Jose Carlos Mariategui

Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality

Essay five: “The Religious Factor”

The Religion of Tawantinsuyo

We have definitely left behind the days of anticlerical prejudice, when the “free-thinking” critic happily discarded all dogmas and churches in favor of the dogma and church of the atheist’s free-thinking orthodoxy. The concept of religion has become broader and deeper, going far beyond a church and a sacrament. It now finds in religion’s institutions and sentiments a significance very different from that which was attributed to it by those fervent radicals who identified religion with “obscurantism.”

The revolutionary critic no longer disputes with religion and the church the services they have rendered to humanity or their place in history. We are therefore not surprised when a modern and perceptive writer like Waldo Frank explains the North American phenomenon by carefully tracing its religious origin and factors. According to him, the United States was created by the pioneer, the Puritan, and the Jew. The pioneer descends from and is the fulfillment of the Puritan, because the Puritan protest was rooted in his will for power. “The Puritan had begun by desiring power in England. This desire had turned him deviously into austere ways. He had soon learned the sweets of austerity. Now he became aware of the power over himself, over others, over physical conditions which the austere life brought with it. A virgin and hostile continent demanded whatever energy he could bring to bear upon it. A frugal, self-denying life released that energy far better than could another.”[1]

The Anglo-Saxon colonizer did not find in North America an advanced culture or a powerful population; Christianity therefore did not proselytize. The Spaniard was not only different as a colonizer but also had a different mission. In Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Central America the missionary was supposed to convert a large population with its own, deep-seated religious practices and institutions.

Because of this circumstance, the religious factor in these countries is more complex. The Catholic religion was superimposed on indigenous rites, only partially absorbing them. Any study of religious feeling in Spanish America therefore must begin with the cults found by the conquistadors.

This is not an easy task. The chroniclers of the colonial period could only consider these concepts and practices as a group of barbaric superstitions. Their accounts distort and blur the image of native cults. One of the most unusual Mexican rituals, which shows that in Mexico the idea of transubstantiation was known and applied, was for the Spaniard simply a demoniac artifice.

But no matter how little agreement there is today about Peruvian mythology, available information enables us to place it in the religious evolution of humanity.

The Inca religion lacked the spiritual power to resist conversion. Some historians deduce from philological and archeological evidence that the Inca mythology was related to the Hindu. But their belief rests on similarities of form, not on really spiritual or religious similarities. The basic characteristics of the Inca religion are its collective theocracy and its materialism. These characteristics differentiate it from the essentially spiritual Hindu religion. Without sharing the conclusion of Valcarcel that the man of Tawantinsuyo had virtually no idea of a “beyond,” or behaved as though he had none, we cannot be oblivious to the tenuous and sketchy nature of his metaphysics. The Quechua religion was a moral code rather than a metaphysical concept, which brings us much closer to China than to India. State and church were absolutely inseparable; religion and politics recognized the same principles and the same authority r Religion functioned in terms of society. From this point of view, the Inca religion opposed the religions of the Far East in the same way that the latter, as pointed out by James George Frazer, opposed the Graeco-Roman civilization.

Greek and Roman society [writes Frazer] was built on the conception of the subordination of the individual to the community, of the citizen to the state; it set the safety of the commonwealth, as the supreme aim of conduct, above the safety of the individual whether in this world or in the world to come. Trained from infancy in this unselfish ideal, the citizens devoted their lives to the public service and were ready to lay them down for the common good; or if they shrank from the supreme sacrifice, it never occurred to them that they acted otherwise than basely in preferring their personal existence to the interests of their country. All this was changed by the spread of Oriental religions which inculcated the communion of the soul with God and its eternal salvation as the only objects worth living for, objects in comparison with which the prosperity and even the existence of the state sank into insignificance.[2]

Because of its identification with the social and political regime, the Inca religion could not outlive the Inca state. It had temporal rather than spiritual ends and cared more about the kingdom of earth than the kingdom of heaven. It was a social, not an individual, discipline. The blow that felled the pagan gods destroyed the theocracy. What survived of this religion in the Indian soul could not be a metaphysical concept, but agrarian rituals, incantations, and pantheism.[3]

All the accounts we have of the Inca ceremonies and myths make clear that the Quechua religion was much more than a state religion (in the sense that we know it today). The church was a social and political institution; it was the state itself. Religion was subordinate to the social and political interests of the empire. This aspect of the Inca religion is demonstrated in the treatment given by the Incas to the religious symbols of the people they conquered. The Inca church was more concerned with subjugating their gods than in persecuting or condemning them. The temple of the sun thus became the temple of a kind of federal religion or mythology.

The Quechua was neither proselytizer nor inquisitor. He used his efforts to unify the empire and, for this purpose, he was interested in abolishing cruel rituals and barbaric practices, not in the propagation of a new and unique faith. For the Incas it was more a matter of elevating than of replacing the religious habits of the people annexed to their empire.

The religion of Tawantinsuyo, furthermore, did not violate any of the feelings or customs of the Indians. It was not composed of complicated abstractions, but of simple allegories. All its roots were nourished on the instincts and customs of a nation made up of agrarian tribes that had a healthy, rural pantheism and that were more inclined to cooperate than to wage war. The Inca myths rested on the primitive religious habits of the Indians, without opposing them except to the extent that the latter was considered obviously inferior to the Inca culture or dangerous to the social and political regime of Tawantinsuyo. The tribes of the empire believed, not in a religion or a dogma, but simply in the divinity of the Incas.

Therefore, the natural elements of the religion of the ancient Peruvians—animism, magic, totems, and tabus—are more interesting to investigate than the mysteries and symbols of their metaphysics and very rudimentary mythology. This investigation should yield sure conclusions about the moral and religious evolution of the Indian.

Abstract speculation on the Inca gods has frequently led the student to deduce from the correlation or affinity of certain symbols and names a probable relationship of the Quechua race with races that are spiritually and intellectually different. On the other hand, a study of the primary factors of this religion establishes the universality or near universality of innumerable magical rituals and beliefs and, therefore, the risk of looking in this field for proof of hypothetical common origins. In recent years, the comparative study of religions has made enormous strides that preclude use of the old premises for decisions about the singularity or significance of a cult. James George Frazer, who is responsible for so much of this progress, maintains that among all people the age of magic has preceded the age of religion; and he shows that groups of people totally unknown to one another have applied in a similar or identical fashion the Laws of “Similarity” and of “Contact or Contagion.”[4]

The Inca, gods reigned over a multitude of minor deities who were destined to outlive them because they had been rooted in the soil and soul of the Indian long before the empire. The Indian’s “animism” peopled the territory of Tawantinsuyo with local spirits and gods whose worship offered more resistance to Christian conversion than the Inca worship of the sun or of the god Kon. “Totemism,” of the same substance as the ayllu and the tribe, which were more enduring than the empire, took refuge not only in tradition but in the very blood of the Indian. Magic, identified as a primitive art to cure the sick, had its own needs and vital impulses and was so deeply ingrained that it could survive for a long time under any religious belief.

These natural or primitive elements of worship fitted in perfectly with the character of the Inca monarchy and state. Moreover, these elements required the divinity of the Incas and of their government. The Inca theocracy is explained in all its details by the social condition of the Indian. There is no need to look for an easy explanation in the occult arts of the Incas. (This point of view assumes the existence of an oppressed mass to be overawed and humbled.) Frazer, who has made a masterful study of the magic origins of royalty, analyzes and classifies the various types of king-priests and human gods, more or less close to our Incas:

Among the American Indians [he writes, referring particularly to this case] the furthest advance towards civilization was made under the monarchical and theocratic governments of Mexico and Peru; but we know too little of the early history of these countries to say whether the predecessors of their deified kings were medicinemen or not. Perhaps a trace of such a succession may be detected in the oath which the Mexican kings, when they mounted the throne, swore that they would make the sun to shine, the clouds to give rain, the rivers to flow, and the earth to bring forth fruits in abundance. Certainly, in aboriginal America the sorcerer or medicine-man, surrounded by a halo of mystery and an atmosphere of awe, was a personage of great influence and importance, and he may well have developed into a chief or king in many tribes, though positive evidence of such a development appears to be lacking.

Although the author of The Golden Bough is overly cautious because of lack of historical material, he still reaches this conclusion: “In South America also the magicians or medicine-men seem to have been on the highroad to chieftainship or kingship.” In a later chapter, he further defines his impression:

From our survey of the religious position occupied by the king in rude societies we may infer that the claim to divine and supernatural powers put forward by the monarchs of great historical empires like those of Egypt, Mexico, and Peru, was not the simple outcome of inflated vanity or the empty expression of a grovelling adulation; it was merely a survival and extension of the old savage apotheosis of living kings. Thus, for example, as children of the Sun the Incas of Peru were revered like gods; they could do no wrong, and no one dreamed of offending against the person, honour, or property of the monarch or of any of the royal race. Hence, too, the Incas did not, like most people, look on sickness as an evil. They considered it a messenger sent from their father the Sun to call them to come and rest with him in heaven.[5]

The Inca people knew no separation between religion and politics, between church and state. All their institutions, like all their beliefs, conformed strictly to their agricultural economy and to their sedentary spirit. Their theocracy rested on the ordinary and the empirical, not on the magical skills of a prophet or on his doctrine. Religion was the state.

Vasconcelos, who tends to depreciate the native cultures of America, thinks that without a supreme law they were condemned to disappear because of their innate inferiority. These cultures, no doubt, had not altogether emerged intellectually from the age of magic. We know that the Inca culture was the work of a race more gifted in artistic creation than in intellectual speculation. For that reason, it has left us a magnificent popular art, if no Rig-Veda or Zend-avesta, which makes their social and political organization all the more remarkable. Religion, as only one aspect of this organization, could not survive it.

The Catholic Conquest

I have already said that the conquest was the last crusade and that the conquistadors were the last representatives of Spanish grandeur. As a crusade, the conquest was essentially a military and religious enterprise. It was carried out jointly by soldiers and missionaries. The triumvirate of the conquest of Peru would have been incomplete without Hernando de Luque, who acted as scholar and advisor of the company. Luque was the deputy of the church and of the faith. His presence protected the rights of the dogma and gave the expedition a doctrine. In Cajamarca, the faith of the conquest was invested in Father Valverde. Although the execution of Atahualpa was brought about solely by the crude political maneuverings of Pizarro, it was dressed up with religious reasons and made to appear as the first sentence passed by the Inquisition in Peru.

After the tragedy of Cajamarca, the missionary continued to dictate his law to the conquest. Spiritual power inspired and directed temporal power. On the ruins of the empire, in which church and state had been one, a new theocracy was built. In this theocracy, the latifundium, an economic mandate, was bom of the encomienda, an administrative, spiritual, and religious mandate. The friars took solemn possession of the Inca temples. Perhaps a certain Thomist predestination decreed that the Dominicans, masters in the scholarly art of reconciling Christianity with pagan tradition, should install themselves in the temple of the sun.[6]

Although the colonizer of Saxon America was the Puritan pioneer, the colonizer of Spanish America was not like the conquistador, the knight of the crusades. The reason is obvious: the Puritan represented a movement in ascent, the Protestant Reformation; the knight of the crusades personified an era that had ended, the Catholic Middle Ages. England continued to send Puritans to its colonies long after Spain had no more crusaders to send overseas. The species was extinct. The spiritual energies of Spain—aroused precisely by its reaction against the Reformation—produced an extraordinary religious renaissance, destined to waste its magnificent potential in a reaffirmation of intransigent orthodoxy: the Counter Reformation. “The true Spanish Reformation,” writes Unamuno, “was the mystic Reformation. Unconcerned with the Protestant Reformation, mysticism was, nevertheless, Spain’s strongest bulwark against it. Through the medium of the Spanish reform, Saint Teresa probably was as effective as Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Counter Reformation.”[7]

The conquest used up the last of the crusaders. And the crusade of the conquest, in most cases, was not a true crusade but a prolongation of its spirit. The noble was no longer interested in heroic deeds. The extent and wealth of Spanish possessions guaranteed him a courtier’s life of opulence. The crusader of the conquest, when a nobleman, was poor; otherwise, he was a commoner.

Having come from Spain to occupy land for their king—whom the missionaries acknowledged first of all as a trustee of the Roman Catholic Church—the conquistadors appeared to be driven at times by a vague presentiment that they would be succeeded by lesser men. A confused and obscure instinct fomented their rebellion against the mother country, the same instinct that may have given Cortes the courage to burn his ships. The rebellion of Gonzalo Pizarro was kindled by a tragic ambition, a desperate and impotent nostalgia. With his defeat, the work and the race of the conquistators was finished. Conquest ended; colonization began. And if the conquest was a military and religious expedition, colonization was nothing but a political and ecclesiastical enterprise. It was begun by a man of the Church, Don Pedro de la Gasca. The priest replaced the missionary. The viceroyalty, dedicated to sensual pleasure and idleness, was to bring to Peru an educated nobility and learned men, people belonging to another Spain, the Spain of the Inquisition and of decadence.

During the colonial period, in spite of the Inquisition and the Counter Reformation, the civilizing process was largely religious and ecclesiastic. Education and culture were concentrated in the ’,/ hands of the church. The friars contributed to the viceroyal organization, not only by converting heathens and persecuting heresy, but also by teaching arts and crafts and by establishing crops and factories. At a time when the City of the Viceroys was only a few rustic manor houses, the friars founded here the first university of the Americas. Together with their dogmas and rites, they imported seeds, vines, domestic animals, and tools. They studied the customs of the natives, recorded their traditions, and collected the first material on their history. Thanks to their ability to adapt and assimilate, Jesuits and Dominicans, but especially Jesuits, mastered many secrets of Indian history and spirit. And the Indians, exploited in the mines, the factories, and encomiendas, found their stoutest defenders in monasteries and even in parish priests. Fray Bartolome de las Casas, who exemplified the best qualities of missionary and apostle, had predecessors and disciples.

Catholicism, with its sumptuous mass and its sorrowful devotion, was perhaps the only religion able to attract a population that could not easily rise to a spiritual, abstract religion. It was also aided by its astonishing ability to accommodate to any historical epoch or setting. The work of absorbing old myths and appropriating pagan dates, which had begun many centuries earlier in the West, was continued in Peru. Lake Titicaca, apparently the birthplace of the Inca theocracy, is the site of the most famous shrine of the Virgin.

The intelligent and scholarly writer Emilio Romero has interesting comments on the substitution of Catholic rites and images for Inca gods:

The Indians thrilled with emotion before the majesty of the Catholic ceremony. They saw the image of the sun in the shimmering brocade of the chasuble and cope and they saw the violet tones of the rainbow woven into the fine silk threads of the rochet. Perhaps they saw the quipus symbolized in the purple tassels of the abbot and the knotted cords of the Franciscan friar. . . . This explains the pagan fervor with which the multitude of Cuzco Indians fearfully trembled before the presence of “Our Lord of Earthquakes.” This was the tangible image of their memories and their adorations, and far removed from the intent of the friars. Religious festivals vibrated with Indian paganism expressed in offerings taken to the churches of animals from their flocks and of the first fruits of their harvest. Later they themselves erected their ornate altars of Corpus Christi laden with mirrors framed in chased silver, raised their grotesque saints, and laid the products of their fields at the feet of the altars. Before the saints they nostalgically drank the same jora that they had used for their libations in honor of Capac Raymi. Finally, shrieking in prayer, which for the Spanish priests were cries of penitence and for the Indians cries of terror, they danced the boisterous cachampas and the gymnastic kashuas before the fixed and glassy smile of the saints.[8]

The external trappings of Catholicism captivated the Indian, who accepted conversion and the catechism with the same ease and lack of comprehension. For a people who had never differentiated between the spiritual and temporal, political control incorporated ecclesiastic control. The missionaries did not instill a faith; they instilled a system of worship and a liturgy, wisely adapting them to Indian customs. Native paganism subsisted under Catholic worship.

Catholicism did not reserve this method exclusively for the Tawantinsuyo; historically, it has always taken on the coloring of its environment. The Roman Catholic Church is legitimate heir to the Roman Empire in its policy of colonization and assimilation of the people it subjugates. An investigation of the important dates of the Gregorian calendar has revealed amazing substitutions. Analyzing them, Frazer writes:

Taken altogether, the coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals. The inflexible Protestantism of the primitive missionaries, with their fiery denunciations of heathendom, had been exchanged for the supple policy, the easy tolerance, the comprehensive charity of shrewd ecclesiastics, who clearly perceived that if Christianity was to conquer the world it could do so only by relaxing the too rigid principles of its Founder, by widening a little the narrow gate which leads to salvation. In this respect an instructive parallel might be drawn between the history of Christianity and the history of Buddhism.[9]

Originally, this compromise spread from Catholicism to all Christianity. But it appears to be a special virtue or skill of the Roman Catholic Church, not only because it is a compromise in form only (Catholicism has been inflexible in the spheres of dogma and theology), but because in the conversion of Americans and other peoples, only the Roman Catholic Church continued to use it systematically and effectively. From this standpoint, the Inquisition was strictly an internal affair: its aim was the repression of heresy within the Catholic religion, not the persecution of heathens.

But adaptability is, at the same time, the strength and weakness of the Roman Catholic Church. The religious spirit is only tempered in combat, in suffering. “Christianity, or rather Christendom,” says Unamuno, “as announced by Saint Paul, was not a doctrine, although it expressed itself dialectically. It was a way of life, it was struggle, it was agony. The doctrine was the Gospel, the Glad Tidings. Christianity, Christendom, was a preparation for death and resurrection, for life eternal.”[10] By passively accepting the catechism without understanding it, the Indian spiritually weakened Catholicism in Peru. The missionary did not have to protect the purity of the dogma; his mission was to serve as a moral guide, an ecclesiastical shepherd for a rustic and simple flock, untouched by spiritual concerns.

In religion as in politics, the heroic times of the conquest were followed by the viceroyal period, which was administrative and bureaucratic. Francisco Garcia Calderon pronounced this judgment on the era as a whole: “If the conquest was a mighty endeavor, the colonial period was a prolonged moral debilitation.”[11] The first stage, symbolized by the missionary, corresponds spiritually to the flowering of mysticism in Spain. Unamuno says that Spain used up on mysticism and the Counter Reformation the spiritual energies that other nations expended on the Reformation. Unamuno defines Spanish mystics as follows:

They reject science as futile and seek knowledge for a pragmatic purpose, in order to love and work for and rejoice in God, not for the sake of knowledge alone. Whether or not they are aware of it, they are anti-intellectuals, and this distinguishes them from theologists like Eckhart. They favor voluntarism. What they look for is total and integral knowledge, a wisdom in which knowledge, feeling, and love unite and even merge as far as possible. We love truth because it is beautiful and, according to Father Avila, because we love truth we believe. Truth, goodness, and beauty blend and crystallize in this material wisdom. Mysticism naturally culminated in a woman, because woman’s mind is less analytical than man’s and her psychic powers are more closely attuned or perhaps less differentiated.[12]

We know that in Spain the spiritual blaze that kindled the Counter Reformation also illuminated the soul of Saint Teresa, Saint Ignatius, and other great mystics; but it later died down and ended tragically in the flames of the Inquisition. In Spain it flared up again in the struggle against heresy and the Reformation and for a while it cast an incandescent glow. Here, with Catholic rites easily superimposed on the pagan sentiment of the Indians, Catholicism lost its moral force. “A great saint like Rosa of Lima,” observes Garcia Calderon, “has little of the personality and creative drive of Saint Teresa, the great Spanish saint.”[13]

On the coast and especially in Lima, another element arrived to sap the spiritual strength of Catholicism. The Negro slave brought to Catholic rites his fetishistic sensualism and his dark superstition. The Indian, a healthy pantheist and materialist, had reached the ethical level of a mighty theocracy; the Negro, on the other hand, exuded from every pore the primitivism of his African tribe. Javier Prado remarks: “Among Negroes the Christian religion was turned into a superstitious, immoral cult. Completely inebriated by heavy drinking and inflamed by the carnality and licentiousness typical of their race, first African and then criollo Negroes would join the popular celebrations of ’devils and giants’ and ’Moors and Christians.’ Dancing with obscene movements and savage cries, they frequently would accompany religious processions to general applause.”[14]

The clergy wasted most of its energies in internal quarrels or in the pursuit of heresy, as well as in constant and active rivalry with the representatives of temporal power. Professor Prado believes that even the apostolic fervor of Las Casas intensified this rivalry. But, at least in this case, ecclesiastic zeal served a noble and just cause that would not again find such stubborn defenders until long after the country’s political independence.

Although Spanish Catholicism was able to impose itself on Indian paganism thanks to the singular appeal of its ceremonial pomp and majesty, as a concept of life and a spiritual discipline it was not qualified to create elements of work and wealth in its colonies. As I have observed in my essay on the Peruvian economy, this was the greatest weakness of Spanish colonization. But it would be arbitrary and exaggerated to assume from the entrenched medievalism that delayed Spain’s evolution toward capitalism that Catholicism was solely responsible, when in other Latin countries it had been able to adjust intelligently to the principles of a capitalist economy. The religious orders, especially the Jesuits, operated in economic terrain more skillfully than the civil administration and its officials. Spanish nobility scorned work and commerce; the bourgeoisie, still immature, was infected by aristocratic values.

In general, the experience of the West furnishes concrete evidence of the close association of capitalism and Protestantism. Protestantism appears in history as the spiritual yeast of the capitalist process. The Protestant Reformation contained the essence, the seed, of the liberal state. Protestantism as a religious movement and liberalism as a political trend were related to the development of the factors of a capitalist economy. Facts support this argument. Capitalism and industrialism have flourished nowhere else as they have in the Protestant countries. The capitalist economy has reached its peak in England, the United States, and Germany. Within these countries, people of Catholic faith have instinctively clung to their rustic tastes and habits. (Catholic Bavaria is also rural.) No Catholic country has reached a high level of industrialization.

France, which should not be judged by the cosmopolitan financial market of Paris or by the Comite des Forges, is more agricultural than industrial. Italy, although population pressure has propelled it along the road to industry and created the capitalist centers of Milan, Turin, and Genoa, maintains its agrarian tendency. Mussolini often eulogizes rural and provincial Italy and in one of his most recent speeches he condemns excessive urbanism and industrialism for holding back population growth.

The country most steeped in Catholic tradition, Spain, which expelled the Jew, presents the most backward and feeble capitalist structure. To make matters worse, its underdeveloped industry and finance have not been compensated for by a prosperous agriculture, perhaps because the Spanish nobleman clings to his preconceptions about aristocratic professions whereas the Italian landholder has inherited a deep love of the soil from his Roman ancestors. In Spain, only a career in the church takes precedence over the choice between a military or a literary career.

The first stage in the emancipation of the bourgeoisie is, according to Engels, the Protestant Reformation. “Calvin’s creed,” writes the celebrated author of Anti-Duhring, “was fit for the boldest of the bourgeoisie of his time. His predestination doctrine was the religious expression of the fact that in the commercial world of competition, success or failure does depend, not upon a man’s activity or cleverness, but upon circumstances uncontrollable by him.”[15] The rebellion of the most advanced and ambitious middle class against Rome led to the institution of national churches intended to avoid all conflict between temporal and spiritual, between church and state. Free inquiry contained the embryo of all the principles of the bourgeois economy: free competition, free enterprise, et cetera. Individualism, essential to the development of a society based on these principles, was encouraged by Protestant ethics and practice.

Marx has explained several aspects of the relations between Protestantism and capitalism, and he makes this particularly penetrating observation:

The monetary system is essentially Catholic, the credit system essentially Protestant. ... It is Faith that makes blessed. Faith in money-value as the imminent spirit of commodities, faith in the prevailing mode of production and its predestined order, faith in the individual agents of production as mere personifications of self-expanding capital. But the credit system does not emancipate itself from the basis of the monetary system any more than Protestantism emancipates itself from the foundations of Catholicism.[16]

Not only the dialectics of historical materialism attest to the connection between the two great phenomena. Today, in an era of reaction, both intellectual and political, Ramiro de Maetzu, a Spanish writer, discusses his countrymen’s lack of economic sense. He interprets the moral factors of North American capitalism in this way:

North Americans owe their sense of power to Calvinism, which believes that God, from the beginning of time, has chosen some men for salvation and others for everlasting damnation; that salvation is known in each man’s fulfillment of his duties in his work, from which it is deduced that the prosperity attendant on fulfillment of these duties is a sign of the possession of divine grace and, therefore, must be preserved at all cost, which implies moralization of the manner of spending money. This theological doctrine is now only history. The people of the United States continue to progress, but like a stone hurled by an arm that no longer exists to renew the projectile’s force after it has spent its momentum.”[17]

Neoscholastics insist on disputing or minimizing the influence of the Reformation on capitalist development, claiming that Thomism already had laid down the principles of bourgeois economics.[18] Sorel has acknowledged the services rendered to Western civilization by Saint Thomas in his realistic approach to the dogma in science. He has especially stressed the Thomist concept that “human law cannot change the legal nature of things, which is derived from their economic content.”[19] But if Saint Thomas brought Catholicism to this level of understanding economics, the Reformation forged the moral weapons of the bourgeois revolution, opening the way to capitalism. The neoscholastic concept can be easily explained. Neothomism is bourgeois but not capitalist. Just as socialism is not the same thing as the proletariat, capitalism is not the same thing as the bourgeoisie. Capitalism is the order, the civilization, the spirit born of the bourgeoisie, which existed long before and only later gave its name to an entire historical era.

During his period of pragmatism, Papini declared that religion could choose one of two roads: to possess or to renounce.[20] From the outset, Protestantism firmly chose the first. Waldo Frank correctly points to the will to power in the mystic drive of Puritanism. He tells us how “the discipline of the church became a means of marshaling men against the material difficulties of unsubdued America; how the denial of the senses released greater energy for the hunt of power and wealth; and how the senses, mortified by ascetic precepts—which so well fitted the crude conditions of the country—had their revenge in an unleashed search for riches.” Under these religious principles the North American university provided youth with a culture “all of whose meanings ran with the sense of the sanctity of property and the morality of ’success.’ [21]

Catholicism, on the other hand, straddled the two possibilities of possession and renunciation. Its will to power was expressed in military expeditions and above all in politics. It did not inspire any great economic venture. Spanish America, furthermore, did not offer to Catholicism an atmosphere conducive to asceticism. Instead of mortification, the senses found only pleasure, indolence, and self-indulgence on this continent.

Bringing the gospel to Spanish America must not be judged as a religious undertaking, but as the ecclesiastic enterprise it has been almost since the beginning of Christianity. Only a powerful ecclesiastic organization, able to mobilize militias of battle-hardened missionaries and priests, was capable of colonizing people in faraway and exotic lands for the Christian faith. Protestantism was never effective in spreading its doctrine, as a logical consequence of its individualism, which was designed to reduce the ecclesiastic framework of religion to a minimum. Its propagation in Europe was invariably due to political and economic reasons: the Catholic Church’s conflicts with states and monarchs inclined to rebel against papal power and join the wave of secessionism; the growth of the bourgeoisie, which found in Protestantism a more convenient system and which resented Rome’s support of feudal privileges. When Protestantism has undertaken to proselytize, it has wisely adopted a method that combines preaching with social service.

In North America the Anglo-Saxon colonizer did not worry about converting the natives. He had to settle an almost virgin land and all his energies were absorbed by his harsh struggle to conquer nature. Here we see the inherent difference between the Anglo-Saxon and Spanish conquests. In its origin and process, the former was a completely individualist adventure that compelled the men who participated in it to live under great stress. (Individualism, pragmatism, and activism are still the mainsprings of North American development.)

Anglo-Saxon colonization did not need an ecclesiastical organization. Puritan individualism made each pioneer his own minister. The New England pioneer needed only his Bible (Unamuno calls Protestantism “the tyranny of the word”). North America was colonized with great economy of man’s forces. Colonization did not use missionaries, priests, theologians, or monasteries; they were not required for the simple, crude possession of the land. A territory, rather than a culture and people, had to be conquered. Some might say that theirs was not an economy but a poverty, and they would be right provided that they recognized that from this poverty emerged the power and wealth of the United States.

The destiny of Spanish and Catholic colonization was much broader, its mission more difficult. In these lands, the conquistadors found people, cities, cultures; on the soil, roads and footprints that their passage could not erase. Proselytization had its heroic stage, when Spain sent us missionaries who still burned with the mystic fire and militant spirit of the crusaders. (“Together with the soldiers,” I read in Julien Luchaire, “disembarked a multitude of Catholic monks and priests, chosen from the best.”)[22] But once the Indian’s rustic paganism had yielded to Catholic opulence, the conqueror was lulled by the slavery and exploitation of Indian and Negro, and by the abundance and wealth. The clergy was no longer a heroic and impassioned militia but a pampered bureaucracy; well paid and well regarded.

Then came [writes Dr. M. V. Villaran] the second age in the history of colonial priesthood: the age of a placid life in magnificent monasteries, the age of sinecures, of profitable parishes, of social influence, of political control, of luxurious celebrations, which inevitably resulted in the abuse and corruption of customs. At that time, priesthood was the best career. It was an honorable and lucrative profession and those who devoted themselves to it lived like princes and dwelled in palaces. They were the idols of the worthy colonists, who loved them, respected them, feared them, made gifts to them, and willed them their properties. The monasteries were large and there was room for all. Bishoprics and other high church offices, canonries, curacies, chaplaincies, university chairs, private chapels, benefices of every kind abounded. The inhabitants were fervently pious and they lavishly provided for the upkeep of the ministers of the altar. Therefore, ’every second son of good family entered the priesthood.’ “[23]

This church was no longer even that of the Counter Reformation and the Inquisition. The Holy Office had almost no heresies to persecute in Peru. It directed its action against citizens in bad repute with the clergy; against the superstitions and vices that furtively flourished in an atmosphere of sensuality and idolatry, heavy with the dregs of magic; and above all, against whatever it suspected might undermine or diminish its power. In this last respect, the Inquisition behaved more like a political than a religious institution. “The Holy Office,” says Luchaire, “was powerful, but because the king wanted it to be. Its mission was to persecute political rebels as well as religious innovators. The weapon was in the hands of the king, not of the pope, and the king wielded it as much in his own as in the church’s interest.”[24]

Ecclesiastical science, furthermore, instead of keeping us abreast of the intellectual currents of the time, separated us from them. The philosophy of scholasticism was kept alive and creative in Spain as long as it was warmed by the ardor of the mystics. But afterwards it congealed into pedantry and casuistry and turned into a stiff parchment of erudition and a creaky, rhetorical orthodoxy of Spanish theology. In civilista writings there is no lack of criticism of this phase of ecclesiastical work in Peru. “What science did the clergy offer?” asks Javier Prado in his thoughtful study. And he replies:

A vulgar theology, a formalist dogmatism, a confused and tiresome mixture of Aristotelian doctrine with the sophistry of scholasticism. Whenever the church has not been able to supply true scientific knowledge, it has resorted to distracting and wearying the mind-with gymnastics of words and phrases and with an empty, extravagant, futile method. Here in Peru, speeches were read in Latin, which was not understood, and they were, nevertheless, discussed in the same language; here were scholars who, like Pico della Mirandola, had formulas to solve all scientific- propositions; here the divine and human were decided by means of religious or scholarly authority, even though the most complete ignorance reigned not only about the natural sciences but also about philosophy and even about the teachings of Bossuet and Pascal.[25]

The struggle for independence, which opened a new road and promised a new dawn to the best spirits, revealed that religion, in the sense of mysticism and passion, was still to be found in a few criollo and Indian priests who in Peru, as in Mexico, furnished the liberal revolution with some of its first champions and great orators.

Independence and the Church

The War of Independence did not touch ecclesiastical privileges any more than it did feudal privileges. The upper clergy, conservative and traditional, was naturally loyal to the king and mother country. But like the landed aristocracy, it accepted the republic as soon as it realized that the latter was impotent against the colonial structure. The revolution in Spanish America was conducted by romantic and Napoleonic caudillos and given its theories by dogmatic and formalist orators. Although it was nourished on the principles and sentiments of the French Revolution, it neither inherited nor experienced the religious problem of France.

In France, as in other countries that did not undergo the Reformation, the bourgeois and liberal revolution could not be accomplished without Jacobinism and anti-clericalism. The battle against feudalism in these countries encountered an uneasy alliance between the Catholic Church and the feudal system. As much because of the conservative influence of its high officials as because of its doctrinal and emotional resistance to everything it saw in liberal thought of Protestant individualism and nationalism, the church foolishly bound up its fate with that of monarchical and aristocratic reaction.

But in Spanish America, especially in the countries where the revolution spent a long time in its political formulation (independence and the republic), the continuation of feudal privileges was accompanied logically by the continuation of ecclesiastical privileges. For this reason, when Mexico attacked the former in its revolution, it immediately found itself in conflict with the latter. In Mexico, because a large part of the property was in the hands of the church, ecclesiastical privileges were not only politically but materially identified with feudal privileges.

Peru had a liberal and patriotic clergy from the first days of its revolution. In a few isolated cases, civil liberalism was inflexibly Jacobin, and, in even fewer cases, anti-religious. Most of our liberals came from the Masonic lodges that were so active in preparing for independence, so they almost all professed the deism that made Freemasonry in these Latin countries a kind of spiritual and political substitute for the Reformation.

In France itself, the Revolution maintained good relations with Christianity even during the Jacobin period. Aulard wisely observes that in France the anti-religious or anti-Christian movement arose from circumstantial rather than doctrinal causes. “Of all the events,” he says, “that wrought the frame of mind which resulted in the attempt to dethrone Christianity, the insurrection of La Vendee, by its clerical form, was the chief, the most influential. I might almost say that without La Vendee there would have been no worship of Reason.”[26] Aulard refers to the deism of Robespierre, who argued that “atheism is aristocratic,” whereas “the idea of a great Being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is entirely democratic.” The worship of the goddess Reason only kept its vital impulse as long as it was a cult of the fatherland threatened and plotted against by foreign reaction with the approval of papal power. Moreover, “the cult of Reason,” Aulard added, “was almost always deist and not materialist or atheist.”[27]

The French Revolution resulted in separation of church and state; and later Napoleon used the concordat to subordinate the church to the state. But the Restoration periods jeopardized his work by renewing the conflict between clergy and laymen, in which Lucien Romier claims to see a resume of the history of the republic. Romier starts out from the premise that feudalism was already conquered when the Revolution broke out. Under the monarchy, according to Romier—and here he is joined by all reactionary writers—the bourgeoisie had already assumed control.

Victory over the nobility was already achieved. The kings had put feudalism to death. An aristocracy remained which had no force of its own and which owed all its privileges and titles to the central authority. It was a body of gallooned officials with more or less hereditary functions, the fragile remains of a power that was toppled by the first republican wave. After easily carrying out this destruction, the republic had only to maintain an accomplished fact without exerting any particular effort. On the other hand, the monarchy had failed with the church. In spite of the secular domestication of the higher church officials, in spite of a conflict with the Curia that was revived with every reign, in spite of many threats of rupture, the struggle against Roman authority had not given the state any more control over religion than in the times of Philip the Handsome. Therefore, it is against the church and the ultramontane clergy that the republic directed its main activities for a century.[28]

The situation was very different in the Spanish colonies of South America. In Peru in particular, the revolution found feudalism intact. The clashes between civil and ecclesiastical power had no doctrinal basis. They reflected a domestic quarrel, a latent power struggle typical of countries where colonization felt it had a religious mission and where spiritual authority tended to prevail over temporal. From the outset, the republican constitution proclaimed Catholicism as the national religion. Locked within Spanish tradition, these countries lacked the elements of a Protestant Reformation. The worship of Reason would have been still more alien to a people who engaged in little intellectual activity or philosophical speculation. The reasons for a sec-_jular state that existed in other historical latitudes did not exist in Peru. Nurtured on Spanish Catholicism, the Peruvian state was bound to be semifeudal and Catholic.

The republic continued the policy of Spain in this as in other spheres. Garcia Calderon says:

By means of religious foundations, the tithing system, and ecclesiastical benefices, a civil constitution was established for the church, following the French example. In this sense, the revolution was traditionalist. From the time of the first absolute monarchs, the Spanish kings had the right to intervene and protect the church; in their hands, the defense of Catholicism turned into a civil and legislative action. The church was a social force, but the weakness of its hierarchy impaired its political ambitions. It could not, as in England, enter into a constitutional agreement and freely define its frontiers. The king protected the Inquisition and was more Catholic than the pope; in his role as guardian, he prevented conflicts and he proved to be sovereign and unique.[29]

In this statement, Garcia Calderon points out the basic contradiction existing within Latin American countries that have not separated church and state. If its Catholicism is alive and active, the Catholic state cannot practice a secular policy which, taken to its logical conclusion, would end in a theocracy. From this point of view, the thought of ultramontane conservatives like Garcia Moreno appears to be more consistent than that of the moderate liberals who are determined to reconcile the state’s official Catholicism with a liberal and national secular policy.

Peruvian liberalism, ineffective and formalist on the economic and political levels, could not be less so on the religious. It is not true, as some claim, that clerical and ecclesiastical influence fought to prevent Jacobin radicalism. The personal attitude of Vigil, an impassioned free thinker sprung from the ranks of tho church, does not really belong to our liberalism, which never tried to secularize any more than it tried to defeudalize the state. Jorge Guillermo Leguia writes authoritatively on Jose Galvez, the most representative and responsible of the liberal leaders:

His ideology revolved around two precepts: equality and morality. Therefore, it is wrong to assume from his criticism of the ecclesiastical tithes that he is a Jacobin. Galvez never denied the church and its dogmas. He respected and believed in them. The abbess was misguided who, when told on May 2 of the tragic explosion of the Torre de la Merced, exclaimed: “What a good use of gunpowder!” A deputy could hardly be anticlerical who invoked the Trinity in the introduction to the constitution. When Galvez stripped the church of an income that incarnated the survival of feudalism, his purpose was not anti-clerical but an economic and democratic reform. Nor was he, as is commonly believed, the author of that proposal, which had been initiated by Vigil.[30]

Forced by its role as a governing class, the landed aristocracy adopted bourgeois ideas and attitudes and partially assimilated the remains of liberalism. The rise of the civilista party was indicative of its liberal evolution and growing capitalist awareness. This movement was rejected by the ecclesiastical element, which coincided more, and not only in the publication of a newspaper, with conservative and plebiscitary Pierolism. In this period of our history, as I mention elsewhere, the aristocracy took on a liberal air; the demos, in reaction, although they protested against the business clique, acquired a conservative and clerical tone. The civilista hierarchy included some moderate liberals who tried to guide the state toward capitalism, breaking as much as possible with feudal tradition. But the feudal class’s domination of civilismo, together with the lag in our political development caused by the war, prevented these civilista lawyers and jurists from making any progress. Before the power of clergy and church, civilismo generally responded with a passive pragmatism and conservative positivism which, with a few individual exceptions, characterized its mentality.

The first really effective anti-clerical activity was the Radical movement, which undertook to denounce and condemn the three elements of Peruvian politics in the recent past: civilismo, Pierolism, and militarism. Directed by men of a more literary than philosophical temperament, it devoted its energies to this battle, which did produce, especially in the provinces, a certain increase in religious indifference. This was no gain, because it had no effect whatsoever on the socio-economic structure in which the anathemized system was deeply rooted. The Radical or “Gonzalez-Pradist” protest lacked effectiveness because it offered no social and economic program. Its two chief slogans, anti-centralism and anti-clericalism, were by themselves no threat Jo feudal privileges. Only the movement of Arequipa, recently vindicated by Miguel Angel Urquieta,[31] tried to enter social and economic terrains, although this effort did not go beyond the drafting of a program.

In the South American countries where liberal thought has freely followed its course, inserted into a normal capitalist and democratic evolution, it has been recognized—although only as an intellectual exercise—that Protestantism and a national church are logical requirements for a liberal, modern state.

But capitalism has lost its revolutionary spirit and so this thesis has been overtaken by events.[32] Socialism, according to the conclusions of historical materialism, not to be confused with philosophical materialism, considers that ecclesiastical forms and religious doctrines are produced and sustained by the socio-economic structure. Therefore, it is concerned with changing the latter and not the former. Socialism regards mere anti-clerical activity as a liberal bourgeois pastime. In Europe, anti-clericalism is characteristic of countries where the Protestant Reformation has not unified civil and religious conscience and where political nationalism and Roman universalism live in either open or latent conflict, which compromise can moderate but not halt or resolve.

Protestantism does not penetrate Latin America as a spiritual and religious power, but through its social services (Y.M.C.A., Methodist missions in the sierra, et cetera). This and other signs indicate that it has exhausted its possibilities for normal expansion. Furthermore, it suffers from Latin America’s anti-imperialism, which suspects the Protestant missions of being strategic outposts of British or North American capitalism.

Rationalist thought of the nineteenth century sought to explain religion in terms of philosophy. More realistically, pragmatism has accorded to religion the place from which rationalism conceitedly thought to dislodge it. As Sorel predicted, the historical experience of recent years has proven that present revolutionary and social myths can occupy man’s conscience just as fully as the old religious myths.


1. Waldo Frank, Our America (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 63.

2. James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, abridged edition (London: Macmillan & Co., 1954), p. 357.

3. In an article published in no. 15 of Amauta, Antero Peralta disputes the generally accepted idea that the Indian is pantheist. Peralta maintains that the Indian’s pantheism is unlike any pantheistic system of philosophy. We would like to point out to Peralta, whose research into the elements and characteristics of indigenous religion attests to his scholarly aptitude and vocation, that he places arbitrary limitations on the use of the word “pantheism.” I believe that I have made clear that I attribute to the Indian of Tawantinsuyo a pantheistic sentiment and not a pantheistic philosophy.

4. Frazer, The Golden Bough, p. n.

5. Ibid., pp. 103-104.

6. The most zealous custodians of Latin tradition and Roman order—more pagan than Christian—take refuge in St. Thomas as in the strongest citadel of Catholic thought.

7. Miguel Unamuno, La mistica espahola.

8. Emilio Romero, “El Cuzco catolico,” Amauta, No. to, December 1927.

9. Frazer, The Golden Bough, p. 361.

10. Unamuno, The Agony of Christianity, trans. K. F. Reinhardt (New York: Ungar, i960), p. 28.

11. Francisco Garcia Calderon, Le Perou contemporain.

12. Unamuno, La mistica espahola.

13. Garcia Calderon, Le Perou contemporain.

14. Javier Prado, Estado social del Peru durante la domination espanola.

15. Frederick Engels, Socialism Utopian and Scientific, trans. E. Aveling (New York: Labor News Co., 1901), pp. xxiii-xxiv.

16. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. Ill, trans. E. Untermann (Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1909), p. 696.

17. Ramiro de Maeztu, “Rodo y el poder” in Repertorio Americano, Vol. VIII, No. 6, 1926.

18. Rene Johannet, Eloge du bourgeois francais.

19. Georges Sorel, Introduction a I’economie moderne (Paris: Marcel Riviere, 1911), p. 289.

20. Giovanni Papini, Pragmatism.

21. Frank, Our America, p. 25.

22. Julien Luchaire, L’Eglise et le seizieme siecle.

23. M. V. Villaran, Estudios sobre education national, pp. 10, 11.

24. Luchaire, L’Eglise et le seizieme siecle.

25. Prado, Estado social del Peru.

26.. Alphonse Aulard, Christianity and the French Revolution, trans. Lady Frazer (London: Ernest Benn, 1927), p. 98.

27. Ibid., pp. 111 and 113.

28. Lucien Romier, Explication de notre temps (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1925), PP- 119-121.

29. Garcia Calderon, Le Perou contemporain.

30. Jorge Guillermo Leguia, “La convention de 1836 y don Jose Galvez,” Revista de Ciencias Juridicas y Societies, no. 1, p. 36.

31. See the article “Gonzalez Prada y Urquieta” in Amauta, no. 5.

32. Julio Navarro Monzo, leader of the Y.M.C.A. and proponent of a new reformation, acknowledges in his book El problema religioso en la cultura latinoamericana that, “inasmuch as the Latin countries unfortunately remained outside of the Reformation of the seventeenth century, it is now too late to think of converting them to Protestantism.”