On this day: St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Toribio de Mogrovejo.

"If a single person symbolized paradigmatically colonial Christendom, it would be Toribio de Mogrovejo, the heroic Archbishop of Lima during the sixteenth century."

--A History of the Church in Latin America: Colonialism to Liberation (1492-1979), by Enrique Dussel, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.

Dussel, who is described by his translator as "liberation theology's principal historian and ethicist", points out that, "Latin American church history as a science is very recent, and works like those of Valencia on Toribio de Mogrovejo . . . are very rare." Page xv.

Jeffrey Klaiber, S.J., also mention Valencia (and Dussel) in the bibliography following his entry on "Mogrovejo, Toribio Alfonso de" in Gerald H. Anderson's Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Eerdmans, 1999. Unfortunately, Valencia's book has not been translated into English.

There is a shortage of information about Toribio in English. He was not the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, as some claim, although he was "juez principal de la Inquisición en Granada". And it was not unusual for a layman--a lawyer--to be appointed to a position as an inquisitor. And it was not surprising that the chief judge of the Inquisition at Granada should be rushed through minor orders and ordained and consecrated and sent out by King Philip II and Pope Gregory XIII as the second Archbishop of Lima.

The Inquisition was well-established in Latin America when Archbishop Toribio arrived in 1581, aged 42.

"While the Holy Office of the Inquisition might be seen as an ecclesiastical institution, in reality it functioned more as a branch of royal government. Many of the inquisitors were not priests but rather were canon lawyers and others with training in canon law and procedure.

"The Holy Office focused mostly on the suppression of heresy and of violations of the sacraments. . . . Political thought was considered merely one manifestation of religious thought. As a result, the Inquisition functioned as a tool for the maintenance of the homogeneity of the body politic. Other cases heard by the Inquisition included bigamy . . ., sexual solicitation by priests of women in confession . . . , and heresy." Page 86.

-- The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond by John Frederick Schwaller, New York University Press, 2011. Search terms: Peru, inquisition.

Archbishop Toribio occupied his time with other matters. "One of his first actions was to call the third Lima council, held between 1582 and 1583. This council, considered the most important of all colonial councils in South America, drew together eight bishops from Colombia to Chile and twenty-two theologians and religious superiors. The principal issue on the agenda of the council was how to evangelize the Indians more effectively. The council produced legislation that influenced all subsequent church councils even into the nineteenth century. The council also produced a catechism in three languages, Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. In general the council emphasized the importance of preaching in the languages of the Indians and using gentle persuasion."

--Klaiber, page 466.

Dussel draws parallels between the Medell'n Conference of 1968 and the "Third Provincial Council of Lima, which Toribio de Mogrovejo celebrated in 1582 - 1583. The major difference is that the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops was continental, and the Council of Lima was only for the immense archdiocese of Mogrovejo. Further, the third Council of Lima was the 'American Trent' with a Tridentine theology and pastoral, while the second General Conference of Medell'n was the 'Vatican II of Latin America' with a theology of liberation and a missionary pastoral." Page 147.

For a picture of the cultural and religious setting in which the new Archbishop of Lima found himself in 1581, see Inquisition: The Reign of Fear, by Toby Green, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009. Search term: Peru.

Click here for a short video (in Spanish) about Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo. At 1:05 it shows him with two saints he confirmed, Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres.

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