Michela Fontana: Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit at the Ming court

naEd. Oscar World History p. 362 I have just finished reading a splendid essay, the biography of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552 - 1610), published by Mondadori, masterfully written by the scientific journalist Michela Fontana to whom my compliments immediately go.

The book tells the story of a man who, thanks to his skills, managed to reach the heart of the kingdom of China and the Chinese sages.

Matteo Ricci entered the Society of Jesus, where he devoted himself to the planned studies, rhetoric, philosophy and theology at the Roman college.

Among the disciplines introduced in Jesuit colleges there was also mathematics, thanks to the work of a great mathematician who taught there: Christoph Klau (Clavius). For the Jesuits, knowledge was a weapon in defense of the church.

The author says: "If mathematics was the foundation of science, astronomy was its queen", great truth both then and today.

Ricci therefore studied mathematics and astronomy, although the latter was based on Ptolemy's knowledge of the Almagest, the heliocentric theory was not yet widespread enough and would have had its problems before it could become fundamental.

Ricci's life is intertwined with that of the Society and with the scientific developments of the period, which became the object of teaching by the missionary to his Chinese friends and disciples.

The Chinese culture, of which Confucius had been the greatest representative, was the lever used by Ricci to open the doors of the Empire.

Knowledge of the language was fundamental and it was only after our Jesuit took possession of it that success began to arrive. The traditions, the cult for the ancients, the attachment to the ceremonial, the respect for the study and the wisdom made that Matteo Ricci became well accepted and respected as a wise man known with the name of Li Madou, the sage of the West.

Ricci was an example of temperance, open-mindedness, wisdom, constancy.

A great scholar and at the same time gifted with great dexterity, he translated works from Latin to Mandarin (including the Elements of Euclid) and vice versa, he created maps of the whole world, and measuring instruments at that time unknown in China.

It was he who after centuries became aware of the correspondence of the Catai of Marco Polo with China.

At his death the Jesuits had arrived at the empire's power center, Beijing ...

To you continue.


Alessandro Rugolo