The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea: An Examination of Popular and Governmental Responses to Catholic Missions in the Late Chosôn Dynasty

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The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea: An Examination of Popular and Governmental Responses to Catholic Missions in the Late Chosôn Dynasty. By Jai-Keun Choi. [Rev. Ham Suk-Hyun Studies in Asian Christianity, No. 2.] (Norwalk, California: The Hermit Kingom Press. 2006. Pp. xii, 423. $75.00.)

Although there are several other scholarly works which examine the history of the first century of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea (the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth), this work uniquely places specific emphasis on the conflict of values between the Neo-Confucian establishment of late Chosôn Korea who held filial piety as a core value, and Roman Catholic Christians who strove to avoid the practice of idolatry. Based on the author's Harvard doctoral dissertation, the book principally uses Korean primary sources, including state documents, rather than Western sources (i.e., Roman Catholic documentary material produced in the late nineteenth century for the beatification of the early Korean martyrs) as has been the case heretofore. The story which the author describes is well known in its general outlines, but no other author has discussed the conflict of values in the detail which is provided here, nor have Korean sources been so extensively used before in an English-language work. Without question, this book is the one book which any scholar not conversant with the Korean language should turn to for detailed, primary information about the early Church-how early converts dealt with the question of the conflict of values, how they faced martyrdom. The extensive information given about the early converts is complemented by a further wealth of detailed material, including substantial quotations, giving the views of Korean government officials and Confucian scholars about the early Catholics and their teachings. These extended quotations vividly show the abhorrence with which Christianity was held because it was perceived to contravene the core Confucian value of filial piety, and thus undermined the moral pillars of society. …