by Hans Kasdorf
In order to appreciate the far-reaching consequences of traditional religion on the Latin American mentality and way of life, it becomes imperative to look historically at the phenomena which we may call in borrowed symbolism “Miracle, Mystery and Authority.”
In order to appreciate the far-reaching consequences of traditional religion on the Latin American mentality and way of life which the emerging evangelical church is seeking to redirect, it becomes imperative to look historically at the phenomena which we may call in borrowed symbolism "Miracle, Mystery and Authority."1 These three expressions form the symbolic tripod on which the structure of Latin American religion end ideology rest. Roman Catholic Christendom with its 95 percent nominal adherents lies at the base of every institution, be it secular or sacred. It has for centuries been the major denominator the many poor have held in common with the few rich. Yet paradoxically, it has not arched the gap, but rather wedged the two factions of society ever farther asunder. Today’s missionary, faced with the challenge of changing Romanism, must make the effort to understand the historic background.
When the conquistadores launched the conquest of America, they did so in violence; when their accompanying churchmen consummated that conquest, they did so in a degree of mercy. "The man with the cross," observes the prominent historian of Latin America, Hubert Herring, "finally proved mightier than the man with the sword. The soldier won battles, but the friar won hearts." To show that the lasting impact of the sacerdote far exceeded that of the soldier, Herring adds: "The last Spanish flag in America has long since been hauled down, but the faith of the mother country remains as the most tenacious bond among Spain’s former vassals. The cross is silhouetted, against the sky from Mexico to Argentina." He cautions, however, as does the renowned church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette, not to belittle Spain and her church transplanted to Latin America, lest we forfeit seeing in them "rich chapters in the history of ideas."2
The story of Latin American culture substantiates the contention of the listed historians, as the distinguished Colombian erudite German Arciniegas so ably demonstrates in his recent Cultural History.3 Nonetheless, there was an authoritarian element in the "new religion" from the old world that determined the course of action for both the conquering Iberian and the conquered indigenous people in the new world. Stanley Rycroft, astute scholar of Latin American life and culture, says that the transplanted religion was "a body o£ concepts and ideas that had to be accepted and not discussed. "4 It was a religion founded upon "Miracle, Mystery, and Authority," as the Cardinal who assumes the role of "The Grand Inquisitor" in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s immortal novel, The Brothers Karamazov, so powerfully expresses in his one-sided dialogue with Christ.5
THE GRAND INQUISITOR OR CHRIST
With reference to the threefold temptation of Christ in the wilderness6 the Grand Inquisitor summons Christ to the bar. In his one-way conversation with the silent guest he accuses him of having made a threefold blunder by refusing to yield to the devil. In the first place, Christ refused to perform the miracle of turning stones onto bread, thereby choosing freedom for men instead of demanding blind obedience in exchange for man’s basic need. Secondly, Christ refused to accept authority from the devil, thereby leaving men free to moral choice instead of ruling and holding captive forever their consciences. Finally, Christ refused to resort to the mysterious and again, the miraculous. He rejected the, offer to be borne on wings of angels, thereby forfeiting awe and reverence which, a feat such as that, would have secured him for millenia to come by millions yet to be born.
Upon a lengthy discussion of the moral issues of choice and free wall – a matter that can be handled by a select few, but not by the masses – the Grand Inquisitor, speaking for the Catholic Church, goes on to say to Christ:
Canst thou have simply come to the elect and for the elect?. . . if so it is a mystery and we cannot understand it. And if it is a mystery, we too have a right to preach a mystery, and to teach them (the masses) that it’s not the free judgment of their hearts, not love that matters, but a mystery which they must follow blindly, even against their conscience. So we have done. We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority.7
Empires Unmade. In his monumental history Les Conquistadors, the Latin writer Jean Descolas reminds us that the pre-Columbian empires "were made, unmade, and remade. "8 When the conquistadores conquered the hitherto unconquerable empires, these were once and for all "unmade" never to be "remade." The drama of tragedies and comedies accompanying the conquests are not relevant at this point. What deserves mention, however, is the order of the invasion. Preceding the royal troops, though small in number, were the Roman priests. Raising aloft the cross and other "effigies of their gods," they assured the soldiers that "heaven approved the warrior and that the cause was good." Thus the standard of Constantine a dozen centuries before bore the sign of victory once more: In hoc signo vinces.9 Whether or not it was in this sign, conquer they did.
Old Habits in New Forms. All aspects of the conquest corresponded amazingly well with the phenomena of the miraculous, the mysterious, and the authoritative. Compared to his pantheon, the Indian was nothing; he could do nothing, only obey. When the white man came, the brown felt and reacted the same way. He was simply overawed and overwhelmed and thus easily overcome by the power of the priest and the sword of the soldier. His ancient religion was no match for that of the newcomer, who came in the name of the Spanish Crown and with the blessing of the Catholic Church.10 Without much chance to weigh the options – though few they were the indigenous people were coercively immersed into the "new religion"; they had neither time nor volition to undergo catharsis from their old. Thus when they emerged as "new Catholics" they did so more by name and expedience than by conviction and experience. "It was relatively easy to persuade the Indians to accept mass baptism," writes historian Hubert Herring. But "it was more difficult to compel them to abandon their pagan habits."11 The process of "re-religionization" was void of the Christ of the Gospels and left a gap without "Bridges of God."12
Two factors in their own religion made the Amerindians particularly susceptible or vulnerable to Catholicism, as the French priest-sociologists Houtart and Pin point out. One was the belief in an all-powerful Being and a host of secondary divinities; the other was the prophetic notion concerning the conquest of their land by foreigners.13 When the white man came, he was hailed as a "messiah" and his powerful God as one worthy of reverence and veneration. In fact, there were many similarities between the old religion and the new, including belief in "the existence of purgatory, heaven, and hell."14 These and many of lesser likeness the Indian took with him into his new religion. Rycroft is correct when he says that "there was nothing incongruous in his continuing to believe in, and worship the Gods of his fathers in whatever ways he was able to."15
"THE OTHER SPANISH CHRIST"
Latin American Catholicism is a unique religion. The transportation of gods from the ancient pantheon has increased considerably the number of deities originally introduced by the Catholic Church. Anthropologists have for some time pointed out fascinating yet shocking evidences of the fusion of indigenous and Catholic religions. It is quite common in Latin America even today that a culture hero of antiquity has become a god of the wind, or some other powerful influential deity, while being revered as the son of the Virgin Mary.16 Latourette points out, "Survivals of Indian or African paganism often mingled with Roman Catholic ceremonies."17
The end-product of such transfer of deities and syncretism is a Latin American Grist all its own. He is, as Princeton professor John A. Mackay rightly says, "The Other Spanish Christ"; others think of him as the "Spanish Christ born in Tangiers," as the existentialist-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno points out. He is also known as the "Creole Christ," the Christ who lacks humanity and humanness. 18 This "Other Spanish Christ" in "That Other America," as Mackay, Rycroft, Nida and others have shown, is the "dead Christ" or the defeated, dying, tragic victim seen everywhere in Latin America "bruised, livid, and bloodstreaked" forever hanging on the cross or boxed in glass coffins. The Virgin Mary, on the other hand, is represented as the Queen of Heaven, full of life, vigor, and beauty.19 Rycroft has quoted Mackay’s contrasting metaphoric description which offers a sad, but true, commentary on the Latin American Christ. He is, in Mackay’s powerful words,
A Christ known in life as an infant, and in death as a corpse, over whose helpless childhood the Virgin Mother presides; a Christ who became man in the interests of eschatology, whose permanent reality resides in a magic wafer bestowing immortality; a Virgin Mother, who by not tasting death became the Queen of Life – that is the Christ and that the Virgin who came to America! He came as Lord of Death and of the life that is to be; she came as sovereign lady of the life that now is.20
RELIGION WITHOUT MEANING
Such is the religion that for centuries has held captive minds and hearts and lives of the Latin American people. It is, to express it tritely, the other Christian religion with the other Spanish Christ for the other America. The result is a religion that consists of a compilation of scruples impeding the free exercises of thought, says one Latin American. It is a religion that cannot change life, insists another.21 A third one says, "God has evidently kept religion for himself and handed over politics to men."22 This is not to say or to imply that the Latin American is not religious. On the contrary, he is a deeply religious person. But his religion fails to provide meaning, vitality, joy; it is neither a source for spiritual buoyance nor for victory.23 Religion and ethics are simply incompatible components of the same life; they are two compartments with a yawning chasm betwixt them – in degree, not in kind – like that between poor rich Dives and rich poor Lazarus.24 "Men and women intensely concerned about real living problems," observes Mackay, "never think of religion as offering them guidance or inspiration."25
After World War II Roman Catholics in the United States and France became very critical of the Spanish Catholic tradition in Latin America which they no longer consider a "churchly paradise," but a "vast disaster area."26 The crucial question that Latin Americans themselves as well as Anglo Americans and Europeans raise is this: "How can Hispanic or historical Roman Catholicism in Latin America become truly relevant to the human situation and constitute a spiritual redemptive force?"27 Dr. Mackay suggests an answer within the framework of the Ecumenical Movement. Evangelicals believe that the answer lies in the Christ of the Gospels and his claim to transform life and set man free.
SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
The sphere of influence of sixteenth century Spanish Catholicism in Latin America is not restricted to the religious. It has penetrated all cultural mores and thought patterns and left indelible imprints on the social and economic orbit within which it moves.28 From the cultural perspective Roman Catholicism has served as a catalyst fusing three streams of culture into one. The indigenous tribal cultures of America and the imported African culture introduced by slave trade were entirely pagan; the Iberian culture was predominantly "Hispanic Christian." The Indian and Iberian mixed readily, as we saw above. When the African element was introduced somewhat later, it added the ingredients of rhythm and emotionalism, so basic to a large part of the present Latin American mentality and temperament.29
Furthermore, Roman Catholicism has also had a tremendous impact on shaping the ideological scene of Latin America. Historically, Hispanic ideology was a carry-over of the authoritarian structure of ancient Roman society as linguist-anthropologist Eugene Nida maintains.30 When that system was transplanted to Latin America, the Catholic Church became the ruling factor, "a totalitarian institution," as Rycroft points out. As such it has dominated the Latin American countries ever since the European conquest and "has conditioned the individual to authoritarianism rather than to democracy."31 The Roman Catholic clergy belongs almost exclusively to the elite of the land and has in the past generally identified on that score with the conservative political party. With the emerging of an ever more powerful middle class pushing upward and taking the reins of liberal political leadership in its hands, a spirit of anti-conservatism and anti-clericalism has developed. The masses often ally themselves with this new element.32 "However, as has happened several times in Latin America" Nida explains, "the amoral attitudes of certain liberal leaders leave the masses disillusioned." The result is that they then become again amenable to overtures from the conservatives, who promise law and order, even at the expense of freedom, and the Catholic Church shares the benefits.33 The frequent clashes between civil and religious authorities during the colonial era of real patronate (an arrangement in which the king held the prerogative of nominating the episcopal hierarchy within his domain)34 have degenerated into much broader conflicts in the era of independence, reaching into the present.35 Some of the conflicts in more recent years have been waged on purely political grounds, yet often with the added dimension of the religious echelon siding with one or the other ideological faction.36
CONDITIONS OF CHANGE AND CHALLENGE
The Uruguayan Emilio Castro, prominent writer on contemporary Latin American issues, characterizes the entire scene of tension and ferment by what he terms the "feeling of uprootedness." The uprooted masses are in flux on every level. "Guerilla wars, strikes, military coup d’etat, landing of foreign troops – all these are signs of a situation which is steadily deteriorating and moving towards profound social changes."37 These changes take place at the grass roots level of the existing social structures, such as family, education, religion, and culture. Francois Houtart and Emile Pin point cut that "the basic social groups which have been multivalent, i.e., exercising several functions, now lose some of their functions."38 What is happening to the family is symbolic of other institution.
Traditionally, the patriarchal or matriarchal family structure was almost the sole economic unit. It dominated the education of the children, it was the basis for political authority, it controlled leisure and work, it determined cultural activities, and it played the most significant role in the sphere of religion. But all these functions of the family are rapidly slipping away one by one.39 One of the major causes is uprootedness of the rural masses and their subsequent move into the cities. "The masses are coming from the land into the cities, where they swarm into the slum areas," says Panamanian Bishop Mark McGrath of the Order of the Holy Cross.40 This causes a population growth of 17 percent per year in the Latin American city slums. One of the first discoveries the family makes in the new environment is a level of misery which is even lower than the one left behind on the hacienda.41 The other is even more shocking: The family is in a crisis; it is in a state of disorganization and disintegration, of disequilibrium and normlessness.42
Since Vatican II many changes have, indeed, taken place. "The Church has received a new impulse," writes Castro, "and fresh winds are changing the traditional picture."43 These "fresh winds" can be seen in a literal invasion of Latin America with priests and religious orders from Europe and the United States; a theological renewal in areas of liturgy and evangelism; and a new understanding of the essence of mission including involvement in social action, a struggle for social justice and an attempt to embody the Christian message "in a genuine dorm of Christian presence in society."44 These changes are also quite evident in CatholicProtestant relationships. In Colombia, for example, there are those priests who attend Protestant religious meetings, buy Bibles from Protestant organizations and distribute them to their people, organize Bible study groups among Catholics and have Protestants teach them.45
The changes and opportunities in Latin America are nothing short of an unparalleled challenge for evangelical missions. Whether justified or not, those deprived of even the barest essentials of life, the underprivileged and oppressed masses are Latin America’s raw material for revolution. Millions raise their voices and are joined by voiceless millions who make known their plea:
"Hark, mortals, the sacred cry,
liberty, liberty, liberty!"46
To this the evangelical church responds: "If God’s Son will make you free, you will be free indeed."47
Therein lies the true essence of "miracle, mystery, and authority," though in a different sense from our delineations above. The miracle here is that man is free and worthy to become a new creation in Christ; the mystery is that man as a new creation has entered a new covenant and become a member of the Body of Christ, the New Testament Church; the authority is not dogma and dictatorship, but the Son of God who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
1. The reference is from Dostoevsky’s "The Grand Inquisitor" in the Brothers Karamazov. See W. Stanley Rycroft, Religion and Faith in Latin America (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958), p. 115.
2. Hubert Herring, A History of Latin America, third edition (New Fork: Alfred Knopf, 1969), p. 167. See also Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), V, 128-129.
3. See German Arciniegas, Latin America: A Cultural History, tr. by Joan MacLean (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), pp. 38-68.
4. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 116.
5. For the full discourse see Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. by Edward Garnett, 2 vols. (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1957), 252-271.
6. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13.
7. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, I, 263.
8. Jean Descolas, The Conquistadors, tr. by Malcolm Barnes (New York: Viking Press, 1957), p. 254.
9. Ibid., p. 253.
1O. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 116.
11. Herring, Latin America, p. 169.
12. Donald McGavran has coined the term for the title of one of his early books, Bridges of God (London: World Dominion Press, 1957).
13. Francois Houtart and Emile Pin, The Church and the Latin American Revolution, tr. by Gilbert Birth (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 118-121.
14. Descola, Conquistadors, p. 160.
15. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 116.
16. Ibid., pp. 113-114. Anthropologist Oscar Lewis cites concrete examples of the transfer of gods. Tepoztlan: Village in Mexico (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), pp. 17-19.
17. Latourette, Expansion of Christianity, Vol. 5, 128. See also Eugene Nida, "Mariology in Latin America," in Readings in Missionary Anthropology, ed. by William A. Smalley (Tarrytown, N.Y.: Practical Anthropology, Inc., 1967, pp. 17-25.
18. Cited by Rycroft, Religion and Faith, pp. 116-119.
19. Ibid.; see also John Alexander Mackay, That Other America (New York: Friendship Press, 1935), pp. 130-136; W. R. Estep, Jr., "Church and Culture in Latin America," Southwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. IV, No. 2 (April, 1962), 27-47; Nida, "Mariology" in Missionary Anthropology, p. 17.
20. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 118. Quoted from John A. Mackay, The Other Spanish Christ.
21. Mackay, That Other America, p. 126.
22. Ibid., p.127.
23. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 126.
24. Luke 16:19-34.
25. Mackay, That Other America, p. 127
26. John A. Mackay, Latin American Churches and the Ecumenical Movement (New York: The Committee on Cooperation in Latin America Division of Foreign Mission NCC of Christ (in the U.S.A., 1963), p. 6.
28. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 12.
29. Ibid., p.11-100, passim; Estep, "Church and Culture," SWJTH (April, 1962), pp. 28-38.
30. Eugene A. Nida, "The Roman Catholic, Communist, and Protestant Approach to Social Structure," in Missionary Anthropology, pp. 31-36.
31. Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 60.
32. The political integration of lower-class urban settlements in Chile and Peru are a classical example. See the essay by that title written by Daniel Goldrich , Raymond B. Pratt, and C. R. Schuller, in Models of Political Change in Latin America. ed. by Paul E. Sigmund (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), pp. 293-298.
33. Nida, "Approach to Social Structure" in Missionary Anthropology, p. 33.
34. William Lytle Schurz, Latin America, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1964), p. 330.
35. Frederick B. Pike, (ed.), Conflict Between Church and State in Latin America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), pp.78-88. One classical example is the struggle between the archbishop and the viceroy in seventeenth century New Spain. See also Latourette, Expansion of Christianity, Vol. V, 68-129.
36. Nida, "Approach to Social Structure," in Missionary Anthropology, pp. 32-33. See also Juan Domingo Peron, "A Denunciation of Certain Argentine Churchmen," in Pike, Church and State in Latin America, pp. 183-187; also the unidentified essay, "Peronism and the Intensified Attack Against the Church," pp. 188-196.
37. Emilio Castro, "The Church in Latin America," in World Christian Handbook, 1968, ed. by H. Wakelin Coxill and Sir Kenneth Grubb (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), p. 19.
38. Houtart and Pin, The Church and the Latin American Revolution. p. 122.
40. Mark G. McGrath, "The Teaching Authority of the Church: The Situation in Latin America," In Religion, Revolution and Reform, ed. by William V. D’Antonio and Fredrick B. Pike, (New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1964), p. 53.
41. Emilio Castro, "The Church in Latin America" in Handbook 1968, p.19
42. Houtart and Pin, The Church and the Latin American Revolution, p.124.
43. Emilio Castro, "The Church in Latin America," in Handbook 1968, .19.
44. Ibid., p. 20.
45. Burton Biddulph, Colombia Field Director of the Oriental Missionary Society, personal interview, Nov. 18, 1971.
46. The opening lines from the Argentinian national anthem. Cited by Rycroft, Religion and Faith, p. 37.
47. John 8:36
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