P erhaps nowhere in the Western world has the relationship between church and state been more intimate and involved during the past five hundred years than in Latin America. On the one hand, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the major forces in shaping the cultures of the twenty Latin American republics. On the other hand, during the colonial period the Catholic Church experienced almost total absorption by the crown, and since the days of colonial rule the Catholic Church has been repeatedly subjected to waves of anticlericalism throughout almost all of Latin America. Ironically, in both instances -- during colonial rule and since independence -- the real objective of the state in its relationship to the Catholic Church in Latin America has been much the same, namely the subordination of the Church to the control of the state.
While one may describe with reasonable historical accuracy the Portuguese and Spanish penetration of America in terms of a partnership between church and state, the fusion of two powers, spiritual and temporal, symbolized by the two-edged sword, the partnership of the spheres of church and state was by no means coordinate. Rather, the "partnership" was one in which the Catholic Church was clearly a junior partner, subject to the will of the monarchy. Nevertheless, as Catholic and non-Catholic historians alike have noted, the union of church and state was never, before or since, more completely actualized than in the Portuguese and Spanish colonialism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Christian monarch during the period was invested with all power and authority by virtue of his sacred, not secular,