Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology

By D. E. Mungello | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
CONFUCIUS SINARUM PHILOSOPHUS AS A CULMINATION OF RICCI'S ACCOMMODATION

1. BACKGROUND TO CONFUCIUS SINARUM PHILOSOPHUS

Confucius Sinarum philosophus was one of the supreme achievements of Jesuit accommodative scholarship in China. As a translation and commentary of three of the Confucian Four Books, it demonstrated the uniqueness of the Jesuits among religious orders in using worldly knowledge as a mission tool. Founded in the sixteenth century with a presentiment of the secular tendencies of later centuries, the Society of Jesus had not hesitated to embrace the world in order to work within it. The pitfalls of this approach are perhaps only fully appreciated by Christians themselves who were warned by Jesus that rejection of the world was a prerequisite for following him. This viewpoint is aptly expressed in I John 2: 15-17 (New International Version):

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the World. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Christianity has always contained a thread of distrust or even dislike of the world as antithetical to the spiritual life. By embracing the world so fully in order to work within it, the Jesuits laid themselves open to wordly influences and temptations which they sometimes could not resist2. In working closely

____________________
1
Jesus repeatedly warned his followers about worldly attachments, for example, he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple. . . . In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" ( Luke 14: 26 & 33 [New International Version]). Jesus also said: ". . . the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful" ( Mark 4: 19 [NIV]). In the spirit of Jesus' teaching, a New Testament epistle states: ". . . don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" ( James 4: 4 [NIV]).
2
The danger of the Jesuits becoming tainted by the world into which their vocational method leads them remains a problem for contemporary Jesuits, as is attested to by Pope John Paul II's call in September 1979 to root out "regrettable deficiencies" in their behavior and to return to an austere religious life "without yielding to secularizing tendencies." ( Newsweek December 17th 1979, p. 51)

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