Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lessons Learned From Matteo Ricci

This year, the 400 anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, Jesuit (1552-1610) has seen a number of events, seminars and  academic meetings on this  extraordinary missioner to China. He never entered Korea but influenced the life of early Korean Christians through his books. The importance of Ricci's contribution was discussed during the recent International Academic Meeting here in Korea, with excerpts from the talks appearing in the Catholic Times. A summary of the talks follows.

Ricci not only introduced  European knowledge to China but also introduced Chinese religion and philosophy to Europe. Ricci's method of evangelizing, according to one scholar,  can be briefly stated: He introduced European knowledge and Renaissance culture to the educated Chinese, respecting Chinese customs and rites and adapting  them, what we now call inculturation. He pursued the road of friendship with the educated and started a new way-- working from the top down. In 1773 the Jesuits  were disbanded by the Church partly because of the problems in  their accommodation in the Rites Controversy. The influence of Ricci, however, continued to have a  great impact  on the educated classes both in China and in Europe.

One Scholar described the mission work of Ricci as based on friendship. According to this scholar, his death at the rather young age of 57 was precisely because of this ability to make friends; his openness to them meant that he had a steady stream of visits from the learned which brought a great deal of fatigue into his life. The scholar believes this was the reason for his early death.  Valignano was Ricci 's mentor and was  considered the father of the missions in China but our scholar thinks  Ricci deserves  the title.

Another scholar points out that Ricci did not follow the usual missionary example in the 16th century, where missioners followed  the sword, but  he fashioned a peaceful accommodation to the culture that was very successful; it was the dialogue approach to mission.
One of the participants  mentioned  the mission life of Giulio Aleni, a talented and learned missioner whose life of  Ricci became his textbook.  He was a second generation Jesuit in China, who  followed the way of accommodation and even complemented  some of Ricci's methods.

Credit was also given to Alesandro Valignano, a Renaissance man and humanist, who was directly under the Jesuit Superior General  in Rome. It was Valignano's approach to mission that Ricci espoused in China. His approach, one scholar said, was a foretaste of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council 400 years later. Based on the theology of St. Paul, his understanding of mission moved him away from stressing the authority of the Church and persuaded him to place, instead, more emphasis  on the people they were dealing with, which was quite a change from the thinking of the previous generations.
When Valignano became aware that many missioners in Japan weren't even able to give a sermon to their own Christians, he required  two years of language study; not surprisingly he  noticed a big difference in what the missioners could  do.
It is from these early missioners that we have received a wealth of information. Today,  missioners follow in their pioneering footsteps and are thankful  for making working in another culture  much easier.  

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