Colonial Fault Lines and the Ruptures of Chilean Independence: Earthquakes, Reason, and Religion in the Polemic between Camilo Henríquez and Tadeo Silva
- The Latin Americanist
- The University of North Carolina Press
- Volume 63, Number 4, December 2019
- pp. 425-452
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During Chilean independence, a polemic between fray Camilo Henríquez and Dominican Tadeo Silva over the causes of earthquakes and religious processions filled the pages of periodicals and pamphlets. After the 1812 Venezuela and 1822 Valparaíso earthquakes, Henríquez published articles in the newspapers he edited—La Aurora de Chile and Mercurio de Chile—arguing that earthquakes were nothing more than a natural phenomenon and urged the state to regulate bloody religious processions.
Tadeo Silva responded with a defense of providential interpretations of natural disasters as God's punishment for sin and the colonial practice of blood processions as penance to halt a catastrophe.
Henríquez used contemporary scientific explanations to demonstrate that earthquakes were natural events. Both priests relied on biblical passages, Church fathers, Chilean and Church history, late colonial laws and religious traditions as evidence to support their positions. The polemic folded into larger disagreements about the role of reason and religion in the Atlantic world and the relationship between the Church and state in Chile. The 1822 Valparaíso earthquake highlighted tensions over the presence and toleration of a growing and wealthy North Atlantic commercial community, which included many Protestants. A providential explanation of the catastrophe allowed the clergy, creole elite, and porteños opposed to religious toleration, clerical reforms, or disadvantaged by economic and immigration policies a political opportunity to attack the O'Higgins administration and British residents of Valparaíso. Despite the fault line between reason and faith, religious responses to earthquake persisted into the national period and existed "in tandem" with scientific explanations.