Monday, October 31, 2011

Culture Helped Catholicism to Grow

At the beginning of Catholicism in Korea, with the many difficulties that the new religion encountered and with the lack of leaders, it is surprising to learn that it was able to grow and spread throughout the country as quickly as it did. One important reason why this happened was given by the Peace Weekly, in its latest article in their series on Catholicism and other religions, as it discussed the relationship of 'Jeonggamrok' and Catholicism.

Jeonggamrok, a book of prophecy, whose author and date of publication are unknown, is a mixture of divination, including geomancy, Chinese Philosophy and Taoism. It has come down from the past in many versions, and has had many followers, exerting an immense influence on the intelligentsia, who were disillusioned with the ruling elite, as well as on the lower classes. During the  last years of the Jeosun Dynasty, the Jeonggamrok was studied and debated often by the anti-establishment movement.

These prophecies also continued to influence society at the end of the Jeoson Dynasty, during the Japanese occupation, the independence movement, and into modern times. There were  ten places in Korea, named in the prophetic writings, that were considered safe havens from hunger and wars; and not a few people would  migrate to these areas, an indication of how influential the book had become.

Comparing the Jeonggamrok and Catholicism, the Peace Weekly notes huge differences. Jeonggamrok is  fragmentary, non-systematic and desultory, and yet it had a big influence on religion and politics, and prompted many to band together in secret societies that often planned insurrections.

During the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, the Jeonggamrok prophecies for the future began spreading throughout the country. At the same time Catholicism was also reaching a wide audience so they couldn't help  but influence each other. There are many within the Church who see this mixing of two ways of seeing the future as helping to spread Catholicism, even during the times of persecution. When one remembers that Catholicism was an import from outside the country, it helps to explain how it was able to put down roots so quickly in the  culture.

Why this book led to the acceptance of Catholicism in the country is not difficult to understand. We know that for many years Catholicism had no priests to lead the Christians. Their  introduction to Catholicism was not systematically possible, and those that entered were helped  by the hope that they found in the Jeonggamrok, even though much of this would be contrary to Catholic teaching.

Also helpful in the spread of Catholicism was the Nipokjeun, a book of prophecies similar to the Jeonggamrok, that circulated among members of the Catholic Church. Written in 1846, the book is believed to be the words of Yi Byok, John the Baptist, (1754-1785) who appeared in a dream to the author of the book. Yi Byok was a  leader in  the early church, and in the book he explains the principles of creation, why the first parents were expelled from paradise, and the basic Catholic teaching. He also points  out what he considers to be the errors of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism; and criticizes idolatry and the rites for parents, and directs us to  the future world. The  writer concludes that  the Nipokjeun was  the Catholic Jeonggamrok.


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