By Charles Keith
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Additional info for Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation
First, there was never a single state named “Annam” that governed the territories of modern-day Vietnam; there were critical differences between the discrete regimes that governed the northern region of Tonkin, the southern region of Cochinchina, and the central region of Annam (the use of this term at the time to refer to both the central region and all three regions is another point of confusion). Although “Annam” was certainly a powerful cultural idea during the colonial era, it never held the normative legal status that would oblige the use of the term in a historical study.
Indeed, in most Catholic communities in these regions, the main structures of civil life in the village were often inseparable from religious ones. For example, virtually all villages in these regions had a council of notables, an association of elites responsible for managing the village’s relations with state officials, 26 chapter 1 adjudicating disputes, administering communal funds and lands, and managing other affairs. In làng đạo, the members of the council of notables often mirrored closely or were identical to the members of parish councils, bodies of prominent lay Catholics under the authority of the clergy who served as moral examples for the village and helped the clergy to organize ritual life.
Both administered sacraments of initiation (Holy Eucharist, confirmation, and baptism), healing (penance and reconciliation, extreme unction), and vocation (marriage). The only sacrament that local priests could not administer was holy orders, the ordination of a candidate for the priesthood, which was carried out by bishops, who were all European until 1933. Missionaries also heard confessions and performed marriages throughout missions, while local priests in theory only did so in their parish.