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A Violent Evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas.

This book, which first appeared in Spanish in 1991, joins the heated debate over the quincentennial. The author, who is associate professor or humanities at the University of Puerto Rico, opens a window upon the argument that raged in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Spain between (1) adventurers, conquistadores, and their ecclesiastical defenders and (2) prophetic churchmen, such as Fr. Bartholomew de las Casas.

The book has three parts. The first four chapters deal with the historical context in which papal bulls, religious messianism, and imperial providentialism all played a part. No one at the time questioned Spain's right to the new lands, but opinion was strongly divided on the divine purpose of it. The following six chapters present the heated debate over the right of Spain to evangelize and civilize or to enslave its newly conquered peoples. The book provides firsthand insights into the encomienda system (a form of indentured slavery); the destruction of entire peoples, cultures, and religious (a "holocaust of natives ... possibly the greatest demographic catastrophe in history" [pp. 169, 174]); and the introduction of black slavery to take its place.

The final four chapters offer "a theological critique of the conquest" from within colonial Spain. Did the natives have rights to land, culture, and religion? Did they, in fact, have souls? Could they accept or reject the Christian God? On one side were ranged the defenders of Spanish hegemony and the Catholic faith against external enemies (heretics and such), and on the other side stood audacious prophets who denounced the injustices perpetrated by the conquistadores as sin and heresy. For all the cruelties of the conquista, it is to Spain's credit that there were authentic Christians who spoke out against the system. They, says Rivera, are the progenitors of liberation theology. His book makes an indispensable contribution to our understanding of current missiological issues in Latin America.
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Author:Cook, Guillermo
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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