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Matteo Ricci. Holiness through Encounter - The Apostle of the Church in China is Venerable

Federico Lombardi, SJ - La Civiltà Cattolica - Thu, Jul 27th 2023

Matteo Ricci. Holiness through Encounter

On December 17, 2022, Pope Francis signed a decree stating that Matteo Ricci lived the Christian virtues in an “heroic” manner, i.e. in an eminent and exemplary way, and can therefore be venerated by Christians.[1] This is a first official recognition by the Church, which may be followed by even more solemn ones, namely, beatification and canonization, should God deign to permit this.

Fr. Ricci was already very famous.[2] He was the first Jesuit missionary who, fulfilling a dream of St. Francis Xavier, was able to enter the Chinese Empire in 1583 and reach the capital Beijing, where he stayed from 1601 to 1610, establishing there a Christian presence that exists to this day. Other Christian missionaries had been in China in earlier eras, but their work had not lasted long, so Chinese Catholics recognize Ricci as the main initiator of evangelization in their country.

Ricci’s fame is also linked to the method he followed in the course of his mission, the in-depth study of the language, customs and culture of the China of his time, so that he became an interlocutor and friend to many influential Chinese and became esteemed in the imperial court itself. Having been trained in Western scientific and humanistic culture, he was an admired and popular figure for his knowledge and wisdom. When he died, his burial in Beijing was authorized by imperial decree, something that had never happened until then for a foreigner. He was truly a builder of lasting bridges of dialogue between East and West.

But in this article we do not intend to repeat well-known information about the cultural merits of this Jesuit, nor reiterate his relevance and importance in a time when China occupies such an important place in today’s world. That would be superfluous. Rather, we intend to highlight his Christian and religious witness, and the evangelical inspiration that sustained his extraordinary apostolate, in other words, his holiness.


The long history of Fr. Ricci’s reputation for holiness

Fr. Ricci’s reputation for holiness was not artificially created in our day in order to put a halo on the head of a person whose historical and cultural merits are increasingly being recognized. It was born around his deathbed, as contemporary documents attest. On May 11, 1610, at the news of his passing, the faithful had flocked in large numbers to the Jesuit residence in Peking and, “passing from useless weeping to praise,” lauded “Father’s heroic virtues, calling him a ‘holy man and apostle of China’.” So they implored one of the Jesuit Brothers, who had some knowledge of painting, to make a portrait of Ricci for “common consolation.” Out of humility, in fact, Ricci had never wanted to be portrayed during his lifetime.[3]

Fr. Sabatino de Ursis, superior of the house where Ricci was, spoke thus of his last confession, which he made two days before he died: “He made almost a general confession, which gave me so much consolation and edification that I do not think I have ever felt before in my life. The cause of this was seeing so much internal joy of the good old man conjoined with so much innocence, sanctity of life, purity of conscience and conformity to the will of the Lord.” De Ursis describes to us a death in full state of consciousness and serenity, having received the sacraments, which was preceded by a comforting and hope-filled spiritual dialogue with the brethren and the faithful who came to visit Father, until “on Tuesday afternoon he sat down in the middle of the room and so seated, with much peace and calm, without any movement, he rendered his soul up to his Creator, closing his eyes as if to sleep the sleep of holy and profound contemplation.”[4]

What the climate of veneration for Ricci was in those days is told by a detail that de Ursis notes. The Mandarin Leo Li Zhizao, one of Father’s closest disciples and friends, wanted to be the one to procure the timber and see to the preparation of a coffin worthy of the deceased. He told the craftsmen: “You must not hurry and buy poor quality timber for fear that Father’s corpse suffer corruption. Because I assure you the body of a man like him will not become corrupt.” De Ursis, astonished, added, “It seems that truly this was the case, for two days and two nights passed before the casket was ready, and, although it was very hot, his complexion always remained so fresh and the color so vivid that all the Christians noticed it and were more confirmed in the opinion already expressed by Mandarin Leo about Father.”[5]

Without going into further details or multiplying the testimonies, it is only fair to add that within ten years of his death Fr. Ricci was considered among the Chinese an intercessor for their salvation. As many as four different sources of the time, independent of each other, attest to the vision of a young Chinese Catholic, Michael Zhang, who shortly before his death saw “the holy face of the Lord of Heaven” who was judging his life, and before his Tribunal appeared St. Matthew the Apostle and Master Ricci, “to intercede fervently for him with the Lord of Heaven, that he might give him permission to ascend to the glory of Heaven.”[6]

Ricci’s reputation for holiness was also attested in later times. However, as early as 1635 the onset and flare-up of the “question of rites,” with the dispute over the extent of “accommodation” to Chinese ancestral culture and customs, practiced in his time by Ricci and later by Jesuit missionaries, had very serious consequences, so much so that it contributed to the subsequent suppression of the Society of Jesus in the late 18th century. Therefore, that period was certainly not the right time to introduce a “cause” for the beatification of Ricci. The “question of rites” was finally closed only in 1939 by Pius XII, but even then it was not a propitious time: the Sino-Japanese War, then the advent of the People’s Republic of China and the Communist regime imposed other priorities on the Church.

Meanwhile, however, the great missionary encyclicals of the 20th century – Benedict XV’s Maximum Illud (1919), Pius XII’s Evangelii Precones (1951), John XXIII’s Princeps Pastorum (1959) – had developed the theme of the Church’s respect for the different cultures of peoples. Indeed, in the encyclical of John XXIII, Matteo Ricci’s name was mentioned explicitly for the first time as an exemplar of this respect. Thereafter, the Second Vatican Council deepened and broadened perspectives on the relationship between evangelization and cultures in its documents on the Church, the relationship between the Church and the world, and the Church’s missionary activity. Subsequent popes continued to write in the same vein: Paul VI with Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) and John Paul II with Redemptoris Missio (1990). In this context, the re-evaluation of the figure of Ricci as a model for proclaiming the Gospel in dialogue with cultures has been mentioned again and again by the popes themselves.[7]

We must emphasize that it is not only a matter of his exemplary methods of evangelization, considered separately from the witness of the evangelizer’s life. John Paul II, in his speech on October 25, 1982, delivered at the Gregorian University on the fourth centenary of Ricci’s arrival in Macau, expressly stated, “The inculturation accomplished by Father Matteo Ricci took place not only in the sphere of concepts and missionary work, but also in the personal testimony of life. It is necessary first of all to highlight his exemplary religious life, which contributed greatly to the appreciation of his doctrine among those who engaged with him.”[8]

In the many references Pope Francis has made on various occasions to Ricci, it is clear that for him this Jesuit is one of the most obvious examples of an evangelizer open to the different contexts in which the Church is missionary and “going forth.” After St. Paul, Ricci is often the first example that comes to mind for Pope Francis. It should not be forgotten that, as was the case for John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for Francis, too, the inculturation of the Gospel takes place under the impetus and influence of the Holy Spirit, and the evangelizer is a docile instrument, particularly through the exercise of “discernment.” In short, for Pope Francis, Ricci is a master of holiness, of seeking God in all things, of discernment guided by the Spirit, of inculturation of the Christian faith, of building bridges between civilizations, of respect, listening, dialogue and – to use a word that is particularly significant to him – of encounter. Thus the “cause” whereby the Church would come to officially recognize Ricci’s virtues and holiness was able to develop favorably.[9]

The spiritual formation of a man for mission

But what are the characteristics and events in Ricci’s life from which the fame of his holiness arose and grew?

About his youth there is not much to tell. Born in 1552 in Macerata, as soon as a Jesuit College was opened in that city in 1561, when he was nine years old, Matteo was one of its first students, thus being educated in a school where culture and virtue, intelligence and spiritual life were well integrated dimensions of a coherent and demanding education. At 16, Matteo was sent to Rome at his father’s behest to pursue legal studies at the Sapienza University with the prospect, many thought, of a brilliant career. But the young man continued to cultivate his spiritual life in his relationship with the Jesuits and felt called to religious life, so much so that after three years, with firm resolve, he knocked on the door of the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Rome on August 15, 1571. His father was informed after the fact. He was so upset that he set out for Rome to dissuade and retrieve his son, but a sudden fever and the advice of friends persuaded him to accept his choice.

The time of the novitiate laid the solid foundation of his religious life based on the profound experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Matteo learned to “see all things in God” and “seek and find God in all things,” in creation as well as in human affairs. He felt called to follow Jesus Christ in his mission of universal salvation, without reservation and without fear of hard labor. He also discerned that he was called to serve in an apostolic body united by a deep and enduring love of friendship that makes “friends in the Lord.” He learned a way of life in which spirituality is nurtured by fidelity to religious practice that engages the depths of the soul, such as personal meditation and examination of conscience. He assimilated the practice of religious vows, poverty, chastity and obedience, that was mature, serene and uncompromising.

All this would be consolidated over the course of the following years of study at the Roman College, at that time an exceptional forge for the formation of apostles, in a climate of great fervor and high ideals. This was completed with humanistic, scientific, philosophical and theological studies, cultivated with enthusiasm, interest and dedication under the guidance of exceptional teachers, among whom were figures of the stature of Christopher Clavius, Juan de Ledesma and Robert Bellarmine.

Ricci was not alone; his path crossed those of several future Jesuit martyrs and saints who experienced at that same time the novitiate and studies at the Roman College. Many of his companions, like him, moved by the news and examples of Xavier and other Jesuit missionaries, wrote to Father General asking to be sent on the most strenuous and risky of missions, to the East, the Americas or England. Two of his companions traveling to the East (Rodolfo Acquaviva and Pietro Berno) would die martyrs in India and later be beatified. It is fair to realize that this wonderful spiritual communion and communion of ideals would remain very solid foundations even when Ricci’s journey became more solitary, in faraway lands and cultures. In his letters he always manifests a deep affection for the brethren he met during those years and especially his formators, to whom he would always remain sincerely grateful and intensely spiritually attached. One does not become a saint alone.

We should also reflect that when Chinese literati were attracted and fascinated by the personality of the master who had come from the West, at once an expert in the sciences (mathematics, astronomy, geography…), a lover of wisdom (cultivated in his acquaintance with great classical authors) and obviously leading an irreproachably virtuous life, Ricci would reap the fruits of his passionate commitment to embracing the gifts of science and grace that had been offered to him in the years of his religious and intellectual formation.

Ricci’s human and spiritual itinerary since those years appears linear. Everything we know even about the rest of his life speaks to us of a personality that was humanly gifted and balanced, willing and ready to learn, constant in commitment, serene, with no noteworthy inner or outer conflicts. For what that is worth, based on psychological analysis, his character, according to Le Senne’s classification, can be described as “passionate”: vital, reflective, active, intensely committed and helpful.

A long and difficult journey in the light of faith

This does not mean, however, that despite the exercise of obedience and patience, Ricci was not capable of careful and critical evaluation of what happened in the communities where he came to be in the course of his apostolate. But he preferred to talk about this in the letters he wrote to the Father General, Claudio Acquaviva, despite being a young religious not yet or barely in his thirties. From India – where he arrived in 1578 in the first stage of his life in the East – he explicitly criticized the provincial’s appointment of two rectors whom he considered unsuitable, and condemned discrimination against candidates for the Society of local origin. At Macau – where since 1582 he had been preparing to enter China, studying the language and customs of the country – he judged critically most of the Portuguese Jesuits there, who confined themselves to the care of their countrymen and had no real interest in the mission to the Chinese Indeed they discouraged from studying Chinese his companion Michael Ruggieri (who “was half a martyr with the fathers here”) and then himself.[10]

This last observation helps us to understand that the difficulties Ricci had to overcome on his long journey were not only the significantly demanding practical problems, the rigors of the very long sea voyage hard to imagine for us today, or the infirmities to which he was frequently subject. Nor were they only those of a cultural nature, including the difficulty of mastering of a complex and completely unfamiliar language. More radical still were the spiritual difficulties, first and foremost, the temptation of discouragement. The Portuguese fathers in Macau were well aware that, after Francis Xavier, at least 40 other missionaries, including 25 Jesuits, had failed to enter China and no longer believed it possible. It took the foresight of “Visitor” Fr. Alessandro Valignano to commit two young Italian Jesuits in their thirties – Ruggieri and Ricci – to try again to enter into China by means of a new method, starting with the study of language and culture, and it took their perseverance, not to say stubbornness, born of their faith and zeal for the mission and accompanied by prayer, to finally succeed. In 1583 the two companions were permitted to settle in Zhaoqing, the capital of Canton province, the closest to Macau.

That Ricci’s extraordinary enterprise was motivated and always sustained by faith, there is no doubt. Even the famous World Map, the map delineating the different continents he first displayed in his house in 1584, which attracted so much awe and admiration in Chinese visitors and which he perfected in successive revisions until his last years, represented for him the arena of salvation history. Ricci himself began his presentation of it with these words, “One who knows heaven and earth can prove that He who rules heaven and earth is absolutely good, absolutely great and absolutely one.”[11] About Palestine, he noted, “The Lord of Heaven became incarnate in this country, which is therefore called the Holy Land.”[12] From his years in Zhaoqing, Ricci collaborated with his companion Ruggieri in editing an early Catechism in the Chinese language (which properly is attributed principally to Ruggieri). Although he would later publish several other works and translations of Western texts of a moral and scientific nature, Ricci would always continue to work on composing and perfecting what would rightly be considered his main work, finally published in Beijing in 1603, during the last stage of his mission: The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, that is, the presentation of the Christian faith in dialogue with Chinese wisdom. It represents his greatest effort to introduce his interlocutors to the knowledge of God, to true religion. The Chinese intellectuals understood well that Master Ricci had come all the way to their Empire from the far Great West, by an adventurous and dangerous journey, for this very purpose

Ricci constantly nourished his faith with religious practices learned during his training, which he never abandoned. In Ricci’s Chinese-language biography, Fr. Julius Aleni, who arrived in Macau in 1610 and in Peking in 1613, describes his day in Peking: silent and prolonged morning meditation, celebration of Mass, recitation of the seven canonical hours during the day, evening examination of conscience. Aleni adds that, according to the suggestion of St. Ignatius, after meditation Ricci “wrote down everything that the Lord on High inspired him to do,” and asserts that he himself read with great spiritual fruit the resulting “book” but that it had unfortunately been lost.[13] As for the examination of conscience, we may note that in his last moral work in Chinese Ricci devoted an entire chapter, thorough and detailed, to this practice, the importance of which he had evidently experienced for a life continually bent on growth in virtue, “for the ever greater glory of God,” according to the motto of St. Ignatius of Loyola.[14]

The crisis, the ‘dream’ on the river and the Lord’s help

Even though Ricci’s itinerary, viewed as a whole, appears to be a continuous “ascent to Peking” from the south to the north, lasting 28 years, with four intermediate stops in different cities, we can distinguish in a sense two successive main periods, separated and joined by an extraordinary inner experience.

In the first period in Zhaoqing and then Shaozhou, there was no shortage of results: a certain, but not large number of baptisms, the curiosity of the more educated Chinese about the novelties brought from the West. However, difficulties remained great. The hostile attitude to foreigners was widespread and entrenched. In Zhaoqing, Ruggieri and Ricci were tried three times on unjust, slanderous charges, and eventually Ricci (after Ruggieri’s return to Europe) was expelled from that city by an ill-disposed viceroy. He managed to return to that city, but the climate there was unhealthy, and the two young and talented Jesuits sent to help him died one after the other in a short time. The environment was very distrustful and there was no shortage of threats. Once he was physically assaulted, and he had to escape through a window, injuring his foot so that he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. The fortitude of the missionaries was great; their magnanimity and spirit of forgiveness toward the attackers aroused admiration, but the situation was tough. Moreover, throughout this period the missionaries had dressed like Buddhist bonzes, because they thought their religious way of life would be better received and understood. But at this point they doubted that this was the best choice. Their Chinese friends felt that this was not helpful in gaining the respect of those in more culturally and socially advanced circles. Ricci, having consulted with Valignano, decided to change his style of clothing and move to Nanjing, taking advantage of the passage of a Mandarin traveling north. But the move was marred by a shipwreck, in which one of his young companions drowned and Ricci himself almost did. This was the third companion Ricci had lost in less than four years. Arriving in Nanjing, he found an environment so hostile to foreigners that even the mandarins he believed to be friends changed their attitudes and refused to support him. The disappointment was great. Ricci could only return to the south.

This was probably the most critical moment of his entire venture. But just then, as he rested distraught on the boat under sail, on June 25 or 26, 1585, he had a very profound spiritual experience, which he would later describe as “a dream” that would console and confirm him in the mission. “As I was lamenting over the dismal outcome of this journey and the travails of the voyage, it seemed to me that an unknown man came to meet me, who said, ‘And do you also wish to go forth into this land to destroy its ancient law, and plant in it the law of God?’ Marveling how he could penetrate into my heart I answered him, ‘Either you are the devil or God.’ He said, ‘The devil no, but God yes.’ Then I, throwing myself at his feet and weeping loudly, said, ‘So, Lord, since you know this, why have you not yet helped me?’ God then said, ‘Go to that city,’ and it seemed that he showed me Pachino, ‘and there I will help you’.”[15] It is the only dream narrated by Ricci in his memoirs; it is the only one narrated by a Jesuit missionary to China in the first person in almost 200 years. However you want to interpret it, it was a very significant event.[16]

Indeed, two or three days later, Ricci arrived in Nanchang, where he settled for three years, dressing in the garb of the scholar, developing numerous fruitful relationships. It is here that he would publish his first work in Chinese, the small treatise On Friendship, which would be a great success. It succeeded in identifying the value of friendship, highly valued by Confucian wisdom as well as by Western and Christian humanism. It was the key to the encounter between two worlds, overcoming mistrust and building a solid bridge of sincere and profound communication. Ricci finally saw the road stretching out before him, but he was careful not to become over-confident: “So that these honors which we now begin to have among the Chinese would not go to our heads, Our Lord first made us experience for twelve years in a row both in Zhaoqing and in Shaozhou many dishonors, dejections, affronts and persecutions, which alone were enough to lay a solid foundation; since during all this time we were treated as the refuse of the world; since it was Our Lord who gave us such perseverance to be able to endure so many travails, I hope that He will also give us the grace not to mount up in pride on account of these honors; the more so that as we go on we shall never lack many opportunities to suffer for Our Lord.”[17]

Ricci’s authority and reputation would also be consolidated in his subsequent brief but very intense stay in Nanjing. Several times during this period he had to make challenging choices, in which his prudence, his ability to discern, and his confidence that he could recognize and follow God’s will were manifested. We have already mentioned the courageous and well-considered transition to the habit and customs of Confucian scholars. We can see real wisdom when, having finally arrived the first time at the coveted destination of Peking, Ricci found that there were no suitable places for him to settle there. It would be risky for him, and thus for the whole Chinese mission for which he felt responsible as superior. The return to the south was not experienced as a defeat, but as a hopeful anticipation of better opportunities. Returning to Nanking, he unexpectedly found a very different situation from his previous experience of rejection, and he interpreted it as a clear sign of God’s will. “By this change, no doubt miraculous, made by the hand of God, the Father, they came to understand it to be the will of God that their residence should be in that city, and not elsewhere, to which it was necessary to yield all human reasons.”[18]

In Nanking, Ricci’s choice in favor of Confucian wisdom and his opposition to Buddhism and Taoism, which at that time expressed themselves in idolatrous and superstitious forms, became increasingly explicit. He then found himself forced to face a famous Buddhist master in a dispute in the presence of many scholars. That the moment was crucial appears from the fact that he devoted an entire chapter of his memoirs to this discussion.[19] In the end Ricci was considered the “victor” and “they all remained with great understanding of the doctrine of the Father, God favoring all our efforts to begin Christianity in that venue.”[20]

Thanks to the arrival of several new Jesuits to help him, Ricci felt ready to resume the journey to Peking. There was no shortage of new drama, as the travelers remained for about six months virtually under arrest at the instance of a very powerful eunuch, who wanted to take possession of the gifts destined for the emperor. It seemed that all that was left was to trust in God. The unexpected resolution of the situation was read by Ricci in the light of faith: “God wanted to hear their prayers and those of so many of his servants, who throughout the world commended this affair to him.”[21]

Reaching his destination in 1601, the last period of Ricci’s life took place in Beijing. This involved nine years of extremely industrious endeavor involved in founding the Christian community in the capital of the Empire, together with the few brethren who accompanied him. As for him personally, besides publishing his major works on Christian catechesis and morals, the characteristic aspect of his activity was the exercise of friendship in the world of the educated class. Receiving visits and reciprocating them, in an atmosphere of ceremoniousness imposed by a very detailed protocol, answering the same questions countless times about all the customs of the West, having to attend lengthy banquets required a continuous exercise of patience out of the ordinary. Ricci’s brilliant young companion, the Spaniard Diego de Pantoja, writing to his European brethren, made no secret of his impatience with these heavy and tedious engagements of social life. Ricci went so far as to be invited to two or three different houses in a single day.[22] As sociable a person as he might have been and as prone to brilliant conversation, it is not difficult to imagine how much patience, how much restraint, how much personal discipline was required to conduct such a social life with balance, while at the same time respecting the demands of religious life and the responsibilities of the mission. In the last year of his life there was a large influx of students into Beijing to take the imperial examinations required for a bureaucratic career. Fatigue due to the continuous succession of visits is generally regarded as one of the competing causes of Ricci’s death, who has rightly been called a “martyr of friendship.”

But this missionary commitment, lived in charity and patience, was well rewarded not only by general esteem, but also by many true and deep human and spiritual friendships, often accompanied by conversion and baptism. Several of these were so significant that one cannot really understand Ricci’s work without taking them into account. It was his great disciples, friends and often also advisers, in particular, “Dr. Paul,” (Xu Guangqi), and “Dr. Leo,” (Li Zhizao), eminent in science but also in Christian life[23] – who convinced him and helped him in the translation into Chinese of several Western scientific and mathematical works (such as Euclid’s Elements!) that would be of great importance for the cultural dialogue between China and the West, and to engage with him on valuable topics concerning the wisdom of living: the prospect of death and eternal life, the examination of conscience, overcoming avarice and the search for true happiness. The relationship between Ricci and his friends was not only intellectual, but one of spiritual guidance. Li Zhizao gives us a moving description of his master: “From the first meeting with him until now, almost ten years have passed, in which he has achieved maturity. All uncontrolled words, behaviors and thoughts have disappeared in him, while the virtue he is perfecting in harmony with Heaven, humanity and himself is becoming purer and purer. Desiring to do good in the world, he perfects himself more and more and never makes aggressive speeches aimed at supplanting our civilization. Those who understand him are always joyfully surprised by him. From time to time I ask him for advice: if I follow it, things usually go well; if I don’t listen to him, I often regret it. So I regard him as the perfect man.”[24]

By the time Li Zhizao wrote these words, in 1608, we are nearing the completion of Fr. Ricci’s journey. He was 56 years old; to us this does not seem an advanced age, but he, worn out by his labors, already felt old and saw death approaching. He talked about it in his letters and tried to prepare his confreres and friends to continue the work of proclaiming the faith in China. He also left for us a precious and voluminous manuscript of memoirs in Italian, which he titled Della entrata della Compagnia di Giesù e Christianità nella Cina [On the entering of the Society of Jesus and Christianity into China], and which he introduced with these words, “I will leave a testimony… of how much our Society of Jesus travailed and suffered to open this entrance and begin to break through this proud forest, and with how much sweat and diligence he promoted it to have such good hopes. Regarding this work of engaging and converting souls to the Catholic faith, it must not be doubted that it is all God’s work….” [25]

Those “good hopes” are still before us, and Fr. Ricci continues to encourage and inspire them. Today the Church invites Christians – around the world, and particularly in China – to look to him not only as a model but also as an intercessor.


[1].      Cf. Bulletin of the Press Office of the Holy See, December 17, 2022.

[2].      The bibliographical material on Matteo Ricci is immense. We point out only a few of the recent biographies available in Italian: R. Po-chia Hsia, Un gesuita nella città proibita. Matteo Ricci 1552-1610, Bologna, il Mulino, 2012; F. Mignini, Matteo Ricci. Il chiosco delle fenici, Ancona, il lavoro editoriale, 20092; G. Criveller, Matteo Ricci. Missione e ragione, Milan, Pime, 20162.

[3].      P. M. D’Elia (ed), Fonti ricciane. Documenti originali concernenti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazioni tra l’Europa e la Cina (1579-1615), Rome, Libreria dello Stato, 1942-1949, 3 vols (usually cited FR). Here FR II, 543 and n. 3. The portrait referred to, by Br. Manuel Pereira, is preserved in the Gesù Church in Rome. During his life, Fr. Ricci’s portrait had been painted only once, when this was ordered by the Emperor, who wanted to see what Ricci looked like, although he did not receive him in personal audience.

[4].      The original “Report” by de Ursis on Ricci and his death is in Portuguese.

[5].      FR I, p. CXXXII.

[6].      Michael Zhang had been baptized by another famous Jesuit missionary of the time, Giulio Aleni, the author of the first biography in Chinese of Matteo Ricci, published in 1630 and translated into Italian by Gianni Criveller: G. Aleni, Vita del Maestro Ricci. Xitai del Grande Occidente, Macerata-Brescia, Fondazione Internazionale Padre Matteo Ricci – Fondazione Civiltà Bresciana, 2010. The episode narrated is on pp. 81f, no. 117.

[7].      There are at least eight major interventions by John Paul II on Ricci and three by Benedict XVI. More numerous, though more brief, are those of Pope Francis.

[8].      John Paul II, Discorso di Giovanni Paolo II ai Partecipanti al Convegno di Studi Nel IV Centenario dell’arrivo di Matteo Ricci in Cina, October 25, 1982.

[9].      The main credit for the initiative in recent decades should be given to the diocese of Macerata, Ricci’s homeland, which keeps his memory very much alive. Bishop Tarcisio Carboni, encouraged by an impassioned and devoted Ricci scholar, Msgr. Otello Gentili, in 1984 obtained from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints the consent that the cause could be initiated in Macerata instead of Beijing, Ricci’s place of death. After an initial diocesan phase there was, however, a period of stalemate. In 2009, as the 4th centenary of Ricci’s death approached, Bishop Claudio Giuliodori, started the cause again. In this second diocesan phase, given the changed situation in China in the meantime, two Chinese scholars were also able to become involved in the work of the Historical Commission, and four testimonies on Fr. Ricci’s current reputation for holiness could be received from mainland China. In 2013, the collected material was sent to Rome, to the Congregation. The Postulation of the Society of Jesus followed the subsequent Roman phase, which recently arrived at the aforementioned Decree “on the heroic virtues of the Servant of God.”

[10].    Cf. M. Ricci, Lettere (1580-1609), edited by F. D’Arelli, Macerata, Quodlibet, 2001. The two letters to Fr. Claudio Acquaviva to which we refer are dated November 25, 1581 (pp. 29-31) and February 13, 1583 (pp. 52f).

[11].    Il mappamondo cinese di P Matteo Ricci S.I. conservato presso la Biblioteca Vaticana, commented translated and annotated by Fr. M. D’Elia, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1938, table XVIII.

[12].    Ibid., table XX.

[13].    Cf. G. Aleni, Vita del Maestro Ricci…, op. cit., nos. 101-103.

[14].    Cf. M. Ricci, Dieci capitoli di un uomo strano, edited by Wang Suna – F. Mignini, Macerata, Quodlibet, 2010, ch. VII.

[15].    “Lettera di Ricci a Girolamo Costa”, October 28, 1595, in M. Ricci, Lettere (1580-1609), op. cit., 290.

[16].    Cf. R. Po-chia Hsia, Un gesuita nella città proibita…, op. cit., 181. The “dream” is dated to the middle of Ricci’s mission in China. It is like a spiritual watershed. From then on, Ricci would aim without any more uncertainty toward Beijing. For Jesuits, a spontaneous response is to see in it an analogy with the “vision” of St. Ignatius in the Chapel of La Storta, on his way to Rome, where the Lord Jesus told him, “I will be propitious to you in Rome.”

[17].    “Lettera a Duarte de Sande da Nanchang”, August 29, 1595, in M. Ricci, Lettere (1580-1609), op. cit., 264f.

[18].    FR II, 44.

[19].    “D’una grande disputa che il Padre Matteo Ricci hebbe con un Ministro degli Idoli molto famoso sopra le cose della Santa Fede” (FR II, 71f).

[20].    Ibid., 80.

[21].    Ibid., 120.

[22].    Cf. ibid., 160f.

[23].    On Dr. Paul, cf. F. Lombardi, “Xu Guangqi: A great Chinese Catholic at the service of his people and his country”, in Civ. Catt. English Edition, April 2021.

[24].    M. Ricci, Dieci capitoli…, op. cit., 361-364.

[25].    FR I, 5.

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