Edmondo Lupieri, holder of the John Cardinal Cody Chair of Theology at Loyola University in Chicago, has previously authored works regarding the last Gnostics (i.e. Mandaeans), and a commentary of John’s Apocalypse. With his latest offering, an English translation of a volume previously published in Italian, Lupieri hopes that his work is “oriented towards a readership more interested in reflecting about Christian identity and global evangelization” (p. xi). However, what stands out about this history of western expansion (i.e. the conquest and seizure of land) and the spread of Christianity to the “New World,” are the sheer savagery of both the natives and some of the evangelizers, and the indigenous religions discovered, which were syncretic in nature, many containing elements of Christianity.
Beginning with the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortés and the Spaniards, Lupieri presents a fantastic, and oftentimes lurid, portrait of materialistic greed, wherein “[t]he desire for power and wealth, the concrete possibility of appropriating with no apparent limits gold, women, land, and slaves, was the motor that drove the greatest number of conquistadores to their enterprises, which were always conducted as private activities” (p. 5). Later on, Lupieri postulates that we must have the strength to recognize that “the white man was absolutely unprepared on the cultural, religious, and ethical level to come into contact with other civilizations” (p. 46). While this may have been true during the era of Cortés, humanity has seldom learned from history. This is seen to great affect in terms of the American native population, who had hidden their material talents, “therefore [in the opinion of French Catholic Marc Lescarbot] it is just that it be taken from them” (p. 28).
500 years of expansionist history is covered in six chapters, with units dedicated to faith and discovery, saints and missionaries, God as black, and the pyre of the last gods. The most fascinating chapter, however, deals with the spread of Nestorianism to the Far East. In the chapter entitled “The Lotus and the Cross,” Lupieri describes the discovery of an eighth century cross in China, the inscription of which told “a story that was difficult for Chinese people to understand, followed by some phrases carved in unknown characters” (p. 172). The stele narrated the events of the first Christians in China, and also of elements regarding the Christian faith. The language was determined to be Syriac, and listed the names of the Syrian Nestorian patriarch and fellow Christians who had arrived in the Orient.
Edmondo Lupieri’s latest publication is highly recommended for those interested in the history of global expansion, or the spread of Christianity (or at least elements of it) to worlds both near and far. It would also be appropriate as basic source material for an undergraduate course with curriculum dedicated to cultural anthropology and comparative religions. Lupieri’s work is well sourced, and contains an extensive section with suggestions for further study. It should be noted, however, that there are sections of Lupieri’s work (mainly dealing with circumcision and self-mutilation) that are not for the faint of heart. While there are few true heroes mentioned in this work, there are acts of heroism present, proving that the inculturation of Christianity to lands both civilized and not has certainly left its mark in our shared history.