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Missionaries, Language, and Literature of Tibet



Tibet, Missionaries, Language, and Literature of.—The missionaries of Tibet were the first Tibetan scholars. The Jesuit Hippolito Desideri laid the foundation of Christian Tibetan literature by the composition (1716-21) of two apologetic works, one against the erroneous belief that everybody could be saved by his own religion, the other against transmigration of souls. The Capuchin Francesco Orazio della Penna (b. 1681: d. at Patan in Nepal. 1745) translated into Tibetan for the neophytes Cardinal Bellarmine's "Christian Doctrine" and Thurlot's "Treasure of Christian Doctrine". He compiled with the assistance of his confreres the first Tibetan dictionary, containing 35,000 words in Tibetan characters with corresponding Italian translation. He also translated from Tibetan into Italian "History of the life and works of Shakiatuba, the restorer of Lamaism", "Three roads leading to perfection", "On transmigration and prayer to God" ("Anal. Ord. Cap.", VI, Rome, 1890, 349). These were the first translations made from Tibetan or from any Indian language into a European language. All remained unpublished, unless the Tibetan-Italian Dictionary "executed by some Roman missionary and collected and arranged by F. C. G. Schroeter of the (Protestant) Church Missionary Society and edited by J. Marshman of the Baptist Missionary Society at Serampore (India) in 1826, consisting of nearly 500 quarto pages" (Bagster, "Bible of Every Land", London, 1851, p. 17 sq.) is the aforementioned work compiled by the Capuchin Fathers. The first printed dictionary and grammar of the Tibetan language is the "Alphabetum Tibetanum missionum apostolicarum commodo editum" (Rome, 1762) by the Italian Augustinian Antonio Agostino Giorgi (d. 1797; cf. Cath. Encycl., VII, 285; Heimbucher, "Orden u. Congregationen", II, Paderborn, 1907, p. 202). "Much valuable information derived from notes and letters written by the Jesuit and Capuchin Fathers in Tibet is found in this work" (Rockhill, "Journey through Mongolia and Tibet",' Washington, 1894, p X, note). The origin of Tibetan studies among Europeans, generally accorded to the Hungarian savant Cosma de Koros (d. 1842), must be given to the Catholic missionaries and, above all, to the Augustinian Giorgi. For a century after his time this study was cultivated only by some European scholars and a few Protestant missionaries, but their works, especially the Tibetan translation of the Bible by Protestant missionaries, owe much to the researches of the older Catholic missionaries. The zealous priests of the Foreign Missions, especially Renou (d. 1863) and Desgodins, took up the work of their predecessors.

J. M. Lenhart.








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