Friday, October 01, 2004

Wisdom from Matteo Ricci

The Christian religion instructs us perfectly on these rules, but men do not understand what is in front of their eyes. Everything they cannot see seems opaque to them. If a pregnant woman is thrown into prison, and gives birth in a dungeon, her son will grow up knowing neither sun nor moon, ignorant that there are such things as mountains and rivers, a human race, a universe. A large candle serves as his sun, and a small one as his moon. The few people he sees in the prison are the human race to him. He can think of nothing better than this. He is not aware there is hardship in his prison, he stays there peacefully, he does not think of leaving. But if his mother should speak to him of the splendor of the stars, of the fine objects owned by the wealthy, of the wide expanse and wonder of the world, of the loveliness and the loftiness of the sky, he will come to understand that he has only seen some pale echoes of the sun, that his prison indeed is narrow, dirty, stinking. From that time on will he not cease wanting to make his home there? Will he not think, day and night, of freeing himself and going to live in joy amid his parents and friends?

[Matteo Ricci, True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu shiyi) translated in Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci Penguin (New York: 1985) p. 159. Spence notes that the final sentence is well-chosen to appeal to the upper-class of the Ming dynasty.]

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