Idol of 'Fombum'
China Monumentis... Illustrata

(Amsterdam 1667)


Kircher, situated at the center of Western culture, found himself in a unique position to gather information from the widespread network of Jesuit missionaries, and to synthesize it in a unifying conceptual framework. One of the most successful of such cullings is China Monumentis… Illustrata, a work compiled largely from the notes and correspondence of Jesuit missionaries to India, China, and Japan, including such noted Society scholars as Johann Adam Schall von Bell and Matteo Ricci. This large and exhaustive work was one of Kircher's most popular, expounding on Chinese geography, history, culture, and language, including the first published Western vocabularies of Sanskrit and Chinese, becoming a standard text in translation until the nineteenth century. Kircher had applied and been vigorously rejected twice for missionary positions in the far east, and was convinced that the roots of these other civilizations lay in the culture of his beloved ancient Egypt. In Part III of China, Kircher describes the idolatrous religions of the East and traces them back to Egypt and Greece. Kircher describes the 'Fombum', apparently a garbled translation of Buddha (also more familiarly referred to as the 'Amida') as explaining 'the hidden virtues and perfections, which is symbolized by the clothing covering him'. Kircher identifies the Xodoxii (Zen) sect as having superior spiritual insight and quotes from the 1565 Portuguese letters of Jesuit missionary Ludwig Froes, "They say that Fombum has always existed and that he will have no end. He was created for himself alone. His being fills the earth and sky and he occupies everything physical to show his immensity in the infinity of his essence. They assure us that he doesn't work hard to govern his creatures. Without difficulty he contains them in his own being. They say that he had no quality or color which can be seen by people. Finally, this Fombum has a thousand rare perfections and is the source of every good thing."

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