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  • Forgotten Franciscans: Works from an Inquisitional Theorist, a Heretic, and an Inquisitional Deputy by Martin Austin Nesvig
  • Francisco Morales
Forgotten Franciscans: Works from an Inquisitional Theorist, a Heretic, and an Inquisitional Deputy. By Martin Austin Nesvig. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2011. Pp. x, 104. Preface. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. $24.95 cloth.

The Latin American Originals series, published by the Penn State University Press, presents in this volume three texts written by sixteenth-century Franciscans somewhat overlooked in the history of the evangelization of New Spain. Two of them were important Franciscan figures. Alfonso de Castro was a well-known author who as a theological adviser attended two sessions of the Council of Trent (1545-1547 and 1551-1552). Diego Muñoz was the first chronicler of the Franciscan province of St. Peter and St. Paul in Michoacán and the first Franciscan criollo to become minister provincial in New Spain. Alonso Cabello was an intellectually brilliant, though controversial, young friar with an adventurous spirit, whose ideas would probably have been ignored had the Holy Office of the Inquisition not prosecuted him.

These writings, critically edited and carefully translated into English by Martin Austin Nesvig, help the reader to rethink the stereotypical model of the sixteenth century Franciscan missionary. Alonso de Castro never was in New Spain, but his text in defense of higher education for Indians, including the study of liberal arts and theology, offers a glimpse into the group of friars immersed in Christian humanism who worked to counteract the conquerors' prejudices about native intellectual abilities. Castro's text is outstanding for its solid historical, biblical, and philosophical underpinnings, and gives a new insight into Franciscan thought in favor of the human rights of native peoples of America—considerations with deep roots, some flourishing before the oft-mentioned papal brief of Pope Paul III, "Sublimis Deus" (1537). In 1532 Nicolaus Herborn, commissary general of the Franciscans, in reference to the rights of the recently conquered peoples of the New World, wrote: "Since they (the peoples of the Americas) are human beings, they have to be taught and educated humanely" (Luca Wadding, Annales Minorum, Florence, 1922, XVI, 371).

Alonso Cabello's text introduces us into the intellectual life of a young Franciscan whose ideas coincided with Erasmus of Rotterdam's criticism of ecclesiastical institutions. It is hard to know how Alonso became acquainted with it. He came to New Spain as a child and at the age of 17 (in 1571) took his religious vows in Mexico City. It appears clear that before taking his religious profession he had already learned Latin, either in the Franciscan school of Tlaltelolco where there had been a grammar program since the late 1530s, or from a private tutor; his father was a Royal Audience lawyer. Whatever the case, in 1573, while residing in the Franciscan monastery of Mexico City as a theology student, he was denounced to the Inquisition because of his writings, which expounded Erasmus's condemnation of the religious orders. [End Page 430]

Unfortunately, the text Nesvig has chosen for Cabello's section of the book does not deal with these charges. It is a sermon on the Nativity of the Lord preached to the friars of the Cholula monastery in 1578. The marginal notes on the sermon's published version, while not always correct, confirm through their philosophical and theological structure that their author was highly learned in Franciscan theology of the Incarnation and in Franciscan mystical literature. It has sections that seem literally copied from the prayers of Saint Francis to the Lord. Contrary to what Nesvig proposes, this school of thought depends not so much on Erasmus as on the Christology of John Duns Scotus.

The third text comes from the pen of Diego Muñoz. Although it includes interesting details about sorcery practices in Celaya in the 1610s, it is not as representative of Franciscan thought as the previously mentioned writings. It is the proceedings of an inquisitional interrogation in which Diego Muñoz was the commissary. Normally, this type of text is based on a legal format approved by the Inquisition.

The scholarship with which Nesvig edits these texts is remarkable. However...


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