The São Paulo school is determined (as I believe) to revamp the history of Brazil, to interpret it anew along “progressive” lines. Witness the books that keep appearing, so many of them hastily put together and half-baked, but in sufficient volume to have an impact willy-nilly upon our perceptions of the past. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, from the heights of his distinguished chair at the University, must surely have had something to do with it. He never let up on his impatience with Gilberto Freyre, criticized Freyre’s humane formulation of the colonial experience, and denounced his attachment to a viable Portuguese imperial vivência.

Recently, the emphasis has been away from the “official” histories of the likes of Varnhagen. The important thing now is to focus on what Fernão Lopes (anticipating Marx by several centuries) called the “arraiamiúda.” By accident or by design, the movement in the direction of a “popular” history coincides with political stringencies at home, a conjunction that ought not to be dismissed out of hand. Somehow the outpouring of monographs that question old assumptions reminds us of the publishing successes of Antonio José Saraiva and Raúl Rego. Unprepared by training and ideology to write impartially on so loaded a subject, they put out tendentious works on the Inquisition with the idea (as their critics presume) of embarrassing Dr. Salazar through learned innuendos that equated violence and oppression with autocracies.

I like to think that the viravolta in São Paulo helps to explain the renewed interest in the Inquisition, a natural topic in these troubled times when the opposition is not in fashion. Besides, the auto da fé, quite apart from its high drama, has a comfortable built-in guarantee in its favor. As the traditional whipping boy of Western intellectuals, a crutch that has served them well even before Voltaire’s caustic generation, the Inquisition may be ranted against with impunity, without arousing anybody’s suspicion of foul play.

The two books before us are signs of growing pains. Under less politicized circumstances, we might have expected Brazilian scholars (supported by Gulbenkian money) to research the economy of the colonial period, a field of study that cries out for the serious archival treatment that Lúcio de Azevedo, Simonsen, and Caio Prado, Jr. never gave it. (With Caio, the economic past was viewed with Marxist blinders.)

It used to be said that Brazil, having had no resident tribunal of the Holy Office, was free from the tentacles of the preeminent agency for religious and social control. Today, after pondering the four visitations that were sent to Brazil in the course of 322 years, and scratching the surface of the endless maços in the Torre do Tombo, the newer breed of historians would like us to believe that the Holy Office weighed heavily upon colonial society. Sônia Siqueira advances the thesis that Brazil as a Portuguese construct was unique and original from its beginnings. She is not the first to advance the idea but the evidence is not convincing. Nothing that I have ever read or pored over has led me to change my mind. I continue to believe that the role of the Inquisition was negligible.

To begin with, the archival sources are astoundingly meager, not because the Inquisition destroyed its Brazilian files but because the processos must have been few in number. Certainly the Inquisition would have gladly publicized its Brazilian operations, if only to remind the settlers of its awesome power and to warn sinners to mend their ways. When you realize that the visitation of 1763-1769 to Grão-Pará netted no more than twelve warlocks, nine witches, six blasphemers, five medicine men, six medicine women, four sodomites, five bigamists, two heretics, and one master who maltreated his slave, it does not take much imagination to conclude that the people of Grão-Pará during the six-year period of inquisitorial “terror” were either angels or managed to keep their faults beyond public scrutiny.

The books in question are very useful to have and do contribute to our knowledge of the workings of the Inquisition in Portuguese America. Professor Amaral Lapa’s in particular, by reproducing the Livro de Visitaçao—too literally, alas—provides us with a source as indispensable as those published by Capistrano de Abreu and Rodolfo Garcia in the 1920s. What I regret is not the archival research that was done patiently and well, but the personal statements on the Inquisition as such. Dr. Siqueira’s approach is overly and naively “social science.” Her psychoanalyses fill pages of text with heroic boredom. Professor Lapa’s is marred by a moralistic tone that tells us more about his feelings than about the Inquisition as such. (My old friend and colleague will forgive this desabafo.) Studies of this nature require authors who are aware of what it is to be secular, who know enough theology to understand what the Inquisition was trying to safeguard, and who are familiar with the spirituality of the society that the Inquisition was bound to respect.

Research on the Inquisition is not a sometime thing but an intellectual exercise, pursued with dedication, that involves us to the end. If Professors Lapa and Siqueira are to follow in the footsteps of the late great I. S. Révah (or even of José Toribio Medina), the path is arduous but the rewards are rich and satisfying, and the joy of serving truth lasts forever.