Project Canterbury

Chinese Ancestor Worship
A Study of Its Meaning and Its Relations with Christianity

By James Thayer Addison
Assistant Professor of Religion and Missions
in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Published by the Church Literature Committee of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui
By the Help of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1925.

Chapter IV. Ancestor Worship and Christianity

The relation between ancestor worship and Christianity in China is not merely a question of theory. It has long been a practical issue of great moment among Christian missionaries. Indeed, the problem has bulked so large in the past that the events to which it gave rise stand out clearly in the pages of general history.

There have been four chief movements in the history of Christianity in China--the Nestorian, beginning in the seventh century; the Franciscan, a relatively brief episode chiefly of the early fourteenth century; the general Roman Catholic movement beginning with the Jesuits in the sixteenth century; and the Protestant movement, beginning in the early nineteenth century. Of these periods the records of the first two are very meager, and we have no reason to believe that in those early days the question of ancestor worship was raised in any acute form. Even in the third period more than fifty years elapsed after the arrival of the first Jesuits before the problem reached the stage of controversy. The two periods, therefore, into which the history of the relations between Christianity and Chinese ancestor worship naturally divides itself are the Roman Catholic period, from about 1635 to 1742, and the Protestant period, beginning in 1807.

[60] The Roman Catholic Controversy

[The following account is chiefly based upon the article Chinois (Rites) by J. Brucker in the "Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique," Paris, 1905 (Vol. 11). This article is the most detailed and the most recent available, prepared with great care by an expert and supported by extensive references to the sources. The article concludes with an elaborate bibliography, to which the reader is referred.]

It takes two to make a quarrel; and as long as the Jesuits were the only Catholic missionaries in China, no agitation about ancestor worship arose. Matteo Ricci, the first noted Jesuit leader, had viewed the ancestral rites as merely civil and secular in their nature, and had tolerated the practice of them by Christian converts. He had written,

"They do not recognize in the dead any divinity, they do not ask anything of them: that is why there is absolutely no trace of idolatry in it."

Justified by these views, a general tolerance was observed. But the tolerance was never complete, for such "superstitious" additions to the strictly Confucian ceremonies as had been introduced by Taoism and Buddhism were forbidden to converts; and even the legitimate rites were permitted only when converts could not avoid them without getting into trouble. Furthermore, all these concessions were regarded as only temporary and as destined to be gradually abandoned with the growth in power and influence of the Christian church.

But the equilibrium of this Jesuit compromise was soon upset when, after 1631, members of the Dominican [60/61] and Franciscan orders began to join the group of Catholic missionaries. The Dominicans proved to have positive ideas on the subject of ancestor worship which led them to "view with alarm" the laxer practice of the Jesuits. The Dominican leader who first voiced this opposition was Jean-Baptiste Morales. The controversy between him and his followers on the one side and the Jesuit fathers on the other was confined for a time to private letters and statements. But at last it was brought to official notice when Morales visited Rome in 1643 and submitted to the Holy See a series of "questions or doubts" suggested by the varying answers to the quest ion of ancestor worship among Christians. [In all stages of this controversy the question of ancestor worship was presented and argued in company with the kindred question of the ''worship" of Confucius, and often in company with the question as to the proper Chinese term for "God." For our purposes the question of ancestor worship is detached and treated by itself.] These questions were answered on September 12, 1645, by a decree of the Congregation of the Propaganda to which Pope Innocent X gave his approval. The decree, which was not concerned with the truth of the facts set forth by Morale simply condemned and prohibited the rites as he described them. Since everything, however, depended on how the rites were described, the Jesuits in China were not disposed to acquiesce, and sent Father Martini to Rome to represent the ancestral rites as acts of filial respect and gratitude without religious significance. On the basis of this description a decree was issued in 1656, approved [61/62] by Pope Alexander VII, which (though cautiously worded, with an eye to the previous decree) sanctioned the practice of the ancestral rites, except for the "superstitious" features to which we have just referred. Though this official response naturally gave satisfaction to the Jesuits, the Dominicans could not accept it as nullifying the response of 1645, and they therefore put to the Holy See the question whether such nullification was intended. The answer, set forth in 1669 by Pope Clement IX, declared that both decrees remained in force and both must be observed according to circumstances! The practical result was to leave to the conscience of missionaries the decision as to whether, in any given case, the circumstances were those considered in the reply of 1645 or those considered in the reply of 1656. Under these highly adjustable conditions a temporary harmony prevailed. Indeed, it was twenty-four years before another event of importance occurred.

On March 26, 1693, Charles Maigrot, the Vicar Apostolic of Fukien, published a charge to all the missionaries in his vicariate, forbidding the permission to Christians under any circumstances of participation in the solemn sacrifices or offerings in honor of the dead. Ancestral tablets were to be authorized only if the usual inscriptions were changed and a profession of Christian faith inscribed therewith. Maigrot even declared that the statement of Pope Alexander VII, though wisely suited to the circumstances with which it dealt, was not true to the facts on certain points. With the purpose of [62/63] obliging the pope to examine once more the facts so diversely interpreted, Maigrot addressed a statement to the Holy See asking permission to present his case, and in the following year dispatched Charmot to be his representative at Rome.

Before a decision was reached ten years elapsed, years devoted to an endless amount of discussion pro and con before various committees and commissions meeting at Rome. In this complex process many members of the Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan orders played their parts, each group calling to its aid all the expert testimony it could command. Charmot secured from the Sorbonne a judgment unfavorable to the rites. But the Jesuits played what was thought to be the trump card. They succeeded in securing from the Chinese emperor K'ang-hsi, who had long been a kindly patron of the Jesuits, an official public statement approving the; interpretation of the ancestral rites as purely civil and mm religious. Meantime, however, Pope Innocent XII had died (September, 1700), and the new pope, Clement XI inherited the great mass of conflicting testimony in which the original question had now become embedded. He evidently did not consider the opinion of the emperor decisive, and he was perhaps unappreciative of the distinction made by the Jesuits in their claim that they had asked testimony from the emperor but a decision from the pope. His final decision, not rendered till November, 1794, may be summarized as follows: Christians must not be permitted to perform the customary offerings [63/46] or rites, whether "solemn" or "less solemn" (as these had been reported to the pope in the questions submitted), either before the ancestral tablets or at the tombs, even if they profess that the rites are non-religious. But the passive presence of Christians at such ceremonies may be permitted if their absence would incur hate or enmity and if they are willing to make a profession of their faith. The decision was complicated by the further addition that Christians should not be forbidden to perform such other rites for the dead as had no appearance of being "superstitions" and could properly be classed as civil and non-religious. The power to decide what was forbidden and what was permitted was to lie in the hands of the "Patriarch of Antioch" (the title of the commissioner whom the pope was dispatching to China) and of the local bishops and vicars apostolic.

Despite certain obvious efforts at compromise, the judgment, so clearly adverse to the Jesuits, was likely to cause a revolution in the Catholic Church in China. Perhaps for this reason, publication of the decree itself was withheld for some years. But the publication of its substance and the enforcement of its provisions were intrusted to a papal representative, de Tournon, who had been consecrated "Patriarch of Antioch" before leaving Rome in 1703 and who reached Peking at the close of the year 1705. When the emperor learned that one object of his mission was to suppress the practice of the ancestral rites by Chinese Christians his cordiality [64/65] gave way to indignation, and Tournon thought fit to retire to Nanking. Thereupon the emperor decreed that all the missionaries, upon pain of expulsion, must obtain from him a certificate which would grant permission to preach the gospel only to those who promised not to oppose the rites. Tournon then decided to "release" the facts concerning the pope's decision, and in harmony with that decision he issued a decree commanding all missionaries, upon pain of excommunication, to forbid Christians to practice the ancestral rites or to use ancestral tablets. The Catholic missionaries thus found themselves between the devil and the deep sea. Apparently they had to choose between expulsion or excommunication. Under the circumstances, most of them preferred to avoid expulsion (and the ruin of their work) at the risk of excommunication. For the emperor was close at hand and his purpose definite, whereas the pope was far away and Tournon was their only authority for the purport of the unpublished papal decree. Many of the Jesuits and not a few from the other orders demanded and received the emperor's certificates; large numbers probably ignored both decrees, reasonably trusting to lax enforcement; but some well-known missionaries were expelled from China. Tournon himself was imprisoned at Macao.

With the plea that the papal legate had misrepresented the pope, the Jesuits, encouraged by the emperor, sent envoys to Rome. Maigrot, now expelled, returned to Europe with his story; and long letters were dispatched [65/66] from Tournon giving his own version of the controversy. By the end of 1708 all these forces had converged upon the pope and his cardinals, much to their distress and confusion. Their first effort was to placate the emperor without repudiating Tournon. To this end, the pope wrote a letter to K'ang-hsi, assuming responsibility for the actions of Tournon but promising to read the documents presented by the Jesuit delegation and to write again more in detail. Clement XI intended only to save the emperor's face; but K'ang-hsi fully expected the pope to change his mind. Meantime, however, he maintained his measures against missionaries who opposed the rites. The next move of the pope was to publish his last decree and to reënforce it with another (September, 1710) commanding its observance and rejecting all appeals against it. Finally, to save himself and the Congregation of the Propaganda from being completely submerged by the increasing flood of controversial literature, he forbade further publications on the subject, except by special permission, and declared the case fully expounded and definitely closed.

Some five years later, however, Clement XI felt it necessary to publish an apostolic constitution confirming in the most solemn and precise terms the previous decrees. The document repeats most of the pope's original decree of 1704. Participation by Christians in ancestral sacrifices is forbidden, even to those who protest that the acts are non-religious. The same concessions are added, allowing the passive presence of [66/67] Christians at such ceremonies, if their absence would incur hate or enmity and if they are willing to make a previous profession of their Christian faith. Christians, furthermore, are not allowed to keep in their houses the usual ancestral tablets unless these contain only the name of the deceased with an accompanying inscription of Christian faith regarding the dead. As in the earlier pronouncement, an exception is made of such other acts customarily performed as could in no possible manner have even the appearance of superstition. And again the decision as to what is so defined is left to the judgment of the visitor general and of the bishops and vicars apostolic. In conclusion, the pope prescribes the formula of an oath to be taken by all missionaries in China, according to which they pledge themselves in the most solemn terms to observe everything which the constitution prescribes for them. To tin's demand were attached the severest penalties, including excommunication.

At last, after eighty years of controversy, there had come from Rome a decision that not only was intended to be final but was accepted as final by all Catholic missionaries in China. Resistance collapsed. The missionaries took the oath and did what they could to change the deep-rooted habits of their converts. Partly for the very reason that the controversy had been so long in process of solution, the rites were firmly established as part of the practice of Christians, and only a minority among the lower classes were willing to renounce them. [67/68] Most of the Chinese Christians either refused to obey or gave their promises only to violate them. The powerful literati became increasingly embittered against the Christian propaganda, and, persecution began. The emperor himself, so long the patron of the Jesuit leaders, was now the bitter opponent of the Christian church. To be defied in his own realm by the orders of an inferior foreign potentate was an insufferable experience for one of the proudest and strongest of China's rulers. Within a year after the pope's pronouncement had reached China the emperor signed the decree of an imperial tribunal which ordained the expulsion of all Christian missionaries and the destruction of their churches. In consideration, it is true, of the great services rendered him by the Jesuits, he promised to relax the penalties for those who still held his certificates. But the damage had been done, and from then on the persecuted church dwindled in numbers and in influence. It maintained a fluctuating and uncertain life until its revival in the nineteenth century; but not for a hundred and fifty years were its numbers restored to what they had been in the best days of K'ang-hsi's reign.

But the story is not yet quite complete, for Jesuit opposition seemed to be endowed with nine lives. Partly because of the human reason that it was more than flesh and blood could bear to see the church disintegrating and thousands of converts slipping back into heathenism, partly because of the technical reason that even the stern constitution of 1715 left certain loopholes of escape, [68/69] the Catholic missionaries made one last effort to stem the tide of defeat.

Knowing the state of confusion and despair in China, Pope Clement XI dispatched another visitor general--Mezzabarba. He reached Canton in October, 1720. But when the emperor heard that the new legate was planning to ask his indorsement of the pope's constitution, he issued an order that all missionaries should embark with the legate for Europe! In great terror Mezzabarba explained that while ho could not suspend the pope's decree, he was authorized to make certain concessions or interpretations, and that he would gladly transmit the emperor's views to the pope and bring back the latter's response. K'ang-hsi let him understand that if the reply was not satisfactory, things would be worse than before; and Mezzabarba left for Canton where he embarked hastily and gratefully on May 23, 1721. From Macao he dispatched to the missionaries in China a pastoral letter in which he set forth the so-called "Eight Permissions." Premising that of course he could permit nothing forbidden by the pope in the constitution of 1715, he goes on to answer certain questions and doubts raised by that decision. These answers were really concessions, permitting all ceremonies concerned with the dead in which there were no traces of "superstition," permitting prostrations and offerings before the coffin where the tablet used was of the "corrected" type prescribed by the pope, permitting prostrations and the use of candles before the corrected tablet, etc. These [69/70] "Permissions" were to be used with caution and communicated to converts only in case of necessity.

The chief result of the "Permissions" was further dissension among the missionaries in China. Some bishops commanded their observance, others forbade them as in conflict with the pope's decisions. Equally lively disagreement sprang up in Rome after Mezzabarba's return. Clement XI had just died; but his successor ordered an elaborate investigation of the whole matter, which was not completed until the pontificate of Benedict XIV. Benedict then proceeded to write the last chapter of a controversy that had already been in process for over a century.

In his bull Ex quo, dated July 11, 1742, the pope summarized the controversy up to date, solemnly ratifying the constitution of 1715 and repudiating individually and collectively the "Eight Permissions" of Mezzabarba. [There is good reason to believe that the "Permissions" were communicated to Mezzabarba by Clement XI on the understanding that he should use them in accordance with his own judgment, assuming the risk of subsequent papal approval or condemnation.] He cuts from under them their one ground of support by defining those "other things not superstitious" referred to by Clement XI as meaning usages different from those cited and condemned in 1715. Finally, he prescribes a new oath for missionaries in China, pledging obedience to the constitution of 1715 and repudiation of the "Permissions" of 1721.

The decree was so vigorous and so ruthlessly detailed that the papal decisions were at last securely [70/71] riveted upon the enfeebled church in China. The operation had been successful, but in the meantime the patient had nearly died. During the reign of K'ang-hsi's successor, the emperor Yung-cheng (172:5-1735), the church suffered a severe persecution, during which three hundred churches were destroyed. When Chien-lung became emperor in 1730, persecution increased in bitterness and continued at intervals for many years. The publication in China of Benedict's decree was met with apathetic despair. It provided the finishing touch to a generation of disasters. A missionary in Peking, writing to his brother in Vienna (October, 1743), says:

"You will doubtless ask what impression has been made here by the new constitution of Pope Benedict XIV. . . . I reply . . . we have received it and we have sworn to observe it. As a matter of fact, there are no longer so many difficulties, this body of Christians in China being almost reduced to the poor people who find difficulty in feeding and housing themselves and are very far from being in a condition to make offerings and sacrifices to their deceased ancestors or to erect temples to them."

As we look back upon the history of this famous controversy, we can see behind the details, the theoretical outline which gave it meaning. All were agreed that the Christian Chinese must be forbidden to practice observances recognized as idolatrous or "superstitious." On that point there was no argument. [All Buddhist and Taoist accretions, for instance, connected with funeral rites or with ancestor worship, were uniformly condemned.] The discussion [71/72] turned entirely on the question as to whether the regular classical ancestral rites were of a religious nature. How far was "ancestor worship" genuine worship? That is, were supernatural powers attributed to the deceased, was true prayer addressed to them, and were rewards and punishments expected from them? Those who said "yes" opposed the rites as idolatrous. Those who said "no" permitted them as ceremonies of commemoration and respect. We have seen from our previous study how ample was the evidence on both sides; and when we remember how fully acquainted were the Jesuits with the Chinese classics and how extensive and intimate their acquaintance with the Confucian literati, we may well ascribe to them genuine convictions not incompatible with Christian sincerity. The problem they faced is still a problem. [C. H. Robinson, writing in the twentieth century from the point of view of an Anglican scholar says, in his "History of Christian Missions" (p. 207), "There is no problem raised by missionary work in the Far East on which it is more difficult to formulate a definite policy and which at the same time presses so urgently for a solution."]

Ancestor Worship and Protestantism

We can hardly speak of the "Protestant Controversy" over ancestor worship in the sense in which we have spoken of the "Roman Catholic Controversy," because for over one hundred years Protestant missionary opinion and practice has been too nearly uniform to cause dissension in the ranks or to attract any attention outside of missionary circles.

[73] The external history of the question during the modern period is easily told. Except for occasional references to ancestor worship in the published books and reports of missionaries, nearly all of which condemn the rites as "idolatrous," the problem was not brought before the missionary public until 1877, after seventy years of Protestant work. The reason for this is twofold: the problem of ancestor worship had not been recognized as a problem, and Protestant missionaries, acknowledging no central authority, had never met as one body until 1877. In May of that year, however, there was held at Shanghai a conference in which one of the subjects discussed was ancestor worship. [Vide Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, held at Shanghai, May 10-24, 1877, Shanghai, 1878.] The chief feature of this session was a long paper on ancestor worship by the Rev. M. T. Yates, later published in enlarged form, which condemned all the rites as idolatrous, and expressed violent opposition to any form of concession on the part of the Christian church. In the accompanying discussion there appeared nothing that could fairly be called dissent. A few missionaries merely urged the need for sympathy in handling the question and for supplementing arbitrary rules by developing more sensitive Christian conscience on the part of converts.

The next general conference of Protestant missionaries took place in Shanghai in May, 1800; and again in the subject of ancestor worship came up for discussion. [Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, held at Shanghai, May 7-20, 1890, Shanghai, 1890.] [73/74] The Rev. W. A. P. Martin, a learned sinologue and friend of the literati, read a paper entitled: 'The Worship of Ancestors--a Plea for Toleration," which emphasized the classical interpretation of the rites and minimized their religious significance. The other leading essay, by the Rev. H. Blodget, reiterated the more orthodox missionary views and assorted,

"Well will it be for Protestant missions if in the future, as in the past, no concessions are made to ancestral worship."

During the discussion which followed, however, several speakers of importance voiced their sympathy with Dr. Martin's interpretation and urged a greater degree of discrimination and tolerance in dealing with the ancestral rites. But the debate closed with an appeal from Hudson Taylor, of the China Inland Mission, who took the floor to say,

"I trust that all those who wish to raise an indignant protest against the conclusion of Dr. Martin's paper will signify it by rising."

And almost the whole audience rose. Despite this dramatic conclusion, the development of thought on the subject of ancestor worship since 1877 was clearly shown by the fact that several leaders were ready to object in public to the conventional view of the question and were able to secure at least a hearing.

Seventeen years later, in 1907, the great Centenary Missionary Conference was hold at Shanghai. [Vide China Centenary Missionary Conference Records, N. Y., n. d.] By that [74/75] time there was far more general recognition of the problems created by ancestor worship and a far more open-minded approach to the subject. [Vide Missionary Review of the World, Dec., 1916, pp. 883 ff.] Liberal views were freely expressed which would have been regarded at the earlier gatherings as due to the direct intervention of Satan. The vital importance of the subject was recognized not by excitement on the floor of the convention but rather by the care with which the case had been prepared. A committee of thirteen had been at work upon the material for several years; and its chairman, the Rev. James Jackson, presented a detailed and thoughtful paper on the nature, origin, and meaning of the ancestral rites which offered certain practical suggestions for dealing with them. The essay was conservative but discriminating, and its proposals were constructive. The ensuing debate culminated in the adoption of four resolutions which may justly be viewed as a summary of present-day Protestant opinion. They read as follows:

"I. That while the worship of ancestors is incompatible with an enlightened and spiritual conception of the Christian faith, and so cannot be tolerated as a practice in the Christian Church, yet we should be careful to encourage in our Christian converts the feeling of reverence for the memory of the departed which this custom seeks to express, and to impress upon the Chinese in general the fact that Christians attach great importance to filial piety.

[76] "II. That recognizing the full provision made in Christianity for the highest development and expression of filial piety, this Conference recommends that greater prominence be given in preaching, in teaching, and in religious observances, to the practical duty of reverence to parents, and thus make it evident to non-Christians that the Church regards filial piety as one of the highest of Christian duties.

"III. Recognizing that in replacing the worship of ancestors in China by Christianity, many delicate and difficult questions inevitably arise, we would emphasize the necessity for the continuous education of the conscience of the members of the Christian Church by whom all such questions must ultimately be adjusted, expressing our confidence that, through the leading and illumination of the Spirit of God, the Church will be guided into right lines of action.

"IV. That this Conference recommends our Chinese brethren to encourage an affectionate remembrance of the dead by beautifying graves and erecting useful memorials to parents and ancestors, by building or endowing churches, schools, hospitals, asylums and other charitable institutions as is common in all Christian lands, thus making memorials of the departed a means of helping the living through successive generations."

There the Protestant case against ancestor worship rests, so far as united action is concerned. At the last great Protestant gathering, the National Christian Conference of May, 1922, the subject of ancestor worship was not even broached. Whatever future action may be taken is likely to represent the views of the Chinese [76/77] leaders of the Chinese church, rather than the opinions of Western missionaries. What form it will take, if any, only the future can reveal.

We have so far been concerned only with the external history of the relations between Protestantism and ancestor worship. We have dealt with events rather than with ideas. But the ideas which gave rise to these events and were expressed in them are of more importance for our purpose and will indicate more fully the present situation and the future possibilities.

The one point on which all observers of experience are agreed, the one point on which all missionaries are united, is the fact that ancestor worship is still one of the greatest obstacles to the spread of Christianity. Callous indifference may be harder to deal with, but ancestor worship offers the central point of religious conflict. [DeCroot, "Religion of the Chinese," p. 84. f. Moule, "New China and Old," p. 197. Pitcher, "In and About Amoy," p. 73. Soothill, "A Typical Mission in China," p. 244.] It is relatively easy to give up the worship of the various popular gods; but to give up the ancestral rites often means ostracism from the family and the clan. [Ball, "The Chinese at Home," p. 23.] It often brings down upon the Christian believer the scorn and hatred of his own kin and incurs the bitter taunt that the Christian has no ancestors. [Macgowan, "Lights and Shallows of Chinese Life," p. 71.] The refusal to practice ancestor worship is indeed the only excuse for intolerance and persecution on religious grounds. [Johnston, "China and Formosa," p. 53.] [77/78] But it is not only the fear of social punishment which makes the break hard. Aside from all public opinion,

"the pleasant gentle, domestic associations of ancestor worship make the heart rebel at adopting a faith that destroys it." [Vide the Chinese Repository, Vol. XVIII, p. 384.]

The intimate and tender significance of the rites and all the connotation with which memory and tradition enrich them cannot be suppressed or wiped out without pain. Yet evidence is cited that Christian Chinese are even more opposed to permitting the rites than are their Western patrons. [Moule, op. cit., p. 200. Nitschkowsky, op. cit., p. 390 f. Bitton, "Regeneration of New China," p. 133.] In weighing such testimony, however, it must be remembered that the average convert is too ill-educated to interpret the, classical point of view and can speak only for himself. He is likely, too, to be dominated by the convictions of the missionary. When he thinks independently as a trained Chinese scholar, his view is usually broader and more discriminating. ["Records of the Shanghai Conference," 1890, p. 657. F. C. M. Wei in the Chinese Recorder, Vol. XLII, pp. 409 ff.]

Confronted by the obstacle of ancestor worship and the perplexing problems which it raises, the missionaries of Protestant churches have expressed in their writings and speeches a fairly uniform attitude. With a few exceptions, they have defined "ancestor worship" as true worship and flatly condemned it as "idolatrous." They have therefore forbidden to Christian converts the [78/79] use of ancestral tablets and the practice of all rites connected therewith. This orthodox position was clearly expressed in the three conferences and has been set, forth in numerous works already cited. Though in recent years a more liberal attitude may be observed, the slight change of temper which it marks has created a more sympathetic atmosphere, in which the problem may be stated and discussed, without appreciably changing the uniformity of Protestant thought and practice.

The prime reason for this Protestant uniformity is of course the plain fact that ancestor worship, as we have seen, is a genuine religion in the lives of many millions and closely akin to religion in the lives of many others. The religious side of ancestor worship was too obvious to be ignored and too dangerous to be permitted. It is not surprising, therefore, that missionaries should have reached this conclusion. It is only surprising that, with few exceptions, they should never have seen the possibility of any other conclusion. That is, the point to be remarked is not their prompt decision on the question, but the fact that they so seldom view it as a real problem. Their inability to qualify, to interpret, and to discriminate was chiefly due to the sound and saving fact that they were apostles and not professors, that they had come to bury ancestor worship, not to praise it, and that their one thought was to exalt Christ. So far as their policy and attitude were due to the enthusiasm of their Christian faith, we shall do well to honor their convictions and to follow their example. [79/80] But there is more than one kind of Christian; and their opinions and methods were due not only to their devotion to the cause of Christ but in some measure to the fact that they were Protestants. They had a rooted and instinctive suspicion of any kind of ritual. Candles, incense, and genuflections were naturally abhorrent to them. They could think of them only as the outward forms of idolatry. Against all such forms they had the strongest kind of antecedent prejudice. And because most of them had never studied with interest or sympathy any religion except their own, and had indeed but little material for such study, they had an inelastic idea of the meaning of worship. If you bow down before something and burn incense, you are worshiping it as a god--no matter what "it" may be or what you may really mean by your actions. An act, they assumed, either is worship or it isn't: there can be no distinctions or gradations. They would have said that a Roman Catholic always worshiped the saints in the same sense that he worshiped God and they often said that a Chinese always worshiped his ancestors in the same sense as we worship God. Their instincts were fundamentally right and their conclusions essentially sound, because they were true Christians and true missionaries. But their inability to see any problem or to draw any distinctions was not due to their religious faith but to their inflexible Protestantism and to their more than excusable ignorance. These conclusions are clearly borne out by the fact that there was always a [80/81] more liberal minority composed of Christians quite as earnest as the orthodox majority and that the majority itself has become more liberal during the last generation--a change which we may attribute not to the fading of Christian convictions but to the waning of prejudices and the growth of a wider knowledge.

Christian missionaries or other Western observers who have dissented in any degree from the orthodox position of flat denunciation and complete prohibition of all the rites have expressed their views in two directions--by interpreting the meaning of ancestor worship in such a way as to admit other elements than pure worship, and by offering various practical proposals for adjusting the conflict between ancestor worship and Christianity. The ideas expressed in their interpretation of the rites have already been considered and quoted in the chapter on "The Meaning of Ancestor Worship." Their constructive suggestions may now be noted as bearing directly on the question of the relations between ancestor worship and Christianity.

The remedies and policies proposed come from many sources. They are radical or mild according to the interpretation of the rites which appeals reasonable to their authors. There is fortunately a conviction increasingly widespread that the attitude of the church towards ancestor worship should be not simply prohibitive but also constructive. If the church is to be true to the purpose and practice of its Head, it must seek not to destroy but to fulfill. Merely to leave a vacuum in place [81/82] of ancestor worship is not to solve the problem, for the last state of the Chinese might be worse than the first. Instead of being merely dogmatic and repressive, the church ought to make intelligent provision for satisfying whatever wholesome instincts find their expression in ancestor worship. [Martin, "Hunlin Papers" (second series), pp. 348 ff. Gundry, "China, Present and Past," pp. 285 ff. "Centenary Conference Records," pp. 239, 607, 620.] Among the worthy motives for the ancestral rites are filial piety, the longing to commemorate the departed, and the desire to maintain the family unity as the basis of society. [The most helpful study yet published of these motives and their legitimate expression is that by the Rev. C. Y. Cheng, in the "Report of the Special Committee on the Chinese Church" published in the Chinese Recorder, Vol. XLVIII, pp. 304 ff.] How predominant are these factors in ancestor worship we have already shown in our study of its meaning. Yet scant consideration has been given to provisions for perpetuating their value. Among the practical measures suggested for adoption by the church are the holding of memorial services in churches or at the graves, the recognition of an annual day or days for commemoration of ancestors, the adoption of photographs in place of the tablets or the keeping of family trees in Bibles instead of the inscriptions on tablets, the placing of Christian memorial tablets in churches, or the erection of charitable memorials. Some of these proposals are made with enthusiasm, some with a reluctance shown by the proviso that prostrations and even bows before the picture or the tomb shall be forbidden. Other constructive suggestions include the [82/83] demand that Christian teaching shall lay greater stress on the duties of filial piety and on the Christian meaning of the "Communion of Saints" as a spiritual unity in Christ which transfigures the sense of dependence on the departed into the sense of fellowship with the departed. Some even suggest encouraging prayers for the dead on the not unreasonable plea that the Chinese need not forever remain Protestant Puritans. [For these and other proposals see Wei, op. cit., pp. 280 ff. Warneck, op. cit., pp. 354 ff. Martin: "Lore of Cathay," p. 274 f.; "Hanlin Papers" (second series), pp. 348 ff. Centenary Conference Reports, pp. 235 ff; 604 ff. C. Y. Cheng in the Chinese Recorder, Vol. XLVIII, pp. 364 ff.] In general, the motive prompting these various proposals is to develop rites and practices which shall aim to satisfy Chinese desires without betraying Christian principles. The purpose has therefore been to suppress the idea of propitiation and dependence and to retain that of reverence for the memory of the departed." [Moule, "New China and Old," pp. 218 ff.]

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