Roman Catholic Establishments

Roman Catholic Establishments


Aside from attempts to convert the natives, Roman Catholicism in the colonial epoch of America presents but few noteworthy developments. The present topic, therefore, invites us to add only a brief catalogue of facts to what has been given in the preceding section.


A special feature of the establishment in Spanish America was its dependence upon the crown. Unaware of the broad range to which the privileges granted would apply, Alexander VI. and Julius II. conferred upon the Spanish monarch the tithes of the newly discovered regions, together with the exclusive right of nominating episcopal dignitaries and bestowing benefices. Indeed the ecclesiastical centre was placed at Madrid rather than at Rome. Papal bulls and briefs were required to be submitted to the Council of the Indies before they could be published. Directions were not unfrequently issued to the colonial authorities, enjoining them to return to the Council of the Indies such documents as had not been reviewed and approved by that body. 1 Watson, Spanish and Portuguese America, ii. 138, 137; H. H. Bancroft, Mexico, iii. 685 686. Chevalier, Mexico, Ancient and Modern, i. 369, 370.


The different ranks of the hierarchy were soon represented in the Spanish settlements. Panama was made an episcopal seat in 1521. Mexico received her first bishop in 1527 in the person of Julian Garcés. Near the same time Zumárraga was appointed as the second in the list. In 1547 Mexico became an archdiocese, with jurisdiction over nine suffragan bishops. Zumáraga was invited to be the first incumbent, but declined on account of his years. In the view of his contemporaries he was a man of merit and distinction. Later generations, however, regard his name with little complacency on account of one great folly, his pious vandalism in destroying the Aztec libraries.

1 Says Bancroft: "All else we could readily forgive the bishop, even the occasional burning of a few old witches; but the destruction of the Aztec libraries, the mountains of native historical documents, and monumental works at Tlatelulco, must ever he regarded as an unpardonable offense. We cannot deplore deeply enough this irreparable loss, the hieroglyphic history of nations unknown, reaching back a thousand years or more." (Mexico, ii. 558.)
In South America, Lima became directly after the conquest an important ecclesiastical seat. Among the early prelates of this region a special celebrity belongs to Toribio de Mogrovejo, Archbishop of Lima (1581-1606). Journeying assiduously over the broad district under his charge, through the valleys of the coast and the heights of the Andes, instructing and catechizing as he had opportunity, he paid to his flock the full debt of kindly interest and self-sacrificing toil. He was canonized in 1680. In this honor he had been preceded by a disciple, a young woman, whose great beauty was only rivalled by her religious consecration, the Santa Rosa, whom the people of Lima revere as their patron saint.


Among the inferior clergy three classes were distinguished: the curas, or perish priests; the doctrineros, or the religious teachers of the native neophytes in the conquered districts; and the misioneros, or the laborers in the outlying regions where Spanish authority was not yet well established. In the earlier part of the period the regular or monastic clergy occupied the field, and they remained to the end a very conspicuous factor. The evidence indicates that the first generations of regulars were, in the main, earnest and self-denying laborers. Nor can it be doubted that men of this cast were found among the later representatives. But a century wrought a very perceptible declension. At length the authorities became convinced that the services of the regulars bore an ill proportion to their special privileges. Not far from the middle of the eighteenth century a decisive decree was issued, excluding them henceforth from vacant benefices and ordaining that the parishes should be manned with the secular clergy. That the latter had earned this preference by their superior virtue and enterprise cannot be maintained. As is indicated by a list of official documents, their ranks, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, included many adventurers of meagre talents and slender virtue, who sought in the colonies a success which they could not hope to obtain at home. The new regulations, however, as enlarging the sphere which was open to the seculars, tended to introduce a better element.


In the early part of the nineteenth century the secular clergy in the Mexican viceroyalty numbered about five thousand. The church property at the same date, including both secular and regular, is supposed to have been equal to half the value of the real estate of the country.


For an interval the Spanish dependencies managed questions of heresy without the aid of a regular tribunal of inquisition. But Philip II. took care that so essential a part of an ecclesiastical outfit should not be wanting. In 1570 and 1571 he provided for tribunals of the Holy Office at Mexico, Lima, and Carthagena. The Indians, as being insufficiently instructed, were for the most part exempted from its jurisdiction. This was no great refinement of mercy, since the plainest common-sense must have dictated that the Inquisition would have too much work on hand if it should undertake to deal strictly with the great mass of natives, as yet but partially weaned from their paganism. The limitation, however, did not rob the tribunal of employment. At an auto-de-fé, celebrated at Mexico in 1574, sixty-three victims were exhibited, of whom five were burned. Other spectacles of the kind followed, so that by the year 1596 ten autos had been performed. Within thirty years more than two thousand subjects for inquisitorial scrutiny had been discovered. How much was accomplished between 1600 and the end of the eighteenth century is not very precisely determined. It is known, however, that not a few autos were held. At the latter date the introduction of books impregnated with free-thinking gave the inquisitors a special occasion for activity. 1 Llorente, Histoire de 1'Inquisition, ii. 198-200; H. H. Bancroft, Mexico, ii. 677-681; iii. 699-701.


In Lima the first auto was celebrated in 1581, the last in 1776, the whole number being twenty-nine. Of the victims at these spectacles fifty-nine were burned alive. 2 C. R. Markham, Peru, p 149. The bloodiest outburst of inquisitorial cruelty was that which fell upon Portuguese Jews between 1630 and 1640. 3 Medina, Historia del Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisicion de Lima. Among those who were disciplined in the early part of the eighteenth century was a band of mystics, followers of the Jesuit Juan Francisco de Ulloa. Their views, which were circulated at Santiago, were much like those of the distinguished quietest Molinos. 1 Medina, Hist. de la Inquisicion en Chile.


Brazil, unlike the Spanish dependencies, was not favored with a special tribunal of inquisition.


The auto de fé might have served to remind the natives in Mexico that the country had been provided with a tolerably adequate substitute for the old Aztec war-god and the stone of sacrifice. A compensation for more amiable features of their ancient religion was early furnished by the miraculous appearance and memorial of the Virgin of Guadalupe (1531). As the pleasing story runs, an Indian convert by the name of Juan Diego was surprised in the way by a vision of the Virgin Mary. Following her command, he gathers from the roses in the neighborhood and brings them in his mantle to the Mother of Mercy. Having taken them in her hands she replaces them in the mantle and instructs him to present them to the bishop. The errand is fulfilled, when lo, upon the unfolded mantle, the image of the Virgin is found to have been distinctly painted. The honored cloth obtains a fitting shrine, and annually attracts the gaze of thousands of visitors. To the natives the miraculous token must have been especially agreeable, as indicating that the Virgin was ready to be the patroness of the conquered as well as of the Spaniards.


A strained relation between the secular and the ecclesiastical power was not an infrequent episode in the Spanish provinces. Canada experienced a like occasion of disturbance, owing largely to the character of her first bishop. Laval, who was sent out as vicar apostolic in 1659, and in 1674 was made bishop of Quebec, was a man of aggressive and domineering temper. His view of the proper relation of Church and State, if a recent eulogist may be taken as authority, was of a decidedly ultramontane cast.

1 As reported in the "Montreal Weekly Herald," Nov. 2, 1872, the Jesuit Braun thus epitomized the views of Laval: "The supremacy and infallibility of the Pope; the independence and liberty of the Church; the subordination and submission of the State to the Church; in case of conflict between them, the Church to decide, the State to submit; for whoever follows and defends these principles, life and a blessing; for whoever rejects and combats them, death and a curse." (Quoted by Parkman, Old Régime, p. 166.)
Since the Jesuits served him as efficient allies, he was able in a measure to illustrate his theory. Among political achievements, he is credited with making one governor and unmaking two.


A better memorial of the bishop's activity was provided in the educational institutions which he established, --his seminaries for priests and boys respectively, to which recently Laval University has been added, the whole constituting one of the most important of Roman Catholic foundations in North America.


The advent of Laval marked the close of the purely missionary regime in Canada. One feature of that regime, however, was perpetuated. Laval was not willing that the cure, or parish priest, should be so much of a fixture as he was ordinarily in France. He wished rather to exercise his own pleasure in stationing and removing cures, just as was done with the missionaries by their superiors. His plan was challenged, but his pertinacity seems to have won the victory. "At this day the system of removable cures prevails in most of the Canadian parishes." Parkman, Old Régime, p. 161.


Louisiana was regarded as ecclesiastically dependent upon Quebec, the bishop of the latter having jurisdiction over the former. Some years after the transfer of Louisiana to Spain the bishop of Cuba took the place of the Canadian prelate.


As has been noticed on a previous page, the British occupation of Canada was soon followed by large concessions to the religion of the French inhabitants. Whatever other motive may have dictated the concessions, it was obviously a matter of political discretion to conciliate a people who formed an immense majority of a distant province, and the value of whose friendship began to be emphasized by increasing omens of a war of independence in the territory to the south.