Front Page Titles (by Subject) 7.: THE INSCRIPTION OF SI-NGAN-FU — ( P. 190 ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 8
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7.: THE INSCRIPTION OF SI-NGAN-FU — ( P. 190 ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 8 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 8.
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THE INSCRIPTION OF SI-NGAN-FU — (P. 190)
Gibbon showed his critical perspicacity when he accepted as genuine the famous Nestorian inscription of Si-ngan-fu, which was rejected by the scepticism of Voltaire and has been more recently denounced as a forgery by Stanislas Julien, Renan, and others. All competent specialists, both European and Chinese, now recognise it as a genuine document of the eighth century; and indeed it is impossible to believe that Alvarez Semedo, the Jesuit missionary who first announced the discovery of the stone, or any one else in the seventeenth century, could have composed this remarkable text. The stone was found at Si-ngan-fu, the old capital of the Tang dynasty, in 1623 or 1625. The Chinese inscription is surmounted by a cross (of the Maltese shape). Besides the Chinese text, there are some lines of Syriac at the side and at the foot; and the seventy signatures are given in both idioms. The first attempts at translation were those of Athanasius Kircher in his works entitled: “Prodromus Coptus” (1636) and “China illustrata” (1667); and of Father Semedo.1 There have been several improved translations in the present century. For the following summary, the versions of Huc (Le Christianisme en Chine, en Tartarie et au Thibet, two vols., 1857; in vol. i. chap. 2, p. 52 sqq.); A. Wylie (in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. v. p. 277 sqq., 1856); J. Legge (in Christianity in China, 1888); and, above all, of MM. Lamy and Gueluy (Le monument chrétien de Si-ngan-fou, 1897) have been used. See also Pauthier, L’inscription Syro-Chinoise, and the summaries in Colonel Yule’s Cathay, vol. i. p. xcii. sqq. and in Mr. Raymond Beazley’s Dawn of Modern Geography, p. 169 sqq.
The title at the head of the inscription is: —
“Stone-tablet touching the propagation of the luminous religion of Ta-tsin in the Middle Empire, with a preface; composed by King-tsing, a monk of the temple of Ta-tsin.”
The Chinese text may be divided into two parts: an exposition of the doctrines of Christianity, and an historical account of the introduction of the religion into China and its propagation there.
1. The nature of the divine Being — the admirable person of the Trinity, the absolute lord, Oloho [i.e. Eloha, Syriac for God] — is set forth; then the work of Sa-tan in propagating heresies, whereof the tale is three hundred and sixty-five; and then the coming of the Mi-chi-lo [Messiah], who is the “other himself of the Trinity,”2 born of a virgin in Ta-tsin [Syria] through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
2. In the days of the Emperor Tai-tsung, there came from Ta-tsin the Most virtuous Alopen (or Olopan),3 who was clothed with the qualities of the blue clouds,4 and possessed the true sacred books. In 635 he arrived at Chang-ngan [i.e. Si-ngan-fu]. The Emperor sent his chief minister, Fang-Huen-Ling, who conducted the western guest into the palace. The sacred books which the missionary brought were translated in the Imperial library; and the sovereign gave orders for the diffusion of the doctrine, by which he was deeply impressed. In 638 he issued a proclamation to the following effect: —
“Religion has no invariable name, religious observances have no invariable rites; doctrines are established in accordance with the country. Alopen, of the kingdom of Ta-tsin, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant part, and has presented them at our court. Having examined the principles of this religion, we find its object to be the admirable Empyrean and its mysterious action; investigating its original source, we find it expresses the sum of the perfect life.” The Emperor then applies to the new doctrine a quotation from a Chinese classic; and concludes with the command that a Syrian Church should be built in the capital, at E-Ning-fang, and be governed by twenty-one priests.
Then follows a description of Ta-tsin or the Roman Empire, thus given by Hirth:5 —
“According to the Hsi-yü-t‘u-chi and the historical records of the Hun and Wei dynasties, the country of Ta-ts‘in begins in the south at the Coral Sea [Red Sea], and extends in the north to the Chung-pan-shan [hills of precious stones]; it looks in the west to the ‘region of the immortals’ and ‘the flowery groves’;6 in the east it bounds on ‘the long winds’ and ‘the weak water.’7 This country produces fire-proof cloth, the life-restoring incense; the ming-yüeh-chu [moonshine pearl]; and the yeh-kuang-pi [jewel that shines at night].8 Robberies are unknown there, and the people enjoy peace and happiness. Only the king [‘luminous’ = Christian] religion is practised; only virtuous rulers occupy the throne. This country is vast in extent; its literature is flourishing.”9
There is a panegyric of the Roman Empire!
The Emperor Kao-tsung (650-683) succeeded and was still more beneficent towards Christianity. Every city was full of churches. Then “in 699 the Buddhists [the children of Che] gaining power raised their voices in the eastern metropolis”; and in 713 there was an agitation of Confucianists against Christianity in the western capital. The religion revived under Hiwan-tsung (714-755); the “image of perfection of the five” (which M. Gueluy explains as the quintessence of absolute power) was placed in the church ( 742). This Emperor established a convent called the Palace of Progress, in which the monks of Ta-tsin were confounded with other ascetics. The patronage of Christianity by the succeeding emperors, Su-tsung (756-762), Tai-tsung (763-777), and Kien-chung (780-783) is then described, and the minister Izdbuzid, governor of a district in Kan-su, who was gracious to the Church although a Buddhist.
After this, follows a metrical summary of the purport of the inscription, and then the date of the inscription: “This stone was erected in the second year of Kien-chung of the great Tang dynasty, in the Tso-yo of the cycle of years, in the month Tai-tsu, on the seventh day [i.e. Sunday], the day of the great Hosannas.” The Sunday of the Great Hosannas meant, in the language of eastern Christians, Palm Sunday; and thus the date is precisely fixed to 781, April 8.10 The name of Ning-chu, i.e. Hanan Jesus the Catholic patriarch of the Nestorians, is added, and the name of the scribe who drew up the document.
On the left of the monument are two lines of Syriac, which run: —
“In the days of the father of fathers, Mar Hanan Jesus [John Joshua], Catholic patriarch;
Adam, priest and chorepiscopos and papashi of Tzinistan [China].”
There is another Syriac inscription at the foot: —
“In the year 1092 of the Greeks, Mar Izdbuzid,11 Priest and chorepiscopos of Kumdan [that is, Si-ngan-fu], the royal city, son of Milis [Meletius] of blessed memory, priest of Balkh, city of Tokharistan, erected this tablet of stone, where is inscribed the life of our Saviour and the preaching of our fathers to the king of the Chinese.”
There follow the names of signatories in Syriac and Chinese.
Hanan Jesus was the Catholic Patriarch of the Nestorian Church from 775 to 780, as Lamy has proved from the Syrian historian, Elias of Nisibis. His successor Timotheus was appointed on April 11, 780, so that he was dead a year before the erection of the Chinese inscription. Thus a year had elapsed, and the news of his death had not yet reached Si-ngan-fu from Seleucia: a fact which shows at what rate news travelled then in central Asia. Catholic Patriarch was the title of the chief of the Nestorians since the end of the 6th century; in the 5th century the title had been simply Catholic.12
The stone of Si-ngan-fu is supposed to have been buried about 845, when Wu-tsung issued an edict, aimed at Buddhist and other monks, enjoining the destruction of monasteries, and commanding foreigners who had come from Muhupa13 or from Ta-tsin to cease corrupting China and return to secular life. In the following century Christianity was almost extinct in China.
[1 ]Gibbon could use Visdelou’s translation in D’Herbelot, Bib. Or. iv. 375 sqq.
[2 ]Autre lui-même du Trine (Gueluy).
[3 ]This must be a Chinese corruption of a Syrian name. Assemani thought it was for Jaballaha. Panthier explains Alo-pano, “return of God.” Yule (p. xciv.) suggests Rabban. r of course appears as l in Chinese.
[4 ]That is, he was a sage. The metaphor is Buddhistic: Buddha is the sun, and the sage is the cloud which covers the earth, and makes the rain of the land fall. So Gueluy, p. 74. But Wylie, &c. translate “observing the blue clouds.”
[5 ]China and the Roman Orient, p. 61-2.
[6 ]La cité fleurie du pays des solitaires (Gueluy).
[7 ]A river in Kan-su (cp. Gueluy, op. cit. p. 5).
[8 ]It is uncertain what gem is meant. Cp. Hirth, p. 242 sqq. He refers to the emeralds shining at night, which are mentioned by Herodotus, 2, 44, and Pliny, 37, 5, 66.
[9 ]Tout y brille d’un ordre parfait (Gueluy).
[10 ]See Gueluy, op. cit. p. 67, 68.
[11 ]His name shows his Persian origin.
[12 ]See Lamy’s important explanations, p. 90 sqq.
[13 ]Gaubil supposes that the Ghebers of Persia are meant.