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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

24 - Christian encounters with other world religions



The massive Christian missionary effort that had begun with the opening of the Spanish and Portuguese overseas empires was, by 1660, in full flood. This effort was undertaken by the religious orders, particularly the Dominicans and Franciscans in the early days. Because of this intimate association of missionary activity with Iberian imperial expansion and because of the ‘Reconquista’ tradition of these two empires, the Christian encounter with other religions was perceived in terms of conquest. This was soon seen by some of the missionaries involved as a problem, and a minority struggled, with only limited success, to disentangle Christianity from its role as the spiritual wing of Chris-tendom’s expansion. A dynamic new element broke into this situation with the creation of the Society of Jesus in 1542. The Jesuits became, with astonishing rapidity, the leading missionary society, with half of their 1,000 members working outside Europe by 1600.

The Jesuit effort to disengage religious outreach from Spanish or Portuguese expansion was reinforced in 1622 by the papal institution of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (colloquially ‘the Propaganda’). The purpose of the new congregation was to oversee the missionary activities of the Roman Catholic Church free from the restrictions of the Padroado Real and Patronato Real, the concordats with the Holy See which gave so much control over the church outside Europe to the Portuguese and Spanish crowns, respectively. This conflict between royal and papal authority over the worldwide mission of the church was an inhibiting and ever-present factor in this period of Catholic outreach.