The Search for Utopia

By Rev. G. O’Neill, S.J., M. A.
Australian Catholic Truth Society No. 902 (1942).

THE history of Socialistic experiments * is a fairly long one, and the world, if it lasts much longer, is likely to see many more. { Footnote: * A brief account of socialistic experiments, together with a general history of socialistic theories, may be found in Hillquit’s book, “Socialism in Theory and Practice” (New York). Highly commendable on the whole subject is the collection of eight pamphlets by different authors published by the English Catholic Truth Society, under the name “Catholicism and Socialism.” Fullest and best is the “History of Economic Doctrines;” by Professors Gide and Rist (of the University of Paris), which has been reprinted many times and adequately translated (Harrap, London and Sydney; last reprint, 1932).}

For, although these experiments, great or small, have invariably ended in disaster and disappointment, there will always be those whose ardour for the expected fruits of Socialistic revolution is stronger than their knowledge of the past or their willingness to absorb its lessons. The biggest experiment yet tried has been that of Russian Sovietism, and it will probably be regarded in retrospect as the most gigantic failure. Yet, while its inhumanity, its practical contradiction of its professed aims and its incapacity to realize any approximation to its promises have been made plain by incontrovertible witnesses, it it still can claim its millions of dupes, panegyrists and propagandists, who ask only favourable opportunities for bringing the world under its domination. [ We, who live in the 21st century, know only too well just how great a failure the Soviet system was in Russia, yet it still holds millions in thrall in Asia.]

Commonly, however, the delusion of the Socialist or Communist Utopia has influenced only small bodies of men. It has led to the practical experiments of enthusiasts too small in number to affect vitally the history of society or injure others than themselves. They have quitted settled lands to start on virgin soil a realization of their dreams and hopes.

It is not to be denied that at the back of these schemes there has often lain a large measure of generous feeling and high aspiration. The social abuses of society as the seceders saw and knew it were only too manifest. We need not talk here of the Utopia visioned by St. Thomas More or the pantisocracy of Coleridge and Southey. What was lacking to the experiments actually made was not praiseworthy ideals it was realization of the only solid foundations on which a reign of social justice and national equality among men can be established. Those foundations were to be sought in the Christian precepts and counsels set forth in the Gospels. Only on the basis of voluntary poverty can a system arise and stand in which the desire of individual ownership is sunk in zeal for the good of others. Only men and women who have set their hearts in the Kingdom of Heaven and try to make earth a road to it will succeed in achieving the temporal well-being of which the Socialist Utopia is a flattering dream.


On no such inspired lines, though not untouched by generous conception and sentiment, began and ran the short-lived movement that for a time linked Australia with Paraguay.

The inspirer and leader was William Lane, an Englishman, who, coming to Australia in 1883 at the age of fifteen, occupied himself a few years later in writing, editing, and carrying on political agitation in Queensland. There, in the 18 nineties, he led a strike of workers, the disastrous failure of which stimulated his eagerness and that of his followers to break with the seemingly incurable evils of existing social conditions and to start a new economic order under new skies. His ardent temperament led him into further and more drastic action. William Lane has been designated variously as a “Socialist” and a “Communist.” The fact is that the two terms and the opinions they stand for shade and merge into one another; nor need we, in this paper, be anxious to distinguish their bearings. Lane was strongly individualistic in his views, which consequently came early into collision with the more ordered and governmental Socialism he found predominant in Australian opinion.

The readings of Karl Marx and Edward Bellamy had largely formed his views. He objected to all systems of wage-labour, and also to policing and coercion as a means of good government. In place of these, he believed, “moral principles” and “honour” must be accepted as the regenerating and controlling forces of any society. On the other hand, he disliked the resort to revolutionary violence. He was a single-minded enthusiast, not a practised and practical political leader. As such a character we find him contrasted, by a clever but slightly malignant writer, with the typical Labour politician as seen in an Australian Parliament some thirty years ago. [1909] The passage is amusing enough to be quoted in full, even if we are inclined to take it as a caricature rather than a portrait. The typical revolutionary economist is not (says the writer) in the least “a single-minded enthusiast,” but rather a personage of startlingly contrasting aspects.

On the platform he is the raging lion of drastic reform; in Parliament he is a mixture of the sucking-dove in debate and the serpent in tactics On the platform his predicates are all couched in the categorical imperative; in Parliament they are all confined to the subjunctive indefinite future. On the platform his vocabulary of vituperation is a collection of lurid affirmative superlatives; in Parliament it is toned to the mere negative positives. There is no portion of his past texts on this platform but is to be read with its present Parliamentary context. Quote the language of the text, which has no other meaning but one, and you either misrepresent or misunderstand him. You are either to be severely blamed or warmly pitied. In escaping from the consequences of his platform position he can make the shade of Proteus pale with envy.

So with the relation to the socialistic programme. Lane built the edifice for them. The Parliamentary Socialist representative is eternally bolting, buttressing and strengthening it - on the platform; and kicking a plank out here, a wall out there, and patching and papering and caulking and repairing it all round - in Parliament. It is always “Non Possumas” on the platform; “Volumas” in Parliament. They have never departed from the original inspiration of the programme as laid down by Lane -on the platform; and have never ceased apologizing and explaining it away - in Parliament.

Lane was not built that way. And because of that he was suppressed by the very party which he created. {“Australian Socialism.” A. St. Ledger, Senator, (Macmillan, 1909. ) }

The idealist aspirations which Lane was unable to satisfy at home took shape in the “New Australia Settlement Association:” It was a band of his friends and disciples, who, under his guidance, organized themselves on a financial basis, and in 1893 - a peculiarly calamitous year in Australian affairs - negotiated with the Government of Paraguay in South America for a concession of land to be held free of all charges under the over-lordship of Paraguay. It would, presumably, have William Lane as its head and its first magistrate. The land actually granted amounted to 450,000 acres, and promised agricultural prosperity. On the Australian side, too, the beginning of things looked favourable. The settlers who gathered for the expedition seem to have been of a sort as suitable as could have been expected. Each man had to contribute at starting not less than £50; a few gave ten times that amount, and Lane himself gave £1000.

The leading ideas of “New Australia” may be summed up thus: Communal ownership and control of the means of production, exchange and distribution; communal saving and control of all necessary capital; marriage recognized (but as to marriage fewness of women was, from the beginning, a difficulty); children maintained by the State under guardianship of the parents; equality of the sexes; non-recognition of any special religion or creed. It was sufficiently plain that no higher motive for altruism, public spirit or good conduct in general was appealed to than a more or less enlightened selfishness. Religion was merely tolerated. Lane’s own religious ideas were a curious mixture; he held strongly to certain traditional moral concepts, but expressed dislike and contempt of the Christian Churches. “Outside Socialism,” he once wrote, “there is no honest religion and no sound ethics:”

Here, then, was sufficient cause for an inevitable and early breakdown of “New Australia.” After all (it might. have been asked) on what ground, with what hope of continued success and with what sanction could Lane require obedience to himself - or to anyone else - in conformity with a “constitution” that was his own composition? Already, on the voyage from Sydney out to the new lands, disorder and disagreement had broken out among the two hundred adventurers. Who were to serve and who to be served? Who was to decree and execute justice on offenders? Who were to be given the pleasant jobs and who the unpleasant? Where were to be found the imperative answers to such questions?

As soon as America was reached intemperance was indulged in by some of the party; this was not only a breach of a pledge actually given, but also an indication of the forbidden possession and use of private means. When the destined lands were entered, the colonists were plagued by various strange conditions of their new life and by the absence, of expert and authorized guidance. Disorders arose; Lane exercised authority firmly and ere long decided on the expulsion of some of the party. This being resented and resisted, Lane called in Paraguayan police to execute his sentences - a notable departure from his political theories. The next act was that some eighty-five persons, under compulsion or otherwise, left the colony, and appealed to the British Consul at Asuncion for aid. He, having vainly tried to patch up a truce between them and Lane, succeeded in getting most of them repatriated to Australia.

Thus, within a few months, the “New Australia” scheme. seemed to have justified the sceptics who had prophesied ill of it from the beginning. But, meantime, a second colony, unaware of what had happened in Paraguay, had left Adelaide to join the colony. They were received in Paraguay by Lane, who led them to a site ten miles from his original settlement. Here, however, a revolt against his authority promptly broke out. Before this storm the leader bowed. He collaborated towards the setting-up of a new chairman and board of management, and removed to a new district, about ten miles from the old, which was obtained with difficulty from the Paraguay Government. He named it Cosmo. There he started anew the Socialist community of his dreams with forty-five adults, twelve children and some necessary implements. Great hardships were endured, much patience was shown, but by 1896 the Cosmo Colony numbered only seventy persons - in the very unequal proportion of fifty men to twenty women. Lane, accordingly, resolved on a voyage to England, where he busied himself, not without success, in obtaining new recruits. But the arrival of the newcomers led to fresh jealousies and quarrels. Many of the older settlers left, and Cosmo began to sink towards extinction.

In 1899 William quitted Paraguay finally, leaving Cosmo to the care of his brother, John, who was in some respects an abler man than himself. John, in fact, succeeded in keeping the settlement together; but it was only at the cost of sacrificing his brother’s most cherished ideals. These melted away in a gradual introduction of private ownership and of native labourers on a wage system. Thus, semi-capitalised, Cosmo retained something of its Australian identity up to the war of 1914.

As for William, he sailed for New Zealand, and there returned to politics and journalism. He showed himself neither disillusioned in theory nor ungenerous in conduct. He admitted a right to compensatory sums on the part of those who claimed to have been ruined by the failure of his colonial scheme; and continued to pay such indemnities until he passed away at Auckland in 1917, having witnessed a war which shattered many ideals besides his.

More detailed information concerning “New Australia” may be found in the following works, obtainable at the Sydney, Melbourne and other public libraries: “William Lane and the Australian Labor Movement,” by Lloyd Ross, 1937; “Australian Awakening,” by W. S. Spence; “History of the A.W.U.” by the same; “Australia,” by W. Hancock; “New Australia,” in “Westminster Review,” 1893, p. 523; House of Commons Reports, 1893, 1909; the works of W. Lane himself, especially his novel, “The Workingman’s Paradise,” 1892.


As to the story that here follows, it would be unprofitable to refer to the numerous foreign sources, old and new, that have remotely contributed to it. The main source on which it has drawn is the book entitled “Golden Years on the Paraguay,” by the present writer (Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1934). An earlier work which is commendable in many ways is “A Vanished Arcadia,” by R. C. Cunninghame Graham.

The “New Australia” colony occupied a tiny corner of the vast region indicated on maps as Paraguay. But a region far vaster than modern Paraguay was indicated (somewhat vaguely) by that name in the records of the Catholic missionaries who, during some one hundred and seventy years of their activity, built up in Paraguay a species of Christian Socialism or semi-Communism. Those years have been styled - not undeservedly - “golden.”

It will be instructive to compare this effort of Christian faith and charity - based on the same kind of “Communism” that glorified the earliest disciples of Christ (see “Acts of the Apostles,” 2; 44-47) with the misguided, though well-meant, efforts of Communists such as William Lane and his followers.

The Paraguay of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lay around the courses of the four or five great rivers which commingle to form the La Plata estuary. It thus included portions of the present Brazil and Uruguay, and spread into Patagonia. Its chief centres were Buenos Aires on the La Plata and Asuncion far inland.

At those centres and radiating from various points in those wide-spreading and half-explored lands, during nearly one hundred and seventy years (1600-1767), Jesuit missionary priests, numbering at their highest point only some one hundred and thirty, and totally unprovided with earthly weapons, exercised an influence and produced results, to which, as regards religion and civilization, few parallels can be found in the history of Christian missions and none at all in non-religious efforts of a socially “up-lifting” or Utopian kind. No honest enquirer has been found to deny this story of success; and those who have sought to belittle or misrepresent the facts are sufficiently refuted by calm historical evidence and by the testimonies of wholly unprejudiced witnesses.

Into the early history of South America we cannot here enter. It will suffice for us to recall that by the year 1600 the region called Paraguay was possessed by Spain and that called Brazil, north of it, by Portugal. The Jesuits, beginning their missionary work in Paraguay about 1586 had been preceded by Franciscans, Dominicans and other religious, some of them saintly men and zealous preachers of the Gospel; but none of them was successful in establishing among the natives permanent Christian centres. The colonists had terrible tales to tell of the cannibalistic and other evil habits of the savages, and were only too willing to “reclaim” them by forcing or cajoling them into slavery. But the missionaries were minded very differently. Out into the virgin forests and swamps they went, bearing the message of the Gospel, one of the first of them being an Irishman - Father Thomas Filds or O’Fihely. One of the first, too, was a Father Barzana, who had abandoned the milder service of the towns in order to devote himself to the savages. It was concerning him that the following was written by a colleague: we may quote it as characteristic of the general life of the new “bushmen”:-

I have never seen the saintly Father Francis Xavier, but I cannot sufficiently thank God for having made me acquainted with Father Barzana. He is 75 years of age and has not a tooth left in his head; but his humility, poverty and obedience are such as might become the youngest novice. He is never idle, makes himself all things to the poor Indians, struggles with their difficult languages. His bodily refreshment is a little maize moistened with water. There is no salt; there is no wine; sometimes a little dried fish comes here from the city, but we find it hardly worth chewing… …

May Our Lord give me grace to imitate this holy man, who never complains of any discomfort !

Not till the seventeenth century had begun did Paraguay establish itself as a separate province of the Society of Jesus -a province bent, above all things, on devising well-considered plans for the evangelizing of the savages. Here at once two obstacles - of very different character - presented themselves: one was education, the other slavery.

Education! For the Spanish authorities at home and also the more cultivated among the colonists were anxious to develop schools and education of every kind in their growing towns; and when educated men, many of them provided with university diplomas, came among them, their services were eagerly demanded by governors and Bishops. The Jesuits, on their part, were unwilling to refuse their services to so good a cause as that of education in the new cities of the new lands: and thus they found if hard to escape from the school-room into the wilds. So important for South America in truth. were the services they rendered in the schools, that we cannot, even in this brief story, wholly pass over them. To their credit, and to that of Catholic Spanish America, their colleges flourished, schools grew into universities, and the total educational record far outshone that of Protestant North America a century later. It will be enough to quote the testimony of two writers who are not friendly either to Spain or to the Catholic Church:-

Both the Crown and the Church were eager to provide the colonies with the means of higher education, as the term was then understood in Spain. A little more than half a century after the founding of the first permanent settlement schools of advanced education were established, and by the end of the colonial period a chain of colleges or universities extended from Mexico to Buenos Aires. The two most famous were Mexico and Lima; both played an important part in the intellectual life of the colonies; by the early eighteenth century the enrolment in San Marcos (Lima) had increased to nearly two thousand scholars. In addition, there was a large number of colleges, chiefly under control of the Jesuits. {Footnote: From “The Republics of Latin America,” by Professors James and Martin. (Harper, 1923.) Contrasting with their fair statements of facts is an article in the “New Universities Encyclopaedia,” where, by misuse of the term “America,” an utterly false impression is given of the general history of American universities.}

Whereas, by the beginning of the eighteenth century the English Protestant colonies of America had founded but one university - that of Harvard.

Slavery! Here, alas, the note of praise as to colonizing Spain must be changed into something different. To colonize meant (for Spaniards as for others) war with indigenous populations. Successful war will mean enslavement of some, or all, of the defeated. Cheap labour will be grabbed at by colonists who want to get rich. Colonists who have religious sentiments will decorate slavery with the plausible excuse of zeal for conversions. In fact, in Spanish America this excuse was put forward, and with a good deal of genuineness; and conquest often developed into mitigated forms of slavery which might, in theory and sometimes in reality, appear defensible. But on the whole, cruelty and injustice became frightfully rampant under the palliating names of “encomiends” and “servicio personal,” which helped to justify the enslaving of natives. The laws of Spain, as well as Papal bulls and decrees, repeatedly condemned these evils, but in vain. It was the glory of certain Jesuits, and presently of their whole body, to make a stand against the entire system. They incurred a storm of anger and obloquy, even of persecution; but the opportune arrival of an honest and vigorous governor brought about the success of their generous campaign, and the Spanish colonies were no longer darkened by the stain of Indian enslavement.

That victory was gained in 1609; and in the same year definite plans were undertaken for the reduction - in what continued to be called “reductions” - of the nomad Paraguay Indians to the servitude of an orderly and Christian life. The varied tales of the successive foundations, of their bright and dark days, cannot here be retold; be it enough to say that certain tribes whose fierceness and evil habits at first seemed to render them hopeless subjects of an apostolate became, sooner or later, admirable illustrations of the reforming and elevating powers of the Gospel.

Of difficulties and trials we have already said a word. As first martyr of the missions might be counted Father Martin Xavier, a relative of the famous apostle of the eastern Indies; aged only twenty-six, he succumbed to the hardships and privations which he shared with his older brethren. In 1628 a baptism by blood came - in the martyrdom of three priests who have since been raised to the honours of the Church’s altars. These were Fathers Roque Gonzalez, Alonso Rodriquez, and Juan del Castillo. They had founded several reductions, but in doing so had incurred the deadly hatred of the sorcerers and of certain chiefs; assailed with murderous violence, they earned the glorious crown of their apostolate. The remarkable conversion of some of their murderers followed.

By that time hundreds of letters had reached Europe telling of strange labours and toils endured in the Paraguayan forests and swamps; of struggles with native languages and dialects and against obstacles of every kind raised by Nature and her wild denizens. Also cheering news of initial successes: how in one place the neophytes were clearing jungles, felling trees, and eagerly beginning to build huts and chapels; how in another, they were, sowing crops, in another tending cattle; how in one numbers of children were entrusted to the care and instruction of the Fathers; and how in another the warriors themselves were listening to the Gospel lessons and gradually abandoning their pagan vices.

What were the general outward conditions of life in a rising “reduction”? The most obvious thing that confronted a visitor was the strong palisade and ditch that surrounded the village, with its fifty or sixty families and the strong gates, normally closed and guarded. “Behold,” cried angry Spaniards, and they have been echoed by later critics, “the manifest proof of the slavery in which the Indians are held by the Fathers!” The critics have not remarked, but Mr. Cunninghame Graham has, that those stout enclosures served more than one purpose: if they kept the Indians in, they also kept Spanish raiders out, and not only Spanish, but Portuguese raiders, and still more savage assailants. “When men,” continues Mr. Graham, “who looked on the Indians as without reason, ‘gente sim razon,’ and captured them for slaves when it was possible, began to talk of liberty, it looks as if ‘the sacred name of liberty’ was used but as a stalking-horse.” It was, anyhow, absurd to talk as if two or three unarmed priests could keep enslaved a community of men brought up to continual warfare. The fact was that every Indian could run away from his “reduction” whenever he pleased.

The suggestion of slavery is, of course, quite negatived by another suggestion made by outside critics - that the Jesuit system was a “thorough-going Communism.” {Footnote: Professors James and Martin (already quoted) say: “The Jesuits put in practice one of the most thorough-going systems of religious and industrial communism ever devised;” recalling “the communistic despotism of the Incas, with its denial of private property and universal obligation to labour.” Whatever the Incas may have done, no Catholic priest could absolutely “deny private property.” The professors have misunderstood the facts.}

This is an exaggeration in the opposite direction. Neither a “communism” nor a “despotism,” it had the better aspects of both. There was a communism such as naturally arises from Christian charity and generosity tempered by prudence; there was a despotism such as belongs to the wise government of subjects who, like children, are ill-qualified to govern themselves. The Jesuits tried to train gradually their neophytes into ability to manage their own civil, economical and military matters; but even to the end they felt obliged to assume, in the interests of the Indians, a large share of paternal and official control.

For, in truth, the Paraguay Indians were in many respects curiously childlike. Thus wrote of them in 1634 one of the most devoted of their missionaries:-

There is not a year in which these poor natives do not suffer calamities from cold, hunger, epidemics and other causes, the sole reason for which is their utterly irregular way of living. They have no care for anything beyond the present day. Although we weary ourselves in teaching them to cook their food and keep it, to take care of their farm-plots … our efforts are labour in vain. If we try to get them to take some medicine, they fly to hide themselves: sometimes they will die rather than let us cure them. They say that our food kills them. No father or mother could be kinder to little children than ours are to these poor creatures, whose ways arise not from ill-will, but from ignorance, brought up as they have been in the woods among wild animals.

A hundred and fifty years later a sincere and warm friend of the same Indians wrote:-

So great is their indolence and negligence that their priests have the greatest difficulty in inducing them to raise sufficient food to nourish themselves and their families. They do not keep as their private property, cattle, horses, sheep or mules, or anything more important than poultry, because they are incapable of doing so. We have, at all times, made many attempts to induce them to rear and keep livestock of greater value, but without success. If an Indian has a horse, he soon has it covered with sores and galls; he gives it nothing to eat, and forgets to let it out to pasture. An ass … he leaves it tied up to a post near his door and forgets to feed it. A couple of milch cows with their calves … he loses them, or else he just kills the calves and eats them … consequently, every kind of livestock is held in common and fed on common pastures.

Such were the people whom the missioners, with infinite labour, moulded into orderly and prosperous communities, excellent Christians, and profitable subjects of Spain.

The general exclusion of Europeans from the reductions was insisted on by the missioners from the beginning. The good sense, or, rather, absolute necessity, of such a proviso is shown by the history of similar situations all over the world. Nothing was better appreciated by the neophytes themselves - actual or intended - who saw only a dangerously narrow interval between intercourse with white men on the one hand and demoralization, slavery or slaughter on the other.

Each reduction had a municipal government, with a “corregidor” or mayor at its head; with councillors, clerk or procurator, treasurer and standard-bearer; as time went on, there were military captains, church wardens, sacristans, leaders of music and so on. All were elected by men of a certain age and standing, the mission-rector having a voice, which often proved decisive, in the elections. When the elections were over, the final list of office-holders was sent to the Governor of the province for his approval and confirmation; and the obtaining of this naturally increased notably these officials’ sense of their own dignity and importance.

The Indians’ extreme love of outward show and bright colours was gratified by the splendour and variety of the official uniforms. Gold lace and silver lace, silk, satin, velvet and brocade; scarlet, crimson, blue and yellow - nothing was spared to make a brilliant pageant on the great days of inauguration or religious festivals. Shoes, however, of any kind were usually considered a tiresome and useless addition to gala costume.

Judicial proceedings, of which three or four pictures have been left to us were carried on in a delightfully simple and paternal fashion. The alcaldes (police) have detected someone in a crime - for example, allowing a beast to wander and damage another man’s property, or breaking up a plough because he was too lazy to procure firewood, or destroying some piece of communal property. The criminal is brought along - there is no roping or hand-cuffIng, no attempt to escape - and indicted before the padre-cura. Usually no witnesses are required; the accused admits his guilt. “My son, why have you done this?” says the priest-judge; and he goes on with reproofs and exhortation to better conduct. But sometimes his question is answered at once in this fashion: “Father, I did it because I was a fool.” Sentence follows. The punishment will usually be from fifteen to twenty lashes, administered by an alcalde; it is inflicted without delay, the culprit submitting humbly. Then might be seen the incident ending with kissing of the Father’s hand, or a kindly embrace of culprit and judge. Penology in the reduction was thus far from being a complicated or expensive business. Criminal incidents of a more serious character were of the greatest rarity, and a few lashes generally sufficed to preserve law and order among these newly-converted barbarians. Contrast with this the criminal horrors of European countries at the same time - or much nearer to our own time. It is painful, but useful, to recall the savagery of English criminal law well into the nineteenth century, the horrors that only a century ago made a hell on earth of Norfolk Island or Van Dieman’s Land or Cayenne! {Footnote: Seven years’ imprisonment for theft of a pewter pot, or of a handsaw, or of three pounds of pork; twelve years for stealing a common teapot; fourteen for stealing a turkey; a life-sentence for the theft of some wearing apparel - such “justice” was administered by certain English magistrates between the years 1825 and 1830.}

But the one secret that explained this truly marvellous success - this triumph of a few unarmed priests over hordes brought in from primeval forests, this reduction of savage violence to a peaceful jurisprudence of good order and reconciliation - was no other than the Cross of Christ, with its efflorescence of Faith, Hope and Charity. It is always the one secret.

Religion, brought home to the neophytes judiciously and paternally, was made to permeate all their lives. To the sound of hymns and canticles they went forth to their labours in the morning, and to the same music they returned in the evening in the same spirit of joy and prayer. On the churches every possible care and cost were lavished, and in these all assembled - both for daily services and for exceptional functions as the year went round. It would seem that Mass was celebrated chorally every day, and every ceremony of religion was carried out in solemn and splendid fashion. For the ceremonies of a “Missa Cantata” as many as one hundred clerks, acolytes and musicians were engaged. But let us quote the picture given of a church interior by a missioner who survived the ruin of the missions and wrote his reminiscences of them “with tears” (as he tells us) in 1770:

The sanctuary is very large… . From the rails to the pulpit, the centre of the church, usually thirteen or fourteen yards wide, is occupied by the benches of the municipal authorities and office-holders. Next, behind them, are the boys, with their prefects, who stand with rods in hand, ready to admonish any boy who fidgets, talks or sleeps. Behind these is a space of three yards, after which are grouped the girls; and behind these the married women. In the side-aisles are the men. There is a central passage about two yards wide. The Indians observe due peace and order, not only on Sundays and holidays, but every day, and behave with a silence, reverence and gravity that astonished the Bishop when he come to visit them.

The musical powers of the Guaranis and the variety of musical instruments with which their orchestras were gradually built up were also subjects of astonishment and admiration to visitors. As for the architecture and decoration of their churches, records of the time and the remains that still survive amid the Paraguayan woods tell of developments in energy, taste and skill that might well have excited praise in contemporary Europe. Gifts for any original art work seem to have been lacking to the aborigines; but they had extraordinary talent as imitators and copyists. The reductions quickly developed their own smiths, carpenters, builders, weavers, painters and sculptors; later on, their own organ builders, bell-founders and jewellers.

While agriculture was the chief industry of the reductions, the commercial pasturing and breeding of cattle was also carried on with profit. The beasts multiplied with amazing rapidity on the riverside plains; but it was no easy matter to turn the indolent Paraguayan into a careful and trustworthy stock-keeper. A strong contribution to prosperity was made by the plant called “yerba mate,” or “Paraguayan tea,” which came into wide general demand. The markets, of course, were far distant; transport was troublesome; and the Indians were such very bad negotiators that their cargoes had to be accompanied by a Father or Brother, who carried on business for them. This financial side of the missioners’ activities was looked on with an unfavourable eye by strict canonists and by the Jesuit Superiors, by whom it was excused only on the ground of necessity. By hostile critics it was sometimes not excused at all, but made the ground-work of fantastic tales of profits made and profiteering carried on by the Fathers.

Moved by such tales and allegations, important personages in Europe sent out at various times enquiries, official as well as unofficial, as to the conduct of business at the reductions and of the Jesuit missioners in general. They received replies from Bishops and Governors, of which the following one, may serve as a specimen. It was written by the Governor of Tucuman when reporting on the state of his province to King Philip V in the year 1735:-

Throughout these vast regions the Society of Jesus maintains ten colleges or noviciates, and two residences in the principal cities. The value of these establishments for the service of God and of your Majesty cannot be expressed in few words. In them the Fathers are ceaselessly busy in preaching the Gospel, in the confessional, in assisting the sick and dying… . They go forth to country places, sometimes twenty leagues away … . . and were they not available, with their indifference to the worst inclemency of the seasons or the worst condition of the roads, very many of the faithful would die without the Sacraments.

They maintain schools - often the only ones in a town - where children are diligently taught reading, writing, arithmetic and Christian doctrine; in their colleges Latin and Greek are taught, and in that of Buenos Aires there are chairs of philosophy and moral theology. In my city of Cordoba they have a university in which, besides Latin and Greek, there are seven chairs of the higher faculties - philosophy, scholastic and moral theology, Canon Law and Scripture - all taught with general satisfaction and success. In the Royal College and hostel of the same city some fifty of the youth and flower of these regions, and also of Peru and Chile, receive a wise and Christian education. * Every Jesuit house sends every year at its own cost two Fathers to give missions and administer the Sacraments in the ranches and settlements of the surrounding country… . {Footnote: * To the Governor’s report, and to our own account of the literary labours of the Fathers in South America, this fact deserves to be added - they everywhere introduced printing presses, and kept them actively employed.}

The Governor then begs his Majesty to send out more Jesuit Fathers to carry on and increase labours so precious. A war of reports, friendly and unfriendly, still went on, and the effect they produced on Philip V (who would have been an excellent king had he not been dreamy and indolent) was shown when, in 1743, a royal decree - long remembered by the grateful Jesuits as “la cedula grande” - a lengthy document, which, reduced to the pithiest expression, confirmed and adopted all that had been said by the friends of the missions, warmly commended the services to Spain - civil, military and religious - rendered by the Fathers and their neophytes, referred to the calumnies of their adversaries only to refute them, and declared that in no part of the Spanish dominions was the King or the Church better served.

But the storm of hostility to the Church, and, in the first instance, to the Society of Jesus, stirred up and kept alive by Masonic, “liberal” and infidel movements throughout Europe, continued to beset the thrones of the later Bourbons, and led them into an ever-deepening morass of folly, tyranny and cruelty. In 1750 Spain concluded a treaty with Portugal, ostensibly meant to end quarrels about boundary-jurisdictions in South America, but in reality (as appeared in the sequel) intended and actually effective for the injury of Spain. Of this “Tratado de los limites” one stipulation was that seven Indian reductions lying along the river Uruguay were to be cleared out in favour of Portugal, the Indians being left to find new lands and homes for themselves “on Spanish territory” - a hopelessly vague designation! - or else to accept Portuguese lordship. The Portuguese they detested as enemies and enslavers: it was impossible they could ever accept them as rulers. What, then, was to be their fate?

Among the most affecting crimes and tragedies of history have been the forcible expulsions of whole peoples. The various dispersions of the Jews, the driving off of the Irish “to hell or Connaught,” the desolation inflicted on Acadie and its French colonists - these have moved pity and indignation ever since they were perpetrated. Our own day has known similar tragedies. All these cases, however, have had one common characteristic: they were the expression of minds and intents unfriendly if not bitterly hostile. But what is to be thought of a Government that expels its own faithful subjects - men, women and children - without a crime on their part, with barely a hint of compensation, without any provision for the future of the exiles? This was what misgoverned Spain proposed to do and proceeded to do by its boundary treaty with Portugal.

For the carrying out of this outrageous plan the Government asked the help and co-operation of the apostles and pastors of the people they were expatriating. No more cruel situation of moral anguish has ever been created for a body of good men than that in which the Paraguay missioners then found themselves. On the one hand were their affection and loyalty towards the poor wronged Indians; on the other, their ingrained loyalty to Spain, and their duty of obedience to instructions sent to them by superiors of their own, who badly misjudged the whole situation.

For seven years the Jesuits did their best to harmonize their conflicting obligations. They used all their influence to induce their Indians to submission as their only hopeful course, while in every way trying to soften for them the blow. Yet, this attitude, far from gaining them credit, did not save them from the wildest misrepresentations. The legend of a “Jesuit: empire” in Paraguay was widely disseminated; an Emperor Nicholas I of Paraguay” was created, and coins from his supposed mint were shown to the foolish king and other persons at Madrid. One of the “historians” who gained credence for these legends was a certain Ibanez, who, as Cunninghame Graham puts it, “rarely spoke the truth even when it would have been expedient to do so,” and who got hold of the diary of a Paraguayan Jesuit, Father Henis (or Ennis), and mutilated and falsified the text in order to provide a backing for his own fictions. The legend, together with all the allegations made against the loyalty of the Jesuits, was in 1755 made the subject of an enquiry by a royal commissioner, and he declared the whole matter “a web of misrepresentations and falsehoods.” Having gone over the supposed “empire,” he had found, he declared, no emperor, no troops, only some half-armed Indians. But his evidence was set aside. Truth such as this was not what was wanted by the Bourbon Ministers, Aranda, Choiseul and Tanucci, and the cliques which supported them. So the truth was suppressed, and the legend lived on and may be still read - or at least innuendoes derived from it - in books, articles and essays.

In the upshot, the miserable Boundaries Treaty came to nothing. Why? Because its chief promoter, Andrade, Portuguese Governor in Brazil, had discovered it was not worth troubling about. And why? Because he had carefully explored all the Paraguayan mission ground, and found that the invaluable “gold mines” which he had dreamt of were indeed only the shadows of a dream. In disgust, he left them to occupy the dreams of subsequent fools or fictionists. (It is not many years since an expedition was undertaken to re-open them!) The Boundary Treaty disappeared, amid some feeble attempts of politicians to re-establish the ruined status quo ante in Spanish America.

The missioners made an honest effort to restore the lost prosperity and happiness of the seven reductions and the others that had been affected. By 1762 the seven were again inhabited by some 14,000 Indians. But that was not half the total of 1752. Thus in mere tragedy ended ten-years’ tragedy of absurdity and cruelty, of idle schemes and broken hearts.

Unhappily, worse was to follow - namely, a massed and successful attack on the entire Society of Jesus in the Spanish dominions and suppression of their missions. The anti-Catholic cabal at Madrid, gaining complete control of the ear of Charles III, King of Spain and Naples, persuaded him that the Society had laid cunning plots to deprive him of his throne. In collusion with Pombal, the tyrannous Minister of Portugal, they plied the monarch with fraudulent and forged letters and pamphlets, with sham coins of “the Emperor Nicholas I. of Paraguay,” and finally with a letter supposed to have been written by the Jesuit Father-General, Ricci. In this infamous forgery, which subsequently was admitted to be the work of Pombal himself, Father Ricci was represented as urging on all his subjects the necessity of procuring the deposition of Charles as an illegitimate scion of his race and the substitution of his brother as rightful king. By such means, was the royal puppet induced to lend his authority to one of the most sensational and foolish crimes against justice ever perpetrated by despotism.

An absolutely sudden blow being intended, the agents of the Crown were to be bound to the swiftest and most secret action. No warning was to be given to the victims, no accusation to be formulated.

The plan adopted was certain to succeed, given the character of the victims! {Footnote: Tactics of a similar kind were adopted in Portugal and other countries.}

It presumed non-resistance, and it found it. Sealed instructions were sent to the Governors of all the Spanish provinces, not to be opened before a certain day, and in these it was prescribed that with the utmost despatch and secrecy the houses of the Jesuits were to be surrounded with soldiery, the inmates roused, assembled, and without delay or explanation compelled to enter into vehicles prepared for them; in these to be carried to certain depots, whence again they were to be transported by sea out of the country. They were to be precluded from all intercourse by speech or writing with any outsider, and, as far as possible, with one another. On outsiders the observance of this edict was to be enforced by severe penalties. The houses of the Fathers were to be searched, inventories of everything to be made, and all property to be confiscated. What was ultimately to be done with the untried convicts? Masonic statesmanship could think of no wiser or more humorous stroke than to dump them on the Pontifical States.

The execution of this governmental plot had reactions on which we need not dwell, except to speak of the astonishment, mourning and indignation of the poor Indians of Paraguay. They saw snatched from them their spiritual and temporal pastors and guides, in whom they also recognized the sole effective barrier between themselves and slavery. They saw benefactors, whom they cherished with veneration and with deep, even passionate, devotion, treated with insult and barbarity by men whose good intentions they had every reason to suspect. Yet - despite false reports to the contrary - no genuine Indian resistance was attempted. The reason was that the Fathers of the reductions, suddenly beggared, outlawed and on the verge of exile as they were, exerted, nevertheless, all their powers in calming the excitement of their flocks, exhorting them to obedience, and raising before their minds hopes in which they themselves felt little confidence.

Even pagan Indians were disgusted by the proceedings of the royal commissioner and his agents. All Asuncion heard the lamentations of the unconverted Paraguayan tribesmen, who declared that the expelled “Teatinos” (Jesuits) were very good, and spoke of their enemies and Spaniards in general in terms thought too uncomplimentary to be reported. “One word from the Provincial,” writes Mr. R. C. Graham, “would have set the missions in a blaze; a word would have brought clouds of horsemen - badly armed, it is true, but knowing every foot of marsh and forest, all the deep-beaten tracks which wind in the red earth across the lonely plain … in a region defended on three sides by virgin forests and marshes hardly passable to European troops.” But no such word was spoken. Had the Indians been incited to revolt by the men they loved and reverenced, had the Portuguese (as they might easily have done) joined in the fray, the Spanish power in America would have crashed in ruin. If now the advisers of Charles III. faced such a menace, it was because they knew that the obedience and meekness of their priestly victims guaranteed the security of their campaign of persecution. In fact, the royal agents called on their victims to help in its peaceful working-out! As we have already implied, their expulsion was carried out more slowly and cautiously in the reduction than in the towns. At one (to give a typical example), the two Fathers in charge proposed to their ejectors to depart at once, taking no baggage but a breviary each. “No,” said the agent, “the Indians might then take some desperate resolution; you will have to give them some sort of explanation that will make them quiet and patient:” And the two Fathers obeyed.

Another Father, resident near Sante Fe, wrote:-

If I had not, with the help of God and the words that He put in my mouth, succeeded in pacifying my Indians, in a short time they would have left Sante Fe a heap of ruins. There was no need to encourage them: I had simply not to show myself firmly opposed to the design they had formed. Thank God, there was not a single one of our missioners who even entertained the thought of tolerating any such inhumanity. Meantime, the Indians, whom their priests pitied without being able to help, sent in petitions to the authorities which even to-day it is difficult to read without tears. Mixed with protestations of affection and gratitude towards their padre-curas are assurances of loyalty to the Crown of Spain and offers to pay higher taxes if their petitions were granted.

But this had no effect on the supreme royal commissioner. The Marquis Bucareli continued to treat his victims, whether coloured or white, with a mixture of fear, hatred and violence that seemed to grow as his work of destruction went on. “He set about his task (says Mr. R. C. Graham) with more preparation than either Cortez or Pizarro made for the conquest of Mexico or Peru… A suspicion of resistance caused him to take precautions which the result proved quite ridiculous.” There was no resistance. Having provided two armies to subdue in succession some half-dozen reductions, and to keep his flanks well guarded, he marched, after long delays, with several hundred men upon the southernmost reduction; but, ere he or his warriors could gather any laurels, the two Jesuits came out and peacefully gave up the keys of every building that might have been locked. The Governor had not even the glory of carrying off any prisoners.

The Jesuits, for their part, had given themselves up as State captives long ere this, by the act of their Provincial, Father Vergara. When a legal agent of Bucareli brought to this Father, who was universally respected for his saintliness and long services, a copy of the royal edict suppressing the missions, the Father accepted it with a simplicity and humility that profoundly impressed the official. “Father Provincial,” he said, “we expected nothing less from your Reverence.”

No such gentle reception, however, usually befell the victims of authority at the reductions. While the officers occupied themselves with the important business of making inventories, the rank and file, regardless of the dangerous anger of the Indians, pilfered the small objects that caught their fancy. Amazed and disgusted were all ranks, however, at finding nothing of the much-advertised treasures - nothing beyond the plate and ornaments of the churches, the live stock and the stores of mate and other foodstuffs. Such disappointment may, perhaps, account for the increasing bitterness and injustice of the reports sent in to Madrid by that least chivalrous son of Spain, the Marquis Bucareli. He accused, for example, the missioners of neglecting the spiritual care of the sick and dying - a falsehood contradicted by the reports of every witness, including the successive Bishops who had visited the reductions. { The reductions were, of course, subject to canonical episcopal visitation.}

Yet the Fathers he held in captivity were not allowed to go forth to attend any sick or dying person, even though their services were on many occasions earnestly begged for. Nor was any of the captives, during three months, allowed to say Mass or hear Mass or receive Holy Communion. It was only a strong intervention on the part of the Bishop of Buenos Aires that brought an end to this unchristian tyranny.

We need not follow the details of the cruel transportation of the Fathers - still untried, unheard and cut off from all intercourse with persons outside their communities - to the coast and finally to Spain. Aged men who had spent lives in the labour of the missions or of the towns were hurried off in rude conveyances along hundreds of leagues, and some died of hardships on their way. One sick man was forced to ride on, till finally he died on the back of the mule that carried him. No food, no changes of clothes were allowed to be carried. After voyages lasting for four or five months, under conditions that may be imagined, the exiles landed at Cadiz, where they joined hundreds of Jesuits brought in from other regions, and were immediately transferred to a close imprisonment which lasted for four months.

An enormous mass of documents of all kinds had been collected from Jesuit houses and was now eagerly searched for incriminating matter. Nothing of the sort was found. One document was made by some slight falsifications and interpolations to look like a hypothetical disclaimer of allegiance to Charles III: it may still be read. Though quite harmless - even according to Bourbon ideas - it had the honour of being much quoted and misquoted, and was even (in its falsified state) presented to the Pope. That remained Bucareli’s - and Spain’s - sole documentary proof of the disloyalty of their victims.

The story of what followed in the Spanish dominions in South America after the expulsion of the Jesuits is hardly brightened by a single cheerful touch. Mr. Graham’s unprejudiced pen is but one, and for modern readers the most notable, of those that have told the same tale of desolation. He writes:-

Certain it is that but a few years after their final exit from the missions all was confusion. For twenty years most of the missions were deserted, and before thirty years had passed no vestige of their old prosperity remained. The semi-communism which the Jesuits had introduced was swept away, and the keen light of free and vivifying competition (which beats so fiercely upon the bagman’s paradise of the economists) reigned in its stead. The revenues declined, all was corruption; the priests sent by the Government were brawlers and drunkards; robbery was rife; the Indians daily deserted and returned by hundreds to the woods… The tyranny of Lopez and the effects of the disastrous war with Brazil and the Argentine have almost extirpated every Paraguayan [of the old stock] with the least pretensions to white descent… . . In the thirty towns, once full of life and stir, in every one of which, as an old Spanish writer says, there was a church finer than any in Buenos Aires, there was naught but desolation and despair … . ruined [lay] church and chapel … . the vast estancias, where once the Jesuits branded two and three thousand calves a year, and whence thousands of mules went forth to Chile and Bolivia, were all neglected. Horses were scarce and poor, crops few and indifferent, and the plantations of the “yerba mate” all destroyed.

We may turn back to a contemporary chronicler, Don Ambrosio Funes, Dean of Asuncion. He wrote:-

[As the new pastors and officials were] ignorant of Guarani and without patience to learn it, confusion reigned as in a Tower of Babel… . An imperious tone was substituted for the paternal manner [of the old missioners]; and, as a deaf man has to be taught by blows, that was the teaching the Indians had to bear… A wall of hatred and contempt began to rise between the Indians and their masters.

The few clerics who had foolishly or slavishly lent approval to some of the Governmental measures soon changed their tune. The Bishop of Buenos Aires wrote to Madrid: “This city … . so full of vices and at the same time so void of spiritual workers, is almost in extreme necessity… . . Many die without the Last Sacraments.” Another Bishop lamented the ruin of his university, and implored help from Spain. It is ludicrous to find Bucareli, the pitiless priest-hunter, begging for a colony of Franciscans to found a college in place of one that he had ruined. But, in truth, he veered round to every point of policy that seemed to guide his persecutions. Separation of Indian Christians from Spaniards, for example, he now declared to be “a matter of absolute necessity.” But it was far too late to set wrongs right, to mend all the broken eggs. Nearly everywhere the reductions were sinking into melancholy scenes of moral and social degradation, of famine, pestilence and destitution; so that within half a century their number had lessened by half.

The ultimate losses to Spain need hardly be emphasized. The property of the reductions, the talked-of “treasures” of the Jesuits, whatever they were, fell into the hands and pockets of the commissaries and executioners of the Madrid Government; and the sudden enrichment of some of those men whose names are recorded served to show what motives animated their zeal in the campaign of expulsion and confiscation.

The loss of Spain’s vigorous and faithful defenders in the disciplined Indians of Paraguay gave to the rival arms of Portugal an opportunity too good to be missed; and consequently a Portuguese empire in Brazil and a new State in Uruguay were built up largely out of what had been Spanish and Jesuit mission territory. Again, in the destructive act of Charles III - “the ferocious act of a fanatical despotism,” as it has been called by the eminent Spaniard, Menendez Pelayo - some good judges have seen the seed of the rebellions by which the Spanish Crown gradually lost all authority in America. No fair words from “liberal” Ministers at Madrid could speak so eloquently as the sight and memory of six thousand Spanish subjects (the Jesuits of 1767), uncharged with any crime, de facto innocent, well meriting of the State, yet despoiled, imprisoned and flung into perpetual exile. To that royal act revolutionaries of every colour could point whenever they raised the flag of revolt against Bourbon kings.

Neither Portugal nor Spain was found. a century after 1767, in possession of a single foot of territory in South America. Both had been undermined by similar causes. Justice had worked her ends out in odd ways. Empires are mortal. The Society of Jesus could die, and it died; but it carne to life again. The Church of God lives on, and it will live. In Paraguay, after the last hundred and seventy years of experience - often terrible - of sectarian and hypocritical tyranny, one sees her to-day [1942] flourishing in a new springtime.

The representatives of old religious Orders and new Congregations are cultivating new spiritual growths. For the poor Indian peoples, who bade so tearful a farewell to their padre-curas in 1767, it is perhaps too late to look for any revanche or resurrection in this world. If only by reducing their numbers nearly to vanishing point, enslavers and corrupters have made that impossible. But new populations of many colours have been brought under the gentle yoke of the Church, and decadent Catholics have been reclaimed. Old dioceses or new ones are filled by a worthy and zealous Hierarchy and clergy; two of their rulers have worn or wear the Roman purple; an Archbishop has, for the first time, been enthroned at Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion. And Christ, figured in colossal bronze among the western Andes and eastward on the height that looks down on Rio de Janeiro. extends over all South America a gesture of blessing, love and hope.