Padre Matteo Ricci

Essential Chronology


Main dates

1552               Born on October 6 in Macerata.

1561-1566      He studies at the Jesuit College inaugurated in 1561 in his native city.

1566-1568      Having completed his studies at the College, he probably works for his father, who is a chemist.

1568               He is sent to the "Sapienza" in Rome to study law.

1571                He may have finished a three-year course in law. On August 15 he enters the Society of Jesus as a novice. His examiner is Alessandro Valignano. The records for his entry examination say that by that time he had completed two years of law school.

1572                He concludes his novitiate and takes his first vows. He spends approximately one year in a Jesuit College in Tuscany (perhaps in Florence) to complete his humanistic studies.

1573-1577      In October 1573, at the Jesuit College in Rome, he begins to study rhetoric, and will add the subject of philosophy the following year. He continues to study these subjects until the spring of 1577. A pupil of Christopher Clavius's academy of mathematics, he receives an excellent education in maths and sciences.

1577                He is assigned to the missions in the Far East and in May he leaves for Portugal, from where ships set sail for India every spring. He spends six months in the Jesuit College of Coimbra, where he begins to study Portuguese and, perhaps, theology.

1578                Along with thirteen other missionaries, he sets sail from Lisbon on March 24; after circumnavigating the African continent his ship reaches Goa on September 13.

1579-1582      He completes his three-year course in theology, teaches the classics to Indian children in the Jesuit College of Goa, falls ill with malaria and is cured. He is sent to Cochin to convalesce and is ordained there (1580). He works as a teacher in the Jesuit College in Cochin, after which he is again summoned to Goa and completes his study of theology.

1582                Alessandro Valignano summons him to Macao - where he will arrive on August 7, 1582 - to assist Father Michele Ruggeri in his efforts to enter into China. Ricci initiates his intensive study of the Chinese language.

1583                On September 10 he and Ruggeri enter into China and together they establish the first Jesuit house in Zhaoqing. The Chinese authorities ask the two Jesuits to assume the status of the only foreign religious figures to be admitted to China, that of Buddhist monks.

1584                He publishes his first Map of the Earth's Mountains and Seas (Yudi shanhai quantu) in Chinese. He and Ruggeri translate the Ten Commandments, the Credo, and the prayers of the Christian faith.

1585                Ruggeri publishes the first Catechism (Tianzhu Shilu) in the Chinese language.

1586                Ruggeri's attempts to establish further Jesuit mission homes in Shaoxing and Guilin both fail.

1588                Valignano orders Ruggeri to return to Rome and once there encourage a project that involves sending an official papal legation to see the Chinese emperor.

1589                The newly arrived viceroy of Guangdong is determined to send Ricci away from Zhaoqing and take possession of the Jesuit Western-style house. After lengthy discussion, Ricci is given permission to move to Shaozhou, where he establishes a second Jesuit residence. It is while he is in Shaozhou that he starts to collaborate with the most eminent Chinese scholar Qu Taisu, who becomes his pupil and, with Ricci's guidance, translates the first book of Euclid's Elements of Geometry, thus boosting the reputation of the foreign scholar.

1591                Father Antonio de Almeida, sent to Shaozhou to assist Ricci, dies of malaria. By Christmas, the Italian Jesuit Father Francesco De Petris hastens to Ricci's aid.

1592                The Jesuit mission house in Shaozhou is raided by thieves. Ricci jumps from a window to summon help, and twists his ankle; he will have a limp for the rest of his life. Ricci begins to translate Confucius' Four Books into Latin, and composes a paraphrase of it, also in Latin.

1593                De Petris dies of malaria. Ricci starts to write a new Catechism in Chinese. He hires teachers so that he may learn the art of writing books in Chinese.

1594                He becomes aware of the fact that his resemblance to a bonze is to no advantage to the mission, especially as concerns his relationship with the Confucian literati; he therefore transforms his status into that of a preacher-scholar. He begins to wear the long robe of the literati, hire servants and secretaries, and gets around on a sedan chair. He makes his first attempt to reach Peking by following a Chinese general who has been called back to the Korean border after the invasion of Korea by Japan. While travelling down the Gan River, Ricci is shipwrecked and his young Chinese assistant dies. He arrives in Nanking where he hopes to be given permission to stay; he is instead run out of the city and ordered to return to Macao.

1595                He stops off in Nanchang where he establishes the mission's third residence and publishes his first work in Chinese: On Friendship (Jiaoyou lun).

1596                To further improve his credibility in the eyes of the Chinese, he agrees to be tested for his memory in a public setting, and also writes Western Mnemonics (Xiguo jifa).

1597               He is appointed superior of the Chinese mission.

1598                He follows the Minister of Rites Wang Zhongming to Peking with a plan to reform the Chinese calendar. After two months in the northern capital, he is forced to go back to where he came from because foreigners are eyed with suspicion there.

1599                On January 6 he settles in Nanking and establishes a fourth Jesuit house. He writes his Essay on the Four Elements (Si yuannxing lun).

1600                He makes the second edition of the universal map of the world, no copies of which have survived. In May he again leaves for Peking; this time his plan is to bring gifts to Emperor Wanli. But while navigating down the imperial canal he is arrested by Ma Tang, a powerful eunuch, who shuts him up in the fortress of Tianjin and keeps him there until January of 1601.

1601                On January 24, thanks to an imperial decree, Ricci enters Peking as European ambassador. He has with him numerous significant gifts from the West for Emperor Wanli, whom he will never actually meet, but by whom he will be supported through the state budget until his death. He writes Eight Songs for a Western String Instrument (Xiqin quyi bazhang)

1602                With Li Zhizao's help, he makes the third edition of the universal map of the world in six panels: Complete Map of the Myriad Countries of the World (Kunyu wanguo quan tu); this map is completer than the previous editions.

1603                He publishes the treatise The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu shiyi) and the fourth edition of his world map: this one is entitled Mysterious Visual Map of the Entire World (Liangyi xuanlan tu) and is made up of eight panels.

1605                He publishes the Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu jiaoyao) and Twenty-five Sayings (Ershiwu yan).

1607                With the help of his friend Xu Guangqi, Ricci translates the first six books of Euclid's Elements of Geometry (Jihe yuanben). That same year, this time in collaboration with Li Zhizao, he translates and publishes Christopher Clavius's Illustrated Explanation of the Sphere and the Astrolabe (Hungai Tongxian tushuo).

1608                He prints Ten Discourses by a Paradoxical Man (Jiren shipian); that same year he begins to write his Della Entrata della Compagnia di Giesù e Christianità nella Cina, which is also the first systematic description of China and the history of the Jesuit mission in China from 1579. Emperor Wanli requests 12 silk copies of the world map of 1602 to decorate the imperial palace, which is also where the map is actually printed.

1610                On May 11, Ricci dies in Peking after a short illness. For the first time in the history of China the emperor allots a piece of land for the burial of a foreigner. Matteo Ricci's tomb is still to this day honoured in Peking.


After the death of Ricci

1610 Soon after the death of Ricci, a dispute began about two (translation of Deus and Confucian moral) of three main themes of the Chinese rites controversy in the Society of Jesus.

1632 Dominicans entered to China and soon after, Franciscans, who offered resistance to Jesuits and Ricci's policy about rites controversy.

1645 Pope Innocent X condemned Chinese rites.

1656 Under the Jesuits pressure Alexander VII changed the preceded decree making it compulsory.

1692   The emperor Kangxi gave a permission of free practice of Christianity, intended as a private cult of missionaries and converted but subordinated to the Confucian conformity.

1693 The apostles administrator of Fujian, Monsignor Maigrot, condemned Chinese rites.

1704 The Inquisition Tribunal condemned   Chinese rites and Clemente XI confirmed the decree of Innocent X.

1705-1706   A series of meeting of the papal delegation, ruled by the cardinal Maillard de Tournon, with the emperor Kangxi

1706   The emperor   Kangxi ordered that missionaries could stay in China only with the authorization of a special permission (piao) in order to confirm the supremacy of the emperor about rites controversy.

1715 Solemn constitution of Clement XI (Ex illa die) that forbade Catholics Chinese to practice rites, in order to disown the mission of Ricci and Jesuits

1720-21 Mission in China of the legate Carlos Antonio Mezzabarba, patriarc of Alexandria.

1724 The emperor Chunxi expelled missionaries from China

1735 Clement XII condemned the publication, by the Beijing archbishop, of the secret "eight permissions" granted by Mezzabarba and confirmed the condemnation of Chinese rites.

1742 Benedict XIV, in the bull Ex equo singolari reconstructed the history of Chinese rites and condemned them again, ordering clearly the observance of the preceded constitutions and decrees and forbade also to speak about it.   But by now the Chinese door is closed not only to the Church of Rome but also to the "Great West"

1939 Pius XII, on the suggestion of Propaganda Fide, reopened the controversy and declared practicable, in certain conditions, the Chinese rites.  


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