Christianity in China 781 AD

In the year 781 the Tang Dynasty had “the white-clad members of the Illustrious Congregational” erect a monument to the religion of his time. There it sat in China until accidently discovered in 1625 by Chinese and Western scholars. Wang Ch’ang compiled it in a book of inscriptions in 1805. It went to Japan in 1817 and was put on the prohited list because it seemed to have something to do with “the Religion of Jesus”. Finally in 1876 the London Bible and Tract Society pulished the book. In 1896 Dr. Takakusa published an article about the book of inscriptions. Several people claimed to have seen the very stone the inscription was taken from. This stone came to be known as the Nestorian Monument. A replica of it was set up at the top of Mount Koya – the holy land of Japan on 3 October 1911.

The Nestorian statement below divides Christ’s human and divine nature into two substances. The main point for me is that Christianity reached China at an early date.

Alexander Wylie was a Christian missionary to China from 1858-1868. Below is his translation of the Nestorian Monument.

china-742 tang dynasty
Wiki commons

This was erected in the 2d year of Kienchung, of the Tang dynasty (A. D. 781), on the 7th day of the 1st month, being Sunday. Written by Lu Siu-yen, Secretary to Council, formerly Military Superintendent for Taichau; while the Bishop Ning-shu had the charge of the congregations of the Illustrious in the East.

BEHOLD the unchangeably true and invisible, who existed through all eternity without origin; the far-seeing perfect intelligence, whose mysterious existence is everlasting; operating on primordial substance he created the universe, being more excellent than all holy intelligences, inasmuch as he is the source of all that is honorable. This is our eternal true lord God, triune and mysterious in substance.

He appointed the cross as the means for determining the four cardinal points, he moved the original spirit, and produced the two principles of nature; the sombre void was changed, and heaven and earth were opened out; the sun and moon revolved, and day and night commenced; having perfected all inferior objects, he then made the first man; upon him he bestowed an excellent disposition, giving him in charge the government of all created beings; man, acting out the original principles of his nature, was pure and unostentatious; his unsullied and expansive mind was free from the least inordinate desire; until Satan introduced the seeds of falsehood, to deteriorate his purity of principle; the opening thus commenced in his virtue gradually enlarged, and by this crevice in his nature was obscured and rendered vicious; hence three hundred and sixty-five sects followed each other in continuous track, inventing every species of doctrinal complexity; while some pointed to material objects as the source of their faith, others reduced all to vacancy, even to the annihilation of the two primeval principles; some sought to call down blessings by prayers and supplications, while others by an assumption of excellence held themselves up as superior to their fellows; their intellects and thoughts continually wavering, their minds and affections incessantly on the move, they never obtained their vast desires, but being exhausted and distressed they revolved in their own heated atmosphere; till by an accumulation of obscurity they lost their path, and after long groping in darkness they were unable to return.

Thereupon, our Trinity being divided in nature, the illustrious and honorable Messiah, veiling his true dignity, appeared in the world as a man; angelic powers promulgated the glad tidings, a virgin gave birth to the Holy One in Syria; a bright star announced the felicitous event, and Persians observing the splendor came to present tribute; the ancient dispensation, as declared by the twenty-four holy men, was then fulfilled, and he laid down great principles for the government of families and kingdoms; he established the new religion of the silent operation of the pure spirit of the Triune; he rendered virtue subservient to direct faith; he fixed the extent of the eight boundaries, thus completing the truth and freeing it from dross; he opened the gate of the three constant principles, introducing life and destroying death; he suspended the bright sun to invade the chambers of darkness, and the falsehoods of the devil were thereupon defeated; he set in motion the vessel of mercy by which to ascend to the bright mansions, whereupon rational beings were then released, having thus completed the manifestation of his power, in clear day he ascended to his true station.

Twenty-seven sacred books have been left, which disseminate intelligence by unfolding the original transforming principles. By the rule for admission, it is the custom to apply the water of baptism, to wash away all superficial show and to cleanse and purify the neophytes. As a seal, they hold the cross, whose influence is reflected in every direction, uniting all without distinction.

The  links below will take you to several books dealing with this subject.

The Nestorian Monument: An Ancient Record of Christianity in China, with Special Reference to …by Paul Carus , Alexander Wylie , Frits HolmPublication date 1909

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