Christian culture 基督教文化学刊

Transmitting Christology in Late Ming China: the Dialogues and Translation Strategies of Giulio Aleni

Author: Fr. Gianni CRIVELLER, Professor, Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, Hong Kong



Late Ming China Jesuit missionary Giulio Aleni (艾儒略, 1582-1649) published three books of dialogues that contain a large number of passages recording discussions on Christ and China. These themes are of great interest for those who want to investigate, from a theological and cultural point of view, the debate that preaching Christ provoked among Chinese intellectuals and the gentry. Aleni answered questions such as: Why was Christ not born in China? Why did Christianity arrive in China so late? Why the Incarnation was not recorded in the Chinese Classics? Is the doctrine of Incarnation unworthy of the dignity of the Lord of heaven?

Aleni’s answers reveal his dialogical approach and strategies in adapting complex Christian doctrines into a cultural and religious context radically different from that of Europe. Aleni’s answers are based on moral, spiritual and theological arguments. He argued that one should accept the truth for itself, no matter where it comes from or when it arrived. Christianity is a mystery that the human mind cannot grasp by reasoning alone: one has to possess the virtue of faith. “Mystery” (奥义) and “faith” (信) are crucial terms/concepts adopted by Aleni to provide the most radical answer to the objections of the interlocutors, and at the same time engaging with their cultural milieu. Aleni seems to anticipate the understanding of Christian concepts such as “mystery” and “faith” elaborated by the Council Vatican II (1962-1965) and by the contemporary theology of mission.



Jesuits-Mission-China; Giulio Aleni; accommodation-inculturation; interreligious dialogue; theology of mission.


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