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MEXICO


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MEXICO


the superior, Fray Martin de \'alencia, appointed them to various places near the City of Mexico, where they began at once, as best they could, to teach and preach. At first, especially among the adults, little could be accomplished, as they did not know the lan- guage, so they turned their attention to the children. There their zeal was rewartled with more success, the children being more docile and less imbued with the effects of idolatrous worship. By degrees they gained ground, and before long adults were asking for bap- tism, the number increasing daily until within a few years the greater portion of the inhabitants of the newly conquered territory had received baptism. The apparition, in 1531, of Our L.ady of Guadalupe to the Indian Juan Diego hatl a powerful effect, the increase in conversions being very noticeable after that time.

The fact that they had found the territory con- quered, and the inhabitants pacified and submissive, had greatly aiiled the missionaries: they could, more- over, count on the support, of the Government, and the new converts on its favo\ir and protection. It must, however, be borne in mind that there was no coercion ; the Indians did not see in baptism an cegis that would protect them from cruelty and persecution, other- wise they surely would have hastened to be baptized in those early years when the unsettled state of the government exposed them to greater oppression and outrage. The motive must be sought deeper. The .\ztec religion, with its human sacrifices, draininj^ constantly the life of the mass of the people, must surely have inclined them to a religion which freed them from such a yoke. Moreover, their religion, though recognizing the immortality of the soul, :i.s- signed future happiness, not according to the merits, but according to the worldly condition, of the indi- vidual, his profession, and the fortuitous manner of death. This contrasted strongly with the Christian dogma of the immortality of the soul and the power of all, however lowly, to acquire by their merits the right to possess it. Some have questioned whether or not the lives of the missionaries were a contributing influence in the conversion of the Indians. It is true that the ancient Aztec priests practised severe pen- ances and austerities, but their harshness, haughti- ness, and aloofness from the poor formed a sharp contrast with the conduct of the missionaries, who, on the contrary, sought, sheltered, taught, and defended them. The fact that the haughty conquerors, whom the Indians so much admired, showed the missionaries so much outward deference and respect, even kneeling at their feet, raised them at once to a higher level.

One of the most eminent Franciscans of this mis- sion, Fr. Sahagiin, charges the first missionaries with a lack of worldly sagacity [prudencia serpentina), and says that they did not see that the Indians were de- ceiving them, to all appearances embracing the Faith, yet holding in secret to their idolatrous practices. This accusation in a measure attacks the memory of these first holy missionaries, and it seems almost out- side the range of possibilities that such a multitude could have Leen in accord to deceive them. The examples of virtvious lives led by several of the ca- ciques (Indian chiefs), prominent personages, and by many of the poor plebeians, the sincere and upright manner in which they received and carried out the severe condition of abandoning their polygamous practices, bear witness to the fact that not all these conversions were feigned. Of course, it does not follow from this that every Indian without exception who embraced Christianity, did so in all sincerity. Doubtless there were not many among them who attained a perfect understanding of the new dogmas, but nearly all preferred the new religion because of the evident advantages it possessed over the ancient doctrines and worship. Their knowledge may not have extended to judging the fixed limits between what was allowed and what was forbidden, but this


does not justify the statement that the conversion of the Indians was not sincere. The most notable apostasies occurred at the end of the sLxteenth century, when Cosijopii, formerly King of Tehuantepec, was surprised, surrounded by his ancient courtiers and a great number of people, taking part in an idolatrous ceremony, and in the seventeenth century, when the priests of the Province of Oaxaca heard that great numbers of Indians congregated secretly at night to worship their idols. But this occurred when tiie in- fluence of the missionaries over the Indians had greatly diminished, whether owing to the abandon- ment of some of the parishes, to disputes with the secular clergy, or because to some extent religious discipline had been relaxed.

In this connexion it may not be without interest to note the particular bias which the religion of the Indians



Aztec C.\lend,\r Stone National Museum, City of Me


assumed in some respects. Thus, for e.xample, the Christianity of the Indian is essentially sad and som- bre. This has been attributed to the occasion on which Christianity was introduced among them, to racial traits, to the impression indelibly imprinted upon them by their ancient rites, and to the fact that the Indian sees in the crucifix the actual evidences of in- sult and abuse, of suffering and dejection. The crucifixes in the Indian churches are repulsive, and only in rare instances have the priests succeeded in improv- ing or changing these images. Devotion to some particular saint, above all to the .Apostle St. James, may also be noted. Their ancient polytheism had taught them that the favour of each god who possessed special prerogatives was to lie sought, which explains the many and varied propitiatory sacrifices of their re- ligion, and the new converts probalily did not at first understand the relative position of the saints, nor the di.stinction between the adoration due to God and the reverence due to the .saints. Hearing the Spaniards speak constantly of the .^po.stle ,St. .James, they be- came convinced that he was some sort of divine pro- tector of the conquerors, to be justly feared by their enemies, and that it was therefore necessary to gain his favour. Hence the great devotion that the Indians had for St. James, the numerous churches dedicated to him, and the statues of him in so many churches, moimted on a white horse, w'ith drawn sword, in the act of charging.

A much debated question at that time was whether conquest should precede conversion, or whether the