- Das Collegium Sinicum zu Neapel und seine Umwandlung in ein Orientalisches Institut: Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte
Karl Joseph Rivinius has published several books related to the history of the Catholic Church in Europe and beyond; four of these discuss the experience of the German-based Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Shandong before the First World War. The publication under review introduces us to an earlier period of Sino-Western contact. Rivinius describes the development of a remarkable institution founded in Naples, Italy, by Matteo Ripa (1682-1746), a Catholic missionary and former resident at the Qing court in Beijing: the Collegium Sinicum, a college intended to educate Chinese seminarians as priests and future missionaries to their native land. Founded in 1732 and responsible for the education of over 106 Chinese students as well as many students from other countries, the college eventually fell victim to the strong anti-church sentiment prevalent within the newly unified Italy. In 1888 it became a branch of the secular university at Naples. As Rivinius observes, the current Istituto Orientale is the oldest European institution devoted to the teaching of Asian languages and cultures.
The first chapter of the book provides a concise and yet thorough account of the history of Christian Missions in China from the beginnings to the early eighteenth century, including a brief discussion of the rites controversy that led to the edict outlawing Christian missions in China in 1720.
The second chapter concerns the founding of the Naples College by Ripa and its history until 1868. Rivinius provides us with a list of Ripa's motives in founding the college, suggesting both economic reasons—Chinese were expected to live and travel more cheaply than European missionaries—and reasons of safety—due to their appearance Europeans in China were unable to go underground in times of persecution. Rivinius also suggests that Ripa had been severely disappointed with his own experience as a missionary to China. Rather than doing evangelical work, Ripa had been forced to serve as a landscape artist at the Qing court. Besides, he refused to submit to the Jesuit dress code of wearing the silk garments typical of Chinese literati.
It appears that the headstrong Ripa developed his plan for the Naples College independent of his superiors. Failing to gain the approval of the Propaganda, the council responsible for overseas missions, Ripa managed to win the support of both Pope Benedict XIII (1724-1730) and the Austrian emperor Charles VI (1685-1740), the ruler over Naples, in personal audience. It took ten years for Ripa to finally obtain the framework he desired for his school, including a certain [End Page 219] freedom from undue interference from either church or state authorities. The rest of the chapter describes the impact of European politics on the status of Naples, leading up to the unification of Italy, as well as important papal decrees extending the student body and the financial support for the college.
Following chapter 2, Rivinius provides an interesting excursus (pp. 53-62), for the first time giving evidence of the practical uses of the college. It became the source of translators for the British mission to China in 1793-1794 under the leadership of Lord Macartney (1737-1806). Four of its graduates accompanied the British emissary to China, with Jacob Li (1760-1828) serving as interpreter throughout their tour. While the mission certainly did not prove successful in establishing bilateral relations in the way Britain had hoped, Jacob Li received high praise for his services.
Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to the government-enforced conversion of the private Catholic college into, eventually, a branch of the local university, and reactions by church officials and representatives of the Bavarian empire to this unwarranted takeover. Compared to numerous other assaults on church property by the contemporary Italian State, the demise of Ripa's institute was not considered sufficiently important to merit continued protest by either the...