The discoveries initiated by Columbus in 1492 revealed the existence of millions of human beings in societies that had gone on for many centuries without the slightest chance of hearing about Jesus Christ and joining the Church. The arrival of Europeans in the Americas raised with new rigour the issue of universal participation in the benefits of Christ's redemption. How could he have been the Saviour for the indigenous peoples of the Americas? How could they have shared in his redemptive grace without even hearing his name?44
Europeans had not lost a sense of many people living in Africa and Asia—beyond the borders of their 'Christendom'.45 When Genghis Khan was elected chief of the Mongol tribes in 1206, this election triggered a series of events that led to the world becoming one. He created an empire that devoured China and penetrated into Europe. At the same time, routes
In Salvation outside the Church? (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1992), Frank Sullivan describes well how Columbus's discovery raised questions about the salvation of those who had for long centuries remained without any contact with the Christian message.
See S. H. Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia , i. Beginnings to 1500 (San Francisco: Harper, 1992).
opened up in the opposite direction. The Venetian traveller, Marco Polo (¿".1254—1324) visited China in 1271—5 and knew the court of Kublai Khan, Genghis's grandson and successor. Marco Polo's account of his travels gives the earliest European description of the Far East. His tales of the wealth of 'Cathay' fascinated later generations, including a Genoese navigator, Christopher Columbus, who thought he could reach Asia by sailing westward. Without the events Genghis Khan set in train, the New World might have remained undiscovered by the West for longer, perhaps much longer.
The start of the Western Age of Discovery predates, however, Columbus's crossing of the Atlantic. Portuguese navigators such as Prince Henry the Navigator (1394—1460), a maritime and mathematical pioneer, promoted the exploration and colonization of the Canaries and the Azores. Under his patronage Portuguese seamen sailed well down the West coast of Africa. In 1487 the Portuguese Bartolomeu Dias (d. 1500) became the first European captain in modern times to round the Cape of Good Hope and so open up new sea routes to India and beyond.46 Within a few years of these Portuguese voyages and Columbus's discovery, Europeans began to circumnavigate the world, to name it with European names ('Africa', 'America', 'Asia', and 'Australia'), and to map it. Western and Christian domination was on the way.
Alexander VI (pope 1492-1503) divided the New World between Spain and Portugal, giving their kings sovereign power over the lands that their subjects were discovering and making them responsible for evangelizing the people of those lands. The Portuguese rulers developed an empire in Africa, America, and the Far East, and sent Catholic missionaries around the world. Apart from Angola, Mozambique, and such small enclaves as East Timor and Goa, the major lasting result of this evangelization and colonization remains Brazil, currently the largest Catholic nation in the world; its population of over 170 million people is still predominantly Catholic.
Under Emperor Charles V, king of Spain from 1516 to 1556, the Spanish Empire spread through America. In 1521 Mexico fell to Hernando Cortes (1485-1547), and in 1530 Peru was conquered by Francisco Pizarro (¿.1475-1541). Dominicans, Franciscans, and other missionaries arrived shortly
Herodotus, a Greek historian who died before 420 BC , tells of travellers sailing around Africa (History , 4. 42).
after the violent invasions and massacres committed by the conquistadores., and preached the Christian message, sometimes with methods that failed to respect the freedom and religious sensitivities of the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru, Mayas, and other American Indians. Catholicism was established everywhere in Central and Southern America, and some groups, notably the Mexicans, often embraced the new faith with enthusiasm. But the Indian societies were ravaged by violent invaders in search of gold and devastated by small-pox, other diseases, and alcoholism. The Indian population of Spanish-ruled America declined by at least 75 per cent in the first hundred years of that rule. The collapse of the local population led the conquistadores to begin importing black slaves from Africa. Some religious leaders and writers, such as Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474—1566), denounced the crimes committed in the name of Spain and Christianity. Significantly this courageous Dominican also served (1542—50) as bishop of Chiapas, a poor diocese in Southern Mexico where in the 1990s the Indian population hit world headlines over their struggle for civil and religious rights.
By 1620 thirty-six bishoprics and countless parishes in Central and South America served the Spanish settlers, Indian converts, and other groups, with everything under the control of two viceroys: one in Peru and the other in New Spain (Mexico). Through the viceroys the running of the colonial state and the organization of the church depended upon Madrid. The papacy had no control, for example, over the appointment of bishops.
One group that maintained its freedom from royal control was the Jesuits, who both in Old and New Spain insisted on their primary obedience being to their superior general resident in Rome and through him to the pope. Besides developing colleges in the towns, they spread out among the Indian populations where their frontier missionary work put into practice the entirely peaceful evangelization methods advocated by Las Casas. They sometimes succeeded in a remarkable way—as with the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. From 1603 they began settlements or 'Reductions', which combined agricultural work, various crafts, and worship that included much music. With the help of brothers (non-ordained members of the Order), some of them ex-soldiers who had survived European wars before joining the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit missionaries trained the Guaranis to defend themselves effectively against slave traders. The 1767 expulsion of Jesuits from Spanish America largely brought to an end a glorious chapter in missionary work. The ten settlements of the
Chiquitos mission, in what became Bolivia, survived the 1767 disaster somewhat better. There the Jesuit mix of education, agriculture, and liturgical celebration even more skilfully integrated the Indian language and culture with Christianity.
A few Jesuits, such as St Peter Claver (1580—1654), ministered to a very different group: the African slaves imported in ever-increasing numbers into Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, and other lands of the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. In particular, the slaves provided labour for the sugar plantations. Adrian Hastings describes the work of Claver and his colleagues:
Alonso de Sandoval...and his assistant, Pedro Claver, worked indefatigably in the docks of Cartagena where thousands of blacks were unloaded every year, often more dead than alive after their fearful Atlantic crossing. With a group of black interpreters picked to cope with the range of African languages needed, Sandoval and Claver ministered to the slaves materially and spiritually without stopping for more than 50 years. In his book [De instauranda Aethipum salute] Sandoval denounced the abominable treatment of the slaves and listed the African peoples and languages they represented, while appealing to other Jesuits to join him in this work. He and Claver were undoubtedly two of the most heroically dedicated and saintly men religious history, even Jesuit history, can record.47
But these two heroic priests enjoyed little back-up. Many Jesuits and others ministered to the Indians, but the population of black slaves, often much worse treated, were totally subjected to their white owners. The black population came to accept Christianity but sometimes with a West African mix, as in the Afro-Brazilian cults. Catholic Brazil became the last country in the world to abolish officially slavery—only in 1888.
Out in Asia heroic missionaries such as St Francis Xavier (1506—52), 'the Apostle of the Indies', reached India, Sri Lanka, Malacca, the Molucca Islands, and Japan. One of the first Europeans ever to visit Japan, he created flourishing Catholic communities there. Sadly, fear of foreign invasions triggered savage persecutions from the end of the sixteenth century. In the first half of the seventeenth century thousands of Christians suffered death for their faith, until in 1640 Japan was closed to all foreigners and Christianity itself proscribed. When these restrictions were lifted in the second half of the nineteenth century, Catholic missionaries
47 A. Hastings, 'Latin America', in A. Hastings (ed.), A World History of Christianity (London: Cassell, 1999 ), 347.
discovered many hidden Christians, who had secretly kept and handed on the faith. Xavier himself had died on an island south of Canton, while waiting to enter China.
Within a few years of his death, however, other Jesuits entered China—in particular, the Italian Matteo Ricci (1552—1610), whose learning in mathematics, astronomy, and languages allowed him to preach the Christian message. The German Jesuit Adam Schall (1591—1666) helped reform the Chinese calendar (officially adopted after 1644). By this and other astronomical achievements (such as the prediction of an eclipse in 1629), the way was opened for a Flemish Jesuit, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623—88), to be nominated president of the Chinese Imperial Board of Astronomy. This appointment by the Chinese ruling dynasty embodied the highpoint of a missionary endeavour that not only combined faith with human learning but also adapted Christian ceremonies to the local culture. Sadly the success of this latter adaptation gave rise to a violent controversy over 'the Chinese rites'. Clement XI (pope 1700—21) condemned such adaptations, and Benedict XIV (pope 1740—58) even required missionaries to take oaths against them. Eventually twentieth-century popes and the Second Vatican Council (1962—5) were to encourage adaptation to various cultures and the full role of the local clergy.
This full role came slowly in many places: for instance, in the Philippines. Evangelization by Dominican, Franciscan, and other missionaries followed the start of Spanish rule in 1565. Even though the majority of Filipinos had been baptized by the end of the eighteenth century, the indigenous clergy remained in inferior positions. It was only in 1905 that the first Filipino bishop was appointed. Pope Pius XI, however, vigorously encouraged local leadership. In 1926 he personally consecrated six Chinese bishops; in 1936 he appointed the first Japanese archbishop of Tokyo.
In West Africa the horrors of the slave trade continued until the 1860s. By that time Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican missionaries had begun serious evangelization of Africa south of the Sahara. In Italy, post-Napoleonic France, and elsewhere a new enthusiasm grew to promote missions. Such religious congregations with a specifically African focus as the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Society of African Missions, the White Fathers, and the Verona Fathers came into existence. Through the twentieth century, with dedication and help of African laymen and women, Catholicism grew enormously in Africa. Despite the wounds of colonialism and recurrent wars, by the year 2000, 175 million out of 350 million Christians in Africa were Catholics. The first two African Catholics to become bishops of dioceses were appointed in 1939. By the year 1990 there were over 350 such African bishops, many of them vitally concerned with the task of indigenizing or inculturating Catholic rituals in their regions.48
A last wave of Catholic missionary expansion that should be recalled involves North America, Oceania, and other parts of the world. From the nineteenth century congregations of religious women began playing a major role in bringing Catholicism to such countries as Canada, the United States, and Australia,—among others. Along with numerous male religious and priests, Irish Sisters of Charity, Marist Sisters, Presentation Sisters, Religious of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of Mercy, and many other nuns founded schools and hospitals around the world. They came from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and other European countries. The missionary activity of Mary Aikenhead (1787-1858), St Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), St Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), Catherine Elizabeth McAuley (1778-1841), Nano Nagle (1718-84), and their associates played a key part in creating world Catholicism. All this expansion of European Catholicism had hardly started before fierce problems arose at home in Europe itself—with the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.
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