Greek thought, an interaction that many late twentieth-century scholars would prefer to term enculturation rather than accommodation.

When they first arrived in China, the Franciscan and Dominican fathers had been shocked at this development and had protested to Rome. So in 1645 the pope issued an instruction that appeared to condemn the Riccian position. The Jesuits in China, however, sent a delegation to Rome to appeal against Rome's 1645 instructions. In response to this delegation, Pope Alexander VII issued a decree in 1656 permitting the Chinese experiment to continue. It is important to note that the majority of the missionaries of the other orders who served in China for a significant period of time had come by the 1680s to agree broadly with the Riccian position.

What was it that had so shocked the Franciscan and Dominican pioneers? What they found shocking is perhaps encapsulated in the way in which many Chinese, including the imperial household, regarded Matteo Ricci as both a Christian priest and a Confucian intellectual. He thus personified for the church in China that it was possible to be both Confucian and Christian. This position enabled leading Mandarins like Xu Guangqi, Professor in the Hanlin Academy in Beijing and subsequently Grand Secretary of the Empire, to become Christians and leaders in the church. It was a position summed up by another leading Christian Mandarin, Li Yingshi, when he asserted of the Christian message 'it does away with idols and completes the law of the literati'.20

According to Ricci, not only did the Chinese Classics contain a morality that was acceptable to Christianity, but also what he called 'original' Confucianism contained cosmological and religious ideas consistent with Christian teachings. What were the practical results of this position for the life of Chinese Christians? It meant they were allowed to continue participating in the ancestral rites of the family and clan. If they were graduates, moreover, they were allowed to participate in the rites that honoured Confucius, matters that were fundamental to Chinese culture. Christians were able to do so because these rites, despite the superstitious and religious connotations attached to them by the uneducated, were essentially social and civic activities, and not religious. Ricci insisted that it should be left to a future indigenous hierarchy, as it developed, to deal with the problem of popular superstition.

An associated issue was what Chinese words could be used to translate God? Here there had been considerable difficulty in coming to a decision. Among Ricci's successors, some argued that although terms like shangdi ('lord on high') and tian ('heaven') had had a transcendent meaning when the Classics were written, since Sung times neo-Confucianism had robbed them of that meaning.

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