Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Serving God, Mammon, or Both?: Religious Vis-a-Vis Economic Priorities in the Portuguese Estado Da India, C. 1600-1700

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Serving God, Mammon, or Both?: Religious Vis-a-Vis Economic Priorities in the Portuguese Estado Da India, C. 1600-1700

Article excerpt

When Vasco Da Gama and his crew reached the pepper-rich Malabar coast of India on their epic voyage at the close of the fifteenth century, they were almost immediately confronted by two Spanish-speaking Muslims from Tunis who demanded to know why they had come. They answered:"vimos buscar christaos a especiaa" ("We come in search of Christians and spices").1 From that time on, the twin motivation of economic gain and the desire to spread Christianity to the infidels and gentios of Asia was at the heart of the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean basin and beyond. As Diogo do Couto noted in his sixth Decada (1612) on the symbiotic relationship between these two factors: "The Kings of Portugal always aimed in this conquest of the East at so uniting the two powers, spiritual and temporal, that one should never be exercised without the other."This merging of geopolitical, economic, and religious motivation was exemplified best in the Padroado Real or "royal patronage" over the missionary activities of the Roman Catholic Church in Asia, Africa, and Brazil that had been bestowed on the kings of Portugal by a grateful Rome in a series of bulls from the Inter caetera (1456) through the Praecelsae devotionis (1514). This combination of rights, privileges, and duties which in essence established the Portuguese Crown as the "standard bearer of the Faith," to quote Gil Vicente, was one of the most highly prized,"jealously guarded and tenaciously maintained prerogatives" of the Lusitanian kings over the centuries that followed.2

In the initial decades after 1500 the quest for "spices" had most certainly dominated over the quest for souls in the Estado da India, that is to say the empire the Portuguese created from Mozambique to Macau administered from the great Indian metropolis of Goa. Goa became the first bishopric in Asia only in 1534, and the site of an archbishopric in 1560. The first missionary priests had come out as early as the first decade of the sixteenth century. These Franciscans, Dominicans, and others numbered perhaps one hundred or so in Goa by 1540. According to some, however, some of these priests were often ignorant of native languages "and most interested in their trade and their concubines" and thus hardly effective as agents for the introduction of a "new" religion to a largely hostile continent of Hindus and Muslims.3 This laxity in early missionary zeal had been matched by a flexibility in dealing with the religious practices of the Hindus. In seeking allies against Islam, it was logical that these early Portuguese adventurers would give the inhabitants of this land every opportunity to demonstrate that they were indeed practicing the religion of some strange or lapsed Christian sect. Da Gama, after viewing the temples and icons of Malabar for three months was still willing to consider the inhabitants Christian. The great travelers Pires, Barbosa, and Castanheda all found elements in Hinduism that either paralleled Christianity or suggested that it had once been a Christian sect lapsed under the pressure of Islam.4

This initial laxity in establishing a formal administrative system for the Padroado and flexibility in dogma regarding Hindu religious practices had come to an abrupt end in the 1540's with the arrival of the zealousness of the Counter-Reformation Church and its talented shock troops, the Jesuits. The siren call for this new policy came in 1540, when, in order to encourage conversions, all Hindu temples on the island of Goa were destroyed. In 1542 the great Jesuit Francisco Xavier reached India and gave a notable impetus to the missionary efforts then underway. During the next decade, Xavier, the "apostle of the Indies," succeeded in making mass conversions in India, Ceylon, Japan, Melaka, and Indonesia. To facilitate this work, Xavier had written to King Joao III in May, 1545, from the Moluccas calling for the establishment of the Inquisition in Goa.5 In 1560 the Regent, Cardinal Henrique, had dispatched Aleixo Diaz Falcao to Goa with express orders to establish the Holy Office for Portugal's Asian empire. …

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