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9 - Vietnam: Christianity's Contributions to Freedoms and Human Flourishing in Adversity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2016

Allen D. Hertzke
Affiliation:
University of Oklahoma
Timothy Samuel Shah
Affiliation:
Georgetown University, Washington DC
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

To understand Christianity and its contribution to freedom in Vietnam, one first needs to consider Vietnam's political history, as well as Christianity's intersection with an ancient culture. This chapter examines the interplay between Christianity and the state, and how this affects the human flourishing that accompanies freedom during three main periods: from the inception of Catholic Christianity through the colonial period; then from independence (1954) and the division of Vietnam between a Communist North and a republican South through the Vietnam War; and finally, since the 1975 reunification under Communism.

Today, roughly 10 percent of Vietnam's 90 million people are Christians. Although government census figures for Christians are considerably lower and Christian churches themselves find it very difficult or inconvenient to publish their own figures because of Vietnam's political/social situation, consensus points toward 8 million Catholics and 1.6 million Evangelicals in Vietnam. Rather than discussing Christianity as a whole, the very diverse histories of Catholicism and Evangelicalism in Vietnam require that they be described separately. Catholic missionaries established a continuing presence in Vietnam early in the seventeenth century and Evangelicals early in the twentieth century. The remarkable stories of the growth of the indigenous churches they established, despite adversity, are not widely known.

Social, cultural, and political factors determined that both major Christian traditions often encountered opposition and periods of persecution, sometimes intense. Nevertheless, both traditions took firm root in Vietnamese soil and contributed significantly to the modernization of Vietnam, even though they sometimes clashed with traditional culture or were at odds with the governments of the day.

ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONS AND CHURCH: HISTORY, INCULTURATION, AND DEMOGRAPHICS

The establishment of a Jesuit mission in Faifo in the year 1615, near present-day Danang, began a permanent Catholic presence in Vietnam. In 1624 the missionaries at Faifo were joined by a French Jesuit, Alexandre de Rhodes, who was to outshine them all in influence. The church sent de Rhodes to open a mission in Tonkin in present-day northern Vietnam in 1627, and he baptized sixty-seven hundred believers within three years.

One of the singular accomplishments of de Rhodes was completing an excellent Latinized Vietnamese alphabet, first used in his famous Eight-Day Catechism for new believers. This alphabet, called quốc ngũ’, was eventually employed for common use and became a key tool for Vietnam's modernization.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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