Political and Religious Conquest Do Not Mix (Part 5 in a series)

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Check out previous postings on this subject HERE.

The Spanish conquest of the New World, including Mexico, commenced around the same time as the Reformation. About the same time Martin Luther was nailing his 95 Theses to a door in Wittenberg, Hernán Cortez was marching on Mexico City’s Tenochtitlan. European Roman Catholicism was about to undergo another sort of reformation in the New World, but not in a healthy direction, but in a pagan one, not declaring the gospel of grace through faith, but a radical confrontation of European religious structure with polytheistic paganism. Roman Catholicism that was superimposed upon the well-developed and populous cultures of the New World, and temples were constructed throughout Mexico, giving silent testimony to the conquerors power and religion. 

Cortez was not a priest. He was a conqueror, who brought conquerors with him, men who were desirous of fame, and eager for fortune. They wanted land and slaves. They wanted to carve out for themselves a life of leisure. Europe had already been divided up, and the New World of the western hemisphere stoked the imperialistic imagination of many. The atrocities committed by the invading force create an impression centuries later. Consider this excerpt from the editor’s introduction of The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, by Bernal Días de Castillo:           

…the Spaniards began Vandal-like forays…enslaving and branding with a hot iron all the youths and women they met with; “they did not trouble with the old men”: the inhuman mark was placed “on the face”, and not even the most beautiful young women escaped it. (p.xxix).

 Bernal de Castillo related that as the Spaniards advanced inland from the coast of Veracruz, they

              “erected a cross in every township, and explained its signification to the inhabitants, and
               what great veneration was due to it.”1  

One can only imagine the difficulty Spanish priests had later as they tried to explain to a disfigured and demoralized group of tribal communities that it was beneficial for them to adopt Roman Catholicism. Cortez and his fellow conquistadores established a violent and bloody precedent for New World conquest, reminiscent of the Crusades centuries earlier. The cross was central, but emptied of all of its essential character. A Christian symbol was utilized in a campaign diametrically opposed to everything that Jesus taught.

1. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, by Bernal Díaz del Castillo

Quote of the Day: Refreshment. It will be very difficult to express the resiliency of grace if you are exhausted and not living a balanced life. In order to be gracious with others, we need to first be gracious to ourselves. One aspect of that is seeking healthy refreshment and maintaining a rhythmic life. When we are traveling for a short time, we often “sprint” the entire trip. As a result, we neglect the normal patterns that lead to wholeness.
Tim Dearborn. Short-Term Missions Workbook: From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens (p. 42).


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