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The Visitor: Andre Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia.

The Visitor: Andre Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia. By Liam Matthew Brockey. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University, 2014. Pp. xii + 516. $39.95.

Brockey's engaging history of the early modern Jesuit missions to Maritime Asia focuses on Andre Palmeiro (1569-1635), a Portuguese academic entrusted to evaluate the pastoral and educational efforts first begun with Francis Xavier's departure for the East in 1541. B. bases his study on Palmeiro's own writings, primarily his correspondence with Mutio Vitelleschi (1563-1645), superior general of the Society of Jesus from 1615 to 1645, who reassigned Palmeiro in 1617. Palmeiro's new mission as visitor or inspector--B. uses the terms interchangeably--had emerged in the mid-16th century as a means to extend the Jesuit general's centralized authority across the provinces. As visitor, Palmeiro therefore played a leading role on the international stage, helping the general to maintain union of hearts and minds throughout the rapidly expanding order, especially concerning the adaptations that the Jesuit missionaries made to the cultures in which they ministered.

B. draws on an impressive range of sources and integrates his material almost entirely into the body of the text itself. Although this placement of material facilitates reading--as does the use of endnotes rather than footnotes--some readers might prefer him to have relegated some of his material to the endnotes. Still, B.'s careful analyses and vivid portrayals reveal an accurate and detailed understanding of Jesuit governance during the early modern period. The introduction provides a clear and informative explanation of the rationale behind the institution of visitor and the pastoral role of the inspectors, especially as their powers grew through the second half of the 16th century. This explanation in turn provides a helpful historical and philosophical context for understanding Palmeiro's life and activities.

The volume is divided into two parts, bookended by a prelude and a long conclusion. The shorter first part, "Inside the Empire" (27-192), deals with the period from Palmeiro's early years and formation through his appointments at the colleges of Coimbra and Braga, to the end of his eight years as visitor in India. The longer second part, "At Empire's Edge" (195-410), covers the period from Palmeiro's arrival in China in 1626 to his final illness nine years later. The story reads easily, with plenty of historical context--especially welcome for those periods in Palmeiro's life for which B. could find no documentation.

The dramatic prelude with which B.'s study begins relates an encounter that transpired in Japan between a Portuguese merchant and Cristovao Ferreira (ca. 1580-1650), a Jesuit missionary who infamously had renounced Christianity under torture. Reports of Ferreira's apostasy, we learn, elicited from Palmeiro the "fasting and mortification" that contributed to his death on the island of Macau (3). The conclusion returns to this scene, brilliantly presenting Palmeiro's actual death as a type of the figurative "death" of the early Jesuit missions. The first part of the conclusion (411-26) offers both a window into visitor Palmeiro's spiritual life and a case study in the genre of early modern necrology; the second part (426-42) poses a convincing scholarly challenge to interpretations of the presuppression Jesuits as actors of "global" effect.

Just as Palmeiro tempered the charismatic zeal of those whose work his superiors had sent him to inspect, B.'s own study corrects certain tendencies among historians to emphasize the visionary character of Alessandro Valignano, Robert de Nobili, and Matteo Ricci over Palmeiro's more practical and theological concerns (17-18). Arguably, this orienting principle constitutes the most important scholarly contribution of B.'s work. B. himself situates the book in the recent interest among lay researchers in the history of the early modern Jesuits and among recent historiographical trends regarding the Estado da India, especially the relations between the Jesuits and the Portuguese Empire. However, B. successfully resists the tendency of contemporary Jesuit studies to lose the uniqueness of individual Jesuits in abstract generalization (19). Palmeiro, very much a figure of his day, nevertheless emerges from these pages his own man.

Throughout, the narrative reveals B.'s respect and admiration for his subjects, Palmeiro first among them. Without veering into hagiography, B. conveys a sense of the intelligence, loyalty, and generosity that makes Palmeiro a figure worthy of study in his own right. Enthusiasts of historical biography as well as scholars of early modern history will likely find this book both an enjoyable read and a valuable resource.

DOI: 10.1177/0040563915605266

William P. O'Brien, S.J.

St. Louis University
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Author:O'Brien, William P.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 15, 2015
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