It is the 14th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1565.
Christians have long been utopians; however how you understand that word. We've discussed this on the show before. "Utopia" was a word coined by Thomas More for his eponymous book published in 1516. The joke, of course, is whether you hear the "U" in "Utopia" as in "Eu," a prefix meaning "good" or "U," a prefix meaning "No." Christians have confessed for centuries that the "perfect place" isn't just a possibility but also a promise. On the other hand, Christians who confess that the world is broken will affirm that any place claiming to be "perfect" will be instantly ruined with the inclusion of any humans into that society on this side of Paradise. Utopian thought isn't the domain of Christians only, but Christian utopian thought has played a prominent role in the social history of the church.
Today we remember a Utopian Spanish priest, missionary, and eventually bishop of Michoacán. Vasco de Quiroga was not your average conquistador turned missionary or even the other way around. (The missionaries that became conquistadores is its own tragic story.) Quiroga was of noble stock. Born in the 1470s, he would be trained in law at the humanist hub, the University of Valladolid. Unlike many sent to Mexico to work amongst the indigenous population, Quiroga was not sent until he was in his 60's. This, among other things, was how he gained the title "Tata Vasco," an affectionate word for father.
Quiroga was sent to Mexico at an older age partly due to a controversy existing in Mexico with Nuno Beltran de Guzman. Guzman was a member of the "audiencia," or local magistrate that acted on behalf of the Spanish crown. Guzman's blatant corruption and murder of locals (who he thought may have been hiding gold) led to him being imprisoned and sent back to Spain in shame and shackles. Quiroga sat on the panel that judged Guzman and would come to represent to some. The humanistic spirit of the age. Quiroga argued against enslaving the indigenous, and his arguments against slavery would resonate with many down through the centuries.
But it was less emancipatory and more utopian; that is, Quiroga sought to implement aspects of More's Utopia amongst the natives. The book he wrote that outlines this plan is called the "Informacion en Derecho." He established working camps where craftsmanship was taught alongside the Christian faith. Self-government and non-coerced baptisms were the goals, although stories of an idyllic utopia are more the creation of later historians who tried to paint the bishop as a messianic figure.
Quiroga founded the Colegio de San Nicolas Obispo to train priests in indigenous Indian languages. This college would later become a center of local dissent against the Spanish. The association of the Bishop of Michoacán further cemented his posthumous role as a hero to the indigenous. His legacy has been adorned with anachronistic Enlightenment ideals with a biography from 1766. Nevertheless, the humanist was an advocate for natives in a way likely unfamiliar to many in the 16th century. The Utopian plan may have been, well, utopian. But for a time, it was more the "good" place than "no" place, and thus Vasco Quiroga has retained his title to Tata. Tata Quiroga died on the 14th of March in 1565 in Michoacán. He was in his 90's.
The reading for today is a poem from Edwina Gateley, "Let Your God Love You."
Before your God.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Let your God—
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite utopias include Plato's Republic, Campanella's City of the Sun, and Dan's hometown of Irvine, California. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.