Thursday, July 7, 2011

"The Mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Incarnate God Were Anciently Known to the Chinese Nation"


So wrote a certain XVIIIth Century "Missionarius Apostolicus, ex-Jesuita" quoted in the XIXth Century James Legge's translation of The Texts of Taoism, which I bought fifteen years ago while living in Kuala Lumpur, but have only managed to dust off today. Of course, I've read the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu before, in other translations, but having recently finished and thoroughly enjoyed the curmudgeonly Congregationalist's translation (and more importantly exegesis) of Confucian Analects, The Great Learning & The Doctrine of the Mean, I thought I'd give the tome a read.

Also having started just yesterday Jean Pierre de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence, another book I bought years ago, shortly after my conversion, but never read, I thought this would be a good concurrent read. Furthermore, having just finished Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, I needed something that would be less of a kick in the teeth or a boot on the throat. Finally, in times of turmoil and upheaval (I'm preparing a move back home), I always turn to the Tao.

Before quoting the Jesuit, Mr. Legge notes, "Christianity was introduced into China by Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century; and from the Hsî-an monument, which was erected by their successors in 781, nearly 150 years after their first entrance, we perceive that they were as familiar with the books of Lâo-dze and Kwang-dze as with the Confucian literature of the empire, but that monument is the only memorial of them that remains. In the thirteenth century the Roman Catholic Church sent its earliest missionaries to China, but we hardly know anything of their literary labours."

These quotes bring to mind Hieromonk Damascene's Christ the Eternal Tao, which "presents the Tao Teh Ching as a foreshadowing of what would be revealed by Christ, and Lao Tzu himself as a Far-Eastern prophet of Christ the incarnate God." However, this book, written as it was by a convert to and controversialist for Eastern Orthodoxy, suffers from the glaring sin of omission of not crediting Father Matteo Ricci, S.J., this blog's namesake, with his translation of "Verbum" (λόγος) as "Tao" (道), as the Protestant Chinese Union Version still does today: "太初有道、道與 神同在、道就是 神" ("In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God").

Back to the title of this post, Mr. Legge, in his translation of Chapter 14, writes, "The Chinese characters which I have translated 'the Equable,' 'the Inaudible,' and 'the Subtle,' are now pronounced Î, Hî, and Wei, and in 1823 Rémusat fancied that they were intended to give the Hebrew tetragrammaton יהוה, which he thought had come to Lâo-dze somehow from the West, or been found by him there." Mr. Legge dismisses this as "a mere fancy or dream." I agree as far as the assertion that the "thought had come to Lâo-dze somehow from the West," but might the Old Master have stumbled across it another Way?

And then there is Chapter 42, whose first verse Mr. Legge renders, "The Tâo produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things. All things leave behind them the Obscurity (out of which they have come), and go forward to embrace the Brightness (into which they have emerged), while they are harmonised by the Breath of Vacancy."

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5 Comments:

Blogger Donald Jackson said...

You are making some wonderful connections here old friend.

10:23 PM  
OpenID kuiwon said...

I'm interested in the exegesis of Analects, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of Mean he has there. Was it the translation of exegesis or was it his own?

Some time ago when I visited Korea, I got a book with all the annotations of the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean in Classical Chinese by various Confucian scholars. Prominently featured in Zhu Xi (주희). Unfortunately, the annotations are difficult to read as they are not punctuated too well.

1:00 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Thanks, Mr. Jackson!

Legge's exegesis includes his own ideas but more often defers to Chu Hsi (and others).

7:20 PM  
Blogger papabear said...

Home, as in NY? I must have missed something...

3:48 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Yes. God willing, I'll be resettling in Upstate New York in about a month's time.

12:32 PM  

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