Mariano Delgado traces the development of the messianic mission idea embedded in Iberian culture from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, in an attempt to write “deep (longterm) history” (Tiefengeschichte) and to illustrate how nations, races, classes, cultures, or a church selects and adopts biblical messages, and the consequences of this selection. By not taking for granted the religious mandate underlying Spanish expansion (as he criticizes others for doing), Delgado pursues the question of how an ideology based on a reading of the Book of Daniel (in contrast to Chiliasmus) was constructed over time and molded to adapt to changing historical process.

The Spanish and Portuguese messianisms followed the Jewish influence, which meant to create a universal kingdom in this world. In the sixteenth century, the Catholic Iberian court (including the king and the court priests) declared itself the legitimate successor to Daniel’s four monarchies. Around 1500, both Spain and Portugal were ripe to substitute Jewish messianism with Iberian messianism. Thus Iberian messianism is an accomplished expression of quintomonarchism; that is, the longing for the fulfillment of Daniel’s announced eschatological fifth kingdom as a universal monarchy.

In the course of four centuries, this universal eschatological mission moved geographically and politically from Spain to Portugal, and then on to the Andean region. It was westbound, and the redemption of humanity would occur when all humans had been converted to the true faith. This geographical shift went together with the transfer of the seat of power (both physically, from Jerusalem to Lima, and politically, from imperii to populo in principem), the seat of knowledge, and the seat of the church. This triple translatio in turn documented the divine call to engage in conversion. Located at the edges of Western culture (Abendland), it was then no sheer coincidence that Spain came to America first. But there were problems, which Delgado illustrates with the essentially dual approaches taken by missionaries (Toribio de Benavente/Motolinía and José de Acosta on one side, Bartolomé de las Casas on the other) to how Indian conversion should be accomplished.

The Lusitanization of the messianic drive is read through the work of Antonio Vieira, and it encompasses the dispute with Spain over Portugal’s better right to promote the universal kingdom. For many years, to justify Portugal’s claims, missionaries awaited the return of Sebastian, the disappeared king of Portugal. Later in his life, Vieira relinquished his Sebastianism but still thought that a Portuguese king should be in charge.

Following Delgado’s argument, the creolization of messianism is visible as early as 1570 in the work of Francisco de la Cruz, head of San Marcos University in Lima. Lima was the chosen place in which the universal kingdom would be established. Still, de la Cruz did not advocate creole independence from Spain. Initially, following Acosta’s and Motolinía’s lead, he supported, if necessary, the violent inclusion of the Indians; later on, he opted for a kingdom of messianic peace for all. His work was followed by that of Gonzalo Tenorio and the “Guadalupanos” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As much as did Guaman Poma de Ayala, Tenorio sustained the idea of an original Christian belief (Urchristentum) in the Americas before the advent of the Incas and Aztecs. The Indians did not need the Spanish to lead them in the right direction; a view that would have dismantled the whole evangelization argument underlying conquest.

The Dominican Servando Teresa de Mier, in 1812, finally created the concept of the creole utopia, which remained influential throughout the nineteenth century and led to the virulent anti-Spanish rhetoric in the writings of Simón Bolívar and José Martí. Bolívar, we learn, rejected the universal monarchy idea but adopted two central elements of quintomonarchism: the dream of a peaceful coexistence among Indians, blacks, mestizos, and whites (under creole tutelage), and the messianic role of Hispanic America. Although shortly before his death he gave up these views, he still believed that the isthmus from Panama to Venezuela could become what Constantine had wanted Byzantium to be and what Corinth was for Greece. Very much in line with Bolívar, Martí also envisioned harmony under creole tutelage, but he perceived a new situation: the coming of the North American Protestant supremacy. After all, Cuba was invaded by the U.S. quoting Las Casas’ indictment of Spanish atrocities.

In the twentieth century, José María Arguedas, with his revival of Indianness, is presented as an important part of yet another expression of Hispanic American messianism. This “Indianization” stage was followed by José Vasconcelos’ “cosmic race,” representing the idea of “mestization” as the pillar for the creation of a new society and culture that would merge all human races. Gustavo Gutiérrez, Enrique Dussel, Ernesto Cardenal, and other prominent thinkers, along with the pope himself, have created, Delgado argues, the “kingdom of the poor,” “the historical power of the poor,” and Latin America as the continent of hope and the civilization of love. All these expressions, Delgado agrees with Jacques Lafaye, are messianic remnants of the original Daniel book.

Until around 1800, this Iberian messianism was basically religious and biblical; after that time it became secular. In his overall assessment of “deep history,” Delgado concludes that messianic continuity has had two expressions: as the “real” messianic longing (messianische Sehnsucht), an eternal human drive; and as the political messianism, the secular counterpart used to justify the conquest in the sixteenth century, to explain the necessity of independence from Spain during the nineteenth century, and to create the kingdom of the Indian and then of the poor in the twentieth century. The political expression has been geared toward recognizing the divine design behind political decisions and thereby accelerate the coming of the Lord, no matter what the cost.

Is spite of the changes in content that messianism has undergone in the course of time, a common trait remains: in all five stages, Iberian culture has maintained the belief in its messianistic, eschatological role of planetary relevance, as being part of a godly scheme.

One final idea seems especially challenging in this wonderfully written book: the existence of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant messianism that also traces its roots back to Daniel. A contrast between both versions (Anglo-Saxon versus Iberian) including the process of selective appropriation of biblical elements could be a rewarding intellectual endeavor. If ultimately it is true, as Delgado suggests, that this outlook could be directed toward diminishing the very real political and economic frictions between both spheres and creating some sort of pan-American universal kingdom, yet another expression of messianic destinies, I doubt it.