China

‘Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church’ by Wu Li (吳歷)

“The Supreme Ultimate contains three–”
muddled words indeed!

In fact, they start with primal energy
to speak of original chaos.

From books of the past, we learned of old
of sincerity, wisdom and goodness;

the Mysterious meaning now we understand
of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Persons distinct: close at hand, consider
the flame within the mirror;

the Essence is whole: far off, please note
the wheel that graces the sky.

The Holy Name has been revealed,
His authority conferred;

throughout the world in this human realm
the sound of the teaching supreme!

Wu Li (1632-1718) was a Chinese landscape painter, poet, and calligrapher from Jiang-su who lived during the Qing Dynasty.

Wu was a convert to Catholicism. Having become a member of the Society of Jesus, in 1688 he was ordained one of the three first Chinese Jesuit priests, at the age of 57, after 7 years of training in the Saint Paul College in Macau, taking the name Simon-Xavier a Cunha. He spent the remaining 30 years of his life as tireless priest serving rural villages.

Wu composed many poems reflecting his own preaching career and religious feelings, which are collected in an anthology, San Yi Ji. His sermons from 15 Aug 1696 to 25 Dec 1697 and other religious activities were compiled by Zhao Lun, a convert in Jiading, in a book, Kou Duo (Record of Word and Deeds), the first collection of sermons by a Chinese priest.

In the poem above, Wu Li set out to distinguish the Christian doctrine of the Trinity from confusion with an apparently similar conception in Confucian thought, and by implication to reject the idea of the One self-evolving into the Many which underpins virtually all Chinese (indeed, all “pagan”) thought.