THE CHINESE PHILOSOPHERS
Shadows of the Trinity
In the eighteenth century China became the focus of an international religious and philosophical debate over the origins of true religion.1 Did God reveal morals and salvation through historical revelation or innate reason? Both sides in the debate appealed to Chinese culture. Deists claimed that China was a living prototype of deist ethics, while traditionalists pointed to traces of orthodox theology in the Chinese Classics, which supposedly evidenced revelation passed down to Chinese patriarchs from the sons of Noah. Jonathan Edwards followed this debate from his frontier outpost in New England and used China to support his own attacks on deist claims.
The eighteenth-century debate was dependent on travelogues written by Jesuit missionaries to China in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.2 The Jesuit pioneer in East Asia, Francis Xavier, died in 1552 just off the coast of China while waiting to enter the country. In 1583 Matthew Ricci settled in Chaoch'ing, a provincial capital, and then in 1601 reached the imperial capital. Ricci's clock-repair____________________