THE SOCIETY OF JESUS IN 1500s JAPAN

Lettere del Giappone dell’anno 1577. Scritte dalli reuerendi padri della Compagnia di Giesu

Rome, Francesco Zanetti, 1579.

£4,350

FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. 72. A-D8, E4. Roman letter. Small woodcut Jesuit device on title page small floriated woodcut initials, c19th Jesuit library stamp on blank margin of title page over earlier illegible stamp. Age yellowing, some browning, the odd marginal mark or stain, some corners a little rounded. A perfectly acceptable copy in modern limp vellum.

Rare first edition of these four important letters from the early period of the Jesuit Mission in Japan, the first by Luis Frois, the second by Father Organtino, the third by Giovanni Francesco Stephanoni, and the last by Francisco Cabral. Practically from the time of the arrival of Father Francis Xavier in Japan, the Jesuits produced an uninterrupted flow of manuscripts that included letters and reports, regularly sent to India and Europe. The Society of Jesus, aiming to publicize its activities, with a view to obtaining material and human resources, soon began to print expurgated versions of these letters, in collections that proved an enormous editorial success. Europe discovered the remote land of the Japanese with amazement and wonder from these letters.

The first and longest in this collection was composed by Luis Frois who had arrived in Japan in 1563 and whose stay there lasted over thirty years. Frois’ value for posterity lay not just in his evangelical work, but in his observant eye and gift for writing. He described the major sights in all the places he visited, and discusses the spiritual and religious background of Japanese culture. He had a natural curiosity and was a keen observer. He studied Buddhism quite extensively to better understand the objections of the priests against Catholicism. He wrote a most important history of the Jesuit mission in Japan that was not published in full until the c20th.

“In addition to the work of teaching his catechumens [Frois was] also intent upon the work of intensifying the religious life of those who had already been baptized. Great importance was attached to the greatest possible solemnity in the Church’s ceremonial… In this matter Frois was a faithful disciple of Vilela, who went in for large-scale adaption to local ceremonies and customs. Father Organtino, who later succeeded Father Frois as a pastor of Kyoto, also allowed the same policy with the result that the missionaries of the Kyoto area stood out as advocates of a far-reaching adaptation policy while those in the Kyushu area were more conservative… Frois was wide-awake to his surroundings… His graphic descriptions give us an excellent and realistic picture of Kyoto of his day… His letters are an almost inexhaustible source, not only for the history of missions, but also for almost all branches of Japanology.” Hubert Cieslik “Early Missionaries in Japan.”

A rare and important collection of Letters, from a most important period in Japanese history. Worldcat records three copies only.

BM STC It. c17th. p. 349. Cordier, Japonica p. 71.

L1578

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