IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > H. Latin America, 1500–1800 > 8. The Spanish Colonial System, 1550–1800 > c. The Church and the Missions
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
c. The Church and the Missions
 
Pope Alexander VI in the bull Inter caeterea (May 4, 1493) assigned dominion over the Indies and exclusive authority to convert the natives to the Spanish crown. His bull Eximiae devotionis (Nov. 16, 1501) granted the kings the titles and the first fruits of the Church in the Indies. Julius II in the bull Universalis ecclesiae (July 28, 1508) conceded them universal patronage. The crown exercised the patronage of the Indies (real patronato de Indias) through the Council of the Indies and later through that body and the Cámara de Indias.  1
The religious orders early obtained broad powers in the colonies. Mainly the Franciscans—but also the Dominicans and the Augustinians—carried out a massive campaign to Christianize the natives, especially in New Spain. The organization of the Church with bishops from the secular clergy diminished the influence of these orders and enhanced the power of the crown. The orders, however, remained important in extending Spanish control in outlying areas. Dominicans and Franciscans were active in Guatemala. Capuchins established themselves in the area of the lower Orinoco. Toward the end of the 17th century, Jesuits undertook the establishment of missions in Pimería Alta (Arizona) and in Lower California. In the south, they expanded into the territory of Araucanía (Chile) and developed an important mission system in Paraguay. Jesuits obtained complete authority to convert and organize the Guaraní east of Asunción. Portuguese slave raids forced the Jesuits to move their missions to the south. The Jesuits established a complete governmental organization under the rule of a father superior, and Indians received some military training to defend themselves from enslavement. Commercial agriculture of yerba mate helped to support the missions. The expulsion of the Jesuits (1767) led to the decline of the missions.  2
The Church enjoyed the ecclesiastical exemption (fuero), operating its own courts with jurisdiction over all cases involving the clergy and spiritual affairs. The Church also had extensive wealth. By the close of the colonial period, the Church probably controlled half of the productive real estate of the Indies. During the Habsburg dynasty (1516–1700), the power of archbishops could rival that of high civil authorities, and quarrels over jurisdiction were frequent. At the end of the colonial period there were seven archbishoprics and some 35 dioceses.  3
The Spanish Inquisition, operating under the Council of the Inquisition, was introduced and tribunals were established in Mexico City (1569), Lima (1571), and Cartagena (1610). These tribunals were in charge of repressing people who practiced religions other than Catholicism (Protestants, Jews, Moors) as well as those who used sorcery and witchcraft, uttered blasphemies, lived in bigamy, or practiced sodomy. In the 17th century the Inquisition brought to trial New Christians accused of practicing the Jewish religion. It condemned a few to execution and many to exile and prison. Indians were exempted from the Inquisition, but the bishops judged their religious infractions, generally understood as regression to idolatry. Campaigns against idolatrous practices were especially important in Peru (1610–60), where Jesuits encouraged the formation of a special tribunal to deal with such cases. Slaves were subjected to the Inquisition, generally accused of witchcraft against their masters and of blasphemy.  4
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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