European World Lecture: Catholicism beyond Europe introduction

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European World Lecture: Catholicism beyond Europe


Christianity goes global! Previously, only disconnected pockets of extra-European Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox; St Thomas Christians, Kerala, India; Armenian & Middle Eastern Churches). Crusades – failed attempt to establish extra-European base for Latin Christianity. Counter-Reformation Christianity becomes organised global “brand”, first (and still only?) truly world religion.

Motives and drivers: exploration, and then trade and colonial expansion (Portuguese, Spanish, French). Conquest and control of native populations. But also massive missionary exercise: “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”. Energies of revitalised (Franciscan) and new (Jesuit) religious orders. God providing new harvest of souls to compensate Church for losses to heresy in Europe (as many as 10 million baptised in the Americas alone by 1550). 1622 Propaganda Fide (new Vatican office to co-ordinate “Propagation of the Faith”). Morale of Church and authority of Papacy greatly boosted (NB Protestant evangelization campaigns much slower getting off the ground).

But: Could people be forced, or pressured to become Catholics? ●Were interests of Church and colonizing authorities the same? ●Were new peoples being encountered “full human beings” or “natural slaves” (Aristotle)? Spanish humanist Juan de Sepulveda legitimates Spanish activities as “just war”. But Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas defends rights of Indians: Cortes and Pizarro greedy tyrants who should have been beheaded. Debates Sepulveda at Valladolid 1550. Paul III 1537 affirms rights of Indians to liberty and property. Spanish crown also defends “its” Indians (but in political interests of crown to limit power over natives of conquistadors and settlers). ● What to do about the indigenous religions they encountered? Should they be rooted out and destroyed, or should they be seen as building blocks to construct new forms of locally-rooted Catholicism? How far should Christianity itself change in new cultural settings? NB different answers to this in different world settings, and from different view-points among the missionaries themselves.
Africa: North Africa almost all Muslim (apart from Christian Copts in Egypt); sub-Saharan Africa pagan, and relatively inaccessible to European traders, armies, clergy. Traditional view that handful of Catholic missionaries toiled away without much success. Portuguese eager to undermine Muslim presence in North Africa by alliance with African rulers. (Baptism legitimated the sale of arms, so rather conversions often superficial.) Yet vital exception: Catholic Kingdom of Kongo: ruler Mveba Nzinga fervent Christian as Afonso I, 1505-43 (son consecrated in Portugal as a bishop!) Kongo continues officially Catholic into 18th century. ●But vitality undermined by Portuguese crown’s interference with patronage; shortage of clergy; involvement in slave trade; civil war. What was left fused with indigenous religion – problem of syncretism.

America: Role of friars (Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians) following in wake of Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico, Peru. Early optimism and enthusiasm – thousands seem willingly to receive baptism; pagan “idols” and temples destroyed (though missionaries inform themselves about native language and culture – preserves much of our knowledge of it). Mexico City had bishop by 1530. ●But ambivalent attitudes to “child-like” natives: Mexican provincial council of 1555 forbade ordination of Indians to priesthood (not common till 18th century). Fear of superficial conversion and secret paganism: ferocious inquisition campaign in Yucatan 1562. ●Indigenous responses: apparent willingness / openness, but also resistance to “spiritual conquest”: major rebellion in highlands of Peru 1560; Pueblo Revolt New Mexico 1680. Convergence of Christian and pre-Christian concepts: churches built on temple sites as symbol and focus of community; cult of saints or angels replacing native deities; Mexican ‘day of the dead’ fusion of Catholic Halloween ritual and pre-Christian belief? Superficiality of Christian belief? Or strengthened by connection with indigenous roots? Long-term success in making Catholic Church essential part of native culture – eg Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Asia: The Philippines: seized by Spain in 1561-2. Manila founded 1571, soon had a bishop. Similar pattern to Americas: Augustinian friars accompanied invasion, some attempt to limit violence and injustice. Most of population converted in 17th century (though some concerns about syncretism) and establishment of thriving Catholic culture through to present day. Entry point for further Christian/Spanish to Asia, but where attempts to convert not preceded by conquest, different patterns emerge

India: Catholic missionaries arrive with Portuguese late 15th century: part of the stretch of Portuguese controlled coastal region in the Indian Ocean, including Mozambique and Mombasa, to Mumbai, Malacca and Macau. Goa = centre of missionary activity (and later of vigilant tribunal of the Inquisition). Mass conversion of Parava people, fishers of the Coromandel Coast 1534 (protection from raiders from the north.) But local elites (Brahmins) see Christianity as foreign and low caste. Jesuits attempt to appeal through adaptionist strategy. Francis Xavier (1506-52); Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606); Roberto Nobili (1577-1656). Nobili dressed as Brahmin – ritual washing and wearing of sacred ashes “social customs”, compatible with Christianity.

Japan: from India Xavier travelled to Ceylon and Japan, where enthused by sophistication and civilization of society. Jesuits put aside shows of poverty in culture of symbolism and display. Several local daimyo (feudal lords) impressed with Christianity: by later 16th century church flourishing - 250 Japanese catechists, 300,000 believers. Nagasaki a Catholic city, under influence of Valignano. But vulnerability of Church where no European power to protect it: intense persecution under warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (Shogun). By 1639 no missionaries left; no public practice of Christianity.

China: the great prize – large, wealthy, politically and culturally sophisticated. Xavier dies waiting to enter China 1552. Key figure = Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), allowed into China 1583. Continues adaptionist strategies practiced in Japan. Dresses and behaves like Chinese scholar (Mandarin); ingratiates himself with Chinese elite by sharing cartographic and mnemonic (memory) techniques. Christianity not alien import, but the perfection of existing beliefs: used roughly equivalent Chinese terms for “heaven” and “God”; permitted Confucian practice of ancestor worship as a “civil” ceremony. Success – but limited in this more complex and ancient society (Ricci left about 2000 converts in China; far fewer than in Japan). Perhaps 40,000 Chinese Catholics by 1636. Jesuits continued his approach, but rival Dominicans strongly oppose methods and complain to Rome. Chinese Rites Controversy: papacy prevaricates, but in 1710 Clement XI forbids use of tsian (heaven) and shangdi (Lord on High) and participation in sacrifices to Confucius or ancestors. Profoundly alienates Chinese elites; Imperial decree expels missionaries, ending hope (for moment) of significant expansion in China.
Conclusions: Catholic evangelism hugely significant – permanently redraws the map of world religion. ● Success varied: mass conversion of populations (Americas, Philippines); limited progress in ancient cultures of India and China; reversals (Japan) as well as advances. Though by later 18th century, absolute numbers here too significant – 1m in India, 500,000 in Ceylon, 250,000 in Vietnam , 250,000 in China. ●Divergent approaches: conquest model of Iberian Catholicism; significant that several leading accomodationists (Valignano, Ricci) Italians, with no imperialist interests? ● Cultural and intellectual challenges: how far can you go in willingness to accommodate difference? Propaganda Fide came to encourage recruitment of indigenous clergy, and respect for local customs, except where “offensive to religion and morals”. But limits to syncretism; danger of Christian message being diluted or misunderstood?

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