The Historiography of the Jesuits in Vietnam: 1615–1773 and 1957–2007
(10,274 words)

Anh Q. Tran, S.J. 
[email protected]

Last modified: October 2018

In contrast to the wealth of information about the Jesuits in China and Japan, the parallel story of the Jesuit presence in Vietnam has received modest scholarly attention until recent decades. Even though the Portuguese and Italian Jesuits were instrumental in establishing Christian communities in both the ancient states of Cochinchina and Tonkin that make up the present-day Vietnam, their contribution were not properly acknowledged. Part of the problem is due to the fact that prior to 1945, Vietnam was known to the Western world largely as part of French Indochina, and thus Vietnamese Catholicism was seen in the same light—as an extension of French Catholicism. For three hundred years, from the 1660s to the 1960s, the Catholic Church in Vietnam was largely under the care of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (Missions Étrangères de Paris or MEP).

The early clashes between the Jesuit Padroado missions and the Propaganda Fide-sponsored bishops during the 1660s–80s in Annam (Vietnam) and Siam (Thailand) resulted in a cold reception of the Jesuit legacy in Vietnam. Furthermore, after the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, the Jesuit-based parishes were transferred to the jurisdiction of MEP or Dominican priests. Up until the middle of the twentieth century, most researchers on Catholicism in Vietnam relied on the archival materials of MEP (the collections “Lettres du Tonkin et de la Cochinchine” of the AMEP) and the occasional French translations of Jesuit travelogues. The story of early Jesuit involvement in the local churches of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was either forgotten or re-told through the lens of French historians. The only exception was Avignon’s citizen Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), who was credited with “founding” Catholicism in Vietnam and “inventing” the Vietnamese the alphabet script known as chữ Quốc ngữ (script of the national language).1

Most of the writings about Jesuit missions of the pre-suppression period were penned by the Jesuits on the frontiers through their annual reports (also called relations) and memoirs, which were written either in Portuguese, Latin, or Italian. Basic biographical information on the Jesuits in Vietnam during this period could be found in Macau e a Sua Diocese, Vol 14: As missões Portuguesas no Vietnam2 and relevant entries in Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús.3 Furthermore, interested readers should consult the Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu (ARSI) in Rome (the collection “Japonica-Sinica”),4 the Biblioteca da Ajuda (BA) in Lisbon (the collection “Jesuítas na Ásia”),5 and the Real Academia de la Historia de Madrid (RAHA) in Madrid (the collection “Jesuitas”).

In this survey, I will present the Jesuit activities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the ancient kingdoms of Cochinchina and Tonkin. Then, I will conclude the essay with the present account of the Jesuit missions in Vietnam.

1. Jesuit Mission in Cochinchina under Portuguese Padroado (1615–65)

In the seventeenth century, Vietnam, known to the outside world as Annam (Chinese: An-nan, Pacified South), existed in two feudal states at war with each other. The Northern state (Tonkin) was controlled by the Trịnh clans and the Southern state (Cochinchina) was under the rule of the Nguyễn.6 The Jesuit missions to Vietnam were an accident of history. Following the the ban of Christianity in Japan by Tokugawa Shogunate in 1614, new opportunities were opened for the expelled Jesuits to Southeast Asia.7

By 1600, the Nguyễn lords of Cochinchina had allowed Chinese and Japanese merchants to set up a small trading post in Faifo (Hội An). In 1614, Portuguese merchant Fernandes da Costa (n.d.) obtained exclusive permission to trade there. Upon learning of this Valentim Carvalho (1560–1631), the provincial of Japan who had just been expelled from Japan along with a large number of Jesuits, decided to send three Jesuits to Faifo to explore the possibility of continuing their mission among the Japanese.

Traces of early Western missionaries in Vietnam prior to the Jesuit arrival were faint. According to a legendary account in the imperial chronicle Mirror and Commentary on the History of the Viet (Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục), around 1533 a “certain Westerner” named I-nê-xu or I-nhi-khu (Ignacio?) had secretly introduced the “false doctrine of Jesus” along the coast of Tonkin. In the latter half of the sixteenth-century, Franciscan, Augustinian, and Dominican missionaries from Portuguese Malacca and Macau and Spanish Manila came to evangelize in Tonkin and Cochinchina. Although their missionary enterprises were short and sporadic, there were records of few converts.8 Catholicism began to take a firm root in Vietnam with the establishment of the Jesuit missions in the seventeenth century.

The earliest information about the Jesuits in Vietnam were reports from the Annua of the “Provincia Iaponiae,” a territory that encompassed much of East Asia.  On 18 January 1615, three Jesuits from Macau landed in Cửa Hàn (near present-day Hội An). Two priests, Francesco Buzomi (1575–1639),9 Diogo Carvalho (1578–1624)10 and several brothers11 came to visit the Japanese Catholics, who had taken refuge in southern Vietnam to escape the persecution led by the Togukawa Shogunate. These Jesuit missionaries, however, found the Vietnamese receptive to the new religion, and there were ten baptisms by Easter of 1615. With financial support from an early convert, Buzomi was able to build a chapel and a residence there. Encouraged by the initial progress, the Jesuit superior in Macau decided to send more Jesuits to Cochinchina. Between 1615 and 1627, twenty-five Jesuits worked and stayed in Cochinchina for periods ranging from a few months to several years.12

In 1617, Francisco da Pina (1585–1625)13—a gifted linguist—and two companions arrived in Cochinchina. Pina’s masterful knowledge of local language allowed him to preach without an interpreter, and he gathered around him a group of young Vietnamese catechists, modelled after the dojuku lay community of Japan.14 These assistants helped to act as interpreters and mediators between the missionaries and local population as well as scribes for missionaries to learn the language. Pina was the pioneer in laying out the foundation for the alphabetization of the Vietnamese language. By 1620–21, with the help of local assistants, he already composed a rough catechism in local Cochinchinese dialect (Southern Vietnamese) to meet the need of the Catholic neophytes. He was also credited with the composition of a “grammar” book of the language, but his works are presumably lost.15

The Italian Jesuit Cristoforo Borri (1583–1632),16 a companion of Pina, used scientific skill to impress the local rulers by accurately predicting the lunar and solar eclipses. He was the first European who told the world about Cochinchina in his Relatione della nuova missione delli PP. della Compagnia di Giesu, al Regno della Cocincina (Roma, 1631). Along with discussion on the land, its flora and fauna, people, cultures, and politics, Borri’s account of the early Jesuit activities during the years of 1617–21 offered us a picture of the up and down of the Cochinchina mission.17 The first decade of the Jesuit mission of Cochinchina was relatively successful. The Jesuits were in favor with the Nguyễn lords, de facto rulers of Cochinchina, who were fascinated with their skills in language, mathematics, and astronomy. After some initial difficulty, the Jesuits were allowed to settle in different parts of Cochinchina. From their base in Faifo (1615), the Jesuits spread to Nước Mặn or Pulaucambi (1618) and Thanh Chiêm or Cacciam (1623).

Soon, the Nguyễn rulers turned against the new faith. Opponents accused missionaries of enticing people to abandon the cult of the ancestors. As early as 1629, the Jesuits were expelled from Cochinchina, but were later allowed to return when trade with Macau flourished. However, after some Japanese Christians in Faifo had assisted his brother in a revolt against him in 1639, Lord Nguyễn Phúc Lan (r.1635–48) ordered all seven Jesuits to leave the country. The young Christian community, now numbering roughly fifteen thousand, was left to fend for themselves. Alexandre de Rhodes joined the Cochinchina mission between 1624 and 1626 before he was sent to the Tonkin mission, and found a way to return in 1640 with a companion - but the opposition was fierce. Rhodes shuttled between Macau and Cochinchina four times between 1640 and 1645 before finally being deported from the country under threat of death. Years later, he recounted his experience of Cochinchina in Relation des progrès de la foy au Royaumme de la Cochinchine vers les derniers quartiers du Levant (Paris, 1652). One of his catechists, Andrew of Phú Yên (c.1625–44) was the proto-martyr of Cochinchina, beheaded in front of de Rhodes himself.18 The martyrdom of Andrew, reported by Rhodes in La glorieuse mort d’André catechiste de la Cochinchine qui a le premier verse son sang pour la querelle de Jésus-Christ en cette nouvelle Église (Paris, 1653), was the first hagiography of a nascent church and it became an inspiration for many French missionaries and Vietnamese converts of future generations.

For the next twenty years (1646–66), less than ten Jesuits  could enter Cochinchina but their activities were limited.19 António-Francisco Cardim’s Relation de ce qui s’est passe depuis quelques années, jusques à l’an 1644 au Japon, a la Cochinchine, au Malabar, en l’Isle de Ceilan, & enplusiers autres Isles & Royaume de l’Orient (Paris, 1646) and Mettello Saccano’s Relation des progrès de la foy au royaume de la Cochinchine es année 1646 & 1647 (Paris, 1653) describe the situation of the Cochinchina mission in these difficult years. From time to time, the Nguyễn lords expelled the missionaries and proscribed the activities of native Christians. The coming and going of Jesuit missionaries and the resulting persecutions by local magistrates did not slow down the spread of Christianity. By this time, the Cochinchinese dojuku was already institutionalized as “the order of catechists,” celibate men who dedicated themselves to the task of evangelization in the absence of the missionaries.  The persecutions of Christians in Cochinchina gave Jesuits the impetus to explore for new missions in the neighbor kingdoms of Champa and Cambodia but these missions were short-lived.

After leaving Cochinchina, Rhodes returned to Europe to campaign for support for missionary work in Vietnam. Because his progress was slow in Rome, Rhodes went to France in 1653 to begin another campaign among the French clergy. His request of sending bishops to Asia was heard and welcomed with great success among the clergy of Paris. In 1658, Pope Alexander VII appointed three Frenchmen as apostolic vicars or missionary bishops to Asia. Cochinchina was placed under a new apostolic vicariate entrusted to Msgr. Pierre Lambert de la Motte (1624–79), a co-founder of the future Foreign Missions Society of Paris (Missions Étrangères de Paris or MEP).  With the arrival of the French priests in 1664, the mission in Cochinchina was detached, step-by-step, from the Portuguese Padroado system. The arrival of MEP did not result in immediate surrender of the JesuitsThe jurisdiction and authority of Lambert de la Motte was hotly contested by Jesuits on the ground by their superiors in Macao and by Portugal who refused to accept the legality of the erection of new bishoprics.20

2. Jesuit Mission in Tonkin under Portuguese Padroado (1627–63)

Following the example of their confrères in Cochinchina, Giuliano Baldinotti (1591–1631)21 and a Japanese brother went to Tonkin in March 1626 to explore the possibility of establishing a mission there. They were well-received by the ruling lord of Tonkin, Trịnh Tráng (r.1623–57), because he wanted to establish trade with the Portuguese.22 Upon return to Macau, he wrote a favorable report on the situation.23 As a result, the Jesuit superior André Palmeiro (1569–1635)24 decided to dispatch more Jesuits to the Tonkin mission.25

Among these Jesuits was the famous ‘apostle of Vietnam’ Alexandre de Rhodes (1593–1660).26 He arrived in Cochinchina in December of 1624 and learned Vietnamese under Pina. Rhodes made such good progress in language that eighteen months later, he was recalled to Macau to prepare the new mission of Tonkin. Together with the veteran of Japan mission, Pero Marques, Sr. (c.1576–1657),27 they sailed from Macau and landed in Thanh Hoá province on March 19, 1627. They were also favorably received by Trịnh Tráng who was returning from a campaign against Cochinchina. He allowed them to settle in the capital (Hanoi) and evangelize. Skillful in Vietnamese, Rhodes’s preaching attracted the attention at the court and a handful of converts among the noble families. By the end of 1627, they had baptized more than one thousand two hundred people, among who were Trịnh Tráng’s mother and one of his sisters (Lady Catarina). In the meantime, two more Jesuits, Gaspar do Amaral (1594–1646)28 and Paulo Saito (1576–1633)29 arrived with Portuguese traders in July 1629.

The Trịnh initially welcomed missionaries hoping for a political and commercial profit. Trịnh Tráng was eager to conduct trade with Macau in order to sustain his campaign against the Nguyễn. Because of their language skills, Jesuits acted as interpreters and intermediaries in receiving goods from arriving vessels. When trade failed to become well-established, the Trịnh became indifferent towards the missionaries and hostile to the faith. In May 1630, the Lord of Tonkin ordered all four Jesuits out of the country on the account that they were spies for the Nguyễn of Cochinchina. By that time the number of Christians had grown to more than 5,600.30

Back in Macau, Rhodes spent the next ten years teaching theology while waiting for the opportunity to return to Vietnam. A prolific writer, he composed most of the books about the missions during his time in Macau; these works later were updated and published in Europe.  Some are related to the missions of Tonkin: Relazione de’ felici successi della santa fede predicata dai Padri della Compagnia di Giesu nel regno di Tunchino (Rome, 1650); Tunchinesis historiae libri duo, quorum altero status temporalis hujus regni, altero mirabiles evangelicae predicationis progressus referuntur: Coepta per Patres Societatis Iesu, ab anno 1627, ad annum 1646 (Lyons, 1652).31 Others are works on Vietnamese language and catechism meant to help later missionaries: Linguae annamiticae seu Tunchinesis brevis declaratio (Rome, 1651);32 Cathechismus pro iis, qui volunt suscipere baptismum, in octo dies divisus (Rome, 1651);33 and Dictionarium Annamiticum, Lustinanum, et Latinum (Rome, 1651).34

Upon returning to Europe in 1549, Rhodes was busy petitioning for more personnel and resources to support the missions in East Asia, especially among the French clergy. Besides his earlier works, now to be printed, he also composed and edited other works about the missions: Divers voyages et missions du P. Alexandre de Rhodes en la Chine, & autres royaummes de l’Orient (Paris, 1653); Sommaires des divers voyages, et missions apostoliques, du R.P.  Alexandre de Rhodes, de la Compagnie de Jésus, à la Chine, & autres royaummes de l’Orient, avec son retour de la Chine à Rome: Depuis l’année 1618, jusques à l’année 1653 (Paris, 1653). Rhodes’s were quickly translated into French and were received with enthusiasm since up until this time 1651–53, there were few published sources on these distant countries of the Far East.

The mission of Tonkin was far from over after Rhodes’s departure. Other Jesuits continued to arrive with Portuguese ships whenever the political climate allowed them to do so. As early as March 1631, Gaspar do Amaral returned to Tonkin on a trading ship with two Jesuit companions and André Palmeiro. They found out that the Christian community, in the meantime, had added another 3,300 converts, mostly through the tireless work of native catechists whom Rhodes had formed before his departure. Three more Jesuits joined the Tonkin mission the following year, and ten more by the end of the decade. With the help of the native catechists, the number of Christians had increased to about 100,000 by 1640.

Another prolific Jesuit of this era was Girolamo Majorica (c.1591–1656).35 A companion of de Rhodes to Cochinchina, he also mastered the Vietnamese language under the tutelage of Pina and other native speakers. Sent to the Tonkin mission in the end of 1631 with Bernardo Reggio (n.d.), they started a printing press to print copies of Matteo Ricci's Chinese-language work, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, as well as a defense of the faith by Francesco Buzomi. The press was destroyed within several months.36 He left the following year to the southern region of Nghệ An. With the help of local converts, between 1632 and 1640, he composed about forty-five to forty-eight volumes of catechism, prayer texts, liturgical rituals, verses and hymns, written in the native demotic script (Nôm).37 His works were noted by his contemporary confreres but presumably lost, until they were rediscovered in the 1950s.38

Other Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century also wrote their accounts of the missions. Amaral was the first superior of the mission and had penned a number of annual reports about Tonkin. He was also the author of a now-lost Vietnamese-Portuguese lexicon (which got incorporated in de Rhodes’s trilingual dictionary). Other notable works include the accounts by Giovanni Filippo de Marini (1608–1682)39 and Joseph François Tissanier (1618–1688) who came to Tonkin around 1658.  De Marini’s Delle missioni de' padri della Compagnia di Giesù nella provincia del Giappone, e particolarmente di quella di Tumkino (Roma, 1663)40 and Tissanier’s Relation du voyage du P. Joseph Tissanier de la Compagnie de Jésus: Depuis la France, jusqu’ au Royaume de Tunquin:  Avec ce qui s’est passé de plus mémorable dans cette mission, durant les années 1658, 1659, & 1660 (Paris, 1663)41 provided the first hand information about Tonkin for future French missionaries who would come in the late 1660s.

Like in Cochinchina, the Jesuit Padroado-based mission in Tonkin would undergo significant changes when Pope Alexander VII (1599–1667) decided to make Tonkin an apostolic vicariate in 1658 and appointed Msgr. François Pallu (1626–84) to be its first missionary bishop - but the effect was not felt until a decade later.

3. The Jesuit Missions to Vietnam under the French and Spanish Bishops (1664–1773)

François Pallu reported his experience of the missions in several works: Relation abrégée des mission et des voyages évêques français envoyés aux royaumes de la Chine, Cochinchine, Tonkin et Siam (Paris, 1668), Relation des mission et des voyages évêques vicaires apostoliques et de leurs ecclésiastiques ès années 1672, 1673, 1674, 1675 (Paris, 1680), and Relation des mission et des voyages évêques vicaires apostoliques et de leurs ecclésiastiques ès années 1676 et 1677 (Paris, 1680). In these reports, the bishop’s view of the Jesuits was mixed. While he praised the early Jesuit missionary activities in Vietnam, his view of the contemporary Jesuits was negative. After all, both Pallu and Lambert de la Motte were prevented by the Portuguese authority to exercise their ecclesiastical authority in Cochinchina and Tonkin. Nationalities clashed.

In his lifetime, Pallu could not come to his post due to unexpected circumstances. After much hardship travelling by land since no Portuguese ship would take non-padroado priests, Pallu arrived to Ayutthaya, Siam in 1662 to join his fellow bishop Lambert de la Motte.  The capital of Siam would be their initial base in Asia while waiting for an opportunity to enter Tonkin and Cochinchina. They found a college seminary in 1665–66 to train native priests for the region. During Pallu’s return to France in 1667–73 to gather more support for the missions, Lambert de la Motte visited Tonkin on his behalf during 1669–70, and helped to organize the Church there. On his way to Tonkin in 1674, Pallu was seized by the Spanish authority in Manila when his ship landed there because of a storm. He was sent back to Europe by way of Mexico to stand trial. Finally, he was only able to return to Southeast Asia in the mid-1680s, but by this time, Rome already appointed someone else to be the apostolic vicar of Tonkin.

The Jesuit mission in Tonkin experienced a temporary gap when Lord Trịnh Tạc (r.1657–85) expelled all Jesuits in 1663 including de Marini and Tissanier. French missionaries would fill this vacancy in 1666 with the appointment of François Deydier (1634–93) to be the vicar of the Tonkin missions. By the time the Jesuits returned in 1669, they were faced with French missionaries and newly ordained native priests, some of whom were their former catechists.42 Needless to say, the Jesuits fought hard to have the French ejected but the tide would not be on their side.

Furthermore, with the presence of other religious orders arrived after 1663: MEP, Dominicans, Discalced Augustinians, and Franciscans, the Jesuits had no more monopoly on the mission. In 1678, the mission of Tonkin was divided into two apostolic vicariates under the auspice of the Propaganda Fide, which wanted to take over the Asian mission from Portuguese patronage. Conflict over jurisdiction was inevitable. This new arrangement was not accepted by some Jesuits in Vietnam, who preferred to report to the ecclesial authorities in Macau and Malacca. Territorial disputes and jurisdiction conflicts with the MEP priests and apostolic vicars caused a scandal among the faithful and prompted some native catechists and priests to appeal to the Propaganda Fide for intervention. In the 1680s, several Jesuits—Giuseppe Candone (1636– 1701) and Bartolomeu da Acosta (1629–95) in Cochinchina; Domenico Fuciti (1625–96) and Emmanuel Ferreya (1628-1696) in Tonkin—were recalled to Macau while their local congregations were taken over by other missionaries and local Vietnamese priests under the authority of MEP or Dominican bishops. Eventually, a compromise was reached. The Jesuits were allowed to return to Cochinchina in 1691 and Tonkin in 1696 to rebuild their communities. These Padroado-based communities were left alone to flourish alongside with parishes ran by the other missionary groups.

As a consequence, the Jesuits no longer achieved the same degree of success they had had in both parts of Vietnam. In their report to Rome, the Jesuits claimed that by 1658, they had baptized about 300,000 people. This figure was probably inflated, but the Jesuit contribution was significant. The number of Jesuit missionaries also dropped. If, during the first forty-five years (1615–60), eighty Jesuits came to Vietnam, only eighty-two Jesuits came during the next hundred years. Although smaller in number, they still made some significant contribution to maintain the Jesuit influence among Vietnamese. While no Jesuits in Tonkin served in the Lê’s or the Trịnh’s courts, at least a dozen Jesuits had served the Nguyễn in Cochinchina between 1673–1773.43

After the suppression of the Society of Jesus, all the remaining Jesuits in Cochinchina and Tonkin had to report directly to the MEP or Dominican bishops. By the time the Society of Jesus was restored in 1814, all of the former Jesuit missionaries had grown old or died; no new ones were sent. From the time of their arrival in Vietnam to the suppression of the Society of Jesus, a total of seventy-seven foreign Jesuits and seven Vietnamese Jesuits worked in Cochinchina; ninety-five foreign Jesuits labored in Tonkin, not counting an additional twenty-six Vietnamese Jesuits.44

The aftermath of Jesuits in Tonkin was reported by Felipe Rosario Bỉnh (1759–1833), a native Tonkinese priest who went with a few companions to Lisbon, hoping to petition the court of Portugal to send more Jesuit priests to minister to them.45 Even though Bỉnh was only an apprentice of the Jesuits and was never a part of the order, the loyalty to his mentor made him a fierce defendant of the Jesuit legacy in East Tonkin. Arrived at Lisbon in 1795–96, Bỉnh wasted no time in imploring the crown prince to appoint a Portuguese bishop for Tonkin who would then take charge of the Jesuit-based communities. Bỉnh’s mission eventually failed, and until his death in 1833, he lived as an exile in Europe, spending his time composing Catholic literature and tales of his journey to be sent home to his community. A prolific writer, Bỉnh produced twenty-five notebooks in Portuguese and Romanized Vietnamese scripts, which are preserved in Vatican library.46

4. The Jesuit Missions as Seen by French Historians during the Colonial Era

In the nineteenth century, Tonkin and Cochinchina were unified as one country under a new name—Vietnam. The church in Vietnam fell under the control of two main missionary groups; East Tonkin was given to the Dominicans of Manila, and the rest of the country (West Tonkin, North Cochinchina, West Cochinchina) were under the governance of French MEP bishops. Between 1862 and 1883, Vietnam lost its independence and became part of the French Indochina. French historians began to produce their account of the missions of Tonkin and Cochinchina. Although the Jesuits were no longer on the scene, French historians wrote the history of Catholic development from their perspectives. Alexandre de Rhodes, through his personal connection with the establishment of the MEP, was singled out as “the Jesuit who founded” the Church in Vietnam.

The earliest history of the Church in Vietnam was published by Fortuné de Montézon and Edmond Estève, Mission de la Cochinchine et du Tonkin (Paris: Douniol, 1858). In this work, Montézon and Estève highlighted the contribution and achievements of the French Jesuit missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Alexandre de Rhodes, Joseph Tissanier, Pierre Albier (1620–65), Edmond Poncet (1613–67), Abraham Joseph Le-Royer (1646–1715), Hughes Parégaud (d.1695) in Tonkin and François-Ignace Baudet (1618–77) in Cochinchina.47 Portuguese, Italian, and other Jesuits of the first Society were mentioned only in passing.48 Their effort was to justify that the French clergy, Jesuits and MEP, were foundational to the church of Vietnam. Other French authors followed a similar strategy: for examples, Eugene Louvet, La Cochinchine religieuse (Paris: E. Leroux, 1885); Romanet du Caillaud, Essai sur les origines du christianisme au Tonkin et dans les autres pay annamites (Paris: Augustine Challamel, 1915); Henri Chapoulie, Aux origines d’une église: Rome et les missions d’Indochine au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1943–48). As a result, many historians thought that the church in Vietnam was founded by the French missionaries. Of course, the Jesuit historian Daniello Bartoli in Dell'istoria della Compagnia di Gesù: La Cina (Turin: G. Marietti, 1825) gave a different story of the Jesuit activities in Cochinchina and Tonkin prior to the suppression, but his work was not popular among the French clergy or known by the general public.

The most prolific MEP historian of this era was Adrienne Launay (1853–1927). Launay wrote extensively on the missions of Cochinchina and Tonkin based on the letters and reports preserved in AMEP. In his Histoire générale de la Société des missions étrangères (Paris: Téqui, 1894) and Les missionnaires français au Tonkin (Paris: Téqui, 1900), Launay recounts the mission work of Rhodes and his connection to the MEP. His two sets of documentaries, Histoire de la mission de Cochinchine, 1658–1825 (Paris, Téqui, 1923–25) and Histoire de la mission du Tonkin 1658–1717 (Paris, Téqui, 1927) are invaluable for researchers to examine the interaction between Jesuits and MEP clergy in the post-Padroado years. In the absence of the Jesuit writing of the period, Louis Néez’s notes on the Tonkinese clergy, Documents sur le clergé Tonkinois aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (Paris: Église d’Asie, 1925) provides us with the basic information about the Jesuit clergy, including Vietnamese Jesuits of the eighteenth century.49

5. Back to the Archives: Jesuit and Non-Jesuit Scholarship in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

If the history of the Jesuit activities in Vietnam were first written by Jesuit missionaries and then by French historians, the majority of the research in the 1950s and 1960s were written by Vietnamese authors in graduate schools in Rome and Paris.50 In the post-colonial era, Vietnamese authors wanted to study the origin of their church through the new archival materials accessible to them. In 1960, at the three-hundredth anniversary of Alexandre de Rhodes’s death, interests in his catechism, method of evangelization, and his contribution to the Vietnamese language arose among Vietnamese scholars. The research into the process of Romanization of Vietnamese language by South-Vietnamese scholars such as Nguyễn Khắc Xuyên (1923–2005), Thanh Lãng (d.1980), Võ Long Tê (1927–2017), Đỗ Quang Chính, S.J. (1929–2014), uncovered the contribution of the early Portuguese and Italian missionaries.51

The re-discovery of the copies of Girolamo Majorica’s manuscripts by Hoàng Xuân Hãn (1908–96) in 1953 also aroused interests among Vietnamese scholars. Between 1975 and 1995, Thanh Lãng and his successors led a team of scholars to translate the Nôm writing of Majorica into modern Vietnamese. This wealth of information still awaits scholars of Vietnamese language who may wish to study him in the future.52

In recent years, international scholars also have focused their research about the individual Jesuits in the pre-1665 period. A translation and introduction of Rhodes’s catechism by Peter Phan in 1998 situates the work in his historical context.53 De Rhodes still attracts attention in recent scholarship.54 But other Jesuits are also being researched. Roland Jacques highlights the linguistic contribution of the early Jesuits, especially that of Francisco de Pina.55 Brian Ostrowski has recently introduced Girolamo Majorica’s work for the Western audience.56  Olga Dror reissued the Cochinchina account of Cristoforo Borri, giving a valuable primary source to understand the challenge of early Jesuit mission to South Vietnam.57 Likewise, Isabel Mourão’s work on Gaspar do Amaral shed light on the early Jesuit mission of Tonkin.58

On the general history of the Jesuits in Vietnam, the most up-to-date accounts that use the Jesuit archival materials from Rome and Lisbon are the works of Đỗ Quang Chính (in Vietnamese);59 Jacques Roland (in French);60 Juan Ruiz-de-Medina (in Spanish);61 P. Manuel Teixeira,62 and Isabel Mourão63 (in Portuguese). These works focus on the Padroado missions of the Society (1615–65), but less on the later period.

On the relationship between the Jesuits in the period of tension with MEP authority from a Portuguese and Italian perspective, Tara Alberts has provided a cross-examination between the data from the AMEP and the ARSI, as well as the decisions by the Propaganda Fide, which serve to shed light on the turbulent years of transition between the two systems.64 Finally, the Jesuit activities of eighteenth-century Vietnam also deserve attention, since quite a few missionaries were from Germany and Bohemia.65

At this time, the Jesuit materials in the archives have been only modestly transcribed, translated, and studied. Of note are the works produced by the graduate students of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages at the Brigham Young University.66 Their efforts are laudable and will be a great service for those who do not have accessed to the original archival materials.

6. The Story Continues

The restored Society did not return Vietnam until 1957.67 This time, however, the Jesuit mission in Vietnam was to focus on educational rather than commercial interests. By the end of the First Indochina War in 1954 there was a massive migration of bishops, priests, and seminarians fleeing to South Vietnam to escape the Communist regime in the North. Faced with the immediate need to establish ‘a serious intellectual and spiritual formation’ for their future clergy, the bishops petitioned the Propaganda Fide to open a pontifical seminary to train Vietnamese seminarians. They invited the Jesuits to lead it.68

The Jesuit superior general, Jean-Baptiste Janssens, asked the exiled members of the China mission to begin a new mission in Vietnam. Because a large number of Jesuits had been expelled from mainland China in the early 1950s, a number of men were available for the new mission.69 In 1957, Ferdinand Lacretelle (1902–89) 70 arrived in Saigon with a mandate to educate future Vietnamese clergy. The Apostolic Delegate in South Vietnam suggested Dalat, where a Catholic university already existed, as the best site for the seminary. A year later the Pontifical Seminary of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Seminarium Pontificale Immaculati Cordis BMV) was established in a building on the campus of the University of Dalat. The Propaganda Fide approved the formation program and entrusted it to the Society of Jesus.

In September 1958, twenty-four seminarians studied philosophy under the guidance of four Jesuits headed by Lacretelle. After the curriculum was approved, the seminary was renamed St. Pius X Pontifical College (Collegium Pontificium Sancti Pii X) in 1959.71 A larger campus was soon needed to meet increased demand. With financial help from benefactors inside and outside of Vietnam the construction of the new Pontifical College began in 1961. When completed in 1964, it became the symbol of Jesuit education in Vietnam. The theology faculty was instituted in July 1965 in collaboration with the University of Dalat.72 The theologate began to offer courses in graduate studies for the licentiate in theology, and eventually a doctoral program was established in 1972. Unfortunately, the whole project came to a halt with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. On August 28, 1975, all foreign missionaries were ordered out of the country within forty-eight hours. The seminary was placed under the care of the bishop of Dalat, Barthélémy Nguyễn Sơn Lâm and operated by Vietnamese clergymen until it was forced to close on August 9, 1977.

The Jesuits did not only come to Vietnam to train clergy. In 1959, Lacretelle established the Alexandre de Rhodes Center in Saigon, which included a student hostel, a large library and reading hall.73 Other student centers included the Xavier Student Center in Hué (1962), the Candidate House for university students in Saigon (1965), and the Candidate House for secondary school students in Thu Duc (1972). In addition to their duties as teachers and librarians, Jesuits served as student chaplains, guides, and mentors. Although the majority of Jesuits were involved in seminary education, they also taught at the University of Saigon and the University of Dalat. At the De Rhodes Center they taught language classes in English, French and German, as well as Vietnamese for foreigners, and gave lectures on current affairs that attracted college students and Vietnamese intellectuals. The Society of Jesus became involved in secondary education with the Tín Đức (Faith and Virtue) secondary school in Hué (1964).

Jesuit education was not limited to teaching and working with students. The Jesuits attempted to reach out to the public through vibrant liturgy, preaching, recollections, retreats, and mass media. Before the end of the Vietnam War, they published a journal of cultural studies entitled Phương Đông (The Orient) and operated an educational television center. Phương Đông focused on inculturation and interreligious dialogue. The Đắc Lộ (De Rhodes) television station, modelled after the Kuangchi station in Taiwan, reached out to the general population through educational programmes for children, information on family living skills, and other useful information on healthcare, culture, and agricultural development.74 Catholics and non-Catholics alike, earned respect for the small but growing presence of the Society in Vietnam.

The fall of Saigon to the Communist army in 1975 disrupted the Society of Jesus’s future planning in South Vietnam. The church-state relationship became increasingly difficult in the years post-1975.75 The story of the Jesuits in post-1949 China was repeated in South Vietnam. Within a few months the Communists ordered all forty-one foreign Jesuits out of the country. By the time Joseph Audic, the last foreign Jesuit left the country in 1977 a total of eighty-nine foreign Jesuits of fourteen nationalities had served in Vietnam.76 By the end of 1975, the young Society of Jesus in Vietnam was left to fend for itself. The total number of Jesuits, all Vietnamese, was: eleven priests, ten scholastics, one brother, eight novices, and fifteen candidates. The revolutionary government nationalized all private institutions in South Vietnam: primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, hospitals, and social centres. Consequently, many religious personnel, Jesuits included, became jobless. Education in Vietnam was conducted according to a strict Marxist-Leninist orientation. The government systematically took over many Jesuit houses and institutions: Xavier Student Center (1975), Tín Đức Secondary School (1975), the Pontifical College (1977), Đắc Lộ (De Rhodes) television station (1977), the Jesuit Curia (1978), the De Rhodes Center (1980), the novitiate (1986), and the Jesuit scholasticate in Dalat (1986).

Facing this changed situation, the newly-appointed Jesuit superior of Vietnam, Joseph Nguyễn Công Đoan, urged the scholastics and novices to keep and develop a spirit of availability and readiness to be sent to serve in state-run remedial schools, agricultural communes and/or factories. From 1975 to 1980, the Vietnamese Jesuits at the De Rhodes Center continued teaching with a focus on scriptures, catechism, and theology. The center also functioned as a parish from 1975. With lively music and sermons, the Sunday liturgy at De Rhodes parish attracted many young people to Mass. Catholics and non-Catholics alike came to seek spiritual refuge from the harsh realities of socialism. In effect, De Rhodes parish became the most popular young people’s gathering place in the city.

Concerned about the church’s influence on the young, the government closed the De Rhodes Center on December 12, 1980 and eventually arrested the priests of the parish and the senior Jesuits in other communities in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  Seven Jesuits, including Nguyễn Công Đoan,77 were imprisoned without trial. In July 1983, during a two-day show trial, the Jesuits were accused of ‘slandering’ the government. The Jesuit “crime” was circulating a religious journal, Đạo Nhập Thể (Incarnated Religion), without permission.78 Đoan was sentenced to twelve years, and other Jesuits got various sentences ranging from probation to fifteen years’ imprisonment.79 Following this the Jesuit community was singled out for harsh criticism and repression. A few Jesuits carried on their ministry in three poor parishes, given to them by the bishops to save the parishes from extinction. At these parishes they concentrated on liturgy and catechism while waiting for the situation to improve.

The 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Ignatius in 1991 was a turnaround year for the Jesuits in Vietnam.80 To celebrate this event, the archbishop of Saigon, Paul Nguyễn Văn Bình, asked Jesuits to preach monthly at the cathedral about St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus for a whole year. This led to a renewed interest in Ignatian spirituality. As a result, Jesuit priests and brothers received many requests from religious women and lay people to teach them the Spiritual Exercises. No one had foreseen that the ministry of giving the Exercises would become the main apostolic focus for the Society in post-1975 Vietnam.

In addition to the retreat ministry, the bishops of the northern dioceses requested Jesuits to train catechists—in a sense to repeat Rhodes’s experiment of 350 years earlier. Although no formal organization was established, Jesuits gathered small groups of catechists for intensive spiritual, scriptural and theological formation before returning them to their dioceses. These catechists are de facto missionaries sent to renew the faith among Catholics in the North, especially in the rural areas where priests were prohibited.

Beginning in the 1990s, as the relationship between the church and state improved, Jesuits have slowly regained a more secure foothold in public ministry.81 They also attempted to reconnect with the worldwide Society of Jesus.82 When it began to function publicly as a religious institution in 2003, the Society of Jesus in Vietnam entered a new phase.83 Since then, the Jesuits have been able to recruit new members and normalize their activities of preaching and teaching even though they are still without a school of their own. On June 29, 2007, after fifty years of service, the Jesuit independent region of Vietnam was elevated to the level of a province—the eighty-sixth of the worldwide Society.84 At the present time (2018), the Society of Jesus in Vietnam enjoys the fastest growth among the Jesuits of Asia-Pacific region, and its future remains hopeful, but the history of this recent period needs still to be written.


^ Back to text1. Part of the mistake in crediting Rhodes as the one who single-handedly “invented” the new Romanized script is because he was the first Jesuit to print and propagate a dictionary and a catechism in 1651 under the sponsorship of the Propaganda Fide.

^ Back to text2. Manuel Teixeira, Macau e sua diocese, vol. XIV: As Missões portuguesas no Vietnam (Macau: Imprensa Nacional, 1977). Henceforth abbreviated as Teixeira-14. This collection of data on the early activities of the Jesuits is written using Portuguese archival sources, mostly to “correct” and update the earlier information by the French historians.

^ Back to text3. Charles O’Neill and Joaquin M. Domínguez, eds. Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús, 4 vols. (Rome: Institutum Historicum, 2001). Henceforth abbreviated as DHCJ.

^ Back to text4. The majority of the materials related to Vietnam were collected in ARSI Jap-Sin volumes 68–73, 79–85.  Some of the letters were copied and preserved in Bibliotheca Ajuda in Codex 49, sections IV to VI.

^ Back to text5. See the catalogue and guide of the archival materials edited by Francisco Cunha Leão, Jesuítas na Ásia (Macau: Instituto Cultural de Macau, 1998).

^ Back to text6. On the situation of Vietnam during the seventeenth century see Li Tana, Nguyen Cochinchina: Southern Vietnam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University- SEAP 1998) and Nguyen Tan Hung, Le Viêtnam du XVIIe siècle: Un tableau socioculturel (Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2011)

^ Back to text7. After the 1614 persecution, the Jesuits in Macau grew from thirty-seven to ninety-six according to the 1616 catalogue. Cf. Joseph Franz Schütte, Monumenta Historica Japoniae I, Textus Catalogum Japoniae 1549–1654 (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1975),  636–40.

^ Back to text8. For example, Gaspar de Santa Cruz, O.P. (c.1550), Bartolomé Ruiz, OFM (1584–86), Ordóñez de Cevallos (1590), Alonso Ximénez, O.P. (1596).  On the early Catholic missions to Vietnam, see Teixeira-14, 5–62, Tara Alberts, Conflict and Conversion: Catholicism in Southeast Asia, 1500–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 70–85.

^ Back to text9. Francesco Buzomi (1576–1639) of Naples, Italy, joined the Jesuits in 1592 and was ordained in 1606.  He was missioned to Cochinchina in 1615, and moved between Macao, Cochinchina, and Cambodia. He left Cochinchina in 1638 and died in Macao a year later. Source: Teixeira-14: 281–82, DHCJ, 1:586.

^ Back to text10. Diogo Carvalho (1578–1624) of Coimbra, Portugal, joined the Jesuits in 1594 and was ordained in 1609. He joined the Japan mission in 1609–14, was in Cochinchina in 1615–16, and returned to Japan where he died a martyr in Sendai on February 22, 1624; beatified on July 7, 1867. Source: Teixeira-14: 283, DHCJ, 1:671.

^ Back to text11. At least three Jesuit brothers (irmão) came to Cochinchina between 1615 and 1620: António Dias of Portugal, José Tsuchimochi and Paulo Saito of Japan. See Isabel Augusta Tavares Mourão, Portugueses em terras do Dai-Viêt (Cochinchina e Tun Kim) 1615–1650 (Macau: Instituto Português do Oriente, 2005), 318. Their biographical information could be found in Teixeira-14: 283-84.

^ Back to text12. See the year-by-year tabulation by Mourão, Portugueses em terras do Dai-Viêt, 317–26.   

^ Back to text13. Francisco da Pina (1585–1625) of Guarda, Portugal, joined the Jesuits in 1605, was ordained in Malacca in 1616, was missioned to Cochinchina in 1617, and died by drowning in the sea off Faifo on December 15, 1625. Source: Teixeira-14: 289-91, DHCJ, 4:3136.

^ Back to text14. On the Japanese dojuku, see Charles R. Boxer, Christian Century in Japan, 1549–1650 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967; London: Carcanet Press, 1993), 211–16, 222–26.

^ Back to text15. In 1995, Roland Jacques announced that he discovered a possible copy of Pina’s “grammar” Manuductio ad linguam Tunckinensem, Jesuítas na Ásia, vol. 49-VI-8, ff. 313r–323v. He translates and introduces these documents in Roland Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers of Vietnamese Linguistics (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2002), 94–125.

^ Back to text16. Cristoforo Borri (or Bruno) (1583–1632) of Milan, Italy joined the Jesuits in 1601. An accomplished mathematician and astronomer, he joined the Cochinchina mission in 1617–22. Source: Teixeira-14: 291–96, DHCJ, 1:495–96.

^ Back to text17. An English translation of Borri’s account of Cochinchina appeared in 1732 and recently has been re-issued with commentary by Olga Dror and Keith Taylor as Views of Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Christoforo Borri on Cochinchina and Samuel Baron on Tonkin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University—SEAP 2006), 85–185.

^ Back to text18. Andrew of Phú Yên (1624–44) was beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 5, 2000.

^ Back to text19. By order of arrival, they were Balthasar Caldeira (n.d.), Metello Saccano (1612–62), Carlo della Rocca (1613–70), Pero Marques (d.1670), Francisco Riva (d.1674), Domenico Fuciti (1625–94), and François Ignace Baudet (1618–77). Their biographical information could be found in Teixeira-14: 330-44 respectively.

^ Back to text20. See the discussion by Alberts, Conflict and Conversion, 36–33.

^ Back to text21. Giuliano Baldinotti (1591–1631) of Pistoia, Italy, joined the Jesuits in 1609 and was ordained in 1621. He went to Tonkin in 1626 with Julio Koga (Julius Piani), and left in the same year to return to Macao. Source: Teixeira-14: 403–5, DHCJ, 1: 328–29.

^ Back to text22. On the trading world of Southeast Asia during this time, see Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450–1680, 2 vols. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 2:62–131.

^ Back to text23. Baldinotti’s report on Tonkin was later published in Lettere dell’Ethiopia dell’anni 1626 fino al marzo del 1627 (Rome, 1629). Also see a French translation entitled “La relation sur le Tonkin du P. Baldinotti, 1626” in Bulletin de l’École Français d'Extrême-Orient 3 (1903): 71–78.

^ Back to text24. André Palmeiro (1569–1635) of Lisbon joined the Jesuits in 1584 and was ordained in 1599. He was appointed visitor for Malabar in India 1618–21, for Malabar and Goa 1621–26, for Japan and China 1626–35. He visited Tonkin in 1631. Source: Teixeira-14: 426-27, DHCJ, 3: 2961. A recent biography of him is Liam Matthew Brockey, The Visitor: André Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Belknap Press, 2014).

^ Back to text25. Brockey, Visitor, 338–41.

^ Back to text26. Alexandre de Rhodes (1593–1660) of Avignon joined the Jesuits in 1612 and was ordained in 1618. He was missioned to Cochinchina 1624–26, to Tonkin 1627–30, and again to Cochinchina, 1640–45.  He returned to Europe in 1649–54, was missioned to Istafan in Persia in 1654 and died there in 1660. Source: Teixeira-14: 306–17, DHCJ, 4:3242–43. De Rhodes has been a subject of study among Vietnamese scholars because of his important influence on the language and his method of evangelization. The best account in English so far is Peter C. Phan, Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998)

^ Back to text27. Pero Marques (senior) (c.1576–1657) of Évora, Portugal joined the Jesuits in 1593 and was ordained in Goa 1603.  He arrived at Macao in 1604 and was missioned to Japan in 1609–14, went to Cochinchina in 1618, was missioned to Tonkin in 1627–30, and to Hainan, China, in 1633–35; he returned to Japan in 1643 and died there in 1657. Source: Teixeira-14: 285–88, DHCJ, 3:2512.

^ Back to text28. Gaspar do Amaral (1594–1646) of Corvaceira, Portugal joined the Jesuits in 1608 and was ordained in 1622. He was missioned to Tonkin 1629–30 and again 1631–38; he was vice-provincial of Japan province in 1642–45 and died in a shipwreck on his way to Tonkin for the third time in 1646. Source: Teixeira-14: 405–7; DHCJ, 1:96–97.

^ Back to text29. Paulo Saito (1576–1633), a native of Japan, joined the Jesuits in 1607 and was ordained in 1625. He was among the first group of Jesuits to Cochinchina in 1615 but did not join the mission until 1619–20. He returned to Macau in 1622 to finish theological studies, then was sent to accompany Amaral to Tonkin in 1629. After a year, he left Tonkin and later was missioned to Japan, and died in Nagasaki on October 2, 1633 as a martyr. Source: Teixeira-14: 284, 405; DHCJ, 1:495–96.

^ Back to text30. De Rhodes claimed a higher number: 6,700 baptisms in Divers voyages et missions (Paris, 1653), 95. Other missionary sources (e.g., Cardim and Bareto, 1646) reported 5,607 baptisms.

^ Back to text31. This work is translated by Henri Albi into French as Histoire du Royaum de Tunquin, et des grands progrèz que la prédication de L’Évangile y a faits en la conversion des infidèles Depuis l’année 1627, jusques à l’année 1646 (Lyon, 1651).  The original Latin manuscript is preserved in ARSI, Jap-Sin 83.

^ Back to text32. This brief “grammar” was printed in his Dictionarium Annamiticum, Lustinanum, et Latinum (Rome, 1651).

^ Back to text33. This work is written in both Latin and Romanized Vietnamese as an aid for missionaries to learn Vietnamese, and for native Vietnamese to learn Latin and Christian doctrine.

^ Back to text34. Although Rhodes published this trilingual dictionary under the sponsorship of the Propaganda Fide, the work itself was a composite of [the now lost manuscripts of] Gaspar do Amaral’s Vietnamese-Portuguese and Antonio Barbosa’s Portuguese-Vietnamese lexicons. As Rhodes explained in the preface of the dictionary, he added the Latin at the requests of the cardinals in Rome.

^ Back to text35. Girolamo Majorica (c.1591–1656) was a native of Naples. He entered the Jesuits in 1605 and was ordained priest in 1619.  He joined the Cochinchina mission in 1624–29, then Tonkin from 1632 until his death in Hanoi. A prolific writer and composer, he left behind many works in Vietnamese language. Source: Teixeira-14::319–20; DHCJ, 3:2558. See also, Brian Ostrowski, “The Nôm Works of Geronimo Maiorica, SJ (1589–1656) and Their Christology” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2006).

^ Back to text36. Tara Alberts, “Catholic Written and Oral Cultures in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam,” Journal of Early Modern History 16 (2012): 383–402, at 390.

^ Back to text37. An early list of the works and biographies of Jesuits in the province of Japan mentioned Majorica in ARSI  Jap-Sin 64, 366v.

^ Back to text38. Georg Schurhammer in an article about Catholic literature in Vietnam renewed the interest in Majorica’s works. (See Georg Schurhammer, “Annamitisch Xavierius Literatur” Missionswissenschaftliche Studien [1951]: 300–14). This aroused the interest of a Vietnamese scholar Hoàng Xuân Hãn, who was a researcher in Paris at the time.  Hoàng coincidentally encountered a set of manuscripts that he considered very likely to be copies of the works written by Maiorica.  (See Hoàng Xuân Hãn,“Girolamo Majorica. Ses oeuvres en langue vietnamienne conservées à la Bibliothèque nationale de Paris,” Archivum hisloricum Societatis Iesu 22 [1953]: 203–14.) Up to today, only fifteen works attributed to Majorica were found.

^ Back to text39. Giovanni Filippo de Marini (1608–82) joined the Jesuits in 1625 and was ordained in 1637. He joined the Tonkin mission in 1647–58 and again 1671–73.  Source: Teixeira-14: 442–47.

^ Back to text40. This work was reprinted in several editions. Translated into French, it had three editions, each with a title, chosen in such a way as to give greater emphasis to the “curious” part of the description of a world so far and different from the European one. They appeared as Relation nouvelle et curieuse des royaumes de Tunquin et de Lao (Paris, 1664), Histoire nouvelle et curieuse des royaumes de Tunquin et de Lao (Paris, 1666), and Nouvelle relation des Indes Orientales contenant une description exacte des royaumes de Tunquin et de Lao (Paris, 1683).

^ Back to text41. Tissanier’s work was reprinted in Mission de la Cochinchine et du Tonkin, ed. Fortuné de Montézon & Edmond Estève (Paris: Douniol, 1858).

^ Back to text42. Bento Thiện, John Huệ (1668); Martin Mát, Simon Kiên, Anton Quế, Philip Nhân, James Chiêu, Leo Trông, and Vito Trí (1670).  For information on the Tonkinese priests, see André Marillier, Nos pères dans la foi (Paris: Église d’Asie, 1995), 2:7–15.

^ Back to text43. For examples, Bartolomeu da Costa (physician, in Cochinchina 1666–95), Juan António de Arnedo (astronomer, 1687–1712), Giambattista Sanna (physician, 1724–26), Francisco de Lima (astronomer, 1720–-?), Sebastião Pires (physician, 1722–44), Johann Siebert (physician and astronomer, 1738–45), Johann Koffler (physician and astronomer, 1740–55), Josef Neugebauer (astronomer, 1740–50), Francisco Xavier de Monteiro (mathematician, 1742–50, 1752, 1760–76), and João de Loureiro (botanist and mathematician, 1742–50, 1752–78). Source: Teixeira-14: 344–52, 354–55, 361–63, 365, 369, 371, 371–77, 377, 382–83, and 383–89 respectively.

^ Back to text44. Data is taken from Đỗ Quang Chính, Dòng Tên trong Xã Hội Đại Việt (1615–1773), 555–63 for foreign Jesuits and 525–27 for Vietnamese Jesuits.

^ Back to text45. For Felipe (Philiphê) Bỉnh’s life and work, see George Dutton, A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Binh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016).

^ Back to text46. His works is preserved in the Vatican collection Borgiani Tonchinensis and was discovered by Georg Schurhammer in 1951.

^ Back to text47. They wrote: “Pour nous, Français, l’Église du Tonkin se rattache à notre patrie par le P. de Rhodes, son premier apôtre, et par plusieurs de ses missionnaires également Français, tels que les Pères Tissanier, Albier, Le Royer, Beaudet, Paréguard, etc., et enfin par ses évêques dont le plus grand nombre ont été formés aux vertus apostoliques dans nos séminaires de France,” Mission de la Cochinchine et du Tonkin,  iv.

^ Back to text48. To be fair to Montézon and Estève, they did provide tables that list the names of all Jesuit missionaries to Cochinchina and Tonkin from the beginning until the suppression. This list remains an important reference for research on these missionaries.  Modern Portuguese researchers such as Manuel Teixeira and Isabel Mourão have made corrections to this list using data from Jesuit catalogues in the ARSI.

^ Back to text49. This work now is updated by André Marillier as Nos pères dans la foi: Notes sur le clergé catholique du Tonkin de 1666 à 1765 (Paris: Église d’Asie, 1992–95).

^ Back to text50. See Vu Khanh Tuong, “Les missions jésuites avant les missions étrangères au Vietnam: 1615–1665” (PhD diss.,  Institut Catholique de Paris, 1956); Nguyen Khac Xuyen, “Le Catéchisme en langue vietnamienne romanisée du P. Alexandre de Rhodes” (PhD diss., Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1956); Nguyễn Hồng, Lịch Sử Truyền Giáo ở Việt Nam, Q. 1: Các Thừa Sai Dòng Tên 1615–1665 [History of missions in Vietnam, vol. 1: Jesuit activities 1615–65] (Saigon: Hiên Tai, 1959);  Placid Tan Phat, “Méthodes de catéchèse et de conversion du Père Alexandre de Rhodes” (PhD diss., L’Institut Catholique de Paris, 1963); Do Quang Chinh, “La Mission au Vietnam (1624–30 et 1640–45) d’Alexandre de Rhodes avignonnaise”  (PhD diss., Sorbonne, 1969); Nguyen Chi Thiet, “Le Catéchisme du père Alexandre de Rhodes et l’ȃme vietnamienne” (PhD diss., Pontificia Universitas Urbaniana, 1970).

^ Back to text51. The best work on the Romanization of the Vietnamese language based on archival materials in Rome is Đỗ Quang Chính,  Lịch Sử Chữ Quốc Ngữ [History of the Romanized Vietnamese script] (Saigon: Hiện Tại, 1972); also see a survey on early Catholic literature by Võ Long Tê, Lịch Sử Văn Học Công Giáo Việt Nam [History of Vietnamese Catholic literature] (Saigon: Tư-Duy, 1965).

^ Back to text52. Nguyễn Thị Tú Mai, “Chữ Nôm và tiếng Việt thế kỉ XVII qua Thiên chúa thánh giáo khải mông của Jeronimo Maiorica” [Chữ Nôm and Vietnamese in the 17th century as seen in Thiên chúa thánh giáo khải mông by Jeronimo Maiorica] (PhD diss., Hanoi National University of Education, 2012).

^ Back to text53. Peter C. Phan, Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998). Also see Hung Trung Pham, “Ignatian Inculturation: Spirituality for Mission of the First Jesuits in Asia, Exemplified by Alexandre de Rhodes (1593–1660) and His Cathechismus in Vietnam” (Doctoral Thesis, Universidad Pontificia Comillas, 2012).

^ Back to text54. Klaus Schatz, ‘Dass diese Mission eine der blühendsten des Ostens werde’: P. Alexandre de Rhodes (1593–1660) und die frühe Jesuitenmission in Vietnam (Münster: Aschendorff-Verlag, 2015).

^ Back to text55. Roland Jacques, “Le Portugal et la romanisation de la langue vietnamienne: Faut-il réécrire l’histoire?” Revue français d’histoire d’outre-mer 85 (1998): 21–54; Roland Jacques, Portuguese Pioneers of Vietnamese Linguisticsprior to 1650 (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2002).

^ Back to text56. Brian Eugene Ostrowski, “The Nôm Works of Geronimo Maiorica, S. J. (1589–1656) and Their Christology” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2006); Brian E. Ostrowski, “The Rise of Christian Nôm Literature in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Fusing European Content and Local Expression,” in Vietnam and the West: New Approaches, ed. Wynn Wilcox (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University–SEAP, 2010), 19–39.

^ Back to text57. Olga Dror and Keith Taylor, eds., Views of Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Christoforo Borri on Cochinchina and Samuel Baron on Tonkin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell-SEAP, 2006).

^ Back to text58. Isabel Augusta Tavares Mourão, Gaspar do Amaral S.J. (1594–1646). La vie et l’œuvre d’un jésuite portugais fondateur de la mission jésuite du Tun Kim à la cour des Trinh, 3 vols. (Paris: École Pratique des Hautes Études, Section des Sciences Historiques et Philologiques, 2011)

^ Back to text59. Đỗ Quang Chính, Dòng Tên trong Xã Hội Đại Việt (1615–1773) [The Jesuit presence in Vietnamese society, 1615–1773] (Ho Chi Minh City: Anton Duocsang, 2007).

^ Back to text60. Roland Jacques, De Castro Marim à Faifo: Naissance et développement du padroado portugais d’Orient des origines à 1659 (Lisbon: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1999); Roland Jacques and Nguyen Dang Truc, Les missionnaires portugais et les débuts de l’Église catholique au Viêt-Nam (Reichstett: Dinh Huong Tung Thu, 2004)

^ Back to text61. Juan Ruiz-de-Medina, “Vietnam,” in DHCJ, 4:3953–69.

^ Back to text62. Manuel Teixeira, Macau e Sua Diocese, vol XIV: As missões Portuguesas no Vietnam (Macau: Imprensa Nacional, 1977) and vol XV: Relações comerciais de Macau com o Vietnam (Macau: Imprensa Nacional, 1977).

^ Back to text63. Isabel Augusta Tavares Mourão, Portugueses em terras do Dai-Viêt (Cochinchina e Tun Kim) 1615–1660 (Macau: Instituto Português do Oriente, 2005).

^ Back to text64. Tara Alberts, Conflict and Conversion: Catholicism in Southeast Asia, 1500–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013; Tara Alberts, “Missions in Vietnam,” in A Companion to Early Catholic Global Missions, ed. Ronnie Po-chia Hsia (Boston: Brill, 2018), 269–302.

^ Back to text65. See the work by Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, Noble Patronage and Jesuit Missions: Maria Theresia von Fugger-Wellenburg (1690–1762) and Jesuit Missionaries in China and Vietnam (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2006).

^ Back to text66. Jason M Wilber, “Transcription and translation of a yearly letter from 1619 found in the Japonica Sinica 71 from the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu” (MA thesis, 2014); Debra Taylor Banov, “Transcription and Translation of annuae 1626–1645, from the Jesuit Annual Letters in Tonkin Vietnam” (MA thesis, 2015); Serena Rachelle Terrazas, “Transcription and Translation of a Letter from the Japonica Sinica 85 of the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu” (MA thesis, 2016); Nathan Joseph Richardson, “Transcription and Translation of the 1658 Jesuit Annual Letter, Vietnam” (MA thesis, 2018).

^ Back to text67. To my knowledge, there is no account of the Jesuit presence in Vietnam in the twentieth century that appears in English.  Most of the information given in this section is compiled from the conversations I have had with senior members of the Vietnam province of the Society of Jesus since 1999 and was published in a conference proceeding in Macau as “Jesuit Contribution to Vietnamese Education,” in Education for New Times: Revisiting Pedagogical Models in the Jesuit Tradition (Macau: Macau Ricci Institute, 2014), 127–51, esp. 134–40.  I take full responsibility for any factual errors.

^ Back to text68. The invitation letter addressed to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, dated January 27, 1957, was signed by Mgrs Francis Ngô Đình Thục (Vinh Long), Tadeus Lê Hữu Từ, O Cist. (Phat Diem), Pierre-Marie Phạm Ngọc Chi (Bui Chu), Joseph Trương Cao Đại, OP (Hai Phong), Paul Nguyễn Văn Bình (Can Tho), F. Seitz, MEP (Kontum), J. B. Urrutie, MEP (Hué), Marcel Piquet, MEP (Qui Nhon), and Simon-Hòa Nguyễn Văn Hiền (Saigon). A copy of this letter is reprinted in Kỷ Yếu Giáo Hoàng Học Viện Thánh Piô XDalat: 50 Năm Nhìn Lại [Memoirs on the 50th anniversary St. Pius X Pontifical Seminary] (n.p., 2008), 13. It is henceforth abbreviated as Kỷ Yếu GHHV.

^ Back to text69. In a decree establishing the Far East province on December 1957, the 762 members of the China missions in exile (not counting 136 Chinese Jesuits on the mainland) were assigned to work in Taiwan, Thailand, South Vietnam, and part of the Philippines, but not in Hong Kong and Macao. Cf. Acta Romana Societatis Iesu [henceforth abbreviated Acta SI], 13 (1957): 251–55, 272–73.

^ Back to text70. Ferdinand Lacretelle (1902–89) of Paris joined the Jesuits in 1921, was missioned to China in 1927, ordained in Shanghai 1934, appointed superior of the Shanghai mission 1946, expelled from China 1954, and missioned to South Vietnam 1957; he established a Jesuit residence in Saigon in 1957, a major seminary in Dalat in 1958, and a novitiate in Thu Duc in 1960; he was master of novices 1960 –64; spiritual director and professor of canon law. 1964–75, and was expelled from Vietnam in 1976; he was reassigned to pastoral work in Taiwan in 1977 and died in Taipei 1989. Source: DHCJ, 3:2254.

^ Back to text71. Trần Đình Quang, ‘Vài nét về Giáo Hoàng Học Viện Thánh Piô X’ [An overview of the history of St. Pius X Pontifical College], in Kỷ Yếu GHHV, 21–27.

^ Back to text72. On July 31, 1965 the Congregation for Seminaries and University Studies established the Faculty of Theology at the St Pius X Seminary. Cf. Acta SI 14 (1965), 600.

^ Back to text73. When Lacretelle and other Jesuits came to Saigon in 1957, they purchased a building to be the first Jesuit residence in South Vietnam, and it eventually expanded to a Jesuit complex including a student centre, a church, and a television station and printing press. This is known as the De Rhodes Centre. Cf. Joseph Nguyen Cong Doan, “50 Years of Jesuit Presence in Vietnam,” in Yearbook of the Society of Jesus 2009 (Rome: General Curia of the Society of Jesus, 2009), 38.

^ Back to text74. Kỷ Yếu Mừng 50 Năm Dòng Tên Trở Lại Phục Vụ Việt Nam [Memoirs on the 50th anniversary of the return of the Society of Jesus to serve in Vietnam] (2007), 64, 90. Henceforth abbreviated as Kỷ Yếu Dòng Tên.

^ Back to text75. For an overview of the Catholic church in post-1975 Vietnam, see Stephen Denney, “The Catholic Church in Vietnam,” in Catholicism and Politics in Communist Societies, ed. Pedro Ramet (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Lan T. Chu, “Catholicism vs. Communism, Continued: The Catholic Church in Vietnam,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 3, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 151–92; Peter C. Phan, “Christianity in Vietnam: 1975-2013,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, 14, no. 1 (2014): 1-19.

^ Back to text76. Including four Jesuits who had died in Vietnam: Michel Martin (Hué), Ramon Cavana (Saigon), Jean Motte and Anthony Drexel (Dalat).

^ Back to text77. The imprisonment experience of Joseph Nguyễn Công Đoan is reported in George Anderson, “A Jesuit Prisoner in Vietnam: An Interview with Joseph Doan,” America ( September 16, 1995): 12–18.

^ Back to text78. The charge was only a pretext. The real reasons, as told by the chief of the Investigation Bureau Ngô Văn Dần to Fr Đoan, were: (1) The De Rhodes Centre’s popularity among the youth competed with the Communist Youth League; (2) The Jesuits were a group of subversive intellectuals; (3) Đoan himself was considered a threat because of his influence. Fr. Đoan was the principal author of the 1980 Letter of the Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam and also a confidant of Mgr Paul Nguyễn Văn Bình, the archbishop of Saigon. (This information was communicated to me by Fr Đoan in a private conversation).

^ Back to text79. The Times (London), February 14, 1984. Cf. Amnesty International, “The Arrest and Trial of Priests and Lay Catholics in Vietnam” (London, Aug. 1983); Jean Mais, “Church-State Relations in Vietnam,” Pro mundi vita: Asia-Australia Dossiers 35 (1985): 1–35.

^ Back to text80. The region of Vietnam, previously dependent on the Province of China, was elevated to an independent region in April 1991. In the same year, two Jesuits were ordained to the priesthood publicly, the first such occasion since 1975. Acta SI 20 (1991): 571.

^ Back to text81. Beginning in 1991, Jesuits in formation were allowed to be ordained publicly to the priesthood, with an average of one or two per year. Some Jesuits were also ordained privately in the 1990s.

^ Back to text82. In 1995, Joseph Nguyễn Công Đoan represented Vietnam at the Jesuit 34th General Congregation, reconnecting the isolated region of Vietnam with the rest of the Society. Since then opportunities for philosophical and theological studies in the Philippines, Europe, and North America have been made available to Vietnamese Jesuits.

^ Back to text83. There was never an official statement about the “suppression” of the Society of Jesus in Vietnam, even during the time that its leaders were imprisoned. In 2003, Đoan was called to Rome to be the general assistant for the region of East Asia and Oceania (Acta SI 23 [2003]: 231). The new regional superior (now provincial) Thomas Vũ Quang Trung decided to “normalize” Jesuit formation and activities. Since then, the Jesuits have been extending their presence from Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat to other parts of the country.

^ Back to text84. Acta SI 23 (2007): 1065.

Cite this page
Tran, Anh, “The Historiography of the Jesuits in Vietnam: 1615–1773 and 1957–2007”, in: Jesuit Historiography Online. Consulted online on 16 December 2018 <>
First published online: 2018

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