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    The Catholic movement in Korea was birthed among Confucian scholars who sought to supplement Confucian philosophy with Catholic teaching. Hence, the earliest didactic writings of Korean Catholics were more syncretistic in content, integrating Catholic and Confucian themes. But as the movement became increasingly circumscribed by Church teachings and regulations, the focus in its didactic literature shifted to exclusively Catholic and other-worldly themes. Two main points of divergence from Korean tradition may be traced in these early texts: loyalty extended to a transcendent object and belief in the soul’s immortality. These transcendent motifs become more pronounced in the later texts. This divergence, in turn, signifies a shift to a subjectivity of the spiritual and intellectual self as separate from the world.


    Catholic , Confucian , episteme , subjectivity , dualism


    This paper contributes to a larger conversation about epistemic changes appearing in late Chosŏn in the wake of what Martina Deuchler and Jahyun Kim Haboush describe as “the reconstitution of the world order in East Asia” that followed the Manchu conquest of Ming China. The post-Ming (Qing China) period was also characterized by increasing contact between East Asia and Europe, a factor that no doubt contributed to this reconstitution that, according to Deuchler and Haboush, compelled Koreans to “construct a new episteme of the world and the self.”1

    More specifically, a number of studies and scholarly conversations about the introduction of Catholicism to Korea during late Chosŏn imply that Catholicism’s entrance may be linked directly to an epistemological divergence from the mainstream Neo-Confucian discourse of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Korea. Put simply, engagement with Catholicism on the part of Chosŏn individuals led to new ways of knowing and believing about the world and human existence. Kŭm Changt’ae, Kim Okhŭi and others have produced much scholarship on the history of Western Learning in Korea,2 and a number of these studies point to evidence of Catholic concepts in the philosophical commentaries of Chŏng Yagyong (1762–1836), which present “a vision of man as unique, distinct from the pattern of the cosmos and the world of lesser creatures,”3 a view that contrasted with the concurrent Neo-Confucian view of the human being. In relation to the more existential subjectivity of individual Catholics, Chŏng Tuhŭi’s thoughtful discussion of several of the earliest martyrs obliquely draws attention to their self-propelled agency as a factor in their conflict with the Chosŏn state.4 Chung Chai Sik even refers to the martyr Hwang Sayŏng (1775–1801) as “revolutionary” for challenging traditional authority by seeing the West, rather than China, as the center of the world.5 Donald Baker points out how the interrogation records of the martyr Yun Chich’ung (1759–1791) reveal that Yun’s conversion to Catholicism brought about a fundamental shift in his intellectual orientation, which resulted in a disagreement with his Confucian interrogators over the issue of orthodoxy.6 Also, Baker’s examination of the Catholic movement’s conflict with the Chosŏn state shows that one outcome of this opposition was the emergence of the issue of individual religious freedom.7

    This article draws attention to the didactic writings of the earliest Korean Catholics as one particular iteration in the birth of a new episteme of the individual human subject. A common thread that runs through the findings of most of the above-mentioned studies is that Catholicism in Chosŏn produced individuals who exhibited a new agency through their divergence from traditional authority. Proceeding on the assumption that epistemes are embodied in discourse,8 writings by Catholics from this period may be seen as expressive of a new subjectivity of human intellectual independence from the cosmic system, which, under the Neo-Confucian doctrine of the unity of heaven (or nature) and the human (天人合一), was traditionally assumed to be a closed system from which the human intellect and soul could not be separated. The didactic writings examined in the following pages are linked to this shift in that they represent a change in Korean Catholic discourse from a position of syncretism with Confucianism to one of increasing separation from Confucian tradition. This exposition also points out that these texts exhibit two main points of divergence from traditional Chosŏn thought, which become more pronounced in the later writings: loyalty extended to a transcendent object and belief in the soul’s immortality. This divergence, in turn, signifies a shift to a subjectivity of the spiritual and intellectual self as separate from the world, a position that, as inferred above, contrasts with the traditional Korean assumption of cosmic unity between the human and the universe.

    1Martina Deuchler and Jahyun Kim Haboush, in Introduction to Culture and State in Late Chosŏn Korea (Cambridge: Harvard U Asia Center, 1999), 4, 5.  2See Kim Okhŭi, Han’guk Sŏhak sasangsa yŏn’gu (A study of the history of Western Learning in Korea) (Sŏul: Kukhak Charyowŏn, 1998); Kŭm Changt’ae, Tongsŏ kyosŏp kwa kŭndae Han’guk sasang (East-West relations and modern Korean thought). (P’aju: Han’guk Haksul Chŏngbo, 2005); Kŭm Changt’ae, Chŏng Yagyong: Han’guk Sirhak ŭi chiptaesŏng (Chŏng Yagyong: Synthesis of Korean Sirhak) (Sŏul: Sŏngkyunkwan UP, 2002); Chŏng Tuhŭi, “Tasan kwa Sŏhak e taehan yŏrŏgaji kwanjŏm tŭl” (Various perspectives on Tasan and Western Learning), in Tasan sasang sok ŭi Sŏhakchŏk chip’yŏng (Sŏul: Sŏgang University Humanities Research Institute, 2004), 1–35.  3Michael C Kalton. “Chŏng Tasan’s Philosophy of Man: A Radical Critique of the Neo-Confucian World View,” in The Journal of Korean Studies 3 (1981), 18.  4Chŏng Tuhŭi, Sinang ŭi yŏksa rŭl ch’ajasŏ (In search of the history of faith) (Sŏul: Pauline, 1999), 74–107.  5Chung Chai Sik, “Christianity as a Heterodoxy: An Aspect of General Cultural Orientation in Traditional Korea,” in Korea’s Response to the West, Ed. Yung-Hwan Jo (Kalamazoo: Korea Research and Publications, 1971), 76.  6Donald L. Baker, “A Different Thread: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Catholicism in a Confucian World” in Culture and State in Late Chosŏn Korea. Ed. JaHyun Kim Haboush and Martina Deuchler (Cambridge: Harvard U Asia Center, 1999), 199–230.  7Donald L. Baker, “From Pottery to Politics: The Transformation of Korean Catholicism” in Religion and Society in Contemporary Korea. Ed. Lewis R. Lancaster and Richard K. Payne (Berkeley: U of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 1997), 127–68.  8This assumption draws on the Foucauldian idea of an episteme as “the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems.” Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 191.


    The syncretic character of the earliest expressions of Catholicism in Korea was supported by the indigenous birth of the movement and the content of the first Catholic texts brought to Korea from China. Unlike the introduction of Christianity elsewhere in East Asia, missionaries were not directly involved in the first Korean conversions. Instead, a handful of Chosŏn scholars who happened to read Jesuit writings transmitted from China embraced the teachings contained in these texts.

    This indigenous birth of Catholicism in Korea was possible in part because most of the Jesuit writings did not, on the surface, appear to contain anything alarmingly heretical or contradictory to Confucian ideology. This was intentional on the part of the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. He and his fellow missionaries carefully studied the language, thought and customs of China, conducted themselves as proper Confucian scholars, and presented Christianity as complimentary to Confucianism. Thus, the first texts produced by Ricci and his successors—written in Classical Chinese—were apologetic, and the Christian God was equated with Shangdi (the “Supreme on High”) mentioned in early Confucian classics.

    The event usually associated with the birth of Catholicism in Korea was a small study group of Confucian scholars who gathered in 1779 to read and discuss Catholic writings. These men were members of the marginalized Namin faction that was critical of the state of affairs in Korean officialdom, and they belonged to a school of Confucianism that was especially concerned about how to live as moral human beings. The teachings of Catholicism offered something new to supply what they felt was lacking in the reigning Neo-Confucian ideology. They had no stated intention of giving up Confucianism.

    As Catholicism grew, however, and as the mission in China became more directly involved in the religious instruction of Korean Catholics through the transmission of edicts, literature, and, later, through the secret dispatch of a priest, it became clear that Catholicism, with its specific ritual requirements, could not exist peacefully under the Korean state’s strict control of ritual. For this and other reasons, the movement was banned and Catholics were persecuted. In the Great Persecution of 1801, about 100 Catholics were executed and about 200 were exiled. Through most of the nineteenth century the Catholic community remained cut off from mainstream Korean society until Korea’s diplomatic opening to the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century led to greater religious freedom.


    Catholic writings from the first generation of the movement in Korea are scattered in genre and small in quantity, but when examined as a continuum, they reveal a shift in emphasis that parallels the shift in the social and political position of Catholics in Korea at this time. As the following pages will show, the earliest didactic literature of the movement expresses an effort to integrate Confucian and Christian themes. But as the rift between the Catholic movement and the rest of society became greater, the emphasis in Catholic didactic literature on integrating Christianity and Confucianism was replaced by an emphasis on themes of spiritual redemption, religious observances, and the next life—themes that carried points of incompatibility with traditional Korean Confucian teaching. Furthermore, the move from integration to separation was not only external—moving from compatibility to incompatibility with Korean Confucian doctrine. It was also internal, in that the new paradigm, as articulated in the later works, promoted a stance of separation from the world.

    The Chosŏn scholars who gathered in 1779 to study Catholicism were part of a tradition that carried with it the expectation of literary production, but since the writings of anyone branded a criminal were required by the state to be destroyed, very few writings by Catholics survived the earliest persecutions. However, a handful of documents attributed to various members of the first study group was preserved in Manch’ŏn yugo (The posthumous works of Manch’ŏn). Yi Ihwa makes a reasonable argument that Manch’ŏn is most likely a variant of the penname of Yi Sŭnghun,9 a member of the first study group, who travelled to Beijing in 1783 and became the first Korean to be baptized. The first part of the volume is a collection of miscellaneous works by Manch’ŏn’s acquaintances, and here we find what may be classified as the earliest Korean Catholic writings: “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga” (A song of reverence to the Lord of Heaven), Sip Kyemyŏng-ga (A song of the Ten Commandments), and Sŏnggyo yoji (The essentials of Holy Teaching).

    “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga,” composed in vernacular Korean and consisting of thirty-four four-syllable couplets, is attributed to Yi Pyŏk (1754–1785). It opens with lines promoting reverence for “the Lord of Heaven,” a name for the Catholic God. The writer presents such reverence as a logical extension of a good Confucian’s submission to earthly authority, and suggests that it is a response that runs parallel to the observance of Confucian morality:

    Within a context of honoring Confucian ideals, the author introduces Ch’ŏnju, unseen but personal, supreme over even the king, and to whom primary loyalty is owed. Since the Confucian classics had little to say about the world of the spirit, this juxtaposition of earthly ethics with reverence to an unseen supreme becomes supplementary.

    Sŏnggyo yoji (The essentials of Holy Teaching) is also attributed to Yi Pyŏk, and a line at the beginning of the text says that he composed it after reading Tianxue chuhan,11 a Chinese compilation of Catholic texts published by Li Zhizhao (1565–1630) in 1629. Unlike “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga,” which was intended for a wide audience, Sŏnggyo yoji was composed in Chinese for an elite, scholarly audience. A condensed Korean-language version of the same, focusing on the main points presented in the original Sino-Korean version, appeared in about 1812.12 In the tradition of classical compositions, the text of the original is composed of passages of eight four-character phrases, followed by a short commentary elaborating on the meaning compressed in the eight-phrase passage. As with “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga,” the author of Sŏnggyo yoji attempts to integrate Catholic doctrine with motifs and themes from Confucian tradition. Christ is depicted as “equal among the three [the Trinity]” yet born into the “five human relations” of Confucian tradition.13 The author also describes the instance of Christ’s youthful exchange with the temple scholars within the framework of what would be expected of a Confucian sage: “In the flower of his years he went to the hall; in the gathering he received texts [scriptures], and came to agreements with the scholars. He certainly knew the principles and kept the days, rituals, and laws.”14 Christ is also depicted as the “dragon who lifted its head” to bring righteousness and order in an age of evil and corruption.15 In the final passage of the text, Christ’s wise instruction and position of authority is compared to that of the sage kings of ancient China, and he is depicted as a gentleman scholar in his teaching and admonishing, comparable to Zhong and Min (disciples of Confucius), as well as to Confucius and Mencius themselves.16 The text ends on a more pietistic note in the commentary by urging the reader to discern what is expected of a follower [of Christ] and to fear the eternal fire from which there is no salvation.17

    Sip Kyemyŏng-ga (A song of the Ten Commandments) appears to be the collaborative work of Chŏng Yakchŏn, Kwŏn Sanghak, and Yi Ch’ong’ŏk, all members of the first study group. It introduces and explains Catholic doctrine through an exposition of the Ten Commandments, and inserts phrases promoting allegiance to the Lord of Heaven. As Kim Insŏp notes, the writers also insert their own criticisms of the tendencies of their contemporaries:18

    Thus, knowing and believing in the Lord of Heaven is presented as rational, and reflective of the wisdom of the cosmos, a higher wisdom that is apparently lacking in those contemporaries who are preoccupied with superstition and insincere ritual. In other words, a follower of the Lord of Heaven would be a good Confucian. Furthermore, the choice of the Ten Commandments as a point of introduction also ties in with the Confucian emphasis on wise and proper action, whereas reference to the New Testament themes of God’s incarnation and the redemption of humanity through Jesus would require more of a leap into spiritual territory foreign to this-worldly Confucian scholars.

    Apart from the pieces collected in Manch’ŏn yugo, another early piece that reveals a Confucian moral code repositioned under the authority of the Lord of Heaven is Ryuhandang ŏnhaeng sillok (A record of the words of Ryuhandang), a transcription of admonitions attributed to Ryuhandang Kwŏn-ssi, the wife of Yi Pyŏk. The preface, which is said to have been written in the summer of 1795 by Kwŏn Ch’ŏlsin, Ryuhandang’s uncle and a member of the first study group, begins as follows:

    The first sentence draws from the Confucian model of the marriage relationship that compares the couple with heaven and earth. Traditionally, the man was equated with heaven and the woman with earth, and the hierarchy implied by this image was emphasized in the expectation that the wife would be subservient to her husband and regard him as her “heaven.” However, in the passage above, there is no further elaboration on the meaning of this comparison, and the next sentence immediately introduces the Catholic God (“Lord of Heaven”) as creating heaven and earth.

    This description of Creation draws from both Korean tradition and Catholic teaching. The depiction of heaven and earth being directly created while everything else comes into being afterward, with no further mention of direct creation, corresponds to Chinese and Korean creation myths in which the world begins with the creation or the opening of heaven and earth and everything else comes about indirectly. However, in Confucian tradition, the creation of the world was not attributed to a personal being or to the Sovereign on High, and the personal creators featured in pre-Confucian creation myths, such as Pangu, were not the eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God of Catholic teaching. Again, Confucian and Catholic ideas are juxtaposed.

    In the sentence immediately following, the suggestion that the five cardinal principles of Confucianism are derivative of the marriage relationship is not new per se; this derivation is found in a very similar passage in Xu Gua from the Book of Changes.22 However, this emphasis gives the marriage relationship a higher status than was customary in Chosŏn tradition.

    The remainder of the text, which consists of sayings attributed to Ryuhandang, is a series of instructions for women, ranging in topic from “Carrying Oneself ” to “Instructing One’s Daughter-in-Law.” The Confucian moral code of restraint and humility in manner and servitude toward husband and in-laws is strictly upheld, but the Lord of Heaven is introduced as the proper object of reverence, and as an authority on matters of proper living. In the section on Speaking, Ryuhandang instructs:

    Two other passages likewise present the Christian God as the originator of advice that might formerly have been attributed to ancient sages:

    Neutral references to ancestral rites and visits to ancestral shrines25 suggest that Church injunctions had not yet fully settled in to separate Catholics from certain customs central to the mores of Chosŏn society. One change is mentioned, however, in relation to the custom of making the bride wait three months to prove her worth before visiting her husband’s ancestral shrine: “But since the Lord of Heaven instructed us in everything, the rule has been changed to allow the bride to see the ancestral shrine after only three days.”26 Apart from such references to the authority of the Lord of Heaven, and the preeminence given to the marriage relationship in Kwŏn Ch’ŏlsin’s preface, the remainder of the text coincides with customary instructions to women.

    9Yi Ihwa. “Yi Sŭnghun kwan’gye munhŏn ŭi kŏmt’o: Manch’ŏn yugo rŭl chungsim ŭro (An examination of literature linked to Yi Sŭnghun: focusing on Manch’ŏn yugo),” Kyohoesa yŏn’gu Vol. 8. (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1992), 107.  10Yi Pyŏk, “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga,” Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2005), 14–16.  11Yi Pyŏk, Sŏngyo yoji, trans. Ha Sŏngnae (Sŏul: Sŏng Hwang Sŏktu Nuga Sŏwŏn, 1997), first page of facsimile of Chinese-character version in appendix (unpaginated).  12Ha Sŏngnae, introduction to Sŏngyo yoji (Sŏul: Sŏng Hwang Sŏktu Nuga Sŏwŏn, 1997), 15.  13Yi Pyŏk, Sŏngyo yoji, trans. Ha Sŏngnae (Sŏul: Sŏng Hwang Sŏktu Nuga Sŏwŏn, 1997), 45.  14Ibid.  15Ibid., 51.  16Ibid., 139.  17Ibid., 141.  18Kim Insŏp, Han’guk munhak kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo (Korean literature and Catholicism) (Sŏul: Pogosa, 2002), 48.  19Chŏng, Yakjŏn et al. Sip Kyemyŏng-ga in Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2005), 19.  20In this sentence, I have revised the translation I give in the published version by changing “After the creation of man and woman” to “After there was man and woman” to more closely reflect the wording of the original.  21Kwŏn Ryuhandang, “A Record of the Words of Ryu-Han-Dang,” trans. Deberniere Torrey, in A Dream of Yi Byeok, the Words of Ryu Han-Dang Gweonssi, Meditation on Life after Death, Translation Ser. of Korean Christian Classics, Ed. Jae-hyun Kim (Sŏul: Soongsil U Museum, 2007), 30–31.  22“Heaven and earth existing, all (material) things then got their existence. All (material) things having existence, afterwards there came male and female. From the existence of male and female there came afterwards husband and wife. From husband and wife there came father and son. From father and son there came ruler and minister. From ruler and minister there came high and low. When (the distinction of) high and low had existence, afterwards came the arrangements of propriety and righteousness.” Xu Gua v.30 in Book of Changes, trans. James Legge, Chinese Text Project, accessed January 30, 2012,  23Kwŏn Ryuhandang, “A Record of the Words of Ryu-Han-Dang,” trans. Deberniere Torrey, in A Dream of Yi Byeok, the Words of Ryu Han-Dang Gweonssi, Meditation on Life after Death, Translation Ser. of Korean Christian Classics, Ed. Jae-hyun Kim (Sŏul: Soongsil U Museum, 2007), 36–37.  24Ibid., 39.  25Ibid., 37, 41–42.  26Ibid., 42.


    Despite the efforts of these early Korean Catholics to present Catholicism as compatible with Confucianism, their observance of Catholic ritual required them to go against the state’s strict ritual requirements. In 1791, when Paul Yun Chich’ung burned his mother’s ancestral tablets in obedience to Rome’s injunction against ancestor rituals, he was tried and executed, and the Catholic movement split between those who wished to remain Confucian, and those who chose to side wholly with the Catholic Church. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the study of Catholicism had been banned by the state for several years, and the Catholic movement became alienated from mainstream Korean society. At this point, literature circulating among Korean Catholics consisted of expositions of biblical themes and church teaching, with little attention given to Confucian motifs.

    One of the most influential expository and didactic writings of the early Catholic movement was Chugyo yoji (The essentials of the Lord’s teaching), by Chŏng Yakchong, the younger brother of Chŏng Yakchŏn, one of the composers of Sip Kyemyŏng-ga mentioned above. Chŏng had been appointed by Zhou Wenmou, the Chinese priest secretly sent to Korea in 1794, to head a group of laypeople trained to present Catholic teaching to those outside the Church. Chŏng published Chugyo yoji in the early spring of 1801, soon after the persecutions had begun. Not long afterward, Chŏng was executed along with other Catholic leaders. Hwang Sayŏng, in his petition for help to the Bishop in Beijing, praised the accessibility of Chŏng’s work: “Chŏng Yakchong, in composing the two volumes of Chugyo yoji, drew from various books of holy teaching, added his own thoughts, and provided such clear explanations that even an ignorant woman or child, upon opening the book, would understand clearly.”27 Chugyo yoji is considered the first Korean catechism, and much of the content appears to be based on Shengshi churao, a Chinese catechism.28 Written in prose, the piece systematically works through a range of topics, with the first volume focusing on the existence of God, the attributes of God, the falseness of Daoism and Buddhism, the immortality of the soul, and the soul’s reward or punishment after death.29 The second volume presents the creation story, the theme of original sin, and the life and redemptive work of Christ, and it urges the reader to accept the Catholic faith.30 Although Confucianism is not criticized, as are Daoism and Buddhism, there is no reference to specifically Confucian principles.

    Several decades later, in 1839, Chŏng Hasang (1795–1839), the son of Chŏng Yakchong, wrote an appeal to the court to stop the persecution of Christians. In his appeal, Chŏng Hasang defends Catholicism and references Confucian sages and other Confucian motifs. However, this reference is less a demonstration of integration than part of an effort to argue for the legitimacy of Catholic teaching:

    Furthermore, he makes it very clear that, with all due respect to elders and to the king, Christians are bound to give their first loyalty to the Lord of Heaven—“Obeying the king’s command, however, yet disobeying the command of the Great King of heaven and earth is an incomparably greater sin”32—and to obey the Church even when it forbids the practice of ancestral sacrifices: “Hence, even at the cost of sinning against the nobility, we do not want to commit a sin against the Holy Catholic Church.”33 The argument was not enough to convince the authorities of the compatibility between Catholicism and official ideology, and Chŏng Hasang was put to death during the Kihae Persecution of 1839, along with over 100 other Catholics.

    Through much of the nineteenth century, while the Korean Church remained active in hiding, the kasa, a poem of any given length of couplets (usually in a 4-4 syllable pattern) that could be chanted or sung, became the preferred means of communicating Catholic sentiment and teaching. The growing body of these poems eventually gained their own classification as Ch’ŏnju kasa (Catholic kasa). Unlike the earlier poems, “Ch’ŏnju konggyŏng-ga” and Sip Kyemyŏng-ga, the great majority of these kasa focused on exclusively Catholic themes.

    From the number of versions in existence, it appears that the most widely read of these were “Samse tae ŭi” (The great meaning of three ages), by Min Kŭkka, and Sahyangga (A song of longing for home), usually attributed to Ch’oe Yangŏp, one of the two first Korean priests. The main theme of Sahyangga is the expectation of heaven, the soul’s true home, a theme that, no doubt, sustained the believers during times of persecution:

    Much of the poem also depicts the battle against evil that a believer must win in order to achieve heaven. The last lines of the poem admonish the believer to

    The Great Parent is, of course, God, with whom the suffering believer may finally find his or her true home. “Samse tae ŭi,” while encouraging the practice of church teaching, also emphasizes an eschatological faith. The topic of final reward and judgment leads into a long discussion of heaven and hell that fills the last third of the poem.36

    27Hwang Sayŏng, Paeksŏ (Silk letter), in Hwang Sayŏng Paeksŏ wa ibon (Hwang Sayŏng’s Silk Letter and its other versions), ed. Yŏ Chinch’ŏn (Sŏul: Kukhak Charyowŏn, 2009), lines 36–37.  28See Cho Hangŏn, “Chugyo yoji wa Hanyŏk Sŏhaksŏ wa ŭi kwan’gye (The relationship between Chugyo yoji and Korean-translated Western Learning Texts)” in Kyohoesa yŏn’gu Vol. 26 (Sŏul:Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2006), 5–74.  29Chŏng Yakchong, Chugyo yoji, in Sun’gyoja wa chŭngŏja tŭl, ed. Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1981), 10–39.  30Ibid., 39–70.  31Chŏng Hasang, “Sang-Chesang-sŏ,” trans. Won-Jae Hur in KIATS Theological Journal 1.2 (2005), 136. See also Chŏng Hasang, “Sang-Chesang-sŏ,” trans. Yun Mingu (Sŏul: Sŏng Hwang Sŏktu Nuga Sŏwŏn, 1999).  32Ibid., 144.  33Ibid., 147.  34Sahyang-ga in Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Hanguk Kyohoesa Yŏnguso, 2005), 27–28.  35Ibid., 58.  36Ibid. 82–89.


    In the early Catholic texts reviewed above, beginning with the first pieces that attempt to integrate Christianity and Confucianism, there are two critical points of divergence from the Neo-Confucian paradigm: primary allegiance shifts from parents, elders, and king to a transcendent God; and the human soul is seen as distinct and immortal. As indicated earlier, reverence and loyalty toward the Lord of Heaven is introduced in these pieces, the new idea being brought into the Confucian context by referring to God as the “Great Parent” or the “Great King.” Two central Confucian values—filial piety and loyalty to the sovereign—are not undermined per se, and filial piety is now noted as something commanded by God (“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”) (Exod. 20.12). However, these values are extended to heaven, their reference point thus shifting from the biological and the earthly to the transcendent.

    The Catholic idea of the soul is also introduced in the earliest works, and referred to repeatedly in subsequent writings. In Ch’ŏnju kongyŏngga Yi Pyŏk compares the existence of the soul with the residence of a person in his home, and of God in heaven. Further on he elaborates: “Though this body dies, the soul remains and lives forever” (15). Chŏng Yakchŏn’s Sip Kyemyŏng-ga focuses primarily on the Ten Commandments and does not discuss the soul, but it alludes to immortality when it states, “You will receive the bright light of his grace for all eternity.”37 In Chugyo yoji, Chŏng Yakchong’s widely-read, two-volume exposition of Catholic faith, two sections are devoted to the soul, followed by two sections discussing the afterlife. Chŏng explains the soul’s immortality as follows:

    In Sahyang-ga, the soul’s imaginative powers are referenced, and the soul is praised as marvelous:

    Furthermore, the wonder of the soul is presented as indicative of God’s divinity: “If the soul of each person is so marvelous, / How much more marvelous would be the all-powerful Lord of Heaven?”40

    In Sang Chesangsŏ, Chŏng Hasang’s aforementioned appeal written a generation later in 1839, he describes the human soul as spiritual and immortal, using terms of classification from Western Scholasticism:

    Again, not only is the immortality of the soul affirmed, but the soul is described in specific terms as distinct from the rest of creation by merit of its spiritual nature, which can reason, discern, and seek truth.

    37Chŏng, Yakjŏn et al. Sip Kyemyŏng-ga in Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2005), 19.  38Chŏng Yakjong, Jugyo yoji, in Sun’gyoja wa chŭngŏja tŭl, ed. Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1981), 32.  39Sahyang-ga in Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Hanguk Kyohoesa Yŏnguso, 2005), 48.  40Ibid.  41Chŏng Hasang, “Sang-Chesang-sŏ.” Trans. Yun Mingu. Sŏul: Sŏng Hwang Sŏkdu Nuga Sŏwŏn, 1999. 25–6.


    In contrast to the Neo-Confucian paradigm, according to which humans were part of a closed cosmic system articulated by moral and social boundaries based on biological and material phenomena, Catholicism introduced the idea of individual human identification with a realm that transcended the material world. In his discussion of Yun Chich’ung’s interrogation records mentioned earlier, Baker points out that Yun was arguing on the assumption that intellectual belief, not praxis, should be the basis of orthodoxy.42 This suggests that to the early Chosŏn Catholics the idea of faith was closer to what William C. Smith identifies as the modern understanding of “belief ”—credence in the factual truth of a propositional statement, rather than belief in the older sense of “trust.”43 In this discussion, therefore, “transcendent” and “spiritual” may be equated with “intellectual” in the sense of being associated with the human mind as distinct from the material world.

    Thus, for the Catholics, the reference point for establishing one’s identity shifted from the material to the intellectual. In a very real, social sense, this reorientation of identity was reflected in the new parameters of interpersonal association that developed within the Catholic community. The disruption of traditional familial and regional associations became one point of the government’s criticism toward the Catholic movement: “Even if it is one’s own father, son or brother, if he does not join the Catholic Church, one regards him as the enemy, whereas people from just anywhere, once they join the church, are regarded as flesh and blood.”44 Official complaints often exaggerated actual practices, but it is clear that identification with a spiritual, rather than a biological family was the basis of the class integration that occurred within the Catholic community.45

    In a sense, the Catholic believer’s new loyalties were an extension of the Confucian ideal of filial piety—after all, the Lord of Heaven was the Great Parent, and, most likely, such fierce allegiance in the face of torture and death was possible in part because the ideals of filial piety and loyalty had been ingrained in the Korean Catholics from an early age. Nonetheless, the shift was radical: to the Korean Catholic, the Great Parent belonged to the intellectual, rather than to the material world. Furthermore, that one’s personal relatedness to this transcendent Parent hinged not on predetermined biological or social relationships, but was dependent on one’s own choice to believe, implied that the individual was intellectually autonomous and no longer confined to a closed system.

    This shift might also be identified as a turn to a dualistic subjectivity of separation between the human intellect and the rest of the world. In the case of the Catholic texts examined here, this duality is balanced in favor of the transcendent side, with which the soul—as opposed to the body—is allied, as articulated in a line from Chŏng Yakchong’s Chugyo yoji: “The human soul is like that of the angels above, and the body is like that of the animals below.”46 Likewise, in Ch’oe Yangŏp’s Sahyang-ga, bodily pleasures are in opposition with spiritual health: “Though your body enjoys wealth, your soul is in poverty / Though you are dressed in finery, your soul is naked / Though tasty food fills your stomach, your soul is hungry . . . Flesh, you are the enemy, and the world is what I hate.”47 Thus, the dualism becomes further articulated into a dichotomy of soul/body and heaven/earth.

    42Donald L. Baker, “A Different Thread: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Catholicism in a Confucian World” in Culture and State in Late Chosŏn Korea. Ed. JaHyun Kim Haboush and Martina Deuchler (Cambridge: Harvard U Asia Center, 1999), 199–230.  43See William Cantwell Smith, Belief and History (Charlottesville: U of Virginia Press, 1977).  44Yi Kigyŏng, Pyŏgwip’yŏn (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1978), 288.  45See also Cho Kwang. Chosŏn hugi Ch’ŏnjugyosa yŏn’gu (Sŏul: Korea U Minjok Munhwa Yŏn’guso, 1988), 147.  46Chŏng Yakchong, Jugyoyoji, in Sun’gyoja wa chŭngŏja tŭl, ed. Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 1981), 33.  47Sahyang-ga in Kyoju Ch’ŏnju kasa, ed. Kim Yŏngsu (Sŏul: Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso, 2005), 55–56.


    The writings from the first decades of the Catholic movement in Korea reveal an integration of Catholic and Confucian themes. But as Korean Catholicism became more clearly bounded by Church regulations and banned by the Chosŏn state for not submitting to its rules on religious ritual, the alienation of Catholics from Chosŏn society was paralleled in Catholic literature by a growing emphasis on specifically Catholic, other-worldly themes, with little, if any, reference to Confucian motifs. In turn, these themes of the individual Catholic’s spiritual separateness from the world, themes that became more distinctly articulated in Catholic literature after the turn of the nineteenth century, further reinforced the Catholic movement’s position of disengagement.

    This article has addressed a topic that links to a separate discussion of factors that contributed to the manifestations of this subjectivity shift: the change in the Catholic movement’s political and social position. Further research in this vein would merit an exploration of additional contributing factors. One contributing factor would have been the increase in import of catechisms and other religiously instructional texts. Given that the first Catholic texts imported from the mission in China were apologetic in content with little, if any, discussion of Church rituals and regulations, individual piety, and the reward of heaven or hell, a syncretistic interpretation of Catholicism was the more natural outcome of the study of these earlier sources of Catholic teaching. However, the subsequent increase in specifically religious instruction, both through the import of literature and through the arrival of a priest, would certainly have molded the movement into a more exclusively Catholic form, which, naturally, would be reflected in its literature. Another factor that would have contributed to the evolution away from Confucian themes was the Catholic movement’s growth among the lower classes. By the late 1790s, since scholars no longer made up the main population of the Church, the need to appeal to philosophical inquiry diminished. Furthermore, given that the lower classes had little power to affect change in society at large and no expectation of their sufferings to diminish within the traditional system, it is possible that their main hope would have been to achieve spiritual empowerment and eternal life after death.

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