Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Reading" in Korean Catholic History

During the Jeoson Dynasty (1392-1897)  book reading was fostered. Wise kings would do much to  increase learning  and put the wise sayings and doings of the sages into print. The  government  would control everything.  Kings for the most part would  at least hold as an ideal the life of scholars. An article in the Catholic Peace Weekly on the subject written by a literary critic reminds us of this history.

Interestingly during the Jeoson Dynasty the king with his retainers would have something similar to a forum to discuss philosophical and political questions. This was considered very important and  looking back in history the  wise rulers were readers and would never miss a forum to discuss questions with their retainers. The ideology behind it  was Confucianism a religion of the book. Scholars did not just memorize the teaching in the texts but practiced in their lives what they learned. Through their reading they wanted to meet the wise men of the past: Confucius and Mencius

When Catholicism  entered Korea this was the culture they found. Yi Byeok (1754-1785) played a important role in the beginnings of the Roman Catholic community  of Korea. He on his own studied the teachings of the Church. He was absorbed in reading  books from China on western  learning. He was the person who convinced  Yi Seung heun,  Peter  (1756- 1801) to be baptized. On his return he brought many books and religious articles which helped spread the teaching in Korea.

In the reading of these books they became familiar with the teaching of the west and called what they were acquiring western learning rather than Catholicism. Because the historical times were very propitious to learning from books this made it easier for the spread of Catholicism. The way the ancient scholars and sages acquired knowledge in the past was the way that Catholicism spread.

What we describe as Lectio Divina  the reading and meditating on the Scriptures the scholars who were showing interest in Catholicism were reading the new books and putting what they were reading into practice and finding  change in their way of living.

The first printing house for the Scriptures came in to Korea from Japan in1886. The Daughters of St. Paul and the Benedictine press  started later, and we have the increase in the number of religious books published. He concludes his article by asking how much reading our we doing.? The number of those reading continues to decrease and he asks  the readers to imitate the early Christians and their love for reading.