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Father José María Luis Mora, Liberalism, and the British and Foreign Bible Society in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

  • Susan Schroeder (a1)

Father José María Luis Mora, infamous as an advocate for political liberalism during inchoate Mexico’s struggle for nationhood, worked through a myriad of channels to bring about change in his country. Educated and ordained as a secular priest, he was both professor and librarian at the prestigious Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City, but found time to author five volumes of collected essays and edit three periodicals. His national acclaim rests with his career as lawyer, politician, and political theorist. Not all of his contemporaries recognized that he also became a Bible merchant during the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

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1 This essay was first read as a conference paper at the American Catholic Historical Association meeting at Oxford, Mississippi, April 1991. I am grateful to Stafford Poole, C.M., for his comments. My thanks also to Charles Hale for the loan of his personal collection of Mora-related microfilm, and to both he and Michael C. Meyer for their encouragement and suggestions after reading this paper. Alan F. Jesson, Bible Society’s Librarian, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, England, and Anne H. Jordan, Rare Books Librarian, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, were most helpful on my research trips to their respective repositories.

2 Mora was also opposed to the privileges enjoyed by the military, but that issue is not particularly relevant to this paper.

3 Hale, Charles A., “José María Luis Mora and the Structure of Mexican Liberalism,Hispanic American Historical Review, 45 (1965), 196227 ; and idem, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821–1853 (New Haven, 1968).

4 For an overview of this period in Mexico’s history, see Meyer, Michael C. and Sherman, William L., The Course of Mexican History (Oxford, 1991), part 5.

5 This was don Genaro García. The issue is explored quite carefully by Gringoire, PedroEl ‘protestantismo’ del Doctor Mora,Historia mexicana, 3 (1953), 328–66.

6 It seems that many of Mora’s associates were students or graduates of Colegio de San Ildefonso. See Hale, , Age of Mora, pp. 293–95.

7 For a thorough discussion of Mora’s public anti-Indian position, see Hale, , “Structure of Mexican Liberalism,” p. 214 ; and Age of Mora, pp. 215–47.

8 The correspondence consists of what could be culled from the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) Library collection, now housed at Cambridge University, England. Father Mora’s personal papers went to his friends in Mexico, the Gómez Farías family, where they remained until they were given to bibliophile Genaro García. The García Collection was purchased by the state of Texas in 1921 and is now housed in the University of Texas Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection Library.

9 The gift consisted of three manuscript volumes of original histories: the first two in Spanish by mestizo don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the third in Nahuatl by Chimalpahin, with anonymous Nahuatl materials included. For more information about vol. 3, see Arthur J. O. Anderson, “Nahuatl Documents in British and Foreign Bible Society Ms. 374.” Paper presented at the American Society for Ethnohistory meeting, New Orleans, LA, November 1985.

10 It is possible that Father Mora hoped to save the manuscripts from destruction during the wars for independence and reform. He may have wanted to preserve original indigenous accounts of the history of Indian Mexico, or he may have wanted to impress the Bible Society agent with a very nice gift.

11 It is not known exactly when Father Mora added “Luis”. The name first appears in 1827. Information on Mora’s youth and early career is drawn from two principal sources, Hale, Age of Mora; and Florstedt, Robert F.The Liberal Role of José María Luis Mora in the Early History of Independent Mexico” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, 1950).

12 Florstedt, “Independent Mexico,” p. 16, notes that Mora used his entire personal stipend to improve the collection and refurbish the library. Typically, he put new, fine bindings on old works to preserve them. See also Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 77 n. 11. I have wondered if the reference is to the Colegio de San Ildefonso’s collection or Mora’s, or if they might have become one and the same at some point. He reportedly had the best library in Mexico.

13 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” p. 425 ; and Hale, , Age of Mora, pp. 7273.

14 David Brading addresses the contrast in attitudes toward the church in enlightened France, which had closed its convents, and New Spain, where new facilities were being built. The Spanish Crown was advised that a challenge to church fueros might result in severe repercussions. See Brading, , “Tridentine Catholicism and Enlightened Despotism in Bourbon Mexico,Journal of Latin American Studies, 15:1 (1983), 122 . Evidence of Mora’s interest in U.S. government and policies is wanting, Hale, , “Structure of Mexican Liberalism,” pp. 201–02.

15 See Florstedt, Robert F.Mora contra Bustamante,Historia mexicana, 12 (1962), 2652.

16 For a thorough and current account of Mora’s political activities, see Hale, Age of Mora.

17 Aizpuru, Pilar Gonzalbo, Historia de la educación en la época colonial: El mundo indígena (Mexico City, 1990), pp. 89 ; and Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 104 , 223–24, 301.

18 Brading, , “Bourbon Mexico,” p. 6 .

19 See Bowser, Frederick P.The Church in Colonial Middle America: Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi,Latin American Research Review, 25:1 (1990), 137–56, for discussion about the church as an obstacle to reform in nineteenth-century Latin America; and Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 299302 . However, Brading, D.A., The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492–1867 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 648–54, observes that Mora overvalued church holdings and revenues significantly.

20 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” p. 422 .

21 Goodpasteur, H. McKennie ed., Cross and Sword: An Eyewitness History of Christianity in Latin America (Maryknoll, NY, 1989), p. 153 .

22 For a detailed study of primary education in the state of Puebla, see Vaughan, Mary KayPrimary Schooling in the City of Puebla, 1821–60,Hispanic American Historical Review, 67:1 (1987), 3969 . For information about the three-level design of the Lancasterian School, see Report of Mr. Rocafuerte,” in Thomson, James, Letters on the Moral and Religious State of South America, Written During a Residence of Nearly Seven Years in Buenos Aires, Chile, Peru, and Colombia (London, 1827), pp. 292–96.

23 Ibid., p. 55.

24 Lyon, G.F., Journal of a Residence and Tour in the Republic of Mexico in the Year 1826, with Some Account of the Mines of that Country (Port Washington, NY, 1828), I, p. 25 .

25 Vaughan, , “Primary Schooling,” p. 46.

26 Ibid.

27 Owen, John, The History of the Origin and First Ten Years of the British and Foreign Bible Society (New York, 1817), p. 2 .

28 Browne, George, The History of the British and Foreign Bible Society from its Institution in 1804 to the Close of its Jubilee in 1854 (London, 1859), p. 16 .

29 The Twenty-Third Report of the British and Foreign Bible Society (London, 1827), pp. lxvi-lxvii.

30 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” p. 58 .

31 Mora was admitted to the bar in 1827, Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” p. 152.

32 Ibid., pp. 60, 109.

33 Mora, José María Luis, Obras sueltas (Paris, 1937), I, p. cxci; and II, p. 111.

34 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 7478 ; and especially, Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 166 .

35 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 300–11.

36 James Thomson was a Scottish Baptist who organized Lancasterian schools in various countries in South America during the 1820s. According to Goodpasteur, the schools provided the opportunity for him to sell Bibles, Cross and Sword, p. 152.

37 Cited from Goodpasteur, ibid., pp. 153–54.

38 BFBS, Foreign Correspondence Inwards [hereafter cited as FCI], no. 1, letter 35, London, Jan. 30, 1827.

39 The Twenty-Third Report, pp. lxvi–lxvii.

40 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 329 .

41 FCI, no. 4, let. 87, Mexico City, Sept. 22, 1827. There is one lectionary in the BFBS 1982 catalog, listed as a donation from a Father Salazar. See Jesson, Alan F. ed., Historical Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Bible House Library (London, 1982), p. 191.

42 Wayne Ruwet, Powell Library, University of California, Los Angeles, in the course of searching for materials by fray Bernardino de Sahagún, happened upon the references to Spanish and Nahuatl manuscript works in the Bible Society catalog. I am grateful to Ruwet for granting me access to these materials. The Nahuatl manuscript in English translation will be part of the six-volume Codex Chimalpahin, Susan Schroeder, gen. ed., University of Oklahoma Press (forthcoming).

43 Internationally, membership in the Society cost one guinea per year and entitled the subscriber to purchase Bibles at substantial discounts. For a thorough treatment of the Bible Society in its formative years, see Howsam, Leslie, Cheap Bibles: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the British and Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge, 1991).

44 Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 169 . Baldwin, Deborah, Protestants and the Mexican Revolution: Missionaries, Ministers, and Social Change (Urbana, 1990), p. 26 n.5, notes that John C. Bingham briefly served in Mexico as representative before Thomson. I have found little about Bingham or his stay in Mexico. He does appear later, however, as someone knowledgeable of Nahuatl. For a careful study of Vicente Rocafuerte’s role in Mexican affairs at this time, see Jaime, Rodríguez O., The Emergence of Spanish America: Vicente Rocafuerte and Spanish Americanism, 1808–1832 (Berkeley, 1975). For his efforts in Ecuador, see Guevara, Dario C., Vicente Rocafuerte y la educación pública en el Ecuador (Quito, 1965).

45 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 236–37.

46 Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 170 . And see The Twenty-Third Report, p. lxvii.

47 FCI, vol. 2, let. 83, Mexico City, March 24, 1828. In Peru, Thomson persisted and tried to arrange for the translation of Bibles into “Quichua,” “Aimar,” and “Moxa.” He was especially pleased when the New Testament was translated into the language of “Manco Capac, and by a descendant of that ancient race of kings,” Thomson, , “Cross and Sword,” pp. 128, 152.

48 FCI, vol. 3, let. 19, Orizaba, May 14, 1828, and let. 27, Mexico City, June 30, 1828. See Catalogue of Editions of the Holy Scriptures and Other Biblical Works in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society (London, 1832), pp. 49, 60, for what appears to be a listing of these and other works in “moxa” and “quichua.” None is extant in the collection today.

49 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 332 .

50 Ibid., p. 333.

51 See this exemplary study by Burkhart, Louise M., The Slippery Earth (Tucson, 1989).

52 The Spanish-language translation of the Bible was also in question at this time. FCI, vol. 3, let. 188, Mexico City, Nov. 10, 1828.

53 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 331.

54 For discussion about problems in shipping and distribution of books in general, see Darnton, Robert, The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (New York, 1990), pp. 128–29.

55 Enforcement of the edict would depend upon which political faction was in power. Strict enforcement would be delayed for a while.

56 See Leonard, Irving, Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Indies (Berkeley, 1933), pp. 3 , 28, 30, for specifics about the Queen’s (wife of Charles V) decree of 1531.

57 Schon, Dorothy, Book Censorship in New Spain (Austin, 1949), pp. 9 , x, 1, 21.

58 Leonard, IrvingOn the Mexican Book Trade, 1576,Hispanic Review, 17:1 (1949), 1920 .

59 Ibid.

60 The prohibition dates to the Council of Trent. See D’Olwer, Luis Nicolau, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, 1499–1590 (Salt Lake City, 1987), pp. 7886 , for discussion of church policy regarding the translation of ecclesiastical materials to Nahuatl.

61 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” pp. 331, 352.

62 Ibid.,p. 330. In 1795,Felipe Scío de San Miguel, Bishop of Segovia, published a complete version of the Bible in Spanish based on the Latin Vulgate, Valencia 1790–93. See entry in New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1967), II, p. 483.

63 The Bible Society considered itself as a business enterprise, essentially, rather than a religious institution; hence, in order to avoid polemics of dogma its absolute position against any sort of interpretation or explanation of the Scripture in any text it printed. See Howsam, , Cheap Bibles, pp. 67, 13.

64 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 333 .

65 FCI, vol. 4, let. 10, Mexico City, Oct. 31, 1828.

66 FCI, vol. 2, let. 26, Mexico City, June 17, 1829.

67 Ibid., let. 129, Mexico City, May 2, 1829.

68 Ibid. Apparently, Mora had access to grammars, dictionaries, and books on Christian theology already in Tarascan translation and published.

69 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 239–40. This was probably the French Bible, or Venc edition which contained the notes and commentaries of the Apocrypha. Compared to the Scío de San Miguel Bible in Spanish (1790–93), Canon Félix Torres Amat in Madrid, 1823–25, published a Spanish Bible more closely following the original Hebrew and Greek works, which apparently was more the work of Perisco, Jesuit José Miguel, New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1967), II, p. 483 .

70 Cited from Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 239–40. The “notes” refer to the necessary commentaries and Apocrypha.

71 FCI, vol. 3, let. 30, Mexico City, June 5, 1829.

72 Ibid.; and FCI, vol. 3, let. 104, Mexico City, July 18, 1829.

73 FCI, no. 4, let. 36, Mexico City, Aug. 25, 1829, and let. 74, Mexico City, Sept. 18, 1829.

74 Ibid., let. 103, Mexico City, Oct. 27, 1829.

75 Ibid.

76 FCI, no., 1, let. 91, Mexico City, Jan. 30, 1830, and no. 2, let. 56, Mexico City, March4, 1830.

77 FCI, no. 2, let. 92, Mexico City, March 25, 1830.

78 FCI, no. 3, let. 43, Mexico City, June 5, 1830.

79 Ibid., let. 44, Jalapa, June 11, 1830.

80 Jos María Luis Mora Correspondence, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas [hereafter cited as UTX, Mora Corr.], 1820–1834, no. 127(1), Sept. 24, 1830.

81 Ibid., James Thomson to Mora, London, July 18, 1831.

82 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” pp. 339 , 341, 348.

83 FCI, box 1832, no. 2, let. 98, Mexico City, April 2, 1832.

84 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” pp. 355–56; and FCI, box 1836, no. 2, let. 207, Paris, Aug. 25, 1836.

85 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” pp. 357–58.

86 UTX, Mora Corr., 1820-1834, no. 127(1), Thomson to Mora, Jan. 19, 1831 and Feb. 18, 1831; and Bible Society to Mora, Feb. 15, 1831 and Oct. 10, 1831.

87 FCI, box 1833, no. 2, Mexico City, n.d.

88 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 353 .

89 FCI, box 1833, no. 3, let. 64, Mexico City, June 10, 1833.

90 The BFBS 1982 Catalogue lists only two Nahuatl translations of the Gospel According to St. Luke: 1830, BFBS MSS 376 and c. 1871, BFBS MSS 377. There is also a conspicuous absence of any reference to indigenous-translated materials in the Society’s correspondence.

91 UTX, Mora Corr., 1820–1834, no. 127(1), Bible Society to Mora (London), June 19, 1832 and March 21, 1833. And see Howsam, , Cheap Bibles, pp. 7475 , 111, for the Society’s constant efforts to present error-free editions.

92 UTX, Mora Corr., 1820–1834, no. 127(1), Bible Society to Mora (London), Dec. 11, 1832. See also in BFBS List of Books Presented to British and Foreign Bible Society, (London, 1832), pp. 112-15; a letter from a Mr. Blinkhorn (Dec. 26, 1832), advising the Society that they were not likely to find Nahuas in London, in spite of Nahuatl being the “prince of the Indian tongues.” He attempts to explain the Nahuatl alphabet and certain conventions, i.e., “tl, tz, and ch are single consonants … and must never be separated in the printer’s type.”

93 Ibid.

94 UTX, Mora Corr., 1820-1834, no. 127(1), Bible Society to Mora (London), March 21, 1833.

95 Ibid., July 1, 1833.

96 Gringoire, , “‘Protestantismo’,” p. 352 .

97 UTX, Mora Corr., 1820–1834, no. 127(1), London, July 16, 1833.

98 Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 145.

99 UTX, Mora, Corr., 1820–1834, no. 127(1), at end of file.

100 FCI, box 1835, vol. 3, London, July 20, 1835.

101 FCI, box 1836, no. 2, let. 207, Paris, Aug. 25, 1836.

102 Except for two old houses in a state of great disrepair.

103 Book receipts from Philadelphia show that he actually went shopping for books en route to Europe. UTX, Mora Corr., 1835–39, no. 127(2).

104 Howsam, , Cheap Bibles, p. 205 , explains that the Bible Society Committee believed that its Bibles inherently conveyed “the secret of England’s greatness, the way to avoid revolution at home, and to disseminate English values abroad.”

105 UTX, Mora Corr., 1835–39, 1840–44, nos. 127(2) and (3); and Hale, , Age of Mora, pp. 291–92.

106 Hale, , Age of Mora, pp. 236–37.

107 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 126–27, 535.

108 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” p. 539 .

109 See especially UTX, Mora Corr., 1820–34, no. 127(1), July 18, 1831; and 1840–44, no. 127(3), Sept. 7, 1842.

110 UTX, Mora Corr., 1840-44, no. 127(3) Sept. 7, 1842. Thomson went to Yucatán in 1842.

111 FCI, box 1850, no. 1, let. 139, London, March 16, 1850.

112 Writing to the Society, this is Thomson’s version: “When I first met with him [Mora] the other week he said he believed he was approaching the grave. But, he added, I shall not die a Catholic. He then referred to his views of the doctrines of grace [especially after reading the Bible]...., and is feeling more than ever confirmed in them.” Worth mention and informative of a contemporary attitude is a letter from Granada, Spain (sent to and translated by James Thomson, who forwarded it to the Society), describing a meeting of “católicos netos” (unprejudiced Catholics) who articulated a position against the “Jesuitical, anti-evangelical, and inquisitorial conduct of our generally demoralized and ignorant clergy …” In concert they would support the Society and promote the dissemination of New Testaments among the poor in Granada. FCI, box 1850, no. 1, let. 139, London, Feb. 11, 1850.

113 FCI, box 1850, no. 1, let. 94, Feb. 16, 1850.

114 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 340–51.

115 Ibid., p. 352. Thomson, James in Letters, p. 129 , was also supportive of the education of females: “Female education, in my opinion, is the thing most wanted in every country; and when it shall be properly attended to, the renovation of the world will go on rapidly.”

116 Ibid., p. 371.

117 Ibid., p. 394.

118 Ibid., pp. 320–21, 327, 332, 341.

119 Ibid., pp. 411–12. Santa Anna would reverse this policy and establish the Lancasterian schools again in the 1840s.

120 Due to Mexico’s Constitution(s), Protestant preachers per se were not allowed, the Bibles and Lancasterian schools insidiously serving instead. The Reform Laws of 1857 would provide the first legal aperture for the missionaries, Goodpasteur, , Cross and Sword, pp. 156 , 186.

121 UTX, Mora Corr., 1840–44, no. 127(3), Mexico City, Sept. 7, 1842.

122 Hale, , Age of Mora, p. 218 .

123 Ibid. The concern about the integration or isolation of Mexican Indians continued through much of the nineteenth century. See especially Powell, T.G.Mexican Intellectuals and the Indian Question, 1876–1911,Hispanic American Historical Review, 48 (1968), 1936 .

124 After his death Mora’s huge library was sold to the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. There were thousands of volumes. All were incorporated into the general collection without distinction. Of all the Mexican native language translations of the Bible that were the subject of so much correspondence, there remain only two in the Society’s collection today.

125 Florstedt, , “Independent Mexico,” pp. 480 , 544.

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