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Sin and Confession in Colonial Peru: Spanish-Quechua Penitential Texts, 1560-1650.

Sin and Confession in Colonial Peru: Spanish-Quechua Penitential Texts, 1560-1650.

By Regina Harrison. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2014. Pp. xvi, 310. $60; paperback $29.95.

Sin and Confession in Colonial Peru is an important contribution to missions history and also to a critical theological, linguistic, and theoretical reflection on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish missionary endeavors among Andean indigenous communities. The book is structured around the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession and penitence. Harrison provides a superb analysis of the discussion and debate regarding whether the process of conversion of autochthonous communities should have taken place by means of the European missionaries mastering the native languages, in this case Quechua, or by imposing the Spanish language upon the conquered nations. The author describes in detail the strenuous task, on the part of the priests, religious orders, and preachers, to master the native languages and to translate catechisms, sermons, and confessionaries into Quechua, also Aymara.

The central chapters of the book deal, first, with the usefulness of the sacrament of confession to gather information about possible clandestine preservations of the native religiosities, considered by the Iberian Catholic church as idolatry and apostasy, as well as a devilish invention. The confessionary also enabled the strict policing of the sexual conduct of the various indigenous communities. Finally, a couple of substantive chapters address the implementation of confession and penitence, steered by the overall project of imposing Western cultural and economic conceptual perspectives on the Andean autochthonous peoples. The confessionary became an instrument of colonial transculturation.

Harrison also discusses two issues central to the scholarly studies of the Spanish colonization and Christianization of Latin America. The first is the attempt by Bartolome de las Casas to use the sacrament of confession as an instrument to compel the Spaniards, conquistadores, and colonizers to admit that their actions violated the natural rights of the natives, as well as God's commandments, and constituted mortal sins, and that the only way to receive divine forgiveness and avoid eternal condemnation was to restore to the indigenous communities their lands, confiscated wealth, and sovereignty. Restitution, therefore, as an essential element of the sacrament of confession, was thus to be transformed into an instrument of liberation of the native nations.

Second, the author conveys very insightful observations about the peculiar book of Felipe Guarnan Poma de Ayala El primer nueva coranica y buen gobierno (1615), which was an ambitious (and ambiguous!) attempt to reshape the sacrament of confession so that it valued and preserved the Quechua language and culture.

This book should be required reading, especially in times such as ours, when indigenous communities have, for the first time in history, become important protagonists in Latin American national politics, including in the Andes.

DOI: 10.1177/2396939316657938

Reviewed by: Luis N. Rivera-Pagan, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, USA

Author biography

Luis N. Rivera-Pagan is Henry Winters Luce Professor in Ecumenics Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Author:Rivera-Pagan, Luis N.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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