Monday, September 27, 2004

Bo-do-lo on the Waters

From Matteo Ricci, as quoted in Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Penguin (New York: 1985) 60-62:

After the Lord of Heaven was born on earth, and had taken human form to spread his teaching to the world, he first shared his teachings with twelve holy followers. The first of these was called Bo-do-lo. One day Bo-do-lo was on a boat when he saw the distant outline of the Lord of Heaven on the seashore, so he said to him, "I fyou are the Lord, bid me walk on the water and not sink." The Lord so instructed him. But as he began to walk he saw the wild wind lashing up the waves, his heart filled with doubt, and he began to sink. The Lord reached out his hand to him, saying, "Your faith is small, why did you doubt?"

A man who has strong faith in the Way can walk on the yielding water as if on solid rock, but if he goes back to doubting, then the water will go back to its true nature, and how can he stay brave? When the wise man follows heaven's decrees, fire does not burn him, a sword does not cut him, water does not drown him. Why should wind or waves worry him? This first follower doubted so that we might believe; one man's moment of doubt can serve to end the doubts of all those millions who come after him. If he had not been made to doubt, our faith would have been without foundation. Therefore we give thanks for his faith as we give thanks for his doubts.


Bo-do-lo is Ricci's attempt to transliterate Peter into Chinese. Spence notes that Ricci deviates somewhat from the Gospel story, and shows that this is because he is writing comments on pictures for a book, and did not have a picture of the Walking on Water. He did have a picture of the disciples seeing Christ after His resurrection, so he adapted the picture and the story. What Spence doesn't answer, though, is why Ricci thought it was so important to have a picture of the Walking on Water in the first place. I have a hypothesis.

The other pictures Ricci contributed to the book are:

* The Road to Emmaus
* The Men of Sodom
* The Virgin and Child

As Ricci glosses the Road to Emmaus, it ends up being about the resolution of the righteous to endure suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Men of Sodom, of course, is glossed as being about judgment and the salvation of Lot. (The Virgin and Child has no comment.) We can see a sort of theme building here: the righteous are resolved to endure, the wicked are damned and the righteous saved, and the way we are saved is Christ. What Ricci needs is a picture and story about how we are saved through Christ, i.e., he needs a story about belief. The Walking on Water story fits very well with the comments on the other pictures about resolution, condemnation, and salvation. So that's my hypothesis; it's just a hypothesis, but I thought it was interesting enough to post.

I'm enjoying Spence's book quite a bit. Highly recommended.

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