Jesuit missionary to China and publicist; b. Douai, Belgium, March 3, 1577; d. Hangzhou, China, Nov. 14, 1628. Trigault entered the Society of Jesus at Tournai on Nov. 9, 1594. After completing his studies, he embarked for the Far East (March 1607) and arrived in China shortly after the mission's founder, Matteo ricci had died (1610). Two years later Ricci's successor, Nicolò Longobardo, dispatched the young missionary to Europe to promote a comprehensive program of Christian expansion. On the way Trigault translated Ricci's Italian memoirs into Latin, De christiana expeditione apud Sinas, publication of which in 1615 (with later editions and versions) met with extraordinary success and brought Chinese culture and the Jesuit penetration to the attention of the West. After he reached Rome (Oct. 11, 1614), one of his noteworthy achievements was to obtain from the Holy Office the substitution of literary Chinese for Latin in the Church's mission liturgy (March 26, 1615). To interest the Catholic secular and ecclesiastical princes in the promising China evangelization and to recruit numerous personnel, Trigault made two remarkable propaganda journeys through most of Continental Europe (1615, 1616–17), but opposition at home and the outbreak of persecution in the field hampered fulfillment of his projects. On his return to the Orient (Macau, July 22, 1619), he devoted himself mainly to literary tasks, editing the annual Jesuit relations and translating Chinese classics. In the rites controversy he was an outstanding spokesman for the Ricci interpretation (see chinese rites controversy), but excessive application to this and his other Sinological pursuits brought on a nervous breakdown that proved fatal.
Bibliography: m. ricci, China in the 16th Century, tr. l. j. gallagher (New York 1953), tr. of Trigault's De christiana expeditione. c. dehaisnes, Vie du Père Nicolas Trigault (Tournai 1864), outdated but still useful. l. pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jésuites de l'ancienne mission de Chine, 2 v. (Shanghai 1932–34) 111–120, catalogue and description of T.'s works. e. lamalle, "La Propagande du P. Nicolas Trigault en faveur des missions de Chine, 1616," Archivum Historicum Societas Jesu 9 (1940) 49–120, based on extensive archival research. Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus 8:237–244.