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Reviewed by:
  • Noble Patronage and Jesuit Missions: Maria Theresia von Fugger-Wellenburg (1690-1762) and Jesuit Missionaries in China and Vietnam
  • Liam Matthew Brockey
Noble Patronage and Jesuit Missions: Maria Theresia von Fugger-Wellenburg (1690-1762) and Jesuit Missionaries in China and Vietnam. Edited by Ronnie Po-chia Hsia. [Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, Series Nova, Volume 2.] (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu. 2006. Pp. 365.)

The history of the overseas missions conducted by the Catholic religious orders in the early modern period has been fertile terrain for scholars during the past two decades. New analyses of evangelization efforts in the Americas, Africa, and Asia have enriched a field which had long been the province of chroniclers from the orders involved, or other participants in missionary efforts. As the study of the mission churches has expanded, however, the history of the European networks which supported the enterprises has largely been eclipsed. Noble Patronage and Jesuit Missions, a volume that combines an introductory essay with transcriptions of correspondence between Europe and China in German, French, and Latin, is a highly useful contribution toward helping to balance out this burgeoning field of study. In addition to examining the global flow of information in the 1700s, this book gives valuable insights into the little-studied (albeit crucially important) subject of mission finance. Moreover, R. Po-Chia Hsia has skillfully edited and annotated the correspondence between one patroness and a set of Jesuits in Asia for the benefit of other scholars to examine.

The documents found in this volume come from the Fugger-Archiv in Dillingen and were primarily written by Maria Theresia von Fugger-Wellenburg, Florian Bahr, and Johann Siebert. Hsia's introductory essay places [End Page 188] these three individuals in the context of Catholic Germany in the mid-eighteenth century, showing how the Countess von Fugger-Wellenburg encountered the two Jesuits during the early stage of their voyage to Asia (Bahr eventually arrived in China and Siebert worked in Cochinchina). He examines the patterns of female devotional life of Southern German Catholics and explains why Maria Theresia sustained her correspondence with these distant friends over the course of more than two decades. Hsia also explains the mechanics of global finance in the eighteenth century, showing how it was possible—though never easy—for a patron to offer material support to clients on the other side of the globe. After tracing the history of the relationship between Maria Theresia and her correspondents, especially Bahr, he presents transcriptions of her letters and their responses (with intervals of months or years), as well as related documents such as Annual Letters and other reports from the Asian missions.

The figure that emerges most clearly from this volume is Maria Theresia, whose letters reveal a great deal about her character and personal piety. We learn that she was especially moved by reports from China about the plight of abandoned infants at the imperial capital, perhaps as a result of her personal misfortune of losing a child. With the help of Bahr in Beijing and other Jesuit agents in Paris, Maria Theresia sent funds to China to help support of a corps of lay assistants organized by the missionaries who visited the city's gates in search of children to deliver to orphanages (or at least to baptize). Yet the countess also showed concern for the well-being of the missionaries and the dignity of the divine cult and Jesuit enterprise in far-off China. She inquires after boxes of European objects that she sent to Asia and seeks to defend the good name of the Society of Jesus among her peers at the courts of Munich and Paris. Maria Theresia also reveals herself as an avid reader of devotional books, as well as reports of the global missionary efforts printed in works such as the Welt-Bott and the Lettres Édifiantes et Curieuses. In sum, Hsia paints a portrait of her that is far more complex and textured than one would have imagined. How many other such scenes of patronage lie hidden in the archives, waiting to be discovered?

Liam Matthew Brockey
Princeton University


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