Regarding the common effects of original sin, common nature, and common natural law, I was specifically thinking of the accomplishments of the Chinese and Japanese, the orderliness of their traditional cultures, the interior restraint of their people, and the complexity and rigour of their crafts, study, art, laws, and manners. I do not see how the Church could not build on these societies, since grace builds on nature, and accomplish great things. Who is to say that spiritual writers could not flesh out real gems of wisdom from using the insights of Confucius or the analogues of philosophical Taoism (not the religion), just as the Church Fathers and Scholastics used Plato and Aristotle ? Who is to say that some future Doctor of the Church could not use the observations and social theories of Ibn Khaldun to advise on just Christian rule, the maintenance of the spirit of poverty and resistance to decadence, &c., just as Saint Thomas used Maimonides and Avicenna ? If it is true to say that Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Syriac, and Hebrew philosophers have enriched the Church in her theology, I do not see how one could honestly maintain that the philosophies of the Far East could not likewise enrich the natural theology of the Church generally as well. The same applies to their medicine -- think of the herbalism of Saint Hildegard, for instance, and how Chinese herbal medicine could complement it.
This is a brilliant post.
Did you know that the Church actually did exactly what you recommended? Matteo Ricci called himself a Western Confucian. After his mastery of classical Chinese, he saw no conflict between Confucianism and Catholicism. I'm not sure what he thought about Taoism, but by the time he arrived in China undoubtedly it was far removed from its pristine beginnings.
Confucius was not primarily concerned with the supernatural. He simply taught how to live in accordance to society and how to be a benevolent person in daily intercourse. In the Analects one finds delightful advice that can improve any Catholic's life. Some passages from Confucian classics can even serve for meditation on improving the spiritual life as well.
Take for example, this pasage from The Great Learning:
Da Xue: The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy. From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides. It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for.
The term that is translated as "cultivation", 修 , is the same term that is used meaning to "enter into religion".
This passage from The Doctrine of the Mean is also fascinating:
Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone.
Does it not sound like the spiritual writers cautioning Catholics to always be sober and watching?
I also find it interesting that you mention Taoism. Indeed, the Tao Te Ching is a priceless composition that is worth the time of anyone interested in philosophy. It seems like the philosophy of Lao-tzu himself is not necessarily at odds with Christianity - a book published by an Orthodox monk, "Christ: The Eternal Tao" goes over this. However, already by Matteo Ricci's time, Taoism had degenerated into a folk religion entirely superstitious and pagan in nature. Hence Alexandre de Rhodes harsh critique against Lao-tzu.
For some reason, the opening of the Tao Te Ching reminds me eerily of the operning to St. John's Gospel:
Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name. As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless; as "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable. So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence: As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects. These two flow from the same source, though differently name; And both are mysteries. The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
What makes this even more striking in retrospect is that the word "Tao", 道 , is the word used to translate "Logos" into Chinese.
To anyone interested, the the following works are available on Amazon for a very reasonable price - your life will be better for having read these books:
Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, And The Doctrine of the Mean translated by James Legge, Dover publications
Mencius translated by James Legge, Dover Publications
Texts of Taoism in 2 volumes translated by James Legge, Dover publications
The I-Ching translated by James Legge, Dover publications
The Tao Te Ching translated by John C.H. Wu
Anyways, please discuss anything about East Asia in this thread. Sorry, I'm such an East-Asia nerd.