Page 3, 13th May 1955

13th May 1955
Page 3
Page 3, 13th May 1955 — Wise Man Amongst The Confucians

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Organisations: China mission


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Reviewed In This Issue . .

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Wise Man Amongst The Confucians


reviews the story of cruelty and bribery by governors and merchants in the East

THE WISE MAN FROM THE WEST, by Vincent Cronin. (Rupert Hart-Davis, 18s. 6d.).

"PROFOUNDLY perceptive. . . The texture of his mind deeply sympathetic. . . A brilliant and distinguished success."

The " hit " applauded by exacting reviewers is Mr. Cronin's earlier book, The Golden Honeycomb." I was glad to note this applause because Fr. Ricci deserves, as few men do. a good biographer. He has found one in Mr. Cronin, who would be the last to claim the final or even adequate verdict but who can fairly claim to have brought to life one of the most challenging and significant figures in history.

" Shortly before his death Ricci had prophesied that he could best advance the China mission by dying. He foresaw that his body would remain in Peking, part of the Flowery, Kingdom, proof that he had come from the ends of the. world not to conquer but to give. His Chinese descendants, children born of water and the Holy Spirit. were already numbered by thousands: they would treasure his memory and honour his ideals... • As primitive churches were built on the tombs of holy men and women. so on his hones the church of the Middle Kingdom arose."

"Ricci's own methods 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."

Tragic flood

B.UT if in China he had made converts not inconsiderable in number and if his prospects were bright beerind the wildest dreams. clouds were already gathering in Europe that portended the flood of opposition destined to destroy his work.

Fr. Ricci had grasped what very many Have not seen yet in anything like its implications-that no religion could commend itself to China which was not prepared to graft its essentials to all that was best in a very ancient civilisation. In his Christian code of manners he must apply to all Chinese susceptibilities the Christian Golden Rule--he must treat their beliefs with the reverence he wanted for his own.

Never in the whole story of Christianity have the difficulties of Orientals confronted with a strange religion been approached with a sympathy so profound and understanding; tact and gentleness are carried every day by Fr. Ricci to the point of the miraculous.

Profound' study of Chinese language. philosophy and religion had convinced Fr. Ricci that God had already spoken to these countless millions and revealed much of Himself and of His will. He saw in Confucian religion, with its emphasis on filial piety, a providential foundation for the truth of God's Fatherhood.

But his critics saw only a shapeless mass of damnable superstitions; the Chinese Emperors would certainly burn in Hell: no consideration whatever could he shown to Confucian reverence for


A point was to he reached later when the Papal legate would contradict an Emperor testifying all that the Chinese actually believed -and this in a country where every foreigner was a barbarian.

Slave market

SO impressed had Ricci been by the Chinese distrust for the Portuguese that he made financial independence the first requirement of his mission. That did not involve his endorsement of that dislike. and he was scrupulously careful to avoid being involved in the rivalries between Portugal and other Powers also alive to the commercial rewards of Christianisation.

Like other missionaries of his time he had been dependent on the Portuguese for permission and faci lities to go East at all. Like St. Francis Xavier he had landed at Goa. It had not taken long for him to realise there the width of the ocean that separated his conception of preaching the Gospel from the tradition which linked the missionary to. the Viceroy and the merchant.

"Close to the cathedral and opposite the Viceroy's palace was held the slave market, where boys and girls of two continents were sold for a trifle to the common

soldiery. Every Portuguese possessed a servile retinue. administrating orders in the form of blows along the lines set by Albuquerque who, capturing Goa in 1510, had massacred the entire Mohammedan population. No law curbed their cruelty.

" The Viceroy, all-powerful representative of the King. was appointed for three years only, all too short a time to amass a fortune unless he permitted judges to he bribed, heinous offences to he condoned. offices to be privately bought and sold.

" More detrimental still. the fidaleos. resplendent in taffeta and satin, who paraded like conqqerors under tasselled parasols. were wholly enslaved to the calculating. full-lipped half-caste women, occasionally to be glimpsed behind the verandahs and shutters of the twostorey whitewashed houses, fluttering a fan or strumming a guitar. No Portuguese women of selfrespect except an occasional governor's wife, privileged and protected by servants, would face the long voyage. and the men. fired by tropical heat and easy wealth. had for the first time crossed black with white."

Japan, where the ruthlessness of European officials could not undo his work.

" Conversion meant largely conformity to Portuguese habits. Neophytes were forced to abandon caste, usages and distinctive signs, and adopt the clothes, languages and names of their new masters. Those who could not he bribed were coerced. Nominal rolls of all Hindus were made. a hundred on each list being compelled on alternative Sundays to hear sermons on the benefits of Christianity. sermons delivered through interpreters (to learn the native dialects would have been proof of weakness. an admission of equality between infidel and Christian), the garbled translation rendering ' Spiritus sanctus' as ' Spiritus Mundi.'

"These laws were rigorously enforced by the Inquisition. If an Indian dissuaded another from becoming a Christian. he was liable to death. Denounced by a child, he might spend two or three years in prison without knowing the cause, before being sentenced and taken. on a great feast day, to execution.

" Prisoners were paraded through the torrid streets in shirts steeped in sulphur and painted in lurid colours with flames of fire. pointing upwards in the case of those to be burned at the stake."

Fr. Ricci's method in China was all that in reverse. But inscrutable Providence permitted that all his works should he disowned. Only in our own day has it been vindicated now that it is, humanly speaking. too late.

Not the least of Ricci's gifts to us is a trust in Providence which faced with perfect serenity the shattering of all his dreams.

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