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Christianity and European Expansion

Christianity and its history in Europe reveals that European expansion included motivators that were far beyond altruistic. Paper Masters explains in research that European expansionism was born out of economics and hubris.

Two forces motivated the explorations and territorial expansions carried out during the 15th and 16th centuries

  1. Economics demanded a way to do an “end run” around the Muslim controlled regions of North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean and gain access to the riches of the east. 
  2. Religion spurred on an aggressive and newly invigorated and self-confident Europe that wished to spread its faith.
Christianity and European Expansion

European Expansion and Religion

This second motivation had been around since the late 11th century when, under the urging of Pope Urban II, Europe had embarked on the first crusade. The motivation for exploration, after it became clear that Christianity lacked the means to dislodge the Muslims from the Middle East, was stimulated by rumors of Christian kingdoms to the east of the Muslim domains, the Kingdom of Prester John.  This legend had been around since the 12th century.

There is no doubt of the devoutness of the Spanish who went to the New World to spread the faith and find gold.  Richman notes that Pizarro, while in the process of conquering Peru, was wont to motivate his followers by appealing to their piety.  Columbus was also known to be a devout man.

European Expansion and Spain

The religious orders of Spain played a particularly crucial role in the New World.  They were both motivators and organizers.  The Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans were all very active in proselytizing in the New World.  Moreover, after some semblance of order was attained in the new Spanish dominions, much of the work of mediating between the newly converted/conquered and their Spanish masters, was done by the Church.

Religion was a potent spiritual and political force during the time of the conquest of the New World.  Gold and the Cross were what motivated the men who went to the Americas.  For most of them, gold was probably the major cause of their going.  But, for many, the Cross was an equally strong motivator.

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