Osvaldo F. Pardo’s work is a useful addition to the scholarship initiated by Robert Ricard in his classic The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico (various editions beginning in 1933). Ricard ranged widely in explaining the organizational, geographical, linguistic, and ideological dynamics that underlay the founding of the church in early New Spain. Pardo complements Ricard by looking intensively at one aspect of that process: the interaction of Christian theology and practice as clerics sought to administer the sacraments to millions of newly converted Nahuas. In certain respects he improves on Ricard, because he uses some of the latest scholarship on early Mexico.

Pardo often strikes just the right tone during his analysis. His deliberate focus on the intersection between some of the mundane tasks of priests serving in indigenous parishes, and the fierce debates over what those tasks should and shouldn’t be, correctly places the military conquest of Mexico in a...

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