The Society of Jesus and Korea: A Historiographical Essay
(10,404 words)

Jieun Han and Franklin Rausch
Last edited: April 2017


Until the 1950s, only a handful of Jesuits ever actually set foot on the Korean peninsula. However, despite the comparative lack of the physical presence of Jesuits in Korea, the Society of Jesus has had an important influence on the history of Korean Catholicism, indeed, on the whole of Korean history. It was members of the Society and their Chinese collaborators who helped introduce Western thought and science onto the peninsula through books written in Classical Chinese, a language Korean scholars knew well. Subsequently, Jesuit books translated by these scholars into Han’gŭl, the Korean vernacular, helped equip Korean Catholics with a deep, intellectually grounded faith that strengthened their community so that they could endure nearly a hundred years of persecution that lasted from the late eighteenth century to the last quarter of the nineteenth. Moreover, a number of Koreans kidnapped and taken to Japan as part of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of the country (1592–98) would convert to Catholicism, with some even becoming members of the Society, before their community was swallowed up by persecution. Today, with the Society of Jesus formally established on the peninsula, Jesuits in Korea play an important role in the fields of education and social justice. This rich history of the Society of Jesus in Korea has produced a multitude of diverse historiographic perspectives that this essay will explore.


Establishing the Basic Narrative

Fr. Charles Dallet (1829–78), a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Société des missions étrangères de Paris or MEP for short), the order that had been placed in charge of the evangelization of Korea in 1831, wrote the first comprehensive history of the Korean Catholic Church. While Dallet never visited Korea, he had served as a missionary in India until poor health forced him to return to France where he taught at the MEP’s seminary. Dallet began to correspond with MEP missionaries to Korea in 1870, and based on the materials they had collected, particularly those of Bishop Antoine Daveluy (1818–66), who had not only written copiously on Korean Catholicism, but had even translated Chinese-language documents into French, started to write his history of Korean Catholicism in 1872, publishing it in two volumes in 1874 as Histoire de l’Eglise de Corée. Writing in those years and using Daveluy as a main source significantly shaped this history, as waves of persecutions that killed thousands of Catholics in Korea, including Daveluy, had begun in 1866, and would continue into the early 1870s. The basic narrative that underlies Dallet’s history is therefore one of martyrdom, in which the suffering of Korean Catholics and missionaries led to the triumph of the Gospel over the “jealousy of hell” that sought to prevent the growth of the church on the peninsula. At the same time, because of the persecutions and because Dallet had never personally went to Korea, some errors crept into his manuscript, making the annotated Korean translation of An Ŭngryol and Ch’oe Sŏg-u, so valuable, as it corrects these mistakes and adds supplemental information.1

While no Jesuit missionaries were martyred in Korea at this time, the Society of Jesus in Japan played an important role in the conversion of the first Korean Catholics, some of whom would die as martyrs there.2 Thus, after beginning his work with an overview of Korea itself, Dallet described how Jesuit Francis Xavier (1506–52) helped found the Japanese Catholic Church in the mid-sixteenth century, which quickly grew into a flourishing community numbering in the hundreds of thousands. So popular was Catholicism that when Japanese hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–98) launched his invasion of Korea in 1592 (known by Koreans as the Imjin War), which would last until 1598, there would be many Catholic soldiers in his ranks, including one of his commanders, Augustine Konishi Yukinaga (1555–1600). At the end of 1593, Augustine requested that the Jesuits send him a priest. In response Fr. Gregorio de Céspedes and a Japanese catechist traveled to Korea, arriving there in early 1594.3 According to Dallet, Céspedes worked for the moral uplift of the Japanese army, reformed “evil” customs, baptized Japanese interested in the faith, and provided the sacraments for Japanese Catholics, until “the emperor”4 was informed that Augustine had a priest with him in Korea and was plotting against him. Thus, after being in Korea for a bit less than a year, Augustine sent Céspedes back to Japan and traveled back to defend himself, which he did successfully. According to Dallet, Céspedes was not able to engage in any sustained contact with Koreans on the peninsula that would lead to conversions and the establishment of a continuous Catholic community there.5

After describing Céspedes’s efforts, Dallet shifted to the subject of Koreans who were kidnapped to Japan and subsequently converted to Catholicism. Though noting that they shared with the Japanese the “glory of witnessing to Jesus” on the islands and therefore belong to the history of the Japanese Catholic Church, because they had been born on the peninsula, they also constitute a part of the “harvest” of the church of Korea. While Dallet’s focus was the Korean martyrs of Japan, members of the Society of Jesus appear as important supporting characters throughout this section. For example, Dallet cites verbatim a letter written by Portuguese Jesuit Luís Fróis (1532–97) describing a community of some three hundred Korean slaves who had become extraordinarily devout Catholics “in no way inferior to the Japanese.” Impressed by these Koreans, Fróis expressed his hope that the opportunity provided by the war would allow for work to begin among them on the peninsula, as he was sure that it would lead to the conversion of many.6 Likewise, Dallet described how Korean martyr of Japan Vincent Kwŏn learned about Catholicism at a Jesuit seminary and asked to be admitted to the Society right before he was killed in 1626 with several of its members and how Julia Ota was comforted by a Jesuit priest when she suffered exile instead of the glories of martyrdom for her faith.

Particularly striking of the stories related by Dallet is that of “Caius of Korea” (1571–1624), who, before he was captured by the Japanese, had lived as a hermit in a cave in his homeland as part of his attempt to determine the way to everlasting happiness. One night in his hermitage he met a dignified man who told him to have courage as within a year he would be taken across the sea and after much effort and pain would obtain the “object of his desire.” After being kidnapped to Japan, he again fell sick, and had a vision of a handsome young boy who told him not to be afraid and that he would obtain the happiness he had been searching for soon. After that, he met with a Catholic, who took him to a Jesuit seminary where he learned about Catholic doctrine and requested baptism. Later, when a priest, presumably a Jesuit, was teaching him and showed him a picture “of our Lord Jesus,” he expressed surprise that it looked exactly like the man who had appeared to him in the cave. Caius would subsequently devote himself to helping the missionaries carry out good works until his own martyrdom.7 While there are doubts about the historicity of such stories included in Dallet, for our purposes, it is important to note that they included Jesuits as supporting characters and that they illustrate the fact that, in terms of historical approach, Dallet was writing a “faith history” during a time of severe trial for the Korean Catholic Church. Such stories were likely intended to indicate that despite persecution, God still reigned, and would intervene on behalf of the church and end the persecution when the time was right.

Dallet ended this chapter with a brief description of how Koreans were able to have some access to Catholic works written in Classical Chinese in China, but that despite the “zeal of the priests” they were not able to have much of an immediate impact on them. Little is said of the Jesuits in this section, other than a brief reference to a “companion” of pioneer Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), likely the Jesuit João Rodrigues (1558–1634),8 who met with a Korean official, and to Ricci’s True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, a text that would eventually play a key role in the establishment of the Korean Catholic Church.9

Dallet would begin the next chapter, focusing on the early history of the Korean Catholic Church by stating that “the day for salvation for Korea arrived in 1784” when “Benevolent God planted the Catholic faith once and for all beginning a “glorious time” in which it would expand despite persecution. This chapter is centered on the conversion of Yi Sŭng-hun (1756–1801), who was baptized with the name of Peter in that year in Beijing, and how he came to an interest in Catholicism through the urgings of his cousin Yi Pyŏk (who later took the name John the Baptist, 1754–85), who himself had learned about Catholicism through books written in Classical Chinese, and their early efforts to spread the new religion. Little is said about the Society of Jesus in this section despite the fact that their order was primarily responsible for these texts.10 Particularly striking is the fact that the priest who baptized Peter was in fact Fr. Jean-Joseph Grammont (1736–1812), a former Jesuit, the Society having been suppressed in 1773. Considering how positively Dallet treated members of the Society of Jesus in Japan, such lapses are likely the result of Dallet’s interest in focusing on Korean martyrs, which appeared in Japan but not in China. Moreover, it would seem that Dallet had more ready access to histories of Japan than China, and therefore had more to work with.11 Finally, Dallet emphasized the fact that it was primarily Koreans who took the initiative in bringing the Gospel to themselves rather than waiting for missionaries to do so and therefore it was the Koreans, not the Jesuits, that were his focus. Whatever the reason for this lacunae, later histories would expand upon Ricci and the role the Society of Jesus played in the history of Korean Catholicism.


English-Language Histories of Korea and the Society of Jesus

Americans, driven by missionary zeal and a desire for trade, became increasingly interested in Korea in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of the first authors who sought to slake this growing thirst for knowledge on Korea were Protestants who hoped to see their churches establish missions in Korea. They found Dallet’s work particularly useful, but were ambiguous in their treatment of Catholicism, with which they had a complex relationship. On one side, they could not deny that Catholics had suffered a great deal to bring Christianity to Korea. On the other, anti-Catholicism had long been a part of Protestant-dominated American culture, with the Catholic Church frequently presented as a foreign, authoritarian institution that would use its control over its flock to enslave free American Protestants and destroy their liberty. Members of the Society of Jesus were often depicted as agents of the Vatican, embodying in themselves the ruthless cunning, immorality, and thirst for domination of the “Roman Church.”12

The earliest American English-language accounts of the Jesuits in Korea were provided by Protestant missionaries and scholars, some of whom were deeply shaped by this tradition. For instance, Reverend Horace Underwood (1859–1916), the first ordained Presbyterian minister to Korea, gave an address to a missionary conference that was highly influenced by an anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit perspective. In this speech, through which he sought to obtain more support for his mission to Korea, Underwood promised “to testify [to] that which we have seen of Rome and Jesuitism in the foreign field,” a curious statement since the Catholic missionaries assigned to Korea at this time were MEP, not Jesuits, but one that shows Underwood’s tendency to connect what he saw as the worst of Catholicism with the Society of Jesus. In his speech, Underwood presented Catholicism (“Romanism”) as a diabolical creation that mixed truth, in order to appeal to human beings, with falsehoods, so as to lead them astray, with one of its greatest evils being its principle of adapting “her truths to the forms of heathenism that she meets,” which was “carried out more thoroughly by the Jesuits than any other Romish sect,” leading to the continuation of “heathen” errors and the distortion of Christianity. As an example, Underwood (falsely) charged that the Jesuit Matteo Ricci had married a Chinese woman in accordance with these principles. Similarly, Underwood stated that Jesuits sought to gain political power and argued that it was the Catholic pursuit of it led ultimately to their persecution in Korea.13

Underwood’s view on Catholicism in Korea was likely influenced by Corea: The Hermit Nation, by Rev. William Elliot Griffis, a Dutch Reformed minister and scholar who lived in New York, as it contained similar criticism of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state in Korea, Griffis having written of the Catholic missionaries that “according to the code of any nation, their converts were traitors in inviting invasion; but if worthy to be set down as Arnolds and Iscariots, then their teachers (the missionaries) have the greater blame in leading them astray.”14 Having a full book rather than simply a speech, Griffis also included a more expanded doctrinal critique of Catholicism, writing of what Peter Yi Sŭng-hun brought with back with him to Korea when he was baptized in 1784:


The equipment of this first native missionary propagandist of Roman Christianity in Corea, deserves notice, as it brings out in sharp contrast the differing methods of Roman and Reformed Christianity. The convert brought back numerous tracts, didactic and polemic treatises, catechisms and commentaries, prayer-books, lives of the saints, etc., etc. These were for the learned, and those able to master them.15 For the simple, there was a goodly supply of crosses and crucifixes, images, pictures, and various other objects to strike the eye. It is not stated that the Bible, or any part of the Holy Scriptures, was sent for the feeding of hungry souls.16


Griffis thus presents Catholicism as hiding the Bible from believers by providing other works and using material objects to entrance the uneducated. Moreover, Griffis connected Catholic doctrines of celibacy and the struggle against “the world” and “the flesh” to anti-Catholic persecution and blames this flawed version of Christianity as the cause of contemporary Asian hostility towards the faith.17

While his main object of criticism were French MEP missionaries, Griffis also criticized the Jesuits. For example, in describing Japan’s invasion of Korea in the 1590s, Ellis elaborated on the political machinations of Katō Kiyomasa, a “fanatical Buddhist” against Augustine Konishi, a “Christian, an ardent convert to the faith of the Jesuit fathers, by whom he had been baptized in 1584,”18 and other Catholics by claiming that they were seeking to use their religion as a means of seizing power in Japan, and then notes that such “suspicions, as every student of Japan knows, were more than well founded.”19 Moreover, Griffis (incorrectly) stated that a French Jesuit acted as a guide for the Oppert Expedition of 1868, which sought to seize the bones of the paternal grandfather of the king in order to use them to force Korea to open its doors and tolerate Christianity.20 Griffis had a didactic purpose in bringing up such incidents, as his book was first published in 1882 and there were hopes that after the opening of Korea by Japan in 1876 that public missionary work might become a possibility there (the first Protestant missionaries entered the country secretly in 1884). Thus, in the same section where he criticized Catholics as “Iscariots” he stated that “it is to be hoped that the future Christian missionaries in Corea, whether of the Greek, Roman, or Reformed branch, will teach Christianity with more of the moral purity inculcated by its Founder.” Most strikingly, he would go on to write, “The missionary has yet to prove the full power of Christianity upon the people—and before Corean paganism, any form of the religion of Jesus, Roman, Greek or Reformed, should be welcome.21 This view is in part a reflection of Ellis’s belief that acceptance of Christianity would lead to progress and civilization.

This last reference is of particular importance for two reasons. First, though relying on Dallet for a significant amount of his information on Korea, Griffis revealed his interest in notions of progress by connecting Christianity with the development of “civilization,” which was not a significant part of Dallet’s work. Second, Griffis presents a much more nuanced view than Underwood, as the latter saw Christianity and Catholicism in opposition, whereas the former understood Catholicism to be an authentic if imperfect form of Christianity. Thus, Griffis could just as easily praise Jesuits as criticize them. For example, he referred to Céspedes and the Japanese Jesuit brother who accompanied him as “holy men” and described their work among Japanese soldiers as giving them hope in reaching heaven after death, thus affirming a belief that even Catholics could be saved—a stance other Protestants would have been uncomfortable with. Similarly, Griffis would positively portray Vincent Kwŏn as a high-born Korean captured by the Japanese who came into the possession of Konishi’s daughter Maria, eventually joining the Society of Jesus through her influence, seeking vainly to become a missionary to Korea to “plant Christianity among his countrymen,” and ultimately dying a martyr in Japan. And while Griffis noted that attempts by the Jesuits and their cohorts to build a lasting Christian community in Korea failed (“its introduction was postponed by Providence until two centuries later”), he praised “the Corean converts [who] remained steadfast to their new-found faith and suffered martyrdom with fortitude equal to that of their Japanese brethren.”22

Ellis would then explain that it was the Jesuits in China whose books would lead to the introduction of Christianity into Korea, focusing particularly on the 1777 meeting in a Buddhist temple in which Korean scholars read “translations of the writings, or original compositions in Chinese of the Jesuits in the imperial capital. Among these were some tracts on the Christian and Roman Catholic Religion” and these were so persuasive that “surprised and delighted, they (the Korean scholars) resolved to attain, if possible, to a full understanding of the new doctrines.”23 Griffis continued on to praise the Jesuits “to the Jesuits in Peking, who were mostly Frenchmen, belongs the credit of beginning that whole system of modern culture, by which modern science and Christianity are yet to transform the Chinese mind, and recast the ideas of this mighty people concerning nature and Deity.”24 Griffis thus built upon Dallet’s work by giving more explicit recognition to the role of Jesuit books in the establishment of the Catholic Church on the peninsula while also stressing the connection between Christianity and modern civilization.

Presenting Jesuits as true Christians (if mistaken on some points), it followed that Korean Catholics who died in the persecutions were also Christian martyrs deserving of praise. Thus, Ellis would write about the region of Naepo in Ch’ungch’ŏng province, a key area in the establishment of Catholicism in Korea that “in the history of Corean [sic] Christianity this province will ever be remembered as the nursery of the faith. Its soil has been most richly soaked with the blood of the native believers […]. The first converts and confessors, the most devoted adherents of their French teachers, the most gifted and intelligent martyrs, were from Nai-po (Naepo).”25 Similarly, he would describe the martyrs of Chŏlla as having “exchanged their lives for a good confession,” Fr. James Zhou Wen-mo (1752–1801), the first priest to enter Korea to serve the Korean Catholic community, as a “brave man” who gave himself up voluntarily to protect his friends, and Columba Kang Wan-suk (1760–1801), an important early female Catholic leader, as suffering martyrdom “with the grace of the English Lady Jane Grey.”26

In the late nineteenth century, there thus existed two alternative English-language narratives of the history of the Jesuits in Korea: one that saw them as the opponents of true Christianity and the other, while critical in some areas, recognized them as representing a stream of authentic if flawed Christianity, worthy of both criticism and praise. Moreover, by recognizing the Jesuits, and by extension Catholics, as true Christians, Protestants could count Korean Catholics as true Christian martyrs, and therefore lay claim to them as well. While on one side, more respectful to Catholics, this stance also allowed Protestants to have their cake and eat it too: when Catholics behaved poorly from their perspective, they were Catholics, but when they behaved heroically, they were Christians. In the English-language history of the Society of Jesus in Korea, Underwood’s approach was largely neglected while, though mixed to varying degrees, Griffis’s perspective of recognizing Catholics (and their martyrs) as Christians with mixed praise and criticism (though to varying degrees), became dominant among Protestant scholars, and adopted in such works as Reverend John Ross’s History of Korea (1891), George Paik’s The History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 1832–1910 (1927), Allen Clark’s Old Religions of Korea (published in 1961 but based on lectures given in the 1920s), and even the more recent Christ and Caesar in Korea (1997) by Wi Jo Kang and Early Catholicism in Korea (2005) by Jai-keun Choi.27

Likewise, Griffis’s expansion of Dallet’s work into a historical narrative of the Jesuit connection in Korea, which is essentially that of their heroic, but eventually unsuccessful attempts to establish a mission in Korea by Jesuits based in Japan, and then the role played by Jesuits in China in writing the books that would eventually lead to the conversion of what would become the first members of a continuous Catholic Church in Korea, has also been followed by texts focusing on the religious history of Korea, such as The Catholic Church in Korea (1924), written from a Catholic perspective,28 and James Grayson’s Korea: A Religious History, written from a secular academic perspective.29 Particularly noteworthy is Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim’s A History of Korean Christianity, as it includes Catholicism, and the Jesuits, within a general narrative of Korean Christianity that does not present Catholicism as a deficient form of Christianity that is included primarily as a negative example of what not to do or to claim the martyrs connected to it. Rather, the Kims give attention to its entire history on the peninsula in a generally neutral way, as well as noting that the first Korean Catholic, Peter Yi Sŭng-hun, was actually baptized by the former Jesuit Fr. Grammont.30

Even though authors continue to follow the basic narrative of focusing on the Jesuits in Japan and Korean martyrs before shifting to the important role played by Jesuit missionaries in China and their books in the establishment of the Catholic Church in Korea, some texts have expanded on Griffis or gone in new directions. For example, while following this basic narrative, rather than presenting the Jesuits as being part of a mission of civilization, as Griffis did, Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim emphasize their attempts at presenting Catholic Christianity as the fulfillment of Confucianism while also expanding on the connection between the Jesuits stationed in Japan and Koreans. Likewise, while focusing on Protestant Christianity, Sung-Deuk Oak, in his The Making of Korean Christianity: Protestant Encounters with Korean Religions showed how Protestant Christians carefully considered Jesuit and other Catholic views while seeking to determine how they should respond to the issue of ancestor rites and how they should translate the Christian term for God.31

In general, in the texts we have examined so far, the Jesuits appear as relatively minor characters in a general story about the history of Christianity in Korea. That is not always the case. One representative scholar who has focused on the Jesuit influence on Koreans in particular is Don Baker. His work is especially important in that he includes not only Catholic perspectives, but looks more deeply at scholarly Korean critiques of Jesuit writings. One important publication of his is entitled “Jesuit Science through Korean Eyes.”32 In this work, Baker notes that there has been a focus on the papal condemnation of ancestor rites in China, and an argument that if the rites would have been accepted, China could have become a Christian country. Baker points out that the issue of rites was only part of the Jesuit approach, and that the attempt to use superior Western astronomical knowledge to argue for the existence of the Christian God was another key element. Thus, by examining how Korean scholars, who like their Chinese counterparts thought within a Confucian framework, reacted to the claims of Jesuit natural philosophy and cosmology, which were well known long before they learned of the prohibition against ancestor rites, it can be seen whether or not this other element of the Jesuit strategy to convert Chinese to Catholicism would have worked. Thus, after describing how Jesuits argued that their science showed the need for causes, proving the necessity of an ultimate cause, that is, the Christian God, Baker reveals how Korean scholars were able to accept individual ideas, such as the earth being round, without changing their basic worldview because they did not make the same link between astronomy and cosmology that the Jesuits did. Baker therefore shows that even without the obstacle to conversion represented by the prohibition of ancestor rites, the Christian worldview was still difficult for Confucian scholars to accept. Moreover, Baker’s approach is significant because he pays particular attention to how individual Korean scholars, such as Yi Ik (1681–1763), interacted with ideas they learned about from Jesuit books.

Baker revisited the subjects of Jesuit intellectual influence on Korea in another article, “The Seeds of Modernity: Jesuit Natural Philosophy in Confucian Korea.”33 In this article, Baker shifted from why the Jesuit apologetic use of science failed to how Jesuit understandings of natural philosophy and science impacted Korean thought. For example, Baker shows how Jesuit understandings of Thomistic philosophy shaped internal critiques of neo-Confucianism. Moreover, in Korea, the gentry (yangban) focused on natural philosophy, while a class known as the chungin (literally “middle people”) served the government in such technical capacities as astronomers and interpreters. Thus, whereas science (understanding how things work) and technology (applying how things work) were separated in Korea, the two were joined in the persons of the Jesuits and their books, something some Korean gentry would imitate. In concrete terms, just as a Jesuit might write a book about astronomy and cosmology that included a description of how to construct astronomical instruments, a Korean scholar who read that book might be both influenced by Jesuit science and build (or have built) the astronomical tools it described—thus becoming more like the Jesuits themselves. In particular, Baker emphasizes how in rebutting Jesuit attempts to use astronomy to prove the veracity of a Christian cosmology, Korean scholars more clearly differentiated facts from values (is from ought), an important aspect of modern thought.

Even surveys on Korean history that do not focus on religion mention the coming of Catholicism and note the importance of Jesuit influence on Korea through the books they wrote and through their meetings with Koreans visiting China as part of the frequent tribute missions the country sent. One particularly rich English-language treatment can be found in Michael Seth’s A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Seth’s books treats Korean history in a generally descriptive and chronological format. He follows the standard formula of first briefly examining the limited influence of Jesuits based in Japan and then describes Korean contacts with the Jesuits in China and their books. Significant to Seth’s work is the nuanced way he deals with the subject matter, recognizing on one side that while the Jesuits did introduce new ideas and techniques that influenced these Koreans, especially in terms of the creation of calendars and Western painting, such influence was limited, with Koreans seeing Westerners more as “clever barbarians” than “bearers of a great tradition.” Seth thus registers the failure, at least for most Korean scholars, of the Jesuit accommodationist approach of presenting Catholicism in Confucian terms as the fulfillment of that tradition.34 Moreover, as Seth’s work is a textbook, he has to place the Jesuits within a general narrative about Korea. Examining the role of the Jesuits in the section “Early Contacts with the West” in his chapter “Korea in the Age of Imperialism, 1876–1910,” Seth presents the Jesuits as part of the background to the story of how Koreans were thrust into an imperialist world order with the signing of the Kanghwa Treaty with Japan in 1876, which “opened” the country to new and powerful global forces, the efforts by the Korean state and individual Koreans to reform their country in response, and the ultimate annexation by Japan in 1910.35

The issue of Korea’s colonization by Japan can shape how the story of Jesuit influence on Korea is told. While Japanese apologists for annexation argued that Korea was a stagnant country that could not reform on its own, Korean nationalist historians developed a counterargument that Koreans were capable of absorbing modern knowledge and reforming their country and would have done so successfully if the Japanese empire had not interrupted the process. This can be seen in the concept of the Sirhak [Practical Learning] movement, which has been presented as an attempt to transcend the philosophical debates of traditional neo-Confucian scholarship by obtaining useful knowledge that would contribute both to national strength and the happiness and welfare of the people. Thus, Kyung Moon Hwang records that “Historians have suggested that […] [the] ‘practical learning’ trend,36 demonstrated the stirrings of Korea’s own drive toward modern ideas and institutions.”37 Such a perspective can be seen in Korea Old and New: A History. This text’s treatment of the Jesuits appears in a chapter entitled “Economic Advances and Intellectual Ferment,” placing them within a narrative challenging the idea of Korean stagnation.38 Historians therefore pay special attention to the study of Jesuit books on science and technology by Chosŏn scholars (Chosŏn is the name of the dynasty that ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910), while recognizing the limits of those texts. The religious doctrine in Catholic books is also understood as influencing Korean intellectuals:


What they [Korean scholars] seem to have sought in Catholicism was a means to grapple with the host of evils that then beset Chosŏn’s social and political order. One can well imagine that those reform-minded Sirhak (practical learning) thinkers took fresh hope for creating a heavenly kingdom on earth through belief in the new religion. Accordingly, the acceptance of Catholicism may be seen as constituting a challenge to the grasping and predatory nature of the Chosŏn state and the intellectual rigidity of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy.39


Thus, the Jesuits are presented in this perspective as helping inspire some Koreans to transcend the neo-Confucian ideology that prevented necessary reform that would have made Korea more modern. The implication then is that had Korea been left alone by the imperialist powers, it would have found its way to modernity without colonization (in part through the help of the books produced by members of the Society of Jesus), thus meaning that the Japanese colonial project in Korea was unnecessary and therefore illegitimate.


Scholars in Korea and the Jesuits


Koreans residing on the peninsula have also produced materials examining the history of the Jesuits in their country. One central focus for such scholars are the unique origins of the Korean Catholic Church, which was established primarily by the initiative of lay Koreans, not by missionaries, despite the earlier efforts by the Society of Jesus. An example of this perspective can be seen in the Korean produced English-language Catholic Korea: Yesterday and Today, published in 1964. The preface of this work does not mention the Jesuits, but instead emphasizes how Korean scholars brought Christianity to Korea themselves by focusing on the fact that when Fr. James Zhou Wen-mo arrived on the peninsula in 1795, there were already four thousand Catholics there.40 However, that narrative is later expanded to include the Jesuits. For instance, following the statement that “the Catholic religion was first embraced by our Korean forefathers not in a passive response to the teaching of foreign missionaries but as an active and positive result of their zeal in the search for truth,”41 the author describes the influence of Jesuits based in Japan and China, following the same basic narrative described above. This tendency to emphasize Korean initiative in importing Catholicism paired with a later acknowledgement of the importance of Jesuits, particularly their written works, often appears in Korean materials.42

As with their Western counterparts, Korean scholars traditionally begin the history of their country’s first contact with Jesuit missionaries in 1594 with the arrival of Fr. Gregorio de Céspedes (1552?–1611).43 Even though the Society of Jesus in Korea recognizes Céspedes44 as the first Jesuit to come to Korea, the historical consensus has been there was no significant direct contact between him and Koreans, a position taken by Dallet as noted above,45 and in such works as Yu Hong-ryŏl’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (Korean Catholic Church History, 1963), Ch’oe Sŏg-u’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoe ŭi yŏksa (The history of the Korean Catholic Church, 1982), Han’guk kyohoesa ŭi t’amgu (Research on the Korean Catholic Church, 2000), Yun Min-gu’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoe ŭi kiwŏn (The origins of the Korean Catholic Church, 2002), Yi Chang-u’s “Chosŏn kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo ŭi mannam” (An encounter between Chosŏn and Catholicism, 2009), and Cho Kwang’s Chosŏn hugisahoe wa Ch’ŏnjugyo (Society and Catholicism in the late Chosŏn, 2010), and most recently Kim Hye-gyŏng’s “Waeran sigi Yesuhoe sŏn’gyosa tŭl ŭi Ilbon kwa Chosŏn insik” (Jesuit missionary understandings of Japan and Chosŏn Korea during the time of the Imjin War).46 This consensus is important, as scholars such as Jesuit Juan Ruiz de Medina (1927–2000) have argued that there was a possibility of contact with Céspedes, or with some other Catholics, mostly Jesuits, that could have led to the formation of a Korean community that pre-existed the current one that traces itself to the baptism of Peter Yi in 1784.47

The focus on the unique origins of Korean Catholicism has not led scholars in Korea to ignore Céspedes. Instead, they have shown an interest in the relationship between early modern Jesuits, particularly their role in the production of knowledge on Korea for Western audiences. For instance, the scholar Pak Ch’ŏl has translated Céspedes’s letters and other Jesuits’ writings on Korea during the Imjin War into Korean. Pak argues in his book Sesŭp’edesŭ: Han’guk pangmun ch’oech’o sŏguin (Céspedes: The first Westerner to visit Korea) that Céspedes did not come to Korea as a military chaplain but as a missionary to spread the Gospel. He also contends that these Jesuits working in Japan were the first Westerners to introduce Korea to the Western world, with maps produced by Western cartographers based on information obtained from members of the Society.48 However, Pak’s primary interest is an analysis of the Jesuits’ letters and writings from a perspective of Spanish literary history. Similarly, Korean scholars also have shown an interest in the Korean Catholic community that was established in Japan during this time. For instance, Yu Hong-ryŏl includes the story of Vincent Kwŏn, but like other Korean scholars, believes stronger evidence is needed to confirm this account.49

Just as in the West, Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) has a special place in Korean scholarship on the Jesuits. For instance, Sister Sŏ Yang-ja presents Ricci as laying the foundation for missionary work in the East, particularly China, Korea, and Japan, which share the use of Chinese ideograms, through their focus on writing and translating books that spread scientific knowledge and Western material culture. Sŏ also examines Francis Xavier, describing him as the missionary who opened the door for the spread of the gospel to the East by coming to Japan and establishing the Japanese Catholic Church in 1549. Sŏ describes Xavier as a founding member of the Jesuits who followed the spirit of the society by implementing St. Paul’s mission methodology of accommodation.50 Like Paul, Xavier respected the customs and culture of the mission field where he worked through such means as publishing books in Japanese. In her book 16-segi Tongyang sŏn’gyo wa Mat’eo Rich’i Sinbu (Mission in the East in the sixteenth century and Fr. Matteo Ricci, 1980), Sŏ continued her work on Ricci, expanding to include others who worked with him and the Jesuits, particularly Chinese Catholics and other missionary orders.

 On the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of Ricci’s death, the Graduate School of Theology of Sogang University, a Jesuit institution, organized an international conference with the theme “Cultural Encounters of East and West: Challenges and Opportunities,” on September 16 and 17, 2010. During the conference, fourteen papers were presented commemorating Ricci’s achievements, his radical hermeneutics reflected in The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, and the Jesuits’ accommodation policy. While preparing for the conference, one presenter, Kim Hye-gyŏng found very rare materials on Ricci in the university’s Loyola Library: Italian collections of his writings and letters from the 1910s and 1940s.51 Kim utilized these newly discovered materials in her own study on the Jesuits, which developed into the book Yesuhoe ŭi chŏkŭngjuŭi sŏn’gyo: Yŏksa wa ŭimi (The Society of Jesus’s accommodation mission: Its history and meaning, 2012). In this work, Kim argues that about four hundred different books were published by the missionaries from 1601, when Matteo Ricci began to reside in Beijing to 1773, when the society was dissolved, thereby revealing how these books were both continuously published by Chinese scholars and spread to other countries, including Japan and Korea.52 Kim consequently asserts that these works laid the foundations to produce enlightened thinkers and scientists who could contribute to modernization, which was made possible by the pragmatic accommodation policy and the general flexibility of the Jesuits, the most valuable assets of the Society of Jesus that, according to Kim, were modeled after Jesus and St. Paul and their respect for and understanding of the people they were trying to reach. Kim contends that this accommodationist policy brought changes to mission paradigms in terms of relationships to the local people, lifestyle of the missionaries, importance of local languages, cultivation of local priests and community leaders, and missionary literature. According to Kim, one significant achievement of this mission policy was establishing communication between East and West. Even though her arguments do not advance any radical changes in our understanding of the mission policy of the Society of Jesus, they deepen our knowledge of the Catholic Church during and after the Reformation, the birth of the Society of Jesus, and the criticism and achievement of the policy of accommodation. Regarding this last point, Sŏ and Kim’s focus on the accommodation policy reflect the desire of many Korean Catholics for developing a Catholic Church that is both Korean and Catholic, and reveals the continued importance of the models of mission developed by the Jesuits.


The Significance of the Jesuits in Korean History

As with the other histories this chapter has examined, Korean scholars studying the first contact between Korea and Catholicism focus on the Chinese Jesuits, describing how Korean envoys to Beijing often visited the Hŭmch’ŏn’gam (The Imperial Board of Astronomy), at which served many Jesuits who used their astronomical skills to help create and maintain the imperial calendar,53 and the Catholic churches in Beijing to obtain knowledge on Western culture when they travelled to China as members of tribute missions. The Jesuit missionaries often provided their Korean visitors with scientific and technical knowledge and samples of Western technology, such as telescopes, clocks, and maps, as well as books in Chinese on theology, astronomy, and world geography. Korean scholars focus on how these encounters between “Western Learning” (Sŏhak, a broad term that includes Western knowledge and culture, both sacred and secular) and Confucianism served as an opportunity to introduce Western ideas into Chosŏn Korea and contributed to the Sirhak movement described above. Thus, works such as Yi Wŏn-sun’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa yŏn’gu (Study on Korean Catholic Church history, 1986), Yi Chang-u’s chapters appearing in Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (The History of the Korean Catholic Church, 2009), and Myŏngdong pondangsa, 1882–2006 (History of Myŏngdong cathedral, 1882–2006, 2007) present the introduction of Catholicism in terms of cultural interaction. In particular, Myŏngdong pondangsa argues that these cultural exchanges transformed the perceptions of the universe and the international world of Chosŏn Korean intellectuals and helped them to understand the advanced nature of Western science and technology.54

An illustrative example of this approach can be found in Yi Chang-u’s contributions to the first volume of Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (The History of the Korean Catholic Church, 2009) a chronological series on Catholic history published by the Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso (Korean Church History Research Institute). This work is like many we have examined in that it follows the same basic narrative of beginning with Jesuits based in Japan before shifting to the more significant influence of those based in China.55 As Yi is writing for a Catholic institution, he pays more attention to religion, for instance, describing in great detail the activities of Korean Catholics in Japan, carefully noting the number of Korean martyrs there (including those connected with the Society of Jesus), and detailing at length the contact Crown Prince Sohyŏn (1612–45) had with Jesuit Adam Schall (1592–1666), and the gifts the missionary gave him before he returned from being a hostage of the Qing Empire to Korea. Likewise, Yi describes in encyclopedic breadth the particular books, many of which were written by Jesuits, that Koreans obtained while in China. Like other studies, Yi focuses on the meeting of Catholicism and Western civilization with Confucianism and Eastern civilization. He pays particular attention to the role of the former in introducing new forms of scientific and technical knowledge to Korean Confucian scholars, showing that not only were Koreans capable of adopting modern ideas, but that Catholicism played a positive and significant role in the process, thus showing the benefits the religion had for the nation. Moreover, Yi pays greater attention to Jesuit books on Catholic doctrine, noting that while they sought to accommodate Confucianism, they were very critical of Buddhism and Daoism.

In contrast, a more secular approach to the contributions of the Society of Jesus to Korea can be seen in the work of Kŭm Chang-t’ae, who asserts that Catholicism was “not a marginal but a major factor in opening a new era” in the late Chosŏn dynasty. Kŭm maintains that the modern scientific knowledge introduced alongside Catholicism broke down the China-centered order and the dominance of traditional neo-Confucianism, inaugurating a new worldview in which East and West could communicate with each other by interpreting the Chinese Classics and Catholicism harmoniously based on the Jesuit concept of Catholicism as “fulfilling Confucianism.” However, according to Kŭm, departure from the Jesuits’ policy of accommodation and the prohibition of ancestor worship ended the possibility of dialogue. As a result, Korea lost an opportunity to undertake modernizing reforms and Catholicism remained a foreign religion.56


The Establishment of the Society of Jesus in Korea

An important shift in the history of the Society of Jesus that will influence historiography on its relationship with Korea is the closer connection that has developed in the twentieth century between the two. For instance, a work that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Jesuits in Korea explains that before the Society was officially launched in Korea on March 25, 1955, three Korean youths entered it in Japan—Tobias Kim T’ae-gwan in 1939, Peter Chin Sŏng-man in 1940, and Thomas Pak Ko-yŏng in 1941—with Simon Yun Yang-sŏk joining the Society in China in 1948. The connection between the Jesuits, faith, and practical knowledge continued as Koreans became increasingly involved with the Society. In October 1943, when Korean Archbishop Paul No Ki-nam (or Roh Ki-nam, 1902–84) visited the Jesuit novitiate in Nagatsuka, Japan with three Korean priests to have a retreat, he realized that Korea needed an institute of higher education (there was only one university at the time in Korea and it was mostly for Japanese students). In 1947, the archbishop decided to request assistance from the Vatican in order to establish a Catholic institute of higher education for Korean youth. In the following year Chang Myŏn (1899–1966), a devout Catholic politician, served as the chief delegate to the Third General Assembly Meeting of the United Nations in Paris. On the way back to Korea he visited the Vatican to meet with Pope Pius XII (r. 1939–58) to request support for establishing such an institution of higher learning. At the same time, Fr. Pak Ko-yŏng (1919–2014) met Johann Baptist Janssens (1889–1964), the superior general of the Society of Jesus in Rome, and recommended that the Jesuits expand into Korea.57

Thanks to this lobbying, Fr. Theodore Geppert (1904–2002),58 past rector of Sophia University in Japan, a Jesuit institute, set foot on Korean soil in October, 1954 and the Society of Jesus in Seoul was officially established on February 25, 1955. On August 15 (the day Korea became independent from Japan and therefore a national holiday) of that year, the Society was separated from the Japanese vice-province and assigned to the Wisconsin region. The Society of Jesus in Korea’s first mission was to establish an institution of higher learning, and in 1960 Sogang College was finally opened with the motto of Obedire veritati (Obey the truth, Galatians 5:7), becoming a university in 1970.59 The Jesuit emphasis on education and the difficult economic situation Korea faced in the early 1960s, as well as the connection between faith and nation, can be seen in the fact that the English-language Catholic Korea stated that “the Jesuits in Korea are requesting the full cooperation of the Korean Catholics for the better education of Korean youth for the leadership needed in Church and country for the glory of God.”60 Thus, the Jesuit connection with modern and practical knowledge did not cease in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but continued into the twentieth.

In addition to a focus on education, the Society of Jesus has also often been active in the quest for social justice. This is a concern often shared by Korean Catholics, as seen in how pioneering scholar of Korean Catholicism, Cho Kwang has emphasized how Catholicism has served as a mean for social reform in early modern Korea in his Chosŏn hugi sahoe wa Ch’ŏnjugyo (Society and Catholicism in the late Chosŏn, 2010). The presence of members of the Society on the peninsula following the Korean War has allowed them to become directly involved in social justice issues, particularly among the poor and laborers. One illustrative example is Fr. John V. Daly, whose Korean name is Chŏng I-ru (1935–2014). Chŏng came to Korea in 1960 to teach English and philosophy at what was then known as Sogang College. He was appointed the second president of the college and community superior in 1963. However, he stopped teaching to live together with the urban poor in 1974. Together with Korean Catholic social activist Paul Che Chŏng-gu (or Je Jeong Gu, 1944–99), Fr. Chŏng shared the pain and suffering of the poor who lost their homes to development projects. One day, Stephen Cardinal Kim Su-hwan (1922–2009) visited their community and named it Yesuhoe Pogŭmjari, which  means “The Society of Jesus’s Gospel Place.” In 1977, urban redevelopment forced them to move from a shantytown in Yangp’yŏng-dong, Seoul to Sihŭng, Kyŏnggi Province where they purchased about 5,000 p’yŏng (four acres) of land with financial support from the German Catholic group Misereor.61 Due to their sacrifice and devotion, Chŏng and Paul Che were awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, named in honor of a former president of the Philippines, for community leadership in 1986.62 Fr. Chŏng has been regarded by Koreans as imitating Jesus by “just being with them.”63 The Gospel Place is now run by Veronica Sin Myŏng-ja, wife of the late Paul Che (Korean women typically do not take their husband’s family name when they marry), and produces jams and teas to help the poor who have been displaced by urban redevelopment make ends meet.64 Members of the Society have also been active in social justice movements related to housing and urban development, with Jesuit Park Mun Su (an American originally named Francis X. Buchmeier who became a naturalized Korean citizen) not only playing an important role in such movements, but even studying them as a scholar.65 While actively engaging in society, the Society of Jesus is also dedicated to nurturing and spreading Ignatian spirituality to both old and young, through its own Institute for Ignatian Spirituality and through special programs and the use of media technology, including the Internet.66


Conclusion and Directions for Further Research

With the exception of Céspedes, members of the Society of Jesus themselves have had very little directly to do with Korea until after the Korean War. Despite that, they have had a significant influence on Korean history, particularly the establishment and development of the Korean Catholic Church. In the historiography of the Society of Jesus in Korea, they have been many things: instruments of God’s will helping to nurture martyrs who would maintain the Catholic Church in Korea despite persecution, enemies of the true Gospel, pioneers of modern civilization and progress, bearers of modern Western knowledge and social justice that had the potential to transform Korea, and as models for how to develop a church that is both truly Catholic and truly Korean. This history is still alive and developing as the Society of Jesus is now firmly established on the peninsula, with a significant number of Koreans in its ranks.

Lately, the significance of the Jesuits in the development of Korean Catholicism and the place of Korea within the history of the Jesuits is being increasingly recognized outside of Korean scholarly circles. For instance, Po-chia Hsia, in his Matteo Ricci & the Catholic Mission to China: A Short History with Documents, stresses the importance of books produced by members of the Society of Jesus for the beginnings of Catholic Christianity in Korea and to its martyrs. Likewise, in his The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present, John W. O’Malley, S.J., celebrates the Jesuit role in Korea thusly, “In East Asia, Korea stands out as another success story. Jesuits from the United States came there only in 1960. Korea is now a province with almost two hundred members, virtually all of them Korean. Sogang University in Seoul, founded almost as soon as the Jesuits arrived, has achieved a distinguished reputation.”67 Finally, Franklin Rausch’s “The Jesuits in Korea: Influence without Presence,” sought to introduce the relationship between Chinese Jesuits and the establishment of the Catholic Church in Korea to an audience interested in world history. While there is much to do to continue the study of the Society of Jesus in Korea, for instance, more critical appraisals of the accommodationist method following the critique offered by Liam Brockey68 and more in-depth studies on the Jesuits and knowledge production about Korea, perhaps one of the most fruitful tasks for future researchers would be to chart the connections between the Jesuit early modern and contemporary past in Korea onto a global map.


For more bibliographical information, consult Boston College Jesuit Bibliography: The New Sommervogel Online (NSO).


^ Back to text1. For this entry, we will be referring to the Korean translation of Dallet’s work, which includes helpful annotations. See Charles Dallet, Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa [The history of the Korean Catholic Church], translated by An Ŭngryŏl and Ch’oe Sŏgu (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2000), 1:284.

^ Back to text2. A Japanese soldier did in fact baptize abandoned Korean infants who were near death on the peninsula during the war. While from the perspective of the church, they were Catholics, they would not have been able to establish and maintain a Catholic community. See Juan Ruiz de Medina S.J., The Catholic Church in Korea: Its Origins, 1566–1784, trans. John Bridge, S.J. (Seoul: Published for the Royal Asiatic Society by Seoul Computer Press, 1991), 74.

^ Back to text3. The Japanese catechist was a Jesuit brother named Hankan Leon. See Medina, 48–53.

^ Back to text4. The issue was not with the emperor, who was relatively powerless, but with Hideyoshi himself. See Samuel Hawley, The Imjin War (Seoul: The Royal Asiatic Society, Korean Branch, 2005), 392–94.

^ Back to text5. Dallet, 1:284–85.

^ Back to text6. Ibid., 1:283–84.

^ Back to text7. Ibid., 1:287–92.

^ Back to text8. Dallet, 295n58.

^ Back to text9. Dallet, 1:294–97. For an overview of encounters of Korean officials with Jesuit missionaries, see Pierre-Emmanuel Roux, “The Catholic Experience of Chosŏn Envoys in Beijing: A Contact Zone and the Circulation of Religious Knowledge in the Eighteenth Century,” Acta Koreana 19, no. 1 (June 2016): 9–44. See also Don Baker’s “Catholic God and Confucian Morality: A Look at the Theology and Ethics of Korea’s First Catholics” and Young-bae Song’s “On the Family Resemblance of Philosophical Paradigm: Between Dasan’s Thought and Matteo Ricci’s Tianzhu Shiyi,” in Korean Religions in Relation: Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016).

^ Back to text10. Dallet, 1:299–316.

^ Back to text11. Ch’oe Sŏg-u, “Talle chŏ Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa ŭi hyŏngsŏng kwajŏng” [The course of the development of the Korean Catholic Church written by Dallet], Kyohoesa yŏn’gu 3 (August 1981): 131–32.

^ Back to text12. For an example, see Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (Cincinnati: Truman & Smith, 1835), 113–14 and 146–47.

^ Back to text13. Horace Underwood, “Romanism on the Foreign Mission Field,” Reports of the Fifth General Council of the Alliance of the Reformed Churches Holding the Presbyterian System (Toronto: 1892), 409–15. This speech is also included in Yi Manyŏl and Ok Sŏngdŭk, ed. and tr., Ŏndŏudŭ charyojip [Collection of Underwood’s documents] (Seoul: Yonsei University, 1995), 1:725–35.

^ Back to text14. This book was originally published in 1882. I am referring to the 1894 version, which was the fourth edition, William Elliot Griffis, Corea: The Hermit Kingdom (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894). For this quote see page 376.

^ Back to text15. Griffis statement here is somewhat problematic. Catholics in China cannot be blamed for failing to produce materials in the Korean vernacular. However, shortly after the establishment of the Catholic Church in Korea, Korean scholars quickly began to translate texts in Chinese into the vernacular. Thus, the gap between the faith of the elite and that of the common people is not as great as presented here.

^ Back to text16. Ibid., 348n1. It should be noted that Griffis is not completely correct here. While Catholics did not translate the entirety of the Bible at this time, they did translate selections of the Bible, which were published as a sort of missal for Mass and for personal devotional reading.

^ Back to text17. Ibid., 356n3.

^ Back to text18. Ibid., 97.

^ Back to text19. Ibid., 121–22. It should be noted that Griffis is incorrect about the supposed ambitions of the Society of Jesus in Japan.

^ Back to text20. Ibid., 397.

^ Back to text21. Ibid., 376.

^ Back to text22. Ibid., 122–23, 148.

^ Back to text23. Ibid., 347–48.

^ Back to text24. Ibid., 162.

^ Back to text25. Ibid., 192–93.

^ Back to text26. Ibid., 200, 356–58.

^ Back to text27. John Ross, History of Corea (London: Elliot Stock, 1891); George Paik, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 1832–1910 (P’yŏngyang: Union Christian College Press, 1927; reprint Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1971); Allen Clark, Old Religions of Korea (Seoul: The Christian Literature Society of Korea, 1961); Wi Jo Kang, Christ and Caesar in Modern Korea: A History of Christianity and Politics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997); Jai-keun Choi, Early Catholicism in Korea (Seoul: Handl Publishing House, 2005). Choi’s work was also published as The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea: An Examination of Popular and Governmental Responses to Catholic Missions in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty, Rev. Ham Su-Hyun Studies in Asian Christianity, No. 2 (Norwalk, California: The Hermit Kingdom Press, 2006).

^ Back to text28. Société des missions étrangères de Paris, ed., The Catholic Church in Korea (Hong Kong: Impr. de la Société des missions étrangères, 1924).

^ Back to text29. James Grayson, Korea: A Religious History (New York: Routledge Curson, 2002).

^ Back to text30. Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim, A History of Korean Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 14–25.

^ Back to text31. For examples, see Sung-Deuk Oak, The Making of Korean Christianity: Protestant Encounters with Korean Religions (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013), 35–49.

^ Back to text32. Don Baker, “Jesuit Science through Korean Eyes,” The Journal of Korean Studies 4 (1982–83): 207–39.

^ Back to text33. Don Baker, “The Seeds of Modernity: Jesuit Natural Philosophy in Confucian Korea,” Pacific Rim Report 48 (August 2007): 1–16. Baker has continued his work in this area, publishing “Science, Technology, and Religion in Chosŏn Korea” as part of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History in March 2017. The article can be found at (accessed April 25, 2017).

^ Back to text34. Michael Seth, A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2011), 227.

^ Back to text35. Seth, 225–30.

^ Back to text36. “Practical Learning” is the translation of the Korean term sirhak and the term “practical learning school” is usually used to refer to a group of rather different Korean scholars of the Chosŏn dynasty who adopted ideas outside of traditional neo-Confucianism that are considered in some ways to be modern. For a critique of this term, see Don Baker, “The Use and Abuse of the Sirhak Label: A New Look at Sin Hu-dam and his Sŏhak Pyŏn,” Kyohoesa yŏn’gu 3 (1981): 183–254.

^ Back to text37. See Kyung Moon Hwang, A History of Korea (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 107. In his own treatment of the Jesuits, Hwang follows the basic narrative described above. See pages 104–5 of his book.

^ Back to text38. Carter Eckert et. al, Korea Old and New: A History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 170–72.

^ Back to text39. Eckert et al., 172.

^ Back to text40. Joseph Ch’ang-mun Kim and John Jae-sun Chung, Catholic Korea: Yesterday and Today (Seoul: Catholic Korea Publishing Co., 1964), xxi.

^ Back to text41. Joseph Ch’ang-mun Kim and John Jae-sun Chung, 18–22.

^ Back to text42. This basic format is also found in Rev. Kim Chang-seok Thaddeus, Lives of the 103 Martyr Saints of Korea (Seoul: Catholic Publishing House, 1984); The Research Foundation of Korea Church History, ed., Inside the Catholic Church, tr. Patrick McMullan (Seoul: Bishop Yeom Soo-jung, 2010).

^ Back to text43. Yi Chang-u, “Chosŏn kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo ŭi mannam” [An encounter between Chosŏn and Catholicism], Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa [The history of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2009), 1:107–16; Yesuhoe [The Society of Jesus], ed., Yesu ŭi pŏt: Han’guk esŏŭi 50-nyŏn [Friends of Jesus: Fifty years in Korea] (Seoul: Yesuhoe, 2005), 2. The Society of Jesus published this book to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in Korea.

^ Back to text44. Spanish Jesuit Gregorio de Céspedes joined the Society of Jesus in 1569 and arrived in Japan in 1577. He died there in December, 1611. He was buried in Nagasaki but his tomb was secretly moved following the 1614 anti-Catholic expulsion edict. See Pak Ch’ǒl, Sesǔppedesǔ: Han’guk pangmun ch’oech’o ǔi sǒguin [Céspedes: The first Westerner to visit Korea] (Seoul: Sogang University Press, 1993), 30.

^ Back to text45. Dallet, 1:284.

^ Back to text46. Yu Hong-ryŏl, Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa [The history of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Kat’ollik Ch’ulp’ansa, 1962); Ch’oe Sŏg-u, Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa ŭi yŏksa [The history of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1982); Ch’oe Sŏg-u, Han’guk Kyohoesa ŭi t’amgu [Research on Korean church history] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2000); Yun Min-gu, Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoe ŭi kiwŏn [The origins of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Kuk’ak charyowŏn, 2002); Yi Chang-u, “Chosŏn kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo ŭi mannam” [An encounter between Chosŏn and Catholicism,” in Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa [The history of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2009), 1:139–225; Cho Kwang, Chosŏn hugi wa Ch’ŏnjugyo [Society and Catholicism in the late Chosŏn] (Seoul: Kyŏngin Munhwasa, 2010); Kim Hye-gyŏng, “Waeran sigi Yesuhoe sŏn’gyosa tŭl ŭi Ilbon kwa Chosŏn insik” [Jesuit missionary understandings of Japan and Chosŏn Korea during the time of the Imjin War], Kyohoesa yŏn’gu 49 (December 2016): 7–53.

^ Back to text47. Though Medina’s argument is interesting, there simply is no reliable concrete evidence that such a community existed on the peninsula, which is why this view remains in the minority.

^ Back to text48. Pak Ch’ŏl, 16-segi sŏguin i pon Kkorai [Kkorai (Korea) seen by a Westerner of the sixteenth century] (Hanguk University of Foreign Studies Press, 2011).

^ Back to text49. Yu Hong-ryǒl, Han’guk Ch’ǒnjugyohoesa [History of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Kat’ollik Ch’ulpansa, 1962), 22, 35, and 36.

^ Back to text50. Sǒ Yang-ja, 16-segi Tongyang sǒn’gyo wa Mat’eo Rich’i Sinbu [Mission in the East in the sixteenth century and Fr. Matteo Ricci] (Seoul: Sǒng Yosep Ch’ulpansa), 8 and 12.

^ Back to text51. These two books were Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci, S.I. [Matteo Ricci’s historical works] (I–II) compiled by Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S.J. and Fonti Ricciane: Storia dell’introduzione del Cristianesimo in Cina [Ricci’ sources: History of the introduction of Christianity in China] (I–III) translated into Italian by Fr. Pasquale M. D’Elia, S.J. Kim Hye-gyŏng, Yesuhoe ŭi chŏkŭngjuŭi sŏn’gyo: Yŏksa wa ŭimi [The Society of Jesus’s accommodation mission: Its history and meaning] (Seoul: Sogang University Press, 2012), 16.

^ Back to text52. Among these four hundred books, 251 were on religion, 556 were on the humanities, and 131 were on natural science.

^ Back to text53. See Richard J. Smith, Fortune-tellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 45.

^ Back to text54. Yi Wŏn-sun, Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa yŏn’gu [Study on the history of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1986), 13–32; Yi Chang-u, “Hanyŏk sŏhaksŏ ŭi toip kwa yuhakcha tŭl ŭi panŭng” [The introduction of the books on Western learning translated into Chinese and Confucian scholars’ response], in Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa [History of the Korean Catholic Church] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2009), 1:139–225; Ch’ŏnjugyo Sŏul Taegyogu Chugyojwa Myŏngdong Sŏngdang, Myŏngdong pondangsa, 1882–2006 [History of Myŏngdong Cathedral, 1882–2006] (Seoul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2007), 38–39.

^ Back to text55. See the two articles by Yi Chang-u, “Chosŏn kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo ŭi mannam” [The encounter between Chosŏn and Catholicism],” 107–35; “Hanyŏk sŏhaksŏ ŭi toip kwa yuhakcha tŭl ŭi panŭng,” 139–225.

^ Back to text56. Kǔm Chang-t’ae, “Chosŏn Sŏhak ŭi chŏn’gae wa kwaje [Development and issues of Western learning in Chosŏn], Sinhak kwa Ch’ŏrhak [Theology and philosophy] 20 (2012): 44–76.

^ Back to text57. R.K. McIntosh, S.J., “History of the Society of Jesus in Korea,” in Yesu ŭi pŏt: Han’guk esŏ ŭi 50-nyŏn [Friends of Jesus: Fifty years in Korea], ed. Yesuhoe (Seoul: Yesuhoe, 2005), ix.

^ Back to text58. Theodore Geppert was born in Germany but joined the Society of Jesus in the Netherlands in 1923, was ordained a priest in 1933 in Ireland, and then received a doctorate in economics and mathematics in 1940 from the University of Basel in Switzerland. In 1961, after establishing Sogang College, he returned to Japan, dying there in 2002. Geppert gave Stephen Kim Su-hwan (1922 –2009) his blessing after he was drafted into the Japanese imperial army while studying at Sophia University during World War Two. Kim would go on to become a cardinal and would officiate at Geppert’s funeral Mass at Sogang University. See Cardinal Kim Su-hwan and P’yŏnghwa Sinmun ed., Ch’ugigyŏng Kim Su-hwan iyagi [The story of Cardinal Kim Su-hwan] (Seoul: P’yŏnghwa Pangsong P’yŏnghwa Sinmun, 2009), 86–88.

^ Back to text59. Yesuhoe, 4–78.

^ Back to text60. Joseph Ch'ang-mun Kim and John Jae-sun Chung, 727–29.

^ Back to text61. Cardinal Kim recommended this group to him. See Che Chŏng-gu Kinyŏm Saŏphoe ed., Yesuhoe sinbu Chŏng I-ru iyagi [The story of Chŏng I-ru, priest of the Society of Jesus] (Seoul: Che Chŏng-gu Kinyŏm Saŏphoe, 2013), 66–67 and 75–76.

^ Back to text62. See and (accessed April 25, 2017).

^ Back to text63. Che Chŏng-gu Kinyŏm Saŏphoe ed., 4–7.

^ Back to text64. See  (accessed April 25, 2017).

^ Back to text65. See Park Mun Su, S.J., “Tension between the Urban Redevelopment Program and a Religiously-Inspired Citizens’ Advocacy Group in Seoul” (Unpublished Paper, June 1990) and Franklin Rausch, (accessed April 25, 2017).

^ Back to text66. McIntosh, ix–xv. 

^ Back to text67. John W. O’Malley, S.J., The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 111.

^ Back to text68. Liam Matthew Brockey, The Visitor: André Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), Chapter 8.

Cite this page
Jieun Han and Franklin Rausch, “The Society of Jesus and Korea: A Historiographical Essay”, in: Jesuit Historiography Online. Consulted online on 26 June 2017 <>
First published online: 2017

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