Part III: The Church Expands into the World. Lesson 6 of 10
Lesson 14. Catholics in the Far East

Through today’s lesson, we hope that as you realize the many times God has sent people to Asia, you will be even more motivated to continue the work of God wherever you are.

1.Japan. In 1549 Jesuit missionaries1 entered Japan.  At this time, Japan was divided among many competing warlords.  In 1563, a warlord became a Catholic, and by 1575 all the people in his area had become Catholics.  The Jesuits adapted to local customs, and trained Japanese to be priests.  By 1600, there were 300,000 Catholics in Japan.  But in 1603 Japan was united under one ruler, and in 1614 the ruler of Japan declared Catholicism to be illegal.  One reason is that the Franciscans and Dominicans were working among the common people, and so the government thought they were undermining political unity.  Severe persecution began in 1614, and some missionaries were killed in 1617.  Japanese were required to trample on pictures of Christ or Mary, and those who didn’t were killed.  This practice continued until 1857, and most Catholics were killed.  In 1858 the government allowed foreigners to practice their religions, in 1859 Christian missionaries began to arrive.  In 1865 they discovered that despite persecution, 60,000 Catholics had hidden and survived, but the government then killed their leaders and imprisoned many.  In 1868 believing in Jesus was made legal in Japan.  In 2000, Japan had a population of 126 m, with 450,000 Catholics and 1.5m Protestants.

2.Philippines. The Spanish came to the Philippines in 1521.   In 1565 the first Catholic missionaries, Dominicans, arrived in the Philippines. They first evangelized the tribal chiefs, then the children.  The tribes on the Philippines were not united.  They saw that the Catholic Church had had some similarities to their traditional religions, such as the formal rituals and the similarity between praying to saints with the prayers to the spirits.  The misionaries created Catholic villages with churches, schools, hospitals, and orphanages.  Within one hundred years, most people living on the lowlands had become members of the church.  In 2000, the Philippines had a population of 75m people, with 51m Roman Catholics and 19m Christians.  The process of reaching the mountain tribes for Christ is still going on.

3.Korea. The first entrance of Catholicism into Korea was not done by missionaries.  In 1777, some Korean scholars met to study Chinese tracts that had been written by the Jesuit missionaries in Beijing.  In 1784 the Korean scholars sent one of their members to Beijing to receive baptism.  The Koreans developed their own church, with their own bishops, but the Catholics in China told them they didn’t have this authority.  The government of Korea then began to persecute them because they did not worship ancestors.  The number of Catholics reached ten thousand by 1800, but there were persecutions throughout the 1800’s.  Catholic missionaries entered during this time, and the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1880’s.  Korea is noted for the fact that about one third of its people have come to believe in Jesus.  This did not happen in the other countries that were influenced by Confucianism. Perhaps this is because in Japan and China, Christianity was associated with western imperialism.  But in Korea, the imperialists were Japanese, who tried to enforce Japanese religion during the time they occupied Korea, from 1910 to 1945.  Christianity was seen as a religion of the people, which united them against the imperialists.  In 2000, South Korea, with a population of 47m, has 4m Roman Catholics and 11m Protestants.  In North Korea, Christianity has been illegal since 1953.

4.Mongols.  Around 1200, the Mongols, who lived north of China, began to conquer other countries in Europe and Asia.  In 1245, a Roman Catholic representative1 arrived at the Mongol capitol north of China, and the Mongol leader there2 became a Catholic. The French king sent messengers to him, but he died before they arrived. In 1260 a man named Kublai Khan became the next Mongol leader, and continued the process of invading China. He wanted to use foreigners to help him administer the parts of China that he had occupied, and he asked the pope and the King of France to send people to help him. They were not able to come, but in 1274 a man from Italy named Marco Polo3 arrived. Kublai Khan sent Marco Polo to many places in China to do important tasks.  By 1279 the Mongols controlled all of China, and established the capital at Beijing. The time of their rule is called the Yuan dynasty. The Yuan dynasty allowed freedom of religion in China, and so Jing Jiao spread the gospel of Jesus again. In 1294 Marco Polo returned to Italy, Marco Polo wrote a book about his travels, and many people in Europe read the book and learned more about China. In 1294 Kublai Khan died. In the same year, the pope sent another missionary4 to Beijing.  He built three churches there, and by 1305 had baptized 6000 people. In 1368 the Yuan dynasty was replaced by the Ming dynasty, which forbade Catholics and Jing Jiao to meet for worship.  Jing Jiao now disappears. Catholics wait 200 years before they have a chance to come to China again.

5.Jesuits in China. In 1557, the Portuguese established a trading base and missionary training center on Macao.  (In 1999 Portugal returned Macao to China.) In 1565 the Jesuits founded St. Paul school in Macao, which later became the first university in Asia.  In 1579 Franciscans arrived, and in 1587 Dominicans arrived.   In 1583 a Jesuit missionary named Ricci5 was allowed to live in mainland China, and in 1600 he was allowed to work in Beijing.  He made maps and repaired clocks at the court of the Ming dynasty.  He translated many European books into Chinese.  By the time of his death in 1610, there were 2000 Catholics in Beijing.  When the Qing dynasty replaced the Ming in Beijing in 1644, the Jesuits were allowed to stay on, because of their scholarly achievements.  In 1631 the emperor allowed other Catholic missionary groups to enter China,.  The work of Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans grew. A Chinese bishop was selected, who was in office from 1685 to 1691.  He was the only Chinese Catholic bishop until the 20th century.

6.Controversies. These groups had different opinions about how to work in China.  The Jesuits accepted many of the Chinese customs, but the Franciscans and Dominicans felt the Jesuits were leaving true Catholic doctrine, and finally they were able to convince the Pope.  There were three main controversies:

7.Language. The first controversy was about language.  The Jesuits had led church services in Chinese, but in 1688 they were told to use Latin.  From this date, Latin was used all around the world, until in 1965 Catholics were allowed to worship in the language of their own countries.

8.God’s name. The next controversy was about the name for God.  The Jesuits had felt it was OK to use Tian Zhu, Shang Di, and Tian6 to name God.  In 1704 the pope decided that Catholics should not use Shang Di or Tian, but only Tian Zhu.  That is why they are called “Tian Zhu Jiao.” (The Protestant Bibles use Shang Di and Shen to translate the word God).7

9.Ancestors. The third controversy was about ancestor worship.  Jesuits felt that there was nothing wrong with ancestor worship or ceremonies honoring Confucius, as long as they did not treat them as gods.  The emperor8 agreed with them, and at first the pope supported them. But in 1704 the pope forbade the Jesuit methods.  In 1706 the emperor said that only missionaries who agreed with the Jesuit view of ancestor worship could stay in China, but the pope did not agree and said anyone who did not obey his 1704 decree would not be allowed to work in China, so after 1704 mission work was suppressed in China, right up to the first unequal treaty in 1842.  In 1742 another pope made the final decision that Catholics could not take part in ancestor worship.   In 1857 another pope changed the ruling again, and Catholics today are allowed to take part in ancestor rites. See Short Survey of Chinese Thought

10.Expansion. After the Opium War of 1840, both Catholic and Protestant missionaries were protected in their work by the unequal treaties.  In 1900, during the Boxer uprising, both Catholics and Protestants found protection in the Catholic church in Beijing.   In 1926 six Chinese Catholics were appointed as bishops, but most bishops in China were still foreigners when the Communist party took over the government of China in 1949.

11.Organization.In 1957 the Catholics were organized into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The purpose was to unite Catholics in carrying out the policy directives of government and party, to promote patriotism, and to promote social service.  They also engage in developing a friendly relationship with Catholics overseas.  For many years, the pope refused to recognize the bishops ordained by the government and therefore there has been a registered Catholic church and a non-registered church. Therefore the Vatican and the Chinese government have been odds with one another. In recent years the situation has been gradually getting more harmonious.  In 1998 it was decided to elect separate presidents to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and to the Catholic Church Episcopal Conference.

12.Numbers. In 2000, among the 1.26 billion population of China, it was estimated that there were 7-11 million Catholics and 40-80 million Protestants.

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  1. The mission to Japan was led by Francis Xavier.
    2. Ding Zong is 定宗。The missionary was John of Plano Carpini.
    3. Marco Polo 马哥波萝  (ma ge buo luo)  wrote  “The Travels ofMarco Polo.”
    4. John of Montecorvino  (约翰蒙高维诺 yue han. meng gao wei nuo)
    5. Matteo Ricci in Chinese is Li Ma Dou  利玛窦 利瑪竇
    6. Tian Zhu 天主means Heavenly Lord. Shang Di 上帝means High Emperor.  Tian 天 means Sky or Heaven.
    7. The Protestant Bibles use Shang Di and Shen 神(God)  to translate the word God. The name for the Protestant church is Ji Du Jiao 基督教。 Ji Du means Christ.
    8. The emperor was Kang Xi.  The disagreement is called the Chinese Rites Controversy.

Word List: ancestor worship 拜祖先   Jesuit 耶稣会(會)   Kublai Khan  忽必烈