Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Did Confucius Prophesy the Coming of Christ?

    How great is the path proper to the Sage!

    Like overflowing water, it sends forth and nourishes all things, and
    rises up to the height of heaven.

    All-complete is its greatness! It embraces the three hundred rules
    of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of demeanor.

    It waits for the proper man, and then it is trodden.
In his translation of the above passage from The Doctrine of the Mean, Scottish Congregationalist missionary and sinologist James Legge offers the following exegetical footnote: "In 'Confucius Sinarum Philosophus,' it is suggested that there may be here a prophecy of the Saviour, and that the writer may have been 'under the influence of that spirit, by whose moving the Sibyls formerly prophesied the Christ.'"

The Congregationalist gentleman rejects such a Catholic (and catholic) interpretation, sniffing, "There is nothing in the text to justify such a thought." But could there be something outside the text to justify such a thought? The Jesuits who gave us the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus perhaps were thinking so. Writing from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Hieromonk Damascene made the same case about Lao Tzu in his beautiful but flawed Christ the Eternal Tao.

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Blogger Brandon said...

I hadn't ever read anything about this.

The medievals in Europe took Virgil to have done the same in his Foruth Eclogue; Virgil himself was obviously just intending to flatter Octavian, but of course what it actually says fits more fully a More August Person than Augustus. And if one believes all good things are fulfilled in Christ somehow, it's inevitable. It's the sort of interpretation one finds in a living and thriving tradition, however much scholars like Legge might try to strangle it!

11:25 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Amen, amen, amen.

That pagan Greek and Roman philosophers were later "baptized" by the Church is uncontroversial, at least for Catholics. The Jesuits who came to China in the 16th C. merely did the same with Confucius and Mencius.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Zac said...

Interesting! I have "Christ the Eternal Tao" on order...looking forward to it.
In the meantime, there are a couple of other Daoist and Confucian passages that spur the same kind of thought, eg:

"Yet it is in reference to this that the Sage said “Only he who has accepted the dirt of the country can be lord of its soil shrines; only he who takes upon himself the evils of the country can become a king among those what dwell under heaven.” Straight words seem crooked."


11:05 AM  

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