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Saint Junipero Serra, philosopher and theologian


I took the picture of the mosaic image of a Franciscan friar in the Mission Soledad chapel.

Before leaving everything behind for Alta California, Father Junipero Serra was the chair of Theology at the University of Majorca. Please understand, this was an extremely comfortable position for anyone to have then and now. He would have had to research, write, teach, and preach at a very high level to have reached this position. Knowing this adds to the wonder of a middle-aged man who leaves everything he's worked for behind for the unknown and the opportunity to bring new people the message of the gospel.


Father Junipero ascribed to the philosophy of John Dunn Scotus. (Yes, there was a Scotus before there was SCOTUS.)


Tenants of this philosophical approach include:

  • Cultivating relationships and aesthetics is a means to bring people to God.

  • Worship is best done in a beautiful place.

  • The physical space should respect and reflect the local culture.

  • Will is emphasized over intellect.

  • God is a divine artist.

It's important to note the Spaniards of the 1500s leaned toward Aristotle's dichotomy of rational beings versus natural slaves. This is reflected in the colonization treatment of indigenous peoples as not fully human.


By the 1700s, the prevailing approach was relative anthropology. Looking at indigenous peoples through this lens identified them as infants who needed to be educated. This approach failed to take into account the complexity of their communities. It also sheds light on why Father Serra was adamant about keeping converts within the mission walls, as well as the use of corporal punishment when the runaways were returned to the mission. Remember, this was an age of "spare the rod, spoil the child". The padres saw themselves as loving parents who believed the children would mature to understand the punishment was for their own good and that they would one day appreciate it. It was the worldview of the era.


It is obvious from Father Serra's correspondence and his 4 surviving sermons that he was a very well-read and intelligent man. He would have to be at the pinnacle of his intellectual aptitude to secure a Chair of Theology position at a university and eventually match wits with the military leaders of New Spain and Alta California.


My resources for these posts are:

Palou, F. & Watson, D. S. (1934). The expedition into California of the Venerable Padre Fray

Junipero Serra and his companions in the year 1769. Nueva California Press.

Beebe, R. M. & Senkawicz, R. (2015). Before Gold: California under Spain and Mexico,

Volume 3. Junipero Serra: California, Indians, and the transformation of a

missionary. University of Oklahoma Press.

Geiger, M. J. (1959). The Life and Times of Fray Junipero Serra, O. F M.: The man who never

turned back. Academy Of American Franciscan History.



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