De Morales was born in Ecija, Sevilla, Spain. He entered the order of St. Dominic in 1614, and six years later left for Manila, where he studied the Amoy dialect to minister to the Chinese community. In 1628 and 1629 he made two trips to Cambodia to open a mission, but ultimately the Cambodian king forced the missionaries to leave. De Morales returned to the Philippines but then left in March 1633 for Fu-an (Fu’an), Fukien (Fujian) Province, China.
During his early years in China, he became convinced that new converts were involved in superstitious acts when honoring their ancestors and Confucius. After traveling to Foochow (Fuzhou) in late 1635 for discussions with the Jesuits, he sent a report and a list of thirteen questions to the archbishop of Manila. Despite Chinese persecution of the church, de Morales continued his pastoral ministry until his expulsion to Macao in 1638. He returned to Manila, where church authorities decided that the questions about the rites could be settled only by the pope. Sent to Rome, de Morales arrived there in 1643 and submitted the questions to Pope Urban VIII. His successor, Innocent X, formally condemned certain Chinese rites as superstitious in his decree of September 1645. Meanwhile de Morales went to Madrid to recruit more missionaries for Asia. Arriving back in Manila in 1648, he reached Fu-an the following year and there announced the papal decision.
In 1656 he went to Chekiang ( Zhejiang) Province; three years later he participated in the Dominican conference at Manila on affairs of China. He returned to Chekiang and in 1661 participated in the meeting of the Dominicans at Lan-ch’i (Lanqi) to discuss pastoral problems, including the favorable view of the of the rites that the Jesuit Martino Marfini had obtained from Rome in 1656. Because of poor health, de Morales returned to Funing (Xiapu), Fukien, in 1662, where he died two years later.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Juan Bautista de Morales, Sheng-chiao hsiao-ch’in chieh (Explanation of Catholic filial piety) (n.d.). Benno Biermann, Die Anfange der neueren Dominikanermission in China (1927); Henri Cordier, Bibliotheca Sinica, 5 vols. (1904-1924), 5: 3910 (on de Morales’s Chinese-Spanish dictionary in the Vatican Library); Jose M. Gonzalez, Historia de las Misiones Dominicanas de China, 1632-1700 (1964), 1:82-87, 91-96, 114-119, 127-135, 149-161, 266-273, 342-348, 381-393, 684-687 (with a list of de Morales’s manuscripts).