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Providential Preparations For Th





SPIRITUAL REVIVAL THROUGHOUT CHRISTENDOM, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE CHURCH OF SPAIN.


The heroic discovery of America, at the close of the fifteenth century
after Christ, has compelled the generous and just admiration of the
world; but the grandeur of human enterprise and achievement in the
discovery of the western hemisphere has a less claim on our admiration
than that divine wisdom and controlling providence which, for reasons
now manifested, kept the secret hidden through so many millenniums, in
spite of continual chances of disclosure, until the fullness of time.

How near, to speak as a fool, the plans of God came to being defeated
by human enterprise is illustrated by unquestioned facts. The fact of
medieval exploration, colonization, and even evangelization in North
America seems now to have emerged from the region of fanciful conjecture
into that of history. That for four centuries, ending with the
fifteenth, the church of Iceland maintained its bishops and other
missionaries and built its churches and monasteries on the frozen coast
of Greenland is abundantly proved by documents and monuments. Dim but
seemingly unmistakable traces are now discovered of enterprises, not
only of exploration and trade, but also of evangelization, reaching
along the mainland southward to the shores of New England. There are
vague indications that these beginnings of Christian civilization were
extinguished, as in so many later instances, by savage massacre. With
impressive coincidence, the latest vestige of this primeval American
Christianity fades out in the very year of the discovery of America by
Columbus.[2:1]

By a prodigy of divine providence, the secret of the ages had been kept
from premature disclosure during the centuries in which, without knowing
it, the Old World was actually in communication with the New. That was
high strategy in the warfare for the advancement of the kingdom of God
in the earth. What possibilities, even yet only beginning to be
accomplished, were thus saved to both hemispheres! If the discovery of
America had been achieved four centuries or even a single century
earlier, the Christianity to be transplanted to the western world would
have been that of the church of Europe at its lowest stage of decadence.
The period closing with the fifteenth century was that of the dense
darkness that goes before the dawn. It was a period in which the
lingering life of the church was chiefly manifested in feverish
complaints of the widespread corruption and outcries for reformation of
the church in head and members. The degeneracy of the clergy was
nowhere more manifest than in the monastic orders, that had been
originally established for the express purpose of reviving and purifying
the church. That ancient word was fulfilled, Like people, like priest.
But it was especially in the person of the foremost official
representative of the religion of Jesus Christ that that religion was
most dishonored. The fifteenth century was the era of the infamous
popes. By another coincidence which arrests the attention of the reader
of history, that same year of the discovery by Columbus witnessed the
accession of the most infamous of the series, the Borgia, Alexander VI.,
to his short and shameful pontificate.

Let it not be thought, as some of us might be prone to think, that the
timeliness of the discovery of the western hemisphere, in its relation
to church history, is summed up in this, that it coincided with the
Protestant Reformation, so that the New World might be planted with a
Protestant Christianity. For a hundred years the colonization and
evangelization of America were, in the narrowest sense of that large
word, Catholic, not Protestant. But the Catholicism brought hither was
that of the sixteenth century, not of the fifteenth. It is a most
one-sided reading of the history of that illustrious age which fails to
recognize that the great Reformation was a reformation of the church
as well as a reformation from the church. It was in Spain itself, in
which the corruption of the church had been foulest, but from which all
symptoms of heretical pravity were purged away with the fiercest zeal
as fast as they appeared,--in Spain under the reign of Ferdinand and
Isabella the Catholic,--that the demand for a Catholic reformation made
itself earliest and most effectually felt. The highest ecclesiastical
dignitary of the realm, Ximenes, confessor to the queen, Archbishop of
Toledo, and cardinal, was himself the leader of reform. No changes in
the rest of Christendom were destined for many years to have so great
an influence on the course of evangelization in North America as those
which affected the church of Spain; and of these by far the most
important in their bearing on the early course of Christianity in
America were, first, the purifying and quickening of the miserably
decayed and corrupted mendicant orders,--ever the most effective arm in
the missionary service of the Latin Church,--and, a little later, the
founding of the Society of Jesus, with its immense potency for good and
for evil. At the same time the court of Rome, sobered in some measure,
by the perilous crisis that confronted it, from its long orgy of simony,
nepotism, and sensuality, began to find time and thought for spiritual
duties. The establishment of the congregations or administrative
boards, and especially of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, or board
of missions, dates chiefly from the sixteenth century. The revived
interest in theological study incident to the general spiritual
quickening gave the church, as the result of the labors of the Council
of Trent, a well-defined body of doctrine, which nevertheless was not so
narrowly defined as to preclude differences and debates among the
diverse sects of the clergy, by whose competitions and antagonisms the
progress of missions both in Christian and in heathen lands was destined
to be so seriously affected.

An incident of the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth
century--inevitable incident, doubtless, in that age, but none the less
deplorable--was the engendering or intensifying of that cruel and
ferocious form of fanaticism which is defined as the combination of
religious emotion with the malignant passions. The tendency to
fanaticism is one of the perils attendant on the deep stirring of
religious feeling at any time; it was especially attendant on the
religious agitations of that period; but most of all it was in Spain,
where, of all the Catholic nations, corruption had gone deepest and
spiritual revival was most earnest and sincere, that the manifestations
of fanaticism were most shocking. Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic
were distinguished alike by their piety and their part in the promotion
of civilization, and by the horrors of bloody cruelty perpetrated by
their authority and that of the church, at the instigation of the
sincere and devout reformer Ximenes. In the memorable year 1492 was
inaugurated the fiercest work of the Spanish Inquisition, concerning
which, speaking of her own part in it, the pious Isabella was able
afterward to say, For the love of Christ and of his virgin mother I
have caused great misery, and have depopulated towns and districts,
provinces and kingdoms.

The earlier pages of American church history will not be intelligently
read unless it is well understood that the Christianity first to be
transplanted to the soil of the New World was the Christianity of
Spain--the Spain of Isabella and Ximenes, of Loyola and Francis Xavier
and St. Theresa, the Spain also of Torquemada and St. Peter Arbues and
the zealous and orthodox Duke of Alva.





Next: Spanish Conquest The Propagation




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