Religion and Beliefs
This panel examines the impact of the Jesuits on Chosŏn. Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552‒1610)’s Tianzhu Shiyi [The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven] served as a key text for the introduction of Catholicism into Chosŏn, not only to yangban literati but to commoners and women. This book led to the spontaneous conversion of Chosŏn Koreans and the establishment of the first Korean Catholic Community in 1784. This indirect encounter between the Jesuits and Chosŏn led to great changes in society and the way to understand human beings and the Lord on High. In this context, Jeanhyoung Soh explores the linguistic features of Tianzhu Shiyi by comparing different Chinese versions with the Japanese ones and the Korean-language manuscript in order to better understand how Catholic terminology was used in Korean vernacular. Moreover, the Jesuits’ way to interpret God could narrow the gap between Neo-Confucianism and Catholicism by introducing the concept of a ‘personal God,’ the quintessence of the Christian faith. Don Baker deals with that the Jesuits’ method of inculturation had a great impact on yangban literati like Tasan Chŏng Yagyong (1762‒1836) who looked for a new way to understand human beings. From the Jesuits’ ideas, Tasan borrowed the notion of free will to answer the question on human moral frailty which Neo-Confucianism did not explain sufficiently. Building upon these insights, Seong Nae Kim shows that the Catholic concept of God as an actual conscious supernatural personality, who could be manifested in ways complementary to Asian cultures, provided the spiritual liberty of self-progressing learning among the commoners, even beyond the barriers of class and gender. Jieun Han examines that the Jesuit influence could reach even to those who did not convert to the religion. For instance, unlike Tasan, Tamhŏn Hong Taeyong (1731‒1783) had the opportunity to meet the Jesuit missionaries Ferdinand Augustin Hallerstein (1703‒1774) and Anton Gogeisl (1701‒1771) at the South Church in Beijing when he visited there as a member of a Chosŏn embassy for two months from 1765 and 1766. His conversation with the missionaries brought a great change in his understanding of the world, challenging his sinocentrism. Despite his keen interest in the Jesuits’ advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge, however, Tamhŏn persisted in his Neo-Confucian ideology and rejected the Christian understanding of the Lord on High. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the Jesuits influenced Chosŏn socially and culturally, contributing to the development of civil society.