Author: José Eduardo Franco
Part of: Coimbra as an International Institution (coord. by Mário Santiago de Carvalho
Published: November, 29th, 2021
The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Franco, José Eduardo, “António Vieira on Europe”, Conimbricenses.org Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.4934552”, URL = “https://www.conimbricenses.org/encyclopedia/antonio-vieira-on-europe”, latest revision: June, 12th, 2021.
Table of Contents
Vieira and the Idea of Europe
The idea of Europe that can be envisaged in Father António Vieira’s work is fundamentally marked by his relation with his country of origin and in terms of his religious, social and political concerns, diagnoses and values, which form the base of his understanding of the past and the present, as well as his projection of the utopian horizons of the future. Being in Rome, far way and longing for Portugal, António Vieira (1608-1697) describes his country in relation to Europe in the “Sermon of Saint Anthony”, preached in that city on the day of the saint’s feast, on June 13, 1670: “It is it is true that Portugal was a small corner, or a small portion of Europe; but in that little corner of pure land, blessed by God: Fide purum, et pietate dilectum, Heaven endowed Faith in that little corner, which would derive from there to all these vast lands” (Vieira 2013, II, X, 240). Vieira not always refers to Portugal this favorably in his works, nor to Europe, which he sometimes uses as a critical mirror of comparison and evaluation of his country. In fact, Europe is present in his work as a theme in line with his vision of Portugal and the world, being treated less by knowledge derived from study and more by known experience accumulated through the visits he had to make to some countries on the European continent. Vieira’s several trips to different countries and continents, made him, in fact, one of the most important travelers of the Portuguese seventeenth century, opening up horizons and functioning as a learning factor and source of inspiration and confrontation for generating progressive solutions.
Father António Vieira’s relation with Europe can be characterized as dichotomous on several levels. It is a relationship of affection and disaffection. He found in Europe an opportunity for affirmation, inspiration, glory, as well as a space of illusion and disappointment. Europe: continent of Christianity, the beacon of the Gospel, but at the same time, a place of division, fracture, fratricidal wars due to heresy and the rupture of Christian unity under the aegis of the Church of Rome. Division, fracture, heresy which, as he and his Order know well, are a counterproductive example in view of the ideal of a new society to be built in the territories of the newly Christianized extra-European peoples, within the framework of the missionary process ad gentes. Therefore, he wants to avoid at all costs repeating this scenario in the New World, or, at least, in the new world under the control of Catholic missionaries, and particularly under the Jesuit management of the missionary efforts. He idealizes and fights for a New World immune and freed from the taint of the division of Christians in order to build a united world, gathered in the same flock and around a single shepherd. In fact, Vieira’s strategic concern was common to other Jesuits who, on other missionary fronts (see Japan and China), tried to avoid at all costs the reproduction of the division of Christianity in Europe, and even its knowledge by the native peoples. This dual, fractured perception of Europe permeates, as a concern and accusation, his preaching work and is sharply present in his prophetic works, especially in História do Futuro and Clavis Prophetarum.
Vieira the Traveller
If Vieira had his worldview opened by navigation, commerce, cultural exchanges and, especially, evangelization, making him very modern, his perspective on the continent where his native country is located still oscillates between the medieval concept of Christianity and the modern concept of Europe. In fact, we can see that Vieira sometimes uses the term Europe to refer to his continent in terms of physical, human, political and cultural geography, but his Christianizing and utopian ideal of announcing a new era for humanity on Earth is still a direct heir to the medieval model of unity, in the context of the political-social paradigm of Christianity, embodied in the myth of the universal Christian empire, which is now desired to cover the entire planet.
It is based on this model that the Jesuit preacher comments, in several of his sermons, on the new and threatening expansion of the imperial power of the new Protestant European powers, with special emphasis on the Netherlands. For example, in his famous “Sermon for the good success of Portugal against the Netherlands” (preached in Bahia), since the Netherlands coveted Portuguese possessions in Vera Cruz, what is at stake for Vieira is, essentially, a dual struggle between “orthodox truth” and “the heretical lie”, between faithful Europe and unfaithful Europe, disobedient to the Church of Christ, whose unity – for him, as a Jesuit and Catholic – is symbolized by the pope.
Besides the relevance he achieved on the Portuguese political scene in the first decade of the Restoration of Independence, Father António Vieira had the opportunity, like few in his time, to visit the most relevant locations in the Old Continent. Educated in Brazil and in the great educational establishment that was at that time the College of Bahia, belonging to the Society of Jesus, and revealing his oratory talents in the capital of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, he found an opportunity to affirm his qualities when he returned to Europe, where he was born. Arriving in Portugal in 1641, as a member of the delegation sent by the viceroy to give recognition to the new king D. João IV, Vieira won the sympathy and admiration of the new monarch, who would project him into the sociopolitical spotlight, making him his preacher and advisor. The gift of persuasion and keen strategic thinking he revealed in order to intervene in an entrepreneurial way in the crucial moment of the survival of the restored Portugal, next to neighboring Spain and the European powers, who aspired to take over its colonial territories, are very appreciated by the king and some influential friends from the circles of power.
In this context, Vieira traveled to the heart of the European continent during the 1640s. The fates of kingdoms and the world were being decided there, at a time when the peace and concord agreement that was known as the Westphalia Treaty was being negotiated. In order to support Portuguese diplomacy as an extraordinary ambassador in urgent negotiations, particularly in favor of the recognition of Portuguese self-determination, Father António Vieira would find in this Europe in convulsion and in a state of marked material progress, compared to fallen Iberian Europe, an opportunity in terms of creative learning, i.e., a model to be imitated, namely in terms of methods of entrepreneurship and structures of economic organization.
In France, he would seek arrangements and alliances between the French and the Portuguese royal families, negotiating marriages and even offering the kingdom of Portugal as a French protectorate, in the name of the survival of his country’s freedom from neighboring Spain, which was trying at all costs to recover the lost domain, as well as in the name of maintaining the Brazilian territory in Portuguese hands. He even projected the possibility of the Portuguese court moving to Brazil, fearing, at the same time, a Dutch invasion of the metropolis and the loss of the great Vera Cruz colony in favor of a “Protestant power”. He thus anticipated, as a project, the realization of the first displacement ever made from a European court to one of the imperial colonies, as would happen in the early nineteenth century, with the departure of D. João VI to Rio de Janeiro, fleeing the French invasions. This and other daring proposals earned him the nickname, actually unfair, of “Brazilian Judas” by those who did not have the European perspective of Vieira regarding the situation of great fragility in which Portugal found itself.
In the Netherlands, he became aware of the great loss of human capital of the successive bleeding of the Jewish community residing in Portugal, which, due to the obsessive myth of cleaning blood and religion, resulting in successive inquisitorial persecutions, had emigrated there. In this country, they contributed, with their well-known capacity to generate wealth, to favor the affirmation of the Dutch empire instead of Portugal. In this Jewish Europe of Portuguese ascent, he would negotiate with the Sephardic community in Amsterdam and with the Portuguese government to recover this important human capital. To accomplish this, he even risked proposing measures to reform the Holy Office, in order to mitigate its persecutory methods and give it a more pedagogical character.
As a result of the dialogues he had with great figures of contemporary Jewish intellectuality, such as Menassés Ben Israel, the Jesuit ambassador, for his plan for Portuguese consolidation and restoration, he even went to the extent of making extraordinary concessions in his teleological project. This would be embodied in his Utopia of the Fifth Empire, which earned him the title of a precursor of a proto-ecumenism, in which religious rites and traditions, such as the Jewish ones, could be tolerated in the future vision of the last era of history. The then-current prophetic atmosphere of Sebastianist Portugal and the contact with European Jewish sectors marked by the messianic hope in the coming of the Messiah and by the arrival of the sabbatical age of history led Vieira to conceive and to proclaim the emergence of a new millenarian era, which could solve the serious problems that divided European Christianity and had launched it on the new world map in a state of conflict.
For Vieira, who considered his nation as the chosen people of the New Covenant, the New Israel, the solution for a better future would be in Portuguese history, which would soon intersect with world history under the leadership of the resurrected Lusitanian monarch, as prophesied in the famous letter of April 29, 1659, to the elected bishop of Japan, André Fernandes. It became known as Esperanças de Portugal, Quinto Império do mundo, and it says that “King Dom João will undoubtedly resurrect, and his resurrection will be the easy way to reconcile the respect and obedience of all the nations of Europe, which will follow him and rally under their flags in this enterprise; something that they would never accomplish, being so proud, if they were not obliged by this sign from Heaven, understanding that they do not obey a king of Portugal, but a captain of God” (Vieira 2013, III, IV, 93). And he continues: “Europe will see universal truce among all Catholic, and non-Catholic, Christian Princes; will see land and sea boil in armies gathered against the common enemy. In Africa and Asia, and in part of Europe, it will be the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the King of Portugal will be the adored Emperor of Constantinople; finally, to the amazement of all the people, he will suddenly see the ten tribes of Israel that disappeared more than two thousand years ago, recognizing Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, in whose death they had no part” (Vieira 2013, III , IV, 104). Vieira expressed the conviction that Portugal carried with it the celestial mission to unravel the knots in the history of men, which prevented the desired peace and harmony since the original fall. Europe was seen as the first part of the world to which Portugal belonged, to which it needed to be accountable, as can be seen from this passage in one of its letters to D. Rodrigo de Meneses, from June 29, 1665: “May God command the feather of our Mercúrio of same way that the glory of such a case is not forgotten, and may Europe and the world know what they should” (Vieira 2013, I, II, 491).
Of all the European empires-countries that the Portuguese Jesuit visited, the Netherlands was the one that impressed him the most. The Netherlands was the place where Vieira widened his horizons of thought and gathered models of political and economic organization and entrepreneurship, as is the case of the monopoly companies of commerce and navigation. But it was also the country of heresy that God seemed to favor over Portugal – to Vieira’s dismay. However, he never failed to consider it as Portugal’s negative country. This Portugal, where the stain of heresy never had touched, setting an example, even being a martyr country, had always had the status of a beacon of faith for Europe and the world.
At the end of the 1660s, after a tormented inquisitorial process that condemned him, Vieira managed to find the opportunity to travel to Italy, residing in the papal city until 1675. In that country, the heart of Catholic Europe of the time, the Ignatian preacher found his moment of European glory, after the little visible success achieved during his diplomatic journeys across the continent, in the 1640s, at the service of D. João IV.
In Rome, after becoming proficient in the Italian language, Vieira gained notoriety as an orator, both among sectors linked to the Curia of the Society of Jesus and among the Portuguese colony residing in that city, as well as in the papal court and in the queen’s court, Cristina of Sweden, who had retired there since 1668. Thus, there was no lack of insistent invitations for him to remain there, either in the service of the Church or as a regal preacher at the court of the Swedish sovereign. However, Vieira did not adapt to that city, which he considered another place of exile from his city of Lisbon, where he continued to live in his mind. Indeed, he revealed this mood in a letter sent to Duarte Ribeiro de Macedo, on July 10, 1674: “Rome for me is Lisbon, where I am always in my mind, and therefore always sad” (Vieira 2013, I, III, 453).
Always concerned about his country and the desire for its recovery, it was from Rome that Vieira criticised Portugal’s position in Europe, its advantages and disadvantages. In a letter dated December 31, 1672, he wrote to D. Rodrigo de Meneses, his frequent interlocutor, with whom he would preferentially address European matters: “But, sir, this is not our case; I don’t want us to be rich, I just want us to know our weakness, and our obvious danger, and that we try to accomplish precisely what is necessary, in order to preserve freedom, the kingdom and the conquests; and since we are knowing and suffering with so many discredits the impossibility of the four spans of land that God has given us in Europe; why should we not avail ourselves of our situation, our ports, our seas and our trades, which God has granted us and given us the advantage over the nations of the world? Everyone envies this happiness and leave their homelands to come to us, and we alone do not know how to take advantage of it, and we enrich the strange lands with the instruments born and created in ours, which could make it the most flourishing and powerful of all” (Vieira 2013, I, III, 280).
While drawing attention to the fact that, despite the small territorial size of the Portuguese metropolis in Europe, its place is located in a strategic geographic position as a maritime country, he also accused the Portuguese inefficiency and incapacity to fight to value and protect its conquests, losing much in favor of the other European kingdoms. This was the feeling that he expressed in a letter to D. Rodrigo de Meneses, from February 23, 1671: “Ah sir! How little do we understand today what true authority consists of! Forgive me, Your Lordship, and allow me to say that dawn has not yet arrived there. I have seen all of Europe for over thirty years, and my eyes are so much more blind than those who have only seen the world on a map and the sea on the Tagus. I lack the patience to read the gazettes of the world, where they speak of all the princes and kingdoms, offering us a perpetual silence, as if Portugal were a corner of terra incognita. France, England and the Netherlands battle over India; and we, having peace and soldiers, have relinquished what has cost the Portuguese so much blood, and so much care for the kings, who never had an heir with so many gifts, as they have today. I confess to Your Lordship that I cannot consider this, without great pain, nor hear foreigners speak, without great confusion” (Vieira 2013, I, III, 96).
At times, Vieira himself agreed with the Europeans when they criticized Portugal for the way it proceeded in obtaining wealth, as part of its overseas expansion process. In a letter dated April 17, 1675, addressed to Duarte Ribeiro de Macedo, the Jesuit wrote: “In this way we used to take the gold in Cafraria, and we continue to qualify the name, for they call us the Cafres of Europe for a reason. I would not believe such a thing if it was not a person worthy of faith who told me this, and this is the current state of the ecclesiastical and secular people of our land” (Vieira 2013 I, III, 537).
In fact, Vieira’s Europe was the mirror that allowed him to criticize or to praise Portugal and the Portuguese situation. It was by getting to know Europe from the inside that Vieira became, in a way, the Portuguese conscience enlarged with the perception of the evolution of world history and the succession of the empires of the old Christendom. It was from Italy that he wrote, in 1672, to D. Rodrigo de Meneses, as if to draw our country’s attention to the fact that the times of Portuguese imperial preponderance had passed. As the emerging empires asserted themselves and surpassed the Iberian empires, they should be able to learn from them in terms of economic strategy and scientific and technological improvement: “We are not in the time of King D. Manuel or King D. João the third, in which only our astrolabes knew how to navigate and only our galleons had names. The Netherlands, England and France have made themselves extremely powerful at sea, and that is why some may contrast, and others resist fortune in its greatest constraints; and because Spain (whose mistakes we follow, although we should learn from them) didn’t do it that way, it started to lose, and will lose completely if it doesn’t open its eyes, as it already seems intent in doing” (Vieira 2013, I III, 279).
On the other hand, in other letters, he was able to praise aspects of Portuguese strategic policy in relation to other European countries. On November 18, 1675, he wrote to Duarte Ribeiro de Macedo, blessing Portugal’s neutrality, which gave the country the status of the most peaceful nation in Europe: “The Envoy of this Court had his first hearing this week. He said at the beginning that he was coming to invite us to be mediators of peace, and that Lisbon should be the place for the congress, as the most neutral in all of Europe. Now I hear that he is coming to ask for the renewal or fulfillment of the old league, and if not, for the satisfaction of the expenses with which France committed to our war; and that this is to force us to make it to Castile. The new Envoy will not lack occasions in which to employ the talent. May God inspire us the best, because His Highness’ inclination is against the algerists, and now more stung with the little or nothing that his fleet accomplished and with the capture of 4 or 5 of our ships” (Vieira 2013, I , IV, 72).
Despite the glory achieved on that truly international and cosmopolitan stage that was Rome, among great dignitaries of politics, the Church and culture, the Portuguese Jesuit did not rest until he was able to return to his homeland. However, not without first achieving the main intent that had taken him there: to obtain a new papal sentence, of last resort, that would prove his innocence and revoke the sentence of the Portuguese Holy Office. And he wanted to extend the process of proving his innocence to many other defendants that the Portuguese Inquisition had unfairly and obscurely persecuted and condemned. To many other men and women, as was the case with the nuns of the Convent of Conceição de Évora. The erroneous process of the latter was used by Vieira as final proof, with which he managed to obtain an unprecedented papal decision: the suspension of the judicial activity of the Inquisition, by Pope Clement X, for about seven years in Portugal.
One of the most significant aspects of his European experience, namely what he observed in Rome and the Netherlands, was the fact that he started to have social, economic, institutional, social and ideological models for confronting the Portuguese reality. This capital of knowledge allowed him, with more authority and conviction, to cast critical eyes on atavistic, entropic and blocking aspects, dominant in the Portuguese reality. On various levels, Vieira devised and proposed, taking advantage of the knowledge he gained from the best of Europe at the time, reforms in Portugal in favor of its assertion, its progress and even its survival as an independent country, and in order to gain a new relevance on its continent and on the world stage.
He defended, like the Netherlands and England, the creation of monopoly companies to promote trade with Brazil and the Orient, in order to optimize these strategic areas of wealth production to recover the country and support the missionary process. He proposed important social and political reforms, particularly the restructuring of the Inquisition and greater autonomy of the royal power in relation to it. Even Rome, as had happened with the New World, gave him good reason to criticize the closed, intolerant and envious Portuguese society. In the papal city, he saw more freedom, appreciation and acceptance of difference, and more openness of ideas than in Lisbon. His European experience allowed him to conclude that the royal government of Portugal should have the capacity, autonomy and centrality to be able to fully assume the role of promoting a kingdom free from the shackles of prejudice, superstition and social and religious clienteles that prevented the country’s progress.
After his stay in Rome, he never again returned to Europe. By the end of the 1670s, disillusioned with the Lisbon court, which did not welcome and valued him as he thought he deserved, he returned to Brazil and to the natives of his heart to die there. But he took with him the European experience and, from there, he never refrained from continuing to have critical and concerned perspectives regarding the situation in the country, which never achieved the glory he had promised it, as a prophet of the nation, as the herald of the Fifth Empire.
The learning that Portugal, through the voice of Vieira, made of Europe was not characterized, however, by an absolute adherence to everything that was European. On the contrary, the Jesuit preacher and ambassador, unlike what happened later with some travelers, did not fall in love with Europe unconditionally nor did he abdicate his critical eye towards it. Father Vieira knew how to reap the examples and good initiatives from Europe that could favor Portugal, so that this country could become stronger. However, he did not fail to cast a critical eye on the issues he considered undesirable in Europe itself, in a situation of great material progress. Inconvenient aspects that, from the preacher’s perspective, should be avoided, in order to safeguard the Portuguese identity and what he understood to be its fundamental mission as a people.
Vieira, in the seventeenth century, continued the European spirit of travel, learning and criticism of the royal envoys and other travelers from previous centuries. And more than that, in this and in many other domains, he managed to anticipate this same European spirit that became the hallmark of the improperly called “estrangeirados” of the following century, the century of the Enlightenment. These people, traveling and living in Europe, sought to collect models and inspiration to “enlighten” Portugal with measures to combat the so-called Portuguese “obscurantism” and “ostracism”, in the name of an affirmative, positive and forward-looking Portugal.
References & Bibliography:
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- Besselaar, José van den, “António Vieira e a Holanda”, Revista da Faculdade de Letras, III, 1971, pp. 5-35.
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