1. MATTEO RICCI, UNPARALLELED JESUIT PRINCE
It was autumn of 1552, the time of swaying branches and leaves dancing in the slight breeze. Under the crisp wind and dawning sun, a child was born in Macerata, Italy, a child who would find his place in history, a child who would not be forgotten for centuries to come. Was he Galileo Galilei, or was he Leonado da Venci? It was neither of these famous people.
Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) contributed to the world in more subtle way, a way that many did not notice. But he also gave them in a big way, a way that would endure the test of time. The love of the God was in him. The same love took him across two continents to a far away land. Not only had he given China a glimpse of his God, he had given them something more precious, something that could have changed fate for China. He gave Science, and he gave the first impression of Western Civilization. What could have he done to earn such high praise? Could he have prevented China's downfall? We ask these questions while remembering Ricci, who dedicated his life to the good of Christianity, and who dedicated his life to China, his adopted home and country.
2. MARCO POLO'S DREAMWORLD, AND THE EARLY MISSIONARIES
Eight hundred years ago from today, Franciscan missionaries entered the great court of Kublai Klan. With them came the roots of western religion in China. They had followed Marco Polo, the Italian explorer, whose deeds would soon be known around the world. To Polo, the Mongol Empire (which included China at the time) was a dream, a dream filled with perpetual wealth and fabulous palaces. It was a dream Marco Polo would never forget, and neither would the world. The known world soon started to seek for this legendary land of riches. But the early missionaries were less than successful. With the fall of the Mongol Empire (Yuan Dynasty), the early Christianity in China soon disappeared without a trace.
3. FRANCIS XAVIER AND THE ENTRY OF JESUITS IN CHINA
Three hundred years later, Jesuit priests St. Francis Xavier stepped off a boat onto Japan, hoping to convert the Japanese. This was an early link to the Jesuits mission in China. Japanese admired China for its long history and rich culture. This western man soon realized that without converting the Chinese first, the religious conquering of Japan was impossible. Xavier belonged to a religious order called Jesuit or "Society of Jesus." Founded in 1540 at the height of the Renaissance by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits aimed to fight its way into the heart of Chinese. Matteo Ricci is the one of the first and most successful Jesuits who reached the Chinese shore.
4. RESTRICTIVE NATURE OF RENAISSANCE
The Renaissance was the dawn of a new learning era, an era that lasted about 150 years. Yet, the 150 years had reopened the intelligence of the European ancestors, of the Romans, of the Greeks. It was an era of discovery, of things that had been lost, now found. But this new learning age was largely limited to a few people, people of wealth and social status. They were the noblemen, the high officials who spent their days in luxury and lavishness. But the Society of Jesus was different. It placed great emphasis on education and produced many extraordinary scientists, mathematicians, and authors. Among them were also men who had never seen a book before. They worked hard, and they, in my belief, were the people who shaped the world that we know today. They had been given a new, amazing chance to learn. And the world that opened up to them was a full of wonders, a world that stretched beyond money and religion.
5. SEEKING TO MAKE A CHANGE IN THE WORLD
Matteo Ricci had dedicated his life to preach in China. Why would he do that? He had wealth, status and privileges that others could only dream of. Why didn't he become a man of lavish lifestyle and aristocratic ideas? Because he wanted to make a difference in the world, make a change that people would remember and appreciate. He wanted to see the world beyond his private gardens. To him, the knowledge was fascinating, everlasting wealth that never diminished in value or dried up in droughts or sunk with ships. Most of all, he wanted save people's soul from the flame of hell. He took up a career in which he could achieve those goals. He became a Jesuit missionary, a missionary who truly lived up to the motto of society, "To the greater glory of God".
6. CHINA WHEN MATTEO RICCI ARRIVED
China was a magnificent Empire in the Ming Dynasty, its borders spanning south to India, North to Mongolia, and West to the Persia Empire. But it was isolated land, wrapped up in its own superiority, the reason of its downfall. They called themselves the Middle Kingdom, thinking that they were in the center of the universe, the best. But the time had changed. While Europe was growing stronger in Renaissance, China was stepping down from the podium. It was like an aging tiger slowly getting weaker in the face of pack of wild cats. By the termination of the Ming, China, though still powerful in Asia, was already behind in much of everything. But it still had a chance; a little opening that could have turned the tide for China. That chance was brought about by the missionaries.
In 1583, Matteo Ricci arrived in Macao, a small Portugal enclave on the coast of southern China. He spent years there to study Chinese language and Chinese culture and preach to the locals. He gave himself a Chinese name Li-Ma-tou (???) and dressed like Chinese scholar. In years followed, he stayed in Chaoqin, Nanjing and Nanchang to preach the Gospel. He tried several times to enter Beijing, China's capital but with no avail because the capital was closed to foreigners.
7. MATTEO RICCI'S TALENTS TO THE GLORY OF GOD
With the hope of converting the Chinese people to Catholicism, Ricci dazzled Chinese with western science, technologies, and new knowledge. The world map drawn by him with the information from both European and Chinese sources was probably the most accurate at the time. He also displayed the European technologies and crafts such as the mechanical clock, prism, and telescope to Chinese intellectuals. His respect to Chinese culture and profound knowledge in Science won him many friends.
One of them was called Guangqi Xu (Paul Siu) who was one of the top officials of the Ming court. Xu was alarmed by the decline of the Ming dynasty and wanted to use Western science and religion to strengthen China. Xu became a good friend of Ricci and was later converted to Catholic. Matteo Ricci cooperated with Xu to introduced western Science and Mathematics to China. They translated several science books including Euclid "Elements" to Chinese. Ricci also wrote his observations about Chinese culture and government system in his books. His observations were in general accurate and insightful. These books captivated generations of scholars who studied the Middle Kingdom and became important historical documents.
8. MATTEO RICCI IN BEIJING
With the help of his Chinese friends, Matteo Ricci finally reached Beijing in 1601. He was getting closer to his biggest dream: to convert the entire nation by influencing the emperor. He did meet Emperor Wanli once. Ricci's presents to the Emperor include several paintings of Jesus and Virgin Mary, the Bible, the map of the world and some fancy clocks. Wanli emperor showed little interest in the foreign religion but loved his other presents. Ricci was given the right to establish church in Beijing. Matteo Ricci lived in Beijing for rest of his life. He never saw the Emperor again but he made many friends in the high cycle of Ming court. He was known as the "sage of great west" and was treated with great respect. Ricci died in Beijing in 1610 at age of 58. He spent 28 years in China. To honor his contribution to China, the emperor give the special permission for him to be buried in Beijing.
9. AFTER MATTEO RICCI'S CONTEXTUALIZATION OF CATHOLICISM
Matteo Ricci won the respect of Chinese in the name of his Lord. He shared western culture, and showed the "barbaric" place that China had never seen. But to the Chinese, it was no longer a barbaric culture; it was a complex world at least equal to their own. He had shown them a civilization that would be their competitor. For a while, China had realized through Matteo Ricci that they were behind. For a while they had grasped that chance to catch up. Yes, Matteo Ricci not only gave Chinese a chance to hold Christ's love, but also a chance to avoid China's downfall.
Men on earth do not live alone. They live with their Lord, their God, their father in Heaven. And some of those lambs and children of Jesus were willing to sacrifice their life for him, to leave behind their families, and go out into the world, and preach His Gospel in His name. Matteo Ricci was among them, but he was not alone. Adam Schall von Bell and Ferdinand Verbiest were two who also contributed greatly to the foundation of Christianity in China.
Schall, born in 1591 to a German family, became the link between China and Europe after Ricci. Trained in Astronomy, he impressed the Middle Kingdom with the developments of technology and Science. At the start of the Qing dynasty, he was placed in charge of the Imperil board of Astronomy. Schall changed the calendar, and translated many Astronomical texts into Chinese. Adam Schall von bell had become a true giant in the history of the Jesuit in China, a pioneer that opened up that little crack for the Chinese.
His successor, the Belgian Ferdinand Verbiest left more impact in the court, and became imperial astronomer in place of his precedent, Schall von Bell. He reformed the ancient Chinese instrument, called the Armillary Sphere. The new instrument was Chinese in style but more accurate. The astronomical instruments designed by Verbiest can still be seen in Beijing today. Verbiest helped Qing court to cast the western style cannons, which were far more powerful than anything available in China at the time.
10. THE RITES CONTROVERSY: A HOUSE DIVIDED WITHIN ITSELF
The Jesuits even helped Chinese negotiated the first foreign treaty with Russia. The treaty was written in Latin. By the early Qing dynasty, the Jesuit's China mission was really looking up. Verbiest became the young emperor Kang Xi's teacher and the dream of Ricci was within reach. If it were not the "Rites Controversy", Ricci's dream may indeed become reality. Ricci, Schall, and Verbiest were buried side by side in Beijing. These three extraordinary men set a firm base for Christianity to progress and also sank the roots of western Science into China's heritage.
Each country has its own customs and traditions which it holds dearly. China, like any other country had such customs as well. Included among them was ancestor worship. Alters, bows, prayers to the dead, it would have been disrespectful not to practice them. But to a Christian, the activities were highly questionable.
Though Matteo Ricci and other Jesuits considered the custom showing the respect to the ancestors, the Pope and rivals of the Jesuit condemned it to be idol worshiping. It was a debate that lasted throughout the 17th century and was even brought out to the Emperor Kang Xi. He agreed with Jesuits that this was not worshipBut the Pope, persuaded by rivals of the Jesuits, sent a doctrine prohibiting any signs of ancestor worship in converted Chinese. This outraged the Emperor Kang Xi, who became suspicious that the intent of the Pope was to control his own subjects. Kang Xi declared that the teachings of Confucius were law of the land and decreed that foreign missionaries were not allowed in the country. The year of Kang Xi's decree was 1721. The ban was a huge blow for both civilizations. Europe lost what could have been another country under Christ's banner; China had lost a chance to catch up with the western powers. Once again wrapped up in its superiority complex, China would not be seen again in the world for the next hundred years.
11. THE END OF THE EARLY JESUIT ERA
The Rites controversy, as the devastating event was later called, marked the end of the Jesuit presence in China. Not only had China closed its door to western religion, but also to Western Science and technology. What could have been learned from the foreigners was lost. As European countries later progressed into the industrial revolution, China lagged further behind. By 1840, China was once again opened to the West. This time it was knocked open by the British gunboats. After Opium war, China fell into deep and dark abyss and suffered many defeats and humiliations. Not until the end of the 20th century did China reemerge again, to become the dominant force in Asia, important country in world economics and politics, a strong and powerful nation.
On October 24, 2001, on the 400th anniversary of Father Ricci's arrival in Beijing, in Rome, Pope John Paul II expressed thanks on behalf of the world for what Matteo Ricci had accomplished. "Historically and culturally he was a pioneer, a precious connecting link between West and East, between European Renaissance culture and Chinese culture, and between the ancient and magnificent Chinese civilization and the world of Europe", the Pope said. He also apologized for all the errors of the past Catholic Church and the adversity shown to the Chinese, indirectly referring to the Rites Controversy.
12. MATTEO RICCI, THE SAGE OF GREAT WEST
Matteo Ricci had changed the world. He had become a pioneer, a trailblazer in a frontier, facing with a world of peril. Jesuits may have failed, but Matteo Ricci had achieved something that was priceless. He had contributed to the future. He had become, like the Chinese said, "The Sage of the Great West". Father Ricci had inspired so many others to love, to understand, to tolerate, and to accept the different people of the world. He had made us see that nations can help each other, so that every country in this world can become strong. We are all diversified; we are all unique; we all have our ups and downs. And if we can help one another, love will blossom, hatred will vanish, and God will smile from heaven. God created us to be brothers and sisters, and I believe that he intends for us to forever stay that way.
Matteo Ricci had made us see those things. To write, to sing, to dance, or just to love, all you do help the world progress. Matteo Ricci was just one person from one era that did contributions to all Mankind. It was not necessarily that famous people did the most. We all start out small, like Matteo Ricci, but as we grow, the world grows, if just a little bit. It is like a huge pool of dedications. As you drop something in that big pool, the water rises everywhere. That was what Matteo Ricci did. He had given his life into that big pool of dedications. He had chosen between what was easy and what was right and he emerged triumphant. He had influenced each and every one who knows him. Matteo Ricci, the world would have been less a blessing without him.
A Select Bibliography
1. Internet: Catholic Encyclopedia - " Matteo Ricci"
2. Internet: "Matteo Ricci S.J. and his Contributions to Science in China"
3. Internet: "Matteo Ricci on China"
4. Internet: "The Tomb of Matteo Ricci"
5. Clarye, Alasdair. The Heart of the Dragon
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1947.
6. Roberts, J.A.G. A Concise History of China.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999
7. Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History.
London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1947