Pablo de Olavide: Spirit of an Age

Douglas Hilt introduces the scholar, innovator and agricultural reformer, Pablo de Olavide, who brought to Spain the ideas of the French Enlightenment.

No single figure better synthesises the cross-currents of eighteenth-century Spain than does Pablo Antonio Jose de Olavide. Yet ironically for the greater part of his life he was not a Spaniard at all, being a Peruvian by birth and a declared Frenchman by inclination.

Today he is largely forgotten, but for over fifty years the name of Olavide aroused impassioned debate in Europe among followers and detractors alike. To some he was an enlightened reformer and victim of the Inquisition; to others the contrite son of the Church, anxious to prevent his fellow Christians from being led astray.

Olavide was born of a Spanish father and a Peruvian mother in the colonial city of Lima on January 25th, 1725. The young Pablo received a sound Jesuit education, and by the age of seventeen had graduated in theology and in canon and civil law from the venerable University of San Marcos, the oldest in the Americas. At the age of twenty he was appointed judge and Auditor General; no position seemed beyond his reach.

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