Christian Saints Podcast

Saint Andrew Kim Taegon

September 17, 2022 Darren C. Ong Season 3 Episode 1
Christian Saints Podcast
Saint Andrew Kim Taegon
Show Notes Transcript

Saint Andrew Kim Taegon is a Roman Catholic priest and martyr, the patron saint of Korea. He lived in the 19th century during Korea's Joseon dynasty, during a time of periodic and brutal persecutions of the Christian faith. His father was also killed for being a Christian. Saint Andrew went to seminary in Macau, and was ordained the first native priest in Korea. He was martyred not long after. 

 God is glorious in his saints!
 Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is Prof Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saint Andrew Kim, or Kim Taegon. He was a Korean priest of the Roman Catholic church and martyr who lived in 19th century Korea, which then was a kingdom under the Joseon dynasty.
 The arrival of the Christianity to Korea was rather unusual. Christianity did not arrive in Korea from foreign missionaries or invaders, but rather from Christian texts brought from China. In the early history of Christianity in Korea, it was largely Korean Christians who were spreading the religion themselves.
 Let us read from a brief early history of Catholicism in Korea, by Andrew E. Kim (the name is a conincidence, there is no relation to the saint). This text is from
 History of Christianity in Korea: From Its Troubled Beginning to Its Contemporary Success
 from the ,Korea Journal Vol.35 No.2 1995.

There is no record either of missionaries or of any organized body of Catholic believers in Korea before the middle of the eighteenth century. However, there are traces of contact with Christianity as far back as 1592--many members of the invading Japanese armies of Toyotomi Hideyoshi were converted Christians (Min, 1982: 4044).
 One of the Japanese generals in charge of the invasion force was Konishi Yukinaga, an ardent Roman Catholic who was accompanied on the campaign by a Jesuit priest. During their short stay, the Japanese Christians seem to have performed their duties only amongst the Japanese soldiers, and there is no evidence to suggest that their stay had any lasting effect on the Korean populace.
 It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that a small number of Koreans were first introduced to Catholicism. Around 1770, a Korean envoy to China, Chong Tu-won, brought back to Korea Matteo Ricci's Tianzhu [The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven] (G. Lee, 1988: 17-18).
 A group of literati called Shilhak scholars studied the Catholic literature with hopes of learning about the Western civilization. In 1783, the Shilhak scholars asked the son of an ambassador to China, Yi Sang-hun, to visit the Catholic missionaries in China and to absorb all he could about this Western religion.
 Yi sought out the priests in Beijing, who were more than happy to give instruction on Catholicism, and was baptized in the process (Paik, 1971: 31). Upon his return in 1784 with the books and articles on Christian doctrine, which were given to him by the priests in Beijing, Yi distributed the Christian literature to the Shilhak scholars. Soon they began to discuss their newly found religion among friends and neighbors, thereby laying the foundations of the Catholic church in Korea.
 These men, in fact, assumed certain priestly functions, including the sacrament of baptism. Despite the suspicion that their new religion and new way of life drew upon them from the general populace, they abandoned all "pagan" rites, and preached Catholicism openly, instructing their converts in the catechism and giving them Christian Baptism (J. Kim and Chung, 1964: 18). This aspect of the history of Christian missions is noteworthy, because it was the Koreans themselves who initiated and performed many functions of the church. Choe Chinyoung (1972: 91) writes:
 One of the most interesting chapters in the history of Catholicism in Korea concerns its origin. Unlike many other lands, where the Christian religion was first brought by foreign missionaries, in Korea, it began with a kind of "self-study" (self-directed study) of Christian literature by the natives.
 The rapid spread of Catholicism among an intellectual circle was not, however, without opposition (C. Chung, 1971). Most intellectuals and government officials were against the new religion, believing that it was a threat to the basis of a Confucian society. They thought that many elements of Christian doctrine conflicted with the basic ethical and ritual principles of Confucianism.(5)
 The most controversial issue at the time was the question of chesa, the time-honored rituals of ancestor worship (see K. Ch'oe, 1984; J. Lee, 1985, 1988). The Catholics considered ancestor worship to be an act of idolatry prohibited by God in the First Commandment. Accordingly, the instruction from the Bishop in China was that Christians must not participate in those rites. This not only caused many Koreans to avoid Catholicism, but also provoked government persecution: the refusal to perform chesa resulted in imprisonment or death.
 Christianity commands ultimate loyalty to God. This uncompromising feature of the "prophetic" religion of the West brought about its official condemnation by the Confucian government, and this basic anti-Christian policy was to last to the next tragic century of the Catholic movement in Korea (C. Chung, 1971: 71 ).
 In spite of the government persecution, the Catholic church grew impressively, increasing its membership from four thousand in 1795 to ten thousand by 1801. Hopes of continuing growth, however, were dashed by the deaths of Prime Minister Ch'ae Che-gong (b. 1720) in 1799 and of King Chongjo in the following year, both of whom had been tolerant of Catholicism.
 Because the son of the latter, King Sunjo (1800-1834), was a minor, his mother ruled in his place as the Queen Regent. One of the first things she did in her capacity as the Queen Regent was to issue an edict ordering adherents of the "evil learning" to be treated as being guilty of high treason.
 Catholicism was popular among many prominent members of the politically ousted "Southerners" faction that was considered subversive by the ruling authority at the time. The edict associated Catholicism with many hideous "crimes", including the suspension of traditional custom, destruction of morality, the abolition of ancestor worship, heresy, the use of magic spells and incantations, and subversive anti-state activities (C. Chung, 1971: 73). The Shinyu persecution of 1801 was the result of this edict, taking the lives of at least three hundred Catholic martyrs and leading to more than a thousand arrests (Min, 1982:68-7 1).


In the decade following the Shinyu persecution, the church went underground, successfully avoiding conflicts with the court. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, however, there were random outbreaks of localized persecution in many southern parts of Korea.

The most severe one was the Ulhae persecution of 1815. Mostly confined to the southern Kyongsang-do province, the main targets were Catholic refugees who had fled from the Shinyu persecution (Grayson, 1985: 77). These refugees lived in the remote mountainous regions of this province, but their prosperity at a time of general famine and hardship aroused the jealousy of the neighbors, and the former' s adherence to Catholicism provided the motive for the latter's attack. Hundreds of Catholics were massacred.

The Chonghae persecution of 1827 was the government' s next main attempt to suppress Roman Catholicism. Similar to the Ulhae persecution, the Chonghae persecution was confined mostly to one area--Cho11a-do province--but was shorter and less harsh than the former. In spite of the continuing persecution, church leaders in Korea made numerous requests to the Bishop in Beijing for a resident priest in Korea.

Although Chinese churches themselves were troubled by a shortage of priests, it was able to send a Chinese priest, Father Liu Fangchi, in 1831. During the next five years, moreover, several French priests joined Liu's ministry, thereby forming the most formidable Catholic presence in Korea thus far.

An equally significant development at the time, at least from the perspective of the Korean church history, was the sending of three young Koreans to Macao for studies in theology, of whom two became the first native priests, Kim Tae-gon ( 1822-1846) and Ch'oe Yang-op ( 1821 - 1861 ).

Yet another persecution. Kihae in 1839, restrained the expansion of Catholicism. The court seemed to have been most concerned about the presence of illegal foreigners, i.e., the missionaries, and such a suspicion resulted in the proclamation that not only prohibited any further teaching of Catholicism, but also gave the government a free reign in expelling and persecuting the Catholics.

Over two hundred Catholic Christians died from this persecution, including a French bishop, two French priests, and numerous church leaders. Despite the persecution, the Catholic Church still continued to grow, mainly through the efforts of lay assistants to the French priests. Accompanying a priest or travelling alone, these men visited virtually every area where Christians were known to live, hearing confessions and carrying out the mass.

 Saint Andrew Kim grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family in this environment of persecution. In fact, his father was also killed for his faith. Let us hear about his life story from the website of the Asian Catholic Initiative, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Saint Kim Taegon, generally referred to as Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, was the first Korean-born Catholic priest and is the patron saint of Korea. 

In the late 18th Century, Roman Catholicism began to take root slowly in Korea and was introduced by lay people. In 1836, Korea saw its first consecrated missionary members of the Foreign Missions Society arrive. They found out that the people there were already practicing Catholicism.

Born of Korea’s traditional ruling class, Kim’s parents converted to Catholicism which was prohibited heavily in Confucian Korea – his father was subsequently martyred for practicing Christianity. After baptism at age 15, Kim studied at a seminary in the Portuguese colony of Macau. During his seminary years, he also spent time in Lolomboy, Bocaue, Bulacan, Philippines, where his statue was erected in the village. He was ordained a priest in Shanghai in 1844, by the French bishop Jean-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste Ferréol. After ordination, he returned to Korea to preach and evangelize.

In those days, the Joseon Dynasty ruled the country and Christianity was suppressed thereby causing many Christians to be persecuted and executed. Catholics had to covertly practice their faith. Kim was one of several thousand Christians who were executed during this time.

In 1846, at the age of 25, he was tortured and beheaded near Seoul on the Han River. Before Bishop Ferréol died from exhaustion on February 3, 1853, his final wish was to be buried beside Kim, the young seminarian whom he ordained. He was very much affected by the death of Andrew, the young martyr. He remarked, “You will never know how sad I was to lose this young native priest. I have loved him as a father loved his son. It is a consolation for me to think of his eternal happiness.”

On May 6, 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized Kim along with 102 other Korean Martyrs, including Paul Chong Hasang, during his trip to Korea. Their memorial is September 20.

Many of the writings and speeches of Saint Andrew Kim survive (although unfortunately I don’t think many of them have been translated to a language I understand). We do have this last exhortation from Saint Andrew Kim before his martyrdom, an excerpt of which is in the Office of Readings for Sep 20, his feast day. We will read it now.
 My brothers and sisters, my dearest friends, think again and again on this: God has ruled over all things in heaven and on earth from the beginning of time; then reflect on why and for what purpose he chose each one of us to be created in his own image and likeness. In this world of perils and hardship if we did not recognize the Lord as our Creator, there would be no benefit either in being born or in our continued existence. We have come into the world by God’s grace; by that same grace we have received baptism, entrance into the Church, and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name alone and not in fact? We would have come into the world for nothing, we would have entered the Church for nothing, and we would have betrayed even God and his grace. It would be better never to have been born than to receive the grace of God and then to sin against him.

Look at the farmer who cultivates his rice fields. In season he plows, then fertilizes the earth; never counting the cost, he labors under the sun to nurture the seed he has planted. When harvest time comes and the rice crop is abundant, forgetting his labor and sweat, he rejoices with an exultant heart. But if the crop is sparse and there is nothing but straw and husks, the farmer broods over his toil and sweat and turns his back on that field with a disgust that is all the greater the harder he has toiled.

The Lord is like a farmer and we are the field of rice that he fertilizes with his grace and by the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption irrigates with his blood, in order that we will grow and reach maturity. When harvest time comes, the day of judgment, those who have grown to maturity in the grace of God will find the joy of adopted children in the kingdom of heaven; those who have not grown to maturity will become God’s enemies and, even though they were once his children, they will be punished according to their deeds for all eternity.

Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulations.

For the last fifty or sixty years, ever since the coming of the Church to our own land of Korea, the faithful have suffered persecution over and over again. Persecution still rages and as a result many who are friends in the household of the faith, myself among them, have been thrown into prison and like you are experiencing severe distress. Because we have become the one Body, should not our hearts be grieved for the members who are suffering? Because of the human ties that bind us, should we not feel deeply the pain of our separation?

But, as the Scriptures say, God numbers the very hairs of our head and in his all-embracing providence he has care over us all. Persecution, therefore, can only be regarded as the command of the Lord or as a prize he gives or as a punishment he permits.

Hold fast, then, to the will of God and with all your heart fight the good fight under the leadership of Jesus; conquer again the diabolical power of this world that Christ has already vanquished.

I beg you not to fail in your love for one another, but to support one another and to stand fast until the Lord mercifully delivers us from our trials.

There are twenty of us in this place and by God’s grace we are so far all well. If any of us is executed, I ask you not to forget our families. I have many things to say, yet how can pen and paper capture what I feel? I end this letter. As we are all near the final ordeal, I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. I embrace you all in love.
 Today, Korea is divided into two countries, which we call North Korea and South Korea. In South Korea, the Christian faith is free of persecution, and is growing and flourishing. North Korea however, Christianity is forbidden, and persecution continues for the few Christians living there. I ask the listeners this episode to pray for the Christians of Korea, especially the ones facing persecution and martyrdom.
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 O God, who have been pleased to increase
 your adopted children in all the world,
 and who made the blood of the Martyrs
 Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon and his companions
 a most fruitful seed of Christians,
 grant that we may be defended by their help
 and profit always from their example.
 Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
 who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
 God, for ever and ever.