- Clerical Ideology in a Revolutionary Age: The Guadalajara Church and the Idea of the Mexican Nation (1788-1853)
For those Anglophone historians who do not understand Spanish or whose Spanish is not quite proficient, Mark Alan Healey's translation of Brian Connaughton's 1992 study of the political role of the Guadalajara Church in Mexico from the late colonial period to the advent of General Santa Anna's last dictatorship is indeed a welcome one. To this day, whilst the Mexican Church has been studied in depth for the colonial period in the works of such eminent historians as David Brading and William B. Taylor, its role in the early national period remains remarkably understudied. Apart from those studies that Michael Costeloe, Jan Bazant, and Anne Staples dedicated to specific aspects of the history of the Church in Independent Mexico, there have been no works of substance, with the exception of Connaughton's early nineties Ideología y sociedad en Guadalajara (1788–1853).
In this particularly insightful work Connaughton dismantled a whole array of misconceptions and myths that had plagued the historiography's interpretation of the ideological stance of the Church toward independence, sovereignty, and modernity, in the build-up to, during, and in the wake of the 1810–21 civil war. By concentrating on the clergy's discourse in the specific regional context of Guadalajara, using church pamphlets, sermons, edicts, pastoral letters, and newspapers as the mouthpieces of clerical ideology, Connaughton demonstrated that the Church was not monolithic, that its views were not necessarily reactionary, and that its political beliefs were highly fluid and sophisticated, being capable of advocating change and continuity at the same time. He also succeeded in tracing a particularly complex yet evident evolution of political thought on the part of the more eloquent members of the clergy, as they grappled with and responded to the changing times and contexts they were faced with. Thus the clergy was, at different stages, capable of advocating enlightened principles, a need for greater provincial autonomy, independence, a republican system, and representative politics and of embracing a number of key tenets of early nineteenth-century liberal thought. In a country whose constitutions declared, in no uncertain terms, that the Catholic faith was the official religion of the Mexican state, and that no others would be tolerated, it is not surprising to find that the Church played a fundamental part in the forging of independent Mexico. It would be with time, and faced with the bellicosity of the anticlerical liberals of the 1830s, as well as the [End Page 184] manner in which the governing elite approached the patronage question and defended the abolition of church tithes, that clerical ideology became increasingly traditionalist in its outlook. The subsequent syncretism that characterized ecclesiastical politics in 1840s-'50s Mexico, with its propensity to advocate a conservative liberal agenda whilst stressing the providential role of the Church in Mexico's emergent national identity, was first discussed in any significant depth in Connaughton's study. The fact that he did this employing a predominantly regional focus was also noteworthy at a time when the historiography was still extremely Mexico City-based. Since the publication of Connaughton's volume, a whole range of studies have been published concentrating on particular regional contexts, allowing us to understand the early national period from a variety of concrete yet pluralistic and meaningful perspectives. The fact that this key historiographical text has been translated will no doubt enable an Anglophone readership to engage, at last, with one of the very few existing interpretations, to date, of clerical ideology in independent Mexico.