Daqin jingjiao sanwei mongdu zan
Dunhuang, 8th - 9th century
Manuscript, ink on paper
H: 26 cm, W: 105 cm.
Pelliot Mission, 1906-1909, Qianfodong
Inv. Manuscrits orientaux, fonds Pelliot chinois 3847
[Oriental Manuscripts, Pelliot collection, Chinese 3847]
French National Library, Paris
This manuscript is apparently the oldest known Christian manuscript on paper.
As its title indicates, it is a Nestorian hymn of adoration intended for liturgical use and translated from the Syriac into Chinese by Jingjing, the chorévêque Adam named on the stele of the Yining Temple (v. Catalogue no. 28).
The term sanwei, Three Majesties, is an adaptation of the concept of the Trinity which is still often considered in Asia as Three Thrones: it includes the Cifu or affectionate Father, the Mingzi or Luminous Son and the Liangfeng, literally "fresh wind" or Holy Spirit.
The entire terminology of the text is studded with Buddhist references such as Fahuang or Master of the Law. The vocabulary would later undergo further evolution, however; Holy Spirit became Jingfeng or "pure breath". Mongdu seems to be the phonetic transcription of the Syriac motwa, a term which traditionally designates a hymn chanted while seated.
The text reproduces in Chinese the Gloria in excelsis Deo, which was then in use in the Eastern Syriac Church. In spite of the language difficulties, it succeeds in rendering in an ingenuous fashion the essence of this spirituality.