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Paris Foreign Missions Society
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 9/23/20

Paris Foreign Missions Society
Société des Missions Etrangères
Abbreviation M.E.P.
Formation: 1660; 360 years ago
Founder: Bishop François Pallu (陸方濟), M.E.P.
Type: Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right (for Men)
Headquarter: 128 rue du Bac, 75341 Paris CEDEX 07, France
Membership (2017): 198 (184 Priests)
Superior General: Fr. Gilles Reithinger, M.E.P.

The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (French: Société des Missions étrangères de Paris, short M.E.P.) is a Roman Catholic missionary organization. It is not a religious institute, but an organization of secular priests and lay persons dedicated to missionary work in foreign lands.[1]

The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris was established 1658–63. In 1659, the instructions for the establishment of the Paris Foreign Missions Society were given by Rome's Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and marked the creation of a missionary institution that did not depend on the control of the traditional missionary and colonial powers of Spain or Portugal.[2] In the 350 years since its foundation, the institution has sent more than 4,200 missionary priests to Asia and North America, with the mission of adapting to local customs, establishing a native clergy, and keeping close contacts with Rome.[3]

In the 19th century, the local persecutions of missionary priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was often a pretext for French military intervention in Asia.[4] In Vietnam, the persecutions were used by the French government to justify the armed interventions of Jean-Baptiste Cécille and Rigault de Genouilly. In China, the murder of Father Auguste Chapdelaine became the casus belli for the French involvement in the Second Opium War in 1856. In Korea, persecutions were used to justify the 1866 French campaign against Korea.

Today, the Paris Foreign Missions Society remains an active institution in the evangelization of Asia.


Building of the Missions étrangères de Paris, 128 Rue du Bac, Paris.

Symbol of the Missions Étrangères de Paris.

The traditional colonial powers of Spain and Portugal had initially received from the Pope an exclusive agreement to evangelize conquered lands, a system known as Padroado Real in Portuguese and Patronato real in Spanish. After some time however, Rome grew dissatisfied with the Padroado system, due to its limited means, strong involvement with politics, and dependence on the kings of Spain and Portugal for any decision.[5]

From a territorial standpoint also, Portugal had been losing ground against the new colonial powers of England and the Dutch Republic, meaning that it was becoming less capable of evangelizing new territories.[6] In territories that it used to control, Portugal had seen some disasters; for instance, Japanese Christianity was eradicated from around 1620.[7] Finally, Roman officials had doubts about the efficacy of religious orders, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits or Barnabites, since they were highly vulnerable in case of persecutions. They did not seem able to develop local clergy, who would be less vulnerable to state persecution.[7] Sending bishops to develop a strong local clergy seemed to be the solution to achieve future expansion:[7]

"We have all reason to fear that what happened to the Church of Japan could also happen to the Church of Annam, because these kings, in Tonkin as well as in Cochinchina, are very powerful and accustomed to war... It is necessary that the Holy See, by its own movement, give pastors to these Oriental regions where Christians multiply in a marvellous way, lest, without bishops, these men die without sacrament and manifestly risk damnation."

— Alexandre de Rhodes.[8]

As early as 1622 Pope Gregory XV, wishing to take back control of the missionary efforts, had established the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, commonly known as Propaganda) with the objective of bringing to the Catholic faith non-Catholic Christians (Protestants, Oriental Christians), but also inhabitants of the American continent and Asia.[5] In order to do so, Rome resurrected the system of Apostolic vicars, who would report directly to Rome in their missionary efforts, and would be responsible to create a native clergy.[9]

On the field, violent conflicts would erupt between the Padroado and the Propaganda during the 17th and 18th centuries[5] (when the first missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society left for the Far East, the Portuguese had orders to capture them and send them to Lisbon).[10] The creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was well-aligned with Rome's efforts to develop the role of the Propaganda.[11]


See also: French school of spirituality

The French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes is at the origin of the creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

The creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was initiated when the Jesuit Father Alexandre de Rhodes, back from Vietnam and asking for the dispatch of numerous missionaries to the Far East, obtained in 1650 an agreement by Pope Innocent X to send secular priests and bishops as missionaries.[12] Alexandre de Rhodes received in Paris in 1653 a strong financial and organizational support from the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement for the establishment of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.[13][14]

The Company of the Blessed Sacrament (French: Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement), also sometimes referred to as the Company of the Most Blessed Sacrament, was a French Catholic secret society which included among its members many Catholic notables of the 17th century. It was responsible for much of the contribution of the Catholic Church in France to meeting the social needs of the day...

The associates met weekly and their organization was simultaneously a pious confraternity, a charitable society and a militant association for the defence of the Church. It was ruled by Baron de Renty from 1639 until his death in 1649.

The company was a secret one. Louis XIII covertly encouraged it but it never wished to have the letters patent that would have rendered it legal...The rule of secrecy obliged members "not to speak of the Company to those who do not belong to it and never to make known the names of the individuals composing it. New members were elected by the board and it was soon decided that no congréganiste, i.e. member of a lay congregation directed by ecclesiastics, could be eligible. Matters of an especially delicate nature were not discussed at the weekly meetings, these being frequently attended by a hundred members, but were reserved for the investigation of the board. The company printed nothing and the keeping of written minutes was conducted with the utmost caution. There were fifty important branches outside of Paris, about thirty being unknown even to the bishops...

The association worked to correct abuses among the clergy and in monasteries in order to ensure good behavior in the churches and to procure missions for rural parishes, and it urged the establishment of a Seminary of Foreign Missions for the evangelizing of non-Catholics. It also endeavoured to reform the morals of the laity by encouraging the effective crusade of the Marquis de Salignae-Fénelon against duelling. Moreover, it was interested in the care of the poor, the improvement of hospitals, and the administration of those condemned to galleys and prisons; and, that the poor might have legal advice, it created what today is known as the secrétariats du peuple (public legal services).
It protected the fraternities of shoemakers and tailors organized by the Baron de Renty and assisted St. Vincent de Paul in most of his undertakings. In 1652 when Louis XIV, conqueror of the Fronde, re-entered Paris and the city was flooded with peasants, refugee religious, hungry priests, the members of the Company multiplied their generous deeds, demanded alms from their fellow-members outside of Paris, sent priests to hear the confessions of the sick decimated by war, founded parish societies for the relief of the poor, and established at Paris a general storehouse stocked with provisions, clothing, and agricultural implements to be distributed among the impoverished peasants. At that time the Company spent 380,000 livres (equal 3,000,000 dollars) in charity each year. Finally, it was instrumental in bringing about the ordinance establishing the General Hospital of Paris where Christophe du Plessis, the magistrate, and St. Vincent de Paul organized medical care for the indigent.

Some historians have critiqued the Company's attacks on Protestants. The Company aimed to increase conversions and organized the preaching of missions to Protestants in Lorraine, Dauphiné, and Limousin and founded establishments in Paris, Sedan, Metz, and Puy for young converts from Protestantism. Moreover, it opposed Protestant attacks on Catholic doctrines and defended the Catholic populations in majority Protestant cities, such as La Rochelle. Finally, without seeking the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Company fought to prevent any further concessions beyond what the formal text of the edict demanded and its members sent documents to Jean Filleau, a Poitiers lawyer, who for twenty-five years issued "Catholic decisions" from a legal point of view, on the interpretation of the Edict of Nantes. The protestation of the General Assembly of the French clergy in 1656 against the infringement of the edict by Protestants was the outgrowth of a long documental work prepared by the members. In 1660 Lechassier, who was Maître des Comptes (Master of Accounts) and also one of the Company, forwarded to all the country branches a questionnaire imbued with a view to helping the inquiry, of thirty-one articles on the infringement of the Edict of Nantes by Protestants. The answers were collected by Toussaint de Forbin-Janson, Bishop of Digne, who took an active role in the Assembly of the Clergy, the result being that commissaries were sent into the provinces for the purpose of setting right these abuses. But, in its own turn, the Company violated the Edict of Nantes (of which Art. 27 declared Huguenots wholly eligible to public office), and, by secret manoeuvring, one day prevented twenty-five young Protestants from being received as attorneys at the Parliament of Paris. "The members thought they were doing right", explained Père de la Briere "nevertheless, if we consider not their intention, but the very nature of their act and of their procedure, it is impossible to doubt that they were guilty of an iniquity". According to the testimony of Père Rapin and the Count d'Argenson, these proceedings of the Company were the starting-point of the policy that was to culminate in 1685 in the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The year 1660 witnessed the start of the decline of the Company. In consequence of incidents that had occurred at Caen, it was vigorously attacked in a libel brought by Abbot Charles du Four, of the Abbey of Aulnay, and was denounced to Cardinal Mazarin by François Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Rouen. On December 13, 1660 the members held a last general meeting at which, amid expressions of regret and deep emotion, it was decided to suspend their Thursday sessions and to add "ten or twelve elders" to the members of the board so that the company might continue to act provisionally.

-- Company of the Blessed Sacrament, by Wikipedia

Alexander de Rhodes found secular clergy volunteers in Paris in the persons of François Pallu and Pierre Lambert de la Motte and later Ignace Cotolendi, the first members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, who were sent to the Far-East as Apostolic vicariate.[15][16][17]

Due to the strong opposition of Portugal and the death of Pope Innocent X the project was stalled for several years however, until the candidates to the missions decided to go by themselves to Rome in June 1657.[6]

Appointment of missionary Bishops

Mgr François Pallu, founding father of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

Mgr Pierre Lambert de la Motte (1624–1679).

On 29 July 1658, the two chief founders of the Paris Foreign Missions Society were appointed as bishops in the Vatican, becoming Mgr Pallu, Bishop of Heliopolis in Augustamnica, Vicar Apostolic of Tonkin, and Mgr Lambert de la Motte, Bishop of Berytus, Vicar Apostolic of Cochinchina.[18] On 9 September 1659, the Papal Bull Super cathedram principis apostolorum by Pope Alexander VII defined the territories they would have to administer: for Mgr Pallu, Tonkin, Laos, and five adjacent provinces of southern China (Yunnan, Guizhou, Huguang, Sichuan, Guangxi), for Mgr Lambert de la Motte, Cochinchina and five provinces of southeastern China (Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Hainan).[18] In 1660 the third founder was appointed as Mgr Cotolendi, Bishop of Metellopolis, Vicar Apostolic of Nanjing, with also five provinces of China,[18] namely Beijing, Shanxi, Shandong, Korea and Tartary.

All of them were nominated Bishops in partibus infidelium ("In areas of the Infidels", i.e. Heliopolis, Beirut, Metellopolis etc...), receiving long-disappeared bishopric titles from areas that had been lost, in order not to compromise contemporary bishopric titles and avoid conflicts with the bishoprics established through the padroado system.[11] In 1658 also, François de Laval was nominated Vicar Apostolic of Canada,[19] and Bishop of Petra in partibus infidelium, becoming the first Bishop of New France, and in 1663 he would found the Séminaire de Québec with the support of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.[20]

The Society itself ("Assemblée des Missions") was formally established by the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement in 1658.[21] The object of the new society was and is still the evangelization of non-Christian countries, by founding churches and raising up a native clergy under the jurisdiction of the bishops. The creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society coincided with the establishment of the French East India Company.

Mgr Ignace Cotolendi (1630–1662).

In order to dispatch the three missionaries to Asia, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement established a trading company (the "Compagnie de Chine", founded 1660).

The Compagnie de Chine was a French trading company established in 1660 by the Catholic society Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, in order to dispatch missionaries to Asia (initially Bishops François Pallu, Pierre Lambert de la Motte and Ignace Cotolendi of the newly founded Paris Foreign Missions Society). The company was modelled on the Dutch East India Company.

A ship was built in the Netherlands by the shipowner Fermanel, but the ship foundered soon after being launched. The only remaining solution for the missionaries was to travel on land, since Portugal would have refused to take non-Padroado missionaries by ship, and the Dutch and the English refused to take Catholic missionaries.

In 1664, the China Company would be fused by Jean-Baptiste Colbert with the Compagnie d'Orient and Compagnie de Madagascar into the Compagnie des Indes Orientales [French East India Company].

A second Compagnie de Chine was established in 1698.

The Compagnie de Chine was reactivated in 1723.

-- Compagnie de Chine, by Wikipedia

A ship, the Saint-Louis, was built in the Netherlands by the shipowner Fermanel, but the ship foundered soon after being launched.[22] At the same time, the establishment of a trading company and the perceived threat of French missionary efforts to Asia was met with huge opposition by the Jesuits, the Portuguese, the Dutch and even the Propaganda, leading to the issuing of an interdiction of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement by Cardinal Mazarin in 1660.[23] In spite of these events, the King, the Assembly of the French Clergy, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement and private donors accepted to finance the effort, and the three bishops managed to depart, although they now had to travel on land.[23]

The three bishops chosen for Asia left France (1660–62) to go to their respective missions, and crossed Persia and India on foot, since Portugal would have refused to take non-Padroado missionaries by ship, and the Dutch and the English refused to take Catholic missionaries.[3] Mgr Lambert left Marseilles on 26 November 1660, and reached Mergui in Siam 18 months later, Mgr Pallu joined Mgr Lambert in the capital of Siam Ayutthaya after 24 months overland, and Mgr Cotolendi died upon arrival in India on 6 August 1662.[3] Siam thus became the first country to receive the evangelization efforts of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, to be followed by new missions 40 years later in Cochinchina, Tonkin and parts of China.[3]

Founding principles

Chapel of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

The mission had the objective of adapting to local customs, establishing a native clergy, and keeping close contacts with Rome.[3] In 1659, instructions were given by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (known as the "Propaganda"):

"Here is the principal reason which determined the Sacred Congregation to send you as Bishops in these regions. It is that you endeavour, by all possible means and methods, to educate young people so as to make them capable of receiving priesthood."

— Extract from the 1659 Instructions, given to Pallu and Lambert de la Motte by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.[24]

Instructions were also given to the effect that respecting the habits of the countries to be evangelized was paramount, a guiding principle of the Missions ever since:

"Do not act with zeal, do not put forward any arguments to convince these peoples to change their rites, their customs or their usages, except if they are evidently contrary to the religion and morality. What would be more absurd than to bring France, Spain, Italy or any other European country to the Chinese? Do not bring to them our countries, but instead bring to them the faith, a faith that does not reject or hurt the rites, nor the usages of any people, provided that these are not distasteful, but that instead keeps and protects them."

— Extract from the 1659 Instructions, given to Pallu and Lambert de la Motte by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.[25]

Establishment Rue du Bac, Paris

The Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1663.

The Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1739 with its park (detail of 1739 map of Paris by Turgot).

The Chapel at the Paris Foreign Missions Society, established in 1691.

Louis XIV commemorative medal of the first stone of the Mission, 1683.

The Seminary (Séminaire des Missions Étrangères) was created in March 1663, when Mgr Jean Duval, ordained under the name Bernard de Sainte Thérèse and nominated Bishop of Babylon (modern Iraq) in 1638, offered the deserted buildings of his own Seminary for Missions to Persia, which he had created in 1644 at 128 Rue du Bac.[21] On 10 March 1664, Father Vincent de Meur was nominated as the first Director of the Seminary, and officially became Superior of the Seminary on 11 June 1664.

The Seminary was established so that the society might recruit members and administer its property, through the actions of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement and by the priests whom the vicars Apostolic had appointed their agents. This house, whose directors were to form young priests to the apostolic life and transmit to the bishops the offerings made by charity, was, and is still situated in Paris in the Rue du Bac.

Known from the beginning as the Seminary of Foreign Missions, it secured the approval of Pope Alexander VII, and the legal recognition of the French Government and Louis XIV in 1663. In 1691 the chapel was established, and in 1732 the new, larger, building was completed.[21]

Another wing, perpendicular to the 1732 one, was added in the 19th century to accommodate the great increase in members of the Seminary.


The chief events of this period were: the publication of the book Institutions apostoliques, which contains the germ of the principles of the rule, the foundation of the general seminary in Ayutthaya, Siam[26] (the Seminary of Saint Joseph,[27] at the origin of the College General now in Penang, Malaysia), the evangelization of Tonkin, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Siam, where more than 40,000 Christians were baptized, the creation of an institute of Vietnamese nuns known as "Lovers of the Cross", the establishment of rules among catechists, and the ordination of thirty native priests. Between 1660 and 1700 about 100 missionaries were sent to Asia.[1]


See also: France-Thailand relations

The Siamese embassy to Louis XIV led by Kosa Pan in 1686, was a consequence of the missionary efforts of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

Mgr Louis Laneau of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (on the right, forefront)[28] was closely involved in the contacts with the Siamese king Narai. Here, the French ambassador Chevalier de Chaumont presents a letter from Louis XIV to King Narai in 1685.

For the Paris Foreign Missions Society the starting point was Siam, with the establishment of a base in its capital Ayutthaya, because Siam was highly tolerant of other religions and was indeed the only country in Southeast Asia where the Catholic Fathers could establish themselves safely.[29] With the agreement of the Siamese king Narai, the Seminary of Saint Joseph was established, which could educate Asian candidate priests from all over the country of the Southeast Asian peninsula, as well as a cathedral. The College remained in Siam for a century, until the conquest of Siam by Burma in 1766.[28]

Besides these events of purely religious interest there were others in the political order: through their initiative a more active trade was established between Indo-China, the Indies, and France; embassies were sent from place to place; treaties were signed. In 1681, Jacques-Charles de Brisacier was elected superior of the organization. In 1681 or 1682, the Siamese king Narai, who was seeking to reduce Dutch and English influence, named Governor of Phuket the French medical missionary Brother René Charbonneau, a member of the Siam mission of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. Charbonneau held the position of Governor until 1685.[30] In 1687 a French expedition to Siam took possession of Bangkok, Mergui, and Jonselang, and France came close to possessing an Indo-Chinese empire, though failed following the 1688 Siamese revolution, with a knock-on effect on the missions. Mgr Louis Laneau of the Society was involved in these events,[3] and was imprisoned for two years with half of the members of the Seminar until he could resume his activities.

In 1702, Artus de Lionne, Bishop of Rosalie, and missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society brought one of the first Chinese to France, Arcadio Huang, who created the basis for the study of the Chinese language in France.

In the second half of the 18th century the Society was charged with the missions which the Jesuits had possessed in India prior to their suppression in Portugal. Many of the Jesuits remained there. The missions thereupon assumed new life, especially in Sichuan, under bishops Pottier and Dufresse, and in Cochinchina.


Mgr Pigneau de Behaine acted as a diplomatic agent for the Vietnamese Prince Nguyễn Phúc Ánh (the future Gia Long).

See also: France-Vietnam relations and French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh

In Cochinchina, Mgr Pigneau de Behaine acted as an agent for Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, a pretender to the throne, in making a treaty with France (the 1787 Treaty of Versailles). Pigneau de Behaine assisted Nguyễn Phúc Ánh in obtaining the support of several French soldiers and officers, modernizing his army, and ultimately gaining victory over the Tây Sơn.

French revolution

At the end of the 18th century, the French Revolution halted the growth of the society, which had previously been very rapid. At that time it had six bishops, a score of missionaries, assisted by 135 native priests; in the various missions there were nine seminaries with 250 students, and 300,000 Christians.[4] Each year the number of baptisms rose on an average of 3000 to 3500; that of infant baptisms in articulo mortis was more than 100,000.

Nineteenth century

Departure ceremony at the Paris Foreign Missions Society. Le Départ, 1868, by Charles Louis de Fredy de Coubertin.

On 23 March 1805, Napoleon signed a decree reinstating the Paris Foreign Missions Society.[31] In 1809 however, following a conflict with the Pope, Napoleon cancelled his decision. The Missions would be firmly re-established through a decree by Louis XVIII in March 1815.[32]

Several causes contributed to the rapid growth of the Society in the 19th century; chiefly the charity of the Propagation of the Faith and the Society of the Holy Childhood. Each bishop received annually 1200 francs, each mission had its general needs and works allowance, which varied according to its importance, and could amount to from 10,000 to 30,000 francs.

1856 departures of MEP missionaries.

1864 departures of MEP missionaries. The four on the left would become martyrs in Korea.

The second cause was persecution. Fifteen missionaries died in prison or were beheaded during the 17th and 18th centuries and the beginning of the 19th century; but after that those killed among the missionaries were very numerous. (See Martyr Saints of China). Altogether, about 200 MEP missionaries died of violent death. Among them 23 were beatified, of whom 20 were canonized,[33] with an additional 3 in 2000.

Authors such as Chateaubriand, with his Génie du christianisme, also contributed to the recovery of the militant spirit of Catholicism, after the troubles of the French Revolution.[34]

By 1820, the territory of the Missions, which included India since the prohibition of the Company of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1776, extended to Korea, Japan, Manchuria, Tibet, Burma, Malaysia etc...[4]

In the 19th century, the local persecutions of missionary priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was often a pretext for French military intervention in Asia,[4] based on the doctrine of the Protectorate of missions. These persecutions were described in Europe by books, pamphlets, annals, and journals, inspiring numerous young men either with the desire for martyrdom or that of evangelization. They played a part in inspiring European nations, especially France and England, to intervene in Indochina and China.[4]

Another cause of the progress of the missionaries was the ease and frequency of communication in consequence of the invention of steam and the opening of the Suez Canal. A voyage could be made safely in one month which formerly required eight to ten months amid many dangers. In Vietnam, the persecutions of numerous priests such as Pierre Borie or Augustin Schoeffer was used as a justification for the armed interventions of Jean-Baptiste Cécille and Rigault de Genouilly, ultimately leading to the occupation of Vietnam and the creation of French Indochina. In Korea, the beheading of Siméon-François Berneux and other priests justified the 1866 French Campaign against Korea.


See also: Martyrs of Vietnam, Roman Catholicism in Vietnam, and France-Vietnam relations

Martyrdom of Joseph Marchand in Vietnam in 1835.

In 1825, emperor Minh Mạng, the son and successor of Gia Long, prohibited foreign missionaries in Vietnam, on the grounds that they perverted the people. The prohibition proved largely ineffective, as missionaries continued their activities in Vietnam, and participated in armed rebellions against Minh Mạng, as in the Lê Văn Khôi revolt (1833–1835). He banned Catholicism completely, as well as French and Vietnamese priests (1833–1836), leading to persecutions of French missionaries.[35] These included the martyrdom of Joseph Marchand in 1835 or Pierre Borie in 1838. These events served in France to stoke a desire among young men to intervene and protect the Catholic faith.

Martyrdom of Saint Pierre Borie, 24 November 1838, in Tonkin, Vietnam. Vietnamese painting.

Ming Man's successor, Thiệu Trị, upheld the anti-Catholic policy of his predecessor. In 1843, the French Foreign Minister François Guizot sent a fleet to Vietnam under Admiral Jean-Baptiste Cécille and Captain Charner.[36] The action also was related to the British successes in China in 1842, and France hoped to be able to establish trade with China from the south. The pretext was to support British efforts in China, and to fight the persecution of French missionaries in Vietnam.[37]

In 1847, Cécille sent two warships (Gloire and Victorieuse) under Captain Lapierre to Da Nang (Tourane) in Vietnam to obtain the release of two imprisoned French missionaries, Bishop Dominique Lefèbvre (imprisoned for a second time as he had re-entered Vietnam illegally) and Duclos, and freedom of worship for Catholics in Vietnam.[36][38] As negotiations drew on without results, on April 15, 1847 a fight named the Bombardment of Đà Nẵng erupted between the French fleet and Vietnamese ships, three of which were sunk as a result. The French fleet sailed away.[38]

Other missionaries were martyred during the reign of Emperor Tự Đức, such as Augustin Schoeffer in 1851 and Jean Louis Bonnard in 1852, prompting the Paris Foreign Missions Society to ask the French government for a diplomatic intervention.[39] In 1858, Charles Rigault de Genouilly attacked Vietnam under the orders of Napoleon III following the failed mission of diplomat Charles de Montigny. His stated mission was to stop the persecution of Catholic missionaries in the country and assure the unimpeded propagation of the faith.[40] Rigault de Genouilly, with 14 French gunships, 3,000 men and 300 Filipino troops provided by the Spanish,[41] attacked the port of Da Nang in 1858, causing significant damage, and occupying the city. After a few months, Rigault had to leave due to problems with supplies and illnesses among many of his troops.[42] Sailing south, De Genouilly captured Saigon, a poorly defended city, on 18 February 1859. This was the beginning of the French conquest of Cochinchina.

Martyrdom of Jean-Charles Cornay, 1837.

Ten martyrs of the M.E.P. were canonized by John-Paul II, 19 June 1988, as part of 117 martyrs of Vietnam, including 11 Dominican Fathers, 37 Vietnamese priests, and 59 Vietnamese laics:

• François-Isidore Gagelin (1833)
• Joseph Marchand (1835)
• Jean-Charles Cornay (1837)
• François Jaccard (1838)
• Bishop Pierre Borie, vicar apostolic of Western Tonking (1838)
• Augustin Schoeffler (1851)
• Jean-Louis Bonnard (1852)
• Pierre-François Néron (1860)
• Théophane Vénard (1861)
• Bishop Étienne-Théodore Cuenot, vicar apostolic of Eastern Cochinchina (1861)
• Bishop Étienne-Théodore Cuenot, vicar apostolic of Eastern Cochinchina (1861)

Native priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, in western Tonkin.

Jules Paspin, of the MEP. Died of malnutrition in Vietnam in 1856.


See also: Korean Martyrs; Roman Catholicism in Korea; and French Campaign against Korea, 1866

Laurent-Joseph-Marius Imbert of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, Saint, martyred in Korea (21 September 1839).

In the mid-19th century the first western Catholic missionaries began to enter Korea. This was done by stealth, either via the Korean border with Manchuria or the Yellow Sea. These French missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society arrived in Korea in the 1840s to proselytize to a growing Korean flock that had in fact independently introduced Catholicism into Korea but needed ordained ministers.

1839 persecutions

On 26 April 1836, Laurent-Joseph-Marius Imbert of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Korea and Titular Bishop of Capsa. On 14 May 1837, he was ordained Titular Bishop of Capsa and crossed secretly from Manchuria to Korea the same year. On 10 August 1839, Bishop Imbert, who was secretly going about his missionary work, was betrayed. He was taken to Seoul where he was tortured to reveal the whereabouts of foreign missionaries. He wrote a note to his fellow missionaries, Fathers Pierre-Philibert Maubant and Jacques-Honoré Chastan, asking them to surrender to the Korean authorities as well. They were taken before an interrogator and questioned for three days to reveal the names and whereabouts of their converts. As torture failed to break them down, they were sent to another prison and beheaded on 21 September 1839 at Saenamteo. Their bodies remained exposed for several days but were finally buried on Noku Mountain.

1866 persecutions

The questioning of Siméon Berneux.

Bishop Siméon-François Berneux, appointed in 1856 as head of the infant Korean Catholic church, estimated in 1859 that the number of Korean faithful had reached nearly 17,000. At first the Korean court turned a blind eye to such incursions. This attitude changed abruptly, however, with the enthronement of King Gojong in 1864. By the time the Heungseon Daewongun assumed de facto control of the government in 1864 there were twelve French Paris Foreign Missions Society priests living and preaching in Korea and an estimated 23,000 native Korean converts.

Bishop Berneux of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was tortured and then beheaded on March 7, 1866.[43]

In January, 1866 Russian ships appeared on the east coast of Korea demanding trading and residency rights in what seemed an echo of the demands made on China by other western powers. Native Korean Christians, with connections at court, saw in this an opportunity to advance their cause and suggested an alliance between France and Korea to repel the Russian advances, suggesting further that this alliance could be negotiated through Bishop Berneux. The Heungseon Daewongun seemed open to this idea, though it is uncertain whether this was ruse to bring the head of the Korean Catholic Church out into the open. Berneux was summoned to the capital, but upon his arrival in February 1866, he was seized and executed. A roundup then began of the other French Catholic priests and native converts.

Pierre Henri Dorié of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, also martyred in Korea in 1866.

As a result of the Korean dragnet all but three of the French missionaries were captured and executed: among them were Bishop Siméon Berneux, Bishop Antoine Daveluy, Father Just de Bretenières, Father Louis Beaulieu, Father Pierre Henri Dorié, Father Pierre Aumaître, Father Luc Martin Huin, all of them members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society and canonized by Pope John Paul II on 6 May 1984. An untold number of Korean Catholics also met their end (estimations run around 10,000),[44] many being executed at a place called Jeoldu-san in Seoul on the banks of the Han River. In late June 1866 one of the three surviving French missionaries, Father Felix-Claire Ridel, managed to escape via a fishing vessel and make his way to Tianjin, China in early July 1866. Fortuitously in Tianjin at the time of Ridel's arrival was the commander of the French Far Eastern Squadron, Rear Admiral Pierre-Gustave Roze. Hearing of the massacre and the affront to French national honor, Roze determined to launch a punitive expedition, the French Campaign against Korea, 1866.

Ten martyrs of the M.E.P. were canonized by John-Paul II, 6 May 1984, as part of 103 canonized martyrs of Korea, including André Kim Tegong, the first Korean priest, and 92 Korean laics:

• Bishop Laurent Imbert (21 September 1839)
• Pierre Maubant (21 September 1839)
• Jacques Chastan (21 September 1839)
• Bishop Siméon Berneux (8 March 1866)
• Just de Bretenières (8 March 1866)
• Louis Beaulieu (8 March 1866)
• Pierre-Henri Dorie (8 March 1866)
• Bishop Antoine Daveluy (30 March 1866)
• Pierre Aumaître (30 March 1866)
• Martin-Luc Huin (30 March 1866)


See also: Roman Catholicism in China, France-China relations, and Martyrs of China

Paris Foreign Missions Society Fathers in China in 1860. Father Joseph Alibert (1835–1868) and Father Louis Jolly (1836–1878).

The mission in the Chinese province of Guizhou, 1876.

Martyrdom of Auguste Chapdelaine in 1856.

Father Auguste Chapdelaine, who was preaching illegally in China, was imprisoned, tortured and killed by Chinese authorities in 1856. This event, named the "Father Chapdelaine Incident" became the pretext for the French military intervention in the Second Opium War.[45][46][47]

Three missionaries of the M.E.P. were canonized by Pope John-Paul II on 1 October 2000, as part of 120 Martyrs of China, including 9 Franciscans, 6 Dominicans, 7 Franciscan missionary sisters of Mary, 1 Lazarist, 1 Italian priest of the Foreign Missions of Milan, 4 Chinese priests and 83 Chinese laics:

• Bishop Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse, vicar apostolic of Sichuan, China (1815)
• Auguste Chapdelaine, Saint, martyred in China (29 February 1856)
• Jean-Pierre Néel, China (1862)

Pierre Dumont, died fleeing a Muslim revolt in Yunnan in 1856.

Saint Auguste Chapdelaine. Martyred in China in 1856.

Saint Jean-Pierre Néel. Martyred in China in 1862.


See also: France-Japan relations (19th century) and Roman Catholicism in Japan

MEP Fathers and Seminarists in Southern Japan in 1881.

After the suppression of Christianity in Japan from around 1620 and nearly two century of strictly enforced seclusion thereafter, various contacts occurred from the middle of the 19th century as France was trying to expand its influence in Asia. After the signature of the Treaty of Nanking by Great Britain in 1842, both France and the United States tried to increase their efforts in the Orient.

The first attempts at resuming contacts occurred with the Ryūkyū Kingdom (modern Okinawa), a vassal of the Japanese fief of Satsuma since 1609. In 1844, a French naval expedition under Captain Fornier-Duplan onboard Alcmène visited Okinawa on April 28, 1844. Trade was denied, but Father Forcade of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was left behind with a Chinese translator, named Auguste Ko. Forcade and Ko remained in the Temple of Amiku, city of Tomari, under strict surveillance, only able to learn the Japanese language from monks. After a period of one year, on May 1, 1846, the French ship Sabine, commanded by Guérin, arrived, soon followed by La Victorieuse, commanded by Rigault de Genouilly, and Cléopâtre, under Admiral Cécille. They came with the news that Pope Gregory XVI had nominated Forcade Bishop of Samos and Vicar Apostolic of Japan.[48] Cécille offered the kingdom French protection against British expansionism, but in vain, and only obtained that two missionaries could stay.

Mgr Petitjean, of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, first effective Vicar Apostolic of Japan.

Forcade and Ko were picked up to be used as translators in Japan, and father Leturdu was left in Tomari, soon joined by Father Mathieu Adnet. On July 24, 1846, Admiral Cécille arrived in Nagasaki, but failed in his negotiations and was denied landing, and Bishop Forcade never set foot in mainland Japan.[49] The Ryu-Kyu court in Naha complained in early 1847 about the presence of the French missionaries, who had to be removed in 1848.

France would have no further contacts with Okinawa for the next 7 years, until news came that Commodore Perry had obtained an agreement with the islands on July 11, 1854, following his treaty with Japan. France sent an embassy under Rear-Admiral Cécille onboard La Virginie in order to obtain similar advantages. A convention was signed on November 24, 1855.

As contacts between France and Japan developed during the Bakumatsu period (on the military side this is the period of the first French military mission to Japan), Japan was formed into a unique Vicariate Apostolic from 1866 until 1876. The Vicariate was administered by Mgr Petitjean, of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (1866–1884).[50][51]

20th century

The following table shows the state of the missions at the turn of the 20th century:[52]

Missions of Japan and Korea

• o Tokio
o Nagasaki
o Osaka
o Hakodate
o Korea

Total number of

• Catholics, 138,624
• churches or chapels, 238
• bishops and missionaries, 166
• native priests, 48
• catechists, 517
• seminaries, 4
• seminarists, 81
• communities of men and women, 44, containing 390 persons
• schools, 161, with 9024 pupils
• orphanages and work-rooms, 38, with 988 children
• pharmacies, dispensaries, and hospitals, 19

Missions of China and Tibet

• o Western Sichuan
o Eastern Sichuan
o Southern Sichuan
o Yunnan
o Guizhou
o Guangdong
o Guangxi
o Southern Manchuria
o Northern Manchuria

Total number of

• Catholics, 272,792
• churches or chapels, 1392
• bishops and missionaries, 408
• native priests, 191
• catechists, 998
• seminaries, 19
• seminarists, 661
• communities of men and women, 23, with 222 members
• schools, 1879, with 31,971 pupils
• orphanages and work-rooms, 132, with 4134 children
• pharmacies, dispensaries, and hospitals, 364

Missions of Eastern Indo-China

• o Tongking
o Cochinchina
o Cambodia

Total number of

• Catholics, 632,830
• churches or chapels, 2609
• bishops and missionaries, 365
• native priests, 491
• catechists, 1153
• seminaries, 14
• seminarists, 1271
• communities of men and women, 91, with 2538 persons
• schools, 1859, with 58,434 pupils
• orphanages and work-rooms, 106, with 7217 children
• pharmacies, dispensaries, and hospitals, 107

Missions of Western Indo-China

• o Siam
o Malacca
o Laos
o Southern Burma
o Northern Burma

Total number of

• Catholics, 132,226
• churches or chapels, 451
• bishops and missionaries, 199
• native priests, 42
• catechists, 242
• seminaries, 3
• seminarists, 81
• communities of men and women, 47, with 529 members
• schools, 320, with 21,306 pupils
• orphanages and work-rooms, 132, with 3757 children
• pharmacies, dispensaries, and hospitals, 86

Missions of India

• o Pondicherry
o Mysore
o Coimbatore
o Kumbakonam

Total number of

• Catholics, 324,050
• churches or chapels, 1048
• bishops and missionaries, 207
• native priests, 67
• catechists, 274
• seminaries, 4
• seminarists, 80
• communities of men and women, 54, with 787 members
• schools, 315, with 18,693 pupils
• orphanages and work-rooms, 57, with 2046 children
• pharmacies, dispensaries, and hospitals, 41

A sanatorium for sick missionaries was established in Hong Kong (Béthanie);[53][52] another in India among the Nilgiri mountains, and a third in France. In Hong Kong there were also a house of spiritual retreat and a printing establishment (Nazareth) which published works of art of the Far East -– dictionaries, grammars, books of theology, piety, Christian doctrine, and pedagogy.[54][55][52] Houses of correspondence, or agencies, were established in the Far East, in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, and one in Marseilles, France.[52]


Salle des Martyrs. The ladder-like apparatus in the middle is the cangue that was worn by Pierre Borie in captivity.

The Virgin Mary disguised as Kannon, Kirishitan cult, 17th century Japan. Salle des Martyrs, Paris Foreign Missions Society.

The crypt at the Paris Foreign Missions Society headquarters located Rue du Bac houses a permanent display called "Salle des Martyrs" ("Room of the Martyrs"). Numerous artifacts are on display, mainly remains and relics of martyred members of the missions, depictions of various martyrdoms endured during the history of the missions, and objects related to the Catholic faith in the various countries of Asia. Also, historical archives and graphic material are available, regarding the details of the missions. The Salle des Martyrs can be visited for free from Tuesday to Saturday, from 11:00 to 18:30, and on Sundays from 13:00 to 18:00.

Another, much larger, exhibition is located on the ground floor of the main building of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. Established as a temporary exhibition in 2007–2008, it remains in place but is now closed to the general public. It is only opened for visits once a year during the free-access "Journée des Musées Nationaux", although there seem to be plans to make it a permanent exhibition in the near future.

Portrait of Vietnamese crown prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh.

Ashes of Pigneau de Behaine.

Pigneau's 1772 Dictionarium Anamitico-Latinum.

The park

Stela to the members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society who were martyred in Korea.

Chinese bell brought from Canton by Rigault de Genouilly, now in the park of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

House of Chateaubriand, 120 Rue du Bac, with view on the Park of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

The park of the Paris Foreign Missions Society is the largest private garden in Paris. It houses various significant artifacts, such as a Chinese bell from Canton brought to France by the French Admiral Rigault de Genouilly, a stela to Korean Martyrs and the list of canonized members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. The park can be visited every Saturday at 15:30.

The French writer Chateaubriand lived in an apartment 120 Rue du Bac, with a view on the Park, a fact he mentions in the last paragraph of his Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe:

"As I write these last words, my window, which looks west over the gardens of the Foreign Mission, is open: it is six in the morning; I can see the pale and swollen moon; it is sinking over the spire of the Invalides, scarcely touched by the first golden glow from the East; one might say that the old world was ending, and the new beginning. I behold the light of a dawn whose sunrise I shall never see. It only remains for me to sit down at the edge of my grave; then I shall descend boldly, crucifix in hand, into eternity."

— Chateaubriand Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe Book XLII: Chapter 18[56]

See also

• France-Asia relations
• Timeline of Christian missions
• Roman Catholic religious order
• Society of Saint-Sulpice
• Roman Catholicism in Asia
• Christianity in Asia
• Chinese Rites controversy
• Category:Paris Foreign Missions Society
• Former French Mission Building in Hong Kong


1, Asia in the Making of Europe, p.231
2. Missions, p.3
3. Missions, p.4
4. Missions, p.5
5. Mantienne, p.22
6. Les Missions étrangères, p.30
7. Les Missions Etrangères, p.25
8. Les Missions Etrangères, p. 25. Original French: Nous avons tout sujet de craindre qu'il n'arrive a l'Église d'Annam ce qu'il arrive à l'Église du Japon, car ces rois, tant du Tonkin que de la Cochinchine sont très puissants et accoutumés à la guerre... Il faut que le Saint-Siège, de son propre mouvement, donne des pasteurs à ces regions orientales ou les chrétiens se multiplient d'une manière merveilleuse, de peur que, faute d'évêques, ces hommes ne meurent sans les sacrements et avec un manifeste peril de damnation.
9. Mantienne, p.23
10. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.232
11. Mantienne, p.26
12. Missions, p.3-4
13. Mantienne, p.26-28
14. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.232
15. Viet Nam By Nhung Tuyet Tran, Anthony Reid p.222
16. An Empire Divided by James Patrick Daughton, p.31
17. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.229-230
18. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.35
19. Institutional Culture in Early Modern Society By Anne Goldgar, Robert I. p.25 Note 77 [1]
20. A Bibliography of Canadian Imprints, 1751–1800 by Marie Tremaine p.70 [2]
21. Mantienne, p.29
22. Mantienne, p.28
23. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.232
24. Les Missions Etrangères, p.37. Original French "Voici la principale raison qui a déterminé la Sacrée Congrégation à vous envoyer revêtus de l'épiscopat dans ces régions. C'est que vous preniez en main, par tous les moyens et méthodes possibles, l'éducation de jeunes gens, de façon à les rendre capable de recevoir le sacerdoce."
25. Missions, p.5. Original French: "Ne mettez aucun zèle, n'avancez aucun argument pour convaincre ces peuples de changer leurs rites, leurs coutumes et leur moeurs, à moins qu'ils ne soient évidemment contraires à la religion et à la morale. Quoi de plus absurde que de transporter chez les Chinois la france, l'Espagne, l'Italie, ou quelque autre pays d'Europe? N'introduisez pas chez eux nos pays, mais la foi, cette foi qui ne repousse ni ne blesse les rites, ni les usages d'aucun peuple, pourvu qu'ils ne soient pas détestables, mais bien au contraire veut qu'on les garde et les protège."
26. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia By Nicholas Tarling, p.191
27. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.249
28. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.54
29. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.45
30. New Terrains in Southeast Asian History, p.294, Abu Talib
31. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.135. Article No1 of the decree: "Les établissements des Missions, connus sous la dénomination des Missions étrangères, et le séminaire du Saint-Esprit sont rétablis".
32. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.135
33. Website of the College General: [3] Archived 2008-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
34. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.137
35. Dragon Ascending By Henry Kamm p.86
36. Chapuis, p.5 Google Book Quote: "Two years later, in 1847, Lefebvre was again captured when he returned to Vietnam. This time Cecille sent captain Lapierre to Da Nang. Whether Lapierre was aware or not that Lefebvre had already been freed and on his way back to Singapore, the French first dismantled masts of some Vietnamese ships. Later on April 14, 1847, in only one hour, the French sank the last five bronze-plated vessels in the bay of Da Nang.
37. Tucker, p.27
38. Tucker, p.28
39. Les Missions Etrangeres, p.12
40. Tucker, p.29
41. A History of Vietnam, Oscar Chapuis p.195
42. Tucker, p.29
43. Source
44. "It is estimated than 10,000 were killed within a few months" Source Archived 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine
45. Religion Under Socialism in China by Zhufeng Luo, Chu-feng Lo, Luo Zhufeng p.42: "France started the second Opium War under the pretext of the "Father Chapdelaine Incident." [4]
46. Taiwan in Modern Times by Paul Kwang Tsien Sih p.105: "The two incidents that eventually caused a war were the Arrow incident and the murder of the French Catholic priest, Abbe Auguste Chapdelaine"
47. A History of Christian Missions in China p.273 by Kenneth Scott Latourette: "A casus belli was found in an unfortunate incident which had occurred before the Arrow affair, the judicial murder of a French priest, Auguste Chapdelaine" [5]
48. The Dublin Review, Nicholas Patrick Wiseman [6]
49. Religion in Japan: Arrows to Heaven and Earth By Peter Francis Kornicki, James McMullen (1996) Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-55028-9, p.162
50. The Catholic Encyclopedia – Page 754 by Charles George Herbermann
51. Japan's Hidden Christians, 1549-1999 By Stephen Turnbull
52. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Society of Foreign Missions of Paris". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
53. Restoration of Béthanie: now the home of Emmanuel Church - Pokfulam, Hong Kong
54. Béthanie and Nazareth: French Secrets from a British Colony. Alain Le Pichon. Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. 15 Dec 2006. ISBN 988-99438-0-8. ISBN 978-988-99438-0-6
55. "The history of Nazareth which was previously known as Douglas Castle and is now University Hall". Archived from the original on 2018-05-08. Retrieved 2011-10-21.
56. Chateaubriand Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe Book XLII: Chapter 18


• Mantienne, Frédéric (1999) Monseigneur Pigneau de Béhaine (Eglises d'Asie, Série Histoire, ISSN 1275-6865) ISBN 2-914402-20-1
• Missions étrangères de Paris. 350 ans au service du Christ 2008 Editeurs Malesherbes Publications, Paris ISBN 978-2-916828-10-7
• Les Missions Etrangères. Trois siècles et demi d'histoire et d'aventure en Asie Editions Perrin, 2008, ISBN 978-2-262-02571-7

Further reading

• Adrien Launay (1898) Histoire des missions de l'Inde, 5 vols.

External links

• Official Website
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French East India Company
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 9/23/20

French East India Company
Company flag
Coat of Arms
Motto: Florebo quocumque ferar
"I will flourish wherever I will be brought"
Native name: Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes Orientales
Type: Public company
Industry: Trade
Fate: Dissolved and activities absorbed by the French Crown in 1764; reconstituted 1785, bankrupt 1794
Founded: 1 September 1664
Founder: Jean-Baptiste Colbert Rabiosque Edit this on Wikidata
Defunct: 1769 Edit this on Wikidata
Headquarters: Paris

Colonial India
British Indian Empire
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India: 1605–1825
Danish India: 1620–1869
French India: 1668–1954
Portuguese India: (1505–1961)
Casa da Índia: 1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company 1628–1633
British India (1612–1947)
East India Company: 1612–1757
Company rule in India: 1757–1858
British Raj: 1858–1947
British rule in Burma: 1824–1948
Princely states: 1721–1949
Partition of India: 1947

The French East India Company (French: Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales) was a commercial Imperial enterprise, founded on 1 September 1664 to compete with the English (later British) and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies.

Planned by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, it was chartered by King Louis XIV for the purpose of trading in the Eastern Hemisphere.


Jean-Baptiste Colbert (French: [ʒɑ̃.ba.tist kɔl.bɛʁ]; 29 August 1619 – 6 September 1683) was a French statesman who served as First Minister of State from 1661 until his death in 1683 under the rule of King Louis XIV. His lasting impact on the organisation of the country's politics and markets, known as Colbertism, a doctrine often characterised as a variant of mercantilism, earned him the nickname le Grand Colbert ([lə ɡʁɑ̃ kɔl.bɛʁ]; "the Great Colbert").

A native of Reims, he was appointed Intendant of Finances on 4 May 1661. Colbert took over as Controller-General of Finances, a newly-elevated position, in the aftermath of the arrest of Nicolas Fouquet for embezzlement, an event that led to the abolishment of the office of Superintendent of Finances. He worked to develop the domestic economy by raising tariffs and encouraging major public works projects, as well as to ensure that the French East India Company had access to foreign markets, so that they could always obtain coffee, cotton, dyewoods, fur, pepper and sugar. He acted to create a favourable balance of trade and increase colonial holdings. As there was slavery in the colonies, Colbert also drafted the Code Noir which was to be promulgated two years after his death. In addition, he founded France's merchant navy (marine marchande) becoming Secretary of State of the Navy in 1669.

His effective market reforms included the foundation of the Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs in 1665 to supplant the importation of Venetian glass, which was forbidden in 1672 as soon as the national glass manufacturing industry was on sound footing. Also encouraging the technical expertise of Flemish cloth manufacturing in France, he founded royal tapestry works at Gobelins and supported those at Beauvais. He issued more than 150 edicts to regulate the guilds.[2] The Académie des sciences was founded in 1666 at his suggestion; he was a member of the Académie française from 1 March 1667 to his death, where he occupied the 24th seat, to which Jean de La Fontaine would be elected after his passing. His son Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay (1651–1690) succeeded him as Navy Secretary.

Colbert's father and grandfather were merchants in his birthplace of Reims, France. He claimed to have Scottish ancestry. A general (but unconfirmed) belief exists that he spent his early youth at a Jesuit college, working for a Parisian banker; as well as working for the father of Jean Chapelain.

Before the age of 20, Colbert had a post in the war office, a position generally attributed to the marriage of an uncle to the sister of Secretary of War Michel le Tellier. Colbert spent some time as an inspector of troops, eventually becoming the personal secretary of Le Tellier. In 1647, through unknown means, Colbert acquired the confiscated goods of an uncle, Pussort. In 1648, he and his wife Marie Charron, received 40,000 crowns from an unknown source; and in 1649 Colbert became the councillor of state, i.e. a political minister.

In 1657, he purchased the Barony of Seignelay...

Colbert took much interest in art and literature. He possessed a remarkably fine private library, which he delighted to fill with valuable manuscripts from every part of Europe and the Near East where France had placed a consul. He employed Pierre de Carcavi and Étienne Baluze as librarians. Colbert's grandson sold the manuscript collection in 1732 to the Bibliothèque Royale.

Colbert founded a number of institutions:

• in 1663 the Academy of Inscriptions and Medals
• in 1666 the Academy of Sciences (now part of the Institut de France) and the French Academy at Rome
• in 1667 the Paris Observatory, which he employed Claude Perrault to build and brought Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712) from Italy to superintend
• in 1669 the Académie d'Opéra, later renamed the Académie Royale de Musique
• in 1671 the Academy of Architecture
• Academies at Arles, Soissons, Nîmes and many other towns...

Colbert played a subordinate role in the struggle between the king and the papacy as to the royal rights over vacant bishoprics, and he seems to have sympathised with the proposal that suggested seizing part of the wealth of the clergy. In his hatred of idleness he ventured to suppress no less than seventeen fêtes, and he had a project for reducing the number of persons devoted to clerical and monastic life, by increasing the age for taking the vows.

He showed himself at first unwilling to interfere with heresy, for he realised the commercial value of the Huguenots (French Protestants), who were well represented among the merchant classes; but when the king resolved to make all France Roman Catholic, he followed him and urged his subordinates to do all that they could to promote conversions...

In literature, the power struggle between Colbert and Fouquet is one of the main plotlines of Alexandre Dumas, père's novel The Vicomte of Bragelonne, the second sequel to The Three Musketeers. Dumas paints Colbert as an uncouth and ruthless schemer who stops at little, in contrast to the more refined Fouquet, counselled by Aramis, but also as a visionary patriot.

"It is simply, and solely, the abundance of money within a state [which] makes the difference in its grandeur and power."

"The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest [number] of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing."

-- Jean-Baptiste Colbert, by Wikipedia

It resulted from the fusion of three earlier companies, the 1660 Compagnie de Chine,...

The Compagnie de Chine was a French trading company established in 1660 by the Catholic society Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, in order to dispatch missionaries to Asia (initially Bishops François Pallu, Pierre Lambert de la Motte and Ignace Cotolendi of the newly founded Paris Foreign Missions Society). The company was modelled on the Dutch East India Company.

A ship was built in the Netherlands by the shipowner Fermanel, but the ship foundered soon after being launched. The only remaining solution for the missionaries was to travel on land, since Portugal would have refused to take non-Padroado missionaries by ship, and the Dutch and the English refused to take Catholic missionaries.

In 1664, the China Company would be fused by Jean-Baptiste Colbert with the Compagnie d'Orient and Compagnie de Madagascar into the Compagnie des Indes Orientales [French East India Company].

A second Compagnie de Chine was established in 1698.

The Compagnie de Chine was reactivated in 1723.

-- Compagnie de Chine, by Wikipedia

the Compagnie d'Orient


and Compagnie de Madagascar.

The history of the city of Lorient is closely linked to that of the East India Company because it is its establishment on the Faouëdic moor, then territory of the parish of Ploemeur, which will seal the fate of this place until then uninhabited. The Compagnie des Indes was created in 1664 under the aegis of Jean-Baptiste Colbert and moved to the port of Le Havre. That same year the Company acquired the privileges of the Company of Madagascar founded in Port-Louis by Marshal de la Meilleraye [Charles de La Porte, called "Marshal de la Meilleraye"].

Charles de la Porte, Duc de la Meilleraye

Charles de La Porte (1602 in Paris – 8 February 1664 in Paris) was a French nobleman and general. He was marquis then duke of La Meilleraye, duke of Rethel and peer of France, baron of Parthenay and of Saint-Maixent, count of Secondigny, seigneur of Le Boisliet, La Lunardière, La Jobelinière and Villeneuve.

In 1639 he became Marshal of France after taking Hesdin.

In 1642, after a ten-month siege, he conquered Perpignan and Salses-le-Château, completing the conquest of Roussillon.

-- Charles de La Porte, by Wikipedia

Looking for a location for the establishment of a new construction site, the Compagnie des Indes decided against all odds to choose Port-Louis, no doubt for its strategic position. However, the small size of the peninsula obliges the directors to find a place a little out of the way for its sites: it will be the moor of Faouëdic whose demarcation is carried out on August 31, 1666 by the seneschal of Hennebont for an area of ​​approximately seven hectares. Director Denis Langlois then took possession of it. Lorient has just been born.

-- The Compagnie des Indes, a remarkable company, by

The first Director General for the Company was François de la Faye,...

Jean-François Lériget, Marquis of La Faye: Born in Vienne, son of Pierre Leriget, Lord of La Faye, Gentleman of the King's Chamber in the service of Louis XIV and then of the Regent, he was in charge of various diplomatic missions in Genoa, Utrecht (1713) and London. Commissioner of the Royal Bank of the East India Company (1720), he added literary concerns to his financial and diplomatic occupations. His literary associations and some poetry earned him his election to the Académie Française (1730).

Jean-François Leriget de La Faye (1674, Vienne, Isère – 11 July 1731, Paris) was a French diplomat, wealthy landowner and art collector, poet, and member of the Académie française for a single year.

At one time a musketeer, through social connections La Faye became a member of the court of Louis XIV. His position was head of the royal cabinet, and private secretary and special adviser to the King on matters such as finding a wife for the young Louis XV. He also performed various diplomatic missions in London, Genoa and Utrecht, including involvement in negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht, and was also a director of the French East India Company.

Often classified first as a poet,
La Faye's work was indeed approvingly quoted by his correspondent Voltaire and others, but his work tended towards light verse and he was not prolific. His most well-known work was likely the Ode to Worms, published in the Mercure de France.

La Faye was the owner of an extensive art collection, two hotels in Paris, and another in Versailles. When he acquired the ancient château de Condé in 1719, he commissioned the most fashionable artists of his time and the architect Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni for elaborate improvements.

Southern façade of the Château de Condé

Up to 1624, the date of the marriage of Marie de Bourbon, Countess of Soissons to Thomas, Prince of Carignan (the present Italian royal family), the castle belonged to the House of Condé. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged, from 1711 to 1719, by troops that were sent by King Louis XIV of France, who had it confiscated during the Franco-Austrian War (the owner of the time being a cousin of an Austrian general). It was stayed in by the famous Jeanne Baptiste d'Albert, comtesse de Verrue.

Salon decorated by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (partial)

The confiscated castle was bought in 1719 by a private secretary of King Louis XIV, whose name was Jean-François Leriget, Marquis de la Faye. He was councillor to the King and a diplomat. It was he who was in charge of finding a wife to the young King Louis XV of France.

The Marquis was a member of the French Academy, a director of the French India Company, and accordingly, was a very rich man. In his mansion in Paris, he often received such famous people as Voltaire and Crébillon.

Much of the castle's final appearance is due to the Marquis' tastes. He brought to Condé, the talents of the Italian architect Servandoni, a master of the "deception" style, and one of the architects of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. He shut down the southern aisle, to allow the sun to penetrate into the rooms, and gave a symmetrical appearance to the other aisle. To achieve this, he was obliged to paint false windows in the medieval part of the Castle, the walls being 2 meters thick. For the interior decoration, he invited fashionable painters of the time - Lemoyne, his disciple Boucher, Watteau and his disciple Lancret, and last but not least, Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

At a later date, the castle belonged to the Count de la Tour du Pin Lachaux, through his marriage with the niece of the Marquis de la Faye.

Perhaps the most important name connected with the EzV in this early period is that of Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil Duperron (1731-1805), who quotes a long passage from it in the "Discours Preliminaire" to his Zend-Avesta (1771:1, I. lxxxiii-lxxxvii). Anquetil adds the interesting remark, that "the manuscript brought back to France by Mr. de Modave [and delivered to Voltaire] originally comes from the papers of Mr. Barthelemy,8 second of the Council at Pondicherry, who probably had the original translated by the Company's interpreters under his orders."

Anquetil possessed his own copy of the EzV; it is No. 20 of the Fonds Anquetil, now No. 8876 of the "Nouvelles acquisitions francaises" at the National Library in Paris.9 This copy is evidently more complete than Voltaire's; the supplementary final section (fol. 55 recto) is introduced: "from the copy of Mr. Tessier de la Tour, nephew of Mr. Barthelemy, a member of the Council at Pondicherry." Folio 2 recto contains a note, in Anquetil's handwriting, in which he mentions the name of the person who introduced him to Tessier's copy: Antoine Court de Gebelin,10 and in which he also speculates on the origin of Maudave's manuscript. "On August 27, 1766, a Swiss (Mr. Court de Gebelin, of Geneva) came to see me. He told me about the Ezour-Vedam which had been brought back from Pondicherry by Mr. Tessier, the nephew of Mr. Barthelemy, second in rank in that town. It had been found in the papers of that councilman who, as reported by Mr. Tessier, had also other Indian books translated. It is probably from there that Mr. de Maudave had derived his. This Swiss has in the meanwhile confirmed that it is the same work and that Mr. Tessier's copy contains one more chapter at the end. Or else, Mr. de Maudave has obtained his from Mr. Porcher, the commander at Carical whose daughter he had married." I shall come back to the manuscripts of the EzV, their origin and mutual relationship, later in this volume.

Anquetil's interpretation of the EzV and its dialogue between Biache and Chumontou is shown most clearly in a handwritten marginal note in his manuscript (fol. 8 verso). On Chumontou's statement (Text p. 116) that the common interpretation of the terms choto, rozo, and tomo is wrong and ought to be replaced by his own, Anquetil comments: "This is how the Br[ahman] Chumontou proceeds. Later in this treatise he refutes the legends told by Biache, either because they are contrary to good sense, or because they are not found in the ancient books, and he provides a moralistic explanation for those that are based on facts which he agrees to. However, these legends are accepted throughout India (see Abrah. Roger), and Chumontou does no more than confront them with the doubts of a philosopher which cannot be held to represent the religion of India. To prove that they are, he ought to combat authority by authority."

-- Ezourvedam, edited by Ludo Rocher

In 1814, the Countess de Sade, the daughter-in-law of the famous Marquis de Sade, inherited Condé from her cousin, La Tour du Pin. Since this time and up to 1983, the castle remained the property of the Sade family, who restored it with much care after the two World Wars.

-- Château de Condé, by Wikipedia

For the interior decoration he hired François Lemoyne and his disciple François Boucher; Antoine Watteau and his disciple Nicolas Lancret; as well as Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

-- Jean-François Leriget de La Faye, by Wikipedia

who was adjoined by two Directors belonging to the two most successful trading organizations at that time: François Caron, who had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including more than 20 years in Japan,...[1]


François Caron (1600–1673) was a French Huguenot refugee to the Netherlands who served the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) for 30 years, rising from cabin boy to Director-General at Batavia (Jakarta), only one grade below Governor-General. He was later to become Director-General of the French East Indies Company (Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales) (1667–1673).

He is sometimes considered the first Frenchman to set foot in Japan: he was actually born in Brussels to a family of French Huguenot refugees; but he only became a naturalized citizen of France when he was persuaded by Colbert to become head of the French East Indies Company, which was intended to compete with the Dutch and the English in Asia. He disputes that honour with the French Dominican missionary Guillaume Courtet.

Caron began as a cook's mate on board the Dutch ship Schiedam bound for Japan, where he arrived in 1619. His language skills had developed; and in 1627, he traveled to Edo as the interpreter for the VOC mission to the shogunal capital...

Caron stayed in Japan for over twenty years, from 1619 to 1641, eventually becoming the VOC Opperhoofd (chief factor or merchant) in Japan. During this period, he married a Japanese woman (the daughter of Eguchi Jūzaemon) and had six children. His entire family followed him to Nagasaki when the Japanese forced the Dutch to abandon their outpost at Hirado. Then his family moved with him to Batavia when he left Japan in 1641...

In 1641, Caron's Japan contract with the company expired, and he went to Batavia awaiting a transfer to Europe. At that time, he was nominated member of the Council of the East Indies, the governing body of the VOC in Asia, next to the Governor-General. On 13 December 1641 Caron sailed back to Europe as commander of the merchant fleet...

[H]e again left for Asia in 1643 aboard the Olifant. In September 1643, he headed an army of 1,700 men against the Portuguese in Ceylon.

In 1644, Caron was then named governor of Formosa (Taiwan); and he was the chief VOC official on the island until 1646.
During this period, Caron's achievements included restructuring the production of rice, sulfur, sugar and indigo, and moderating the trade with Chinese pirates...

The arenas of French rivalry with England and Holland expanded to Asia in 1664 when the French Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert persuaded Louis XIV to grant a patent to a newly contrived French East Indies Company. Somehow Colbert managed to entice Caron into accepting a leadership role in this nascent enterprise. He became the company's Director General in 1665. This action was perceived as treason by the Dutch, and Caron was banned eternally from the Provinces...

Caron succeeded in founding French outposts at Surat (1668) and at Masulipatam (1669) in India; and Louis XIV acknowledged those successes by awarding him the Order of St. Michael. He was "Commissaire" at Surat between 1668 and 1672. The French East India Company formally set up a trading centre at Pondicherry in 1673. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India.

In 1672, he helped lead French forces in Ceylon, where the strategic bay at Tincomalee was captured and St. Thomé (also known as Meilâpûr) on the Coromandel coast was also taken; however, the consequences of his military success was short-lived. The French were driven out these modest conquests while Caron was en route to Europe in 1673.

He died as his ship sank off Lisbon on 5 April 1673, while he was returning to Europe.

-- François Caron, by Wikipedia

and Marcara Avanchintz, an Armenian trader from Isfahan, Persia.[2]

Marcara Avanchintz was a 17th-century powerful Armenian trader from Ispahan, Persia, who went into the service of Louis XIV. He became a Director of the newly founded French East Indian Company, together with François Caron, who was his direct superior, and François de la Faye.

Marcara arrived in India, at the kingdom of Golconda where he had great connections, in May 1669, and was successful in obtaining a trade agreement (a farmân) for the French.

Marcara however entered into a dispute with Caron, after Caron offered him to take personal bribes in the French East Indian Company trade. Maracara was imprisoned on accusations that he was favouring Armenian trade, and returned to France. Upon his return, Marcara initiated a trial against the French East Indian Company, which he won.

On this assignment François Martin wrote:

"It was a mistake to choose an Armenian, whose nation is well known in India, as Director for the Company of such a prestigious nation as ours. It had been surprising and had not served our reputation."
— François Martin.[1]

-- Marcara Avanchintz, by Wikipedia


French king Henry IV authorized the first Compagnie des Indes Orientales, granting the firm a 15-year monopoly of the Indies trade.[3] This precursor to Colbert's later Compagnie des Indes Orientales, however, was not a joint-stock corporation, and was funded by the Crown.

The initial capital of the revamped Compagnie des Indes Orientales was 15 million livres, divided into shares of 1000 livres apiece. Louis XIV funded the first 3 million livres of investment, against which losses in the first 10 years were to be charged.[3] The initial stock offering quickly sold out, as courtiers of Louis XIV recognized that it was in their interests to support the King's overseas initiative. The Compagnie des Indes Orientales was granted a 50-year monopoly on French trade in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, a region stretching from the Cape of Good Hope to the Straits of Magellan.[3] The French monarch also granted the Company a concession in perpetuity for the island of Madagascar, as well as any other territories it could conquer.

The Company failed to found a successful colony on Madagascar, but was able to establish ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's Réunion and Mauritius). By 1719, it had established itself in India, but the firm was near bankruptcy. In the same year the Compagnie des Indes Orientales was combined under the direction of John Law with other French trading companies to form the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes [The Mississippi Company]. The reorganized corporation resumed its operating independence in 1723.

The Mississippi Company (French: Compagnie du Mississippi; founded 1684, named the Company of the West from 1717, and the Company of the Indies from 1719) was a corporation holding a business monopoly in French colonies in North America and the West Indies. When land development and speculation in the region became frenzied and detached from economic reality, the Mississippi bubble became one of the earliest examples of an economic bubble.

In May 1716, the Scottish economist John Law, who had been appointed Controller General of Finances of France under the Duke of Orleans, created the Banque Générale Privée ("General Private Bank"). It was the first financial institution to develop the use of paper money. It was a private bank, but three quarters of the capital consisted of government bills and government-accepted notes. In August 1717, Law bought the Mississippi Company to help the French colony in Louisiana. In the same year Law conceived a joint-stock trading company called the Compagnie d'Occident (The Mississippi Company, or, literally, "Company of [the] West"). Law was named the Chief Director of this new company, which was granted a trade monopoly of the West Indies and North America by the French government.

The bank became the Banque Royale (Royal Bank) in 1718, meaning the notes were guaranteed by the king, Louis XV of France. The company absorbed the Compagnie des Indes Orientales ("Company of the East Indies"), the Compagnie de Chine ("Company of China"), and other rival trading companies and became the Compagnie Perpetuelle des Indes on 23 May 1719 with a monopoly of French commerce on all the seas. Simultaneously, the bank began issuing more notes than it could represent in coinage; this led to a currency devaluation, which was eventually followed by a bank run when the value of the new paper currency was halved.

Louis XIV's long reign and wars had nearly bankrupted the French monarchy. Rather than reduce spending, the Regency of Louis XV of France endorsed the monetary theories of Scottish financier John Law. In 1716, Law was given a charter for the Banque Royale under which the national debt was assigned to the bank in return for extraordinary privileges. The key to the Banque Royale agreement was that the national debt would be paid from revenues derived from opening the Mississippi Valley. The Bank was tied to other ventures of Law—the Company of the West and the Companies of the Indies. All were known as the Mississippi Company. The Mississippi Company had a monopoly on trade and mineral wealth. The Company boomed on paper. Law was given the title Duc d'Arkansas. Bernard de la Harpe and his party left New Orleans in 1719 to explore the Red River. In 1721, he explored the Arkansas River. At the Yazoo settlements in Mississippi he was joined by Jean Benjamin who became the scientist for the expedition.

In 1718, there were only 700 Europeans in Louisiana. The Mississippi Company arranged ships to move 800 more, who landed in Louisiana in 1718, doubling the European population. Law encouraged some German-speaking peoples, including Alsatians and Swiss, to emigrate. They give their name to the regions of the Côte des Allemands and the Lac des Allemands in Louisiana.

Prisoners were set free in Paris from September 1719 onwards, under the condition that they marry prostitutes and go with them to Louisiana. The newly married couples were chained together and taken to the port of embarkation. In May 1720, after complaints from the Mississippi Company and the concessioners about this class of French immigrants, the French government prohibited such deportations. However, there was a third shipment of prisoners in 1721.

Law exaggerated the wealth of Louisiana with an effective marketing scheme, which led to wild speculation on the shares of the company in 1719. The scheme promised success for the Mississippi Company by combining investor fervor and the wealth of its Louisiana prospects into a sustainable, joint-stock, trading company. The popularity of company shares were such that they sparked a need for more paper bank notes, and when shares generated profits the investors were paid out in paper bank notes. In 1720, the bank and company were merged and Law was appointed by Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, then Regent for Louis XV, to be Comptroller General of Finances to attract capital. Law's pioneering note-issuing bank thrived until the French government was forced to admit that the number of paper notes being issued by the Banque Royale exceeded the value of the amount of metal coinage it held.

The "bubble" burst at the end of 1720, when opponents of the financier attempted to convert their notes into specie (gold and silver) en masse, forcing the bank to stop payment on its paper notes. By the end of 1720 Philippe d'Orléans had dismissed Law from his positions. Law then fled France for Brussels, eventually moving on to Venice, where he lived off his gambling. He was buried in the church San Moisè in Venice.

-- Mississippi Company, by Wikipedia

John Law, by Casimir Balthazar

John Law (baptised 21 April 1671 – 21 March 1729) was a Scottish economist who distinguished money, a means of exchange, from national wealth dependent on trade. He served as Controller General of Finances under the Duke of Orleans, who was regent for the juvenile Louis XV of France. In 1716, Law set up a private Banque Générale in France. A year later it was nationalised at his request as the first Central Banque Royale. The private bank had been funded mainly by John Law and Louis XV; three-quarters of its capital consisted of government bills and government-accepted notes, effectively making it the nation's first central bank. Backed only partially by silver, it was a fractional reserve bank. Law also set up and directed the Mississippi Company, funded by the Banque Royale. Its chaotic collapse has been compared to the 17th-century tulip mania in Holland. The Mississippi bubble coincided with the South Sea bubble in England, which allegedly took ideas from it. Law as a gambler would win card games by mentally calculating odds. He originated ideas such as the scarcity theory of value and the real bills doctrine. He held that money creation stimulated an economy, paper money was preferable to metal, and dividend-paying shares a superior form of money. The term "millionaire" was coined for beneficiaries of Law's scheme.

Law was born into a family of Lowland Scots bankers and goldsmiths from Fife; his father, William, had purchased Lauriston Castle, a landed estate at Cramond on the Firth of Forth and was known as Law of Lauriston. On leaving the High School of Edinburgh, Law joined the family business at the age of 14 and studied the banking business until his father died in 1688. He subsequently neglected the firm in favour of extravagant pursuits and travelled to London, where he lost large sums by gambling.

On 9 April 1694, John Law fought a duel with another British dandy, Edward "Beau" Wilson, in Bloomsbury Square, London. Wilson had challenged Law over the affections of Elizabeth Villiers. Law killed Wilson with a single pass and thrust of his sword. He was arrested, charged with murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey. He appeared before the infamously sadistic "hanging judge" Salathiel Lovell and was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He was initially incarcerated in Newgate Prison to await execution.[8] His sentence was later commuted to a fine, on the grounds that the killing only amounted to manslaughter. Wilson's brother appealed and had Law imprisoned, but he managed to escape to Amsterdam....

Mississippi Company

Law became the architect of what would later be known as the Mississippi Bubble, an event that would begin with consolidating the trading companies of Louisiana into a single monopoly (The Mississippi Company), and ended with the collapse of the Banque Générale and subsequent devaluing of the Mississippi Company's shares.

In 1719, the French government allowed Law to issue 50,000 new shares in the Mississippi Company at 500 livres with just 75 livres down and the rest due in nineteen additional monthly payments of 25 livres each. The share price rose to 1,000 livres before the second instalment was even due, and ordinary citizens flocked to Paris to participate.

In October 1719 Law's Company lent the French state 1.5 billion livres at 3 per cent to pay off the national debt, a transaction funded by issuing a further 300,000 shares in the company.

Between May and December 1719 the market price of a share rose from 500 to 10,000 livres and continued rising into early 1720, supported by Law's 4 per cent dividend promise. Under rapidly emerging price inflation, Law sought to hold the share price at 9,000 livres in March 1720, and then on 21 May 1720 to engineer a controlled reduction in the value of both notes and the shares, a measure that was itself reversed six days later.

As the public rushed to convert banknotes to coin, Law was forced to close the Banque Générale for ten days, then limit the transaction size once the bank reopened. But the queues grew longer, the Mississippi Company stock price continued to fall, and food prices soared by as much as 60 per cent.

The fractional reserve ratio was one fifth, and a Royal edict to criminalise the sale of gold was decreed. A later Royal edict decreed that gold coin was illegal, which was soon reversed, leading to 50 people being killed in a stampede. The company's shares were ultimately rendered worthless, and initially inflated speculation about their worth led to widespread financial stress, which saw Law dismissed at the end of 1720 from his sinecure as Controller General and his post as Chief Director of the Banque Générale.


Speculation gave way to panic as people flooded the market with future shares trading as high as 15,000 livres per share, while the shares themselves remained at 10,000 livres each. By May 1720, prices fell to 4,000 livres per share, a 73 per cent decrease within a year. The rush to convert paper money to coins led to sporadic bank hours and riots. Squatters now occupied the square of Palace Louis-le-Grand and openly attacked the financiers that inhabited the area. It was under these circumstances and the cover of night that John Law left Paris some seven months later, leaving all of his substantial property assets in France, including the Place Vendôme...

Place Vendôme, Paris

and at least 21 châteaux which he had purchased over his years in Paris, for the repayment of creditors.

The descent of a relatively unknown man came as fast as his rise, leaving an economic power vacuum. Law's theories live on 300 years later and "captured many key conceptual points which are very much a part of modern monetary theorizing."

-- John Law (economist), by Wikipedia

General Cl. Martin. 1794, published in Lucknow. After an original by Renaldi. Engraved by L. Legoux- Late pupil of F. Bartolozzi.

In 1781–82 Antoine-Louis-Henri Polier, a Swiss Protestant who served in the English East India Company’s army until 1775, had had copies of the Vedas made for him at the court of Pratap Singh at Jaipur. Polier’s intermediary was a Portuguese physician, Don Pedro da Silva Leitão… Jai Singh had assembled a substantial collection of manuscripts from religious sites across India, and in the time of his successor Pratap Singh the library had contained the samhitas of all four Vedas in manuscripts dating from the last quarter of the seventeenth century…

Polier records that he had sought copies of the Veda without success in Bengal, Awadh, and on the Coromandel coast, as well as in Agra, Delhi, and Lucknow and had found that even at Banaras “nothing could be obtained but various Shasters, [which] are only Commentaries of the Baids”…

It is perhaps significant that it was in a royal library, rather than in a Brahmin pathasala, that Polier found manuscripts of the Vedas. But the same is not true of the manuscripts acquired in Banaras only fifteen years later by Henry Thomas Colebrooke, during the period (1795–97) when he was appointed as judge and magistrate at nearby Mirzapur…

I cannot conceive how it came to be ever asserted that the Brahmins were ever averse to instruct strangers; several gentlemen who have studied the language find, as I do, the greatest readiness in them to give us access to all their sciences. They do not even conceal from us the most sacred texts of their Vedas.

The several gentlemen would likely have included General Claude Martin, Sir William Jones, and Sir Robert Chambers. These were all East India Company employees who obtained Vedic manuscripts (Jones from Polier) in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

Why was it so much easier for Polier, Colebrooke, and others to obtain what it had been so difficult for the Jesuits and impossible for the Pietists?...

-- The Absent Vedas, by Will Sweetman

In 1751 at the age of 16 [Claude] Martin decided to seek his fortune abroad, and he signed up with the French Compagnie des Indes [The Mississippi Company]. His mother is reported to have said that he should not return from enlisting as a soldier until he was "in a carriage".

He was posted to India where he served under Commander and Governor Joseph François Dupleix and General Thomas Arthur Lally in the Carnatic Wars against the British East India Company. When the French lost their colony of Pondichéry in 1761, he accepted service in the Bengal Army of the East India Company in 1763, ultimately rising to the rank of Major General.

He was initially employed at the then-new Fort William in Calcutta
, Bengal, and afterwards on the survey of Bengal under the English Surveyor General James Rennell. In 1776, Martin was allowed to accept the appointment of Superintendent of the Arsenal for the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud-Daula, at Lucknow, retaining his rank but being ultimately placed on half pay. He resided in Lucknow from 1776 until his death. It was the 'Reign of Terror' during the French Revolution which prevented him from returning "in a carriage".[2] His friend Antoine Polier gave up his wives and children, as he left India, to return France. He was stabbed in a criminal assault during the aforesaid revolution. Martin formally never gave up his nationality as a Frenchman but definitely intended to, towards the end of his life, as he sought promotions in the Bengal Army...

Martin's life was mired in controversy as he had kept two wives of Colonel Polier's, after Polier had departed from India.

-- General Claude Martin, by Wikipedia

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the French decided to intervene in Indian political affairs to protect their interests, notably by forging alliances with local rulers in south India. From 1741 the French under Joseph François Dupleix pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and the British until they ultimately were defeated by Robert Clive. Several Indian trading ports, including Pondichéry and Chandernagore, remained under French control until 1954.

French East India Company cannon ("Canon de 4"). Bronze, 1755, Douai. Caliber: 84mm, length: 237cm, weight: 545kg, ammunition: 2kg iron balls.

The Company was not able to maintain itself financially, and it was abolished in 1769, about 20 years before the French Revolution. King Louis XVI issued a 1769 edict that required the Company to transfer to the state all its properties, assets and rights, which were valued at 30 million livres. The King agreed to pay all of the Company's debts and obligations, though holders of Company stock and notes received only an estimated 15 percent of the face value of their investments by the end of corporate liquidation in 1790.[3]

The company was reconstituted in 1785[4] and issued 40,000 shares of stock, priced at 1,000 livres apiece.[3] It was given monopoly on all trade with countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope[4] for an agreed period of seven years.[3] The agreement, however, did not anticipate the French Revolution, and on 3 April 1790 the monopoly was abolished by an act of the new French Assembly which enthusiastically declared that the lucrative Far Eastern trade would henceforth be "thrown open to all Frenchmen".[4] The company, accustomed neither to competition nor official disfavor, fell into steady decline and was finally liquidated in 1794.[3]
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Map gallery

Carte de L'Indoustan. Bellin, 1770.

French and other European settlements in India.

Acme of French influence 1741–1754.

Liquidation scandal

Even as the company was headed consciously toward extinction, it became embroiled in its most infamous scandal. The Committee of Public Safety had banned all joint-stock companies on 24 August 1793, and specifically seized the assets and papers of the East India Company.[5] While its liquidation proceedings were being set up, directors of the company bribed various senior state officials to allow the company to carry out its own liquidation, rather than be supervised by the government.[5] When this became known the following year, the resulting scandal led to the execution of key Montagnard deputies like Fabre d'Eglantine and Joseph Delaunay, among others.[5] The infighting sparked by the episode also brought down Georges Danton[6] and can be said to have led to the downfall of the Montagnards as a whole.[5]


French-issued copper coin, cast in Pondichéry for internal Indian trade.

French-issued "Gold Pagoda" for Southern India trade, cast in Pondichéry 1705–1780.

French-issued rupee in the name of Mohammed Shah (1719-1748) for Northern India trade, cast in Pondichéry.

See also

Monument to Joseph François Dupleix in Pondicherry.

• British East India Company, founded in 1600
• Portuguese East India Company, founded 1628
• Carnatic Wars
• Chanda Sahib
• Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602
• Dutch West India Company, founded in 1621
• European chartered companies founded around the 17th century (in French)
• France-Asia relations
• French colonial empire
• French India
• List of trading companies
• Lorient
• Muzaffar Jang
• Salabat Jang
• Swedish East India Company, founded in 1731
• Whampoa anchorage


1. Caron lived in Japan from 1619 to 1641. A Collector's Guide to Books on Japan in English By Jozef Rogala, p.31 [1]
2. McCabe, p.104
3. Shakespeare, Howard (2001). "The Compagnie des Indes". Archived from the original on 25 December 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
4. Soboul, p.192.
5. Soboul, pp.360–363.
6. Doyle, pp. 273–274.

Further reading

• Ames, Glenn J. (1996). Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-87580-207-9.
• Boucher, P. (1985). The Shaping of the French Colonial Empire: A Bio-Bibliography of the Careers of Richelieu, Fouquet and Colbert. New York: Garland.
• Doyle, William (1990). The Oxford History of the French Revolution (2 ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-925298-5.
• Greenwald, Erin M. (2016). Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 9780807162859
• Lokke, C. L. (1932). France and the Colonial Question: A Study of Contemporary French Public Opinion, 1763-1801. New York: Columbia University Press.
• Malleson, G. B. (1893). History of the French in India. London: W.H. Allen & Co.
• Sen, S. P. (1958). The French in India, 1763-1816. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay. ASIN B000HINRSC.
• Sen, S. P. (1947). The French in India: First Establishment and Struggle. Calcutta: University of Calcutta Press.
• Soboul, Albert (1975). The French Revolution 1787–1799. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-394-71220-X. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
• Subramanian, Lakshmi, ed. (1999). French East India Company and the Trade of the Indian Ocean: A Collection of Essays by Indrani Chatterjee. Delhi: Munshiram Publishers.
• McAbe, Ina Baghdiantz (2008). Orientalism in early Modern France. Berg. ISBN 978-1-84520-374-0. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
• Wellington, Donald C. French East India companies: A historical account and record of trade (Hamilton Books, 2006).

External links

• Museum of the French East India Company at Lorient
• The French East India Company (1785-1875) History of the last French East India Company on the site dedicated to its business lawyer Jean-Jacques Regis of Cambaceres.
• French East Indies Company nowadays


The East India Company: The Compagnie des Indes, a remarkable company
by Morbihan Archives
Accessed: 9/23/20


The history of the city of Lorient is closely linked to that of the East India Company because it is its establishment on the Faouëdic moor, then territory of the parish of Ploemeur, which will seal the fate of this place until then. uninhabited. The Compagnie des Indes was created in 1664 under the aegis of Jean-Baptiste Colbert and moved to the port of Le Havre. That same year the Company acquired the privileges of the Company of Madagascar founded in Port-Louis by Marshal de la Meilleraye. Looking for a location for the establishment of a new construction site, the Compagnie des Indes decided against all odds to choose Port-Louis, no doubt for its strategic position. However, the small size of the peninsula obliges the directors to find a place a little out of the way for its sites: it will be the moor of Faouëdic whose demarcation is carried out on August 31, 1666 by the seneschal of Hennebont for an area of ​​approximately seven hectares. Director Denis Langlois then took possession of it. Lorient has just been born.

The first years are characterized by relatively low activity and by temporary wooden constructions. These first infrastructures form the Enclosure. It was the war in Holland in the 1670s that changed everything: the port of Le Havre was no longer secure and the Company had to concentrate its activity on Port-Louis instead of “the Orient”. Several large-scale works began, a great wall was erected in 1676 to separate the Enclosure from the exterior park, a rope factory came out of the ground the following year, accompanied by a bakery and food handling. In the 1680s, major works continued to establish the buildings more sustainably: stone will henceforth be preferred instead of wood. Major works are again being undertaken to expand and strengthen the already existing infrastructure. The city grew with the expansion of the Company and around its activities. A new step was taken at the end of the 1680s. Lorient became a royal military port with a real arsenal and able to build warships.

The organization of the expeditions requires the supply of large quantities of food which stimulates and promotes the development of local trade. Some craftsmen became regular suppliers to the Company, such as Sieur Salmon, a baker in Lorient who repeatedly provided tens of thousands of travel cookies between 1679 and 1685. On January 31, 1685, the director Simon des Jonchères ordered for the ship La Royalle 5,000 oxen killed and butchered. A few months later, 34 sheep and 350 poultry were purchased and in 1687, “fifteen lively pigs of which there will be two plain sows and a good and strong boar”. The archives of notaries kept at the Departmental Archives of Morbihan are full of examples of this kind.

Rapid growth: from cabins to mansions


The population flocked in mass near the port with on the one hand the hundreds of workers necessary for the operation of the sites and housed by the Company and on the other hand the many craftsmen and traders who came to settle in the nascent city. The trades necessary for day-to-day activities are diverse and the needs are considerable: marine carpenters, sailboats, carpenters, architects but also coast guards, keepers of stores and vessels, writers, surgeons, apothecaries or even Company archers: all of them settle in the direct vicinity of the port or for the better-off in Port-Louis, which offers more luxurious “solid” dwellings. In fact, just like the first buildings of the Company, the houses and shops are mostly built of wood. This situation persists for quite a long time as evidenced by the many acts of construction market and sales of "cabins" until the beginning of the 18th century, even though stone constructions progressed. In 1689, Madame de Sévigné, passing through Lorient and invited by the director Claude Céberet du Boullay, did not stay to sleep in the city, but preferred to retire in the comfort offered by the town of Hennebont.

It was not until the 1720s that the regulations required owners to build in stone with slate roofing. To move from cabins to real houses, we have recourse to the authority of the intendant of Brittany but also to compensation for expropriation. It is indeed essential to build public buildings, sanitary facilities, hotels, inns or even places of leisure to be able to meet the requirements of a population which is gradually becoming middle-class with the arrival and installation of traders. and army officers. The erection of the parish of Lorient in 1709 and of the town community in 1738 made it a real established urban body.

An atypical Lorient society


Depending on the departures and returns of the ships, we can meet in Lorient, particular populations. In March 1681, a group of missionaries from the seminary of foreign missions in Paris prepared to embark on the voyage to India and carried out all the necessary procedures with his relatives or the establishments he supported -- wills, donations, resignations of benefits ... -- in case the latter do not return. It should be noted the presence of Messire François Pallu, bishop of Heliopolis and apostolic vicar of China, Cochinchina, Tonquin, Siam and other places who declares "that for the good friendship which he carries to Messire Estienne Pallu his nephew, he luy gave ceded and transported the sum of four hundred pounds of life annuity on all his property and income”.

In another register, many young men come to Lorient to join the Company's ships. Phelippe Gueguenou, François Deserboy, and Jean Le Roy, three Bretons respectively from Crozon, Brest and Saint-Malo, signed in 1721 an act of engagement in preparation for the expedition to Louisiana, for a period of three years. The sailors generally come from Brittany but also notably from the Basque Country and Normandy.

The place of women in a port such as that of Lorient is also particularly important by the recurrent absence of men left at sea. The bundles of minutes of Notaries in the late 17th and early 18th century reinforce this impression by the multitude of powers of attorney, contracts and marriage promises. The acts systematically grant rights to women over the property and income of their husbands or future husbands during long voyages on ships and in the event of death. The wages are then paid by the Company to the women and fiancées.

The temptations of exoticism


While the Compagnie des Indes and the city of Lorient prospered, a great deal of wealth passed through the port and was stored in the department stores of the Enclosure. These are kept day and night because they contain particularly popular goods: spices, coffee, tea, cotton, fabrics, Chinese porcelain etc. Initially, Lorient was not, however, a privileged distribution center unlike the cities of Le Havre, Nantes and Paris. But in 1734, the city was designated as the sole sales center of the Company and therefore distributed the goods throughout the kingdom. The concentration of so many often rare and precious foodstuffs constitutes so many temptations for certain inhabitants of the outside of the Enclosure. Court records provide excellent examples. Thefts are regular but severely punished: in 1726, Job Le Clocher was sentenced to three years in the galleys and hot-ironed with the three letters GAL for theft of iron and illegal sale. His wife and accomplice is castigated with rods in public for three consecutive days, marked with the letter V and banished from the senechaussee of Hennebont. But the most coveted commodities are spices, coffee or fabrics. The king, noting the repeated thefts of coffee in the stores of the Company, ordered his Council in 1737 that an investigation and proceedings be launched against several accused by all necessary means. Crimes were punished with ever more rigor: fabric thieves were condemned to death by hanging in 1772.

A dark past


If the very terminology of the Compagnie des Indes evokes exoticism and pomp, the fact remains that the slave trade is a lesser known aspect of Lorient's past. The ships of the Compagnie des Indes transported nearly 40,000 slaves during the 18th century. The judicial archives once again deliver fragments of history. In 1744, proceedings were initiated to investigate the theft of a considerable quantity of cowries from the stores of the port. Cowries, shells, were then used as currency especially in Africa and therefore essential to the slave trade. Out of ten people involved, only Catherine Guillemoto was sentenced as follows: "Declared the said Catherinne Guillemoto duly reached and convinced to have had in her house a considerable quantity of cowries belonging to and stolen from the Indian company in Lorient and to have concealed them while seeking the flow of eyes by criminal voices, for reparation of which condemned her to be beaten and castigated […] in the carefours and customary places of the city of Lorient, this fact we banished forever from this jurisdiction […] ”.

Even if Lorient is to a lesser extent a slave port, it happens that people of color from Africa come through. A certain Jean Antoine was thus found hidden in the hold of the ship La Flore in 1736. When asked why he was there, he declared to the crew "that he did not want to abandon his master and that he liked better to lose his life than not to follow him to his destination […]”. We still meet in 1772, Mathieu Charles Zamos, originally from Madagascar, a slave freed by his owner the Sieur Molard and both residing in Paris.


Traces still present

The Compagnie des Indes left a deep mark on the city of Lorient. Its development and its rigorously geometric urbanization are organized around these maritime activities. The citadel of Port-Louis now houses the museum of the Compagnie des Indes, conserving a magnificent collection of objects of all kinds: Chinese porcelain, muslin dress, Indian dress, maritime material, decorative elements… The archive fund of the Company is kept in the historical service of the Defense of Lorient and mainly concerns its operation (accounting, personnel, infrastructure, armament and disarmament of ships, product sales, etc.).

Lastly, the Departmental Archives of Morbihan keep some elements linked to the activities of the Compagnie des Indes in the Admiralty collections (sub-series 8-10 B). There are also a few important shipowners and merchants' collections kept in series E (notably the Delaye collection: E 2365-2445 and Vanderheyde collection: E 2268-2273). However, the richest sources are to strip bundles of minutes from Port Louis and Lorient notaries containing real slices of life of workers, sailors, merchants and traders of the late 17th to the end until 'the suspension of the Company's activities in 1769 (sub-series 6 E).

Sources consulted:

- Series B: Royal seneschalsy Hennebont, minutes bundles, 17th-18th centuries;

- Series B: jurisdiction Lorient minutes bundles, 17th-18th centuries;

- Sub-series 9 B: Admiralty of Vannes, 1677-1807;

- 6 E 3839-3850: Hamonic, notary in Port-Louis, 1676-1687;

- 6 E 8085-8089: Aubert, notary in Lorient, 1701-1730.


Lorient [Abridged]
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 9/23/20

Lorient (French pronunciation: ​[lɔʁjɑ̃]; Breton: An Oriant) is a town (French "commune") and seaport in the Morbihan department of Brittany in North-Western France...


Lorient in the 18th century

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert founded the French East Indies Company.[2] In June 1666, an ordinance of Louis XIV granted lands of Port-Louis to the company, along with Faouédic on the other side of the roadstead. One of its directors, Denis Langlois, bought lands at the confluence of the Scorff and the Blavet rivers, and built slipways. At first, it only served as a subsidiary of Port-Louis, where offices and warehouses were located.[3] The following years, the operation was almost abandoned, but in 1675, during the Franco-Dutch War, the French East Indies Company scrapped its base in Le Havre since it was too exposed during wartime, and transferred its infrastructures to l'Enclot, out of which Lorient grew. The company then erected a chapel, workshops, forges, and offices, leaving Port-Louis permanently.[4]

The French Royal Navy opened a base there in 1690, under the command of Colbert de Seignelay, who inherited his father's position as Secretary of State of the Navy. At the same time, privateers from Saint-Malo took shelter there.[4] In 1700, the town grew out of l'Enclot following a law forcing people to leave the domain to move to the Faouédic heath. In 1702, there were about 6,000 inhabitants in Lorient, though activities slowed, and the town began to decline[5]

Growth under the Company of the Indies

L'Enclos at the end of the 18th century

The town experienced a period of growth when John Law formed the Perpetual Company of the Indies by absorbing other chartered companies (including the French East India Company), and chose Lorient as its operative base. Despite the economic bubble caused by the Company in 1720, the city was still growing[6] as it took part in the Atlantic triangular slave trade. From 1720 to 1790, 156 ships deported an estimated 43,000 slaves.[7] In 1732, the Company decided to transfer its sales headquarters from Nantes to Lorient, and asked architect Jacques Gabriel to raise new buildings out of dimension stones to host these new activities, and to embellish the L'Enclos domain.[6] Sales began in 1734, peaking up to 25 million livres tournois.[8] In 1769, the Company's monopoly ended with the scrapping of the company itself, under the influence of the physiocrats.[9]

Up until Company's closure, the city took advantage of its prosperity. In 1738, there were 14,000 inhabitants, or 20,000 considering the outlying villages of Kerentrech, Merville, La Perrière, Calvin, and Keryado, which are now neighbourhoods comprised in the present-day city limits. In 1735, new streets were laid down and in 1738, it was granted city status. Further work was undertaken as the streets began to be paved, wharves and slipways were built along the Faouédic river, and thatched houses were replaced with stone buildings following 18th-century classical architecture style as it was the case for l'Enclos.[8] In 1744, the city walls were erected, and proved quickly useful as Lorient was raided in September 1746.[10] Following the demise of the Company, the city lost one-seventh of its population.[11]

In 1769, the city evolved into a full-scale naval base for the Royal Navy when the King bought out the Company's infrastructures for 17,500,000 livres tournois.[9] From 1775 on, the American revolutionary war brought a surge in activity, as many privateers hailed from Lorient. When the war ended, transatlantic lines opened to the United States, and in 1785, a new commercial company started under Calonne's tutelage (then Controller-General of Finances) with the same goal as the previous entities, i.e. conducting trade in India and China, with again Lorient standing as its operative base.[11]

The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars put an end to trade for nearly two decades.[12]


1. "Populations légales 2017". INSEE. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
2. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 66–87. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
3. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 67. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
4. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 68. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
5. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 69. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
6. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 70. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
7. René Estienne, « Les archives des compagnies commerciales et la traite : l’exemple de la Compagnie des Indes », Service historique de la Défense, Lorient, janvier 2009
8. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 71. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
9. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 73. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
10. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 72. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
11. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 74. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
12. Chaumeil, Louis (1939). "Abrégé d'histoire de Lorient de la fondation (1666) à nos jours (1939)". Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest (in French). 46 (1): 75. doi:10.3406/abpo.1939.1788.
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The Historiography of the Jesuit Missions in India (1500–1800)
by Ines G. Županov (
Last modified: November 2016



Table of Contents

• From Letters to History in the Early Modern Period
• From Jesuit Historiography’s “French” Turn to Protestant Critique
• Survival and Renewal
• Revival of Jesuit Scholarship during the British Colonial Period
• Indian Jesuit Historians and Decolonization
• Back to the Archives: Jesuit and Non-Jesuit Scholarship in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

From Letters to History in the Early Modern Period

The very first Jesuit mission started in India with the arrival of Francis Xavier (1506–52) in 1542. This is one of the reasons why the first Jesuit historiographies (written exclusively by the Jesuits) were either written in or about India, a geographical term, today corresponding to South Asia, but which in the early modern period often encompassed the entire Asia or at least what the Portuguese, who were the patrons of the Jesuit missions, called Estado da Índia. As a new religious order specifically available for overseas missions by a special vow to the pope, the Jesuits were aware of the need to produce and show the results of their engagement and to publish them, as the use of the printing press was gaining ground, for their European sponsors and benefactors. Jesuit written reports and their correspondence provided materials for the first histories of the order. It is safe to say that the absence of the past stimulated the production of historiography. These histories were meant to be read widely and to edify European audience, and to entice new recruits and provide the template for the missionary action. They were both apologetic and factual, since each detail, whether about missionary successes, obstacles, or martyrdoms, was seen as a step forward to the ultimate triumph. This teleological coloring of the historiographical account was also closely interwoven with Catholic providentialism. Jesuit historiography thus captured both the historical processes and the lives and itineraries of the historical actors, most of whom participated—willingly and self-consciously—in writing their own history.

The earliest publications of missionary letters from India, such as the famous Copie d’une lettre missive envoyée des Indes (Paris, 1545) by Francis Xavier, can be taken as the first Jesuit historiographical effort at printing primary sources.1 Jesuit historiography, therefore, proleptically starts with the present, in which the historical actors were still alive and writing about themselves. Jesuit history, in fact, had been simultaneously in the making and already in use as a template for action. The use of history was further divided, as was almost every Jesuit cultural practice, between internal and external. The history for the insiders, besides its apparent edifying and exhortative character, aimed primarily at the integration of an ever-growing and diversifying membership, and consequently at establishing an efficient conflict-solving strategies. Another particularity of the early Jesuit historiographical practices that remains its most important feature even today is that the texts were written in many different languages and supported by different patrons. Letters by the missionaries in India, working exclusively under the Portuguese padroado (the royal patronage of the missions), appeared in print in the sixteenth century, often simultaneously in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, French, and Latin. Even those edited and translated remain precious documents since not all original autographs are extant.2

As is well known, it was during the generalship of Francisco de Borja (in office 1565–73) that Juan Alfonso de Polanco (1517–76), who organized the secretariat and centralized correspondence for the generals, wrote about the necessity to initiate a work on the history of the Society of Jesus: “Since some kind of history of the Society is desired from various parts, it would be appropriate if each college sent information (unless it is already sent) concerning its foundation as well as all remarkable events that happened until now, noting down times and places.”3 In 1567, Gonçalo Alvarez (1525–73) who was sent to India as visitor had as an additional task to find some local fathers able to write a history of the Society’s presence in India. He found none, claiming that the missionaries in India prefer to work than to write.4 However, according to Robert Streit, the first history, or a short digest of historical events in the Asian missions, was written by Manuel da Costa (1540–d. after 1572) in 1568 and sent to Rome where Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1533–1603), a famous Jesuit humanist, translated it into Latin and published in Dillingen in 1571 under the title Rerum a Societate Iesu in Oriente gestarum ad annum usque a Deipara Virgine MDLXIII commentarius.5 This was, however, a rather modest beginning before Alessandro Valignano’s (1539–1606) Historia del principio y progresso de la Compañía de Jesús en las Indias Orientales (1542–64), left in manuscript until the twentieth century, provided material for Maffei's Historiarum Indicarum libri xvi [Florence, 1588].6

Already in the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth century, there were two types of Jesuit historians: those who were also missionaries or had travelled in Asia and those who were professional, “armchair” historians in Rome or other important Jesuit college/university towns. Some like Valignano, and later on Sebastião Gonçalves (1555?–1619), provided the information and facts to the metropolitan historians and subsequently their own manuscripts remained unpublished. Gonçalves’s Primeira parte da historia dos religiosos da Companhia de Jesus e do que fizeram com a divina graça na conversão dos infieis a nossa sancta fee catholica nos reynos e provincias da India Oriental was not just any kind of information but an important source to draw from for the preparation of Xavier’s beatification and canonization process.7 It was famously sent from Goa in 1614 accompanied by the relic of the future saint’s right arm, which is today encased in silver reliquary and placed on the right hand side altar in the Gesù Church in Rome.8

Metropolitan histories in the same period were likely to be published in Latin, a lingua franca of Jesuit scholarship, but Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian versions were also available for the larger public, as we see in cases such as Luis de Guzmán’s, Historia de las missiones que han hecho los religiosos de la Compañía de Jesús.9 What they all had in common, even when their titles indicated that they were history of the Society of Jesus, is that the first part was usually in fact a biography of Xavier. However, when the process of canonization of Ignatius and Xavier gained momentum by the end of the sixteenth century and the early decades of the seventeenth, the vitae of the two founding fathers were published in separate volumes: such were Horatio Tursellino's Vita Francisci Xaverii (Rome, 1594), often reprinted and translated into Italian and French, and João de Lucena's Historia de vida do padre Francisco de Xavier (Lisbon, 1600), translated by a Jesuit Lodovico Mansoni and published in Italian in 1613 by the printing press of Bartolomeo Zannetti. The second Portuguese edition by Bento José de Souza Farinha appeared only in 1788, but the text had been very influential in Portuguese literature.10

A comprehensive general history of the Portuguese Jesuit assistancy, which itself stretched across the oceans and girdled the world, was Fernão Guerreiro’s Relacam annual das cousas que fizeram os padres da Companhia de Jesus, in five parts, published at the turn of the seventeenth century.11 His volumes were based on Jesuit correspondence, in particular annual reports from the missions, and he organized them chronologically with entries that combined biographical, ethnographical, and geographical descriptions. His text penetrated, on an almost capillary level, all subsequent “national” or regional histories of the early Jesuit missions, from Brazil to Japan. His synthetic chapters on the progress of the Jesuit mission at the Mughal court, during its most promising time of Akbar’s rule, and the venture into Tibet in search of land route to Cathay had been taken up and published with much wider success by Pierre du Jarric (1566–1617) whose Histoire des choses plus memorables advenues tant ez Indes Orientales, que autres païs de la descouverte des Portugais, appeared in three parts (the second in 1610 and the third in 1614).12 Du Jarric who also wanted to be sent overseas as a missionary, compensated for his sedentary career in Bordeaux by becoming a historian. In this work, he exhorted the king of France, Henry IV (r.1589–1610) to imitate Portuguese royal endeavor and support Catholic missions. Among his sources beyond Guerreiro he explicitly mentioned Maffei, Tursellino, Guzmán, Lucena, although he claimed in his “Advertissment au lecteur” (vol. 1, no pagination) to have been in direct touch with missionaries such as Alberto Laertio, who had been posted in India and who had commented on the history already published in Europe. Obviously, the history of a mission was considered all the more authentic if confirmed by a missionary in situ.

What the Portuguese publications called simply Cartas (Letters), written mostly in Portuguese by the Jesuit missionaries with a first-hand knowledge, were renamed histories when translated. The New Historical Reports (Nova relatio historica or Newe Historische Relation) or New Indian Relations (Indische Newe Relation) signal a transitional genre between letter (a witness report) and history.13 The printing press was therefore accelerating the process of making recent present events into fixed past, controlled by the Jesuit imprimatur. However, it would not be long before these letters were also appropriated by non- and anti-Jesuit press.

Another unpublished history by a missionary in India is História do Malavar by Diogo Gonçalves (d.1640). The manuscript that Joseph Wicki dated to around 1615 is interestingly not simply a history of the Society of Jesus but a combination of a geography and an ethnography of Kerala.14 It seems to have been written in the first place for the Portuguese colonial administration in order to provide strategic advice for a possible conquest of or at least an attack on one of the rich temples. It was also, of course, directed at the Jesuit missionaries, offering them information and instructions on how to respond to Indian idolatry and customs. These kinds of texts in which Jesuits used their history writing skills, although not necessarily for histories of the order, were many, and some were written in vernacular languages of the missions. For example, Jerónimo Xavier (1549–1617), the nephew of the Jesuit saint, wrote in Persian the life of Jesus, Mir’āt al-quds (The mirror of holiness) and the life of St. Peter, among other works.15 Xavier’s life was, on the other hand, included in all histories of the order from that of Guerreiro to Jesuit compilations of their famous European writers, such as Juan Eusebio Nieremberg’s (1595–1658), Vidas exemplares, and in histories of particular provinces such as Bartholomé Alcázar’s (1648–1721) Chrono-historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la provincia de Toledo.16

Jesuits were in the early modern period actors in and writers of their own and other peoples’ histories. They were both local and global heroes for their Catholic audience. Their identities were also multiple, and they were appropriated in the historiography of different localities. One can start as a native of Toledo, Rome or Lisbon and end up a Japanese or Indian or Brazilian martyr. Thus one and the same Jesuit would be registered in different historiographical projects. For example, a Jesuit who spent most of the time in India may also appear in Antonio Franco’s Imagen de virtude em noviciado de Companhia de Jesus in Coimbra and in Antonio Cardim’s Ramalhete of the Japanese martyrs.17 Jesuit Indian early modern historiography reached its apogee in Daniello Bartoli’s (1608–85) multivolume oeuvre on the history of the Society of Jesus, published in Rome in Italian and Latin between 1650 and 1673 and republished many times over in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His Asian history, separate from those of Japan and China, included Xavier’s life and travel all the way to the mission at the Mughal court by Rodolfo Acquaviva (1550–83) and his martyrdom in Salcette in 1583.18

Jesuit historiography written by Jesuits, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries century resembles a single composite body of cross-references, borrowings, and multiple translations. It was both densely factual and apologetic although “national” styles and inclinations were clearly discernible. The Italian view of Bartoli can be compared with the Portuguese view in Francisco de Sousa’s Oriente conquistado.19 Both narrate the first half-century of Jesuit presence in India with barely disguised national agendas but within a universalizing framework. Another Jesuit historian, Fernão de Queiros’s (1617–88) work remained unpublished in the seventeenth century except for the Historia da vida do veneravel irmaõ Pedro de Basto.20 Queirós was a prolific writer with a long Jesuit career in India (fifty-three years), but he had the misfortune to lose his writings in the 1664 fire in the Goan College of St. Paul.21 Many Jesuit literary and historical works were lost in similar disasters and/or through subsequent archival neglect. Thus his major historical work Conquista temporal e espiritual de Ceylão written by the end of his life remained in manuscript and was published only in the twentieth century from only two extant manuscripts. Although it chronicles Portuguese success in conquering Sri Lanka and the reasons for its subsequent loss, it is a detailed history of the Jesuit and Franciscan missions on the island.22

From Jesuit Historiography’s “French” Turn to Protestant Critique

It is clear that in the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, Jesuit historical writings and what can be called “historical sources” from India, take clearly national and defensive stands. With the arrival of the French Jesuits, sent by the French king and defying Portuguese padroado system, the letters written from the two missions in Tamil Nadu, an already famous Madurai mission under the padroado and the Mission du Carnate, a French mission on the east coast of India, were immediately published in a famous collection entitled Lettres édifiantes et curieuses.23 While the publication of the Cartas in the early years of the Society of Jesuit had been haphazard, the French letters in this collection were from the start a self-conscious effort at promoting the new French missions. The letters were not simply reproduced, but retailored by the editors in Paris.24 Some of the volumes were published in German, while a famous English translation by John Lockman was a hostile appropriation.25

The publication of the LEC was a veritable machine de guerre of the French Jesuits against multiple enemies, both Catholic and Protestant. In addition to Portuguese ecclesiastical padroado, the French Jesuits were also involved in a bitter struggle with Capuchins and the Missions Etrangères de Paris (hereafter MEP) in Pondicherry, and with numerous theologians in Rome, with whom they exchanged “literary” punches concerning the Malabar rites controversy. As the Propaganda Fide strove to replace the padroado in the missionary field in Asia, in particular, the Jesuits found themselves in a difficult position. Inspired mostly by Jesuit strategies and “modernized” by the more extensive use of the printing press, they both cooperated and resisted Roman efforts to centralize missionary activities.

Another front opened by the LEC was to shut down reports by various and increasingly famous travelers in India, French libertines, and Protestants and coming from rival European nations such as Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany.
The LEC thus became an ongoing “history” of the French Jesuit mission since there was nobody either in France or in Rome to write one. In fact, it can almost be said that Jesuit historical writing was not as much in fashion as it used to be during the Iberian and Roman sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This was probably due to the fact that missionary historical writing had been appropriated by secular institutions and political powers that looked at Jesuit intelligentsia with increasing suspicion.

The Society of Jesus in France was bracing for a fight against very articulate enemies at home, some of whom came straight from the Jesuit colleges and who were eventually associated with the Enlightenment.26 Epistolary form [letters] in general became a preferred means of expression in the century, in which many certainties were shaken and self-apologetic histories were mistrusted. To win over French literary public, the missionaries in India produced erudite and descriptive texts and letters in which distant peoples and their histories were variously portrayed as congealed in ancient (European) time or as people who “forgot” (or were tricked into forgetting) their own Christian origins. Jesuit speculations about connections between Brahmans and Jews, and many other conjectures were incorporated into some of the most important Enlightenment projects such as Bernard and Picard’s, Cérémonies et coutumes.27 Practically until the end of the century, the Jesuits in the Carnatic Mission worked to counter the ideas of the esprits forts in Europe through their exceptionally enlightened erudition and what Michel de Certeau (1925–86) called the “hermeneutics of the other.”

As the opposition to the Society of Jesus grew, everything the Jesuits wrote from the missions was used against them in Protestant historiography. Moreover, from the early years of the eighteenth century, a rival Christian mission in India, that of the German Pietists from Halle in Tranquebar, a Danish enclave on the Coromandel Coast, started producing, partly in imitation of the Jesuits, their own missionary historiography. Their letters and reports were published from 1708 onwards as Hallesche Berichte and some of them were translated into English and published in Propagation of the Gospel in the East that started appearing in 1709 by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and in various other histories.28 The sharpest tongue among the Protestant historians of the early eighteenth century had formerly been a Catholic, Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze (1661–1739). He wrote Histoire du christianisme des Indes, a history in which Jesuits, Portuguese and French, figure very prominently side by side with other Portuguese ecclesiastical actors.29 Veyssière de la Croze established a very long history of Christianity in India, preserved by the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala, while he portrayed the Jesuits and the Portuguese as those who came to pervert and corrupt the pristine message and this ancient community that had originally resembled a Protestant sect.

Briefly, up to the eighteenth century Jesuit historiography (written by Jesuit authors) and historiography of the Society of Jesus (histories about the Jesuits) meant mostly the same thing. Only Jesuit authors wrote about their own history, although in the seventeenth century some Jesuits extended their contributions to other literary, scholarly, and historiographical projects. As Jesuit and European interest in other peoples’ pasts grew, although diachrony [change in the meaning of words over time] was often collapsed into ethnography, the Society of Jesus itself became increasingly subject to the historiographical opinions and representations constructed by others. The apogee of negative assessments occurred in years leading to and after the suppression of the order. In Portugal, the accusations against Jesuits ranged from their role in the failure of the empire and education to the Society’s inappropriate response to 1755 earthquake.30

Survival and Renewal

The Jesuit historiography of the Indian Jesuit missions resumed after the restoration of the Society of Jesus and the first missionaries, who all came from France, first to Bengal (1834) and then to Tamil Nadu (1837), and who had to deal with very different political situation in India, in France, and within the Catholic Church.31 Joseph Bertrand (1801–84) came as a missionary in 1837, and upon return to France in 1845, he started publishing book after book on the history of the Madurai mission. Just as the LEC more than a century earlier symbolically appropriated the Madurai mission for the French Jesuits by way of printed translations of the Jesuit letters such as those of Roberto Nobili (1577–1656) and of other padroado missionaries, Bertrand’s four volumes of the La mission du Maduré repeated successfully the gesture of Francization.32 Bertrand’s intention was not simply national as was the intention and the result of the LEC, but rather it was to provide continuity between the mission that he and a few other Jesuits from Lyons province reopened with that of the old Society of Jesus and its mission in Madurai. The publication of this and other histories that followed were to fill in the gap of absences, quarrels and ongoing controversies among the Catholic ecclesiastics and with those who were their traditional enemies, such as Protestants.

In the meantime, between the suppression and restoration, the MEP, an institution that in many ways emulated, even if reluctantly, the French Jesuits, especially in using historiography and printing for self-promotion, gained visibility and credibility among the French Catholics. It was precisely in competition with the MEP that Bertrand started his own Jesuit missionary historiography. In the first volume of La mission du Maduré, in his dedication to the bishop of Langres, Bertrand specifically referred to a book written in 1843 (1842 in fact) by unmentioned author “so dear to our hearts,” one to whose text he wanted to offer a more “radiant testimony.”33 Despite his extremely polite manner, Bertrand’s intention was to revise the historical narrative of the MEP priest Jean-Félix-Onésime Luquet (1810–58), one of the first historians of the MEP in India.34

If countering the MEP historiography of the Jesuit presence in Tamil Nadu was one of the most important incentives for the new French Jesuit historiography of the nineteenth century, Bertrand’s strategy was to make known the “primary sources,” since he believed, as did the historians of the period (such as Leopold von Ranke [1795–1886]) that the “facts” could speak for themselves. Of the four volumes, three are compilations of published and unpublished missionary letters and documents from the Jesuit archives, all related to the Madurai and Carnatic missions, from their inception until the suppression. Thus he translated from Italian, Portuguese, and Latin the letters of the founders such as Nobili and Antonio Vico (1565–1640), and other letters from the late seventeenth century, before ending with the short life of João de Brito (1647–93), beatified in 1853, three years after the publication of the third volume (1850).35 The fourth volume contains most of the eighteenth-century letters published in the LEC. Only the first volume was a compendium of knowledge about Indian social and cultural customs, geography, and Jesuit presence in India in comparative framework with other missions, garnished with his opinions on various other controversial and burning contemporary subjects such as “the formation of native clergy.”

With two volumes of Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de la nouvelle mission du Maduré, Bertrand continued his publication efforts to help refound the Madurai mission.36 In the introduction to the first volume, he gives an apologetic and interesting first account of the period during the suppression and the tribulations of the Jesuits who remained in place, followed by eleven of his own letters and fourteen of other missionaries. By combining historical narrative and original missionary letters, the seam between an actor’s account and an historical narrative was smoothly ironed out, especially when it just happened to be one and the same person speaking. What was overlooked in the process is that all the letters that were selected for publication were expurgated of all information considered unedifying, disturbing, or superfluous.

Revival of Jesuit Scholarship during the British Colonial Period

However, Jesuits’ obsessive control of their own history was compromised by other historical actors in India in the eighteenth century, in particular by information-hungry British administrators-cum-orientalists. The life of the Jesuit Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1680–1747) had been written in Tamil before being translated into English and published in 1840.37 The British were not interested as much in Beschi’s life as in his work since he was recognized by the budding British orientalists as having been an extraordinary Tamil scholar, grammarian, and poet.38 Jesuit history in the nineteenth century was also appropriated by the MEP historiography. The five volumes by Adrian Launay, Histoire de christianisme en Inde (1898) is organized by regions and towns and by chronological events, and it narrates (and celebrates) the history of the MEP from 1776 onwards. It includes Jesuit missionaries only when it is impossible not to mention their contributions to the earlier history and in the nineteenth century.39 Perhaps the most comprehensive if concise and apologetic history of the old and the new Madurai missions, starting with Nobili and ending in 1891, was published three years later in Paris by Auguste Jean, a missionary in Madurai himself.

Not long afterwards, in the early twentieth century, Jesuit historiography experienced waves of revival, some of which were related to specific occasions, such as the anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. In fact, the general, Frans Xavier Wernz (in office, 1906–14) invited all the members to commemorate the first hundred years of the restoration by, among other festivities, recording the Society’s history from 1814 onwards. One such work was Leon Besse’s La mission du Maduré: Historique de ses pangous.40 With its geographical organization, the narrative proceeds district by district and parish (pangou) by parish, and it is a mine of quantitative information: parish records of those who received sacraments, numbers of churches and chapels, lists of missionaries and their catechists, and similar. With this framework, he was able to intertwine the past and the present. In fact, his approach echoes a general colonial obsession of census-taking that the British were in process of imposing on India.41 Besse’s history chronicles the reconquest of Indian missions that took half a century, and his unkind statements about “Goan priests” and “propagandists” betray the tension with their major rivals among the existing Catholic clergy.

Most of the general historical works or hagiographies of particular Jesuit martyrs and saints written by the Jesuits in the twentieth century are about the “old” (pre-suppression) Society. Some of these historians were also missionaries at one point of their lives. Although they collected primary sources and conducted thorough research, their printed books were mostly hagiographies without precise references and they all practiced auto-censure of anything that might disturb an edifying narrative. Such were books and chapters published by Jean Castets, Alexandre Brou (1862–1947), Domenico Ferroli (1887–1970), Auguste Saulière (1885–1966), and others, although some of them were erudite scholars. Along the large spectrum of the Jesuits’ published historical works, some ranged from melodramatic, romantic, and pious constructions and fictionalization rather than historical scholarship to the impressive collection of empirical sources and the positivist scholarship of historians like Joseph Wicki (1904–93), Georg Schurhammer (1882–1971), Peter R. Bachmann (d. after 1972), Pierre Dahmen (d. after 1924), and others.

The distinction between pious fiction and history had been discussed, at times to the point of furious verbal altercations, even among the Jesuit writers. These unedifying stories are revealed only sporadically and in sugar-coated language in prefaces of other books. Thus we learn that the immensely learned and active historian Auguste Saulière exchanged punches with famous Jesuit historian and biographer of Francis Xavier, James Patrick Broderick (1891–1973) over his life of João de Brito, Red Sand.42 Broderick reproached him for not writing “a critical biography with all the usual apparatus.”43 On the other hand, Saulière also got angry with the writer Vincent Cronin, to whom he gave access to his materials and manuscripts on Roberto Nobili. However, according to Saverimuttu Rajamanickam, Saulière disliked Cronin’s text and refused to co-sign the book.44

Indian Jesuit Historians and Decolonization

Around the time Saulière died in 1966, a new generation of Tamil Jesuit historians appeared on the scene. Rajamanickam consecrated his whole life and historical scholarship to Roberto Nobili and by the time he finished and published his doctorate The First Oriental Scholar (1972) he had already published twenty-three books in Tamil containing mostly what he identified as Nobili’s texts. This kind of specialization, directed towards the goal of beatification and canonization of the chosen Jesuit hero, was quite common. Saulière also completed his Red Sand around the time of João de Brito’s canonization.

In addition to French Jesuit scholarship focusing mainly on South India, which was also their missionary base, in other parts of India Jesuit historians specialized in other missions and in other historical topics having to do with Indian history. Posted in Jesuit colleges turned universities, and later on in Jesuit research institutes established in Bombay, Calcutta, Goa, New Delhi, Pune, and many other places, the Jesuits ceased to be “missionaries” and some became professional historians. A Catalan, Enric Heras de Sicars (1888–1955), or under his better known anglicized name of Henry Heras, became a famous historian and archeologist, and professor of history at the St. Xavier's College in Bombay.45 The career of Henry Hosten (1873–1935), a Belgian Jesuit, stationed in Darjeeling, was equally rich, since he was another prolific historian and translator. His work still remains in good part unknown since his publications were scattered in different historical journals in British India, such as Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal.46 He was probably better known as a research source to various famous non-Jesuit British historians such as Edward MacLagan who wrote The Jesuits and the Great Mogul.47

In the period after Indian independence, Indian Jesuit historiography had been Indianized with the first generation of Indian-born Jesuit historians such as a Goan, John Correia-Afonso, the author of—among many other published works—the book Jesuit Letters and Indian History.48 The establishment of the Xavier Center for Historical Research in Goa (Altoporvarim) under its first director Teotonio R. de Souza, who was followed by Charles Borges and more recently Délio Mendonça, added a new dimension to historical research by taking up a more national, regional, and “decolonized” perspective. In fact, Jesuit theologians, writers, and scholars who worked in other fields such as Sanskrit or Tamil literary culture, in particular Anand Amaladass and Francis X. Clooney, contributed also to Jesuit historiography.49 This does not mean that ever more numerous Indian Jesuit historians cultivated a uniform style. On the contrary, they were and continue to be inspired by different historical schools and they choose topics according to their own social convictions. Some were in particular engaged in denouncing Eurocentrism and colonial attitudes in the Old Society, while others denounced social policies that accepted Brahmanical and high-caste attitudes to Dalits and the Jesuit complicity in promoting caste divisions. Indian Jesuit history thus became a contested field among the Jesuits and it also fed into larger discussions among Christian theologians on inculturation. While most of these discussions were important, especially in the Indian public arena, they were often based on theological arguments, cultural explanations, and internal personal quarrels. As a consequence they did not always produce rigorous and acceptable historiography and they rarely cared to use sources and archives critically and philologically.

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

Two unsurpassed historians whose critical editions of original documents opened Jesuit history to non-Jesuit historians, and who set the highest standards of the discipline were Georg Otto Schurhammer (1882–1971) and Josef Wicki (1904–93). Schurhammer’s biography of Francis Xavier is still the only biography in which (almost) every single piece of evidence concerning the life and writings of the saint are properly referenced.50 Most of his other articles scattered in various journals and books had been collected in his Gesammelte Studien.51 His publications include topics related to all Asia and to the Portuguese empire in the early modern period. If in his historical works he expressed some opinions that sound dogmatic or “politically incorrect” and provided a narrative that was clearly apologetic, his volumes of edited sources are still extremely useful. Such are for example the Die Zeitgenössischen Quellen zur Geschichte Portugiesisch-Asiens (1932) and Epistolae S. Francisci Xaverii aliaque eius scripta (1944–45) co-edited with Josef Wicki.52

Josef Wicki’s name is well known to every historian of Indian Jesuit and church history in the early modern period because he was the editor of the eighteen-volume Documenta Indica published as part of the collection of Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu (MHSI). These volumes were published within the span of forty years between 1948 and 1988 and covered the period between 1540 and 1597. Each volume contains up to hundred pages of introduction, bibliography, detailed archival and prosopographical notes, as well as a detailed index.53 The eclipse of Latin as a “lingua franca” of the Jesuit scholarship is clearly visible, since from the volume 14 the editorial apparatus and the footnotes appear in English. Wicki was editor of all major Jesuit unpublished historical texts from the sixteenth century such as those of Sebastião Gonçalves, Diogo Gonçalves, and Valignano in addition to other documents and treatises.54 Between themselves, Schurhammer and Wicki had covered in their publications, either as editors of sources or in their own articles and chapters, most of the most important documents on Jesuit history under the Portuguese padroado in India. All historians, Jesuit and non-Jesuit of the second half of the twentieth century started their research by first checking their works and bibliography for references and sources.

There are a number of historians such a Charles Boxer (1904–2000), an erudite interested in Portuguese empire, who used Jesuit sources and even edited some of them. Other historians primarily interested in intellectual history and the history of Orientalism also employed and sometimes edited Jesuit sources. Sylvia Murr, whose major work included an edition of Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux’s (1691–1779) (lost) text on Moeurs et coutumes, also wrote a monograph on the role of French Jesuit philosophical reflections and responses to the literature of the French philosophes of the Enlightenment.55 Gita Dharampal was one of the first to write on the Malabar rites controversies, at the time when Jesuit historians themselves avoided the issue and left this part of Jesuit history relatively poorly studied.56 The most recent articles by Adone Agnolin, Paolo Aranha, and Sabina Pavone are promising to fill in this gap, as is a forthcoming volume on the rites controversies in the early modern period.57

The reason Jesuit history in general and Indian history in particular attracted non-Jesuit historians has something to do with the interest in global interactions, transnational corporations, postcolonial critique, interdisciplinary approaches with anthropology and literature blending into historiography, and the rise of the social history of science. Jesuit early modern documents, coming in quite well preserved series (such as collections of letters) were recognized in the 1980s as a mine for testing hypotheses and for tracking global flows of people, objects, and ideas. No other early modern religious order had the same quality of sources and easy access to their archives. No other archives contained documents which, for example, already in the sixteenth or seventeenth century adopted a comparative approach and were global in scope.

With different goals in mind, historians were attracted to Jesuit intelligence, experience, and ingenuity. Dhruv Raina came from history of science and discovered Jesuit astronomy in India and in Paris.58 Sanskritists, Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat and Gérard Colas, also contributed articles, while following in the steps of older Indologists whose pedigree goes back to Jesuit missionaries such as Jean Calmette (1692–1740) and Jean François Pons (1688–1752).59 Historians such as Joan-Pau Rubiès, Danna Agmon, Giuseppe Marcocci, Ricardo Ventura, and Will Sweetman all studied Jesuit sources for their different projects concerning intellectual history, history of the French colonialism, history of the Inquisition and Portuguese empire, and history of Protestant missions.60

Centered on Jesuit missions as places of epistemological experiments and cultural encounters are works by social and cultural historians such as Ines G. Županov, Ângela Barreto Xavier, Ananya Chakravarti, and Margherita Trento.61 Partly inspired by microhistory and partly employing the tools from their subdisciplines such as literary history (of Marathi and Tamil respectively) Chakravarti and Trento are both in the process of reclaiming Indian voices from the Jesuit sources.

In the last couple of decades, the interest in Jesuit history grew exponentially, to a point where voices were heard about omissions and elisions of other missionary orders. Jesuit historiography became a victim of its own accomplishments. When the dust settles, it will be clear that it was scholarship based on ample, well preserved, widely and “democratically” accessible (and now digitalized) archives that is the key to historiographical success. Jesuit history in the early modern period is both too important to be neglected because it is part of our common heritage and also too important to be left to narrowly partisan and celebratory Jesuit historiography.

Ines G. Županov



1. Copie dunne lettre missive envoiee des Indes, par monsieur maistre François Xavier… (Paris, 1545). (accessed August 23, 2016). For the full list of these early letters see John Correia-Afonso, Jesuit Letters and Indian History: A Study of the Nature and Development of the Jesuit Letters from India (1542–1773) and Their Value for Indian Historiography (Bombay: Indian Historical Research Institute, St. Xavier’s College, 1955).

2. These early published letters are listed in Correia-Afonso, Jesuit Letters, 176–86.

3. Sanctus Franciscus Borgia, quartus Gandiae dux et Societatis Iesu praepositus generalis tertius, vol. 2 (Madrid: Typis August. Avrial, 1894), 739–39.

4. Alessandro Valignano, Historia del principio y progresso de la Compañía de Jesús en las Indias Orientales (1542–64), ed. Joseph Wicki (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1944), 33–34.

5. See Correia-Afonso, Jesuit Letters and Indian History, 114 and Robert Streit, Bibliotheca missionum, vol. 4 (Münster-Aachen: Aachener Missionsdrukerei A.-G., 1929), 249.

6. Giovanni Pietro Maffei, Historiarum Indicarum libri xvi (Florence, 1588).

7. Sebastião Gonçalves, Primeira parte da historia dos religiosos da Companhia de Jesus e do que fizeram com a divina graça na conversão dos infieis a nossa sancta fee catholica nos reynos e provincias da India Oriental [1614], ed. Joseph Wicki, 3 vols. (Coimbra: Atlântida, 1957–60).

8. Ines G. Županov, Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th–17th Centuries) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 81.

9. Luis de Guzmán’s, Historia de las missiones que han hecho los religiosos de la Compañía de Iesus para predicar el sancto Evangelio en la India Oriental, y en los reynos de la China y Iapon (Alcalá: por la biudade Juan Gracián, 1601).

10. Horatius Tursellinus, De vita Francisci Xaverii (Rome: Ex typographia Aloysii Zannetti, 1596); João de Lucena's Historia de vida do padre Francisco de Xavier (Lisbon: Pedro Crasbeck, 1600).

11. Fernão Guerreiro’s Relacam annal das cousas que fizeram os padres da Companhia de Jesus, naspartesda India Oriental, & em algumas outras da conquista deste Reyno (Lisbon: Pedro Craesbeeck, 1611) published in five parts. Modern edition: Relacão anual das coisas que fizeram os padres da Companhia de Jesus nas sua missões, ed. Artur Viegas, 3 vols. (Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade, 1930, 1931, 1942).

12. Pierre du Jarric, Histoire des choses plus memorables advenues tant ez Indes Orientales, que autres païs de la descouverte des Portugais, 3 vols. (Bordeaux: Simon Millanges, 1610–14). British historians in the twentieth century used his work extensively for piecing together the history of the Mughals. See Akbar and the Jesuits: An Account of the Jesuit Missions to the Court of Akbar by Father Pierre Du Jarric, S.J. , trans. and ed. C. H. Payne (New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1926). C. H. Payne also published Jesuit letters from Mughal court during Jahangir’s reign, translated from Guerreiro’s history, Jahangir and the Jesuits with an Account of the Travels of Benedict Goes and the Mission to Pegu, trans. C. H. Payne (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1930).

13. For example, letters by Nicolao Pimenta appeared in German compilations such as the one in Mainz in Latin version as Nova relatio historica de rebus in India Orientali à patribus Societatis Iesu, anno 1598. & 99. gestis: A R.P. Nicolao Pimenta, visitatore Societatis Iesu, ad R.P. Claudium Aquavivam … (Mainz, 1601) and in German as Newe Historische Relation und sehr gute fröliche und lustige Bottschaft (Dillingen, 1601). See general bibliography in Donald F. Lach and Edwin J. Van Kley, Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume III: A Century of Advance (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 1986–93.

14. Diogo Gonçalves, História do Malavar, ed. Joseph Wicki (Münster: Aschenforffshe Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1955).

15. Pedro Moura Carvalho, Mir’āt al-quds (The Mirror of Holiness): A Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

16. Bartolomé Alcázar, Chrono-historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la provincial de Toledo: Segunda parte (Madrid: Juan Garcia Infançon, 1710), 207–15. Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, Vidas exemplares y venerables: Memorial de algunos claros varones de la Compañía de Jesús , vol. 2 (Madrid: Alonso de Paredes, 1647), 215–46.

17. The Jesuit obsession with recording lives and deaths of their members is well known. António Franco’s prosopographical oeuvre registers Jesuits according to the colleges they attended in Portugal. This is at times the only source for the missionaries’ early lives in Europe. António Franco, Imagem da virtude em o noviciado da Companhia de Jesus do Real Collegio do Espirito Santo de Evora do Reyno de Portugal (Lisboa, 1714); António Franco, Imagem da virtude em o noviciado da Companhia de Jesu na corte de Lisboa (Coimbra, 1707); Franco, Imagem da virtude em o noviciado da Companhia de Jesus no Real Collegio de Jesus de Coimbra em Portugal, 2 vols. (Évora, 1719). Probably the most popular genre of Jesuit history in the seventeenth century were biographies of the Jesuit martyrs such as the work of António Francisco Cardim (1596–1659), Elogios, e ramalhete de flores borrifado com o sangue dos religiosos da Companhia de Iesu, a quem os tyrannos do Imperio de Iappaõ tiraraõ las vidas (Lisbon: Manoel da Sylva, 1650).

18. See Daniello Bartoli, Missione al Gran Mogor del Padre Rodolfo Aquaviva…: Sua vita e morte (Rome, 1714). First published in 1653, it was added to the third edition of Asiaticae historiae in 1667.

19. Francisco de Sousa, Oriente conquistado a Jesus Christo pelos padres da Companhia de Jesus da província de Goa (Lisbon: Valentim da Costa Deslandes, 1710).

20. Fernão de Queiros, Historia da vida do veneravel irmaõ Pedro de Basto coadjutor temporal da Companhia de Jesus, e da variedade de sucessos que Deos lhe manifestou (Lisbon: Miguel Deslandes, 1689).

21. He managed to save only one manuscript, that of the life of Pedro de Basto. Fernão de Queiroz, The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon , trans. and ed. S. G. Perera, 3 vols., vol. 1 (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1992; [1st ed. Colombo, 1930]), 6*. The original Portuguese text was published by P.E. Pieris in Colombo in 1916.

22. Queirós’s Conquista temporal remains the most important single source for over 150 years of Sri Lankan history.

23. Lettres édifiantes et curieuses (henceforth LEC), a collection of missionary letters published in Paris in thirty-four volumes between 1702 and 1776.

24. There were four editors at different moments. The most important was Jean Baptiste Du Halde between 1709 and 1743.

25. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, 2 vols. (London: John Noon, 1743).

26. See Sylvia Murr’s articles and books, in particular, Sylvia Murr, L’Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire: L’indologie du père Coeurdoux, vol. 2 (Paris: EFEO, 1987).

27. Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde représentées par des figures dessinées de la main de Bernard Picard: avec une explication historique, & quelques dissertations curieuses, 7 vols. (Amsterdam: J.F. Bernard, 1723–37).

28. Propagation of the Gospel in the East: Being and Account of the Success of Two Danish Missionaries, Lately Sent to the East-Indies for the Conversion of the Heathens in Malabar (London: J. Downing, 1709).

29. Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze, Histoire du christianisme des Indes (La Haye: chez Frères Vaillant, & N. Prevost, 1724).

30. See Emanuele Colombo and Niccolò Guasti, “The Expulsion and Suppression in Italy and Portugal: An Overview”, in The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context: Causes, Events, and Consequences , eds. Jeffrey D. Burson and Jonathan Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 125.

31. The Jesuits returned to Goa only in 1935. See Délio Mendonça, “Jesuits in Goa: Restoration after Suppression (1759–1935) ”, Archivum historicum Societatis Iesu 83, no. 165 (2014): 131–60. Some Jesuits remained in Pondicherry even after the suppression and were absorbed by the MEP.

32. Joseph Bertrand, La mission du Maduré d’après des documents inédits, 4 vols. (Paris: Librairie de Poussielgue – Russand, 1847–54).

33. Bertrand, Mission du Maduré, 1:v.

34. Lettres à Mgr l'évêque de Langres sur la Congrégation des Missions-Etrangères (Paris: Gaume frères, libraires-éditeurs, 1842). This work was a general history of the MEP and written before Luquet went to India. The only other earlier history was Histoire de l'établissement du christianisme dans les Indes orientales (Paris: Mme Devaux, 1803) by Antoine Sérieys, chronologically running up to 1679.

35. This third volume provided, among other sources, materials for Jean-Marie Prat’s Histoire du bienheureux Jean de Britto (Paris: Librairie Central de la Société, 1853).

36. Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de la nouvelle mission du Maduré, 2 vols. (Paris: J.B. Pélagau, 1865).

37. The author of the Tamil version was A. Muttusami Pillai, a Catholic Brahman from Pondicherry, employed as Tamil munshi (secretary, translator, and teacher) by the British in Madras. A. Muttusami Pillai, Brief Sketch of the Life and Writings of Father C.J. Beschi or Vira-mamuni: Translated from the Original Tamil (Madras: J.B. Pharoah, 1840).

38. See articles in Thomas R. Trautmann, ed., The Madras School of Orientalism: Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India (New Delhi; Oxford University Press, 2009).

39. Adrien Launay, Histoire de christianisme en Inde: Pondichéry, Maïssour, Coïmbatour , 4 vols. (Paris: Ancienne Maison Charles Douniol, P. Téqui Successeur, 1898).

40. Leon Besse’s La mission du Maduré: Historique de ses Pangous (Trichinopoly: Imprimerie de la Mission Catholique, 1914).

41. Christophe Z. Guilmoto, “Chiffrage et déchiffrage: Les institutions démographiques dans l’Inde du Sud coloniale,” Annales: Économies, sociétés, civilisations 47, no. 4–5 (1992): 815–40.

42. Auguste Saulière, Red Sand: A Life of St. John de Britto, S.J., Martyr of the Madura Mission (Madura: Nobili Press, 1947). See Albert M. Nevett, John the Britto and His Times (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1980).

43. Nevett, John the Britto, ix.

44. S. Rajamanickam, The First Oriental Scholar (Tirunelveli: De Nobili Research Institute, 1972), and Vincent Cronin, A Pearl to India: The Life of Roberto de Nobili (London: Hart-Davis, 1959).

45. He arrived in India in 1922 and founded the Indian Historical Research Institute (1926), which trained numerous historians and Indologists. Although his specialty was ancient and medieval Indian history, he also wrote The Conversion Policy of the Jesuits in India (Bombay: Indian Historical Research Institute, 1933). See also tributes to Heras by his successors in the St. Xavier College: John Correia-Afonso, S.J., ed., Henry Heras: The Scholar and his Work (Bombay: Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, 1976). Melchior Balaguer, “Fr Henry Heras (1888–1955),” in Jesuits in India in Historical Perspective, ed. Teotonio R. de Souza and Charles Borges (Macau and Goa: Instituto Cultural de Macau and Xavier Center for Historical Research, 1992), 297–300.

46. Hosten’s manuscripts and documents (Hosten Collections) are preserved in the library of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology in New Delhi.

47. Edward Maclagan, The Jesuits and the Great Mogul (New York: Octagon Books, 1932).

48. John Correia-Afonso, Jesuit Letters and Indian History (Bombay: Indian Historical Research Institute, 1955, 2nd ed. 1969). See also his Letters from the Mughal Court (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1980) and Indo-Portuguese History: Sources and Problems (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1981).

49. Among their various works, see Francis X. Clooney, Fr. Bouchet’s India: An 18th-Century Jesuit’s Encounter with Hinduism (Chennai: Satya Nilayam Publications, 2005) and Anand Amaladass and Ines G. Županov, eds., Intercultural Encounter and the Jesuit Mission in South Asia (16h–18th Centuries) (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2014).

50. Georg Schurhammer, S.J. Francis Xavier: His Life, His times, trans. Joseph Costelloe, vol. 2: India (1541–1545) (Rome: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1977).

51. Schurhammer, Gesammelte Studien, II–IV. Herausgegeben zum 80. Geburtstag des Verfassers, ed. Lászlo Szilas, S.J. (Rome and Lisbon: IHSI and Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1963–65).

52. Epistolae S. Francisci Xaverii aliaque eius scripta (Rome: Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1944–45).

53. Volume 14 and 15 were co-edited with John Gomes.

54. O livro do “pai dos cristãos,” ed. Joseph Wicki (Lisbon: Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1969); Missionskirche im Orient: Ausgewählte Beiträge über Portugiesisch-Asien (Immensee: Neue Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft, 1976); Die Schrift des P. Goncalo Fernandes S.J. über die Brahmanen und Dharma-Sastra (Madura 1616) (Münster: Aschendorff, 1957); Alessandro Valignano, Historia del principio y progresso de la Compañía de Jesús en las Indias orientales (1542–64) (Rome: Institutum Historicum S.I., 1944); Tratado do P.e Gonçalo Fernandes Trancoso sobre o hinduismo (Maduré, 1616) (Lisbon: Centro de estudos históricos ultramarinos, 1973).

55. Murr, L’Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire, vol. 1.

56. Gita Dharampal-Frick, La religion des Malabares: Tessier de Quéralay et la contribution des missionnaires européens à la naissance de l'indianisme (Immensee: Nouvelle revue de science missionnaire, 1982).

57. Paolo Aranha, “The Social and Physical Spaces of the Malabar Rites Controversy,” in Space and Conversion in Global Perspective, eds. Giuseppe Marcocci, Wietse de Boer, Aliocha Maldavsky, and Ilaria Pavan (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 214–33. Sabina Pavone, “Inquisizione romana e riti malabarici: Una controversia,” in A dieci anni dall’appertura dell’Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede: Storia e archivi dell'Inquisizione (Rome: Scienze e lettere, 2011); 145–61. Ines G. Županov, ed., The Rites Controversies in the Early Modern World (Leiden: Brill, 2017). Adone Agnolin, “Destino e vontade, religião e política: Companhia de Jesus e Ilustração na disputa póstuma dos ritos do Malabar,” História unisinos 13, no. 3 (2009): 211–32 (doi: 10.4013/htu.2009.133.01).

58. Dhruv Raina, “Problematic Comparisons: Jesuit Savants in 17th- and 18th-Century India and China,” in L’Inde des Lumières: Discours, histoire, savoirs (XVIe–XIXe siècle), eds. Marie Fourcade and Ines G. Županov (Paris: EHESS, 2013), 335–58.

59. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, “L’approche scientifique du sanscrit et de la pensée indienne par Heinrich Roth, S.J. au XVIIe siècle,” in L’oeuvre scientifique des missionnaires en Asie, eds. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, Jean-Pierre Mahé, and Jean Leclant (Paris: Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres), 17–30. Gerard and Usha Colas, “Les manuscrits envoyés de l'Inde par les jésuites français entre 1729 et 1735, ” in Scribes et manuscrits du Moyen Orient, ed. François Déroche and Francis Richard (Paris: BnF, 1997), 345–62.

60. See their articles in Amaladass and Županov, Intercultural Encounter.

61. Ines G. Županov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999) and Županov. Missionary Tropics, Jesuit Frontier in India (16th–17th century) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005). Ananya Chakravarti, “The Many Faces of Baltazar da Costa: Imitatio and accommodatio in the Seventeenth-Century Madurai Mission,” Etnogáfica 18, no. 1 (2014): 135–58. Margherita Trento, “Śivadharma or Bonifacio?: Behind the Scenes of the Madurai Mission Controversy (1608–1619),” in Županov, ed., Rites Controversies in the Early Modern World.

Cite this page: Županov, Ines G., “The Historiography of the Jesuit Missions in India (1500–1800)”, in: Jesuit Historiography Online. Consulted online on 24 September 2020 <> First published online: 2016
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Roberto de Nobili
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Accessed: 9/24/20



The idea that Di Nobili himself had produced a forged Veda was already current before the Ezour-védam appeared in Europe. The Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1694-1755), in his Institutiones Historiae Ecclesiasticae (1726, but published posthumously in 1764), writes that Di Nobili became so learned in Sanskrit and the Vedas that he could impose on the brahmins themselves. Specifically, he accuses him of producing an old parchment certificate declaring that all the Jesuits were descendants of the brahmins’ god, and forging a new Veda so cleverly that thousands of brahmins became his disciples.

-- Ezour-Védam: Europe’s illusory first glimpse of the Veda, by Dermot Killingley

Roberto de Nobili

Roberto de Nobili (1577 – 16 January 1656) was an Italian Jesuit missionary to Southern India. He used a novel method of adaptation (accommodatio) to preach Christianity, adopting many local customs of India which were, in his view, not contrary to Christianity.

The opponents in this combat were mainly Brahmins who considered the Europeans worse than outcasts. Calmette explained: "Nothing is here more contrary to [our Christian] religion than the caste of brahmins. It is they who seduce India and make all these peoples hate the name of Christian" (p. 362). The label Prangui, which the Indians first gave to the Portuguese and with which "those who are ignorant about the different nations composing our colony designate all Europeans" (p. 347), was a major problem from the beginning of the mission, and the Jesuits' Sannyasi attire and "Brahmin from the North" identity were in part designed to avoid such ostracism. The fight against the Brahmin "ministers of the devil" who "never cease to pursue their plan to ruin both our church and the Christians who depend on it" (p. 363) is featured prominently in Calmette's letters, and it is clear that the Frenchman meant business when he spoke about stocking up an arsenal of weapons especially from the four Vedas for combating these doctors of idolatry.

-- Anquetil-Duperron's Search for the True Vedas, Excerpt from The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App


Born in Montepulciano, Tuscany in September 1577, Roberto De Nobili arrived in Goa in western India on 20 May 1605. It is probable that he met here Fr Thomas Stephens, SJ, who had arrived in Goa in 1579, and was probably in the process of composing his Khristapurana.[1]

After a short stay in Cochin at Kerala, he took up residence in Madurai in Tamil Nadu in November 1606. He soon called himself a "teacher of wisdom" (தத்துவ போதகர்), and began to dress like a Sannyasi. Claiming noble parentage he approached high-caste people, and eagerly engaged in dialogue with Hindu scholars about the truths of Christianity.

De Nobili mastered Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil languages and literature, with the help of his teacher, Shivadharma. Max Muller when speaking about De Nobili had quoted "I can only speak of him here as the First European Sanskrit scholar".[2] As he expounded the Christian doctrine in Tamil he coined several words to communicate his message. He used the word "kovil" (கோவில்) for a place of worship, "arul" (அருள்) and "prasadam" (பிரசாதம்) for grace, "guru" (குரு) for priest or teacher, "Vedam" (வேதம்) for the Bible, "poosai" (பூசை) for Mass, etc.

He adopted also local Indian customs, such as shaving one's head and keeping only a tiny tuft. He wore a white dhoti and wooden sandals, to don the look of a sanyasin. Another symbol he embraced was the wearing of a three-stringed thread across the chest. He interpreted the three-stringed thread as representing the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

He was one of the first Europeans to gain a deep understanding of Sanskrit and Tamil. He composed Catechisms, apologetic works and philosophic discourses in Tamil, and contributed greatly to the development of modern Tamil prose writing.

Controversies about his method

Archbishop Cristóvão de Sá e Lisboa, O.S.H.

His method raised a fierce controversy among his fellow Jesuits and with the Archbishop of Goa Cristóvão de Sá e Lisboa. The dispute was settled by Pope Gregory XV with the Constitution Romanæ Sedis Antistes issued on 31 January 1623. The customs of the three-stringed thread, the tuft, the use of sandalwood paste on the forefront and baths were allowed, inasmuch they did not imply any superstitious ritual. The Pope invited the Indian neophytes to overcome their caste sensitivity and their contempt of the pariahs.

The Ezourvedam

Main article: Ezourvedam

Some have alleged that Roberto de Nobili was the author of a forged document written in French and purported to be a translation of an ancient Sanskrit scripture by the name of Ezourvedam.

Roberto de Nobili

The first name that came to mind was that of Roberto de Nobili, S.J. (1577-1656). He was first mentioned in 1822, by Ellis. Here more than elsewhere Ellis’ statements have been influential. They not only have been cited to approve of them or reject them; they have also been quoted second or third hand, and, as a result, they have been misquoted, and used to draw conclusions which Ellis himself never anticipated. In short, they have integrated the EzV in the much broader controversy surrounding Roberto de Nobili, with heated accusations by some and passionate defenses by others.

Ellis (1822:30) makes the following general statement on “the Vedas” which he discovered at Pondicherry: “There prevails among the more respectable native Christians of Pondicherry an opinion, on what authority founded I know not, that these books were written by Robertus a Nobilibus.” Ellis himself (31-2) seems to have hesitated to accuse the missionary of a regular forgery: “… considering the high character he bears among all acquainted with his name and the nature of his own works, I am inclined to attribute to him the composition only, not the forgery, of the Pseudo-Vedas. It is not improbable that the substance of them as they now exist is from his pen, and that they consisted originally, like his works in Tamil, of detached treatises on various controversial points, and that some other hand has since arranged them in their present form, imposed on them a false title, transcribed them into the Roman character and translated them into French. To effect this would have been easy and would have required comparatively but little knowledge of the Sanscrit; the dissertations were probably divided by their author, as they now stand, into a statement of the points in controversy, and a refutation of them; all that was necessary, therefore, was to prefix the prosaic introduction and to add the final abstracts containing the title given them, and they received at once the form they now bear.” Ellis even envisages the intervention of a third person: the translator. Since the French version is not a faithful rendering of the Sanskrit text, he concludes (35-6): “… notwithstanding the identity I have noticed between the handwriting, both of the Sanscrit and the French, throughout the manuscripts, for those may be copies only, I think the judgment which will be formed will lead to the conclusion against the probability of the author and translator of these works having been the same person.”

Nobili’s name was indeed a very plausible one. Those who connect it with the EzV point to the peculiar way of conversion which he introduced in India, and which, several decades later, was to lead to the notorious Malabar rites controversy. A missionary who knew Indian languages well, a missionary who went to the extent of adopting certain Hindu rites and customs and behaving like a Brahman, was also the kind of person who would be capable and willing to produce a document such as the EzV. More specifically with regard to Nobili’s attitude toward the Indian Vedas, a number of modern scholars take delight in quoting his letter to the principal of Malabar, Alberto Laerzio, dated 24 December 1608: “I have found in their books that formerly four laws were preached in this country, three of which are still taught by the Brahmins, namely, the laws of Brahma, Visnu and rudra. The fourth was a spiritual law, which taught men to obtain salvation and a part of this law is mixed up with the other three, but the rest is lost, and there is nobody learned and holy enough to recover it... Moreover, the most learned among these people assert that it is written in their books that none of these laws can bring true salvation, from which some conclude that there is no other life beyond the present one. I take occasion of this to tell them that they are indeed mistaken if they think they can be saved by any of those three laws, and I proceed to prove it to them by the very words of their books. As they are most anxious to save their souls, for which they undertake various works of penance and alms-giving, I tell them that I have come from a distant country for the sole purpose of teaching them that law which is said to have been lost. Thus I adapt myself to their ideas just as Saint Paul adapted himself to the ideas of the Athenians, regarding the unknown God. I tell them that if they wish to recover and learn that law, they must become my disciples. This facilitates conversions, for, once they have recognized me as their guru, they come willingly and even gladly to my instructions. This method is in conformity with the custom of this country where we find many sects all admitting the three laws but each of them professing allegiance to a particular teacher. Being eager to receive the law of spiritual salvation, as they call the religion I teach, they first decide to be my disciples and receive from me the tichei [initiation] I give them." Nothing was easier than to see in this letter38 an implicit reference to the EzV.

Schlegel (1824:54-5) agrees that Ellis' hypothesis concerning de Nobili was a most probable one, but he refuses to share his scruples about the missionary's authorship. "I would be happy to share Mr. Ellis' opinion, since I wish that high spiritual values be kept separated from accusations of fraud. Yet, if the many incidents told about Roberto de Nobili are true, he cannot claim innocence in this respect. However, if Mr. Ellis thinks that the forgery of the Vedas is an unparalleled fraud, he seems to have forgotten the histories of all religions and conversions. After all, this pious fraud has not yielded much of a result in Asia, and it has done no harm in Europe; we can therefore look upon it from a purely literary point of view, and, from that point of view, I am rather pleased to meet in the Order a European philologist who, as early as the seventeenth century, was capable of writing truly attractive Sanskrit verses. If he has not been assisted by learned Brahmins, the author of these verses displays a rare talent. Such assistance cannot a priori be denied, yet it is hardly believable, in view of a few mythological blunders which have crept in. A learned Brahmin would not have made Vyasa a pupil of Sumantu, since it should rather be the opposite."

According to the anonymous author in the Oriental Herald (anon. 1827:236) the EzV is "a work entirely composed of the celebrated Jesuit, Robert de Nobilibus, in the year 1621, for the express purpose of promoting, by this 'pious fraud,' the conversion of the Hindoos to Christianity." In von Bohlen's (1830:136) opinion "everything has now been clarified, even the name of the author has been established," namely: "The author is the Jesuit Missionary Robertus de Nobilius (s9c), a relative of Pope Marcellus II, who so zealously conducted conversions in India about 1620, that he even wore the apparel of an Italian mendicant, and, thanks to his knowledge of the vernacular languages and Sanskrit as well, composed a number of writings for that purpose." Adelung (1830:94; 1832:76; especially 1837:121) uses practically identical words, and Wiseman's reference (184:2.xxxix) to the EzV as "having been composed in 1621 by a pious missionary" undoubtedly derives from the same source.

In the meanwhile another variant on the divided participation of Nobili and others appears in the Preface (1831:vi-viii) to Mill's Christa-sangita. "Whether Mr. Ellis is right in separating the composition from the forgery of the Pseudo-Vedas, and assigning the former only, on the view of his high character, to the celebrated nephew of Bellarmine, Robertus de Nobilibus, to whom their entire composition is ascribed by the Christians of Southern India, may admit of considerable question. I am disposed with him to ascribe the blundering part of the imposture, viz. the ascription of the title Veda, to the more modern copyist, whose diversity from Robert de Nobilibus is completely demonstrated from the circumstances which Mr. Ellis has brought to light, (the mode of exhibiting Sanscrit words in the MS. e.g. Okioro, Zoimeni, Bedo, &c.... being such as could only proceed from one who had learnt the language from the Pandits of the province of Bengal, which was certainly not the case with the founder of the Madhura Mission). But it would be difficult to exempt from all share in the forgery, him who puts Christian, or at least Anti-Vedic sentiments into the mouth of Atri, Narada, Jaimini, &c., a mendacious assumption of their names (as F. Paulin would not scruple to call it) in order to gain Hindu readers, which enters into the whole texture of the original composition. And whoever will study the history of the Society of Jesus -- not from the narration of enemies, but from their friends or themselves -- will see amidst the numerous contradictions it presents, abundant reason to distrust the validity of any argument, which would infer from the possession of extraordinary virtues, of real piety however debased by superstition, and the most disinterested benevolence and probity in all secular concerns, that such a forgery for a purpose deemed pious would be therefore inadmissible. As it should seem from vol. xiv, p. 62 of the Jesuits' Letters, that no one of their number after Robert de Nobilibus was sufficiently versed in Sanscrit to have composed these papers, it becomes of less consequence to enquire who was their transcriber at Masulipatam or elsewhere, who gave them their Bengalese interlineations, and perhaps their Vedic titles also. The history of the Jesuits in India presents us with more than one instance of missionaries who acquired their knowledge of Brahmanical literature in this province. One Pierre Martin, whose letter from Balassore in the year 1699 occurs in the 10th volume of the Lettres Edifiantes, tells us, that after five months' assiduous application of the Bengali, he disguised himself as a Brahman, and in that character commenced studying the Shastras as a Brahmachari or Sanscrit student in a celebrated Brahman University, (at Naddea doubtless), until the insurrection of Subha Sinh against the government of Aurang Zeib compelled him to retreat thence to Orissa, after which we hear of him frequently in the same collection, as a most zealous and active missionary in the Southern Provinces.... Other instances might doubtless be found in the subsequent history of these Roman Sannyasies (as the Jesuit Fathers were usually called in India), at a date more approaching that of the MSS. of this forgery, were the subject thought worthy of closer investigation."

The anonymous account in L. 'Ami de la Religion (anon. 1836b:259) invokes Ellis "who seems to be a Protestant," to show that the EzV was composed "from one end to the other" by Roberto de Nobili. Hough (1839:2.240), on the contrary, is of the opinion that Nobili's authorship has not been proven, although it is very likely. "The author of this and the other writings in question cannot be accurately ascertained. The more respectable native Christians of Pondicherry are of opinion that they were written by Robert de Nobili. The authority for this opinion is not known; but it is not improbable, as he was in many respects qualified for the work; and other polemical writings that are unquestionably from his pen, greatly resemble, both in matter and language, the controversial parts of these Pseudo-Vedas." Mitchell (1849:132n) refers to the Asiatic Researches and considers the EzV a work "written by Nobili in Sanskrit;" but he thinks that "on the whole, this achievement of Nobili's, which, when it is first heard of, strikes one as something colossal, dwindles on careful examination into very ordinary dimensions." Mullbauer (1852:179n1) is more cautious: he is not convinced that the pseudo-Vedas are by Nobili himself. "But it is highly probable that they have been written by a missionary of the school of F. Robert; whether they were written at a much later date cannot now be decided." A few years later Michaud's Biographie Universelle further spreads the word (BU 1861:633) that "Father de Nobilibus is most probably the author of the Ezourvedam ...; evidence for this is exhibited in volume ... 14 of the Asiatic Researches," and goes on to quote Ellis. Under the article on Abraham Roger the BU comments (1862:314n) that, on the part of the English scholars, "it shows at least how highly they rated the talent of the Jesuit missionary." The latter article is in turn quoted as an authority in the Nouvelle Biographie Generale (1862:151).

Max Muller refers to the EzV in three of his works. From the earliest onward (1859:5) he minimizes Nobili's contribution; the EzV was "written, as it appears, by a native servant, for the use of the famous Jesuit missionary in India, Roberto de Nobilibus." Two years later (1861:148) he refers to Nobili's letter to Laerzio: "... the very idea that he came, as he said, to preach a new or a fourth Veda, which had been lost, shows how well he knew the strong and weak points of the theological system which he came to conquer," but he adds in a note: "The Ezour-Veda is not the work of Robert de Nobili. It was probably written by one of his converts." Finally, in Physical Religion (1891:39) he draws a distinction between a Veda which Nobili might have composed and the EzV. "That he knew the Veda, and that he had learnt to appreciate its enormous authority among the higher classes in India, is best shown by the fact that he announced himself as come to preach a new Veda. Whether he actually composed such a work we do not know, but it seems quite certain that the notorious Ezour-Veda was not his work. This Ezour-Veda was a poor compilation of Hindu and Christian doctrines mixed up together in the most childish way, and was probably the work of a half-educated native convert at Pondicherry."

An interesting error appears in de Manne's Dictionnaire des ouvrages anonymes. Its first (1834:no. 598, p. 126) and second (1862: no. 996, p. 82) editions say about the EzV: "This work, which has been translated in India by a Jesuit named Nobili, was sent by him to Voltaire. The latter received it eagerly, and communicated it to Mr. de Sainte-Croix who became its editor." This statement was attacked by Somervogel -- under the pseudonym Pierre Clauer (1862) -- who pointed out its anachronisms while creating some of his own,39 and the article disappeared from the third edition of the Dictionnaire in 1868.

Numerous readers must have learned from Benfey (1869:334-5), who quotes Ellis and Schlegel, that Nobili knew Sanskrit so well that "a forgery of the Vedas has been attributed to him." The anonymous reviewer in La Civilta Cattolica again repeats (anon. 1881:80) in Italian what had already been said in the Oriental Herald, and by Bohlen, Adelung, Wiseman, and others. Soon thereafter two influential and widely read reference works in turn conveyed similar messages. According to Hobson-Jobson (1886-1968:962) the EzV was "composed by some missionary in the 17th century (probably by R. de' Nobili), to introduce Christian doctrines." Winternitz too, states (1909:1.12n1) that the text "probably comes from the pen of the missionary Robertus de Nobilibus."40

Meanwhile, by the turn of the century two authors produced some of the strongest indictments ever against Roberto de Nobili qua author of the EzV. D'Orsey combines (1893:256) Ellis' attribution with the line of accusations produced by Mosheim41 and others. "They even went so far as to assume heathen names; and, to answer objectors, Pere Robert applied his great skill to the production of a forgery in Sanscrit on an old bit of parchment. When questioned as to the genuineness of this certificate he solemnly swore before the council of Brahmins at Madura that the document was authentic and that he, like all Jesuits, was directly descended from their Indian Divinity! Nor was this all. He forged a new Veda which was so well executed that, for nearly two centuries, it imposed upon the natives themselves. The trick was at last discovered; and it has recently been thoroughly exposed by Mr. Ellis of Madras who declares that the Ezour-Vedam was a 'literary forgery' or rather 'a religious imposition without parallel.'" Even more damaging was Japp's article, eleven years later. He first (1904:978) makes the general accusation: "There is, indeed, no more curious instance on record of misdirected missionary enthusiasm, genius and devotion alike perverted, and bad immoral methods pursued unrestingly in what was felt to be pre-eminently a good cause. An obscure and youthful member of the Order of Jesus actually conceived the bold idea of convincing the Hindoos that Christianity was the natural development of the old Vedic system, much as it was the fulfillment of Judaism. To give fully effect to the notion, he essayed one of the most remarkable impostures ever practised on human credulity. His bold strategem was the forging of a Veda, and then claiming for his work all the authenticity which Brahmins assign to the sacred books that have come down to them from earliest days." The same accusation is repeated a few pages later (984), but this time it is followed by observations on the impact of the EzV. "The revelation in which the Hindoos believe is contained in four Vedas, the Rig, Yagur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas. These Nobili had always professed to hold in the deepest reverence. Now he began to give out that these sacred writings were but preparatory to a fifth and more important revelation. He knew this revelation; he had received it direct from the supreme and invisible Brahma. Having by degrees communicated these statements to his disciples, he at length produced the fifth or Esur-Veda [Ezour-Veda], and placed it in the hands of his followers. The leading principles of Christianity were in this suggested rather than plainly enunciated. De' Nobili seems to have intended it to excite enquiry and give him ground for explaining orally the doctrines of the Church rather than to present to the Brahmins definite grounds of belief. The appearance of this remarkable work was the signal for stormy discussions. The Brahmins without the most searching enquiry could not accept a new revelation, and one made too under such circumstances. The language of the new Veda was naturally the first point of attack. But Nobili had so thoroughly followed his models even in the minutest details, that phraseology and style alike strengthened the idea of an identity of authorship with that of the accepted sacred writings. The very handwriting of the manuscript, it had to be confessed, was identical with that of the oldest and best attested copies of the Rig-Veda. Could it be believed that a foreigner was able so successfully to imitate the sacred books? Almost all the critics agreed that so far from affording any evidence of imposition, the style of the Esur-Veda [Ezour-Veda] was strongly confirmatory of its claim to a Divine Origin. Though the doctrines were novel, there was nothing in them to alarm any except bigots. The Brahmins, divided in their opinions, proposed that De' Nobili should swear that his statements regarding the revelation were true, and, in the presence of a large assembly, he made a solemn declaration with the usual Brahminical formularies, that he had received the Esur-Veda {Ezour-Veda] from the hands of Brahma himself."

Japp was obviously influenced by Hough (1839:2.238) who had already mistakenly spoken of a fifth rather than a fourth Veda. "Finding that these works (= the four Vedas) were received as the fountain of all knowledge, human and divine, Robert de Nobili and his colleagues did not scruple actually to forge a fifth Veda, in which they interwove, with consummate skill, a sufficient portion of the Bible to give it a Scriptural character, without awakening suspicion. Their object was to refute the doctrine of the Puranas, and when the work should become established as an authentic Veda, they meant to show its accordance with the Gospel, and hence to deduce an irrefragable argument for the divine origin of Christianity. It was composed in a style so closely resembling that of the other Vedas, as effectually to impose upon some of the most learned brahmins; but to what extent it succeeded in conciliating them, there are no means of ascertaining." But, whereas Hough continues more cautiously: "This pseudo-Veda was for many years known only to a few individuals belonging to the mission of Pondicherry, where it was kept, with other works of a similar description, from the knowledge of all persons who were thought likely to detect the imposture. At length a copy of it came into the possession of M. Voltaire," Japp (985) is carried away by his imagination: "Copies of the Esur-Veda were carried to the chief centres of Brahmin theology. Even the pundits seriously discussed its authenticity." And he concludes (990) his recital as follows: "If Robert de'Nobili had any craving for earthly notoriety the noise which his work made after his death made its way to the French settlement of Pondicherry, and was sent home with other oriental treasures to the Royal Library, Paris, in 1761. A hundred and five years after Robert's death an edition of l'Ezur-vedam, received as a genuine Vedic work, appeared in Paris in 1778."

Nobili's name continues to appear in recent literature. Vinson (1920:260) states: "... it was an Italian, Father Robert de' Nobili, in Latin de Nobilibus, cardinal Bellarmin's nephew, who was the first one to study Sanskrit; he is credited with a very cautious and moderate book of Christian propaganda ... This false pastiche could have a certain amount of success, because the Brahmans carefully reserve the knowledge of the Vedas to themselves." Two years later, in Kern's Licht des Ostens (1922:258) the EzV is listed immediately after the Laws of Manu and the Bhagavadgita: "However, no Indian book had as much impact on Europe as the Ezur Veda, a hoax produced in India, compiled by the Jesuit Robert de Nobilibus, probably with the help of a native." According to Debidour (1924:30) the EzV was a manuscript in Bengali -- a misunderstanding of another statement by Ellis, which will be discussed later -- preserved in the library of the Jesuit missionaries at Pondicherry. And he continues: "One of them, probably F. Robert Nobili or Nobilibus (1577-1656) had composed, for the sake of Christian propaganda, a certain number of metaphysical and religious treatises in the language of the land. Later, even better to mislead the Indians, another less learned missionary gave four of these treatises the names and outward appearance of the four Vedas; moreover, he provided them with not too accurate a French translation." Heiler (1925:183) makes use of the EzV in his attack on the Jesuits: if they want to criticize others, they should first apply the same criteria to themselves, and remember "how De Nobili or his school tried to capture the credulous Indians for the Roman church through the monstrous forgery (Risenfalschung) of a 'fifth Veda.'" Soderblom (1926:329) quotes Max Muller and speaks of the enormous success of "the coarse falsification which the famous Jesuit missionary in India, Robert de Nobilibus, had probably prepared by an indigenous servant." A decade later Pagliaro (1935:541) writes for the Enciclopedia italiana: "Roberto dei Nobili ... acquired such a profound knowledge of the Indian texts that he succeeded, certainly not without indigenous assistance, composing in Sanskrit a kind of false Veda, the Esur Vedam, through which he hoped to make Christian concepts penetrate in India." As recently as 1959 Havens-Torrey (206) identified Voltaire's personal copy of the EzV as: "No. 2184: Nobili, Roberto di, Ezour Vedam. MS. in fol." The Russian editors of the catalogue in 1961 42 were only slightly more cautious: "[(?) Nobili, Roberto di]. Rit de l'Ezour Vedan !." Garrett's statement (1971:93), just a few years ago, is probably as characteristic as that of any modern scholar who, after consulting the obvious source materials on the EzV, has to come to the conclusion that it "was a poem in Sanskrit, probably composed in the middle of the seventeenth century by a missionary named Roberto de' Nobili, or by someone associated with his mission."

The fact that numerous authors, starting with Ellis, have, directly or indirectly, connected Roberto de Nobili with the EzV has not prevented others from, more or less emotionally, denying his authorship, with a wide variety of arguments.

The first argument maintains that Ellis’ vague reference to the beliefs of “the native Christians of Pondicherry” cannot rank as valid evidence to attribute the text to Nobili. The principal exponent of this argument is Hull. The goal of his article is to draw a different picture of Nobili’s than the one painted by Japp; but, since all Japp’s arguments are based on Ellis, Hull’s criticism (1904:1230) reaches, beyond Japp, all those who have repeated the attribution first formulated in 1822: “Now clearly, if De Nobili did write the Veda, and put it forward as an inspired work, and swore that he had it from Brahma himself, then actum est with the honesty of De Nobili, and no decent man could wish to defend him. But this is just the question. First, does history show that he wrote any Veda such as could be identified with the MS. in question? Secondly, does history record that De Nobili used any Veda in the way described? We have found good reasons for believing that evidence is wanting on either count, and that both charges are without solid foundation.”

A second set of arguments is connected with various aspects of the language in which the EzV is written. Clauer (1862:336), who mainly argues against Nobili being the translator of the text, points to the fact that the missionary never wrote anything in French. Yet another aspect of the language of the EzV provides perhaps the most serious argument against Nobili’s authorship: the peculiar way in which Sanskrit terms have been transliterated in the manuscripts. Ellis (1822:12-3) already pointed out that the transliterations reflect influence of Bengali pronunciation: “… this work, whether the author were a Native or a European, must either have originated in the provinces of Bengal and Orissa, or have been composed by some one, who had there learned the rudiments of Sanscrit … the establishment of this fact will tend materially to facilitate the tracing of these forgeries to their origin.” Charpentier (1922:138), followed by Vinson (1923:169) – who changed his opinion since his earlier publication in 1902, argues that Bengali transliterations cannot be expected from Nobili who spent his life in the South of India. Caland, discussing the way in which Sanskrit words and quotations are treated in Nobili’s Latin Apologia, concludes (1924:50): “… from the manner which Nobili used in transcribing the sounds of Sanskrit (which may partly be founded in Italian), two conclusions may be drawn: 1. that he cannot possibly have written the Ezourvedam, a conclusion which can also, with almost absolute certainty, be drawn from other reasons…”

A third line of argument insists on the incompatibility of the contents rather than the language of the EzV with Nobili’s works. According to Rajamanickam (1972:96), “we have only to read the books of Nobili in Tamil and other languages. There we find only orthodox doctrine whereas in the Ezour-Vedam it is a mixture of Hinduism and Christianity.” Nobili’s works in Tamil and Sanskrit are also used for a similar but far more subjective criterion by Charpentier (1922:138); according to him the author of these masterpieces “would never have written a book so full of errors and displaying such an ignorance of the sacred language of the Brahmins.”

The fourth argument was first formulated by Max Muller (1861:148n): “it is not mentioned in the list of his work.” His sources are Bertrand43 and Mullbauer (1852:205n). The argument returns more convincingly, one year later, in Clauer’s (1862:336) note on de Manne’s dictionary: the EzV does not appear under Nobili’s name in Southwell’s Bibliotheca,44 nor, more significantly, in the notice on Nobili’s life and works by his contemporary and close friend, F. Antao de Proenca.45 To be sure, later Sommervogel (1894:1780) himself lists the EzV among Nobili’s works, but at the same time he refers to an earlier volume of his Bibliotheque (1891:266) in which he repeats his argumentum a silentio from Southwell and Proenca. Hull (1904:1233-4) also uses Proenca’s silence in his refutation of Japp: “… if, moreover, copies were multiplied, and distributed to the centres of Brahmanism, and its authenticity was openly discussed, it seems unlikely that a contemporary, living on the same mission, laying himself out to compile a catalogue of De Nobili’s works, should have omitted all mention of it.”

The fifth argument draws on the silence of Nobili’s enemies rather than his friends: the missionary cannot have been the author of the forgery for the simple reason that even in his lifetime, in India, he had many adversaries who would have been happy to use that kind of activity as a weapon against him. Says Rajamanickam (1972:96): “Fr. Goncalo and Fr. Buccerio, his neighbours in Madurai, kept a close watch on him and attacked Nobili on any point they could find. It is extraordinary that they never mention this forgery. Further his Provincial Pero Francisco wanted to suppress the Madurai Mission and was eager to find a plausible reason for doing this. If there was any sign of forgery, he would have been only too glad to stop Nobili’s work at Madurai.”

A last argument addresses the problem of eventual misinterpretation of Nobili’s letter to Laerzio. Nobili’s Veda, which according to some is referred to in this letter, has never been found; it definitely had nothing to do with the EzV (Sauliere 1953:373); Bachmann 1972:81). According to Castels (1931:346), "the missionary argued that his Veda was the one revealed to primitive man, this was the one he had come to preach at Madura, and the only one that could procure salvation." Cronin (1959-90) adds that "by 'the law which is said to have been lost' Nobili evidently meant the primitive religion revealed to mankind and obliterated by sin, which is embodied in and perfected by Christian Revelation," and he refers to the precedent set in China by Matteo Ricci. According to Rajamanickam (1972:94), "it is a way of presentation of Christ as the 'Expectation of the Nations.' Theologians will call it 'sensus accommodatus' accommodation in plain language. This is what St. Paul meant when he preached the Unknown God at Athens."

For all these reasons Dahmen, one of Nobili's principal biographers, does not mention the EzV at all in one of his books, even though it has (1924a:34-45) a chapter on Nobili's "literary activities." In another volume he states (1924b:73n3), without hesitation, that "the Ezour-Vedam ... is definitely not his;" in Dahmen's opinion (1931:37n69), "the myth that the EzurVedam was composed by Nobili, which is perpetuated even today, has been definitely refuted."

[cont'd with Jean Calmette]



37. Sonnerat does not explain why he locates the author at Masulipatam. Castets (1935:5-6), who rejects the idea that the author was a missionary, asks indignantly: “How could Sonnerat ever suggest a missionary at Masulipatam, for there was no missionary, especially no French missionary, permanently stationed in that locality?”
38. Translation from Cronin (1959:89-90). See also Joseph Bertrand: La mission du Madure d'apres des documents inedits, vol. 2, Paris: Poussielgue-Rusand, 1848, pp. 20-1. As early as 1614 the contents of this letter figure prominently in Pierre de Jarric: Histoire des choses plus memorables advenues tant en Indes Orientales, que d'autres pais de la decouverte des Portugais, Bordeaux: Millanges, 1608-14, vol. 3, pp. 761-2.
39. Clauer (1862:336) states that "Abraham Roger is the first one to consider Father de Nobili as the author of the Ezour-Vedam, and this opinion was adopted later by a professor from Madras, Ellis." On Clauer's article, see also Retouches au Nouveau Dictionnaire des ouvrages anonymes et pseudonymes de M.E. de Manne, par l'auteur des Supercheries litteraires devoilees [Joseph Marie Querard], Paris: the author, 1862, p. 42.
40. The readers of the English translation (1927:13 n. 1959:11n) should be aware that, by then, Winternitz had changed his mind. In the translation he says that the EzV "used to be ascribed to the missionary Roberto de' Nobili. But W. Caland, Th. Zachariae (GGA 1921, p. 157) and others deny, that he was the author of the fraud."
41. Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1694?-1755, a Lutheran): Institutionum Historiae Ecclesiasticae antiquae et recentioris Libri Quatuor, which is the successor to Institutiones Historiae Christianae Antiquioris (first edition: 1726, several times reedited). The paragraph on Roberto de Nobili and his successors appears in the Latin edition of 1755 (Helmstad: Weygand) -- the last one in Mosheim's lifetime -- pp. 830-1. See the English translation by J. Murdock (1892 edition, vol. 3, pp. 247-8). Among the other opponents of de Nobili and the Jesuits in India should be mentioned the Capuchin Pere Norbert (Pierre Parisot, 1695-1769), especially for his Memoires historiques presentes au Souverain Pontife Benoit XIV sur les Missions des Indes Orientales (first edition: 3 vols., Luques 1744).
42. See note 1.
43. Bertran, op. cit., vol. 3 (1850), p. 116.
44. Nathanael Southwell: Bibliotheca scriptorium Societatis Jesu, Rome: de Lazzaris, 1676.
45. It is not clear to which notice Clauer refers here. He probably means the “Notice sur le P. Robert de’ Nobili,” in Proenca’s letter to the General Gosvin Nikel, dated Tiruchirapalli 1660, edited by Bertrand: op. cit., vol. 3, pp. 110-8. The list of works is on pp. 116-8.

-- Ezourvedam, edited by Ludo Rocher

Max Muller, a great Orientalist who edited the series The Sacred Books of the East has concluded convincingly that de Nobili did not author the forged work.[3]

The Ezour Vedam

Max Muller characterized the Ezour Vedam as a "very coarse forgery" (Muller 1978: 5).7 It consisted of a poor compilation of Hindu and Christian doctrines mixed up together in the most childish way. While Muller believed that it was probably the work of a "half educated native convert at Pondicherry" (Muller, 1891:39) and the silliest book that could be read by a student of religion, he did not believe that the original author intended it for the purpose for which it was used by Voltaire (Muller, 1872: 20).

-- The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Ludo Rocher has published a detailed study about the Ezourvedam which shows that the author of this text must have been a French missionary. He offered several names:

The question who the French Jesuit author of the EzV [Ezour-vedam] was we can only speculate on. Calmette was very much involved in the search for the Vedas; Mosac is a definite possibility; there may by some truth to Maudave’s information on Martin; there is no way of verifying the references to de Villette and Bouchet. The author of the EzV may be one of these, but he may also be one of their many more or less well known confreres. In the present state of our knowledge, we cannot go any further than that.[4]

Urs App recently offered new evidence for the authorship of Jean Calmette (1692–1740).[5]

Father Roberto de Nobili died in Mylapore near Chennai in Tamil Nadu on 16 January 1656 at the age of 79.


• In Fall of 2013, Loyola University Chicago opened a residence hall called de Nobili Hall at its Lake Shore campus. This five-story building houses approximately 200 first year students, the international learning community, and features a 350-seat dining hall.[6]
• Ekaveera, a Telugu historical novel written by Jnanpith Award laureate Viswanatha Satyanarayana portrays a character based on Robert de Nobili. His character depicted in accordance to the closest historical evidences of Nobili's life. Robert de Nobili alias Tattvabodhaka swami preaching Christianity in the Hindu sanyasi attire and style of living will have a discourse and debate with one of the protagonists Ekaveera and loses it.[7]
• In Jharkhand, India there are 8 schools named after him as De Nobili School which is run by Jesuits. The schools are affiliated to the Council for Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (CISCE), New Delhi.

See also

Primary sources

• Preaching wisdom to the wise: three treatises. Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2000.
• Nittiya cīvan̲a callāpam, Kaṭavuḷ nirn̲ayam. Tamil̲ Ilakkiyak Kal̲akam, 1964.
• Ñān̲ōpateca kur̲ippiṭamum irupatteṭṭu piracaṅkaṅkāḷum. Tamil̲ Ilakkiyak Kal̲akam, 1965.
• Tūṣaṇat tikkāram. Tamil̲ Ilakkiyak Kal̲akam, 1964.
• Ñāṉōpatēcam. Tamil̲ Ilakkiyak Kal̲akam, 1963.

Secondary sources

• Jesuits
• Matteo Ricci
• Roman Catholic Brahmin
• John de Britto, a later Jesuit missionary who followed de Nobili's method and was martyred in south India
• De Smet, Richard. “Robert de Nobili and Vedānta.” Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection 40/8 (1976) 363-371.
• De Smet, Richard. “The Wide Range of De Nobili’s Doctrine.” Review of Soosai Arokiasamy, Dharma, Hindu and Christian, according to Roberto de Nobili (Rome, 1986). Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection 52/3 (1988) 159-164.
• De Smet, Richard. "Robert de Nobili as Forerunner of Hindu-Christian Dialogue." Hindu-Christian Studies Bulletin 4 (1991) 1-9.
• J. Castets, "Robert de' Nobili" and Malabar Rites in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
• Vincent Cronin, A Pearl to India: The Life of Roberto de Nobili (1959) ISBN 0-246-63709-9
• James MacCaffrey, History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution (1914), chapter 5
• "Roman Catholic Brahmin" by Jyotsna Kamat
• European Missionaries and the Latin Church in India
• Who was Roberto de Nobili?
• The "Roman Brahmin"
• Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. 2, 1500-1900, 2005, ISBN 1-57075-450-0
• Anchukandam, Thomas. Roberto de Nobili's Responsiso [1610]: a vindication of inculturation and adaption. Bangalore: Kristu Jyoti Publications, 1996.
• De Nobili Research Centre, Madras. Interculturation of religion: critical perspectives on Robert de Nobili's mission in India. Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2007.
• Bachmann, Peter R. Roberto Nobili: 1577-1656. Institum Historicum S.I., 1972.
• Sanfilippo, Matteo and Carlo Prezzolini. Roberto De Nobili (1577-1656) missionario gesuita poliziano: atti del convegno, Montepulciano, 20 ottobre 2007. Guerra, 2008.


1. See N. Falcao, Kristapurana: A Christian-Hindu Encounter: A Study of Inculturation in the Kristapurana of Thomas Stephens, SJ (1549-1619), (Pune: Snehasadan / Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2003).
2. Rajamanickam, S. (1972). The First Oriental Scholar. pp. Preface.
3. The Ezour-Veda is not the work of Robert de Nobili. It was probably written by one of his converts» ISBN 0-915027-06-2. [Ezourvedam, edited by Ludo Rocher]
4. Ludo Rocher (1984). Ezourvedam: A French Veda of the Eighteenth Century. University of Pennsylvania Studies on South Asia 1. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1984, p. 60. ISBN 978-0-915027-06-4
5. Urs App (2010). The Birth of Orientalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 372-407. ISBN 978-0-8122-4261-4
7. Kameswari, Y. Ekaveera-Viswanatha kadhana kousalam (in Telugu). vijayawada: emesco books. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Fri Sep 25, 2020 12:49 am

Antoine Mozac [Mosac]
by Prof. Dr. Klaus Karttunen
Persons of Indian Studies
October 7, 2017



MOZAC (Mosac), Antoine. Clermont 17.12.1704 — Pondichéry 4.12.1779. S.J. French Missionary in India. Entered S.J. in 1720, came to India 1735. First in south, from 1742 and still 1764 Superior of Bengal Mission in Chandernagor, then in 1775-77 Superior of Pondichéry Mission. In 1756 met Anquetil-Duperron. Besse (referring to *Sommervogel 5, 1332) thinks that he prepared the French translation of the Ezour Vedam.

Publications: Apparently nothing.

Sources: L. Besse, “Miss. du Carnatic”, RHIF 2, 1918, 224f.

[cont'd from Jean Calmette (Jesuit and French Indianologist), by Wikipedia France]

Antoine Mosac

Besides de Nobili and Calmette a third Jesuit missionary has been given credit for the EzV: Antoine Mosac (1704-ca.1784). Here again there is a passage in the Lettres Edifiantes el Curieuses (1840:2.691), dated Chandernagore 1 January 1753, according to which "the Reverend Father Mosac, the Superior of the mission and priest of the colony, is the only one who knows their language."

As the translator, rather than the author, of the EzV Mosac's name appears for the first time in 1808, in Anquetil Duperron's memoir to the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres (1808a:685) and again in his notes on Paulinus' Viaggio (1808b:3.120n). Anquetil quotes a passage from a letter which he received from Father Coeurdoux, dated Pondicherry 10 February 1771: "I shall add here what I have heard more than once from Father Calmette, who knew samscroutam and who had made a thorough study of the scholarly books of the Indians, namely that the true Vedam is written in such an ancient samscroutam that it has become quasi unintelligible, and that what is normally cited as such is the Vedantam, i.e. introductions to and commentaries on the Vedam. In fact, in one of the famous prayers called gaitri one hears only one word: savitourou, the sun. On the other hand Father Mosac, who has studied the samscroutam language, maintains to have discovered the true Vedam. He says that it is more recent than the popular Indian religion, of which it is a detailed refutation. The author of the text is a true philosopher, who combats polytheism such as it existed all over the world for a long time after the deluge. This vast work has been translated by Father Mosac; you would find it a real treasure, if he agreed to communicate it to you," Anquetil concludes (1808a:685n): "This book must be the Ezourvedam," and elaborates (1808b:3.121n): "Father Mosac, who was the Superior of the Jesuits at Schandernagor in 1756, had learned Samscretam from the Brahmans of the university or school of Noudia, on the Ganges. I am led to believe that the Vedam which he translated was the Ezour-Vedam, and that his translation came to Pondicheny, from where it was brought to France and came in the hands of the learned baron de Sainte-Croix, who gave it to the public enriched with curious and instructive notes." This conclusion also corresponds with Anquetil's handwritten note in his own EzV manuscript (fol.1 recto): "Most probably this is the Vedam translated by Father Mosac, of which Father Coeurdoux speaks in his letter of 10 February 1771."

More than one century later, the name of Mosac appears again in the growing EzV literature. Jarl Charpentier (1922:144-5), who was manifestly influenced by Anquetil, makes Mosac both the author and the translator of the EzV. "P. Antoine Mosac S.J., the Superior of the mission at Chandernagore, is the author of the manuscript which has been printed under the title Ezour-Vedam, together with a commentary by the baron de Sainte-Croix. Having spent a considerable length of time in Bengal, and having studied Sanskrit under the Brahmans of Nadiya, he is probably also the author of the original versions of this Veda and of the other pseudo-Vedic texts discovered by Francis Ellis," Under influence of Charpentier's article Vinson changed his mind. Whereas at the time when he wrote his earlier contribution (1902) he went along with the then prevalent idea that Roberto de Nobili was responsible for the EzV, he now feels (1923:169) that "Charpentier's remarks and quotations demonstrate that it should be attributed to Father Mosac who wrote it in Bengal one century and a half earlier." Charpentier's article is also at the basis of a statement to the same effect by Mansion (1931:19-20).

Whereas Mansion (20n I) "agrees with Charpentier and recognizes that there is nothing offensive to the memory of F. Mosac in attributing to him this work of apostolic zeal which cannot even be called a pious falsification," his compatriot Hosten (1923:137n28) again refuses to credit Mosac with the authorship of the text: "Father Mosac was the translator, not the author, of the deistic books falsely labeled with the titles of the four Vedas, which compose the collection of the Pseudo-Vedas of Pondicherry." Hosten has no definite answer as to when Mosac acquired the originals of the pseudo-Vedas. He may have found them "in the Telugu country, in which latter country Mosac was for a short time," Hosten seems to be personally inclined toward the hypothesis that "Father Mesac may have obtained them at Nadia where he studied Sanskrit for a time about 1741." In his opinion. "the books themselves seem, however, to have been composed in Eastern Bengal." The implication appears to be that they were composed by Indians; Hosten even asks the question: "Were they composed with the purpose of deceiving the Missionary?" Whatever the case may be, "a hideous calumny, which has weighed on the Jesuits since 1822, will now be silenced; it will be shown instead that ever since 1742, one of their number ought to have ranked in the forefront of the pioneers of Sanskrit studies" (1922:66;cf.1921:500). Dahmen (1931:37n69), who is mainly interested in proving the non-involvement of de Nobili, adds the casual remark that in his opinion too, it is very unlikely that Father Mosac be the author of the EzV. Most recently, Rajamanickam (1972:96) reverts to the transliteration argument to assign the EzV to Bengal but he still believes that it was translated into French by Mosac.

[cont'd with Jean Venant Bouchet, by Prof. Dr. Klaus Karttunen]

-- Ezourvedam, edited by Ludo Rocher
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Fri Sep 25, 2020 1:12 am

Jean Venant Bouchet
by Prof. Dr. Klaus Karttunen
Persons of Indian Studies
March 13, 2020



BOUCHET, Jean Venant. 1655 — 1732. S.J. French Missionary in Thailand and India. First in Thailand, when the Jesuits were forced to leave in 1688 entered Madurai mission. Following Roberto de Nobili’s methods lived as a sannyāsin. In 1704-10 in Rome defending the Jesuit missionary tactics. In 1710-32 Supérior of the Carnatic Mission. He knew well literary Tamil, perhaps also Sanskrit, and used often textual sources.

Publications: Several long letters in Lettres édifiantes et curieuses 1-15, often dealing with Indian religion; religious texts in Tamil.

– Relation des erreurs qui se trouvent dans la religion des gentils malabars de la Coste Coromandelle. Extensive extracte publ. as “Dissertation historique sur les Dieux des Indiens orientaux” in Picart’s Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde. 1:2. Amsterdam 1723, 95-225. Complete text ed. by W. Caland in Twee oude Fransche verhandelingen over het hindoeisme. VKNAW N.R. 22:3. Amsterdam 1923.

Sources: Sweetman 2003, 127, 135-141

[cont'd from Antoine Mozac [Mosac], by Prof. Dr. Klaus Karttunen]

Other Missionaries

I have found two other missionaries mentioned as the authors of the EzV, mere casual references without any further sources or evidence.

Laouenan (1884:245) agrees that the EzV has been composed by a Jesuit missionary. "Some have attributed it to Father de Nobili, but it is far more likely that it was the work of Father de Villette, a French Jesuit at the Pondicherry mission."49

Vinson, who wavered between de Nobili in an earlier publication (1902) and Mosac in a later one (1923), mentions in an intermediate paper (1920:262) that Father Boucher studied Tamil and Sanskrit "he knew the latter language so well that he has been taken as the author of the false yadjour-vedam."50



49. Streit (1931:6,27,47 lists three letters from Father Pierre Martin to Father de Villette -- plus one in Streit 5, 1929,208-9, but nothing written by de Villette himself. He does not appear in Sommervogel's Bibliotheque.

50. I assume that Vinson refers to Father Jean Venant Bouchet (1655-1732), on whom see Streit (1931:2).

-- Ezourvedam, edited by Ludo Rocher
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French Jesuits in India and the Lettres Edifiantes
by Jyoti Mohan



An overview of pre-nineteenth century French writings reveals that there were specific professions or occupations that presented India. Broadly, one can speak of ‘missionary views’,1 and ‘secular views’.2 . A substantial body of research already exists on the works of secular travellers.3 The work of missionaries is only now being examined. This essay is about the letters of Jesuit missionaries about their missions in South India, compiled into the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses. The Lettres édifiantes represent the last attempt of men of the cloth to describe India, before the full-scale advent of Imperialism. More than offering a genuine description of south India per se, the Lettres were extensively quoted by other Europeans writing about India and therefore offered a uni-dimensional image of India to the west.4

Examining the Lettres fulfils several important aims. Firstly, it fills a gap in the scholarship on pre-colonial India.5 Secondly, the work of missionaries becomes especially important for this intellectual history, because the aim of French missionaries in India by the late seventeenth-century was as much to record information as amateur scientists as it was to effect conversions to Christianity. The mission writings are representative of the earliest educated western descriptions of India. These early representations were considered so valuable that nineteenth-century works on India relied greatly on missionary accounts of the previous centuries. Citing Pierre Filliozat, William Halbfass in his essay on India and Europe noted:

The birth of Indology as a real science is the result of a collaboration between Indian traditional scholars and French missionaries. The first work that can be recognized as an achievement is a grammar of Sanskrit written in Latin, in about 1733. It is probably the work of J.F Pons, a Jesuit, who resided in India, especially at Chandranagore, Karaikal and Pondicherry, in the first decades of the eighteenth century.6

By the seventeenth century, new geographical and scientific discoveries and incipient long distance trade between Europe and the East led to increased vigour in seeking information about new lands.7 As R. K. Kochhar points out, traders only explored the coastline of India. Geographical exploration was left to the Jesuits, who had the training, time, and opportunity to criss-cross the country. They also had the necessary discipline to make careful observations, record them faithfully, and transmit them regularly.8 In 1687 Louis XIV sent a mission of fourteen Jesuits to Siam. Designated ‘Mathematicians of the King’ they were to collect whatever information they could about the country and its culture in order to understand the peoples of India, Siam, China, and Japan.9 Expelled from Siam in 1688, only three Jesuits made it to the coast of India alive, including Pères Bouchet and Richaud. The observations of these missionaries along with others who were travelling in India at the time were recorded in the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses.10 As Kate Teltscher points out, between the years 1700 and 1750, Europe viewed India primarily through the medium of the letters of the French Jesuits.11

It is necessary to point out here that the Lettres exhibit several common characteristics. This indicates that an institutional ‘Jesuit view’ of India was already in place by this time. The first feature of ‘missionary views’ in the Lettres was their anti-Muslim stance. For instance, Father Bouchet12, writing in the first decade of the eighteenth century about his travels and efforts at conversion in the southern kingdom of Carnata (Karnataka) in India noted:

The Preachers of the Gospel are frequently imprisoned, and otherwise abused, in their Mission; which is owing to the Avidity of the Mohammedans, who are but too apt, of themselves, to persecute ’em, from the natural Aversion they bear to the Christian Name…The Indians (under the Muslims) are quite miserable, and reap very little Benefit from their Labours.13

Bouchet does not criticize non-Muslim Indian rulers of similarly exploiting their subjects, emphasizing the cruelty and oppression of ‘Mohammedans’ as the central theme. Further evidence of Muslim animosity to Christian missionaries is found in the letter of Father De La Lane to Father Morgues in 1709 that:

The Country is very populous, and abounds with a vast Number of Towns and Villages; but ‘twould be much fuller of Inhabitants, if the Moors or Mohammedans, subject to the Great Mogul, who subdued it, did not impoverish their People by their perpetual Exactions…The Oppression in which the Heathens live under the Government above mentioned, would be no obstacle to propagating our Religion, were not the Moors, at the same Time, the implacable Enemies of the Christian Name.14

Once again, there is no mention of the numerous Hindu feudatories of the ‘Great Mogul’ in exploiting the people although historians have pointed to uniform economic conditions between Hindu and Muslim feudatories of the Mughals during the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries.15

Father Mauduit, missionary in charge of the mission at Pondicherry who had established the Jesuit mission there some years previously, had already described Muslims as having ‘infested all the Country…The Face of the Country is beautiful, and seeming very populous; but it was more so before the Moors had usurped it.’16 Mauduit’s primary mission was to explore Carnata and the opportunities for conversion there. In his extensive travels through the area he describes his encounter with a friendly Muslim Doctor as, ‘a Person of Learning and Capacity…a worthy Man…yet this Doctor was a Mohammedan, that is, a Person still more remote from the Kingdom of Heaven than the Heathens themselves.’17 If any clearer example of Mauduit’s animosity to Islam can be found, it is in his conclusion. ‘The Advantage I have gained by these Journies is, I now know the several Places wherein Missionaries may be sent. The Season seems to be come, for us to labour with Success at the Conversion of the Idolaters of those Countries, which have so long been overspread with Darkness. All imaginable Dispatch should be used, lest the Mohammedans, who get Possession of all these Countries by insensible Degrees, should force the Inhabitants of them to embrace their abominable Religion.’18 In the particular case of the French, this aspect of animosity towards Islam was a long-standing tradition and one that manifests even today, in various legal debates on the condition of former colonial settlers from North Africa in the metropolis.

Another unanimous point lay in proclaiming the antiquity of Indian religion, and the essential unity of a religious power despite polytheism. By the time the Jesuits were writing their letters, the origin of Indian religion was a matter of great interest. Many of the Jesuits who travelled to India were intellectuals and men of science. Several of them were members of the Academia des Sciences19 and the tone of the Lettres they sent back grew increasingly more scientific as the eighteenth century progressed. The Lettres reflect this trend towards recording information about a country and its people not only for the purpose of conversion but also to further knowledge.20 For instance, Father Bouchet provided extensive comparisons between Hinduism and Judaism in a long letter.21 ‘In this present Letter I shall set before you, and I compare some Conjectures, which, I believe, will be thought important. The Design of them is to prove, that the Indians borrowed their Religion from the Books of Moses and the Prophets.’22 Bouchet then proceeded to compare and analyze incidents and figures in Hindu religion and mythology to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and incidents in the Old Testament:23 ‘Among these Customs, which the Indians must necessarily have borrowed from the Jews, and still practice in this Country, I include their frequent Bathings, their Purifications, their extreme Aversion to dead Bodies, the bare touching of which, they imagine to be Pollution. Add to these, the different Order and distinction of Castes; and the inviolable Law, by which all Persons are commanded not to marry out of their own Caste or Tribe.’24 He concludes:

I will here end the long Letter which I have taken the Liberty to address to your Lordship. I therein have given you an Account of such Particulars as were told to me by the Indian Nations, who, in all Probability, were antiently [sic for ‘anciently’] Christians, but fell back, many Ages since, into the Errors of Idolatry…You may perceive, that, at the same Time we win over these abandon’d Nations to Christ, we endeavour to be of some Service to the Literati in Europe, by our Discoveries in Countries with which they are not enough acquainted.25

These comparisons between Hinduism and the Old Testament clearly set out the reasons why Europeans tended to look upon Hinduism more favourably. According to Berliner, the ‘Christianization of Hinduism’ where individual elements of Hindu mythology were compared to Christian mythology may have accounted for the long-standing admiration that many Frenchmen held for India.26 After all as Father De La Lane put it, ‘I shall now give you a Sketch of the Religion of these Indians. They doubtless are truly Idolaters, since they worship strange Gods. Nevertheless, it appears plainly to me, from some of their Books, that they had antiently [sic for ‘anciently’] a pretty distinct knowledge of the true God.’27 The comparisons between Christianity and Hinduism as possessing the same fundamental beginnings began in the thirteenth century work of Jordanus28 and continued in the work of the Theosophists down to the colonial period.29 In their anti-Muslim stance and their opinion that Hinduism held a long-lost belief in the ‘True God’, missionaries were united through the centuries. Apart from rhetorical denunciation of the ‘false prophet’ Muhammad and the ‘false God’ Allah, none of the missionaries writing about India actually clarified what they found so objectionable about Islam or Muslims. In sweeping statements they presented Muslim rulers as harsh tyrants—cruel despots who laid the land to waste and oppressed their non-Muslim subjects. In reality, historians of modern India have demonstrated that individual rulers had their own policies—some were tyrants, others benevolent.30 Religion had little to do with these regimes. There were Hindu and Muslim tyrants, just as there were enlightened rulers of both religions. The fact that missionaries chose to single out Muslim rulers for criticism highlights the antipathy they had for Islam, which, according to Masuzawa stemmed from a long-standing anti-Semitic feeling in Europe.31

No European account of India could be complete without the requisite description of the practice of sati. The Lettres similarly pandered to their audience in their description of sati as an outlandish custom meant to crush women under male tyranny in contrast to the freedom which women enjoyed in Europe. Fr. Mauduit wrote about sati in 1701:

It was with Tears I beheld the Sad Remains of a diabolical Ceremony which the Moors have endeavoured to abolish, since their being Masters of the greatest part of this Country. Not many Days before, a Woman, either out of the Love she bore her deceased husband, or from a Desire of spreading her Name, had thrown herself on the funeral Pile, whilst her Husband was burning on it, and in this manner had been consum’d to Ashes. There were still seen the Necklaces, Bracelets, and other Ornaments of that unhappy Victim of Satan, hanging on the Boughs of the Trees, which stood round the Place where this Sad Ceremony was performed…32

The above quote stands out in its condemnation of the custom of sati as a ‘diabolical’ and ‘sad’ ceremony that had consumed a ‘victim of Satan’. While Mauduit described the motives for sati—love or a desire for glory— as well as the voluntary nature of the act, he described the performer as ‘that unhappy victim of Satan’. Ironically he also acceded to the attempt by Muslim rulers to abolish the custom, once again underlining the flimsiness of the ideological arguments about the relative quality of Islam and Hinduism by the Jesuits. Additionally, by the time the Lettres were being written, European economic interest in India was well advanced, and trading depots, factories and a flourishing trade in cotton, tobacco, tea, spices and other luxury goods. This was at the time when European traders were scrambling to secure their footing in India by establishing their own colonies. The Lettres were translated into English solely because they provided valuable information—geographical, social, political and religious—which helped English merchants in their dealings with the locals in the south of India. For their part, Jesuit missionaries could not have been unaware or even uninfluenced by the emerging theory that the European, or Christian culture to be more precise was a superior civilization that owed other, lesser civilizations the opportunity to develop through the mission civilisatrice. What is interesting to note in this transition is that the voice of the native was never heard. The Jesuits presented their own understanding of these customs and dismissed native explanations for their performance as proof of their irrationality and backwardness. While Jesuit understanding of native customs could very likely be coloured by Enlightenment discourses about individual rights, their refusal to accept anything other than a European moral compass was a new development of the colonial era. While Indian religion may have held a kernel of truth in origin, the Jesuits described contemporary Hindus as ‘idolaters’ who displayed their ignorance and backwardness in their stubborn adherence to superstitions and ritualistic beliefs. For example, according to Father Martin,

All the Indians (to speak in general) worship some Deity; but alas! How ignorant are they of the true God! Blinded by their Passions still more than by the evil Spirit, they form monstrous Ideals of the Supreme Being; and you wou’d scarce believe me, shou’d I name the vile and infamous Creatures to which they pay divine Honours. ‘Tis my Opinion, that no Idolatry among the Antients (sic) was ever more gross, or more horrid, than that of these Indians.33

Every letter of the Jesuits contained references to the idolatrous and superstitious practice of Hindus followed by a description of Jesuit efforts to convert them to Christianity. The priests also made an extra effort to describe extremes of ritual practice in order to sensationalize the backwardness of Hindus for readers and potentially to urge the Church to invest more heavily in the missions. For instance, Father Tachard described the polyandrous Nair community of southern India in 1702 as:

In this Country, called Malleami, there are Castes as in the rest of India. Most of them observe the same Customs; and in particular they all entertain the like Contempt for the Religion and Manner of the Europeans. But a Circumstance, that perhaps is not found elsewhere, and which I myself could scarce believe, is that, among these Barbarians and especially the noble Castes, a Woman is allowed, by the Laws, to have several Husbands…This Custom, which is somewhat monstrous, as well as many other…are founded on the Religion.34

An interesting aspect of the Jesuit letters was their status in society. According to Tachard, ‘The Missionaries who were settled in Caroovepondi, had resolv’d, at their Entrance into that Mission, to assume the Habit, and lead the Life of the Sanias Bramins, or religious Penitents.’35 In fact this circumstance was so strongly felt that it was not a matter of choice. By the seventeenth century, Europeans had made themselves heartily disliked in India by their complete indifference to the customs of the area. As Father Martin explained,

The people of Madura have no Communication with the Europeans, who, by their riotous Excesses, have corrupted all the Christians in India…The Missionaries lead an extremely mortified Life…They are not known to be Europeans; for were the Natives to have the least Notion of this, the Fathers would be obliged to quit the Country…Several Motives prompt the Indians to have the Europeans in so much Horror. Great Cruelties have been committed in their Countries; they have been EyeWitnesses to the most shocking examples of Vices of every Kind…36

On one occasion, Father Bouchet, in order to protect the lives of other missionaries, had to admit his own European roots. This was considered to be an extreme step and only the fact that Bouchet was already well respected in the area made it possible for him to continue working.37 Among the habits, which the Jesuits had to adopt, was strict vegetarianism, since eating flesh of any kind would have prohibited social intercourse with higher castes. They also had to prove their own high caste status by employing Brahmin cooks.38 Mauduit explained the need to live with such austerities. ‘I must observe that it is absolutely necessary the Missionaries should lead a Life of the greatest Mortification, in order to win over the Heathens, who would shew (sic) no Regard to the Law of the true God, nor to the Preachers of it, were these to live with less Austerity than their Bramins and Sanias.’39 Since earlier missionaries made no mention of any special changes in habit or demeanour, one can assume that they made it a point to respect the customs of each country through which they had travelled, or that their oddities did not offend the local population. By the mid-seventeenth century, however, the Europeans had become so confident of their superiority that they flouted the laws of the nations they traded with—eating meat, disobeying the rules of social interaction and etiquette- and consequently became social pariahs. When the Jesuits came to south India, their first task was to make themselves acceptable members of society, which they could only accomplish by posing as Brahmin ascetics from the north.40 In fact, Bouchet even took on the name of Periya Sanjivinatha, meaning ‘Revered master of spiritual healing’.41Since north Indians were fairskinned, the Jesuits could pass for a north Indian Brahmin in order to gain an audience with the people of south India. As Dhruv Raina42 and Ines Županov43 point out the custom of accomodatio was common among Jesuits who thought they could not effect conversions otherwise.

In their attempt to fit in with the local population, the Jesuits also made it a habit to court the brahmins. Interestingly enough, their letters indicate the great contempt which they held for the brahmins as the chief perpetrators of superstition and idolatry, but simultaneously speak of the necessity to court and convert them since the brahmins were the religious leaders and one brahmin convert would surely serve as an example to many other lower castes. Tachard, in his description of the state of the various missions in the South summed up the successes of the missions in terms of the number of brahmin converts in each mission. ‘Father de la Fontaine was extremely fortunate in the very Opening of his Mission…That Father has already baptized a great many Bramins.’44 So as De La Lane wrote to Father Morgues, ‘No Sort of People in the World can possibly be prouder then the Bramins, stronger Opponents of Truth, or more puffed up with the Ideas of their superstitions and Nobility.’45 Yet the Jesuits tried their hardest to convert the brahmins. In his efforts to establish a mission at Carnata, Father Mauduit describes his persuasive words to a group of brahmins that Indians ‘may be in an Error, in imagining that Bruma (Brahma), Wistnou (Vishnu), and Routrem (Shiva), are Gods worthy of Adoration; since that these pretended Deities were only so many vicious, corrupt Men, who were ranked among the Gods, merely by the Flattery of their Fellow-creatures.’ Having made this speech on their misconception, Mauduit then recorded their response. The Bramins liste’ned to me very calmly, and without seeming to regard the Contradictions they necessarily fell into, nor the ridiculous Consequences which they were obliged to own resulted from what they said. At last, finding the Attack grow still warmer, their only Refuge was to withdraw without saying a Word. This gives a tolerable Idea of the People of this Country, and shews that the Conversion of a Bramin is not so easy a Matter as might be imagined. Few Converts have been made here this Year.46

On another occasion, Mauduit recorded his stay at the house of a Brahmin. ‘I lay, at Alcatil, in the House of a Bramin, who daily worshipped the Devil, under the Name and Figure of Poolear. 47 Seeing this Idol standing in the Room where I was to lie, I thought proper to throw it upon the Ground.’48 In a testament to the peaceful nature of the Indians as well as their tolerance of the missionaries, Mauduit recounted that the Brahmin, seeing his idol desecrated the next morning, and a makeshift Altar in its place, left to allow Mauduit to complete his prayers in peace. ‘This drew several Persons to the house, which gave me an opportunity of speaking to them concerning God; and of observing, how unhappy they were, in not being acquainted with the Supreme Being, sole Author of all Good. They listened attentively to me, but were not affected, not one of them then discovering the least Desire to turn Christian.’49

Given the rough and ready methods of the Jesuits, it is not surprising that they failed to convert many Brahmins. However they persisted in their efforts, deeming this so important that they made many concessions, even allowing new converts to maintain their caste purity. In 1702 Mauduit wrote,

‘I am to observe that Catechists of a lower Caste, cannot be employed in instructing such Indians as are of a higher caste. The Bramins and Shootres, who are the principal and most extensive Castes, have as much Aversion to the Parias, who are under them, than any Prince in Europe could entertain for the Dregs of the People. These Bramins and Shootres would be dishonoured in their native Place, and lose all the Privileges of their Caste, should they listen to the Instructions of a Person whom their Countrymen consider as an abominable Wretch. We therefore are obliged, to appoint Parias Catechists for the Parias, and Bramin-Catechists for the Bramins; a Circumstance which gives us no little Trouble, it not being easy to procure such, especially of the latter. Nothing is more difficult than to convert the Bramins; for these being naturally haughty, and puffed up with Notions of their exalted Birth, and their Superiority over the rest of the Castes, they thence are found less tractable and more strongly attached to the Superstitions of their Country.’50

It seems that caste barriers were a huge problem in effecting conversions, even among other castes. According to Father De La Lane,

The Indians are extremely sober, they never committing any Excess, either in eating or drinking. They are born with a natural Aversion to all Liquors which intoxicate; are very reserv’d with regard to Women…are vastly charitable to the Poor…are of a very mild Disposition; whence nothing shocks them so much as a hasty Temper and Anger. Such being their Frame of Mind, ‘tis certain many would then turn Christians, were they not afraid of being expelled from their Castes.51

Considering that society, particularly in south India, functioned around the institution of caste, which dictated each person’s social, economic and political status, fear of losing one’s caste can be understood. A person who ‘lost caste’ effectively lost his whole support system, his social network, extended family and even his economic community. ‘A Person who is expell’d from his Caste is lost to all Refuge or Asylum. His Relations must not hold the least Correspondence with, not even give him so much as a little Fire; and if he had any Children, he never finds an Opportunity to marry them; and thus is forced to either starve, or to enter into the Caste of the Parias, which, among the Indians, is an Act of the blackest Infamy.’52

The efforts of the Jesuits to accommodate Indian customs in their efforts at proselytization reached a dead-end in the infamous Rites Malabars.53 Jealous of the success the Jesuits claimed to have in converting peoples in the East, based on the conversion of the people of the Malabar region of south India where the Jesuits had effected many conversions by maintaining caste purity, other Catholic orders petitioned the Vatican. They challenged the Jesuit method of conversion by claiming that a convert who still held on to his previous beliefs and rituals was not a true, believing Christian. Under pressure from these groups, particularly the Dominicans and Franciscans, and despite the pleas of missionaries in India that allowances made to Indian Christian converts was only meant to be an initial effort to demonstrate the superior religion, the Church ruled in 1744 that such converts were not ‘true’ converts and that no convert could profess the Catholic faith while retaining loyalty to customs dictated by Hindu life.54 From then on, the number of converts to Christianity in India dropped drastically, until the Anglicans began proselytization in a big way in the nineteenth century.55

In spite of these struggles, the Lettres enjoyed a wide readership. According to Sylvia Murr, the Lettres Édifiantes were published when the Jesuits were struggling to maintain legitimacy in face of decreasing funds from the Church and competition from other orders. They were also meant to boost confidence in readers’ faith at a time when the Church was under attack from non-believers and the philosophers.56 As Kate Teltscher notes, the Lettres enjoyed wide circulation in part because they were written to persuade individuals to contribute to the cause of proselytization in India and elsewhere.57

According to the historian of science R. K. Kochhar, although the spread of Christian faith was the most important plan of the Jesuits, their activities had a scientific dimension about them, being the first European men of learning in India.58 Kochhar notes that Bouchet was the first person who, having travelled extensively in the southern part of India, was able to produce a reliable map of the peninsula, which the celebrated geographer D’Anville later used as blueprint for his maps of south India. The Jesuit mission sent by Louis XIV made the first attempt to study Indian languages. These men applied themselves with vigour to the study of the local languages in the south, particularly Tamil and Telegu that were spoken by the majority in the areas they served. Bouchet was fluent in Tamil and was considered a scholar by his fellow missionaries.59 They also applied themselves to the study of Sanskrit believing that this would give them a greater understanding of the foundation of Indian religion and cultural traditions. As Tachard described in his survey of the missions:

Father Mauduit applies himself to the Grandan, which is the learned Language of the Country. A Jesuit, to make his Ministry still more useful to the Indians, must understand their Books writ in that Language; and appear learned in the Sciences professed by their Doctors. The Bramins, who set themselves up as the only learned Men in this Country, won’t permit such Authors as treat of them to be translated; and are prodigiously jealous of them, from a Persuasion that Learning is the true Characteristic of Nobility.60

In studying these languages and writing detailed accounts of their impressions of Indians they encountered, as well as producing rudimentary grammars, dictionaries and linguistic guides for other missionaries to use, the Jesuits provided an invaluable service to later generations of Indologists who used these works as their base to learn about India. For example, a signal service to the study of local languages was performed by Ariel, missionary in Pondicherry, who had compiled a Tamil grammar and collected a wealth of Tamil manuscripts and sent them to Paris where Charles d’Ochoa organized them. Père Coeurdoux was another missionary in Pondicherry who was in touch with Voltaire, Anquetil-Duperron, and other academics, providing them information about Indian culture, history, science, etc.61 In fact it is no coincidence that until the notion of the academic as a rational man of science became dominant in the Enlightenment, many scholars of India were deeply religious and began their studies on India as part of an effort to understand a ‘heathen’ religion or to trace the roots of pagan religion.62


There is no clear image of India that emerges from the fragmentary writings of this period, but there are certain aspects of writings that stood out. The first aspect was the relatively moderate tone that was used to describe Indian religion as compared to the anti-Islamic invective. The second was the intense interest that the Brahmins of India generated. Established as the chief interpreters of religion, they were naturally the first to be consulted on any aspect of religion that travellers were curious about, and equally they formed the first group to be targeted for conversion. In fact this focus on the Brahmins and on caste in India may well be the first ‘French’ aspect of writing about India. As Kate Teltscher points out, by the mid-eighteenth century, one could talk of specific national images of India in Europe. The Jesuit dedication to ‘going native’, courting the Brahmins, learning Sanskrit and engaging Brahmins in long theological debates came to be identified as typically French. This was in stark contrast to the writings of the Lutherans and Anglican missionaries who came to India in the eighteenth century.63 The latter tended to work in north India, completely eschewed the Jesuit practice of accomodatio and focused on effecting mass conversions among the lower castes. While this was more an accident of history rather than any conscious ‘French’ action, the readership for these French Jesuits’ accounts of India remained primarily French—therefore, these accounts informed the French public, particularly the savants, about India.64

An examination of the writings of French missionaries who visited India points to the efforts of these men to create an image of India for their western readers. Since they comprised the majority of Europeans who ventured into the country (as opposed to traders who limited themselves to the ports) their writings were virtually the only firsthand accounts of interior regions in India to be available in Europe. One must remember, however, that the Jesuits were not only steeped in their own religious fervour, but were also subject to the aggressive economic mission that Europe had launched in Asia, particularly in India and China. Jesuit missions to Asia were corollaries to the steady commercial traffic to the East by the late seventeenth-century and the Lettres reflect the need to document the different aspects of the country in order to provide information about the land and people. As outlined in the introduction to each volume of the Lettres, the Jesuits compiled information in order to better effect conversions in India, America and China. Yet the availability of their accounts to the literate public meant that secular writers (such as the philosophes, who cited the Lettres widely) as well as traders and colonialists used them as manuals of information. Many of the missionaries were directly connected to the colonial enterprise, since the French ships usually carried at least one missionary onboard when they voyaged to India. These men were to provide to the spiritual needs of the French, but once they had established their missions, they also actively converted the native population.



1. I use the term ‘missionary views’ to broadly indicate the views of men whose primary aim in writing about India was for the purpose of spreading Christianity.

2. I use the term ‘secular views’ to represent the views of men who travelled to India as merchants, mercenaries and even tourists as opposed to missionaries who were sent to India in pursuit of their evangelical duties. While many of these men were deeply religious and expressed their opinion of Indian religion, their fundamental purpose in travelling to India was not to effect conversion, so they have been grouped into ‘secular views’.

3. Most of the current research on India in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries has used the works of travellers and observers like Jean Baptiste Tavernier and Le Gentil, physicians like François Bernier and Charles Dellon, engineers like Legoux De Flaix, architects like Claude Martin, and most of all mercenaries like Allard, Ventura, RéneMadec, Law de Lauriston, Dubois de Jancigny, Gentil, Claude Martin and Benoit De Boigne. For travelers see Edward Farley Oaten, European travellers in India during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 1909, New York: AMS Press, 1971 reprint; and Distant lands and Diverse Cultures: the French Experience in Asia 16001700, edited by Glenn J Ames and Ronald Love, Westport Ct and London: Praeger, 2003. For the work of mercenaries see Jean Marie Lafont, Indika. Essays in Indo- French relations 1630- 1976, New Delhi: Manohar, 2000, as well as La présence française dans le royaume sikh du Penjab: 1822-1849,Paris: Écolefrançaised’Extrême-Orient, 1992.

4.According to Županov, accounts of the Jesuits provided much of the philosophes’ information about India. Ines G Županov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth CenturyIndia, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 44

5. The scholarship on ‘secular’ writers like Tavernier, Bernier, Charles Dellon and Le Gentil is fairly extensive. Apart from numerous translations of their accounts and monographs dedicated to these individuals, it is very common for their works to be used as sources for the modern period in Indian history. For instance, Binita Mehta, Widows, Pariahs and Bayadères. India as spectacle, Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, and London: Associated University Presses, 2002; and Kate Teltscher, India Inscribed: European and British writing on India, 1600- 1800,Delhi: OUP, 1995, are among the more recent works which examine the impact of these writers on the image of India in France.

6. Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe. An essay in understanding, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988, p.44. Cited from P S Filliozat, ‘The French Institute of Indology in Pondicherry’, Weiner Zeitschriftfür die KundeSüdasiens 28, 1983, p. 133.

7. In the preceding years there had been several Jesuit missions which had attempted to effect conversions in North India. A notable work was that of Father Pierre Du Jarric, who came to the Mughal court during the late sixteenthcentury. Jarric studied the writing of all previous Jesuit missions in India and compiled a Histoire des choses plus mémorables advenestant en Indes orientales…which essentially detailed the Jesuit missions thus far in India. His work was translated and published in English in 1926 as Akbar and the Jesuits: An Account of the Jesuit Missions to the Court of Akbar, Oxon: Routledge Curzon, 2005 reprint. A valuable account of Jesuit Missions, Du Jarric did not concern himself too much with a description of the country and people; hence I have left it out of this study.

8. R K Kochhar, ‘Secondary Tools of Empire: Jesuit Men of Science in India’, in Discoveries, Missionary Expansion and Asian Cultures, edited Teotonio R de. Souza, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1994, p. 175.

9. Ibid.

10. The Lettres which deal with India are records by Pères Tachard, Papin, Bouchet, Pons, Calmette and Mauduit and Coeurdoux. They contain detailed descriptions of the people and customs, which allow a better analysis of their image and representation of India for this study. The Lettres seem to have gone through several versions and translations. According to Ines G Županov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth Century India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, a total of 34 volumes were published between 1703– 1776, edited by LeGobien (vols 1–7), the China expert du Halde (9–26), 27, 28, 31, 33, 34 by Patouillet and possibly René Maréchal or J B Geoffrey for vols. 29, 30, 32. In addition a number of translated, abridged, and altered versions were published well into the nineteenth century: 12- 13. In this study I refer to the earliest English translation of the Lettres, which was published even before the French originals were compiled. This edition was compiled by John Lockman under the title of ‘Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettresédifiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work, London: T. Piety, 1762, 2nd Ed. The first edition was published in 2 volumes in 1743, London, by John Noon. The French originals were published periodically by the Paris Jesuit Mission in 34 volumes dating from 1702 to 1776 as Lettres Édifiantes et Curieuses, Écrites de Missions Etrangères, par quelques Missionaires de la Compagnie de Jésus, Paris: Nicolas Le Clerc. For a description of the various versions of the Lettres, see David Clines, ‘In Search of the Indian Job’, Vestus Testamentum, Vol. 33. 4 ,October, 1983, p. 399– 404.

11. Kate Teltscher, India Inscribed: European Writing and British Writing on India, Oxford and Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1995, p. 5.

12. Bouchet arrived in India in about 1688 and was appointed to establish a new mission at Madura in 1702. He was then appointed Superior of the Mission in Carnata. Father Tachard, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in India, to Count De Crecy. Pondicherry, Feb. 1703. Ibid, p. 481. For information about Bouchet, see Francis Clooney, Fr. Bouchet’s India: An 18th Century Jesuits’ Encounter with Hinduism, Chennai: Satyam Nilyam Publications, 2005.

13. Father Bouchet to Bishop Huet, formerly Bishop of Avranches. Ibid, Vol 2: 374.

14. Father De La Lane to Father Morgues, Pondicherry, January 1709. Ibid: 373.

15. There has long been a debate between economic historians of India regarding the state of decline [notably Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707,Delhi: OUP, 1999] or of economic growth [notably Shireen Moosvi, People, Taxation, and Trade in Mughal India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008]during the Mughal period of Indian history. The state of the economy and of the oppression of the people stemmed from the demands of the cities and of the landowning class (zamindars) regardless of their religion. Moosvi emphasizes the religious compositeness in the ruling class under Mughal rule.

16. Father Mauduit to Father le Gobien, Carnata. January 1702. Ibid, Vol 1: 430.

17. Ibid, p. 432.

18. Ibid, p. 440.

19. According to Georges Naidenoff among the Jesuits who were also members of the Académie des Sciences were Fontenay, Tachard, Gerbillon, Lecomte, Bouver, and Visdelov. See Georges Naidenoff, ‘Endeavours of the Missionaries’, in The French in India: from Diamond Traders to Sanskrit Scholars, edited by Rose Vincent, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990. Also see the decline of Jesuit membership in the Académie during the eighteenth-century in James E. McClellan III, ‘The Académie Royale des Sciences, 1699–1793: A Statistical Portrait’, Isis, Vol. 72, No. 4,December 1981, p. 555.

20. As Županov points out, the Jesuits used the epistolatory form of writing. The goals of the order as stipulated by Ignatius Loyola were two fold. The first was service and the glory of god; the second the service of the Jesuit order to enable the realization of these goals. The founder had prescribed subjects for Jesuit writing, especially for those stationed outside Europe. There were to be four components of Jesuit written composition and correspondence cast in a specified narrative form. The first were accounts of kings and nobles, and these were to be recorded as dramatic, theatrical vignettes. The second was to deal with the life, habits, and customs of the common people, and these virtually took the form of ethnographic descriptions. Naturally there were disputes within the order and it was prescribed that these disputes be couched in dialogical or polemical terms. And finally, their own individual ambitions were sublimated in the rhetoric of sainthood and utopianism. See Ines G Županov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth Century India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 7.

21. Wilhelm Halbfass also notes Bouchet’s comparison of Indian beliefs with Hebrew beliefs. See India and Europe. An essay in understanding, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988, p. 44.

22. Father Bouchet to Bishop Huet, formerly Bishop of Avranches. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettres édifiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 2, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 241. For a good discussion of this topic, see David Clines, ‘In Search of the Indian Job’, Vestus Testamentum, Vol. 33. 4, October, 1983, p. 398–418. Also see, Francis X. Clooney, Fr. Bouchet’s India: An 18th Century Jesuits’ Encounter with Hinduism, Chennai: Satyam Nilyam Publications, 2005.

23. Father Bouchet to Bishop Huet, formerly Bishop of Avranches. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettres édifiantes & curieuses .To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 2, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 241– 63.

24. Ibid, p.264.

25. Ibid, p. 277.

26. Brett Berliner, Department of History and Geography, Morgan State University. Personal communication, December 2006.

27. Father De La Lane to Father Morgues, Pondicherry, January 1709. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettresé difiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 2, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 377.

28. Friar Jordanus, Mirabilia Descripta. The Wonders of the East. Trans. Col. Sir Henry Yule. London: Hakluyt Society Publication no. 31, first series, 1863.

29. Louis Jacolliot was a prolific writer, colonial official and fervent believer that Christianity was derived from Hinduism. His works on the subject include La bible dansl’Inde, 1869 and Christna et le Christ,1874. Jacolliot’s ideas were extensively quoted by the famous Theosophist Madame Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled, 1877.

30. See Tapan Raychaudhuri, Irfan Habib, Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai ed., The Cambridge Economic History of India: c.1200-c.1750, Cambridge: CUP, 1982.

31.Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, Chapter 6. Masuzawa correctly terms this sentiment ‘anti-Semitic’ in referring to the common racial origin of the Sephardic Jews and the Arabs, and applies it both to anti-Jewish and anti-Mulism feeling in Europe.

32. Father Mauduit. Written from Carnata, 1701. From John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettres édifiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. Vol 1, London: T. Piety, Second edition, 1762., p. 425.

33. Father Martin to Father De Villette. Marava in the Mission of Madura, November 1709, John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettresé difiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 2, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 416.

34. Father Tachard, Superior- General of the French Mission of Jesuits in the East Indies, to Father De La Chaize. Pondicherry, Feb. 1702, John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettresé difiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 1, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762., p. 168–69.

35. Father Tachard, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in India, to Count De Crecy. Pondicherry, February 1703. Ibid, p. 481.

36. Father Martin to Father de Villette. Ibid, p. 5.

37. Father Martin to Father le Gobien. Aoor Madura, December 1700. Ibid, p. 459–463.

38. Father Tachard, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in India, to Count De Crecy. Pondicherry, February1703. Ibid, p. 481. I use the spelling ‘brahmin’ throughout the thesis to indicate a particular caste among the Hindus, as distinguished from ‘brahman’ which is often used interchangeably to denote the Upanishadic Universal Soul or Godhead. While the difference in reality lies in pronunciation, I have used a different spelling in order to avoid confusions between the two terms.

39. Father Mauduit to Father Le Gobien, September 1700. Ibid, p. 9.

40. Dedication to vol. 2 by J B Du Halde, Ibid, p. 364.

41. Francis X. Clooney, Fr. Bouchet’s India: An eighteenth Century Jesuits’ Encounter with Hinduism, Chennai: Satyam Nilyam Publications, 2005, p. 3.

42. Dhruv Raina, ‘The Mystery of French Jesuit Manuscripts on Indian Astronomy: The Narratology and Impact of a Late Seventeenth Early Eighteenth Century Project’, (paper presented at a workshop on ‘Looking at it from Asia: the processes that shaped the sources of history of science.’ Recherches Epistémologiques et Historiques sur les Sciences, Paris, September 2006).

43. Ines G Županov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth Century India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 5. She notes that following Nobili’s introduction of the practice of accommodatio in India, almost every Jesuit in India chose one or the other side, writing ‘opinions’ or condemnations, providing arguments for and against this practice. Her work also details the manner in which the practice of accommodatio was accomplished in India.

44. Father Tachard, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in India, to Count De Crecy. Pondicherry, Februaty 1703. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettres édifiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 1, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 487.

45. Father De La Lane to Father Morgues, Pondicherry, Jan. 1709. Ibid, Vol 2, p. 387.

46. Father Mauduit to Father Le Gobien, Carnata, January 1702. Ibid, Vol 1, p. 423.

47. The Elephant headed deity Ganesha, who is worshipped in the South under the name of Pillayar.

48. Father Mauduit to Father Le Gobien, Carnata, January 1702. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettresé difiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 1, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 425.

49. Ibid, p. 426.

50. Father Mauduit to Father le Gobien, Carnata. January 1702. Ibid, pp. 420–21.

51. Father De La Lane to Father Morgues, Pondicherry, January 1709. Ibid, Vol 2, p. 376.

52. Ibid, p. 377.

53. The Rites malabares or Malabar rites were certain native institutions like caste and specific forms of worship which Jesuits in South India allowed new converts to Catholicism to continue practicing. For many Jesuits working in South India, it seemed impossible to effect conversions without making some accommodation to the centuries’ old traditions, beliefs and practices of Indians. Since the aim was conversion to Christianity, the indulgence to new Indian converts continuing to believe for instance, in magic and the prevalence of spirits, seemed harmless. The accommodation was not actively encouraged by the Popes, but for a while Rome turned a blind eye to them. Eventually, the practice was forbidden by a Papal Brief of 24 August 1734, due primarily to the resentment of other Catholic missions like the Capuchins.

54. For more information about the Rites see E. Amann, ‘Malabares (Rites)’DTC, 9, p. 1704–1746. Also see J. Bertrand, Mémoires historiques sur les missions des ordres religieux et spécialement sur les questions du clergé indigène et des rites malabares d'après des documents inédits. 2. ed,, Paris: P. Brunet,1862.

55. Anglican missionaries targeted lower castes for conversion, offering them an egalitarian society and the possibility of employment in the households of colonial administrators. The history of Christians in modern India reflects the efforts of different groups of missionaries – Southern Indian Christians are pre–dominantly Catholics who were converted by the Jesuits or even earlier. They cling to a caste hierarchy based on their caste in Hinduism prior to conversion and the caste rules, especially relating to marriage are strictly followed. The Church of North India is Protestant, dominated by Anglican congregations, who willingly gave up their caste status upon conversion since most of them were lower castes anyway.

56. Sylvia Murr, 'Les conditions d'émergence du discourssurl'Inde au siècle des Lumières, Inde et Littératures', Purusartha, 7, 1983, p. 239.

57. Kate Teltscher, India Inscribed: European and British writing on India, 1600–1800, Delhi: OUP, 1995, p. 80.

58. R K Kochhar, ‘Secondary Tools of Empire: Jesuit Men of Science in India’, in Discoveries, Missionary Expansion and Asian Cultures, edited by Teotonio R de. Souza, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1994, p. 175. Kochhar describes the scientific and geographical studies of various men of the Jesuit Mission in India including Bouchet, Richaud, and Boudier.

59. David Clines, ‘In Search of the Indian Job’, in Vestus Testamentum, Vol. 33. 4, October, 1983, p. 404. Father Martin was an expert in Bengali.

60. Father Tachard, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in India, to Count De Crecy. Pondicherry, Februaty 1703. John Lockman, Travels of the Jesuits, into various parts of the world: particularly China and the East-Indies. Intermix’d with an account of the manners, government, civil and religious ceremonies, natural history, and curiosities, of the several nations visited by those fathers. Translated from the celebrated Lettres édifiantes & curieuses. To which is now prefixed, an account of the Spanish settlements in America, with a general index to the whole work. vol 1, Second edition, London: T. Piety, 1762, p. 487.

61. See Louis Renou, The Influence of Indian Thought on French Literature, Adyar, 1948, pp. 2–3.

62. The most famous example of this kind being Anquetil-Duperron whose life’s work on India was dictated by his quest for Judaic origins.

63. Kate Teltscher, India Inscribed: European Writing and British Writing on India, Oxford and Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1995, pp. 8, 74–75.

64. Sylvia Murr has commented on the connections between the Jesuits and Enlightenment savants in 'Les conditions d'émergence du discourssurl'Inde au siècle des Lumières, Inde et Littératures', Purusartha 7, 1983, pp. 233–284
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:39 am

Pierre Martin, Excerpt from Ezourvedam
edited by Ludo Rocher



[cont'd from Jean Venant Bouchet, by Prof. Dr. Klaus Karttunen]

A New Name: Pierre Martin [(1665–1716)]

We shall now turn our attention to another Jesuit missionary, even though his name has not so far appeared anywhere in the literature connected with the EzV. Manuscript 1765 of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris contains, among other writings connected with Maudave, an "extract from a letter written to Mr. de Voltaire on the Lingam cult" (foll. 118-25). According to the catalogue51 the handwriting is that of Chretien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721-94).

The extract is undated, but it is possible, based on internal criteria, to place it within rather precise lower and upper limits. In the letter Maudave speaks about the EzV and uses it as a source of information on the ritual of the Lingam. He even volunteers to have a copy made for Voltaire and send it to him, if he is at all interested in the manuscript. This means that the letter antedates Maudave's visit to Ferney in 1760. On the other hand, Maudave announces that he sends Voltaire a replica of a Linga; also, all data contained on the letter are based on personal observation. We may therefore be assured that the letter was written on 1758-59, during Maudave's first visit to India (see p. 77).

In the letter Maudave also makes a casual reference to the author and the translator of the EzV. About the author he merely records (p. 9) what the text itself seems to suggest, without expressing his personal opinion. "This Dialogue presupposes that Chumontou is the author of the Vedams, that he wrote them to countervail the empty superstitions that spread among men and, above all to halt the unfortunate progress of idolatry." But on the translation Maudave (p. 10) Is both brief and specific: "Its author is Father Martin, the former Jesuit missionary at Pondichery."

Whatever the historical value of this attribution may be, it deserves some attention since it comes from the very man who carried the EzV to Europe. Father Pierre Martin (1665-1716) is well known for several letters in the Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses (Streit 1929:208-9; 1931:3-4, 4, 6, 27, 47) and for at least two dissertations on the missions (Streit 1929:209; 1931:23). Perhaps more interesting than the identity of the translator is the fact that Maudave, writing in India in 1758-59, attributes the EzV to a missionary who died, in Rome, in 1716. The information which he gathered on the EzV during his first visit to India may have been tendentious and wrong, but characteristically, his informants threw the EzV translation back well into the past and made it about half a century old at that time.


Jesuit Revivals, Excerpt from Hybrid Knowledge in the Early East India Company World
by Anna Winterbottom

Jesuit revivals

While the interest in comparative religion in England waned, French scholarship on the subject was being awakened, on the basis of some projects comparable to Marshall and Madhusudana's and the earlier writings of Thomas Stephens. The strategy of accommodation attracted interest in the last years of the seventeenth century among a group of French Jesuits including Pierre Martin (1665-1716). Martin arrived in Balasore via Surat in 1699 after an unhappy spell in Persia. He applied himself to learning Bengali, and after five months claims to have entered a 'Brahmin university', properly attired.205 Martin argues that all new missionaries should be sent to the Madurai mission to learn, as he had, the languages and customs of Indians, to 'read and transcribe the books that the venerable Father Robert Nobili and our other Fathers composed', and to resume the practices that they had begun.206

The renewed enthusiasm for accommodation may explain the mystery of the Ezourvedam. This anonymous text, probably authored during the seventeenth century, reached France by 1760, when a copy was presented to Voltaire. Believing it to be a Hindu text, the philosopher used the work as the basis of his writings about Indian religions. Later scholars debated the status of the text, some regarding it as a version of an original Veda (normally the Yajur Veda) and others as a commentary. However, since the late eighteenth century, most scholars have agreed that the text is in fact a Christian 'pious fraud' disguised as a work of Hinduism.

Recent scholars have focused on the discussion of where and by whom the text was produced, suggesting that Robert Nobili, Pierre Martin, or one or more of several other contemporary Jesuits or converts produced the work in either Bengal or Pondicherry, where versions of the Ezourvedam and four other 'vedas' were discovered in the eighteenth century.207 It was in Pondicherry, in 1769, that the Tamil convert to Christianity Maridas Poulle produced a French translation of the BhP on the basis of an early modern Tamil translation.208 Poulle worked with a number of French intellectuals, including the astronomer and cartographer Jean-Baptiste Joseph Gentil 209 and the translator of the Zoroastrian texts Anquetil-Duperron. Poulle's text has also been suggested as a possible source for the Ezourvedam.210

Despite Marshall's claims in the letter to Coga concerning the propagation of the gospel, there is no overtly Christian message in the texts he produced with Madhusudana. Nevertheless, there are undeniable similarities between the Ezourvedam and the Marshall-Madhusudana texts. The Ezourvedam also opens with a dialogue about the nature of the world; the role of the gunas in creation and destruction is discussed. The genealogy of the gods is given, beginning with Aditi, mother of the gods, and her rival Diti in both texts. In contrast to the BhP, however, in the Ezourvedam the worship of Vishnu's avatars is explicitly denounced as a fall from true religion into idolatrous fantasies. 211 While God the creator starts off alone, he creates the world not by expanding it from within himself, but as a separate entity. We might conclude that the author of the Ezourvedam and Marshall both took selectively from Hinduism's teachings about the creation of the world to support an explanation for creation that supported their own cosmological and theological beliefs.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:15 am

Sibylline Oracles
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 9/25/20

Not to be confused with Sibylline Books.

A Sibyl, by Domenichino (c. 1616-17)

The Sibylline Oracles (Latin: Oracula Sibyllina; sometimes called the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles) are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophets who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive, in an edition of the 6th or 7th century AD. They are not to be confused with the original Sibylline Books of the ancient Etruscans and Romans which were burned by order of Roman general Flavius Stilicho in the 4th century AD. Instead, the text is an "odd pastiche" of Hellenistic and Roman mythology interspersed with Jewish, Gnostic and early Christian legend.[1]

The Sibylline Oracles are a valuable source for information about classical mythology and early first millennium Gnostic, Hellenistic Jewish and Christian beliefs. Some apocalyptic passages scattered throughout seem to foreshadow themes of the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature. The oracles have undergone extensive editing, re-writing, and redaction as they came to be exploited in wider circles.

One passage has an acrostic, spelling out a Christian code-phrase with the first letters of successive lines.


The Sibylline Oracles in their existing form are a chaotic medley. They consist of 12 books (or 14) of various authorship, date, and religious conception. The final arrangement, thought to be due to an unknown editor of the 6th century AD (Alexandre), does not determine identity of authorship, time, or religious belief; many of the books are merely arbitrary groupings of unrelated fragments.[2]

These oracles were anonymous in origin and as such were apt to modification and enlargement at pleasure by Hellenistic Jews and by Christians for missionary purposes. Celsus called Christians Σιβυλλισται (sibyl-mongers or believers in sibyls) because of prophecies preached among them, especially those in the book of Revelation. The preservation of the entire collection is due to Christian writers.[2]

Sources for the Sibylline texts

The oldest of the surviving Sibylline oracles seem to be books 3-5, which were composed partly by Jews in Alexandria. The third oracle seems to have been composed in the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor. Books 1-2 may have been written by Christians, though again there may have been a Jewish original that was adapted to Christian purposes.

All the oracles seem to have undergone later revision, enrichment, and adaptation by editors and authors of different religions, who added similar texts, all in the interests of their respective religions. The Sibylline oracles are therefore a pastiche of Greek and Roman pagan mythology, employing motifs of Homer and Hesiod; Judeo-Christian legends such as the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Tower of Babel; Gnostic and early Christian homilies and eschatological writings; thinly veiled references to historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Cleopatra, as well as many allusions to the events of the later Roman Empire, often portraying Rome in a negative light.

Some have suggested that the surviving texts may include some fragments or remnants of the Sibylline Books with a legendary provenance from the Cumaean Sibyl, which had been kept in temples in Rome. The original oracular books, kept in Rome, were accidentally destroyed in a fire in 83 BC, which resulted in an attempt in 76 BC to recollect them when the Roman senate sent envoys throughout the world to discover copies. This official copy existed until at least AD 405, but little is known of their contents.

That use of the Sibylline Oracles was not always exclusive to Christians is shown by an extract from Book III concerning the Tower of Babel as quoted by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in the late 1st century AD.

The Christian apologist Athenagoras of Athens, writing A Plea for the Christians to Marcus Aurelius in ca. AD 176, quoted the same section of the extant Oracles verbatim, in the midst of a lengthy series of classical and pagan references including Homer and Hesiod, and stated several times that all these works should already be familiar to the Roman Emperor.

The sibyls themselves, and the so-called Sibylline oracles, were often referred to by other early Church fathers; Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (ca. 180), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200), Lactantius (ca. 305), and Augustine (ca. 400), all knew various versions of the pseudo-Sibylline collections, quoted them or referred to them in paraphrase, and were willing to Christianize them, by as simple means as inserting "Son of God" into a passage, as Lactantius:

"The Erythraean Sibyl" in the beginning of her song, which she commenced by the help of the Most High God, proclaims the Son of God as leader and commander of all in these verses:
All-nourishing Creator, who in all
Sweet breath implanted, and made God the guide of all."

Some fragmentary verses that do not appear in the collections that survive are only known because they were quoted by a Church Father. Justin Martyr (ca. 150), if he is truly the author of the Hortatory Address to the Greeks, gives such a circumstantial account of the Cumaean sibyl that the Address is quoted here at the Cumaean sibyl's entry. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Through the decline and disappearance of paganism, however, interest in them gradually diminished and they ceased to be widely read or circulated, though they were known and used during the Middle Ages in both the East and the West." Thus, a student may find echoes of their imagery and style in much early medieval literature.

These books, in spite of their pagan content, have sometimes been described as part of the Pseudepigrapha. They do not appear in the canonical lists of any Church.

Manuscripts and editions

The text has been transmitted in fourteen "books", preserved in two distinct manuscript traditions, one containing books 1–8, the other 9–14. However, "book 9" consists of material from books 1–8 and "book 10" is identical to "book 4", so that the edition by Collins (1983) contains only books 1–8 and 11–14. The main manuscripts date to the 14th to 16th centuries (Collins 1983:321):

group φ: books 1–8 with an anonymous prologue

Z: Cod. Hierosolymitanus Sabaiticus 419 (late 14th c.)
A: Cod. Vindobonensis hist gr. XCVI 6 (15th c.)
P: Cod. Monacensis 351 (15th c.)
B: Cod. Bodleianus Baroccianus 103 (late 15th c.)
S: Cod. Scorialensis II Σ 7 (late 15th c.)
D: Cod. Vallicellianus gr. 46 (16th c.)

group ψ: books 1–8, without prologue

F: Cod. Laurentianus plut. XI 17 (15th c.)
R: Cod. Parisinus 2851 (late 15th c.)
L: Cod. Parisinus 2850 (1475)
T: Cod. Toletanus Cat 88.44 (c. 1500)

group Ω: books 9–14

M: Cod. Ambrosianus E64 sup. (15th c.)
Q: Cod. Vaticanus 1120 (14th c.)
V: Cod. Vaticanus 743 (14th c.)
H: Cod. Monacensis gr. 312 (1541)

To this may be added the ample quotations found in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

In 1545 Xystus Betuleius (Sixt Birck of Augsburg) published at Basel an edition based on ms. P, and the next year a version set in Latin verse appeared. Better manuscripts were used by Johannes Opsopaeus, whose edition appeared at Paris in 1599. Later editions include those by Servaas Galle (Servatius: Amsterdam 1689) and by Andrea Gallandi in his Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum (Venice, 1765, 1788). Books 11–14 were edited only in the 19th century. In 1817 Angelo Mai edited a further book, from a manuscript in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana at Milan (Codex Ambrosianus) and later he discovered four more books, in the Vatican Library, none of which were continuations of the eight previously printed, but an independent collection. These are numbered XI to XIV in later editions. Several fragments of oracles taken from the works of Theophilus and Lactantius, printed in the later editions, show that even more Sibylline oracles formerly existed. In the course of the 19th century, better texts also became available for the parts previously published.


The so-called Sibylline oracles are couched in classical hexameter verses. The contents are of the most varied character and for the most part contain references to peoples, kingdoms, cities, rulers, temples, etc. It is futile to attempt to read any order into their plan or any connected theme.

Patrick Healy Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) suggests that their present arrangement represents the caprice of different owners or collectors who brought them together from various sources... Though there are occasionally verses which are truly poetical and sublime, the general character of the Sibylline Oracles is mediocre. The order in which the books are numbered does not represent their relative antiquity, nor has the most searching criticism been able accurately to determine how much is Christian and how much Jewish.[3]

Healy continues that Book IV is generally considered to embody the oldest portions of the oracles, and while many of the older critics saw in it elements which were considered to be Christian, it is now looked on as completely Jewish. Book V has given rise to many divergent opinions, some claiming it as Jewish, others as the work of a Christian Jew, and others as being largely interpolated by a Christian. It contains so little that can be considered Christian that it can safely be set down as Jewish. Books VI and VII are admittedly of Christian origin. Some authors (Mendelssohn, Alexandre, Geffcken) describe Book VI as an heretical hymn, but this contention has no evidence in its favour. It dates most probably from the third century AD. Books I and II are regarded as a Christian revision of a Jewish original. Book VIII offers peculiar difficulties; the first 216 verses are most likely the work of a second century AD Jew, while the latter part (verses 217-500) beginning with an acrostic on the symbolic Christian word Icthus is undoubtedly Christian, and dates most probably from the third century AD. In the form in which they are now found the other four books are probably the work of Christian authors. Books XII and XIII are from the same pen, XII being a revision of a Jewish original. Book XI might have been written either by a Christian or a Jew in the third century AD, and Book XIV of the same doubtful provenance dates from the fourth century AD. The general conclusion is that Books VI, VII, and XIII and the latter part of Book VIII are wholly Christian. Books I, II, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV received their present form from a Christian. The peculiar Christian circle in which these compositions originated cannot be determined, neither can it be asserted what motive prompted their composition except as a means of Christian propaganda.[3]

See also

• Alexander Polyhistor
• Hebrew Sibyl
• Jewish eschatology
• Vaticinia ex eventu describes the phenomenon of pretended oracles written after the event.
• Wives aboard the Ark



1. Terry, M. S. (1899). The Sibylline Oracles. Archived from the original on 2002-06-06. The content of the individual books is probably of different age, dated to anywhere between the 1st and 7th centuries AD. Collins, J. J. (1983). "Sibylline Oracles (Second Century B.C.–Seventh Century A.D)". In Charlesworth (ed.). Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 1. Hendrickson. pp. 317–472.
2. Cheyne & Black 1899.
3. Healy 1912.


• Cheyne, Thomas Kelly; Black, J. Sutherland, eds. (1899). "ApocalypticLiterature § 88. Sibylline Oracles" . Encyclopaedia Biblica. 1. Toronto: George N. Morang & Company.
• Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sibylline Oracles" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 19.
• Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sibyls" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–20.
• Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Sibyl". The Jewish Encyclopedia. 11. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 319–323.


• This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Healy, Patrick Joseph (1912). "Sibylline Oracles". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Further reading

• J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina, Leipzig, Hinrichs, 1902.
• A. Peretti, La Sibilla babilonese nella propaganda ellenistica, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1942.
• V. Nikiprowetzky, La troisième Sibylle, Paris, La Haye, 1970.
• J. J. Collins, The Sibylline Oracles of Egyptian Judaism, Missoula 1974.
• A. Grafton, Higher Criticism Ancient and Modern: The Lamentable Death of Hermes and the Sibyls, in: The Uses of Greek and Latin. Historical Essays, ed. by A.C. Dionisotti, A. Grafton and J. Kraye, London 1988, pp. 155–170.
• H.W. Parke, Sibyls and Sibylline Prophecy in Classical Antiquity, London, Routledge, 1988.
• I. Cervelli, Questioni sibilline, «Studi storici» 34, 1993, pp. 895–1001.
• M. Bracali, Sebastiano Castellione e l'edizione dei Sibyllina Oracula, «Rinascimento» 36, 1996, pp. 319–349.
• R. Buitenwerf, Book III of the Sibylline Oracles and Its Social Setting, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2003.
• C. Schiano, Il secolo della Sibilla. Momenti della tradizione cinquecentesca degli «Oracoli Sibillini», Bari, edizioni di Pagina, 2005.

External links

• Milton S. Terry, The Sibylline Oracles (complete text, at Elfinspell)
• Milton S. Terry, The sibylline oracles: only those fragments that are quoted in Patristic writings, annotated and set in context, including the long preface of the (6th century?) editor
• The Sibylline oracles, Books III-V, Translated by the Rev. H. N. Bate, M.A., 1918 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF format)
• The Sibylline Oracles. Translated from Greek into Blank English Verse. New Edition Revised after the Text of Ruch. (1899) Translated by Milton S. Terry. Digital Facsimile. (PDF)
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