The Problem of Language


A special problem in this regard existed for the friar-missionaries destined for labors in the New World.


Not only was there in that vast and diverse territory a myriad of completely unknown tongues, but most of those languages defied any attempt to codify the principles which governed the grammar. A notable accomplishment was the work of the friars in Mexico, with special distinction in this regard accruing to the name and the accomplishments of Fray Pedro de Gante. Dedicated to the instruction and catechizing of the children of the natives, he and his companions took advantage of this opportunity to learn the native idiom. As early as 1553 he published in Mexico his Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Mexicana, completely written in Nahuatl (with the exception of some technical terms, which he gives in Latin or Spanish). With justice he is hailed as "the first of the great educators in America."

Of special significance for the Cause of the Five Martyrs of Georgia is the accomplishment of a Franciscan friar attached to the Florida mission for almost thirty three years. Fray Francisco Pareja, a native of Auñon in the Spanish Province of Guadalajara and a member of the Franciscan Province of Castile, came to La Florida in 1595. He was then assigned to Mission San Juan del Puerto, where he remained – with the exception of the period 1616-1620, when he served as the first Minister Provincial of the newly established Province of Santa Elena – until he retired to Mexico just prior to his death in 1628. Pareja's published works – which incidentally are the earliest printed publications in any North American language – include three which are of special significance as examples of the friars' efforts in the use of the native languages. His Cathecismo en Lengua Castellana y Timuquana, published in Mexico City in 1612, was followed in the next year by his Confessionario en Lengua Castellana y Timuquana, and in 1614 by his Arte y Pronunciación en Lengua Timuquana y Castellana. Finally, in 1627, there appeared his last work: Cathecismo y Examen para los que Comulgan, En lengua Castellanay Timuquana, a second and expanded edition of the 1612 Cathecismo.

The friars who went among unbelievers during the order's earliest centuries, by modern standards might be considered poorly prepared for this mission. Their eagerness, however, to "subject themselves to every human creature," their willingness to "acknowledge that they were Christians" even before enemies, and their readiness "out of love to hand over their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ" (as the Rule of 1221 puts it),43 compensated for their linguistic and philosophical deficiencies.

Bearers of the Gospel: Franciscan Evangelization

"Rule of 1221," chap. 16, in Brady, 77.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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