Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Man of Conscience


The name of one of the notable Anabaptist leaders in the Low Countries spawned a denomination known as the Mennonites, a small but hardy group persecuted fiercely by both Catholic and Protestant authorities for insistence on disengaging from the world and particularly from war. Mennonites have spread out to communities in at least 87 countries worldwide.

Their story begins in 1496, when a Dutch couple in Witmarsum, Friesland, named their infant son Menno. Since the child’s father was Simon, by custom in Holland his name was Menno Simonszoon, or  Simons for short.

Simons trained for the Catholic priesthood, among other things learning to read and write Latin and studying the Church Fathers. He was ordained in 1524 and assigned for seven years to a parish in the town of Pinjum, near his birthplace, where he was transferred in 1531 for five years. Some Anabaptist accounts assert that “Menno had feared to read the Bible,” but such a claim stems from ignorance of the fact that one of the duties of the priest is homilectics, to preach on the day’s biblical readings.

Simons’ theological change of heart is believed to have started in 1525, during his first year as a priest. He is said to have been celebrating Mass “when a doubt crept into his mind as to whether the bread and wine actually became divine.” He apparently originally thought this was a suggestion from the Devil and tried to get it out of his mind.

The Anabaptist account wrongly describes it as doubting “the truth of transubstantiation,” which is not the teaching that, in the Eucharist, bread and wine acquire the “Real Presence” of Christ and become his Body and Blood, but rather the theory adopted by Lateran IV to explain how the change occurs. Doubt concerning the Real Presence prompted deeper study of the New Testament, which led him toward a humanist evangelical view common in his day. Two events intervened to push Simons beyond what was, for a country priest, at most an eccentric Erasmian stance.

First, in 1531, he heard that a tailor named Sicke Freerks Snijder had been beheaded for being “rebaptized,” which was how Simons first heard of the rite. He said that it “sounded very strange to me.” Transferred to his hometown, he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, who preached and practiced “believer’s baptism,” just as Simons was coming to the conclusion that infant baptism had no biblical writ.

Next, in the nearby German city of Münster, radical Anabaptists led by John of Leiden seized power and set up a communal sectarian government in February 1534. The uprising at first denounced Catholicism from a radical Lutheran perspective, but soon proclaimed the absolute equality of all people in all matters, including wealth, and called on the poor of the region to join him in to share the wealth of the town and enjoy the spiritual benefits of being Heaven’s elect.

Meanwhile, some 300 Friesland Anabaptists, men and women, led by an emissary of their congregation in Münster, violently seized a Catholic monastery on March 30, 1535. On April 7 the monastery was stormed by troops led by the imperial stadtholder. Several hundred Anabaptists died, among them Simons’ brother, Pieter. Not long after, Münster’s expelled bishop came back with an army and did the same in his city.

Simons later recounted the crisis, saying he “prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, He would graciously forgive my unclean walk and unprofitable life.”

Ultimately, Simons rejected Catholicism and the priesthood on January 12, 1536, was rebaptized and joined the Anabaptists. He was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips, a barber and a surgeon who was leading an Anabaptist community in Groningen. The association ended badly. The community felt that Simons, who devoted himself to quiet meditation and study, would be a better leader. Members pressed him twice before Simons agreed to become an elder, roughly equivalent to a bishop.

As an elder, Simons rejected the violence of the Münster movement, arguing that it was not scriptural, and offered a theology focused on separation from the world and baptism by repentance. In his 1539 work Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing, he states:
True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound.

The term “Mennonite” or “Mennist” was first used in 1544 letter to refer to Dutch Anabaptists. Simons died January 31, 1561, at Wüstenfelde, Holstein, and was buried in his garden. He was married to a woman named Gertrude, and they had at least three children, two daughters and a son.

The Mennonite faith forbids swearing of an oath or serving as a soldier. It calls for a New Testament style assembly of voluntary converts baptized after confession of faith in Christ and bound to the group’s discipline. Mennonite mutual-aid organizations carry out the group’s spirit of carrying one another’s burdens. The faith sees the community of believers as a “suffering church, not a ruling political body which punished heresy with the power of the state.” As such, it must expect persecution. Simons wrote: “The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.”

Simons spoke of guarding what we learn “in the little chest of the conscience” (Gewissen) as an inborn divine voice. “We have but one Lord and master of our conscience, Jesus Christ, whose word, will, commandment and ordinance we obey, as willing disciples, even as the bride is ready to obey her bridegroom's voice,” he wrote.

There were about 2.1 million Anabaptists worldwide as of 2015 (including Mennonites, Amish and Mennonite Brethren, formally part of the Mennonite World Conference). The largest groups are in Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India and the United States. There are German colonies in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay. There remains only a relatively small Mennonite presence in the Netherlands, where Simons was born.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Predestination’s Polemicist

The only major figure of the Reformation who started out as neither a cleric nor a monarch was French lawyer and polemicist John Calvin (1509-1564), best known for his work Institutes of the Christian Religion and his teaching of predestination. Like Zwingli, he was not the founder of a denomination; however, Calvinism as a set of theological ideas spread widely within Protestantism.

The man known from birth in Noyon, France, as Jehan Cauvin (he latinized his name to Ioannes Calvinus, a Renaissance fashion) led a relatively ordinary life as the son of an ecclesiastical notary who pulled Calvin away from studying for the priesthood in Paris and enrolled him to study law at the University of Orleans. By 1532, at the age of 23, Calvin had received his law degree, published his first book, a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia, and returned to Paris.

There, two developments altered the course of his life.

First, he experienced in the fall of 1533 a religious conversion. He described it, in part, as an experience through which “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame … Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein.” Later he described this as the beginning of his call to reform the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, Calvin’s close friend Nicolas Cop was appointed rector of the Collège Royal, where he got caught up in the conflict between humanists and reform-minded faculty and more conservative senior professors. Cop devoted his inaugural address to the need for reform and renewal in the Catholic Church. Irate faculty members denounced the speech as heretical, forcing Cop to flee to Basel. Calvin was somehow implicated and also had to go into hiding until he managed to join his friend in Basel, then under the influence of Johannes Oecolampadius, a German religious reformer with close ties to both Erasmus and Zwingli.

In March 1536, Calvin published the first edition of his Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institutes of the Christian Religion), his central work, which underwent several almost wholesale changes until the definitive editions of 1559 (Latin) and 1560 (French).

The final version’s 80 chapters follow the structure of the Apostles’ Creed, already a traditional form of instruction in the faith. First, God is presented as Father, the creator, provider and sustainer; next, the Son reveals the Father, asserting that only God can reveal God. Third, the work describes the work of the Holy Spirit, including raising Christ from the dead. Finally, the work speaks about how the church should live the divine and scriptural truths, particularly through its sacraments, functions and ministries and about the connection between civil government and religion—the section includes a lengthy criticism of the papacy.

Although Calvin claims to rely only on biblical writ, much of what he states about God that is in accord with previous teaching draws from Nicaea and Chalcedon, not the Bible. Where Calvin first goes off the rails is with predestination.

Much like Luther and his sola gratia, Calvin doubts the human capacity to cooperate with God in the process of salvation, which is given rather than earned. Pre-Reformation Christianity never quite went so far as to affirm that human beings by their actions can earn or lose salvation, but it did propose that salvation offered by God can be rejected by human beings’ free moral acts.

Calvin denies moral freedom. In his view, God has already chosen those who will be saved. Even among Christians, who have heard the Gospel and received the sacraments, only a few are entitled to everlasting life; the rest are strangers and hypocrites. Calvin argues that God’s omnipotent grace makes up for the shortcomings of the elect, who are accounted for only when they convert. The existing pre-Reformation Church, Calvin argues, is merely an outward sign that might, or might not, be imbued by the Holy Spirit, and in any case cannot prepare a person to be worthy of grace.

The Calvinist view spawned the evangelical Protestant notion of conversion as an event that takes place in a particular moment (the famous committing one’s heart to Jesus). As a corollary, baptism is not to be administered to infants, the Eucharist is not a sacrifice nor are its ministers priests, nor is any idea of the Church traceable to Apostolic times valid. What clergy is left is only ministering “the Word,” meaning the printed Bible, and no other tradition or teaching is considered valid.

Nonetheless, in 1537, Calvin wrote the Articles on the Organization of the Church and its Worship at Geneva to the city’s Protestant-leaning council and effectively set up a theocracy there, although he frequently traveled back to Strasbourg, where he lived with his family, also under a Protestant theocratic order he established.

Voltaire later wrote about Calvin, Luther and Zwingli, “If they condemned celibacy in the priests, and opened the gates of the convents, it was only to turn all society into a convent. Shows and entertainments were expressly forbidden by their religion; and for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva. They condemned auricular confession, but they enjoined a public one; and in Switzerland, Scotland, and Geneva it was performed the same as penance.”

Calvin’s Geneva notably invented execution of the unfaithful or sinful by drowning; those convicted had stones tied to their necks, so they would sink in Lake Geneva and die from asphyxiation.

Calvinism’s influence on English and Scottish Protestantism stemmed from Geneva’s sheltering exiles who fled the reign of Catholic Mary Tudor starting in 1555. Among them, John Knox and others carried Calvin’s ideas back home. Calvinism arose in England and spread throughout the English-speaking world about a hundred years later, through the Puritans, whose Westminster Confession became the confessional document of Presbyterians.

Churches that now have “Reformed” in their name are heavily influenced by them and can be said to be Calvinist, deriving the name from a Reformed Constitutional Synod held in 1567 in Debrecen, Hungary, which set forth another important document in Continental Calvinism. The movement spread to other parts of the world, including North America, South Africa (where the Reformed Church was instrumental in supporting Apartheid) and Korea.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

True Commitment


Spanish missionaries are today held in contempt by people infected with prejudice. However, such belated critics misread the role of missionaries as benefactors of and advocates for American natives.

Columbus, who may not have been Christian at all, was desperate to pay off those who invested in his voyages; in his day there was no funding for purely scientific exploration. To raise money and interest in the lands he found, he overstated the presence of gold and set off a kind of gold rush.

Columbus established what was called the encomienda (commitment), a system bound by a writ issued whenever land was assigned to a newcomer from Spain. It committed the colonist to procure, with an assigned number of natives as unpaid laborers, specified amounts of gold, spices and other goods. The natives were not pleased, and the gold was nowhere as bountiful as Columbus claimed or the commitment required. Both factors contributed to a brutal situation: the natives were worked to death to procure impossible quantities of resources and the slightest disobedience was harshly punished.

Several missionaries complained about the treatment of the natives to Columbus, then to his son Diego, who succeeded him as governor, then to the Spanish Crown. Most notable was the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), son of an early colonist and the first priest ordained in the New World.

Las Casas was not a native rights’ firebrand from the start. He immigrated in 1502 to Hispaniola, where he became a rancher and slave owner, receiving a piece of land in the province of Cibao. Reputedly he participated in slave raids and attacks on the native Taíno population, who resisted conquest.

In 1510, a group of Dominican friars arrived in Santo Domingo led by Pedro de Córdoba. Appalled by the injustices they saw committed by slave owners, the friars decided to deny them the right to confession. Among those denied was Las Casas. In December 1511, a Dominican preacher, Fra Antonio de Montesinos, preached a fiery sermon that implicated the colonists in the genocide of the native peoples:

“Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.”

Las Casas originally argued against the Dominicans in favor of the encomienda. Then, in 1513 he participated, as a chaplain, in Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar’s and Pánfilo de Narváez’ conquest of Cuba. He witnessed atrocities committed by Spaniards against the native Ciboney and Guanahatabey peoples about which he later wrote: “I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see.”

His mountaintop conversion came in 1514 while studying a passage in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 34:18–22 for a Pentecost sermon. Found in Catholic but not Protestant Bibles, it states in part: “If one sacrifices from what has been wrongfully obtained, the offering is blemished; the gifts of the lawless are not acceptable.” Las Casas came to understand that the actions of the Spanish in the New World had been illegal and constituted a great injustice. He decided to give up his slaves and the encomienda and admonished other colonists to do the same. When his words fell on deaf ears, he went to Spain to appeal to the king.

He arrived in 1515 and was able to get a letter of introduction to the king from the archbishop of Seville. On Christmas Eve, Las Casas met King Ferdinand briefly; the king agreed to hear him out in greater detail at a later date. He wrote a report for the king, but clerics who were also encomenderos blocked it. Ferdinand died on January 25, 1516, and the detailed discussion never occurred.

Undaunted, Las Casas resolved to meet instead with the successor, young King Carlos I, who appointed Las Casas and one of his powerful Flemish courtiers to write a new plan for reforming the government system of the Indies.

Las Casas recommended an end to the encomienda and organization of the natives into self-governing townships of tribute-paying vassals. When asked about the loss of Indian labor, he unwisely suggested replacing it with imported African labor. Las Casas could have set in motion a calamitous endeavor, but Spain never seriously engaged in the African slave trade—not for humanitarian or religious reasons, but because the rival kingdoms of Britain and Portugal swiftly took control of that peculiar commerce. In fact, the Spanish Crown banned the importation of slaves in 1776 in an order that also expelled Portuguese colonists.

The missionary advocate also proposed the migration of Spanish peasants to introduce small-scale farming and agriculture in a system of colonization that didn’t deplete resources or rely on native labor. He recruited a large number of peasants who were promised land to farm, cash advances and tools and resources. Unfortunately, his partner in planning, the powerful Flemish courtier, died leaving him without effective power to bring anything about. In the end, a much smaller number of peasant families were sent, but with insufficient provisions and no support on their arrival.

Next Las Casas obtained a land grant to establish a settlement in northern Venezuela at Cumaná, near two monasteries. To sell his proposal, Las Casas projected profits for the royal treasury, which he said could also fund 10 royal forts and a system of trade in gold and pearls. Those brought to live in these towns would become tribute-paying subjects of the king. He got much less than he proposed and left Spain in 1520 with a small group of peasants, paying for the venture with money borrowed from his brother-in-law. In 1522, while Las Casas was traveling in Hispaniola, the Caribs attacked the Cumaná settlement and burned it to the ground.

Devastated by the failure of this and other ventures, Las Casas entered the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz in Santo Domingo as a novice in 1522 and took final vows in 1523. There he continued his theological studies. In 1527 he began working on his History of the Indies in order to report many of the experiences he had witnessed firsthand during the conquest and colonization of New Spain. He continued writing to various Spanish authorities complaining about the treatment of the natives.

In the 1530s, as a missionary in Guatemala, he learned Quiché, a Mayan language, and developed a new way of evangelizing that he described in De unico vocationis modo (On the Only Way of Conversion). It consisted of two principles: preach the Gospel to all people, treating them as equals, and insist that conversion be voluntary and based on knowledge and understanding of the faith.

To test his method more broadly and without interference from Spanish colonists or soldiers, Las Casas got permission to develop what was effectively a precursor of the mission establishment. He chose a colonized territory in Guatemala whose native people were deemed fierce and unconquerable. He got the governor of Guatemala to agree that if Las Casas succeeded no encomiendas would be established. His missionaries transformed the so-called Land of War into what came to be called “Verapaz” (True Peace).

Las Casas taught Christian songs to native merchants who ventured into the area and in this way reached native chiefs. He was recalled to Mexico and left for Spain in 1540.

In 1542 he obtained a hearing before Charles I, no longer a young man and now the very powerful Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Although legally abolished in 1523, the encomienda had been reinstituted in 1526, and in 1530 a general ordinance against slavery was reversed by the Crown.

Las Casas presented a narrative later published as Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies), which would support much of the criticism of Spanish colonization. It proposed removing all natives from supervision by secular Spaniards, abolishing the encomienda system and making natives royal tribute-paying subjects under the direct authority of the Crown. Later that year, Charles signed what were known as the New Laws, forbidding new encomiendas. Among other things, these prohibited the use of Indians as carriers or slaves. These laws gradually abolished existing encomiendas, which reverted to the king on the death of their holder.

Although he succeeded for a while politically, this made Las Casas many enemies. In 1544, he was appointed bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, where he refused absolution to slave owners and encomenderos even on their deathbed unless all their slaves had been set free and their property returned to them. He threatened to excommunicate anyone in his jurisdiction who mistreated Indians.

When the New Laws were enacted in 1545, riots broke out. Las Casas was shot at by angry colonists; he was so unpopular among the Spaniards that he had to leave. Summoned to a meeting of the bishops of New Spain in Mexico City in 1546, he left his diocese, never to return. He went back to Spain to face considerable criticism from newly powerful viceroys and their associates and died in Madrid in 1566.

His four notable works are Memorial de Remedios para las Indias (On Remedies for the Indies), a 1516 work proposing changes to the colonization system; A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (mentioned earlier), published in 1556; The History of the Indies, a three-volume, a mostly eye-witness account of the history of the Indies from 1492 to 1520, finished in 1561; and The Apologetic Summary History of the People of These Indies, originally a chapter of the History of the Indies, ethnographic accounts of the the Taíno, the Ciboney, and the Guanahatabey and other indigenous cultures.

Las Casas is widely regarded as an early international human rights activist and a predecessor of the Liberation Theology movement, whose founder, Gustavo Gutiérrez, acknowledged him as an inspiration. He is commemorated by the Church of England in the Calendar of Saints on July 20 and the Evangelical Lutheran Church on July 17. In the Catholic Church, the Dominicans introduced his cause for canonization in 1976; in 2000 the Church began the process for his beatification.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Evangelization of America


Much as the Renaissance, humanism and the Protestant Reformation were in part propelled by an urban revolution following the resurgence of trade in Europe, reopened land and sea routes to the East—giving Europeans access to Oriental luxuries such as gems, spices, perfume and silk—spread Christianity to a new continent across the Atlantic named after Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, America.

The story of Catholic evangelization of America in the 16th century is really that of a religious undertaking that ran parallel to, and at loggerheads with, the military and political Spanish conquest of lands from part of what is today the United States to the tip of Argentina and Chile. In little more than a generation, thanks to courageous and remarkably visionary Augustinian, Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit and Mercedarian missionaries, the effort nearly doubled the number of Christians worldwide at the time.

To get the context we must begin the story before the voyage of Christopher Columbus, as the two major naval powers of Europe—Portugal and Spain—were vying for control of the Atlantic, with the pope on the sidelines attempting to play United Nations. Spain was still seeking to unify under a single monarch and recover territory from the Moors—which finally occurred with the marriage in 1469 of the Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II and the fall of the last Moorish citadel, Granada, in 1492.

Spain stumbled onto an entirely new continent, and Columbus returned to the Spanish court with strange plants, animals, gold jewelry, the spice still called ají (chili pepper) and even seminaked natives. In response, the pope sent an enthusiastic message in the bull Inter caetera: “Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

Isabella and Ferdinand, both devout Christians, secured for Spain vicarial power to appoint missionaries traveling to the new territories with the responsibility of evangelization. The earliest of these were 12 missionaries who went with Columbus’ second expedition in 1493, under the orders of Friar Bernardo Buil, believed to have been a Benedictine. On January 6, 1494, Buil celebrated the first Mass in the New World, in a temporary church in what is today Haiti.

Buil was also the first of many missionaries to quarrel with Columbus over the treatment of the natives. In response, Columbus ordered that the food ration of the clerics be cut. Seeing that the situation for evangelization and catechizing was impossible, Buil left for Spain with eight others in late 1494, leaving behind the Franciscans Juan de la Deule and Juan Tizín and the hermit Jerónimo Ramón Pané, regarded as the first teacher, catechist and anthropologist of the New World.

The first missionary episode lays bare what would be the constant struggle between the Church and crown (actually, missionaries and conquistadores, the Spanish word for conquerors). Over time, however, the new societies gave rise to a distinct expression of the faith that could be called Hispanic-American Catholicism. It involved a mestizaje, or ethnic intermingling, of Spaniards and American natives that spawned a new people with its own perspective and later included Africans brought in as slaves.

Nonetheless, some did question whether the Americans were human—a very European attitude in the face of very different clothing and manners, although admittedly consonant with the idea of exploiting them. One argument against the Americans’ humanity hinged on the then-novel idea of the Earth as a globe: Americans walked upside down on the other side of the globe, some reasoned, which may have caused their souls to fall out.

The matter was resolved with finality in the papal bull of 1537 Sublimis deus. Pope Paul III declared that the natives were to be regarded as fully human and that their souls were as immortal as those of Europeans. It outlawed their enslavement in any form. The document prevented wholesale and massive slavery for all American natives, but it did not abolish the neofeudal economic system the Spaniards brought with them, nor prevent a social caste system based partly on ancestral origin.

The latecoming British regarded all intercourse—marital or not—with people of other ethnicities, particularly non-Europeans whom they deemed impure, as “miscegenation.” The Spanish had few ethnic biases of that sort. This was in large part due to the centuries of comingling in the Spanish peninsula of Arabs, Celts, Mediterranean Jews and Visigoths.

Fanatically Christian though Spaniards might be—their classic battle cry was “For Spain and St. James”— they had no qualms about intermarriage and sexual union with indigenous women, which was common in Spanish America. Spanish expeditions did not initially transplant Spanish society, but consisted of the men needed for military conquest, navigation and—due to royal interest in the faith—evangelization. Spanish women were scarce in America, especially in the earlier period.

The people that emerged from crossbreeding during colonial times, especially after a relatively small contingent of African slaves was introduced, led to the development of a new lexicon, whose beginning was in three Spanish words: mestizo (half-American, half Spanish), mulato (half-African, half-Spanish) and zambo (half-African, half-American). Colonial-era parish records are replete with a variety of subcategories that developed with time, after ethnicity became associated with socioeconomic caste and identity, in the 18th century. The development is also memorialized in Miguel Cabrera’s “Paintings of Castes” from the 1760s Mexico.

The faith response to the new society, as instilled by missionaries, is most notably evident in a new piety around miraculous apparitions and events. The first of these occurred on the morning of December 9, 1531.

According to the best accounts, that morning a native peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of a maiden at the Hill of Tepeyac, outside Mexico City. Speaking in Nahuatl (the Aztec Empire’s language), the maiden identified herself as the Virgin Mary and said she was the “mother of the very true deity.” She asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. Acting on the command, Juan Diego went to the archbishop of Mexico City to tell him what had happened; the archbishop did not accept the idea as possible: imagine, the Virgin Mary appearing to an Aztec young man!
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Juan Diego saw Mary for a second time the next day, and she told him to keep insisting, so he talked to the archbishop a second time. The cleric instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity, which she agreed to in her third apparition at Tepeyac, promising it for the next day (December 11).

However, on Monday, December 11, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino fell sick and the young man felt obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, with the uncle’s condition much worse, Juan Diego set out for Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino's deathbed confession.

To avoid being delayed by the Virgin and ashamed of having missed the Monday meeting, Juan Diego chose a route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going. When Juan Diego explained the situation, Mary gently chided him for not asking for her help, “Am I not, standing here, your mother?” She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December.

Juan followed her instructions, and he found Castilian roses, not flowers native to Mexico, blooming there. Mary arranged the flowers in Juan’s cloak. When he opened his cloak before the archbishop on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was an image of the Virgin.

The next day, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bedside, and that she had instructed him to tell the bishop of the apparition and of his miraculous cure and that she wanted to be known as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The choice of name has been puzzling. Guadalupe is originally the name of a river in the province of Extremadura, Spain, that was under Moorish control for centuries, thus is possibly an Arabic word, Wadi-al-luben (“hidden river”) or an Arabic/Latin compound Wadi Lupe, a compound of Andalusian Arabic for “river” and the Latin for “wolf.” Indeed, a 14th century Marian apparition associated with the town of Guadalupe, which lies on the banks of the river of the same name, had prompted the erection of a statue originally known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, today Our Lady of Extremadura.

Complicating matters, some linguists have pointed to the Nahuatl phrases Coatlaxopeuh (“the woman who defeated the snake,” sometimes interpreted as a reference to the serpent-Devil in Genesis), Tequatlanopeuh (“she who originated in the rocky summit”) and Tequantlaxopeuh (“she who banishes those who devoured us”) as possible origins of the Spanish-sounding Guadalupe.

Returning to our story, the bishop kept the mantle, first in his private chapel, then in the church on public display. Finally after a December 26 procession, it was placed in a small chapel at Tepeyac. On the way there, an Indian was accidentally mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot during a stylized martial display in honor of the Virgin. His companions carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life; while the arrow was being withdrawn, the victim sat up fully recovered. This was yet another miracle attributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the first being the Spanish roses at Tepeyac in December.

Guadalupe was the first of many apparitions, including the Virgin of Copper in Cuba, the Virgin of Lujan in Argentina, Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, all expressing divine favor toward the lowliest of Iberoamerican society. Later they infused the new lands with an almost messianic sense of mission and identity, which was to be invoked in rebellion against Spain.

Juan Diego was canonized in 2002 as Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.