Organized Panel Session
This paper draws on the nineteenth-century manual of formation of local clergy, Công Đồng Tứ Xuyên (Synodo Sutchuense). It demonstrates that the concern over maintaining three forms of purity--cultural, doctrinal, and spiritual--led to two effects. First, it became the basic tenets of training for indigenous clergy; second, it served as the formative background for a group of Vietnamese Catholic national leaders. The hundred-page document has been considered a handbook of practical guides rather than a painstakingly thorough theological analysis of sacraments. It is not for general readership but is exclusively addressed to the local clergy.
In my analysis, the nineteenth-century document fortuitously shows an intriguing convergence of three European traditions of purity that emerged in early modern Europe then had a direct bearing on the strong prophetic characteristic of Vietnamese Catholicism. These traditions are (a) an Iberian fear of being contaminated by the non-Christian world; (b) a Tridentine apprehension of straying from simple and clear catechetical orthodoxy and ritual purity; and (c) a French dévot spirituality of distrust toward the secular world. The proclivity toward a puritanical stance endowed Vietnamese converts with a sense of moral superiority and an inner strength, so that they could withstand the long history of on-again, off-again persecution. This prophetic mindset, however, also encouraged an anti-intellectual atmosphere and stifled the ability of the local Church to engage fully with the society at large.