Dialogo è accettare l'altro come è e come egli stesso si definisce e si presenta a noi, di non cessare di essere se stessi mentre ci si confronta con il diverso, di essere consapevoli che la nostra identità esce arricchita e non sminuita da chi di questa identità non accetta alcuni elementi, magari anche quelli che noi riteniamo fondamentali. La riconciliazione è possibile, tra i cristiani e nella compagnia degli uomini. (Enzo Bianchi, priore della Comunità di Bose)

La Comunità Cristiana e il funerale di p. Matteo Ricci

di Nicolas Standaert SJ

Quando si guarda a Matteo Ricci da una prospettiva attuale, inevitabilmente lo si guarda attraverso la vicenda della Controverisa dei Riti, in cui il cosiddetto metodo ricciano quale metodo missionario “adattivo” diventa un concetto cruciale.
Partendo da questo si potrebbe pensare che Ricci pianificò la sua strategia di adattamento dal principio. Tuttavia, quando Ricci si stabilì in Cina nel 1583, non era ancora chiaro che forma avrebbero assunto i rituali cristiani in questo nuovo contesto. E per di più la sua strategia non era ancora stata definita. Basandomi sulle mie ricerche sui riti funerari, vorrei mostrare in questo contributo che l’adattamento a certi rituali fu solo un processo molto graduale. Nel primo periodo missionari come anche Matteo Ricci adottarono un approccio purista ed esclusivista, sottolineando la necessità di funerali sobri e fondamentalmente cristiani. Solo gradualmente essi si aprirono rituali più cinesi e lo stesso funerale di Ricci fu il punto di svolta a questo proposito. Cinesi cristiani e non cristiani ebbero un ruolo di primo piano in questo cambiamento ed esso fu reso possibile a causa del dinamismo dei riti funebri stessi che sono infatti “rituali aperti”.

When we look at Matteo Ricci from the present-day perspective, we somehow look at him through the spectacles of the Rites Controversy, in which the so-called "Ricci-method" as accommodative missionary strategy became a key-concept. With this in mind, one may think that Ricci planned his accommodation policy from the outset. Yet, when Matteo Ricci settled in China in 1583, it was for instance not clear what shape Christian rituals would take in this new environment. Moreover, his own policy was not set at all. Accordingly, in the last thirty years, some scholars have convincingly argued that Ricci himself "had not formed a precise opinion on the problem of evangelisation in China and that his judgment concerning the means and methods to adopt in order to convert the Chinese varied in the course of the years he spent on this task."1 Based on my own research on funerary rituals,2 I want to show in this contribution that the adaptation to certain rituals was only a very gradual process. In the initial period missionaries such as Matteo Ricci even adopted a purist and exclusivist approach stressing the necessity of sober and fundamentally Christian funerals. Only gradually they became open to more Chinese rituals, and Ricci's own funeral was a turning point in this regard. Christian and non-Christian Chinese played a key-role in this shift.
The major source concerning funerary practices during the initial thirty years is Ricci's and Trigault's account of the Christian expedition into China, but this work does not contain a systematic discussion of contemporary Christian funerals. References to Christian funerals in China are limited in number and dispersed throughout the text. This can partially be explained by the fact that, in this initial period, Christian funerals were infrequent because the Christian community in China was not large—two thousand five hundred Christians and sixteen Jesuits, of whom eight were Chinese, in 1610. In such a context, missionaries above all aimed at spreading the Christian faith, and in terms of ritual practices they separated themselves from the Chinese cultural environment, while focussing on the major sacramental rituals, such as baptism, confession, and Eucharist.

Initial Purist Approach
In the beginning, the Jesuits were hardly aware that the importance of funeral rites in China would have consequences for themselves. For instance, when António de Almeida, SJ (1557-1591), died in Shaozhou, Guangdong, the Chinese could not understand why Ricci and his companions did not wear a mourning garb. The Jesuits, Ricci says, explained that "we religious, when we enter into religion, are like dead to the world, and therefore we do not make such a thing of this fate."3 In the end the house servants were allowed to wear mourning garments during the condoling period. The only other accommodation the Jesuits made to local custom, apparently, was the purchase of a first-class coffin, "in order to show to the Chinese the quality of the Fathers, because herein they demonstrate their way of honouring the dead." The major reason for buying a coffin, however, according to Ricci's explanation, was that they could not bury him in a church, as would have been done in Europe. Chinese custom would prohibit anyone entering any building that had a body buried in it, but the Jesuits did not want to follow the Chinese practice of burying him "on a hill far away from the house." Using a coffin allowed them to postpone burial; subsequently the coffin was kept in their residence for two years until the Rector of the College of Macao decided upon a burial place in Macao.1
As far as the specific funerary rituals are concerned, in these early years the Jesuits adopted an approach that can be qualified as purist concerning the Christian tradition and exclusivist with regard to the Chinese traditions. In general, Ricci and his fellow Jesuits were less tolerant in the early stages of their missionary activities than later, though they adhered to no specific regulation. If death occurred, the Jesuits' priority was to bury the deceased—Chinese Christian or foreign missionary—according to Christian rites. There was little intention towards accommodation of local custom. The Christian rites were based on a European template reflected in the major Catholic prescriptive texts: the Office for the Dead, Mass with absolution, and burial with Christian prayers. Interaction with Chinese funerary rituals was restricted. In the beginning years missionaries did not yet differentiate between Confucian and Buddhist or Daoist funeral rites. They were hardly able to do so, since in the majority of the cases that they could observe, these traditions were interwoven with each other. The abstention from local rites by Christians was therefore seen by the Jesuits as a sign helping to strengthen and spread the Christian faith. For instance, in 1601, when there were about twenty neophytes in the Christian community of Nanjing led by the Portuguese Jesuit João Soerio (1566-1607), Ricci reports:

These few Christians proceeded with much fervour, visiting the church to come for Mass on feast days, though it was at a distance of one mile and more. They used to submit their doubts and cases of conscience in order to know what they had to do, and they used to confess publicly to be Christians. And they used to abstain from gentile rites at the sepulture of the dead and other occasions. This helped a lot to spread more our Holy Faith.2

This passage, which is written like a summary, stresses in the first place the observance of the Christian rites by a small and rather exclusive community, wherein one abstained from "gentile rites." This exclusive attitude appears also on the occasion of the death of a certain Paul Qin in Nanjing in the same year.

[His son Martin] did not engage in rituals that did not conform to the rituals of the Christians. It was something needed because of the good example given to others. This was not easy because it was never seen that a man of his quality held funerals without the display of the ministers of the idols, while Ours were not present in time to perform all the ecclesiastical ceremonies.3

Martin made a public announcement that could be read by everybody, stating that his father died a Christian and had forbidden the ministers of the idols to come to his funeral. When the Jesuits arrived a few days later, they held in their chapel "a beautiful funeral, in the presence of his sons, dressed in mourning, and other Christians, everybody remaining much consoled by it."4 According to the Trigault translation, this was the first time these converts saw a Christian funeral, and they departed from the custom to keep the corpse in the house for a long time before burial.1 The following year, still in Nanjing, a certain Zhu, who fell sick some time after he had been baptized, left orders for his wife that "at his burial none of the ceremonies of the gentiles should be used, but in everything follow what the Fathers ordered." This approach is also said to have had a very salutary effect on all the converts.2 And at the funeral of Fabio, who died at the age of eighty-two in Beijing in 1605, "no rituals were used other than those which our Fathers had said were licit in Christianity."3 The family members and Christians are said to have been admired by the neighbours for the "new way of funerals" (modo novo di essequie), and for having posted a statement at the door saying that "no bonze or priest of the idols should enter there." Moreover, Fabio's wife was edified by the fact that the Jesuits performed their rituals for free, thus saving her money that she otherwise would have had to spend on the "priests of the idols."4 These short references are explicit concerning the rejection of gentile ceremonies in favour of the strict application of Christian ceremonies, but, with the exception of the vague reference to the mourning dress, they are silent about which Chinese rites were accepted. They depict a Christian community that is ritually separate from its environment.

Gradual change
Only gradually were some Chinese funerary customs accepted. This happened first through the initiative of the Chinese themselves and was largely due to the network in which the deceased Jesuit or Christian had been involved. As long as this network was very small, the funeral could be limited to an exclusively Christian ceremony. When this network was larger, however, the chances of interaction with Chinese funeral practices increased. For instance, when the Jesuit Soerio died in Nanchang in 1607, his fellow Jesuits did "not give expression to their sentiments, as was usual in China," because "it did not correspond to our profession." Yet their friends, dressed in mourning, came to their house to condole with them. These Chinese friends installed a bier and covered it as if his body was there. "They made four genuflections, and touched each time with their head the ground." Many are said to have mourned the death of this Jesuit. Some, possibly both Christian and non-Christian, wore a mourning dress for some time, "and when asked why they did so, they answered that it was for this Father, their teacher."5 This story shows that while the Jesuits themselves opted for a limited funeral for their companion, the local Chinese environment forced them to adopt a more explicit mourning, including several Chinese customs such as the four genuflections and the mourning dress.
Similar imperatives towards accommodation occurred when Christians of relatively high social status died, as was the case with the father of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) who passed away in Beijing on 23 May 1607, in the same year as the Jesuit Soerio. Xu himself was baptized as a Christian in 1603 and known as "Doctor Paul":

At that time the father of Doctor Paul died. Therefore, following the usage of China, the whole capital came to wail at his house and to console him with very grave ceremonies. And while he showed much affection for his father and made him a coffin of incorruptible wood such as cedar, with a value of one hundred and twenty scuti according to his status, he nevertheless was very careful in these rites not to perform any ritual against the rules of Christianity, deliberating in everything with the Fathers. In this capital, this was something very new and not yet seen.
After a few days Ours erected a catafalque in the house, covered with black damask; and with many candles and perfumes, which the son had offered, they held the solemn Office [of the Dead], he being present, dressed in mourning, which consisted of a rough garment of heavy cotton, with beret, belt and footwear all rather fantastic in white, which is the mourning colour; next they also said Mass. With this he and all the Christians were very satisfied.
Afterwards Doctor Paul carried the coffin of his father back home [to Shanghai]; he remained there during the mourning according to the laws of this kingdom.1

This text makes several references to Chinese practices such as the extensive condolence ceremonies, the expensive coffin, and the white mourning dress. The author's specific mention that no rituals were performed "against the rules of Christianity" suggests that the openness to Chinese rituals was an approach of prudence. Central to this description of the ritual are the Catholic ceremonies, such as the Office of the Dead and the Mass, in which the European black is maintained as the mourning colour. That Catholic ceremonies were important for the reporting Jesuit, is also evident at the burial ceremony of Xu's father in Shanghai:

He celebrated the funeral of his father with all the display of the ceremonies of the Church, even though they could not be performed with such perfection because the Father [Lazzaro Cattaneo, SJ (1560-1640)] was alone without companion. But even in such a condition, it was of much consolation to all, showing that the Christians had lost nothing with the religion they had embraced, instead the funerals winning in solemnity with the beautiful ceremonies of the Catholic Church.2

As the Christian communities continued to grow, the interaction with local rituals increased as well. Two years later, at the death of Bartolomeo Tedeschi, SJ (1572-1609) on 25 July in Shaozhou, Trigault not only mentions the practice of Chinese condolence rituals, but also reflects on past experiences:

After his death, he was bewailed by all the Christians and friends following all the norms of the Chinese style, because the Fathers now knew the rites to be observed in such circumstances; due to ignorance, these had been unclear at the death of those who died at the beginning of the mission.3

The prudent approach of the past is here explained on the basis of ignorance, thus admitting that changes were to occur. Funeral practices show that in this initial period, Christianity in China resembled a voluntary society, composed of rather strict and committed Christian believers bound to each other by the participation in the same rituals. The exclusive membership policy, with an emphasis on adult conversion and commitment, was accompanied by exclusive ritual practice. While for certain rituals, such as the Eucharist, one could easily maintain the separation; for others, however, such as funerals, compromise was necessary.

Ricci's funeral as turning point
The death of Matteo Ricci in Beijing in 1610 was a turning point in some ways, because his funeral and burial were the cause of the Jesuits themselves becoming involved with more Chinese funerary customs. Immediately after his death, one of the lay brothers, Manuel Pereira (You Wenhui, 1575-1610), painted a portrait, which was a classical Chinese tradition.1 Next a coffin had to be found. "The Chinese place their dead in wooden coffins, which are made of incorruptible wood, when that is obtainable, sparing no expense in the making. This was something which the Fathers could not afford, because of their vow of poverty, and also because of their present financial condition".2 But the coffin was generously offered by Leo Li Zhizao (1571-1630). The body was place in the casket and taken to the church, where a funeral Mass was celebrated and the Office of the Dead chanted by the Fathers and the neophytes. "Afterwards, it was returned to the house and, in keeping with the Chinese custom, placed on a platform for the [mourning] visit of friends". At this stage the authors explain in detail the Chinese practices to which Ricci was subjected.
The critical step in this process was the decision about his burial place. At the initiative of a Christian convert, the Jesuits asked the Chinese emperor to offer an appropriate burial ground.3 The reason for this request was directly related to the difference between European and Chinese burial customs: whereas the Chinese traditionally buried the dead outside the city walls, in the European-Christian tradition burial preferably took place in or close to a church, and this, as had been the case for the burials of Almeida, Soerio, Tedeschi, and others, had so far always been the church in Macao.

With the funeral service performed according to the ecclesiastical rites, [father Matteo's] body, enclosed in a coffin, was kept in our house, according to the Chinese custom, until a place beyond the city walls could be purchased for its interment (because it is not allowed among Chinese to do that inside the city). This caused the Fathers some concern, because of the lack of space in the house and also because of this unusual situation. Up to this time, no one of the Society of Jesus had been buried outside the plot of the College of Macao and it was an order to be followed, that they would die in the College, or would be brought to it after they had died to be buried in the common grave of their fellow fathers. This order could not be followed in the present instance, and even though it could be, it seemed better not to do so, because it was quite evident that in taking the common father [of the Mission], the Divine Goodness had ordained that something extraordinary and unexpected was to result from his death.4

Ricci's corpse was kept in a traditional Chinese coffin. While some Chinese practices, such as the habit of condolence, were accepted, others, such as the funeral procession, were only applied in a limited way, because the Chinese procession was considered to resemble an act of "triumph" and did not conform to Jesuit ideals of poverty and modesty:

The Chinese frequently keep the bodies of their deceased in the home, hermetically sealed in a coffin, and sometimes for years, until they have built or discovered a suitable place for burial. The casket is covered over with a shiny bituminous substance, rendering it absolutely impervious to gases. The casket containing the body of Father Ricci was kept beside the altar of the domestic chapel [in the Mission Center] for almost a year from the time of his death. When the Fathers came into the peaceful possession of the villa, the body was taken there, to await the preparation of a cemetery, according to ecclesiastical directions, and the instalment of a chapel. The transfer to the villa was made without the pomp exhibited by the Chinese on such occasions, because such display is more suited to a triumph than to a funeral. Such pomp, moreover, would have been out of keeping with our poverty and religious modesty. The transfer of the body [from the Mission Centre to the new villa] took place during the morning hours [of 22 April 1611] and was attended by a large following of converts, carrying lighted candles, in procession behind a cross, borne beneath a canopy. The coffin was placed in a room adjacent to the house chapel and stationed, after Chinese fashion, to accommodate those who would come to pay their last respects to the departed.1

The order of this procession with cross and candles corresponds to the prescriptions of the Roman Ritual. Sixty years later, after the exile in Canton (1666-1671), the attitude of the missionaries towards processions would be quite different, because they became occasions for the public manifestation of Christianity. In the early years missionaries pleaded for sober funerary rituals and opposed the processions that resembled more a "triumph" than a funeral, whereas after the Canton Conference they considered these processions a "triumph" for Christianity.2
On the day of Ricci's burial itself, 1 November 1611, all the regular Christian ceremonies were celebrated: the recitation of the Office of the Dead, the funeral Mass, an ecclesiastical procession (ecclesiastico ritu processio), and the prayers at the tomb in front of a painting of Christ. But in the end, there were also some Chinese rites:

When the ecclesiastical rites were finished, the neophytes did not omit the civil ones (politicos suos), and performed, following their custom (ex more), inclinations and genuflections first to the image of Christ the Saviour, and then to the tumulus. ... Many days afterwards gentile friends came flocking in to perform their usual rites for the deceased.3

A prudent and hesitant approach is again apparent. These Chinese rituals are not integrated into the Christian ones, remaining separate and juxtaposed because they occur at different times. As Johannes Bettray has shown, after thirty years of presence in China, the Jesuits missionaries were apparently allowing the performance of these particular local customs: some condolence ceremonies including the bewailing of the dead; the wearing of mourning dress; the performing of four ritual prostrations before the corpse (also performed by the missionaries themselves); the offering and burning of candles and incense before the coffin; and, as in the case of Ricci's funerary ceremonies, the inscribing of tombstone eulogies. In addition, a length of time was set aside for mourning according to the Chinese custom, and the practice of buying an expensive coffin was adopted as far as possible. In other details, typical Christian things were displayed with the best possible pomp.4

When Ricci and his companions arrived in China, they initially reproduced Christian and European funeral practices, which in many regards differed from Chinese practices. These differences can be summarized as follows. The time between the moment of death and burial was long in China (up to several months) and short in Europe (one or two days). In China the major location for the rituals preceding burial was the home of the dead; in Europe it was the church. The length of the pre-burial period explains the different attitudes towards the corpse: in China the corpse had to be preserved in an airtight coffin, while in Europe the corpse was transported in a reusable coffin and often wrapped only in linen for burial. In China rituals of condolence were offered in the period between encoffining and entombment, with family members the main actors in all these ceremonies while specialists played only a secondary role. In Europe the main actors were the priests while family members play a secondary role. The corpse was transported to a place of burial outside the Chinese village or town in a grand procession; in Europe, the corpse was conveyed to its grave in a simple procession and buried inside or near the church. After one hundred years, Chinese Christian funerals adopted most of the Chinese practices. At the time of Ricci's funeral we see a glimpse of these changes.
An important factor enabling this evolution is the nature of the funeral rite itself. Funeral rituals tend to be open rituals: though they can be limited to the in-group, usually they are inclined to be open to all people who were associated with the deceased or the relatives of the deceased. As long as a ritual community was a small minority group, as was the case with the Christian community in the first thirty years, it was possible to maintain a certain exclusivity, with a limited number of participants in an established set of Christian rituals. At that stage Christianity offered an alternative way of funerals that apparently was separated from the practices of the ambient culture. The new Chinese Christian community clearly adopted new practices, such as the celebration of a Mass and the chanting of specific Christian prayers, for which there was no equivalent in Chinese culture. But once the group of Christians grew, the social connections with people outside the group increased as well. As a result, after a death, more people who were not members of the initial ritual community wanted to express condolence and use their own non-Christian rituals for it. Thus the Chinese who were not directly involved in the Christian community became a primary agent in the change that was to occur in the funerals celebrated by that community. Therein funerals differ from other rituals, such as the Christian Eucharist or confession.1 The latter are "closed" or exclusive rituals, since they are only for the participation of in-group members; they are not so easily affected by people from outside the community and over the course of time, as was the case in China, largely retained their European characteristics.

1. Joseph Shih, "Introduction", in Matteo Ricci & Nicolas Trigault, Histoire de l'expédition chrétienne au royaume de la Chine (1582-1610), Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1978, pp. 11-59.
2. The central part of this contribution is based on Nicolas Standaert, The Interweaving of Rituals: Funerals in the Cultural Exchange between China and Europe, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008, pp. 82-88 and pp. 115-116. Bettray (1953) already devoted an in-depth research to this topic.
3. Almeida died 17 October. FR I, 311-12; Bettray (1955), 303. Compare also with Trigault and Ricci (1953), 242.
4. FR I, 311-12; Bettray (1955), 303-4.
5. FR II, 334; Bettray (1955), 299. Compare with Trigault and Ricci (1953), 447.
6. R II, 246; Bettray (1955), 300-1. Compare with Trigault and Ricci (1953), 427.
7. FR II, 247; Bettray (1955), 300-1.
8. Trigault and Ricci (1953), 427-28.
9. FR II, 249; Bettray (1955), 301; (1953), 428-29.
10. FR II, 351 (christianità). Trigault and Ricci (1953), 474.
11. OS II, 368.
12. OS II, 328 (letter to C. Aquaviva, 18 Oct. 1607 quoting a report by M. Dias Sr.); Bettray (1955), 305.
13. FR II, 361; Bettray (1955), 310. Trigault and Ricci (1953), 477-78.
14. FR II, 516; Bettray (1955), 302 (this passage was written by Trigault). Trigault and Ricci (1953), 553.
15. FR II, 523 (in Portuguese: estilo and cortezias); Bettray (1955), 306. Compare with Trigault and Ricci (1953), 556: the remark about past experiences is not mentioned.
16. Standaert, 129-32.
17. FR II, 543-44; Trigault and Ricci (1953), 564.
18. See detailed discussion in chapter seven of The Interweaving of Rituals.
19. FR II, 565-66; Trigault and Ricci (1953), 566-67 (slightly adapted).
20. R II, 619-20; Trigault and Ricci (1953), 588 (slightly adapted); Bettray (1955), 309.
21. Standaert, 133-36.
22. FR II, 628; Bettray (1955), 309. Trigault and Ricci (1953), 592.
23. Bettray (1955), 312.
24. On the Eucharist, see Dudink (2007); on confession see the various articles in Forgive Us Our Sins (2006).


FR: Matteo Ricci. Fonti Ricciane. 1942-1949. 3 vols. Ed. Pasquale d'Elia. Rome: La Libreria dello Stato.
OS: Opere Storiche del P. Matteo Ricci S.I. Vol. 1, Commentari della Cina, 1911. Vol. 2, Le Lettere dalla Cina (1580-1610), con appendice di documenti inediti, 1913. Ed. Pietro Tacchi Venturi. Macerata: Filippo Giorgetti.
Bettray, Johannes. 1955. Die Akkommodationsmethode des P. Matteo Ricci S.J. in China. Rome: Univ. Pont. Gregoriana.
Dudink, Ad. 2007. “The Holy Mass in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century China: Introduction to and Annotated Translations of Yu Misa gongcheng (1721), Manual for Attending Mass”, in Noël Golvers & Sara Lievens (eds.), A Lifelong Dedication to the China Mission: Essays Presented in Honor of Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, CICM, on theOoccasion of His 75th Birthday and the 25th Anniversary of the F. Verbiest Institute K.U.Leuven, Leuven: K.U.Leuven / Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, 207-326.
Forgive Us Our Sins: Confession in Late Ming and Early Qing China. 2006. Ed. Nicolas Standaert and Ad Dudink. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 55. Sankt Augustin/ Nettetal: Steyler Verlag.
Standaert, Nicolas, The Interweaving of Rituals: Funerals in the Cultural Exchange between China and Europe, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008
Trigault, Nicolas, and Matteo Ricci. 1953. China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci, 1583-1610. Trans. Louis J. Gallagher. New York: Random House.

Nicolas Standaert è nato il 15 ottobre 1959 ad Antwerpen in Belgio. Nel 1982 ha conseguito la laurea in Studi Cinesi all’Università di Leida, dal 1993 è professore di Studi cinesi a Lovanio, in Belgio. Il suo ambito di ricerca sono i contatti tra la Cina e l’Europa nel diciassettesimo secolo, specialmente il modo in cui gli studiosi cinesi hanno ricevuto e hanno reagito alla cultura europea.

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6 marzo 2010