Alexandre de Rhodes

Last updated
Alexandre de Rhodes
Church Roman Catholic Church
Personal details
Born15 March 1591
Avignon, Papal States
Died5 November 1660
Isfahan, Persia
NationalityFlag of the Papal States (pre 1808).svg  Papal States
Denomination Roman Catholicism

Alexandre de Rhodes, S.J. (15 March 1591 [1] – 5 November 1660) was a Avignonese Jesuit missionary and lexicographer who had a lasting impact on Christianity in Vietnam. He wrote the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum , the first trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, published in Rome, in 1651. [2] [3]

Society of Jesus male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a scholarly religious congregation of the Catholic Church which originated in sixteenth-century Spain. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.

Missionary member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism

A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to proselytize or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem, meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send". The word was used in light of its biblical usage; in the Latin translation of the Bible, Christ uses the word when sending the disciples to preach The gospel in his name. The term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but can be used for any creed or ideology.

Christianity in Vietnam

Christianity was first introduced to Vietnam in the 16th century and established a position in Vietnamese society since the 19th century. Roman Catholics and Protestants today constitute 7% and 1% of the country’s population respectively; however, the exact number might be higher, such as 10% Catholic population and 5% Protestant population in Vietnam. Christian foreign missionaries are not allowed to proselytize or perform religious activities without government approval. Undeclared missionaries from several countries are active in Vietnam.



Map of "Annam" drafted by Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) showing "Cocincina" (left) and "Tunkin" (right). Old map of Vietnam.jpg
Map of "Annam" drafted by Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) showing "Cocincina" (left) and "Tunkin" (right).

Alexandre de Rhodes was born in Avignon, Papal States (now in France). According to some sources, he was a descendant of Jewish origin. [4] He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Rome on 24 April 1612 to dedicate his life to missionary work. He arrived in Indochina about 1619. A Jesuit mission had been established in Hanoi in 1615; Rhodes arrived there in 1620. He spent ten years in and around the Court at Hanoi during the rule of Trịnh Tùng and Trịnh Tráng. Rhodes spent twelve years in Vietnam studying under another Jesuit, Francisco de Pina. [5] It was during that time that he composed the Ngắm Mùa Chay, a popular catholic devotion to this day, meditating upon the Passion of Christ in the Vietnamese language [6] . In 1624, he was sent to the East Indies, arriving in Cochin-China on a boat with fellow Jesuit Girolamo Maiorica. In 1627, he travelled to Tongking, Vietnam where he worked until 1630, when he was forced to leave. He was expelled from Vietnam in 1630 as Trịnh Tráng became concerned about the spread of Catholicism in his realm. Rhodes in his reports said he converted more than 6,000 Vietnamese. Daily conversation in Vietnam "resembles the singing of birds", wrote Alexandre de Rhodes.

Avignon Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Avignon is a commune in south-eastern France in the department of Vaucluse on the left bank of the Rhône river. Of the 90,194 inhabitants of the city, about 12,000 live in the ancient town centre enclosed by its medieval ramparts.

Papal States territories in the Appenine Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope between 752–1870

The Papal States, officially the State of the Church, were a series of territories in the Italian Peninsula under the direct sovereign rule of the Pope, from the 8th century until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the 8th century until the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia unified the Italian Peninsula by conquest in a campaign virtually concluded in 1861 and definitively in 1870. At their zenith, the Papal States covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

From Vietnam Rhodes went to Portuguese Macau, where he spent ten years. He then returned to Vietnam, this time to the lands of the Nguyễn Lords, mainly around Huế. He spent six years in this part until he aroused the displeasure of lord Nguyễn Phúc Lan and was condemned to death.

Portuguese Macau former Portuguese possession in Southeast Asia between 1537 and 1999

Portuguese Macau refers to Macau's history from the establishment of Portuguese settlement in mid-16th century to the end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1999. Macau was both the first and last European holding in China.

Huế City in Thừa Thiên–Huế, Vietnam

Huế (Vietnamese: [hwě] is a city in central Vietnam that was the capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, and of the protectorate of Annam. A major attraction is its vast, 19th-century citadel, surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls. It encompasses the Imperial City, with palaces and shrines; the Forbidden Purple City, once the emperor's home; and a replica of the Royal Theater. The city was also the battleground for the Battle of Huế, which was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Nguyễn Phúc Lan Vietnamese ruler

Nguyễn Phúc Lan was one of the Nguyễn lords who ruled south Vietnam from the city of Phú Xuân from 1635 to 1648. During his rule the Trịnh–Nguyễn War continued.

As his sentence was reduced to exile, Rhodes returned to Rome by 1649 and pleaded for increased funding for Catholic missions to Vietnam, telling somewhat exaggerated stories about the natural riches to be found in Vietnam. This plea by Alexandre de Rhodes is at the origin of the creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1659. As neither the Portuguese nor the Pope showed interest in the project, Alexandre de Rhodes, with Pope Alexander VII's agreement, found secular volunteers in Paris in the persons of François Pallu and Pierre Lambert de la Motte, the first members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, who were sent to the Far-East as Apostolic vicars. [7] [8] [9]

Paris Foreign Missions Society Roman Catholic missionary organization

The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris is a Roman Catholic missionary organization. It is not a religious institute, but an organization of secular priests and lay persons dedicated to missionary work in foreign lands.

Pope Alexander VII 17th-century Catholic pope

Pope Alexander VII, born Fabio Chigi, was Pope from 7 April 1655 to his death in 1667.

François Pallu French bishop

François Pallu, MEP (1626–1684) was a French bishop. He was a founding member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society and became a missionary in Asia.

Alexandre de Rhodes himself was sent to Persia instead of back to Vietnam. Rhodes died in Isfahan, Persia in 1660 and was buried in the New Julfa Armenian Cemetery.

New Julfa Armenian Cemetery is a historical cemetery near New Julfa Armenian quarter of Isfahan, Iran.

In 1943, the French colony of Indochina issued a 30c postage stamp honoring him. In 2001 Vietnamese artist Nguyen Dinh Dang created a painting in homage to Alexandre de Rhodes and Nguyen Van Vinh. [10]


Latin-Vietnamese catechism, written by Alexandre de Rhodes. Alexandre de Rhodes Latin Vietnamese Catechism.jpg
Latin-Vietnamese catechism, written by Alexandre de Rhodes.
A page from Alexandre de Rhodes' 1651 dictionary, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum . L-2360-a 0008 1 t24-C-R0072.jpg
A page from Alexandre de Rhodes' 1651 dictionary, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum .

While in Vietnam, de Rhodes developed an early Vietnamese alphabet based on work by earlier Portuguese missionaries. De Rhodes compiled a catechism, Phép giảng tám ngày , and a trilingual dictionary and grammar, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum . Both were published in Rome in 1651. Unlike Maiorica's catechism and devotional texts, de Rhodes's works eschewed the traditional Vietnamese chữ Nôm script in favor of this new Latin-script alphabet. [11] Later refined as quốc ngữ, it eventually displaced chữ Nôm as the Vietnamese language's written form during the 19th and 20th centuries and "effectively separated ensuing generations of Vietnamese students from their own national literature, because they could no longer read it". [12] [13] [ undue weight? ]

De Rhodes also wrote several books about Vietnam and his travels there, including:


  1. Current scholarship suggests Rhodes may have been born in 1593. See Eduardo Torralba, S.I., "La Date de naissance du Père de Rhodes: 15 mars 1591, est-elle exacte?", in Bulletin de la Societé des Etudes Indochinoises, n.s. 35 (1960), 683–689, about the disagreement regarding the date of de Rhodes' birth. While some sources, including the Catholic Encyclopedia, indicate that the date was 1591, specialists such as Torralba, Peter Phan, Claude Larre, Pham Dinh Khiem, and Joseph Dehergne give the later date of 1593.
  2. Wörterbücher: Ein Internationales Handbuch Zur Lexikographie by Franz Josef Hausmann, p.2583
  3. Researches Into the Physical History of Mankind By James Cowles p.501
  5. "Customs and Culture of Vietnam". Archived from the original on 2006-05-05.
  6. C, Phan, Peter (2015-07-31). Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre de Rhodes & Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam. Orbis Books. ISBN   9781608334742., "Adaptations of Christian liturgy", n. 5.
  7. Viet Nam By Nhung Tuyet Tran, Anthony Reid p.222
  8. An Empire Divided by James Patrick Daughton, p.31
  9. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.229–230
  10. "The Introduction of Roman Writing Into Vietnam (The transcendental Death of Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh)".
  11. Sidwell P., Jenny M. The Handbook of Austroasiatic Languages. BRILL. 2014. V. 2. P. 909
  12. Pears P. A. Remnants of Empire in Algeria and Vietnam: Women, Words, and War. Lexington Books. 2006. P. 18
  13. Colonialism, Indigenous Society, and School Practices: French West Africa and Indochina, 1918–1938 // Altbach P. G., Kelly G. P. (ed.) Education and Colonialism. New York: Longman. 1991. P. 25


Related Research Articles

Vietnamese language official and national language of Vietnam

Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language that originated in Vietnam, where it is the national and official language. It is the native language of the Vietnamese (Kinh) people, as well as a first or second language for the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. As a result of Vietnamese emigration and cultural influence, Vietnamese speakers are found throughout the world, notably in East and Southeast Asia, North America, Australia and Western Europe. Vietnamese has also been officially recognized as a minority language in the Czech Republic.

Annam (French protectorate) French protectorate encompassing the central region of Vietnam, 1883-1948

Annam was a French protectorate encompassing the central region of Vietnam. Before the protectorate's establishment, the name Annam was used in the West to refer to Vietnam as a whole. Vietnamese people were referred to as Annamites. The protectorate of Annam became in 1887 a part of French Indochina. Two other Vietnamese regions, Cochinchina in the South and Tonkin in the North, were also units of French Indochina. The region had a dual system of French and Vietnamese administration. The Nguyễn Dynasty still nominally ruled Annam, with a puppet emperor residing in Huế. In 1948, the protectorate was merged in the Provisional Central Government of Vietnam, which was replaced the next year by the newly established State of Vietnam. The region was divided between communist North Vietnam and anti-communist South Vietnam under the terms of the Geneva Accord of 1954.

The Vietnamese alphabet is the modern writing system for the Vietnamese language. It uses the Latin script, based on its employment in the alphabets of Romance languages, in particular the Portuguese alphabet, with some digraphs and the addition of nine accent marks or diacritics – four of them to create additional sounds, and the other five to indicate the tone of each word. The many diacritics, often two on the same vowel, make written Vietnamese easily recognizable.

Tittle diacritical mark

A tittle or superscript dot is a small distinguishing mark, such as a diacritic or the dot on a lowercase i. the dot on the j is called a dottle. The tittle is an integral part of the glyph of i and j, but diacritic dots can appear over other letters in various languages. In most languages, the tittle of i or j is omitted when a diacritic is placed in the tittle's usual position, but not when the diacritic appears elsewhere.

Vietnamese literature is the literature, both oral and written, created largely by Vietnamese-speaking people.

Đ, known as crossed D or dyet, is a letter formed from the base character D/d overlaid with a crossbar. Crossing was used to create eth (ð), but eth has an uncial as its base whereas đ is based on the straight-backed roman d. Crossed d is a letter in the alphabets of several languages and is used in linguistics as a phonetic symbol.

Catholic Church in Vietnam

The Catholic Church in Vietnam is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of Bishops in Vietnam who are in communion with the Pope in Rome. Vietnam has the fifth largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, India, China and Indonesia. According to Catholic Hierarchy Catalog, there are 6,332,700 Catholics in Vietnam, representing 7.0% of the total population. There are 27 dioceses with 2228 parishes and 2668 priests.

In written Latin, the apex is a mark with roughly the shape of an acute accent ( ´ ) which is placed over vowels to indicate that they are long.

France–Vietnam relations

French–Vietnamese relations started as early as the 17th century with the mission of the Jesuit father Alexandre de Rhodes. Various traders would visit Vietnam during the 18th century, until the major involvement of French forces under Pigneau de Béhaine from 1787 to 1789 helped establish the Nguyễn Dynasty. France was heavily involved in Vietnam in the 19th century under the pretext of protecting the work of Catholic missionaries in the country. France progressively carved for itself a huge colony, which would form French Indochina in 1887. France continued to rule Vietnam as a colony until France's defeat in the First Indochina War and the proclamation of Vietnam's independence in 1954.

<i>Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum</i> book by Alexandre de Rhodes

The Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum is a trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary written by the French Jesuit lexicographer Alexandre de Rhodes after 12 years in Vietnam. It was published by the Propaganda Fide in Rome in 1651, upon Rhodes' visit to Europe, along with his catechism Phép giảng tám ngày.

Jean-Louis Taberd French missionary

Jean-Louis Taberd (1794–1840) was a French missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, and bishop of Isauropolis, in partibus infidelium.

Đàng Trong Region of Vietnam

Đàng Trong, also known as Nam Hà, was an area of Vietnamese southwards expansion, later enlarged to become Cochinchina, during the 17th century Trịnh–Nguyễn War. The word "Đàng Trong" first appeared in the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum by Alexandre de Rhodes.

Đàng Ngoài Area in Vietnam

Đàng Ngoài, also known as Bắc Hà, was an area in northern Vietnam during the 17th century Trịnh–Nguyễn War. The word "Đàng Ngoài" first appeared in the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum by Alexandre de Rhodes.

Girolamo Maiorica was a 17th-century Italian Jesuit missionary to Vietnam. He is known for compiling numerous Roman Catholic works written in the Vietnamese language's demotic chữ Nôm script, both on his own and with assistance from local converts. Maiorica was one of the first authors of original Nôm prose. His works are seen as a milestone in the history of Vietnamese literature.

Chữ Nôm vernacular writing system for the Vietnamese language using Chinese characters

Chữ Nôm, in earlier times also called quốc âm or chữ nam, is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It used the standard set of classical Chinese characters to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, while new characters were created on the Chinese model to represent other words.

Revival Lê dynasty

The Later Lê Restoration is a distinction current in Vietnamese historiography. This period marked the ending of first Lê dynasty which had flourished for 100 years from 1427 to 1527 until the high-ranking mandarin Mạc Đăng Dung stole the throne of emperor Lê Cung Hoàng in 1527 and established the Mạc dynasty, ruling the whole territory of Đại Việt. The Lê royalists escaped to the Kingdom of Lan Xang. The Right Commander-General of the Five Armies and Marquess of An Thanh Nguyễn Kim started to summon the people who were still royal to the Lê emperor to form the new army and to organize a revolution against Mạc Đăng Dung. Nguyễn Kim returned to the land of Đại Việt and led the six-year civil war.

B with flourish is the modern name for the third letter of the Middle Vietnamese alphabet, sorted between B and C. The B with flourish has a rounded hook that starts halfway up the stem and curves about 180 degrees counterclockwise, ending below the bottom-left corner. It represents the voiced bilabial fricative, which in modern Vietnamese merged with the voiced labiodental fricative, written as the letter V in the Vietnamese alphabet.

The Ngắm Mùa Chay or Lenten meditation, also known as ngắm dung is a Catholic devotion containing many hymns that developed out of 17th century Vietnam. The devotion is primarily a sung reflection and meditation on the Passion of Christ and the sorrows of His Blessed Mother.