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The Kingdom of Kongo and the Counter Reformation

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From early contact with the Portuguese and conversion to Christianity in the late 15th century and continuing through the Counter Reformation, the Kingdom of Kongo resisted Portuguese colonialism while remaining steadfastly loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Against the turbulent backdrop of the growing Atlantic slave trade, internal conflict and power struggles, and Portuguese presence in Luanda, Kongo repeatedly resisted the temptation to break from Rome and establish its own Church, in spite of Portuguese control of the Episcopate. In the late 16th century King Álvaro clashed with the Portuguese Bishop, but remained faithful to the church in Rome. In the early 17th century, Kongo armies repelled Portuguese invasions from the south while kings continued to lobby for more Jesuit and later Italian Capuchin missionaries, whom they needed, above all, to perform sacraments vital to Kongolese Catholics. Another opportunity to split from Rome came when Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita created the Antonian movement in 1704 and denounced the Catholic Church. Instead, she was captured and burned at the stake while King Pedro IV remained faithful to the Capuchin missionaries. In contrast to Portuguese Angola, where Jesuits were deeply implicated in slave trading, the Capuchins in Kongo did not own slaves and, for the most part, both resisted and criticized the slave trade. Résumé Depuis les premiers contacts avec les Portugais et la conversion au christianisme à la fin du 15ème siècle jusqu’ à la Contre-Réforme, le royaume Kongo a résisté à la colonisation portugaise tout en restant résolument loyal envers l’église catholique romaine. En dépit du contexte difficile, marqué par l’essor de la traite négrière transatlantique, un conflit interne et des luttes de pouvoir, et la présence portugaise à Luanda, le royaume Kongo a toujours résisté à la tentation de rompre avec Rome et d’établir sa propre église, et ce malgré le contrôle des Portugais sur l’épiscopat. A la fin du 16ème siècle, le roi Álvaro s’opposa à l’évêque portugais, mais resta fidèle à l’église de Rome. Au début du 17ème siècle, les armées du Kongo repoussèrent les invasions portugaises venues du Sud tandis que les rois continuaient de réclamer davantage de Jésuites et, plus tard, de missionnaires capucins italiens dont ils avaient besoin, avant tout, pour célébrer des sacrements essentiels pour les catholiques kongolais. Lorsque Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita créa le mouvement antonien en 1704 et dénonça l’église catholique, cela aurait pu constituer une autre occasion de rupture. Au lieu de cela, elle fut capturée et brûlée sur le bûcher tandis que le roi Pedro IV restait fidèle aux missionnaires capucins. Contrairement à ce qui se passait dans l’Angola portugais, où les Jésuites étaient très impliqués dans la traite négrière, les Capucins au Kongo n’ont jamais possédé des esclaves et, pour la plupart, ont résisté au commerce des esclaves et l’ont critiqué.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Boston University, USA


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