1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vieira, Antonio
VIEIRA, ANTONIO (1608–1697), Portuguese Jesuit and writer, the “prince of Catholic pulpit-orators of his time,” was born in Lisbon on the 6th of February 1608. Accompanying his parents to Brazil in 161 5 he received his education at the Jesuit college at Bahia. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in J625, and two years later pronounced his first vows. At the age of eighteen he was teaching rhetoric, and a little later dogmatic theology, at the college of Olinda, besides writing the “annual letters” of the province. In 1635 he received the priesthood. He soon began to distinguish himself as an orator, and the three patriotic sermons he delivered at Bahia (1638–40) are remarkable for their imaginative power and dignity of language. The sermon for the success of the arms of Portugal against Holland was considered by the Abbé Raynal to be “perhaps the most extraordinary discourse ever heard from a Christian pulpit.” When the revolution of 1640 placed John IV. on the throne of Portugal, Brazil gave him its allegiance, and Vieira was chosen to accompany the viceroy's son to Lisbon to congratulate the new king. His talents and aptitude for affairs impressed John IV. so favourably that he appointed him royal preacher, gave him free access to the palace and constantly consulted him on the business of the state. Possessed of great political sagacity and knowledge of the lessons of history, Vieira used the pulpit as a tribune from which he propounded measures for improving the general and particularly the economic condition of Portugal. His pen was as busy as his voice, and in four notable pamphlets he advocated the creation of companies of commerce, the abolition of the distinction between Old and New Christians, the reform of the procedure of the Inquisition and the admission of Jewish and foreign traders, with guarantees for their security from religious persecution. Moreover, he did not spare his own estate, for in his Sexagesima sermon he boldly attacked the current style of preaching, its subtleties, affectation, obscurity and abuse of metaphor, and declared the ideal of a sermon to be one which sent men away " not contented with the preacher, but discontented with themselves." In 1647 Vieira began his career as a diplomat, in the course of which he visited England, France, Holland and Italy. In his Papel Forte he urged the cession of Pernambuco to the Dutch as the price of peace, while his mission to Rome in 1650 was undertaken in the hope of arranging a marriage between the heir to the throne of Portugal and the only daughter of King Philip IV. of Spain. His success, freedom of speech and reforming zeal had made him enemies on all sides, and only the intervention of the king prevented his expulsion from the Company of Jesus, so that prudence counselled his return to Brazil.
In his youth he had vowed to consecrate his life to the conversion of the negro slaves and native Indians of his adopted country, and arriving in Maranhao early in 1653 he recommenced his apostolic labours, which had been interrupted during his stay of fourteen years in the Old World. Starting from Para, he penetrated to the banks of the Tocantins, making numerous converts to Christianity and civilization among the most savage tribes; but after two years of unceasing labour, during which every difficulty was placed in his way by the colonial authorities, he saw that the Indians must be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the governors, to prevent their exploitation, and placed under the control of the members of a single religious society. Accordingly in June 1654 he set sail for Lisbon to plead the cause of the Indians, and in April 1653 he obtained from the king a series of decrees which placed the missions, under the Company of Jesus, with himself as their superior, and prohibited the enslavement of the natives, except in certain specified cases.
Returning with this charter of freedom, he organized the missions over a territory having a coast-line of 400 leagues, and a population of 200,000 souls, and in the next six years (1635-61) the indefatigable missionary set the crown on his work. After a time, however, the colonists, attributing the shortage of slaves and the consequent diminution in their profits to the Jesuits, began actively to oppose Vieira, and they were joined by members of the secular clergy and the other Orders who were jealous of the monopoly enjoyed by the Company in the government of the Indians. Vieira was accused of want of patriotism and usurpation of jurisdiction, and in 1661, after a popular revolt, the authorities sent him with thirty-one other Jesuit missionaries back to Portugal. He found his friend King John IV. dead and the court a prey to faction, but, dauntless as ever In the pursuit of his ambition, he resorted to his favourite arm of preaching, and on Epiphany Day, 1662, in the royal chapel, he repLed to his persecutors in a famous rhetorical effort, and callecl for the execution of the royal decrees in favour of the Indians. Circumstances were against him, however, and the count of Castelmelhor, fearing his influence at court, had him exiled first to Oporto and then to Coimbra; but in both these places he continued his work of preaching, and the reform of the Inquisition also occupied his attention. To silence him his enemies then denounced him to that tribunal, and he was cited to appear before the Holy Office at Coimbra to answer points smacking of heresy in his sermons, conversations and writings. He had believed in the prophecies of a 16th-century shoemaker poet, Bandarra, dealing with the coming of a ruler who would inaugurate an epoch of unparalleled prosperity for the church and for Portugal, and in the Quinto Impcrio or Clavis Prophctarum he had endeavoured to prove the truth of his dreams from passages of Scripture. As he refused to submit, the Inquisitors kept him in prison from October 1665 to December 1667, and finally imposed a sentence which prohibited him from teaching, writing or preaching. It was a heavy blow for the Company, and though Vieira recovered his freedom and much of his prestige shortly afterwards on the accession of King Pedro II., it was determined that he should go to Rome to procure the revision of the sentence, which still hung over him though the penalties had been removed. During a six years' residence in the Eternal City Vieira won his greatest triumphs. Pope Clement X. invited him to preach before the College of Cardinals, and he became confessor to Queen Christina of Sweden and a member of her literary academy. At the request of the pope he drew up a report of two hundred pages on the Inquisition in Portugal, with the result that after a judicial inquiry Pope Innocent XI. suspended it for five years (1676-81). Ultimately Vieira returned to Portugal with a papal bull exempting him from the jurisdiction of the grand inquisitor, and in January 1681 he embarked for Brazil. He resided in Bahia and occupied himself in revising his sermons for publication, and in 16S7 he became superior of the province. A false accusation of complicity in an assassination, and the intrigues of members of his own Company, clouded his last months, and on the 18th of July 1697 he passed away.
His works form perhaps the greatest monument of Portuguese prose. Two hundred discourses exist to prove his fecundity, while his versatility is shown by the fact that he could treat the same subject differently on half a dozen occasions. His letters, simple and conversational in style, have a deep historical and political interest, and form documents of the first value for the history of the period. As a man, Vieira would have made a nobler figure if he had not been so great an egotist and so clever a courtier, and the readiness with which he sustained directly opposite opinions at short intervals with equal warmth argues a certain lack of sincerity. His name, however, is identified with great causes, justice to the Jews and humanity to the Indians, and the fact that he was in advance of his age led to many of his troubles, while his disinterestedness in money matters is deserving of all praise.
Principal works: Sermoes (Sermons) (15 vols., Lisbon, 1679–1748). there are many subsequent editions, but none complete; translations exist in Spanish, Italian, German and French, which have gone through several editions. Hisloria do Fuluro (Lisbon, 1718; 2nd cd., ibid., 1755); this and the Quinto Imperio and the Clavis Prophctarum seem to be in essence one and the same book in different red actions. Cartas (Letters) (3 vols., Lisbon, 1735-46) Noticias reconditas do modo dc proceder a Inquisicao dc Portugal com os setts presos (Lisbon, 1821). The Arte de Furtar published under Vieira's name in many editions is now known not
to be his. A badly edited edition of the works of Vieira in 27 volumes appeared in Lisbon, 1854–58. There are unpublished MSS. of his in the British Museum in London, and in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A bibliography of Vieira will be found in Sommervogel, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, viii. 653–85.
Authorities.—André de Barros, Vida (Lisbon, 1746)—a panegyric by a member of the same society; D. Francisco Alexandre Lobo, bishop of Vizeu, “Historical and Critical Discourse,” Obras (Lisbon, 1849), vol. ii.—a valuable study; João Francisco Lisboa, Vida (5th ed., Rio, 1891)—he is unjust to Vieira, but may be consulted to check the next writer; Abbé E. Carel, Vieira, sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris, 1879); Luiz Cabral, Vieira, biog., caractère, éloquence (Paris, 1900); idem, Vieira pregador (2 vols., Oporto, 1901); Sotero dos Reis, Curso de litteratura Porlugueza e Brazileira, iii. 121–244. (E. Pr.)