This is the first of two projected volumes about the Church in colonial Spanish America. The present work consists of two parts: a two-hundred-page introduction by Father Lopétegui, and a history of the Church north of Panama by Father Zubillaga. The history of the Church in Spanish South America will appear later under the authorship of Father Antonio Egaña, S. I.

Both authors of the first volume are professors of ecclesiastical history; both have done much research and read a vast amount of Church history in a half dozen languages. They present, as a result, the most impressive account of the colonial Church yet to appear. Their work surpasses in wealth of detail (e.g., the Mexican Council of 1585), in accuracy, and in comprehensiveness earlier works by Lucas Ayarragaray and Antonio Ybot León. They make the relationships between the papacy and the kings of Spain, and between the Council of Trent and New World Church reforms clearer than previous works have done.

The tone of the work is irenic rather than polemic; its professed purpose is to make the Spanish-speaking world aware of a glorious past in which pope, king, and people joined in the high purpose of spreading Christianity into the New World. Consequently the salve of worthy motives, a typically Christian interpretation of history, is applied to wounds inflicted by historians on such personages as Ferdinand V and Pope Alexander VI. The authors also emphasize the religious motives of Columbus, Roldán, and Cortés, among others, and they temper the debate about Spanish treatment of the Indians by emphasizing good intentions, absolute needs, and corrupting environments.

The authors, however, do not slight the corruption, the decline of evangelistic fervor, and the superficial Church-state conflicts that marked the middle period from the completed conquest to the Enlightenment. But these were years of venial sins. Far worse was the eighteenth century with its regalism, which weakened a too compliant Church and taught a lesson: the Church must work with but reject control from the state.

Although this work has many more merits than can be mentioned, the authors have not achieved unity and coherence, nor have they avoided monotony and discreteness. The geographical environment, the Indian cultures, and at times even the general historical narrative engage Church history so loosely as to read like separate essays. To summarize the work of innumerable bishops, moreover, pays homage to individuals but does not so much resurrect as incarcerate them. Church historians need to find their own historical methods and ways of presenting personalities in order to impose some form on their histories and to endow them with the vitality of the Church’s living past.