Chapter V - Reconciliation And Union Through A Contemporary Chinese Christology

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Division is shameful in the eyes of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) who hold an independent view, but it is also a challenge to the (OC).  Some patriotic members and local officials have to share the blame for this division.  While the faithful and clergy of the Open Church (OC) welcome and respond positively to the pope's call for reconciliation which is advantageous to themselves, the leaders of the Underground Church (UC) are concerned about being forsaken in the new Sino-Vatican relationship and propose severe conditions for reconciliation with the CCPA and the OC.  The significant challenge to the CCPA and Chinese Communist Government (CCG) is that there is a dissident voice arising from the UC, which is regarded as a nonpeaceful element by the CCG.  Most of the time the CCG treats the UC in an unfriendly manner.  As a result the CCG is often accused by the UC as well as international human rights organizations for religious persecution underground clergy and faithful.  Complaints from the UC and pressures from the international community often make the CCG or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lose face and give them a bad reputation in international circles.  Meanwhile the division is an open sore for the Vatican, an embarrassment to its China policy with its well-known series of exemptions, and an obvious obstacle Sino-Vatican relationships.  It is a fact that the CCPA tried to "break away" from the Vatican while the UC showed their loyalty to the Holy See.  But the radical actions of the UC is a real worry for Church authorities.

Division is a disaster to the Catholic Church in China (CCC).  It causes wounds and endless debates among Chinese Catholics as well as among others concerned.  Today, most Chinese Catholics seek full communion with the Holy See, but the issue still remains that both the OC and UC cannot come together as one.  Therefore, reconciliation is a pressing matter at the moment for everyone.  Most people from the OC hold a mild and positive attitude towards reconciliation.  Meanwhile some from the UC request repentance from the CCPA and the OC.  The pope prays and tirelessly calls for reconciliation through forgiveness and understanding and brotherhood in Christ; while the CCG pursues a policy of "uniting the great majority" and "carrying out general control" toward the CCC, particularly the UC.

In a Christian understanding of reconciliation, it is God who initiates and brings about reconciliation.  The new narrative that overcomes the narrative of the lie is the story of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice.  Reconciliation makes both victim and oppressor a new creation. It is a multidimensional reality and it is more a spirituality than a strategy.

The division in China shows that there is a lack of harmony in the CCC.  History reveals that the indirect cause of the inescapable dilemma of the CCC comes from the different ideologies and the heavy influence of pre-Vatican teaching regarding atheistic communism.  In fact, the CCC is not only a victim of Sino-Vatican conflicts which are a direct cause, but also of the struggles between the CCP and  Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP) and of Western anticommunism which has had a close relationship with Christianity.  Thus the strong conflict between the CCG and CCC as well as the Vatican is a political issue marked by misunderstanding and hostility.

The big obstacle, between the parties involved, hostility must be first removed.  Only then will reconciliation be possible.  For Chinese Catholics, the administrative division of old and new dioceses and the debates with regard to legal or illegal bishops have become quite confusing.  Many of the Church authorities and scholars are very concerned about Chinese bishops' legality, but many of the Chinese faithful do not care about who is legal or not.  Some may never be able to comprehend what a legal or illegal bishop is all about.  The most important matter for the folk is to have peaceful opportunities to worship God, receive or administer the sacraments, and practice their faith every day in public.  Canonical thinking and the confused division of the old and new dioceses should be taken into consideration by Church authorities in making new policies, while some of the contentious exemptions which are not needed should be retracted by the Vatican.  Meanwhile the CCPA, which cannot function as a stable "bridge" now, should perhaps be replaced by a new organization which can serve as an effective "bridge" between the Church and State in the new period.  The Sino-Vatican relationship is the most important relationship for both the CCC and CCG.  To restore their relationship by removing key obstacles, which cause the diplomatic impasse, is absolutely necessary.

There are two common starting points for reconciliation: Chinese cultural heritage and faith in Jesus. Both are fitting for all involved parties, including the Chinese Catholic diaspora, foreign missionaries as well as church authorities, particularly the UC and the OC.  Besides political, canonical, and diplomatic conflicts, discordance between Chinese culture and Graeco-Roman tradition is another key cause for the division.

In general, Chinese culture is a blessing in bringing about unity as well as reconciliation.  China with its great culture often integrates other groups into its own cultural heritage.  Many people from different cultures such as the Mongols, Manchus, and even Jews were acculturized and absorbed, and eventually became Chinese.  When Christianity, a religion which has an exclusive religious doctrine, encounters the Chinese culture, an unbending and exclusive culture, the latter becomes a great challenge to the former.  Church authorities should be aware of this challenge in the context of reconciliation and evangelization.  Differences between the Chinese and Western European culture also need to be brought to our attention.

There are differences between these two cultures and traditions.  For instance,there is basic difference in the way of thinking: Chinese are more concerned with concrete relationships, concepts come second, and psychical experience last; whilst for Westerners  concepts come first, concrete relationships come second, and last comes psychical experience.  As a result there are also differences in their approaches to justice and human relationships.  It should be note, however, that human relationships, in a sense, are more important than justice or law in family life as well as in a Christian community. Although justice and law are certainly and absolutely necessary in secular society, relations of brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ are more important than justice and law for a Christian family or community.

There is also a difference in attitude to law between the Chinese and the Western European.  For Westerners, one is free to do anything unless the law clearly forbids it, but for the Chinese, one is free to do something only if the law permits it.  This way of interpreting the law plays an important role in the cause of the division.  Thus to ordain bishops and priests with Vatican permission even without their formal training, is quite acceptable for most underground bishops who understand and interpret exemptions in a Chinese way.  Thus when we blame those bishops for abusing privileges by ordaining incompetent clergy, we should also question Church authorities and exemption makers. Should they not also share some responsibility for the division?

With regard to the Christological-ecclesiological aspect of division and reconciliation, we know that a Jesus-centered understanding of the Church has not yet been developed.  It is a Church-centered approach which dominates the CCC.  The old image of Jesus as a strict judge or an angry God is still quite strong in the minds of Chinese faithful who are often afraid of committing sins and fearfully concerned about their salvation.  The new (and really biblical) image of Jesus is that he is the incarnation of a compassionate God which the Chinese ren gives witness to.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is very sad because of the division among his disciples.  He prays intensely for unity, "that they may be one just as you and I are one" (Jn. 17: 11).  Here unity is especially stressed by Jesus.  All Christians need to realize that faith brings them into a real spiritual unity that exists between Jesus, the Father, and the present brotherhood/sisterhood. In this unity of brothers and sisters, a human community on earth, there is a real relationship of unity and love with Jesus and the Father.  Heaven and earth are, as it were, linked in this community. Jesus gives us two kinds of unity in love: first, the Father and Son reciprocally love each other so that they are one, and secondly the disciples should also love one another and become one.  The second unity envisioned is a unity in self-sacrificing love (Jn. 17: 21) which is similar to the love of the Father and Son.

As reconciliation and unity are like twin brothers, Christians are commanded by Jesus to be reconciled to one another first, before going to worship and offer their gift to God (Mt. 5: 24).  Thus reconciliation becomes the mission of the Church.  Vatican II gives wise guidance for the Christians' attitude toward reconciliation, dialogue, and unity with other religions (Unitatis Redintegration 4 & 5).  The CCC would do well to share in this attitude.

The theological methodology of this study follows a process of a mutual, respectful, and critical interaction between our present-day experiences and the Judaeo-Christian tradition.  We started our study from issues, conflicts, and concerns in chapters 1 and 2, then we moved onto the cultural and theological reflections in chapter 3.  We focused on the Judaeo-Christian faith heritage in chapter 4.  The theological reflection in this study centers on Christology, but it touches on others areas of theology and culture as well. Chinese culture and faith in Jesus must be merged.

The primary importance of human relationships is common ground for both Chinese and Judaeo-Christian tradition.  We discovered that in both the relationships function of comes first.  The role of law comes second.  We need to emphasize relationships, especially in the family and in the Christian community, where there should be a strong sense of brotherhood/sisterhood.  "I am your God, you are my people": this covenant reveals the intimate relationship between God and David's descendants.  It is an agreement expressing God's unconditional commitment and love to his people.

There are two kinds of covenants: unconditional and conditional.  For instance, the covenants between God and the people made through Noah, Abraham, and David are unconditional; while the covenant made through Moses at Sinai is clearly conditional.  From the conditional covenant or conditional relationship, "the law" emerges and takes concrete shape.  Obviously the unconditional covenant or relationship challenges the law.  Similarly, the law has its limitations and this is amply made known in Jewish history.  Observing the law is needed but the danger is that overemphasis on law that can easily fall into the trap of legalism. In Judaeo-Christian tradition, the history of humankind is the history of the relationship between God and human beings and where relationships should take priority over law.

Jesus, a model reconciler, always works and reconciles through concrete human relationships in his entire ministry of salvation.  Through relationships Jesus starts his  mission to the disciples whom he regards as his brothers, sisters, and friends.  With compassion and trust he restores to sinners their human dignity and then offers them opportunities to change their life.  In doing so, he reconciles us to the Father and to one another.  His is a reconciling compassion and his way of reconciling is through compassion.  His attitudes towards relationships, law, political power, sinners, outcasts are a key motivating power for Christians, especially for Chinese Christians in search of reconciliation in China today.

The God of Jesus is a totally compassionate God who is the Lord as well as friend of humankind.  In the relationship that is established, Jesus trusts even sinners and at times even entrusts them with a mission.  Jesus's approach toward sinners would be of great help in teaching the UC and OC to trust and approach each other and work toward their own reconciliation.  Jesus always stands on the side of those who are simple but open to God, and even those who are ignorant of the law.  The simple people find security in Jesus, whilst for religious leaders it is the law.  Thus, the law becomes an obstacle for them to approach God.  Similarly, the overemphasis on legalism with regards to bishops in China becomes an obstacle for reconciliation between the UC and OC.

Jesus is neither a political figure nor an apolitical one.  The Gospels have not  revealed to us Jesus's political attitude clearly.  It is a fact that the evangelists and the early Church have made Jesus an apolitical figure in order to deter persecutions.  However, Jesus's words and deeds tend to shun involvement in political struggles (Mt. 14: 10-14; Mk. 10: 37).  He neither incites people to begin a revolution as many politicians do nor does he show any interest in politics.  His concerns are the proclamation of the kingdom and the well-being of those who are oppressed and marginalized which have implications wider than the political.  Thus, Christians should determine their attitude toward the political situation in the light of faith for their own times.

Jesus, the model reconciler,  is our mediator between God and people. Jesus's work of reconciliation can be seen from the perspective of God as creator or from that of the man/woman created.  The three elements in the reconciliation process are: (1) love as the unifying force, where the sole mediator between God and humanity becomes in reality the bridge that joins the life and love of the Father to his very own children; (2) concern for the needs of the one created: Jesus has brought out the full meaning of this in his concern for the needs of all peoples; (3) self-sacrifice: Jesus has brought his life to a climactic conclusion, and by offering his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world he has used his own death as a means of restoring the broken relationship between God and humanity and seals this new covenant of reconciliation with his own blood.  All Catholics from the UC and OC must reflect on Jesus's concern for reconciliation.

While China's economy is making dramatic progress, we must first of all work to help lessen the ever widening gap between the rich and poor.  Secondly, as China is a developing country and is still very poor, both the OC and UC must support each other and unite in their common concern to serve society.  The CCC cannot be an inward-looking Church if it is to leaven the new developments in the Chinese society.  Reconciliation is imperative if the CCC is to be a genuine sacrament of the Kingdom.  If we as Church follow in the footsteps of Jesus in his spirit and teaching, then reconciliation will come about and mission will be carried out effectively.

For Chinese Catholics, Confucius and Jesus Christ have something in common.  The compassion of Jesus is very similar to the Chinese ren.  However, the Chinese culture like that of the ancient Israelites still has some limitations.  It displays a narrow-minded approach with regard to some aspects of God's compassion and unconditional love.  Thus, the loving kindness of Jesus as a complement to ren may purify and perfect the Chinese culture, while the great Chinese culture with its value of ren will be able to contribute its richness to the universal church.


Since the encounter of Christianity with the Chinese culture, which took place in the sixteenth century, there has been a lot of struggle and conflict between the Christian faith garbed in Graeco-Roman-Christian tradition and the Chinese culture, as well as between the Church and state.  The Chinese Rites Controversy among the missionaries and in European society had brought the CCC to its lowest point.  After the Opium War between China and Western union countries in 1840, Christianity came back to China and developed, furthered by many unfair treaties unfair to China.  As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Christianity came to be regarded as yangjiao (alien religion) for more than a century by most Chinese who disliked or even detested it.  When foreign influence and support disappeared from China in the 1950s, which was a very difficult decade for all, Chines Christians became confused and found it hard to face and deal with the new political situation and relations with the CCP/G.  Today more than thirty years of conflict and persecution, it is not surprising that division has resulted in China.  Indeed the contemporary division may be just a continuation of the historical disharmony between the Church and the Chinese state; and between Western Christian tradition and Chinese culture.

In today's China waves of reforms are rapidly taking place. Both economic and political reforms are developing every day, but it seems that many from the CCC still retain their attitudes of the 1950s or even 1960s.  First, some members of the CCPA occupy central positions of leadership in the OC, yet their words and deeds are often unconsciously influenced by the 1950s.  Some others who have made mistakes are not at all repentant, and worse, they sometimes even stand in the way of the normalization of Sino-Vatican relations.  Foreseeably, they will no longer enjoy significant positions of leadership in the CCC of the future.  For some of them, everything depends on political power.  The division demands that the CCG as well as CCPA initiate a timely reform for the CCC, particularly the CCPA.  A proper and necessary reform, in accordance with development of Chinese society, may help the CCG to solve the issue of the UC and help unite all Chinese Catholics for the country.

Secondly, in contrast, many from the UC are, understandably but unfortunately, still prisoners of their past experience of suffering.  They bear the historical weight of the past in their memories even though they live in society today.  They are unable to forgive those sinners who denied the faith or helped the CCG during the time of persecution.  Neither can they forget the past.  But they should be open to the possibility that something which they may have deemed to have been right in the past, could perhaps be wrong today.  Thus, do not both the OC and UC truly need Jesus's liberation and redemption?

Thirdly, members from the CCPA and OC and a few radical members of the UC today, especially, those who had made mistakes, must conform to the demands of the times, namely, work toward reconciliation.  Every person or party should strive to support, rather than hinder, the efforts of bringing about a new Sino-Vatican diplomatic relationship.

For the CCG, a new policy and method of handling the Catholic issue should be reformulated.  The old policy, featuring detention and arrest, has been proven ineffective in solving the problem.  Rather, it only gave more troubles to the CCG itself in international relations.  It should be reexamined and suspended.  People may then expect a new effective and acceptable policy regarding religious disharmony, particularly conflict with the UC.  I believe that dialogue and cooperation are "a must."  Allowing the CCC to become a true apostolic and independent Church which has full communion with the universal Church, particularly the Holy See, should be the key objective of the CCG in its efforts to solve the problem of the UC.  For the CCC, being independent would entail not only independence from imperialism, but also from any political power, be it that of the government or the Vatican.  The CCC should likewise be allowed, and it also ought to learn, to be more self-reliant in developing itself today.

Paying too much attention to division and putting great efforts in debating are neither in accordance with the development of China, nor with Jesus's main concerns in his ministry of salvation.  Jesus's concern for the kingdom and the marginalized, and the rapidly changing but challenging situation of China, must be of primary concern for the entire CCC.  To let the CCC become a true local Chinese Church at the service of the kingdom is the task of the Vatican as well as those who are involved in the China mission.

The Vatican for its part will have to face the fact that the exemptions have caused some problems for the CCC.  It will need to consider the public suspension of these  exemptions for the CCC, which will be significant for the CCC and a good sign for restoring Sino-Vatican relations although a disappointment for the UC.  Moreover, the Vatican must be willing to face the new situation in China, for example, of the old and new dioceses.  When most of the OC's clergy and Catholics pray for and also seek full communion with the Holy See, is Rome's decree of no "communicatio in sacris" still significant for many of them?  The official Roman Curia's publications shows that the Vatican only recognizes the old dioceses which were allotted before 1949.  According to the private sources, Roman authorities, such as the delegate of the Holy See, still emphasize the recognition of the old dioceses.  Should Church authorities not do something to at least prepare the way for the future administrative division of dioceses with the CCG in China?  Many Chinese Catholics have become accustomed with the present setup of dioceses.  Some even cannot understand or do not care about the administrative division of dioceses.  What they care about and desire is a peaceful religious life with freedom.  If the CCG keeps the present dioceses, while the Vatican consistently insists on having the old dioceses, the situation will get progressively worse for the CCC and the already confused faithful.  Unity will be very hard to achieve.  Whatever happens, the Chinese Catholics' expectation of a peaceful religious life should be taken into consideration by all parties.

After reviewing and studying the relevant literature, we discussed the various responses from each of the parties regarding division and reconciliation.  These revealed developments, problems, and tendencies.  Then we probed into the essence of the political, canonical, and diplomatic impasse and attempted to find causes and point to obstacles standing on the road to reconciliation.  In examining the efforts required for reconciliation to happen, we also look into the cultural and Christological aspects of the issue.

One the one hand, a difference between Christian tradition, dressed in Western garb, and Chinese culture is an important cause of division and slows down the process of reconciliation.  On the other hand, a Church-oriented Christology and an outdated image of God aggravate division and render reconciliation difficult.  Therefore, a truly Jesus-centered Christology must replace the Church-centered one.  Jesus is the model for dealing with the division and political struggles as well as for working towards reconciliation through relationships.  Thus, we focus on Jesus, who is the compassionate God-for-us and who always works through relationships.  He is the model reconciler from whom we learn how to relate to law, political power, and public sinners, the poor and the marginalized.  His is the attitude we aspire to.  He is central to our concern for reconciliation.

In society, to seek justice through law is absolutely essential and needed for everyone, including the Chinese, but many a time we cannot seek justice and solve  issues relating to our parents or brothers or sisters by simply acting according to the law.  In the same way, we cannot overemphasize the legality of bishops according to canon law in the Chinese Christian community.  For a Christian community as a social organization, canon law is necessary, but when the Christian community is regarded by most people as a big family, canon law may not function as intended and may even destroy relationships within the family.  By contrast, close relationships of love and sacrifice are more important than law.  For Chinese the intimate relationship of parent-children or, brothers and sisters is a key means in solving most family disputes.  This holds true for a Chinese Christian family or a community and even the CCC, particularly in seeking reconciliation.

Finally, there is still another issue which challenges Chinese Catholics, that of theology within the Chinese context.  How should they study and practice Christology in Chinese circles?  Their culture has yet to contribute insight and expression to Christianity.  Utilizing the Chinese culture to do theology requires a critical posture towards this same culture for no culture is perfect.  But we should take care not to simply use the Western local church or Western theology as the standard for theologizing instead of the Gospel.  Furthermore we should neither let Chinese culture "capture" Jesus, nor let Graeco-Roman Christian tradition "imprison" the Gospel.  Rather, we should combine the strong points of the Chinese culture with those of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and let Jesus become Chinese.  In this way our articulation of Jesus the reconciler will not only be faithful to the Gospel, but also authentically Chinese.


There are two general areas for further study suggested in this work:

First is the reconciliation in general between the Chinese culture and Judaeo- Christian Tradition.  In a way the issues related to the Chinese Rites Controversy need to be taken up again, particularly inculturation.  Not only are there difficult differences between the Western and Chinese cultures, but there has also been a clash between the two cultures in Chinese Christian history.  Chinese Catholics were hurt by the imposition of Western culture upon the CCC.  Reconciliation between the two cultures should prove fruitful for the CCC.

Second is the reconciliation between the state and the Church.  There have been a lot of struggles and conflicts between the CCG and the Catholic Church, including the CCC and the Holy See as well as Vatican. Historical misunderstanding, mistrust, and even hostility still block the way toward normal diplomatic relationship. Mutual respect, understanding, and dialogue will aid both Beijing and the Vatican in seeking harmonious association and exchange.  Research into the ecclesiological issues at stake as well as theological implications for the future will be worth the effort.

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