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The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750

John Thornton
The Journal of African History
Vol. 25, No. 2 (1984), pp. 147-167
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/181386
Page Count: 21
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The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750
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Abstract

Scholarly opinion on the conversion of the Kingdom of Kongo to Christianity has generally been that it was superficial, diplomatically oriented, impure, dangerous to national sovereignty or rejected by the mass of the population. This article argues that although Christianity in Kongo took a distinctly African form it was widely accepted both in Kongo and in Europe as being the religion of the country. This was possible because Kongo, as a voluntary convert, had considerable leeway to contribute to its particular form of Christianity. Also, European priests were much more tolerant of syncretism in Kongo than in regions like Mexico, where colonial occupation accompanied the propagation of Christianity. Kongo's control over the theological content allowed the religion to gain mass acceptance while its control over the Church organization and finance allowed it never to be an instrument for foreign domination, in spite of Portuguese attempts to use it as a 'fifth column'. When European priests arrived in Kongo during the Portuguese colonial occupation at the end of the nineteenth century, they rejected the local form of Christianity, thus ending its acceptance among Europeans as Christianity.

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