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)

Who was Matteo Ricci?

di John Yegge

Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit priest who founded the Catholic missions in China in the 16th century. Fr. Ricci traveled to China for missionary work only forty years after the founding of the Jesuit Order, but even this early adventure was not the first to China. Catholic monks had traveled to China for missionary work as early as the 12th and 13th centuries. Other Catholic missionaries attempted to evangelize the Chinese people in the decades just before Fr. Ricci’s journey, but were forced to leave the country. Father Ricci arrived in 1583 and achieved incredible success in China.

Before setting foot in China, Fr. Ricci mastered the Mandarin language, that is, Chinese, as it is spoken by the educated and officials within China. Ricci had previously painstakingly developed a world map, which was the first European example of its kind. Almost immediately upon his arrival in 1583-1584 Ricci showed his world map the Chinese Emperor in the city of Zhaoqing.

The Chinese, especially the Imperial Court, were fascinated with Jesuit knowledge of world geography, astronomy, mathematics, and the sciences. World maps developed by the Jesuits served as visual proof of the magnitude of the earth and the miniscule nature of man. But at the same time his map illustrated the greatness of God in endowing human beings with a soul enabling them to comprehend the Creator’s intelligence and magnificent design. The Chinese Emperor gave at least one Jesuit a position within his Imperial Court, wherein he wore traditional Chinese dress, conversed fluently in the language, and advised the Emperor in important matters.

Understanding the universe through mathematical science was an idea perpetuated in the Renaissance, but previously unknown in the East. In this Renaissance tradition, geography was closely tied to cosmology that was based on Christian theology and this comprehension of the universe formed the core of Catholic epistemology and natural philosophy. These maps produced by Jesuit cartographers in China and elsewhere were strategic tools of their global evangelization efforts. The linkage between art and science as instruments of the work of God was something unfamiliar in Oriental culture, but common in Early Modern Europe, and thus taught by the Jesuits.

The Catholic and Christian tradition, from the Old Testament prehistory through the High Middle Ages and beyond, conceives of God – and, by extension, His creation – as rational and orderly. Creation, being the handiwork of a supremely reasonable Person, is endowed with lawfulness and purpose. This lawfulness and order is evident all around us. The regular return of the seasons, the unfailing course of the stars, the order of planetary motion, the movement of the forces of nature according to fixed laws, are examples of the One who can be trusted unconditionally. The Jesuits were promulgating this Christian axiom in their missionary endeavors worldwide. In fact, mathematics and astronomy are foundational to the Jesuit educational system and are seen as a necessary preparation for theological studies. This Catholic/Christian understanding of fixed laws governing the universe was exported to the Far East for the first time by the Jesuits.

Fr. Ricci also brought with him the first world globe and clocks the Chinese had ever seen. Among the works Fr. Ricci brought with him to China were Euclid's works on geometry, arithmetic, geography, cosmography, perspective, and horology. Fr. Ricci also learned all he could about Chinese culture, customs, scientific knowledge, particularly geography and then translate European geography into Chinese. In 1589, one member of the Chinese Imperial Court commented, “From the map he brought me to the Bible”.

Fr. Matteo Ricci died in China on May, 11, 1610.

The fruits of the Jesuit mission to China are evident to the informed observer even today. For instance, in the 1890s the Jesuits founded Aurora University, which was the first university in China. Higher education curriculum that focuses the first two years on liberal studies and proceeds to the student’s particular specialization is a Jesuit education innovation and is practiced in Chinese universities, as it is in virtually all universities worldwide today. The atheistic communists took control of China six decades after the founding of Aurora University and the Jesuits were, of course, forced to leave the country. Although diminished greatly due to political forces, remnants of Jesuit influence on Chinese culture are still detectable sixty years later.



28 marzo 2010