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Catholic Christianity in Global Context


The era of reform and renewal in the Catholic Church, symbolised by the Council of Trent, coincided with a period of increased European expansion overseas. As travellers and traders started to venture out of Europe, European Christians came into contact with people who held very different views of the world and its origins, and the morals and spirits that governed the world as they knew it. This presented missionaries with exciting opportunities for 'conversion', but it also posed serious questions for Christians, especially when it seemed impossible to find evidence for the existence of these figures in the Bible, the book that was believed to contain all knowledge. This week, we consider how encounters between European Catholic Christians and non-Christian 'others' took place, and how both sides were affected by the experience.



  • In what ways and to what extent was the Catholic Reformation a global phenomenon?
  • Why was Asia important for European Christians?
  • How and why did some Chinese and Japanese become Christians?



‘I cannot do otherwise’ by Yang Guangxian, Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 151-152. (See module Talis Aspire page for text).

Questions about the source:

  • who was Yang Guangxian? (Have a look at his short biographyLink opens in a new window on Wikipedia). What strikes you about his family background?
  • why would Yang be critical of the Jesuits and their presence at the imperial court?
  • on what grounds does Yang criticize Christianity?



Ditchfield, Simon, ‘Catholic Reformation and Renewal’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (Oxford, 2015), 154-85



Alberts, Tara, ‘Catholic Missions to Asia’, in Alexandra Bamji et al. (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation (2013) (ebook), ch. 7

Bireley, Robert, The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation (1999) (ebook), ch. 7: 'Evangelization Beyond Europe', pp. 147-74

Gerritsen, Anne, Kevin Gould and Peter Marshall, ‘The long Reformation – Catholic’, in Beat Kümin (ed.), The European World (3rd ed, 2018), 124-34

Hsia, Ronald Chia-po, Matteo Ricci and the Catholic Mission to China, 1583-1610: A Short History with Documents. 2016, p. 1-40.

Hsia, Ronald Po. Chia, The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540-1770 (1998), chs 11 and 12



Alberts, Tara, Conflict and Conversion: Catholicism in Southeast Asia, 1500-1700 (2013), esp chs. 1, 4, 5, 7

Bamji, Alexandra, et al. (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation (2013) (ebook), esp. chs 1, 8, 9, 23

Bauer, Stefan, The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform (2020) (ebook)

Bauer, Stefan, The Art of Disagreeing Badly: Religious Dispute in Early Modern Europe (I-II) (online exhibitions)

Bauer, Stefan (ed.), The Uses of History in Religious Controversies from Erasmus to Baronio, special issue of Renaissance Studies, 35 (2021) no. 1

Bireley, R., The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation (1999) (ebook)

Bossy, John, ‘The Counter Reformation and the people of Catholic Europe’, Past and Present, 47 (1970)

Cooper, Michael. They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640. Ann Arbor (MI: The University of Michigan, Center for Japanese studies, 1996)

Cooper, Michael. Japanese Mission to Europe, 1582-1590: The Journey of Four Samurai Boys Through Portugal, Spain and Italy (Folkestone, 2005).

DuBois, Thomas David, Religion and the making of modern east Asia (Cambridge, 2011)

Hsia, R. Po. Chia, The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540-1770 (1998) (digital scan of ch. 1 ‘The Council of Trent’ available here)

Laven, Mary. Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East (London, 2012)

Lindenfeld, David. World Christianity and World Indigenous Experience: A Global History, 1500 - 2000 (Cambridge, 2021)

Luebke, David M. (ed.), The Counter-Reformation: Essential Readings (1999), esp. chs. 1, 4

Miola, R., Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary Sources (2007) (ebook)

Mullett, M., The Catholic Reformation (1999) (ebook), esp. chs 2, 3, 5, 6

Reichle, Natasha, M A. J. Üçerler, Theodore N. Foss, and Mark S. Mir. China at the Center: Ricci and Verbiest World Maps (2016)

Thornton, J., ‘The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491–1750‘, The Journal of African History, 25 (1984), 147–67

Yu Liu. ‘The True Pioneer of the Jesuit China Mission: Michele Ruggieri’, History of Religions, 50/4 (2001): 362-383.


The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent

Extracts from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola

Jesuit Historiography Online

The Western Encounter with China, Exhibition, McGill University

The USF Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History A 90-minute video on the ‘Matteo Ricci: His Map and Music’ project, providing context for the work accomplished with the Ricci Institute, University of San Francisco.

Handbook of Christianity in Japan (e-resource)