Toribio de Benavente Motolinia

Last updated
Motolinia.jpg

Toribio of Benavente, O.F.M. (1482, Benavente, Spain – 1568, Mexico City, New Spain), also known as Motolinía, was a Franciscan missionary who was one of the famous Twelve Apostles of Mexico who arrived in New Spain in May 1524. [1] His published writings are a key source for the history and ethnography of the Nahuas of central Mexico in the immediate post-conquest period as well as for the challenges of Christian evangelization. He is probably best known for his attacks on the Dominican defender of the rights of the indigenous peoples, Bartolomé de las Casas, who criticized the Conquest. Though agreeing with Las Casas's criticism of the abuses of the conquistadors, he did not agree with the whole sale condemnation of the Spanish Conquest, as well as his criticisms of the Franciscan practices of baptism en masse of the indigenous people of the new world. Due to these differences he went on to vilify Las Casas.

Contents

Early life

Toribio entered the Franciscan Order as a young boy, dropping his family name of Paredes in favor of his city of birth, as was the custom among the Franciscans. In 1523, he was chosen to be among the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, to be sent to the New World.

Evangelist New Spain

After a strenuous journey he arrived in Mexico, where he was greeted with great respect by Hernán Cortés. Upon walking through Tlaxcala the Indians said of his ragged Franciscan robes "Motolinia", Nahuatl for "one who is poor or afflicted." That was the first word he learned in the language, and he took it as his name. For the Franciscan Order, poverty was an important and defining virtue. He was named Guardian of the Convent of San Francisco in Mexico City, where he resided from 1524 to 1527.

From 1527 to 1529, he worked in Guatemala and perhaps Nicaragua, studying the new missions in that area. Back in Mexico, he stayed at the convent of Huejotzinco, near Tlaxcala, where he had to help the natives against the abuse and atrocities committed by Nuño de Guzmán. He suggested for the native leaders to complain to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga about Guzmán, but the latter accused him of trying to instigate a revolt among the Indians against the Spanish. In 1530, he went to the Convent of Tlaxcala and contributed in the foundation of the City of Puebla de los Ángeles , which was chosen for its agricultural and other economic potential; it was to be a settlement of Spaniards who pursued agriculture themselves without the aid of indigenous labor of the encomienda . With Franciscan colleagues, he traveled to Tehuantepec, Guatemala, and to the Yucatán to undertake further missionary work.

Even though Motolinía protected Indians against the abuse of Guzmán, he did not share the opinions of the Dominican bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, who saw the conquest and subjugation of the Indians as a crime against all Christian morality. Motolinía believed that God would protect the Indians once converted and that the missionary work thus was more important than fighting the encomienda system, and defended it along with evangelization. In fact, in a famous letter to King Charles V of Spain, he undertook a virulent attack on Las Casas, intending to discredit him completely. He called him "a grievous man, restless, importunate, turbulent, injurious, and prejudicial", and even an apostate, in that he had renounced the Bishopric of Chiapas. He furthermore advised the king to have Las Casas shut up for safe keeping in a monastery. In 1545, the encomenderos of Chiapas asked for him to come there to defend them against Las Casas but he declined, in the same way he declined a position as bishop offered to him by the king. The letter to the king is an important document, clarifying the Franciscan position of baptizing as many Indians as possible if they presented themselves for it. In the time of the conquest Mexico's devastating plagues had reduced the indigenous population considerably and the Franciscans feared for the souls of Indians who died without baptism. They took the position that they should baptize to ensure salvation, but also continue pastoral care so that Indians would grow more knowledgeable about their new Christian faith. The Dominican Order was famous for its adherence to firm doctrinal positions, which meant that they refused baptism to Indians in Mexico if were deemed with a lack of knowledge in the tenets of Christianity.

In his letter to the king, Motolinia recounts an incident of Las Casas's refusal to baptize an Indian in Tlaxcala.;

I said to Las Casas: "How is this, father, all this zeal and love that you say you have for the Indians is exhausted in loading them down and going around writing about Spaniards, and vexing the Indians, since your grace loads down more Indians than thirty (Franciscan) friars? And since you won't baptize or instruct an Indian, it would be well if you would pay those that you so load down and tire out." [2]

An early chapter of Motolinia's history recounts what he considered the ten plagues afflicting New Spain, bringing the Biblical metaphor of the Ten Plagues into the unfolding events in early Mexico. He considered smallpox the first plague; the second, the number of those who died in the conquest; the third, famine following the fall of Tenochtitlan; the fourth, native and black labor bosses and tribute collectors; the fifth, the Indians' tax and tribute obligations; the sixth, Indians forced to labor in Spanish gold mines; the seventh, the building of Mexico City; the eighth, enslavement of Indians to work in the mines; the ninth, the labor in mines far from Indians' homes; and the tenth plague, the factionalism of Spaniards, particularly when Cortés left central Mexico for conquests in Honduras. [3] With the exception of smallpox and factionalism among Spaniards, Motolinia considered Spaniards' deliberate oppression and exploitation of the Indians the worst afflictions.

Death

Having founded many cloisters and convents in Mexico and baptized an estimated 400,000-plus Indians, he retired to the friary of San Francisco in Mexico City, where he died in 1568. He is remembered in Mexico as one of the most important evangelists.

Ethnographies

Motolinia is well known for his two histories of the Aztec and for recording incidents in the evangelization of the Indians. Motolinia recounted the martyrdom of three converted boys from Tlaxcala (Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan), who were killed by adults who resisted conversion. In Motolinia's account, the deaths of Juan and Antonio were premeditated:

[S]ome lords and important men had... arranged to kill these children [Juan and Antonio] because they were breaking their idols and depriving them of their gods.... Antonio came out at once, and when he saw the cruelty with which these brutes were treating his servant (Juan), instead of fleeing he said to them with great spirit: "Why are you killing my companion; for it is not his fault but mine? I am the one who is taking away your idols, because I know that they are devils and not gods. If you consider them gods, take them and leave that boy alone, for he has done you no harm." Saying this he threw on the ground some idols which he was carrying in his skirt. By the time he finished speaking these words, the Indias had killed the child Juan, and then they fell upon the other, Antonio, so that they also killed him. [4]

The children had been put in the care of lords of Tlaxcala by the leader of the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, Fray Martín de Valencia, who Motolinia thought would be especially saddened by the murders. Antonio was not just a child convert but would have become heir to a principal lord of Tlaxcala. [4] To the Franciscans, the martyrdom of the Tlaxcalan boys showed the bravery and the zeal of new converts to the faith and the excellence of the Franciscans' strategy of converting children for the long-term growth of Christianity.

Unlike the writings of fellow Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún, particularly the Florentine Codex, Motolinia's writings are unsystematic in their organization, as he himself acknowledged. However, as one of the earliest friars evangelizing in the densest area of Nahua populations, what he wrote is extremely important as a record of indigenous life and first encounters with the Spaniards.

An English translation of significant portions of Motolinia's works was done by Elizabeth Andros Foster in 1950 for the Cortés Society and reissued in 1973 by Greenwood Press. Her introduction to the translation has a careful discussion of Motolinia's life and works. [5]

Related Research Articles

Hernán Cortés Spanish conquistador

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Moctezuma II Ninth tlatoani of the Aztec Empire in Tenochtitlán

Moctezuma Xocoyotzinmodern Nahuatl pronunciation ),, variant spellings include Motecuhzomatzin, Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to retroactively in European sources as Moctezuma II, was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of the Aztec Empire, reigning from 1502 to 1520. The first contact between the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to take over the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán.

Spanish colonization of the Americas Invasion of the American continents and incorporation into the Spanish Empire

The Spanish colonization of the Americas began under the Crown of Castile and spearheaded by the Spanish conquistadors. The Americas were invaded and incorporated into the Spanish Empire, with the exception of Brazil, British America, and some small regions in South America and the Caribbean. The crown created civil and religious structures to administer this vast territory. The main motivations for colonial expansion were profit and the spread of Catholicism through indigenous conversions.

Bartolomé de las Casas Spanish Dominican friar, historian, and social reformer

Bartolomé de las Casas was a 16th-century Spanish landowner, friar, priest, and bishop, famed as a historian and social reformer. He arrived in Hispaniola as a layman then became a Dominican friar and priest. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies. He described the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.

Champotón, Campeche City in Campeche, Mexico

Champotón is a small city in Champotón Municipality in the Mexican state of Campeche, located at 19°21′N90°43′W, about 60 km south of the city of Campeche where the small Champotón river meets the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. At the 2010 census it had a population of 30,881.

Juan de Zumárraga

Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola was a Spanish Basque Franciscan prelate and first bishop of Mexico. He wrote Doctrina breve, the first book published in the Western hemisphere, printed in Mexico City in 1539.

Pánfilo de Narváez Spanish conquistador and soldier in the Americas

Pánfilo de Narváez was a Spanish conquistador and soldier in the Americas. Born in Spain, he first embarked to Jamaica in 1510 as a soldier. He came to participate in the conquest of Cuba and led an expedition to Camagüey escorting Bartolomé de las Casas.

Antonio de Mendoza

Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco was the first Viceroy of New Spain, serving from November 14, 1535 to November 25, 1550, and the third Viceroy of Peru, from September 23, 1551, until his death on July 21, 1552.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (Yucatán conquistador)

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was a Spanish conquistador, known to history mainly for the ill-fated expedition he led in 1517, in the course of which the first European accounts of the Yucatán Peninsula were compiled.

Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire 16th-century Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, also known as the Conquest of Mexico (1519–21), was one of the primary events in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquerors, their indigenous allies, and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.

Fray Gerónimo de Mendieta (1525–1604), alternatively Jerónimo de Mendieta, was a Franciscan missionary and historian, who spent most of his life in the Spanish Empire's new possessions in Mexico and Central America.

Martín de Valencia was born in Valencia de Don Juan, in the bishopric of Oviedo, Spain, ca. 1474. He died Tlalmanalco, Mexico, 21 March 1534. He was a Spanish Franciscan missionary, leader of the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, the first group of mendicants in New Spain.

Indian auxiliaries Indigenous peoples of the Americas who aligned with the Spanish conquest

Indian auxiliaries or indios auxiliares is the term used in old Spanish chronicles and historical texts for the indigenous peoples who were integrated into the armies of the Spanish conquistadors with the purpose of supporting their advance and combat operations during the Conquest of America. They acted as guides, translators, or porters and in this role were also called yanakuna, particularly within the old Inca Empire and Chile. The term was also used for formations composed of indigenous warriors or Indios amigos, which they used for reconnaissance, combat, and as reserve in battle. The auxiliary Indians remained in use after the conquest, during some revolts, in border zones and permanent military areas, as in Chile in the Arauco War.

Domingo Betanzos was a Spanish Dominican missionary to New Spain, who participated in the "Spiritual Conquest", evangelizing the indigenous.

Twelve Apostles of Mexico

The Twelve Apostles of Mexico, the Franciscan Twelve, or the Twelve Apostles of New Spain, were a group of twelve Franciscan missionaries who arrived in the newly-founded Viceroyalty of New Spain on May 13 or 14, 1524 and reached Mexico City on June 17 or 18. with the goal of converting its indigenous population to Christianity. Conqueror Hernán Cortés had requested friars of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders to evangelize the Indians. Despite the small number, it had religious significance and also marked the beginning of the systematic evangelization of the Indians in New Spain.

Ozumba Town & Municipality in State of Mexico, Mexico

Ozumba is a town and municipality located in the southeast portion of the Valley of Mexico, 70 km southeast of Mexico City near the Mexico City-Cuautla highway. The main feature of this area is the Parish of the Immaculate Conception which began as a Franciscan monastery in the 16th century. The entrance to the cloister area contains murals related to the early evangelization efforts of this order. They include scenes such as Hernán Cortés greeting the first Franciscan missionaries in Mexico, the martyrdom of some of the first young converts to Christianity and even a scene where the monks are flogging Cortés. The church itself inside has suffered the theft of a number of its antique pieces. The name Ozumba comes from Nahuatl meaning “over the streams of water”. “de Alzate” was added to the formal name in honor of the scientist José Antonio Alzate y Ramirez Santillana who was born here.

Capilla abierta

A capilla abierta or “open chapel” is considered to be one of the most distinct Mexican construction forms. Mostly built in the 16th century during the early colonial period, the construction was basically an apse or open presbytery containing an altar, which opened onto a large atrium or plaza. While some state that these were constructed by friars because the native peoples of that epoch were afraid to enter the dark confines of European-style churches, the more likely reasons for their construction were that they allowed the holding of Mass for enormous numbers of people and the arrangement held similarities to the teocallis or sacred precincts of pre-Hispanic temples. While open chapels can be found in other places in Spain and Peru, their systematic use in monasteries and other religious complexes, leading to a regularization of architectural elements, is only found in Mexico.

Cuernavaca Cathedral

The Cuernavaca Cathedral is the Roman Catholic church of the Diocese of Cuernavaca, located in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. The church and its surrounding monastery is one of the early 16th century monasteries in the vicinity of the Popocatepetl volcano, built initially for evangelization efforts of indigenous people after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. By the 18th century, the church of the monastery began to function as the parish church of the city and in the late 19th century, it was elevated to the rank of a cathedral. Unlike many cathedrals in Mexico, this one does not face the city's main square, but rather is located just to the south, in its own walled compound, which it shares with a number of other structures. Unlike the other monastery structures from its time, the importance of this church provoked a number of renovation projects, the last of which occurred in 1957. This one took out the remaining older decorations of the interior and replaced them with simple modern ones. This renovation work also uncovered a 17th-century mural that covers 400 square metres (4,300 sq ft) of the interior walls and narrates the story of Philip of Jesus and twenty three other missionaries who were crucified in Japan.

Jacobo de Testera

Fray Jacobo de Testera or Jacobo de Tastera was a Franciscan Friar of the 16th century who worked as a missionary to the indigenous peoples of New Spain. Born into a noble family in Bayonne, France he entered the Franciscan order around 1500 and went to Seville where he eventually became palace priest of Charles V. In 1527 he was recruited by Fray Antonio de Ciudad Rodrigo to go to Mexico where he arrived in 1529.

Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala

The Martyrs of Tlaxcala were three Mexican Roman Catholic teenagers from the state of Tlaxcala: Cristobal and the two companions Antonio and Juan. The three Teenagers were converts from the indigenous traditions of their families to the Roman Catholic faith and received their educations from the Order of Friars Minor who baptized them and evangelized in the area. Their activism and evangelical zeal led to their deaths at the hands of those who detested their newfound faith and perceived them as dangers to their values and rituals.

References

  1. See Thomas, Prologue, chapter 4 where he names (i) the clerics (including a Franciscan friar) who were present with Hernán Cortés in 1522; (ii) the three Flemish Franciscan lay brothers who came out in 1523 (two of whom died prematurely); and (iii) the "Twelve" (10 Franciscan priests and two Franciscan lay brothers) who came out to New Spain in 1524
  2. Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, "The Franciscan reply (to Las Casas)" in Letters and People of the Spanish Indies, Sixteenth century, edited and translated by James Lockhart and Enrique Otte. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1976, p. 226. The entire letter is translated to English with an introduction, placing it in context, pp. 218-247.
  3. Motolinia, Motolinia's History of the Indians of New Spain, pp. 37-44.
  4. 1 2 Motolinia,Motolinia's History of the Indians of New Spain, pp. 251-252.
  5. Elizabeth Andros Foster, "Introduction" to Motolinia's History of the Indians of New Spain, Greenwood Press 1973.

Sources

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Alonso Rancrel
Provincial of the province of the Holy Gospel Succeeded by
Juan de Gaona