Book Series Global Perspectives on Medieval and Early Modern Historiography, vol. 1

From Confucius to Zhu Xi

The First Treatise on God in François Noël’s Chinese Philosophy (1711)

Thierry Meynard, Daniel Canaris (eds)

  • Pages: approx. 595 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:8 b/w, 8 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60179-3
  • Hardback
  • Forthcoming (May/23)



Thierry Meynard, S.J., is professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Archive for the Introduction of Western Knowledge at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou. Prior book publications in English include: The Jesuit Reading of Confucius (2015), The Religious Philosophy of Liang Shuming (2011), Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (2011), and co-authored with Dawei Pan, A Brief Introduction to the Study of Human Nature by Giulio Aleni (2020), and with Sher-shiueh Li, Jesuit Chreia in Late Ming China (2014).

Daniel Canaris is a DECRA Fellow and lecturer in the Department of Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on Sino-Western exchange in the early modern period. After receiving his PhD from the University of Sydney in 2017, he has held fellowships in Germany, England, China and the United States. His first monograph, Vico and China, was published in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.


On 25 September 1710, Pope Clement XI finally promulgated the 1704 decree Cum Deus optimus, which condemned the toleration of certain Confucian rituals among Chinese Catholic converts and the use of the Chineseterms tian and Shangdi to refer to the Christian God. This papal decision antagonised the Kangxi Emperor and devastated the Jesuit China mission. Although the Jesuits were prohibited from publicly refuting the decree, the Flemish Jesuit François Noël sought to defend the Jesuit position by publishing his voluminous scholarship on the Chinese classics. Among other works, in 1711 Noël published two seminal contributions to the history of Sinology: the Sinensis imperii libri classici sex or Libri sex, and the Philosophia Sinica, a sophisticated treatment of Chinese metaphysics, ritual and ethics. While the Libri sex achieved some degree of influence in the Enlightenment through the French translation of the French Jesuit historian Du Halde and the writings of the philosopher Christian Wolff, the Philosophia Sinica was actively suppressed by the Superior-General of the Jesuit order. Yet it is in this latter work where the full breadth of Noël’s originality and intellectual contribution can be found. Noël reinterprets the Jesuits’ position through the lens of Neo-Confucianism, integrating concepts such as li, taiji, yin and yang in his reading of Chinese philosophy. With contributions from Sinologists and intellectual historians, this book offers the first systematic study of this pioneering work.


List of Illustrations

Francesco Borghesi and Yixu Lü

Thierry Meynard and Daniel Canaris

Chapter 1: Intellectual Biography of François Noël
Yves Vendé

Chapter 2: Composition and Sources of the First Treatise
Thierry Meynard

Chapter 3: Noël’s Interpretation of Neo-confucianism
Thierry Meynard

Chapter 4: Evaluation from the Perspective of Chinese Philosophy
Wang Ge

Chapter 5:Theological Themes in the First Treatise
Pierre Galassi

Chinese Philosophy in Three Treatises

By Father François Noël. Translated from Latin into English by Thierry Meynard and Daniel Canaris, with Chinese transcribed by Thierry Meynard and revised by WANG Ge 王格.