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Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik Torrey, Deberniere


Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik (direct exposition of the Bible for widespread benefit) is a devotional text that was used by Korean Catholics from the birth of Korean Catholicism in the late eighteenth century to the modern period, during almost a century of persecution under the Chosŏn (1392-1910) regime. Specific authorship is unknown, but the text is presumed to have been translated communally by early Catholic leaders. The text is a vernacular Korean adaptation of three earlier Chinese Catholic texts (Shengjing zhijie, Shengjing guangyi, and Sheng nian guangyi), which were adapted from European devotional literature. It resembles a Sunday missal, with New Testament passages for each week of the liturgical year accompanied by commentary and prayers, and includes about thirty percent of the four Gospels, with Old Testament passages integrated without citation into many of the commentaries. Teaching about Jesus features prominently in the commentaries, and a secondary emphasis is soul salvation and the need for vigilance to attain heaven. Stories about saints and events from early Christian tradition, quotes from notables such as St. Augustine, and even maxims from pagan philosophers such as Seneca also appear. A linguistic feature highlighting the text’s transcultural origin is the occasional presence of a Koreanized European word, such as sibirido sando from the Portuguese espirito Santo (Holy Spirit), or belp’ŭng from the Latin verbum (word). Court records of books confiscated during arrests of Catholics suggest the text was widely read as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century. With little access to clergy during the period of persecution, Catholics in hiding relied on hand-transcribed religious texts such as this, read during weekly instruction at secret meeting places. State-sponsored persecution ended after a treaty with France was signed in 1886, and, in 1892, Gustave Mutel, the first bishop appointed to Korea, commissioned a new version of the text. Printed in movable type and renamed Syŏnggyŏng chikhae, Mutel’s version offered the original text tidied of marginal notations and supplemented by an occasional transliterated Greek term. This version was reprinted until 1938, and, along with Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik, appears to have been read by Catholics until the Second Vatican council of 1965. As a product of persecution-era Catholicism, Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik remained distinct from later Bible translations, such as the first Korean translation of the New Testament, produced in China in 1887 by John Ross, a Presbyterian missionary. Thousands of copies of the Ross New Testament circulated in Korea soon afterward as Protestant missions moved to center stage in Korea’s modernization, while Catholics remained concentrated in rural areas where they had been hiding from decades of persecution. The first complete Four Gospels commissioned by the Catholic Church and produced in 1910 was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and later Catholic and Protestant translations containing both Old and New Testaments were based on the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures. These texts differed from Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwangik in style and wording as well, due to changes in the Korean language. In effect, used by Korean Catholics alongside newer Bible translations during Korea’s rapid modernization in the first half of the twentieth century, Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik offered a unique link to the pre-modern, persecution era experience. Six hand-transcribed copies of Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwang-ik dating from the late nineteenth century remain, archived in Seoul: four at the Church History Research Center, and two at the Chŏltusan Martyr’s Shrine. Each copy consists of eleven tomes bound in four paginated volumes, each volume averaging almost 700 pages, with 65 to 200 characters per page.

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