The third way Ricci influenced the Chinese by showing that in ancient times the Chinese worshipped the same personal God.

The Chinese most ancient names for God as Shang-ti (Sovereign Lord) which they considered their personal God and T'ien (Heaven). Some scholars in China maintained that in ancient times Heaven and Earth were worshipped. Indeed King Wu of the Chou dynasty offered sacrifices to Almighty God and Mother earth. Matteo Ricci quotes Confucius as saying, "The ceremonies of sacrifices to Heaven and Earth are meant for the service of the Sovereign on High." "Ricci tried to restore the original understanding of the term Shang Di to the common use of the term Tien and then expand its meaning by using the term Tien Zhu in the hope of leading the Chinese to an understanding of the Christian God through concepts familiar to them." (Peter Julian Kelly)

Actually Ricci preferred the term T'ien-Chu (Lord of Heaven) and this is now it came about. One day, he visited one of his first catechumens in China to whom he entrusted an altar before he left. When he returned he noticed that the catechumen had attached to the wall above the altar a plaque with the Chinese characters for Lord of Heaven. Ricci accepted the name and used it in his catechism. (Website: Matteo Ricci & Evangelization Changes)

After his death, a controversy arose over the names for God used in China. "In 1715 Pope Clement XI declared: "The West calls Deus [God] the creator of Heaven, Earth, and everything in the universe. Since the word Deus does not sound right in the Chinese language, the Westerners in China and Chinese converts to Catholicism have used the term "Heavenly Lord" for many years. From now on such terms as "Heaven" and "Shang­ti" should not be used: Deus should be addressed as the Lord of Heaven, Earth, and everything in the universe. The tablet that bears the Chinese words "Reverence for Heaven" should not be allowed to hang inside a Catholic church and should be immediately taken down if already there." (Webpage: The Chinese Rites Controversy, 1715)

Why did Church prohibit the use of Shang-ti and T'ien as names which referred to God? Perhaps because Shang-ti, although supreme, in the minds of Chinese people ruled over lesser gods such as sun and moon and other parts of nature. The name T'ien instead was envisioned a more abstract God associated with "destiny", a fatalistic attitude toward such things as sickness, etc.

"Ancestor Worship"