Author: Noël Golvers
Part of: The ‘Cursus Conimbricensis’ (coord. by Mário Santiago de Carvalho)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: July, 16th, 2020
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3897564

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Golvers, Nöel, “Thomas, Antoine”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.3897564”, URL = “”, latest revision: July, 16th, 2020.


Jesuit education

One of the most prolific and influential (but also somewhat hidden) foreign (i.e. non-Portuguese) Jesuits who arrived in Coimbra’s Colégio das Artes to teach mathematics, and who left most traces of his stay there was the Belgian Antoine Thomas (Mauricio 1935: 196-197).

Thomas was born in Namur (Belgium), at the frontiers of the Spanish Low Countries with France, on 25 January 1644, in a family of administrative nobility – very similar to the milieu in which several other Jesuit missionaries of the previous generation were born, viz. Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688), François de Rougemont (1624-1676) and Philippe Couplet (1622-1693), the two former of them well know in Coimbra too.

Since his early education, he was a pupil of Jesuit institutions: first in the Jesuit college of Namur (1652 – 1660) (Sauvage, 2017); since 8 Sept. 1660 in the Novitiate of the Provincia Gallo-Belgica in Tournai (1660-1662); in 1662-1664 as a philosophus in Douai, in 1665 in Lille (“Insulis”); in 1666-1667 again in Namur as a professor of syntaxis; 1668-1670 as a professor of poesis in Huy; in 1670-1671 as a ‘rhetoricus’ in Tournai again; theology studies in Douai (1671-1675), and afterwards Professor of philosophy in the Jesuit college of Marchiennes, one of the Jesuit institutions in the same city (1675-1677) (Hermans, 2017). Nowhere during this educational trajectory there is an explicit trace of specialized, let alone curricular studies in mathematics, which, as in many other cases, was therefore the object of his own free preference and of his “studium privatum”, started in view of his application for China, as we learn from his own testimony in his letter of 24 May 1671 (JS 148, f. 13); one could suppose that Father Michel Sénéchal (1606-1673) and Alexandre de Bonmont (1632-1718), both Jesuits with a mathematical profile were to some extent involved in this ‘private study’, but only in the case of De Bonmont a relation with Thomas is proven, though by a later correspondence (see infra).

Anyway, Thomas manifested himself as an Indipeta for The Far East, and especially Japan already on 8 Sept. 1663, an application which was enhanced after his meeting with Procurator Filippo de Marini in 1664; afterwards he often repeated this desire, since 3 Dec. 1670 specified for China; also Procurator Prospero Intorcetta in 1671, during his stay in Sicily, supported his request. But it was only in 1677 that the permission arrived from General Oliva (arr. in Armentières on 17 Oct. 1677 (Delfosse, 2017).

Leaving his native country for Portugal, he passed by in Paris, where he met, among others, Jean-Dominique Cassini (1625-1712), at the newly established Observatoire de Paris and Jean de Fontenay (1643-1710), professor of mathematics at the Collège de Clermont (later: Louis-le-Grand) and later, in 1684, himself the head of the ‘5 mathématiciens du Roy’ sent by Louis XIV and the ‘Académie des Sciences’ in Paris to China, with whom he made some astronomical observations. Continuing his journey through Salamanca, where he became a friend of Tyrsus Gonzalez de Santalla (1624 – 27 October 1705), the future Praepositus Generalis (1687-1705) and Burgos (4 vows on 2 Febr. 1678), he arrived in Coimbra on 25 March 1678.

In Coimbra

At the moment of his arrival in Coimbra the chair of mathematical studies had been empty after the departure of Adam Aigenler in the spring of 1673, five years before (Golvers, 2019b). Thomas found to his great disappointment on the spot a poor (‘scholarly’ or mathematical?) library, confirming a complaint already heard from F. Verbiest some 25 years before (Golvers, 2019a). His engagement in this didactical position was requested by the Portuguese Provincial, Luis Alvares (1675-1678), who followed an already established tradition of engaging ‘foreign’ Indipetae in mathematical courses, when waiting for the departure of the ‘carreira da India’ in the Spring (Golvers, 2007). In the case of Thomas, it was certainly inspired by his didactical experiences in Douai and his ‘mathematical’ reputation, at least within the Society of Jesus. At the end of March 1678 he started his courses (“intra paucos dies illas (scientias) inchoabimus, omnium quidem librorum subsidio destituti”) (Far Eastern Catholic Missions, 2, 157); this implies almost necessarily that the language of the course was Latin, as he had not yet the occasion to learn Portuguese. Among his public were Jesuit novices (“scholastici”) and lay students; among the former category were several potential candidates for the Chinese mission (“plures ardentissimi Missionis nostrae Sinicae candidati, et aliqui, ut opinor, futuri itineris eiusdem Socii”), such as José Soares (1656-1736) and probably Adam Weidenfeld (1645-1680).

Thomas’s involvement was originally meant for one year, but in fact it lasted until March 1680; later, when he was in the Far East (1 Sept. 1681), he refers to this period as his “otium Conimbricense’ (AFSI, Brotier 117, n°. 2), which suggests he had at that time not much other, extra-curricular occupations.

On his mathematical courses we are rather well informed, thanks to a series of short references in his correspondence of this period – mostly letters to his patroness, Maria de Guadalupe, Duchess of Aveiro (1630-1715), then living in Madrid (Burrus, 1965) – but especially by the mathematical textbook he produced during the same period, partly on the basis of his experiences already started in Douai but mostly during his teaching in the Coimbra college and a large reading list (Golvers, 2017b: 140-145). The transcription and correction of this textbook was finished just before Thomas left Coimbra and Portugal for China, and was printed – thanks to the financial support of Maria de Guadalupe – in Douai, in 1685. Its title is Synopsis Mathematica, consisting of 2 volumes (vol. 1, 477 numbered pp.; vol. 2, 594 pp.), incl. Tabulae and illustrations), which survives in ca. 36 identified copies. Some references to the Coimbra setting confirm that the link of the draft with the Coimbra college was real, that means, that hypothetical reading notes or a first draft possibly already composed in Douai was certainly revised, adapted, arranged etc. when he lived within the College, and this can hardly have occurred without a regular interaction with his oral courses.

The textbook itself offers a comprehensive introduction to 15 mathematical sciences, apparently finding their highest expression in the astronomia, a chapter which covers by far the largest – and final – part of the Synopsis (2, 339-594). Here Thomas presents the three competing cosmological “systemata”, viz. the Ptolemaic, Copernican and Tychonian one, representing the Copernican as a “hypothesis”, which he rejected (Synopsis, 2, 354-357: “rejicitur sententia Copernici”). His readers are characterized as mathematical ‘tirones’ (‘grand débutants’), in fact his students in the Colégio das Artes, all debutants, as a consequence of the low level of mathematical teaching in contemporary Portuguese colleges; some forward references to China point also to the related Sinipetae among his pupils, and I think the emphasis on the position of “Astronomy’ is also the reflection of the reputed importance of astronomy within the China Mission, since Matteo Ricci. His instruction is of a very average level, not adapted to an advanced public, and for further deepening he refers his readers to an extensive series of mathematical authors, both historical and contemporary ones, with a clear ‘Jesuit’ and ‘French’ imprint: the most recent authors are André Tacquet (1612-1660), Jean-Dominique Cassini (1625-1712); Nicolas Sanson (1600-1667), Michel Sénéchal (1606-1673), Ignace Gaston Pardies (1636-1673), Claude François Milliet de Chales (1621-1678). Some additional information Thomas offers in his autograph ‘Introductio ad scientias mathematicas’ I found in the collections of the Hispanic Society of America in New York, call number Ms. HC 371/277, and which was a concomitant Introduction to the Synopsis, drafted in Lisbon, just before he left Portugal for China on 4 April 1680. For one reason or another this Introductio was not withheld in the publication: it refers to some additional, again French authors, especially Pierre Gautruche, S. J. (1602-1681), author of a Philosophiae et Mathematicae totius Institutio (Caen, 1635; 1656). It looks very uncertain, in the light of his earlier remark on the condition of the Coimbra libraries, that the rich mathematical library he was quoting was also at hand on the spot, and probably he had consulted and excerpted them when still in Douai.

Another conspicuous difference between the (undated) Introductio and the printed Synopsis concerns the absence in the latter of ‘algebra’; this was probably ‘dropped’ from Thomas’s original plan (only surviving in the ‘Introductio’) as it was considered surpassing the level of comprehension of his students and exceeding the average level of his Synopsis. The algebra he is referring to was Viète’s algebra speciosa perfected by René Descartes (1596-1650) in his La Géométrie of 1637 (“a[d] Decartes in novam methodum longe meliorem traducta, quae proinde dicitur ‘algebra speciosa’”); this may have been a reason to drop ‘algebra’ from his presentation, in view of the anti-Cartesian attitude of Coimbra. At any rate, and despite his appreciation of Descartes’s method (“novum methodum longe meliorem”), Thomas refers his students and readers in the Introductio to such commonly known authorities as Clavius and Dechalles, as well as to ‘Gottinez’, i.e. François de Gottignies, S. J. (1630-1698), professor of mathematics at the Jesuit Collegio Romano, one of the authors not mentioned in the Synopsis. That the omission of algebra does not reflect a lacuna in Thomas’s personal knowledge emerges from the fact that, later, when in China, it was integrated in his instruction to the Emperor, as we will see below; yet, this was the pre-Viète ‘cossic algebra’ (Jami 2012: 200-201).

On the progressive editorial and copying process of his Synopsis we are rather well informed through Thomas’s correspondence with his sponsor, Maria de Guadalupe, which is preserved and arrived, through some successive public auctions (1924 Maggs Bros, London; 1963 Kraus Bookshop, New York), in two different University Collections in Japan, viz. the Sonkei Kaku Library and Tenri University Library, and which was in 1975 published (though incompletely) through photographic reproductions (Jesuit Missions in Japan; Far Eastern Catholic Missions).

As a mathematical textbook or manual for (mainly) ‘internal use’, i.e. within the Jesuit institutions, it continued being used until the mid-18th century, after it was ‘re-edited’ (with a new title page but with the remainder of the original printing, and thus an unchanged text) in Douai in 1729. As a mathematical textbook it was still recommended to starting students by three Jesuit mathematicians:

(a) Diogo Simões, i.e. Diogo Soares (1684-1748) in his Novo Athlas (sic) Lusitano ou theatro universal do mundo todo dictado na Regia Aula do Colegio d(e) S(anto) Antão deste cidade pelo P(adr)e M(estr)e de mathematica Diogo Simoens da Companhia de Jesus, Lisboa Occidental anno de 1721 (Leitão 2008: 232), who refers his readers twice to Thomas’s Tract. 4 “De Sphaera” on the determination of the latitude and longitude of particular places (Soares in BNP Cod. 529, 48, § 95 and 64, § 125). Soares, a former student of Inacio Vieira (who taught in Coimbra between 1705 and 1708) taught himself mathematics in Coimbra (1714-1715) and in 1719-1721 in Lisbon in the Colégio de Santo Antão (Baldini 2004: 429-430). The copy of Thomas’s Synopsis he used may have been the actual copy of the Biblioteca da Ajuda (BA), call number 38 III 13 (vol. 1, with Tract. 4), which stems from the general library of the Colégio de Santo Antão, according to the provenance indication: “Da livraria publica do Coll(egi)o de S(anto) Antão da Comp(anhia) de Jesu’; the volume is mentioned in Oct. 1745 in the Index Librorum Bibliothecae Collegii Ulyssiponensis Divi Antonii Magni Societatis Jesu (BA 52-XI-44) (Giurgevich & Leitão 2016: 304, n° 723).

(b) Niccolo Giampriamo (1686-1759), Italian mathematician born in Aversa (Prov. Caserta); between 1717 and 1721 missionary in Peking and later, after his return to Europe, he taught in the Collegium Nobilium / Collegio Massimo in Naples (1686-1759). He was the author of a mathematical textbook, Specula Parthenopaea Uranophilis Juvenibus duplici constructione ordineque disposita, Neapoli, 1748, with several references to Thomas’s Synopsis; in fact he refers almost exclusively to Thomas’s vol. II, Chap. XV, i.e. the part on Astronomy, which is quite logical within the context of his astronomical textbook (p. 51; 67; 141; 144; 161; 212; 219; 261; 279; 281; 285). These numerous – exact – references suggest he had a copy at hand from the library of the Collegio Massimo, at least of vol. II; this volume I couldn’t trace so far and is probably lost now;

(c) Inacio Monteiro (1724-1812), one of the most prominent Jesuit mathematicians in contemporary Portugal and Coimbra, who recommends the reading of Antoine Thomas for those who barely knew the necessary principles of physics, side by side with Christian Wolff and Noël Regnault (Monteiro, 1754: 10-11); elsewhere he refers to Thomas for his ‘good method’, which he considered, however, as “apenas dirigido a filosofia”. He used a copy of the Synopsis in the library of the Colégio das Artes; this copy is in all probability the one, mentioned in the Inventory of the mathematical and medical books in the ‘livraria’ of the College (ANTT, MNEJ, Maço 61, Caixa 50, N. 1): “Sinopsis matamatica (sic) dous tomos de quarto, uzados” – with a wrong size indication – and which is still extant now: see Lisbon, Ajuda, 38 III 14 (only vol. 2): “Da livraria publica do Collegio de Coimbra da Companhia de Jesu”.

From these testimonies, more precisely the sample used by Inacio Monteiro it appears Antoine Thomas was not forgotten within the Colégio das Artes until the Pombal period; in this period it was even consulted often (“uzado”). That in two of the three cases (Lisbon; Coimbra) Thomas’s Synopsis was part of the holdings of the ‘public’, i.e. general library, and not of the specialized mathematical class library is obviously due to the particular public of ‘tirones’, to whom it was from the outset addressed.

During his two year stay in Coimbra, Thomas also made a series of astronomical observations, starting already on 15 July 1678, with the observation of the distance of the sun (Synopsis, 2: 408); on 23 Sept. 1678 with the observation of the “altitudo meridiani solis” (Synopsis, 2: 399) and on 29 Oct. 1678 with the observation of the lunar eclipse of 29 Oct. 1678 (Journal des Sçavans 1679: 56-57), and this continued during the years 1678-1680. The place of observation was apparently the church of the Colégio: “Conimbricae in Collegio Societatis Iesu, ad quas deserviit novum templum nondum fornice obductum” (Synopsis, vol. 2: 394): as the vaults of the roof were in 1678-80 still under construction, it must have been the lateral terrace or platform between each bell tower and the façade of the Jesuit church, which are still accessible today. The instruments he used were “tubi Belgici”, mentioned often in the Synopsis; these were telescopes, consisting of tubes (“tubi”) provided with combined convex and concave lenses – the latter produced in Holland – which he probably had brought from Douai.

When leaving Coimbra and Lisbon, he left the manuscript and the transcriptions of the Synopsis and the autograph of the Introductio to Maria de Guadalupe, who financed the edition in Douai: attempts to publish it in Coimbra by the local printers had been unsuccessful, because of their ‘very busy agenda’, which reminds us of what happened with Adam Aigenler’s ‘Rota astronomica’ about one decade earlier. Printed copies of his own Synopsis arrived later in Peking, in answer on his letter of 14 Nov. 1685, which he sent when barely arrived in Peking to the Duchess of Aveiro: a nicely decorated copy (“exemplar bene adornatum”) to be offered to the Kangxi Emperor (JS 148: f. 99v.); a copy of the 2nd volume arrived also in the hands of his former pupil José Soares in Peking (Verhaeren, 1949: n° 2941).

Journey to China

Embarked in Lisbon on 4 April 1680, Thomas arrived in Goa on 26 Sept. 1680, where he would stay until 13 May 1681. Also during this stay he was active as an astronomer, witnessing his observation and description of the comet of Nov.-Dec. 1680: his (anonymous) report is entitled: “Breve tratado do cometa que apareceo no mez de Novembro de 1680 q. constava de hua estrella por cabeça, com hua cauda comprida e aparecera de madrugada”, of which a contemporary transcription is preserved in the University Library of Coimbra (Ms. 185). It is an interesting text, which reflects Thomas’s ‘natural’ interpretation of comets (in accordance with his statement in Synopsis, 2: 534); somewhat unexpectedly, it is followed by a ‘prognostication’, in which the astronomical passage of the comet is related to contemporary ‘political’ and dynastic events.

In the same period he explored parts of the Indian subcontinent, on which he reported with many unique observations on the presence of Christian communities (Hosten, 1938).

When leaving Goa and passing through Malacca he arrived on 1 Sept. 1681 in Siam’s capital Ayutthaia. There he booked a remarkable success as a missionary, with the conversion, on 2 May 1682, of Constance (or: Constantine) Phaulkon (1647 – 1688), confidant of the Siamese King Phra Narai (1629-1688); shortly later both were killed. When in Ayutthaya he made again a series of observations, described in a long “Epistola astronomica”, sent on 29 June 1682 “ex mari Sinensi” to Alexander de Bonmont in Douai (AFSI, Brotier 117: n° 2); interesting are not only the observations (elevation of the pole in Ayutthaya; ‘Caput Eridani’; Canopus; Cruzero; eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites) but also the detailed description of his modus agendi, the self-made instruments he used and the mathematical books he consulted, probably books which were in his own, private scholarly luggage, and which he took with him when leaving Ayutthaya on 20 May 1682 for Macau.

In Macau

He arrived in Macau on 4 July 1682, where he stayed without interruption for the next three years, more precisely in the Colégio da Madre de Deus. On his manifold, varied activities in this period we are informed through some 28 preserved letters. In Macau, Thomas was on the cross point of the communication lines between China and Peking, and Europe, using both the ‘carreira da India’ and – through Batavia – the Via Batavica. By this, and by his mathematical reputation and activities he continued in Macau as we will see, he was also quickly involved in the polemics between the Peking Jesuits and their European background on the use of mathematics as a missionary method and their position at the head of the Astronomical Bureau Qintianjian.

In Macau he made observations on 24 July 1683 (a total solar eclipse, described in a letter to Andreas Cleyer in Batavia); in March 1685 (rings of Saturn) and on 17 June 1685 (the polar height of Macau). During the latter observation, he was assisted by his Spanish colleague Juan (de) Irigoyen (1646-1699), who was in 1685 passing by in Macau on his way to Manila. As for the location of these observations: they were made on the ‘arx’ of Macau (i.e. the Monte Norte nearby the Jesuit college) or the Jesuits’s estate (“quinta”) on Ilha Verde. The seriousness of his engagement is proven by his repeated requests for up-to-date research publications, recent observations (in letters to Andreas Cleyer; Alexander de Bonmont; Antoine Verjus, the Jesuit procurator in Paris), and lenses from Europe. Having brought from Europe Roman lenses of 7, 14 and 15 feet made by Giuseppe Campani in Rome (1635-1715) – those used in the 1660s by Jean-Dominique Cassini in L’Observatoire de Paris – Thomas hoped to receive lenses with a focal length of 10 or 20 feet produced by Jacques Borelly (1623-1689) in Paris. With all these observations Thomas corrected the tables of Giovanni Battista Riccioli. He explicitly intended to send his results to Europe to improve the current tables; already in Macau he showed indeed a clear intention of communicating with European scholars, differing in this respect from his Jesuit predecessors: in this he proved to be a ‘professional’ scholar, and at the same time to be well-aware of the importance of a policy of public relations towards ecclesiastical authorities in Europe, also and especially for the position of the mission in China in the ongoing polemics on its methods and modus agendi.

In his position as a recognized mathematician, he was in 1683 consulted from Peking by F. Verbiest for geometrical problems raised during his mapping of Tartary; Thomas also transcribed Verbiest’s report on his first Tartary expedition (1682), a transcription which is found among the papers of the Duchess of Aveiro, Maria de Guadalupe, and is now in a private collection in Japan (Far Eastern Catholic Missions, 3, 185ff.). In 1685 Verbiest requested the Provincial of the Japanese province to engage Thomas in Macau in the transcription of the reprint of Adam Schall’s Minli pu zhu, a treatise on the Chinese almanac (Golvers 2017c: 613 ff.); this, and the visit in Macau of Chinese (Christian) specialists in the Chinese calendar (especially Liu Sugong i.e. Blaise Verbiest, specialist in fengshui) introduced Thomas also to the contentious aspects of the Chinese Calendar, and prepared him for his engagement in the Peking Qintianjian, as a collaborator, later successor of Ferdinand Verbiest.

Apart from astronomical matters, Thomas – always ‘dreaming’ of entering Japan – was also collecting recent nautical maps of the route between Macau and Nangasaki (“paratas insignes mappas nauticas ac instructiones necessarias ad navim certo et infallibili cursu Nangasaquium dirigendam” (JS 148: f. 85r.). One can guess it were maps he got from his Dutch friends in Batavia (Cleyer), from Chinese merchants who kept the route to Japan open and from some Japanese arrived in Macau, with whom he made on 18 May 1685 a ‘carta hydrographica’ and “geographica” of Japan (JS 149: f. 504-505).

Finally, magnetic observations made in the area of Macau in 1685 he mentioned on 7 Oct. 1685 (AFSI, Brot. 117: n° 3); meteorological observations on the typhoons of 1682 are referred to in his aforementioned letter written “ex mari Sinensi”.

In addition to his scholarly work (and his study of Chinese), he was in Macau also engaged in writing apologetic texts to defend Jesuit positions in the China mission, contested by several ecclesiastical milieus in Europe; this resulted in some (unpublished) comprehensive texts:

  • Apologia in India Orientali Evangelium praedicantis adversus accusationes Romae factas a missionariis Apostolicis (20 Dec. 1682; JS 148: f. 31 – 66);
  • Libellus rationum, quibus ostenditur expedire Serenissimo Principi Lusitaniae tentare hoc tempore reditum Lusitanorum in Iaponiam” (Dec. 1683; arguments addressed to the Portuguese King for the return of the Portuguese to Japan) (JS 148: f. 83r.-86v.);
  • an anonymous Demonstratio Iuris Imperatoris Tartari // Ad Possidendum Imperium Sinicum contra Navarretem, signed in Macau on 20 April 1684, and surviving only in a transcription preserved in Antwerp MPM, Ms. 30); this is a remarkable text, in which the position of the ruling Chinese-Manchu Emperor as conquerer of China, and his right to become baptized without abdication is defended with arguments taken from the Canon Law; Thomas is the most probable author, as I demonstrate elsewhere.

With all these experiences, observations and contacts Thomas was an all-round mathematician, and therefore Verbiest invited him to Peking, as his assistant at the Qintianjian. Before leaving Macau, and starting in Dec. 1684 Thomas wrote again insistently to Douai for sending recent “inventa”, books and instruments produced in Europe (JS 149: f. 505v).

In Peking

Thomas arrived in Peking on 7 Nov. 1686, as a professional support for Verbiest in his duties linked with the Emperor’s astronomical Bureau, and other engineering commitments; as a member of the ‘Portuguese mission’ he lived in the Xitang residence, and since ca. 1692 in its ‘Eastern’ branch Dongtang. The main source for our understanding of his work and its impact is his prolific correspondence (Golvers 2014, 131-144), mostly unpublished: letters to the General (JS 148-149); some items in Paris (Missions Etrangères de Paris [MEP]; Vanves [AFSI]); to Maria de Guadalupe (until 22 August 1690), now in the Jesuit archives of Rome and especially in 2 private collections in Japan: see supra); to the Moretus family (finished after his departure from Macau in 1685); parts of a kind of ‘diary’ (“Annotationes” for the period Sept. 1686 – June 1687, in JS 150: f. 123 ff.); inscriptions in books or on archival documents taken from the Jesuit archives in Peking he sent to Europe and which are preserved there in archives or libraries (especially but not only ARSI).

After Verbiest’s decease on 28 Jan. 1688, Thomas wrote his necrology (Bosmans, 1909; 1914); in the absence of Claudio Filippo Grimaldi (until 1694), he was indicated as his temporary successor at the head of the Qintianjian. Therefore, he was, within the Xitang, moving to Verbiest’s room, the “cubiculum mathematicum”. This is a detail not without importance, as this gave him access to Verbiest’s ‘private’ papers, either personal or professional: there he found indeed not only Verbiest’s personal annotations, incl. on his spiritual life (which he intensively used in his Obituary before destroying them: Bosmans 1914), and other delicate documents concerning the mission (such as a letter form Macau authorities: JS 148: f. 161), but also all the papers with regard to the technical questions concerning the Bureau, and probably a small, specialized library. In the same room were also put the most ‘vulnerable’ (especially Western) instruments, such as the “machine de Römer’ for a more adequate eclipse calculation (Golvers, 2013).

Thomas’s (especially scholarly) activities in China

In order to summarize the various activities Thomas unfolded in Peking and other parts of China between 1685 and 1709 I will follow a scheme based on the areas they are representing.

  1. As a Jesuit missionary he was Vice-Provincial of the Chinese Mission in 1701-1704. In this position he was a convinced and active advocate of the ‘Chinese Rites’ and Chinese Liturgy, by writing and sending original documents from the Jesuit archives to Rome.
  2. From his competences as an experienced observer and his official position within the Qintianjian, astronomical observations and calendar calculation may be considered primordial: yet, of these observations almost nothing is preserved until the death of Verbiest on 28 January 1688. After this moment, and after he was appointed as the temporary successor of Verbiest we see how nervous he was at the occasion of the first eclipse he had to calculate, viz. the lunar eclipse of 16 April 1688, shortly later followed by an almost complete solar eclipse on 24 May; his fear was, that especially in the latter, the slightest calculation error would be immediately very apparent, in the most literal sense of the word (JS 148: f. 124).
  3. A particularly interesting aspect in his correspondence is the attention for the building of an array of instruments and engines; such was a “pyxis quadrata” (‘square compass’), combining an astronomical quadrant and an astronomical watch for determining the position of the sun, the moon and the stars, with other astronomical and geometrical instruments inside: JS 149: f. 533v.) and wheel clocks (“horologia rotatilia”; JS 148: f. 318). He composed also some treatises on the application (“praxis”) of these and other instruments (in Chinese, lost now), such as on the working of the proportional circle: “libellum de usu circini” (JS 149: f. 532r.). Apart from astronomical instruments, he built also several hydraulic engines, such as two large wheels (“rotae”) to lift up water for irrigation projects in the Emperor’s gardens similar to the famous “rota Bremensis” (JS 148: f. 124v.) described in Dechalles’s Cursus Mathematicus; in 1698 and 1699 he was also involved in mapping the inundations of the Huanghe (‘Yellow River’) (Thomas de Bossierre: 68)
  4. His editorial activities comprised also a treatise on the use of logarithms entitled *Bi li gui jie (JS 149: f. 532r.) and especially on cossic algebra (ca. 1694-1696; with Alessandro Ciceri: JS 149: f. 544), both in Chinese and Manchu, apparently lost now (Jami 2012: 200-201; Qi Han, 2003), and the printing of some Manchu translations, made on Verbiest’s order from Chinese models (JS 148: f. 190r./v.);
  5. Already consulted by F. Verbiest for his geodetic operations in this kind of matters when being in Macau (cf. supra), Thomas was ordered by the Kangxi Emperor to measure the length of a Chinese ‘li’: see his ms. report De dimensione unius gradûs orbis terrae facta in Provincia Pekinensi Regni Sinarum anno 1702 mense Decembri (ms. in 149, f° 589 ff.; Bosmans 1925: 169-208; Witek, 2003);
  6. Cartography: after a first (?) attempt when making a map of Japan in Macau (cf. supra), he made maps of Siam, Cambodia, Macau (partly with François Noël; lost?); a map of Peking and surroundings (1705; with Jartoux, Régis & Parrenin – Thomas de Bossierre 1997, pp. 68-69); a map of Eastern Tartary (1698, with Gerbillon); a map of the ‘via Sibirica’ between Peking and Tobolsk-Moscow, continuing the drafts F. Verbiest made in 1687 (E. Lo Sardo, 2003);
  7. With regard to his didactical engagements: apart from his courses on algebra to Kangxi (JS 149: f. 544: “Lectiones algebrae”) and the written textbook in Chinese and Manchu (Han Qi, 2003), the sources are mentioning in 1708 mathematical lessons to the Jesuits Kaspar Castner and Luigi Gonzaga: “erudiendos in mathematicis” (JS 148: f. 460/61), while Joachim Bouvet refers in his diary to Thomas’s compilation of a book on arithmetic and geometry.
  8. Thomas was also a writer of (manuscript) apologetic treatises on various polemic topics, especially those related to (European) mathematics in China and the Jesuit chairmanship of the Chinese Calendar Bureau: see the manuscripts entitled Astronomia Vindicata (Peking, before 1691; JS 148: f. 173v.); Tractatus brevis de consuetudinibus ac ritibus Sinici Imperii quantum fieri potest nunc permittendis (JS 150: ff. 115-122); Tractatus apologeticus contra expositionem factam nomine Rev(erendissi)mi D(omi)ni Caroli Maigrot (Peking 1700; BVE, F. Gesuitico 1251/4: f° 168-230); Brevis Relatio eorum quae spectant ad declarationem Sinarum Imperatoris Kam Hi circa caeli Confucii et avorum cultum (Peking, 21 July 1701); on Thomas’s position in the various aspects of the Chinese Rites Controversy, see Standaert (2017) and Rule (2011).
  9. He composed also reports and historical monographs: most interesting is his ms. De Bello Eruthano (Antonucci, 2017), written as an eyewitness of Kangxi’s campaign against the Zunghar Galdan (1690-1697).
  10. Thomas was more than any other Jesuit in China convinced of the strategic importance of a good policy of ‘public relations’ with both the ecclesiastical and the scientific authorities in Europe:
  • dispatching astronomical materials of Verbiest to European authorities, etc., with explanatory notes and dedication formulas in his hand (Golvers, 2003);
  • sending many archival documents to Rome, to underpin his defense of the China mission and its methods;
  • sending materials to Thomas-Ignatius Dunyn-Szpot (°1644-†1713), Jesuit Poenitentiarius in Rome, for the composition of his history of the Jesuit mission in China as the continuation of Daniele Bartoli’s La Cina, Terza Parte Dell’Asia (1663): see Thomas’s s answer of 4 Nov. 1700 on Dunyn-Szpot’s request of 10 Jan. 1699 for sending original materials (JS 148: f. 260r.-261v.); his letter to T. Gonzalez of 20 Oct. 1701 (JS 149: f. 649r.) and his suggestions towards the Jesuit procurator François Noël in 1703 (JS 149: f. 336v.);
  • circular letters to promote the mission: Epistola circularis ad socios in Europam, of 1701 (JS 149: f° 573 ff.).

Thomas died in Peking on 28 July 1709 (Puente-Ballesteros, 2012). His tombstone or stele is preserved on the Jesuit graveyard in Zhalan (Malatesta: 162-163).

Works (printed and mss.) 

Chinese primary sources

  • Li fa ge wu qiong li shu mu / Tian zhu sheng jiao shu mu, 1701.
  • Jie gen fang suan fa, 1700.
  • Jie gen fang suan fa jie yao, 1700.
  • Suan fa zuan yao zong gang, 1700 

European primary sources (both ms. and printed)

Abbreviations: ARSI: Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (Rome); AFSI: Archives françaises de la Société de Jésus (Vanves-Paris); BA (Biblioteca da Ajuda, Lisbon); BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris); BVE: Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome); JS: Japonica Sinica (section in ARSI); MEP: Missions Etrangères de Paris (Paris); MPM: Museum Plantin-Moretus (Antwerp).

  • Apologia in India Orientali Evangelium praedicantis adversus accusationes Romae factas a missionariis Apostolicis (20 Dec. 1682; JS 148, f. 31-66);
  • Libellus rationum, quibus ostenditur expedire Serenissimo Principi Lusitaniae tentare hoc tempore reditum Lusitanorum in Iaponiam” (Dec. 1683; JS 148, f. 83r.-86v.);
  • De conversione primi ministri Regis Siamensis. Ms. in Arch. Vat. Missioni, vol. 113.
  • Synopsis Mathematica, complectens varios tractatus, quos huius scientiae tyronibus et missionis Sinicae candidatis breviter et clare concinnavit P. Antonius Thomas è Societate Iesu, 2vols., Douai: M. Mairesse, 1685.
  • Elogium Reverendi Patris Ferdinandi Verbiest Societatis Jesu, s.l.s.d. (copy in Rome, BVE, 6.20.F.36.1)
  • Epistola circularis ad Socios in Europam (1701): JS 149: f° 573 ff.);
  • De Bello Imperatoris Cam Hi Tartaro-Sinici contra Tartaros Eruthanos (Ms. in JS 149: f. 318 ff.). 
  • Astronomia Vindicata (Peking, before 1691). Mentioned only once in JS 148, f. 173v. Probably to be identified with the autograph ms., now in Evora: Biblioteca Municipal, Cod. CXVI / 2-8 (signed: Macai, 8 Nov. 1683 A.T.S.J.);
  • Tractatus brevis de consuetudinibus ac ritibus Sinici Imperii quantum fieri potest nunc permittendis (JS 150: ff. 115-122);
  • Tractatus apologeticus contra expositionem factam nomine Rev(erendissi)mi D(omi)ni Caroli Maigrot (Peking 1700; BVE, Fondo Gesuitico 1251/4: f. 168-230); 
  • Brevis Relatio eorum quae spectant ad declarationem Sinarum Imperatoris Kam Hi circa caeli Confucii et avorum cultum, datam anno 1700 (Paris, BnF N.acq. lat., 145, etc.).
  • De Dimensione unius gradûs orbis terrae facta in Provincia Pekinensi Regni Sinarum anno 1702 mense Decembri (ms. in JS 149, f° 589 ff.)
  • Tabula Geographica Orientis iuxta autographum P. Antonii Thomas Belgae e Soc(ietatis) Iesu missum Pekino a(nno) 1690, in quâ demonstrantur etiam itinera in Chinam ex Moschovia, Persia et Mogor (Roma: Archivio di Stato, Bibl., Ms. 392).
  • Relatio descripta eorum quae (?) observaret (?) in Tartaria dum is (?) comitaretur Imperatorem Sinarum (1698) (ms. in JS 149: f. 557 etc.).
  • Giampriamo, Nicolà. 1748. Specula Parthenopaea Uranophilis Juvenibus duplici constructione ordineque disposita, Neapoli: S. Porfile.
  • Monteiro, Inacio. 1754. Compendio dos elementos de matematica, 2 vols, Coimbra: no Real Colégio das Artes.
  • Soares, Diogo. 1721. Novo Athlas (sic) Lusitano ou theatro universal do mundo todo dictado na Regia Aula do Colegio d(e) S(anto) Antão deste cidade pelo P(adr)e M(estr)e de mathematica Diogo Simoens da Companhia de Jesus, Lisboa Occidental anno de 1721. Ms. in BNP Cod. 529.

Secondary sources (selection)

  • Antonucci, Davor. 2017. “Antoine Thomas: a historian of the Qing-Zunghar War”. In The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas S.J. (1644–1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China. Leuven Chinese Studies 38. Leuven: F. Verbiest Institute, 219-252.
  • Baldini, Ugo. 2004. “The teaching of mathematics in the Jesuit colleges of Portugal, from 1640 to Pombal”. In: The Practice of Mathematics in Portugal: Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 293-465.
  • Bosmans, Henri. 1909. “Lettre du P. Antoine Thomas S.J. datée de Péking, le 8 septembre 1688”. Archiv für die Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, 328-334.
  • Bosmans, Henri. 1914. “La notice nécrologique de Ferdinand Verbiest par son secrétaire Antoine Thomas de Namur (…)”. Annales de la Société d’Emulation de Bruges 64 (2-3): 98-101.
  • Bosmans, Henri. 1925. “L’œuvre scientifique d’Antoine Thomas de Namur, s. j. (1644-1709) [1re partie] ». Annales de la Société scientifique de Bruxelles 44 (4.2) : 169-208.
  • Burrus, Ernest J.. 1965. Kino writes to the Duchess. Letters of Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J., to the Duchess of Aveiro. Rome – St. Louis Jesuit Historical Institute.
  • Dehergne, Joseph. 1973. Répertoire des Jésuites de Chine de 1552 à 1800. Bibliotheca Instituti Historici S.I., XXXVII. Roma – Paris: Institutum Historicum S.I. – Leztouzey & Ané.
  • Delfosse, Annick. 2017. “Ecce ego, mitte me. Les Indipetae gallo-belges ou le désir des Indes”. In: M. Hermans, etc., The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas, S.J. (1644 – 1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China. Leuven Chinese Studies 33: 163-206.
  • The Far Eastern Catholic Missions 1663 – 1711: the original papers of the Duchess d’Aveiro, Tokyo: Yushodo, 1975.
  • Giurgevich, Luana & Leitão, Henrique. 2016. Clavis Bibliothecarum. Catalogos e inventarios de livrarias de instituições religiosas em Portugal até 1834. Lisboa: Sersilito.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2003. Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (1623–1688) and the Chinese Heaven. Leuven Chinese Studies, 12, Leuven: Leuven University Press.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2007. “Foreign Jesuit Indipetae. Mathematical teaching and mathematical books at the Colégio das Artes in Coimbra in the 2nd half of the 17th century”. Bulletin of Portuguese Japanese Studies 12: 32 – 36.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2013. “A note on the ‘machine of Roemer’ in late-17th century China, Antoine Thomas, S. J., and the first contacts of Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J., with the Jesuits in Paris”. Almagest 4 (1): 63-73.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2014. “The correspondence of Antoine Thomas, S. J. (1644–1709) as a source for the history of science”. Studies in the history of natural science (…..) 33.2: 131-144.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2017, a. “The correspondence of Antoine Thomas, S. J. (1644–1709) as a source for the history of science”. In: M. Hermans, etc., The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas, S.J. (1644–1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China. Leuven Chinese Studies 33: 303-321.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2017, b. “Antoine Thomas, S. J., and his Synopsis Mathematica: biography of a Jesuit mathematical textbook for the China mission”. East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine 45: 119-183.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2017, c. Letters of a Peking Jesuit. The correspondence of Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ (1623–1688) Revised and Expanded. Leuven Chinese Studies 35. Leuven: F. Verbiest Institute.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2019a. “Ferdinand Verbiest”.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2019b. “Adam Aigenler”.
  • Golvers, Noël. 2020. “A new mathematical text from Antoine Thomas (1685), now in New York”, forthcoming in Etudes Classiques (Festschrift Lambert Isebaert)
  • Hermans, Michel, Parmentier, Isabelle. 2017. The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas S.J. (1644–1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China (…). Leuven Chinese Studies, 33. Leuven: F. Verbiest Institute.
  • Hosten, Henri. 1938. “Catholicism in the East Indies in 1680-81. From the Latin of Fr. A. Thomas, S.J. (Siam, Oct. 30, 1681)”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. Letters 4: 503 ff.
  • Jami, Catherine. 2012. The Emperor’s new Mathematics. Western Learning and Imperial Authority during the Kangxi reign (1662 – 1722). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jesuit Missions in Japan. 1975. Original Letters and Reports, 1663–1688, in the Collection of the Sonkei Kaku Library, The Maeda Ikutoku Kai Foundation, Tokyo: Yushodo.
  • Lo Sardo, Eugenio. 2003. “Antoine Thomas’s and George David’s Maps of Asia”. W.F. Vande Walle & N. Golvers (eds.), The history of the relations between the Low Countries and China in the Qing era (1644–1911). Leuven Chinese Studies 14 Leuven: 75-88.
  • Leitão, Henrique. 2008. Sphaera Mundi: a Ciência na Aula da Esfera. Manuscritos cientificos do Colégio de Santo Antão nas colecções da BNP: Lisbon: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.
  • Malatesta, Edward J., Gao Zhiyu. 1995. Departed, yet present: Zhalan, the oldest Christian cemetery in Beijing. San Francisco: Ricci Institute.
  • Mauricio, Domingos. 1935. “Os Jesuitas e o ensino das Matematicas em Portugal”. Brotéria 20: 189-205.
  • Puente-Ballesteros, Beatriz. 2012. “Antoine Thomas, SI as a ‘patient’ of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722): a Case Study on the Appropriation of Theriac at the Imperial Court”, Asclepio 64: 213-250.
  • Qi, Han. 2003. “Antoine Thomas, SJ, and his mathematical activities in China: a preliminary research through Chinese sources”. In: W.F. Vande Walle & N. Golvers, The History of the Relations between the Low Countries and China in the Qing era (1644 – 1911). Leuven Chinese Studies: 105 – 114.
  • Rule, Paul. 2011. “Antoine Thomas and the Chinese Rites Controversy: the Conciliator becomes a victim”. In: D. van Overmeire, P. Ackerman (eds.), About books, maps, songs and steles. Leuven Chinese Studies 21: 101-113.
  • Sauvage, Pierre. 2017. “Antoine Thomas, élève au collège des jésuites à Namur (1652 – 1660”. In: M. Hermans, etc., The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas, S.J. (1644–1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China. Leuven Chinese Studies 33: 115-132.
  • Standaert, Nicolas. 2017. “Le rôle du vice-provincial, Antoine Thomas, dans la querelle des rites chinois durant les années 1701-1704”. In: M. Hermans, etc., The Itinerary of Antoine Thomas, S.J. (1644 – 1709), scientist and missionary from Namur in China. Leuven Chinese Studies33: 253-270.
  • Yves de Thomaz de Bossièrre. 1977. Un belge mandarin à la cour de Chine aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, Paris: Les Belles Lettres.
  • Verhaeren, Hubert. 1949. Catalogue de la bibliothèque du Pé-t’ang. Pékin: Imprimerie des Lazaristes.
  • Witek, John W. 2003. “The role of Antoine Thomas, SJ, (1644-1709) in determining the terrestrial Meridian Line in eighteenth-century China”, in: W.F. Vande Walle & N. Golvers, The History of the Relations between the Low Countries and China in the Qing era (1644–1911). Leuven Chinese Studies, 14: 89-104.

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