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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Priest's life shared

By Lyndel Owens
News Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

History and Asian studies professor Robert Entenmann spoke about the 18th century Chinese Catholic priest Andreas Ly to a packed audience on Tuesday evening in Viking Theatre.

His lecture, "The Life and Times of Andreas Ly 1693-1774," was the first Mellby lecture of the school year and examined Ly's struggles to foster Catholicism in China and to balance the Vatican's rules with Chinese custom.

Emily Hennig '08 is currently taking Entenmann's 300-level seminar "China and its World," and took "Chinese Civilization" this summer. "From my experience, Entenmann's classes are incredibly informative and thought-provoking. He has an amazing command of languages, and he has been virtually everywhere," she said.

The Mellby Lecture Series is designed to highlight two faculty members every who, according to the lecture homepage, "exemplify the liberal arts education to which St. Olaf College is committed: excellence marked by comprehensiveness, intellectual seriousness and creativity within the context of a concern for the interrelationships and communication."

Speakers are nominated by the faculty two years in advance and selected by the faculty development committee.

Entenmann, a professor at St. Olaf for 25 years beginning this fall, has published extensively on historical Chinese Christianity. In 2006, five of his essays on early Catholicism in China were translated into Chinese for publication in Taiwan. A Harvard Ph.D. recipient in history and Asian studies, Entenmann is nearly fluent in Chinese and reads French and Latin for research purposes.

In his lecture Entenmann commented that he learned Chinese in the back of Latin professor Jim May's class, yet he still struggles with the language. "I find Latin a fascinating language. I just wish the Roman Catholic Church, in the 18th century, had used English as its official language," he said.

Ly, 1693-1774, was a Catholic priest in Sichuan province. Sichuan is a province in central China about the size of France. During this time, Catholicism was outlawed but "tolerated" if the practitioners kept their beliefs quiet.

Though Ly was technically subject to papal authority, the Vatican was far removed, thereby allowing him to find a median between Catholic law and cultural staples of Chinese life.

For example, Ly gave dispensations to women whose husbands had abandoned them, an act the Vatican would consider abominable, because the Chinese family system wasn't constructed to support these women.

Throughout its ancient history, China has struggled to synthesize Christianity with traditional customs. Therefore, Christianity never fully naturalized in China. At that time in China, converting to Christianity required giving up part of one's cultural identity. "How could Ly be both Chinese and Christian?" Entenmann asked.

Entenmann is currently working on compiling a general study of Chinese Catholics in Sichuan in the 18th century and working with a Latin scholar on a long-term project to translate the diary of Ly.

Editor's Note: Mark Abell '11 also contributed to this report.

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