Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: jesuit
Monday, 12 October 2015 13:32

Michel de Certeau: The Unity of an Itinerary

Nathalie Zemon Davis has given a very effective description of Certeau’s underlying intellectual and existential focus:

          “Whether writing about madness and mysticism in the seventeenth century, South American resistance movements in the past and present, or the practice of everyday life in the twentieth century, Certeau developed a distinctive way of interpreting social and personal relations. … Certeau wanted to identify the creative and disruptive presence of "the other"—the outsider, the stranger, the alien, the subversive, the radically different—in systems of power and thought. … To be sure, notions of ‘otherness’ were cropping up in literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis in the 1960s and 1970s, when Certeau was gaining prominence, but he was original in the multiple ways he conceived figures of the ‘other’ and how they functioned in many settings. He coined the term "heterologies" to describe disciplines in which we examine ourselves in relation to otherness; history and ethnography, for instance, could be ‘sciences of the other’ if they confront the often disfiguring assumptions we bring to our understanding of different times and places.”[1]

Reflecting on the forms, expressions and meaning of “Experience” was at the core of Certeau’s research: what language do men shape and develop to give an account of what is impossible to express and yet cannot but be said, sung or cried out? How does “experience” coalesce into “institutions” that want to make it perennial and yet are prone to disfigure the initial intuition of the founder? How does our creativity in everyday life, regardless of the constraints to which we are submitted, flow from the roots of our inner experience and create new social configurations? As Marcel Mauss had done before him, Certeau was somehow looking for “total social facts” (fait social total), the study of which reconciles and transcends sociology, psychology and anthropology. Certeau’s quest has a strong epistemological dimension: it wants to restore the unity of all knowledge presently divided into different social sciences and humanities according to the way separate fields of study or “disciplines” are defined and organized by the academic world.

As it had been partly the case for Marcel Mauss some forty years before, Certeau entered the “linguistic turn” because of such epistemological concerns: paying attention to the logic of language was the key for reconciling the study of the individual and the collective into one. “Mystical” language was Certeau’s special topic. He studied mysticism not only as an individual phenomenon, but also as a collective adventure. He did it through the deciphering of the Mystical School which flourished in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, especially in Spain and in southwest France. His encounter on  the one hand  with Jacques Lacan and a certain type of psychoanalysis, on the other hand with Wittgenstein and his philosophy of language helped Certeau to center his thought on the formal linguistic study of speech and writing. That study provided him with an organizing thread which was instrumental in linking his  investigations through many disciplines. No wonder that Certeau was so quick to produce an insightful analysis of the 1968 movement: right on the spot he understood it as a major event concerning people’s language and speech.

 

Making Sense of Everyday Life

In L'Invention du quotidien (The Practice of Everyday Life) of 1980, Certeau brought attention to all kinds of daily practices. For instance, the way people are walking into the city according to their own whims creates a  "walking rhetoric”; we read books in ways we are not supposed to do it, somehow reshaping and giving new meaning to the material at hand. In the same way, cooking rituals organize our own space and ways of living together, with families and friends. Somehow, the “trajectories” developed by ordinary people can be seen as “tactics” they devise to build up their own markers, paths and spaces across settings to which they have to get adapted. By so doing,  they “poach upon” the territories controlled by political and social powers. Paying special attention to the “ways of proceeding” of the silent majority therefore leads to a “polemological analysis of culture.” Culture articulates conflicts and develops in an atmosphere of tensions, and often of violence, for which it provides temporary balances, contracts and compromises. “The tactics of consumption, the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong, thus lend a political dimension to everyday practices” concludes Certeau.

As developed by Certeau, the notion of “trajectory” or “wandering line” is especially thought-provoking: “In the technocratically constructed, written, and functionalized space in which the consumers move about, their trajectories form unforeseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space. Although they are composed with the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, supermarkets, or museum sequences) … the trajectories trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop.” Note here the way the tactics of everyday life are compared to sentences, in which we use as we deem it best specific sets of vocabulary and grammatical resources.

Certeau’s line of analysis has been developed well beyond its original setting. The concepts developed in The Practice of Everyday Life have been used for explaining how people “create” ancestors for instance through representations and stories.[2] In modern megalopolises, urban-dwellers’ inventiveness is now taken into account by the ethnographic literature when describing how they make use of the places designed for mass consumption or how they carve out places for religious or recreational purposes.

 

History, Practices and Writing

Certeau’s epistemological acuteness took shape through his study of the mystical and spiritual literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It made him aware that believers had been continuously adapting their faith to new social contexts and giving new meanings to words, ideas and rituals coming from the past. Even for a 20th century historian who is a Catholic believer, any 16th century Catholic was really a “Stranger.”

According to Certeau, we cannot just project on the past our current vision and languages – and, at the same time, we cannot content ourselves with a learned, “objective” accumulation of data. There is an “absence”, a “lack”, a tension that truly opens up a way towards “historical knowledge.” It is the “otherness” of the one we first thought was “close” to us that gives birth to the risk of writing history. Certeau says that he started to write really about Jean-Joseph Surin, when he discovered how far away he was from this 17th  century French Jesuit  whose texts he was studying.

The reflection led by Certeau on the status of the historical text was inspired by his own historical practice, and at the same time it was  influencing his historical practice. His own research style has been well characterized by Roger Chartier: “’All of Certeau’s work as a historian was centered on the precise, careful analysis of the practices by which men and women of past times, appropriated, each in his or her own way, the codes and the places that were imposed on them, or else subverted the accepted rules to create new formalities.”[3]

  

Belief and Weakness: Entering the Mystic Path

As his historical research leads him to reflect on the nature of “belief’, Certeau also renews  Christian theology. He sees Christ as the figure of the Other, of the “Stranger’, he describes “belief” as a way of experiencing one’s weakness (La Faiblesse de croire, 1987 – English translation in preparation in London, Spanish translation available in Buenos Aires). Such existential weakness, he noted, needs also to mark the institution that conveys and gives social expression to faith. A “weak Church” is the only institutional model that can be fully loyal to the particular nature of Christian faith. Only in weakness can spiritual fecundity be experienced. Christianity had to be “scattered” (Le Christianisme éclaté, Paris, Seuil, 1974) in order to be reborn. “One can say that the mystical is a reaction against the appropriation of truth by the clerics, who started to become professionalized in the thirteenth century. It favored the illumination of the illiterate, the experience of women, the wisdom of fools, the silence of the child: it opted for the vernacular languages against the Latin of the schools. It maintained that the ignorant have competence in matter of faith. … The mystical is the authority of the crowd, a figure of the anonymous.”[4]

Chartier has said that, for Michel de Certeau, “History was a place of experimentation.”[5] The same can be asserted of all intellectual practices to which Certeau dedicated his thought and time. For him, a field of research was never actually defined and limited by its subject matter. His careful exploration of any issue, in any field of study, would rather turn it into a place, a laboratory : there he would  link together insights, hypotheses and methodologies into an ever-evolving intellectual synthesis. The discovery of the “Stranger” – located in us or outside of us –  was the driving force which inspired his insatiable curiosity. In a special way, Certeau tells us that mysticism and its study allow us to explore the very “strangeness” which always is within and outside our own being, such exploration will draw us farther away from our familiar ground.

Maybe when we embark into any research of our own, do we similarly need to nurture a “mystical drive” that brings us away from our comfort zone. Thirty years after his death,  Certeau’s works still challenge our intellectual habits and bring us towards grounds where we may be reluctant to be involved. As he would say so often, to fully live one’s life, everyone has to take some major risk.


[1] “The Quest of Michel de Certeau”, The New York Review of Books, 55 (8), May 15 2008.

[2] See Grégory Deleplace, 2009, L’invention des morts, sépultures, fantômes et photographie en Mongolie contemporaine, Paris, Centre d’Etudes Mongoles et Sibériennes- Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, « Nord-Asie I ».

[3] Roger Chartier, op. cit., pp.45-46.

[4] Interview in Le Nouvel Observateur, 25 September 1982, pp.118-121; quoted in Chartier, op. cit., p.46.

[5] Op. cit., p.47.

 

Illustration by Bendu


Monday, 12 October 2015 10:03

An Interview with Luce Giard

Luce Giard is a senior fellow researcher at the CNRS and the EHESS. She is the depositary and editor of Michel de Certeau's works. She is the director and organizer of the international conference "Michel de Certeau, le voyage de l'oeuvre" (Paris, March 2016).

- Could you introduce to us the colloquium you are presently organising, and which will be taking place in March 2016 in Paris?

The Conference in March 2016 in Paris will allow readers of Certeau's works to encounter and compare their analysis of his works. Invited speakers will come from all over the world. Generally they have never met one another, many of them are neither aware of other kinds of interpretation about Certeau's works nor have been able of reading papers published in many other languages.

 

- This colloquium seems to be very much focused on the reception of Michel de Certeau abroad. What are the countries in which Certeau's thought exercised most influence, and for which reason?

Certeau's books have been translated into 20 different languages, which shows how broad is the reception of his thought. Not all books are circulated in every country. Selections according to topics and/or related to circumstances and intellectual settings in different countries explain the choices made here or there about topics, issues, historical periods in which a local or regional readership got attracted to Certeau's thought.
There were also and there are still differences in time about Certeau's reception in different countries. For instance, in the USA Certeau was first known for his cultural studies, but in Great Britain more attention was given to his theological output. In Latin America his political insights were very influential at the time of dictatorship and social violent struggles

 

- Could you tell us more about the way Certeau's insights, concerns and methodologies are now received in Asia?

In Asia Certeau was first read in Japan thanks to some Japanese intellectuals who had studied in France in the semiotic and linguistic milieu with Greimas and Roland Barthes. Then his works started to be translated into Chinese, and in the last few years it was the same in Korea.
It seems that in Japan his analysis of the question of "time", "time-periods", and historiography attracts much attention. In China what concerns the practices of everyday life and also anthropology is at the center of the picture. In Korea the issues about possession, spirits, and the like are highly regarded in his works: the first translation to appear in Korea was "The possession at Loudun".

 

 

Illustration by Bendu


Tuesday, 06 October 2015 14:46

Michel de Certeau in China

 

Some writings by Michel de Certeau have been translated into Chinese. Chinese translations of "History and Psychoanalysis" (2010) and volume 2 of "The Practice of Everyday Life" (2014) have appeared, and "The Writing of History"(2012) and "The Practice of Everyday Life" (volume 1, 2009) have attracted the attention of anthropologists and historians. The other dimensions of Certeau's thought remain practically unknown. Much remains to be done in order to foster the impact that the thought of Certeau may potentially exercise on Chinese social and human sciences.

xu-ricci 2In October-November 2014, the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University invited Luce Giard, editor of the works of Certeau, to come to Shanghai. Three lessons introduced the audience to Certeau's thought and methodology in the field of historiography, anthropology and spirituality. And, most important, a one-day faculty seminar organized around some texts of Certeau, attended by 15 young professors from four different universities, discussed the methodology and meaning of social research in today's China.

Different initiatives are now taking shape in order to translate, disseminate and cross-fertilize the thought of Certeau in the context of contemporary China.

 


Tuesday, 06 October 2015 14:27

Michel de Certeau: A Biographical Sketch

Luce Giard, her editor, has offered an excellent and inspiring English biography of Michel de Certeau, available online at http://www.jesuites.com/histoire/certeau.htm#bio

Luce Giard's essay can be complemented by the reading of François Dosse, Michel de Certeau le marcheur blessé, Paris, La Découverte, 2002 and a Spanish translation is available thanks to Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

The sketch that follows is mainly based on Luce Giard's text.

 

Michel de Certeau was born in 1925, in Chambéry (Savoie). He studied at the universities of Grenoble, Paris, and Lyons from 1944 to 1950, receiving degrees in Classics and Philosophy. He also studied at the "Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice" at Issy-les-Moulineaux, a Paris suburb, for two academic years and then at the Catholic University of Lyons, which had a strong program in biblical studies. In 1950 he decides to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), following the usual curriculum of philosophy and theology studies, with special focus on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. He was ordained a priest in 1956.

He first started a dissertation on Saint Augustine, aiming to analyze how the latter had reshaped Christian theology into a pessimistic legalist doctrine by selectively adopting elements of the Greek Church fathers and readapting them for people shaped by Roman legal concepts. Certeau would always be fascinated by the circulation and transformation of concepts, codes and practices. This unachieved study of Augustine already encapsulates his travels from theology to history, from anthropology to sociology

However, he was soon asked to rather invest on the study of the first spiritual authors of the Jesuit Order, including Ignatius of Loyola. Certeau thus received a Doctorate in religious history with a dissertation on Pierre Favre's spiritual diary in 1960. Favre (1506-1546), a Savoyard (canonized by Pope Francis in December 2013) encountered Ignatius Loyola at the University of Paris, he was among the first companions who joined Loyola to found the Society of Jesus in 1543. Certeau moved soon to the figure of Jean-Joseph Surin, a Jesuit from Bordeaux, contemporary of Descartes, who had been involved in difficult cases of demonic possession (see Certeau's The Possession at Loudun, University of Chicago Press, 2000). Certeau provided editions of Surin's Guide spirituel (1963) and of his Letters (1966). His desire to better understand Surin's destiny and mystical writings brought him to the active psychoanalytical milieu in Paris and he became close to Jacques Lacan (see Certeau's Histoire et psychanalyse entre science et fiction, Gallimard, 1987, partly translated in Heterologies, University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Full Chinese translation published in 2010).

During those years, Certeau steadily worked for French Jesuit journals: the influential monthly Études, the quarterly Christus specialized in spirituality and two scholarly journals on religious history and theology, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique, and Recherches de science religieuse. He underwent a life-threatening car accident in 1967, in which he lost one eye The other turning-point in his life was brought by the events of May 1968 (see his book The Capture of Speech, University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

His analysis of the cultural and social changes taking place then brought him much fame in France, and from this time onwards he was asked to participate in endless cultural and media events. From 1970 on, he would publish book after book: on demonic possession (1970), on historiography (1973, 1975), on linguistic policy and social hierarchy (1975), on mass media, consumption and daily life (1980), on mystics (1982). At the same time, he would regularly teach graduate programs in different research fields at various universities: theology (Catholic University, Paris), anthropology and psychoanalysis (Université de Paris-Vincennes), then anthropology and history (Université de Paris VII), as well as literature and cultural studies at University of California at San Diego in 1978-1984. His Californian experience in San Diego ended when he accepted a new position at EHESS in Paris on "the historical anthropology of beliefs (16th -18th centuries)." He opened his teaching there in Fall 1984 but died from cancer in January 1986.


Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:00

Some Thoughts about Pope Francis, Michel de Certeau and the Jesuit Intellectual Apostolate

In an interview given to the Jesuit cultural journals in August 2014 Pope Francis mentioned two thinkers he particularly likes: Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau. He has mentioned the latter several other times, particularly for his edition of the "Journal" of St Pierre Fabre, which inspired the Spanish edition he asked two Jesuits of his province to undertake.

The mention of Henri de Lubac might not be very surprising, as the author of 'Meditations on the Church" is certainly a Jesuit theologian universally respected and admired. The one he made of Michel de Certeau raises other questions. Famous among anthropologists and historians, Michel de Certeau may be a little less popular among Jesuits, and his style and thought have made him less consensual an author. But an exception to this rule should be made for... Latin America. Michel de Certeau taught on this continent many times, and several of his books were translated into Spanish at an early stage.

Michel de Certeau (1925 – 1986) wrote on history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences. He started by studying Jesuit mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries (especially Jean-Joseph Surin, and went on exploring the formation of history as an academic discipline, mobilizing his professional experience as a trained archive historian. He also tried to interpret the mystical authors he had been studying in historical perspective. The experience of the "night of the senses" or of "ecstasy" cannot be repeated or understood in the same way as in the past, but we are still experiencing the "departures' and "coming back" of God through the filter provided by social sciences, by psychoanalysis and by the institutional changes affecting the Church and society. In other words, we are still "travelers" and "migrants', but we travel through new landscapes and uncharted territories. Michel de Certeau was very sensitive to the inventiveness deployed by ordinary people in their everyday life (a dominant theme of The Practice of Everyday Life, probably his most influential book), and was thus able to speak about spiritual experience in its diversity and contrasts.

One can guess and feel what Pope Francis appreciates in Michel de Certeau's thought and works: a deep knowledge of Ignatian spirituality associated with a desire not to repeat the past but rather to be creatively inspired by it; a special attention given to the resources and ways of life of ordinary people; a deep sense of the crisis affecting Church institutions; and a love for cultural diversity and artistic sensitivity.

So far, four books of Michel de Certeau have been published into Chinese. An academic program is presently under construction for more and (better) translations. Several present-day thinkers consider that the resource offered by Michel de Certeau are nowadays more useful for understanding cultural and social patterns than the ones provided by more well known authors like, say, Michel Foucault. Here is a Jesuit author whose thought can and probably will grow influential in China during the years to come.

Actually, the influence of Michel de Certeau could be detected early in the words of Pope Francis. In 2012, in an interview to an Italian newspaper, the then-cardinal Bergoglio was declaring: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former." The word "self-referential" often comes in the words spoken by Francis, and it refers to something that he perceives as a specific temptation within the Church. In my view, the risk-taking attitude is the only one that can connect into a meaningful dialogue 'culture' - or "cultures" – and faith(s).

"Culture" is not a luxury product, is not something like paintings or flowers that we would hang on the walls or put on the table after everything else is ready. "Culture" refers to the worldviews, languages, ways of translating emotions, identities and insights that are developed and perpetually transformed by individuals and communities. Cultures are one with the "languages" (oral, written, artistic, emotional) that shape communication among peoples, and also communication between peoples and the Church. The Word took flesh within a given culture, expressed Himself with the resources of this culture while He was also challenging it, and He asked us to continue the "translation work" that He started when He was "explaining" to us (literally: "making the exegesis" cf John 1,18) of the mystery of the Father. By doing so, by asking us to continue this "exegesis" of the divine mystery in various languages and contexts, Jesus encourages us to go from the "scattered diversity" of Babel to the "unitive diversity" of Pentecost. When we close on our own "clerical culture" we refuse to open up the walls of our house, we refuse to surrender ourselves to the fire, the wind and the diversity of tongues that constitute the Pentecostal gift. This is the perspective from which I propose to consider not only our "cultural apostolic works" but also our mission among cultures in its totality.

For a Jesuit, the intuition according to which we are evangelizers only if we are "evangelized' by the people with whom we meet remains a basic one. Reflecting on Church history teaches us that building up a position of "superiority' from which to preach without ourselves begin changed ultimately produces rotten fruits. I am often reminded for myself of the words of Jesus: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are." (Mt 23, 15) In a context where Jesus reproaches the Pharisees to impose on people burdens impossible to bear, it certainly requires from us to examine whether we make our teaching, our living and our understanding of human situations one and the same endeavor. It happens that zealous "converts" generate more negative than positive energies. Preaching the faith and fostering a process of human growth need to be two interrelated endeavors. 'Pulling on the shoots to help the rice to grow" ruins the harvest.

A more personal note: when I include in a textbook of Latin and Roman Religion, as I did recently in Beijing, excerpts and commentaries of Tertullianus, Augustine, Minucius Felix, etc..., showing how their intellectual and spiritual elaboration was closely linked to the developments happening in the Roman Empire I may contribute in my very modest way to an "understanding of the faith" which is not direct evangelization but attempts to nurture a rooting of Christianity into sound intellectual and spiritual insights. The same could be said of what we do in a variety of fields. While not hesitating to be counter-cultural, we also try to make the Christian worldview better understood by contemporary culture, while trying to make the Church emerge from what is presently a kind of cultural ghetto.

Going one step further, I have no problem either in the fact of devoting - as I do - a large part of my time to the study of Chinese religions - as we could also invest in paleontology of biology. The Jesuit charisma should remain to be at the frontiers of knowledge, with a sense of gratuitousness - the very gratuitousness through which God created us - for it is the way we "praise God" by marveling at the work that his Spirit accomplishes throughout the course of natural and human history - a praise that remains on our lips even when we are confronted to realities that seemingly challenge our faith and introduce us into an 'intellectual dark night."

Thanks to Francis and to Michel de Certeau for helping us to become more sensitive, in everything we undertake and we reflect upon, to the wonderful gratuitousness of a God who delights in dwelling among us.

Illustration by Bendu.


Thursday, 08 April 2010 13:58

The Jesuits’ Encounter with Chinese Scholars: A Meeting of East and West

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Fr. Matteo Ricci. To commemorate his contribution to East-West cultural exchange and reinforce its commitment to its public service ideals, the National Central Library of Taiwan along with the Taipei Ricci Institute invite you to attend the conference of Professor Nicolas Standaert, S.J. (Leuven University): "Sino-European Displacements: The Circulation of Prints between Europe and China". The conference will be held on April 16th in Taipei, at the briefing room of the National Central Library. Professor Standaert is one of the world’s foremost experts on cultural exchanges between Europe and China during the Late Ming and Early Qing dynasties, and will give a richly illustrated conference – do not miss it!

Also, by attending this conference you will have the opportunity to be among the first to visit the exhibit around Matteo Ricci held at the aforesaid Library: The Jesuits’ Encounter with Chinese Scholars: A Meeting of East and West -- An Exhibition Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of Matteo Ricci. The Institute has been associating with Taiwan National Central Library and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organizing this exhibit which includes images of pieces held in the treasured collections of the Vatican Library, the headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Rome, the Archives of the Society of Jesus, and the Pontificia Università Gregoriana. The exhibit takes place in a new research room into which the library of the Institute has now been transferred. This research room is also dedicated to the new research focus of the Institute: the development of Pacific studies in Taiwan. (More information here).

Also, on April 20 at 2.30pm, Gjon Kolndrekaj, the director of the documentary film “Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit in the Realm of the Dragon,” and Prof. Antonella Tulli of the Department of Italian Language and Literature at Fu Jen Catholic University have been invited to hold a symposium on the film.

We hope that you will join us for one or all these events, register here or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

Mei-fang Tsai,
General Manager of Taipei Ricci Institute

 

Sino-European Displacements: The Circulation of Prints between Europe and China
by Nicolas Standaert (moderator: Pr. Ping-yi Chu, Academia Sinica)
Time: Friday, April 16, 2010, 16:00-17:30
Place: National Central Library, Taipei city, Zhongshan South Road, N.20 1F, Briefing Room
MRT: CKS Memorial Hall
The Jesuits’ Encounter with Chinese Scholars: A Meeting of East and West -- An Exhibition Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of Matteo Ricci
The exhibit will be opened half an hour before the starting of the conference.
The exhibit formally starts on Saturday 17 and will run till May 16, 2010,
9:00 -17:00 (Closed on Mondays)
Place: NCL, 6th Floor, Matteo Ricci Pacific Studies Research Room
A Meeting with Gjon Kolndrekaj, Film Director: Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit in the Realm of the Dragon
Time: Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 14:30-16:30
Place: National Central Library, 1st Floor, Briefing Room
Also:
Missionary to the Forbidden City: An exhibition in Macao celebrates the remarkable life of the Jesuit priest and Renaissance scholar Matteo Ricci, the first missionary welcomed into Beijing.

Friday, 25 March 2011 16:48

The Other “Ties That Bind”: Christianity in East Asia and the Pacific

In this and similar conferences, we are in the process of being reintroduced to one another–like a gathering of a long-lost family. Not just Taiwanese, especially the aboriginal population, and the Island peoples–who are joined by ancient linguistic and cultural ties; but Westerners, Europeans and Americans as well.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013 16:52

Finding your path within the unexpected

In this two-part interview, Barnabe Hounguevou tells us the story of how he gradually decided to join the Jesuits, how was assigned to Taiwan by the society, and what he likes most about the island.

 


Friday, 03 May 2013 13:29

Focus Response: Father Jacques Duraud, SJ on 'My God?'

Father Jacques Duraud made this reflection on his own faith in response to the eRenlai focus on faith and god in April this year. How do you conceive of faith and god, or even of a world without belief? Feel free to share with us!

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 16:09

A Centre for the Middle Country

The Beijing Centre for Chinese Studies (TBC) opened in 1998 and is located on the campus of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. 

In this interview with Father Thierry Meynard SJ, director of TBC, we learn of his story leading up to being named director, his thoughts on the importance of learning about China, and a detailed explanation of the services that the Centre provides.

Programs and contact: http://www.thebeijingcenter.org/


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 15:20

The extraordinary challenge of living an ordinary life

There are extraordinary moments in life. Moments of deep, soul-shaking happiness, moments of tremendous discovery, moments where the mountain we climb during the entirety of our existence suddenly offers us a glance of the richness of its landscape – valleys, clouds, streams and lofty peaks... There are also moments of extraordinary misery, when a beloved one disappears, when one's love is betrayed, when sickness is diagnosed, or when goals and dreams prove impossible to fulfill.


Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:23

(Dis)belief in Taiwan

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the experience of people from different cultures of faith or lack of faith in Taiwan is explored.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:19

(I believe therefore) I'm moral

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at what role faith and religion has in the formation of our morality whether directly or indirectly, and whether or not morality goes beyond a utilitarian social contract.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:14

The form of (In)divinity

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we explore the different images people have of god, and how this changes with time and with the progression of our journey through life.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:09

Divine In(ter)action

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the way different people conceive of the way in which any god might interact with the world and with humans is explored as well as the different ways that people try and communicate with their god.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:04

Living (Dis)belief

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the trials and doubts undergone by those who have already committed themselves to a belief or life without belief.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 13:42

(Dis)ordered World

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at how different people structure their world in relation to or apart from their belief system, and the link between the two.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 13:39

I Believe(d)

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the personal journey that people living and working in Taipei undergo to determine whether or not they have faith is examined and discussed.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 15:27

Preaching Tenderness

When you are playing Word Association I guess that "Papacy" usually does not trigger the response "Tenderness" - neither does "Tenderness" elicit the word "Papacy"...

Still, "Tenderness" was the central word in the homely pronounced by Pope Francis at his inaugural Mass on March 19. He repeated the theme several times, saying: "We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness! Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!"

Let me say something that will sound strange to many people: I think that Francis has learnt something about tenderness not only in his family and through his whole life (which is obviously the case) but also in St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits... Strange indeed! Most of the time, the Jesuits do not have the reputation to indulge in tenderness. Stern, rigid intellectuals – such goes the cliché even up until this day, and I must confess that sometimes the cliché is not without truth, at least in part... But I have found in many of my brothers a real, discreet and truly delicate tenderness. Let me recall here René-Claude Baud, a big, strong tower of a Jesuit whom I got to know during my noviciate in Lyons – Rene-Claude had spent most of his active life as a caregiver in the emergency room of a hospital, and the delicacy of his presence was a testimony to the humaneness he had fostered while confronted daily by the naked presence of Life and Death.

Ignatius and his first companions had not given to the Jesuits a more precise task than the one of "helping the souls" as they were fond of saying, when the Order was founded, in and around 1530-1540. Early in the history of the Jesuits, this general direction translated into tasks that have been called "ministries of consolation." "To console" was a master word for Ignatius: Console when you preach and confess, when you visit prisoners and sick people, when you reconcile enemies (those were indeed the first missions that the Jesuits embarked upon) and even – yes- when you teach...

There was a spiritual, even mystical foundation to this focus on consolation. The experience that the "Spiritual Exercises" (the spiritual guide for advancing in spiritual life) that Ignatius wanted to nurture was the one of the Consoling Christ, the one who comes to heal our most secret pains and mourning when one progressively opens up to his presence in our heart. When inviting meditation on the Resurrection, Ignatius asks the one doing the Exercises "to consider the office of consoling which Christ our Lord bears, and to compare how friends are accustomed to console friends." Deep, real, overwhelming, often unexpected consolation is indeed what the Spiritual Exercises are meant to bring to the soul. It comes with a refining and an enlargement not of our reason but rather of our emotions. Ignatius himself was a man of emotions, as testified to by his friends, who recalled him sitting on the roof of the Jesuit house in Rome at night and looking at the stars, tears rolling down his cheeks. One of his companions wrote: "From seeing a plant, foliage, a leaf, a flower, any fruit, from the consideration of a little worm or any other animal, he raised himself above the heavens." Tears of consolation were so abundant in Ignatius that he asked for the grace of not experiencing them anymore, fearing for his sight.

For sure, such an inspiration – which was actually very close to the spirit of St Francis of Assisi, a saint most dear to Ignatius – was often betrayed in the history of the Society of Jesus. But it always remained present, at times hidden like a spring under the ground. Pope Francis seems to me to have drawn from the spring, and now shares its water with the whole world. I rejoice deeply that what he is proclaiming first is nothing else than the centrality for life and faith of tenderness, and of heartfelt consolation.

Image source: Wikimedia


Tuesday, 13 November 2012 16:07

The Olive

There are many ways to tell a story. The concept for this one starts from the shelves of a supermarket, from a can of stuffed olives. This snack that makes a drink with friends more enjoyable is associated in the mind of the story teller with the country of our hero.

How trivial a beginning for a story that will bring on stage Saint Ignatius of Loyola!

Some time ago I asked a friend to design a poster for Saint Ignatius Day. He had the very good idea to draw the outline of a medieval knight and inside Jesus welcoming Ignatius still wearing his helmet as to show that his frame of mind was still the one of a knight. Leaving the vanities of the world, at the junction of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, taking seriously the call of the Lord, Ignatius is still a knight. “The Olive” tells us the story of a knight with big dreams, not only a dreamer but a fighter that against all odds decided to battle the French when the outcome of the fight was a certain defeat for the Spaniards. The bitter defeat left deep scars in our hero and that was the beginning of another story. All the vanities of our medieval knight were left behind on his sick bed. The closed world of the Middle Ages then vanished and Ignatius was thrown into spiritual warfare. In this other world, interior and spiritual, in this new era of culture with all the discoveries and openings of the Renaissance, Ignatius with the same singleness found his way. He was now led by God on a pilgrimage that brought him to the foundation of the Jesuit order. And the story is still going on. Let “The Olive” tell us what happened.

An animation written, produced and narrated by Jason Kapell of the Fairfield University Media Center.


Friday, 01 April 2011 16:17

Falling Off The Map: Global Issues from a Regional Perspective

I contend that Oceania is falling of the map because politicians and economists are pushing it off the map. Only people in academia use the word "Oceania", we use the word "Pacific" or "Asia-Pacific" but it is very unusual to use the word "Oceania".  I claim that one of the largest groups that can help to keep Oceania on the map is the Catholic Church...


Monday, 01 June 2009 20:12

A Spiritual Dialogue with Art

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'OPA’ means in Portuguese ’Prayer Through the Arts’. Originally founded in 1976 by a Jesuit from Paraguay, Fr. Iraguay, it is based in the city of Salvador (Bahia).
Visit OPA website



Monday, 23 February 2009 18:18

“Thanks be to God, we are forming people who are able to rebel!”

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A Spaniard in Taiwan Today: Fr Andres Diaz de Rabago (born in 1917)

The most well-known Spaniard in Taiwan today is probably Fr Rabago. At 92, this Jesuit priest is famous all around Taipei for his infectious laugh and the warm care he seems eager to bestow on anyone who crosses his path. Fr Rabago is also “Doctor Rabago”: he got a doctorate on medicine at a young age, specializing in the application of tomography to radiology of dorsal vertebrae. “when there were only six tomographs in the whole of Spain” he recalls. Today, he still goes running from one hospital to another, caring for his Jesuit brothers but also for many other friends. As he once taught medical ethics at Taiwan National University from 1970 to 2000 and has also been chaplain of the association of Catholic nurses, he is almost always affectionately greeted by old acquaintances during these countless hospital visits.

 

Family inheritance

Fr Rabago does not correspond to the bellicose model of the Spaniards who had been conquering Americas and the Philippines (and back then, Taiwan as well) in former centuries. But this does not mean that his life has been peaceful and uneventful. As a matter of fact, his story reflects many of the events and tragedies experienced by Spain and other parts of the world during the 20th century. He was born in 1917 in Galicia, an economically backward province that borders Portugal. His paternal grandfather was teaching Hebrew and sociology at a university, but was above all interested in the problem of rural poverty, trying to devise ways for the development of his beloved Galicia. Among other books, he wrote an influential essay on “rural credit.” After his death, and in inheriting the land, his youngest son (Fr Rabago's father) did not hesitate to sell the whole lot to start a fishery, hoping that this would provide work for a population suffering from chronic unemployment. He married a young woman who came from a family whose background was less intellectual but who shared similar social concerns; Fr Rabago’s maternal grandfather had started a bank by inadvertence, he had such a reputation for probity that the peasants of the neighbourhood would confide their wealths to him, and he in turn, would pay them interests. Soon enough, a family bank was created.

Similarly, Fr Rabago’s mother was active in a number of charitable causes, starting, among other projects, the construction of cheap habitation units, so as to enable poor people to become owners of their own house. She still found time to give birth to ten children, three of whom died at a young age. Andres Rabago was number seven, and his youngest sister (who also gave birth to ten children) is still alive. “My mother was restless, always taking care of one business or another, preferably of the poorer people in the area or the employees of my father’s fishery. At the same time, she loved us so much. Her love was a selfless one. When I decided to enter the Jesuits and later on to go to China, she told me not to worry for my father and for her, but just to do what I felt I had to do…”

The family was deeply rooted in the Christian faith, coupled with vanguard social concerns. So, it was little wonder that, apart from Andres Rabago, one of his elder brothers became a doctor and later on the director of a hospital. As he had publicly lamented the state of hygiene in Spanish hospitals, he was urged by the Health Minister of that time to retract himself or be dismissed, to which he accepted without hesitation. The youngest boy of the family became a Jesuit, like his brother (he would later on become a pioneer of distant learning in Spain.) But Spain during the first half of the 20th century was knowing a ceaseless political agitation, and the opposition between Right and Left was becoming more and more radical, with Catholics most often associating with the Right and Anticlericalism with the Left (though this was not the case in the Basque country, which was at the same time Republican and Catholic.) The civil war started in 1936… One of the brothers of Fr Rabago died in battle. This experience might have contributed to his choice in becoming a Jesuit after having gotten his medical diploma at the end of the Civil War. He admits that such a choice was not an easy one. Andres enters the Jesuit noviciate in 1940, in Salamanca. With this, a new chapter began…

 

China, Philippines, East Timor…

Even if he had chosen a religious life only after his university studies, Andres had already dreamt of being a missionary during his childhood. His dream would be fulfilled: in 1947 he arrives in Beijing – thus shifting from the Spanish civil war to the Chinese one… After a few months in Anking he goes to Shanghai where he stays from 1949 to 1952, being ordained a priest there in the last ordination of foreign priests that took place in China. “I loved China," he confides today, "and during these tormented times, the friendships you acquired had very, very deep roots…” After five years in China he had to leave, as all other monks and priests had to. Destination: the Philippines, where he accomplishes his second doctorate – a doctorate in theology this time. He subsequently taught in a university in Manila, while taking care of a dormitory. “I was so busy, there was really not time to rest", he recalls, "one task was succeeding another. And guess what? I fall in love with the Philippines as I had fallen in love with China – while not in the least forgetting China though…”

Soon, Fr Rabago has an opportunity to fall in love with another country : East Timor. He is appointed rector of the Catholic seminary there in 1961, and will stay eight years in a country that, at that time, is still a Portuguese colony and suffers from poverty, and misery. “At some point, the seminary, was the only real secondary school. We had a remarkable Portuguese bishop, who had understood that soon East Timor would be independent, and that the role of the Seminary was not only to form priests but also civic leaders who would be able to lead their country towards peace and progress.” This is indeed what happened, since the first President(1) of independent East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, and several of his Administration were former students of the Seminary. As were also the three first aboriginal Bishops. The very first one, Carlos Filippe Ximenes belo, was co-winner of the 1996 Peace Nobel price, with another outstanding Timorese, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta(2).

These eight years in East Timor, at the contact of a very poor population, in a time of awakening and search for dignity and political independence, are certainly very important for Fr Rabago. He still laughs, filled with merriment and admiration, recalling the day when he was in the bishop’s office: “The telephone rang , and it was the military governor, asking angrily the bishop why, during a recent village insurrection, all the leaders had been formed by the Catholics. After he answered the call, the bishop turned to me and exclaimed: ‘Thanks be to God, we are forming people who are able to rebel!’ And Fr Rabago laughs again… Fr Rabago has learnt from his time in East Timor that he was meant to help people in their personal growth while deeply respecting the road that their conscience tells them to choose, even if this road does not correspond to his own options or feelings.

 

Falling in love with Taiwan

His experience in working with youth both in the Philippines and East Timor follows Fr Rabago as he arrives in Taiwan. It was in the year of 1969 (he is thus celebrating his fortieth year in Taiwan), and he was already 52. But he falls in love again… and this proves to be the longest love of his life since he is still around! He recalls with much gusto his teaching of ethics and Latin in Taiwan National University, but puts even more emphasis on his role as a counselor in professional schools. “I have been struck by the fact that these kids had a speedier psychological development than the ones in High School who had to prepare for the university exams.” Assisting the youth in their psychological and spiritual development seems to be the passion of Fr Rabago. “I was feeling the weight on the youth when I arrived in Taiwan and was hoping that they could lead a more normal life. Little by little, I saw a process of individualization that came to maturity and witnessed an awakening of independent thinking. During my years in Taiwan I could not help but see some similarities with what I experienced in Spain in my youth, but Taiwanese people lived this political process in a much more rational way.”

On the whole, it seems that these forty years in Taiwan have been passing very quickly for Fr Rabago, and he is happy to know and to still meet so many former students. Everything he has gone through in his life seems to be a “confirmation” that he did make the right choice when he decided to become a Jesuit. “My life has been richer and more fruitful than if I had eventually decided to marry and be a doctor. The reasons for which I decided to enter religious life are still the same ones as seventy years ago. But they have become much more real, much more concrete. My thinking was rather idealistic as a youth. Now, my wish to serve other people with love is connected with very concrete realities.” This concreteness applies to everything: “A missionary must identify with the land he is living in.’ He suddenly shudders: “If I had to leave Taiwan… that would be terrible for me!” At 92, one can be confident that he will be able to love Taiwan up to the end.

 

Notes:

(1)The first president of East Timor was Xanana Guzmao, former student of Father Rabago

(2)He was 2nd President of East Timor

 


Monday, 08 October 2007 00:00

A day with Catalan sculptor Cinto Casanova

This is the story of a day spent with Cinto Casanova, a Jesuit and sculptor from Catalonia, in July 2002. He had generously opened the doors of his workshop, and introduced me to the different stages of his work. Now, more than five years later, I still remember how impressive it was to listen to his stories and to discover his personality, whose strength appears through his creations. Cinto has his own oven, where he burns the bronze he uses for his works. In a certain way, his sculptures tell me that we have to dominate the fire that burns within ourselves, so as to melt into a whole the many facets of our identity – as it happens for a sculpture…

 

 


Wednesday, 11 April 2007 03:12

My chance encounters with chance

An "alternative" biography...

Wednesday, 07 January 2009 22:47

Bob Ronald has left us.

Robert J. Ronald, S.J. died January 2, 2009 at Cardinal Tien Medical Center in Taipei, at the age of 76. He was a Jesuit for 58 years and a priest for 43 years. The readers of eRenlai who have been reading his fables and essays knew him as "Bob."

Fr. Bob was born in Martinez, Calif., on October 1, 1932. He attended the Jesuit school, Bellarmine College Prep, in San Jose, California graduating in 1950. Influenced by one of his freshmen teachers, Mr. Albert Klaeser, S.J., soon to be assigned to China. Bob applied to the Jesuits and was accepted into the novitiate on August 14, 1950. He had a strong desire to do missionary work and petitioned the Provincial to be sent on several occasions: “Even before I went to Bellarmine I felt attracted to the missions and that desire has remained with me in varying degrees since then.” His wish was granted and at the completion of his philosophy course at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington in 1957, he followed in the footsteps of his former teacher to Asia. Fr. Klaeser was later to become Bob’s Jesuit Superior in Taiwan.

While studying Mandarin in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Bob was stricken with polio in September 1958. He received a further setback when, while being prepped for orthopedic surgery in the U.S., he suffered cardiac arrest and had to be cut open for doctors to resuscitate his heart. He made a slow and painful recovery, receiving therapy at Warm Springs, Georgia. After two periods of strenuous therapy, he made a remarkable recovery and was assigned to Bellarmine Prep to teach public speaking and debate for a semester. All remarked on his constant good cheer and indomitable spirit. His attitude was reflected in his statement: “I am healthy. More healthy than before polio even, just limited in local motion, that’s all.” He was determined to go back to China and was able to resume his languages studies in Taiwan in 1961. He studied Theology in Baguio City, Philippines, 1962-66, and was ordained a priest on May 9, 1965.

Fr. Bob returned to the States in 1968 and worked on a M.S. degree in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Arizona. He interned at hospitals in Phoenix and was able to get around in a van specially equipped with hand controls and a lift gate. He returned to Taiwan in December 1971 and took up a post as a consultant at the Veteran’s Hospital in Taipei, a position he held until he retired in January 2002. At the same time, he organized and led his own organization, Operation De-Handicap, to provide follow-up vocational counseling and referral services for the disabled. In addition to working with individuals, Bob produced manuals for those working with the handicapped and their families, taught classes and workshops, and gave presentations at international conferences on rehabilitation throughout the world. The organization’s philosophy stressed helping persons to help themselves and assume the ultimate responsibility for their own rehabilitation. The role of the family in the rehabilitation program was also stressed.

In 1974, Bob suffered major injuries in a head-on collision and remained in critical condition for some time. He was able to resume his work, but a year later, an infection set in and his left leg was amputated above the knee. Still, Bob remained undaunted, continued his work and was able to visit foundations and benefactors to support his organization, including a 13,000 mile van trip around the U.S. lecturing and raising money. He continued his writing, counseling, and teaching. His books went through many revisions and printings and were distributed gratis. Over the years the focus of Operation De-Handicap has shifted from those recovering from polio to those coping with other disabilities, especially muscular dystrophy. Bob also devised a computerized pictorial vocational interest inventory test for use with the retarded and those with limited literacy.

Over the years Bob has been recognized as a national authority on rehabilitation in Taiwan and has received government and private awards for his work. His work has been instrumental in bringing those with handicaps into the mainstream of society throughout Asia and will continue to do so in the future through the capable hands of Bob’s associates. He was well aware of the apostolic dimensions of his work. “Though I seldom have the occasion…to explicitly introduce God or the Church, my identity as a priest and as a Jesuit is nearly universally known and my motives respected.”

After retiring from more than 30 years of service at Taiwan’s Veterans’ Hospital, Fr. Bob volunteered to work at Jesuit-run Kuangchi Program Service in Taipei. There, he wrote and corrected English scripts for KPS productions. During his final years, he became a prolific writer of editorials, poems, and fables for the Jesuit monthly Renlai. Many of his writings can be found on the publication’s electronic website www.erenlai.com. Renlai plans to collect, edit and publish Fr. Bob’s writings in book form.

Fr. Bob will be remembered for his deep spirituality and persistence in adversity; he saw his physical setbacks as opportunities for service to others. He often amazed people by claiming that the two greatest gifts he had received from God were his polio affliction and his car accident, because these sufferings taught him so much and enabled him to help so many people with similar afflictions.

Fr. Bob’s kind and joyful disposition, his positive outlook, and deeply human spirituality made him an excellent spiritual director for Jesuits and lay people alike. Bob’s care provider of the last seven years claims that Fr. Bob changed his life through his kindness and patient companionship, always reaffirming and encouraging, never scolding, criticizing or complaining.

Although Fr. Bob has now left this world and his beloved Taiwan, his love of life, his strong and determined spirit, and his compassionate heart will continue to inspire and give hope to all who knew him for years to come. May he rest in peace.

Monday, 09 October 2006 00:00

Confucius meets Euclid

Some say, that without a Xu Guangqi, there would be no Matteo Ricci. What follows is the script and video of part 2 of a DVD produced conjointly by Kuangchi Program Studios and Jiangsu TV. The present excerpt deals with an important episode in the spiritual history of China: the encounter between the Confucean Minister Xu Guangqi and the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci...To purchase the full version of the DVD  《Paul Xu Guangqi, China's man for all seasons》 contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the Kuangchi Program Service of Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci, Fr. Adam Schall vo Bell and Fr. Francis Xavier.
 
 

It is a clear morning in Macerata—a small hillside town in Eastern Italy.

In Europe, one sees many villages like this, ancient and peaceful.

Being in Macerata seems like living in another age.

An exhibition is taking place in one of the oldest buildings of the village. The topic is The History of Discovery and Science in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

On this world map, dated 1508, the outlines of the eastern world are still quite vague. 500 years ago, the maker of this map referred to the far-off and mysterious land of China as “Cathay.”

Marco Polo’s discoveries had caused a sensation in Europe. But in order to clarify this still very fuzzy picture of the world, more Marco Polos would be required.

This burial tablet, located on the left side of the exhibition room, commemorates just such a person.

In November 1610, the Chinese Emperor Wanli decreed that the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci would be granted the extraordinary privilege of a true Chinese burial.

Tian Sen Doctoral Student, History of Natural Science, Chinese Academy of Science

Some people asked the scholar Ye Xianggao why Matteo Ricci was being given a Chinese burial. For foreigners, this had never been allowed. Ye Xianggao replied that Ricci’s translation of Euclid’s Elements alone warranted this honor.

At that time, this classic work on mathematics was regarded with the highest esteem. It remains a witness to a remarkable period in the history of East-West cultural exchange.

The heroes of this story are Matteo Ricci and his Chinese student, Xu Guangqi.

In 1601, the year after Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi met for the first time in Nanjing, Ricci received news that created great excitement throughout the entire Jesuit community. The Chinese Emperor had summoned Matteo Ricci to the Forbidden City for an audience.

Zhu Weijing Professor of History, Fudan University

It was through his alarm clock, through his map, through his western paintings—these things had already won the admiration of the Wanli Emperor. When he arrived, Ricci had not foreseen that he would one day use these articles to open the Palace gates. But he was also somewhat constrained by them. When Ricci was in Beijing, although he had unlocked the door to the Imperial Court, he was given a major assignment. He became an Imperial Clockmaker!

We have no way of knowing Ricci’s feelings in accepting this appointment. But fortunately, this monotonous and tedious existence only lasted for three years.

One morning in 1604, a familiar figure pushed open the door of the Nantang Church in Beijing. The arrival of this person marked a happy day for Matteo Ricci . . . and an even happier day for the entire country.

Xu Guangqi, now 43 years old, had finally passed the jinshi Imperial Examination. Although his score was not outstanding, his senior classmate, jinshi Huang Tiren, transferred to Xu his membership in the prestigious Hanlin Academy. This position required that Xu Guangqi remain in Beijing.

Now after a three-year separation, Xu Guangqi finally had frequent opportunities to study with Matteo Ricci.

By this time, Xu Guangqi was already a devout Catholic. He assisted Ricci in publishing several books on religious doctrine.

But these books alone were not enough to satisfy Xu Guangqi. He had an urgent desire to know exactly where China was situated among the earth’s territories. He also wanted to know whether China was ahead of or lagging behind Ricci’s Europe.

Xu Guangqi discussed with Ricci his questions and quandaries. Ricci said to him, “When I came from Europe, I passed by a hundred countries on the way. Compared to all of them, China’s Confucian Rites and Music System is the most brilliant in the entire world.”

Then why is China at the mercy of natural disasters, Xu asked. Why do famines still occur?

Ricci suggested that the main reason was that scientific skills were still not sufficiently developed in China.”

Ricci’s answer opened the eyes of this high ranking official to the Empire’s weakest area.

Xu Guangqi suggested that they publish some books on European science. Matteo Ricci accepted this suggestion. It did not take long for them to decide which book to translate. Ricci made it clear to Xu Guangqi that unless they first translated Euclid’s Elements, translations of other works would be meaningless.

Why was Matteo Ricci so convinced of the importance of the Elements?

St. Ignatius Church in Italy is named after the founder of the Jesuit Order, Ignatius Loyola. For several centuries, the sound of the bell emanating from this church has influenced Jesuit missionaries all around the world. The Roman College, where Matteo Ricci studied, is located behind this church.

On the roof of the church, the stone foundation of an astronomical telescope can still be found today. This moment reminds us of the eminent and sacred position this church college holds in the history of natural science.

400 years ago a new subject just introduced into the college curriculum attracted great interest among the young seminarians. The textbook for this course had been arranged and compiled from Euclid’s Elements by the famous European mathematician, Fr. Christopher Clavius. This work ignited the enthusiasm of many students for science. Among them were Galileo and Kepler, later to become known throughout the world.

Christopher Clavius taught Matteo Ricci mathematics based on this textbook.

In 1577, when the 26-year-old Matteo Ricci left Rome for the East, the textbook was packed in his trunk. But compared to his world map, reproduced so many times from its stone tablet, the Elements did not spark that much interest among the Chinese.

In 1592, a scholar named Qu Taisu had collaborated with Ricci in the translation of the first volume of Euclid’s Elements. Why didn’t their collaboration continue? Some say that it is because at that time Ricci was dealing with certain obstacles to his mission, and had little interest in continuing the translation of this work.

Qu Taisu was only doing the translation to benefit his own studies and to demonstrate his talent and learning. After completing the first volume he made a grand exit.

Later while Ricci was still in Nanjing, a man named Zhang Yangmo tried repeatedly to translate the Elements, but did not receive support from Ricci. Why did Ricci refuse to continue translating the Elements with Zhang? The answer is still uncertain. Ricci, in his diary, confirms Zhang’s intelligence and eagerness to learn and states that he was studying Euclid’s first volume on his own without a teacher. But he also writes that Chang Yangmo refused to discuss with him how to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Ricci was waiting for someone who was both sincerely devoted to Jesus Christ and also naturally gifted.

Going back to the winter of 1606, Xu Guangqi was beginning to increase the frequency of his trips between the Hanlin Academy and Nantang. Several hundred lis from there, war broke out in Liaodong. For a time this development did not affect Xu Guangqi too much. He appeared promptly each afternoon at Nantang. Here, a teacher of wide learning and great talent and a school of broad and profound scholarship awaited him.

For this diligent and studious Eastern pupil, the early stages of the translation went rather smoothly. This is because Xu and Ricci adhered to the original order of the Elements. First they translated definitions, axioms, and formulas, and rarely dealt with logical deduction and proving theorems. Furthermore, they were able to refer to Qu Taisu’s and Zhang Yangmo’s earlier translations of the first volume. But after that, translation became more and more difficult.

Dr. Filippo Mignini – Professor, University of Macerata

Ricci himself said that Xu Guangqi moreless compelled him to translate this book. In the book’s preface, Ricci states that they worked four hours a day for a year and a half without interruption researching Euclid’s Geometry.

Ricci translated the original text into Chinese and simultaneously explained its subject matter to Xu Guangqi who wrote it out in Chinese. Xu Guangqi expended great effort in understanding Euclid’s Geometry, which was actually the logic of the West.

At that time in China, no one understood western logic, making Xu’s task extremely difficult.

Altogether, they translated the work three times. Ricci said that only two Chinese were able to master geometry. One was Xu Guangqi; the other was Li Zhizao. All the rest, although they tried hard, just could not grasp it.

This was a way of thinking very difficult for Chinese of that age to comprehend. Matteo Ricci’s verbal explanations and Xu Guangqi’s written accounts built a bridge of East-West cultural exchange that crossed the language barrier.

But to change from thinking in terms of images to logical thought required a thoroughgoing revolution of the reasoning process.

This revolution was taking place quietly and attracting more and more participants. Besides Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci, Chinese scholars such as Yang Tingyun, Li Zhizao, Ye Xianggao, and Jesuit missionary priests Diego de Pantoja and Sabatino de Ursis were among them.

By spring of 1607, Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci finally completed their translation of the first six volumes of the Elements. The final text was already their third version.

In Miscellaneous Discussions on the Elements, Xu Guangqi reveals his overflowing excitement after successfully completing the translation:

He who understands this book can comprehend all books.
He who masters this book can master all learning.
Only through geometry can one fully understand the rest.
Remaining closed to it closes oneself to everything else.

Dr. Filippo Mignini – Professor, University of Macerata

Whenever, I think of the two of them meeting and engaging in research and discussion of Euclid’s Geometry, I am deeply moved. Their problem was not just to achieve a superficial understanding of each other. Their problem was to translate two different systems of logic. That meant going beyond the translation of words, sentences, and equations, and translating the logic they were based on. This was a truly magnificent achievement—one of their most outstanding accomplishments. It was one of the greatest gifts that Matteo Ricci gave to China and also one of the greatest gifts Xu Guangqi gave to Europe. In completing this monumental task, each one’s contribution was equally great. Without either one of them, it could not have been done.

Mao Shuzhi Professor of History in Late Ming, Fudan University

Xu Guangqi, in his preface, states that this book could bring about a method of scientific thinking beyond geometry. He also says that he believes that after a hundred years, the book would be widely used. And that is exactly what happened. Xu opened the eyes of the Chinese to a new world of mathematics.

Ricci was delighted with the successful translation. He was full of praise for Xu Guangqi. But as for Xu Guangqi’s suggestion that they continue translating the remainder, Matteo Ricci then approaching his sixtieth year tactfully declined. It is an historical fact that when Ricci left the Roman College he had only studied the first six volumes. The mathematical horizon of the Chinese people was thereby limited to those six volumes for many years to come.

About this same time, Matteo Ricci’s former classmate Galileo was receiving acclaim for producing the world’s first astronomical telescope.

This had directed the attention of all Europe toward the depths of a much wider universe.

In spring of 1607, knowing that they would not continue translating the remainder of the Elements, Xu Guangqi printed the first six volumes. Shortly after the publication, Xu’s father died. Xu left Beijing and returned to his ancestral home in Shanghai. Xu always regretted being unable to translate the remainder of the Elements. He realized that this was a loss, not only for himself, but for the entire country.

In spring of 1608, when Xu was in Shanghai, he received the final edition of the Elements, approved and authorized by Matteo Ricci. Ricci hoped that he could print another edition of the Elements in the South.

Xu Guangqi also used this time at home to finalize another work that he and Ricci had translated together—Principles of Measurement.

Although one of them was in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, their cooperative translation projects were never interrupted. It seemed as if all this was only the beginning of their collaboration.

But 1610, in the 38th year of the Wanli Emperor’s reign, during the third and last year of the mourning period for his father required by the Imperial Rites, Xu Guangqi received word that Matteo Ricci had died in Beijing.

The dramatic opening movement of their joint symphony had come to an abrupt end and had become instead its final movement.

Matteo Ricci, at age 57, had lived for years in the dry, cold climate of the Imperial Capital. From the day he left his home country at the age of 26, he would never again enjoy the bright Mediterranean sun and its cool breezes. This Jesuit missionary spent the latter half of his life sharing his knowledge of modern western science, technology and thought with Chinese, enabling them to explore new horizons. At the same time, he was the first one to present Chinese moral and religious thought to Europe, laying the foundation for future Chinese studies.

Fr. Thomas Reddy, SJ - Director of Archives – Jesuit Curia, Rome

This is the bone of Matteo Ricci. It was sent to us after the excavation in Beijing where he is buried, as a sense of ‘relic.’ We call it a relic. For the Catholics, it is a symbol of holiness. Matteo Ricci has this thing of holiness for what he did for China and for the Society of Jesus. That is why we have his bones here with us here in the archives.

Matteo Ricci died on May 11th. In December of the same year, Xu Guangqi completed the required three-year mourning period for his father and returned to Beijing. He arrived too late to bid farewell to his old friend.

During summer of the following year, Beijing experienced many days of heavy rain. In his home, Xu once again returned to the Elements. Together with Jesuit missionaries Diego de Pantoja and Sabatino de Ursis they reviewed the translation, made various corrections and additions, and published it again.

At this time, Xu Guangqi knew that, due to Ricci’s death, he would probably never be able to complete the translation of the remaining nine volumes of the Elements. His feelings were far from the elation he experienced at the first publication of the Elements. He wrote a new preface to this edition recalling the entire process of translation and ended it with a lyrical lamentation:

The completion of this great work—
Who knows when it will be done?
Who knows who will do it?
The book lies waiting.

Opening the Qing Dynasty edition of the Elements, in the library where it is now preserved, on the first page of the seventh volume, one finds the signature of the translators—Andrew Wylie from England and Li Shanlan from Haining.

In Chinese history, this took place during the reign of the fourth to last Emperor—Xian Feng.

At that time, since Ricci’s and Xu Guangqi’s translation and publication of the first six volumes of Euclid’s Elements, exactly 250 years had gone by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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