Lettera annua di Giappone del 1603. Scritta dal p. Gabriel de Matos al r.p. Claudio Acquauiua generale della Compagnia di Giesu. Con vna della Cina e delle Molucche

Rome, Luigi Zannetti, 1605.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. Pp. 143, (i). A-18. Roman letter. Woodcut Jesuit device on title page, woodcut initial, ‘Collig Rom. Soc. Jesu. Catl. Inscript. Bibli. Card. Bellarm.’ in contemporary hand in blank margins oftitle page. Light age yellowing, some light browning in places. A good crisp copy, in old vellum, recased.

First edition of this important and rare set of letters from the Jesuit mission in Japan from 1603, including an important letter from the Moluccas and another concerning the missions in China, with the most appropriate provenance; from the library of the distinguished Jesuit theologian, writer, Cardinal, and Saint, Robert Bellarmine, 1542-1621. The letters from Japan are written or compiled by then superior of the Jesuit mission in Japan, Gabriel de Matos. They are of particular interest as they concern the period in Japan three years after the victory of Ieyasu at Sekigahara, in which there was tremendous political change as Ieyasu consolidated his power, rewarding all those who supported him at the battle and punishing those who opposed him, which often involved entire provinces changing allegiance. Ieyasu had been made Shogun by the Emperor that year, and the first signs of his future treatment and persecution of Christians was making itself felt.

These letters are also interesting in their recording of the arrival and establishment of the Dutch in Japan. There are letters from the Jesuit houses in Mura and Arima, a report from the Christian rulers of Fingo and Bungo, from Osaka and ‘Fuscimo,’ and the residencies of ‘Bungen’ and ‘Facata.’ This is followed by a most interesting letter from the spice lands of the Molucca’s by the Jesuit father Luigi Fernandez, which describes several skirmishes and a battle that lasted five hours with the ‘Heretic’ Dutch at the fort at ‘Tidor.’ The Dutch had arrived three years earlier and were attempting to break the Portuguese monopoly on the hugely valuable spice trade. It also includes descriptions of negotiations with local Princes who sought Portuguese aid in their inter-communal wars. The last section concerns letters from China reporting on the Residences at ‘Sciaucheo,’ ‘Nanchino,’ and ‘Pachino’ where father Matteo Ricci was residing.

Saint Roberto Bellarmino was born into a noble family in Montepulciano. In 1560, he joined the Jesuit order and began his studies at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit college in Rome. After studying Thomistic theology at the university of Padua, Bellarmine became the first Jesuit professor at the university of Louvain in 1569 and was ordained the following year. In 1576 he was called back to Rome by Pope Gregory XIII to teach theology to English and German missionaries at the Collegio Romano. He taught there until 1588, when he became its spiritual director, and served as rector from 1592. In 1599 he was made a cardinal.

Bellarmine spent much of his time in theological controversies, mostly involving papal power. He engaged in a war of books and pamphlets, concerning the divine right of kings with James I of England. In a time when cardinals maintained splendid courts, Bellarmine lived a simple and ascetic life, practicing self-sacrifice, poverty and disinterestedness. Upon the death of Pope Sixtus V in 1590, the Count of Olivares wrote to King Philip III of Spain about possible candidates for the papacy: “Bellarmine is beloved for his great goodness, but he is a scholar who lives only among books and not of much practical ability… He would not do for a Pope, for he is mindful only of the interests of the Church and is unresponsive to the reasons of princes… He would scruple to accept gifts… I suggest that we exert no action in his favor.” The process of canonization was begun in 1627. In 1931 Pope Pius XI declared Bellarmine a Doctor of the Church.

Not in BM STC It. C17th. Cordier, Japonica p. 249.


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