Alonso was an early Western proponent of "the rights of nations" (international law), and of human rights generally.
His immediate concern was the human rights of the native people of the colonies of Spain in South America. He said that they must be regarded as much a creation of God as were the people who had come from Spain. They were endowed with souls, and thus were worthy of both respect and Christian care. He was born with the family name of Alonso Gutiérrez at Caspuefias in the Guadalajara region of Spain during 1504. From a wealthy family, He studied arts (which included philosophy) and theology at the universities of Alcala and Salamanca, and from 1533 onwards served as a tutor. Not only was he well-known at the famed University of Salamanca but also he was chosen as the tutor the children of the Duke del Infantado, a ranking grandee of Spain.
In 1533 the Spanish Augustinians first sent missionaries to the Americas. In the year 1536, Alonso was a diocesan priest who had agreed to minister in the Americas with the Augustinians. He was then not much more than thirty years of age. He travelled to Mexico on the same boat as Father Francisco de la Cruz O.S.A.. At the end of the voyage, he immediately became a member of the Order of Saint Augustine at Vera Cruz. His profession of vows took place at the Augustinian monastery of Our Lady of Grace in Mexico City. There he changed his name to Alonso de la Vera Cruz. He was the first person to take Augustinian vows in the New World. He then served as the Augustinian Master of Novices at Mexico City.
He was a man courageous in the defence of his convictions, as when, for example, Luis de Leon O.S.A. faced the Spanish Inquisition for his liberal translation of the Song of Songs from the Bible. Alonso de la Vera Cruz declared calmly, "In truth they may as well burn me if they burn him, for I feel just as he thinks." It was very important in the culture and history of Latin America because there in 1538 the Order of Saint Augustine established the centre of higher studies (university) on the American Continent. The founder was Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A. The church, dedicated in honour of Saint Paul, is still in use. After many years in the hands of the local government, the former Augustinian monastery (convento) is now in the possession of the University of Michoacan. It is used as a Centre of Historical Research and the centre for microfilm about the history of the western section of Mexico. It has also been used by the university as a venue for international conferences.
In 1553 the University of Mexico City was founded, and he became its first professor by teaching a course on the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and on the Epistles (letters) of Saint Paul. He immediately wrote three text books which, taken together, integrated a complete course of Arts (including philosophy), as it was then termed. His writing was noted for its clarity, simplicity, and certain pragmatic character.
The three books in Latin were named Recognitio summularum (1554), Dialectica resolutio (1554) and Physica speculatio (1557). The first of them was the first book of philosophy written in America; the third work was a contemporary summary of physics, biology, meteorology and botany in the sixteenth century. He was also the first professor of law at the University of Mexico. Along with the better known Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas (1848-1566), he vigorously defended the principle that the American Indians were the true lords of their lands.
As they both saw it, the law of nature included "the right of nations," which applied to all peoples regardless of their way of life or spiritual beliefs. Their voices, far from being isolated, were simply among the better known of those that expounded this tradition of the church during the Middle Ages. When sent to the Michoacán area, he began to study the Tarascan language so as to be able to preach directly to the Indians. (In those days, most missionaries spoke only Spanish, and used native catechists as interpreters.) He was one of the first to grant the sacrament of Holy Communion to the Tarascan people.
Photo (above):The church and former Augustinian monastery (convento) at Tiripetio, in Michocan Province, Mexico. The old town of Tiripetío is twenty-eight kilometres to the southwest of Morelia, on the highway (short route) to Pátzcuaro. It was very important in the culture and history of Latin America because there in 1538 the Order of Saint Augustine established the centre of higher studies (university) on the American Continent. The founder was Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A. The church, dedicated in honour of Saint Paul, is still in use. After many years in the hands of the local government, the former Augustinian monastery (convento) is now in the possession of the University of Michoacan. It is used as a Centre of Historical Research and the centre for microfilm about the history of the western section of Mexico. It has also been used by the university as a venue for international conferences.
As explained in the caption above, Alonso founded the Augustinian convent at Tiripetío, where he established what is now the oldest-existing library in the New World. His love of books was well known. Late in his life, in the year 1575, he brought from Spain sixty cases of select and rare books and donated the collection to the Colegio San Pablo (the pontifical and royal university) at Mexico City, as many again to the Convento of San Agustin in Mexico City. He had already given other books to the Augustinian convento at Tiripetío (Michoacán) mentioned above. When appointed as the Augustinian regional leader (Provincial Superior) soon after 1548, he established five Augustinian foundations of the Order in that vicinity. When Vasco de Quiroga, bishop of Michoacan, travelled to Italy for the Council of Trent, he left Vera Cruz in charge of his diocese for nine months.
Vasco de Quiroga asked him for a full report of the missions in New Spain (Mexico) to lay to the Council of Trent, at which another member of the Order, Girolamo Seripando O.S.A., was an important figure. This Council was in its day as consequential as the Second Vatican Council was to the Catholic Church after the year 1960. His report was long discussed at the Council of Trent, and it severely criticised the Spanish administration in the New World and begged the king to prevent cruelty toward the Indians. Vera Cruz was in consequence ordered to appear at the Spanish Court in 1561, where he successfully defended his propositions. He was elected Provincial four times. While Provincial in 1559, he received a letter from King Phillip II of Spain.
It informed him that another Augustinian in Mexico, Andrés de Urdaneta O.S.A., was being sent on an expedition by sea, which voyage of discovery in fact discovered the return route eastwards across the Pacific Ocean from the Philippines to Mexico in 1565. Vera Cruz was asked by the king to send other Augustinians with Urdaneta. He did so, and gave Urdaneta four Augustinian companions, who went on to become the first Augustinian pioneers in the Philippines.
He refused in 1565 the bishoprics of Tlaxcala and Michoacan in Mexico. He was permitted to return to New Spain (Mexico) in 1573, and took with him seventeen other members of the Order. As well, he brought from Spain sixty crates containing a splendid library, which he deposited in the College of San Paul that he founded in Mexico City in 1575. He died in Mexico at an advanced age on 6th July 1584.Related Augnet pagesFor Augnet's section of pages about these mewdieval Augustinian monasteries in Mexico, click here.
The Augustinians wend their way Westward. By Arthur Ennis O.S.A. Augustiniana (6), April 1956: Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain. pp 602-634. AN4382