Mendieta, Gerónimo de
MENDIETA, GERÓNIMO DE
Franciscan missionary and author; b. Vitoria, Spain, 1525; d. Mexico, 1604. Mendieta took the Franciscan habit in Spain at an early age. In 1554 he arrived in Mexico where, with the exception of one trip to Spain, he devoted his long life to missionary labors among the native people. He also served as private secretary to several provincial superiors. One of the last flowerings of that brand of medieval Franciscan mysticism, whose two apexes were the image of the Apocalypse and the sanctification of "apostolic poverty," can be found in his Historia eclesiástica indiana. His temperamental inclination toward this tradition was intensified by the severe demographic crisis through which Mexico was then passing. Mendieta was a man of his times. His ideas, in themselves, were not novel. His talent for turning a phrase, however, made him more articulate in voicing those ideas, and his temperamental inclination for extremes impelled him to state his case in hyperboles. He was not alone, for example, in interpreting the age of discovery and colonization as an apocalyptical event. Yet nowhere can we find in the writings of other contemporaries a more systematic and more eloquent formulation of the proposition: the New World is the end of the world.
Mendieta's idealized conception of the native Mexican is rooted in the traditions of 13th-century Franciscan mysticism, yet his native also foreshadows the Noble Savage of the Enlightenment. His millennialism was, in reality, an other-worldly formulation of an ideal that received many secularized expressions in the 18th century and afterwards. Since America lacked the dead weight of tradition of Europe, the New World was the geographical theater where ideals of the Old World could be perfected by being applied.
Articulately resentful of Philip II's policy of favoring the secular clergy over the friars (which in his opinion contributed to the destruction of the "terrestrial paradise" that the Franciscans were beginning to organize among the native people) Mendieta was sharply critical of Philip II's reign. He was even more critical of the colonists' exploitation of native labor, which he ascribed to their unmitigated avarice. It was these attitudes that largely account for the Historia eclesiástica 's not being published until Joaquín García Icazbalceta did so in 1870.
See also: torquemada, juan de.
Bibliography: j. r. de larriÑaga, "Fr. Jerénimo de Mendieta, historiador de la Nueva España," Archivo Ibero-Americano 1 (1914) 290–300, 488–499; 2 (1914) 188–201, 387–404; 4 (1915) 341–373, j. l. phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World: A Study of the Writings of Gerónimo de Mendieta (1525–1604 ) (Berkeley 1956).
[j. l. phelan]