Alexandre de Rhodes
Alexandre de Rhodes
|Church||Roman Catholic Church|
|Born||15 March 1591
Avignon, Papal States
|Died||5 November 1660
Alexandre de Rhodes, S.J. (15 March 1591 – 5 November 1660) was a Avignonese Jesuit missionary and lexicographer who had a lasting impact on Christianity in Vietnam. He wrote the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, the first trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, published in Rome, in 1651.
Alexandre de Rhodes was born in Avignon, Papal States (now in France). According to some sources, he was a descendant of Jewish origin. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Rome on 24 April 1612 to dedicate his life to missionary work. He arrived in Indochina about 1619. A Jesuit mission had been established in Hanoi in 1615; Rhodes arrived there in 1620. He spent ten years in and around the Court at Hanoi during the rule of Trịnh Tùng and Trịnh Tráng. Rhodes spent twelve years in Vietnam studying under another Jesuit, Francisco de Pina. It was during that time that he composed the Ngắm Mùa Chay, a popular catholic devotion to this day, meditating upon the Passion of Christ in the Vietnamese language. In 1624, he was sent to the East Indies, arriving in Cochin-China on a boat with fellow Jesuit Girolamo Maiorica. In 1627, he travelled to Tongking, Vietnam where he worked until 1630, when he was forced to leave. He was expelled from Vietnam in 1630 as Trịnh Tráng became concerned about the spread of Catholicism in his realm. Rhodes in his reports said he converted more than 6,000 Vietnamese. Daily conversation in Vietnam "resembles the singing of birds", wrote Alexandre de Rhodes.
From Vietnam Rhodes went to Portuguese Macau, where he spent ten years. He then returned to Vietnam, this time to the lands of the Nguyễn Lords, mainly around Huế. He spent six years in this part until he aroused the displeasure of lord Nguyễn Phúc Lan and was condemned to death.
As his sentence was reduced to exile, Rhodes returned to Rome by 1649 and pleaded for increased funding for Catholic missions to Vietnam, telling somewhat exaggerated stories about the natural riches to be found in Vietnam. This plea by Alexandre de Rhodes is at the origin of the creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1659. As neither the Portuguese nor the Pope showed interest in the project, Alexandre de Rhodes, with Pope Alexander VII's agreement, found secular volunteers in Paris in the persons of François Pallu and Pierre Lambert de la Motte, the first members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, who were sent to the Far-East as Apostolic vicars.
In 1943, the French colony of Indochina issued a 30c postage stamp honoring him. In 2001 Vietnamese artist Nguyen Dinh Dang created a painting in homage to Alexandre de Rhodes and Nguyen Van Vinh.
While in Vietnam, de Rhodes developed an early Vietnamese alphabet based on work by earlier Portuguese missionaries. De Rhodes compiled a catechism, Phép giảng tám ngày, and a trilingual dictionary and grammar, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum. Both were published in Rome in 1651. Unlike Maiorica's catechism and devotional texts, de Rhodes's works eschewed the traditional Vietnamese chữ Nôm script in favor of this new Latin-script alphabet. Later refined as quốc ngữ, it eventually displaced chữ Nôm as the Vietnamese language's written form during the 19th and 20th centuries and "effectively separated ensuing generations of Vietnamese students from their own national literature, because they could no longer read it".[undue weight? ]
De Rhodes also wrote several books about Vietnam and his travels there, including:
- Histoire du royaume de Tunquin (History of the Kingdom of Tonkin) (Rome, 1650)
- Tunchinensis historiæ libri duo (pub. 1652)
- Divers voyages et missions du P. Alexandre de Rhodes en la Chine et autres royaumes de l'Orient (Paris, 1653), translated into English as Rhodes of Viet Nam: The Travels and Missions of Father Alexandre de Rhodes in China and Other Kingdoms of the Orient (1966)
- La glorieuse mort d'André, Catéchiste (The Glorious Death of Andrew, Catechist) (pub. 1653)