Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Modernism and the California Missions

Modernism and the California Missions

A Baptist friend of mine marveled at the missions in California. He told me that on a hot San Diego day, a day when the Santa Ana winds were blowing hot over the Southern California landscape, how he had escape the heat by entering the abode walled Church of the Mission San Diego de Alcala. He marveled at the engineering feat of simple Catholic Franciscan priests who could build a solid structure of earth and mud that could block out the elements, keep the Church cool on hot days, and warm on winter days.

What he didn’t realize was that these simple priests were humble and meek but not all that simple. Many of these priests were well educated Spanish gentlemen who heard the call of God to traverse over oceans and deserts to bring the word of God to heathen Native Californians for the salvation of their souls.

These holy men were men of science, literature, and music. Many were educated in Guadalupe, Zacatecas, where the school in which they were trained still stands.

These gentlemen renounced worldly possessions, put on the coarse woolen grab of the Franciscan, and braved the elements to come north from the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico).

They brought with them the Holy Scriptures, the 7 sacraments, and tools to build a thriving Christian community where one did not exists.

These men put aside prejudice and accepted the Native California as they were a people capable of learning, deserving of Gods love and capable of becoming members of the Church of Christ. This example of charity was in stark contrast to other European encounters with Native Americans on the East Coast, South and Mid West.

These men of learning and charity were able to learn the native languages, organize communities, and bring souls into the Mystical Body of Christ.

In addition to this they brought books on Roman law and established representative government. They maintained the Native California concept of community property within the context of Catholic teaching. Therefore the goods of the community (the mission) belonged to the people (the Native Californians).

Certainly, we hear lot of revisionist history, mostly from anti Catholic, pro socialist, and pro modernist, that there were problems in the mission. Well the fact is that the successes completely outweighed the failures.

After many successful decades of surplus food and surplus products (principally cow hides) non religious institutions such as the Landed Elite (Rancheros and Hacendados) became jealous of the lands that the church developed for the benefit of the Native Californian population. The landed elite wanted a bigger piece of the tan and hide trade with the New England Merchants who visited California shores. If they could get a bigger piece of this market they would make more money and be able to buy more manufactured goods produced in New England.

Once the landed elite was able to rid itself of the Crown,who had protected the Church’s’ interest in New Spain, they were able to lobby their new secular government in Mexico City to disband the mission system. They called this process “secularization” of the mission system.

The landed elite had done this for three principle reasons. Firstly, the landed elite had become less and less Catholic and more and more influenced by the French Revolution which was anti Catholic in nature. The landed elite found it unbearable to accept the fact that the Church was involved in commerce, education, welfare and land ownership. They sought to extricate the Church from secular society as much as possible and they succeed to the detriment to the new Republic of México.

Secondly, they needed the labor that the native population represented. In cold hard economic terms, the landed elite needed Native American labor to work on its ranches grazing cattle. The landed elite had complained for year to the Royal authorities that their interests were not being considered and complained that Church was benefiting more from this labor pool that they were. They also asserted that the Church’s mission of Christianizing the Native California was complete and by virtue of this the Royal government should break up the unnecessary missions and allow these people to join the unskilled workforce of California.

What the Rancheros did not recognize in their greed for more land, labor, and production was that the Native California lived in a wholly Christian Collective environment within the mission. They had not been educated in 19th century Spanish/Mexican culture of land, and labor, and materialism. The foundation of the Mission system was the Catholic Faith.

Thirdly, the landed elite wanted the land. They had argued that the Church had no business as a large landholder. They made demands on the government in Mexico to free up these lands and give them to themselves. What a business.

These above arguments sound very similar to the arguments that the German and English princes made to their respective Protestant ministers. As in Germany and England , three centuries later in California the Church was dispossessed of the land and a great deal of common folk ( Native Californians) where thrust into an economic system they were wholly unprepared for. No more were there safeguards to protect the young, ill, and aged from poverty.

In California, as in Germany and England, after the confiscation of these lands, no new secular authority would be able to compensate for the charitable existence in which each dispossessed person could previously claim under the laws of the Church.

In California some Native California did go to work for the large landed elite like the Sepulveda, Alvarado, Dominguez families, etc. Many more ill and aged became desamparado or abandoned, distressed, and marginalized. Many Native Californians left their mission grounds and joined other bands of Native Californians up in the hills and mountain and returned to the life their ancestors had known.

What is sure is that modernism in California as Protestantism in Northern Europe caused dislocation, poverty, and despair to many common people all in the name of progress and greed.

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