Historians today seem to agree that passions for spices and for acquisition of objects and territories from the late fifteenth century fuelled the “mercantile revolution” on a global scale. This article will argue that spirituality and commercial enterprise worked together to produce material objects, some of exceptional artistry. These artifacts, books, sculptures, paintings, and the attractive narratives written about or around them sparked spiritual enthusiasm wherever they reached their audience and became fundraising tools for further spiritual conquest and for creation of new material objects. In this case, I will trace the career of one particular Jesuit missionary, Marcello Mastrilli, who invented his own life and future martyrdom with a series of printed books and works of art, all marked by Mastrilli’s spiritual energy and his ability to fill the Jesuit purse.
In this article I look into a Jesuit dialogical and catechetical text—a confession manual—published in Tamil in 1580. Written as instructions for Tamil Catholics and for Jesuit confessors, these kinds of texts were nodal points in which Tamils and missionaries reprocessed their knowledge of each other and established rules for appropriate social interaction and Catholic sociability. My claim is that the Confessionairo captured and condensed Tamil voices and arguments in a network of Jesuit normative vocabulary and offered a language of self-knowledge expressed in affective vocabulary. A confession manual should not be considered only a strategy for missionary manipulation but also an important tool for the social self-empowerment of the new convert.
The Jesuit mission among the “ancient Christians” on the Malabar coast in today’s Kerala was one of the watershed moments—as I argued a decade ago—in their global expansion in Asia in the sixteenth century, and a prelude to the method of accommodation as it had been theorized and practiced in Asia. In this article I want to emphasize the invocation of comparisons with and the use of Mediterranean antiquity in crafting the identities, memory, and history of Indian Christianity. Jesuit ethnographic descriptions concerning the liturgy, rites, and customs of māppila nasrānikkal, also known as St. Thomas Christians, triggered a series of debates involving various missionaries, Catholic Church authorities in Goa and Rome, as well as Syrian bishops and St. Thomas Christian priestly families. Caught up in the contrary efforts at unifying and homogenizing Christianity under two distinct helms of the Portuguese king and the Roman pope, the missionaries generated different intellectual tools and distinctions, all of which contributed to further jurisdictional struggles. The St. Thomas Christian community became a model of “antique” Christianity for some and a heretical or even idolatrous sect for others. It became a mirror for the divided Christianity in Europe and beyond. In India, it was precisely the vocabulary and the historicizing reasoning that was invested in analyzing and defining these Indian homegrown Christians that would be subsequently applied by comparison, analogy, or contrast to formalize and reify other Indian “religions.” The dating and the autonomous or derivative status of Indian (“pagan”) antiquities emerged, a century later, as a major orientalist problem.