Religion in One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Lost Steps

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Charles W. Johnson English 11 12 January 1998

Religion in One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Lost Steps

Religion is a critical part of the development of every known society in history. As soon as civilization begins to develop, one of the first things to occur is that the “shaman” class of priesthealer-magician-leaders diverges, and an organized priestly class begins to develop along with an organized ruling class. Because the development of civilization in Macondo is central to the plot of Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the development of civilization in Santa Monica de los Venados comprises a key part of Alejo Carpentier’s The Lost Steps, the role of the newly emerging religion plays an important part in both works. The role of religion has many similarities between the two works. Because both works are written by Latin American authors, and both cities are located in the South American jungle, the dominant religion in the merging societies is Roman Catholicism. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, it is represented by a series of secular (meaning non-monastic) priests, beginning with Padre Nicanor Reyna. In The Lost Steps, it is represented by a Capuchin friar, the gnarled old Fray Pedro. In both works, the clergymen have come to evangelize to non-Christians: Padre Nicanor to the irreligious town of Macondo, Fray Pedro to the pagan Indians of Santa Monica. Both are invited to their respective towns by the governor, the ruling class: the Adelantado invites Fray Pedro, because he feels the town is large enough to need a church; Don Apolinar Mascote, the magistrate of Macondo, invites Padre Nicanor to Macondo from the nearby swamp to perform the wedding of Rebeca Buendía and Pietro Crespi, and seeing the irreligious state of Macondo,

Nicanor decides to stay. Both of the priests represent a greater level of civilization in the towns: the towns have naturally acquired an organized priestly class as they have grown larger and more complex. Both also impose themselves on the populace: Fray Pedro and Padre Nicanor each conscript labor (and money, in the case of Nicanor) from the populace in order to build large church buildings; and both impose new moral restrictions on the people, as Padre Nicanor tries to force the people of Macondo into the heavy ritualism of Catholicism, and Fray Pedro angrily urges the Narrator to marry his consort, Rosario. As the Narrator of The Lost Steps says, “The shackles beneath the Samaritan’s robe have been revealed. Two bodies cannot take their pleasure together without black-nailed fingers wanting to make the sign of the cross over them” (223). The evangelists in both works represent civilization with an organized priesthood, by imposing themselves on the populace, by presenting new moral constraints, by proselytizing to a non-Christian people, and by representing the Roman Catholic faith. However, they differ in that Fray Pedro is sincere in his faith where the Padres are hypocritical; Fray Pedro is welcomed by the populace, where the Padres’ gospel falls on deaf ears; and the Fraile adheres to a strict, monastic faith, while the Padres represent what Fray Pedro denounces as “the worldly priests, those he termed new sellers of indulgences, dreamers of cardinals’ hats, tenors of the pulpit” (Carpentier 168). The religion of Fray Pedro is the religion of Jesus and the disciples, of giving up all worldly possessions and taking to the road to spread the Word. The religion of Father Nicanor is the religion of the Renaissance Popes and the sellers of indulgences, of centralized religion supported by the money and labor of the people. Their differences represent the differences between their approaches to religion; in both works the falseness of modern society is reflected as the simple, monastic, primitive faith of the Fraile is contrasted against the artifice and worldliness of the modern faith of the secular clergy.

The hypocrisy of the Padres is evident...
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