Communist states are famous for their atheism while Christianity is renowned for being evangelical. What happens when the two collides?
In China, the result became a development of a Chinese Catholic church that obeys not the pope or the Holy See, but instead, the Chinese government. How was this organization formed? Why were the priests willing to acknowledge the Chinese government's sovereignty over religion? Let’s find out together.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC), founded upon atheist Marxist principles, is inherently in conflict with religion. However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had preferred control, instead of eradication, of Catholicism in China. This led to the CCP’s creation of a Chinese state-sponsored institutional body to lead the Catholic masses. Furthermore, the creation of the CCP controlled Catholic Church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), remains a source of friction between it and the universal Roman Catholic organization. In order for one to truly understand the exact reasons behind this conflict, it is critical to understand the process with which the organization has formed. Hence, I aim to delineate the early history of the CCPA’s formation and elucidate the process with which the CCP had created a Catholic body outside of the Vatican’s jurisdiction.
Christianity, a European religion, had been sending missionaries into China for many years but these were unsubstantial prior to the 19th century. However, particular renowned examples had existed, such as the work of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552 – 1610) during Emperor Wanli (reigned 1573 – 1619) of Ming Dynasty’s reign. Jesuit Christian missionaries from this era, Ricci included, tended to accommodate Catholic Canon into the context of the Chinese society in an attempt to domesticate the religion for increased ease of conversion. In other words, this was an attempt to adapt Christianity to China which, in terms of both culture and religion, was built upon secular Confucian teaching that advocated ancestor worship that had, in an ironic twist, evolved into folk religion. This caused a controversy amongst the different factions within the Church climaxing in the debate deemed ‘Rites Issue’ or ‘Rites Controversy’.
|Matteo Ricci interacting with Chinese literati - Source: AsiaNews|
To summarize, the controversy was concerned with the designation of Confucian ancestral worship or cult-veneration of Confucius himself. The situation could be observed and analyzed in two ways – the first looking upon such issues as a secular demonstration of reverence and the second deeming these customs a form of pagan ritual. Ultimately, the Pope Clement XI ruled that these acts were pagan in nature and forbade their execution by Chinese Christians. Unfortunately, the Pontiff’s ruling effectively doomed the Jesuit’s attempts to convert the Chinese populace. If viewed from a pure conversion perspective, the Jesuit mission was rendered an utter failure despite successes in the translation and relative proliferation of Western scholarly work to the Chinese literati.
|United States Marines fighting the Boxer rebels - Source: historywiz|
Later on, the next period of a high profile large-scale attempted conversion occurred during mid to late 19th century. Regrettably, attempts at conversion during this period were negatively perceived by the Chinese populace as they believed that Christianity was converting by coercion. This belief came from the Western imperialist invasions of China during this time along with the unfair treaties that were forced upon China. Both the populace and the Chinese establishment viewed Christianity with great suspicion as the missionaries’ acts of charity towards the impoverished masses in the rural were mis-interoperated as European colonial powers endeavoring in anticipation of further military incursions into China. Anti-Christian sentiments erupted in the Boxer Rebellion with massacres of foreigners, missionaries and indigenous Christians prompting a harsh military response from the European powers. The Eight-Nation Alliance’s intervention further convinced the society in general of the supposed malevolent intent behind the missionaries.
Overall, past conflicts arising from Christian-Chinese encounters have hindered the process of conversion within China. With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the misguided perspective of Christianity being a method of infiltration by the colonial powers were combined with the intrinsic atheism of Marxism. Together, the two eroded the confidence of the newly formed China’s administration leaving a time bomb for Christians that remained unsolved.
Anti-Catholic Campaigns in Early Communist China
With Chinese authorities’ anti-religion, and particularly anti-Christian, sentiments, the fate of the Catholic Church in China was grim after the formation of the PRC. From 1947 to 1957, the authorities utilized a strategy of unite and divide to attack the Chinese Catholic church. (For those who are confused as to how the communists begun influencing the religious policies of China before its successful unification in 1949, you must understand even before they conquered the entirety of mainland China, they controlled large tracts of territory within the state) Essentially, this strategy meant amalgamating with the more powerful faction to overcome the weaker one while collaborating with friendly allies against antagonistic enemies. They also targeted different groups at different times in order to lessen the opposition to their persecution further improving the efficacy of their sinister scheme.
|Antonio Riberi - Source: Florida International University|
Foreign missionaries or clergy, indigenous clergy and Catholic congregations were all branded as enemies respectively and persecuted with major campaigns beginning in 1951. Foreign missionaries and other foreign ecclesiastical staff were considered the greatest threat due to the CCP’s xenophobic nature as a result of global antagonism because of Chinese participation in the Korean War. As such, they became the first group to be targeted in their anti-Catholic campaign. The expulsion of missionaries was simple and followed an established pattern. After accusing a particular foreign individual of espionage or other crimes, they were first imprisoned, then interrogated and deported shortly afterwards. The most noteworthy incident was the deportation of the Papal Internuncio Archbishop Antonio Riberi, which had appointed Nuncio to China in 1946, in 1952. His deportation along with the expulsion his entourage of diplomatic staff was critical behind the severing all diplomatic ties between the Holy See and China which, as of the writing of this assignment, have yet to be resumed.
Subsequently, with the majority of foreign clergy deported or imprisoned, the government began coercing the Chinese clergy to conformation with the state-sponsored Patriotic Associations. The notion that loyalty to the Vatican was integral to their faith was instilled in their education rendering their decision regarding whether to concede to the CCP’s pressure a potentially fatal quagmire. The repercussions from both sides were severe. While the CCP threatened the local clergy with physical penalties such as imprisonment, the Vatican had stated that excommunication would be used as a punishment for those who conformed. Unfortunately, despite its unwavering stance, the Vatican was unable to aid the pressured Chinese clergy. Despite this, certain members of the clergy courageously remained stout in their position. Even so, the continuous pressure and hostile action from the government impacted the majority of the religious staff and their following. By the late 1957, the institutional church that had remained faithful to the Vatican was left in shatters.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
The pressure on the Catholic society was lessened slightly during the relatively liberal Hundred Flowers Movement in 1956, but had resumed with zealous by 1957. By this time, the Catholic congregations, with its church institutionally defunct and increasing number of Catholics joining the state-sponsored position due to the Hundred Flowers Movement, had few options remaining. In order to maintain their faith, the Catholic masses had little choice but to adapt a different path for itself that would allow not only the survival of Catholicism but also growth in a hostile anti-religion Communist China. The method through which this could be accomplished was ingeniously provided by the CCP during this period of hardship, ironically caused by the party itself, by an organization named the National Catholic Patriotic Association (NCPA) comprised of both ordained church staff and laymen.
The NCPA’s establishment marked the beginning of complete pseudo-autonomy for the Chinese Catholic in the sense that membership required one to forsake all relations with the Vatican. This also marked the beginning of governmental control over the Catholic Church in China. After two NPCA meetings, its leadership organized a convention on July 7th, 1957 named First National Meeting of Delegates of Chinese Catholic Faithful that issued a charter which begun the Catholic Faithful Patriotic Association. The organization was renamed the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) in 1962 during the Second National Meeting.
Bishop Sushi Pi of Liaoning province, based in its capital city Shenyang, was democratically elected by the members of the association as the chairman of this new Chinese Catholic organization. An important feature of its establishment was its intention to maintain a separation between religion and secular politics. This would diminish the threat that religion posed upon the state and therefore, remove the CCP’s motivation to eradicate Chinese Catholicism. This notion was captured by Bishop Pi’s argument that patriotism is an external expression of obeying God’s Commandment. These arguments, despite their palpable connection with propaganda, have allowed the CCPA to propagate in Communist China continuing the Catholic faith in China. However, this supposed “separation” of religion from politics caused fundamental controversial issue for the Catholics – the state, instead of the Holy See, governs the institution of the Catholic order in China.
|Priests of the CCPA - Source: Catholic News Agency|
Consequences of the Establishment of the CCPA
While the creation of the CCPA enabled the survival and continued development of the Catholicism in China, besides the obvious issue of the CCPA’s violation of Catholic institution, two problems arose from its establishment. Firstly, it caused a split in the Catholic community between those who concede to renouncing affiliation with the Vatican and those who are unwilling. Secondly, with uncompromising positions on both sides, a resumption of diplomatic relations between the PRC and the Holy See remains impossible. The presence of these problems has haunted the CCPA since its formation and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
As aforementioned, the arrangement of having a secular leadership, the state, within the Catholic organization was deemed unacceptable by some of the Catholics. This position echoed the one from the Holy See which reprimanded all bishops who supported the CCPA. Their resolute spirit of martyrdom was unwilling to kowtow to the state in exchange for religious impunity. Instead, they retained their connection with the Vatican and remained loyal towards the Pope as the patriarch of Catholicism.
These Catholics were forced to retreat underground and sowed the seeds for the underground church. To clarify, the underground church has little or no institutional features and therefore, is not an actual organization. Instead, congregations gathered around Vatican-ordained bishops and conducted their ceremonies in small groups within their own homes. However, this Underground Church did not receive recognition even by the Holy See until 1978 when it was sanctioned under ecclesiastical law.
These circumstances have led to the existence of two distinct groups of Catholics with one being the state sanctioned CCPA and the other a small underground pseudo-organization bound together only by their loyalty towards the Holy See and the Pontiff. Interestingly, the issue of loyalty towards the Vatican is perhaps the only difference between the two groups. According to Doctor Jean-Paul Wiest, a leading authority on China-Holy See relations, the religious doctrine between the two groups is basically identical. Institutionally speaking, the Chinese government views the Pope not merely as a religious leader, but also a foreign head of state. Hence, bishops of CCPA are forbidden to have contact with either His Holiness or the Vatican, which is technically viewed as a foreign government although there are exceptions but these remain rare instances.
With the CCP’s intervention within the Catholicism, the Vatican is understandably offended. This had left a lasting schism in the relationship between Beijing and the Holy See. Official diplomatic relations between the two have ceased since the expulsion of Archbishop Riberi in 1952. There are three general factors, in the perspective of either the Vatican or Beijing respectively, that made reconciliation between two impossible during the 1950s and 1960s. Firstly, the Chinese government is unlikely to engage in friendly conversations with the Holy See because of its anti-American sentiments caused by the Korean War. This had led to antagonism between China and the Vatican, which the Chinese government views as a ‘lackey’ of Washington.
On the other hand, the Vatican was also unwilling to negotiate with Beijing because of its animosity towards communism. The then-Incumbent Pope Pius XII, who have had strained relations with Soviet Union in the past, openly acknowledges his aversion of communism. However, it is important to note that he is an advocate of peace co-existence between communist powers and Western democracies. Thirdly, the existence of the CCPA, with its policies of consecration and ordination of bishops and priests without Papal approval, further enrages senior clergy in the Holy See. Of the three factors, this issue had remained at the heart of the conflict between the Holy See and had been and remains the most fundamental problem.
Overall, the early history of the CCPA had resulted in a resounding success, at the expense of the Vatican and Catholics loyal to the Holy See, for CCP’s wish to hinder all potential dissent. Through atrocious acts of human rights violation and false accusations, Beijing was able to destroy the pre-existing Catholic institutional organization within China and establish another, the CCPA, with themselves as the leaders through coercion and threats. Fortunately, this had also allowed for the survival of Catholicism within China. Through continued strides towards freedom and liberalization, the Chinese government will hopefully permit greater religious freedom and permit the propagation of Catholicism under the control of the official clerical body. With Sino-Vatican relations thawed and beginning to warm, this may become achievable in the foreseeable future.