From the first day Columbus set foot on the American continent, he was convinced of the righteous in his intrusion. His conviction was based on the support of the Spanish Majesties and declarations of Popes that non-Christians could be taken as slaves – even though the Spanish Queen Isabella opposed Indian slavery, so the strangers were labeled as savages.
Immediately it can be interpreted as ethnocentrism that one considers oneself as the center and ones own culture as natural and right, which everyone else must be assessed in relation to.
In the returned Spaniards accounts of Indians were mixed fantasies originating from the medieval struggles with non-Christian peoples.
Also, the Spaniards who tried to draw a counter-image were in their argumentation led by fantasies. The sinful savage, without reason and morality, was opposed by the idealized savage who was faithful, gentle, and even generous. However, the difference was more than a matter of signs in the interpretation. The two parties could agree that these distant strangers at least were savage compared to formed Europeans: Under no circumstances they were equal in dignity!
Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote in 1514 – after having supervised the remelting of gold on the island of Hispaniola – about barbaric savages living in deadly sin, committing human sacrifices, worshipping idols, being cannibals, sexually abusive, lazy, senseless, false and stupid – in short: inhuman beasts. This characteristic was sufficient for Christians in Spain to believe that the conquerors were justified – even obliged to submit to the Indians and make them slaves.
It was completely contrary to what Cristoffer Columbus had written 20 years earlier – as the first Spanish eyewitness – to the Majesties about the Indians of Hispaniola:
It is true that since they have gained more confidence and are loosing this fear, they are so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it. They never refuse anything that is asked for. They even offer it themselves, and show so much love that they would give their very hearts.
However, Columbus changed his mind during his second voyage when he found that the men he had left on the islands had been eaten by native cannibals.
Indians believed that humans were part of nature; though they meant that gods had created mankind, they – unlike Christians – did not consider mankind to be the highest of the god-created, with the right to rule over all other life. Some Indians believed that humans could be sacrificed or sacrifice them selves, and that soul could be eternal. Overall, everything in cosmos was connected. Such a holistic view of mankind was different from the Christian and quite different from the individualism that was being formulated by European humanists reinforced by curious naturalists.
Some Spanish monks recounted Indian narratives in a Christian perspective, claiming that Indians had been attentive to Christian concepts. It strengthened Christians longing for Messiah – even if it was not in the imagination of the Indians.
The white God was seen in both the Aztecs Quetzalcoatl and the Incas Viracocha and became increasingly important to Spanish theologians, some of whom worshipped millennialism, the notion of the fundamental transformation of the world.
The Domimican monk Durán wrote about an old man who had spoken to Moctezuma about some white bearded men coming. So several men.
The Franciscan monk Sahagún referred to Quetzalcoatl as a bright, bearded god, which might be because Franciscans nurtured the hope that such a representation would be able to promote the Christianizing of the Indians and the continent and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
According to Mexican-German scholar Enrique Alcántara Granados, Quetzalcoatl in the Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis, which originate from the time before the arrival of the Spaniards, was reproduced with beard. However, according to the Danish scholar Jesper Nielsen, Quetzalcoatl is actually first described as a white, light-haired god in sources about 40 years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.
Since Indians are dark in the skin and men do not have much beard growth, the bearded white god must have come from outside. Could it be Thomas, Jesus disciple?
Thomas-Christians claimed that the apostle had traveled to India, so that the notion that Thomas had been to America was due to the longings of Spanish monks, and therefore interpreted and wrote some of them Aztec and Inca myths in a way so they could be understood in a Christian context.
Thomas Greek surname Didymos means Twin. Quetzalcoatl was in the 17th century translated as The Worshipped Twin, and he was symbolized by the cross!
In Peru, Spaniards had been looking for evidence that the white bearded man was Thomas; Cieza de Leon had searched by the great Viracocha Temple in Raqch’i; he had not found any useful evidence but had heard of Ticciviracocha and Viracocha.
Monks heard Aztecs tell of their long wandering from Aztlán to Tenochtitlán. Others heard the Incas tell of their long wandering from Lake Titicaca to Cusco. It reminded of the migration of the twelve Jewish tribes. Could one of the tribes have traveled to the American continent?
Durán had in Mexico been looking for sacred writings in Hebrew as well as evidence that King Quetzalcoatl was the Apostle Thomas. If the chase succeeded it would be a double victory: both the lost Jewish tribe and the proof that the gentle Indian god was the Christian Thomas!
The interpretation, that Indian faith almost was Christianity did not stop there. It was also seen in relation to the Aztec shrine at Tepeyac outside Tenochtitlán. A little more then a generation after the Spanish conquest had begun in 1492, parts of the Catholic Church embraced an Aztec goddess and interpreted her as the Virgin of Guadalupe who was later made to fulfill the prophecy of the Old Testament, to after forty years of wandering to reach a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.
Centuries later – in 1794 – the Dominican Servad Teresa de Mier in a sermon clearly claimed that the Virgin of Guadalupes image was 1750 years old and that it had been painted on the Apostle Saint Thomas’ clothing, for he had brought Christianity to Mexico. The Virgin was a symbol of the mission.
(pp. 451-454 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
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