Author: Noël Golvers
Part of: Coimbra Between Sciences and Education (coord. by Mário Santiago de Carvalho)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: April, 11th, 2019
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2636596

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Golvers, Noël, “Ferdinand Verbiest”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.2636596”, URL = “”, latest revision: April, 11th, 2019.

Life and Works

Ferdinand Verbiest, born on 9 Oct. 1623 in Pittem (Kortrijk; Flanders-Belgium), from a family which was recently promoted to the regional administrative elite, initially studied at Bruges (from there the occasional epithet: “Brugensis”; before: “Pitthemensis”), later in the Jesuit college of Kortrijk (until 1640), where he finished his studies, publishing a long Latin ‘(carmen) genethliacum’. In Oct. 1640 he was matriculated in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Leuven, and, after the 1st year, he entered the Jesuit Society of the Provincia Flandro-Belgica, in Mechelen; this shift from a secular education to a Jesuit one was probably already prepared, but the turning point may have been the excessively triumphalist celebrations of the first century of the Jesuit Society in the Flemish-Belgian province in 1640. Anyway: already in the 1st year of the Novitiate, he was apparently attracted by a missionary vocation, and – together with his later fellow fathers F. de Rougemont and Philippe Couplet, who were to follow him in the next decades to China -, he signed a document, made by the novice master Nicasius Bonart, all applying for the mission in Chili (sic). As this first premature application remained obviously without any answer, he continued his studies at the Jesuit college in Leuven, during the winter semester of 1644-45 being taught, inter alios, by Andreas Tacquet, a young talented and already reputed SJ mathematician. This was followed by new applications (“Litterae Indipetae”) in 1645, always for the West Indies. After a first authorization he left for Cadix, but the authorization having been withdrawn by the Spanish authorities, Verbiest and his fellow fathers had to return to Flanders. There he was appointed Professor of Latin and Greek in the Jesuit College of Brussels, with responsibilities for the ‘poesis’ and ‘rhetorica’ class, including the yearly Affixiones, and probably also for the Latin class in the nearby Palace School of Brussels (1647 – 1651), succeeding his teacher Sidronius Hosschius. After repeated requests to the General (of which nothing is preserved) the Provincial sent him to the Collegio Romano for his theologian studies (academic year 1652-1653): there he certainly met Athanasius Kircher, at that time exempted from his teaching burden but at his zenith as researcher and writer, with (until 1655) his assistant Gaspar Schott(us); contacts are not directly proven, unless by two letters of Verbiest, sent afterward to Kircher (& Schott): in these letters, Verbiest showed himself cooperative, asking at the same time for recent Kircher materials. The first of these letters left Seville, where Verbiest studied the 2nd year of theology in the Colégio San Hermenegildo. After the defense of his doctoral dissertation on (13th?) April 1655, he left Spain for Italy, to push the Superior General for a decision on his missionary vocation. Surprisingly enough, in the following weeks and months – on his way to Rome – he ‘switched’ his application from the Western into the Eastern Indies (which included China), probably because he heard – through a correspondence, e.g. with his former colleague from Brussels, Ignatius de Melgaer, about the success of Martino Martini’s recruiting in the Flemish-Belgian province in the 1st half of 1654, but certainly also as the China mission had apparently more perspective. At any rate, after his application for China had been accepted, apparently despite some manipulations from unspecified “malevoli”, he spent the second half of 1655 in the SJ college of Genoa (Via Balbi), probably completing his mathematical education, as a good mathematical competence / experience was – since Ricci’s time († 1610) – a necessary prerequisite for the successful China missionary. Looking for possible supervisors, one could probably point to the presence of Father Giacomo Bonvicini (1619 – 1657), who taught mathematics in the Genoa College between 1651/2 and 1655/6, author, e.g., of a manuscript ‘Brevis Introductio in totam mathematicam’ (Garibaldi; Fischer).

Leaving Genoa at the end of February 1656 he arrived – with M. Martini – in Lisbon in the spring of 1656, after the yearly fleet to the Far East (“carreira da India”), which normally left Lisbon in March / April, had already set sail. He was elected as the chaplain of the local Flemish – German ‘colony’, but soon he was sent, on his own (“solus”) in the early summer of 1656 to the Jesuit college in Coimbra, to teach during (part of) the Academic year (“ano letivo”) 1656 – 1657, a course of mathematics, apparently already having at that time a strong mathematical profile. This period of ca. 8 months at the Colégio das Artes was unknown so far, and is attested by only one autograph letter from Verbiest to Kircher (dated 18th Dec. 1656). With this temporary commitment, Verbiest situated himself in the long tradition of ‘foreign’ Indipetae teaching during their waiting time at the College. Most of his predecessors and successors had a good mathematical reputation; this we should assume also in his case, and an eyewitness of his curriculum (F. de Rougemont) confirms this, referring the origin of these competences to “privato fere studio”. Therefore, when in his letter from Coimbra Verbiest refers to ‘learn mathematics more than to teach’, this will certainly be more an expression of humility, rephrasing a literary topic, which can be traced as far back as Seneca (“disco potius quam doceo”). When he arrived in Coimbra, he filled a gap, as at that moment there were since some years no more mathematical courses at the University, nor in the Colégio (as the lists of U. Baldini demonstrate). As his aim public Verbiest mentions “nostri”, i.e. the common term by which Jesuits referred to their fellow-fathers; if this indications is reliable, his courses were part of the ‘domestic teaching’ reserved for Jesuit “scholastici” only, with exclusion of (lay) external students, as existed at the Coimbra Colégio until 1692 (U. Baldini). As for the contents of the courses, his letter does unfortunately give no the slightest suggestion, but this was in all probability ‘basic mathematics’.

Ferdinand VerbiestYet, three external indications allow to get some idea about the ‘mathematical’ context in which he was teaching. The first one we find in a long letter, of 23rd May 1655, written in Flemish, of Ignatius Hartoghvelt (1629 – 1658) – another Jesuit from the Flandro-Belgian province – who lived with François de Rougemont in the College from about May 1655 until early 1656, thus preceding Verbiest by only some months. It contains a very detailed and humoristic observation of the life in the College, and the Courses, but not a mathematical one, as this was still vacant until Verbiest’s arrival shortly later. The atmosphere in the Colégio, as Hartoghvelt described, was characterized by a severe material life condition, a strong Spanish influence on the (themes and contents of the) courses, and a complete rejection of any Cartesian theme, as proposed by the Flemisch newcomers.

The second indication concerns Francisco Pereira de la Cerda (° 1637), a young Jesuit “scholasticus” of the Colégio, who prematurely died on 20 August 1656, i.e. during the first months of Verbiest’s stay. He had a personal library with advanced mathematical books, published outside Portugal (Metius; Oughtred; Cabeo; Clavius), which were dedicated in or after 1656 to the Jesuit mission in China and arrived – through Verbiest? – in Macau and Peking, where they are still extant. As such, they suggest the existence in Coimbra – outside the college’s walls and instruction, namely in purely private milieux – of a rather up-to-date personal, mathematical culture, acquired in all probability through “studium privatum”, either as an extension of the normal curriculum in a ‘special class’ or during ‘free time’, which was allowed by the Society to its members.

A last indication which points in the same direction is the fact that Verbiest – always according to the same letter – had access to the well-provided private library of a prominent member of the Coimbra University, in which I tentatively recognize the local scholar Francisco Rodriguez Cassão (1596 – 1666), a physician but also an active astronomer – a not exceptional combination in that time – and owner of a considerable library, in which also Kircher’s recent publications were accessible (Barbosa Machado). This was in all probability a welcome support, as one year earlier Hartoghvelt – with the same background as Verbiest and the Jesuit libraries of the Flemish-Belgian Jesuit colleges as a standard – had assessed, in the aforementioned letter, the College’s library – despite a ‘royal’ funding of the college – as ‘bad’ (“slecht”).

Leaving Coimbra probably at the end of the winter semester, Verbiest joined the group of Martino Martini in Lisbon, sailing out shortly after Easter (1 April), viz. on 4th April 1657 for Goa and Macau; after a traumatising journey he arrived in Macau on 17th June 1658, where he stayed, as was the normal routine, in the Colégio Madre de Deus until the Spring of 1659. This period of about 8 to 9 months was used to recover physically, but also for the study of Chinese (probably already started on board). Finally, on 16.02.1659 he did here also his 4th vow. There are, to my knowledge, no further, direct references to Verbiest’s stay in Macau, but from some references in his later works, especially his letters, we are privy to some personal reminiscences: of some topographical aspects of the Macau city (with an apparently erroneous reference to the porta de cerca instead of porta do cerco, and another one to Taipa Quebrada), and of his meeting with Bartolomeo da Costa (Correspondence, p. 203).

Leaving Macau, probably with M. Martini, he arrived about July 1659 in Xi’an (Shensi Province) to support Father Giovanni Francesco de Ferrarii(s), a location which, after ten months he already left on 9 May 1660 after he was called on 14.04.1660 by the Emperor – on the proposal of Adam Schall von Bell (26.02.1660), since 1644 Head of the Astronomical Bureau (Qintianjian) – to Beijing, to be prepared as his assistant, and later successor. This ‘appeal’ was certainly prepared by Verbiest’s reputation in Europe (before and since his experience in Coimbra), a reputation which was further spread by his fellow fathers, like F. de Rougemont and probably also by Martini. Anyway, leaving Xi’an – reluctantly, and with some homesickness to ‘crossing through the mountains, preaching to humble people the Holy Message (Corr., p. 180) – Verbiest turned to Peking, where he arrived on 6 June 1660.

In the next years Schall introduced him to the complex matters of the chairmanship of the Qintianjian, already then from various parts under ‘siege’, both in China and in Europe, for different reasons. There was apparently some personal osmosis between both Jesuits – maybe facilitated by the ‘national’ (and, also linguistic) relationship between the Rhinelander Schall and the Fleming Verbiest. Anyway, the first sign of Verbiest’s deep involvement in the various aspects of his future job is already to be found in his very long, and very detailed “Apologia” for Schall’s chairmanschip of the astronomical Bureau and his official occupation with the Calendar (dated 1661). Even when it was partly inspired by Schall himself, this is a remarkable piece of scholastic apology, which proves Verbiest’s talents in the field, also known from later documents and worthy of a separate treatment.

In this early period he demonstrated also his talents as an instrument builder, with the production in (or before) 1664, of a series of 117 drawings (on 107 plates), together constituting the complete blueprint of a new astronomical observatory to be erected in Peking; the realization was, for various reasons, postponed to 1669-1673 (cf. below). The early date of the drawings (1661-4) is ascertained: (a) by the reference to the jiachen year of the Kangxi reign period, which corresponds to 1664, mentioned in Verbiest’s introduction in the copy, now in the National Library of Peking (Baishiqiao Road), and (b) by the 1667 dated handwritten annotations by some Chinese scholars, such as Li Guangdi and Mei Wending. Verbiest’s mastery of up-to-date European mechanics, exceeding even the experience of Schall, appears also from his improvement of Schall’s technique to lift up very heavy bells in Beijing (‘Bell Tower affair’); as F. de Rougemont reports, this was possible, thanks to Verbiest’s reading of (among others) Paolo Casati, Jesuit professor at the Collegio Romano, whose 1655 book (Terra machinis mota) had arrived in Verbiest’s hands.

However exciting these experiences may have been, or probably also because of them, the opposition of native astronomers rose, and converged in the juridical actions of Yang Guangxian, ‘protector of the Confucian traditions’. This was finished by the capture of the ‘4 (Jesuits) of Beijing’ in the Dongtang residence (a branch of the Beijing College), and the transfer of 25 other missionaries to Canton under ‘house arrest’. There they stayed between 1665-1671, for a short while constituting in the (renewed; extended) Canton college a true centre of Jesuit research, writing and translating (among others the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus), and printing, not to be discussed here in detail. After a series of spectacular comparative astronomical tests (Dec. 1668; Jan.- March 1669) which clearly proved the superiority of Western observational and prediction techniques on their simultaneous Chinese (and Manchu) counterparts, Verbiest was appointed by Imperial decree, on 1 April 1670, as ‘acting Director’ of the aforementioned Qingtianjian; only in 1671 the other Jesuits were personally released, with the prohibition of further active proselytism.

From 1669/70 on started Verbiest’s steady ascent, both in the Emperor’s appreciation and in the bureaucratic and the honorary hierarchy. The center of his position was his appointment as acting (Western) Director in the Qintianjian, with the title jili lifa. This included the calculation and promulgation of the yearly calendar, and – ipso facto – reliable predictions of meteora such as (solar and lunar) eclipses). Directly connected to his function was also a ‘didactical’ commitment, viz. the instruction of the staff members of the Qintianjian (from 120 to some 200) in Western calculation methods and the use of the instruments, this in the Liju (“Western Academy), next to the Jesuit college. After several years, he feared that by doing so the Jesuits would in the end lose their supremacy over the Calendar.

The necessary basis for his work indeed was the new set of 6 instruments, already prepared in 1664, as we have seen, but only built in the period 1670 – 1673, and officially presented to the Emperor in 1674. For this observatory – which replaced the 13th century Mongol one – he followed the Tychonian model; this referred to the Danish astronomer / observer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601), author of a ‘mixed’ cosmological model in between the Ptolemaic geocentric and the Copernican heliocentric vision, by which Verbiest joined the current position of Jesuit astronomers. This observatory is – after several peripeteias – still extant. Even when it was in fact quickly surpassed by European instrumental and observational innovations (as the French Jesuits at the end of the 17th century remarked), it was the basis of Verbiest’s position and influence in Chinese society. Both observatory and its manual, published in 1673 (Lingtai Yi xiang zhi / Yi xiang tu) was a major realization of Sinicized Western astronomical lore, and the printed copies are – especially for their magnificent drawings – still a much wanted collector’s item; the same is true for the copies with a Latin title page (“Liber Organicus Astronomiae…restitutae”), and one or two Latin introductions, which, after having been combined to other reports, were finally produced in Europe as Astronomia Europaea (Dillingen, 1687). Other extant printed products of Verbiest’s official commitment in the bureau are numerous, and cannot all be enumerated here: these represent (a) copies of the yearly calendars; (b) the so-called ‘Perennial Calendar of the Kangxi period’ (Kangxi shi san nian sui ci jia yin yue wu xing ling fan shi xian li), as an attempt to guarantee the stability of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty for the next 2,000 years coming; (c) a series of eclipse maps (in European sources called “Typi eclipsis”); (d) planet calendars; (e) star maps. All together the extant examples do not constitute a full series, but nevertheless are an impressive testimony of his activities, in Chinese, Manchu, Mongol and Latin. Other testimonies of his official commitments in the Bureau are astro-meteorological reports (starting in 1677), while his opposition towards the traditional divinatory aspects of the calendar / almanac (including the ‘electio dierum’, fengshui and numerology) was explained in three small treatises, entitled Wang, all published in 1670.

Despite the clear supremacy of Verbiest’s astronomical methods and observational practice, he was repeatedly the object of (sometimes silent, occasionally open) opposition and challenge from collaborators within the Bureau, and members of the Ministry of Rites (Libu) and the Hanlin Academy; this opposition was inspired by feelings of ‘national’ pride and devotion to their own traditions. In addition, Verbiest had also to defend his position and activities against criticisms from Europeans, Jesuits and others, in China and in Europe, the latter embodied by the Roman Congregatio de Propaganda Fide and the Missions Etrangères de Paris. Whereas the former was countered with much diplomacy and caution, the latter inspired him several deeply engaged apologies, such as the very long and detailed ‘Responsum Apologeticum” of 1681 against D. de Navarrete’s invectives (Madrid, 1676).

Within Peking, his proven mastery of European technology and mechanics during the aforementioned ‘Bell Tower affair’ (1661) and further confirmed during the building of the 6 instruments of the Observatory (1670-1673) resulted in many new official commitments on the Emperor’s order, outside his function in the Astronomical Bureau properly speaking, in which Verbiest unfolded his talents as a gifted ingeniarius (Italian ingeniere). These engineering projects – in which he demonstrated a great capacity to ‘translate’ written descriptions of instruments into real devices and to find new applications of known physical principles, covered the domain of casting cannon (“ballistica”), restoring bridges (Lugou bridge), building automata and self-moving vehicles (e.g. the 1st ‘auto-mobile’, applying Heron’s aeolipyle), levelling terrains and digging canals for irrigation. For this, he applied a large array of tools (tackles, capstans, windlasses, lathes, etc.) of Western mechanics, and studied physical principles such as stability, perspective and optics, and measuring instruments (for humidity and pressure). Many of these questions were discussed in chapters in the aforementioned Lingtai Yixiang zhi and in the Qiongli xue, and their achievements (in the decade 1670 – 1680) are described for a Western public in the 2nd part of his Astronomia Europaea (cf. 13 – 17).

As the Western science the Jesuits introduced in China relied on the principles of Aristotelianism Verbiest – despite his Tychonian cosmological conviction – resumed and continued the translation project of the corpus Aristotelicum, in the version of the Cursus Conimbricenses, started in the 1620s by his predecessors. Of these cursus many copies were available in the Beijing library, of which 21 numbers are still preserved, according to H. Verhaeren’s Catalogue [1949]). The manuscript of his translation, in ca. 64 juan, surviving only partly, aimed at the introduction of Aristotelian methodology (starting from Porphyrius’s Isagoge) in the curriculum of the State Exams. This strategy was understood and thwarted by the reviewers of the Hanlin Academy, certainly a major setback for Verbiest, who lost by this the possibility to gain a firm epistemological basis for further introducing Western science and philosophy.

Also outside this domain – and outside his field of official commitments in the Qintianjian – he made also some contributions in the field of medicine, by writing a treatise on the Lapis serpentinus (‘snake stone’) and, especially, by promoting in 1684, in a letter to General Charles de Noyelle, the ‘upgrade’ and ‘updating’ of the medical section of the library of the Peking Jesuit college, especially with “tabulae anatomicae” (‘anatomical sheets’), which had been somewhat neglected after the death of Johann Schreck Terrentius († 1630).

Almost all of these activities, in these multiple domains, were situated in the Court City of Peking, which Verbiest between 1660 and his death on 28 Jan. 1688 never left, except for some commitments in the outskirts of Peking, some ballistic experiments in the Xishan Mountains and the Lugou bridge, and two ‘tours’ in the Emperor’s train from Beijing over the Great Wall through Tartary (“Tartaria Occidentalis / Orientalis”) in 1682 and 1683. The geographical descriptions and anthropological observations he sent to Europe – the very first information on these areas of the world map – were a great success in the contemporary travelling literature.

During the same expeditions he made the first geodesic measurements of these terrae incognitae, which became the start of Kangxi’s thinking of ‘mapping’ these areas, a project which the Emperor resumed in the early 18th century with Antoine Thomas and French cartographers. During these operations, Verbiest – not unknown with the making of ‘world maps’ – of which he produced at least 2 – and with textual geographical descriptions (as in his Kunyu tushuo) – was during these measuring operations confronted with the geodesic work-on-the-field, for which he made also an appeal on the knowledge of Antoine Thomas (letter of 1683).

By the various phases of his educational process described so far, Verbiest had a multiple linguistic profile, and in his letter to the Russian Tsar Alexei Michailovich (1676) he enumerates the knowledge of 9 different languages, including, apart from Flemish, Latin and Greek (which he taught in Brussels), Portuguese (the ‘lingua franca’ of the China mission), French, Italian (more passive than active), Spanish (as a former candidate for the West Indian missions and student in Seville), and Chinese. Since 1676 he successfully studied also Manchu, of which he composed an elementary introduction, the very first ever made (Elementa Linguae Tartaricae). This reveals, on the one hand his attempt to support the Kangxi Emperor – the 2nd Qing Emperor, who had a loyal and intelligent relationship with Verbiest; on the other hand, it shows also Verbiest’s concern about an appropriate preparation of the future generation of candidates of the China mission. He repeatedly emphasized, in his letters to the Jesuit authorities in Rome the importance of an appropriate mathematical education for these candidates – for which he always advocated an upgrade of mathematical disciplines in the Jesuit colleges (1678): he also advocated (since 1684) the arrival of Jesuits with a medicinal education (after dispensation) and offered them a Manchu primer, as this was the Court language. Also for the pastoral and catechetical praxis of the Jesuit missionaries, he produced textbooks, while in the liturgical practice, he also defended a ‘Sino-centric’, adaptation method, arguing for the introduction of Chinese rites and the use of Chinese as liturgical languages. This was, after all, almost the only direct missionary activity of Verbiest, who already since 1670 was exempted from most of his Jesuit duties: his contribution to the mission was mostly of a strategic character, aiming by his ‘loyal services’ towards the Crown at good relations with and goodwill from the Emperor, which had a positive overflow on the position of the regional missionaries, in their dealings with local magistrates. Also by members of other congregations (Franciscans; Dominicans; Augustinians) he was explicitly greeted as the “columen missionis”.

Verbiest, in his many functions within the China Vice-Province, had not only a China-spanning view, but his strategic thinking encompassed the entire Euro-Asiatic continent. The former emerges from his intentions – from Peking – to the benefit of Jesuits in all the provinces of China, including those of the Japan Province. In a remarkable document, published only recently, the Postulata Vice-Provinciae Sinensis (1680), he tried with strong arguments to convince the General of strengthen the position of the Chinese Vice-Province, especially in its dealings with the Jesuits from Macau (-Guangdong) and other congregations. His continent-spanning geostrategic thinking brought him to involve himself – through his contacts in Peking with the Russian legate Milescu Spathary – since 1676 – in the diplomatic relations between the Chinese-Manchu Emperor and the Russian Tsar; his aim with this was to secure a much shorter and safer ‘overland’ route from China to Europe, passing through Siberia (Tobolsk) and Moskow. In the end, this led to the ‘Nerchinsk Treaty’ of 1689, but the route was later almost never used by Jesuit missionaries.

Also the rest of (especially) Catholic Europe was in Verbiest’s scope: with letters and by sending typographical ‘curiosa’, such as copies of his Chinese (-Manchu) Ephemerides, eclipse maps and other – both Latin and Chinese treatises – he approached from China most of the European Courts (the ”Principes”): the Pope in Rome; the Emperor in Vienna (Leopold I), the Portuguese King Afonso VI, the Duke of Bavaria; Cosimo III of Tuscany, the Russian Tsar Alexei Michailovich, the Polish King Jan III Sobieski, the generals in Rome etc., with a multiple aim: to defend the mission’s methods – especially its use of ‘science as a tool of missionizing’ under siege from various parts; to emphasize the role of mathematics in the China mission, to get diplomatic support, to gather funds, and to offer thanks for the benefits received. The approximately 220 items I could so far identify of the various items of his “corpus Astronomicum”, spread through European private and public collections are not a minor proof of Verbiest’s intelligent missionary vision.



Chinese primary sources

(based on: CCT database: A. Dudink & N. Standaert, KULeuven):

  • Ce yan ji lüe 測驗紀 1669
  • (Li fa) Bu de yi bian 不得已辨 () 1669
  • Wang ze bian 擇辯 1669
  • Wang zhan bian 妄占 1669
  • Wang tui ji xiong bian 妄推吉凶 1669
  • Xi yang xin fa li shu (2nd ed.) 西洋新法曆書 () 1670
  • Shan e bao lüe shuo 惡報 1670
  • Jiao yao xu lun 教要序 1670
  • Xi chao ding an (1) 熙朝定案 () 1670-1705
  • Gao jie yuan yi 告解原 1670-1680
  • Yan qi tu shuo 驗氣圖説 1671
  • Kun yu tu shuo 輿圖說 1672
  • Kun yu wai ji 輿 1672
  • Chi dao nan bei xing tu 赤道南北星 1672
  • Kun yu ge zhi lüe shuo 輿格致略 1674
  • Kangxi shi san nian sui ci jia yin yue wu xing ling fan shi xian li 康熙十三年次甲寅月五星時憲曆, 1674
  • Yi xiang zhi 象志 1674.
  • Yi xiang tu 1674
  • Kun yu quan tu (2) 輿 () 1674
  • Sheng ti da yi 聖體答疑 1675-
  • Ci xian wen da 辤銜問 1678
  • Wu wei biao (2) () 1677
  • Yue li biao (2) () 1677
  • Ri chan biao (2) 日躔表 () 1677
  • Kangxi yong nian li fa 康熙永年 1677-1840
  • Li bian zhi yin qi 之引1680-1682
  • Li tui ge tu shuo 理推各圖說 1680-1682
  • Xing xing li tui 形性理推 1680-1685
  • Mu si tu shuo 目司圖說 1680-1685
  • Jian ping gui zong xing tu 規總 1680-1685
  • Shen wei tu shuo 神威圖說 1681-
  • Guang xiang yi yan li tui 光向異驗理推 1682-
  • Yu tui ji yan 紀驗 1682
  • Tian zhu jiao sang li wen da 天主教喪禮問 1682
  • Yu lan jian ping yi xin shi yong fa 覽簡新式用法 1682-1685
  • Li xian sheng xing shu 利先生 1683
  • Min li pu zhu jie huo 曆鋪註解惑 1683
  • Qiong li xue  1683
  • Xi du shi yuan you yong fa 吸毒石原由用法 1686

European primary sources

  • Verbiest, Ferdinand, Astronomia Europaea, Dillingen: C. Bencard, 1687. See: The Astronomia Europaea of Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (Dillingen, 1687). Text, Translation, Notes and Commentaries. Ed. N. Golvers. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, XXVIII, Nettetal, Steyler Verlag, 1993.
  • Ferdinand Verbiest and Jesuit science in 17th century China: an annotated edition and translation of the Constantinople manuscript (1676). Ed. by N. Golvers & E. Nicolaidis, Athens-Leuven, Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven & Institute for Neohellenic Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation, 2009.
  • N. Golvers (ed.), Letters of a Peking Jesuit. The correspondence of Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (1623 – 1688) Revised and Expanded. Leuven Chinese Studies, XXXV, Leuven, 2017.
  • F. Verbiest, Postulata Vice-Provinciae Sinensis in Urbe Proponenda. A Blueprint for a renewed SJ mission in China. Ed., translated and annotated by N. Golvers, Leuven Chinese Studies, XL, Leuven: Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, 2018.

Secondary Sources (selection of Western publications)

  • Aalto, Pentti, “The Elementa Linguae Tartaricae by. F. Verbiest, S.J.”, in: Tractata Altaica D. Sinor sexagenario (…) dedicata, Wiesbaden: 1976, pp. 1–10.
  • Aalto, Pentti, “The ‘Elementa Linguae Tartaricae’ by Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. translated”, in: Zentralasiatische Studien, 11. 35-120.
  • Bernard, Henri, “Ferdinand Verbiest, continuateur de l’oeuvre scientifique d’Adam Schall (…)”, in: Monumenta Serica, 5, 1940, pp. 103–140.
  • Blondeau, R.A., Mandarijn en astronoom. Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (1623-1688) aan het Hof van de Chinese Keizer, Brugge-Utrecht: Desclée De Brouwer, 1970.
  • Blondeau, R.A., Ferdinand Verbiest s.j. als wetenschapsmens, 1688 – 1988, Roesbrugge: Schoonaert, 1987.
  • Bosmans, Henri, SJ, “Ferdinand Verbiest, directeur de l’observatoire de Pékin (1623-1688)”, in: Revue des questions scientifiques, 71, 1912, pp. 195 – 273; 375 – 464.
  • – “Les écrits chinois de Verbiest”, in: Revue des questions scientifiques, 73, 1913, pp. 272 – 298.
  • – “Les problèmes des relations de Verbiest avec la Cour de Russie”, in: Annales de la Société d’Emulation, 63, 1913, pp. 193 – 123; 64, 1914, pp. 98 – 101.
  • Chapman, Allan, “Tycho Brahe in China: the Jesuit Mission to Peking and the Iconography of European Instrument-Making Processes”, in: Annals of Science, 41, 1984, pp. 417 – 443.
  • Damry, A., “L’astronome Verbiest, SJ, et l’astronomie sino-européenne’, in: Ciel et Terre, 34, 1913, pp. 13 – 37; pp. 215 – 239.
  • Debergh, Minako, “Une carte oubliée du P. Ferdinand Verbiest (1674) dans la collection Sturler de la Bibliotèque Nationale de Paris”, in: Journal Asiatique (Paris), 1989, pp. 159 – 220.
  • Dudink, Adrianus, “Riding a crane to the distant realms: the last memorial (27 Jan. 1688) of F. Verbiest”, in: A.K. Wardega & A. Vasconcelos de Saldanha (eds.), In the Light and Shadow of an Emperor: Tomas Pereira, SJ (1645 – 1709), the Kangxi Emperor and the Jesuit Mission in China, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2012, pp. 295 – 305.
  • Dudink, Adrianus & Standaert, Nicolas, “Ferdinand Verbiest’s Qiongli xue’, in: N. Golvers (ed.), The Christian Mission in China in the Verbiest era: some aspects of the missionary approach, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1999, pp. 11 – 31.
  • Golvers, Noël, “The Latin Youth Poetry of F. Verbiest, S.J. (1623 – 1688) rediscovered”, in: Humanistica Lovaniensia, 41, 1992, 296 – 322.
  • – “The Latin treatises of F. Verbiest, S.J., on European astronomy in China: some linguistic considerations”, in: Humanistica Lovaniensia, 44, 1995, 305 – 369.
  • – “The Astronomia Europaea Treatises of F. Verbiest, S.J. A Remarkable Source for 17th-Century Jesuit Science, and for the History of Western Science in China”, in: Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica, 27, 1996, 127 – 149.
  • – “Ferdinand Verbiest’s Compendium Latinum (Peking, 1678), with a census”, in: Quaerendo 28/2, 1998, pp. 85 – 127.
  • – “Verbiest’s introduction of Aristoteles Latinus (Coimbra) in China: new evidence from Western sources”, in: N. Golvers (ed.), The Christian Mission in China in the Verbiest era: some aspects of the missionary approach, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1999, pp. 33 – 53.
  • – “An unnoticed letter of F. Verbiest, S.J. on his geodesic operations in Tartary (1683 / 1684)”, in: Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, vol. 50, 2000, pp. 86 – 102.
  • – Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (1623-88) and the Chinese Heaven. The Composition of the Astronomical Corpus, its Diffusion and Reception in the European Republic of Letters (Leuven Chinese Studies, XII), Leuven (Leuven University Press), 2003.
  • – “F. Verbiest’s mathematical formation. Some considerations on post-Clavian Jesuit mathematics in mid-17th century Europe”, in: Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 54, 2004, pp. 29 – 47.
  • – “Two overlooked letters of Ferdinand Verbiest to A. Kircher. How a missionary project was shaped, and Kircher’s books were received in mid-17th century Spain and Portugal”, in: Humanistica Lovaniensia, LIV, 2005, pp. 267 – 284.
  • – “Chinese, Western, autograph and printed documents by Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. in Roman libraries, past and present (with special regard to astronomical matters)”, in: Bulletin de l’Institut Historique belge de Rome, LXXV, 2005, pp. 27 – 56;
  • – “The missionary and his concern about consolidation and continuity: Ferdinand Verbiest’s astronomica and the public relations of the China Mission in the last decades of the 17th century”, in: N.Golvers & S. Lievens (eds.), A Lifelong Dedication to the China Mission (…), Leuven Chinese Studies, XVII, Leuven, 2007, pp. 347 – 404.
  • – “F. Verbiest en tant que polyglotte: Etude d’un cas spécifique de la situation d’un missionnaire européen en Chine au 17me siècle du point de vue linguistique”, in: Courrier Verbiest, vol. XX, dec. 2008, pp. 14 – 18;
  • – “Ferdinand Verbiest’s 1668 observation of an unidentified celestial phenomenon in Peking, its lost description and some parallel observations, especially in Korea”, in: Almagest 5.1, 2014, pp. 33 – 51.
  • – “Jesuit Correspondence from China: the two ‘Tartary Letters’ of Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ (1682 & 1683) and their oldest printed edition (Paris, 1684) as a case study”, in: Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal XXXVIII, 2016, pp. 43 – 58;
  • – “A ray of light on private mathematical culture in Coimbra in the mid-17th cebtury: Francisco Pereira de la Cerda († 1656)”, in: Revista filosofica de Coimbra, 27, n° 53, 2018, pp. 65 – 76;
  • – “Verbiest’s Manchu Fragment”, in: B. Naarden, etc. (eds.), The fascination with Inner Eurasian languages in the 17th century. The Amsterdam Mayor Witsen and his collection of ‘Tartarian’ vocabularies and scripts, Amsterdam, 2018, pp. 411 – 420.
  • – “F. Verbiest Ingegniere between Sabatino de Ursis and Claudio Filippo Grimaldi: a Re-appraisal”, in: A. Chen Tsung-ming (ed.), Catholicism’s Encounters with China. Leuven Chinese studies XXXI, Leuven, 2018, pp. 9 – 30.
  • – “Ignatius Hartoghvelt, S.J, as an observer of Jesuit life in the College of Coimbra (1655)”, in: C. Simões (ed.), Visto de Coimbra. O Colégio de jesus entre Portugal e o Mundo (forthcoming).
  • Golvers, Noël & Efthymios Nicolaidis, “Verbiest’s manuscript on astronomy and mechanics (1676) from Beijing to Moscow and Constantinople”, in Luis Saraiva (ed.), History of Mathematical Sciences: Portugal and East Asia IV. Europe and China: Science and the Arts in the 17th and 18th Centuries, World Scientific, 2012, p. 163- 184.
  • Halsberghe, Nicole (He Sibo – 何思柏 ), “Xin zhi ling tai yi xiang zhi’: Vertoog over de nieuwgebouwde instrumenten op het observatorium, Ferdinand Verbiest, Beijing, 1674”, Unpubl. Doct. Dissertation Leuven, 1992.
  • – “The resemblances and differences of the construction of Ferdinand Verbiest’s astronomical instruments, as compared to those of Tycho Brahe: A study based on their writings”, in: J.W. Witek (ed.), Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688): Jesuit missionary, scientist, engineer and diplomat. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, XXX, Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1994, pp. 85-92.
  • – “Ferdinand Verbiest: ‘Xin zhi yi xiang tu’ 新製儀象圖: Analysis of the xylographical prints”, in: N. Golvers & s. Lievens (eds.), A lifelong dedication to the China mission: Essays presented in honor of Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, CICM, on the occasion of his 75th birthday and the 25th anniversary of the F. Verbiest Institute K.U.Leuven, 2007, pp. 405-445.
  • ‘”Xinzhi Lingtai Yixiang Zhi Tu’: Origins of the xylographic prints and their relation to the constructed instruments of Ferdinand Verbiest”, in: Zhongguo ke ji shi za zhi 中国科技史 (Chinese journal for the history of science and technology) 31:4 (2010) [issue 129], pp. 471-500 (only in English; with illustrations)
  • – “Introduction and development of the screw in seventeenth-century China: Theoretical explanations and practical applications by Ferdinand Verbiest”, in: East Asian science, technology, and medicine 34 (2011), pp. 163-193.
  • Hee, Louis van, Ferdinand Verbiest, écrivain chinois, Bruges, 1913.
  • Libbrecht, Ulrich; “Introduction to the Lapis Serpentinus into China: a study of the Hsi-tu-shih of F. Verbiest, SJ”, in: Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica, 18, 1987, pp. 209 – 237.
  • Nicolaïdis, Efthymios, « Les Grecs en Russie et les Russes en Chine: le contexte de la copie par Chrysanthos des livres astronomiques perdus de F. Verbiest », in : Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences, fasc. 133, 1995, p. 271-308.
  • – «Ο Χ. Νοταράς και τα χαμένα αστρονομικά κείμενα του F. Verbiest», [Chrysanthos Notaras and the lost astronomical texts of F. Verbiest] Η Διασπορά των Ελλήνων στη Ρωσία από την πτώση της Πόλης μέχρι σήμερα, Athens, 1997, σ. 291-301.
  • – “Verbiest, Spathar and Chrysanthos. The spread of Verbiest’s Science to Eastern Europe”, in: Walle, W. van de & N. Golvers (eds.), The History of the relations between the Low Countries and China in the Qing era (1644 – 1911). Leuven Chinese Studies XIV, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003, pp. 37 – 57.
  • Witek, John W., Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. Jesuit missionary, scientist, engineer and diplomat, 1623 – 1688. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series XXX, Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1994.

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