History of the Foundation of the Korean Catholic Church
HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE KOREAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
- Short History of the Catholic Church of Korea
Founded by the Korean People -
Msgr. Byun Ki-Yung
Translated from the French by Anna Boekstegen
Sanctuary of Chon-jin-am
Birthplace of the Korean Catholic Church
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: God’s Providence towards the Korean People and distant Preparation
1. Origin of the Korean Han(韓) people: from the Cheon-san(天山) Mountain chain to a territory of approximately 3,000 Li’s(1,200 Km) penisular.
2. Religion at the time of ‘Cheon-jé-kyo(天祭敎)’ – Folkloric aspect of their faith expression
3. Welcoming religious culture arriving from other countries
Chapter 2: The Korean People’s tireless Search for God and the Beginning of
4. The books ‘De Deo Verax Disputatio’ and ‘Ji-bon-you-seol’ presented by Yi Sou-
Kwang made known the Science of Heaven and gave birth to the spiritual
movement of practical science
5. The book ‘The 12 Catholic Prayers’ that Heo Kyun used and his book: ‘The Life
of Hong Kil-Dong’
6. The five Chinese Catholics brought to Korea by the hereditary prince So-Hyun
and Moukam Yi Kyung-Sang
7. The Catholics of the Western Sea coast in the Hwang-hai-do Province around the
8. The Chinese Bishop of the Nanking diocese, Bishop Gregorio Lopez, was
provisionally put in charge also of the diocese of Koryeo (Korea)
9. Dispersal of the Korean Catholics in space and time
Chapter 3: The Search for the Science of Heaven, the Practice of Yi Byok and the
Activities for the Foundation of the Church
10. The Catholic Church of Korea started with Yi Byok and with his young (about 20
years old) companions
11. ‘The founder of the Korean Church is Kwangam Yi Byok’ – St Daveluy
12. ‘Yi Byok sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking as a delegate of their faithful catechumenous new group from the Korean community’ – St Maubant
13. ‘Yi Byok is the one who introduced me to Catholicism’ – Yi Seung-Houn
14. ‘Yi Byok, eminent teacher, specialist in researching the Science of Heaven.
He sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking’ – Seminarian Kim Dae-Keon
15. ‘Yi Byok is the founder of the Science of Heaven in Korea’ – Chronicles of the Yi
16. ‘Yi Byok is the founder of the Korean Catholic Church’ – Byok-ui-pyun of Yi
17. ‘When you arrive in Peking, ask for a prayer book and finally for baptism’ –
Letter of Hwang Sa-Yung
18. ‘Yi Seung-Houn, the three brothers of Cheong Yak-Yong and Kwon Il-Shin with
his son were seated around Yi Byok…’ – Byok-eui-pyun of Yi Man-Chai
Chapter 4: Chonjinam and Yi Byok in the documents of Cheong Yak-Yong
19. ‘Yi Byok, endowed with knowledge and virtue and the mind of a sage’ – Cheong
20. ‘Like a crane from heaven come down into this world of men, Kwangam Yi
Byok showed divine bearing’ – Cheong Yak-Yong
21. ‘A year ago Kwangam Yi Byok left us, like a crane, he flew in autumn; I went to
see the colorful leaves of autumn at Chon-jin-am’ – Cheong Yak-Yong
22. ‘At Chon-jin-am you still see the house where Yi Byok was reading…’ - Cheong
23. Cheong Yak-Yong says that he cries caressing the notebook where he finds
Kwangam Yi Byok’s writings that helped him answer the questions of King
Chapter 5: Foundation of the Catholic Church of Choseon by Yi Byok
24. The many activities of Yi Byok: study and practice of the Science of Heaven
25. The lecture house of Yi Byok and the Conference hall at Chon-jin-am were places
of spiritual formation in the Science of Heaven for young Korean scholars
26. The young precursors used to participate in ten days of study in the midst of
winter at Chon-jin-am
27. ‘When there was a sufficient number of friends interested in the faith, Yi Byok
dictated to them a resume of the catechism Seong-kyo-yo-ji(聖敎要旨)’ - ‘The life of Yi Byok’ by Cheong Hak-Soul in 1837
28. The fervent participation of Yi Byok in the study sessions of Chon-jin-am, located
in the mountains of Kwang-jou, during a severe winter night – ‘Notes for the
history of the Korean martyrs’ by Bishop Daveluy
29. Yi Byok dedicated himself to the study of the Science of Heaven and its
application from 1770 to 1783
30. The history of Chon-jin-am, birthplace of the Korean Catholic Church
31. You don’t become a Catholic believer through baptism, but you have to be a
Catholic believer to receive baptism
32. ‘The founders of the Korean Catholic Church are lay people’ – Pope John Paul II
33. Japan was evangelized by Francis Xavier, China by Matteo Ricci
Chapter 6: The Korean Catholic Church, founded at Chon-jin-am, took roots in
34. The Catholic Church spread to Seoul, Sou-pyo-dong and Myung-rye-bang, to Ma-
hyun and Yang-keun
Chapter 7: The first persecution of the Catholic Church in 1785 and the poems of
35. The first persecution in 1785: Yi Byok’s martyrdom and Kim Beom-Ou’s exile
36. ‘Like the piece of a candle that burns your flesh and bones in order to give you
light and to give yourself as a sacrifice to God’ – Yi Seung-Houn
37. The martyrdom of Kwon Il-Shin and of Kwon Cheol-Shin
38. The martyrdom of Yi Seung-Houn and Cheong Yak-Jong
39. Martyrdom of Kwang-am Yi Byok
40. Yi Byok’s last poem, composed just before his death
41. The veneration poem by Yi Byok
42. The funeral hymn of Cheong Yak-Yong dedicated to Yi Byok at his burial in
43. Personal notes on Yi Byok
Chapter 8: Foundation of the Korean Catholic Church
44. Sacramental activities of the impromptu clergy organized by the lay founders of
the Korean Catholic Church
Chapter 9: The formation of priests by Korean lay people
45. Organization of the impromptu clergy and their sacramental activities as lay
people initiated the formation of priests
46. Other seminarians were sent by the Korean Church to Macao and to Yo-dong
before the three seminarians, Kim Dae-Keon, Choi Yang-Eob and Choi Kwa-
Choul there were
47. The grand son of Yi Seung-Houn, Yi Jae-Eui, and the son of Cheong Yak-Jong,
Cheong Ha-Sang, were seminarians on the point of being ordained deacons in the
Korean major seminary before the seminarians Kim Dae-Keon and Choi Yang-
48. The innate religious spirit of the Korean people searching for Truth and their
work for the protection of and the witness to Truth
Before establishing the Han Mountains
Before spreading out the Milky Way
The spirit of God gazed lovingly over the Han-ga-ui people and
At the morning star, a child of heaven was born in this territory.
The angels of heaven welcomed him, envious,
The great master of the Han people, Kwangam Yi Byok,
The great master of the Han people, Kwangam Yi Byok.
Going back to the distant past, we will see the road traveled by the Korean people in worshiping God. The object of our next book will be to gather all kinds of documents and objects in order to find the traces of our ancestors in our lives today. These documents will need to be compared, elucidated with more precision and finally gathered in a synthesis. The title of this book will be “The history of faith in God as lived by the Korean people”.
In the present edition you will read a brief history of the foundation of the Korean Catholic Church, which was started, two centuries ago, in the Chon-jin-am area, without priests or missionaries, by Yi Byok, together with young scholars, hardly 20 years old.
The history of the foundation of our Church, as far as we know it today, is based on the ‘Notes on the Church of the Korean Martyrs’, written by a French missionary, Bishop Daveluy, and compared with the notes of the judgments written by the Korean persecutors.
In this book, you will find not only old documents on this history, but also other small fragments of documents discovered here and there at the homes of the descendants of the first Christians. They enable us to feel the physical presence of these ancestors still today. A good amount of the content of this book was thus elaborated through comparative, analytic and synthetic studies.
Therefore, another book will follow shortly with more content, greater details and well ordered. I don’t doubt that this book in turn will be followed by many other more detailed and still more complete books written by others. The history of the Korean Church will thus become clearer.
About 200 years ago, the Catholic Church started. At that time the name of our country was Choseon, but since then it was called ‘Dae-Han Empire’, after that, during the occupation and annexation by Japan, it had no name. At present, our country’s name is ‘Dae-han-min-kouk’ and in the North, Choseon-Inmin-konghwa-kouk. However, most of the ancient powerful countries, such as Ko-gou-ryeo, Bal-hae and Ko-choseon are now a part of China, of which certain parts are still called ‘the autonomous territories of the Choseon race’. We don’t know what these ancient countries are called presently. Moreover, given all the discussions with China on the ancient history of Ko-gou-ryeo, it seems to me important to know this history.
I decided to write my next book: “The History of Faith in God as lived by the Korean People” for all those who belong to this Bae-dal people so that they may easily and comfortably read a book of their history. I am writing this especially so that they may pay greater attention, not only to the accomplishments of these people in the present, but also to the spiritual qualities manifested during their long history.
In this first book you will read a short history of the foundation of the Catholic Church in Korea which will demonstrate how Korean lay people became the founders of the Church and worked in a special and miraculous way.
Chon-Jin-am, October 14, 2004
Msgr. Byun Ki-Yung
God’s Providence towards the Korean People
and their distant preparation
God has given the spiritual quality of faith in God to the Bae-Dal people.
Our people are the people of God.
Ever since the distant past, our people have lived adoring and serving God,
And God was always with them and protected them.
Thus we are for ever the people of God.
1. The Origin of the Korean Han People: from the Cheon-san
Mountain Chain to a Territory of about 3,000 km2
The Korean Bae-dal people migrated for some ten thousand years, starting from the Cheon-san Mountain chain (mountain of heaven) towards the East, towards the country of the rising sun. The reason for this migration was not simply economic: the search for hunting grounds, or political: conquering the territory of others, but it was the search for a country of light, a country of sun, because while watching the rising and setting of the sun, the people believed in the Sun-God, they adored and served him. Thus this people continued to march, for years, towards the sun, towards the East where the sun rises.
The Bae-dal people adored clarity and light. Indeed, the Korean people left Mount Cheon-san, their first homeland, a mountain covered with eternal snow. In remembrance of this snow, they used to wear white when going out on important days and feast days. They honored the mountains as sacred places. Mountains were for them like a ladder linking heaven and earth. That’s why they buried their dead on high mountains so that their souls might rise more easily to heaven.
The pioneers of Korean science, especially those researching the history of the Bae-dal people such as Youkdang Choi Nam-Seon, wrote a book “Asi-chosun”. These pioneers left us beautiful historical accounts of the Korean people, considered a holy people.
The Bae-dal people thus arrived on this territory ten thousand years ago and settled in the present country. These people liked to give names to their villages that evoke light and the color white. For instance, Kwang-jou which means “village of light”, Seong-jou “village of star”, Yang-jou “village of sun light”, Myung-jou “village of clarity”, Baik-seong “white village”, Cheong-jou “limpid village”, Hwa-seong “luminous village”, etc…
In pre-historic times, a certain tribe of our people venerated animals like tigers, bears and eagles, but in general they felt deeper veneration, mixed with respectful fear, for mountains, large trees, the sea, the stars, the sun and moon. Among these venerations, the veneration of sun and heaven was by far superior to the veneration of large trees, animals, mountains or rivers.
2. Religion at the Period of Cheon-jé-Kyo Folkloric Aspect of Faith
Our People got settled on this earth serving God.
Their spirit, adoring God, got more orderly and developed more beautifully and holy into a simple, true, modest and humble way of life.
About five thousand years ago, around the period of Dankun-Choseon, the veneration of heaven and the respect for adults, the chief of the tribe or the chief of the state got organized in systems and customs. People made offerings to heaven almost everywhere; these offerings were different from one region to another. Finally the custom of making offerings to heaven had become common to all the people and remained such in a long tradition. Briefly stated, we might say that the faith of the Korean people derives from this faith in heaven, a pure and natural, simple and modest faith. The spirit of God remains forever in the heart of this people as we still find it today in the national anthem “May Korea live under the protection of God!”
The Korean people accept different religious beliefs. Their broadmindedness enables them to welcome other paths to truth. That’s why they often integrated other religions as their own. They created a new religion by adapting it to their own mentality in order to transmit it to their descendants.
3. Welcoming religious Cultures arriving from other Countries
Our ancestors generously welcomed religions of other origins. For instance, they welcomed Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. They integrated them into the Korean culture.
Buddhism, the teaching of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha (540-480 B.C., born in Lumbia, Nepal) was introduced already in 372, at the time of the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea (from the 4th to the 7th century). It was well implanted and continued to grow in the Korean culture for centuries until the time of the kingdom of Koryo (918-1392). Confucianism, centered on the teachings of Confucius and Mincius, was introduced quite early. It had a profound influence on Korean culture, down to etiquette, the savoir vivre from the three principles, the five moral precepts of Confucius and the custom of offerings to the ancestors.
Christianity was introduced into Korea only in the 18th century. It was well received by these people who adored heaven. It too is deeply rooted today despite all the difficulties of faith that we encounter everywhere in the world. It bears beautiful, abundant fruit.
The tireless Search for God among the Korean People
and the Beginning of Christianity
4. The books “De Deo Verax Disputatio” and “Ji-bong-you-seol” presented by Yi Sou-Kwang made known the Science of Heaven
and gave birth to the spiritual Movement of Practical Science
Christianity, spread today in most of the countries, was usually introduced by foreign missionaries, but in Korea, it was introduced by Koreans themselves before the arrival of foreign missionaries. They read books on Christianity brought in from China.
At the time of the Japanese invasion in 1592, a Spanish missionary, Father Sespedes, had come to Korea, with a Japanese member of a religious order, as chaplain for the Japanese soldiers in the South Sea coast region, at Gom-nae of Jin-hae. He remained there about six months. Obviously, he celebrated Mass, administered the sacraments to the sick. In the military camp of the Japanese, he taught catechism to the few Korean prisoners and baptized them. But when the war ended and the Japanese soldiers left, the baptized Koreans also left with them. Thus there remained no more Catholics in the country.
However, during that war with Japan, Jibong Yi Sou-Kwang (1563-1628) had gone three times to Myung. He brought books on Catholicism in Chinese, for instance the book “Cheon-jou-shil-rok-jeong-moun”. Young Korean scholars began to study these books. They thus started to know Catholicism for the first time. They discovered ideas coming from the West especially through the book of Yi Sou-Kwang “Ji-bon-you-seol”. This introduced the seeds of a spirit of Practical Science in Korea. It is inevitable and reasonable to conclude that this movement of Practical Science was born around the 16th-17th century. Most research on this subject agrees on that time period.
5. The book “The 12 Catholic Prayers” that Heo Kyun had used an his book “The life of Hong Kil-Dong”
Heo-Kyun (1569 – 1618) had been formed by Confucianism. He was very interested in religions such as Buddhism and Taoism. One day, when returning from China, he had brought along the book: “The 12 Catholic prayers”. He practiced according to the prayers in that book. He thus became the first Korean to pray with these texts. He also published the first novel written in Korean: “The Life of Hong-Kil-Dong” that sensitized people to radical changes in the Korean social structures. Later on, he initiated studies in Practical Science. In the Confucian world, this novel was a literary work influenced by Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. This novel presents the unified fruit of thought characteristic of the Korean people: humanism.
6. The five Chinese Catholics brought to Korea by the heir to the throne, prince So-Hyun and Moukam Yi Kyung-Sang
In 1636, war broke out between Korea and Cheong. The heir, prince So-Hyun and his secretary Moukam Yi Kyung-Sang (ancestor of Yi Byok five generations removed) were taken as hostages to Cheong. There they lived in the house Dong-hwa-kwan near the Dong-hwa gate in Peking and they had contact with Fr. Adam Shall, a German missionary, pastor of the Namdang parish. They thus received some rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism. When they returned to Korea in 1645 they brought along Catholic books, a map of the world Keun-sang-gon-yeo-do and souvenirs. They also returned with five Chinese eunuchs who were all Catholic and stayed sometime in the royal palace in Seoul. However, we know nothing about what went on in the royal palace. For instance, would the hereditary prince or one of his household have embraced the Catholic faith and been baptized? Everything had taken place in deep secret, and moreover, prince So-Hyun was poisoned shortly after his return and the five Chinese had been sent back to their country. Indeed prince So-Hyun and his entourage returned with five lay Catholics, the first foreign missionaries to Korea whose goal was to make Catholicism known in this country, but the royal court was not ready to receive them in such a situation of struggle between different mentalities.
7. The Catholics at the coast of the Western Sea of the Hwang-hai-do Province and around the Dou-man River
Before the first Catholic group around Yi Byok was formed, there were already some isolated Catholics: according to the notes of the books “Il-seong-rok”, “Bi-byun-sa-deung-rok” and the Chronicles of the Yi dynasty. Notably, as Yi Neung-Hwa summarized briefly in his book, there were already some Catholics in the Ham-kyung-buk-do province, around the Dou-man River and along the coast of the Western Sea of Hwang-hai-do during the time of the Kings In-Jo, Hyo-Jong, Souk-Jong and Yeon-Jo (1650-1750).
However, The Chinese word Cheon-jou (天主) meaning “Master of Heaven” was often written like a Chinese word with the same pronunciation, but having a different meaning such as “pillar of heaven”. When we see this word in this context we notice right away that it is a simple copying mistake in Chinese to say the same thing designating Catholicism.
In short, we can now say that at various times there were some isolated Christians in this country, in the camp of the Japanese soldiers or in the group around prince So-Hyun, but they were not able to ensure continuity or form a community or a church.
8. The Chinese Bishop of the Nanking diocese, Bishop Gregorio Lopez, was provisionally put in charge of the Ko-ryeo diocese in Korea
In January 1674, Pope Clement X appointed the first Chinese priest Gregorio Lopez as bishop of the Nanjing diocese and at the same time provisionally also of the Kor-yeo diocese in Korea. This shows that the Vatican had already shown a certain preoccupation with the mission to Korea. We might say that this was a distant preparation for the evangelization of Korea from the end of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century. Bishop G. Lopez was very interested in this mission; he sent a report to the Vatican. Thanks to the efforts and the interest of Korean diplomats and scholars the church of Nanjing made itself known in Rome. Yi Sou-Kwang, Heo Kyun and the entourage of prince So-Hyun tried to make contact with the European missionaries: Germans, French and Portuguese, especially when making several trips to Peking. The bishop of Nanjing was unable to do anything for the establishment of a local church despite his position, his function and all his efforts for the mission. Therefore, the project was stopped. Despite everything, there was an interest on the part of the Church of Rome. This interest was in response to all the efforts of the Korean people.
9. The Catholic Koreans dispersed in Time and Space
During the Japanese invasion of 1592, a Spanish and a Japanese missionary had come to Korea for missionary work. During the invasion of Cheong in 1636, Prince So-Hyun and Mr.Yi Kyung-Sang left as hostages and returned with five Chinese Catholics. They remained for a while in the royal palace. Bishop Gregorio Lopez, bishop of Nanking, and provisionally bishop of the Koryeo diocese, attempted to set up a mission in Korea.
In short, we may suppose that certain Koreans along the coast of the Western Sea of Hwang-hai-do and around the Dou-man River would have had knowledge of Catholicism through their contacts with Chinese Orthodox or Catholic Christians. They would have been baptized. All of this might be considered an event.
Their faith remained on a personal level, isolated in time and space. That’s why it was not passed on; the faith disappeared when the situation or the living conditions changed.
For example, when the Japanese soldiers withdrew, the royal court ordered interdiction of Catholicism to the provincial governors at Hai-Jou of Hwang-hai-do and at Heui-ryung of Ham-kyung-do, and these isolated Christians stopped their personal practice of faith and disappeared immediately. Moreover, at the death of Bishop G. Lopez, the whole project of mission to Korea stopped. Thus we conclude that some Koreans had become Catholic through the encounter with European, Chinese or Japanese missionaries. However, they had not had the opportunity to regroup or to live in a Christian community to be able to continue and transmit their faith to other generations.
The Search for the Science of Heaven, the Practice of Yi Byok and the Activities for the Foundation of the Church
10. The Catholic Church of Korea started with Yi Byok and his young 20 year old companions
The whole work of Kwangam Yi Byok and of his young Korean scholars is at the origin of the Korean Catholic Church. Their study of the Science of Heaven, their practice and the transmission of their faith made the evangelization of the Korean people possible, despite all kinds of difficulties, despite bloody persecutions. This movement and these Catholic activities have had equally a great influence on the reform of the Korean society and the modernization of the country.
Many historians think that the main founders of the Church such as Yi Byok (1754-1785), Yi Seung-Houn (1756-1801), Cheong Yak-Jeon (1758-1816), Cheong Yak-Jong (1760-1801), Cheong Yak-Yong (1762-1836), Kwon Chul-Shin (1736-1801) and Kwon Il-Shin (1742-1792) were scholars of the political party Nam-in. They also say that they were connected with Seongho Yi Ik (1681-1763), Sounam Ahn Jeon-Bok (1712-1791). These scholars of Practical Science are said to have founded the Catholic Church. But those who started the movement of the Catholic faith through the study of the Science of Heaven were young people, about 20 years old, in other words, they were a little too young for us to say that they were part of Practical Science.
Therefore, we can say with certainty that the scholars of Practical Science did not found the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we can affirm that the Practical Science of Choseon (Korea) was founded by scholars, because through their interest in Catholicism, they collected Catholic books, studied them and made them known among scholars that they might almost be considered Catholic catechumens in spirit. All these books, the diffusion of Catholic books, the study and research of these books made the Western world known in this country. The practice of Catholicism by Jibon Yi Sou-Kwang, Heo Kyun, prince So-Hyun and Mr. Yi Kyung-Sang did not only make the Western world known but at the same time encouraged a spirit of reform in Chosun society. After that Cheong-Dou-Won or Yi Shin-Myung brought back books of the Science of Heaven and studied them, while Shin-Hou-Dam remained critical. Later on Seongho Yi Ik, Sounam Ahn Jeong-Bok, Kwon Chul-Shin, Kwon Il-Shin, Yi Byok, Yi Seung-Houn, Cheong Yak-Jeon, Cheong Yak-Jong, Cheong Yak-Yong …, based all their research and their activities on the Catholic books, studying their pro and con. This enlarged their horizon. Once again, we may conclude that it is not Practical Science that gave birth to Catholicism in Korea, but on the contrary, it is Catholicism that founded Practical Science in Korea. If the Science of Heaven had a great influence on the thought of Practical Science it was thanks to Kwangam Yi Byok who had started to search for truth and had practiced it.
Around 1770, Kwangam Yi Byok is the main person. He played a key role in the study of the Science of Heaven, its practice and even its diffusion. When we look carefully at the situation of this period, founding the Catholic Church was more difficult than starting a new religion, as it is more difficult to translate a book than to write it. It was very difficult to find books or religious objects. It was equally very difficult to contact specialists, missionaries, since they could not easily leave the country. These believers were not allowed to do what they wanted in their religious practices as they had done already among themselves: celebrate Mass, administer the sacrament of reconciliation. These sacramental activities were stopped immediately when “they understood” that they were forbidden to lay people. Despite all these unfavorable conditions for living their faith in God: lack of knowledge, rejection of the Science of Heaven and constant persecutions, nevertheless, they dared to build a Catholic Church that was completely new in this country.
11. “Kwangam Yi Byok is the Founder of the Korean Catholic
Church.” Saint Daveluy
Msgr. Daveluy (1818-1866), a French missionary of the Foreign Missions of Paris, arrived in Korea in 1845 with the Korean priest Kim Dae-Keon (1821-1846). Later on he became the 5th bishop of the diocese of Choseon; he was canonized in 1984 with the Koreans, among them Kim Dae-Keon. During the 21 years of his mission in Korea, he studied the situation and history of the Church in Korea and left several documents, important for the Church, notably the “Notes on the history of the Korean martyrs”. In these notes he emphasizes that the history of the Korean Church started with the great conferences of Yi Byok (1754-1785):
· “The real history of the Korean Church starts with the conferences given by Ni Pieki (=Yi Byok).
· “The instrument, used by God to give the first impetus to the religion in this Korean kingdom was Ni Pieki, called Deok-Jo, nicknamed by himself Koang-Am. Pieki descended from the Ni de Kieng Tsiou family.”
· “Kouen Ambroise, T’siel Sini was the oldest of the Kueon family, whom Ni Pieki chose to become the founder of the religion in this country.”
In his notes Bishop Daveluy reports the words Yi Byok addressed to Yi Seung-Houn when sending him to the Church of Peking in 1783 to meet the local Church there. These words are especially important. Here they are: “Pieki (Yi Byok) continues saying: ‘Since you are going to Peking, this is a sign that the Supreme God has pity on our country and wants to save it. Upon arrival, go immediately to the temple of the Master of Heaven, speak with the European scholars, question them about everything, deepen your knowledge of the doctrine with them, inform yourself in detail of the practices of this religion and bring us all the necessary books. Go, the great matter of life and death, of eternity is in your hands. Go, and especially don’t act lightly.’ Seung Houni listened submissively to Pieki’s words that touched him deeply. He received them as words from the Master, and promised to make every effort to bring their common desires to fruition.”
What we should note as important here is Yi Seung-Houn’s attitude when he received Yi Byok’s words as “words from the Master”. Writing the word Master with a capital ‘M’, indicates in French or Italian, that one considers him a Great Master such as Confucius or Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed. This makes us realize how great the knowledge, virtue, competence and authority of Yi Byok was. He was for Yi Seung-Houn more than a simple wise man, more than a saint.
All of this proves that the foundation of the Church in Korea did not start with the baptism of Yi Seung-Houn in 1784, but that it had already begun with the great conferences of Yi Byok in 1777 at Chon-jin-am. Bishop Daveluy never talked about the “conferences of Kwon Cheol-Shin”. Indeed Kwon Cheol-Shin was certainly a scholar for whom he had much esteem and respect, but he was not someone capable of reforming and spreading a foreign religion.
12. “Yi Byok is the one who sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking as delegate of the Korean community.” - Saint Maubant
Saint Maubant (1803-1839) was the first French missionary in Korea. He it is who wrote and signed the history of the 15 year old Koreans: Kim Dae-Keon (1821-1846), Choi Yang-Eob and Choi Kwa-Choul in the seminary of Macao. There are important passages in his letter and in the documents concerning the history of the foundation of the Korean Catholic Church that he sent to Paris about two years after his arrival: “… We were able this year to procure secretly handwritten notes on the establishment of the Christian religion in Korea. They differ little from those I had received through oral tradition… In 1720, the 58th year of the famous Kanghi, another Korean ambassador named Y had an interview with the missionaries in Peking and received from them Christian books that he brought to Korea. Someone named Koang who received the name John, after having read these books experienced the happiness of feeling and tasting the truths they contained. He embraced the Christian religion and in agreement with some other converts in 1783 he sent another delegate to Peking whose name was also Y, but of another family, to get more ample information on this holy religion. Y contacted the French missionaries and was baptized in February 1784 under the name Peter (…).”
13. “It’s Yi Byok who instructed me in Catholicism.”
- Yi Seung-Houn
After he was sent to Peking in 1784 by Yi Byok, Yi Seung-Houn wrote a letter to a missionary of Peking in 1789:
“I met a scholar who had found a book on our religion that he had practiced for several years. His work had not been useless: he had knowledge of the most difficult points in understanding this religion; his faith and his fervor surpassed even his knowledge. He is the one who instructed me and supported me. We helped each other to serve God.”
14. “Yi Byok, great teacher, specialist in the study of the Science of Heaven sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking”.
- Kim Dae-Keon, seminarian
Before being ordained, the seminarian Kim Dae-keon started his summary on the history of Catholicism in Korea with a note on Kwangam Yi Byok:
“In Korea there are many philosophers who discovered the existence of the true God, creator and mover of the universe. One among them, the most famous, is named Yi Byok who wanted to serve this true God. He heard that this faith is lived very actively in Peking. He looked for an opportunity to get Christian books to Korea. Finally, Doctor Yi Byok learned that Yi Seung-Houn was supposed to accompany his father Yi Dong-Ouk on a trip to Peking. Yi Byok asked him to try to meet missionaries in Peking to ask them for Christian books and to bring them to him.”
In 1845, around sixty years after the death of Kwangam Yi Byok, Kim Dae-Keon, 23 years old, a seminarian in Macao, wrote a passage in which he says that Yi Byok was born in Solmeui, Chung-nam. At the age of seven, Kim Dae-Keon took refuge with his parents in a mountainous region of Yong-In for ten years. At the end of 1836, at the age of 15, he left for the seminary of Macao. During this time of persecution, there were no history books or organized Christians. It was not easy to meet Christians and yet he knew already the history of the Church. This shows that he learned it from someone of his entourage, probably his master Cheong Ha-Sang (1795-1839) or from his father Kim Jai-Joun, who was a year younger than Cheong Ha-Sang. This shows that sixty years after the death of Yi Byok, even 15 year old young Christians knew that the Korean Church had started with this great scholar.
15. “Yi Byok, Founder of Catholicism in Choseon”
Notes of the “Chronicles of the Yi Dynasty”
The fact that the Korean Church was founded by Yi Byok is found not only in Catholic documents, but also in the notes of the Chronicles of the Yi Dynasty.
“According to the interrogation at Cheong Yak-Jong it is Yi Byok who was the first to discover Western science and deepened it and then asked Yi Seung-Houn to go to Peking”.
Especially when we see the report made by the persecutors on the two brothers, Yi Byok and Yi Kyok we can say that this report officially proves that the Church was founded by Yi Byok:
“Thus Yi Byok is the head of this vicious gang. Is it normal that his brother Yi Kyok occupies still a superior rank? He must immediately be removed from his function and dismissed”.
“The top leader of this vicious gang is Yi Byok. Therefore, it is impossible for his brother Yi Kyok to still keep a public office”.
16. “Yi Byok is the Founder of the Korean Catholic Church.”
- “Byok-ui-pyun” of Yi Man-Chai
“Yi Byok, perfidious brother of Yi Seok, former provincial official, is the leader who first started this vicious Catholic religion. Thus everybody knows him to be the founder of Catholicism.”
17. “When arriving in Peking, you will ask for a prayer book and finally for baptism”. - Letter of Hwang Sa-Yung
We read the different notes that prove that Yi Byok sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking to receive baptism. The notes of Bishop Daveluy, the witness of Cheong Yak-Jong and the letter of Kim Dae-Keon demonstrate the same thing.
Here is yet another witness by Hwang Sa-Yung (1777-1801) on the same topic. It was written on silk:
“Yi Seung-Houn was the preferred scholar of Yi Byok. When he was going to accompany his father to Peking in 1783, Yi Byok told him: “When you arrive in Peking, find a Catholic Church and a Western missionary scholar. Ask him for a prayer book and finally for baptism. I am sure that the Western scholar will love you very much. You will have to bring back many religious objects. Do not return empty-handed.” Following Yi Byok’s advice, Yi Seung-Houn introduced himself to the Catholic Church of Peking and asked for baptism.”
18. “Yi Seung-Houn, the three brothers of Cheong Yak-Yong, and Kwon Il-Shin with his son were seated around Yi Byok…”
“Byok-ui-pyun” of Yi Man-Chai
One year after Yi Seung-Houn’s return from Peking, where he had received baptism in 1784, persecution started (1785). The notes of the judgment of Byok-ui-pyun on the Catholic martyrs show the relationship of Kwangam Yi Byok to the other scholars in his circle.
“In the spring of 1785, a man named Yi Byok was preaching at the house of Kim Beom-Ou which was in front of Dang-rye-won. He was seated against the wall, his head and shoulders covered with a blue cloth. In front of him were Yi Seung-Houn, the three brothers Cheong Yak-Jeon, Yak-Jong and Yak-Yong, the father and son Kwon Il-Shin. All were seated around Yi Byok who was holding a book in his hand, and they were listening to his teaching. They all called themselves disciples of Yi Byok. Yi Byok was very demanding and severe in his teaching. He was more severe than the Confucian teachers with their disciples.”
Chon-jin-am and Kwangam Yi Byok
in the documents of Cheong Yak-Yong
19. “Yi Byok, full of knowledge and virtue and the spirit of a sage”- -- Cheong Yak-Yong
Among the notes on the beginning of the Church in Korea there are more detailed notes mentioned several times, not only on Yi Byok but also on the topic of the conferences in Chon-ji-nam and the sayings of Dasan Cheong Yak-Yong. In 1777, at the age of 15, Yak-Yong said this about his teacher Kwangam Yi Byok who was 23 years old: “He is gifted with knowledge and virtue and a spirit full of vigor and valor”, “a great personality who has been training himself in virtue since his childhood”. Cheong Yak-Yong took him as his model and respected him. Here is a poem he dedicated to his master Yi Byok:
Shadow and light cannot be corrected or changed
The seven days of the week run their course day after day
Good trees grow stronger in spring
They grow with thick ever changing foliage
When Yi Byok is persecuted by the fool hardy
He does not oppose them, because of his compassion
He never looks at things with partiality
He has no desire for riches and glory
He is gifted with knowledge and virtue, full of vigor and valor
He looks at everything around him with sympathy and kindness
He has been training himself in virtue since his childhood
Justice and fraternity show themselves always on his face.
20. “Like a crane come down from heaven into the world of humans, we saw a divine bearing in the person of Kwangam Kong”
- Cheong Yak-Yong
The funeral hymn for his friend Yi Deok-Jo is one of the poems that Cheong Yak-Yong composed for the funeral of Yi Byok. In this poem, he showed Yi Byok’s personality: “Like a crane come down from heaven into the world of humans, where hens and ducks malign it out of jealousy “, “we saw in him a divine attitude”. In this funeral hymn dedicated to Cheong Yak-Yong, 23 years old, we can perceive Yi Byok’s degree of knowledge and virtue which was not only superior to that of a simple scholar, but was also on a supernatural and divine level.
21. A year ago, Yi Byok left us, like a crane he flew away in autumn.
I went to see the colorful autumn leaves at Chon-jin-am”.
- Cheong Yak-Yong
Cheong Yak-Yong often went to Chon-jin-am, where the great conferences had been organized, in order to write poems. At the beginning of autumn in 1786, one year after the death of Yi Byok, he went to Chon-jin-am remembering his old school and to see the colorful autumn leaves. That’s where he composed his poems. He could well have seen colorful leaves elsewhere, for instance on the Keom-da-san hills of his Ma-jai region or on the Yong-mun-san mountains, closer to home. Why then did he go to Chon-jin-am? Couldn’t we say that it was in order to remember Yi Byok, to console his heart, empty because of Yi Byok’s absence. Cheong Yak-Yong was still very busy because of his role at the royal court, but he often went to Chon-jin-am, which he sometimes simply called ‘Chon-jin’ without the word ‘am’ which means ‘Buddhist hermitage’. Here is the poem:
Colorful leaves of Chon-jin-am
With wine bought in the village of Hwa-rang-bang
I made the carriage stop in the shade of Aing-ja-bong mountain
Under fine rain drops at night
On both sides, the mountains became redder,
Most of Cheong Yak-Yong’s poems that were written at Chon-jin-am are a precious help in writing the history of the Church in Korea. He left poems that describe his activities at that location. He must have participated in the conferences organized by Yi Byok on the Science of Heaven and the Christian way of living.
22. At Chon-jin-am we still see the House where Yi Byok was reading…” - Cheong Yak-Yong
In 1797, at the age of 35, Cheong Yak-Yong occupied the post of secretary and belonged to the second retinue of King Cheong-Jo. At that time he went to Chon-jin-am with his brothers on the traditional feast day of Dano. He spent two nights there writing about 20 poems. Among his poems is one that is very important for us.
Here it is:
“Coming to Chon-jin-am with two brothers on the day of Dano
We still see Yi Byok’s house.
But it is difficult to find the far- away traces of this ‘Nokong’ (Yi Byok).
The poetic tastes and the figures of speech would have to be the same on the spiritual
In memory of this period, I drink wine half a day and the other half day
I write poems.”
This poem was written in1797, twelve years after the martyrdom of Yi Byok (1785) and twenty years after the first year of the Chon-jin-am conferences in 1777. This poem implies that Dasan Cheong Yak-Yong had come several times to Chon-jin-am or that he had stayed there some time to read books. The most important word of this poem is the word ‘reading’. During the Choseon period there were reading houses , some kind of specialized schools for high functionaries and the word ‘reading’ does not mean a simple reading here. But comparing it to a post-university research institute of our time, the house of Yi Byok takes on an important significance for the history of the Church.
The word ‘Nokong’ indicates a great personality resembling a strong whirlwind that left after turning the world upside down.
23. Cheong Yak-Yong says that he is crying while caressing the notebook with the writings of Kwangam Yi Byok that helped him do his studies for King Cheong-Jo
Cheong Yak-Yong was full of admiration for Yi Byok. We see this clearly written in his notebook ‘Course notes on the Joung-Yong book’ (Chinese philosophical thoughts on the virtue of moderation). This notebook is a collection of notes on the 70 questions asked by King Cheong-Jo on the Joung-Yong of the students, who were candidates for high state offices in 1784 when Cheong Yak-Yong was a student at the royal court. And during his life in exile in 1814, at the age of 54, he reworked and completed these notes. While caressing these old notes, and remembering the past, he expressed his feeling in the preface:
“In 1784, when I was writing the answers to the questions for King Cheong-Jo, I had asked for help from Yi Kong, but now when he has left this world, to whom could I ask questions? Even if he were still alive, how could I compare myself to his knowledge and virtue? I am still alive and he has left us a long time ago. Ah! caressing these old notes I can’t stop my tears when I think of him.”
When we read these ‘Course notes on the Joung-Yong’ which he touched up and completed almost 30 years after the death of Yi Byok (1785), we find almost on every page: “This sentence was not mine, but Yi Byok’s”, “This word is not mine, but this was the doctrine of Kwangam”, or still “This explanation is not mine, but it was Yi Byok who wanted it this way”, When you read carefully the Joung-Yong book you will find many phrases from Yi Byok.” It was in this climate that he reworked and completed these difficult notes.
We can still feel how much he venerated Yi Byok in the text of the epitaph on the tomb of Nokam Kwon Il-Shin which he wrote himself:
“I (Cheong Yak-Yong) was a disciple of Yi Byok and my older brother Yak-Heon was also one already before me. When Yi Byok became the first leader and was traveling through the country to spread Catholicism, Kwon Il-Shin was following Yi Byok with much fervor.”
In the same way we can read another text of Sounam Ahn Jeong-Bok. He sent several letters to Kwon Cheol-Shin and Kwon Il-Shin. Among these letters is one that gives witness to the activities of Kwangam Yi Byok as leader of the Church. For the first time he praises Catholicism. Here is an extract of his letter written in 1784 to Kwon Kai-Myung (Kwon Cheol-Shin):
“You had always refused Buddhism and now that you converted to Catholicism you don’t want to leave it. It seems clear to me that there is something special in this Catholicism. Nothing can touch the heart of man more strongly. That’s why I asked you in my last letter to bring me books. In the meantime I learned that Yi Deok-Jo had recently passed by at your house with some of these Catholic books, therefore I don’t understand why he did not stop at my house when he passed through this region…”
In this letter Ahn Jeog-Bok was calling Kwon Cheol-Shin: ‘Kwon Kai-Myung’, Kwon Il-Shin: ‘Kwon Seong-Oh’, Yi Byok: ‘Yi Deok-Jo’. He and Cheong Yak-Yong liked to call Yi Byok: ‘Deok-Jo’ (which emphasizes his character as a virtuous man, volunteering to continue his religious formation as one keeps firmly one’s virginity) instead of calling him by his real name, he called him ‘Deok-Jo’ ( , a virtuous man). It is said that Yi Byok got married at the age of 15 according to the custom of that time, but in order to plunge himself more deeply into the study of the Science of Heaven, into spiritual formation and to practice more the commandments of Catholicism, at the age of 17 he spent most of his time at Chon-jin-am, far from his family. Thus he will see his only son Yi Hyun-Mo only at thirty, in 1784. Moreover, Cheong Yak-Yong says that Yi Byok was formed very young in virtue, which means around the age of ten at that time. In other words he was not trained in the bosom of his family, but elsewhere in a special way. We should read this poem with the idea that it was composed by Cheong Yak-Yong at the age of 15, the year of his marriage, to offer it to Yi Byok who was 23 years old. On the other hand, Yi Byok’s wife, Ryou-han-dang Kwon was from a noble family. Her father, Kwon Eom, was minister of the armies. According to him she died young because her husband, Yi Byok, had become crazy because of the Science of Heaven, Catholicism. He left his young wife, not taking care of her and made her suffer as ‘a wife who lives separated from her husband’. This is one of the reasons which impelled Kwon Eom to throw himself fully into the persecution of Catholics in 1785. We might say that he felt resentment towards his son-in-law Yi Byok when thinking of his daughter.
Foundation of the Catholic Church of Choseon
by Kwangam Yi Byok
24. The numerous activities of Yi Byok: study and practice of the Science of Heaven.
All the references we have seen thus far show that Yi Byok is the founder of the Catholic Church of Choseon (Korea). Now we are going to look more closely at the activities that lead to this foundation, but first I am going to present the essential points:
1. He brought together the three doctrines, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Catholicism and welcomed them at the study center of Chon-jin-am, a place of spiritual formation.
2. He developed the teaching of the doctrine through spiritual formation sessions and the practice of the faith. He made it endure.
3. He assembled young scholars and with them formed a community of the faithful.
4. He sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking as a delegate of the Catholic faithful of Choseon.
5. He converted nobles such as Kwon-Il-Shin, Yi Seung-Houn and Cheong Yak-Jong to the Catholic faith.
6. He moved the Conference Center of Chon-jin-am to Sou-pyo-dong in Seoul. He took the initiative to organize prayers and dogma classes.
7. He had brilliant success in a public debate with great Confucian scholars such as Yi Ka-Hwan and Yi Ki-Yang.
8. He moved the meeting room to Myung-rye-bang and organized prayers and dogma classes there.
9. He made the faith of ‘Cheon-hak’ (Catholic) of Chon-jin am known in Seoul; Sou-pyo-dong and Myung-rye-bang, in Ma-hyun and Yang-keun.
10. By converting persons such as Kim Beom-Ou, Choi Chang-Hyun of the middle class, he facilitated the link of this social class with the Church.
11. During the persecution of 1785 he was martyred by his own family. Imprisoned in his house he was poisoned and died of hunger.
12. For 60 years (1785-1845) Confucian leaders, persecutors of Catholics, officials of the country and Catholic faithful, all recognized Yi Byok officially as the founder and the first guide of the Korean Catholic Church.
25. Yi Byok’s study house and the Conference Center at Chon-jin-am were a place of spiritual formation in the Science of Heaven for young scholars
Cheong Yak-Yong noted that in 1770, Kwangam Yi Byok settled in the study house at Chon-jin-am to study and to practice the Science of Heaven Cheon-hak. Family members linked through marriage, such as Cheong Yak-Jeon, Cheong Yak-Jong and Cheong Yak-Yong went there often despite their young age. They highly esteemed Yi Byok who conducted their spiritual formation “They took courses according to the system of the solar calendar: mathematics, geometry, etc. They studied them in depth.” At that time Cheong Yak-Jeon was 12 years old, Cheong Yak-Jong , 10, and Cheong Yak-Yong, 8. For ten years they often frequented this study house in Chon-jin-am and they wrote poems in which they tell us what they did in this place of formation.
Later in 1827, Cheong Yak-Yong at the age of 65 returned to Cheon-jin-am with his friends, co-disciples of the Conferences such as Hyun-Ou, Yung-gong, Seok-Cheon Ong, Seong-Kou, Kyou-Baek and the children of the three families. The Buddhist monks had left the place a long time ago, thus there was no one there. They then went to sleep in a village, led by Yi-po, a Buddhist. For three days they wrote about forty poems. Here is an extract:
This straight path like a thread between rocks
Is the same on which we used to trod and play in days of old.
There we wrote poems on a given topic: “colored leaves”.
Now returning as a guest, my heart is sad.
Heroes and prominent persons used to study and read here together.
We memorized the book Sang-Seo ( ). We burned it and drank its ashes mixed with water.
The monastery in ruins is covered all over with wild herbs.
Those who practiced meditation have disappeared, no light anymore in the recollection room which is firmly closed.
We no longer dare to memorize the points of virtue starting in the morning as before.
But we can read books in the mountain shade.
We were worried about this night, but Yi-Po invited us, we will go and sleep, trusting him.
Even if the sun’s shade makes everything somber, we hope that nothing will happen.
My heart is torn because I no longer can live as before
In the past, the orioles used to sing in the shadow of the trees, but they stopped singing.
The water pipes are broken, water runs everywhere.
Pieces of tile are piled high, perhaps we are going to cultivate the terrain of the house.
The friends of meditation are all dead, we cannot find them anywhere.
Our former study lodgings are in ruins, halfway fallen down.
I find myself 30 years later a poor guest
I am nothing but an isolated boat in the sea of suffering.”
26. The young for-runners had 10 days of study meetings in the midst of a severe winter in Chon-jin-am
In 1777, 1778, 1779 young scholars had been following study sessions in Chon-jin-am for ten years in the midst of winter. At that time they didn’t even use the word “religion” yet, they called Catholicism “Cheon-hak”, which means Science of Heaven. Notes on the first winter study session in Chon-jin-am are different depending on the author. For instance, Bishop Daveluy wrote that the first study session had started in the winter of 1777, while Dasan Cheong Yak-Yong noted it as 1779. Cheong Hak-Soul, in his “Life of Yi Byok” noted that they had been organized during the winters of 1778 and 1779. In short, it is clear that winter study sessions in Chon-jin-am were organized several times. In 1777, Cheong Yak-Yong would have been 15 years old, Cheong Yak-Jong 17, Cheong Yak-Jeon 19, Yi Byok 23 and Yi Seung-Houn 21. The great scholar Kwon Cheol-Shin who at the time was 41 years old and lived on the other side of the mountain participated, reading books and discussing them all day long, from early in the morning to the evening. They even memorized classical books of Confucianism such as Kyung-jé-jam ( ), Sa-moul-jam ( ) contained in the 76 books on the study of human nature of Jou-Ja ( ) for formation. This kind of study session had the character of a spiritual formation session.
“When there was a study session, in the winter of 1779 in Chon-jin-am, Yi Byok arrived in the temple Jou-eo-sa during the night under heavy snow, he lit a fire and then discussed the classical books of the Kyung-seo ( ) Confucianism. Seven years later (1785), voices were raised against this system; they were no longer able to continue this kind of session and celebrate the great feast.”
“Seven years later” signifies here that it was “during the first persecution of the Catholics” through the discovery of Myung-rye-bang, and the affair “Chou-jo” in 1785.
27. “When enough friends were interested in the faith, Yi Byok dictated a summary of the “Seong-kyo-yo-ji” catechism to them”. - “The Life of Yi Byok” by Cheong Hak-Soul in 1837
In the book “The Life of Yi Byok” we find notes on the conferences of Chon-jin-am.
“In 1778, Yi Byok, at the age of 25, was studying ardently with the disciples of Master Seongho Yi Yik, his friends and scholars, a certain Cheong and Yi. Yi Byok received a box of books on ‘Cheon-hak’, the Science of Heaven, from M. Hong, a military official; he read them patiently day and night, reflecting and pondering obscure points. He walked everywhere in beautiful mountain areas. Finally, one day he arrived in the temple Won-ang-sa and stayed there. When there were many Christians, he formed a religious community and wrote down a summary of Catholicism ‘Seong-kyo-yo-ji’ ( ) for them as a catechism. He dictated it to them.”
When the author speaks of friends who were learning the doctrine, it means that they were following the classes of Yi Byok on Catholicism and that they became Christian. Today’s word ‘religion’ was indicated at that time by the Chinese word ‘Do’ ( ), which means ‘the way’. Thus from this word came the expression ‘friends of the way’ (do-ou, companions), and in the same way, ‘friends of religion’ (kyo-ou, companions). The typically Catholic words, such as ‘religious’, ‘brothers’ or ‘community’ were not yet used, but they could be heard in Chon-jin-am: ‘friends of religion’, ‘religious’, ‘community’. As a matter of fact, in Chon-jin-am, a Catholic community had already been formed as the first disciples of Jesus or the disciples of Choi Jai-Wou at the beginning of Dong-hak. According to saint Mauban’s document, it is this main nucleus, together with the proselytes, that sent the delegate Yi Seung-Houn to Peking.
“In 1779, when Yi Byok was 26 years old, his scholar friends and his disciples took him as their master and others arrived ever more numerous. At that moment, Yi Byok had already a great knowledge of science, astronomy, geography, medicine, the art of divination, destiny and human nature. When he was asked questions, he answered freely and easily without hesitation in a very correct and intelligent way. When he was director, young scholars arrived in droves and he became more and more famous in the country.”
In that way a group of young scholars was formed.
28. Yi Byok’s active participation in the Conferences of Chon-jin-am, located in the Kwang-jou Mountains, during a severe winter night.
- “Notes for the history of the Korean Martyrs” by Bishop Daveluy
There is another historical note on the Conferences at Chon-jin-am: the “Notes for the history of the Korean Martyrs” by Bishop Daveluy. Here is an excerpt:
“The year was 1777. The famous doctor Kouen T’siel Sini, accompanied by Tieng Jak Tsieni and several other nobles, students and lovers of science, went to a pagoda to devote themselves to advanced studies. When Ni Pieki heard about this he was filled with joy. He was happy to be able to profit from the lessons of these remarkable men. He immediately decided to go and find them. It was winter. Snow covered the roads everywhere and the distance was about 25km, but such obstacles were far from being able to stop this ardent heart so eager for science and wisdom. He left right away to travel over these difficult and arduous roads. He felt no fatigue. The end of the day could not prevent him from realizing his desires. He continued on his way at night and finally reached the pagoda towards midnight. How great was his disappointment when he learned that he went to the wrong pagoda and that he had to go to the other side of the mountain! Without being discouraged he left again. The mountain he had to cross at night was huge. It was covered with snow and many tigers were defending its approaches. Whatever! Pieki asked all the bonzes to get up and to accompany him. He took an iron stick in his hand to defend himself against wild animals and pursued his journey through the darkness. Finally he reached the desired place.
Such a strange arrival spread fear among the residents of this isolated building, lost in the mountains.
People could not figure out which motive, at such an unseemly hour, could lead so many guests to them, but soon after, everything was clarified. Happiness followed fear, and in the outpourings provoked by such a happy encounter, people hardly noticed that day had already dawned. During the ten days of this meeting they studied in depth all the questions on heaven, the world, human nature, etc…, all the doubts and opinions of the old ones were closely examined. Then they studied the books of morals of great men; after that they examined some philosophical and mathematical books, written in Chinese by Europeans, and they took all possible care to study them carefully.
These notes speak of an ‘isolated and lost building’, that means an uninhabited house, completely out of the way. Later on, in the poems that Cheong Yak-Yong composed at Chon-jin-am, he said: “There is still a temple Chon-jin-am, but it is difficult to imagine what it was like once upon a time!” Likewise Hong Kyung-Mo (1774-1851) writes in his book ‘Nam-han-ji’ “Chon-jin-am is an old ruined temple at Aing-ja-san, where a paper factory, managed by ‘sa-jam-won’ had been built. Almost at the same time, Cheong Yak-Yong, Bishop Daveluy and Hong Kyung-Mo wrote that Chon-jin-am was a deconsecrated and uninhabited temple. When the meeting took place, Chon-jin-am was a building in ruins and alone in the central valley of the North-West of the Aing-ja-san mountain.
When we read that Yi Byok had to cross - with great difficulty - the snow-covered Aing-ja-san mountain in the midst of winter, to participate in a study session mentioned by Cheong Yak-Yong (1779) and by Bishop Daveluy (1777), we think that the meetings must have started before the snow fell and that they were prolonged because there was so much snow. We can suppose that the participants went first to Chon-jin-am thinking of Kwangam Yi Byok who normally resided there, but when in fact he was not there. Once they were there, they decided to hold a study session right there. On the other hand, when Yi Byok heard that Cheong Yak-Jeon and Yi Seung-Houn had gone to Kwon Cheol-Shin’s house to teach and study, he went, in vain, to the Jou-eo-sa temple where Kwon Cheol-Shin normally resided. From there he left to go to Chon-jin-am, located at the other side of Aing-ja-san. Thus because of his fervor for the study of the Science of Heaven and of his Catholic faith, Yi Byok often crossed the Kwang-Jou mountain chain in the midst of winter. We can only admire him.
29. Yi Byok dedicated himself to the study of the Science of Heaven and its application in a quiet place on the mountain from 1777 to 1783.
Notes taken at the study session in Chon-jin-am were published not only within the country but also abroad. They were published in “The history course of the Theology Department of the Catholic University” by Pullo-Pinang in 1885 and in the book “The Story of Korea”, written and published by the English professor Longford in 1911. According to a note in the course of Pullo-Pinang on the study of heaven and on the organization of the study session around Yi Bok, the research on the Science of Heaven lasted 10 years, from 1770 to 1780.
“At that time some Korean scholars retired to the calm of the mountains to study philosophy. Among these were Yi Byok, called Yi Deok-Jo, Kwon Cheol-Shin, the brothers of the Cheong family: Cheong Yak-Jeon and Cheong Yak-Yong. They deliberated on human nature, heaven and earth and they began to study books on Christianity in depth. They found that the Catholic doctrine of the soul, virtue, (…), God’s providence was admirable; therefore they decided to practice it and to live according to the Ten Commandments of God starting at around 1770.”
Professor Longford wrote that this study of the Science of Heaven and its practice in Chon-jin-am lasted 13 years from 1770 to 1783.
“In 1720, a Korean envoy had come to Peking. He talked and discussed at length with the missionaries (…) and he bought books to bring them back to Korea. For about 50 years scholars among the nobility read them, studied and discussed them. Some wanted to live according to this doctrine. Among them was a young man from a noble, well known family that had enjoyed high positions for generations, it was Yi Byok, whose nick name was ‘wall of stone’. For 13 years, until Yi Seung-Houn was sent to Peking, Yi Byok had dedicated himself fully to the study of Catholicism and its practice.”
We read in Bishop Daveluy’s and Saint Mauban’s notes that a practicing community had formed around Kwangam Yi Byok in Chon-jin-am and that this community sent Yi Seung-Houn to Peking to be baptized. This was not the first time that a delegate had been sent. Bishop Daveluy noted that Yi Byok had tried for several years, but without success; “the efforts he had made to reach his goal did not succeed, but this time with Yi Seung-Houn he was successful”. Saint Mauban also noted: “they sent Yi Seung-Houn as another delegate…” He noted three times “another”. This shows that several people left as delegates. The fact that they did not send ‘a representative’, but a ‘delegate’ is prove that there was already a community of Catholic faithful who gave the role of spokesman to this delegate . We can only say “this is an admirable and unique history in the history of the Church.”.
30. The History of Chon-jin-am, birthplace of the Korean Catholic Church
Now we are going to talk about Chon-jin-am where Yi Byok’s lecture house was located. Young scholars gathered there often during a ten year period to study and listen to talks.
Chon-jin-am was the place