From Subjects to Citizens of the State and of God’s People: Frédéric-Vincent Lebbe (1877-1940) and the Project to Indigenize the Chinese Catholic Church in Republican China
Wong, Stephanie Marie
Phan, Peter C.
This dissertation investigates the indigenization project of the Catholic priest Frédéric-Vincent Lebbe (雷鳴遠) in Republican China. The early twentieth-century Catholic Church faced a crisis of witness in China: Missionary practice maintained the dominance of European powers even as Chinese Catholics sought to join their compatriots to build an independent and modern “New China.” Seeing a clash of interests between lingering foreign imperialism and rising domestic nationalism, Vincent Lebbe worked to indigenize Chinese Catholicism. First, within the Church, Lebbe opposed the French Religious Protectorate and the exclusivity of the European leadership over Chinese clergy. He promoted the case of Chinese ethno-national citizens to become bishops. Second, on the wider national stage, Lebbe promoted Chinese patriotism and rallied Catholics to contribute to the progress and defense their country. Catholics participated in the anti-Confucianism campaign of the 1910s and the Confucian New Life Movement of the Nationalist government in the 1930s. In Lebbe’s war-time service against Japan, he closely aligned the Chinese Church with the domestic ruling party-state. In these efforts to indigenize Chinese Catholicism, a key theological question was the nature of Chinese Catholic citizenship: how might Chinese Catholics might fulfill their civic and spiritual duties as members of both the Chinese nation and of the Kingdom of God? In my analysis, Lebbe’s work is best understood as a project to indigenize the Catholic Church at a time when to make the Church “Chinese” was to make it national. On the one hand, his vision did separate mission from the exercise of foreign power and it crucially secured the support of the Holy See for the indigenous episcopacy. On the other hand, Lebbe’s work did not involve a nuanced theological account of the relationship between mission and the domestic state, leaving largely untreated the question of how a fully indigenous Church might also remain a pilgrim Church seeking the heavenly kingdom of God. Concluding that indigenization must include but transcend nationalization, I suggest that Lebbe’s project partially indigenized Chinese Catholicism and inaugurated an ongoing effort to envision Chinese Catholic citizenship.
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