Discovery of America’s Global Importance in the Civil and Religious Aspect

Translated from ‘La Vocacion de America’ of Zacarias de Vizcarra.

 

The feast of October 12 is not only worthy of interest for the American nations and for Spain. Pope Leo XII in Quarto Abeunte Saeculo said that “it is fitting that an event from which all have derived benefit should be piously and gratefully commemorated by all”.

No nation has ceased reporting the direct and indirect benefits brought about by the Discovery of the new hemisphere. The art of sailing received a previously unknown impulse. The trade was enriched with new markets, new products, new raw material and new methods of metals and goods fabrication. All sciences, such as astronomy, geography, ethnology, botanic, zoology and mineralogy were opened to a horizon that is beyond suspicion. The new lands, under a sociologic point of view, presented a home and welcoming refuge to all men of initiative, to they hungry, persecuted or unsatisfied multitudes coming from every nation.

The exploits carried out in the New World, during the first century, by the discovering, colonizing and evangelizing men cannot be compared with anything done before by humanity during all its centuries of their existence.

The American author Charles F. Lummis, was in no way exaggeratingwhen he affirmed that “a century of such explorations and conquest the world never saw before nor since.[1]; adding  that “no other mother-nation ever bore a hundred Stanleys and four Julius Caesar in one century[2]

if it is conceivable, —says Mourret —the resistance, the boldness, the tenacity, the more than reckless courage of those men, always relatively few in number, victims of the most depressing illnesses and deprivations, surrounded by the most formidable obstacles of the elements and of a nature that imposed on them the double fear that inspires the mystery of the unknown and the very effective magnitude with which it presented itself, in those immense and impenetrable jungles, populated with infinity of dangerous beasts and serpents, against which, apart from their sword, not infrequently they could not even oppose the defense of the dress, and assaulted finally by numerous armies of opposites, against which they had hardly any other advantage than a skill and value hundredfold.

When one reads the narrations of the chroniclers and historians, such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Cabeza de Vaca, Cieza, Gómora, Fernández de Oviedo, Friar Toribio de Motilinia, and Friar Jerónimo de Mendieta, Solís and others, one is inclined to think that those men were forged with irony mussels and ligaments, and bestowed with a superior spirit.

It does not motivate the Spaniards the romantic eagerness of glory or the positive stimulus of the profit, though they were neither free nor cleaned from those passions. Some were blinded by them. But, nevertheless, those who channeled the powerful wave from the Peninsula together with those who closely witnessed it, were mindful of the superior mission that was to be done —that of the civilization.

The transformation which America underwent in just one century, from California to Buenos Aires, was undoubtedly prodigious. The arts and crafts, the weaving industries of wool, linen and cotton, the works of iron and precious metals and the ceramic and glassware were as good, or even better, as those of the Peninsula or Europe… It appeared from the ground, as by charm, thousands of cities totally Europeans. Great public works of enormous importance were done: the construction of huge ways of communication, such as the highway that drove from Mexico to Santa Fe; the very notable works in the mines, such as the one of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Potosí and others; aqueducts, such as that of Cempoala, of fifteen leagues of longitude, in which construction intervened during 16 years the Franciscan Francis of Tembleque; beautiful buildings and superb cathedrals which until now are filling us with admiration; and numerous and splendidly equipped hospitals.

These manifestations of civilization, which could be called material, were accompanied with others of a superior culture and administrative organization. Thus the centers of education began with the primary schools, wherein students were taught how to read and write, and concluded with the Universities among which were found during the 16th century, those of Lima, Mexico and Cuzco, founded in 1551, 1552 and 1598 respectively, and bestowed, the first two, with the same privileges that the University of Salamanca. In this universities and in different colleges, such as the one of San Felipe and San Martin of Lima, of Trujillo and Guamangua of Arequipa, of Santa Cruz de Tatlelulco and Puebla de los Angeles of Mexico, etc., were formed the natives writers Cardenas, Sanchez de Viana, Adrian de Alesio and others. Their masterpieces were printed there, since many printings press had at that time their workshops in the New World.

In the legislative organization (which was formed by the city Councils or municipalities, the viceroy and the peninsular tribunal of “Council of Indies”) the laws had nothing to envy the Europeans ones, neither because of their wisdom or humanity.

There is no doubt at all. The immense territories of the Spanish America were, during the 16th century, a worthy testimony of the huge and generous thrust of the colonizing race, which was in the peak of its activity.

Thus the great effort which was done can be better understood in comparison with Africa, which has been known since ancient times. In just one century the Spaniards did in the New World more than what Europe did for its neighboring continent during many centuries, and, in spite of  the material progress, what it has done for Africa until now.

The Spanish America, at the end of the 16th century, is an extension of the motherland in its most splendid period of its life.  Africa, partly unexplored even in the 20th century, is in no way a prolongation of Europe.

Now, the civilization planted by Spain in America had a character and mark of being absolutely Christian… Therefore, because of this same character, the Church took an active and important part in this huge work. And thus it was; in this entire endeavor and in its many aspects, even in the material, she innermostly collaborated and did with her ministries deeds and exploits never surpassed, neither by the civil elements nor by the military branch, though both greatly contributed in this labor.”

Consequently, nobody will be surprised when reading the words of Pope Leo XIII, who highlighting the importance of this historical fact of October 12, said: For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man;”

Church and Convent of St Francis, Plaza de San Francisco, City of Quito Historic Centre, Ecuador, South America

And this is also in agreement with what the historian Lopez de Gomara wrote to the Emperor Charles V in the General history of the Indias: “the greatest thing, after the creation of the world, except the Incarnation and Death of the one who brought it about, is the discovery of the Indies… God wanted you to discover the Indies in your time and with your vassals so that you may convert them to His holy law”

Pope Leo XIII also adds: “hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life..”    

 I do not want to finish this chapter without copying the words that the newspaper “La Prensa” has published today (September 20th, 1933), since they are written by a high authority and addressed to the Supreme Court of Justice.

The General Procurator of the Nation has published today, remembering the opinion of the illustrious author of the Argentinian Civil Code: “As Velez Sarsfield says, the history of religious enterprises in America has no equal in Ecclesiastical History, nor has the world ever seen such tireless and zealous apostles, owing to them, more than to Spanish arms, the conquest of America.”         

     

       


[1] Charles Fletcher Lummis, The Spanish Pioneers, 1893. p. 20

[2] Ibidem., p. 50

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