The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America

The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

John Frederick Schwaller
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America
    Book Description:

    One cannot understand Latin America without understanding the history of the Catholic Church in the region. Catholicism has been predominant in Latin America and it has played a definitive role in its development. It helped to spur the conquest of the New World with its emphasis on missions to the indigenous peoples, controlled many aspects of the colonial economy, and played key roles in the struggles for Independence. The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America offers a concise yet far-reaching synthesis of this institution's role from the earliest contact between the Spanish and native tribes until the modern day, the first such historical overview available in English.John Frederick Schwaller looks broadly at the forces which formed the Church in Latin America and which caused it to develop in the unique manner in which it did. While the Church is often characterized as monolithic, the author carefully showcases its constituent parts--often in tension with one another - as well as its economic function and its role in the political conflicts within the Latin America republics.Organized in a chronological manner, the volume traces the changing dynamics within the Church as it moved from the period of the Reformation up through twentieth century arguments over Liberation Theology, offering a solid framework to approaching the massive literature on the Catholic Church in Latin America. Through his accessible prose, Schwaller offers a set of guideposts to lead the reader through this complex and fascinating history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0880-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Presenting the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America is a mammoth undertaking. Few would doubt that Catholicism is the single most important institution in the region if for no other reason than it is perhaps the only one that has remained central to most peoples’ lives over a period of some five hundred years. Yet to try to tell the story of this institution on two continents involving millions of people and five centuries is an extremely difficult task. In order to begin to come to grips with it, one must look for the themes that run...

  5. 1 Religious Origins of Catholicism in Latin America
    (pp. 13-32)

    Thousands of pilgrims gather in the mammoth sanctuary of Santiago Campostela, in the northwestern corner of Spain, to celebrate the life of Saint James the Greater, brother of the apostle Saint John. A huge censer (a large pierced metal ball in which incense is burned) called the botafumeiro, swings on a chain from the highest point in the transept, making long passages over the heads of the pilgrims. The faithful wear cockle shells on their hats and sleeves, the symbol of the saint. The pilgrimage route to Santiago is one of the most traveled medieval trails of Europe. The focus...

  6. 2 Spain and Portugal in the New World
    (pp. 33-51)

    On the deck of theSanta Maríaa crewman rang the bell to mark the hour. Christopher Columbus and his crew paused momentarily from their labors, and each said a prayer to the Virgin Mary to protect them in their voyage. While the small expedition consisted of scores of men, nowhere was there a clergyman. Nonetheless, Columbus and his crew believed that their voyage needed not just divine protection but was part of a larger divine project to spread the Word of God.

    If the history of Christianity in the New World begins with the voyage of Columbus, Columbus’s voyage...

  7. 3 Conquest—Spiritual and Otherwise
    (pp. 52-70)

    On Good Friday, 1519, Hernán Cortés and his expedition of some ten ships and five hundred men landed on the coast of Mexico. This marked the beginning of the conquest of Mexico. Cortés and his followers promptly set about founding a town on the site, and the expedition elected Cortés as governor. In commemoration of their landing on such an important Christian holy day, Cortés named the townLa Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the Rich Village of the True Cross, commonly known as Veracruz. On Easter Sunday, a High Mass was celebrated by the expedition’s chaplain, Fr. Bartolomé...

  8. 4 The Colonial Church
    (pp. 71-95)

    In the city of Cuzco in the highlands of Peru, thousands of spectators filled the streets and plaza in the late 1670s. They were witnessing and participating in the feast of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, which occurs on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Nowhere were the celebrations of this feast more stunning than in Cuzco. The central feature of the celebration was a procession of richly decorated carts upon which religious symbols were placed. The carts were then pulled through the streets of the city to the cathedral....

  9. 5 Reform and Enlightenment
    (pp. 96-116)

    The southern region of Brazil has some of the richest mines of precious stones on earth, in addition to immense deposits of gold and silver. Portuguese explorers discovered these deposits in the seventeenth century, causing a huge rush into the area, soon calledMinas Gerais, the general mines. Mines in the New World were the ultimate source of all capital for the economy. As a result the Church had an interest in both the spiritual life of the miners and in the investment of money generated by the mines. In many ways the miners were dependent on the crown for...

  10. 6 The Church and Clergy in the Time of Independence
    (pp. 117-142)

    Early in the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla climbed the stairs of his parish church of Dolores in the region of Querétaro, some three hundred miles northwest of Mexico City. Nearly every morning he rang the bells in the tower in order to call the faithful to prayers. But his concern that morning was political, not spiritual. Hidalgo was a member of a local reading group, made up of other Creoles who were interested in all the political and philosophical movements in Europe. This group had become increasingly opposed to the Spanish government of the...

  11. 7 Working Out the Differences
    (pp. 143-165)

    Amid flickering candlelight, when a person entered an Argentine church in the 1840, a very surprising sight would emerge. On one side of the main altar was the portrait of the president, Juan Manuel de Rosas; on the other side was a portrait of his dead wife, doña Encarnación. Although Rosas called himself a federalist, and he represented many of the interests of the interior ranch owners, he ruled despotically and became a de facto centralist. His official title was Restorer of the Laws, a direct criticism of his predecessors, whom he viewed as having led the country to anarchy....

  12. 8 The Established Order and the Threat of Popular Religion
    (pp. 166-188)

    The end of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth in Chile saw the slow change from one age to another, as in so many other places in Latin America. In many Latin American countries, power was consolidated among a handful of individual families, but the nature of their influence changed as the twentieth century began. The case of Chile highlights this phenomenon. During thefin de sièclein Chile, the Errázuriz family stood at the pinnacle of power and authority. The family was also famous for its wine production, and today the winery is one of the...

  13. 9 Revolution and Reform
    (pp. 189-212)

    Mustachioed revolutionaries with bandoliers crossed over their chests, firing rifles into the air, riding horses at breakneck speed are a common image of the Mexican Revolution. These men, and the women who fought along with them, were glorified in popular culture, especially in thecorridos, popular songs written to detail their exploits in overthrowing the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in 1910. The Mexican Revolution was a popular uprising against the political system that had dominated Mexico for several decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet it was not solely a political movement. Like many other revolutions it...

  14. 10 The Mid-Twentieth-Century Church
    (pp. 213-230)

    Ernesto Cardenal (b. 1925) was a poet, priest, and revolutionary from Nicaragua. He came from a middle-class household, descended from nineteenth-century immigrants to the region. Early on he manifested a talent and passion for literature in general and poetry in particular. He attended the National Autonomous University in Mexico (1944-48) and Columbia University in New York (1948-49). Upon his return to Nicaragua he became involved in political movements, which opposed the government of Anastasio Somoza García (1936-56). Much of his poetry focused on political themes, including one that glorified the life and death of Augusto César Sandino, an early opponent...

  15. 11 The Decline of Liberation Theology
    (pp. 231-265)

    Leonardo Boff was born Genezio Darci Boff to a large family in Concordia, in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. In 1949, at the age of ten, he entered the Franciscan elementary school for young men interested in joining the order. Upon entering the Franciscan novitiate he took the name of Leonardo and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964 in Brazil. He traveled to Europe where in 1970 he received the doctorate in theology from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. Boff’s research considered the sacramental nature of the Church in the light of the canons and decrees of the...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 266-276)

    As we have seen, the history of the Catholic Church in Latin America is as complex and multifaceted as the region is itself. The missionaries who arrived in the Americas were far from homogeneous, representing several religious orders and the secular, or diocesan, clergy. They came from many different regions of Spain and Portugal and throughout Europe. The areas in which they landed were home to a wide variety of native peoples, climates, topographies, flora, and fauna. Yet the evangelization efforts of the Europeans were unitary in that they sought to bring the Gospel to the natives of the New...

  17. Glossary
    (pp. 277-280)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 281-288)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-302)
  20. Index
    (pp. 303-318)
  21. About the Author
    (pp. 319-319)