Memorial event Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688)


The commemorative event ‘In the footsteps of Ferdinand Verbiest’, taking place on Friday 20 October 2023, is getting closer. 75 people have already registered.

On behalf of the Provincial Government of West Flanders and Pittem Municipal Government, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your cooperation in this event.​​​


The impact of a lapidary statement on charity and genuine love ​​​

As Professor Thierry Meynard has convincingly argued during the Symposium that Ferdinand Verbiest S.J. was a man of science who spent considerable time and energy in understanding the physical world. On the political level, he was a foreigner at the service of the emperor Kangxi in his function as Director of the Imperial Observatory. He was also a Jesuit missionary promoting Christianity in China. This combination of science, politics and religion was rather unusual in Europe but it resulted from continuing adjustments between the Jesuit order, the political powers and the academic world. In the footsteps of his great Master Johann Adam Schall (1592-1666) Verbiest and a few Chinese Christians working at the Imperial Observatory, succeeded in 1668 and 1669 defeating their rival Yang Guangxian, and re-establishing the credit of Western European. Once again, science, politics and religion seem to be in harmony again. ​​​

Against this life achievement I would briefly hint to the spiritual background of Ferdinand Verbiest referring to two preliminary observations in the Spiritual Exercises, section 230, the founder of the Jesuits suggested for the mature retreatant namely: ​​​

First, “love ought to manifest itself more in deeds than in words. Second, “love consists in a mutual sharing of gifts, (where), the lover gives and shares with the beloved what she/he possess … and vice versa. Hence, if one has knowledge, she/he shares it with one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors, or riches…. always (giving) to the other.” ​​​

This brief but decisive hint seems to me a reason why Ferdinand Verbiest along with his companions and lay missionaries left such a deep impact in China not only allowing other foreign missionaries to be able to do their work in the Middle Kingdom but also in reaching out in a decisive way to the Chinese. ​​​

I would restrict my panegyric to the genius of Ferdinand Verbiest to the spiritual roots in the Spiritual Exercises of the founder of the Jesuits Ignatius Loyola who shared this lapidary but profound insight into the nature of charity in the context of his meditation of love into the recommendation: we must put love more in acts than in words. ​​​

Therefore, Ferdinand Verbiest embodied in a special way this unique link between an action driven man of science and a man of faith. In fact, looking at the amazing achievements of his life in the area of geography, astronomy, hydraulics, supervising cannons it shows a faith defined as the courage to trust which encourages the bold movement of the renaissance to put the human building firmly into the center and opens all scientific research which would not only facilitate scientific and economic development but would at the same time also enhance the dignity of each human being. ​​​

Therefore, contrary to missionaries whose impact seemed to be restricted to the church Ferdinand Verbiest firmly standing in the great tradition of his Masters Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell his outreach showed the practical concern for all the Chinese and for the whole Middle Kingdom no matter inside or outside the church, truly love and charity put into action. ​​​

This truly touched the heart of the Chinese and explains why Ferdinand Verbiest is still so dearly remembered as a true friend by the Chinese today while in Europe his memory may have faded away long time ago. ​​​

Therefore, we hold a very special lesson for dialogue and a bold request for truth which is firmly built on the dialogue with Chinese people and culture as well as firmly built on a partnership between reason, scientific rigorous research and faith which generously shares the precious values which unite different cultures beyond their differences. We recognize therefore, as we have discovered on the Fourth Centenary Symposium on 9 October how the genius of Ferdinand Verbiest with his companions has anticipated the development of the enlightenment, “Aufklärung” based on the partnership between science, reason and wisdom traditions. ​​​

We could not dream of a more profound lesson of wisdom of genuine love within a context of antagonism and averse to a genuine dialogue based on mutual listening and rigorous intellectual analysis. ​​​

Prof. Dr. Stephan Rothlin SJ ​​​

Macau Ricci Institute ​​​

Faculty of Business and Law ​​​

University of St. Joseph, Macau​​​

The program​​​

4:00 pm Festive welcome for the participants​​​

5:00 pm Welcome address ‘In the footsteps of Ferdinand Verbiest’ by H.E. Carl Decaluwé, Governor of West-Flanders​​​

5:05 pm Opening remarks by H.E. Bruno Angelet, Ambassador for Belgium in China​​​

5:10 pm ‘Dialogue between Belgium and China via Science and Technology’ by representative of MOST (t.b.c.)​​​

5:15 pm 'The image of Ferdinand Verbiest in China' by Prof. Dr. Stephan Rothlin, Director of the Macau Ricci Institute at the University of St. Joseph, Macau​​​

5:20 pm 'The involvement of Verbiest at the Old Observatory' by WANG Xiaofeng, Director of the Observatory​​​

5:25 pm Music by the Chinese Orchestra of the Zhejiang Provincial Government​​​

5:30 pm Monologue ‘The Discovery of Heaven’ by Kurt Defrancq, actor​​​

5:45 Music by the Chinese Orchestra of the Zhejiang Provincial Government​​​

5:50 'Imperial observatory, landmark of Beijing' by H.E. ZHOU Jinxing, Mayor of the Dongcheng district Beijing​​​

5:55 'Ferdinand Verbiest, son of Pittem' by H.E. Denis Fraeyman, Mayor of the Municipality of Pittem​​​

6:00 ‘Flanders-China relations in the fields of Science, Research and Trade' by Koen De Ridder, Economic Representative of Flanders in Beijing​​​

6:15 Unveiling ceremony of the commemorative plaque by the Belgian and Chinese high profile guestspeakers​​​

6:20 Closing speech by H.E. Carl Decaluwé, Governor of West-Flanders​​​

6:25 Music by the Chinese Orchestra of the Zhejiang Provincial Government​​​

6:30 End ​​​

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