Motifs of Franciscan Mission Theory in Sixteenth Century New Spain Province of the Holy Gospel

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Author: Sylvest Jr, Edwin Edward (1936- )

Year: 1975

Publisher: Academy of American Franciscan History

Place: Washington, DC


xvi+148 pages with bibliography. Small quarto (10 1/4" x 7") issued in blue cloth with gilt lettering to spine and decorative motif to front cover. Publication of the Academy of American Franciscan History, Monograph Series, volume 11. 1st edition.

The movement of Spain into the New World represents one of the most significant encounters between European traditions and other cultures in Western history. Since the movement had definite, though not exclusively, religious motivations, it provides a meaningful historical context within which tow work. The Order of Friars Minor was one of the most influential ecclesiastical groups involved in Spanish contact with indigenous American cultures. Thus to study their work in a given area, such as the Province of the Holy Gospel in what is now central Mexico, will help to develop one element of the more comprehensive task. Robert Ricard's classic study of the Spiritual Conquest of Mexico has delineated the fundamental configuration of medicant missions in sixteenth century New Spain. His analysis of the methodology of the missions is basic, detailed and many believe complete. Indeed, his work is a virtual vade mecum through the complex beginnings of mendicant mission in Mexico. In a certain sense this work is an extension in depth of one aspect of Ricard's work. His concern focused on methodology, and the scope of his study included all the mendicant orders. The aim of this investigation is to make explicit certain theoretical motifs lying behind the methodology and practice he described. This study treats the Franciscans alone. John Leddy Phelan's The Millennial Kingdom of Franciscans in the New World also touches many of the issues here to be examined, but his work is based primarily upon an analysis of the writing of Geronimo de Mendieta. Using Mendieta, he effectively develops particular emphases, especially the eschatological dimension of Franciscan though about the work in New Spain, and provides some admirable contextual analysis of certain themes. Yet, Motolinia wrote almost fifty years before Mendieta and, as his study demonstrates, deserves the basic credit for certain motifs Phelan attributes only to Mendieta. While his work is extremely valuable, it tends to present a somewhat reduced perspective on a very rich tradition. The influence of Joachimite Spiritualism was a strong force among the friars of the Province of the Holy Gospel, but clearly it was not the only one, and perhaps not the major one. Ricard's termini, 1523-1572, are quite appropriate for the nature of his study, but for the purposes of this analysis it was necessary to extend the terminus ad quem until 1596 in order to encompass both the work of Geronimo de Mendieta and Diego Valades. There can be little doubt that Ricard is correct in setting 1572 as te terminus for his work. The essential missionary task in New Spain had been completed by that time, and as he points out, the arrival of the Jesuits and the ascent of the secular church after 1572 did introduce a new dimension into the Spanish missionary effort. Both Menidieta and Valdes were participants in the period which Ricard studies, but they did not write until later. Indeed, many of Mendiet'as judgments are determined by the fact that he wrote his Historia Eclesiastica Indiana between the years of 1571-1596.


A very good to fine copy.


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