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Open Access Between Subjection and Accommodation

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Between Subjection and Accommodation

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The Development of José de Anchieta’s Missionary Project in Colonial Brazil

image of Journal of Jesuit Studies

This article provides an explanation for why José de Anchieta, S.J., the most influential missionary in early colonial Brazil, engaged in apparently contradictory evangelization practices. Anchieta’s belief that both subjection and accommodation were necessary in the process of converting natives is evidenced by his epic poem, De gestis Mendi de Saa, which praised Governor Mem de Sá for the peace he brought to Brazil. The climax of the poem is the death by cannibalism of a bishop. This act, in the minds of Anchieta and fellow Portuguese colonists, constituted a cause for just war. While Anchieta’s initial evangelization strategies were focused on taming “savages” by subjecting them to the laws of the colonial governor and altering their indigenous customs, after a relative state of peace was established in the Jesuits’ mission villages Anchieta was able to catechize with great attention to indigenous sensibilities. An analysis of his most popular play, On the Feast of St. Lawrence, highlights how European and indigenous customs combined on the stages of colonial Brazil. Through Anchieta’s poetry and drama, we see that there were many ways of proceeding among the Jesuits, and that their apparent contradictions are better understood in view of their ultimate purpose: converting souls.

Affiliations: 1: Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, European University Institute, annebmcg@gmail.com

This article provides an explanation for why José de Anchieta, S.J., the most influential missionary in early colonial Brazil, engaged in apparently contradictory evangelization practices. Anchieta’s belief that both subjection and accommodation were necessary in the process of converting natives is evidenced by his epic poem, De gestis Mendi de Saa, which praised Governor Mem de Sá for the peace he brought to Brazil. The climax of the poem is the death by cannibalism of a bishop. This act, in the minds of Anchieta and fellow Portuguese colonists, constituted a cause for just war. While Anchieta’s initial evangelization strategies were focused on taming “savages” by subjecting them to the laws of the colonial governor and altering their indigenous customs, after a relative state of peace was established in the Jesuits’ mission villages Anchieta was able to catechize with great attention to indigenous sensibilities. An analysis of his most popular play, On the Feast of St. Lawrence, highlights how European and indigenous customs combined on the stages of colonial Brazil. Through Anchieta’s poetry and drama, we see that there were many ways of proceeding among the Jesuits, and that their apparent contradictions are better understood in view of their ultimate purpose: converting souls.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22141332-00102005
2014-03-12
2018-04-24

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