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Catholic Written and Oral Cultures in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam

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Abstract This article explores how European Jesuit missionaries engaged with literary and oral cultures in seventeenth-century Tonkin and Cochinchina (Vietnam). It considers the many interactions between texts, oral cultures, and the sacred on the mission fields, and the challenges of communicating with the divine in a new language. Missionary projects to translate sacramental phrases—such as the baptismal formula—into local languages could be particularly controversial: missionaries had to ensure that the translation did not affect the validity of the sacrament. This article examines how missionaries attempted to preserve the spiritual potency of Catholic holy texts and sacred words in a new cultural context and uncovers the strategies they adopted to convey the sacrality of Catholic writings and speech.

1. The author is grateful for the support of the AHRC who funded some of the research that went into this article. She would also like to thank the two anonymous readers for the Journal for their helpful comments.
2. FN11 The term “Vietnam” was first used for the country in 1804. The terms “Tonkin” and “Cochinchina” correspond to missionaries’ own names for the regions, thus I follow other scholars in using these terms to explore their experiences. See Roland Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers of Vietnamese Linguistics Prior to 1650 (Bangkok, 2002), 14-16.
3. FN22 J. Ruiz-de-Medina, “Amaral, Gaspardo” in Diccionario Histórico de la Compañía de Jesús: Bibliográfico-Temático (DHCJ), ed. Charles E. O’Neill and Joaquin M. Domínguez (Rome, 2001), 1:96-7.
4. FN33 Ruiz-de-Medina cites these figures. “Amaral,” 97.
5. FN44 “Manoscritto, em que se proua, que a forma do Bauptismo pronunciada em lingoa Annamica he verdadeira,” Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Rome (ARSI), JapSin 80 f. 35r. See also Peter C. Phan, Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam (New York, 1998), 98-9 and note 107.
6. FN55 European Catholic missionaries had been working in the realms of Tonkin and Cochinchina since the late-sixteenth century. Franciscans had traveled from Manila and Melaka into the region in the 1580s and were followed by Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits. This latter group—which first arrived in Cochinchina in 1615 and in Tonkin in 1626—soon became the largest cohort of missionaries.
7. FN66 Matt. 18:19.
8. FN77 See for example Simon Ditchfield, Liturgy, Sanctity and History in Tridentine Italy: Pietro Maria Campi and the Preservation of the Particular (Cambridge, 1995).
9. FN88 George H. Dunne “What Happened to the Chinese Liturgy?” Catholic Historical Review 47 (1961): 1-14.
10. FN99 See especially Vicente Rafael, Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule (Ithaca, 1988); Peter C. Phan, Mission and Catechesis; Haun Saussy, Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China (Cambridge, Mass., 2001); Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers; Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia, “Translating Christianity: Counter-Reformation Europe and the Catholic Mission in China, 1580-1780,” in Conversion Old Worlds and New, ed. Kenneth Mills and Anthony Grafton (New York, 2003); Ines Županov, “Twisting a Pagan Tongue: Portuguese and Tamil in Sixteenth-Century Jesuit Translations,” in Ibid., 109-39, and her Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahminical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century South India (New Delhi, 1999); Sangkeun Kim, Strange Names of God: the Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci’s “Shangti” in Late Ming China (New York, 2004); Brian Ostrowski, “The nôm works of Geronimo Maiorica, S. J. (1589-1656) and their Christology” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 2006).
11. FN1010 Hsia, “Translating,” 98.
12. FN1111 “Ragguaglio della missione del Giappone,” 1649, ARSI, JapSin 65, ff. 15r-v.
13. FN1212 William A. Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (Cambridge, 1993).
14. FN1313 Girolamo Maiorica, “Qua-Da-Giê-Si-Ma, Mùa Ăn Chay Cả [Quadragesima, the Great Season of Fasting]” Translated and annotated by Ostrowski, “Nôm Works” (Appendix A), 185.
15. FN1414 “Ragguaglio della Missione del Giappone,” ARSI, JapSin 65, f. 41r.
16. FN1515 Ibid., f. 41v.
17. FN1616 C.f. Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge, 1991) on missionaries and the shifting meanings of “idols,” 154-6.
18. FN1717 Olga Dror, “Introduction” to Adriano di St Thecla, Opusculum de Sectis Apud Sinenses et Tunkinenses: A Small Treatise on the Sects among the Chinese and Tonkinese, A Study of Religion in China and North Vietnam in the Eighteenth Century, ed. and trans. by Olga Dror (Ithaca, 2002), 64. Li Tana, “The Imported Book Trade and Confucian Learning in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Vietnam,” in New Perspectives on the History and Historiography of Southeast Asia: Continuing Explorations, ed. by Michael Arthur Aung-Thwin and Kenneth R. Hall (Abingdon, 2011), 169-70.
19. FN1818 Shawn Frederick McHale, Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam (Honolulu, 2004), 14.
20. FN1919 See Peter Korniki, “Having difficulty with Chinese? The Rise of the Vernacular book in Japan, Korea and Vietnam” (Sandars Lectures 2008). Text available online: 2008.html.
21. FN2020 Rhodes, Histoire du Royaume de Tunquin (Lyon, 1651), 40-2; K. W. Taylor, “The Literati Revival in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 18 (1987): 1-23.
22. FN2121 Li, “The Imported Book Trade,” 167-71.
23. FN2222 McHale, Print and Power, 154.
24. FN2323 Cuong Tu Nguyen, Zen in Medieval Vietnam: A Study and Translation of the Thiền Uyển Tập Anh (Honolulu, 1997), 91-2.
25. FN2424 Ibid., 93.
26. FN2525 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 66.
27. FN2626 Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 49.
28. FN2727 Ruiz-de-Medina, “Vietnam” in DHCJ, 4:3957. However, the press was destroyed in the same year.
29. FN2828 Antonio Cardim, “Annua de Tunkim do anno de 1630,” May, 1630, Biblioteca da Ajuda, Lisbon (BA), Jesuítas na Ásia (JnÁ), 49-V-31, ff. 31r.
30. FN2929 Antonio Cardim, “Annua de Tunkim do anno de 1630,” May, 1630, BA, JnÁ, 49-V-31, ff. 31r-v.
31. FN3030 Matteo Ricci describes such a grant of Chinese catechisms to Cochinchinese ambassador to China in 1585. See Ricci, Storia dell’Introduzione dell Cristianesimo in Cina, ed. Pasquale M. D’Elia (Rome, 1942-9), 1:262.
32. FN3131 “Ragguaglio della missione del Giappone,” ARSI vol. 65, f. 70v.
33. FN3232 Zhang, “About God, Demons and Miracles: The Jesuit Discourse on the Supernatural in Late Ming China,” Early Science and Medicine 4 (1999): 17.
34. FN3333 Antonio de Fontes to Provincial, Tonkin, 25 June 1631, BA, JnÁ, 49-V-31, f. 121r.
35. FN3434 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 66.
36. FN3535 Mark J. Alves, “Sino-Vietnamese Grammatical Vocabulary and Sociolinguistic Conditions for Borrowing,” Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 1 (2009): 1-10. Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 29; Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 47-8. See also William C. Hannas, Asia’s Orthographic Dilemma, 77-8.
37. FN3636 Hannas, Asia’s Orthographic Dilemma, 79. See also Nguyen Phu Phong, “A Propos du Nôm, Écriture Démotique Vietnamienne,” Cahiers de Linguistique—Asie Orientale 4 (1978): 43-55.
38. FN3737 Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 50.
39. FN3838 Christiane Pasquel-Rageau, “L’Imprimerie au Vietnam: de l’Impression Xylographique Traditionnelle à la Révolution du Quôc Ngu (XIIIe-XIXe siècles),” Revue Française d’Histoire du Livre 43 (1984): 299-301, 305, 320.
40. FN3939 Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 31.
41. FN4040 Dror, Cult, 146.
42. FN4141 Nguyên Trân Huân, Introduction à la Littérature Vietnamienne; Nhu̕-Quỳnh and Schafer, “From Verse Narrative”; John K. Whitmore, “Literati Culture and Integration in Dai Viet, c. 1430-c. 1840,” Modern Asian Studies 31 (1997): 673.
43. FN4242 Dror, Cult, 120-1.
44. FN4343 Nhu̕-Quỳnh and Schafer, “From Verse Narrative,” 760.
45. FN4444 Rhodes, Histoire du Royaume du Tonkin, 119.
46. FN4545 Nguyen Khac Vien, Aperçu sur la Litterature Vietnamienne (Hanoi, 1976), 49.
47. FN4646 C.f. Haun Saussay, Great Walls of Discourse and other Adventures in Cultural China (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 27-9 on the spread of heterodox Buddhism in China through “unsupervised literary activity.”
48. FN4747 Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 30.
49. FN4848 Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 68 and note 83. Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 64-9.
50. FN4949 Hoàng Xuân-Hãn, “Girolamo Maiorica: Ses Œuvres en Langue Vietnamienne Conservées à la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris,” Archuvum Historicum Societatis Iesu 22 (1953): 203-14. See especially Ostrowski’s study of these texts in “The Nôm works.” Some of his findings are also summarized in an article, “The Rise of Christian Nôm Literature in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Fusing European Content and Local Expression,” in Vietnam and the West: New Approaches, ed. by Wynn Wilcox (Ithaca, 2010), 19-39.
51. FN5050 “Ragguaglio della missione del Giappone,” ARSI Jap-Sin, vol. 65, f. 57r. See also Xuâng Han, “Girolamo Maiorica,” 205, 209-14.
52. FN5151 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 85.
53. FN5252 “Manoscritto, em que se proua,” ARSI, JapSin 80, ff. 35r-v.
54. FN5353 Alexandre de Rhodes, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanicum, et Latinum (Rome, 1651), 638.
55. FN5454 See Rhode’s Catechism in Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 245 and ft. 12. Note that this is one of several terms now used, including báp têm, lễ rửa tội, bí tích rửa tội, and bí tích Thanh Tẩy.
56. FN5555 Rhodes, Dictionarium, 598-9. NB: the Portuguese definition before the colon and the Latin definition that follows it describe different sacramentals: “nomina, ou varonica de indulgencia: agnus Dei seu cera benedicta, vel aliæquælibet imagines cum indulgẽtijs.” Rhodes translates phép as “vis occulta.”
57. FN5656 “Manoscritto, em que se proua,” ARSI, JapSin 80, f. 36v. See also Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 98, ft. 107.
58. FN5757 Rhodes, Dictionarium, 724. For mày (spelled mầi in the dictionary), see 448. On current usage of pronouns in contrast to Rhodes’ description, see Lê Thị Xuyến, Phạm Thị Quyên, Đỗ Quang Việt, and Nguyễn Văn Bích, “Bref Aperçu sur l’Histoire de l’Étude des Parties du Discours en Vietnamien (1re Période),” Histoire Épistémologie Langage 26 (2004): 148.
59. FN5858 “Manoscritto, em que se proua,” ARSI, JapSin 80, f. 35v.
60. FN5959 “Manoscritto, em que se proua,” ARSI, JapSin 80 f. 35r.
61. FN6060 Ibid.
62. FN6161 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 167.
63. FN6262 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 49, 78.
64. FN6363 See Kim, Strange Names of God, especially Chapter 2.
65. FN6464 Christal Whelan, The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan’s Hidden Christians (Honolulu, 1996), 13.
66. FN6565 “Alcune considerationi sopra il dubio proposto de sia espediente concedere alli Popoli della China Tonchino, e Concincina l’uso de’ Sacram.ti in altra lingua meno ignota della Latina,” Archivio Storico della Congregazione “de Propaganda Fide,” Vatican City (APF), SC, Miscellanea 1, ff. 42-8.
67. FN6666 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 49.
68. FN6767 Ostrowski, “Nôm Works,” 235.
69. FN6868 Francisco da Pina to Jerónimo Rodrigues Senior (attrib.), c. 1623? translated in Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 42.
70. FN6969 Alexandre de Rhodes, “Linguae Annamaticae seu Tunchinensis Brevis Declaratio,” appended to his Dictionarium, 1.
71. FN7070 Swiss Jesuit Onofre Bürgin (or Borges) provided a helpful list of words to avoid for this reason. See Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers, 95-6.
72. FN7171 Phan provides a translation of the Catechismus in Mission and Catechesis, 215-315. It should be noted that it is unlikely that this catechism was ever diffused in the printed form in Vietnam. See André Marillier, Nos Pères dans la Foi: Notes sur le Clergé Catholique du Tonkin de 1666 à 1765 (Paris, 1995), 1:22.
73. FN7272 Rhodes, “Linguae Annamaticae,” 9. C.f. the manuscript guide to Tonkinese analyzed by Jacques, attributed to Bürgin (Borges), which represents each tone visually on a musical scale. Portuguese Pioneers, 95-6.
74. FN7373 Rhodes, “Linguae Annamaticae,” 3.
75. FN7474 Antonio de Fontes to Father Provincial, 25 June 1631, BA JnÁ, 49-V-31 f. 121r.
76. FN7575 “Manoscritto, em que se proua,” ARSI, JapSin 80, f. 35r,
77. FN7676 Prospero Intorcetta, “Informatione che da alli signori cardinali della Sac. Congregatione de Propaganda Fide,” APF, SC 1, f. 557r.
78. FN7777 Ibid., ff. 577r-v.
79. FN7878 Also approved in the Brief Romanæ Ecclesiæ Antistes, June 27, 1615. See Dunne “What Happened,” 4.
80. FN7979 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 78.
81. FN8080 C.f. Sangkeun Kim, Strange Names; Liam Brockey, Journey to the East: the Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724 (London, 2007), 85-9.
82. FN8181 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 75-6, 78.
83. FN8282 Nguyễn Thế Anh, “From Indra to Maitreya: Buddhist Influence in Vietnamese Political Thought,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33 (2002): 229. On the Confucian concept of Tian see Liu, “Intricacies of Accommodation: The Proselytising Strategies of Matteo Ricci,” Journal of World History 19 (2008): 475, 484.
84. FN8383 Ostrowski, “Nôm works,” 78.
85. FN8484 Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 25.
86. FN8585 Phan, Mission and Catechesis, 25.
87. FN8686 “Alcune considerationi,” APF, SC Miscellanea 1, ff. 42- 8.
88. FN8787 See especially D. E. Mungello, ed., The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning (Nettetel, 1994).
89. FN8888 See Alain Forest, Les Missionnaires Français au Tonkin et au Siam XVIIe-XVIIIe Siècles: Analyse Comparée d’un Relatif Succès et d’un Total Échec, 3 vols (Paris, 1998).
90. FN8989 Filippo Marini to Pierre Lambert de la Motte, 31 March 1669, printed in Marillier, Nos Pères, 1:27.
91. FN9090 “Relation de la Cochinchine,” 1683, Archives des Missions Étrangères de Paris (AMEP), vol. 735, f. 69.

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Affiliations: 1: European University Institute


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