All the more or less unusual episodes in my life are bound
Some years before the advent of Don Bernardino the Dominicans had built a convent in Asuncion. As they had no license to build, they were in the position of religious squatters on the domain of God. The citizens had applied to the Audiencia of Charcas, the supreme court on all such matters in South America, situated, with true Spanish unpracticality, in one of the most secluded districts of the continent. The Audiencia had refused the license, but had taken the matter `ad advisandum' for ten years. To take a matter into consideration for ten years, even in Spain or South America, where the law's delay is generally more mortal than in any other country, was as good as giving a permission. So the Dominicans construed it, and no one dreamed of now molesting them.
One day the Bishop, dressed in his robes, proceeded from his palace to the convent, informing the Governor that he wanted him to meet him there. Entering the convent church, he took the sacrament from off the altar and stripped the church of all its ornaments, setting a gang of workmen to demolish both the convent and the church. When the work was over, he went to a neighbouring church, and then and there, without confession, celebrated Mass, remarking to the faithful that there was no need for him to make confession, as he was satisfied of the condition of his conscience. Some murmured; but the greater portion of the people, always ready to take a saint at his own valuation, were delighted with his act. Doubts must have crossed his mind, as shortly afterwards he wrote to Don Melchior Maldonado, Bishop of Tucuman, for his opinion. That Bishop answered rather tartly that his zeal appeared to him to savour more of the zeal of Elias than of Jesus Christ, and that in a country where churches were so few it seemed imprudent to pull down rather than to build. `However,' he added, `my light is not so brilliant as the light your lordship is illumined by.'
When once a man is well convinced that all he does comes from the Holy Ghost, there is but little that he cannot do with satisfaction to himself. Self-murderers, according to the custom of those times, were not allowed admission into holy ground, as if the fact of having found their life unbearable debarred them from the right to be considered men. Such a man a few years previously had been buried at a cross-road. It now occurred to Cardenas to have a special revelation on the subject; and, curiously enough, this special revelation was on the side of common-sense. `This body,' said the Bishop, `is that of a Christian, and I feel pretty sure his soul is now in bliss.' He gave no reason for his opinion, as is the way of most religious folk, but, as he had special means of communication with heaven, most people were contented. Incontinently he had the corpse dug up and buried in the church of the Incarnation, himself performing all the funeral rites.
Although a miracle or two would have shocked nobody, still, in the matter of the suicide he had gone too far for the simple people of the place. They murmured, and for a moment the Bishop's prestige was in jeopardy; but in the nick of time his Bulls arrived, brought by his nephew, Pedro de Cardenas, who, like himself, was a Franciscan friar. This saved him, and gave the people something new to think of, though at the same time he incurred a new anxiety.
In the Bulls there was a passage to the effect that, if at his consecration any irregularity had been incurred, he was liable to suspension from all his functions. This the Jesuit who translated the documents into Spanish for the purpose of publication drew his attention to. However, Cardenas was not a man to be intimidated by so small a matter, but read the translation to the people in the Cathedral, and intimated to them that the Pope had given him unlimited power in Paraguay, both in matters spiritual and temporal.
Though Don Gregorio, the Governor, was present at the ceremony, he made no protest at the assumption of temporal power by Cardenas. He had remarked it, though, and secretly determined to show him that his pretensions were unfounded. His nephew, Don Pedro de Cardenas, furnished the occasion. This young man had been despatched to Spain to get the Bulls. Upon the voyage he seems to have conducted himself with scant propriety. On his return, when passing Corrientes, he took on board a lady whom Charlevoix, quite in the spirit of the author of the Book of Proverbs, describes as `une jeune femme bien faite'. Having some qualms of conscience, he put on a secular dress, and on nearing Asuncion put his religious habit over it. In such a climate this double costume must have been inconvenient, and why he should have worn one dress above the other does not appear. His uncle, in his delight at the forthcoming of the Bulls, most probably paid little attention to his appearance. He lodged him in the palace, and assigned him a prebendary which was vacant. Where the `jeune femme bien faite' was lodged is not set down, and the people of Asuncion no doubt looked leniently on such affairs, as does society to-day in England. After his usual fashion, the Bishop set all down to calumny.
About this time the Governor had put in prison one Ambrosio Morales, a sub-official of the Inquisition, who had had a quarrel with an officer. Cardenas, being informed of this, could not lose so good a chance of exercising the power he arrogated in temporal affairs. Holding a monstrance in his hands, he went to the prison and asked for the prisoner, placing the monstrance on a table at the prison gate. The rector of the Jesuit college came and expostulated with him, saying that it was not fitting to expose the body of Jesus Christ in such a place, and that it was not decent that the Bishop himself should stay there. Considering his position, and the times in which he lived, it seems the rector was judicious in his expostulation. Cardenas replied that he would stay there till the prisoner was released. The rector, knowing him to be as obstinate as a male mule, went and begged the Governor to let Morales out. This he did at once, and then the Bishop, cross in hand, returned in triumph to the palace with the rescued Inquisitor following amongst his train. The people, whose lives were dull, snatched at the opportunity for some amusement, and said that it was good luck the Governor and Bishop were not always of one mind, for that their agreement had caused the demolition of a church and convent, and their quarrel the setting of a prisoner free.
This little triumph emboldened the Bishop to go further. He admitted Morales into minor orders, gave him the tonsure, and thus, having placed him above the temporal power, enabled him to brave the Governor openly. The Bishop's nephew, taking the Governor's kindness for weakness, broke publicly into insulting terms about him. The Governor's brother, Father Hinostrosa, pressed him to vindicate his dignity, but he refused, saying he wanted peace at any price. This policy the Bishop did not understand, for all concessions he set down as weakness, and they encouraged him to fresh exactions and more violence.
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