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Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

Charles Keith
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 333
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  • Book Info
    Catholic Vietnam
    Book Description:

    In this important new study, Charles Keith explores the complex position of the Catholic Church in modern Vietnamese history. By demonstrating how French colonial rule allowed for the transformation of Catholic missions in Vietnam into broad and powerful economic and institutional structures, Keith discovers the ways race defined ecclesiastical and cultural prestige and control of resources and institutional authority. This, along with colonial rule itself, created a culture of religious life in which relationships between Vietnamese Catholics and European missionaries were less equal and more fractious than ever before. However, the colonial era also brought unprecedented ties between Vietnam and the transnational institutions and culture of global Catholicism, as Vatican reforms to create an independent national Church helped Vietnamese Catholics to reimagine and redefine their relationships to both missionary Catholicism and to colonial rule itself. Much like the myriad revolutionary ideologies and struggles in the name of the Vietnamese nation, this revolution in Vietnamese Catholic life was ultimately ambiguous, even contradictory: it established the foundations for an independent national Church, but it also polarized the place of the new Church in post-colonial Vietnamese politics and society and produced deep divisions between Vietnamese Catholics themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95382-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Christopher Goscha and Fredrik Logevall

    Scholarship on the history of Catholicism in Vietnam has experienced a renewal since the end of the Cold War and the social and economic transformations of the market reform era in Vietnam. Over the last two decades, a growing number of scholars have provided nuanced accounts of Catholicism from its arrival in Vietnam in the seventeenth century to the present day. Missing in this new historiography, however, has been one very important period, arguably the most important one, namely the transition during the colonial period from a foreign-administered mission to an independent national Church. With his new bookCatholic Vietnam,...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Hands bound, necks yoked, three Vietnamese Catholic priests stand surrounded by police, eyes averted, waiting to be photographed (fig. 1). They have just emerged from 33 rue Lagrandière, the central prison of Saigon. After the picture is taken, they embark with their minders onto a waiting steamship. Their destination is the notorious French prison on Poulo Condore, an island off the coast of Cochinchina.

    On the day this picture was taken, October 18, 1909, French colonial authorities had just convicted the three priests of numerous crimes. For more than a year, Nguyễn Thần Đồng, Nguyễn Văn Tường, and Đậu Quang...

  7. 1 A Church between the Nguyễn and the French
    (pp. 18-54)

    At the end of the Sino-French War, the beginning of French control over all Vietnamese territories, about seven hundred thousand Catholics made up roughly 6 to 7 percent of Vietnam’s population. About three-quarters lived in the Red River Delta in Tonkin, modern-day northern Vietnam and the historical heartland of Vietnamese Catholicism. Most of these lived in a small area spanning the modern provinces of Nam Định, Ninh Bình, and Hải Dương and in the ancient capital of Hanoi. In the central region of Annam, most of the roughly one hundred thousand Catholics lived in the provinces of Nghệ An and...

  8. 2 A Colonial Church Divided
    (pp. 55-87)

    In December 1909, a petition from forty-five Catholics from Công Khế in Hà Đông province came to the attention of a local French official. “In the past, our hamlet was rich,” it read; “after becoming Catholic, we were forced to undertake heavy burdens. Pagodas and sacred objects belonging to individuals and to the village were taken away to benefit the Church. . . . During the harvest we were forced to work in the fields. . . . Because of such intolerable things, our resources are enormously diminished. We now feel that it was a mistake to have let ourselves...

  9. 3 The Birth of a National Church
    (pp. 88-117)

    In the tiny village of Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet in the Deux-Sèvres in France, there stands an unusual church honoring the village’s most celebrated son. Théophane Vénard left for Vietnam in 1852, and he died in Tonkin in 1861 during a wave of communitarian violence following the French invasion of Cochinchina. The church in Saint-Loup, built in his honor, was meant to be a glorious cathedral, and its sanctuary and apse indeed tower over the rolling fields of Poitou. But the sanctuary and altar are all there is. In the years after construction began in the 1880s, wars and hard times made it...

  10. 4 Vietnamese Catholic Tradition on Trial
    (pp. 118-146)

    Ngô Tử Hạ was born poor in Ninh Bình province, not far from the majestic cathedral at Phát Diệm, in 1882. Hạ was intelligent enough to obtain some schooling, and he eventually left his village for Hanoi, one hundred kilometers and a world away, where he found work as a low-level administrator in the growing French bureaucracy. He saved carefully until he had enough to purchase a small piece of property. By his thirties, Hạ had become wealthy enough to go into business for himself. However, he avoided more conventional paths to wealth in favor of a growing new industry—...

  11. 5 A National Church Experienced
    (pp. 147-176)

    On July 22, 1939, three young Vietnamese Catholics boarded a ship in Hải Phòng for Rome. Along with Catholic youth from more than forty other countries, they were going to represent their nation at the first-ever worldwide gathering of Young Catholic Workers, a global association meant to mobilize young Catholics to meet the challenges of industrial work and economic depression.¹ Young Catholic Workers had grown steadily in Vietnam since the early 1930s, and by the time the three youths left for Rome, chapters existed in many cities and in the Catholic heartlands of Phát Diệm and Bùi Chu. Since 1936,...

  12. 6 The Culture and Politics of Vietnamese Catholic Nationalism
    (pp. 177-207)

    Ngô Đình Thục was ordained bishop on May 4, 1938. In his speech, his first thanks went to Rome, his “spiritual and intellectual homeland,” and especially to Pope Pius XI and the head of Propaganda Fide for acting as “guides of my first steps in the Episcopal path.” When Thục thanked the MEP, still a powerful presence in Vietnamese Catholic life, he described the society as a loyal servant of Rome whose time had passed: having built “with their sweat and fertilized with their blood” a Vietnamese Church, the MEP now offered it “to the Vatican with all the pride...

  13. 7 A National Church in Revolution and War
    (pp. 208-241)

    Father Hoàng Quỳnh of Phát Diệm was thirty-nine years old when France surrendered to the Axis powers in June 1940. Seven years earlier, the ordination of Nguyễn Bá Tòng inspired Quỳnh, himself recently ordained, to write a history of his Church that saw the first Vietnamese bishop as a realization of centuries of evolution toward religious independence.¹ Like many of his fellow priests of this era, Quỳnh believed in Catholic Action’s potential to help the laity to shape its own Church, and he became a chaplain for Catholic Youth groups in addition to working as an instructor in Phát Diệm’s...

  14. Epilogue. A National Church Divided
    (pp. 242-248)

    In late 1954, a book titledA History of Persecutions in Vietnamappeared in stores in the chaos of post-Geneva Saigon. The author, a Catholic named Trần Minh Tiết, lost thirteen family members during the First Indochina War. He fled his home in central Vietnam as part of a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Catholics from north to south from mid-1954 until late 1955. For Tiết, as for many of his fellow refugees, the trauma of war and displacement echoed the martyr stories that he had heard in church sermons and had read about in school as a...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 249-288)
    (pp. 289-304)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 305-312)