The New Constantinianism: Late-Antique Paradigms and 16th-Century Strategies for the Conversion of China
MISSIONARY STRATEGIES AND IMPERIAL CONTEXTS
The ecclesiastical histories of late antiquity and the missionary strategies of early modernity are replete with examples and narrative structures in which the imperial contexts for the propagation of Christianity figure prominently. That is, the processes of Christianization and of conversion -- however they may be conceived -- take place, conceptually as well as historically, under the auspices of some historical derivative of the Roman Empire. Hence, also ubiquitous in ecclesiastical histories is the image of Constantine the Great, that fourth-century icon of the triumph of Christianity over the Roman world and of the new imperial powers of which Christianity could now avail itself.1 Especially for chroniclers of Constantine’s triumphal elevation of Christianity, such as Eusebius (275-339 C.E.), the Pax Romana accomplished by Constantine also served as the precondition for the successful propagation of Christianity to the larger world. It was precisely the political stability provided by the Pax Romana, the institutional and juridical force by which Christianity could gain hegemony over the empire, and -- not unimportant to Eusebius -- the expansionist ambitions of the Roman Empire, that were evidence of God’s providential use of Rome to extend Christianity to those as of yet unconverted. Eusebius writes in his praise of Constantine:
One universal power, the Roman empire, arose and flourished, while the enduring and implacable hatred of nation against nation was now removed: and as the knowledge of one God, and one way of religion and salvation, even the doctrine of Christ, was made known to all mankind; so at the self-same period, the entire dominion of the Roman empire being vested in a single sovereign, profound peace reigned throughout the world. And thus, by the express appointment of the same God, two roots of blessing, the Roman Empire, and the doctrine of Christian piety, sprang up together for the benefit of men.2
That Constantinian narrative, especially given the extent to which its Eusebian form centralizes evangelization, provokes a number of historiographical problems for understanding what both Christianization and conversion have meant in different times and places.3 Christianization is not merely a process of cultural transformation, it reflects the active engagement of Christians who understand themselves as evangelists, and propagators of the Christian faith, and most often with some definable sense of what kind of Christianity is to emerge from their efforts. Given Eusebius’ obvious coupling of Christianity with the external conditions most propitious for Christian piety, analysis of Christianization in this context also requires conscious consideration of what kind of social and political space is thought to provide for effective Christian flourishing. Giving a central place to the Constantinian narrative in analysis of Christianization and conversion centers that set of problems, and also provides new directions for research and analysis. In the first place, the Constantinian narrative, certainly in its Eusebian form, is hardly without its critics in the history of Christian thought; the controversies over what transpires when the work of fulfilling the command of Christ to preach the evangelium pacis to all nations takes upon itself the tools, concepts, and institutional force of the imperium romanum are singularly instructive to analysis of how Christianity has been conceived vis-à-vis the historical and political contexts in which, according to time and place, it finds itself constrained to operate or which it seeks to create or control.4 Hence, analysis of the meaning of conversion, or of the process of Christianization, also finds itself constrained by similar considerations: whether or not the Aztecs in the first decade of the sixteenth century eventually embraced Christianity as a result of conversion processes typified by St. Augustine’s Confessions, it remains incontestable that their first encounter with the language of the gospel of Christ came to them not as a timeless deposit of faith or as interior transformation, but in a form indistinguishable from the armored bodies of Spanish conquistadores and the strange habits and languages of Franciscan friars.5 How both conquistador and Franciscan friar conceived of Christianity, and the social conditions under which it would thrive, is of paramount importance to understanding the meaning of the Christianization of the Americas. As in early ecclesiastical histories, the early modern missionary enterprise took place largely under the auspices of empire, and the Roman language of imperium was not absent from considerations of strategies for the evagelization of the New World. Yet, as also in late antiquity, the ascendancy of Constantine, or rulers modeled as a “new Constantine”, was not without its critics, nor were such imperial strategies always unproblematic to the conceptualization of the Christian evangelium.6
The Constantinian narrative would appear -- certainly given the available historiography on the Jesuit mission to China in the latter years of the sixteenth century -- to be least relevant to how Jesuits such as Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) conceived of Christianity and how he sought to strategize the introduction and propagation of the Christian gospel in China. Especially insofar as the Jesuit mission to China has been defined in opposition to the Spanish pattern of conquest, colonization, and Christianization, the importance of the Constantinian narrative to Ricci and his colleagues has been missed.7 Ironically, the Jesuit mission to China, long held to be exemplary for its strategies of “accommodation” and reliance on peaceful propagation of the Christian gospel rather than force, has nevertheless been almost incontestably if unintentionally characterized in Constantinian terms. The most commonplace of assumptions among historians and hagiographers is that among the chief goals of Ricci’s strategy of Christianization was the conversion of the Ming Wan-Li emperor. Most often it has been asserted that the Jesuits based that strategy on something suggestive of a domino theory; that is, if the conversion of the ruler is secured, the conversion of the subjects will follow.8 The explicitly Constantinian nature of such an assertion is passed over without notice, not to mention the problems that were already alive in Christian circles regarding the precarious relationship of the libertas implied by the Christian evangelium to such top-down strategies of reliance upon at least implicit forms of social and institutional coercion. Accounts of the Jesuits’ mission do not name Constantine as such, nor do they engage substantially in the problems of the Christian inheritance of a Roman juridical structure characterized by language of imperium and dominium, but a profound historiographical problem emerges precisely from that failure to fully explore or explicate the intellectual context of the Jesuit mission and of Ricci’s strategies -- not least of all for understanding the place of the Jesuit mission to China within the context of the debate that emerged, particularly in Spanish circles, over the tense and not unproblematic relationship of imperium to evangelium. That debate directly affected the strategic thinking of Ricci.
Historically speaking, however, the Constantinian narrative remains to be unpacked and contextualized both within the history of Christianity and conversion to Christianity, and within the historical and theological frameworks that informed the early modern missionary enterprise. Matteo Ricci did, in fact, spend considerable effort on attempts to reach the Imperial City of Peking (modern Beijing) and gain an audience with the emperor. He also commented at length on the hierarchical structure of Chinese society and mused that, given what he described as Chinese slavishness to authority, the conversion of the emperor could easily transpire into the conversion of the rest of Chinese society. Yet Ricci’s strategies were notoriously complex, even to his contemporaries. Ricci’s association with Confucian and even Daoist literati who were intent on reforming the monarchy also suggests the need for a more historically complex assessment of his overall strategies vis-à-vis the Wan-Li emperor. Hence, reductive narratives of his efforts to win the Chinese emperor over to Christianity, those that imply a theory of domino effect, have produced a historiographical distortion, which in turn has obscured many of the more subtle and more compelling insights that may be had into the imperial focus of the Jesuit mission. So perhaps the problem of imperium that greatly affected the experience of the Spanish in Mexico and Peru would also rear its head in strategizing how best to introduce and sustain Christianity in China.
The range of interpretations offered for that imperial focus on the part of Ricci and his colleagues must be widened, and a number of previously unexplored factors be brought under consideration. Revision of some scholarship on Ricci, and on the intellectual context of the Jesuit mission, is mandated by implication when recent works in Chinese historiography have begun to dispense with the excessive emphasis upon Chinese homogeneity and hierarchy that previously marked much of the field. They have instead focused on the complex web of late Ming social relations that often challenged the imperial structure and called for various reforms. Ricci’s involvement with late Ming reformist circles bears investigation in this context. Symptomatically, the sinologist Jacques Gernet asserted the concept of the fundamental equality of all human beings before God -- certainly a Christian principle that Ricci did assert on numerous occasions -- to be unthinkable and deeply offensive to Chinese literate society, and hence posited the fundamental moral incompatibility of Christianity and Chinese intellectual culture. Yet, other historians have pointed to similar claims for the moral equality of persons already in Chinese literate culture or to be found within the classical Confucian texts themselves.9 It thus appears that deeply divergent opinions were held among the Chinese literati on such notions as human equality and the hierarchy of human relationships, and that this increasingly complex picture of late Ming society now emerging will continue to complicate understandings of Ricci’s overall strategies. Yet equally important to the task of apprehending those strategies is elucidating the broader intellectual milieu of late sixteenth-century Europe of which those strategies were equally a part, most notably the wider context of missionary thinking and missionary experience in rural Europe, the Americas, India, and, most recently, the Philippine Islands. Although the intellectual ramifications of this have been almost entirely absent in studies of the Jesuit mission to China, Ricci’s strategies, and controversies over Ricci’s strategies, were deeply implicated in wide-ranging dilemmas stemming from the conquests of the Americas and the Philippines to the larger geo-political context of Spanish and Portuguese imperial ambitions.10 The Constantinian narrative was indeed available as historical exemplum for this global missionary movement, but the bitterly contested legitimacy of the recent Spanish conquests of Mexico and Peru did much to temper speculations that, as the Pax Romana under Constantine had paved the way for the Christianization of the Late Antique world, so would the Pax Hispanica under Charles V (r. 1516-1556; as Charles I of Spain) or Philip II (r. 1556-1598) provide such a motor for the Christianization of newly-discovered lands in the Americas and in Asia. Rather than an assumption that Christianization would folIow a generally Constantinian pattern, convert the emperor and all else will follow, what emerges from a more complex consideration is a context in which a great deal of uncertainty, dispute, and contestation did exist over the relationship of Christianity to political structures, and most problematically, of evangelium to imperium.
The Constantinian pattern is also hardly a simple matter for those aspiring to imitatio. That Constantianism represents a model of conversion by force instead of persuasion is a caricature that must be discarded. The more complex problem lies, rather, in what kinds of institutional, political, and intellectual forces are thought best suited to serve as the precondition for effective persuasion. The triumphal narratives provided by Lactantius, Eusebius, Orosius, and the early Augustine nevertheless provoke, especially in Augustine, a reconsideration of both the divine mandate attributed to the Roman Empire by Christians, and the historical realities of bloodshed that marked the wars of conquest undertaken by the Romans themselves. Partly in response, historians, jurists, theologians, and missionaries of the sixteenth century produced an immense literature on persuasion versus the use of force, the theoretical and historical basis of imperium, on the qualifications of just and unjust wars, on the rights of conquest. Yet, they also wrote on the responsibilities and moral constraints of evangelism, as the evangelical efforts of that century were, in geographical range, in sheer number of participants, in extent of historical and theoretical reflection, unmatched in the history of Christianity. Approaching Ricci’s strategic dilemmas through that context is indeed daunting, but it is nevertheless possible to pull from the general considerations over missionary praxis in that century points of focus that will sharpen the present enquiry. The first and most obvious observation is that the geo-political context for the missionary enterprise in the sixteenth century was almost without exception imperial; that is, it took place either under or alongside the auspices of the rapidly expanding dominion of European monarchs. Even in places where there had been no conquest (China, Japan, most of India, new territories of the Americas), and even given crucial differences in Spanish and Portuguese practices, there was always the possibility or threat of such a conquest and considerations of missionary strategies were never far from those realities. Certain sets of arguments, certain historical and theological loci, emerged around which those realities were both defended and contested. At least one such proposal for the armed conquest of China was, in fact, forthcoming from Spanish sources in the Philippine Islands.11
Given Ricci’s focus on the conversion of the Wan-Li emperor, could it be that the conversion of the Chinese emperor might mirror that of Constantine, effectively establishing a Chinese “Caesaropapism,” or something analogous, that would exercise rightful force in setting the conditions under which the Chinese would be converted by persuasive preaching of the gospel? Or, would it be something else? In either case -- those who sought the help of imperial force for evangelical purposes and those who rejected it -- the missionaries of the sixteenth century certainly were deeply affected, as well, by the currents of late Renaissance thought, which rendered problematic in new ways the legacy of Julius Caesar’s overthrow of the senatus populusque Romanum; the simultaneity of temporal and spiritual power embodied in Constantine, in Charlemagne and his successors; and the admixture of imperial coercive power and spiritual leadership embodied in the contemporary papacy. Application of that historical and analytic framework, both late antique and late Renaissance, to Ricci’s strategies will enable historians to bypass the simplistic reduction of Ricci’s imperial focus to an application of cujus regio, ejus religio.
What becomes equally evident in those considerations are the late-antique paradigms through which sixteenth-century missionaries, Ricci included, attempted to come to terms with the moral and political requirements and contexts for the propagation of Christianity.12 Missionary activity had a medieval history to be sure, but the kinds of problems engaged, the ways in which they were engaged, and the desire on the part of many to recuperate a pre-Constantinian Christianity, ensured that the problems that occupied the early Church and the Latin and Greek Fathers were the same problems that were mobilized by those concerned with the implications of missionary strategies in China. Late Antique Rome was not China, and certainly not Mexico, Peru, or the Philippine Islands, but what emerged from the controversies over the conquests of Mexico and Peru, or from ambitions for the conquest of China, was the question of the relationship of “evangelical labor,” as protagonists often called it, to wider geo-political contexts, and especially to the harnessing of the rights and powers of imperium for the purposes of preaching the gospel. The determinate factor in adopting the exempla of the Fathers, especially Augustine, in order to address that very question was, it may then be argued, that the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity under the aegis of Constantine marked the very birth of the evangelium/imperium problem. If a break in that pattern were to be sought, a critical return to the source of the pattern would be necessary. The question had no historical application for the Apostles or pre-Nicene Fathers. It only became a problem in the advent of an imperium Christiana.
THE NEW CONSTANTINIANISM
The methods of Matteo Ricci have long since come to symbolize “persuasion” and “accommodation,” although the intellectual context for those strategies has not always been made clear. Holy Roman emperors and popes, even of the bellicose character of Alexander VI, have always thought persuasion the ratio princeps of evangelism, but that moral qualification alone did not answer the complex problems of jurisdiction, questions over the ownership and use of religious coercive authority, and questions of the relationship of evangelism to empire. It is also the case that Bartolomé de las Casas, who has long come to symbolize “persuasion” in American contexts, was by no means unambivalent on the authority of the papacy and Spanish monarchy in both temporal and religious matters.13
Matteo Ricci’s methods of persuasion and accommodation were not isolated from larger geo-political contexts, and his strategies for the conversion of the Chinese emperor should be seen as implicated in contemporary turmoil surrounding aspirations for a “new Constantine,” if not in ways that are readily apparent. In 1588, Alonso Sánchez, another Jesuit, co-religionist and acquaintance of Ricci, lauded the Spanish monarch Philip II as “el nuevo Constantino.”14 Only a few years earlier, while Michele Ruggiero and his young colleague, Matteo Ricci, were in Macao learning Chinese and seeking permission to enter the Chinese mainland, Sánchez had taken part in a failed diplomatic mission to Canton on behalf of Philip II to persuade the Chinese to open their borders to missionaries and foreign trade. Ricci had himself acted as one of Sánchez’s guides and translators. On the occasion of his laudatory remarks concerning the divine mandate and mission of Philip II, Sánchez was recently returned to Spain from the Philippine Islands via Mexico. As one of the first Jesuits to arrive in the newly-conquered Philippine Islands -- newly named for the Spanish monarch -- he also had acted as resident theologian for the Synod of Manila, meeting in 1583-84, which was convened both to solve internal problems that plagued the colonial project in the Philippines, and the problem of finally securing access for missionaries to China given the failure of his original diplomatic mission. Between 1587 and 1588, Sánchez was empowered to act as the designated representative of a junta of ecclesiastical and colonial administrators in Manila, and was sent to Spain to lobby for what proved to be a highly controversial proposal: the use of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian armed forces to finally force open the doors of China to the permanent and safe presence of Christian missionaries.15
The proposal for the conquest of China, given the bitter disputes over what had transpired in Mexico and Peru, launched a storm of controversy from East Asia and the Pacific to Mexico and from Peru to Spain and to Rome itself. Letters of protest from Alessandro Valignano, the Nagasaki- based Jesuit officially in charge of the entire Far East enterprise, as well as from Ricci himself, were sent to Rome. Surely at stake in the proposal for the conquest of China was the entire nucleus of contemporary controversies over the extension of faith by force, and the contested legacy of the Spanish conquests of Mexico, Peru, and most recently, the Philippine Islands. Hence it was by no means insignificant that Sánchez authored a separate defense of the American conquests as a prolegomena to his defense of military action in China, nor that Sánchez’s most trenchant critics, such as the Jesuit José de Acosta in Peru, were those who sought to de-legitimize what had transpired in Mexico and Peru and who were most anxious to avoid a repetition elsewhere.16
The proposal and the controversy that followed it around the globe prove quite difficult interpretive matters, and certainly warrant an extended study of their own, which cannot be provided here.17 What may be demonstrated, however, is the extent to which that proposal reflected deep tensions in the larger geo-political context of Iberian expansion, and within which various positions regarding the relationship of missionary strategies to imperial force were often hotly contested. It is also clear that such a controversy impinged on the formative identity of the Jesuit mission to China. Dominican and Jesuit friars working from Macao to Manila to Mexico were participants in that debate over evangelization, violence, and providence that loomed large in missionary literature, and quickly flowed over to other branches of moral theology. The controversy over the proposal for the invasion of China quickly came to impinge most directly on whether the conversion of the Indians in the Americas indeed justified the conquest of the Americas. That controversy, thus, also was one in which the investment of other missionaries in other parts of the world in the success of Ricci’s strategies in China becomes evident. It was perceived that the success of those methods, without the use of armed force, would accomplish more than the persistent juridical disputations that occupied Spanish academies in the wake of the American conquest in refuting the claim that, in spite of the violence and excess of the American conquest, it had, indeed, been necessary for the divinely-mandated task of evangelizing the American Indians. Were there no conquest, the argument had run, there would have been no conversions. Some, José de Acosta included, hoped that China would prove the living falsification of such claims. The lines of contestation eventually emerged: on the one hand there was the juridical matter of defining dominium and just authority, and yet on the other was the historical and deeply problematic fact that pacification had preceded evangelization in the Americas and the Philippines, regardless of whether it was done justly, and, according to some at least, was likely to be required in the case of China. The Romans had not always acted justly as one can easily read in Augustine how, “The true God, who never leaves the human race unattended by his judgment, granted dominion to the Romans when he willed and to the extent that he willed.”18 That grant, providentially understood, was to pave the way for the remarkable and explosive growth of Christianity in the late-antique world. Perhaps such was to be the case in China.
The force of the proposal and the terms in which Sánchez sought to justify a Chinese invasion are central to comprehending what was implied by an appeal to a “new Constantine” in the context of evangelizing China. It became increasingly apparent that the relationship between pacification, evangelization, and the pre-conditions for conversion proved a difficult topic of elaboration. Even among those otherwise opposed to conquest, some were willing to admit the necessity of armed protection of soldiers in cases of preaching in particularly inhospitable conditions, with the proviso that the soldiers abstain from any intimidation or threats or force save the protection of the lives of preachers against hostile attack. That recourse to an armed protectorate was recommended at times by José de Acosta, who otherwise implacably opposed ‘conquest’.19 Others, who refused even that limited application of military aid as self-defense, insisted upon the requirements of the ‘apostolic condition’: traveling in pairs, eschewing force, living on what would be given to them by local hospitality, and accepting martyrdom when occasion demanded it. Acosta vastly preferred those apostolic methods whenever possible and prudent, yet he also thought that martyrdom ought to be avoided when unnecessary and of no clear benefit to the gospel; providing a tasty morsel, as he put it, for sufficiently-inclined cannibals, Acosta did not think was martyrdom in the right sense.20 Yet, telling of the differences in application that were carried out, at least under his indirect influence, was that the Jesuit mission to Paraguay, a descendent of Acosta’s Provincialate in Peru, proceeded in that latter apostolic fashion, even though some were martyred, in territories that Acosta had cited as probably too inhospitable to do so.21
In closed countries such as China and Japan, or in particular moments of official repression such as that which transpired under Hideyoshi in Japan, those apostolic requirements were followed more often than not -- and short of military invasion there was simply no real alternative.22 Acosta was not the first to suggest cases in which a “missionary protectorate” -- that use of armed forces to guard the lives of evangelists -- might prove appropriate, and the debates surrounding those cases recall Las Casas’ failed attempts at completely pacifistic evangelization on the northern coast of Venezuela, or the experience of successive failed missions by Dominicans and Jesuits in Florida. Covert missionaries who managed to gain illegal entry into China or Japan were often caught and expelled, sometimes killed, or, worse yet, those Chinese or Japanese who assisted them were killed or imprisoned. Thus, the possibilities inherent in an armed missionary protectorate proved attractive to a majority of the missionaries in the Philippine Islands if peaceful methods of securing access to those countries failed. Sánchez was able to represent the almost unanimous consensus of the ecclesiastical community in Manila when lobbying for some exercise of force to persuade China to open its doors to missionaries, although as that necessary but scarcely visible line crossed from protection to conquest, and from self-defense to usurpation of dominion, many were quick to distance themselves from Sánchez and claim that he had exceeded his original mandate. However, in spite of the obvious importance of the tensions inherent in a missionary protectorate -- when to use it, to what extent local jurisdiction would be curtailed, and whether it qualified as a “just war” and thus gained entitlement under the rights of war -- the terms on which the debate over the proposed conquest of China revolved did not ultimately rest on whether or under what conditions a missionary protectorate would answer the long-standing problem of evangelizing a China stubbornly closed to foreigners. The controversy was to prove deeply symptomatic of the more profound tensions that divided missionaries in the Pacific and on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was in this context that Sánchez appealed to Philip II by referring to him as a “new Constantine.” Hence the argument cannot be reduced to general agreement on just war theory and the rights of missionaries to engage in self-defense, marred only by differences of opinion on prudencia. Something else was at stake, and no one -- not Valignano, Acosta, or any other opponent of Sánchez -- was willing to address the resultant controversy solely on the merits of just wars or rights to a missionary protectorate. If Sánchez saw in Philip II a new Constantine, reflecting both the historical legacy of Constantine and the Constantinian model of Christianization, both Ricci’s opposition to Sánchez and his efforts to win the conversion of the Chinese emperor must be understood in contradistinction to Sánchez.23 Ricci opposed the plan of Sánchez and the junta at Manila for a number of reasons, but certainly high among them was his determination to pursue peaceful access to China, in spite of the current state of difficulties. Ricci was further aware that the Spanish had, in fact, contributed to the very problem that they sought to solve. News of the Spanish conquests, especially that of the Philippines, was never far from Chinese reluctance to extend invitations for Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese missionaries. Where the Spanish arrived with intent to “converse” and “trade,” they remained as lords and rulers. José de Acosta was quick to recognize the same basis for Chinese protectionism, and thought, given the circumstances, it was not entirely irrational. Furthermore, given Chinese awareness of Spanish imperial ambitions, an invasion, or even talk of such, jeopardized the whole of the China mission, and presented the obvious occasion for the Chinese to continue to associate Christianity with the work of the Spanish conquistadors. As a consequence, Ricci was often forced to deny that conversion to Christianity by individual Chinese would entail their subjection to a foreign and Christian monarch.
The differences in conception or appropriation of the troublesome Constantinian legacy were vast, and what is suggested by the Constantinianism of Sánchez and by Ricci’s reluctance to endorse it helps to draw out the consequences of those differences. Especially given the Augustinian topography of the questions at stake -- the exemplary status of Augustine’s appraisal of the Roman Empire in light of God’s providence undertaken in the fourth and fifth books of the City of God -- latent in those differences was an old tension between the ways in which imperium was conceived, both of which are suggested in Augustine’s Late Antique reflections. What interested missionaries working under the context of empire, e.g., the military and jurisdictional reach of the Spanish or Portuguese monarchs, were the terms under which Augustine struggled over the various levels of interpretation for the extension of the Roman Empire as it had transpired under the Caesars. Augustine’s appraisals of the Roman legacy are notoriously complex: Book V of the City of God launches sharp polemics against some Roman virtues, unabashedly prefers Cato to Julius Caesar, and does not hesitate to charge that gloria, the motor of Roman expansion, was often an ideological cover for avaritia and cupiditas. Augustine did not always share in the excessive praise for Rome that marks the histories of Eusebius, and his own contemporary Orosius. As a consequence, humanists of the Renaissance who worked to dismantle the Constantinian legacy, such as the Italian philologist Lorenzo Valla, had little difficulty in using Augustine against himself, invoking his biting criticisms of Roman cupiditas against his praise of Constantine and tendency to providential interpretations.24 But, most importantly, the terms in which Augustine did explore the providential status of Rome in the history of Christian salvation, and the terms in which he did praise Emperor Constantine as having provided the conditions of stability and imperial authority conducive to the spread of the gospel, prove contagious for later estimations of those same topics. Roman expansion, in Augustine’s sometimes tense estimation, was, historically speaking, the result of Roman ambition, but, theologically speaking, the grant of God. In the history of theological interpretations, that grant also was a stabilizing moral force and the precondition for the spread of Christianity. Thus, in the narrative of sacred history, Rome was to have a preeminent place.25 The result of that grant was the transformation in late Roman history brought about by the end of systematic, although sporadic, persecutions of Christians as a subversive sect, and by the emergence of a Christian empire after the final triumph of Constantine, both of which absolutely transformed the social and political terms by which Christians understood themselves and their place in the world. Thus, as Christianity took the reins of Roman imperium with the advent of Constantine, the conditions of Christian hegemony, social stability, extirpation of idolatry and so forth implicitly transformed the conceptual structure of imperium from a Roman military and juridical framework into a state of affairs orchestrated by Divine fiat. Under that transformation, Christian imperium defined itself increasingly as the grant of God, authorized by God to be the agent of God’s work in the world.
BULLS OF DONATION AND THE PATRONATO REAL
The most immediate context for an understanding of imperium as the grant of God for the salvation of unbelievers in China drew its momentum from the issuance of the Alexandrine Bulls of Donation of 1494, which in turn based their authority on a long tradition of papal donations of dominium. Such a tradition of donations emerged allegedly from the “donation” by Constantine, in gratitude for his conversion, of the Western portion of Roman dominion to Pope Sylvester. Although the legitimacy of the donation of Constantine was indeed contested from many quarters in subsequent centuries, it was not finally proven to be a fictitious legend until 1440, with Lorenzo Valla’s exposure of the Constitutum Constantini as a later forgery. The Alexandrine bulls of 1494 ignored the essentially discredited status of such donations, and granted temporal and spiritual dominium over lands newly discovered in the west to the Catholic kings and in the east to the Portuguese monarchy.26 Important for Sánchez’s new Constantinianism was that Philip II’s ascendancy to the Portuguese throne in 1580, uniting Castile, Aragon, and Portugal (the Union of Crowns), effectively cancelled that territorial distinction in the eyes of many, and gave Philip divine mandate over China. With that, Sánchez would remind Philip, was the responsibility to ensure its conversion to Christianity. This grant, also understood as the patronato real, resulted in the combination of territorial claims, colonial administrative faculties, and oversight of the missions in lands hitherto divided between Spanish and Portuguese jurisdictions. Philip promised not to interfere with Portuguese administration in areas formerly subject to Portuguese jurisdiction, but many saw in the Union of Crowns the opportunity for the Spanish, with their formidable military capabilities, to solve the China problem once and for all. It was none other than Alonso Sánchez who traveled from Madrid to the Portuguese trading garrison of Macao to announce that event.27 The new Constantinianism thus was fueled in large part by the ideological capacity of the Alexandrine bulls and the subsequent patronato real. However, the interpretation of such bulls was often disputed and their authority often suspect, hence tensions over the bulls came to represent tensions over how to conceive of the relationship, crucial for all missionaries in the sixteenth century, between imperium and evangelium.
It can be ascertained from the Chinese critics of the Jesuits in China that suspicions of Hispanic ambitions were never far from implicating Ricci or other Italian and Portuguese Jesuits.They were often accused of serving, wittingly or unwittingly, as the advance guard of Iberian expansion. The announcement of the Union of Crowns, and the possibility of a new administration in Macao loyal to the interests of Castile, was not welcomed by the Chinese. They correctly perceived that relations that had been established with the Portuguese, through diplomacy and through constant threats to expel the whole Portuguese trading enterprise, were threatened by new and more powerful forces. Further, concerns over the political loyalties expected of Christian converts, should they be legally tolerated in China, were also never far from casting suspicions on the Jesuit mission from Macao. Ricci had to persuade the Chinese otherwise, that foreign monarchs would make no temporal claims upon Christians in China, and that the authority of the pope was only in spiritual matters. Yet, in so doing, Ricci had to have effectively contradicted the substantive basis of the Alexandrine bulls, and a good deal of canon law.28
However, what may seem rash to expect of Ricci was in fact common to a good many theologians and missionaries under Spanish or other European dominion.29 Certain traditions of Christian theology had substantial practice in refuting those kinds of imperial donations, and the theological loci often invoked were in effect a summary of what had been argued for centuries in the contested domain of papal prerogatives and claims to simultaneous temporal and spiritual dominion. At the most rudimentary level, papal grants required rightful possession of that which was granted. And, as the pope did not possess dominium over unbelievers, it was often argued, he could not give it away to the Spanish or the Portuguese. Outside the authority of that grant, neither the Spanish nor the Portuguese possessed any claim to dominium over lands not previously subject to them. Dominium had many faces and much dispute centered around what kinds of claims were being made, but in the most rudimentary sense it was seen as the right to make laws, set up magistrates, punish offenders, and declare war when necessary for the preservation of the respublica. Recent strains of argument further attacked papal claims to exercise unfettered dominium over Christians themselves -- on the basis of resting on a false analogy between the power wielded by Caesar and that charged to the Vicar of Christ -- and that, too, often was removed from what the pope could rightfully donate to others.30
Critics of the bulls sought out their sources in the historical transformation of Christianity after the conversion of Constantine. The text most explicitly attacking the tradition of papal donations had been written two generations earlier by the always-controversial Lorenzo Valla. Valla decidedly exposed the Constitutum Constantini as a late-medieval forgery, and severely undermined the authority of future papal donations based on that spurious tradition. Valla’s treatise explicitly concerned itself with the legitimacy of papal donations, but also with the linguistic and juridical transformation of Christianity as it acquired imperial dominion after Constantine.31 Constantine’s alleged grant of dominium to Pope Sylvester would not have been, Valla argued, the grant of God for the spiritual well-being of his people and the evangelization of others, but would have marked the last stage in Constantine’s grand larceny of the respublica Romana from the Senate and People of Rome. For Sylvester to have accepted that charge would have been but acquiescence in that theft, and further constitute a violation of his charge as the “Vicar of Christ and not also of Caesar.”32 Further, subjection of the Christian faithful to papal imperium was theft of their libertas Christiana. Although Valla gained considerable notoriety for his work on that and other topics, it was often repeated, even by those otherwise critical of Valla, that papal donations of what was not properly his constituted a form of theft.
Other criticisms of the bulls were primarily Thomistic in expression, and in the particularly influential schools of Spanish neo-Thomism, the refutation of the Alexandrine bulls as conferring temporal dominion appears in almost every piece of scholastic jurisprudence penned by Francisco de Vitoria and his students at the University of Salamanca.33 The Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas heavily de-emphasized the territorial nature of the bulls in favor of using the bulls to hold the Hispanic monarchies responsible for evangelization of their granted domains. Vitoria and his students concluded that the bulls conferred only spiritual dominion, including the right and responsibility of evangelization, and the administration of missionary endeavors, to the Christian monarchs in their respective hemispheres.34 Yet that dominion involved ethical constraints, as the Dominican Melchor Cano would argue, acts for the good of another, hence evangelism, were precepts of charity, and no precept of charity can involve coercion.35 There were other bases for refutation; the English and French deeply resented what they saw as papal deference to Spanish and Portuguese claims, and particularly in neo-Thomist schools there was a rejection based on strict delimitations of secular and papal jurisdiction. Yet, aspects of the attack on the ideological basis of the patronato came as well from sources less invested in scholastic method, and others, such as Acosta, would go much further, breaking down the analogy of secular dominion and spiritual governance, denying that one could rightly speak of the pope acting as “absolute lord” of even the spiritual domain.36
Thus, the patronato real as papal grant, for it was certainly nothing else, far from representing a unified Hispanic ideology, as it has often been perceived, increasingly became a highly disreputable defense to be offered for legitimizing Spanish or Portuguese dominion overseas. It was not merely a theoretical dispute, but one replete in consequences for the conditions of missionary praxis. Sánchez himself would have witnessed the refusal of some of his colleagues in the Philippines to sanction either the recent Spanish conquest of the Philippines, or Philip II’s claims to rightful jurisdiction over the islands.37 When queried, the friars almost unanimously denied Philip just title whether his motives were evangelical or not, and countered that as local chiefs or rulers were not rightly deposed by papal grants or Spanish conquests, only two things could constitute a just transfer of dominion: the free choice of those to be subjected, or that those subjected were conquered in a just war. Given their refusal to admit to the latter, since the only just war in the Philippines, they retorted, would have been for the local inhabitants to have defended themselves against the Spaniards, just title to dominion over the Indians could accede to Philip if the native inhabitants freely chose him as their monarch. Thus, Spanish dominion must obtain the consent of those ruled, which in many cases it was not able to do. As a consequence, those missionaries were then obliged to seek the permission and hospitality of local leaders as a condition of entering new territories, and were subject to the authority of local laws and customs.
Yet, the ideological and administrative capacity of the patronato real cannot be underestimated, as it did form in practice the basis for the distinction between Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence, as well as their administrative distinctions, and was invoked by colonial administrators and by missionaries for varieties of reasons. Many were reluctant to undermine the authority of the patronato entirely. As the bulls required the Iberian monarchs to evangelize their new territories, a point not lost on many missionaries, they were not without benefits, as they required the Iberian monarchs to finance the missions. On the other hand, the authority of the patronato was simply a fact to be reckoned with in the East; and it was arguably far more effective as a matter of institution than as ideology, as the protestations of theologians and missionaries and their refusal to admit just title to Philip II did little to alter the reality of continued Hispanic dominion where it had been established.38 The tensions in the ideological capacity of the patronato real, the fact that most theologians in Spain and abroad either rejected or reinterpreted it, and the very real extent to which the patronato did impact colonial administration and administration of the missions, introduce some necessary caution into the otherwise categorical assessment offered recently that the Jesuits, “operating within the Spanish system, understood their work as collaborative, even in agreement with the imperial interests of Castile. Given the nature of the patronato real, it could hardly be otherwise.”39
Sánchez’s appellation of Philip II as the new Constantine appealed to advocates of that amalgam of evangelism and empire, yet it also operated from within tensions that existed over the nature of the patronato real. They were further implicated in another deep rift in which Spanish missionaries were divided among themselves: whether or not the Spanish wars of conquest and extension of dominion were legitimate, and more so the troubling question of whether or not they had been useful. That is, was the conversion of the Indians to Christianity proof of God’s agency if or when no other juridical claims could be sustained? That question invoked an entirely different discourse, deeply implicated in historical judgments stemming, once again, from Augustine’s assessment of God’s providence. On that level it was not reducible to the terms of scholastic jurisprudence. Certainly evidence of that tension emerges from the Synod of Manila, at which Sánchez served as presiding theologian. Most telling is that the signature of Domingo de Salazar, a Dominican protégé of Bartolomé de las Casas and the first bishop of Manila, most vocal in his opposition to attempts to legitimize the Spanish wars of conquest in Mexico, Peru, or the Philippines, appears on the proposal for the invasion of China that Sánchez carried from Manila to Madrid. Salazar admits to having been persuaded by Sánchez against his initial reservations. Salazar’s letters indicate that Sánchez was successful, at least for a time, in persuading him that quite in spite of the many admitted and regrettable errors and extravagances of the conquests, conversions to Christianity had indeed been wrought. Were there no pacification, there would have been no conversions. Likewise, Sánchez was prone to argue, since when had the progression of faith not occurred without the help of kings and rulers, even when they expanded their own territories? Salazar, it must be emphasized, was not one to be easily persuaded. Like Las Casas, he gained considerable notoriety by refusing the sacraments to Spanish conquistadors until penance was done and restitution to the Indians for damages done had been made. That Sánchez's arguments proved persuasive speaks to their capacity in the context of deep tensions over providence and human actions, and how God may use princes or empires -- most often quite in spite of themselves -- to effect his purposes and bring salvation to those who lack it, a complexity that is certainly lost in the imputation of unrestrained Hispanic bellicosity even to Sánchez.
Juridical and theological grounds did exist which might have drawn the missionaries in Manila to agreement, most evidently in the recurring problem of when and under what conditions soldiers may protect the lives of missionaries even while abstaining from conquest and the usurpation of local dominion, but the question of providence loomed overwhelmingly in the controversies that followed the proposal, even among those who might otherwise have granted circumstances in which protection of missionaries might prove necessary. The more nebulous and difficult question of providence points back to deeply rooted problems in the traditions of the historical and theological commentary at stake. Sánchez drew arguments from a number of sources, but certainly high among them was the historical and theological topic of the “just war.”40 The topic had gained in potential application precisely as claims to papal grants of dominion were losing the capacity to prove persuasive. Contemporary theologians and jurists, from John Mair to Sepúlveda on the one hand and Vitoria and Soto on the other, used just war theorizing either to refute the legitimacy of the conquest or to sustain it, as they were divided less by the tradition of commentary on the topic itself as by particulars and particular applications. No single position was clearly reflective of a consensus over Christian teaching, and the only position officially held to be radically unorthodox, although certainly not without wide influence even among Jesuits, was Erasmus’ denial of the theoretical basis for the just war.41 Yet, Sánchez’s persuasive moments reflect on something more nebulous and difficult within that tradition than strictly juridical formulas and movements within the terms of Aristotelian ethics, and again suggest the more tense moments of Augustine’s earlier reflections.
Augustine’s ruminations on just and unjust wars, contrary to the later formulations on the topic, were less concerned with a theory of just war as a portable set of analytic or ethical criteria than with the problems of interpreting the legacy of the Roman Empire.42 From one perspective, the just war was a political act, rightfully carried out by the rightful authority of the respublica for the defense of innocents or the rectification of wrongs done. As such it was justified under natural law. This argument resulted from Augustine’s critical engagement with Cicero’s De republica, and on that basis Augustine judged Roman wars on Roman terms. Glory, honor, and the extension of territory -- the other Roman virtues that Cicero discussed -- Augustine found less admirable from a Christian point of view than Roman wars that defended those who were attacked or that rectified wrongs done by others. Eventually, Augustine concluded that “definition of a just war is only to avenge injuries (bella iusta definiri solent quae ulciscuntur iniurias),” a position drawn from a critical evaluation of Roman definitions. That sentence rapidly became the locus princips of just war theorizing, and was thus summed up in the proposition of “defensio innocentium,” rectifying wrongs done to those incapable of defending themselves, or without recourse to a just authority to act on their behalf. On the one hand, Sánchez was able to mobilize that juridical and discursive tradition for the protection of the missionaries who were losing their lives in covert efforts along the Chinese coasts, and on the other, the denial of the very possibility of Christianity to potential Chinese converts constituted “iniuria” against them. What could be a more grievous injury than being denied the knowledge of God necessary for salvation? Questions of providence arose when it was considered that if God gave imperium to the Romans, as Augustine had said, and if God used the expansion of pagan Rome for his purposes, in spite of their ambition, pride, and avarice, which Augustine had also said, how much more might he use the expansion of a Christian Rome -- a Pax Hispanica -- to bring salvation to those without. Augustine admitted that the Romans often wrongly invaded other lands and wrongfully imposed their laws, yet Rome nevertheless occupied a preeminent place in the history of salvation. The tension between what the Romans often actually did and both the historical and theological levels of justification for their empire, Augustine captured in the appellation of the Romans as “honorifico latrocinia.”43
Sánchez’s claim, in its Augustinian moments, was thus neither unrestrained bellicosity nor the natural ideological assumption of a Spanish Jesuit, as has been often contended, but a highly complex position between the dual levels of justification that had been offered for Roman imperial practice and its subsequent Christianization under the aegis of Constantine and his successors. Defending the lives of missionaries required one kind of discursive strategy, and Sánchez could find that in the theoretical elaboration of defensio innocentium, a topic also elaborated by Francisco de Vitoria and his students at Salamanca. Yet, the new Constantianism of Sánchez’s proposal was not a claim staked on that alone, but also implicated Augustine’s providential assessment of Rome. Sánchez, it may be argued, staked his claim on the Divine fiat of the Spanish empire as the agent of God’s salvation in the New World. As in Mexico and Peru, so also in China, and, it may be said, quite in spite of its own propensity to avaritia and cupiditas. The level of justification needed for that kind of Constantinianism was drawn less from the triumphalism of much providential history than from Augustine’s own tense negotiation between the Roman wars he indeed found horrifying and the spread of Christianity that he praised.
That level of argument was by no means lost on José de Acosta, Sánchez's most vocal critic, whose engagement with Sánchez was precisely on the level of arguments from providence. Playing Augustine against Sánchez’s triumphalist Augustinianism, Acosta reminded defenders of the American conquests of another sentence from Augustine, “if a war is unjust it should not be done even if it were to bring salvation to half the world.”44 Augustine proved intractable to systemization, and his judgments were less a compendium of doctrine than an ocean from which many tensions and difficulties emerged. The Augustinian moments of Sánchez’s bellicose arguments, to the consternation of his critics such as Acosta, were historically complex and not easily to be dismissed out of hand as rash or imprudent, as critics of Sánchez were wont to do.45 The spread of Christianity throughout the long history of Europe had in fact proceeded, Sánchez insisted, under the authority of and with the cooperation of Christian princes.46 Beginning with the conversion of Constantine, and under the continuing authority of Christian rulers, conditions had been established propitious to the spread of Christianity. To deny that, Sánchez implied, would be to deny the history of Christianity itself, and more insidiously to deny that the way God had indeed orchestrated that history was just, moral, and right, quite in spite of the imperfections and appetites of empires.
IMPERIAL STRATEGIES IN CHINA
If Sánchez’s providential assessments represented one side of what a new Constantinianism might imply, Ricci’s rejection of Spanish imperial strategies signaled quite another. Ricci had little interest in the subjection of Chinese dominion to a Spanish monarch. Yet, it should not be surprising that, especially considering the very short leash that he was granted by authorities both East and West, his writings lack the preoccupation with just and unjust wars and papal grants that continually occupy his Hispanic colleagues. Ricci’s methods of adopting a Confucian identity and his forays into Confucian texts were often suspect in Rome as it was, and direct intervention in affairs between Phillip II and Rome, much less a focused dispute on just war theory or how to interpret Augustine, would have been far from prudent. On the other hand, the necessity of the Jesuits’ slow progress and carefulness in placating Chinese officials -- and perhaps most importantly their constant reassurances to those officials that Christianity would not conclude in foreign dominion -- were required by the conditions of a kingdom closed to outsiders, hostile to foreign intervention, and wary of foreign military and intellectual intrusion. In spite of Ricci’s attempts to advocate patience, the very recalcitrance of the Chinese to admit foreign missionaries, and the occasional martyrdom of those missionaries who did attempt illegal entry, or the deaths of those Chinese villagers who might have assisted them, proved potent ammunition for Sánchez in lobbying for the necessity of armed force. Further, given that Sánchez’s own diplomatic mission to Canton, as official ambassador of Philip II, to persuade the Chinese to allow missionaries, ended in embarrassment and unceremonious expulsion,47 Sánchez was able to argue that he had, indeed, tried peaceful persuasion, and in the wake of that failure, rightfully conclude that only force would break Chinese stubbornness. Sánchez would then muster what historical and theological grounds for that resort were available in the long history of Christian thought following from Augustine’s City of God. Ricci’s methods were slow and uncertain -- too much so for Sánchez -- and the constant risk of expulsion could serve to undermine years of patient and painstaking labor and endless placation. Ricci gambled that the conversion of the Chinese emperor could end that tense and hazardous situation both for the Jesuit mission and for their slowly growing body of converts, yet for Sánchez that was both unlikely and a dangerous risk to the success and permanence of Christianity in China.
Unlike the missions to the Americas and the Philippines, the Jesuit mission to China was faced with a tenuous struggle for its own survival. Certainly the advent of a Christian monarch in China would establish conditions propitious to the spread of Christianity: those same conditions of safety, the end of persecution, and a Christian intellectual hegemony that marked the late antique Constantinian moment. Ricci did attempt to accomplish a number of things that the conversion of the emperor could have only helped, chief among them being imperial tolerance of Christianity and Christian missionaries, and establishing conditions, such as the official repression of Buddhism and Daoism, for a Confucian intellectual hegemony that he thought most conducive to Christian evangelical efforts. Those facts and others do support the contention that Ricci sought something analogous to Constantine’s imperial Edict of Toleration, which was precisely what the Jesuits called the decree that they finally secured more than fifty years after Ricci’s death. Those elements must be considered in the overall scope of Ricci’s focus on the conversion of the Chinese emperor; nevertheless it also must be considered that neither Ricci’s actions and writings -- nor those of his Chinese critics -- support the assertion that he counted on the emperor’s conversion to effect slavish imitation among the Chinese populace. Ricci’s Constantinian focus was not of that kind. As a matter of strategy, Ricci’s efforts were focused more on the Chinese literate classes than on the emperor himself, with whom, to his disappointment, he never secured a formal audience. Ricci was convinced that classical Confucian teaching formed a prolegomena to the Christian faith, and therefore dedicated his efforts to strengthening a reinvigorated Confucian intellectual hegemony from within which Christianity might move effectively.48 Ricci allied himself politically with those who sought the suppression of Buddhism and Taoism, and those who opposed the syncretic tendencies of neo-Confucianism. Yet, among regional administrators and other literati were those quite concerned with the power of the eunuchs and the demagoguery of the emperor, and Ricci could not have counted on any slavish imitation of imperial religious conversions to have accomplished any significant hold on them, and much less on the still-powerful Buddhists and Taoists who deeply resented moments of imperial intolerance.
However, most pertinent to late sixteenth-century geo-politics and the broader milieu of a new Constantinianism was that Ricci’s attempts to win either official toleration or contribute to a reformed Confucian hegemony were deeply complicated by Chinese suspicions that Christianity would only result in the loss of Chinese autonomy and subjection to foreign dominion. Neither were the Portuguese at Macao or Malacca, more than anxious to lose a trading monopoly, above constantly reminding the Chinese of what the Spanish had done elsewhere. Acosta, the most vocal critic of Sánchez, repeated the same accusation:
There is very good reason that the Chinese fear the Spaniards, for being a people very bellicose and accustomed to commanding, and for the notorious experience that all the world has had for ninety years until now of the dominion that they have acquired in nations where they have entered with entitlements to converse and trade. And if not, I ask to those that wish for the conquest of China: Do you intend it without making yourselves lords of it and of its greatness and riches?49
That suspicion was never fully assuaged by the Jesuits and remained a source of tension between missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Chinese imperial superstructure throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Little direct evidence is available, at least in Western European languages, for precisely how Ricci attempted to persuade his Chinese hosts otherwise, but one cannot afford to pass over lightly that the success of the Jesuit mission was predicated on the success of Ricci’s denial that conversion to Christianity would result in foreign temporal dominion in China, or that conversion introduced a context of dual loyalties, one to the Chinese emperor and another to a foreign Christian monarch.50 Neither can one afford, given the geo-political realities of Spanish and Portuguese ambitions and the reigning intellectual tensions on the Iberian Peninsula and in Rome, to take lightly the implications of that denial.
Given the proposal that Sánchez championed, and a few well-placed Portuguese reminders, the Chinese were hardly unreasonable in their suspicions and unlikely to be easily persuaded. Some among the Chinese ruling elite thought Ricci to be simply lying and surreptitiously serving as the advance guard for Hispanic territorial ambitions, and others found deeply problematic Ricci’s sharp distinction between the temporal rights of princes and emperors and the strictly spiritual leadership of the papacy. Given Ricci’s emphasis, also part of his attempt to repress Buddhism and reform Confucian thought from within, on the necessity of intellectual and political unity, Ricci’s critics charged that the division of oneself or of Christianity, itself, into separate spheres of temporal obligations to princes and spiritual obligations to popes imposed unreasonable and schizophrenic requirements on religion, the person, and on political society.51 They found it offensive -- in a deeply ironic way, given the pressures for an armed conquest that were mounting from European Christians -- that Christianity would divorce itself from claims to temporal jurisdiction. It would be folly for Christians to take their religion seriously and not support their moral teachings with appropriate authorities. Their comments and their sheer incredulity at such claims suggests the extent to which Ricci had in fact denied not only that Christian converts would be under the jurisdiction of Christian princes, even in cases of official repression, but also that loyalty to the papacy would as a matter of course conflict with loyalty to temporal governors, be they Christian or not. Foreign Christian princes had no jurisdiction in China and the strictly spiritual leadership of the papacy, Ricci claimed, could not pass laws, depose princes or magistrates, field armies -- the basic framework for understanding dominium -- nor could it require Christians to disobey their rulers except in extreme and clear-cut cases where obedience would be manifestly contrary to the commands of Christ.
Chinese officials and other literati were not always satisfied that those cases would be as exceptional as Ricci and the Jesuits claimed, nevertheless to the extent that Ricci’s attempt to secure legal tolerance for Christianity made such claims, it undermined the Constantinianism of Sánchez and his colleagues. The circumstances of Mexico and China were certainly not the same and it would be quite correct to insist that such were simply the material conditions of the Chinese situation. There had been no conquest and usurpation of Chinese dominion as had occurred in Mexico and Peru, and neither the Jesuits nor their converts nor any Christian prince held positions of political importance from within which they could assert rights of jurisdiction. But, it was precisely those conditions that advocates of a conquest sought to change. They sought that change from within the basis that Christianity could not forego temporal jurisdictional claims, as it had not done so historically. Neither could it afford to entrust its survival to the whims of pagan rulers, as the centuries of intermittent toleration and persecution preceding the triumph of Constantine had taught. But Ricci’s reassurance to his Chinese hosts that Christianity would make no temporal claims denied the historical legacy, as it were, of the Constantinian practices of the Church, and the long history of conversion precisely through Christian appropriation of seats of power which Sánchez cited as the historical, and hence normative, reality of the Church.
Yet that tension was also, in sum, a central tension in the Renaissance Christian thought of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to which both Sánchez and Ricci were parties. Placed in the context of those disputes, Ricci’s separation of Christian conversion from questions of political jurisdiction must be seen as signaling a return to the conditions of pre-imperial Christianity in the first centuries of the Church. Christianity in China would find itself as the early Christian Church, without temporal power or jurisdictional authority, and obliged to rely on the power of persuasion, in imitation of the Apostles. Central to apprehending that position are the tensions inherent in the various appropriations of Christian history: that is, whether the history of Christianity, itself, constituted the normative horizon for judgment or whether judgment required a break in historical patterns that had repeated themselves with ostensibly disastrous consequences. Ricci’s methods of intellectual engagement with the Confucian corpus also mirrored similar critical patterns, as he worked to purify contemporary Confucian thought precisely by severing it from its gradual accretions during the Tang and early Ming dynasties. Ricci thought the malaise of contemporary Confucian thought to be symptomatic of its syncretic tendencies and the destructive accrual of Buddhist and Taoist categories into Confucian thought and practice. The restoration and reinterpretation of early Confucian thought, and the extent to which it served as a prolegomena to Christianity, was the foremost task of Ricci’s intellectual activities. It could only transpire through the critical restoration of early texts, yet that restoration itself implied the historical criticism of present practices, attitudes, and intellectual disciplines. As Ricci put Chinese intellectual traditions through precisely the same kind of historical, philological, and conceptual criticism that humanists from Petrarch to Valla and Erasmus had taken the history of Christian thought, his humanistic methods and conceptions are perhaps nowhere more transparent.52 The conversion of the Chinese emperor would most certainly affect at least the temporal safety of Christian missionaries and a fledgling Christian Church of Chinese converts, and that restricted analogy with the conversion of Constantine was by all appearances never far from Ricci’s thinking. Yet even without that conversion, Christianity in China would find itself in at least historically familiar circumstances once it regained something of the mentality of the pre-Constantinian Christianity that Erasmus and other humanists worked to restore in Europe. Also like Erasmus, who wrote, “What is peace, except friendship among many? Just as war is nothing else but a private quarrel extended to others,” Ricci invoked the classical loci of amicitia as the means of persuading his Chinese hosts both of his sincerity and his rejection of the Spanish wars of conquest.
Ricci’s first book written entirely in Chinese was a series of classical aphorisms on the nature of friendship. The treatise consisted only of first 74 and then a total of 100 sayings from classical, Patristic, and contemporary texts on friendship, yet from those succinct sayings Ricci received both the praise of the literati for his mastery of Chinese idiom and the wisdom of the maxims, and the censure of officials and literati who feared the maxims were aimed to disrupt the fabric of Chinese social relations. As friendship required a relation among equals, and for that reason was deemed lowest on the hierarchy of the Confucian Five Relationships, Chinese critics feared that an excessive emphasis on equality would undermine the importance of distinct social stations and the other hierarchies of relationships.53 The treatise was written first in 1595, eight years after the initial confrontation between Acosta and Sánchez on the proposed invasion of China, but not after the controversy had faded from view. Although the project that Sánchez championed was ultimately shelved -- and the loss of the Spanish Armada in August of 1588 did not bode well for the timing of such a proposal -- at the same historical moment that Ricci worked to convince Chinese officials that Christianity made no claims upon Chinese dominion, Sánchez worked actively in Rome, site of Constantine’s alleged donation of the reins of imperium to Christian popes, to secure from three successive popes documents affirming, at least in principle, Spanish rights with regard to China.
For an exemplary reading of “the new Constantines,” see Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity (New York, 1997). In his discussion of Clovis, Fletcher writes that, “the ‘new Constantine’ performed actions which recalled the first Constantine, and surely not coincidentally. Like Constantine, he established a new capital for himself, at Paris. Like Constantine he built there a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles. Like Constantine at Nicea, he presided over a church council, at Orleans in 511.” The list of comparisons continues. The account is limited to a rather literal imitatio Constantini, but suggestive of the ways in which Constantine was modeled by later rulers and how the juridical and institutional framework of the later Roman Empire under Constantine provided a resource for later thinkers who -- like Constantine -- saw it entirely appropriate that the boundaries of the Roman Empire and of Christianity were coterminous.
Eusebius, “Oration in Praise of Constantine,” XVI.1.4.
See, for example, the collection of essays in Christianizing Peoples and Converting Individuals, ed. G. Armstrong and I. Wood (Turnhout, 2000). Although widely ranging in location and in forms of analysis, one drawback to the collection is that the authors do not give substantive attention to the problem of imperium and its possible ramifications for the project of Christianization (development of institutional, political, and intellectual forms) or in what way such a context informs the conversion process of individuals.
For an insightful analysis of Augustine’s distance to the Roman imperial project, see Robert A. Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine (Cambridge, 1988).
For a discussion of Christianization and conversion, see Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion, 515-18. Although very little attention is given to missionary strategy overall, Fletcher correctly criticizes Arthur Darby Nock’s emphasis on conversion along the model of Augustine’s conversions as adequately descriptive of the actual and historical process of the transformation of Europe from pagan to Christian, and notes that, rather than this intellectualist account of conversion, most Christians were either told to convert or born into Christianity at some point. However, the implications of that remain inadequately treated, especially given the contexts in which Christianity arrives first and foremost by means of missionaries following conquering armies.
Re-evaluating the relationship of the Roman Empire to the formative years of Christianity is becoming a topic of increased interest among New Testament scholars. See, for example, Richard A. Horsley, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs, Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (San Francisco, 1988); and Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, 1977).
See, for example, Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (New York, 1955), where Ricci’s strategy of “persuasion” is directly contrasted to and set in opposition against Spanish strategies of “force.”
A particularly strong example of this tendency is, again, Cronin: “Ricci was not alone in believing that the most effective way to evangelize China lay through the Emperor. Christianity was a reasonable religion; reason appealed to the head, and therefore to the head of state.” Cronin, The Wise Man from the West, 76. For a comparative approach in a different context, see James D. Ryan, “To Baptize Khans or to Convert Peoples? Missionary Aims in Central Asia in the Fourteenth Century,” in Christianizing Peoples, 247-57.
Jacques Gernet, China and the Christian Impact, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, 1986), 105-11. On the complexities of the Late Ming, see Joseph P. McDermott, “Friendship and its Friends in Late Ming,” Family Process and Political Process in Modern Chinese History (Tapei, 1992) 67-96; William T. De Bary, Self and Society in Ming Thought (New York, 1970); Benjamin Schwartz, China and Other Matters (Cambridge, 1996); Albert Chan, S. J., “Late Ming Society and the Jesuit Missionaries,” in East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773, ed. Charles Ronan, et al. (Chicago, 1988), 153-72.
The standard history of Iberian and Portuguese ambitions in Asia remains that of Charles R. Boxer, “Portuguese and Spanish Projects for the Conquest of Southeast Asia, 1580-1600,” Journal of Asian History 3 (1969): 118-36, and Boxer, The Church Militant and Iberian Expansion, 1440-1770, (New York, 1978); and J. S. Cummins, Jesuit and Friar in Spanish Expansion to the East (London, 1986). Both Boxer and Cummins refer to the proposed conquest of China that emerged from the Synod of Manila in 1584, but Boxer in particular attributes the entire project to Alonso Sánchez, charging that his judgment in the matter “would shame a six year old girl.” While perhaps accurately reflecting the assessment of some of Sánchez’s contemporaries, understanding of the matter is not furthered by the polemic. The primary works on Ricci are Gernet, China and the Christian Impact; Pascaule D’Elia, Ponti Ricciani: Documenti originali concernenti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazioni tra l’Europa a la Cina, 1579-1615 (Roma, 1949), idem, Galileo in Cina: Relazioni attraverso il Collegio Romano tra Galileo e i gesuiti scienziati missi (Roma, 1947); and Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (New York, 1983) -- none of which place Ricci’s missionary methods in the context of Hispanic ambitions, or at most make passing mention.
See, Patrick Provost-Smith, Just War, Holy War: Early Modern Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire (London, 2008); Horacio de la Costa, The Jesuits in the Philippines (Cambridge, 1961), and the recent articles: John Headley, “Spain’s Asian Presence: 1565-1590: Structures and Aspirations,” Hispanic American Historical Review 75 (1995): 623-46; and Helga Gemegah, “Mexico-Manila-Macao: Drei Standorte und -punkte zur Conquista Chinas,” Ten Denzen, Jahrbuch Überseemuseum Bremen (Bremen, 1999): 221-28.
See, esp. Anthony Pagden, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britian, and France, c. 1500-c. 1800 (New Haven, 1995), 11: “For all their apparent, and much discussed, novelty the theoretical roots of the modern European overseas empires reached back into the empires of the Ancient World. It was, above all, Rome which provided the ideologues of the colonial systems of Spain, Britain, and France with the language and political models they required, for the Imperium Romanum has always had a unique place in the political imagination of Western Europe.”
See, in particular, Bartolomé de las Casas, De regia potestate (1544), ed. Luciano Pereña (Madrid, 1969), 33-39.
Alonso Sánchez, “Tratado de la inteligencia y estima que se debe tener de la obra de las Indias, y do los medios por donde Dios la a hecho y quiere que se haga al Católico Rey de las Españas y de las Indias don Felipe II por el P. Alonso Sánchez de la Compañía de Jesús,” in Labor evangélica, ministerios apostólicos de los obreros de la Compañía de Jesús en las Islas Filipinas, ed. Francisco Collin and Pablo Pastells (Barcelona, 1902), 550-51.
The text of the proposal is given in English translation in vol. 34, The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 ... as related in contemporaneous books and manuscripts, ed. Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robinson, 55 vols. (Cleveland, 1903-09).
See Sánchez, “Tratado de la inteligencia y estima que se debe tener de la obra de las Indias,” Labor evangelica, 550.
Provost-Smith, Just War, Holy War
St. Augustine, The City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (New York, 1950), 216.
Acosta’s discussion of the so-called “missionary protectorate” takes place in José de Acosta, De procuranda indorum salute, ed. Luciano Pereña (Madrid, 1984), 302, but must also be read in the summary context of Acosta’s epilogue on such “new methods” of evangelization. Acosta’s recommendations on soldiers protecting the lives of missionaries has been subject to some recent commentary, but the topic of the “missionary protectorate” has not seen a full study. For allusion to Acosta in that context, see Sabine MacCormack, Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Colonial Peru (Princeton, 1991), 267; and Headley, “Spain’s Asian Presence,” 644-45.
Acosta, De procuranda indorum salute, II:8, 339.
Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, The Spiritual Conquest: The Spiritual Conquest: accomplished by the Religious of the Society of Jesus in the Provinces of Paraguay, Paraná, Uruguay, and Tape (St. Louis, 1993); originally La conquista spiritual hecho por las Padres por la Compañía de Jesús en la provincial de Paraguay (1636).
See Joseph Francis Moran, The Japanese and the Jesuits: Alessandro Valignano in Sixteenth-Century Japan (New York, 1993); Charles R. Boxer, The Century in Japan 1549-1650 (Berkeley, 1967).
John Headley has recently interpreted Sánchez’s defense of the proposal in terms of aspirations for a “Catholic World Monarchy”: “Spain’s Asian Presence,” 642-43. For extended discussion of the “monarchia universalis,” see John Headley, Tommoso Campanella and the Transformation of the World (Princeton, 1997); and Pagden, Lords of all the World, 29-62.
See, in particular, Salvatore I. Camporeale, “Lorenzo Valla e il ‘De falso credita donatione.’ Retorica, libertá ed ecclesiologia nel ‘400,” Memorie Dominicane, ns 19 (1988), 1-76; and idem, “Lorenzo Valla’s Oratio on the Pseudo-Donation of Constantine: Dissent and Innovation in Early Renaissance Humanism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 57 (1996): 9-26.
See esp. Markus, Saeculum; and idem, The Limits of Ancient Christianity, (Cambridge, 1999).
On the Bulls of Donation and interpretations stemming from canon law, see James Muldoon, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels: The Church And The Non-Christian World, 1250-1550 (Philadelphia, 1979).
See De la Costa, “The Jesuits in the Philippines,” 45-47, although de la Costa emphasizes the degree to which Sánchez had to reassure the Portuguese that no changes in administrative structure of the two empires would take place.
On canon law, see Muldoon, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels.
See Pagden, Lords of All the World, 46-49.
Lorenzo Valla’s De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione remains the most obvious example. But José de Acosta made similar claims in denying that the papacy could “toca las armas, castigando vicios, y dando leyes, y poniendo superiors” (“take up arms, punish crimes, pass laws, and appoint administrators”); José de Acosta, “Respuesta de los fundamentos que justificaron la guerra contra la China,” in Obras del P. José de Acosta, ed F. Mateos, (Madrid, 1954), 335.
See, again, Camporeale, “Lorenzo Valla e il ‘De falso credita donatione’,” 71.
Lorenzo Valla, La Paisa Donazione di Costantino, traduzione e note di Olga Pugliese (Milano, 1994),246.
See, in particular, Francisco de Vitoria, “On the Laws of War,” Political Writings (Cambridge, 1984), 124-73.
Bartolomé de las Casas, De regia potestate (1544), ed. Luciano Pereña (Madrid, 1969), Q.33-9. Also, Anthony Pagden, Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination, (New Haven, 1990), 32-33.
Melchor Cano, De dominium indorum (1546); cited in Pagden, Spanish Imperialism, 23.
Acosta, “Respuesta de los fundamentos que justificaron la guerra contra la China,” 335.
The Augustinian friar Martín de Rada wrote that, “I have taken the opinion of all the Fathers who were to be found here. They unanimously affirm that none among all these islands have come into the power of the Spaniards with just title.” Pedro Torres y Lanzas, Catálogo de los documentos relativos a las Islas Filipinas existents en el Archivo de Indias de Sevilla (Barcelona, 1926-1936), I:cclxxxiii; cited in J. Gayo Aragón, O.P., “The Controversy over Justification of Spanish Rule in the Philippines,” in Studies in Philippine Church History, ed. G. H. Anderson (Ithaca, 1969).
The noted Dominican theologian, Francisco de Vitoria, only noted that the withdrawal of the Spanish from their territories, even though wrongfully gained, would constitute an “intolerable loss to the exchequer”; cited in Vitoria: Political Writings, ed. Anthony Pagden and Jeremy Lawrence (Cambridge, 1991), xxvii.
Headley, “Spain’s Asian Presence,” 636.
That force was always illicit for the Christian, Sánchez thought the “error de Lutero”; see “Tratado de la inteligencia y estima que se debe tener de la obra de las Indias,” Labor Evangelica, 550. The reference to Luther recalls the debates of the 1520s and ‘30s and the official condemnation of Erasmus’ views on war. See note 42 below.
For a historical background of Renaissance anti-war polemics and their controversial status, see Walter Bense, “Paris Theologians on War and Peace, 1521-1529,” Church History (1945); R. Hale, “Sixteenth-Century Explanations of War and Violence,” Past and Present 51 (1971), 3-26; James D. Tracy, The Politics of Erasmus: A Pacifist Intellectual and His Political Milieu (Toronto, 1978); Roland Bainton, “The ‘Querela Pacis’ of Erasmus: Classical and Christian Sources,” Archive für Reformationsgeschichte 42 (1951), 32-48.
See the discussion provided in Just War Theory, ed. Jean Bethke Elshtain (New York, 1992), esp. Paul Ramsey, “The Just War According to St. Augustine,” 8-22, and Stanley Hauerwas, “On Surviving Justly: Ethics and Nuclear Disarmament,” 299-323. Note that Hauerwas’ criticism of the “just war” approach turns precisely on rejecting the claims to portability of its central arguments.
St. Augustine, The City of God, 72.
“Bella ergo si iniqua sunt, suscipienda non sunt, etiamsi certam salutem vel dimidio orbis allatura videantur.” Acosta, De procuranda indo rum salute, II.II.1: 7-8.
Boxer, “Portuguese and Spanish Projects for the Conquest of Southeast Asia,” 125; and see note 10 above.
Sánchez, “Tratado de la inteligencia y estima que se debe tener de la obra de las Indias,” Labor evangelica, 550.
Contemporary accounts of the failed diplomatic mission to Canton were given by Matteo Ricci and Alessandro Valignano. See, Matteo Ricci, Storia della entrata della Compagnia de Iesu in Cina, in Ponti Ricciani, ed. P. D’Elia (Roma, 1949); Alessandro Valignano, Summario de cosas de Japón (1583). For current accounts, Horacio De la Costa, S.J., The Jesuits in the Philippines, (Cambridge, 1961); and Joseph Francis Moran, The Japanese and the Jesuits, (New York, 1993).
See, esp. Lionel Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization (Durham, 1997); David Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (Honolulu, 1989).
Acosta, “Respuesta de los fundamentos que justificaron la guerra contra la China,” 335.
See the discussion of Gernet, China and the Christian Impact, 105-39; and esp. Wang Xiaochao, Christianity and imperial culture: Chinese Christian apologetics in the seventeenth century and their Latin patristic equivalent (Leiden, 1998).
Unity is a central emphasis in Ricci’s T’ien-chu shih-i [Bi-lingual Chinese and English edition, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven] (St. Louis, 1985). For an interpretation of Ricci’s text as “pre-evangelical dialogue,” see the discussions of Jensen, The Manufacture of Confucius; Mungello, Curious Land; and Paul Rule, K'ung-tzu or Confucius? The Jesuit Interpretation of Confucianism (Sydney, 1986).
This conception of humanism is most apparent in Charles Trinkaus, and what Salvatore Camporeale terms “la ‘mediazione erasmiana’ e, piú in general, il rapporto umanesimo e teologia tra ‘400 e ‘500’ -- rapporto variamente indicato come ‘rhetorical theology’ (Trinkhaus), ‘teologia umanistica’ (Camporeale), oppure ‘Renaissance theology’ (O’Malley).” The following sources are most helpful: Charles Trinkaus, Renaissance Humanism, Italian Humanism and Scholastic Theology, ed. A Rabel (Philadelphia, 1988); idem, The Scope of Renaissance Humanism (Ann Arbor, 1983); idem, In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in the Renaissance (Notre Dame, 1995); Salvatore Camporeale, L. Valla: Umanesimo e teologia (Florence, 1972); idem, “L. Valla tra Medioevo e Rinascimento: ‘Encomion S. Thomae’ 1457” Memorie Dominicane, ns 7 (1976): 11-194; and most recently Francisco Rico, EI sueño del humanismo (Madrid, 1997).
Gernet, China and the Christian Impact.