Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Matteo Ricci

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Matteo Ricci

For centuries, China resisted the spread of Catholicism in their country. Although efforts to introduce Catholicism in China began as early as the 7th century, it was not until Matteo Ricci traveled to China that the Christian faith truly made its mark. But how was Matteo Ricci successful in his missionary works in China, when so many priests before him failed?

Matteo Ricci Early Life and Education

Matteo Ricci was born in 1552 in the Italian city of Macerata, within the territory called the Papal States. At the time, Italy was at the height of its Italian Renaissance, and so Ricci received a remarkable education. At the age of 19, Ricci joined and learned with the Jesuits, also called the Society of Jesus. He studied astronomy, mathematics, and theology, all of which would be instrumental in his later teachings.

Italian Renaissance:

A period of Italian history from the 15th to the 17th centuries that saw a cultural transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age, including great scholarly and artistic achievements.

Matteo Ricci Art Depiction Study Smarter

Art depicting Matteo Ricci. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As a practicing Jesuit, Matteo Ricci studied at the Roman College (or Collegio Romano) under Christopher Clavius, a renowned German astronomer and fellow member of the Jesuit order. In 1578, Matteo Ricci traveled to Lisbon in Portugal, where he planned to make a missionary expedition into the far east. Although China had a population in the hundreds of millions, it was still a distant and mysterious land to Europeans, especially Christian missionaries. In August 1582, Ricci arrived in Macau, a Portuguese colony in China.

Matteo Ricci Biography:

Matteo Ricci was born as the eldest son to a noble family in 1552. His father, a pharmacist and at one point governor of Macerata, was named Giovanni Battista Ricci. His mother was named Giovanna Angiolelli. When he was 16, Ricci was intending to study law but quickly found himself passionately joining the Jesuit society in 1571.

Matteo Ricci's Mission to China

Once in Macau in Southern China, Matteo Ricci studied the Classical Chinese language and cultural traditions under fellow Italian Jesuit priest Michele Ruggieri. At the time, Jesuit missionary work was restricted to Macau. In 1583, both Ricci and Ruggieri departed Macau to preach their faith within mainland Ming Dynasty China.

Matteo Ricci Travel Map Study Smarter

17th-century map depicting Matteo Ricci's travels from Macau to Beijing in China. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Matteo Ricci in Zhaoqing

In Zhaoqing, a city just north of Macau, Matteo Ricci and Ruggieri served the governor Wang Pan for over six years and found acceptance by the Chinese people. Matteo Ricci offered his skills in mathematics and cartography to the Chinese Governor, creating a map called the "Complete Map of the Great World" using the Classical Chinese written language. The map included five continents and displayed many different civilizations, illuminating the size of the world to the relatively isolated Chinese people.

Cartography:

The art and science of map-making.

While also in Zhaoqing, Ricci and Ruggieri compiled a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary, further bridging the gap between the Western and Eastern Eurasian cultures. The two Jesuit priests were expelled from Zhaoqing in 1589 following the death of Governor Wang Pan, but their mission in China did not end.

Matteo Ricci in Beijing

After over a decade of roaming between Chinese cities, Matteo Ricci was invited by the Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty to come to the Forbidden City in Beijing, for recognition of his skills in astronomy. Famously, Ricci utilized astronomy and mathematics to predict when the next solar eclipse would be. Matteo Ricci began his service in the royal Chinese court, advising government officials while converting them to his Christian faith.

Matteo Ricci Forbidden City Study SmarterModern-day picture of the Forbidden City's Meridian Gate. Source: David290, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Although Matteo Ricci never met the Wanli Emperor, his direct service to the Chinese ruler from 1601 to 1610 was undoubtedly recognized. The Wanli Emperor allowed Ricci to begin construction of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, the first and now oldest Catholic Church in the city. Upon Matteo Ricci's death in 1610, the Jesuit missionary was buried with honor in Beijing near a Buddhist monastery.

The Jesuit Mission:

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540. Proposed by Ignatius of Loyola and six other men, and approved by Pope Paul III, the Jesuits based their ideas on modernization of the faith, flexibility in following strict Catholic rules (including the removal of mandatory fasting), and obedience to the Catholic Pope. The ideas proved successful in missionary work, easing the integration of Catholic ideas into rich foreign cultures.

Matteo Ricci Accomplishments

What separated Matteo Ricci from many of his contemporaries was his knowledge and understanding of the Chinese language and cultural traditions. Matteo Ricci tried to explain that Christianity was closely intertwined with Confucianism, the dominant school of thought in Ming Dynasty China, and that conversion to Catholicism was only a natural progression from what many Chinese people already practiced. Ricci's veneration of Chinese dress, customs, and language certainly assisted in this endeavor.

Matteo Ricci Conversion Study SmarterArt depicting Matteo Ricci and a prominent Chinese man. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Matteo Ricci's best-known accomplishment, still standing today, is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, where Catholic Chinese still practice the faith today. His mastery of the complexities of Classical Chinese, with little precedence to follow, is lauded by historians, as well as his introduction of innovative European sciences into Chinese society.

The Significance of Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci is regarded as the most influential historical figure in introducing Catholicism into China. Today, the Jesuit priest is considered a "Servant of God" (a person who is being considered for canonization into Catholic sainthood).

Matteo Ricci Statue Study SmarterStatue of Matteo Ricci in Beijing. Source: Paolobon140, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps more interestingly, Matteo Ricci's teachings were met with great controversy by his Church. When spreading Catholicism to people in China, Ricci integrated important Chinese religious ideas of ancestor worship into Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church was not enthusiastic about this, to say the least, and the Church condemned Ricci's integration of Chinese ancestor worship after his death. The Catholic Church was quick to reconsider the flexibility of Jesuit missionary practices.

Matteo Ricci - Key takeaways

  • Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit Priest who studied in the Roman College during the Italian Renaissance.
  • Ricci traveled from Italy to Portugal, then Portugal to China, where he would begin his multi-decade missionary work in a distant and foreign land.
  • Matteo Ricci learned the Classical Chinese language and accustomed himself to their traditions, allowing him to relate with the Chinese people as no other missionaries had done before.
  • Matteo Ricci's knowledge of science and astronomy gave him prominent positions in various Chinese courts, including the court of the Wanli Emperor. Ricci was the first European allowed to enter the Forbidden City in China.
  • Matteo Ricci's teachings, which integrated Confucian ideas into Catholic tenets, was later criticized by the Catholic Church.

Frequently Asked Questions about Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit Priest who traveled throughout China in the 16th and 17th centuries, spreading the Catholic faith throughout various cities and courts in the country. 

Matteo Ricci is regarded as the most influential historical figure in introducing Catholicism into China. Through his teachings, he introduced scientific ideas and religious beliefs to the Chinese people. 

Matteo Ricci taught mathematics, astronomy, and his religion of Catholicism to the Chinese people. 

Matteo Ricci impressed the Chinese Wanli Emperor when he correctly predicted when the next solar eclipse would be. Matteo Ricci brought this knowledge to the Chinese court upon invitation by the Wanli Emperor in 1601.

It is difficult to estimate exactly how many Chinese Matteo Ricci converted to Catholicism. It can be confidently said that of the 12 million present-day Catholic Chinese, all of them were influenced in part by Matteo Ricci's teachings and impact on Chinese history.

Final Matteo Ricci Quiz

Question

What is the definition of the Italian Renaissance?

Show answer

Answer

A period of Italian history from the 15th to the 17th centuries that saw a cultural transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age, including great scholarly and artistic achievements. 

Show question

Question

What is the definition of Cartography? 

Show answer

Answer

The art and science of map-making. 

Show question

Question

What was the name of the Chinese Dynasty that Matteo Ricci conducted his missionary work within? 

Show answer

Answer

Ming Dynasty 

Show question

Question

What was significant about the "Complete Map of the Great World" created by Matteo Ricci? 

Show answer

Answer

It revealed the large scope of the world to the relatively isolated Chinese people. 

Show question

Question

How did Matteo Ricci approach the discrepancies between Catholicism and Confucianism in China? 

Show answer

Answer

He integrated Confucian teachings into Catholic belief. 

Show question

Question

How did the Catholic Church respond to Matteo Ricci's integration of Confucian teachings into Catholic belief in his missionary work in China? 

Show answer

Answer

The Catholic Church denounced Matteo Ricci's integration of Confucian ideas, claiming that they were incompatible with Catholic teachings. 

Show question

Question

How successful was Matteo Ricci's missionary work in China? 

Show answer

Answer

Very successful. Matteo Ricci gained the trust of Chinese royal courts and even converted some Chinese officials to Christianity. 

Show question

Question

What was significant about Matteo Ricci's admittance into the Forbidden City in Beijing? 

Show answer

Answer

He was the first European to step foot into the Forbidden City. 

Show question

Question

What scholarly expertise allowed Matteo Ricci to serve various Chinese royal courts and gain the trust of Chinese officials? 

Show answer

Answer

Matteo Ricci's expertise in science and mathematics. 

Show question

Question

Matteo Ricci was permitted to construct a Catholic Church in what Chinese city (now the oldest Catholic Church in that city)? 

Show answer

Answer

Beijing 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Matteo Ricci quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.