Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (1687): The First Translation of the Confucian Classics.
Meynard has given us a fine critical edition of writings that made Chinese philosophy available to a Western audience for the first time in history. He translates the work into English, adds some 80 pages of introduction (First Section) contextualizing Chinese philosophy (1-78), contributes extensive footnotes, and adds appendixes and a comparative chart of the various texts.
In the lengthy Second Section (79-327) M. provides the English translation of the "Preface of the Sinarum Philosophus" followed by its Latin text, commentaries that the early Jesuits felt were the "flower and kernel" of Chinese philosophy (92).
Why was this work historically so important? For one reason, it was "the first systematic presentation and discussion of Chinese thought in the West" (v). Further, since the "Jesuits spent more energy on this text than on any other," we see the best results of "their interpretative work" (vi). Thus, we learn about not only Chinese philosophy but also how the early Jesuits interpreted that philosophy in order to make it fit into their evangelizing mission.
Indeed, the Jesuits were interpretive. The story they tell in their preface is this: The early Chinese worshipped the one true God. Over time they lost this knowledge as they gave themselves over to the errors of the various Buddhist and Taoist sects, and also to the "atheism" of the Neo-Confucians. Finally, Matteo Ricci came along to impose order on this chaos, and showed the Chinese the way back to the worship of the one true God.
M. shows that there is no little irony in this narrative. He argues that while the Jesuits were holding a Catholic position in Europe, they were backing a Protestant principle in China. What he means is that in Europe the Jesuits argued for the development of doctrine against Protestants who were trying to return to Scripture alone. But in China the Jesuits wanted to get back to the pure and unadulterated Confucius, and bypass centuries of development that the Jesuits felt was blocking the Chinese from reaccepting monotheism.
If it seems rather presumptuous that Europeans should be telling Chinese how to return to true worship, the 17th-century Jesuits note, "the Chinese Atheists should listen to the European Saints" (219).
M. is alert to another irony as well. The Jesuits originally intended to use this work to recruit more Jesuits for the China mission, as well as to show the importance of a Catholic monarchy for Europe. Later Europeans, however, would come to see in the same texts the possibilities of a secular state (67).
It is important to be clear about what this volume is and is not. It is a critical edition with a fine scholarly commentary and extensive notes. It is not a stand-alone original monograph. This is not to take away from M.'s fine contributions in translating this work into English for the first time. In fact, M. has done the really hard work of critical scholarship. Indeed, currently very few people are able to engage in this sort of work. As a French Jesuit, educated in China, M., a latter-day Ricci in his own right, brings a facility in Latin, English, and classical Chinese, as well as in Western and Chinese philosophy, theology, and history. Comparative works like these are difficult to write, yet M. succeeds admirably.
A few minor notes: The translation of the Latin text reads fluently enough, but commenting on its accuracy is beyond the capability of this reviewer. Further, M.'s work is truly a scholar's work, as it has all the necessary scholarly apparatus. Yet to benefit fully from the extensive footnotes, knowledge of Chinese, Latin, and French would be helpful.
M. has done a real service in translating this foundational work and in giving us an insightful commentary and extensive notes. I recommend it highly to all those interested in understanding more about the first encounter between Chinese philosophy and the Western world.
PAUL P. MARIANI, S.J.
Santa Clara University, CA
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|Author:||Mariani, Paul P.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2013|
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