- The Visitor: André Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia by Liam Matthew Brockey
Introduction by Simon Ditchfield (University of York, UK)
This carefully argued and richly contextualized study of the Portuguese Jesuit André Palmeiro (Lisbon, 1569–Macau, 1635), inspector of the Society’s missions in India and the Far East, consciously makes use of the unfashionable genre of life-and-times biography to make two polemical points. The first is that it is necessary to remember that the Society of Jesus, which in recent decades has come to be seen as standing for everything that was ‘“modern” about the early-modern age, was not an undifferentiated Zeitgeist but made up of individuals who often were to be found on both sides of the many controversies of the age (not excluding the strategy of cultural accommodation with which the Society’s missions are perhaps most closely associated). In Brockey’s words, one should not forget they were “a community representative of the rich variety of early modern Catholic piety and preoccupations” (p. 19). Second, Brockey excoriates the tendency of much recent scholarship to misuse the term global and to see the members of the Society as “harbingers of globalization” (p. 428). Instead, by restoring “depth and texture to the men of the early modern Society of Jesus” (p. 19), the author seeks to show how pragmatism was king, heroism in short supply, and failure more common than success. “Alas, no,” Brockey writes in his conclusion, “It was not the world that became more connected because of the Jesuits; rather, it was the Society that, owing to the limitations of communications in early modernity, became more thinly stretched as it spread out across the world” (p. 429). Emblematic of this was the definitive loss of the Japanese mission by the mid-seventeenth century, which, as Brockey memorably puts it, “lies at the eastern terminus [of] … this panorama of Jesuit dead ends” (p. 432). The latter included the failed missions of Ethiopia, Agra, Tibet, Sri Lanka, the [End Page 554] Coromandel, Fishery and Malabar coasts, and even Malacca (surrendered by the Portuguese to the Dutch in 1641).
The brief prelude, set in Nagasaki in 1635, sets the deliberately downbeat “antiheroic” tone of the book, since it fast-forwards us to the symbolic denouement of the Society’s mission in Japan: when the professed Jesuit Cristóvão Ferreira abjured his faith as a result of brutal torture by the Tokugawa regime. This event was immortalized by Shusaku Endo in his historical novel, The Silence (Tokyo, 1966), the reading of which, Brockey admits in his acknowledgments, was the seed out of which this book project germinated years later. The main text of the book is divided into two roughly equal parts (each consisting of five chapters). The first, “Inside the Empire,” is dedicated to the time spent by Palmeiro in his native Portugal. There he enjoyed a modestly successful career in the Society, first working as a teacher of theology at Coimbra and then serving a brief term as rector of the college at Braga. He left for India at the mature age of forty-eight in 1617. The second part, “At Empire’s Edge,” covers the time he was based in Macau not only as visitor of the Province of Japan (although he never visited the island nation) and the Vice-Province of China (which he did visit) but also as promoter of Jesuit missions to Tonkin and Cochinchina.
From the outset, Brockey is determined to bring us down to earth and to emphasize that after the first two generations of larger-than-life figures such as Ss. Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier and their more grounded but scarcely less heroically enterprising missionary successors of Alessandro Valignano and Matteo Ricci, Palmeiro belonged to a generation that was as spiritually conscientious as it was pragmatically prosaic...