Saturday, June 5, 2021

Seven Solutions to Seven Maladies

 In the recent issue of the Catholic Peace Weekly we have a review of a well known book Seven Victories (七克) [Chilgeuk]  written by a Spanish Jesuit missionary in China, Father Diego de Pantoja (1572-1618). It has been translated but this is the first time it has been done by a leading classical scholar of our time.

In the late 18th century, this was a book that was continually read even before Catholicism entered Korea and appreciated by intellectuals of the time. It is a book that has had a steady readership up until the final edition 350 years after its first publication in 1614.  It can be considered a commentary on the seven  capital sins and the remedies to overcome them. Father Pantoja lived in China for only  19 years, but achieved an  excellent command of Chinese. "Chilgeuk" was praised by the Chinese masters and the author was considered a prestigious Chinese scholars.
A professor of Korean literature one of the leading classical scholars of our time, translated and published "Chilgeuk", which is considered a "life training book" created by the  meeting  of Catholicism of the West and  Confucianism of the East. It has seven times the number of Chinese characters as in "The Analects" and is a vast masterpiece of 82,590 characters. The Korean translation is 700 pages long.

"The influence and ripple effect of "Chilgeuk" on intellectuals in the late Joseon Dynasty was considerable. The professor found  the book was actually a more critical text in conveying Catholic ideas than "the book by Matteo Ricci 天主實義 (The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven).
 During the Corona pandemic the professor lost contact with the outside world, and his working on the  translation of the  book gave him emotional comfort. "Chilgeuk is a great book for training of the mind and  for its cultural aspects but also as a religious book." he says.

Since May last year, the professor has been looking into Dasan Jeong Yak-yong's  related Catholic literature by publishing a series of "Hidden Stories  of Korean Catholic History". Dasan (a renowned scholar and one of Korea"s greatest thinkers who spent 18 years in exile for his connection with Catholicism),   fascinated by the teaching contained in the original text of Chilgeuk  he used it often. "Chilgeuk" was a book that many of its  expression and  proverbs would appeared often  in the writings of late Joseon  writers unrelated to Catholicism.

However, although there are existing translations of "Chilgeuk," it was not translated by Chinese literature majors. This present translation book can be put in the first place as it is a translation by a classical scholar.

"There has been no translation of the Seven Victories in China. Only the original text  in Chinese characters exists. There is no Latin translation from the Chinese.  If the professor's work is  translated into English, it will be the first in a Western language.

"Chilgeuk" was a powerful channel for Joseon intellectuals to connect with Catholicism in the 18th century. Father Pantoja suggests seven diseases of the mind that humans are prone to and seven solutions to them. Humility Against Pride, Love Overcoming Jealousy, Tolerance To Eliminate Greed, Patience To Calm Anger, Moderation To suppress Gluttony, Chastity  To Cool Off the Flames Of Lust, and Diligence Overcoming Laziness.  Prescriptions for each of the maladies.
Confucian scholar reading Chilgeuk  said, "It's no different than what Confucianisms maintains". The basic ethics of Confucianism is  克己復禮 —  overcoming one's selfish world of desire and returning to a state of proper etiquette. A Western version of Confucianism.
Chilgeuk is composed of prose that feels you are  reading the Analects. This was one of the reasons  in reducing  the resistance to accepting what was coming in from the West.

The professor  explained unlike  the Analects we don't  have the exchange  with the disciples, for Chilgeuk  systematically focuses on overcoming seven sins with  Western deductive reasoning. Father Pantoja has also raised the level of intimacy with Confucian intellectuals, citing the idioms and anecdotes of Western medieval saints, Greek philosophers, Aesop's fables and Chinese classics. This is why it feels like Western discipline rather than conveying doctrine. Although religious colors are not apparent on the surface, 154 quotes from the Bible are enough to internalize the meaning of the Bible.

The professor said, "It would not have been easy for ordinary readers to understand the contents of Chilgeuk through previous translations", and stressed, "Translation should also change depending on the era."

The preface of "Chilgeuk" is full of praise from Ming politicians, writers, and scholars.  One scholar wrote: "Great reasoning and subtle meaning awaken the mind and open the eyes." A literary writer  expressed it this way: "It pierces the bones and pierces the mind."  Professor Jung wrote in the preface: "The outside world is full of risks, and anxiety is always present. I am presenting this book to people who are dreaming of  a  right way of living."

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