China and the Great Catholic What-If
History being linear, “What if….?” is an unanswerable question—but always a fascinating one. What if George Washington had failed in New York in the early days of the American revolution and the rebellion had been crushed? What if Lee had heeded Longstreet, won Gettysburg, and then taken Washington, thus ending the Civil War and achieving Confederate independence? What if Charles Lindbergh had been the Republican candidate in 1940 and had defeated FDR? What if Bush vs. Gore had been decided differently in 2000?
“What if…? questions involve more than politics, of course. What if the Apostles had turned right rather than left on leaving the Holy Land, so that Christianity was first “inculturated” in a civilization (India) lacking the Greek principle of non-contradiction: Could the Church have developed a doctrinal architecture if Christianity had first been planted in a culture where something could both “be” and “not be”?
Then there is the great “What if….?” involving Christianity and China, of which I’ve only become aware thanks to a November 2011 lecture by the distinguished historian, Hugh Thomas, published in the March 2012 issue of the British journal Standpoint.
According to Lord Thomas, a combination of Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, led by a remarkable character named Lopez de Legazpi, proposed to use the new Spanish colony of the Philippines as the launch-pad for a Spanish and Christian takeover of China—an ambition they styled la empresa de China, “the China Project.” The “project” fired the imaginations of Legazpi’s successors, who pressed the Spanish monarch, Philip II, for permission to bring China under Spanish control. Philip, whom Hugh Thomas styles “the Great Procrastinator,” dithered, being preoccupied with rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands, and eventually cooled to the idea. [more]