answer questions of a philosophical or religious nature, pass around literature, pay courtesy calls, attend literary gatherings or banquets . . . Quietly and modestly, he would allow his broad learning and virtuous behavior to be known. Soon people would make further inquiries, and then the more direct work of doctrinal instruction could begin."
The purpose of this quiet infiltration of Chinese society was to convert the ruling class, and ultimately the Chinese emperor. Ricci felt that if this could be accomplished, the conversion of the entire Chinese nation was assured. The open proclamation of the Gospel might jeopardize this plan. "I do not think that we shall establish a church," Ricci wrote in 1596, "but instead a room for discussion and we will say Mass privately . . . because one proceeds more effectively and with greater fruit here through conversations than through formal sermons." Again in 1598 he wrote, "The hour had not yet arrived to begin preaching here the holy Gospel."
In 1601, Ricci was finally successful in obtaining permission to live in Peking. He presented two chiming clocks to the Chinese emperor, and was requested to adjust and maintain them in the future. Ricci impressed the Chinese with his knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, and by displaying an accurate world-map, drawn with China in the center. He succeeded in making several influential Chinese converts, including Xu Ganggi, the most powerful official at the Chinese court. The Ming History states: "Those who came from the West were intelligent and were men of great capacity. Their only purpose was to preach religion, with no desire for government honors or for material gain. For this reason those who were given to novelties were greatly attracted to them."
Ricci soon had to confront the problem of how to deal with the Confucianism which pervaded Chinese society from top to bottom. Unlike Buddhism, which was early identified as fundamentally opposed to Christianity, Confucianism's specifically religious teachings were only implicit. This made Confucianism less readily identifiable as a pagan religion, and suggested to Ricci and others that some kind of compromise might be workable.
Ricci believed that Christianity and Confucianism (in its "original", not its Neo-Confucian form) could be reconciled to stand against Buddhism and Taoism. He obtained a good grasp of Neo-Confucian metaphysics so that he could argue for an interpretation of Confucianism which could be reconciled with Christianity. Thus, he used passages in the Confucian classics to demonstrate the immortality of the soul and the existence of hell.
In his approach to ethics, Ricci tried to show the parallels between Confucianism and Christianity. For example, he related the concept of hsiao (filial piety) to the Ten Commandments, and noted the similarity between Confucius' version of the Golden Rule and Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:12. He also sought to show how the Confucian values of pao (reciprocity) and te (personal virtues) could be incorporated into Christianity. Ricci believed there was no essential contradiction between the two systems of thought, but that the ethical teachings of Confucianism could be supplemented and perfected by those of Christianity. Thus, while Confucius taught that the expression of love should be differentiated in accordance with its object, Christianity taught universal love for all men.
Ricci's understanding of and respect for Confucian ethical teachings won him many admirers among the educated Chinese. At the same time, he did not hesitate to attack Chinese practices which could not be reconciled with Christian ethics. He was outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuality (widely practiced among the educated elite in Ming times), and he insisted that converts dismiss their concubines before he would consent to baptize them.
Ricci believed that he had found evidence in the Confucian classics that the ancient Chinese had once known and venerated the God of the Bible, to whom the classics referred as Shang-ti ("The Lord on High") or T'ien ("Heaven"). He claimed that the Chinese were a branch of the people of Judaea who had migrated to the East in ancient times. Ricci assured the Chinese that all of their ancient sages had been believers in the One God and hence were in Heaven, but that subsequent generations had forgotten God's existence.
So great was Ricci's admiration for Confucianism that he came to believe that the teachings of Confucius should be incorporated into Christian ethics. "Ricci's Chinese writings suggest he had become a convert to Confucianism in the process of teaching Christianity."
Some Confucian practices were harder to reconcile with Christian beliefs, however. These included the solemn rites in honor of Confucius, at which animals were sacrificed, the rites of veneration for the emperor, and the rites associated with the dead, including the preservation of ancestor-tablets designated shen wei ("seat of spirit") which were venerated with candles, incense, and the k'out'ou (prostration with the head touching the floor), and with food offerings and the burning of paper money. All of these practices were deeply embedded in Chinese culture, and the Jesuits were hesitant to attack them because their meaning was uncertain. Ricci was assured by his friends among contemporary Chinese scholars (who, as Neo-Confucian rationalists, denied the immortality of the soul, as well as any form of divinity in Confucius' person) that all of these rites were merely civic rituals, devoid of any religious content.
Nevertheless, the issue of how to deal with the Confucian rites caused much debate among the Jesuits. In their efforts to accommodate Christianity to the Chinese situation, the Jesuits had to consider, on one hand, the danger of going so far in their accommodation as to compromise essential Christian doctrines, and, on the other hand, the danger of Christianity being rejected by the Chinese if their accommodation did not go far enough. Some of the Jesuits (including Ricci) favored a total adaptation of Christianity to Confucianism, while others argued for making more limited concessions. Conferences were held in 1603 and 1605, resulting in the first enunciation of a general Jesuit policy on the matter. It was decided that certain of the rites were of a superstitious nature and should be forbidden to Christian converts. These included prayer to the dead, the burning of paper money, and the belief that the dead were nourished by food offerings. However, it was decided to let the Chinese converts continue to venerate the dead with food offerings, flowers, candles, ancestor-tablets, mourning garments, and the k'out'ou In addition, the "simple rite" to Confucius was permitted, while the "solemn rite" (which occurred several times a year and involved animal sacrifices) was condemned.
Ricci assumed that the original meaning of the rites was to be found in Confucius' writings, and asserted that they were not superstitious in their original form . "This ceremony was begun more for the living than for the dead," he claimed—"that is, to teach the children and the ignorant ones to honor and serve their living relatives . . . all this stands outside of idolatry" Ricci "looked with careful discrimination upon the rites as one would look upon an apple which was not entirely bad but whose spoiled part has to be rejected and whose good part could somehow be saved and accepted" Nevertheless, his ultimate goal was to gradually replace the rites with Christian practices like the giving of alms to the poor.
Ricci and the Jesuits believed that a form of natural religion existed in China, and that Confucius was perfect in his moral teaching, lacking only the specific truths taught by revelation. The Jesuits made much use of a famous passage in the Confucian Lu Yun ("Analects" 11:12), in which Confucius speaks of "avoiding spirits." They took this lack of religious emphasis as " a basis for blending its moral and social strains with the explicity strains of Christianity" They even suggested that Christian teachings could be enriched from Confucianism, just as it had earlier been enriched through its contact with Greek philosophy. Confucius was, they argued "the equal of the pagan philosophers and superior to most of them"
The conferences of 1603 and 1605 reaffirmed the Jesuit policy of accommodationism. Alessandro Valignano urged his fellow-missionaries "to behave like the natives of the country . . . (to) become Chinese to win China for Christ."
Matteo Ricci continued to work among the Chinese until his death at Peking in 1610. He had lived in China for 28 years, made numerous friends for himself and his teachings, and become "one of the most respected foreign figures in Chinese history."
Even today, he is familiar to all Chinese as "Li Ma-t'ou."
Ricci's career in China set the precedent that Christianity was to be judged
from the Confucian perspective (i.e. by the behavior of its adherents). His example created the expectation that future missionaries would live according to Confucian standards, an example which few of his successors were able to live up to. Even during Ricci's lifetime, the Chinese writer Shen Te-fu described Diego Pantoja, one of Ricci's Jesuit colleagues and the author of a very successful apologetic work in Chinese (Ch'i-k'o ta-ch'uan, 1614) as "far from being equal to Ricci."
At the end of his life, Ricci was continually besieged by multitudes of callers who had heard of his broad learning and wished to discuss various matters with this wise man from the far West—illustrating the truth of Clement of Alexandria's claim that "philosophy is like fish-bait to the pagans."
The breadth and depth of Matteo Ricci's accommodation of his life and beliefs to an alien culture is amazing to us even today. Apparently, like Coluccio Salutati, Ricci was so certain that his primary allegiance was to Jesus Christ that he had no fear or anxiety about "drinking from both founts" (Christianity and Confucianism, in this case).
Two of Ricci's aristocratic converts wrote tributes to him which are quite revealing of the impression he made on the Chinese. Li Chih-tsao wrote: "The Western religion has its rules, which were received from the Lord of Heaven. . . . they are unwilling to compromise on this to receive you. They want to reform this degenerate world, but they do not dare dishonor the rules of their religion." Hsu Kuang-ch'i, in a preface to one of Ricci's works, wrote: "Ricci's learning touched on every subject, but the main precept was to serve continually and openly the Divinity on High." These comments tend to refute the charges of those who accuse Ricci of lax accommodationism or syncretism.
Nevertheless, despite the example of Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit policy of accommodation, many in China opposed Christianity. The missionaries were accused of prohibiting the veneration of ancestors, of holding secret meetings, and of links to subversive groups such as Pai-lien-chiao (the "White Lotus Society"). They were suspected of using magic to control their followers, and of practicing alchemy (indeed, many sought out the missionaries because it was believed that they possessed the secret of transmuting base metals into silver!). The doctrine of Jesus' crucifixion was also extremely difficult for the Chinese to accept. One anti-Christian writer, Yang Guangxian, published a woodcut of the crucifixion, arguing that this punishment confirmed that Jesus had been a subversive and a rebel. It was also believed by many that European-style church with towers and crosses created bad feng shui for those who lived and worked in the vicinity.
At the same time, a number of influential Chinese converts continued to elaborate Ricci's idea of a synthesis of Christianity and Confucianism, and to implement the Jesuit strategy known in Chinese as "bu Ru yi Fo" (supplement Confucianism and displace Buddhism). Nevertheless, after Ricci's death, there were few converts to Christianity from the highest levels of Chinese society, and Chinese respect for the Christian religion diminished along with the declining social status of those willing to espouse it.
The first persecution of Christians in China occurred at Nanjing (1616-21), and arose out of accusations like those just enumerated, and because of the association of the missionaries with the Portuguese at Macau. A few Chinese converts were martyred, but the missionaries were spared.
During the 1630's, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries established themselves at Fukien. In 1633, the Dominican Juan Bautista Morales (1597-1664) arrived in China. He was scandalized by the "easy-going compromises" of the Jesuits. The Dominicans and Franciscans had an entirely different approach to foreign missions. While the Jesuits concealed the crucifix lest it cause offense, the Dominicans and Franciscans displayed it openly. Instead of spending years mastering Chinese, they preached through interpreters. While the Jesuits taught that the ancient Chinese sages and emperors had been worshippers of the true God, the Dominicans and Franciscans proclaimed openly that Confucius and all the emperors were in hell. While the Jesuits focused their energies almost exclusively on the intelligentsia, the Dominicans and Franciscans sought to convert the lower classes, and members of both orders were willing to contemplate the possibility of martyrdom at the hands of the heathen.
In 1637, a group of Franciscans and Dominicans "decided to go to Foochow and tear down the edicts [of a local governor against Christianity], and to preach publicly Jesus Christ crucified." Holding the crucifix in air, they loudly proclaimed "that this was the image of the true God and Man, Savior of the world, creator of all things, who punishes those who do not keep His law and rewards eternally those who keep it." This was an approach to evangelism "which had no place in China unless its purpose was deliberately to antagonize.
The missionaries were promptly arrested, and all the Dominicans and Franciscans (including Morales) were expelled from the province and had to go to Manila. In Manila, a conference was held, at which the Jesuit policy of accommodation was condemned, and Morales was dispatched to Rome to make a formal complaint about the matter to the pope.
From the Dominican/Franciscan point of view, Ricci and the Jesuits in China had been teaching "pure deism, without the Trinity, Incarnation, or Redemption." Many Chinese saw Christianity as just a special version of Buddhism, while one modern scholar has suggested that the form of Christianity taught by Ricci and his colleagues was diluted to the point where it is best described as "Confucian monotheism."
One of Ricci's contemporary critics wrote as follows: "Being more a politician than a theologian, he discovered the secret of remaining peacefully in China. The kings found in him a man full of complaisance; the pagans a minister who accommodated himself to their superstitions; the mandarins a polite courtier skilled in all the trickery of courts; and the devil a faithful servant, who far from destroying, established his reign among the heathen, and even extended it to the Christians." He went on to accuse the Jesuits of "teaching the Christians to assist and cooperate at the worship of idols, provided that they only addressed their devotions to a cross covered with flowers, or secretly attached to one of the candles which were lighted in the temples of the false gods."
Among the Jesuit actions which the Dominicans and Franciscans criticized were their failure to promote the laws of the Church, their failure to preach the doctrine of the crucifixion, their adoption of Chinese dress, their "intellectual apostolate," and their refusal to say that Confucius was in hell.
In February 1643, Morales arrived at Rome and made his formal complaint in the form of 17 quaesita. These included questions about contributions by Christians to pagan sacrifices and festivals, the cult of Confucius, the veneration of ancestors, the feeding of the dead as through they were living, the use of ancestral tablets, funerals, about whether applicants for baptism should be informed that their new faith forbade all idolatry and sacrifice, about the use of the Chinese term sheng (holy) in a Christian context, the veneration of the Emperor, prayers and sacrifices for non-Christian relatives, and whether, since some Chinese were scandalized by the crucifixion, was it necessary to speak to them of it or to show them a crucifix?
Morales' quaesita changed the focus of the discussion from the "original meaning" of the rites to what the rites signified as actually practiced in the 17th century.
Meanwhile, in China, the Ming dynasty fell (1644) to the invading Manchu dynasty. The conquest of China by a foreign dynasty resulted in the decline of the "syncretic spirit" of the late Ming period, and a "stricter sense of orthodoxy" arose. At the same time, the new dynasty established a Bureau of Astronomy and, impressed by the scientific knowledge of the Jesuits, placed it under the supervision of the Jesuits Johann Adam Schall and Ferdinand Verbiest. Jesuit Astronomers became a fixture at Peking from this time until the dissolution of the order (1773). Schall enjoyed a close and informal relationship with the first Manchu emperor, who nearly consented to be baptized but was dissuaded by the eunuchs "who cultivated his lusts." Jesuits were also employed as cartographers, and had mapped all the provinces of China by 1715.
In Rome, after mature consideration, Innocent X issued a decree forbidding ("until it shall be decided otherwise") the cult of Confucius, ancestor veneration, and the use of ancestral tablets by Chinese converts to Christianity. It was judged that "such public acts of cult would not be in any way allowable to Christians," even if attention were directed to a hidden crucifix in the same room, and even if performed by "instructed Christians with carefully purified intentions".
This prohibition did not reach China until 1649. By then, the Jesuits, who resented the criticism of their work by those who had little understanding of Chinese language and culture, had put aside whatever disagreements existed among them about the accommodation of the Confucian rites, and "appear eventually to have rallied almost solidly in support of Ricci's views." Meanwhile, "nearly all the Franciscans and Dominicans had been won to the Jesuit position, and only the Dominicans continued as a body to stand against it."
In 1651, the Jesuits dispatched their own delegation to Rome, led by Martin Martini. They presented the Pope with four propositions (corresponding to four of Morales' quaesita), claiming that their practices had been grossly and deliberately misrepresented by the Dominicans. The Jesuits articulated Ricci's claim that the Confucian rites "were originally instituted for an exclusively civil cult" and thus were not religious in nature, although they employed "objects and gestures similar to those which the Westerners reserved for religious worship."
Alexander VII responded in 1656 with a papal decree permitting the four Jesuit propositions. The same pope granted permission to Martini, in his published history of China (Sinicae historiae decas prima res, 1658), to make use of a Biblical chronology based on the Septuagint rather than the Vulgate, since this would harmonize with the Chinese account of history, which dated the beginning of Chinese history to 2952 b.c. (five years after the Septuagint date for the universal flood, but several hundred years before the Vulgate date; to deny the earlier date would have alienated the Chinese). In this way, information brought from China actually came to have an influence on the criticism of the Biblical text, and on European historiography.
In 1659, the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide issued a set of instructions for missionaries, asking them to adapt Christianity to indigenous cultures and to avoid imposing European customs on converts to Christianity:
"Make no endeavor and in no way persuade these people to change their rites, habits and mores as long as these are not very manifestly contrary to religion and good mores. Indeed, what would be more absurd than to introduce Gaul, Spain, Italy or some other part of Europe to China? Bring not these things but the faith, which neither rejects nor harms the rites and customs of any nation provided they are not perverse, but which rather desires them to remain intact. . . It will be more prudent not to bear judgment or at least not to condemn blindly and excessively; what remains truly perverse must be eradicated more by nods and silence than by words . . ."
A new persecution of the missionaries and of Chinese converts to Christianity arose in 1664, at the instigation of the court official Yang Guanxian. Most of the missionaries were arrested and exiled to Canton. Johann Adam Schall, the court astronomer, was imprisoned and sentenced to death, but was saved when an earthquake occurred on the eve of his execution. As a result, Schall was freed, and Yang was disgraced and exiled from court.
The missionaries expelled to Canton included 19 Jesuits, 3 Dominicans, and one Franciscan. While waiting for permission to reenter China, they held a 40-day conference (ending 26 January 1668), which resulted in the adoption of 42 articles. The 41st of these articles was a statement in support of the papal decree of 1656: "the door of salvation must not be closed on the countless Chinese people who would be kept away from the Christian religion if they were prohibited from doing what they can licitly and in good faith do, and what they could not be forced to omit except with the greatest inconvenience."
Later that year (1668), the Dominicans in Manila dispatched Juan Polanco to Rome to ask whether Alexander VII's permission of 1656 reversed Innocent X's prohibition of 1645.
In the following year (1669), Clement IX issued the third papal decree to date bearing on the Chinese Rites question. He stated that both 1645 prohibition and the 1656 permission remained in force. In effect, this decree left the matter to the missionaries' discretion, a situation which favored the Jesuits.
In 1681, the Jesuits requested a renewal of the papal approval (granted 1615, but never used) to translate the liturgy into Chinese for use by native priests. This request was denied, since "Rome believed . . . that only through Latin could the Chinese clergy be kept in touch with the life of the Church and be prevented from drifting off into heresy and schism."
In 1687, the Jesuits issued their monumental Confucius Sinarum philosophus, a Latin translation of the Confucian classics. This work was a collaborative effort of 17 Jesuits who had spent a combined total of 442 years of residence in China.
In 1692, the Chinese emperor Kang Hsi issued a Toleration Edict, granting freedom of worship to Christians in China. At this time, there were 75 priests in China, including 38 Jesuits and nine Dominicans. Six of the Jesuits were native Chinese converts. There were missionaries and native Christians in every Chinese province except Kansu in the far West. By 1700, 300,000 Chinese had been converted to Christianity. The Franciscan Antonio Caballero alone baptized some 5,000 peasant converts in Shandong between 1650 and 1665.
In the following year (1693), Charles Maigrot of the French Missions Etrangeres, Vicar Apostolicus of Fujian, issued a mandate containing seven articles. This mandate banned the use of the Chinese terms T'ien-chu and Shang-ti as names for God, banned the use of ancestral tablets by Christians, and forbade the use of the 1656 papal permission, which Maigrot claimed had been fraudulently obtained by the Jesuits. He also condemned as "false, temerious, and scandalous" the proposition that the cult which Confucius rendered to the spirits was political rather than religious.
Maigrot's mandate resulted in an uproar from the Jesuits, who had been lulled into a sense of security by the decree of Clement IX (1669). In 1697, they reopened the Chinese Rites case at Rome, and the Innocent XII ordered the Inquisition to examine the entire question. Numerous books and pamphlets were published by European scholars, supporting both sides of the debate. Leibniz wrote in defense of the Jesuits. In 1700, the Sorbonne (where the theological faculty was then dominated by Jansenists) condemned five propositions drawn from the writings of the Jesuits Louis Le Comte and Charles Le Gobien, including the statements that "the people of Chine preserved for more than 2000 years a knowledge of the true God, and honored him in a manner which can serve as an example and as instructive even to Christians," that "God's Spirit was active in China for 2000 years," and that "Christianity is not foreign to China, but was professed there earlier, when they worshipped the same God as the Christians worshipped and recognized as well as they the Lord of Heaven." Le Comte had also made the shocking statement that the Chinese had possessed "knowledge of the true God and practiced the purest maxims of morality, while Europeans and almost all the rest of the world lived in error and corruption."
The Jansenists argued that since grace was irresistible, the Chinese had clearly demonstrated through their failure to convert to Christianity that they had not been recipients of God's grace. They found the Jesuit tendency to make compromises in God's name "incomprehensible and repulsive." 
While Europeans were debating these matters, four Jesuits approached the Chinese emperor (30 Nov 1700) in the hope of obtaining from him an "authentic statement" on the meaning of the rites. They submitted to him a copy of their own definition of the rites as "civic rituals," and requested his "instruction or correction." The emperor replied on the following day, endorsing the Jesuit definition without corrections. This statement was dispatched to Rome, along with two Jesuit experts on Chinese civilization, Caspar Castner and Francois Noel.
In November 1704, after seven years of exhaustive study, Clement XI issued a "earnest and painstaking" decree summarizing the history of the controversy up to that point and upholding Maigrot's mandate; further, it banned Christian participation in the "simple rite" to Confucius (which Maigrot had permitted). It found both the Confucian cult and the ancestral cult to be essentially religious in nature, and bishops and vicars apostolic to "strive gradually to remove and replace all pagan practices with those recognized and followed by the Roman Catholic Church."
Meanwhile, the papal emissary Carlo Tommaso Maillard de Tournon had departed for China. Although he had not seen the 1704 decree, he was familiar with its general content. In China, Tournon found the Jesuits supporting themselves by means of usury (though at a lower rate than customary in China), and quickly put a stop to this.
Tournon received a cordial welcome to the imperial court on 31 December 1705. He was granted two further audiences with the emperor (29-30 June 1706), but avoided discussing the Confucian Rites question because he knew it was no longer negotiable. Maigrot (whose mandate of 1693 had resulted in the recent papal decree) acted as Tournon's interpreter. At one point, the emperor, disgusted by Maigrot's poor spoken Chinese, asked him to interpret four Chinese characters written on a scroll hanging behind the throne. Maigrot was able to read only one of them; moreover, he was unable to recognize Matteo Ricci's Chinese name in written form, and admitted that he was unfamiliar with Ricci's T'ien-chu shih-i (which all educated Chinese had read). The emperor warned Tournon against any interference with the Chinese rites and dismissed him from court, expressing his astonishment "that such dunces should claim to decide the meaning of texts and ceremonies of several thousand years' antiquity."
Maigrot was banished, Tournon departed for Nanjing, and the emperor issued a decree expelling all Christian missionaries who opposed the Confucian rites, and requiring that all missionaries obtain a p'iao (permit) to reside in China. This was followed (1707) by a further decree, forbidding all preaching against the Rites on pain of death. Thus K'ang Hsi, the same emperor who had issued the Toleration Edict of 1692, reversed his previously favorable attitude toward Christianity.
That same year (1707), Tournon issued his own mandate, threatening excommunication to any missionary who disobeyed the papal decrees concerning ancestor veneration or the Confucian rites. Anticipating objections, Tournon specifically disallowed the pretexts of "great danger" or of adherence to the papal decree of 1656. Tournon's mandate was based on a secret decision made at Rome in November 1704, in anticipation of just such an emergency. In consequence, Tournon was escorted to Macau, where he remained until his death in 1710.
Thus, the missionaries had to choose between obtaining the emperor's p'iao (and thereby agreeing not to oppose the Confucian rites), or obeying Tournon's mandate (and risking death at the hands of the Chinese authorities). Many of them chose to disobey Tournon, claiming that he had exceeded his authority. In any case, the result of the 1704 decree, although not published at Rome until 1709 or promulgated at Peking until 1715, was to polarize the missionaries.
In 1710, Clement XI reiterated his 1704 decree and upheld Tournon's mandate; in addition, he forbade any unauthorized publication about the matter of the Chinese rites, threatening excommunication in case of disobedience.
This was followed in 1715 by the papal bull Ex illa die. In it, the pope claimed that the resolution of the Chinese Rites controversy had been the main concern of his papacy from the outset. He enumerated the various subterfuges which had been used by the contending parties to evade the prompt observance of the papal decrees, "with grave damage to our pontifical authority, scandal to the faithful, and detriment to the salvation of souls." The bull reiterated the decrees of 1704 and 1710, as well as Tournon's mandate of 1707, and included the formula of an oath of observance to be taken on the Bible by all missionaries.
Ex illa die was promulgated in Peking in 1716, and all the missionaries appear to have complied with it, however reluctantly. When the emperor learned of it, he ordered the vicar general of Peking to recover all copies of the bull and return them to Rome, and a new persecution of Christians ensued.
In 1719, another papal emissary, Carlo Ambrogio Mezzabarba, was dispatched to the Chinese court. Like Tournon, Mezzabarba had received secret instructions at Rome. During 1720 and 1721, he had several audiences with the emperor, to whom he disclosed that he was authorized to grant "certain permissions," and to convey the Emperor's thoughts directly to the Pope.
In 1721, Mezzabarba issued a pastoral letter to all missionaries. In it, he reaffirmed Ex illa die; however, with a view to the "eventual removal of all pagan practices," he included eight permissions concerning the Chinese rites. These included permission to use funeral tablets, as long as they were inscribed only with the name of the deceased, with name only, permission to participate in ceremonies in honor of Confucius or of the dead, as long as they were "not superstitious or suspected of being so," and the use of candles, incense, food offerings, and prostration at funerals and before memorial tablets and tombs. In order to keep these permissions from becoming publicly known, Mezzabarba stipulated that they not be translated into Chinese or Manchu "unless necessary or practical."
In 1724, with the death of emperor K'ang Hsi, a new and particularly severe persecution of Christians was undertaken by his son and successor, Yung Cheng. With the exception of the astronomers employed at Peking, all the missionaries were exiled to Macau (they were allowed to return in 1736). The new emperor issued an edict declaring Christianity a "heterodox sect," closing the churches, and specifically canceling the Toleration Edict of 1692. This edict set the tone for the remainder of the 18th century. Since Christians were no longer permitted to participate in traditional Chinese ceremonies, Christianity was now viewed as a foreign intrusion, and became the target of increasingly severe persecution, culminating in the early decades of the 19th century when a number of Catholic missionaries were executed for repeated defiance of imperial edicts.
In 1733, Francois de la Purification affirmed Mezzabarba's permissions in two pastoral letters, but these (and the permissions) were subsequently annulled by Clement XII in 1735.
Finally, in 1742, Benedict XIV issued the bull Ex quo singulari. Identifying China as the Holy See's "mission of predilection," this bull reiterated the papal decrees of 1704, 1710, and 1715 (Ex illa die), nullified all permissions or exceptions ("the aforesaid permissions are to be considered as if they never existed, and we condemn them and their practice as altogether superstitious"), and prohibited all future discussion of the matter. Again, an oath of observance was imposed on all missionaries in China.
Here the controversy ended. The Church had "made it impossible for a
scholar-official to be a Christian or for a Christian to become a scholar, destroying the possibility of Jesuit peaceful penetration of Chinese society. . . . If these consequences were fully understood by the Holy See, it must have felt that the integrity of the faith required payment of so high a price." Latourette argues that although the papal decrees tended to make the winning of nominal adherents more difficult, they also maintained high standards for the Church. According to Mungello, the Chinese Rites Controversy "did great damage to the Christian mission in China but may have been an inevitable part of the cultural encounter."
As late as1930, the prohibition of publication on the Chinese Rites was upheld. However, in 1939, as a result of persecution which resulted when Catholic students in Japan allegedly refused to bow to a Shinto shrine, the bull Plane copertum est was issued, reversing the Church's position on the Chinese Rites and describing such actions as "purely civil . . . with no religious significance."
III. Insights for teaching E.S.L. at Biola
The Jesuits clearly practiced a model of accommodation (or "qualified accommodation," to use Douglass Geivett's categories) in their approach to Chinese institutions, while the Dominicans used a polemical approach. In the eyes of his detractors, at least, Matteo Ricci followed the path of least resistance, resulting in "a reconstruction of Christian belief that is in important respects discontinuous with the tradition that gave it birth." A more sympathetic (and perhaps more accurate) statement about Ricci is that he did everything he could to avoid conflict, but at the same time was unwilling to compromise what he regarded as the essentials of the Christian faith. The question as to whether or not the result was theologically valid was argued for more than a century after his death.
In addition to the accommodationist and polemical models, Geivett proposes a "redemptive model" which "seeks to foster a new culture" in light of the "fundamental human concern to acquire knowledge for the sake of human flourishing." Such an approach is reflected in a statement of Giulio Aleni, one of the Jesuit missionaries in China. Aleni said (1627) that "he was only a humble traveler who had gone through many mortal dangers for the propagation of the teachings he held. He had come to this land of superior culture to seek out persons in the right Way to learn from them, so that together they might further this serious business of avoiding perdition." In saying this, Aleni admitted that he had much to learn from the Chinese, that even as a Christian missionary, he did not have all the answers. This seems to me to be a proper attitude for any teacher, whether his students are Christian or non-Christian. In our finite knowledge and understanding, we all have a great deal to learn from each other.
Most of the historians of the Jesuit missionaries in China and the Chinese Rites Controversy do not consider the supernatural dimension of these matters. On one occasion, as Matteo Ricci was crossing a river on a ferry, a "shadowy figure" appeared to him on the deck. The figure asked him, "So you are traveling to destroy the ancient religion of this country and establish a new one?" "Are you God or the devil, that you know my secret?" Ricci cried. "I am not the devil." The figure answered. "I am God." Ricci fell on his knees, and the mysterious presence promised to guide him in his mission. Later, in 1600, while Ricci was on his way to Peking, Xu Ganggi (a powerful offical whom Ricci was to baptize the following year) dreamed of a temple with three chapels. The first contained a shrine to God, the second a shrine to "a son," and the third one was empty. Years later, Xu understood this as a supernatural revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity (which Ricci had been extremely reluctant to discuss with him).
Whatever one chooses to make of these phenomena, they remind us that God is present and active in this world, and profoundly concerned with the outcome of all that we do, including our teaching. However difficult or discouraging our task may seem, we know that God is involved in it in ways that we may never see or understand in this life.
The Jesuit missionaries had to struggle to understand the Chinese language and civilization and to make the message of Christianity comprehensible to a completely unfamiliar culture. For perhaps the first time, Europeans were forced to "separate what was essential to Christian faith from what was cultural and secondary." The task of the Jesuits was to "disengage Christianity from the non-Christian ingredients in the Western civilization and to present Christianity . . . not as the local religion of the West, but as a universal religion with a message for all mankind." Yang T'ing-yuan, one of Matteo Ricci's converts, later described how he came gradually to understand that "this Lord is not "of the far West" but stands external to any particular place and time."
Latourette observes that "in the only countries where Christianity has triumphed over a high civilization, as in the older Mediterranean world and the nearer East, it has done so by conforming in part to older cultures." Christ's kingdom is not of this world, but Christianity always has cultural features. Not only must the universal message of Christianity be distinguished from its cultural trappings, but also, ways must be sought to adapt that message to fresh circumstances. These circumstances must be carefully analyzed and understood, as the Jesuits (and eventually many others) sought to do in the case of the Chinese Rites. "The obscurity surrounding their origins, the contradiction between their seeming preternatural implications and the professed materialism of many of their most observant practitioners, the uncertainty of the extent to which the people as a whole interpreted them in a superstitious sense, were the elements which made the problem one of peculiar complexity." I face a problem of comparable complexity as I attempt to understand my Asian students' behavior and religious beliefs, and try to decide which of their presuppositions I ought to challenge, and how to go about it. Great caution is necessary here, and much careful thought.
Several observations from my reading are particularly insightful about Asian culture. For example, the point was made (in reference to the question of whether or not the Confucian rites are "religious") that there is such a thing as "diffused religion," as distinguished from "institutional religion." Some form "diffused religion," i.e. elements of Buddhism and shamanism, appears to be mixed in with the Christianity of many of my students. Whether this is a harmful or a harmless form of accommodation needs to be determined. In his evaluation of the Confucian rites, Ricci considered them only in "institutional" terms (their origin and purpose), but "failed to adequately take cognizance of the rife superstition [i.e. "diffused religion"] among the populace."
Another cause of misunderstanding is that in the West there is "an enormous . . . separation between the living and the dead and between the profane and the holy." We are trained to think in Aristotelian categories, but we find that in Eastern thought the divisions between things are far less clear. Some of the conflicts and misunderstandings which we experience in dealing with Asian students arise from (literally) different ways of thinking.
At the same time, our students look to us (and to the "Christian West") for guidance. It is for this reason that they have chosen to attend a Western seminary instead of a seminary in Korea or Taiwan. The West is regarded as "closer to the source" of Christian thought, and has a Christian tradition of much greater depth. As a result of ongoing persecutions and the dissolution of the Jesuit order (1773), the number of missionaries in China greatly declined. Left in the charge of native Christian leaders, the Chinese church had suffered "marked decadence" by 1800.
Another very important thing to keep in mind is the Eastern assumptions about the role of the teacher. In the West, a teacher is seen as an expert in his field who transmits what he knows to others, or as an experienced scholar who guides the less experienced in their research. In the East, the teacher's character is of equal or greater importance than what he knows. Asians are "easily scandalized by the very slightest appearance of an imperfect example in persons who claim to teach others." Before a teacher can pose a credible challenge to Asian students' assumptions, he must earn the right to do so.
Finally, it must be remembered that any challenge to what exists is a risky business, whether the challenge is to existing paradigms of an academic discipline, vested interests, religious beliefs, or cultural mores. As noted by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (1659), "There exists no cause of hatred and alienation more poignant than the tampering with national customs, above all, of those which men have grown accustomed to from the memory of their forefathers. Especially is this true when you substitue and bring in the mores of your country in place of those you have removed."
 The summary which follows is based on the following sources: The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Chinese Rites Controversy" and "Ricci, Matteo"; Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (New York: EP Dutton & Co. 1955); George H. Dunne, Generation of Giants: The Story of the Jesuits in China in the Last Decades of the Ming Dynasty (Notre Dame IN: U of ND Press 1962); Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China (New York: Macmillan Co., 1929); George Minamiki, The Chinese Rites Controversy from Its Beginning to Modern Times (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985); David E. Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (Honolulu: University of Hawii Press 1989); David E. Mungello, The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999); Charles E. Ronan and Bonnie B.C. Oh (eds.), East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1988);
John D. Young, East-West Synthesis: Matteo Ricci and Confucianism (Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 1980).
 It is recorded, however, that there was a persecution of Nestorian Christians in China as late as 1540 (Latourette)
 John D. Young, East-West Synthesis: Matteo Ricci and Confucianism (Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 1980), i.
 David E. Mungello, The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 45.
 Young, 26.
 Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China (New York: Macmillan Co., 1929), 41, 134.
 Young, 2.
 George H. Dunne, Generation of Giants: The Story of the Jesuits in China in the Last Decades of the Ming Dynasty (Notre Dame IN: U of ND Press 1962), 5.
 Young, 38.
 Bernard Hung-Kay Luk, "A Serious Matter of Life and Death: Learned Conversations at Foochow in 1627," in Charles E. Ronan and Bonnie B.C. Oh (eds.), East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1988), 175.
 Dunne, 46.
 Dunne, 55.
Albert Chan, "Late Ming Society and the Jesuit Missionaries," in Charles E. Ronan and Bonnie B.C. Oh (eds.), East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1988), 160.
 Young, 43.
 George Minamiki, The Chinese Rites Controversy from Its Beginning to Modern Times (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985), 22.
 Minamiki, 19.
 Minamiki, 18.
 Minamiki, 17.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 37.
 David E. Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (Honolulu: University of Hawii Press 1989), 57.
 Young, 8.
 The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Ricci, Matteo."
 Young, 49.
 Willard J. Peterson, "Why Did They Become Christians? Yang T'ing-yuan, Li Chih-tsao, and Hsu Kuang-ch'i," in Charles E. Ronan and Bonnie B.C. Oh (eds.), East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1988), 133.
 Peterson, 145.
 This was perhaps suggested by Christian teachings about the immortality of the soul; alchemy was commonly practiced by Taoist adepts who sought the "elixir of life."
 Mungello, Curious Land, 71.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 45.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 41.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 16.
 Latourette, 135.
Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. 1955), 280
 Dunne, 257.
 Young, 24.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 21.
 Young, 24-25.
 Dunn, 270.
 The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Chinese Rites Controversy."
 Minamiki, 28.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 24.
 Ronan and Oh, 227.
 Minamiki, 26-27.
 Latourette, 135-138.
 Minamiki, 11, 29-30.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 61; Mungello, Curious Land, 103.
 Minamiki, 30-32.
 Minamiki, 33.
 Latourette, 133.
 Mungello, Curious Land, 297.
 Latourette 128.
 Cronin, 279.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 18.
 Minamiki, 38.
 Mungello, Curious Land, 333-334.
 Mungello, Curious Land, 338.
 Mungello, Curious Land, 340.
 Minamiki, 40-42.
 Minamiki, 43-50.
 Latourette, 142.
 Cronin, 282.
 Minamiki, 56.
 Minamiki, 59-60.
 Minamiki, 63.
 Minamiki, 64-65.
 Minamiki, x.
 Dunne, 300.
 Latourette, 154-155.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 21.
 Minamiki, 93.
 Minamiki, xi.
 R. Douglass Geivett: "Christianity and the Plight of the Humanities" (unpublished paper, 2003).
 Geivett, 7.
 Geivett, 11.
 Cronin, 122.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 15-16.
 Mungello, Great Encounter, 20.
 Arnold Toynbee, quoted in Young, 54.
 Peterson, 135.
 Latourette, 154.
 C.K. Yang, quoted in Minamiki, 3.
 Minamiki, 23.
 Minamiki, 11.
 Latourette, 154.
 Young, 6.
 Minamiki, 30-31.