Matteo Ricci: inculturation as a bridge between different cultures and religions

Autore:Gaetano Dammacco

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“Perhaps what the ancient Greeks did, entering the JewishChristian message into the GreekRoman world, or what the great Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, did linking Christian doctrine with Chinese culture, could be an example for us in bringing the Christian message to the Chinese people. Both Christian doctrine and spirituality need to be inculturated. The Chinese culture would benefit from the Christian message, but Christianity itself is enriched by the encounter with the ancient, wise traditions of China and the East”. This quote from Father Joseph Wong (a Benedectine monk since 1997 in the monastery in Big Sur, New Camaldoli, Camaldolese Congregation, founded in California, USA, 1958) introduces the aim of this essay very well. Indeed, we must ask what the teaching of Matteo Ricci is today and what the depth of his influence on Korean and Western Christianity is. We should have a better understand of the Christian and religious realities in Korea – so lively from a religious and cultural point of view – to understand the everexpanding mission of the church within the process of globalization.

Matteo Ricci did not personally bring Christianity to Korea, where he had never been, but he provided the key to open the doors of Western culture to the East and those of Eastern culture to the West. The unquestionable influence of his thinking on Christianity and Korean culture was strong enough to create the foundations for Christian faith in Korea. Besides the translations of scientific and humanistic Western classics into Chinese, he also wrote cultural and theological essays in Chinese, of interest to the scholars of the time for their high ethical content. For example, it was of interest his efforts to identify common characteristics of Eastern and Western culture, using logical categories for easy access to different cultural views of life. In his booklet The thoughts of believers, he concisely and effectively explained the

* The paper was presented at the conference held in Seoul by Italian Cultural Institute and Seoul National University in september 2010, entitled “The Legacy of Matteo Ricci and Late Choson Korea”.

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ways of thinking of Eastern and Western cultures, thus able to converse with the cultural elite of China and to influence the cultural elite of Korea. But, his aim was also to support dialogue and relations between believers of different cultures through cultural categories of each culture, by explaining the meaning of the authority of God and the doctrine of Christ’s Resurrection (for this purpose, he published De Deo Verax disputatio in Chinese ).

It was this “method” and the depth of the contents of the writings that led some Korean scholars to draw from the teachings and works of the “Chinese” Jesuit missionaries, gaining insight into the knowledge of humanistic, scientific, technological Western culture, in order to give solid foundations to a new Korean nation, that had already suffered from the subordination to China and, especially from its critical relationship with Japan. In 1593, Japan had invaded the Southern part of the country with a strong army, one of whose generals was Konishi Yukinaga, a devout Catholic who was accompanied by a Jesuit priest called Gregorio de Cespedes. Father Li Madou was moved by a profound and relentless desire to search for the Truth through spiritual, religious and ethical knowledge. The continuous search for the Truth was a point of convergence that could unite all pure and honest men, wherever they were and whatever culture they belonged to, either Western and Eastern European. According to Li Madou, «the truth».. is not fine words», but must be looked for respecting the values of the local Chinese culture, which he considered not clashing with the commandments. Moreover, the validity of his conviction was demonstrated by the fact that the very Chinese sages asked Matteo Ricci, in 1584, to translate the Commandments into Chinese, because “they wanted to obey them as they considered them in accord with reason and natural law.” According to Nicolas Standaert (Professor of Sinology at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium), the action of Matteo Ricci in China – the socalled “Riccimethod” – followed four characteristics: 1) “adaptation policy” to the Chinese culture; 2) “top down” dissemination and evangelization”; 3) indirect propagation of faith through European science and technique; 4) openness and tolerance to Chinese values. This method with these characteristics held in high esteem the history, traditions, ways of thinking, morality, religion of the Chinese people. In this way, Matteo Ricci...

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