, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 219–230 | Cite as

François Noël’s Contribution to the Western Understanding of Chinese Thought: Taiji sive natura in the Philosophia sinica (1711)

  • Thierry Meynard


Jesuits in China adopted key Confucian terms to express Christian notions; for example, Tian 天 or Shangdi 上帝 was considered an equivalent for God, and guishen 鬼神 for angels. A Terms controversy started among the Jesuits and other missionaries and developed into the famous Rites Controversy. However, all the missionaries agreed in rejecting the Neo-Confucian concept of Taiji 太極, which was believed to be materialistic, pantheistic, or atheistic. The Flemish Jesuit François Noël (1651–1729), after a careful study of Neo-Confucian texts, interpreted Taiji with the Western concept of nature, and even claimed that it held theistic meaning. We shall analyze and evaluate here this early Western attempt in giving a positive meaning to Taiji.


Taiji 太極 Jesuits Spinoza Neo-Confucianism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aquinas. 2007. Summa Theologica, Vol. II, Part II, First Section. New York: Cosimo.Google Scholar
  2. Bodnar, Istvan, and Pierre Pellegrin. 2006. “Aristotle’s Physics and Cosmology.” In A Companion to Ancient Philosophy, edited by Mary Louise Gill and Pierre Pellegrin. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Ching, Julia. 2000. The Religious Thought of C hu Hsi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Fung, Yu-lan. 1976. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy: A Systematic Account of Chinese Thought from Its Origins to the Present Day. Edited by Derk Bodde. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  5. Longobardo, Niccolò. 1704. “A Short Answer Concerning the Controversies about Xang Ti…” In A Collection of Voyages and Travels, Some Now First Printed from Original Manuscripts, Others Translated Out of Foreign Languages and Now First Published in English, vol. 1. London: Awnsham.Google Scholar
  6. Malebranche, Nicolas. 1958. Œuvres complètes, vol. 15. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
  7. Meynard, Thierry. 2011a. The Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, The First Translation of the Confucian Classics. Rome: IHSI.Google Scholar
  8. ______. 2011b. “Chinese Buddhism and the Threat of Atheism in Seventeenth-Century Europe.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 31: 1–24.Google Scholar
  9. Mittelstrass, Jürgen. 1988. “Nature and Science in the Renaissance.” In Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Essays in Honour of Gerd Buchdahl. Edited by R. S. Woolhouse. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  10. Noël, François, 1711a. Sinensis Imperii Libri Classici Sex. Prague: Kamenicky.Google Scholar
  11. ______. 1711b. Philosophia sinica tribus tractatibus. Prague: Kamenicky.Google Scholar
  12. Perkins, Franklin. 2014. Leibniz and China: A Commerce of Light. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ricci, Matteo 利馬竇. 2016. The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven 天主實義. Rev. ed. by Thierry Meynard; trans. by Douglas Lancashire and Peter Hu Kuo-chen. Boston: Institute of Jesuit Sources, Boston College.Google Scholar
  14. Rule, Paul. 2003. “François Noël, S.J., and the Chinese Rites Controversy.” In The History of the Relations between the Low Countries and China in the Qing Era (1644–1911), edited by W. F. Vande Walle and Noël Golvers. Leuven: Leuven University Press/Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation.Google Scholar
  15. Spinoza, Benedict. Ethics. 1996. Trans. by Edwin Curley. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  16. Standaert, Nicolas. 2012. Chinese Voices in the Rites Controversy. Rome: IHSI.Google Scholar
  17. Vendé, Yves. 2017. “Hermeneutical Conflicts on Zhu Xi—Some Remarks about Late 19th Century Debate De Harlez and LE Gall.” Lumen: A Journal of Catholic Studies 5.2: 23–54.Google Scholar
  18. von Collani, Claudia. 2015. “François Noël and His Treatise on God in China.” In History of the Catholic Church in China: From Its Beginning to the Scheut Fathers and 20th Century. Unveiling Some Less Known Sources, Sounds and Pictures, edited by Ferdinand Verbiest Institute. Leuven: Ferdinand Verbiest Institute.Google Scholar
  19. Wang, Ge 王格. 2018. “Confucian-Christian Comprehensive Hermeneutics from Heaven to the Lord of Heaven; Analysis of the Discourse on the Confucian Notions of Heaven, Taiji and on the Lord of Heaven 從“天”到“天主”的儒耶會通詮釋——梵蒂岡所藏《論儒家之天 、太極與天主》析論. International Sinology 國際漢學. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  20. Wang, Robin. 2005. “Zhou Dunyi’s Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained (Taijitu shuo): A Construction of the Confucian Metaphysics.” Journal of the History of Ideas 66.3: 307–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Zhu, Xi 朱熹. 1986. Classified Conversations of Master Zhu 朱子語類. Edited by Li Jingde 黎靖德. Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations