THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
A bimonthly missionary letter to foster prayers
- History of the Asian Missions - China Part 3 (last)
The Controversy of Rites
II - A Missionary Story
For the Missions of Asia:
One Million Hail Marys Daily
- History of the Asian Missions China
- Part 3 (last)
Fr. Mateo Ricci died in 1610 in Peking. His own methods
of conquests, of penetration were treated as guiding principles
by his successors. He had been a great pioneer, point of
convergence between East and West, the founder, the model.
His most daring plan had been the attempt to win the Emperor if
not to Christianity at least to an explicit tolerant attitude.
But Ricci had lived when the Ming dynasty was crumbling, the Emperor
an inert monster at the mercy of parasites, so that the plan during
his own life proved impracticable. It was for his successors
to convert the successors of Wan Li.
years after Ricci’s burial, as a consequence of a serious mistake
by the Board of Astronomers in forecasting the eclipse of 1610,
the missionaries’ friend at court, Leo Li, obtained a decree ordering
De Ursis to reform the calendar and to translate European astronomical
books. This task he undertook with the assistance of Paul
Hsu, who continued to use his high office in the cause of Christianity.
The decree was violently opposed by the eunuchs and not until
1630, when Adam Schall von Bell, a German Jesuit skilled in astronomy,
arrived at Peking was the work of revision seriously undertaken.
the end of the XVIIth century, France having won the hegemony
of continental Europe from Portugal and Spain, French Jesuits
began to arrive in China and for the next hundred years
played a leading role at court.
They were entrusted with the mapping of China; when the Emperor
K’ang Hsi fell ill of malaria, they administered a new drug, Jesuit’s
bark or quinine, recently arrived from colleagues abroad.
Again, two of the French priests proved of great assistance to
the Emperor in negotiations with the Russians, who, under Peter
the Great, were expanding eastwards in quest of sables and gold.
Partly as a token of gratitude for arranging a suitable treaty,
K’ang Hsi was persuaded in 1692 to take the momentous step of
issuing an edict of toleration for the Christian religion.
The work which Ricci initiated had been brought to fulfillment.
missionaries were pioneers not only in revealing Christ and bringing
Western science to the Orient, but also in revealing China to
Europe. Here too, Ricci’s letters to his friends had been
The Controversy of Rites
unqualified welcome extended to Chinese thought and practices
during the XVIIIth century was not, however, endorsed by the theologians
of Europe. While the missionaries at the court of K’ang
Hsi were exerting greater influence than ever before, while the
number of Chinese converts reached a total of 300,000, a further
aspect of Ricci’s programme had aroused bitter controversy.
had used tact and gentleness when dealing with Oriental ways of
thought, realising with profound sympathy, the difficulties which
faced a Chinese confronted with a strange religion. He had
laid down that the mysteries of faith must be gradually unfold,
otherwise irreparable shock and damage would be done to Chinese
sensibility and natural pride. Afterwards, when grace had
worked its miracle, the heights and depth of faith could be revealed.
Moreover, after life-long study of Chinese practices he had decided
that just as slavery had been tolerated in early Christian centuries
until the time should be ripe for its abolition, converts might
fulfill their two traditional duties, the veneration of Confucius
and the dead members of their families.
the China mission grew, Franciscans and Dominicans entered the
country. Their approach to evangelisation was rather different
than the Jesuits. When the Mendicants discovered that converts
made by the Jesuits were allowed to honour Confucius and the tablets
of the dead, they protested that a tainted form of Christianity
had been introduced to China. The Mendicants forbade their
converts such concessions and complained to Rome, branding Jesuits
methods of adaptation as protective mimicry. Theologians
of the Society rallied to the support of their missionaries.
For more than seventy years the controversy raged while Rome,
seeing in the problem one of the most difficult and far-reaching
that had ever faced the Church, delayed her decision.
parties accumulated evidence. The Jesuits obtained from
K’ang Hsi a written document which they believed would prove decisive.
In it the Emperor stated "Honours are paid to Confucius, not as
a petition for favours, intelligence or high office but as to
a Master, because of the magnificent moral teaching which he has
left to posterity. As for the ceremony in honour of dead
ancestors, it originates in the desire to show filial piety.
This ceremony contains no request for help. It is practiced
only to show filial respect to the dead. Souls of ancestors
are not held to reside in the tablets; these are only symbols
which serve to express gratitude and keep the dead in memory,
as though they were actually present."
their side, the Mendicants maintained that, despite all appeals
to authority and tradition, in actual fact such honours as practiced
by the majority of Chinese, were tainted with superstition.
Confucius they protested, was venerated not merely as a teacher,
but as the highest of saints, a superhuman being, while most Chinese
held that the souls of their ancestors were actually present in
the tablets and feasted on the food offered to them.
must be said that while they opposed themselves so vividly, not
one of the missionaries ever thought to establish a kind of syncretism
between the pagan religions and Christianity, such, unfortunately,
as is being done after Vatican II, in the name of ecumenism.
However there were some practices not specifically religious which
need to be studied in reference to the value given to them concretely
in the society which practices them.
were divided in the question of rites and beyond these in the
difference of approaches: the tabula rasa (clean slate) method
or the method of a certain adaptation. Such a controversy
could not be solved at the mission. Rome at to intervene.
She did so the Roman way i.e. slowly and prudently. Pope
Benedict XIV (1741 - 1758) ended the dispute in two documents
of 1742 and 1744, maintaining previous censures and reminding
missionaries that their role was less to adapt at all cost than
to convert. In order for the situation to be totally clarified,
it took a lot of time, the time for the popular mind to desacralize
all of these rites. This is precisely what was declared
in the pontifical instruction of December 8, 1939.
problem of rites has been one of the most difficult of the history
of the missions since it involved the very notion of conversion
and of the Western mold of dogmatic definitions, liturgical ceremonies,
canonical laws and the hierarchy itself.
1773, after almost two centuries of work in China, during which
472 of its members, Chinese and European, built the Church on
Ricci’s foundations, the Society of Jesus was suppressed.
The last remaining bulwark at Peking against outright persecution
was broken, the lightning conductor removed. In 1842, the
Jesuits, resurrected in 1814, returned establishing their house
in the ancestral village of Paul Hsu. Superficial continuity
hid a profound change however. The privilege formerly won
for Christianity by the virtue and wisdom of its missionaries
had now been obtained by superior riffles and long-range guns.
China suffering several defeats had to Westernize to survive.
1916, a group of missionaries sailed to China from Ireland, as
the pioneers of a newly founded congregation, the Columban Fathers
whose original goal was the very conversion of the Middle Kingdom.
Very few years later, unfortunately, China closed her gates again
to foreign missionaries who were all expelled, unless they went
underground and prepared themselves for martyrdom. The story
of Catholicism in China of the XXth century echoes the stories
of the first centuries of the Church: an era of heroes, of martyrs.
The history of "The Adorers of the Cross" is being repeated.
China to this day has once again become an almost inaccessible
Cathay. "China will be converted" said St Dominic Savio.
So be it.
The Wise Man from the West, V. Cronin, Fontana, 1961, pp.
262-274; Histoire Universelle de Missions Catholiques,
Paris, 1957, vol. 2, pp. 323-352)
- A Missionary Story
the day pupils of Saint Mary’s vocational school in Hindoustan,
some years ago, was a little pagan called Mariappen. By
a special grace of Divine Providence, this child had kept his
innocence, a rare feat among young idolaters whose morals aren’t
their parents first concern. He was soon attracted by the
virtue of our best students and became their friend. Knowing
that "he who saves the soul of his brother saves his own", these
boys had a supernatural zeal for the conversion of their new pagan
friend. Thus they resolved to bring this soul to God.
In their conversations, they would speak of religion, of the necessity
of being a Christian to be saved, showing at the same time the
vanity of pagan superstitions. The seed did not wait to
young pagan expressed the desire to join the catechism classes
with the Catholic children. He did such great progress that
soon he was among the best at the exams. Meanwhile, his
friends were continuously lending him books about Catholicism.
few months later, Mariappen came to see me and asked for baptism.
"Father, baptize me so that I become a child of God and that I
may receive Jesus in my heart." "My poor child, you are
not even major; unless you obtain the consent of your parents,
you will have to wait until you’re eighteen."
parents’ answer was obvious: their deep affection for their child
would have granted his request had they not feared retaliations
from the caste, the cast, conversion’s great obstacle in India.
The cast forms a family, a circle breakable only at the direst
cost. To lose one’s cast, is to lose one’s social rank,
any hopes for the future, the right to the father’s heritage,
the ties with one’s family: father, mother, brothers, sisters.
No one knows you anymore; you become a unwanted stranger and if
you ever arrived at the home’s doorstep, you would be forbidden
to enter; if by compassion they give you some food, you will have
to eat it outside because you are soiled, you have become a pariah.
is not surprising then that Mariappen was sharply denied his petition.
He was despairing. I tried to comfort him saying that if
ever he was in danger of death, I would baptize him.
that day onward, he refused to wear any pagan sign and to go to
the temple of idols. Every Sunday and feast day, he came
to the Holy Mass in our chapel, praying with an angelic fervour.
Many times, he reiterated his prayer to his parents but they remained
feast of the Sacred Heart was always celebrated with great solemnity
and the chapel was ornate to its best. One year, after the
ceremony, I found Mariappen in tears. "Why do you cry, my
child?" "Father, I have just assisted at the Holy Mass;
all my comrades had the happiness of receiving Communion and I,
I alone, was not able to receive this God I love so much ...
Jesus is in their heart ... and my heart is empty!" he ended,
"My child, don’t lose courage, trust in the Blessed Virgin who
has never abandoned those who have recourse to Her. You
will not pray to Her in vain. The day will come when the
saving water will flow on your forehead and your Beloved Saviour
will come in your heart."
cycle of studies having arrived, Mariappen successfully passed
his exams. At that moment, his fatal illness had already
showed its first symptoms. The doctor diagnosed the tuberculosis
of the intestines and suggested to send the patient to the Sanitarium
of Manamadurai, 300 km away. This was done and I remained
without news for a few months.
morning, as I was leaving the chapel, I saw a little car parked
in front of the orphanage; beside it, a man whom I immediately
recognized as the father of Mariappen. "My son is dying",
he said, "and he begged me for the grace to bring him to you:
he wants to die in your arms." I understood ... I got nearer
to the car and looked inside. What a sad spectacle!
Could that skeleton with terribly swollen feet, be Mariappen?
His life held on to a faint breath. When he heard my voice,
his face lit up but he didn’t even have the strength to open his
eyes. I had him brought to the Catholic hospital, next to
the industrial school.
I was finishing my lunch, the superior of the Sisters informed
me that the child was at his worst. He wanted baptism but
wanted that his father consent to it. I threw a glance at
the picture of St Thérèse and ran to the hospital.
The first person I met was the dying child’s father. "You
know that your son is going to die?" "Alas! yes, Father"
"Well, do you want to make him happy forever?" "How, Father?"
"By making him a Christian." "Father," he said, "my child
is yours because he wanted to die near you. Do whatever
you want." I went to the young patient and told him the
news. "Tell my father to come here." And as the sobbing
man repeated what he had told me, three times Mariappen repeated
these words: "How happy I am!" Then, seeking with difficulty
the hand of his father, he put it in my hand: "Promise me that
you, my mother, my brothers and my sisters, all of you will become
Christians." And the father promised solemnly.
had had no more secrets for Mariappen for a long time already.
It was very easy to instruct him. "My child, I am going
to baptize you; then I will bring the Holy Viaticum and, at last,
you will have the happiness to receive this Jesus that you have
desired so much."
with joy, I went to fetch the Blessed Sacrament, and at 5 p.m.,
in a scene which must have delighted the Heavenly Court, Jesus
satisfied the desires of this soul so well prepared. What
was Mariappen’s thanksgiving? The Divine Master alone knows
it, but the joy visible in his face betrayed a part of the truth,
it seemed that an angel had come down on earth.
This thanksgiving continued until the hour of death which came
at 4 a.m. the following morning. The dying edified all those
who got near him; until his last minute, he kept his lucidity,
moving all the bystanders to tears by his acts of love of God.
What a beautiful moment it must have been when dressed in his
baptismal innocence, this soul saw face to face the God so much
loved and so much longed for! Once again, the Virgin Mary
had covered with her saving mantle one who trusted in Her.
neophyte’s funerals were as solemn as possible. All the
personnel of the Institute insisted to accompany him to his last
dwelling. But a special favour, he was to be buried in the
graveyard of the Cathedral. A procession was formed, filling
the whole width of the street. In two ranks, his classmates
proceeded, recollected, with palms in their hands, singing hymns
and praying. Behind the hearse, the father was saying: "They
are burying my son like a Rajah!" When the cortege went
through Sanards’ street, his family reproached him to have let
his son become a Christian, embraced this "villain" religion.
The man replied: "Villain religion, I don’t know, but what I know
is that it has more respect for the dead than you do!"
the shadow of the Eucharistic Saviour whom he loved so much, Mariappen
is awaiting the day of the glorious resurrection. From the
height of heaven, he prays for his brethren still involved in
idolatry. And we love to attribute to his intercession the
conversions which followed his in our Institute.
R. Michotte, Foreign Missions of Paris
(Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, Québec, Nov.-Dec.
1938, pp. 270-273.)