English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities -- "Baroque & Enlightenment"

Extra-credit Option:

on the film The Mission

Get hold of a video copy of the film The Mission.  It is available at both Dillon's East and Dillon's West in Manhattan for $.39 a day [!].  Blockbuster in Manhattan also rents it for $3.00 for 3 days.  And there is one copy at the Manhattan Public Library that rents for $1.00 for 3 days.  (With the commercial places, it's a good idea to call in advance to make sure the video is on hand before you spend the time to make a special trip.  The library, however, doesn't do searches for patrons over the phone.) If you run into a logjam and have no luck at any of these places, see me to arrange to borrow my own copy from me.)

Some context.  The film is set in towards the middle of the 18th Century in a region of South America that used to be administered by the Jesuit Order as a remarkable network of missions that functioned as a virtual state within a state.  This enterprise became embroiled in a complex tangle of diplomatic negotiation between the crowns of Portugal and Spain, the Vatican, and the Jesuit Order (each member of which, as you know from your readings about the Counter-Reformation, was personally sworn to absolute obedience to the Pope).  The film focuses upon the conflicts (internal and mutual) of allegiance experienced by three Jesuits.  The first is a Cardinal (and former Jesuit) delegated by the Pope to carry out an inspection of the missions with a view to deciding whether those now falling within Portuguese jurisdiction (by arbitration of the Vatican) should be disbanded, in accordance with the wishes of the Portuguese Crown (prompted by Portuguese colonists who want to enslave the Indians).  The second is Father Gabriel, who is responsible for having built the missions.  The third is Father Rodrigo, a former slave trader who has joined the mission and, eventually, become a priest.  In the course of the action, each of these individuals confronts a crisis of moral authority.  

To appreciate what is at stake in these, you will need to begin by reviewing what you know of the Jesuit Order.  What were the circumstances in which it came into being?  What was its original mission?  Did its mission change in the course of time?  What is special about the oath of a member of the order takes?  What were the conflicts into which it came with secular rulers (including Catholic monarchs)?  What happened as a result of these conflicts?  What has been/is the role of Jesuits in such contemporary conflicts as those in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Chiapas (in Mexico)?  Our text The Western Humanities has offers a starting point (p. 336, and pp. 365-6).  But it would make sense to check out as well at least what you can find in a good encyclopedia.  You may also want to explore some of the Web links connected with the Jesuits.

The choice of topics.  You may write on any one of the following topics.  Try to be as specific as possible.


For starters (and later, deliberating review):  here are some passages from the film that vividly raise some of the issues the film puts into play.

The film opens with the Cardinal dictating to his secretary a report he is composing to be sent to the Pope, back in Rome.  We can imagine this letter as being under composition all through the course of the events of the film, beginning with the arrival of the Cardinal in the Province of Argentina (which contained what is now Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay).  Or we can imagine it as being completely retrospective, composed after the Cardinal's own mission has been accomplished.

THE CARDINAL:  This seeking to create a paradise upon earth - how easily it offends.  Your Holiness is offended because it may distract from the Paradise which is to come hereafter.  The majesties of Spain and Portugal are offended because the paradise of the poor is seldom pleasing to those who rule over them.  And the settlers here are offended for the same reason."

So it was this burden I carried to South America to satisfy the Portuguese wish to enlarge their empire, to satisfy the Spanish desire that this would do them no harm, to satisfy Your Holiness that these monarchs of Spain and Portugal would threaten no more the power of the Church, and to ensure for you all that the Jesuits could no longer deny you these satisfactions.

FATHER GABRIEL, praying in the course of ordaining Rodrigo into the Jesuit Order:  [Help him] to renounce the snares of this world, and to put on the livery of labor and humiliation.  Teach him to be generous, to labor and not to count the cost, to serve with no reward, save the doing of Your will.

DON CABEZA, referring to the Indian child, who has just sung for the cardinal:  A parrot can be taught to sing, your Excellency.  Your Excellency, this is a child of the jungle, an animal with the human voice.  If it were human, it would cringe at its vices.  These creatures are lethal, and lecherous.  They will have to be subdued by the sword and brought to profitable labor by the whip.  What they [the priests] say is sheer nonsense."

Don Cabeza having vehemently insisted that the Spanish plantation owners obey Spanish law (which by then outlawed slavery), Father Rodrigo (who in his earlier career as a slaver had personally sold slaves to Don Cabeza himself) declares "He lies!" The cardinal demands an apology for this insult to Don Cabeza's honor as a member of the gentleman class, by calling into question his word.  Rodrigo on this occasion refuses, on the grounds that he cannot be asked to deny what he in conscience knows to be the truth.

THE PORTUGUESE OFFICIAL, intervening:  Your Eminence, I think we've just seen a good example of Jesuit contempt for the authority of the State.

DON CABEZA, looking down on a scene of Indians at work in the fields of the mission:  I don't see any difference between this plantation and mine.

FATHER GABRIEL:  This plantation is theirs.

FATHER RODRIGO, raising the shirt of a Guaraní in their party, revealing scars from a flogging:  This is another difference.  

[The cardinal then asks Don Cabeza whether slavery, and commerce in it, is or is not against the law in Spanish territories, where his own plantation is located.  {The practice previously alleged is that the Spanish, forbidden to traffic in slaves, buy slaves from their Portuguese neighbors, since the slave trade is still legal in Brazil.} The Portuguese official intervenes.]

THE PORTUGUESE OFFICIAL:  Supply and demand is the law of trade.  

FATHER GABRIEL:  And the law of evil?

DON CABEZA:  What's a few cuts across the back with what you offer this population of theirs - the torments of Hell, and imprisoned wills.  Think of that.

THE CARDINAL, continuing the dictation of his letter to the Pope:  Though I knew that everywhere in Europe the States were tearing at the authority of the Church, and though I knew well that to preserve itself there, the Church must show its authority over the Jesuits here, yet I still couldn't help wondering whether these Indians would not have preferred that the sea and wind had not brought any of us to them.

At the end of the film, the Cardinal, Don Cabeza, and the Portuguese Official are discussing the news that the mission has been dispersed by force.

THE PORTUGUESE OFFICIAL:  You have no alternative, Your Eminence.  We must work in the World.  The World is thus.

THE CARDINAL:  No, thus have we made the World.  Thus have we made it.  

Review the general instructions on Extra-Credit Assignments.

Return to the Home Page for English 233 (Introduction to Western Humanities:   Baroque & Enlightenment).

Return to Lyman Baker's Home Page.

All contents copyright © 1966

Lyman Allen Baker

All rights reserved

Revised 17 September 1996

URL:  http://www.ksu.edu/~lyman/english233/ec-miss.htm