Roman Catholicism and the Aztec Religionby Rit Nosotro
Compare the Spanish and Aztec religions by examining their gods, priests, and the military support.
Two extremely different religions collided when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. But were the two religions really that different? Both religions had gods or a god, both had priests, and both religions had a military that directly connected with the gods.
In Spain, the religion was Catholicism which worships God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Catholics also venerate the Virgin Mary and many saints. Though the Catholics do not worship these people as gods, Catholics increasingly esteem the Virgin Mary1 and the saints to such an extent that it sometimes appears as worship to outsiders. Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, and so Roman Catholics pray to her to intercede on their behalf. Saints are venerated because of their heroic virtue, and working a miracle after they died, whether martyred or not. Rather like Greek and Roman mythology, where one god was worshiped or prayed to for certain situations, the saints of Catholicism are turned to by a Catholic when that person faces a situation similar to one the saint faced or defeated. By this connection, the Patron Saints are patronized. For example, a Roman Catholic with a toothache could pray to St. Apollonia because she had her jaw smashed before she was executed. Saint John is the patron of candle makers because he had been dipped in boiling oil.
Unlike the Spanish, the Aztecs had several deities that they worshiped as gods. Aztecs worshipped many gods and goddesses—each god related to a human activity, nature, agriculture, or heroes of old. Many of the Aztec gods were composed of two different opposing qualities. For example, Ometeotl was considered the highest deity of the Aztec religion. This deity, however, was viewed both as the god Ometecutli and the goddess Omecihuatl. Tonatiuh the sun god, Huitzilopochtli the war god, Xipe Totec the god of springtime and growth, Tlaloc the rain god, and Centeotl the corn god were some of the most important gods of the Aztec religion because they represented the most important things of the culture—life.
The highest priest of the Spanish culture is the Pope. Only one pope resided at a time, and about five popes came and went during the time of the Spanish exploration of the Americas. Catholic priests were to convert those who did not yet believe in Catholicism. Those people who did not and would not follow the same religion as the pope, Catholicism, were considered infidels and were pursued and punished. Throughout the Spanish Inquisition, Roman Catholic priests enforced the purity of Papal dogma through tortured and death upon those accused of denying the Catholic creeds.
Similarly, the Aztec religion also had priests called chachalmecas. One main job of the chachalmecas was to offer human sacrifices to the gods. Whenever a sacrifice was made, the priests calculated by the stars so the sacrifice ceremonies would take place on special days meant to please specific gods. Each Aztec high priest was usually the king at the time of the sacrifice. Kings were the main spiritual leaders of his people—the kings were also considered closest to the gods—the king supposedly went between his people, the humans, and the gods. Usually, the person or people sacrificed to appease the gods, or keep the gods strong, were prisoners of war. Occasionally, however, warriors would present themselves for sacrifice, but only for the more important ceremonies. Aztec priests took most non-Aztec religious people—prisoners captured in war—and sacrificed them to the gods, as opposed to the Spanish religion where the priests first tried to convert the non-believer and then, if the person refused the Catholic faith, proceeded to torture and sacrifice the infidel.
In the Spanish religion, the military played a big part. While the Spanish explored new places and formed new colonies, the church began to convert those cultures found in the vicinity of their new colonies. Following the tradition of the Spanish Inquisition, any who reverted to a pagan practice were put through torture and sometimes death. The Spanish military, flush from victory of "reconqista" in the Iberian peninsula, turned its power to crusade for the Catholic Church in its expanding colonies and toward other nations and religions of the counter-reformation. Spanish military units had the ability and right—as given by the church—to take all possessions of infidels, and then torture and kill the infidels if they did not return to Catholicism. Leaders of the Catholic Church used the state military to destroy all those who defied the Catholic religion.
Aztec military and warfare held a very high importance in the Aztec religion. In order to keep the sun living and rising, the Aztecs believed they had to offer human sacrifices to give the sun strength. These humans came from the surrounding tribes that the Aztecs conquered. Each time the Aztecs won a war, they would sacrifice all of the hostages taken from the enemy’s land to the war god, Huitzilopochtli. Every time the Aztecs lost a war, they sacrificed twice as many humans to the war god because their loss meant the war god was angry. The Aztecs, like the Spanish, used their military to conquer surrounding tribes. The Spanish even killed with the mind set that they were honoring the saints by sacrificing the heathen. But they never cannibalized their prisoners of war like the Aztecs did.
Both the Aztecs and Spanish appeared to worship deities, have political priests, and used their military forces for their religion, yet they did all this differently. Spain’s Catholic Church esteems saints and the Virgin Mary to such as extent it may seem that they worship multiple deities yet they call only one as God. Dissimilar to the Spanish, the Aztecs worshiped several deities pertaining to nature, past heroes, agriculture, and war, and called them all gods. Spanish priests converted non-Catholics into believers. Since conversion under coercion is not sustaining, then the former infidels would often display heretical behavior for which they might be tortured and killed by appointees of the priests. Like the Aztec priests who sacrificed prisoners of war, both religious leaders thought they were giving pleasure to their deity. Military forces of the Spanish crusaded against infidels on behalf of the church, while Aztec military forces crusaded against other tribes on behalf of their deities who demanded human sacrifice. Though the Spanish and Aztec religions had structural similarities, they remained different in idea and deed.
1. Aztec gods related to
2. In the Spanish religion, the people worshiped one God, and highly venerated..?
b. the Pope
c. Mother Mary
d. all the above
3. Who did the Spanish priests and military try to convert, and if converting
a. each other
c. FBI agents
4. Why did the Aztecs attack and conquer nearby tribes
a. to gain more land
b. to gain hostages to sacrifice to their gods
c. for the sake of killing
d. to practice their warrior poses
Notes:1 The status of Mary has increased since the time Jesus told John to take care of Mary. In 649, Pope Martin I declared she had perpetual virginity. This tradition makes the brothers and sisters of Jesus (Mat. 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14) to be Joseph's children from a former marriage not mention in the Bible. In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared Mary was born without original sin having had an "Immaculate Conception". In 1950, Pope Pius XII dclared that Mary did not die but "was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven" known as the Assumption of Mary.
Crystal, Ellie. "Aztec Gods and Goddesses." Crystalinks. 22 Nov 2003.
Fowler, William R. "Aztec Empire." Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2001.
Mowery, Michelle. "Religions of the Aztec and Spanish: How Do They Compare?" 22 Nov 2003.
Lumen Gentium, 51: Saints deserve veneration for " the example of their
way of life, their fellowship in communion, and the help of their intercession."
Only God may be worshipped.
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