In Father Egaña’s view, the history of the Spanish American Church falls into three periods: the ancient (1509-1556), the middle (1556-1700), and the modern (1700-1833). In the first period the Church was founded mainly by regulars who accompanied or directly followed the conquistadores. In the second the secular clergy partly displaced the founding fathers, and outstanding bishops and archbishops carried out the Tridentine Reformation, called councils, wrote constitutions, and established seminaries. In so doing they undertook the threefold task of genuinely converting the Indian, combating the immorality of the whites, and maintaining high standards among the clergy themselves. This was the Golden Age. In contrast, the third period saw a decline of the Church, as many clergy succumbed to secularism, preferred the university to the mission, and doubted the wisdom of keeping Indians in reductions. Thus no simple themes of Christian Spaniard converting heathen Indian or of secular government oppressing pious Church are sustained in this work. Father Egaña sees that Spanish American civilization was in conflict with itself; nonetheless the Church accomplished its enormous task.

The author develops his subject by brief treatments of episcopates and archepiscopates, chronologically and regionally arranged within the broad periods mentioned. Essays on the land, the Indian, the missions, and the general cultural development round out the picture. The result is a highly detailed and convincing account of the Church. Father Egaña, a member of the Jesuits’ Historical Institute at Rome and author of several monographs on the South American church, treats impartially all orders and the secular clergy. Each had its merits and shortcomings, each its outstanding, ordinary, and inferior members.

Printing and factual errors are few for a work of such great length. Typographical errors in dates appear on pages 74, 91, 93, 143, 201, 211, 276, 314, 655, 730, 773, and 884. The Welsers are erroneously placed in Hamburg (p. 23), the Guaraní are called monogamous (p. 80), and the Guaraní, rather than the Charrúas, are charged with the death of Juan Díaz de Solís (p. 81). On page 371 an archbishop of Charcas is reported as serving from 1630-34, but is said to have died in 1630 on page 446. Archbishop Narciso Coll y Prat of Venezuela is mistakenly called the twenty-seventh bishop on page 1016.

But these are small matters. From this work we know nearly the entire chronology of South American episcopology. We know when bishops actually took office—not merely when they were appointed—and we know beyond doubt that creoles dominated the bishoprics and even the least prestigious archbishopric at La Plata. The old thesis of peninsular dominance of high offices is once more demolished. From many interesting sketches of turbulence in the monasteries, nunneries, and bishops’ palaces we know the colonial period was not a prolonged slumber.

Father Egaña does not claim his work to be definitive. We still do not know even the names of some bishops in the sees of the Charcas, Venezuela, and Popayán. This work, however, and an earlier volume by Frs. León Lopétegui and Félix Zubillaga treating the Church to the north give us a new point of departure. The two volumes constitute a landmark in Spanish American church history.