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Robert De Nobili

1577-1656. Jesuit missionary to India. Born into a wealthy family at Montepulciano, he became a Jesuit in 1596 despite family opposition. Arriving in India in 1605, he served on the Fisher Coast before going to Madura for thirty-six years. His senior companion aimed to turn converts into Portuguese. De Nobili rejected this and met bitter criticism because he dressed as a sannyasi and lived in the Brahmin quarter, so that he could be met without defilement. He became the first European to have firsthand knowledge of Sanskrit, the Vedas, and Vedanta. His first convert, Sivadarma, was baptized in 1609 and permitted to retain Brahmin insignia. Fellow priests regarded this as a betrayal of Christianity, and he was inhibited from ecclesiastical functions by the local authorities. After a long delay, which de Nobili used to write a number of books in the local vernaculars, Gregory XV upheld de Nobili's appeal in Romanae sedis antistes. Resuming missionary activity, he traveled widely in new areas till 1654, when he was retired to Myalpore and spent his two remaining years revising his books, despite increasing blindness. By the time of his death there were several thousand converts, including some from high castes. His attempt to distinguish between Christianity and its cultural trappings has proved to be of permanent importance in Christian missions.

J. Bertrand (ed.), La Mission du Madure (4 vols., 1847-54); P. Dahmen (ed.), Première Apologie (1931); M. De Crisenoy, Robert De Nobili (1939); V. Cronin, A Pearl to India (1959).