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Chinese Rites Controversy


Chinese Rites Controversy was a big event in the history of Catholicism in China and also a typical example of cultural clashes. This event almost endangered the existence of Catholicism in China. It referred to the controversy over a series of matters such as worship for Confucius and ancestors, sacrifice to the Heaven, and the Chinese translation and concept of God. The controversy on these matters was in fact the result of disagreements among European missionaries due to their different nationalities and different views. In regard to religious sects, it was the disagreement between the Society of Jesus as one side and Dominican Order and Franciscan Order as the other side. At the beginning of the 17thcentury, when Matteo Ricci and other missionaries came to Beijing, they actively adapted to the Chinese customs and tolerated some Chinese customs, which did not go against the principal beliefs of Catholicism, so as to make their missionary activities successful. Sometimes they also adopted Chinese thoughts when explaining their doctrines.

After Matteo Ricci's death in 1610, his successor Niccolo Longobardi started the controversy. He was very dissatisfied with many phenomena at the time. His action led to the split-up of the missionaries. They kept on their arguments on the three major issues for a long time and it went more and more serious.

In 1643 a missionary went back to Europe and accused the Society of Jesus in the Religious Court of Rome. In 1945, the Pope issued an order to forbid Chinese Catholics to take part in traditional activities. Later, the controversy spread to Europe. The Jesuits put forward the issue to Chinese emperor, which further complicated the event. The Pope stuck to his opinion, which made the Chinese emperor anger. As a result, he expelled the stubborn missionaries.

This event lasted more than 100 years. In 1775, the Pope dismissed the Society of Jesus, which brought the event to an end. It was also called China affair in Europe.

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