Early Christian and Jesuit Narratives of the Rise of Christianity

Although poststructuralism, in practice, often has tended to ahistori-cism and a down-playing of human agency, theorists such as Foucault, Derrida, and Barthes have provided useful strategies for understanding the form and content of early Christian and Jesuit literatures, and how these literatures reflect, albeit indirectly, the pretextual reality of early Christianity in Europe and Mexico.45 In the wake of the hermeneutics movement46 as well as poststructuralism, it is now generally understood that between text and world there is a semi-autonomous author whose perception and representation of reality is governed by a host of contingencies, including prior texts and the author's own dynamic, cultural-historical context.47

Early Christian Literature

The most significant contingency for early Christian authors was their belief in God's design and continuing presence in the lives of human beings (following Christ's ascension to heaven). This preoccupation with the regular "in-breaking of the divine" is evident in the passions or stirring accounts of Christian martyrs who were steeled by the Holy Spirit during their persecution at the hands of the

(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991); Steve J. Stern, Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982); William B. Taylor, Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).

45 Beside literary evidence, there has been considerable archaeological research during the last twenty years that sheds light on pagan and Indian cultures, early monasticism in Europe, and other aspects of the rise of Christianity in both the Old World and New.

46 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Crossroad Press, 1975 [1960]).

47 M. M. Bakhtin and V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. L. Matejka and I. R. Titunik (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986); James Clifford, "Introduction, Partial Truths," In Writing Culture, The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, eds. J. Clifford and G. Marcus, pp. 1-26 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays on Cultural Criticism (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

Romans.48 With the Peace of Constantine in 313 c.e., the days of literal martyrdom largely came to an end for Christians. What was previously an underground movement persecuted by the state became the religion of the state, and in the process, an institution seriously compromised by bishops suddenly flush with privilege and power. The successors to the martyrs were the "desert saints" (e.g., Paul the Hermit, Saint Antony, Hilarion) who fled the cities and ecclesiastical privilege to live lives of asceticism, sustained as it were by God's grace.49 The lives of these holy men and women, who gave birth to monasticism, differ from the passions in several important respects. Most notably the enemy is now Satan and not his surrogate, the Roman magistrate.50 With the emphasis no longer on martyrdom but on the saint's ascetic and heroic life, the vitae tend to follow the structure of a quest tale, emphasizing a saint's various battles with the devil and his progression to sanctity. The narrative as such followed a set pattern: marvelous infancy and vocation; struggle and trials that proved the saint a true athlete of Christ; an account of the saints virtues, miracles, and prophecies, including his/her own approaching death, and the saint's death and postmortem miracles.

Between the fourth and sixth centuries various authors wrote lives of the desert saints and other "Church Fathers," which St. Jerome assembled along with the Fathers' "sayings" in a work known as the Vitae Patrum.

48 Originally, in the second and third centuries, the passions were in the form of brief notes giving the time, place, and circumstances of various martyrs' deaths. In the Middle Ages, Bede and his students transformed the material into a collection of narrative martyrologies. Baronius published the first printed edition of the Roman Martyrology in 1586. Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs; Duncan Robertson, The Medieval Saints' Lives, Spiritual Renewal and Old French Literature (Lexington: French Forum Publishers, 1995).

49 Sacred biography is ambiguous about how one becomes a saint, one moment implying that would-be saint's cultivate sanctity by emulating Christ, and the next moment explicitly stating that God alone decides who will be a saint. Theologians such as Augustine and Eriugena "resolved" the apparent contradiction by suggesting concepts such as theosis - deification of the creature as a result of a dialectical, mystical conjunction of the ascending individual with the descending godhead. Stephen G. Nichols, Jr., Romanesque Signs: Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 10-11.

50 Alison Goddard Elliott, Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1987), 42.

Toward the end of the fourth century (c. 397 c.e.), Sulpicius Severus inaugurated an "episcopal" genre of sacred biography with his life of Bishop Martin of Tours, who is credited with converting the pagan population of northern Gaul.51 Throughout the Middle Ages, hagiogra-phers used The Life of Saint Martin as a literary model for thousands of saint's lives, which sprang from oral traditions about local clerics and monks who bridged heaven and earth.52 It also was during the fourth century that Eusebius (d. 338/9) inaugurated the genre of ecclesiastical history, which was subsequently elaborated as a dramatic narrative by Gregory of Tours (539-595 c.e) and Bede (673-735 c.e.).53

Although there are significant differences between "passions," saints' lives, and sacred history, they all emphasize first and final causes (God and his often inscrutable intentions) rather than efficient or material causality.54 Prosper, Sulpicius Severus, Jerome, and historians such as Bede and Gregory of Tours were principally concerned with showing how individual lives and historical events resembled events recounted in scripture, thus evidencing a divine plan.55 This preoccupation with God's design and handiwork was championed by Augustine,56 who both reflected and guided Christian thought during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. History as well as nature itself was understood as evidencing the hand of God. Works on "the nature of things" (DeNatura Rerum) were enormously popular during the early Middle Ages and presupposed a divine plan whose progress could be measured and judged

51 Robertson, The Medieval Saints' Lives, 130; Stancliffe, St. Martin and His Hagiographer: Hoare, The Western Fathers.

52 Heffernan notes that the Bibliotecha Hagiographica Latina alone lists more than eight thousand saints' lives. Heffernan, Sacred Biography, 13.

53 Joaquin Martinez Pizarro, A Rhetoric of the Scene: Dramatic Narrative in the Early Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989).

54 Biraben and Le Goff, "The Plague in the Middle Ages," 49; Ernst Breisach, Historiography, Ancient, Medieval & Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 77-80; Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967 [1919]); Nichols, Romanesque Signs, 20-21; Stancliffe, St. Martin and His Hagiographer, 193, 210.

55 Steven Muhlberger, The Fifth-Century Chroniclers, Prosper, Hydatius, and the Gallic Chronicler of 452 (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990), 2; Nichols, Romanesque Signs, xi.

56 Marcus Dods, trans. and ed., The City of God by Saint Augustine, 2 Vols. (New York: Hafner, 1948); G. Keyes, Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History, A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy of History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 191.

by a spiritually informed reading of nature and natural phenomena (e.g., earthquakes, pestilence).57

Eusebius and other early Christian authors emphasized how the unfolding of God's plan, and more precisely, the spread of Christianity, presupposed a war against Satan and his legion of demons.58 In the Old Testament (e.g., Book of Job) and the Gospels, Satan is an important yet largely undefined character. By the fourth century c.e., Christianity was a religion preoccupied with Satan. In narratives such as The Life of Saint Antony, Satan seemingly "is everywhere you want to be," obstructing the work of holy men.59

It is of course difficult to convey God and Satan working in and through mortal beings, nature, or historical events. To convey what essentially was ineffable (the immediate reality of an invisible world), sacred biographers and historians employed hyperbole, superlatio (e.g., "the tomb revealed a body as white as snow"), and other forms of "exaggerated speech."60 Such language characteristically was embedded in dramatic narratives in which the author effaced himself as much as possible by allowing his characters to speak for themselves.61 This oral quality was a rhetorical strategy that created the illusion that the reader witnessed events as they happened. Dramatized action (e.g., having a monk or cleric essentially reiterate Christ's Galilean ministry) also helped to

57 Valerie I. J. Flint, "Thoughts About the Context of Some Early Medieval Treatises De Natura Rerum." In Ideas in the Medieval West: Texts and their Contexts, ed. Valerie I. J. Flint, pp. 1-31 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1988).

58 de Nie, Views From a Many-Windowed Tower, 31; Glenn F. Chestnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, andEvagrius (Paris: Editions Beauchesne, 1986), 106. Eusebius's recounting of "the Martyrs of Lyon," for instance, blames the devil ("the adversary"; "the evil one") as much as Gallo-Romans for the persecution of the Christians of Lyon. Musurillo, Acts of the Christian Martyrs, 63.

59 The Life of Saint Antony relates how Satan was always after Antony, and by extension, any and all Christians who "keep the faith." For instance, Satan tempts Antony by assuming human guises (e.g., an attractive woman); making noise at night outside Antony's cave; physically assaulting Antony at home; and tempting Antony by leaving gold coins along pathways in the desert.

60 Heffernan, Sacred Biography, 11.

61 Although the use of direct speech (e.g., Christ's many parables) was a preferred technique of biblical authors, early Christian authors systematically linked narrative events to create a dramatic narrative, which became the preferred literary style of early medieval sacred biographers and historians. R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 63 ff; Pizarro, A Rhetoric of the Scene, 13.

convey a theological point, namely the paradigmatic status of Christ's life as revealed in the Gospels.62 It is also the case that most sacred biographies originated as oral traditions and were committed to paper by monks and clerics who then read them aloud to their largely illiterate audiences on saint's feastdays.63 In this regard, sacred biographies often were the outcome of "negotiations" between illiterate masses and privileged monks and clerics.

The rise of Christianity during the late Roman Empire is presented in early Christian literature as a story of martyrs, ascetics, monks, and clerics - all battling seen (e.g., Roman magistrates, Greek philosophers, pagan magi or shamans) and unseen enemies, notably Satan, aided as it were by the Holy Spirit. The hand of God turned hostile pagan mobs into doting listeners; on other occasions it caused a falling tree to suddenly alter its course, sparing the life of a missionary saint. Early Christian authors lived in awe of God's mysterious ways; rarely did it enter their minds to "forget about God" and focus systematically on material causality or what we today might term "real-world events." In his Ecclesiastical History, for instance, Eusebius mentioned epidemics,64 but he invariably rendered them meaningful in terms of biblical precedents or as signs of God's power and transcendence.65 Similarly, Eusebius's most prolific heir, Gregory of Tours, mentioned disease, but usually in a discussion of seemingly unconnected events or prodigies (e.g., comets, trees split by lightning). Gregory was not concerned with the role of disease in history but, rather, with how epidemics signaled God's anger and his impending wrath.66 Likewise, Bede, when he chose to mention epidemics,67 did so to make a point about God's enduring presence and power.68

62 Heffernan, Sacred Biography, 5. 63 Pizarro, A Rhetoric of the Scene.

64 G. A. Williamson, trans., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine

(Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Dorset Press, 1965), 304-306, 365-368.

65 Rebecca J. Lyman, Christology and Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 92; see also Glenn F. Chestnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, andEvagrius (Paris: Editions Beauchesne, 1986), 100.

66 de Nie, Views From a Many-Windowed Tower, 27-38.

67 Colgrave and Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, 357-359, 377.

68 Darrel W. Amundsen, "The Medieval Catholic Tradition." In Caring and Curing, Health and Medicine in the Western Religious Tradition, eds. R. Numbers and D. Amundsen, pp. 65-108 (London: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986), 78-79.

Jesuit Narratives of the Early Church in Mexico

As noted, the Jesuits produced a voluminous literature, which is significantly more transparent with respect to material causality. That said, Jesuit authors had a great deal in common with their early Christian counterparts. Indeed, Jesuits were formed as religious through a reading of early Christian literature. The Jesuit "Father General" - the highest-ranking Jesuit superior - issued directives on which authors a Jesuit should read, might read (with caution), and could not read on pain of sin.69 The Ratio Studiorum is particularly instructive in this regard. Implemented at the close of the late sixteenth century, the Ratio listed the authors and books that Jesuit novices were expected to read as part of their religious formation.70 Included on the list is much of the early Christian literature cited above, including the Roman Martyrology.71 It was a custom in Jesuit residences and colleges to read each day at supper a passio or stirring account of an early Christian martyr.72 The lives and sayings of the desert saints and Church Fathers, the Vitae Patrum, likewise appears on the Ratio Studiorum. During the early seventeenth century (1615, 1628), a Jesuit, Herbert Rosweyd, compiled two editions of the Vitae Patrum,73 which were read widely by religious, including Jesuit, novices.

Ignatius Loyola noted in his autobiography that his life was forever changed by his reading of the lives of the saints and Ludolph's Life of Christ.74 Perhaps not surprisingly, recitation of the litany of the saints was a common practice in Jesuit schools and it was practically the only

69 de Guibert, The Jesuits, 215-218; O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 313-315.

70 See de Guibert, The Jesuits, 216.

71 In 1643 the Jesuits at Antwerp under Jean Bolland began critically evaluating and establishing reliable texts of the acts or passions of the first Christian martyrs. Musurillo,

Acts of the Christian Martyrs, xi.

72 O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 340; Robertson, The Medieval Saints' Lives, 30.

73 Henri-Jean Martin, Print, Power, andPeople in 17th-Century France, trans. David Gerard (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1993), 101-103; Robertson, The Medieval Saints' Lives, 77.

74 George E. Ganss, Editor, Ignatius Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 70-71; O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 268-270. Note that Loyola's conversion was much like Augustine's; the latter was irrevocably changed by a reading of Athanasius's Life of Saint Antony.

occasion when Jesuits gathered regularly for prayer.75 During the seventeenth century, it was the Jesuits led by Jean Bolland who took the lead in publishing sacred biographies, which were popular in Europe.76 Not surprisingly, the lives of the saints, and Severus's Life of Saint Martin, in particular, appear on the Ratio Studiorum. The works of Eusebius, Bede, and two contemporaries of the late sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great (550-604 c.e.) and Bishop Gregory of Tours, also were required reading for Jesuits.

The relevance of early Christian literature was acknowledged by Jesuit missionary authors both in margin notes as well as explicit textual references. The Historia, for instance, contains innumerable references to not only the Bible but also the Fathers of the Church (e.g., Augustine, Cassiodorus) and sacred biography and history. The many explicit and implicit references to early Christian literature reflect the Jesuits' essentially Augustinian worldview, particularly the belief that God was intimately involved with his creation. Although separated in time by one thousand years, Gregory of Tours and Jesuits such as Perez de Ribas saw God everywhere, and often in the very same places:

The same is true indeed of the nature (natura) of trees, which, as I believe, is a sign (signat) of that same resurrection, when in the winter, denuded of leaves, they seem to be dead, and in the time of spring they are adorned with leaves and embellished by flowers, while in the summer full of apples. Which wonder, notwithstanding its being used in this way as a likeness (similitudo), exhibits a favour to the peoples [of the earth] here and now, so that man should know that he receives food from the One Who created him out of nothing (creavit ex nihlo). (Gregory of Tours, c. 590 c.e.).77

Let us turn to another natural wonder worthy of consideration, which is a tree often found in the valleys of Sinaloa and in other warm places. This tree, which has a very large crown, is called tucuchi in the language of this region. Its fruit is a small, sweet fig; some of its branches are very long and large, extending so far that they could no longer sustain themselves without forked branches to hold them up. The Lord

75 O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 268.

76 Martin, Print, Power, and People, 88, 101, 103.

77 As quoted in de Nie, Views From a Many-Windowed Tower, 108.

aided them in a very unusual way: some trunks that are separate from the main trunk of the tree grow straight up out of the earth and under the tree branches We can therefore say that God wanted to leave in nature a sign of how the Holy Spirit flows from the Father and the Son, persons who are truly distinct, whom these works praise. (Perez de Ribas, 1645)78

Early Christian and Jesuit missionaries truly believed that God was everywhere and his grace, ubiquitous. Grace sustained early Christian martyrs at the hour of death and empowered miracle workers such as Martin of Tours. Both types of holy people have their parallel among New World Jesuits. Most every Jesuit missionary who served on the northern frontier was threatened or wounded at some time or other by Indians who opposed or renounced baptism. Between 1591 and 1645, close to a dozen missionaries died as martyrs, killed by Indian apostates. Jesuits who were not "gifted" with martyrdom emulated Martin of Tours and "desert saints" such as Antony, wearing hair shirts and enduring all manner of personal sacrifice as well as trials and tribulations at the hand of Satan and his "familiars," Indian shamans.

Jesuits who served in the New World as missionaries were as convinced as Eusebius or Athanasius that the devil was real; Satan was no mere symbol or metaphor for evil, but a supernatural foe who, paradoxically, was powerless yet powerful. Along these lines, Jesuit missionary-authors shared Eusebius's conviction that "the rise of Christianity" presupposed a war with Satan. One reads in Perez de Ribas's Historia, for instance:

But the more this primitive Church grew in Christian customs and the more gentile customs declined, the more the devil's rage grew. This principal enemy of mankind saw himself being stripped of the souls that he had dominated and possessed uncontested for so many years. On the occasion of the epidemics, many of the souls of baptized infants and newly-baptized adults no longer entered his infernal caverns as they used to, but instead went to heaven. He saw how the priests' talks revealed the web of lies with which his sorcerers and familiars (who are his tools) entangled and deceived so many people. The devil

78 Perez de Ribas, History of the Triumphs, 86.

understood that if he did not stem the course of the Gospel, he would soon be stripped of all the souls in Sinaloa.79

In significant ways the Jesuits had one foot in the Enlightenment and the other foot more firmly planted in the Middle Ages.80 The Jesuits understood from experience and observation that many Indians were driven by desperation to Christianity. However, being largely "medieval" in their worldview,81 they understood that the Indians' desperation was God's handiwork and that the "first and final cause" of Indian interest in baptism was the power of the Holy Spirit to attract people to God (as per Augustine). In Book II of the Historia, Perez de Ribas recounted how in 1615 several hundred Nebome Indians beyond the mission frontier abandoned their pueblos and traveled for several days, seeking refuge in the Jesuit mission of Bamoa along the Rio Sinaloa. Perez de Ribas noted that a number of Indians died en route and another was covered from head to foot with what he referred to as leprosy. Still, he indicated: "The principal reasons why these people came [south] were to receive Holy Baptism, become Christians, and enjoy the catechism taught by the priests."82 Nowhere did Perez de Ribas acknowledge that the Indians came south hoping that the priests and their ritual cleansing might cure or protect them from typhus and other diseases that reached epidemic proportions at the time on the northern frontier.83

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