Thirteenthing China

My piece over at The Thing today goes back to China (here). I, as others going back perhaps to Matteo Ricci, if not to St Francis Xavier, see a natural fit between the Thomist account of heavenly things, and the Confucian account of things under Heaven. This link was explored and attempted, in the past, by the Jesuits of the China missions. For many explicable reasons, it failed. I am exhilarated to see that it seems to be under exploration again, however timidly and tentatively, now from the Chinese side.

It strikes me that my view of China is analogous to my view of the Catholic Church. I did not join the latter because I was impressed by its current activities. Far from that. Well before joining, and since, I have been under the impression that the Church is in a serious mess — one which may be traced to circumstances clearly preceding Vatican II; and one which can and will be righted only by divine intervention: by Christ. I was instead received, coming up to eleven years ago, with a view of the Church through all twenty centuries, and more fundamentally, in view of her Founder and His promise to sustain her. But let me, for the sake of my point, set that “more fundamentally” aside.

The China for which I have a consistent, very high regard, is the China of more than twenty centuries. This is a civilization whose achievements over time — even without the Revelation, and as it were, only by natural reason — have been extraordinary, and are in some respects greater than any other civilization known to history. China is gutted today; gutted by the worst effects of both the prevailing materialist ideologies, “socialism” and “capitalism.” Her own best traditions were abandoned in seeking false goods. Of course, many of the evils were done to her by vicious external agents; but much more by a destructive envy of foreign wealth and power. (So much of the damage to the Catholic Church has been, in a parallel way, self-administered.)

Yet she is not dead. To my mind (and no other rules this Idleblog), the magnificent positives of the Confucian tradition are still accessible to some men; still comprehensible to them. The possibility of recovery is not quite extinguished. And my sense is that this — not foreign, in the end, but universal — “Thomist” or Catholic account of “the things of Heaven,” is the very stimulant that could raise what is most admirable in that “Confucian” or Chinese tradition out of its apparent grave.

A Catholic Christian China would, in this sense, become more, not less, “Chinese.” Her own Confucian tradition, wise and penetrating the heart of man, would be appreciated more, not less.