history of San Salvador is very different from that of Guatemala, that of Costa Rica, and that of Panamá. Panamá, for exampe, belonged to Lima rather than to Mexico.

In this period, then, we see the forging of national unity in Latin America. Deterioration increased in the Church. The coming of independence meant the end of the system of patronato, so no missionaries came from Spain. No longer did books and money come from Spain either. In many areas not a single priest was ordained because there was no place for them to get training and no one to ordain them. And gradually a real rupture was beginning to appear . In the northern part of New Spain, present-day southwestern United States was gradually taking form. Discov-

POLITICAl DIVISION OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORIES Of MEXICO IN 1336 (Broken lines show present-day states oí the U.S.)

POLITICAl DIVISION OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORIES Of MEXICO IN 1336 (Broken lines show present-day states oí the U.S.)

ered by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, it carne to include the regions of Nuevo México, Nueva California, and San Luis Potosí (today stretching from Texas to California, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado). In 1803 Napoleon ceded Louisiana to the United States, marking the beginning of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, under which the U .S. would extend its power all the way to the Pacific. The peaceful occupation of the area by the North Americans gradually occurred. The federalists of Mexico (including those of y ucatan and those to the north of the Rio Grande) meanwhile opposed the Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Ana. The North Americans fostered the federalist spirit, and the Texan revolution broke out in 1835-36. Santa Ana crushed the weak resistance at the Alamo, which was the occasion for Sam Houston to begin war and declare the independence of Texas (1836-45). Finally Mexico ceded the whole area, including California, to the U .S. (1848). In this way there emerged a Latin American people within the United States: the nación of the Spanish-speaking, a people who practically speaking have no Church and have been left to their "folk Catholicism."4


The first liberal Constitution was promulgated in Colombia in 1849. A "new" America appeared on the scene and the colonial period was left behind. This Constitution proposed. the separation of Church and State. Things had reached the point where certain minorities wereable to implement doctrines that could not have been implemented previously. Real rupture with the Church began. The Church began to take a back seat, and even to fade out of the picture, because it could not respond to the challenges of the period. Yet the Church continued to have socio- political importance and to wield power. By virtue of their influence-not their economic power-the bishops were still important figures. Everyone still considered themselves Christians, and in fact they were after a fashion. But the elite were not Christian. They were of a liberal cast, leaning towards what would later take concrete shape as positivism.

The new government in Colombia (1849) was the first liberal government in Latin America. It was the first to declare itself anti-Christian, and anti-Catholic in particular . I t would repudiate the Spanish past and Christendom. The liberals would write a new history, presenting the Spanish factor as a negative thing, rejecting colonial Catholicism, and denying the folk past. This step was taken in Colombia in 1849, in Argentina in 1853, and throughout Latin America during the 1850s.

From 1850 to 1929 we see the unfolding of a w hole new project in Latin America, a project sponsored by a liberal oligarchy rather than by a conservative one. In general we could say that it looked to France for its cultural ideals and to the United States for its technological ideals. It was in these places that it would find its concrete historical ideals, rejecting our past as a period of barbarism.

Around 1870 positivism became the dominant ideology, thanks to such men as José Ingenieros in Argentina and Miguel Lemos in Brazil. This "atheistic" materialism was actual1y an anti-creationist materialism which affirmed the divinity of matter. In short, it was pantheism. It imposed itself on our culture during this period (1870-1890), and our lawyers and doctors are stil1 formed under its ihfluence. This bourgeois oligarchy, which did not actually possess a great deal of power, was anticlerical and anti-Catholic. The crisis encountered by the system known as Christendom was thus due to a variety of factors: the Church's lack of resources, the absence of bishops, the disappearance of seminaries, the cessation of shipments of priests and books from Spain. and a planned rupture put through systematically by the ruling oligarchy. The oligarchy in power was fundamentally anti-Catholic.

The Church could hardly respond to the new challenge. There was not only a missionary crisis but also a theo-logical crisis in Europe. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century would Mercier begin the work of philosophical and theological renewal that would usher in the third version of scholasticism. And even this was unable to respond to Darwin. Comte. and Marx. The Church seemed to be on the verge of disappearing. Indeed it may have been a more serious crisis than the one we face today.

The new and rising bourgeois oligarchy was a latecomer on the industrial scene. however. The crisis of 1929 proved to be fatal to it. and it lost its political power. Let us consider why this happened. When Adam Smith.s book. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes ofthe Wealth of Nations, was published in 1776. the British bourgeois oligarchy enjoyed the advantages of overall social peace. They could organize industry and exploit the workers because the workers did not have the image of some other working class that was better off. The British worker labored eighteen hours a day in the factory. and so did all European workers. Thus the bourgeoisie had time to take advantage of this exploitation and to increase its capital. Business enterprises grew slowly and steadily. and so did the worker; industrial society had time to mature and develop into an affluent entty. By contrast, our industrial bourgeoisie arrived on the! Scene ar<j>und 1890. The Latin American worker would notlabor eighteen hours a day because he knew that workers elsewhere worked only ten hours. Thus a contradiction appeared in the system. because the Latin American worker would make demands which the Latin American industrial system could not yet afford to meet. If it met these demands. it would not be able to sink money back into the system and keep it going. The crisis in 1929 proved fatal to this bourgeois elite in Latin America, and in 1930 a new power influence would break in.


1930 was a key year throughout Latin America. Catholicism gained breathing space when the anti-Catholic liberal class lost power. Catholic Action was gradually implemented throughout the continent, and an attempt to revive Catholicism as a "new Christendom" got under way. The laity appeared once again; and in place of the oligarchy that once had dominated, the military class carne to the fore.

I refer to this new effort as an attempt to fashion a "new" Christendom. The revitalized scholasticism of the time permitted one to envision only a renewal or imitation of the Christian culture that had once existed. Maritain's Integral Humanism spoke in such terms. Since Latin Americans knew almost nothing about their colonial period, the only image they had was one of medieval Christendom. Writers such as Leon Bloy and Hilaire Belloc were read by many Catholics. People wanted to restore the Christendom that had almost disappeared during the period of liberal persecution.

Thus began the great effort at reconquest on the part of Catholicism. It sought to be triumphant and to dominate education, politics, and even economics. In effect it was a triumphalist effort. Catholic Action and the Christian Democratic Party would dominate until Vatican II. I am not going to suggest that the postconciliar Church is a different entity or Church. It is the same Church going throughits inner process of growth. The essential elements would continue to grow during the course of time.

The effort to establish a new Christendom would gradually begin to show weak points. Both Catholic Action and the Christian Democratic Party would begin to falter. Writ ing from Brazil, Belgian theologian Joseph Comblin pointed out the failure of Catholic Action. Comblin's book (Echec de l'action catholique?) proved to be a bombshell, even though it really points up the limitations rather than the failure of Catholic Action.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment