12. The Turkish Menace   13. Levantine Missions  14. Return to the Old World  15. Discovery of a New World

12. THE TURKISH MENACE (1481-1683)


§12. THE

 Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent



A. Threat to the West






Papal leadership. Despite the failure of the efforts of Pope Nicholas V to organize a crusade, his successor, Calixtus III (1455-58), made the realization of such an undertaking the chief objective of his pontificate. Papal resources were drained to organize an army, and shipyards were set up along the Tiber. A crusading tithe was imposed, but European princes either pocketed the money or charged that it was being collected merely to enrich the papal curia. Calixtus struggled on with what he had, subsidized Scanderbeg of Albania, and urged the pontifical fleet to do battle. Pope Pius II (1458-64) summoned an international congress to meet at Mantua in June, 1459, under his personal presidency. The pope was there on schedule, but found neither princes nor, at first, even their representatives. When a few of these straggled in after repeated invitations, they brought little more than pledges not destined to be fulfilled. In 1463 the Venetians, indeed, did declare war on the Turks in prosecution of their commercial interests. Pius II seized upon this event to launch another crusading appeal. In a supreme effort to shame the princes into doing their duty, the pope announced that he himself would lead this crusade. He proceeded to Ancona, the port appointed for the muster of the crusading armada. But the fleet failed to arrive, and Pius II, resolute to the last, died in port on August 14, 1464.

Otranto crisis. Mohammed II continued to extend his conquests in Europe and Asia, subduing the Crimea, Trebizond, and the Aegean [p. 72] Islands. Only Rhodes, defended by the Knights Hospitalers, was able to hold out in the eastern Mediterranean for a time. The Italian states remained immersed in their civil conflicts until they were astounded to hear in 1480 that the Turkish forces had landed on the coast of Apulia and captured Otranto in southern Italy. The land route to Rome was open. Pope Sixtus IV now at last elicited some response from the Italians; even aloof Venice halfheartedly promised a fleet. But the muster of forces was distinguished by such tragi-comic inefficiency, jealousy, and niggardliness that probably only the death of Mohammed the Conqueror in 1481 saved Italy.

Bayazet II (1481-1512), Mohammed’s indolent and incapable son, permitted the Christian Don Quixote force to recapture Otranto, and withdrew all the Turkish forces from Italy. One of the reasons for Bayazet’s inactivity, to be sure, was the fact that the Christians had obtained possession of a valuable hostage, the Sultan’s brother, Prince Djem. The sultan’s fear, it seems, was not so much lest Djem might be killed by his captors, but rather that he might not be; for Djem, released, might prove a dangerous rival for the Ottoman throne. Eventually the sultan paid for continued hospitality toward his brother in Western Europe.


Selim I (1512-20) renewed the expansion of Turkish frontiers, though his efforts were not at once directed against Christendom. After conquering Syria and Palestine, he subdued Egypt in 1517 and put an end to the last representative of the ancient Saracenic caliphate. This achievement gave the sultan great prestige among the Mohammedans, and he and his successors henceforth bore the title of caliph, successor of the Prophet. The fall of Egypt did stir Pope Leo X and the Fifth Lateran Council to issue a call for a new crusade. Emperor Maximilian pledged support, but the Lutheran revolt commencing later in the same year put a restraint upon any immediate large-scale Christian offensive.

Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66), Selim’s son and successor, saw the Ottoman power reach its zenith. He quickly became as great a threat to Christendom as Mohammed II. For Suleiman now moved into the Balkans and commenced the conquest of Hungary. In vain did the Holy See attempt to screw up the courage and energy of Louis II of Hungary. The king was out hunting when papal legates arrived; he seldom rose before noon; he had no money, and failed to exercise the least control over his unruly and factious nobles. After allowing his stronghold of Peterwardein to fall into Turkish possession, he suddenly decided to resist and took the field with a poorly equipped army. This force was routed at Mohacs in 1526, and the king drowned in a swamp while [p. 73] attempting to escape. Since Louis II had no direct heirs, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and John Zapolya, prince of Transylvania, contended for the succession, while the Turks appropriated two thirds of the unhappy country.

Emperor Charles V (1519-58) was the only Christian monarch able to challenge the sultan, but he was distracted by the Lutheran revolt and five wars with the kings of France, who did not scruple to ally themselves with the Turks. In spite of these handicaps, the emperor did his best to halt further Turkish advance. His arrival after the catastrophe at Mohacs at least saved the remaining third of Hungary, and averted a possible invasion of Germany. Charles pursued the Turks into Greece, but was recalled to deal with the Lutherans. When the Turks took Rhodes in 1522, the emperor placed the island of Malta at the Hospitalers’ disposal. Here they continued to hold the Christian sea bastion, but could do little to check the Mohammedan pirates who roamed the Mediterranean almost at will. The emperor’s brilliant raid upon Tunis in 1535 did clear out one of these dens of pirates, but outside interests again prevented a successful follow-up. A subsequent assault upon Algiers was unsuccessful. Charles V, then, could do little more than keep Christendom on the defensive against the Turks during his lifetime, but he left two sons, Philip II of Spain and Don Juan of Austria, who momentarily turned the tide.

B. Christian Counteroffensive


Selim II (1566-74), Suleiman’s son, was the first of a long line of fainéant rulers who succumbed to the intrigues and vices of an absolutist court, legacy from Byzantium. Yet this decline was gradual, nor was it at once manifest in a military way. For Selim II still enjoyed the services of his father’s grand vizier, Mohammed Sokölli (1560-79). An expedition that had already been under preparation in Suleiman’s day, the capture of Cyprus, was carried out successfully in 1570. The Mediterranean peril thus became the most serious in years.

Lepanto. This emergency had been foreseen by Pope St. Pius V who had preached a new crusade. Preparations were too slow for the relief of Cyprus, but much credit nonetheless goes to King Philip II of Spain who shouldered the lion’s share of the financing of the Christian flotilla. An allied fleet of 208 galleys was finally brought together under the titular command and inspiration of the king’s brother, Don Juan, but the real technical direction lay with Admiral Marcantonio Colonna. With papal blessing this fleet set out to meet the Turkish galleys of Ali Pasha. At Lepanto, off Corfu, the Christians encountered Ali Pasha’s 230 vessels on October 7, 1571. In a spirited encounter the crusaders sank [p. 74] eighty ships and captured 130. St. Pius, apparently miraculously informed of this triumph, ejaculated: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” But the feast of the Holy Rosary, assigned to this day, commemorates the real patroness of victory, for nothing short of her intervention could have saved a divided Christendom which could or would do little to save itself.


In the Balkans, the Turkish domination continued and even was extended during the century after Lepanto. But war with the Persians prevented the decadent Sublime Porte from devoting full attention to the European sector. During the second half of the seventeenth century, however, the Kiuprili family as viziers gave the sultanate an excess of energy. War was pressed against Venice at sea and most of Crete appropriated. Intermittent wars with Austria, Poland, and Russia revealed the Turks, if not always successful, still formidable foes. A decisive contest at length broke out.

Vienna to Karlowitz. Emeric Tököly, a bigoted Calvinist subsidized by Louis XIV of France, claimed not merely Turkish but Austrian Hungary for his Transylvanian principality. Assisted by 160,000 Turkish troops led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, he invaded Habsburg territory and invested Vienna. The Emperor Leopold I had but sixty thousand men available, but Pope Innocent XI induced King John Sobieski of Poland to come to his assistance. While these forces were mustered by King John and the imperial commander, Duke Charles of Lorraine, Count Rudger von Stahremberg defended the Austrian capital from July 13, 1683, until the relieving force drove away the Turks the following September 12, now commemorated as the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. This Viennese triumph was followed up by a Holy League of the Empire, Poland, and Venice. Between 1684 and 1688 Buda was retaken, avenging Mohacs, and Belgrade captured. Thereafter the imperial generals, Charles of Lorraine and Eugene of Savoy, prosecuted the war alone. The latter’s victory at Zenta in 1697 was decisive, and on January 26, 1699, the Peace of Karlowitz restored all of Hungary to Christian possession. This freed most of the Catholic subjects of the Turks, though Orthodox dissidents had yet to endure two centuries more of misrule by the sultanate in the Balkans.





§13. L

  Byzantines and Catholics Debate



A. Catholic Mission Direction






The Holy See had always been the hub of missionary efforts, and during ancient and medieval times evangelists received their canonical [p. 75] mission from the popes. During the Renaissance this papal direction was obscured to a degree by the patronage rights bestowed upon the sovereigns of Spain and Portugal, but all the discoverers and explorers were interested enough in the spread of the Gospel to report to the Holy See. If not in the very first expedition of exploration, missionaries followed quickly afterwards, and whatever their clashes with unchristian cupidity, none challenged their right to be there. Powerful material backing was given by the Catholic rulers, although, as will be noted below almost as a refrain, this connection with the secular arm often prejudiced the spiritual effectiveness of the missionary appeal. Renaissance missions and those of the centuries that followed tended to be conducted largely by the religious orders, both those founded in medieval times, and those springing from the Catholic Reformation. They were generally the heroic pioneers, though during a more settled colonizing stage that followed, the record was sometimes tarnished by jurisdictional disputes among themselves and with the secular clergy. Finally, the Protestant Revolt had the effect of weakening the Catholic missionary resources, and eventually of confronting non-Christian nations with discordant versions of Christian revelation. But despite all these reservations, the modern missionary record is glorious.’

The Congregation of Propaganda, organized as one of the departments of the Roman curia by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, was given the task of supervising this world-wide missionary effort of the Catholic Church. Besides providing priests for Catholics living under penal regulations in Protestant countries in Europe, Propaganda Fidei endeavored to centralize direction of the foreign missions at Rome. But here the Roman curia encountered the vested interests of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the extensive patronage privileges conceded them during the sixteenth century. In addition to this Erastian influence of the Catholic monarchs, the new congregation encountered some difficulty from the religious communities already in the mission fields and strongly attached to techniques which they believed to represent the fruit of experience. Roman solicitude for the formation of a native clergy in the missionary fields seldom prevailed in practice against the nationalistic attempts to Europeanize all converts, and to confine the ranks of the clergy to missionaries from the West. Foundation of the French Foreign Missionary Society in 1657 was an encouraging development: between 1660 and 1800 it sent out 317 missionaries. Presently the Congregation of Propaganda made an effort to withdraw the vicars apostolic from royal control, and to subject all the missionaries, whether religious or secular, to pontifical guidance and regular episcopal jurisdiction. [p. 76] In fact, in 1678 in the brief, Cum Haec Sancta Sedes, Pope Innocent XI exacted a special oath of obedience from all the foreign missionaries, regular or secular, to the vicars apostolic in missionary lands. In many instances this protestation of loyalty was given but grudgingly and royal interposition eventually led to many exemptions from the pontifical directive. These exemptions were reluctantly confirmed by the Congregation of Propaganda in regard to the Jesuit missionaries in Indochina in 1689, and before long they became quite general.

Joseph Schmidlin, Catholic Mission History, trans. Matthias Braun (Techny, III.: S.V.D. Mission Press, 1933), p. 287.


Native customs proved difficult of adaptation to Christian rites, particularly in the Orient where the inhabitants prided themselves upon cultures more ancient than the European. Thus arose the controversy over the Confucian and Malabar ceremonies in China and India. The principle laid down by decision of the Holy Office in 1645, 1656, and 1669 seems to have been that “idolatrous or superstitious ceremonies were prohibited, but purely civil rites were permitted.” But disputes persisted between Jesuits and Dominicans regarding the application of this principle in China, India, and Indochina. In 1704 a narrow view was taken of the use of the Chinese terms for deity and they were banned. This decision was rather unintelligently applied by the ill-informed Roman envoys, Tournon and Mezzabarba. At that time, however, pagan mentality seems indeed to have given some religious significance to these customs; hence their fusion with Christian life was interdicted until 1939 when Rome made some new interpretations in view of the gradual secularization of the Oriental viewpoint which had reduced most of these customs to merely civic and patriotic observances. But, as will be seen, these solutions were reached only after protracted and anxious investigation into alien mentality.

B. The Oriental Rites


Political conditions. When they professed a preference for “the turban rather than the tiara,” the Byzantine Orthodox assumed no easy yoke. The Turkish sultans regarded their Christian subjects as erring theists; the kitabis or “protected ones,” indeed, but a ra yah or flock to be shorn as well as “protected.” The Byzantine Dissidents were styled the “millet of Rum,” that is, the (Graeco-) Roman Nation, a protectorate for the religious subjects of the patriarch of Constantinople. The latter, assigned St. George’s Church in the Greek quarter of Constantinople, known as the Phanar, was accorded ceremonial privileges and made autonomous civil governor of the Christians under Ottoman rule. [p. 77]

But in return he was required to receive confirmation—the berat—from the sultan for his appointment, and this was a favor never accorded without a monetary payment. Indeed, the sultan got into the habit of encouraging clerical factions to depose and re-elect patriarchs every few years, for each new confirmation elicited another fee. Much ecclesiastical property, including the magnificent Hagia Sophia, was confiscated. Ottoman military power was maintained by the Yeni Cheri or Janissaries, the “new troops” recruited from the Christian population by periodical extortion of a tribute of children for the military training school. The Janissaries existed from the reign of Sultan Orkhan (132659) until 1826, when they were abolished in favor of mechanized troops. The sultans supported the Greek patriarchs’ efforts to Hellenize the Slavic churches and subject them to their jurisdiction, and by the close of the eighteenth century local autonomy had been destroyed. But this policy eventually boomeranged against the Byzantine patriarchate, for the subsequent Balkan independence movements repudiated its religious sway at the same time that political freedom was asserted.

Theological questions. Though fiercely hostile toward Rome, the Dissidents generally opposed any co-operation with Protestantism. Cyril Lukaris, educated under humanistic auspices at Venice and Padua, did attempt to introduce Calvinism during his seven brief terms as Patriarch of Constantinople. But his intrigues aroused the intense opposition of the Orthodox clergy, who finally denounced Lukaris to the Turks who strangled him (1638) . When Lukaris’s ideas were revived by Parthenios II (1644-46) , the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Dositheus, led seventy bishops in a conciliar condemnation of various Protestant errors during 1672. On the other hand, when Patriarch Cyril II Kontaris of Constantinople proposed reunion with Rome, he was deposed, deported to Tunis, and there slain in 1640. Although the monks of Mount Athos in Greece corresponded with Catholic scholars from time to time between 1620 and 1737, general antipathy for the Latins endured. The Greeks refused to accept the Gregorian calendar reform—until it was forced upon them by the Communists. In 1755 Patriarch Cyril V of Constantinople went so far as to declare that the sacrament of baptism as administered by infusion in the Latin and Armenian rites was invalid. Though this remained the official patriarchal attitude, many of the Greek theologians disagreed with it.


At Constantinople itself, a few Catholics, mostly of the Latin Rite, survived under the friars’ ministry despite Turkish hostility. In 1583 Pope Gregory XIII sent five Jesuits there; although once driven out, the survivors returned with French protection in 1609. The Treaty of [p. 78] Vienna (1615) assured Catholics the right to build churches and hold liturgical services. Despite the fact that the terms of this accord were often violated by the Turks, fifteen thousand Catholics survived until the nineteenth century when it was possible to found a Catholic parish of the Greek Rite.

The Italo-Greek-Albanians are really survivors of the Byzantine Rite who never participated in the Cerularian Schism. Their proximity to Rome in Calabria and Apulia preserved them from Byzantine reprisals, though their liturgical services suffered some admixture with Latin rites. They were approaching extinction when re-enforced after 1453 by refugees from the Balkan peninsula, and especially the Albanians. The popes long assisted Albanian efforts to defend their independence against the Turks, and guarded the customs of the Italian refugees from destruction at the hands of Latins.

Ruthenians or Ukrainians are those Russians who returned to Catholic unity at Florence (1439) with St. Isidore of Kiev, or made their submission at Brest-Litovsk (1596) with Metropolitan Ragosa of Kiev. Their history is bound up with that of Poland and Russia, where they numbered 1,500,000 before the Brest Union was declared rescinded by the czar in 1839.

Rumanians of the Byzantine Rite have been Catholic since the reconciliation of Bishop Theophilus Szerémy of Alba Julia by Father Baranyi, S.J. in 1697. Though Bishop Theophilus died shortly thereafter, Bishop Athanasius of Transylvania and many of his flock were soon reconciled so that by 1701 there were two hundred thousand Catholics. A new schism reduced this number by about half during the eighteenth century, but some hardy converts held on to the comparative toleration of the new Rumanian principality of the nineteenth century.

Serbians never entirely broke off communications with Rome, and between 1596 and 1704 nine refugee bishops were reconciled in Hungary. From 1611 a Catholic center existed at Marca when Bishop Simeon Vretanjic was recognized by the Holy See as vicar of the Latin Rite bishop of Zagreb. In 1777 the Byzantine Catholic Serbs received a diocese of their own at Crisium.

Melkites designate members of the Byzantine Rite within the ancient patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch displayed persistent Romeward tendencies ever since the Council of Florence. Two groups evolved: the Syrians who favored Rome, and the Greeks who yielded to the hostile pressures from the sultan and ecumenical patriarch at Constantinople. Since 1626 a Jesuit mission had been established in Syria, and during 1724 one of their converts, Seraphim Tanas (1680-1759), a graduate of Propaganda [p. 79] College at Rome, was elected patriarch of Antioch. Although the Greek faction at once chose a new dissident prelate, Tanas as Cyril VI has had an unbroken line of Catholic successors to this day, despite serious persecutions from the Turks.


While the dissidents tried to influence the Turks against Catholic reunion efforts, the French ambassadors at Constantinople interposed in the opposite direction, not always prudently. One victim of Turkish reprisals was the convert priest, Gomidas Keumurgian, who was beheaded in 1707—he was beatified in 1929. In spite of this persecution, reconciliations, even from the ranks of the hierarchy, continued. Bishop Tazbas Melkoun of Mardin, a former student at Propaganda, spread Catholic tenets within the Armenian Rite and converted Abraham Ardzivian (1679-1749) who was chosen Catholic patriarch in 1740. He was confirmed as such by Pope Benedict XIV two years later, and from him an unbroken line of Catholic successors has descended.


Though the Jacobites as a group repudiated Florence, individual conversions were made, especially after the admission of Capuchin and Jesuit missionaries in 1626. A considerable number of converts to Catholicity were made at Aleppo, and here in 1656 another alumnus of Propaganda, Andrew Akidian, was installed as bishop. Though recognized as patriarch by Rome in 1662, he and his Catholic successors met with violent Opposition from the Dissidents, who usually enjoyed the favor of the sultan. So serious did this persecution become during the early part of the eighteenth century, that the Uniates were unable to select a primate and had to accept the ministry of Latin missionaries for a time. But finally in 1781 a convert, Michael Garweh, revived the Catholic Syrian patriarchate, and though often in hiding or in exile, succeeded in rallying the Catholics by his holiness and energy.

The Maronites, in union with Rome since Florence, remained faithful to Catholicity, but less so to their rite, which became progressively Latinized. Renowned Maronite scholars were four members of the Assemani family, and Germanos Farhat, archbishop of Aleppo (d. 1732) . Lax ecclesiastical discipline was corrected in the Council of Lebanon (1736) under Archbishop Joseph Assemani as papal legate. Yet the remainder of the eighteenth century was disturbed by some instances of jurisdictional disputes, of iconoclasm, and the vagaries of the nun of Aleppo, Anna Aggemi (d. 1798), until the Holy See firmly and successfully intervened. [p. 80]


Internal disputes for the Nestorian patriarchate led to a return to Rome of a group of Chaldeans, and John Sulaka began a patriarchal line in 1552. Though this relapsed into schism in 1692, a new Catholic episcopal succession had begun in 1672. But the Catholic body was troubled by dissension until 1830.


Catholic organization properly speaking began with the appointment by Rome of the convert Coptic bishop of Jerusalem, Amba Athanasius, as vicar apostolic for Catholics of this rite in 1741. The bishop continued to live at Jerusalem, ruling Egypt through a vicar. His successors established themselves in Egypt itself, though none received episcopal consecration until 1824, and the patriarchal title was not revived until the close of the nineteenth century.




to the

 St. Francis Xavier



A. Africa




Medieval missionary efforts had been chiefly confined to the North African coast, although contacts had been established with “Prester John’s” land of Ethiopia.

Renaissance discoveries opened up coastal Africa to missionaries. In 1483 Diozo Cao landed at the Congo and brought some natives back to Portugal to receive Christian training. This Congo mission flourished for a time, and even gave a native bishop to the Church. But Moslem encroachment and lack of missionaries caused the mission to languish. Despite local triumphs, this was also the pattern in Angola where missionary work began in 1526; in Guinea where numerous chiefs were baptized in the late fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries; and in East Africa where missions from the Indian way station of Mozambique encountered resistance and persecution from Islam. Madagascar claimed the lives of numerous Vincentian missionaries between 1648 and 1674, without immediate tangible result. The Jesuits were making progress in Ethiopia when interference with the native customs caused the Negus Basilides to expel all missionaries in 1632. “Here also, as elsewhere on the Black Continent, too summary and spasmodic missionary undertakings met with eventual failure despite all the heroic efforts of the missionaries.” 2 Superficial conversions, governmental interference, but probably most of all, the bad example of European traders and warriors hampered or nullified missionary endeavors. [p. 81]

2 Schmidlin, op. cit., pp. 245-47.



B. The Indies






The Portuguese expeditions of discovery and conquest were simultaneously missionary journeys, and the Portuguese settlements served as so many bases for the propagation of the Faith and for ministering to the spiritual needs of the Europeans.” a Vasco da Gama, arriving for the first time in 1498, was accompanied by missionaries. Mistaking Brahman shrines, Da Gama assumed that all non-Moslems in India were Christians, but Pedro de Covilham soon acquired the martyr’s crown for bold preaching. More missionaries came out with Cabral in 1500, and with Albuquerque in 1503; and thereafter the Portuguese crown, by arrangement with the Holy See, provided a steady supply. The first viceroys, Francisco de Almeida (1505-9) and Affonso de Albuquerque (150915), fought off the Moslems and set up a Christian base at Goa. This was made over into a European center, but unfortunately it did not give a good example to the natives. If the colonists preserved the Faith, they were often the worst caricatures of Christian morality. The early missions were not intensive, and hierarchical organization was slow.

a Ibid., p. 290.

St. Francis Xavier (1506-52) , who arrived in India by 1542, had been empowered beforehand as papal nuncio and royal inspector, although he did not assert these prerogatives against Bishop Albuquerque of Goa, who co-operated with him loyally. St. Francis indicted the settlers’ example: “You preach Christ Crucified and yourselves crucify those who allow themselves to be duped by you,” one of the natives had complained to him. St. Francis did achieve noteworthy but unfortunately merely temporary success in reviving the colonists’ religious spirit. He then set to work among the Paravians, employing native catechists to complete the work of instruction begun in his imperfect command of the language. Next he extended his activity to Travancore, inducing its populace to destroy their idols. After a pilgrimage to the reputed tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle at Mylapur, St. Francis went on to Ceylon, Cochin, Malacca, and the Moluccas. After 1549, however, although still in supreme command of the Indian mission, he was chiefly occupied with the Far East. But after his death off the coast of China his body was brought back to Goa. Though legend has distorted and exaggerated some of his exploits, there can be no doubt that he had the gift of miracles, converted great numbers, and proved an extraordinary inspiration to foreign missionary work, both for contemporaries and those who came after. [p. 82]


The Portuguese Crown by papal concession exercised patronage over all the missions in its colonial dominions. Claims to patronal privileges reached their climax in Juan Solorzano Pereira’s work, De Incliarum Lure—placed on the Index in 1642—which asserted a royal disciplinary power to expel and punish clerics and religious, ratify appointments to sees and mission posts, give or withhold approval to transmission of papal and episcopal documents. Monsignor Ingoli, secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda (1625-44), complained in his reports of royal nomination to ecclesiastical benefices without the corresponding provision of adequate support. But little improvement occurred before the nineteenth century.

Hierarchical organization was likewise defective. Goa became a see in 1533 and an archbishopric in 1558 with jurisdiction over the whole of the East Indies and the Far East. Hampered by strict government restrictions and the immensity of their charge, these prelates were scarcely able to visit their subjects. Mass conversions were sometimes reported without adequate prior instruction, so that often the Christian practices were “crude and external.” The Jesuits proved powerful auxiliaries for the bishops. By 1660 they had four hundred missionaries in India. They set up a college, novitiate, printing shop, and catechumenate at Goa. In 1580 three Jesuits even interviewed the great mogul, Akbar, though without winning him over. The first council of Goa in 1567 forbade superficial or forcible conversion measures, but royal patronage and rapacious colonists continued to hamper missionary activity.


Early missionary efforts had chiefly been confined to the lower castes so that the influential groups in India despised Christianity. Though the Jesuits were particularly tolerant of native customs, they made no progress with intellectuals of the Brahman caste. Father Roberto Nobili, S.J., a friend of St. Robert Bellarmine, was the first to experiment with a new missionary technique in 1608. Already fluent in Hindustani, he acquired Sanskrit and studied the ancient Hindu classics. Adopting Brahman dress, customs, and caste distinctions, he strove to abide by the smallest detail of the Brahman ritual, and insisted that all visitors, even European, should do likewise. Translating St. Robert’s Catechism, he used it to instruct the curious by the Socratic method. Though he rejected obviously idolatrous rites, he accepted or adapted all the rest. Even the Christian doctrine he advertised as the “lost fourth Veda.”

Trouble began about 1610 when Nobili’s confrere Fernandez accused [p. 83] him of blending Christian teaching with paganism, and denounced him to Rome as an apostate. After a lengthy inquiry, Pope Gregory XV sanctioned a cautious use of certain Brahmanic customs in 1623. Nobili could resume his methods with success until his retirement in 1643. He died in 1656, having, along with his associates, won an estimated one hundred thousand converts by his revolutionary methods. Thenceforth Jesuit missionaries divided into two classes: those who worked among the Brahmans alone, and those who visited all castes willing to have dealings with them. Chief among Father Nobili’s disciples was Blessed John de Britto, tireless worker from his arrival in 1665 until his beheading in 1693. But opposition eventually arose from other religious orders. In particular, the newer missionaries of the French Mission Society took a conservative view of Father Nobili’s accomplishments and pressed Propaganda Fidei for a condemnation. The papal envoy Tournon visited India in 1703 and prohibited a number of “Malabar rites”: omission of various ceremonies, e.g., breathing, spittle, salt, from the baptismal rite out of deference to Hindu susceptibilities; practice of certain ablutions by Christian Brahmans; retention of some pagan puberty and marriage ceremonies, etc. The archbishop of Goa suspended Tournon’s decree and appealed to Rome, where two Jesuits went to defend their policy. Clement XI, however, sustained Tournon on all fundamental points in 1711. Something approaching schism ensued as some of the bishops and missionaries withheld the papal prescriptions. Clement XII made a few slight concessions in 1739, but in 1744 Pope Benedict XIV definitively condemned use of the Malabar rites, at most permitting for ten years omission of the saliva rubric in the baptismal ceremony. All missionaries were bound by oath to rigid observance of the papal directive, and the controversy quieted down.

Missionary decline, however, proceeded by reason of the encroachments of the Protestant Dutch and English. While Portugal was under Spanish rule (1580-1640) most of the Portuguese lands in the East Indies were seized by the Dutch who quite thoroughly stamped out Catholic missions. Although Goa remained a Portuguese center, a brief of Alexander VII in 1658 suggests a deterioration of the missionary spirit among the clergy. Finally, suppression of the Society of Jesus and the persecution of Sultan Tippoo of Mysore threatened the continuance of the Indian missions toward the end of the eighteenth century.


The East Indian islands which had been evangelized by the Portuguese missionaries from India and had been visited by St. Francis Xavier shared the history of India. Evangelization proceeded against Moslem influence in Borneo, Java, and Sumatra, where both lords and [p. 84] people were converted in large numbers and churches erected. Dutch conquest, however, brought oppressive measures which reduced the faithful Catholics to a handful, while Protestant ministers took over the mission stations. Though subject to arrest or expulsion, a few priests ventured in from time to time, but an extensive apostolate was out of the question.

The Philippines proved an exception to the missionary vicissitudes of the East Indies. Evangelization and civilization proceeded with comparative tranquility, and Spain retained its generally beneficent rule over the islands throughout the period of evangelization. Within a century of the first baptisms (1568) , some two million had been received into the Church, and missionary efforts were being extended to the Marianas and Caroline Islands.

C. The Far East


The Portuguese rediscovered China in 1517 and established contact with Japan in 1542. Eventually they set up a stronghold at Macao for a profitable trade with the Far East. The patronage privileges of the Portuguese crown were meticulously asserted over the Church in this area as well as in India.

Japanese opening. Having received a report on conditions in Japan from a Japanese neophyte, Angera, St. Francis Xavier set out from India in 1549. With Father Torres and Brother Fernandez, he landed at Kagoshima the same year and obtained permission from the daimyo (feudal chief) of Satsuma to preach. He began to catechize with the assistance of interpreters, for he was unable personally to obtain a perfect command of the alien tongue. After a number of attempts, he succeeded in reaching the shogun’s court at Yamaguschi and obtained a general authorization to conduct missionary work in Japan. Some Buddhist bonzes were won over, and a number of the common people had accepted the Catholic religion before St. Francis Xavier returned to his Indian headquarters in 1551.

Rapid expansion took place under St. Francis’s successors, Fathers Torres and Gago, and fifteen hundred converts are reported by 1555. Shogun Nobunga encouraged the missionaries in many ways, although he did not himself accept Christianity. In 1585 he sent an embassy to the Holy See which could report that the missionaries, although still only 26 in number, could count 150,000 converts and two hundred chapels in Japan. Five daimyos had been won over and some had been bold enough to encourage the destruction of idols. Pope Sixtus V accordingly named Father Morales, S.J., the first bishop for Japan, but [p. 85] the nominee died at Mozambique on the way to his designated see of Funai.

Persecution. On its return from Rome, the embassy discovered that Nobunga had died and Shogun Hieyoshi was in control. After some initial favors, this ruler turned against the Christians and in 1587 ordered the expulsion of all missionaries. This edict was not perfectly executed and the priests continued to work in obscurity. But when further missionaries continued to arrive, official alarm mounted, and in 1597 six Franciscans, three Jesuits, and seventeen of the faithful were crucified at Nagasaki. Though the next Shogun Ieyasu relented for a time, in 1612 a still more strenuous prosecution commenced. Despite severe tortures, however, multitudes preferred martyrdom to apostasy. An attempted revolt in 1637 only led to governmental reprisals which took the lives of thirty-five thousand Christians. Missionaries continued to enter Japan as late as 1643, but thereafter the rigid sealing of the ports against all foreigners cast the native Japanese Christians upon Providence and their own resources for two centuries.



Penetration. China remained St. Francis Xavier’s missionary objective ever since he learned of its cultural and religious prestige among the Japanese. The saintly pioneer, however, died on the island of Sancian in 1552 without being able to penetrate into the country. Father Barretto, S.J., did succeed in entering the land in 1555, but was unable to remain, and all other missionaries who made similar attempts were arrested or deported down to 1581. In that year Father Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci finally obtained a severely restricted visa to take up residence.




Father Matteo Ricci was in some sense the Nobili of the Chinese mission. From 1581 he labored in Chow-king near Canton, though he and his associates had made only forty converts by 1586. At first he wore the garb of a bonze, or Buddhist monk, but later he changed his tactics. Assuming the garments of a mandarin or scholar, Father Ricci put his brilliant scientific talents to good use in obtaining a hearing for his missionary preaching. He made a number of missionary journeys and in 1601 secured the king’s permission to settle at the capital of Peking. He and his fellow Jesuits continued to attract attention by mingling sacred and profane science, and displaying something of the attractions of Christian literature and art. Father Ricci, superior of the mission until his death in 1610, converted the royal secretary Siu-Kwangki and members of the nobility, although his converts among the populace did not exceed several hundred. [p. 86]

Chinese rites became a matter of controversy analogous to the Malabar disputes in India. Although Father Ricci had rejected Taoism and Buddhism as false religions, he considered Confucianism merely cultural lore, “certainly not idolatrous, perhaps not even superstitious.” He deemed that certain Chinese terms for the deity might be properly employed by Catholic theologians in instructing Chinese converts. Father Langobardi, Ricci’s successor, was rather hostile to the native customs, and yet made thirteen thousand converts. On the other hand, Fathers Schall and Verbiest continued Ricci’s methods and contacts with the Chinese court. As early as 1626 Jesuits and Dominicans were at odds in regard to various customs, but the Congregation of Propaganda seemed at first to prefer or tolerate the more liberal views of the former.

Controversy became intense, however, when Monsignor Maigrot, vicar apostolic of Fukien, condemned the Chinese Rites in 1693 and forbade the use of the Chinese term “Tien-Shangti” to designate God. The Jesuits at Peking obtained from King Kang-Ti an endorsement of their thesis that the Confucianist rites were but “civil and political.” But Pope Clement XI sustained Maigrot: while Tien Chu (“Lord of Heaven”) was permissible, Tien (“Heaven”) and Shang-Ti (“Despot”) were declared inadequate renditions for the idea of deity. Rome asserted that no mere question of etymology was involved, but that there was danger of an ambiguity to which the rejected terms might pander. The nuncio Tournon promulgated these decisions of the Holy See on his visit to China in 1705. Unfortunately Tournon seems to have been ill-qualified for diplomacy. His tactless dealings with Kang-Ti provoked that monarch’s wrath.  The emperor decreed:

Reading this proclamation, I have concluded that the Westerners are petty indeed. It is impossible to reason with them because they do not understand larger issues as we understand them in China. There is not a single Westerner versed in Chinese works, and their remarks are often incredible and ridiculous. To judge from this proclamation, their religion is no different from other small, bigoted sects of Buddhism or Taoism. I have never seen a document which contains so much nonsense. From now on, Westerners should not be allowed to preach in China, to avoid further trouble

Decree of Kangxi. Dun Jen Li (1969). China in transition, 1517-1911. Van Nostrand Reinhold..

Maigrot was exiled and Tournon, after a period of detention in China, was handed over to the Portuguese, who promptly incarcerated the nuncio at Macao for his cavalier treatment of the patronado. Tournon, nominated cardinal in his prison, died in his Far Eastern captivity. Another papal representative, Archbishop Mezzabarba, made some ill-advised concessions in 1720 which the Holy See later repudiated. Pope Innocent XIII thereupon exacted categorical obedience from the Jesuits to the prescriptions of Rome, and Pope Benedict XIV upheld Tournon in substance by condemning the Chinese rites during 1742.

Persecution and confusion followed, the former from the suspicious Chinese government, and the latter among the missionaries. In 1732 all missionaries save the scholars at Peking were ordered to betake themselves to Canton or Macao, and some priests were put to death. The suppression of the Society of Jesus toward the close of the eighteenth century deprived the Far East of the region’s most successful missionaries, for there were about three hundred thousand Chinese Christians in 1785 when in response to the urgent request of the Holy See, the [p. 87] Vincentians arrived in the Chinese mission to substitute for the Jesuit missionaries.

 [[In 1939 Pope Pius XII revisited the controversy and permitted the veneration of Confucius as a great philosopher]]




 Christopher Columbus



A. The Norse Vanguard






Scandinavian penetration of Iceland dates from the landing of Gardar in 860. Within a century thousands of settlers came, among them fugitives from the new order set up in Scandinavia with the unification of the kingdoms. Eric the Red, exiled from Norway for manslaughter, after repeating his offense in Iceland, found it prudent to sail further west. About 983 he established himself in Greenland, already visited by Gunniborn in 876. Kinsmen joined him in the new land to which he gave its name. Eric’s son, Leif the Happy, converted to Christianity in Norway about 990, brought several priests with him to Greenland. About 1000, Leif Ericson sailed southward from Greenland to explore a territory that he named Vinland. Although the exact location of this has not been precisely determined, it is reasonably certain that Vinland was on the North American mainland. Commercial connections were maintained with Greenland for several centuries thereafter. The existing Arctic civilization was primitive, in want of adequate resources for industry or transport. Nonetheless the European colonists seem to have maintained for some time a fairly prosperous settlement. During the fourteenth or fifteenth century, however, a combination of factors induced decline. Aborigines, presumably Eskimos, attacked, European manpower was decimated by the Black Death, and possibly some climatic changes terminated the Norse settlements just about the time that Spaniards were rediscovering America.


See of Gardar. As Christianity took stronger hold upon the Scandinavian peoples from 1000, Greenland also became Christian. The distance of Greenland from Norway led to the erection of a bishopric at Gardar in the eleventh century. Eric Gnupsson, possibly the first bishop, died in Vinland about 1121, a circumstance that suggests extensive efforts at evangelization. At any rate, the see of Gardar was filled more or less continuously until Bishop Alf died in 1377. Sixteen parishes and several monasteries are reported. Peter’s Pence was paid and a papal bull of 1279 authorized collections “as well in the diocese of Gardar as in the islands and neighboring territories.” Bishop Arne (1314-49) made contributions to the Crusades, including perhaps the item described as a “cup of transatlantic wood.” [p. 88]

Decline set in shortly thereafter and there is no record of a resident bishop after the opening of the fifteenth century. In 1448 Nicholas V directed the Icelandic hierarchy to look after Christian captives of pagans in Greenland. By 1492, when Pope Alexander VI named Matthias Knuttsson to the see of Gardar, it was alleged that the people possessed no other memorial of the Holy Eucharist than the corporal on which the last resident priest consecrated, a century previously. Bishop Knuttsson probably did not reach Greenland, and the list of titulars of Gardar ends with Vincenz Kampe in 1537. At the same time Norway was wrested from the Catholic fold. Protestants neglected Greenland until the eighteenth century, and Catholics were effectually excluded from the area until the coming of United States military personnel to man the bases during the 1940’s.




 Christopher Columbus

Saint Junipero Serra

B. The West Indies


First Voyage. While there is no record of a priest on Columbus’s first voyage, it opened with Columbus and his crew attending Mass at Palos before embarkation. His squadron—Santa Maria, Santa Clara (nicknamed Nina), and Pinta—set sail just before sunrise, about 5:15 A.M., August 3, 1492. Columbus proceeded to the Canaries which he did not leave until September 1. His voyage was on the whole swift and tranquil, though he proved to have miscalculated. Columbus, however, was a competent navigator and proved it on the way home. It is estimated that had he adhered to his plan of heading due west, he would have been beached on the inhospitable land of Florida, but in the Caribbean he was persuaded by migratory birds to alter his course in such wise that he reached San Salvador, Watling Island, in the Bahamas, at 2:00 A.M., October 12, 1492. Awaiting daylight and circling the island to a safe harbor, he landed, knelt, gave thanks, and took possession in the presence of bewildered natives. His motto, Jesus cum Maria, sit nobis in via, had not failed him.4

Samuel Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Boston: Little, Brown, 1942) .

Subsequent explorations. On October 14, Columbus began to search for Japan by coasting along the Caribbean with impressed native guides. He kept the natives’ confidence by kind treatment and petty gifts, and held his men under good discipline. On Christmas Day, the Santa Maria went aground in Coracal Bay. It was salvaged and its timbers made into the fort of Natividad, where Columbus left Diego de Harana, his brother-in-law, and thirty-nine sailors, while he returned to Europe. Transferring to the Nina, Columbus succeeded in reaching Palos on March 15, 1493, just a few hours before his insubordinate lieutenant, Pinzon. After making his report to the queen, Columbus was authorized [p. 89] to undertake another voyage. He departed on September 25, 1493, with seventeen ships and twelve hundred men, including Fray Buil and Fray Ramon. On their arrival in November, they found the settlement in ruins, and founded a new one of Isabella, where Mass was celebrated on Epiphany, January 6, 1494. After exploring part of Cuba and Jamaica, Columbus undertook the conquest of Haiti, or Hispaniola. Complaints multiplied against his management, and Columbus returned to Spain in March, 1496, to defend himself. On May 30, 1498, he was allowed six vessels for a third voyage, much of which was devoted to exploration of the South American shores. Arrested by inspector Bobadilla in 1500, he was shipped back to Spain in chains. Freed but not restored to his governorship, Columbus sailed on a last voyage in 1502. After coasting Central America in search of a strait, he set out in failing health for Spain where he arrived on November 7, 1504. The queen’s death and his own illness forced the pioneer explorer into retirement until his death at Corunna, May 20, 1506.


The first mission. When Columbus had returned to Spain after his initial discovery, the news was communicated to the Holy See. On May 3, 1493, Pope Alexander VI confirmed Spain’s right of possession of the new territories on condition of propagating the Christian Faith. On May 4 the pope made the first of his famous definitions of the respective spheres of influence for Spain and Portugal in regard to actual and potential discoveries. Finally, on June 25, 1493, Alexander VI by the brief, Pius Fidelium, named Fray Bernard Buil (or Boyle) vicar apostolic of the New World, and conferred upon him and his twelve prospective companions canonical mission and extraordinary faculties.

The bishop accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, and consecrated the first church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Disagreement, however, soon arose between the ecclesiastical and secular hierarchy, and with the return of Buil to Spain in 1494 his jurisdiction practically lapsed; at least there was no resident bishop from 1494 to 1513. It is true that on November 15, 1504, Pope Julius II by the bull Illius Fulciti had erected the ecclesiastical province of Hispaniola, comprising an archbishopric and two suffragan sees. But though bishops were named to these sees by the pope, the Spanish crown demanded that the new dioceses be subjected to the metropolitan see of Seville. This dispute retarded the bishops’ departures, though one of them, Alessandro Gerardini of Santo Domingo, attended the Fifth Lateran Council as the first American member of the hierarchy at an ecumenical council.

At last on August 8, 1511, Julius II revoked his previous act, and set up the sees of San Domingo, Concepcion de la Vega, and San Juan de Puerto Rico as suffragan to [p. 90] Seville. Bishop Manso arrived in the last-named see in 1513. Other dioceses, all subject to Seville, were erected between 1518 and 1538. Only in 1545 did Paul II erect metropolitan sees in the New World: at San Domingo, Mexico City, and Lima. The prelates of the former two archbishoprics, or their suffragans, exercised jurisdiction over such portions of the United States as came under Spanish control.


Bishop Buil, a friend of St. Francis of Paula, inaugurated the Spanish mission in the New World by baptizing a few converts and erecting a church. After his departure, the Franciscan friars, Juan Pérez and John of Belgium, persevered, and presently from fifteen hundred to three thousand converts are reported. But it is feared that most of the early missionaries had little knowledge of the native language, so that the early evangelization was superficial. But the mission spread to the other islands of the Caribbean, and to Cuba and the Isthmus of Panama in 1511.

Treatment of the natives, however, left much to be desired. At first the colonists enslaved them, herding them into concentration camps and mines where they died off rapidly—according to Las Casas’s probably exaggerated claims, three million perished within twenty years. The early governors, Columbus and his son Diego, were too often absent, and their successors, Balboa and Avila, too preoccupied with extending Spanish power to provide efficient or just rule. As early as 1510, Friar Antonio Montesino, O.P., protested against these abuses to the crown. In 1512 King Ferdinand did enact the Laws of Burgos safeguarding the natives, but since execution of these decrees was entrusted to the exploiters themselves little real improvement resulted. Protection of the Indians became the single idea of Bartolomé de Las Casas (14741566), son of one of the conquistadores, who became a Dominican priest about 1510. This zealous reformer, however, in his impetuous desire to change everything at once and to treat the Indians on a basis of absolute equality, provoked opposition by rash, bitter, and exaggerated denunciations. While his idealism was a badly needed tonic, his lack of tact led to his recall. In 1515 he obtained from Cardinal Ximénes an ordinance requiring that Indians be grouped in villages and their exploitation in mines be mitigated. Abuses recurred, however, and Las Casas demanded abolition of the whole system of serfdom. Pope Paul III, indeed, condemned Indian enslavement in 1537, and Emperor Charles V in 1542 incorporated the best of the reform proposals into his “New Laws.” These regulations replaced a feudal serfdom with a governmental protectorate. As legal vassals of the Spanish crown, the Indians paid an annual tribute for their protection, but under the new system were allowed to own land, not only collectively, but individually. The courageous protests of the missionaries, therefore, saved the Indian race in Latin America from the worst instincts of the conquistadores and secured their survival under a humane, if extremely paternalistic, regime.

C. The Mainland of America


Florida, discovered on Easter, April 2, 1513, resisted colonization and evangelization for half a century. Ponce de Leon, who named this bit of the mainland Pascua Florida, attempted a colony in 1521, but at his death colonists and missionaries retired. Friar Montesino, the Indians’ advocate, accompanied Ayllon in 1526, but this settlement also ended with the founder’s death the same year. Juan Peréz, bishop-elect, went with Narvaez on his Florida expedition of 1527, but no priest survived, nor did any return from De Soto’s exploration of 1539. Florida’s protomartyr was Father Luis Cancer, O.P., who insisted upon being landed on the coast in 1549, but was slain with two companions. Missionaries accompanied a temporary settlement (1559-61) by De Luna, but permanent colonization and evangelization dates only from 1565.


The Aztecs seem to have invaded Mexico from the North during the fourteenth century, appropriating some features of a superior Mayan civilization already in existence. From a capital at Tenochtitlan or Mexico City they subjugated most of the tribes of modern Mexico. Their military dictatorship achieved a high material civilization, but antagonized their subjects by their extortions, not the least of which involved an annual tribute of children to be offered in sacrifice. Not too much regret, then, need be felt for the ruthlessness of the Spanish conquerors who are reported to have destroyed five hundred temples and twenty thousand idols by 1531. Despite Mexican legends of men to be expected from the East, there is no evidence that the land was evangelized prior to the coming of Spanish missionaries. Exploration of the mainland on the Isthmus of Panama had been going forward since 1509, and Spaniards were shipwrecked on the Mexican coast as early as 1511.

Hernando Cortes, Spanish officer from Cuba, departed for Yucatan without authorization during February, 1519. With less than six hundred soldiers and fourteen pieces of artillery he undertook to conquer Mexico. En route to the Mexican capital, he encouraged Aztec vassals in their hostility to their masters. On his arrival at the great city in November, he was received by the vacillating Montezuma II (150220), who thereafter alternated between plots and bribes in trying to [p. 92] rid himself of his unwelcome guests. Cortes retaliated by seizing the chieftain and holding him as hostage. Cortes’s chaplains, Diaz and Olmedo, celebrated Mass, baptized a few natives, but refrained from attacks on the Aztec religion. For the greater part of a year the Spaniards tried to win the Indians’ allegiance for the Castilian crown through orders issued in the mouth of the captive Montezuma. When the Aztecs at length revolted, accidentally killing their chief in the process, Cortes and his men had to fight their way out of the city with diminished forces, June, 1520. But the Spanish captain recouped his losses by violence or diplomacy against such of his superiors or comrades as tried to replace him, and again enlisted the aid of Aztec vassals. Thus re-enforced, he returned and recaptured Mexico City after a siege, March 13, 1521.

Extension of the conquest continued under Cortes as governor, an office to which the emperor named him in 1522. At Cortes’s request, Spain sent missionary aid: a band of three Franciscans arrived in 1523, and the superior, Martin de Valencia, came with eleven others in 1524. Missionaries accompanied Cortes in his expeditions, both northward and into Central America. Friar Tomas Ortiz and the Dominicans arrived in 1526, but soon fell into disputes with Governor Cortes. That vigorous leader was the object of many accusations, chief of which was that he intended to make himself an independent despot. He was recalled in 1527, and after a period of investigation and experiment, Mexico or New Spain received settled administration.


The Incas had built up a powerful federation from 1100. By the time that Europeans came into contact with the land, many millions lived under a well-organized despotism, more enlightened and benevolent than that of Mexico. Of all the aborigines, the Incas displayed the greatest talents for politics and commerce. Unfortunately for them, however, civil war had broken out at the death of one of their greatest rulers, Huana Capac, in 1529, so that the Spaniards could utilize the rivalry of his sons.

Francisco Pizarro had explored this situation in 1524 with Friar Fernando de Lucque. Pizarro set out in 1531 with 180 men and two pieces of artillery to outdo Cortes. When the Inca chief Atahualpa visited his camp in November, 1532, Pizarro seized him and held him for ransom in gold. But in August, 1533, the Spanish captain executed Atahualpa and set up a puppet chief, Manco Capac II (1533-37). Thereby he gained such firm control of the Inca capital of Cuzco that a subsequent revolt during his absence failed to dislodge the Spaniards. [p. 93] Spanish domination was widely extended before Pizarro’s assassination in 1541. As in Mexico, a period of unrest followed, until definitive viceregal administration was instituted in 1550.

Missionaries, headed by Reginald de Pedrazza, had come to Peru with Pizarro. The band included Pizarro’s nephew, the fiery Fray Pedro de Valverde. When he protested to the emperor against his uncle’s cruelty, he was named bishop of Cuzco (1536) and “protector of the Indians.” He was later slain for his assault on native superstitions, but his work was carried on by others.

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