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  • Le premier concile plénier chinois, Shanghai 1924: droit canonique missionnaire forgé en Chine
  • Jean-Paul Wiest
Le premier concile plénier chinois, Shanghai 1924: droit canonique missionnaire forgé en Chine. By Paul Wang Jiyou. (Paris: Les éditions du Cerf. 2010. Pp. 413. €42,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-204-09205-0.)

Paul Wang Jiyou presents a well-researched study of the first plenary council of China held in Shanghai from May 15 to June 11, 1924, under the leadership of Archbishop Celso Costantini, the apostolic delegate.

After an excellent preface by the French sinologist Jean Charbonnier, the book is organized into two parts. The introduction and the first three chapters provide an historical overview of the origin and the ups and downs of Christianity in China from the early-seventh century to the dawn of the twentieth century. Readers unfamiliar with that history will find it very informative whereas others better versed in the subject might feel that Wang, who devoted almost half of the book to that topic, could have been more succinct.

The four chapters in the second part of the book are what make this study especially significant. The first chapter presents the antecedents of the council. These include the role of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Budes de Guébriant, who, as vicar apostolic of Canton and apostolic visitor to China and bordering countries, briefed Willem van Rossum, the cardinal-prefect of Propaganda Fide, on the situation of the Church in China; Pope Benedict XV’s call for a missionary reorientation in his apostolic letter Maximum illud of November 1919; and Pope Pius XI’s nomination of Costantini as apostolic delegate to China in August 1922. The second chapter describes the preparation for the gathering, its actual course, and various ceremonies associated with it. The third chapter examines the major legal and pastoral decrees that were approved, showing how the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the letter Maximum illud influenced them. Chapter 4 discusses the implementation of the council and its enduring impact on the missionary reorientation and the life of the Chinese Church such as the ordination of six Chinese bishops in Rome in 1926, the 1939 abolition of the interdiction to perform the Chinese rites, and the establishment of a Chinese native hierarchy in 1946.

Page after page, Wang adeptly shows how Costantini, through the proceedings of the council, was able to set in motion changes that aimed at de-occidentalizing the Catholic Church and thereby fostered a local church [End Page 618] respectful of the Chinese culture and led by a Chinese clergy. The Shanghai plenary council put the Chinese Church on a new course as well as set guidelines and directives for the apostolate on Chinese soil that perdured until the Second Vatican Council.

The book has seven useful appendices, including Pope Paul V’s brief of 1615 on the Chinese liturgy, a list of the council’s participants, and Costantini’s allocutions at the opening and the closing ceremonies. There is no index, but the very rich bibliography is a welcome addition.

The book has some minor inaccuracies. It also is regrettable that, among the persons who had a part in bringing about the plenary council of Shanghai, Wang fails to mention Ma Xiangbo. This well-respected Chinese Catholic scholar argued for equal rights between Chinese and foreign priests and opposed the abuses of the French protectorate over Catholic missions. Several of his suggestions were not only embraced by de Guébriant but also were reflected in Maximum illud. Ma became one of the first to translate the papal letter into Chinese.

This book will profit a wide range of scholars and students interested in the Church in China, the local applications of the canon law, the establishment of local churches and local hierarchies, and the process of evangelization. It should be on the shelves of seminary libraries. [End Page 619]

Jean-Paul Wiest
The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies


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