East Asian History Sourcebook:
Nestorian Tablet:  Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China, with a Preface,  composed by a priest of the Syriac (Assyrian) Church, 781 A.D.

[Horne Introduction]:
This remarkable record of the fact that Christianity flourished in  medieval China is a huge stone about ten feet high. Carven dragons and a cross  adorn its summit, and its main shaft is completely covered with some two  thousand Chinese characters. It stands now in the Peilin or "Forest of Tablets"  in Sian-fu, this Peilin being a great hall specially devoted to the preservation  of old historic tablets. Up to a few years ago the ancient stone stood with  other unvalued monuments in the grounds of a Buddhist monastery, exposed to all  the assault of the elements. Only European urgence has led to its being  preserved in the Peilin.
The Nestorian sect of Christians still exists in Western Asia and was in a  thriving condition in Syria in the sixth century. It sent missionaries widely  over Asia. Marco Polo recorded having found Christian churches in China; and  Roman Catholic missionaries of later centuries found there a few Nestorians  still practising a debased formof their half-forgotten faith. This much  concerning the Nestorian Christianity in China we have long known. Then, with  the modern opening of the empire, the old Nestorian stone was found. It tells  its own history, and tells it plainly, how the Nestorian monks came, how Chinese  officials were appointed to listen to their explanations, and gravely approved  of the new religion as having "excellent principles." Various emperors accepted,  or at least included, Christianity among their religions; and the faith  prospered, and had many thousands of followers, and in the year A.D. 781 erected  this stone in commemoration of its triumphs.

"Behold the unchangeably true and invisible, who existed through all eternity  without origin; the far-seeing perfect intelligence, whose mysterious existence  is everlasting; operating on primordial substance he created the universe, being  more excellent than all holy intelligences, inasmuch as he is the source of all  that is honorable. This is our eternal true lord God, triune and mysterious in  substance. He appointed the cross as the means for determining the four cardinal  points, he moved the original spirit, and produced the two principles of nature;  the somber void was changed, and heaven and earth were opened out; the sun and  moon revolved, and day and night commenced; having perfected all inferior  objects, he then made the first man; upon him he bestowed an excellent  disposition, giving him in charge the government of all created beings; man,  acting out the original principles of his nature, was pure and unostentatious;  his unsullied and expansite mind was free from the least inordinate desire;  until Satan introduced the seeds of falsehood, to deteriorate his purity of  principle; the opening thus commenced in his virtue gradually enlarged, and by  this crevice in his nature was obscured and rendered vicious; hence three  hundred and sixty-five sects followed each other in continuous track, inventing  every species of doctrinal complexity; while some pointed to material objects as  the source of their faith, others reduced all to vacancy, even to the  annihilation of the two primeval principles, some sought to call down blessings  by prayers and supplications, while others by an assumption of excellence held  themselves up as superior to their fellows; their intellects and thoughts  continually wavering, their minds and affections incessantly on the move, they  never obtained their vast desires, but being exhausted and distressed they  revolved in their own heated atmosphere; till by an accumulation of obscurity  they lost their path, and after long groping in darkness they were unable to  return. Thereupon, our Trinity being divided in nature, the illustrious and  honorable Messiah, veiling his true dignity, appeared in the world as a man;  angelic powers promulgated the glad tidings, a virgin gave birth to the Holy One  in Syria; a bright star announced the felicitous event, and Persians observing  the splendor came to present tribute; the ancient dispensation, as declared by  the twenty-four holy men [the writers of the Old Testament], was then fulfilled,  and he laid down great principles for the government of families and kingdoms;  he established the new religion of the silent operation of the pure spirit of  the Triune; he rendered virtue subservient to direct faith; he fixed the extent  of the eight boundaries, thus completing the truth and freeing it from dross; he  opened the gate of the three constant principles, introducing life and  destroying death; he suspended the bright sun to invade the chambers of  darkness, and the falsehoods of the devil were thereupon defeated; he set in  motion the vessel of mercy by which to ascend to the bright mansions, whereupon  rational beings were then released, having thus completed the manifestation of  his power, in clear day he ascended to his true station.
Twenty-seven sacred books [the number in the New Testament] have been left,  which disseminate intelligence by unfolding the original transforming  principles. By the rule for admission, it is the custom to apply the water of  baptism, to wash away all superficial show and to cleanse and purify the  neophytes. As a seal, they hold the cross, whose influence is reflected in every  direction, uniting all without distinction. As they strike the wood, the fame of  their benevolence is diffused abroad; worshiping toward the east, they hasten on  the way to life and glory; they preserve the beard to symbolize their outward  actions, they shave the crown to indicate the absence of inward affections; they  do not keep slaves, but put noble and mean all on an equality; they do not amass  wealth, but cast all their property into the common stock; they fast, in order  to perfect themselves by self-inspection; they submit to restraints, in order to  strengthen themselves by silent watchfulness; seven times a day they have  worship and praise for the benefit of the living and the dead; once in seven  days they sacrifice, to cleanse the heart and return to purity.
It is difficult to find a name to express the excellence of the true and  unchangeable doctrine; but as its meritorious operations are manifestly  displayed, by accommodation it is named the Illustrious Religion. Now without  holy men, principles cannot become expanded; without principles, holy men cannot  become magnified; but with holy men and right principles, united as the two  parts of a signet, the world becomes civilized and enlightened.
In the time of the accomplished Emperor Tai-tsung, the illustrious and  magnificent founder of the dynasty, among the enlightened and holy men who  arrived was the most-virtuous Olopun, from the country of Syria. Observing the  azure clouds, he bore the true sacred books; beholding the direction of the  winds, he braved difficulties and dangers. In the year of our Lord 635 he  arrived at Chang-an; the Emperor sent his Prime Minister, Duke Fang Hiuen-ling;  who, carrying the official staff to the west border, conducted his guest into  the interior; the sacred books were translated in the imperial library, the  sovereign investigated the subject in his private apartments; when becoming  deeply impressed with the rectitude and truth of the religion, he gave special  orders for its dissemination.
In the seventh month of the year A.D. 638 the following imperial  proclamation was issued:
"Right principles have no invariable name, holy men have no invariable  station; instruction is established in accordance with the locality, with the  object of benefiting the people at large. The greatly virtuous Olopun, of the  kingdom of Syria, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant  part, and has presented them at our chief capital. Having examined the  principles of this religion, we find them to be purely excellent and natural;  investigating its originating source, we find it has taken its rise from the  establishment of important truths; its ritual is free from perplexing  expressions, its principles will survive when the framework is forgot; it is  beneficial to all creatures; it is advantageous to mankind. Let it be published  throughout the Empire, and let the proper authority build a Syrian church in the  capital in the I-ning May, which shall be governed by twenty-one priests. When  the virtue of the Chau Dynasty declined, the rider on the azure ox ascended to  the west; the principles of the great Tang becoming resplendent, the Illustrious  breezes have come to fan the East."
Orders were then issued to the authorities to have a true portrait of the  Emperor taken; when it was transferred to the wall of the church, the dazzling  splendor of the celestial visage irradiated the Illustrious portals. The sacred  traces emitted a felicitous influence, and shed a perpetual splendor over the  holy precincts. According to the Illustrated Memoir of the Western Regions, and  the historical books of the Han and Wei dynasties, the kingdom of Syria reaches  south to the Coral Sea; on the north it joins the Gem Mountains; on the west it  extends toward the borders of the immortals and the flowery forests; on the east  it lies open to the violent winds and tideless waters. The country produces  fire-proof cloth, life-restoring incense, bright moon-pearls, and night-luster  gems. Brigands and robbers are unknown, but the people enjoy happiness and  peace. None but Illustrious laws prevail; none but the virtuous are raised to  sovereign power. The land is broad and ample, and its literary productions are  perspicuous and clear.
The Emperor Kau-tsung respectfully succeeded his ancestor, and was still more  beneficent toward the institution of truth. In every province he caused  Illustrious churches to be erected, and ratified the honor conferred upon  Olopun, making him the great conservator of doctrine for the preservation of the  State. While this doctrine pervaded every channel, the State became enriched and  tranquillity abounded. Every city was full of churches, and the royal family  enjoyed luster and happiness. In the year A.D. 699 the Buddhists, gaining power,  raised their voices in the eastern metropolis; in the year A.D. 713, some low  fellows excited ridicule and spread slanders in the western capital. At that  time there was the chief priest Lohan, the greatly virtuous Kie-leih, and others  of noble estate from the golden regions, lofty-minded priests, having abandoned  all worldly interests; who unitedly maintained the grand principles and  preserved them entire to the end. The high-principled Emperor Hiuen-tsung caused  the Prince of Ning and others, five princes in all, personally to visit the  felicitous edifice; he established the place of worship; he restored the  consecrated timbers which had been temporarily thrown down; and re-erected the  sacred stones which for a time had been desecrated.
In A.D. 742 orders were given to the great general Kau Lih-sz', to send the  five sacred portraits and have them placed in the church, and a gift of a  hundred pieces of silk accompanied these pictures of intelligence. Although the  dragon's beard was then remote, their bows and swords were still within reach;  while the solar horns sent forth their rays, and celestial visages seemed close  at hand. In A.D. 744 the priest Kih-ho, in the kingdom of Syria, looking toward  the star [of China], was attracted by its transforming influence, and observing  the sun [i.e., the Emperor], came to pay court to the most honorable. The  Emperor commanded the priest Lo-han, the priest Pu-lun, and others, seven in  all, together with the greatly virtuous Kih-ho, to perform a service of merit in  the Hing-king palace. Thereupon the Emperor composed mottoes for the sides of  the church, and the tablets were graced with the royal inscriptions; the  accumulated gems emitted their effulgence, while their sparkling brightness vied  with the ruby clouds; the transcripts of intelligence suspended in the void shot  forth their rays as reflected by the sun; the bountiful gifts exceeded the  height of the southern hills; the bedewing favors were deep as the eastern sea.  Nothing is beyond the range of the right principle, and what is permissible may  be identified; nothing is beyond the power of the holy man, and that which is  practicable may be related.
The accomplished and enlightened Emperor Suh-tsung rebuilt the Illustrious  churches in Ling-wu and four other places; great benefits were conferred, and  felicity began to increase; great munificence was displayed, and the imperial  State became established. The accomplished and military Emperor Tai-tsung  magnified the sacred succession, and honored the latent principle of nature;  always, on the incarnation-day, he bestowed celestial incense, and ordered the  performance of a service of merit; he distributed of the imperial viands, in  order to shed a glory on the Illustrious Congregation. Heaven is munificent in  the dissemination of blessings, whereby the benefits of life are extended; the  holy man embodies the original principle of virtue, whence he is able to  counteract noxious influences.
Our sacred and sage-like, accomplished and military Emperor Kien-chung  appointed the eight branches of government, according to which he advanced or  degraded the intelligent and dull; he opened up the nine categories, by means of  which he renovated the Illustrious decrees; his transforming influence pervaded  the most abstruse principles, while openness of heart distinguished his  devotions. Thus, by correct and enlarged purity of principle, and undeviating  consistency in sympathy with others; by extended commiseration rescuing  multitudes from misery, while disseminating blessings on all around, the  cultivation of our doctrine gained a grand basis, and by gradual advances its  influence was diffused. If the winds and rains are seasonable, the world will be  at rest; men will be guided by principle, inferior objects will be pure; the  living will be at ease, and the dead will rejoice; the thoughts will produce  their appropriate response, the affections will be free, and the eyes will be  sincere; such is the laudable condition which we of the Illustrious Religion are  laboring to attain.
Our great benefactor, the Imperially conferred purple-gown priest, I-sz',  titular Great Statesman of the Banqueting-house, Associated Secondary Military  Cornmissioner for the Northern Region, and Examination-palace Overseer, was  naturally mild and graciously disposed; his mind susceptible of sound doctrine,  he was diligent in the performance; from the distant city of Rajagriha, he came  to visit China; his principles more lofty than those of the three dynasties, his  practise was perfect in every department; at first he applied himself to duties  pertaining to the palace, eventually his name was inscribed on the military  roll. When the Duke Koh Tsz'-i, Secondary Minister of State and Prince of  Fan-yang, at first conducted the military in the northern region, the Emperor  Suh-tsung made him (I-sz') his attendant on his travels; although he was a  private chamberlain, he assumed no distinction on the march; he was as claws and  teeth to the duke, and in rousing the military he was as ears and eyes; he  distributed the wealth conferred upon him, not accumulating treasure for his  private use; he made offerings of the jewelry which had been given by imperial  favor, he spread out a golden carpet for devotion; now he repaired the old  churches, anon he increased the number of religious establishments; he honored  and decorated the various edifices, till they resembled the plumage of the  pheasant in its flight; moreover, practising the discipline of the Illustrious  Religion, he distributed his riches in deeds of benevolence; every year he  assembled those in the sacred office from four churches, and respectfully  engaged them for fifty days in purification and preparation; the naked came and  were clothed; the sick were attended to and restored; the dead were buried in  repose; even among the most pure and self-denying of the Buddhists, such  excellence was never heard of; the white-clad members of the Illustrious  Congregation, now considering these men, have desired to engrave a broad tablet,  in order to set forth a eulogy of their magnanimous deeds.
The true Lord is without origin,
Profound, invisible, and  unchangeable;
With power and capacity to perfect and transform,
He raised  up the earth and established the heavens.
Divided in nature, he entered the world,
To save and to help  without bounds;
The sun arose, and darkness was dispelled,
All bearing  witness to his true original.
The glorious and resplendent, accomplished Emperor,
Whose  principles embraced those of preceding monarchs,
Taking advantage of the  occasion, suppressed turbulence;
Heaven was spread out and the earth was  enlarged.
When the pure, bright Illustrious Religion
Was introduced to  our Tang Dynasty,
The Scriptures were translated, and churches built,
And  the vessel set in motion for the living and the dead;
Every kind of blessing  was then obtained,
And all the kingdoms enjoyed a state of peace.
When Kau-tsung succeeded to his ancestral estate,
He rebuilt  the edifices of purity;
Palaces of concord, large and light,
Covered the  length and breadth of the land.
The true doctrine was clearly announced,
Overseers of the  church were appointed in due form;
The people enjoyed happiness and  peace,
While all creatures were exempt from calamity and distress.
When Hiuen-tsung commenced his sacred career,
He applied  himself to the cultivation of truth and rectitude;
His imperial tablets shot  forth their effulgence,
And the celestial writings mutually refiected their  splendors.
The imperial domain was rich and luxuriant,
While the whole  land rendered exalted homage;
Every business was flourishing  throughout,
And the people all enjoyed prosperity.
Then came Suh-tsung, who commenced anew,
And celestial  dignity marked the Imperial movements.
Sacred as the moon's unsullied  expanse,
While felicity was wafted like nocturnal gales.
Happiness reverted to the Imperial household,
The autumnal  influences were long removed;
Ebullitions were allayed, and risings  suppressed,
And thus our dynasty was firmly built up.
Tai-tsung the filial and just
Combined in virtue with heaven  and earth;
By his liberal bequests the living were satisfied,
And property  formed the channel of imparting succor.
By fragrant mementoes he rewarded the meritorious,
With  benevolence he dispensed his donations;
The solar concave appeared in  dignity,
And the lunar retreat was decorated to extreme.
When Kien-chung succeeded to the throne,
He began the  cultivation of intelligent virtue;
His military vigilance extended to the  four seas,
And his accomplished purity influenced all lands.
His light penetrated the secrecies of men,
And to him the  diversities of objects were seen as in a mirror;
He shed a vivifying  infiuence through the whole realm of nature,
And all outer nations took him  for example.
The true doctrine, how expansive!
Its responses are  minute;
How difficult to name it!
To elucidate the three in one.
The sovereign has the power to act!
While the ministers  record;
We raise this noble monument!
To the praise of great felicity.
This was erected in the 2d year of Kien-chung, of the Tang Dynasty [A.D.  781], on the 7th day of the 1st month, being Sunday.
Written by Lu Siu-yen, Secretary to Council, formerly Military Superintendent  for Tai-chau; while the Bishop Ning-shu had the charge of the congregations of  the Illustrious in the East.
[The Following are written in Syriac, running down the right and left sides  of the Chinese inscription above].
"Adam, Deacon, Vicar-episcopal and Pope of China. In the time of the Father  of Fathers, the Lord John Joshua, the Universal Patriarch."
[The Following is in Syriac at the foot of the stone].
"In the year of the Greeks one thousand and ninety-two, the Lord Jazedbuzid,  Priest and Vicar-episcopal of Cumdan the royal city, son of the enlightened  Mailas, Priest of Balkh a city of Turkestan, set up this tablet, whereon is  inscribed the Dispensation of our Redeemer, and the preaching of the apostolic  missionaries to the King of China."
[After this, in Chinese characters, follows: ]
"The Priest Lingpau."
[Then follows in Syriac:]
"Adam the Deacon, son of Jazedbuzid, Vicar-episcopal.
The Lord Sergius, Priest and Vicar-episcopal.
Sabar Jesus, Priest.
Gabriel, Priest, Archdeacon, and Ecclesiarch of Cumdan and  Sarag."
[The following subscription is appended in Chinese :]
"Assistant Examiner: the High Statesman of the Sacred rites, the Imperially  conferred purple-gown Chief Presbyter and Priest Yi-li."
[On the left-hand edge are the Syriac names of sixty-seven priests, and  sixty-one are given in Chinese.]


From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the  East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. XII, Medieval  China, pp. 381-392.


email: info@nestorian.org

[nestorian.org] [The Nestorian Church (General)] [Nestorian Documents] [Nestorian History] [The Nestorian Controversy] [Famous Individuals in Nestorian History] [The Nestorians in India] [The Nestorians in Arabia/Middle East] [The Nestorians & Arab Knowledge] [The Nestorians in Central Asia] [The Nestorians in China & The Far East] [Catholic Encyclopedia - The Church in China] [The Nestorian Monument in China] [East Asian History Sourcebook: Nestorian Tablet] [Nestorian Stone] [Copy of Nestorian Stone] [Nestorian Church] [Christian Mural] [Christianity arrived in Japan centuries before Saint Xavier] [Seventh Century Church] [Rabban Bar Sawma] [The Syriac/Aramaic/Assyrian Language] [Modern Day Assyrians]