Monday, April 28, 2008

But what about Paraguay?

The first book that I read which gives an analysis of the Reformation and Catholicism from the Catholic perspective is Louis Bouyer's The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

The book is highly engaging and has brought up many of the core issues that have importance when one considers the church. One drawback about the book that has been evident in reading it a second time out loud is that Bouyer is so well-read that one has to know the scholars of whom he speaks. While he cites Calvin and Luther at length, most of what he says about Barth and Kierkegaard is based on the assumption that one has a good understanding of these writers. The main thrust of his themes is still able to be grasped, but sometimes he lists French writers that were famous in France but I've often no clue who they are.

He also has the sort of grasp on history that I hope to have some day. For instance, he argues that if one is to grasp that the ultimacy of God's glory is something sought after by both devout Catholics and Calvinists, one can see that the fundamental application of these concepts of this are true in a political realm. For, he argues, if one compares Calvin's Geneva, at least as conceived ideally, with the work of the Jesuits in Paraguay, then one will find some striking similarities.

So, what about Paraguay? Ignorant American that I am, when I read those words, they did not say too much to me. I had recently read about where this small country is, nestled in a landlocked state between Brazil and the larger South American countries like Argentina. And it's true I did note in passing fancy that it was interesting that the vast majority of the population is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and Guarani, the native American dialect of the area. But I failed to see any religious significance.

Now, since Louis Bouyer had mentioned Paraguay, I looked up the Jesuit connection with Paraguay. This link is one of probably hundreds discussing the matter, but I will at least say that superficially I am very excited about this notion. Often one hears of the empires built by Europe as those which decimate culture and language in the name of religion, but the fact that the Jesuits did not discourage the use of the native language in this instance hints that this may not be a universal rule.

It also raises the question that always was on my mind--was the oppression that occurred historically wrought by the hands of religious men and women, or was it done by opportunistic individuals? It seems that Paraguay is not only an anomaly in terms of relative frequency among countries established in the Americas, but also with regard to the fact that in this country the religious Jesuits had more power and less competition with thrill/gold/fame-seeking conquistadores. So which model of preaching is the exception, and which is the rule? In the sense that a rule is based on a standard or ruler, it would seem that Paraguay would be the way in which one ought to gauge the merits of the religion that was spread to new cultures. There was a philosophy underlying this mission, that was able to permeate more due to less competition with those not in the clergy. But we seem to emphasize the stark and frightening acts of man that are based on no principles that a man would boast of to his children. We think that because they are more shocking they say more. But that would only be true if the motives underlying those deeds were ultimate to those individuals. This seems to be yet another instance where we as a society have things backwards.

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