The Problem of the Native Clergy in Portuguese India, 1518-1787

C.R. Boxer offers a study of the religious problems in early Roman Catholic missions.

In the late seventeenth century, Portuguese Goa was the chief centre and source of Roman Catholic Christianity in the East, rivalled only by Spanish Manila on the shores of the South China Sea. Though much of the glory had departed from Goa Dourada, ‘Golden Goa’, due to its economic decline after the appearance of the Dutch and the English in the Eastern seas, the city was still termed ‘the Rome of the Orient’. If many of its secular buildings were falling into decay, the spacious and richly decorated churches, the sumptuous monasteries, and the massive convent of Santa Monica, still aroused the admiration of all visitors. There was no lack of priests, whether Portuguese or Indian: the Roman Catholic ritual was carried out in all its canonical completeness. Yet neither the intensity of Catholic life nor the abundance of religious vocations availed to open the doors of the Religious Orders in Portuguese India to the local Indian aspirants. In other words, the Portuguese rulers of the land made a sharp distinction between ordaining Indians as secular priests, and admitting them to ranks of the Religious Orders then represented at Goa—the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, and the Theatines. Why did they make this racial discrimination, and why India was it maintained for two centuries, when the Portuguese have nearly always been credited with the lack of a colour-bar, save for isolated and unimportant exceptions?

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