The Catholic Church played a large role in colonial Latin American society. The Church served as a unifying institution in a society made up of many different kinds of people - Europeans, Africans, Indigenous, and mixed-raced individuals - from a variety of economic backgrounds. Documents from the colonial period show that the Church was a maintainer of Iberian social order, and its officials and priests were expected to serve as exemplars of their religion. The Church maintained order and conveyed its message in a number of ways, from the content of sermons to institutions such as the Inquisition. Despite its power in colonial society, not all members of the population followed the teachings of the church. The influence of the Church was throughout all of colonial society, including slavery. Maintaining the institution of slavery and making certain slaves did not try to overturn the social order were of importance to the church. This can be seen in the sermons of Padre Antonio Vieira. Vieira, while not approving of slaves being treated with extreme cruelty and criticizing slave owners who behaved in such a way, did not speak out against the institution of slaver itself (Vieira 230). On the contrary, his sermons instruct slaves to obey their masters in all respects regardless of the way they are treated. He also explains to them throughout the sermon that it does not matter what happens to them on Earth. The more they suffer here, the more rewards they will gain in heaven. He urges them to put their emphasis on the state of their souls, not their bodies (Vieira 221).
This could be seen as a way of comforting the slaves. They have miserable lives, so he is giving them something to look forward to in the next life. Vieira could also be seen as attempting to maintain order in society, not to mention reassure slave owning parishioners whom he had earlier criticized. There was always the possibility that slaves could escape their masters, and, possibly, even rise...
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