Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology

By D. E. Mungello | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3 THE CONTINUATION OF JESUIT ACCOMMODATION IN THE WORKS OF SEMEDO AND MAGALHAES

1. INTRODUCTION

After the initial formulation of Jesuit accommodation by Ricci, the enormous task remained of carrying the project forward. Among those Jesuits in the China Mission who inherited this project after Ricci's death were Frs. Semedo and Magalhaes. They continued to develop and implement Ricci's program of accommodation in the middle years of the seventeenth century. Neither were seminal thinkers of the level of Frs. Ricci or Bouvet, but they were highly capable Jesuits who achieved a high degree of proficiency in the Chinese language and a sophisticated, understanding of Chinese culture and society. Both conveyed the mature fruits of their knowledge to Europe through literary works. Although Magalhaes was an individualistic personality who often resists generalization, both Semedo and Magalhaes were admirers of Chinese culture. Both accepted the basic accommodative premises that the ancient Chinese had worshipped a Supreme Being akin to the Old Testament God and both believed that the Confucian Classics contained vestiges of this worship.

Both Semedo and Magalhaes devoted considerable attention to describing the Chinese language. Not only did this interest in Chinese reflect the practical demands of Jesuit accommodation, but it also was part of the fascination of seventeenth-century Europeans with foreign and exotic languages and the search for a universal language. Such a search was fraught with religious implications. While Semedo made few changes in Ricci's original formula for accommodation, Magalhaes contributed to its evolution in the joint composition of the radical treatise Tien-hsüeh ch'uan-kai (A summary of the spread of the Heavenly Teaching). The latter introduced the claim that both the Chinese and Europeans were descended from a common Biblical source and that the similarity of the morality of the ancient Chinese to Christianity was due to the Chinese receiving their Old Testament morality directly rather than indirectly through natural theology.


2. THE BACKGROUND OF FR. SEMEDO'S IMPERIO DE LA CHINA

Alvaro Semedo ( 1586-1658) was a Portuguese Jesuit who arrived in China in 1613.1 Unlike other Jesuits, including his more famous contemporary, Fr.

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1
Alvaro Semedo was born in Niza, diocese of Portalêgre, Portugal in 1586. He entered

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