Ancient Chinese wisdom for modern Catholic Church

world | Nov 13, 2007 | By Joshua Snyder

That Holy Mother Church borrowed from and built upon the best of pagan Greek philosophy is as uncontroversial as it is indisputable. Similarly, when Catholic missionaries brought the Faith to the Far East, they found in Confucianism a preparatio evangelium that would aid them in spreading the Gospel to the peoples of China and the nations influenced by its venerable traditions. Today, the Catholic Church in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam are as marked by Confucianism as is the Church in the West by the synthesis of Jerusalem and Athens that occurred in Rome.

We live in an age of profound self-doubt in the West. China experienced a similar age a century ago, culminating in the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty and the establishment of a republic and later a people's republic, both ideas imported from the West. Only now are the Chinese becoming disillusioned with materialist Western imports. The Chinese are now not only returning to their ancient traditions, but also finding belief in Christ to the extent that the pseudonymous Asia Times Online columnist Spengler predicts the Middle Kingdom will be the epicenter of global Christendom within fifty years.

Meanwhile, in the West, disillusioned with the materialist ideologies that replaced the Faith, people are looking toward the traditions of the East to fill their spiritual emptiness. Buddhism is said by some to be the fastest growing religion in the United States. Even professed Christians feel the pull of the venerable traditions of the East. One can imagine that at a typical Catholic parish, a workshop on Zen meditation might draw more attendees than one on Scholastic philosophy. The trouble is that this spiritual curiosity often leads to a weakening of the Faith and to superficial or even outright syncretism.

The East's pull on the West is strong and undeniable. Among modern Westerners, the traditions of the East have a certain clout that their own have long lost. More then three decades ago, Catholic economist E.F. Schumacher decided upon the title "Buddhist Economics" for what was to become the most famous chapter of his tome, Small Is Beautiful. The economic ideas this chapter contained were influenced by those expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas, papal encyclicals, and Chesterbellocian distributism, but he explained, "If I had called the chapter ¡®Christian Economics,¡¯ nobody would have paid any attention!" Schumacher was not being disingenuous ©¤ he was a believer in the sophia perennis, or perennnial philosophy to which all religions to a greater or lesser extent took part of ©¤ he was only recognizing the degree to which the contemporary West looked to the East for wisdom.

The average Christian today in the West today is less likely to be influenced by our great traditionalists from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk than by Captain Kirk. But mention Buddha or Lao Tzu, and one is likely to get at least a listen. Is it possible then that de-Westernized Westerners are ready to hear from that greatest of Chinese philosophers, Confucius, who is simultaneously the most misrepresented in the West and most compatible with Western thought? Could it be that the Sage has something to say to the Catholic Church in her time of trial?

When Fr. Matteo Ricci, S.J., the Apostle of China, arrived in the Middle Kingdom in the late Sixteenth Century, he first adopted the dress and mannerism of a Buddhist monk, so as to appear as a man of religion to the Chinese. To a first-time visitor to China, it would indeed appear that Buddhism was the country's religion. In the Chinese non-exclusive "tridharma" of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the first is a great religion, the second a mystical philosophy popularly degenerated into a school of divining, and the last a worldly and humanistic philosophy and ethical system.

After Fr. Ricci had mastered the Chinese language, he came to realize that Buddhism, itself a foreig



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