60. Missionaryism – II
Luther advocated that salvation could not be achieved through religious duties nor through the individual’ intention or free will. The consequence of this assertion was the abandonment of rituals as instruments of salvation. In fact, Protestant ceremonies are merely secular commemorations of the Gospel events. Nevertheless, he recognised to faith a certain efficacy as an individual’s emotional transport towards God. And so, if God was pleased and he would reward the believer with unexpected blessings. Calvin, on the other hand, denied even this possibility. Salvation for the human being was, therefore, arbitrarily bestowed by the Deity. In one way or another, the salvation of the soul was regulated according to the theory of predestination. This led to specific behavioural consequences and prejudices among those who embraced the various sects of Protestantism. It is worth to mention, for instance, their conviction that the individual’s worldly success, fortune and well-being are the outward sign of divine benevolence; and, equally, the belief that birth into a given status, race, nation and religious confession indicates a clear heavenly choice. This demonstrates the close relationship between capitalist ideologies and Protestantism.
From this perspective, the theory of predestination is based on the fact that God is omniscient and, as such, knows in advance anything that will happen. Every happening is therefore written in destiny ab æterno and develops in time according to His will since the moment He creates the world. On the contrary, both in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, predestination is balanced by the recognition of human free will. God knows everything in principle and determines the course of human and universal destinies, but human beings are free to choose one path rather than another, precisely because they benefit from their ignorance. Until the end of the Middle Ages, Christian theology witnessed the struggle of different currents of thought that, while accepting both divine foreknowledge and free will, leaned more towards one or the other of the two visions concerning human destiny. It was, indeed, extremely difficult for any theologian to maintain the right balance between such opposing points of view.
The Protestant theory of predestination had the effect of easing the burden of individual responsibility from any action that was made. Even sin was reduced to a moralistic and behavioural infraction with a social dimension, which was nevertheless foreseen and willed by God. So even the sinner, provided he had faith, participated in the mysterious divine plans of salvation.
The Catholic Counter-Reformation rejected the Protestant thesis as heterodox, emphasising on the fundamental importance of free will in the choice between good and evil. Jesuitism was the religious movement that gave most prominence to free will over predestination, to the point of risking limiting the very concept of divine omniscience. Paradoxically, these two trends, the Protestant and the Jesuit, although opposed to each other, represented the two sides of the same Renaissance individualism.
Ignatius (Iñigo) López de Oñaz y Loyola (1491-1556) was born into a fallen noble family. After an adolescence spent as a page at the court of Germana de Foix, second wife of Ferdinand the Catholic, he sought military glory as an officer in the war against France (1521) with disappointing results and where he suffered a wound that forced him to limp. During his convalescence Ignatius occupied his time reading the few religious books in his father’s library. It was thus that he decided to abandon worldly honours and devote himself to the pursuit of holiness. After taking a vow of total poverty, he travelled to the Holy Land (1523) with the intention of converting Muslims with his oratory. It was the Franciscans of Jerusalem themselves who sent him back to Spain, fearing the predictable reaction of the Ottoman governor. This failure did not end Ignatius’ missionary aspiration but it rather intensified it. In the meantime, he was creating and experimenting on himself the Spiritual Exercises that would later become the core of Jesuit practice.
In order to give himself a thorough theologically education, he attended the Universities of Salamanca and Paris, where he studied under the Dominicans. In Paris, he began to have followers thanks to his eloquence and example. In this period, he decided to found a new religious order. In 1537 he travelled to Venice in order to once again leave and liberate the tomb of Christ from Islamic occupation. This was no longer a knightly crusade, but a missionary campaign. He never managed to leave for the Holy Land, but during that stay in Venice, Iñigo and his six acolytes were ordained priests by papal order. In 1540 the Rule of the new order, called in military style, the Society (originally ‘Company’) of Jesus, was accepted by Pope Paul III. Ignatius was appointed General of the Society. The Catholic Church, that in the meanwhile was preparing its counter-reformist resurgence, welcomed this new religious order, that was rigorously organized as an army. The Society of Jesus was a sudden success and, in a few years, spread throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The Jesuits periodically performed, under the guidance of a more experienced brother, spiritual exercises that were supererogatory to the classical liturgy of the Latin Church. It is necessary to understand what these new practices consisted of. In order to emphasise the importance of free will for the Counter-Reformation church, for St Ignatius of Loyola the mind of the religious man took a newfound importance. It was exercised in solitude on a daily basis to strengthen the individual will and imagination. The will forced the imagination to mentally reproduce the various episodes narrated in the Gospels. The Jesuit had to concentrate on each episode of Jesus’ life, reconstructing with his fantasy every detail of the imagined scene. In this way, the individual’s mind, together with the five senses were involved in the episode, as if he were living in the event in person. This mental experience was meant to provoke emotions and feelings that made the sacramental experience more vivid. For example, the climax of this psychological tension was reached by mentally reliving the episode of the Last Supper. This provoked such an intensity of emotional feelings in the Jesuit’s soul that the Eucharist received immediately afterwards became a vivid mystical experience.
As one can easily recognise, this technique of voluntary imagination was not at all an initiatic method (sskrt. prakriyā), but a mere psychological discipline (sskrt. vinaya) that in the long run could lead to a permanent mindset modification. In any case, it was a psychological palliative that attempted to replace the absence of initiation and its corresponding method (dīkṣita sādhanā). It is evident that this practice marked a strengthening of individualism and, at the same time, a diffusion of self-inducted mystical experiences based on the five perceptions at the subtle level.
Soon the practice of the spiritual exercises was extended to lay admirers and followers and became an instrument of moral and behavioural correction used by the Counter-Reformation church. This trend pushed the Church of Rome even further away from the medieval contemplative spirit and contributed to the spread of a modern mentality of voluntaristic activism. The Society of Jesus became the militant arm of the papacy, turning itself in a strict and perfectly efficient organization, based on the absolute obedience to the Superior General.
Loyola, who was already an elderly man, wanted especially to orientate the Jesuits to the function of confessors. Until then, the sacrament of confession consisted in the declaration of the sins committed by the faithful, followed by penance and absolution by the priest. St Ignatius added a new practice: after hearing the sins, the priest devoted some time to the moral upbuilding of the penitent, insisting on personal responsibility and free will, according to the parameters of the spiritual exercises. The religious were advised to offer themselves as confessors to the powerful, Emperors, princes, popes, cardinals, ministers and bankers. In this way the Jesuits could engage in an elitist proselytism, which had an immediate political effect and contributed to a change of mentality guided from above.
This radical modification of the ancient proselytism was enormously successful, making the new religious order a great cross-state power, that went beyond the extension of the Catholic countries. The scientific practical application of free will and the prevalence of voluntaristic initiative in human actions diminished, in theological terms, the importance of God’s omnipotence by reducing the intervention of the divine will. It is therefore understandable how the Jesuit hegemony and the autonomy of its choices soon gave rise to an increasingly secular vision of human freedom. Already a century after the foundation of the Society, the first suspicions circulated in the West that the Jesuits were pursuing power and wealth in a purely worldly sense, far from any spiritual purpose.
With great lucidity, St Ignatius had drawn a plan to control the powerful of the earth through a network of Jesuit confessors, a plan exclusively addressed to the ‘Christian’ West. Instead, he quite differently had established a missionary plan to conquer power ‘from below’ in the other continents.
The Jesuits behaved in a markedly different way when directing their work of conversion depending on whether they were addressing poorly civilized or highly civilized populations. For this reason, their behaviour in the Americas should be differentiated from that in Asia.
They did not become involved in the missions in South America until 1609. The great empires of Mexico and Peru had already been Christianized by the Dominicans and mostly by the Franciscans. In the great Meshika, Maya and Inca cities there were already splendid cathedrals and convents in Plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Even the first cases of miracles and visions, such as that of the Virgin of Guadalupe (1531), had already been recorded. The Jesuits, therefore, focused on the Christianization of the Guaraní of Paraguay. These were poorly civilized peoples living in tangled rainforests. Spain guaranteed all natives the same rights to those of all the other subjects of the Crown. However, in these wild areas, those who had been entrusted a frontier territory (encomienda) by the Crown, taunted the law and often kept the Guaraní in a state of semi-slavery as a labour force.
In order to limit the power of the encomenderos (commendators), the Crown allowed the Jesuits to establish religious encomiendas, known as reducciones. In the reducciones, the Guaraní cachiques (tribal chiefs) were allowed to administer their property and justice; they retained their ancestral communal system along with the barter system, and the Guaraní remained the official language. The Jesuits stayed as educators and controllers of these local thirty-three republics that effectively belonged to the Kingdom of Spain. Certainly, the efficient Jesuit organization that overlapped with the tribal one guaranteed a period of peace and prosperity. Many Indios fled from the encomiendas to seek refuge within the reducciones, which were equipped with an indigenous defence system and firearms.
While the Jesuit leadership from a civic point of view brought peace and prosperity, their mission of conversion was highly questionable. Generally, they required nothing from the Guaraní but to be baptised. Religious instruction was based on an attempted syncretism between some aspects of Christianity and the ancestral religion. For example, the indio God Pay Zumé was identified with St Thomas Aquinas (called Father Tomé). In addition to these bizarre mixtures made in order to convince the Guaraní that their tribal beliefs and Catholicism were similar forms of a single religion, the Jesuits promoted syncretistic fiestas and processions, displaying rich and creative costumes typical of the indios sacredness. They also invented an architectural style for churches that reproduced on a large scale the Guaraní people’s huts with their traditional decorations. What is most surprising is that if on one hand there was disregard towards the sincerity of the conversion of the natives, on the other there was a steady diffusion of Renaissance science technologies. For instance, in each reducción there was a printing press; in many of them there was a production of clocks and, later, of telescopes. All of the above was indeed an obvious interest towards secularism and the Renaissance scientism.
King John III of Portugal wanted to use his colonies in Asia as bases for Jesuit missionary activity. In 1542 Francis Xavier landed in the Portuguese colony of Goa. Francis (Francisco de Jasso Azpilicueta Atondo y Aznares, lord of Javier) was a close friend and the oldest pupil of St Ignatius. Although based in Goa, Francis Xavier wanted to explore South India in order to understand how to make a breach into the Hindū society and convert its people. When he arrived in Kanyā Kumārī, he found fertile ground for missionary work among the pearl fishermen (paravar). The Jesuits in India started their missionary efforts among the low castes and tribals, especially in Tamilnadu and on the Malabar coast. At a certain moment they had the illusion of possibly converting the ruling class: in 1579 Emperor Akbar invited a Jesuit delegation at his court in Fatehpūr Sikrī. In order to ease the conversion of the Muslim ruler, the Society sent to that court, among the delegates, a Persian who had converted to Christianity. But the Great Mughal had a syncretistic vision of religion and, in his utopian conception, he wanted to govern his country with the help of a council of representatives of all religions. For more than thirty years, several Jesuits alternated at Akbar’s court, without succeeding in converting anyone.
In Malabar there was a community of the autocephalous Syriac Church that had taken refuge in India when Syria had been invaded by the Muslims. The Jesuits helped to circulate the legend that this community was founded by the Apostle Thomas, and used this rumour as bridgehead for the conversion of India. However, the Syriac Church had adapted to many Hindu caste customs and rituals, and the Jesuits never intervened to stop them. This led to a controversy over the ‘Malabar rites’ and the Society of Jesus was accused of religious syncretism by Franciscans, Dominicans and even by the pontifical see.
The situation became more complicated when, in 1606, Roberto de Nobili (1557-1656) arrived in Madurai full of missionary zeal. Being from a noble family, he introduced himself to the Hindūs as a rājā. He soon realised that the saṃnyāsin were the most respected category in India. He therefore decided to disguise himself as a Hindū renunciant, he wore the ochre-coloured garment and carried the cane with a tiny axe, the daṇḍa, and he became a vegetarian. The false daṇḍi saṃnyāsin quickly learned the Tamiḷ and Sanskrit so well that he soon wrote a false Veda with the sole purpose of diverting the Hindūs from their dharma and making them converge towards Christianity. However, this was not the only example of fraud.
During the same time, a companion of Robert de Nobili, Friar Thomas Stephens, had also written and circulated a Krīsta Purāṇa to convince the Indians that their own sacred texts had predicted the birth of Christ. These Jesuits disguised as saṃnyāsin attended rituals in the villages they visited, abstaining, it seems, only from worshipping the idols (mūrtis). For them, the rites of the sanātana dharma were not effective and were only social ceremonies; for this reason, they felt authorized to intervene. From Rome, Cardinal Bellarmino thundered against their participation in ‘pagan’ rites and the consequent syncretism of different faiths. And yet, in view of a few hundred converts from untouchable castes or tribes, Pope Gregory XV ended up blessing such a blatant fraud.
Since then, these two strategies of bribing with money and force the conversion of the poorer, uncultured and fragile sections of the population and the use of fraudulently assuming the customs and traditions of the Hindū dharma to be accepted without suspicion in the communities, have become the usual tools of missionaryism even in non-Jesuit settings. Even today, camouflage, lies and blackmailing money-traps are still widely used among the “scheduled” tribes and castes. Moreover, the missionaries circulate the lies that they are the gurus of Christians, that baptism is dīkṣā and that salvation or redemption is mokṣa. Aided by the former pro-Soviet governments in order to eradicate Hinduism from their own land, the missionaries have today the monopoly of private education and their prestigious colleges, financed by the state, shamefully occupy the most luxurious palaces in the city centres.
We will add just a few more observations on missionaryism in the Far East. In fact, Francis Xavier went also to Japan, where he was received with oriental hospitality. Conversions to Catholicism did not really happened: the few Japanese who accepted baptism were merchants who saw it as a shortcut to facilitate the trade with the Portuguese in Macao. The Jesuits who went to Japan later disguised themselves as Zen monks, following their experience in India. Within a generation, however, the attitude of the authorities in Japan turned hostile.
In China, Francis Xavier’s attempt to convert failed. It was only at the end of the 16th century that the Society of Jesus resumed its missionary activity with Brother Matteo Ricci. In this case, Ricci chose to fascinate the Chinese with European scientific discoveries, even going so far as teaching the theories of Galileo Galilei, which were condemned by Rome right in that time. In this way, missionaryism also became a way for transmitting the secular scientific mentality to Asia, the outpost of atheistic positivist science. Ricci quickly learned Mandarin language and participated in the Imperial examinations, becoming a Confucian scholar. In this capacity his Jesuits were allowed to participate in Confucian rituals. This sparked a controversy with the papal seat, similar to the one that was going on over the Malabar rituals. The Jesuits argued that the Confucian rituals were simply civil and secular ceremonies, so participating was compatible with the Catholic rituals. However, as in the case of the Malabar rites, the Jesuits’ position was clearly in bad faith, since they were well aware that those rites were used by the Hindus and Chinese for reaching the blessed heavens in the afterlife.
In conclusion, Counter-Reformation missionaryism gave way to a great imposture, comply not only by the Jesuits, but also by the Franciscans and the more recent missionary orders. These were and still are committed to spreading the idea of civil, technological and economic superiority of the West, hiding behind the loving image of Jesus Christ.
With great delay, but with greater political, economic and military support, the countless Protestant sects also entered in competition with Catholic missionaryism. They played an essential role in the thorough penetration of colonialism, especially British colonialism in India. Nowadays the North American Protestant sects, even more aberrant in their beliefs, more fanatical and irrational, but loaded with dollars, are invading the entire planet, replacing even the Catholic missions, by now meaningless and feeble due to the demise of this religious form.
Maria Chiara de’ Fenzi