Chapter 1: The Martyrdom of Paul Ni Tsiong-Hoi of Korea, by F. Pachhunga
Paul Ni Tsiong-Hoi was one of the leading martyrs of the 19th century. Not only he sacrificed his life because of Christ, but his brother and Sisters also, who were the victims of the first persecution in 1801. Still, his family, even though a high class in its origin, lost all its possessions, and he had to do manual work to survive. His lifestyle, behavior and piety acquired considerable influence over the small number of Christians in Seoul, now the capital-city of South Korea.
Paul Ni rendered his tireless efforts to train catechists to copy books and pictures and to collect the funds needed for sending messengers to the Bishops of Peking. While he was enjoying his life with those of his personal works, a new persecution broke out in 1827, and he was one of the first to be denounced and brought before the tribunals.
Unfortunately, we have very less account of Paul Ni. Most of the sources we can get are from his own letters written from prison, where he died at the age of 36. His letters allow us to follow him into the last moments of his life and to hear the words with which he confessed his faith.
The Koreans had their first contact with Christianity in 1777 through two little books written in Chinese. One of these two books was written by Father Ricci and was about the Existence of God, and the second one by another community formed in Seoul and in the country essentially among the literate. That community was completely isolated and faced fierce opposition both internally and externally under the leadership of Peter Hoon.
As various small autonomous communities were established around some lay people, men and women, which maintained links through their authorities and their catechists, at the end of 1800, the growth of Christianity was enough to disturb the political authorities and in 1801, provoked the first persecution. This caused the death of 300 people, mostly among the nobility and the literate. The families concerned lost their goods and were exiled. By seeing these, many intellectual people melted away into society, became artisans and instructors and spread Christianity through the villages by instructing ordinary people. Interestingly, the Korean Christianity invented the ministry of the Copyists within each community. The Copyists produced books, guaranteed evangelization and put Christians in contact with one another. So, because of their central role, the Copyists became the chief targets of the persecution.
Martyrdom of Paul Ni
Paul Ni’s regular words to himself was "Could I hope to offer satisfaction for all my sins, at least by Martyrdom".
On the twenty-first day of April, 1827 the fourth moon, at dusk, Kim Seng-tsip-i and a dozen retainers from the province and the capital, came and seized Paul Ni and put him in one of the police stations. They asked him if it was true that he had drawn religious pictures. Paul Ni said, "It is true". The next day, the great criminal judge called him and said to him, "Is it true that you follow the religion of the Master of heaven?" Paul Ni said, "Yes".
Judge "By whom have you been instructed?"
Paul Ni: "My older brother died for this religion, and from childhood I had heard it talked of a little. But then I was associated with Tsio-siuk-i, who was also killed for the same doctrine: I spent several years with him, and my heart is full".
Judge : "Now if you are willing to desist, I will save your life".
Paul Ni: "I cannot".
Judge : "Is what you have stated here true ?"
Paul Ni :"Yes, it is true".
From the following day, he was sent to six retainers for 28 day-journey. Everyday they journeyed 100 lys, (10 leagues) and on the evening of the 28th day of their journey, he was taken to the police station of Tsien-tsiu, where after some moments of rest, he was brought before the judge who asked only his name. In the prison, they put his feet and his hand between two iron bars and fixed great hoop around his neck, and he spent a sleepless night.
The next morning, he was taken to the tribunal and judge asked different questions:
Judge :"How many pictures have you painted ? How many books do you have and who are your accomplices ?"
Paul Ni :"Several pictures. As to accomplices, I have none. I have been abandoned by my kinsfolk and all my friends. Even the common folk scorn me and spit in my face. As to books, I received only oral instruction, and my books are written only in my heart. I have no others."
Judge :"You are deceiving me. Among you, even the common and ignorant folk have thirty or forty volumes. Do you not have any ?"
Paul Ni :"Even though I die under the blows,
I have neither accomplices nor books".
The Judge then went to the Governor, and after a while, he was taken to a room next to the court. While he was waiting, the thought of his sister who was judged and martyred in 1801, in the same city, came to his mind. So he told himself, "I shall follow her and truly is it not she who is drawing me after her ?" At the same time, joy mingled with sadness arose in his heart. Soon he was taken to the Governor again who put several questions to him to which he answered as on the previous day.
Governor : "So have you decided to remain a Christian?" Paul Ni "I have"
Governor :"What is God ?"
Paul Ni : "He is the king and supreme Father of all the universe. He alone has created heaven, earth, the spirits, men and all that is.’
Governor :"How do you know ?"
Paul Ni :"On the one hand, by looking at our body, and on the other, by considering all creatures, can one say that there is not a creator of these things ?"
Governor: "Have you seen him ?"
Paul Ni: "Can one believe only after seeing ? Did the mandarin see the workman who made this court? What we call the five senses only make us perceive sounds, colors, smell, tastes and the like, but it is the spirit which makes them distinguish the principles, reason and all immaterial things".
Governor: "Do you not fear death ?"
Paul Ni: "Why should I not fear it ?"
Governor: "If that is so, why do you not abandon this religion?"
Paul Ni :"I have just given you the reason, please do not interrogate me again. I AM READY TO DIE."
The next morning, the mandarin took Paul Ni right up to the bar and he said to him in a very gentle voice, "You are the child of a noble man, you are not like others. Besides, you are a fine man. So, how can you persevere in following this evil religion?" Paul Ni said, "When it came to matters of principles, no one is superior or inferior, noble or commoner, with a more or less advantageous appearance, only the soul can draw a distinction".
After that the mandarin of Tong-pak asked him to say what the dogmas of Christianity were. Paul Ni told him briefly. Then, while Paul Ni was outlining the Decalogue, the mandarin of Tsien-tsiu asked some questions.
Mandarin: "These are all follies. There is no soul, there is neither heaven nor hell, there is not even God. And then you do not offer sacrifices to ancestors. Among you, goods and women are held in common. Can there be a more degenerate and impious doctrine?"
Paul Ni : "It is true that among us, we do not offer sacrifices. But it is not true that among us, goods and women are held in common. Sacrifices to ancestors are a vain thing, which a right doctrine rightly prohibits. At the moment of death, the souls of the good go to heaven and the souls of the bad to go to hell. As for goods which are said to be held in common among us, if there were no sharing of riches in the world, how would the poor live ? And regarding women, what is imputed to us is formally prohibited in the commandments and is repugnant to all natural feelings. We are forbidden even to covert our neighbor’s wife".
Mandarin :"They say that you still have a mother, and moreover a wife and children, now say just one word, and you can go out and regain your mother, your wife and children. Would that not be pleasant ?"
Paul Ni : "Do you want me to aspotasize to regain my mother? But since God is the great king and the creator, and my mother herself was created by him, how could I deny the Creator for one of his creatures?"
After numberless attempts, having nothing else to try, they made him sign his condemnation. Day and night, they continued to torment him singularly. He thanked God and realized that how great was that grace. He did not know how to thank God and how to respond to it except by giving his life.
On the sixth day of the fifth moon, he was taken to the criminal tribunal where they tempted him to deny his faith so that they could spare his life. But they failed and each one said to another, "It is useless to go on talking to him". Again he was put on the plank where he suffered several blows. At every blow, he said that he invoked Jesus and Mary. After about twenty blows, he felt that he was losing his consciousness and said, "My God, into your hands, I commend my spirit". When he regained his consciousness, he found his limbs in bandages and blood flowing from all the parts where the blows had fallen. He thought of Jesus who underwent scourging, carried his cross and walked more than a thousand paces, up to the summit of a high mountain, and so on. The more he went forward, the more divine grace and favor increased. Hardly had the meal time passed than his pains had disappeared. It is true that he could not use his limbs, and a heavy hoop weighed him down, yet he took some food and his heart was very calm. He asked himself a question, "If that is not the help of God and Mary, how can my strength alone achieve this, I, who cannot even bear an insect bite ?"
On the fifteenth day, they sent express to the King of which they expected the reply around the twentieth. According to Paul Ni’s words, "I await it anxiously, I have put all my trust in God alone, but I am without merit and covered in sin. What will be the order about me? The nearer the end, the more I fear death and the more I tremble at being rejected". To conclude his letter, Paul Ni wrote the following lines:
ALL YOU CHRISTIANS, PLEASE IN MY STEAD THANK THE LORD, AGAIN AND AGAIN. I HAVE A THOUSAND OTHER THINGS TO SAY, BUT TIME FAILS ME. WE SHALL MEET AGAIN IN ETERNITY.
Paul Ni’s story is very challenging. It is very beneficial both for personal knowledge and for strengthening faith. Time and again, it reminds one of the mighty salvific act of Christ. Unlike Paul Ni, many a time one never thinks of Jesus who underwent scourging who carried his cross and walked more than a thousand paces to the summit of a high mountain. But the study of this story reminds one to recollect again and again about Jesus’ suffering.
Secondly, Paul Ni does not deny that he really feared death, yet he said, "1 am ready to die". He was ready to die for his Savior. This is very challenging. Are we ready to die for our Savior like Paul Ni, is the question that all of us have to ask ourselves. We may be ready to follow Jesus as a priest, as a pastor, as a bishop, as a teacher and so on, but are we ready to follow Jesus till death?’
Thirdly, Paul Ni’s honesty to his Master is wonderful. Different means had been employed to him so that he might deny his Master. He was tormented, he was threatened, he was encountered with a gentle voice and soon. But all attempts failed to make him recant. WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF OUR HONESTY TO Christ in our daily life, among our friends, among our relatives more than the Creator God ? De we hate our fellow human beings whom God loves?
Going through Paul Ni’s story is a very happy experience for one. But since there is very limited source, it is unpleasant to say that we do not know the exact date, month and year of his birth. Moreover, the source does not tell us in which year he died. All we know about this is that he died in prison at the age of 36. We do not know how he died. Was not his death a martyr’s death?
The second thing we would like to point out is about Paul Ni’s sentence, "... the souls of the good go to heaven and the souls of the bad go to hell". Who are the good and who are the bad in today’s context?
Questions for discussion
1. If goods are held in common among those who are staying in the same hostel, will it create a better relationship among them?
2. Is it true to say for a good Christian, "I fear death".
Chenu, Brimo et.al, The Book of Christian Martyrs.