RICCI, Matteo (Li Madou)

Matteo Ricci, superior of the mission of the Society of Jesus in China from 1597 until his death and a regimental officer in the society's global offensive in the war for souls during the Counter-Reformation, played a central role in the effort to bring Catholicism to China. From his observations of the country, where he arrived in 1583, and as an extension of the Jesuit emphasis on "top-down" conversion, he quickly identified mandarins and other important people as the keys to mission success. Knowing the respect his targets had for learning, he used a common interest in science, mathematics, cartography, memory arts, and printing to bridge the cultural chasm with Chinese intellectuals. Ricci also pursued the controversial Jesuit policy of employing indigenous practices and beliefs, when they were not regarded as being in violation of Roman Catholic teaching, in order to further conversion.
Born in Macerata, Italy, in the Papal States, Ricci became a novice of the Society of Jesus in 1571 and studied at the Jesuit colleges in Florence and Rome. With a gift for languages and a keen desire to expand the "true faith," he was recruited for a campaign to reinvigorate the East Asian missions. Ricci's works include the Treatise on Friendship (1595), a "memory palace" (1596) that sought to mesh Chinese ideographs with Christian teachings, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (1603), Twenty-five Sayings (translated from Epictetus, 1605), a translation of the first six books of Euclid's Elements of Geometry (1607), and Ten Discourses by a Paradoxical Man (1608). He also made a map of the world that was published in China in 1602 and began a Historia of his career in China.
Ultimately, Ricci did baptize a small number of the circle in which he op­erated. However, implacable hostility from many officials and the social and political upheaval that preceded the collapse of the Ming in 1644 frustrated Ricci's hopes of a Christian China. The Jesuits' scientific and intellectual activ­ity, rather than their faith, made the most enduring imprint on seventeenth-century China.
J. D. Spence, The Memory Palace ofMatteo Ricci, 1984.
Louis Roper

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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