Spanish priests

Encyclopedia Article


Spanish priests, a colloquial reference to the presence of the Catholic church in the Americas during their colonization by Spain, were responsible for the conversion of indigenous peoples to Catholicism in the Americas. A two-pronged philosophy of "humanizing" drove the Church's conversion impetus. If the indigenous were actually human beings, then they could, and should, be saved from their barbarous heathenism via the gift of Catholicism. But Spanish priests were also a major force of the colonizing mission of the Spanish conquest of the New World, and many were susceptible to the desire for material gain that drove much of Spanish colonial efforts of the 16th and 17th centuries. In this sense, a secondary strain of de-humanization occurred, because if the native populations were not able to be saved, then they could be exploited as slave labor. As such, although Catholicism and other expressions of Christian faith have been incorporated into many American indigenous traditions, the history of the Spanish Catholicism in indigenous communities is a fraught one.

Soon after the first conquistadors arrived in the Americas in the late 15th century, Spanish missionaries and priests were sent to settle in the new colonies, establish missions, and spread the Catholic faith, both as a source of potential enlightenment as well as a source of social control. Many of the indigenous populations were quite resistant to the new religion and customs of the European colonists, and conversion was often done by force, through enslavement, dispossession, and, frequently, physical violence.

Photo Credit: 

"Franciscan missionaries in California, 1922" by Lordkinbote is licensed under Public Domain.

Published Works: