Conversion by Proof: Matteo Ricci’s Scientific Approach to Evangelization
Nick Jame Vigil
Brigham Young University
Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol II.
The Jesuit missions in China, Korea and Japan developed subtle and sophisticated strategies in order to realize their goal of bringing souls to Christ. In China, where the Jesuit mission was most successful, the strategy of accommodation employed by Father Matteo Ricci secured the foundations of the Catholic enterprise. As a strategy, accommodation included the adoption of Chinese culture and dress, adherence to Chinese political customs, the use and mastery of the Chinese language, and the advantageous use of European novelties. This paper focuses on one aspect of accommodation: the use of European mathematics for the benefit of the Catholic mission. Through teaching mathematics, Father Ricci and the Jesuit mission attempted to change the way Chinese people thought in order to prepare their minds for the acceptance of Christian doctrine. The historian Jacques Gernet, in his study of the Jesuit mission in China, called the sciences a “lure.” However, his analysis was too superficial. Much more than a lure, the sciences were a tool used to inculcate in the minds of the Chinese a scientific thought process—the same thought process that was used to show the rational supremacy of Catholic doctrines and the logical necessity of conversion.
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