Christianity, the Inca, and Culture
Besides being a student of Latin American history and culture, the story of this Jesuit compels me for other theological reasons. It comes down to the now classical division in Christian thought between what belongs to the world and what belongs to the Gospel. For "world optimists", such as St. Clement of Alexandria and the Jesuits of the "Chinese rites" controversy, all cultural and intellectual forms can be preparations for the Gospel: there is a natural piety and intellectual striving that prepares the way for the Good News of Jesus Christ, and it too can be incorporated in the Christian life. For those more pessimistic about our fallen human state, from Tertullian to the Protestant Reformers, culture is more a hinderance to the pure Gospel rather than an aide. Not only does Athens have nothing to do with Jerusalem, but Jerusalem had nothing to do with any place else.
Since the latter view is rarely taken to the severe extremes of people like Ulrich Zwingli who didn't even allow hymns in his services or a Quaker prayer meeting, what usually occurs in the process of propagating the Gospel in some cases is an idealization of what the New Testament religion should resemble. In some places, like in those of the radical Reformation, it takes the form of a dull imagining of what the worship of the ancient synagogue and early Church must have looked like. In others, such as the Americas, relations of power also came into play. Christianity was taught to the conquered peoples, but as the Christianity of the conquerer. It came to the extreme in the times of Fr. Valera in Peru, when the Spanish conquerors insisted that the indigenous peoples use the Spanish word to refer to the Christian God ("Dios") rather than the Quechua word. In this and other ways, Christianity was imposed as a white man's religion for a white god.
Valera, taught Quechua by his mother, is one of the few voices who objected to this process. He insisted that Inca civilization was not barbaric, but rather had many of the same features of the foundational cultures of Greece and Rome in Europe. Quechua itself for Valera served the same role in the Inca Empire as Latin did in Europe; it was considered a complex lanuage of the court and scholars that united the vast Andean empire. The Jesuit priest also insisted that the Inca were fundamentally monotheistic in their religion and unlike their cousins in North America, they did not practice human sacrifice. Even such classical institutions of the West as monks and vestal virgins had their parallels in classical Incan culture. In this way, Fr. Valera felt that Christianity would come as naturally to the natives of Peru as it did to the pagans of Europe. Unfortuneatly, according to Hyland, this opinion branded Valera as a heretic and led to his years of incarceration.
Posthumously, of course, our mestizo Jesuit is the victor in terms of what has happened in history. Especially with the Second Vatican Council, inculturation is encouraged in many parts of the world that are newer to the Christian message. In many places, the cultures of the places where missionaries arrive are no longer denigrated, but respected. We can argue the merits of this point of view, but what does this have to do with us who who live in historically Christian societies?
I have unfortunately been involved in many milieu where there was only one acceptable idea of how the Gospel could be incarnate in society. With the Society of St. Pius X, the Gospel reached its perfect incarnation either in the High Middle Ages, or in France in the right-wing movements leading up to the suppression of the Action Francaise. With the Orthodox, the Christian imagination will always be stuck before the fall of Constantinople. Even in many mainline Catholic circles, culture can only advance by going backwards, either in music, literature, or the plastic arts. If there is a real crisis of Christian praxis in my opinion, however, it is the crisis of the Christian imagination. Christians must always attempt see the beauty of Christ in the world in which they live, not in a world that has long passed into memory.