The missionary strategies used by the Jesuits in China constitute an advanced and effective model for the enculturalization of Christianity. This is what emerged, in brief, from a presentation held in May at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome by Jesuit Father Klaus Schatz, a professor of church history at the St. George’s Philosophical and Theological School in Frankfurt.
Fr. Schatz’s presentation was part of a series of conferences on the theme of “Conversion: A Change of God? Experiences and Reflections on Interreligious Dialogue”, launched by the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies of Religion and Culture (ISIRC) at the Gregorian University.
Speaking on the Chinese mission founded by Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci and carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries, Schatz stressed that the scope of the Jesuits, in the beginning, was aimed at earning credit with the upper echelons of society. They wanted to gain the trust of the court and the emperor, who were the ones who shaped an official interpretation of religious rites. The novelty of Christianity, presented by the Jesuits to the Chinese, was that every man can have a direct and immediate relationship with God. This was a message unheard of in a country where only the emperor could make sacrifices to heaven.
Ultimately, their mission had a much farther reach. Korea is a unique example in the history of Christianity of a local church starting not through preaching, or direct personal contact with missionaries or Christians, but through literature. Here, the Christian faith got on its feet towards the end of the 18th century because a group of Koreans read Ricci’s book on the teaching of the Lord.
H2onews, a Catholic news service that distributes multimedia in nine languages, has more on Schatz’s presentation at the Pontifical Gregorian University here.