José de Acosta’s «De procuranda Indorum salute»

A Call for Evangelical Reforms in Colonial Peru

by Gregory J. Shepherd (Author)
©2014 Monographs 114 Pages


José de Acosta’s De procuranda Indorum salute: A Call for Evangelical Reforms in Colonial Peru contextualizes and analyzes the deployment of Catholic missionary forces in the Andes. Its exhaustive approach to the ecclesiastic and political reforms of late-sixteenth-century Peru exposes the philosophical and legal underpinnings of Spain's colonial policies. As this book analyzes José de Acosta’s De procuranda Indorum salute, one of the most important treatises of the colonial period, it explores influences and intentions and reveals context and subtext. Comprehensive in its appraisal of Acosta’s intellectual achievement, this book is essential for scholars and students of this early period of Christian and European expansion in the Americas. Not only does Gregory J. Shepherd examine Acosta’s missionary manual against the controversial backdrop of Las Casas and Sepúlveda, but he also reconstructs the political atmosphere surrounding Toledo’s massive and intrusive transformation of Andean life. Most importantly, this text carries out a thorough study of the ideologies – Christian, Jesuit, and European – underlying Acosta’s appeal for political, social, and ecclesiastic reform.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter one—Context for Evangelization: Crisis and Reform in the Peruvian Viceroyalty
  • Las Casas and Del único modo de atraer a todos los pueblos
  • Las Casas’s Ideas in Peru
  • The Writing of De Procuranda
  • The Content of De Procuranda
  • Reflections on the Context underlying De Procuranda
  • Missionary Failures and Hypocrisy
  • State-controlled Church
  • The Mita and Abusive Colonists
  • Clerical Hypocrisy
  • Social Engineering through the Reduction System
  • Toledo Counters Las Casas
  • Toledo’s Parroquia System vs. Acosta’s Missions
  • Chapter 2—DPI’s Prologues: Expressed Intentions in the Dedicatoria and Proemio
  • The Formulaic Make-up of the Prologue
  • Why did Acosta write DPI?
  • Why had Colonial Administrators and Clergy Lost Faith?
  • Type-C Prologues
  • Intention and Utility of DPI
  • Proemio to DPI
  • Cultural Diversity means Methodological Diversity
  • Significance of Cultural Difference
  • Three Levels of Civilizational Development Give Rise to Three Methods
  • Chapter 3—Intertextuality: Tracing DPI’s Geneology of Discourse
  • Classical Texts
  • Sacred Writ
  • The Patristic Fathers
  • Medieval and Renaissance Manuals
  • Sixteenth-century Treatises
  • Toledo’s Scholars
  • Ideology in De Procuranda: Authorizing and Censuring Intertextual Voices
  • Conclusion
  • Works Consulted
  • Series index

← 12 | 13 → INTRODUCTION

[L]os principios de la religión cristiana requieren especial sabiduría, industria y diligencia, como vemos que sucede en las nuevas plantas.

[The principles of Christian religion require a certain wisdom, hard work and diligence as can be seen in nurturing plants.] (DPI IV, 11, 522)

In 1572 José de Acosta, a Jesuit theologian known for fiery sermons and intellectual diplomacy, arrived in Peru to begin an apostolic mission in Spain's most cherished Viceroyalty. The early 1570s were formative years for Spain's establishment of a colonial presence in Peru. Pizarro's defeat of the Inca leader, Atahualpa, at Cajamarca in 1532 was a prelude to forty years of executions, uprisings, civil wars, and general unrest as Spanish conquerors and administrators attempted to “pacify” and “stabilize” the region. When Acosta arrived to join a community of over forty Jesuits in Peru, the recently appointed Viceroy, Francisco de Toledo, was in the process of implementing a number of major reforms. Toledo used reducciones and the mita to control the political, social, and economic aspects of Amerindian life. Reducciones were forced resettlements of Native Andeans into villages and the mita was a tributary system of forced labor moving workers and their families to mines and construction sites. Acosta's arrival coincided with these massive state-based efforts to control the native population. Also in 1572, Toledo's troops captured and publically executed the last autonomous Inca, Tupac Amarú, whose stronghold in the Eastern foothills of the Andes had resisted Spanish dominion for almost forty years. After decades of upheaval, Toledo's military and administrative pursuits brought relative political stability while imposing tremendous burdens on the native Andeans.

Forced conversions and mass baptisms without adequate instruction characterize the bulk of missionary labors in the forty years after Pizarro's arrival. The Jesuits, late arrivals in 1568, were occupied in several ministries in Peru at the time of Acosta's arrival: a college in Lima, a residence in Cuzco, and several doctrinas or Indian parishes. These parishes were being established around Toledo's reducciones of outlying Indian populations. The parish ministries required Jesuits to set up semi-permanently in villages isolated from their religious communities. Jesuits had accepted this form of preaching and evangelizing among the Native Americans under pressure from Toledo and the crown though the Jesuit Constitutions forbade this arrangement for its permanence and reliance on monetary income. Acosta came on the scene to face several controversies regarding fundamental issues within his own community: the political and theological legitimacy of the Spanish conquest and Jesuit participation in parish ← 13 | 14 → ministries to name only a few. Divisiveness among the clergy, failed attempts to Christianize Amerindians, and the autocratic manipulation of native society by Toledo combined to undermine the growth and fortification of the Church in Peru. This context motivated Acosta’s reading and rewriting of the missionary field which culminated in the production of one of the most thorough and well-researched evangelizing manuals of the early modern period—De Procuranda Indorum Salute.

In De Procuranda Indorum, the reader experiences the discursive crossroads of many texts, discussions, and ideologies that circulated throughout Europe the century after the Western World confronted the existence of another hemisphere. The encyclopedic fabric of this text is woven with a multi-disciplinary array of threads encompassing theology, political science, philosophy, ethnology and many other fields of knowledge forming a truly Renaissance document. The discursive threads activated in DPI depart from Classical times, traverse the Middle Ages, and extend into the frenzied tapestry of the post-Columbian era. While its encyclopedic structure allowed for the interplay of many discourses, DPI’s content responds to a very specific context—late sixteenth-century Peru.1 The ideological motivation for Acosta's text aimed to take full advantage of the established institutions and propose the creation of others in order to bring about the proper and productive Christianization of Native Americans.2 Acosta's text cautions kings, challenges philosophers, and rebukes the immoral while it carefully and methodically reads the American macrocosm. He employs many different discourses to gloss the controversial Peruvian reality: “muchos tenían varias y opuestas opiniones sobre las cosas de Indias” [many had differing and sometimes opposing opinions about the nature of the Indies] (DPI 389).3 Upon reading America, Acosta builds a space wherein Christianization can occur in harmony with other existing institutions.

The threads that weave Acosta's text reach well beyond his life. To be sure, others subsequently appropriated these same threads from Acosta's own writings, forming a diachronic collage of fabrics and texts that continue to explore ← 14 | 15 → America and her inhabitants.4 As Foucault explains in The Archeology of Knowledge:

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. . . . it indicates itself, constructs itself, only on the basis of a complex field of discourse. (23)

Nevertheless, as a “node” of the greater “network,” Acosta's text responds to a specific time and place. A reliable understanding of his response is conditioned by an informed exploration and interpretation of the context from which DPI springs. The intersection of these discursive threads within the Peruvian cultural fabric—the political, social, and economic strands—activates the meaning of the text. It must be acknowledged that Acosta's reading of the Peruvian “reality” involved the imposition of a European system of representation and it also, as most treatises written during the Renaissance, empowers itself as a sort of facsimile of an exterior reality—the word becomes the signified.5 In order to develop a more fertile climate for missionary work in Peru, Acosta investigates or reads the nature of Amerindians measuring their cognitive capacity and empowering their position as prospective Christians.

José de Acosta does more than simply represent the realities and problems of the mission field in Peru; he prescribes conditions and attitudes, develops methodologies and attempts to inspire the reader to participate in this endeavor. By writing history, constructing philosophical dialectic, and employing literary and rhetorical technique in DPI, Acosta creates the fertile ground of hope and peace in Peru (books 1 and 2). He attempts to censor and eradicate the oppressive practices of the colonial church and government (book 3) and portrays an honorable missionary (book 4). He also describes the methods to be used by evangelizers and how to deploy his catechism (book 5). And finally, he celebrates the ← 15 | 16 → harvest by explaining the proper administration of sacraments to Native Americans (book 6).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
missionary forces context subtext policies
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 114 pp.

Biographical notes

Gregory J. Shepherd (Author)

Gregory J. Shepherd holds a PhD in Hispanic literature from Georgetown University. As an Assistant Professor, he currently teaches Latin American literature, culture and language, instructional methodology, and assessment strategies at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Shepherd has published a book and several articles on historical treatises, autobiographical narratives, and epic poetry from the colonial period in Latin America by authors as diverse as José de Acosta and Alonso de Ercilla. His current research focuses on hybridity in Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios and technology integration in teacher education models.


Title: José de Acosta’s «De procuranda Indorum salute»
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116 pages