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Missioni, saperi e adattamento tra Europa e imperi non cristiani

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  • Autore Lavenia Vincenzo, Pavone Sabina (a cura di)
  • Codice ISBN (print) 978-88-6056-434-4
  • Linea Editoriale eum dir
  • Numero pagine 218
  • Formato 14x21
  • Anno 2015
  • Editore @2015 eum edizioni università di macerata
Journal of Jesuit Studies
Eum Redazione

di Thomas M. Cohen, Journal of Jesuit Studies, 4, 2017, pp. 501-504,

This excellent book collects the papers presented at a conference in Macerata marking the publication of the Italian translation of A Jesuit in the Forbidden City (New York: Oxford, 2010), Ronnie Po-chia Hsia’s biography of the great Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610). Ricci, who was born and raised in Macerata, was one of the pioneers of the China mission and the first Jesuit to gain admission to the imperial court in Beijing. His accommodation of Chinese traditions—especially elements of the Confucian tradition that he believed were compatible with Catholicism—influenced the development of Jesuit pastoral ideals and practices throughout the early modern period and has received sustained attention from scholars in recent decades.

The contributors focus on the theory and practice of accommodation—adattamento, or, less frequently, accomodamento—by the Jesuits and their collaborators in China before the suppression. Although the point of departure is Ricci, the contributors analyze many other participants in the China missions. Lavenia and Pavone’s introduction provides an invaluable survey of recent scholarship on Ricci and on the Jesuit enterprise in Asia in general. Accommodation, they argue, consisted not only of “an intellectual dialogue based on written texts (although these were fundamental), but also of continuous dialogue between real people” (12).

In “Apostolato attraverso i libri,” Ronnie Po-chia Hsia analyzes Ricci’s dedication to writing and publication in its Chinese context. He underscores the low cost of printing Jesuit books and the low cost to the Ming elite of creating substantial personal libraries. Some members of this elite seamlessly incorporated Ricci’s texts into the existing canon. “[Ricci’s] four principal religious works [in Chinese] were published in editions that included prefaces by famous literati and mandarins. In a brief time Ricci had completely assimilated as an author into the editorial world and into late-Ming book culture” (23). Ricci wrote that his publications were vital to the success of his ministries in China, drawing the interest and eventual admiration of even his most skeptical interlocutors. At the end of his life he affirmed that “I do everything possible to ensure that all our [Jesuit] fathers study well the books of China and learn to write [in Chinese]; because—and it is something that is not easy to believe—more is accomplished in China with books than with words” (32).

Girolamo Imbruglia, in “Matteo Ricci e la strategia di evangelizzazione gesuita,” provides a wide-ranging and exceptionally perceptive survey of accommodation and of other issues that Jesuits addressed throughout their global network of missions. Imbruglia devotes particular attention to the conflict between Fr. Alonso Sánchez and his Jesuit colleagues (especially Fr. José de Acosta) concerning Sánchez’s proposal that Philip II invade China for the purpose of evangelization. Acosta, who produced two memorials in response to Sánchez’s proposal, argued, according to Imbruglia, that “war in odium fidei may be waged against the Muslims, against the Lutherans, and against ‘other infidels,’ but this did not constitute a ‘just’ reason for conflict with the Chinese […]. In China it was necessary to renew the original model of evangelization [i.e., that of the primitive church] because the politics, culture and religion of that society were at the same level as those of Mediterranean societies” (46). Alessandro Valignano, visitor of the missions in Asia, agreed, and warned Father General Claudio Acquaviva about Sánchez’s “dangerous and new spirit,” a spirit that was at odds with that of the Society. At the same time, Ricci underscored the monotheistic foundations of Chinese religion. “In both Ricci and Acosta,” Imbruglia concludes, “there was emerging a new understanding of the religious phenomenon, based on the encounter between diverse religions and gods […] in the missions there was affirmed a different way of understanding non-European societies, even if religious conquest remained the objective” (51).

Like Imbruglia, Ana Carolina Hosne, in “Gateways to China: Jesuit ‘Geostrategy’ in East Asia in the Late Sixteenth Century,” underscores the importance of Sánchez’s proposal to invade China. Her analysis of accommodation, however, calls attention to the Society’s commitment to mastering Asian languages and to the increasingly damaging divisions that international rivalries—especially rivalries between Italians and Spaniards—were generating within the Society.

The essays by Elisabetta Corsi and Xie Mingguang both underscore the contributions of Chinese collaborators to the Jesuits’ publications in China. In “Percezioni sensoriali e conoscenza secondo il Xingxue cushu (Introduzione generale allo studio della fisica, 1623) di Giulio Aleni, S.I.,” Corsi argues that these publications occupied a distinctive place within the Society’s global editorial production. Again the emphasis is on accommodation. “What distinguishes the textual production of the Catholic missionaries in China […] is the fact that the works that they composed there were written in a complex and sophisticated language […]. Years of intensive study did not necessarily guarantee to the missionaries the certainty of mastering that language […]. This explains their recourse to a network of Chinese converts” (78). Corsi draws effectively on inventories of the Society’s libraries in China, and on the Jesuits’ extensive correspondence, to provide an illuminating view of book production and circulation in pre-suppression China.

Xie provides the book’s most sustained portrait of the Jesuits’ Chinese collaborators. Wang Zheng, who became a Christian but never completely abandoned his Confucian beliefs, was the most important of a group of Chinese literati who made possible the composition and publication of Fr. Nicolas Trigault’s Xi Ru Er Mu Zi (Shaanxi, 1626), a handbook for the study of the Chinese language. Xie underscores the contribution to Jesuit ministries of converts in the provincial missions, far from the metropolitan centers where Ricci worked. Chinese literati made it possible for the Jesuits to minister to poor and uneducated people in the provinces and to preach “in an indirect manner” (i.e., through auxiliaries) in local dialects that they had not mastered (127). Xie concludes that Ricci’s strategy of accommodation in the cities laid the foundation for his successors’ work in the provinces.

The book’s last two chapters are the only contributions that do not focus on the Jesuits in China before the suppression. In “Ricostruire la Compagnia partendo da Oriente? La comunità gesuita franco-cinese dopo la soppressione,” Pavone argues that the Jesuit community in Peking survived because it was composed of French Jesuits and their Chinese companions. Drawing on previously unexplored documents in the archive of the Holy Office in Rome, Pavone provides a superb account of the origins and growth of the French mission and its survival under the leadership of François Bourgeois, who was appointed superior of the Franco-Chinese community in 1775. Bourgeois led a faction of former Jesuits who “felt bound primarily to their country of birth and defended the interests of France in China. In contrast, the others [i.e., former Jesuits who opposed the Bourgeois faction] […] chose to remain loyal to Rome, that is, to the Propaganda Fide” (143). Pavone concludes that in post-suppression China, unlike in Russia, “one can speak of the emergence of a proto-national consciousness, nourished, albeit at a distance, by the French government” (162).

In “I libri, le armi e le missioni: Conversione e guerra antiottomana in un testo di Lazzaro Soranzo,” Lavenia analyzes L’Ottomanno (Ferrara, 1598), which Soranzo dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, in whose court he served. The book was banned by the Venetian authorities upon publication because it addressed “matters of State that it is prohibited to reveal” (165). Soranzo, however, “affirmed that he sought to contribute to the papal project with a treatise about the State of the Turks that would explain ‘the true way of defeating them’” (172). Lavenia provides a richly layered analysis of L’Ottomanno, in which Soranzo enlisted millenarian prophecies in support of his call for a naval war against the Ottomans. Lavenia’s contribution effectively addresses the larger themes of this book by linking Soranzo’s text to those of contemporary anti-Muslim polemicists, including the Italian Jesuit Antonio Possevino.

This is an indispensable book for readers interested in the overseas missions of the early modern Society in general and in the pre-suppression missions in China in particular.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00403007-05

Catholic Historical Review
Eum Redazione

Di Liam Matthew Brockey, Catholic Historical Review, vol 103, no. 4, Autumn 2017, pp. 807-808

In 1552, a future Jesuit was born in the provincial Italian town of Macerata on the Adriatic side of the Apennines. He lived there for eighteen years before traveling westward over the mountains to Rome for his novitiate. But his destiny lay in the East and, by the time he was twenty-five years old, he would leave Europe on a one-way trip that would take him all the way to Beijing. Matteo Ricci (d. 1610) was the most famous early Jesuit to visit the Ming Empire, and a man whose shadow still colors popular and academic considerations of Christianity in China. It is therefore not surprising that the four hundredth anniversary of his death would be commemorated around the world, and especially in his place of birth. This slim volume represents some of the contributions to a conference organized by the University of Macerata marking not only the famed Jesuit’s death, but also the 2012 Italian translation of Ronnie Po-chia Hsia’s biography of Ricci, Jesuit in the Forbidden City (Oxford, 2010).
The volume’s editors have cast their net wide with their title, “Missions, Knowledge, and Accommodation between Europe and non-Christian Empires,” seeking to encompass their book’s disparate contents. For while Matteo Ricci clearly dominates some of the contributions, other chapters stray far from China and concern later periods. The seven articles fall into three groups: a first dedicated to Ricci in his Chinese and Jesuit milieux; a second concerned with Christian and/or western texts translated into Chinese; and a third dealing with empires, broadly, in Europe and Asia. These topics, and the way that the different scholars approach them, are all useful contributions to the growing field of extra-European Jesuit studies, as well as Sinology and European intellectual history. But together they do not have the coherence that one expects from an edited volume, and make no new argument as a whole.
The first set of articles includes a contribution by R. Po-Chia Hsia on Ricci’s efforts to publish in Chinese, an analysis by Girolamo Imbruglia of the mission strategies developed by Ricci and Alessandro Valignano (1539–1606) in light of the Spanish experiences in Peru and Mexico, and a chapter by Ana Carolina Hosne on the “geo-strategic” considerations of Jesuit missionary activities in South America and East Asia. The second group contains an essay by Elisabetta Corsi on the introductory physics text written by Giulio Aleni (1582 1649) in 1623, and an analysis by Xie Mingguang of the Chinese collaborators of Nicolas Trigault (1577– 1628) in the writing of his language manual for missionaries in 1626. The final set includes the editors’ contributions: a chapter by Sabina Pavone on the attempts to maintain a French presence at Beijing after the suppression of the Society of Jesus in the late eighteenth century, and an analysis by Vincenzo Lavenia of the publishing history of and Jesuit influence on Lazzaro Soranzo’s Ottomano (first ed. 1598), a text which prescribed strategies for defeating the Turks. While some of these texts deal with the history of books, and others take on questions of imperial politics, the articles in this volume do not dialogue with each other. While it would be too much to call for an end to the entire genre of “conference volumes,” it is evident that those whose contributors speak in concert and reformulate their texts under firm editorial guidance are the only ones which merit widespread distribution. For the others which strain for coherence, like this one, the publication of articles separately in academic journals is preferable.