Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Overlooked Connection between Ricci's: Tianzhu Shiyi and Valignano's Catechismus Japonensis

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Overlooked Connection between Ricci's: Tianzhu Shiyi and Valignano's Catechismus Japonensis

Article excerpt

It is well known that the Tianzhu shiyi (first published 1603) is the development of a previous catechism published some twenty years before, which Matteo Ricci completely remodeled according to his discussions with Chinese intellectuals. This article shows that Ricci's mentor, Alessandro Valignano, and particularly his Catechismus japonensis, written in Japan from 1579 to 1582, shaped Ricci's methods and ideas. This overlooked connection between the two works enables us to understand better Ricci's debt toward his predecessor and his breakthrough in terms of engagement with indigenous culture.

Keywords: Matteo Ricci-Alessandro Valignano-Tianzhu shiyi-catechism

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The four hundredth anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) in 2010 saw many publications on the famous Italian missionary and his works. Yet this new research has overlooked an important dimension of the relationship between the Tianzhu shiyi ... (The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven; Ricci 1607) and Valignano's Catechismus japonensis (hereafter abbrevi- ated as cj). While both are deeply rooted in the scholastic tradition, Valignano was not completely satisfied with a purely philosophical method and instructed Ricci to complement it with an approach based on the Chinese classics. As we can see from Ricci's treatment of the questions of the existence of God and of the immor- tality of the soul, Tianzhu shiyi uses a combination of scholastic and hermeneutical approaches. This adoption of a hermeneutical approach based on the Chinese clas- sics helps contextualize the scholastic approach into the Chinese intellectual tradi- tion, and Tianzhu shiyi's emphasis on the commonalities between Confucianism and Christianity opens a dialog between the Western and Eastern traditions.

Valignano's Scholastic Approach and its Influence on the Tianzhu shiyi

From the time of Francis Xavier (1506-1552), Jesuit missionaries in Asia wrote catechisms that presented Christianity through rational arguments and historical events narrated in the Bible and the Gospels. This reflected the Christian theologi- cal tradition that truth is not purely reducible to philosophy but rather inscribed within human reason and divinely presented in historical revelation. While the findings of reason prepare and support this history it is impossible to deduce through reason the truth contained in revelation and salvation. The catechisms of Melchior Nunes Barreto (c.1519-1571) and Luís Fróis (1532-1597) in Japan (Bour- don 1993, 610-28), and Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) in China (Ruggieri 2002), all display the same intertwining philosophical arguments of the Christian history of creation, the fall of humankind, and the redemption in Christ.

However, the idea of historical revelation was often difficult for non-Western- ers to accept because of legitimate reservations about the authority of the Bible and the Gospels; there was a need for a distinction between works intended for catechumens and those intended for non-Christians. Valignano approached this in two steps. First, he presented a natural revelation using only arguments based on reason, followed next by the positive revelation.1

In 1579-1582, Valignano collaborated with other Jesuits and Japanese converts to write a new catechism using this more efficient approach. This catechism was first published in Latin in 1586, in Lisbon, and it is commonly referred to as the Catechismus japonensis.2 The book has two distinct sections: the first presents a philosophical argument for the existence of God and for the immortality of the soul as well as a philosophical argument against the Japanese sects, which at the time were understood as pantheistic or idolatrous; the second presents the his- tory of salvation and the dogma of the Christian faith.

Some scholars have mentioned Valignano's important role in the writing of the Tianzhu shiyi. For example, in the introduction to their English edition of the work, Lancashire and Hu Kuo-chen (1985) show that in 1593 Valig- nano instructed Ricci to write a new catechism to replace the Tianzhu shilu . …

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