|Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a Jesuit from the Vice-royalty of the Rio de la Plata which is the name by which Argentina was known before it secured independence from the Spanish Empire in the early 19th century.
It is impossible to predict what the new Pope will turn out to be. But the story of the Jesuits in South America turns history itself upside down and flies in the face of reality as we have come to know and understand it. The role of the Jesuits is a scandal, an affront against the consensus on which present day social reality is based. An affront against reason, in other words. Which is why it is practically written out of history.
It can be argued that the modern world started with the expulsion of the Muslim Moors from Spain and the subsequent Spanish conquest of the 'New' World, setting in train the greatest catastrophe ever to afflict humankind.
The destruction of much of the population of South America, and the virtual extermination of the indigenous North Americans, was resisted and countered by Jesuit missionaries and, less successfully, by Franciscan missionaries, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the English and Portuguese areas the Indians were exterminated in the cause of Progress. Though technically under the protection of the Emperor and the Pope, the Indians in the Spanish-run areas were virtually enslaved by the settlers, and were wiped out in many areas.
Except where the natives came under the influence of the mediaeval European mind. Jesuit missionaries armed and trained them so they could protect themselves against the forces of Progress which saw them as naked savages, just another raw material to be consumed for self-enrichment.
In the course of the 17th century the mission Indians in the rain-forests constituted an extensive state consisting of about thirty cities (or Reductions) straddling the continent, under the tutelage of Jesuit missionaries—two unarmed missionaries to each city. The cities were built by the Indians to a standard higher than anything to be then found in North or South America, better than most places in Europe at that time. The ruins of the cities are now a tourist attraction, like Mayan or Inca antiquities, and with just as little significance for present-day reality.
They had universal education, healthcare and welfare. Worse than that, the thriving Reduction economic system did not use money. Private property and rational economic self-interest were no part of it. Just when joint stock companies and capital were in the process of transforming the whole world!
The Jesuits did not set out to create a communist welfare society. Their actual agenda was much worse than that. Their aim was to save Indian souls. In other words, having lost millions to heresy in Europe, they aimed to replenish Catholic numbers by turning the Indians into devout Catholics loyal to the Pope and obedient to the Emperor.
So the Jesuit system in South America was a scandal, a bad example, a throwback to mediaeval ignorance and superstition, an infamy to be erased from the world by Modernity, Reason and Progress.
And it was duly erased. But the Indians have not forgotten it. The sheet-music scores of their orchestras are currently being re-discovered and performed after a lapse of more than 200 years. And here and there the victory of the settlers and Progress is being gradually rolled back.
It remains to be seen whether the South American Jesuit Pope Francis I is in the same mould as his infamous predecessors.
The story of the Jesuits in Latin America is the basis of the 1986 film The Mission, in which the main parts are played by Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro, notable also for the music soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. English language accounts of the Reductions can be read in A Vanished Arcadia by Philip Carman, and A Lost Paradise by R.B. Cunninghame-Graham.
“For theories of advancement, and as to whether certain arbitrary ideas of the rights of man, evolved in general by those who in their persons and their lives are the negation of all rights, I give a fico—yes, your fig of Spain—caring as little as did ancient Pistol for 'palabras', and holding that the best right that a man can have is to be happy after the way that pleases him the most. And that the Jesuits rendered the Indians happy is certain, though to those men who fudge a theory of mankind, thinking that everyone is forged upon their anvil, or run out of their own mould, after the fashion of a tallow dip (a theory which, indeed, the sameness of mankind renders at times not quite untenable), it seems absurd because the progress of the world has gone on other lines—lines which prolonged indefinitely would never meet those which the Jesuits drew” (from A Lost Paradise, which is available online).
Pat Muldowney's illustrated article, Paradise In Paraguy can by found in Church & State 97, Summer 2007
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