Who was Roberto de Nobili?
Roberto de Nobili was born in Montepulciano, Italy, in 1577. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1596 and arrived in India in 1605. He spent most of his life as a missionary in the Tamil city of Madurai. Like his predecessor in China, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), De Nobili saw that, to make any impact on a highly sophisticated culture, he not only had to learn the language but also to find ways of adapting himself to the way of life of the people.
He started to live as a 'Raja-sannyasi' - a high-caste holy man. This scandalised the established order of the Church in India. De Nobili argued, however, that the adoption of brahmanical customs in his personal lifestyle was the only way in which Christian faith could be presented. He argued that his method of adaptation was simply following the practice of the early Church - whatever was not directly contrary to the Gospel could be employed in its service.