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José de Acosta’s «De procuranda Indorum salute»

A Call for Evangelical Reforms in Colonial Peru


Gregory J. Shepherd

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.
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In recent years there has been a growing interest in Jesuit history. Of course the Paraguay reductions have always fascinated scholars. But there are still lacunae. An example is José de Acosta, the most important missionary theorist in all of Latin American colonial history. But he is still a relatively unstudied figure in the English-speaking world. Acosta was the author two major works: De pro-curanda Indorum salute (1588) and The Natural and Moral History of the Indies (1590). The catechism of the Third Lima Council (1583) may be considered a third work. Although the catechism, written in Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, does not bear his name, Acosta is considered one of the principal authors.

Thanks to Gregory Shepherd we now have at hand a comprehensive and thorough study of De procuranda Indorum salute, Acosta’s principal guide for missionaries in Latin America. Shepherd lays out the historical context for understanding De procuranda Indorum and analyzes the key themes and sources that inspired the Jesuit author. Basically, Acosta wrote at a time when the utopian phase of evangelization had ended. The age of Vasco de Quiroga in Mexico had long past and Bartolomé de las Casas, the champion of Indian rights, was held in disdain by Spanish authorities. Spanish cities had sprung up everywhere and the great gold and silver mines in Mexico and Bolivia (Potosí) were being exploited with the help of Indian work forces. In this new context Acosta took upon himself the difficult task of...

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