K'ung-tzu or Confucius? The Jesuit interpretation of Confucianism
Author(s)Rule, Paul Anthony
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Online Accesshttps://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/11233/1/Rule_P. A._1972.pdf
AbstractThis thesis attempts to trace and place in context the developing interpretation of Confucius and Confucianism propounded by the Jesuit missionaries in China during the period of the old mission, from its inception c. 158O to its collapse after the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 The Jesuit interpretation of Confucianism was rooted in the Jesuit missionary experience throughout the world, but, more immediately, arose as a response to the peculiar problems experienced by Jesuits in the Par East from the time of Francis Xavier on. Xavier and his successors were confronted by the same pressures of language and culture that had marked and to some extent frustrated earlier intrusions of foreign religions into China- Buddhism, the Nestorian Christians of the T'ang, Judaism and Islam, as well as the Franciscan missionaries of the 13th, and 14th centuries. Problems of translation and finding equivalent terminology, the Chinese tendency to syncretism and the difficulty of finding an acceptable social role, haul demonstrated the necessity of assimilation to Chinese culture. Alessandro Valignano outlined a sceme of accommodation which Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Rieci carried through. To Ricci belongs the responsibility for the decisive adoption of an approach to the Chinese through Confucianism. His distinction between the primitive pure theism of the Confucian classics and its later atheistic exponents remained to the end the basis of the Jesuit interpretation of Confucianism. His scientific knowledge, his ethical teachings and his anti-Buddhist stance were attractive to Chinese scholar-officials in the political and intellectual crisis of the late Ming. His acceptance of the Confucian life-style, including ritual observances, enabled many to accept Christianity as complementing Confucianism rather than supplanting it. Ricci's interpretation of Confucianism was challenged both from within the Society of Jesus by those suspicious of Neo-Confucian Atheism and by missionaries of other orders who favoured a direst approach and regarded Confucian rites as idolatrous. The Jesuits soon agreed to follow Ricci's line. And at the Canton Conference of 1667-1668 a working policy on the Rites question was adopted, again along Ricci's lines. The Jesuit view of ’Confucius, the Chinese Philosopher', teacher of a pure theism and high morality, was widely propagated in Europe and deeply influenced European thinkers. The Rites issue broke out again in the 1690s largely through its involvement in essentially non-Chinese ecclesiastical arguments. The missions of the papal legates, de Toumon and Mezzabarba, and associated papal decrees against the Rites, undercut the Jesuit method by removing its social base and inhibiting the Jesuit writings in Chinese. Some Jesuits in Peking attempted to satisfy European and Chinese critics by a fresh approach - the detection of traces of the primitive revelation and Old Testament history in the Chinese classics. This Figurism was rejected by most of the Jesuits of the China mission as unfounded and extravagant, but Bouvet, Foucquet and de PrSinareeach found sympathisers in Europe. Their critics de Mailla and Gaubil, and the Jesuit editors in Europe all made contributions to European knowledge of China which laid the foundations of European Sinology. With the notable exception of La Charmefs Hsing-li chen-ch uan of 1753> the Jesuit interpretation of Confucianism in the 18th. century was directed more at a European than a Chinese audience. And it still serves to raise fundamental questions about the nature of religion and about the possibility of crosscultural understanding.
TypeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)