Category Archives: History of China

Today in Catholic History – Ex Quo Singulari

On 11 July 1742, Pope Benedict XIV issued the bull Ex Quo Singulari which addressed the issues of Catholic missionary activity in China and the Chinese Rites Controversy.

Following the example of Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit missionaries in China sought to present the Catholic faith in a way more compatible to traditional Chinese practices so as to encourage conversions in that country. One particularly problematic aspect of the Jesuit method of evangelization was in regards to Chinese veneration of their ancestors. The Jesuits taught that the Chinese practice was compatible with Catholic belief because it was a social and not a religious ritual. However other missionaries in China such as the Franciscans and Dominicans argued that the Jesuits were not teaching the Catholic faith properly and appealed to the pope. The other missionary orders wanted to present a Catholic faith and practice which would be exactly the same as it was in the countries of Europe.

In Ex Quo Singulari, Benedict XIV sided with the Franciscans and Dominicans against the Jesuits and forbade any further discussion of the issue. Papal policy led to a marked decline in conversions in China and indeed the Chinese Emperor would tell a visiting papal delegate, “You destroyed your religion. You put in misery all Europeans living here in China. You desecrated the honor of all those, who died long ago.” The Emperor would also ban all Catholic missionary activity.

In 1939, Pius XII would reverse this policy to permit the veneration of deceased family members and the Catholic Church would again begin to flourish until the Chinese Communist revolution in 1949.

On the Chinese Rites Controversy