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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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The ideological strategies of DPI are revealed in the interplay between Acosta's stated intentions in the proemio and dedicatoria and the activation of intertextual voices. Considering his objectives and scrutinizing his use of intertextual sources, we see from Acosta's perspective: his way of reading the evangelical crisis in Perú and his emerging vision of a better evangelical future. While he acknowledges that many practices and attitudes were impeding the growth of the Church in Peru, he did not define his ideological position impetuously. Rather he relied on dialectical argumentation to examine many sides of an issue before resolutely and methodically supporting his conclusion. An exploration of where Acosta's position diverges from the opinions already entrenched in America reveals that he aspired to promote an understanding of Native Americans and construct an environment where evangelization could be most productive.

The first book of DPI and its prologues encourage comprehension of the nature of Amerindians. Afterwards Acosta begins to define the necessary characteristics of a nurturing atmosphere, which would culminate in the strengthening of the Christianization process. To help promote a thorough understanding of Native Americans he created three ethnographical categories detailed in the prologue, argued that they possessed the cognitive ability to become good Christians, and asserted that their “barbaric” behaviors were learned (DPI I, 5-8, 404-14). Advancing the idea that God had called Native Americans to the Gospel, he attempted to inspire hope for their eventual salvation and, at the same time, graft them as future...

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