Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth Century Mexico

By Schwaller, John F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth Century Mexico


Schwaller, John F., The Catholic Historical Review


Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth Century Mexico. By William B.Taylor. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1996. Pp. xv, 868. $75.00.)

Massive is the word which springs to mind in considering William B.Taylor's most recent contribution to colonial Latin American historiography. It is truly as comprehensive a work on the topic as one is likely to enjoy.The fruit of many years in the archives, it will stand as a cornerstone for future research on the eighteenth-century Mexican Church.This is the first major study of the Bourbon Church in Mexico, since Nancy Farriss wrote in 1968.

At its most basic level Taylor's work is a view of the Bourbon reforms in Mexico.This broad range of changes which occurred in the administrative structure of the Spanish overseas empire is seen through the prism of the clergy and their parishioners. It is a unique undertaking in which the scope and consequences of the changes are analyzed through one of the parts, rather than focusing on the part to draw conclusions about the whole.Taylor has chosen to analyze two different areas in an attempt to come to grips with issues of commonalty. He has focused on the large archdiocese of Mexico, which stretched from Tampico in the north to Acapulco in the south, measuring some 150 miles wide, and the diocese of Guadalajara, located in western Mexico, nearly reaching Saltillo in the north, and widening as it flowed to the southwest.

Deep within Taylor's work he seeks to understand four seeming paradoxes of late colonial Mexico (p. 4). How could the colonial system stand for nearly four centuries without a standing army, given that it was based on a relatively rigid social system with little upward mobility and much real inequality? Were parish priests of the late colonial world truly separate from the world and at the same time of the world? What then would lead some of these priests to fully back an insurgency which could bring about the loss of their own position of privilege? Last, how did anticlericalism develop in the region when the Church was not perceived as in decline?The seeking of answers to these questions provides the reader with a deep subtext which runs through the work.

This book is divided into four large parts. The first part, consisting of three chapters, sets the stage for the study. It considers the nature of change under the Bourbon reforms, the physical geography of the two regions under consideration, and the nature of local religious traditions in the parishes.The second part takes the parish priests as its theme. In six chapters, Taylor studies the process whereby young men became priests in eighteenth-century Mexico. He looks at their career patterns, their sources of income, their outside occupations as judges and teachers, the aspects of their daily life and labors, and lastly their occasional failings.

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