Oct 19, 2007

China and "Trajan's Rescript"

My last post on Christianity in China indicated that a new "Trajan's Rescript" might "mark the end of China's old system of uncompromising hostility to the Church." To clarify, "Trajan's Rescript" from the old Roman Empire was not favorable to the Church, as is detailed in this short discussion taken from NETBible. Rather it was a moderation of severe Roman persecution of Christians, similar to the somewhat lessened persecution of the Church by Chinese officials of the past few years, including the recent announcement that China will provide places of Catholic worship at the 2008 Olympic Village.

On the death of Domitian peace was restored to the Christian church which lasted throughout the brief reign of Nerva (96-98) and the first 13 years of Trajan. It is a curious fact that some of the best of the Roman emperors (Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Decius and Diocletian) were harsh to the Christians, while some of the worst (as Commodus, Caracalla, Heliogabalus) left them in peace (see PERSECUTION, 17). Christianity had been rapidly spreading in the interval of tranquillity.

Pliny became governor of Bithynia in 111 AD and found, especially in the eastern part of his province, the temples almost deserted. Some Christians were brought before him and on established precedents were ordered to be executed for their religion. But Pliny soon discovered that many of both sexes and all ages, provincials and Roman citizens, were involved. The Roman citizens he sent to Rome for trial; but being of a humane disposition he shrank from carrying out the wholesale execution required by a consistent policy.

He wrote to Trajan telling him what he had already done, rather covertly suggesting tolerant measures. Should no distinction be made between old and young? Should pardon not be extended to those who recanted and worshipped the emperor's image and cursed Christ? Should mere profession (nomen ipsum) be a capital offense if no crimes could be proven, or should the crimes rather be punished that were associated with the faith (an flagitia cohaerentia nomini)?

He then explains his procedure: he gave those who were accused an abundant opportunity of recanting; those who persisted in this faith were executed. He considered their "stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy" (pertinaciam certe et inflexibilem obstinationem) as in itself deserving punishment. But the administration having once interfered found plenty to do. An anonymous list of many names was handed in, most of whom, however, denied being Christians. Informers then put forward others who likewise denied belonging to the faith.

Pliny was convinced their meetings were harmless, and on examination of two deaconesses under torture discovered nothing but a perverse extravagant superstition (sup. pravam immodicam). Trajan replied that no universal and definite rule could be laid down, apparently confirming the correctness of Pliny's action and perhaps disappointing Pliny in not yielding to his humane suggestions.

Nevertheless, the emperor made three important concessions: (1) the Christians were not to be sought out by the police authorities, but if they were accused and convicted they must be punished; (2) anonymous information against them was not to be accepted; (3) even those suspected of flagitia in the past were to be pardoned on proving they were not Christians or on renouncing Christianity.

Some regard this rescript of Trajan as the first official and legal authorization to proscribe Christianity; but we have already seen that Christianity as such was proscribed as a result of the Neronian investigations. Besides, there is not the slightest trace of any new principle of severity, either in the letters of Pliny or in the rescript of Trajan. The persecution of Christianity had been "permanent" like that of highwaymen, but not systematic or general. Neither was Trajan's rescript an edict of toleration, though on the whole it was favorable to the Christians in minimizing the dangers to which they were exposed. The question was as yet purely one of administration.

Trajan initiated no procedure against Christians--in fact rather discouraged any, asking his lieutenant to close his eyes to offenders--and Pliny consulted him in the hope of obtaining milder treatment for the Christians by putting in question form what he really wished to be approved. Trajan's rescript "marks the end of the old system of uncompromising hostility."

Is China still persecuting the Church? Yes, there are many underground Bishops and priests still under arrest, religious pilgrimages are still forbidden and attacked, and living a good and open Christian life is very difficult in most of China, especially because of their "one child" policy.

However, an even more important issue might be that no Bishops have been permitted by the Vatican to be ordained in many years for the underground Church in China. The September 2007 newsletter of the Cardinal Kung Foundation points out a potential consequence of a very risky Papal venture:
The underground Church is rapidly to become extinct because the Holy See has not appointed any new bishops in the underground Church for the last 10 years or so. Currently, only approximately 31 underground bishops remain. Of the 31, 20 are more than 80 years old, and 6 are between 70-80 years old. There are only 5 underground bishops who are under 70 years old! Obviously, without the ordination of any new underground bishops, within the next five years, in keeping with standard mortality statistics, few underground bishops will remain. Thus, the Pope’s emphasis on unity will ring hollow when within 5 or 10 years, there will be a single-digit number of underground bishops. By that time, there will be only the official Patriotic Church’s bishops shepherding the Catholic Church in China. With whom does the Holy See wish the official CPA-controlled Church to unite?

Without the appointment of new bishops in the underground Church, the suffering underground Roman Catholic Church, whose members will have by then experienced more than 60 years of severe persecution for their Faith to God and for their total obedience and loyalty to successive Popes, will finally be de-facto eliminated, not by the Chinese communists, but by the Holy See itself by virtue of its refusal to appoint any more underground bishops. Rome would possibly lose the loyalty and obedience of tens of millions proven faithful in China who have suffered immeasurably for the Successor of Peter.
The entire issue of the Cardinal Kung Newsletter needs to be read to understand the difficulties of the Catholic Church in China. So does a current article in AsiaNews that focuses on Hu Jintao's "harmonious society." We need to pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he tries to obtain increased freedom of the Church to operate in China. Undoubtedly, we do not know all that he knows, but I suspect he understands that China will be the next Roman Empire with its economic and military might. Consequently, China's conversion to following the one true God and His Church is absolutely required for our future world and civilization.

Oct 15, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao

I listened on TV to President Hu Jintao's long opening address at the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on October 15, 2007, [full address] and observe some similarities between the situations of Pope Benedict XVI and Chinese Premier and President Hu Jintao. Is there is a real sea change in progress for Chinese society and their government? I hope so, even though I also am reminded that past Soviet leaders and Cuba's Fidel Castro at times made somewhat similar statements that looked good on the surface, but which roots originated in the false view of our relationship to God.

The similarities that I see between Benedict XVI and Hu Jintao mostly revolve around their dealing with the aftereffects of serious mismanagement of their Church and country. Hu said Mao's theory of class struggle was an erroneous theory, and that Marxism must be adapted to the culture of China. [These comments, by themselves, represent a real break with Chinese communism over the past 60 years!] In contrast, Benedict XVI is dealing with the error of Modernism. However, both men are aware they could lose command by going too fast in overcoming past errors. Another similarity is that both rely, more than recent past leadership, on the strong historical foundations of their organizations--China's history for Hu, and the Church's tradition by Benedict XVI.

Both leaders have shown in the past they are capable of dealing effectively with rebellious elements to maintain the security of their respective organizations. Both clearly point out problems caused by recent leaders, yet still acknowledge and even praise those former leaders--probably so as not to lose the historical credibility upon which their own authority stands.

Here are some of Jintao's words that caught my attention:
  • Continue and expand China's opening-up program
  • "Socialism with Chinese characteristics..." [Seeming to imply that the prior understanding of socialism was not reflective of China. Yet, take this with a grain of salt because he continued to reference Marxism and Leninism.]
  • "expand people's democracy and ensure that the people are the masters of the country" [the word 'democracy' was used 60 times during the speech, often with illustrations.]
  • insure the "rule of law" [used quite a few times, including "In principle, public hearings must be held for the formulation of laws, regulations and policies that bear closely on the interests of the public." Also apparently refers to governmental checks and balances.]
  • "... improve institutions of democracy, diversify its forms and expand its channels to guarantee people's rights to information and participation." [Does this refer to internet access?]
  • "Power must be exercised in the sunshine to ensure that it is exercised correctly." [That would be a definite change, but can it happen in a communist government?]
  • "As an important part of China's overall reform, political restructuring must be constantly deepened along with economic and social development to adapt to the growing enthusiasm of the people for participation in political affairs." [This also may refer to an improved governmental system of checks and balances.]
Surprisingly, Premier Hu Jintao promised to appoint more non-communists to high level positions within the Chinese government. Perhaps more importantly, he also stated "Promoting harmony in relations between political parties, between ethnic groups, between religions [???], between social strata, and between our compatriots at home and overseas plays an irreplaceable role in enhancing unity and pooling strengths." The phrase "harmonious development" appears consistently in Hu's speeches, so much so that Chinese Catholics now insist that Christianity contributes a good basis for "harmonious development" of their nation. Perhaps they understand that their new "Roman emperor" could be more favorable to Christianity than past leaders, and that a new Trajan's rescript could mark the end of old system of uncompromising hostility to the Church.

SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM still seems to be the greatest error as China's market economy expands under a revised Marxist socialism. Premier Hu Jintao promised a lot of bread to the Chinese people on October 15, 2007 in his 5-year report to the Communist Party of China. Bread to the people, as Nero promised to the Romans!

As background, Hu always emphasizes his list of "Eight Honors and Disgraces."
Love the country, do it no harm;
Serve the people, never betray them;
Follow science [the Word of GOD!], discard superstition;
Be diligent, not indolent;
Be united, help each other, make no gains at other's expense;
Be honest and trustworthy, do not sacrifice ethics for profit;
Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless;
Live plainly, work hard, do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.
As can be seen above, only one word needs to be changed to make it a reasonable list of natural virtues. Perhaps Hu can someday redefine science as the "Word of God" just has he seems to have redefined Marxist socialism.