Catholic Mission

von by Michael Sievernich Original aufOriginal in German, angezeigt aufdisplayed in English
PublishedErschienen: 2011-07-14
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    This article provides an overview of the Catholic Mission in the modern era, in which two phases can be distinguished: Under the patronage of the Iberian powers, an early phase took place between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Americas and Asia and was carried out by the traditional religious orders. In the 19th century a new missionary initiative arose which focused on Africa, Asia and Oceania. Under the leadership of Rome, the Catholic mission was now carried out by the traditional religious orders and missionary societies, as well as by newly founded orders. It took place parallel to Protestant missions, and generally within the framework of European colonial rule. The geographical focus of this article is on the Americas and Asia (first phase) and on Africa (second phase); thematically this article focuses on inter-cultural communication, the exchanges and transfers regarding Christian doctrine (catechism), and regarding art and science.

    InhaltsverzeichnisTable of Contents


    The communication of Christian faith in the historical period that concerns us here began, so to speak, with an irenic and a martial answer to the threat that confronted in the second half of the 15th century which was characterized by a line of conflict between Christianity and Islam. In 1453 Europe was shocked by the conquest of Christian (modern day )Eroberung Konstantinopels durch die Türken unter Sultan Mohammad II. Fatin, 29. Mai 1453.-Das türkische Heerlager vor Konstantinopel.-Buchmalerei, 1455, aus der Werkstatt des Jean Mielot. Illustration zu: Avis directif pour faire la passage d'Outremers. Mss. français 9087, fol. 307 v; Bildquelle: akg-images, Bildnummer: 9TK-1453-5-29-A1-1. by Sultan Mehmed II (1432–1481) and the fall of the . This event in the East prompted the polymath and cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus (1401–1464) to write a fictional dialogue between the known religions of his time, De pace fidei (1453). He hoped in this way to head off the danger of religious war and to secure peace on the basis of the "one religion within the diversity of rites" (religio una in rituum varietate). On the other hand, following the centuries-long Reconquista, the "Catholic Monarchs", Isabella I of Castile (1451–1504), and Ferdinand II of Aragón (1452–1516) brought an end to Muslim rule on the with the taking of in 1492.

    When, in the same year, they commissioned the Genoese Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) to seek a western sea route to , they set in motion a process that would lead to a momentous extension of their rule. The expedition was undertaken in order to bypass the Islamic zone and to avoid the eastern route around that various Papal bulls had granted "exclusively" to the Portuguese. The undertaking had religious and missionary motives as well as political and economic ones. According to the royal letter of patronage (Capitulación) of 17 April 1492 Columbus was to sent out "in the service of God and for the propagation of the true faith, as well as for our benefit and profit".1 A century later, the iconography for the interpretation of Columbus's discovery was decisively influenced by the Protestant engraver Theodor de Bry (1528–1598). His depictions contrasted European martial civilization with the natives' paradisiacal innocence and connected the arrival of Christianity (the cross) with the pursuit of riches (gold).Theodor de Bry (1528–1598), Ankunft des Kolumbus in America 1492, copperplate engraving, 1594; source: Bry, Theodor de: America 1590-1634: Amerika oder die Neue Welt: die "Entdeckung" eines Kontinents in 346 Kupferstichen, bearb. und hg. von Gereon Sievernich, Berlin u.a. 1990, S. 162.

    At the same time , the other Iberian maritime power, continued its ventures to the coasts of Africa in pursuit of conquests and trade (gold, pepper, ivory and slaves). Justified by papal bulls like Romanus Pontifex (1455) such enterprises within the Portuguese sphere of influence were linked to the Church's patronage.

    On an expedition to Africa in 1482 Diogo Cão (died after 1486) discovered the mouth of the and and his contact with native rulers led in 1490 to a unique missionary experiment. King Nzinga Nkuwu = João I. (died 1506) was baptized. His son, King Nzinga Mvemba = Afonso I. (ruled 1506–1543), supported the Portuguese in developing and Christianizing the country. And Afonso's son, Dom Henrique, upon completing studies in Portugal, was ordained in 1521 as the first bishop in Black Africa. However, in the years that followed, the problems of communication that arose between the Portuguese crown and the African Manikongo, along with cultural differences and the incompatibility of the Mission and the slave trade, prevented the development of this early and hastily conceived Afro-European partnership to establish an African church. Nevertheless, artefacts dating from this period reveal that African elements entered into artistic depictions of the cross. These include a crucifix in which, in accord with the local mythology's matrilineal culture, characteristics of both sexes are represented.2Kruzifix (Kongo-Völker), Messing, frühes 17. Jahrhundert; Bildquelle: © Bildagentur für Kunst Kultur und Geschichte (bpk) | MMA, Bildnummer: 00087662, Standort des Originals: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    After the arrival of Vasco da Gama (1469–1524) – who was on a mission to search for "Christians and spices" – in India's (modern day Kozhikode) in 1499, and following the conquest of , the foundations for the Portuguese maritime empire were laid. In this way the three most important geographical areas became open for Catholic missionary activity which then developed within the framework of European expansion. Because of the jus patronatus, and Portugal almost completely dominated the missionary field into the 18th century. A counter weight was created by the founding of an ecclesiastical central authority, the Roman Congregatio de propaganda fide (1622). It represented a new conception of the mission that strengthened its religious character, encouraged the scientific and linguistic education of missionaries and promoted the creation of an indigenous clergy in order to de-Europeanize the mission.3

    For various reasons Catholic missionary activity suffered a decline in the 18th century. Among these reasons were Spain's diminishing political power in the wake of the rise of new (Protestant) sea powers such as and , the suppression of the Jesuit Order (1773), which led to the loss of some 3,000 missionaries, and the debilitating effects of the Enlightenment, The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. However, in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, the Catholic mission experienced a new flowering. Coordinated centrally from (ius commissionis), it was financed primarily by the people (mission societies) and drew its personnel primarily from religious orders (some of which had been founded for the sole purpose of doing missionary work) and from numerous missionary societies. In these efforts Pope Gregory XVI (1765–1846) played an important role. During his Pontificate slavery was condemned, each mission area was made into an independent diocese, the indigenous clergy was supported, and mission was more firmly linked with education and health institutions. In this epoch the Protestant Mission also grew stronger, especially in Africa. Thus, the field became more pluralistic and parallel actions of the various denominations took place. During this time, and especially in the second half of the 19th century, the Christian mission was also closely tied to the cause of spreading civilization, and, therefore, often closely connected with the colonial efforts of the European powers in Asia and Africa. It took the decolonization movement in the middle of the 20th century to bring this alliance to an end. Around 1920 the statistics of Catholic missionary activity revealed impressive numbers: There were 12,700 missionary priests and more than 24,000 missionary sisters in missions distributed throughout all of the continents, with the majority located in Africa.4

    The Americas

    The Christianization of the "New World" began during the second journey of Columbus to the Greater and Lesser (1493–1496) when Ramón Pané (died 1571), a member of the Hieronymite Order, began his missionary work with the indigenous Taíno. He described this work in his book Relación acerca de las antigüedades de los indios (1498), which is also an important source for ethnographic studies.

    In the 1520s, after the Spanish conquest of the ancient American empires, the Aztec in and the Inca in , the systematic Christianization of the indigenous population began under the patronage of the crown. Thousands of humanistically educated and spiritually motivated members of religious orders participated in this mission, primarily they were from the mendicant orders of the Franciscans and the Dominicans, but also from the Capuchins, Augustinians, Mercedarians and Carmelites. During the second half of the 16th century they had established over 250 convents that also served as centres of education. For example, around 1600 had five monasteries for men, seven monasteries for women and five hospitals administered by brotherhoods and congregations. These missionary activities were often spoken of as a conquista espiritual,5 a term meant to designate a gentle evangelization in which the martial aspects of the term were understood spiritually. In this regard, one has only to consider the Franciscan group, of the "doce frailes" who came to Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century as "apostles" under the leadership of Martín de Valencia (ca. 1473–1534). Their missionary success was grounded in a rigorous spirit of piety, poverty and humility, and in their practice of living with the Indians. Their linguistic efforts also contributed to their success. Nevertheless, millenarian pressures and the political Augustinianism of the orbis christianus often led to justifying the use of coercive measures. A century later the anti-colonial experiment of the Jesuit reductions6 in Modell der Reduktion Candelaria und Census aller Reduktionen, unbekannter Künstler, 1767; Bildquelle: Peramas, Josephi Emmanuelis: De Vita et moribus tredecim virorum paraguaycorum, Faenza 1793, unpaginiert (zwischen S. XXVII und 1). began that, at its height around 1700, comprised some thirty settlements. By adapting themselves to the respective autochthon cultures, they brought forth a new Indian-Christian synthesis. This mission project, that has gone down in history as the "Jesuit state", has been the inspiration for many artistic works, among them Alfred Döblin's (1878–1957) trilogy Amazonas (1937), and Roland Joffé's (born 1945) film, The Mission (1986), based on the play Das heilige Experiment (The Strong Are Lonely) (1942) by Fritz Hochwälder (1911–1986).

    The Conquista brought about a severe population decline among the indigenous peoples of . This was caused not merely by Europeans inadvertently introducing new diseases, but also by the institutions of economic exploitation, such as the the encomienda (Spanish, encomendar = to entrust), a distributing of the Indians among the settlers to be used as labour power, and for the purpose of Christianizing them. This system and indeed the violence of the Conquista as such was opposed with pastoral, political and literary means by such figures as the Dominican and bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484–1566)[Jean Théodore de Bry (1561-1623), [Illustrations de Narratio regionum Indicarum per Hispanos quosdam devastattarum], Stich, 1598; Bildquelle:, Permalink:]. By demanding freedom and human rights (derechos humanos) for the Indians, he contributed significantly to a colonial ethical discourse and compelled the crown to take legislative measures, such as the Nuevas Leyes (1542)Nuevas Leyes, Titelseite, unbekannter Künstler, 1542; Bildquelle: Wikimedia Commons,, gemeinfrei..7 Also, Pope Paul III (1468–1549) issued the bull Sublimis Deus (1537) that emphasized the rights of the Indians to freedom and to the owning of property. It is generally true to say that the legislation passed for the protection of the Indians (Recopilación de las Leyes de Indias) originated in accusations of the missionaries who were intimately acquainted with the social evils and in a position to make constructive proposals for alleviating them.

    The mission in Spanish-America extended from the present day North American states of , and to the Mapuche in the southern part of present day . The mission provided the basis for the systematic construction of a Church organization that during the colonial period encompassed over 30 dioceses in the four Church Provinces of , Mexico, Lima and .

    From the middle of the 16th century the were part of the Spanish colonial empire, and during part of this time connected to the Americas by ship routes (-Galeone). Christianized in a relatively short time, some missionaries naively believed that the archipelago could serve as a starting point for the conquest of .

    Also in , which belonged to Portugal's sphere of patronage, many missionary enterprises were initiated in connection with the European seizure of land, and, therefore, came also into contact with the colonial system and the slave trade. One of the major protagonists of the Brazilian mission was José de Anchieta (1534–1597), "the Church Father of Brazil", who used his linguistic talents to write epics and poly-lingual dramas. In the service of the missionary work in Hispano-America and Luso-America many ethnographic works and linguistic studies, such as grammars and dictionaries of the indigenous language, were written, but also bi-lingual pastoral works such as catechisms (Doctrina) and penitentials (Confesionario). Printed in Mexico and Lima these works enjoyed a wide circulation.

    Missionary activity in North America did not take place under the jus patronatus granted to one particular political power, but, nevertheless, under the colonial domination of and England. In in present day the missionaries encountered Indian peoples such as the Montagnais, Huron and Iroquois, whose settlement areas, languages and cultures were studied by men such as Jean de Brébeuf (1593–1649), Jacques Marquette (1637–1675) and Jean Baptiste de la Brosse (1724–1782). Also noteworthy are the efforts of the women's religious orders (Ursulines) in (beginning in 1639). A discerning insight into the northern mission, its ethnographic, linguistic and inter-religious contexts, is provided by a 73 volume collection of reports and letters that is also a valuable source for inter-disciplinary studies.8 In the denominational framework limited the Catholic mission primarily to . In John Carroll (1735–1815)[Jerome Connor (1874–1943), Statue von John Carroll (1735–1815), Georgetown University, Photograph: Patrickneil; Bildquelle: Wikimedia Commons, Commons-Lizenz Namensnennung-Weitergabe unter gleichen Bedingungen 3.0 Unported.] was later to become the first Catholic bishop in the and he made a place for the Catholic minority in the American democracy.


    The mission to Asia began with Francisco Javier (Franz Xaver, 1506–1552), one of the circle of friends that made up the early Society of Jesus. He left for his mission in 1540 and travelled to , and where he gained extensive inter-cultural and inter-religious knowledge. His letters9 awakened a great enthusiasm for missionary activity among the educated youth of Europe.Franz Xaver folgt dem Guten Hirten, Wandbild in Öl, Mariä-Himmelfahrts-Kirche in Mindelheim, unbekannter Künstler, Photograph: Thomas Mirtsch; Bildquelle: Wikimedia Commons, Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

    At the same time, the mendicant orders that were active in Mexico also developed plans for carrying the mission to the Philippines and Asia, and commissioned expeditions in order to realize the apostolic ideal of irenic evangelisation.

    In contrast to the experiences in the Americas, missionaries in Asia encountered many highly developed cultures, which made it necessary for the missionaries to use other methods for spreading the faith. Thus, the method of "accommodation" played a decisive role for cultural and religious contacts in this region. This paradigm shift was introduced by the Apolistic Visitator for the far eastern missions, the Italian Alessandro Valignano (1539–1606). The new plan called for "adapting" to the other culture. Such a course required a sound knowledge of the native language, the greatest possible reception of, and esteem for, the other culture, and the training of indigenous personnel. The missionary activity in feudal Japan10 led to numerous conversions, including the conversion of local princes (daimyo), and thus to a flowering of Christianity. In Japan there were approximately 300,000 Christians and institutions such as colleges, language and art schools, as well as printing houses for linguistic and spiritual literature. However, under the centralised rule of the Shoguns, Christianity was forbidden in 1614 and its adherents subjected to violent persecution.

    Missionaries also pursued the strategy of accommodation in China where they established Christian communities in large cities like , , and, of course, . The strategy included the notion of the approach "from above", by which an interest in Christianity was to be awakened in the educated Confucian elite, in the Empire's higher civil servants and ultimately in the Emperor himself. This was to be accomplished by using the indirect means of science, art, technology and western handicrafts.

    In addition to Matteo Ricci (1552–1610)[Inschrift auf dem Grabstein von Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), Schwarz-Weiß-Photographie, unbekannter Photograph; Bildquelle: Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Ricci Institute, University of San Francisco.], who counted many highly educated Chinese among his friends, various other outstanding missionaries from several European countries contributed to the Chinese mission during the late Ming Dynasty and the early Qing Dynasty. Among these were an astronomer from Cologne, Adam Schall von Bell (1592–1666) who achieved the rank of mandarin, the Fleming Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–1688) who directed the office for astronomy and promoted scientific and technological exchanges between China and Europe, and the French artist Jean-Denis Attiret (1702–1768) who painted for the Emperor. However the Roman Catholic policy of making concessions to cultural accommodation, which even extended to the creation of a Chinese liturgy, ended in the "Chinese Rites controversy": In 1704 the question whether ancestor worship was of civil or of religious nature was controversially discussed, and the issue of whether to adopt this "Confucian" custom was decided negatively.11 In the 19th century, under the patronage of France, the Christian mission declined greatly due to the persecution and xenophobia with which China responded to the way the colonial powers had treated her.

    Other important fields of Catholic missionary activity in Asia were opened on the sub-continent. In present day , the Italian missionary Roberto de Nobili (1577–1656), undertaking a project of participatory observation, adopted the culture of the Brahmans and lived as a Christian sannyasin (wandering ascetic). He also wrote a number of treatises in Tamil.12

    In the Mogul Empire in the north of India religious disputations and missionary activity took place at the court of the tolerant ruler Akbar I (1542–1605) and his successors. Here an important role was played by art (portrait miniatures) and Christian works written in Persian by Jerónimo Xavier (1549–1617). Missionary journeys on a smaller scale were made to and . French missionaries and the Parisian mission society, Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris, did successful work in the area that is now but also in former (Thailand), where a scientific and religious mission took place, and Guy Tachard (1648–1712) and others described the indigenous culture. was a special case. Here the spread of Christianity was not due to the efforts of professional European missionaries but to Koreans who had become acquainted with the new teachings in China. In the 19th century a systematic Christianization began in South East Asia, and in the far-flung archipelagos of (, , ). However, these efforts were accompanied by great denominational competition. Roman Catholic missionaries began in and then moved further westward. In China and Korea persecutions took place, but the forced opening of Japan by the United States (1853) revealed that, despite Christianity having been forbidden, and despite persecution, Christians had maintained their faith clandestinely for over two hundred years.


    Due to the Arabic Islamisation of , Christianity, which had flowered during Late Antiquity, had generally disappeared. Only the Coptic Church in had survived. During the early modern period only a few missionary efforts had been undertaken in Africa, and they had been unsuccessful. Among those were efforts that attempted to bring about a change of denomination in Christian , to create a Christian kingdom in the , or to persuade the king in () to convert. There were isolated missionary expeditions to the island of but the systematic mission of the black continent, i.e. in sub-Saharan Africa, did not begin until the 19th century. Thus, it took place at a time when Catholic religious orders and Protestant missionary societies competed with one another in parallel activities.13 Within the Roman Catholic Church numerous old and new religious orders took up missionary work. A number of these orders had been founded for the sole purpose of carrying the mission to Africa, as, for example, the Italian Comboni Missionaries (). Others who were active included the German Pallottines (), the Missionary Benedictines (), the Spiritans ( and ), the Capuchins (East Africa), the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Austrian Trappists (), and the Jesuits, Steyler, Salesians, Marist Brothers and the Congregation of the Mission/Lazarites. Numerous female congregations also engaged in missionary work in Africa, such as the French Sœurs de Saint-Joseph de Cluny founded by Marie-Anne Javouhey (1779–1851). A leading role was played by the Frenchman Charles Lavigerie (1825–1892), who as Bishop of Algeria conceived the evangelization of Africa and for this purpose founded a society of African missionaries who later called themselves the "White Fathers" and "White Sisters". In Muslim North Africa he took care to establish a charitable presence, turning his attention to the Berbers and sending missionaries to the , the and the great lakes of East Africa. The later cardinal and "Primate of Africa" was convinced – and so was Bishop Daniel Comboni (1831–1881) – that an African church could only be established by Africans themselves. After the Congo Conference (1885) had divided Africa up under the European colonial powers, primarily France and England, the colonial context also shaped the missionary efforts. The Catholic powers, such as France, and , supported the Catholic mission and, in general, the triad of colonization, civilization and missionary work dominated their efforts, finding its clearest expression in the establishment of educational and health-care institutions.Steyler Missionar beim Unterricht in Togo, Schwarz-Weiß-Photographie, Ende des 19. Jh., unbekannter Photograph; Bildquelle: Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Steyler Missionswissenschaftlichen Institutes.

    Under the impact of these developments during the period of European Imperialism, in , for the first time, university institutes of missionary science were created and missionary science journals established. Following the example of the "Evangelische Missionslehre" (Evangelical Missionary Theory) (1892) developed by Gustav Warneck (1834–1910) in , Joseph Schmidlin (1876–1944) in developed a "katholische Missionslehre" (Catholic Missionary Theory) (1919). In 1911 he had founded the Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft (Journal for Missiology and the Science of Religion) which is still being published today.

    The long process of communicating the Catholic faith was linked to the transfer of specific contents which involved the use of various media. Three modes of communication may serve here as examples.


    The main goal of the mission was spreading the Christian faith and its fundamental elements were summarized in mission catechisms for the purpose of religious instruction. These works were structured according to the form and with the content of traditional European catechisms, but they also added new forms for communicating the knowledge of faith. Most of the catechisms were written in a European language, primarily in Spanish or Portuguese, or in one of the indigenous languages. Often, however, they were bi- or indeed tri-lingual, i.e. they included translations into the target languages. Even in the early modern period they were not printed in Europe but locally; in México and Lima (for the Americas), Manila (for the Philippines), Funai (for Japan) and (for China). Intended for use by both missionaries and baptismal candidates, like their European models, the contents revolved around the interpretation of such classical catechetical themes as the profession of faith (Credo), prayer (Lord's Prayer), rituals (Sacraments), ethics (Decalogue) and catalogues (mostly of septennials like the seven virtues, mortal sins or works of charity). But often these works were created with special regard to the local context, in which case they took up specific Christian motives or were geared to a non-European culture and religion. Regarding the oral cultures of America and Africa the missionaries had to first transcribe the indigenous languages and create linguistic manuals (grammars and dictionaries).

    All in all it is calculated that for the mission work of the early modern period, it had been necessary to translate Christian content into over two hundred languages, fully half of them encountered in the Americas.

    Following projects of pictographic catechisms, which took up the tradition of Aztec hieroglyphics, the first Archbishop of Mexico, the Franciscan Fray Juan de Zumárraga (1468–1548), introduced printing into the new world. The first work printed was a bi-lingual catechism in Spanish and Nahuatl: Breve y más compendiosa Doctrina Christiana en lengua mexicana y castellana (México 1539). It proved to be the first in a long list of early Mexican catechisms. Another outstanding example of new world books is the bi-lingual work of the Dominican Pedro de Córdoba (ca. 1482–1521), Doctrina Christiana para instrucción e información de los indios (México 1544), which is based on the structure of salvation history (por manera de hystoria). The Fleming brother Pedro de Gante (ca. 1479–1572), who took part in the writing of the pictographic catechisms mentioned above, later wrote an empathetic catechism in Nahuatl (Doctrina Christiana en lengua mexicana). This work took the Christian terminology (for example cruz, yglesia) from the source language, or adopted an equivalent term from the target language (Dios=teotl), or indeed produced terms by combining both languages (God the Father=Dios tetatzin).14Pedro de Gante (ca. 1479–1572), Doctrina Christiana en lengua mexicana, Titelblatt, Mexiko, 1553; Bildquelle: University of Texas at Austin, Benson Latin American Collection,

    In Asia differently conceived works were used, for example the Catechismus Sinicus by Matteo Ricci entitled The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu Shiyi, 1603). The author, trusting in universal reason, wrote this work in dialogue form with reference to China's three religions. It treats the philosophical nature of God (God's existence, uniqueness, and eternity) and questions of anthropology (the soul, palingenesis, virtue ethics, and religious pluralism). "This doctrine about the Lord of Heaven is not the doctrine of one man, one household, or one state. All the great nations from the West to the East are versed in it and uphold it."15 The Latin-Vietnamese Cathechismus (1651) of Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), printed by the Congregatio de propaganda fide in Rome, is structured around "eight days". It begins by approaching inductively the religious contexts of the country, and goes on to discuss the Christian mysteries of salvation.16Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), Catechismus pro iis, qui volunt suscipere baptismum, Titelseite, Rom 1651; Bildquelle: BSB, urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb10347734-1. With only minor corrections, the bi-lingual catechism (Spanish/Tagalog), which had been printed in Manila in 1593 using the Chinese xylographic method, was still used by the Franciscans in the Philippines in the 20th century.


    For communicating faith, the arts are an accompanying media, but a decisive one as they make it possible to give representational form to the tenets of faith. Nor does art lose its inherent meaning and autonomy in the service of the mission. For example, the role that the Baroque style has played in architecture and the visual arts can still be seen today in ,17 as well as in the Philippines and Goa. To these must be added the less palpable baroque contributions to literature, drama and music. Two examples, one taken from the west and the other from the east, can provide us with an illustration of art's role, and at the same time demonstrate the importance that images of the Madonna have had in the missionary transfer processes.

    In America the painting of the "Virgen de Guadalupe" is an expression of artistic and religious mestizaje (mixture) since it can be deciphered using both European and Aztec codes. It shows the legendary appearance of the Virgin Mary in Mexico in 1531 on the hill of at the gates of (today within the city). At the time the Franciscans dismissed the event as Indian "camouflage". However, the story of the origin of the painting was later woven into the legend of the Virgin's appearance that was written in the country's native language (Nican mopohua, 1649). That an Aztec earth-goddess had been worshipped at the very place where the Virgin appeared, and the goddess's cognomen, "Tonantzin", transferred to Mary, provides us with a typical example of cult succession. The painting became a symbol of European, Indian and Mestizo integration regarding faith, and it continues to shape the religion of the common people to this day.18Virgen de Guadalupe, unbekannter Künstler; Bildquelle: Wikimedia Commons,, gemeinfrei.

    The artistically excellent painting of the Chinese Madonna,Chinesische Madonna mit Kind, unbekannter Künstler, Shaanxi, China, Wasserfarben auf Seide, späte Ming-Zeit, Photograph: Michael Tropea; Bildquelle: © The Field Museum, negative #A114604_02d although itself not a venerated image, is based on one and, like the Virgin of Guadalupe, reveals hybrid elements. It dates from the later Ming Dynasty and is painted with water colours on silk. The iconography is taken from the venerated image Salus populi romani in the Borghese Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. This icon, that probably dates from Late Antiquity, depicts Mary with the child Jesus on her left arm. The child holds a book in his left hand and makes a blessing gesture with his right. The Chinese artist has extended the Roman portrait which, according to legend was painted by the Evangelist Luke, into a full length figure. The facial features, the fall of the folds of the clothes, the colours and hairstyle have been remodelled in the Chinese manner so that the Madonna and the child Jesus remind one of the traditional image of the Bodhisattva of compassion (Guanyin), who is sometimes depicted with a child.


    Mission has always been connected with the experience of new worlds of knowledge and with the exchange of knowledge regarding the world. This was particularly true in the modern era, when Europe experienced the contraction of space and time, became aware of the multiplicity of cultures and began to reflect on its relationship to other cultures. Through the transfer of European knowledge initiated by the missionaries other societies also became acquainted with the size and shape of the earth, and with the notion of varieties of cultures. Two examples may suffice to demonstrate this missionary-conveyed knowledge. In Mexico, with the help of native informants and co-workers, the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) produced an encyclopaedia of Náhua culture that is without peer. This General History of the Things of New Spain (Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España) written in twelve books and based on systematic enquiries, examines the Aztec religion (the world of the gods, the sacred calendar and theogony). It also enquires into humans' relationships to the gods (astrology, divination, moral philosophy, theology), into cultural questions (the nature of the state, justice, professions), and into questions of inorganic and organic nature, as well as history (the conquest). In addition, this bi-lingual work, the manuscript of which lies in the library Medicea Laurenziana (Ms. 218–20) and is therefore called the Codex Florentinus, contains numerous hand coloured illustrations. It thus provides a comprehensive description and depiction of the New World; knowledge of the world which was to be of service for the mission.19Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590), Zweisprachige Erläuterungen und kolorierte Zeichnungen zur Fauna Mexikos, 16. Jh.; Bildquelle: Litterscheid, Claus (Hg.): Aus der Welt der Azteken: Die Chronik des Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Frankfurt am Main 1989, S. XX-XXI. Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Insel Verlag.

    Not only did the missionaries take a practical interest in cartography (travel routes), they were also interested in gaining a better knowledge of the globe, the dimensions of which first began to become clear during the early modern period. Along with numerous maps of single countries or regions, world maps and globes were also made. The missionaries in China drew up many such maps of the globe, an important reason was that they wanted to inform the Chinese rulers and scholars of the world's true dimensions and to keep, at the same time, their Sino-centric world view. Matteo Ricci for example created a world map the third edition of which was published in Beijing in 1602. It differed greatly from the Euro-centric standard model. For in this type, presented by Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598) in his Theatrum orbis terrarum (1570) – and which is the dominant type to this day – Europe is in the middle, the American continent to the west, and China appears on the eastern periphery. Ricci moved the American continent to the eastern side of the map, so that China appeared in the middle (honouring China's traditional name "Middle Kingdom") while Europe was relegated to the western periphery.20 This depiction was also adopted by the Italian China missionary Giulio Aleni (1583–1649) who, in his comprehensive description of all countries, written in Chinese, added a xylographic coloured map of the world (Wanguo Quantu) with China at the centre.21Giulio Aleni (1583–1649), Wàn Guó Quán Tú [Mappa completa dei Diecimila Regni] (sinozentrische Weltkarte), 1644; Bildquelle: Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Braidense, AB. XV. 34

    Such maps of the world represent just one of the obvious media that illustrate the process of globalization in the modern era, in which the mission played an essential and varied part.

    Michael Sievernich



    Aleni, Giulio (Ai Rulüe): Geografia di paesistranieri alla Cina: Zhifang Waiji (Opera omnia vol. 1), ed. by Paolo De Troia, Brescia 2009.

    Casas, Bartolomé de las: Werkauswahl, ed. by Mariano Delgado, Paderborn 1994–1997, vol. 1–4.

    Delgado, Mariano (ed.): Gott in Lateinamerika: Texte aus fünf Jahrhunderten, Düsseldorf 1991.

    D'Elia, Pasquale M. (ed.): Il mappamondo cinese del P. Matteo Ricci S.I., 4th ed., Vatican City 1938. URL: [2021-04-26]

    Durán, Juan Guillermo: Monumenta Catechetica Hispanoamericano (siglos XVI–XVIII), Buenos Aires 1984/1990, vol. 1–2.

    Meyn, Matthias et al. (eds.): Die großen Entdeckungen, München 1984 (Dokumente zur Geschichte der europäischen Expansion 2). URL: [2021-04-26]

    Nobili, Roberto de: Preaching Wisdom to the Wise: Three Treatises by Roberto de Nobili, S.J., Missionary and Scholar in 17th Century India, Saint Louis 2000 (The Institute of Jesuit Sources 1,19). URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Ricci, Matteo: The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, ed. by Edward J. Malatesta, St. Louis, Mo. 1985. URL: [2021-04-26]

    Sahagún, Bernardino de: Aus der Welt der Azteken: Die Chronik des Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, ed. by Claus Litterscheid, Frankfurt am Main 1989. URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Thwaites, Reuben G. (ed.): The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610–1791: The Original French, Latin, and Italian Texts, with English Translations and Notes, Cleveland 1896–1901 (Reprint New York 1959), vol. 1–73.

    Xaver, Franz: Briefe und Dokumente 1535–1552, ed. by Michael Sievernich, Regensburg 2006 (Jesuitica 12).


    Arens, Bernard: Handbuch der katholischen Missionen, 2nd ed., Freiburg 1925.

    Bailey, Gauvin Alexander: Art of Colonial Latin America, New York 2005. URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Beckmann, Johannes: China im Blickfeld der mexikanischen Bettelorden im 16. Jahrhundert, Schöneck-Beckenried 1964 (Schriftenreihe der NZM 19). URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Brading, David A.: Mexican Phoenix: Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries, Cambridge 2001.

    Breward, Ian: A History of the Churches in Australasia, Oxford 2004. URL: / URL: [2021-04-26]

    Gründer, Horst: Welteroberung und Christentum: Ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der Neuzeit, Gütersloh 1992.

    Gutiérrez, Ramón (Hg.): L'art chrétien du nouveau monde: Le Baroque en Amérique Latin, Saint-Léger-Vauban 1997.

    Fujita, Neil S.: Japan's Encounter with Christianity: The Catholic Mission in Pre-modern Japan, New York et al. 1991. URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Hartmann, Peter Claus: Der Jesuitenstaat in Südamerika, Weißenhorn 1994.

    Hastings, Adrian: The Church in Africa 1450–1550, Oxford 1994. URL: [2021-04-26]   

    Malatesta, Edward J. / Zhiyu, Gao (eds.): Departed, Yet Present: Zhalan, the Oldest Christian Cemetery in Beijing, Macau et al. 1995.

    Metzler, Josef (ed.): Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fidememoriarerum: 350 anni a servizio delle missioni: 350 Jahre im Dienste der Weltmission 1622–1972, Rome 1971–1976, vol. 1–3. URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Phan, Peter C.: Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre de Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam, Maryknoll 1998.

    Ricard, Robert: La "conquête spirituelle" du Méxique: Essai sur l'apostolat et les méthodes missionnaires des ordres mendiants en Nouvelle-Espagne de 1523–24 à 1572, Paris 1933 (Travaux et mémoires de l'Institut d'Ethnologie 20). URL: [2021-04-26] 

    Sievernich, Michael et al. (eds.): Conquista und Evangelisation: 500 Jahre Orden in Lateinamerika, Mainz 1992.

    Sievernich, Michael: Die christliche Mission: Geschichte und Gegenwart, Darmstadt 2009.

    Standaert, Nicolas: Handbook of Christianity in China, Leiden et al. 2001. URL: [2021-04-26]

    Thiel, Joseph Franz / Helf, Heinz: Christliche Kunst in Afrika, Berlin 1984.


    1. ^ Meyn, Entdeckungen 1984, p. 108f.
    2. ^ Cf. Thiel, Christliche Kunst 1984, pp. 81–91.
    3. ^ Cf. Metzler, Sacrae Congregationis 1971–1976.
    4. ^ Arens, Handbuch 1925, p. 242.
    5. ^ Cf. Ricard, La "conquête spirituelle" 1933.
    6. ^ Cf. Hartmann, Der Jesuitenstaat 1994.
    7. ^ Cf. Casas, Werkauswahl 1994–1997.
    8. ^ Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations 1896–1901.
    9. ^ Xaver, Briefe 2006, Brief 96, pp. 343–396.
    10. ^ Fujita, Japan's Encounter 1991.
    11. ^ For the China mission cf. Standaert, Handbook 2001.
    12. ^ Nobili, Preaching Wisdom 2000.
    13. ^ Cf. Hastings, The Church 1994.
    14. ^ Durán, Monumenta Catechetica 1984/1990.
    15. ^ Ricci, The True Meaning 1985, p. 67.
    16. ^ Phan, Mission 1998.
    17. ^ Gutiérrez, L’art chrétien 1997.
    18. ^ Brading, Mexican Phoenix 2001.
    19. ^ Sahagún, Aus der Welt 1989.
    20. ^ D'Elia, Il mappamondo cinese 1938.
    21. ^ Aleni, Geografia 2009.

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