The project will develop a synthetic and exhaustive study of the Early Modern theory and methodology of Franciscan mission to China (late Ming and early Qing dynasties, cca. 1580-1660).
Due to the cultural, historical and spiritual idiosyncrasies of the Middle Kingdom, ecclesiastical authorities could not directly transfer their missiological methodology, employed in the Indies and in other parts of the world, to the Chinese Apostolate. They had to design specific, unique and novel strategies; the problem is that several religious orders were operating in China in the first phase of evangelization, and they all developed fairly different and sometimes directly conflicting approaches towards the mission. Modern scholarship has devoted its attention almost exclusively to the policy of the Jesuit order, failing to recognise the importance of the mendicant orders in the evangelization of China. The project aims at filling in this void: it will focus on the Franciscan order, and more specifically on the first 80 years of its presence in the empire, crucial for the China Apostolate. It will thoroughly examine this Franciscan evangelization project, as developed in a body of theological, missiological and official Church documents, historical accounts and epistles (written mainly in Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian). It will then explore not only its basic theological assumptions, but also its ideological, spiritual, and symbolical underpinnings. It will analyse the ways in which the Franciscan missionaries attempted to introduce Christianity to a civilization that was, in many aspects, alien to the Christian message, and in which ways they tried (or resisted) to reconcile Christian spirituality and doctrine to the specific Chinese spiritual and cultural idiom.