Sixteenth-century Africa was anything but a “dark continent” for the Jesuits. Their early missionary imagination clearly included Africa, and parts of the continent received Jesuits from as early as 1548. By 1561, Gonçalo da Silveira (1526–61) had penetrated the interior of southern Africa and had succeeded in baptizing one Monomotapa, king of the Shona people of today’s Zimbabwe. Around the same period, a small band of Jesuits had entered the fabled land of Prester John, constituting the then unmapped Abyssinia, also known as Ethiopia Superior, and had succeeded in establishing a mission to Catholicize a country that was staunchly Orthodox. Mostly tormented and at times persecuted, that mission lasted for close to a century. Within the same sixteenth century, the Jesuits had made inroads into the old Kongo Kingdom, taking part in a Catholic mission that had already matured into a local church whose bishop had been the king’s own son, Henry (c.1495–1531), described as the “first African bishop south of the Sahara.”1 Similar Jesuit missions in Mozambique and Angola lasted until the Society was suppressed in Portuguese dominions in 1759.
Jesuits were not the only Catholic missionaries in Africa in that period. Other religious congregations also evangelized in regions that were under Portuguese influence. However, the Jesuit imprint on the so-called second wave of Christian evangelization of the African continent was significant. As Dr. Frederic Perry Noble (b. c.1863)—son of a Congregational pastor, a notable critic of Catholic missions in Africa, and secretary of the 1893 Chicago Congress on Africa—would put it, “He [the Jesuit], despite the activity of the Capuchin, Dominican, Franciscan, Lazarist and other orders, is the dominant figure in the missions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He compels us to center our vision on him until the coming of Lavigerie.”2 Noble even refers to
Africa’s middle Christianity, in which Jesuits became such dominant players, extended from the beginnings of the padroado4 in the fifteenth century to the waning of Portugal’s exclusive patronage over the continent. That waning was well under way in the middle of the eighteenth century. Shortly after the Jesuits were sent away from Mozambique and Angola, Dominicans too were shown the exit door. Catholic missions in these parts of Africa disappeared almost completely and, together with them, any semblance of Catholicism beyond a few devotional items and practices, and ruins of churches.5
Although they left Protestants back in Europe, Jesuits of that second wave of evangelization never encountered their denominational competitors on the African soil, save for the brief but extremely interesting experience of Guy Tachard (1651–1712) and his companions in the midst of Dutch Calvinist colonists at the Cape in today’s South Africa.6 Even if the Reformation in Europe influenced their missionary method and agenda,7 the Jesuits in Africa could go about their business as if Protestantism never existed. In Ethiopia, they campaigned to bring Orthodox Christianity into union with Rome;8 in eastern Africa, they lamented the ubiquity of Muslim obstruction;9 and in the western parts of south central Africa, they talked about indigenous religious practices
Then still in their first centuries of existence, Protestants busied themselves building foundations in northern Europe while Catholics explored new grounds in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.11 The objective of the Propaganda Fide, established in 1622, is to be understood within these parameters: not only “to regain the faithful in all those parts of the world where Protestantism had been established” but also “to bring the light of the true faith to heathen lands.” And this was to be achieved partly by organizing “into an efficient corps the numerous missionary enterprises for the diffusion of the Gospel in pagan lands.”12 In the imagination of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, Africa was the quintessential “pagan land,” and Jesuits stepped forward with determination to tame the African religious wildness, even “up to [the point of] shedding blood and being sacrificed for the faith.”13
That description of a shared missionary field, mutual surveillance, and a combination of bitterness and jealousy that was sometimes tempered with the necessity of collaborating in a foreign milieu viewed as a common enemy perfectly suits the next wave of evangelization in Africa, which started toward the end of the eighteenth century and became intense in the nineteenth.
while the Mission field was almost exclusively in the hands of Rome, the Jesuits, in the teeth of the Papal authorities, did much as they pleased;
their contentions hardly reached the outside world in any shape; there was then no public opinion to consider. Now the case is different. The various Missions of Rome are working in the same fields with Protestants; they are under constant surveillance, and whatever amount of bitterness or jealousy may exist among the rivals, it has, as far as possible, to be suppressed in the face of what they deem the common enemy.15
By this time, Portugal had already lost its exclusive hold on Africa, and more colonizing nations of Europe were bidding to acquire portions of the continent. Concomitantly, shades of Christianity other than Catholic and Orthodox were also seeking a foothold in Africa. This third wave of evangelization was pioneered by Protestants. They had just organized themselves for the missions, and Africa was clearly in their sights: 1792 saw the beginnings of the Baptist Missionary Society (bms) under William Carey (1761–1834); the London Missionary Society (lms) (bringing together Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists) started in 1795; the cms started in 1799; the British and Foreign Bible Society (bfbs) started in 1804; and the Universities Mission to Central Africa started around 1857. These organizations sent missionaries to Africa, opening the era of multidenominational evangelization that continues to mark African Christianity to this day. “The year 1792 may be taken as the starting point of the epoch,” observes historian John Baur (1920–2003), as “it saw the foundation of the first Protestant missionary society to work in Africa, the Baptists; the definitive establishment of the first mission in South Africa, the Moravian Genadental [sic]; and the foundation of Freetown in Sierra Leone as a base of Protestant mission work in West Africa.”16
Protestant pioneering gives credence to the argument that, at least partly, Catholics resumed missionary activity in Africa in the nineteenth century in order to challenge a growing Protestant monopoly over the continent.17
This combined Protestant and Catholic focus on nineteenth-century Africa led to a veritable missionary scramble not too different from the political scramble that preceded formal colonial occupation in that same century. Commenting on Catholic success in that scramble, Noble says the Catholic Church partitioned Africa into a number of ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Reporting on the same phenomenon, the mission-magazine of the Scotch Free Presbyterians stated that “whatever one might think about the papacy he could not but admire the daring of its schemes for the conquest of Africa.”18 Indeed, while we can identify only around fifteen Catholic ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the whole of Africa from the first century of Christianity to the end of the eighteenth century, between 1818 and 1906 we can count up to sixty-six similar jurisdictions under different titles (mission, prefecture apostolic, vicariate apostolic, bishopric or archbishopric, diocese) under the care of twenty-one different missionary groups.19
Whether Catholics or Protestants, “missionaries were expected to carry and brandish the national flag,”20 a fact that added a tint of patriotism to their competition for African souls. Even if violent encounters did not occur, subtle understatements and outright disparagements betray the disdain with which Christians of different denominations treated each other in Africa.
More specifically to Jesuits, patriotic sentiments of this nature manifested themselves vividly in Madagascar, where mainly French Jesuits competed with mainly English Protestants for control of the local political establishment; and in Congo, where Protestants of different nationalities decried a close association between Belgian Jesuits and the Belgian colonial administration. In the latter case, Jesuits were perceived to be receiving material favors from the state in exchange for silence over state-sanctioned atrocities against native Africans.31
Not until Lugard took possession for the British company, did order come from chaos. The outcome of the horror is that in 1892 the agents of France and Rome were assigned with their converts to Buddu province, while Uganda proper was set apart for the Protestants. Cardinal [Herbert] Vaughan [1832–1903] afterward agreed to send missioners trained in his college to work with their French fellow Catholics, and it was hoped that this arrangement would remove the racial difficulty; but it failed of the success expected, and now Rome is replacing her Frenchmen wholly with English Catholics. The French realize the force of pax Britannica, and are convinced that Uganda belongs to Britain.30
As should be clear by now, in the missionary competitions that marked the nineteenth century, Jesuits were neither the only Catholic players in Africa nor the most dominant ones. Of the sixty-six ecclesiastical jurisdictions mentioned above, Jesuits manned only three: the vicariate apostolic of Central Madagascar, erected in 1848; the Zambezi mission, erected in 1879; and the Kwango mission in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo (drc), erected in 1892. However, these were vast missionary territories. The Zambezi mission, for example, was intended to cover most of southern Africa below the Equator. Moreover, as we cross to the twentieth century, Jesuit activity in Madagascar and in the drc spread far beyond their initial centers. It follows that significant encounters between Jesuits and Protestants are to be observed within these three regions, and some of them are treated more specifically by different authors in the present volume. A more general look at the encounters could be narrowed down to six items that either forced Jesuits and Protestants to encounter one another or called for comment from one side about the other: memory, territory, government, people, theology, and method.
As already discussed, Jesuits had been in Africa in earlier centuries. While Jesuits themselves remain largely silent about this part of their history, other Catholics and Protestants dug out their memory and debated their legacy. Viewed through Catholic eyes, and with emphasis on the challenging context of the time, the first Jesuit experience in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Angola was largely successful and its protagonists were heroes if not martyrs.32 Jesuits themselves felt comfortable with this Catholic point of view. Conversely, viewed through Protestant eyes, the experience was almost a complete failure. To cite Noble again, Jesuit converts in Africa “were but the most nominal Christians,” and the Jesuit missionary system was “rotten from cornerstone to turret.”33 Nearly all Protestant authors make reference to Jesuit implication in the slave trade as one reason for their failure in Angola and Mozambique. Yet, Protestant adherence to the Christianity–commerce–civilization triad as constituting a single missionary package34 forced even the loudest critic of the Jesuits to single out things they might have gotten right in earlier
In the nineteenth century, shared territory became another cause of Jesuit–Protestant encounter in Africa. To the missionary, Africa was an open field, a territory free to be grabbed. Whoever arrived first was inclined to claim exclusive rights to evangelize within a given geographical area and to view the next Christian comer as an intruder. However, neither Jesuits nor Protestants were able effectively to cover the mammoth territories they had mapped for themselves. In 1905, Joseph Moreau (1864–1949), one of the Jesuit pioneers in Zambia, would muse: “Very few then realized the vastness of the territory assigned to the Zambezi Mission. Who was to undertake a work of such magnitude as to evangelise this vast territory?” Moreau observed that “Catholic and Protestant missionaries had already established Mission Stations in the Cape Colony, Natal, and Basutoland.” Moreover, the “London Mission Society had a well-established mission station among the Bechwana […] [and] Rev. Moffat and family had settled at Inyati [among the Matabele].” He further observed that, northward beyond the Zambezi, “among the Barotse, no missionary had as yet got a foothold.” The decision of the Propaganda in Rome to erect the Zambezi mission was not only for the purposes of reaching where no missionary had yet gotten a foothold but “for the evangelization of those vast territories which had not yet been contacted by the Catholic Church, and only slightly so by the Protestants.”37 In fact, Jesuit attempts to settle in present-day Zambia, which started in the late nineteenth century but succeeded only in 1905, were interferences in regions that had been more than just slightly contacted by Protestants.38 Making reference to the experience in the realm of Chief Khama iii (c.1835–1923, r.1872–73, 1875–1923) of the Bangwato people of central Botswana, Noble complained that the Jesuits “had long known that Shoshong was the headquarters of the British Congregationalists in the interior,” but still “aimed
As long as they went to the same places, Jesuits and Protestants had to deal with the same chiefs. The chief became the point of their encounter and, in many ways, the arbitrator between them.
Various motives encouraged chiefs to permit the presence of missionaries among their people. Some were clever enough to recognize that a white man might be useful as a safeguard against the ever-encroaching menace of his fellow-countrymen. Others regarded him merely as a convenient milch-cow from whom endless gifts and tribute could be extracted. Others again liked to have a tame missionary about the place as they might equally well have liked to have a tame elephant. But, whatever the motive, without the approval of the chief residence was impossible, and, even if residence was permitted, the acquisition of land on anything like a permanent tenure was always a matter of the utmost difficulty.40
answered that he had already the missionaries of the London Missionary Society, that either Fr. Depelchin’s missionaries would teach the same doctrine, and therefore would be no new acquisition, or they would teach a different one, and thereby bring disunion among his people, and would in such a case be worse than useless.41
At some point, missionaries all over Africa were of the opinion that “better times” could be made to come faster than they would naturally do. Jesuits and Protestants in southern Africa came to view obdurate African chiefs as irritants if not outright obstacles to the Gospel. Historian James Morrison would describe the African “tribal chief” as “often a cruel, bloodthirsty and licentious tyrant who ate up his people.”45 Such chiefs kept their people out of the missionary’s reach,46 it was thought, yet it was the African native that the missionary wished to evangelize. Noble, the avowed critic of Catholic missions in Africa, would say that the “Jesuits also believed, and rightly, that the difficulty of missions among the Tabili [Ndebele] lay in the government rather than the subject […]. If despotic institutions could be relaxed, here was a soil capable of fruit.” He further cites Alfred Weld, s.j. (1823–90) as having “thought it ‘probable that if we set aside the influence of despotic rule, which may itself be turned to good, the field is more hopeful than that of the Parana and Uruguay which produced so rich a harvest.’”47 Obviously, an alternative to the despotic chiefs was a colonial administration that would provide protection for missionaries, freedom for the native African to convert, and freedom of religion to
In the end, not only Protestant missionaries benefited from the establishment of the bsac-controlled colony of Rhodesia; Jesuits also “received extensive land grants to establish permanent mission stations in and around Salisbury and Bulawayo.”51
The Protestant was glad to see near him the minister of God and to be helped to form a good act of faith and of contrition before appearing at the tribunal of God; the Catholics received the precious sacraments which our Holy Mother Church dispenses to her dying children, and several poor heathens of our native contingent were privileged to receive baptism before they succumbed to their wounds.50
Establishment of colonial administration also facilitated greater access to native Africans, the people that were the target of Catholic and Protestant evangelization. Despite their disapproval of each other’s doctrines, “both sects had the same object in view, that of bringing a better life to the African,”
Despite their overall reputation as generally tolerant of other cultures and, as such, ahead of their time on matters of inculturation,55 Jesuits struggled with certain elements of traditional African society. Reporting on the “Kaffirs” of South Africa, Charles Bick, s.j., (1861–1939) reduced these to the practice of polygamy, the relationship with ancestral spirits, and the belief in malevolent forces of witchcraft and sorcery.56 Protestants shared in this theological assessment. Talking about the same group of native Africans, Bishop Joseph Watkin Williams (1857–1934) of the Anglican diocese of St. John’s, Kaffraria, declared
identified Christianity with the moral standards of their own middle-class background at home, and anything which deviated from these standards, they regarded as sinful and deplorable and to be eradicated. They had very little appreciation or respect for the customs and traditions of the people. They condemned dancing, sports, smocking and many other innocent habits of the people, and regarded them as harmful to Christianity and therefore forbidden to the members of the society.54
The seeming theological unanimity just described did not create communion, however. There were significant Catholic and Protestant voices blaming the opposite side for allowing too much of African practice into Christianity. Robert Sykes, s.j. (1854–1920), twice superior of the Zambezi mission, dismissed the Protestant native as one who “seems to have inherited with his reception into the Christian body, a double dose of original sin,” becoming worse than he or she was in his or her “heathen” state. “If this is the result, what is the value of missionary effort, and why teach the native ‘Christianity’ at all?” asked Sykes.58 His question almost lends credence to Noble’s complaint that Catholics “believed it better the natives should remain heathens than imbibe [Protestant] heresy.”59 In Catholic eyes, Noble would argue, Protestantism was a heresy, and Catholic “entrance into Protestant mission-fields is an inevitable, logical outcome from her principle and practice of including Protestant heretics with heathen lands.”60 However, Noble also viewed the work of the Protestant missionaries as being far more effective than that of their Catholic counterparts. For him, “the Jesuit was lax or strict according to circumstance, a moral chameleon” whose objective “was to drive no person from the church.” Consequently, “since there are bad people, it is better they should be poor Catholics than wicked Protestants, a sentiment many non-Romanists will endorse in a sense the reverse of that intended by Jesuistry.”61 It is no surprise that, as was noted earlier, Noble himself viewed the Jesuits’ African converts as the most nominal of Christians. “Rome was numerically more powerful,” he argued, “but the weight of character and influence rested with the Protestants.”62
Finally, Jesuits and Protestants commented on each other’s missionary methods, sometimes commending them, other times disapproving of them. For example, there was a certain understanding among Jesuits, shared by other Catholics as well, that Protestants used money to advance their course, and
While we may never settle the argument about who had more wealth, we may safely conclude that both Jesuits and Protestants used money and other resources to establish the “missions” or “mission stations” that had become the preferred locus of Christian activity, together with the schools and hospitals that were constitutive elements of those missions and stations.67 Some Protestants would argue that Jesuit missionary method went beyond the mission-station model to establish “Christian villages.” The fullest development of this Jesuit structure in Africa was seen in the so-called “chapel-farms” in Congo, which were created exclusively for the youth, with each consisting of a chapel, a missionary lodge, a farm, and accommodation for children and for a few married couples that were meant to be role models for the targeted boys and girls. The “chapel-farms” attracted a lot of criticism from Protestants who viewed them as a re-creation in Africa of the “reductions” of Paraguay, a charge the Jesuits denied vehemently.68
Given the mutual suspicion between Catholics and Protestants in Africa, a general overview like this can easily fail to notice moments of friendship, support, collaboration, and appreciation that were not entirely lacking among the missionaries across the denominational divide. Despite his critical stance against anything Protestant, for example, Marshall could still describe a certain
To a contemporary ear accustomed to hearing about positive efforts toward ecumenism, the largely fractious encounters between Jesuits and Protestants in Africa may be surprising. Yet, ecumenism, implying unity among Christians pursued across the boundaries of creed, ritual, and polity, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Although Protestant missionary associations in the nineteenth century showed remarkable interest in interdenominational collaboration, it was still unthinkable that Catholics and Protestants could come together on matters that had implications for doctrine. Nineteenth-century Jesuit and Protestant missionaries in Africa belonged to their time. For this very reason, the few recorded cases of collaboration and mutual appreciation, though more personal than institutional, and even though almost completely lost in an ocean of suspicion and negative comment, should probably be accorded preferential weighting in any analysis of Christian denominational encounters in Africa.
BaurJohn. 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa: An African Church History. 2nd ed.Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2009 .
BeckinghamC.F. [Charles Fraser], and G.W.B. [George Wynn Brereton]Huntingford. “Introduction.” In Some Records of Ethiopia, 1593–1646: Being Extracts from The History of High Ethiopia or Abassia by Manoel de Almeida Together with Bahrey’s History of the Galla, translated and edited by C.F. [Charles Fraser]Beckingham, and G.W.B. [George Wynn Brereton]Huntingford, xxi–xlix. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 1954.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
)| false . “ [Charles Fraser], and Beckingham C.F. G.W.B. [George Wynn Brereton] Huntingford Introduction.” In Some Records of Ethiopia, 1593–1646: Being Extracts fromThe History of High Ethiopia or Abassia by Manoel de Almeida Together with Bahrey’sHistory of the Galla, translated and edited by , and C.F. [Charles Fraser] Beckingham , G.W.B. [George Wynn Brereton] Huntingford xxi– xlix. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 1954.
ChadwickHubert. Life of the Venerable Gonçalo da Silveira of the Society of Jesus: Pioneer Missionary and Proto-martyr of South Africa. London: Manresa Press, 1910.
CoulbeauxJean Baptiste. Histoire politique et religieuse de l’Abyssinie depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à l’avènement de Ménélick ii. 3 vols. Paris: Geuthner, 1928.
CrearyNicholas M.Domesticating a Religious Import: The Jesuits and the Inculturation of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe, 1879–1980. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.
GelfandMichael, ed. Gubulawayo and Beyond: Letters and Journals of the early Jesuit Missions to Zambesia (1879–1887). London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1968.
HenkelReinhard. Christian Missions in Africa: A Social Geographical Study of the Impact of Their Activities in Zambia. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1989.
LipschutzMark R., and R.Kent Rasmussen. Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd ed.London: University of California Press, 1986.
LivingstoneDavid. David Livingstone and Cambridge: A Record of Three Meetings in the Senate House. London: Universities Mission to Central Africa, 1908.
LivingstoneDavid. Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa: Including a Sketch of Sixteen Years’ Residence in the Interior of Africa. London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1857.
LivingstoneDavid, and CharlesLivingstone. Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries; And of the Discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864. London: John Murray, 1865.
Malta Protestant College. Journal of a Deputation Sent to the East by the Committee of the Malta Protestant College in 1849 […]. 2 vols. London: James Nisbet and Co., 1854.
MarkowitzMarvin D. “The Missions and Political Development in the Congo.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute40, no. 3 (1970): 234–47.
MarshallThomas William. Christian Missions: Their Agents, their Method, and their Results. 3 vols. London and Brussels: Burns and Lambert and H. Goemaere, 1862.
MkendaFesto. “Jesuits and Africa.” Oxford Handbooks Online; available online athttp://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935420.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935420-e-56(accessed June 24, 2017).
NgetichElias Kiptoo. “Catholic Counter-Reformation: A History of the Jesuits’ Mission to Ethiopia 1557–1635.” Studia historiae ecclesiasticae42, no. 2 (2016): 104–15.
NobleFrederic Perry. The Redemption of Africa: A Story of Civilization. 2 vols. New York: Young People’s Missionary Movement, 1899.
PorterAndrew. Religion versus Empire? British Protestant Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700–1914. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2004.
TachardGuy. A Relation of the Voyage to Siam: Performed by Six Jesuits Sent by the French King, to the Indies and China in the Year 1685. Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 1999 .
WakerleyVéronique, trans.Journeys beyond Gubulawayo to the Gaza, Tonga and Lozi: Letters of the Jesuits’ Zambesi Mission, 1880–1883. Edited by R.S.Roberts. Harare: Weaver Press, 2009.
WernerRonald, WilliamAnderson, and AndrewWheeler. Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment: The History of the Sudanese Church across 2000 Years. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2000.