A pioneer in examining the social and economic history of the Mexican Bajío in the eighteenth century (Miners and Merchants, 1971; Haciendas and Ranchos, 1978), David Brading now presents a third volume that includes the region, examining church-state relations in the Diocese of Michoacán. As the author suggests, “this book can certainly be regarded as the concluding volume in a trilogy on Bourbon Mexico” (p. xii). Church and State, however, is also closely related to his recent exercise in intellectual history, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492-1867 (1991) in its attention to seventeenth-century mendicant chronicles, which link nascent creole patriotism with indigenous past and baroque religiosity, and in its further development of the thesis that creole patriotism was incompatible with liberalism.
The attack of the Bourbon state and Spanish Jansenism on the baroque church is well known through such works as Nancy Farriss’ Crown and Clergy (1968). Rich local archives have been used to highlight some of its effects in the large diocese of Michoacán (for example, by Oscar Mazín Gómez in Entre dos majestades, 1987). Brading’s contribution is to provide an overview of the period 1749-1810, taking inventory of selected topics: the regular clergy (including the Jesuit expulsion, the work of mendicant orders and Oratorians, secularization, and nuns), the secular clergy (its administrative apparatus, income sources, and internal divisions), confraternities, popular religiosity, and the career of Bishop Manuel Abad y Queipo.
Through this topical presentation, various themes emerge. The assault on baroque Catholicism was waged through the secularization of regular parishes, a reformed seminary curriculum, the depreciation of popular devotions such as the cult of Guadalupe, and the reorganization of church finances (including increased taxation of the clergy itself and the amortization of church wealth). All this resulted in a deterioration of the pastoral dedication of the Mexican church (except in the Franciscan colegios de propaganda fide), a weakening of confraternities and their benefits to the laity, and the transfer of wealth away from regular clergy and local elites to the crown and diocesan elites. These shifts deepened divisions in the secular ranks. Not only did an increasingly peninsular hierarchy confront a creole and ethnically diverse parochial clergy, but the gulf widened between popular baroque religiosity and enlightened upper clergy.
In developing these themes, Brading uses statistics to analyze church finances and the disastrous effects of the Ley de Consolidación for creoles. Here and in discussions of other topics, such as those already mentioned, the analysis could have been strengthened by comparative historiographical reference. The extensive use of ecclesiastical archives provides much new information, but it also gives greater play to elite, particularly peninsular, perspectives—leaving some of the author’s arguments about popular religious culture in need of further validation.
These concerns will not divert the reader from giving careful scrutiny to the book’s implications for the independence movement. Brading is provocative and insistent in his portrayal of peninsular Bourbons who did not understand the peculiar and integrative nature of Mexican religious culture. “Whereas the Baroque culture of late Tridentine Catholicism had succeeded in uniting both intellectual elite and the masses in common devotion and equal aesthetic delight, by contrast its repudiation led to a growing division between educated opinion and popular religion” (p. 169). Furthermore, members of the creole clergy found access to bishoprics and cathedral chapters blocked at the same time that the Ley de Consolidación jeopardized their personal assets.
In the end, despite similarities in their enlightened views, loyalty to their respective patrias determined the choices made by Abad y Queipo and Hidalgo. This patriotism, as well as their ability to countenance a military solution to political problems, derived, according to Brading, from their detachment from baroque religious culture. Paradoxically, Hidalgo and many of his followers supported insurgency precisely because of losses suffered during the Bourbon attack on the baroque church.