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The Apostolic Zeal of the Conquerors

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Undoing slanders against the colonization of America

Hundreds of decrees and other documents emanating from the royal authority during the three centuries of Spanish rule in America, similar to those cited in the previous article , attest to the constant and amazing apostolic zeal of the Catholic Kings. They also reveal the wise policy used to ensure fair protection for the Indians. Along with the mass of papal pronouncements (in addition to those by Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American ecclesiastical hierarchs on the same subject), these royal documents constitute an impressive testimony to the Iberian animus evangelizandi and a conclusive denial of all ‘black legend’ versions about the Church that have appeared to this day.

I – Warrior-Preachers, Key to the Success of the Conquest

However, two questions remain:

– To what extent did this real effort to propagate Christian civilization in America work?

– How effectively did the kings of Spain and Portugal protect the indigenous people?

To both questions, the facts once again provide answers that dispel any doubt.

The Admiral-Missionary

Christopher Columbus

To begin with, although the neo-pagan Renaissance mentality regrettably penetrated many aspects of their personalities, the men of the Conquest genuinely shared the apostolic spirit of their sovereigns. For example, on the eve of his fourth trip, Christopher Columbus wrote to the Pope: “For my consolation and the benefit of other aspects of this holy and noble enterprise, I ask you to provide me with the help of some priests and religious that I know and are suitable. Send your Brief to all superiors of Orders such as the Benedictines, Carthusians, Hieronymites, Mendicants Minor, so that I or someone by me designated may choose up to six from among them … because I hope, in Our Lord, to spread His Holy Name and the Gospel in the whole world” (Letter of May 9, 1502, apud Vallejo Tobon, OCD, p. 269).

The Cross, a Sign of Victory

Charles VOn the death of Hernán Cortes, Friar Toribio de Paredes, Motolinia, OFM, wrote to Emperror Charles V a eulogy of the great conqueror, bearing witness to his Catholic Faith: “[Cortes] preached to the Indians and taught them who God was and who their idols were, and thus destroyed their idolatry as much as he could. He worked, to tell the truth, and to be a man of his word, which was very beneficial to the Indians. His flag bore a red cross on a black field surrounded by blue and white fires, with an inscription that read: ‘Friends, let us follow the Cross of Christ, for if we have Faith, with this sign we shall win’ (Xirau, p. 79).

Preacher Soldiers

The captains of the Conquest were no less apostolic than their sovereigns, and history had never seen anything like it. Who had ever seen soldiers take pride in being preachers and making their conquests more for Christendom than for their King?” (Bayle, SJ, Missionalia Hispanica, n° 13, pp. 8- 10).

Cortes’s companion and chronicler of the conquest of Mexico, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, concludes his narration in a characteristic way: “After God, this prize and reward are due to us, true conquerors, as we took away their idols and taught them the holy doctrine from the start… Once we conquered them and took their idols away, they were baptized. … How many men, women, and children would otherwise lose their souls in hell! … So we gave many thanks and praise to God and his blessed Mother, Our Lady, for giving us the grace and helping win over this land where there is so much Christendom …” (ibid.).

Thus concludes Pedro de Valdivia in his letter to Charles V narrating the conquest of Chile: “It seems that Our Lord wants to use his perpetuity so to have the divine worship honored in this land and expel the devil from the place in which he was worshiped for so long” (ibid. ).

In turn, Pizarro “explains to his defeated [enemy], Atahualpa, the reasons for his arrival and victory: ‘That you all might know God and his holy Catholic Faith. With the good mission that we bring, may God, Creator of heaven and earth and all things created, grant that while being so few we may subject this great multitude so that you may learn and come out of the bestiality and diabolical life in which you live” (Ibid.).

Cortes, “above his exploits and merits, proudly proclaims that ‘God our Lord has deigned to use me as a means by which these people might come to know Him. By eliminating so much idolatry and offenses against our Creator, bringing many natives to know Him and establishing our holy Catholic Faith in this way, if no obstacle appears we can be certain that very soon a new church will rise in these regions, which will serve and honor God Our Lord more than in all churches around the world.’ Words like this would not come out of the mouths of soldiers, except among Spaniards.” (ibid.)

II. The Result: A Prodigious Missionary and Civilizing Feat

Supported by these men who proclaimed themselves soldiers of the King and Christ, Evangelization went hand-in-hand with Conquest, initially covering the Caribbean basin, where the majority of Iberian-American Indians lived: Antilles, Mexico, Guatemala, the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela, and Florida. The results were simply prodigious: “more than eight million people [baptized] ten years after the preaching began; and a century and a half later, all of America was subject to the law of Christ” (Bayle, SJ, Missionalia Hispanica, nº 26, p. 228).

A Whole Continent Converted and Civilized

A century and a half after the Conquest, Christendom was firmly established in all the possessions of the Catholic Kings. “In the mid-seventeenth century — as Solórzano Pereyra and Gil González d’Avila testify — there were in Spanish America six archbishoprics or ecclesiastical provinces and 32 bishoprics with more than 70,000 churches, 840 monasteries of men….two abbeys, five royal chaplaincies, three inquisitions and countless schools, studies and hospitals” (Llorca, SJ, Villoslada, SJ, Montalban, SJ, t. IV, pp. 172-173).

One can gauge the magnitude of this result by comparing it with the evangelization of Europe in the same amount of time. If we take as a reference the year 313, in which Constantine converts and promulgates the famous Edict of Milan (making the Catholic Faith practically the official religion of the Roman Empire), a century and a half later – around the year 550 – most of the peoples of Europe remained unconverted.

A Superhuman Missionary Effort, in Numbers

The results that Spain and Portugal obtained in the Christianization of America are the fruit of a superhuman (or more precisely, supernatural) effort. Often at  considerabe sacrifice of ecclesiastical life in the metropolis, the kings sent legions of missionaries to their new possessions. For example, “in just ten years, from 1585 to 1595, 4,000 men religious, all financed by the Royal Purse, made the dangerous crossing [to Spanish America]” (Sierra, El Sentido Misional… p. 128).

By 1650 there were about 12,000 missionaries in Hispanic-American soil, belonging to these Orders or Congregations: Franciscans (5,000), Dominicans (2,000), Mercedarians (700), Augustinians (1,200), Jesuits (1,283), Capuchins (15), Carmelites (150), and Secular Missionary Clergy (1,000). These data do not include non-missionary secular priests (cf. Azpuruz, OFM Chap., P. 172).

In the eighteenth century, an official statement reveals that in the short 25-year period – from 1750 to 1775, Spain had sent more than 3,400 religious to America.

A Genuine, Miraculous Christendom

In addition to these extraordinary figures, it is important to highlight the solid and genuine aspects of the new Iberian-American Christendom. The conversion of the Indians was accompanied by stupendous miracles such as the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image was imprinted on the fabric of Juan Diego, the eyes of which contained a reflection of  the images of Juan Diego himself, Bishop Zumárraga and the other witnesses of the prodigy (a miracle within the miracle).

Equally miraculous events, such as numerous apparitions of the Apostle Saint James, ensured the conquerors’ triumph in adverse or lost situations. Miracles also presided over scenes of public life such as the designation of the patron saint of Buenos Aires, Saint Martin of Tours, whose name appeared in three consecutive sweepstakes of Spanish saints without anyone having proposed it (because he was a “French Saint”…). Miracles also became widespread in private life situations such as with Saint Martin of Porres in Peru, who with a simple gesture stops a mason from falling from the high tower of the Church of Saint Dominic and, while leaving him suspended in the air, runs to ask his Superior for authorization to perform the miracle…

Saint José of Anchieta also worked numerous miracles. Once in São João, a settlement in the State of Espirito Santo in Brazil, he was asked to decide who had been the winner among several contestants of a close “duck race.” He unexpectedly turned to a 4-year-old boy, mute from birth, called Estevão Machado and asked him:

– “Tell me, who won the duck race?”

– “He did,” promptly said the mute boy, pointing to one of the contestants, “but the duck is mine, and I will take it to my mother.” Since that episode, the boy spoke normally… (Viotti, SJ, p. 114).

The conquerors themselves worked miracles, such as the healing of sick Indians by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca simply by touching them and praying an Our Father and a Hail Mary (cf. Guarda, OSB, p. 141).

This explains why the conversions were so fast and in huge numbers. In Mexico, the 12 Franciscans taken by Cortes baptized millions of Indians. In Colombia, the Dominican Friar Bartolomeu de Hojeda alone baptized 200,000 natives, and the Augustinian Alfonso de la Cruz converted more than 8,000 natives in the Urabá region (cf. Llorca, SJ, and others, t. III, p. 983).

Genuine Catholic Spirit

The seal of authenticity of this nascent Christendom and is its profound Catholic spirit was manifested in family, social and religious life and in the public and private life of all social classes in the cities and the countryside:

“During the government of the Count of Lemos, it was said that the city of Lima ‘looked like a novitiate’” (Guarda, OSB, p. 103).

In Buenos Aires, with a population of 40,000 souls at the end of the eighteenth century, the Servant of God Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa organized for eight years spiritual retreats of Saint Ignatius preached by the most outstanding priests of the time to more than 70,000 faithful – including the Viceroy of Peru – averaging three retreats for each adult person.

Throughout the colonial period, local authorities imitated the royal zeal for the good of the Church and of souls. For example, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Viceroy of New Granada, Manuel Guirior, was obliged to intervene in matters of ecclesiastical discipline, “concerned mainly with correcting the indolence of clergy and religious, who gave a lot of work to their superiors” (Espasa, t. XIV, p. 160).

Sacramental life is the leading edge of this spirit. Thus, three hundred years before Saint Pius X institutionalized daily Communion, it was already common practice in Mexico. The virtuous Bishop Juan de Zumárraga recommended it to the faithful of his huge diocese: “It will be every day, and I do not mean to celebrate, but to commune, which is a lay office” (apud Guarda, OSB, p. 91).

A Constellation of Heroes of the Faith

This spirit manifests itself above all in the constellation of souls of outstanding and even heroic virtue — servants of God and altar saints who appear in all categories of society. They include Spaniards, natives, mestizos, Indians and children of the black race, ranging from the noble penitent Viceroy Solis Folch de Cardona, in Bogota, to the humble mulatto Martin of Porres, who for his holiness became the spiritual and political advisor to people of the highest lineages in Peru. Thus, little by little, new blessed are incorporated into the calendar of Church saints, who were born on American soil or carried out their apostolate there.

Holy Indians and Martyrs, the Forgotten Ones of America

The history of the native heroes of the Faith in America has yet to be written. The much-publicized “preferential option for the poor” does not yet seem to have reached those humble aborigines who, in countless numbers – alongside equally ignored mestizos and natives – have born extraordinary testimonies of their catholicity. For example, the lives of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Iroquois Indian of Canada; the servant of God Nicolau de Ayllón, who worked as a tailor in Lima and was visited by the Viceroy and the Archbishop of Peru on his deathbed; and the chieftains of Lampaz (Cusco, Peru), Toltén (Chile), and Michoacán (Mexico), who became intrepid evangelizers after their conversion, are hardly known. There is an American golden legend – or rather, a golden reality of indigenous believers waiting to be exposed to the light of day to receive the deserved tribute of history.

The new converts often gave witness to their faith at the price of martyrdom. The first martyr of America is a twelve-year-old indigenous apostle called Christopher, whose relics are kept in Puebla (Mexico). He was killed out of hatred for the faith along with two other little children, Antonio, and Juan. Antonio, warned of the dangers of the missionary task asked of them, replied: “’Father, for this you have taught us the word of God …. you have taught us that they crucified Saint Peter and slaughtered Saint Paul, and this week you preached that Saint Bartholomew was beheaded for God’s sake.’ When beaten to death with a stick with his companion, Antonio exclaimed: ‘Lord my God, take me where you are, because I am dying for you. Lord Jesus Christ, send for my soul’” (Apud Guarda, OSB, p. 36).

The American martyrology includes episodes such as those of Chief John the Baptist and Indian Jacinto dos Anjos, martyred in San Pedro (Mexico) on September 14, 1700, for refusing to worship idols. Before surrendering to the mob of idolaters, John the Baptist said, “Let us die for the law of God; having his Divine Majesty, I fear nothing, nor have any need for weapons.” (idem, pp. 55-56).

Also among the native martyrs stood out the nobleman from Rio de la Plata, Pedro Ortiz de Zárate, born in Jujuy in 1662. After having been a mayor and a widower at a young age, “he became a missionary priest in the Chaco, dying a martyr in 1683.” (idem, p. 119).

These and other heroes made America’s true greatness – its Catholic greatness – but remain ignored by our bland and hollow official history. To paraphrase the motto of the Carlist fighters, we could say about them: “In heaven, they are no anonymous heroes.” Nor will they be in the twenty-first century’s re-Christianized America.

Excerpts from the book, The Fifth Centenary Facing the Twenty-First Century – Authentic Christendom or Tribal-Communist Revolution, pp. 82-88)F

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