- The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond
John Frederick Schwaller has taken on a most monumental task in writing the history of the Catholic Church in Latin America from the late 1400s to the present. This overview of an enormous topic provides the necessary information on Iberian religions, including the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and the history of Portuguese and Spanish exploration of Africa as background to the "discovery" of the Western Hemisphere and the Treaty of Tordesillas, which dates to the start of international law. Then, the author leads readers through the intellectual debates over sovereignty and property rights, "just war," and whether or not the native peoples were human and capable of becoming Christians. He rightly notes that despite the many missionaries in Mexico and Peru, many native peoples remained uncontacted and uninitiated for many years. His discussion of church finance, the Bourbon initiatives of the eighteenth century, and the Enlightenment's impact end his discussion of the colonial era.
After Schwaller's discussion of independence, his narrative summarizes the checkered history of the Church. The section on how governments negotiated or not with the Holy See and how agreements could potentially affect everyday life is followed by a fascinating few pages on the role of family politics in Chile, through which one large patrilineage controlled both church and state. The nineteenth century also saw popular religion and uprisings gaining prominence in Brazil; the rise of the "Protestant ethic," especially in Central America; and the conservative First Vatican Council in 1869-71.
Regarding the twentieth century, he retells the history of the Church against a background of revolution in Mexico;"la violencia" in Colombia; and the rise of fascism, socialism, the populists, the Marxists, and Catholic-based trade unions. Throughout, the Church was viewed by many as a stabilizing influence. However, the Church was not a homogeneous institution. It included groups that ranged from those against the reforms of the Second Vatican Council who supported a Tridentine church to progressive liberationists and Catholic socialists. Furthermore, he notes the increasing challenges to the once near-monopoly of spirituality exercised by the Catholic hierarchy, citing popular religion, like Candomblé in Brazil, secularization, and Protestant and Evangelical inroads. To summarize, Schwaller reiterates the diversity within the Church, focusing on two dominant perspectives: the top-down view, or the view of Church as a hierarchy of divine authority; and the bottom-up view, or the view after the Second Vatican Council that represents the Church as the pilgrim people of God. Over time, the latter position has gained ground over the former. [End Page 867]
Congratulations are due for the concise way in which the author populates the major trends with representative persons or key organizations or meetings. This makes the text both more interesting than a straight, unembellished institutional history, and not a catalogue, especially after independence. His review of papal initiatives such as the establishment of the Colegio Pío Latino Americano in 1859 and their repercussions emphasizes how Latin America cannot be studied and understood in a vacuum. The history of the Latin American Catholic Church and the peoples and nations of the region need to be placed in the proper temporal and wider international contexts.
The book, however, leaves the reader wondering about the rise and influence of the Masonic Orders, which are mentioned (pp. 161, 168, 207) but do not receive full coverage. Native religious antecedents to Catholic contact also need more space to appreciate better the challenges of the early missionaries. Furthermore, Schwaller territorializes religious jurisdictions such as bishoprics before boundaries were clearly designated and marked (compare pp. 77 and 151). Parishes and bishoprics were originally jurisdictions defined as power over groups of people; they were not defined by fixed and demarcated geography until the middle of the nineteenth century in Argentina, for example. His use of words such as pagan (p. 85) and dictator (pp...