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Reviewed by:
  • All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World
  • Karin Vélez
All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World. By Stuart B. Schwartz. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008. 352 pp. $40.00 (cloth).

In this impressively wide-ranging study of religious sentiment in the early modern Atlantic, Schwartz poses questions that speak directly to the anxieties of our own time and place: Where do ideas of tolerance originate? Did attitudes of tolerance survive notorious periods of suppression such as that of the Inquisition? Schwartz turns the tables with his answers: he argues that the torch of tolerance was lit and nourished not by "philosopher-kings" like the eighteenth century's Voltaire, but by the "plain folks" (p. 139) of the Iberian world at a far earlier and more guarded moment of imposed orthodoxy. His protagonists, "rustic Pelagians" (p. 242) from across the Spanish and Portuguese empires, were mostly uneducated, disorganized, outnumbered, and harshly punished. But their opposition to state policies of intolerance persisted over time, creating a social context conducive to home-grown, experience-based notions of justice. Schwartz emphasizes two generally overlooked groups among these dissidents summoned before the Inquisition. He highlights "Old Christians" (p. 12) from Iberia's majority population, and foreigners including Dutch, French, and English Protestants. By focusing on these groups, he effectively dispels the "Black Legend" of a uniformly fanatical and culturally isolated Spanish Catholic realm.

Schwartz locates hundreds of stubborn advocates of religious heterodoxy in the Inquisition records of Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia between 1500 and 1700. His primary sources are trial records surrounding "proposiciones" (p. 18), public expressions that countered Catholic dogma, particularly with regard to the official Church stance against fornication outside of wedlock and against salvation outside of the Church. In these documents, Schwartz finds common folk repeatedly countering authority with the popular dictum "Each person can be saved in his or her own religion" (p. 1). What stands out in Schwartz's detailed survey is not this elegant refrain, however, but his carefully drawn spectrum of different articulations of this concept. He prefers to quote the far clumsier words of run-of-the-mill relativists, universalists, skeptics, atheists, doubters, good Catholics, the insane, and even the indifferent; moriscos, conversos, renegades, and Old Christians; doctors, friars, and pastry chefs; Spanish, Portuguese, creoles, and mulattos; readers and nonreaders; the well-traveled and the sedentary; and both men and women, though he notes that there were far fewer cases of women accused of propositions in Inquisition records (p. 249). Schwartz's crowning touch is to resituate [End Page 755] historical luminaries such as the skeptic Baruch Spinoza (pp. 57–61) and the Jesuits António Vieira (pp. 107–114) and Alonso de Sandoval (pp. 163–166) in this contextualizing and mundane company. Rather than presenting these men as exceptional, he discusses them alongside Old Christian wool merchants and blasphemous carpenters whose heretical statements of tolerance sound strikingly similar to those of the canon of greats.

Schwartz depicts a noisy Atlantic sphere where arguments over religious tolerance regularly interrupted dinner conversations, book exchanges between friends, and even military battles on frontier beaches. Against a background of socially accepted slurs of "damned heretic dogs!" Schwartz presents a parade of individuals selflessly and recklessly retorting, "How do you know the heretics are damned?" (p. 228), or "Shut up and leave the Indians alone" (p. 153). Indeed, Schwartz is so successful at presenting these memorable voices from below that it is difficult for the reader to avoid the "Schindler's List" phenomenon that he cautions so sharply against (p. 8): to see Iberia's violent Inquisitorial past as somehow redeemed by the failure, chronicled in the Inquisition's own records, to stamp out this resilient strain of tolerance among the masses.

All Can Be Saved is pathbreaking for its methodology as well as its argument. Schwartz explicitly rejects many of historians' assumed oppositions between elite and popular, literate and illiterate, Iberian (Catholic) and foreign (Protestant), and Old and New World. In doing so, however, Schwartz risks overstating two other pervasive dichotomies. First, he sets independent-minded rustics...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 755-757
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-03
Open Access
No
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