Francisco Antonio Lorenzana exemplified the highest qualities and some of the most pressing problems of the Spanish episcopacy in the eighteenth century. Destined for the Church from childhood, Lorenzana progressed rapidly through the law faculty at Valladolid to the College of Oviedo at Salamanca in 1748. He became a canon, first of Sigüenza and then of Toledo in 1754. After a decade there, he was designated Bishop of Plasencia, but within the year he was nominated as Archbishop of Mexico.

With remarkable industry and perseverance, Sierra Nava has ransacked more than a dozen archives on both sides of the Atlantic to produce an extraordinarily detailed and erudite study of Lorenzana’s career up to 1772. A second volume covering subsequent years is apparently projected. The author’s main concern in his first chapters is to trace the archbishop’s intellectual formation. Lack of specific data forces Sierra Nava into a good deal of deduction from generalizations about the intellectual climate of the time, but the enterprise is as successful as the sources permit.

Sierra shows that much of the enlightenment in Lorenzana traces to his contacts with erudite Benedictines and Jesuits and to his association with Burriel and other luminaries at Toledo in the 1750s. Lorenzana’s experience at Toledo gave him roots in ecclesiastical history and diplomacy, and put him on the side of the antispeculative Spanish clerics. Yet he was much closer to the Erudits, to figures like Mabillon or Muratori, than to the Philosophes or their Spanish counterparts. This position, taken together with his unflagging zeal, piety, and his great practical ability, made him a prime candidate for ecclesiastical office.

Lorenzana arrived in Mexico in 1766, on the same ship as the new viceroy, Croix; Gálvez, the other great personality of the reform of Mexican government, was already on the scene. At this point, Sierra changes his approach and examines important, specific aspects of the archbishop’s activities. These are principally the expulsion of the Jesuits (which Lorenzana supported); reorganization of the parishes of Mexico City; secularization of certain curacies; reform of the famous nuns of Puebla; the Fourth Mexican Provincial Council; Lorenzana’s charitable foundations; his attitude toward the pulque policy of the crown; and his role in getting the Conde de Regia back to the mines after the violent strike of his workers at Pachuca in 1766.

Each of these matters is treated with a length and elaboration impossible to comment on here. However, some generalizations emerge. Lorenzana favored increasing the power and independence of bishops, and this set him at odds with the religious orders and conservative churchmen. At the same time, it won him plaudits from the king, who saw the bishops as a counterbalance to Rome. Lorenzana thus got the support of the crown for reforms, but he had to pay a price in terms of royal encroachment on what had hitherto been ecclesiastical territory. Nevertheless, Lorenzana defended the Jesuit temporalities against Croix and Gálvez who tried to use them to maximize royal revenue, and, at the same time, improve their image in Madrid. Despite such problems, Lorenzana left some solid accomplishments behind—smoother, more rational administrative arrangements; works of charity and erudition; and an improvement in the quality and zeal of the clergy.

Sierra’s examination of these matters is thorough, densely documented, erudite almost to a fault, and based largely on primary documents. The organization is logical and clear.

These very virtues help to produce some defects. The book is intrinsically difficult, but regrettably it is made more so by a convoluted style. It is very discursive and requires the closest attention from the reader, and it could profit from pruning and some clear and well-placed summaries or generalizations. However, on balance, the positive qualities of Sierra’s work far outweigh these criticisms, and much interest attaches to the author’s projected second volume on Lorenzana as Archbishop of Toledo.