Project Canterbury

The Church in Corea

By the Right Reverend Mark Napier Trollope, D.D.

London: Mowbray, 1915.
Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1915.

Chapter IV. Other Christian Missions in Corea

AS the preceding pages are intended to deal mainly with the history and prospects of the English Church Mission in Corea, it has not been thought well to cumber the course of the narrative with remarks about other Christian Missions in the country. It would, however, be most unfair and most misleading to leave the reader under the impression that the English Church stands alone, or even stands first, in the endeavour to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of this ancient "hermit kingdom." Here, as in India, China, Japan, Africa, and practically everywhere else, the English Church finds herself, whether she likes it or not, associated in her missionary endeavours with powerful Roman Catholic Missions (mostly French) on the one hand, and vigorous Presbyterian, Methodist, and other Protestant Missions (mostly emanating from America) on the other, while in Corea, as in China, and still more markedly in Japan, the Russian Orthodox Church also puts in an appearance as one of the evangelizing forces of the world. Of the bearing of all this on the burning question of the future unity of Christendom, a few words will be said at the close of this chapter.

But first let us face the facts--facts which will force us to realize yet once again that the Church of England in Corea, as in Central Africa, and elsewhere, can only hope to contribute one element or factor (and possibly not even the predominant one) to the future Christianity of the country, and that it is, therefore, of supreme importance to see to it that that element or factor is a sound one.

Corea is unlike most of the countries of Eastern Asia in this, that she had to wait until the nineteenth century was well advanced before the first European missionary set foot on her shores--to wit Mgr. Imbert, a brave French bishop, who succeeded in landing there in 1837 and who, with his two assistant priests, two years later, paid for his temerity with his life. But the story of the manner in which the way had been already prepared for the advent of the Gospel, without apparently any human effort being made in that direction, is surely unique, and ranks high among the great romances of the missionary life of the Church.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century--when Corea was, like Jericho, "straitly shut up," so that "none came out and none went in," and when the old Roman Catholic Missions in China had been brought to their lowest ebb by the suppression of the Jesuits and the general upset in Europe consequent on the French Revolution--the first seeds of the Gospel were wafted to Corea by the Spirit of God, Who "bloweth where He listeth." Only once a year in those early days was communication with the outside world possible, and that was on the occasion of the yearly tribute embassy which carried the compliments of the King of Corea to his suzerain the Emperor of China, holding his Court in the great metropolis of Peking, roughly speaking a thousand miles away.

This yearly embassy provided an opportunity for a considerable interchange of commodities between the two countries, and on one occasion, towards the end of the eighteenth century, it appears that some fragmentary treatises on the Christian religion found their way into Corea among the baggage of the envoys or their attendants, on the return journey. This literature, which presumably consisted of some of the works published by the old Jesuit Missions in China, fell into the hands of a small party of literati, who had retired, as the Corean literati of those days were fond of retiring, for purposes of study and recreation, into some mountain retreat, during the period of the great summer heat. And they were so pleased with what they read that, having passed on the good news to others, they proceeded before long to organize a sort of Church among themselves and their friends, appointing the observance of every seventh day as a holy day, administering the Sacraments of Baptism, and (it is said) even Penance and the Eucharist, and going so far, according to some accounts, as to set apart some of their number as priests and bishops!

Some years elapsed before it was possible to get into any sort of touch with the Franciscan Mission, then carrying on the work which the Jesuits had left behind them in Peking. But at length one of these neophytes, or would-be neophytes, succeeded in getting himself appointed to some post on the yearly embassy, and after being properly instructed and baptized, was sent back to his native land, with a supply of religious books and objets de piété, backed by a promise that a priest should be sent to Corea as soon as possible. So great, however, were the difficulties of the missionaries in China in those days that for close upon half a century the would-be Church of Corea, "without father and without mother," had to struggle on as best it could, without even the ministry of a priest, saving for one short period of seven years (1794 to 1801), during which a Chinese priest, dispatched from Peking, managed to exercise his ministry among the Coreans in the strictest secrecy ere earning the martyr's crown.

In spite of persecution, however, the number of Christians and would-be Christians grew, until at length (in 1831) the pope urged the famous Parisian Société des Missions Etrangères to undertake a Mission in Corea, and the first vicar-apostolic, Mgr. Bragniere, was consecrated. So jealously, however, were the frontiers of Corea closed against all foreign intercourse that he died without ever reaching his sphere of labour; and it was, as already stated, not until 1837 that the first European missionary, Mgr. Imbert, succeeded in effecting an entry into the country. Of his speedy death we have already spoken; and those who would read more in detail the romantic story of the endeavours made by him and his successors and their colleagues, first to enter the country and then to carry on their ministry therein, must be referred to the pages of Père Dallett's entrancing Histoire de l'Eglise de Corée.

During a period of nearly thirty years the work of the Mission gradually grew, in the face of the most appalling difficulties, and then in 1866--partly as an echo of political complications between the Chinese Empire and the European powers at that date--a bloody persecution broke out in Corea. In this the French vicar-apostolic and his coadjutor, together with seven priests, were brutally put to death; while the three remaining members of the mission staff succeeded in at length escaping from the country, which was literally deluged with the blood of thousands of native Christians. Unhappily, the French Government of the day attempted a punitive expedition; and it is difficult to say whether the course of Christianity suffered more from the fact that the expedition ended in a disastrous fiasco or from the fact that the native Christians and surviving missionaries acted as spies and guides on behalf of the invading force, thus lending colour to the suspicion--ever present to Oriental minds--of the political character of Christian Missions. In any case, the French expedition retired in-gloriously, and the French missionaries had to wait until the closed doors of the "hermit kingdom" were forced open, the result, some ten years later, of the joint action of Japan and the European powers, before it was possible for them effectively to recommence their apostolate in Corea.

During the last thirty years or more, however, they have been vigorously at work again; and their converts may probably be estimated at not less than eighty thousand. The Roman Catholic Church in Corea has, however, never yet advanced beyond the missionary stage, nor have the authorities of that Church ever erected here or in China a "territorial hierarchy" of diocesan bishops, such as has been set up, for instance, in India, or more recently in Japan. Since its inception the work of the Roman Catholic Mission in Corea has been superintended by a "vicar-apostolic," that is, a missionary bishop who takes his title from an extinct diocese in partibus infidelium, of which he is nominally prelate. Quite recently his labours have been lightened by the division of the vicariate, and the appointment of a second vicar-apostolic, Mgr. Demange, who superintends the Missions in the south of the country, while the original prelate, Mgr. Mutel, retains the superintendence of the Missions in the centre and the north. The total staff of priests attached to the two vicariates must now amount to about seventy, of whom the greater number are French, although since 1896, when the first ordinations took place, the native priesthood has been gradually growing in strength.

The work of the French bishops and clergy is ably seconded by the Sisters of S. Paul, whose mother house is at Chartres, in France, and who have met with some success in introducing the "religious life" among the women and girls of the country, and now count a considerable number of native sisters and novices.

In more recent years a colony of Bavarian Benedictine monks has been established in Seoul, with the view of devoting itself chiefly to the work of industrial and technical education among the Coreans. The last decade or so has also witnessed the erection of rather ambitious-looking foreign-built churches in Seoul, Chemulpo, and some other centres of population.

But such laurels as the French missionaries have won, apart from their directly spiritual work, are hardly so much due to their architectural efforts as to the splendid pioneer works illustrative of the history and language of Corea, such as their great (but now rather antiquated) Dictionnaire Coréen Français and Grammaire Coréene, and Pere Dallet's already quoted Histoire de l'Eglise de Corée, which have formed the (not always acknowledged) foundation on which most subsequent writers on the country have based their literary edifices.

Of Protestant Missions, the oldest of which dates from about 1884, the most powerful are those of the Presbyterians (mainly American, though supported by Canadian and Australian auxiliaries) and the "Episcopal Methodists," which are wholly American in origin. Between them they now probably number nearly as many baptized converts as the Roman Catholics, say seventy-five thousand, of whom, roughly speaking, two-thirds may be assigned to the Presbyterians and one-third to the Methodists. Both are very generously supplied with men and money from America, and it is hardly too much to say that they can between them put two hundred missionaries in the field, when the English Church Mission can put twenty. The Presbyterian Mission in particular, however, has set a splendid example in teaching its Christians the lesson of self-support, and in encouraging them to rely less and less on funds contributed from foreign countries, and more and more on themselves.

From the outset both the Methodists and Presbyterians have maintained a vigorous medical and educational work, the latter of which has been of great value in enabling them to place a native pastorate on the field. And the credit, such as it is, of having translated the whole of the Old and New Testaments into Corean (now printed and published by the British and Foreign Bible Society) must be given almost wholly to the members of the Presbyterian and Methodist Missions. The translation is very unequal, and will bear a good deal of revision; but it is a creditable performance to have succeeded in carrying it through at all.

The most vigorous and nourishing of the Presbyterian and Methodist Missions are perhaps to be found in Ping-Yang and the neighbourhood, some two hundred miles north of Seoul. And it was in the main in this district that the extraordinary "revival" took place some seven or eight years ago, of which so much has been made in a good deal of recent missionary literature.

Of the smaller Protestant Missions, such as those of the Salvation Army and the Seventh Day Adventists, opened in more recent years, there is not much to chronicle except their existence. But any conspectus of missionary effort would be incomplete which did not include a reference to the work, largely of a social and educational character, of the Y.M.C.A., housed as it is in magnificent premises in Seoul, which are the gift of an American millionaire. The work is, of course, professedly undenominational or interdenominational, but naturally coincides most easily with the aims and methods of the Protestant Missions.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has such a splendid missionary record in Japan, opened work in Seoul at the close of the nineteenth century. Its activities were, however, hindered and for a long time suspended by the Russo-Japan War, and it has hardly succeeded as yet in establishing itself as one of the prominent evangelizing factors of the country.

Upon the arm-chair critic of Foreign Missions at home, this view of a number of "jarring sects and Churches" all competing for the souls of Coreans is apt to have a very depressing effect. And, of course, from the Christian point of view, the divisions of Christendom are a scandal of the first order and a scandal of which one is glad to think that all Christians, Protestant and Catholic, are gradually becoming more and more ashamed. Before, however, the Church allows herself to be hurried into any well-meant but hastily-patched-up schemes, which, so far from mending the evil, are likely enough to "make the rent worse" in this direction or in that, it is worth remembering that in the eyes of the heathen these divisions do not necessarily represent quite the stumbling-block that people at home are apt to imagine. Apart from the fact that, in Japan for instance, Buddhism is divided into sects and sub-sects before whose numbers and mutual antagonisms those of Christians pale into insignificance, it has also to be remembered that the field is so vast and the whole volume of Christian effort so small that there is very little reason for the various representatives of Christianity tumbling over one another. Even with all the wonderful advance of recent years, it is extremely improbable that the total number of baptized folk in Corea, of whatever persuasion, much exceeds one or two per cent, of the population. And as a rule, except in the great centres of population, no Corean is under any great temptation to puzzle his brains by weighing one form of Christianity against another, or to play off one against the other, so widely are the various Mission stations set apart. While to any thoughtful heathen the substantial agreement on so many profound and central truths among so many professors of Christianity, who obviously dislike and distrust one another so much, would carry a conviction which could hardly be outweighed even by a united testimony. Far better, in the opinion of the present writer, than any hastily devised schemes for daubing with untempered mortar the at present divided structure of Christianity, would be a determination on the part of all Christian missionaries to bear their witness faithfully and unflinchingly to the truth as each has received it, while holding up to all the vision of a united Church as the goal to be ultimately aimed at, and trusting to the Holy Spirit to second our honest and charitable endeavours to secure the same without sacrifice of principle in His own good time.

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