Portuguese theologian, spiritual and political adviser to the crown and court, pulpit orator, social critic, and man of letters; b. Lisbon, Feb. 6, 1608; d. Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, July 18, 1697. At the age of six he moved with his parents to Salvador, where he was educated in the Old World scholastic and humanistic tradition of the Jesuits. He entered the society in 1623 and was ordained in 1635. After returning to Lisbon in 1641, he so impressed King John IV with his political insight, poise, and eloquence in the pulpit, that the monarch appointed him preacher of the royal chapel (1644) and soon thereafter his adviser and emissary to European capitals. As a means of improving the newly restored monarchy, Vieira advocated the protection of the new Christians and Jews so that they might invest in Portuguese overseas enterprises.
For most of the decade 1651 to 1661 Vieira labored in Brazil as superior of the temporal and spiritual ministry to the native peoples of Maranhão and the Amazon; this apostolate was ill fated, but it deserves comparison with the civilizing mission of the earlier Jesuits anchieta and nÓbrega. The death of the King (1656) foreshadowed a series of bitter frustrations, which began with a revolt of the colonists against laws Vieira had instituted to better the lot of the native peoples. He was expelled from Maranhão in 1661, and, once more in Portugal, he was exiled to Pôrto by Alfonso VI for his part in a palace intrigue. The inquisition, long irritated at Vieira's influence, especially in royal policy affecting Jewish property, then denounced as heretical and judaistic one of his writings prophesying the resurrection of King John IV. From 1662 to 1668, Vieira underwent examination, imprisonment for more than two years, and sentence, including indefinite isolation and privation of speech; but these penalties were soon set aside. Vieira did not enjoy the political power he had expected when the regent Pedro was crowned King, and he left in 1669 for Rome, where the acclaim for his sermons in both Portuguese and Italian gave him an international reputation. With a papal brief (April 1675) granting him immunity from the Portuguese Inquisition, he returned to Portugal, ailing and old but pleased to have this measure of revenge upon his tormentors.
In 1681 Vieira voyaged to his province in Bahia, there to find solace in correspondence, in editing his sermons, and in writing what he considered his greatest work, the notable Clavis Prophetarum, on the consummation of Christ's kingdom on earth. It was left incomplete at his death and now survives only in fragments. His sermons, full of conceptual and theological subtleties but generally avoiding the cultist and the obscure, are the basis of a new-found importance in literary scholarship, after valuable studies by A. Sérgio, H. Cidade, E. Gomes, and, most recently, R. Cantel; they are important not only for their criticism of 17th-century man but also as examples of well-wrought baroque pulpit oratory, some of whose vividness is still moving. Vieira's letters appear in the edition of J. L. de Azevedo, who is his most discerning biographer. Vieira's basic writings on messianism and prophecy, History of the Future, Portugal's Hopes and the Fifth Empire, and the fragments of Clavis Prophetarum have been analyzed by H. Cidade and R. Cantel, the latter giving the newest vision of Vieira as Christian prophet and utopian.
Bibliography: a. vieira, Obras escolhidas, ed. a. sÉrgio and h. cidade, 12 v. (Lisbon 1951–54), scholarly sampling with notes and introductions and esp. valuable as no complete or critical ed. exists; Cartas, ed. j. l. d'azevedo, 3 v. (Coimbra 1925–28); Sermōes, 16 v. (Lisbon 1679–1748; facs. São Paulo 1944–45), all but the last 3 v. reworked from notes by Vieira, making this editio princeps the best even today. c. r. boxer, A Great Luso-Brazilian Figure: Padre Antônio Vieira, S. J., 1608–1697 (London 1957). j.l. d'azevedo, História de Antônio Vieira, 2 v. (2d ed. Lisbon 1931), the basic biography. r. cantel, Les Sermons de Vieira: Étude de style (Paris 1959); Prophétisme et messianisme dans l'oeuvre d'Antônio Vieira (Paris 1960), constitutes, with the preceding, a good working bibliog. e. gomes, "Antônio Vieira," in A literatura no Brasil, ed. a. coutinho (Rio de Janeiro 1955–) 1:323–360. i. monteiro de barros lins, Aspectos do Padre Antônio Vieira (2d ed. Rio de Janeiro 1962). s. leite, História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil, 10 v. (Lisbon 1938–50) 9:192–363.
[f. p. ellison]