The Politics of Religion and the Rise of Social Catholicism in Peru (1884–1935). Faith, Workers, and Race before Liberation Theology, written by Ricardo D. Cubas Ramacciotti

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
Fernando Armas Asin University of the Pacific,

Search for other papers by Fernando Armas Asin in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

Religion in the Americas, 18. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Pp. xiii + 297. Hb, $113.00.

Studies of church–state relations in Latin America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are rare. Rarer still are analyses of the Catholic Church’s behavior as a political and social actor during this period. The author, a professor at the University of the Andes in Chile, ventures into this unchartered mission with this study of Peru.

The author has so organized his monograph that a reader unfamiliar with the period and the subject can grasp the argument without much difficulty. The first section consisting of four chapters explores historical antecedents and background. The author discusses the concept of patronage in the Indies and the Bourbon regalism during the final years of the colonial era before proceeding to an analysis of the continuity of these practices within the secularization of the republican period. Strong, ultramontane clerics such as José Ignacio Moreno, Bartolomé Herrera, and others defended ecclesiastical prerogatives. Secularization was especially strong between 1884 and 1919 as the state secularized cemeteries, marriages, etc., and granted religious toleration. The Catholic Church fought back especially through the formation of different sodalities and associations. Tension continued during the years of Augusto B. Leguia’s government (1919–35). Indeed, the increased influence of radical ideologies of secularization intensified the tension. The author cites as examples the life of Emilio Lisson, archbishop of Lima, and the congress of 1933.

Paradoxically, the Catholic Church became more independent despite the secular government’s attempts to control it. The second section of the monograph, three chapters with the title “The Catholic Revival,” explores the church’s efforts to preserve and expand its presence and influence in Peruvian culture and society. In this treatment, the author considers two generations of Peruvian bishops, e.g. Juan Ambrosio Huerta, Manuel Tovar, Pedro Pablo Drinot, Emilio Lissón, Mariano Holguín, Fidel Olivas Escudero, or Pedro Pascual Farfán de los Godos; the impact of the arrival of different religious institutions, both male and female, like the Society of Jesus; the increased participation of laypersons in associations, e.g. Sociedad Peruano Católica and Unión Católica for men, Sociedad Auxiliadora de la Infancia for women, and many youth sodalities with different pastoral and social initiatives. Catholic renewal resulted in the establishment of a complex network of schools, with a very active participation of Jesuits, and a variety of Catholic publications not only in Lima but throughout the country as well as the foundation of the Catholic University. One can also attribute to the renewal a Catholic intellectual renaissance with such important writers like Víctor Andrés Belaunde and José de la Riva-Agüero.

The development of social Catholicism is the theme of the third part. The social teaching of the church, especially Pope Leo xiii’s Rerum novarum, was adapted to each country so that the answers proposed by Catholics in Peru differed from those proposed by Catholics in the more industrialized nations in North America. Circles of Catholic workers were promoted initially in Arequipa and then in Lima, Cusco, Trujillo, Ayacucho, Puno, and Huanta. Other, older associations such as the Círculos de Obreros de San José or the Liga de San Alfonso also played roles.

Cubas Ramacciotti also studies the impact of what he calls “ecclesiastical Indigenismo,” a social philosophy formulated by various ecclesiastics in opposition to the anti-clerical liberalism of the elites, a liberalism very much influenced by social Darwinism, and to the “indigenismo” of radical intellectuals in the south of the country, which vindicated for the rights and defense of the indigenous culture. Local bishops, e.g. Farfán de los Godos and Olivas Escudero, priests, e.g. Isaías Vargas, and secular intellectuals, e.g. Victor Andrés Belaúnde and many others showered praise upon indigenous languages and culture, decried the poor social conditions of the indigenous peoples, and defended their rights. The author does not overlook the religious and social roles of Catholic missionaries in the Amazonian region, and their complaints against abuses committed against the native population by rubber companies in the Peruvian jungle.

This monograph is in brief a valuable and significant contribution to our understanding of the role played by Catholics during a tense period of modernization. The author also graciously acknowledges that the late Jesuit historian Jeffrey Klaiber had initially opened up this field of study, and his systemization of data provided a strong base for the author’s subsequent research.


Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 652 158 13
PDF Views & Downloads 931 171 9