Chinese Rites Controversy

A debate about missionary methods in China during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, associated with the Roman Catholic priest Matteo Ricci.* He arrived at Macao in 1582, established a work at Nanking in 1599, and did so at Peking two years later, where he remained until his death. Ricci made a point of explaining Christianity to the Chinese in their own terms. In this connection he tolerated the practice of indigenous rites in honor of ancestors and deceased relatives, and also (for the more educated) in honor of Confucius, since he believed that the Chinese worshiped the true God in their own way. This action, the forerunner of much modern missionary strategy, provoked a long and heated controversy, chiefly because Ricci forgot the part played by superstition in such rites as generally practiced. Long after Ricci's death, Clement XI issued decrees (1704, 1715) which condemned the rites.