As we may well believe, no man who felt he had the stuff within himself to make a saint ever cared much for obedience or submission, except in others; so in his convent, instead of meditating on his faults, he passed his time in writing a memorial to the Council of the Indies, setting forth his views on the way in which to spread the gospel amongst the Indians. Nothing was better calculated to win him favour. Every Indian baptized was so much yearly gain to the Spanish Government.
Conversion and taxation always went hand-in-hand, and therefore Indians who, unbaptized, brought nothing to the treasury, having received the Gospel truths, were taxed so much a head to show them that from thenceforth they were Christians. Thus, we find that in the Paraguayan missions each Indian paid a dollar every year as a sort of poll-tax, and most of the disputes between the Viceroys of Paraguay and the Jesuits arose from the number of the Indians taxable. The Viceroys always alleged that the population of the missions never increased, on account of the Jesuits returning false numbers to avoid the tax.
Cardenas specially inculcated, in his memorial to the Council of the Indies, that it was not expedient to place the Indians under the regular clergy, a theory of which he himself was destined to become a great antagonist. Promotion, as we know, cometh neither from the east nor from the west; so it fell out that during his retreat, through the influence of his friend Don Juan de Solorzano, a celebrated lawyer, who had heard him preach when Governor of Guancavelico, he found himself named Bishop of Asuncion del Paraguay. This piece of luck opened the doors of his convent to him, and he repaired at once to Potosi to wait the arrival of the Papal Bull authorizing him to take possession of his bishopric. There he appeared in the habit of his Order, a little wooden cross upon his breast, and a green hat upon his head, a costume which, if not quite fitting to his new dignity, was at least suited to the Indian taste.
His biographer informs us that, without a word to anyone, he began to preach and hear confessions. Being absolutely without resources, he was reduced to distribute indulgences and little objects of piety, and at the end of every sermon to send his green hat round the audience. His talent for preaching stood him in good stead, and after every sermon gifts were showered upon him, and a crowd accompanied him home.
The priest of Potosi being just dead, Don Bernardino took his place without permission, and set himself up in the double character of parish priest and Bishop to hold a visitation throughout the diocese.
Some people took this conduct as evidence of his saint-like humility in condescending, though a Bishop, to officiate as a mere priest. The Archbishop had a different opinion, but, as Don Bernardino had a great following, he thought it best to dissemble his resentment. Cardenas himself, by his imprudence, furnished the Archbishop with an excuse to get him out of the bishopric.
A rich Indian, whom Cardenas confessed upon his death-bed, left him ten thousand crowns. Not content with that, he influenced one Diego Vargas to change his will and leave him money. On this the Archbishop wrote to him, requesting that he would go and govern his own see. He had to go, but left the town, which he had entered without a farthing, with a long train of mules carrying his money, plate, and furniture. Why he did not instantly go to Asuncion is not quite clear, for in America it was the custom, owing to the great distance from Rome, that Bishops, on receipt of the royal order of appointment, got themselves chosen by the chapter of their diocese to govern provisionally. Instead of doing that, he went to Tucuman, and thence to Salta, where he arrived in 1641.
In Salta, his first visit was to the Jesuit college, where he laid his case before the Jesuit fathers, and showed them several letters, one from the Cardinal Antonio Barberini dated in 1638, and another from the King without a date, naming him Bishop of Asuncion. On the strength of these two letters he asked the Jesuits if he could get himself consecrated without the Papal Bulls. Charlevoix alleges that they dared not refuse to answer in the way he wished. Why this was so is not so easy to make out, as, even with his green hat and wooden cross, he could not at that time have been a formidable personage. Their written opinion he sent at once to the rector of the Jesuit college at Cordova, asking for his opinion and that of the doctors of the university. The answer reached him in Santiago del Estero, and was unfavourable. On reading the letter, Cardenas fell into a most unsaint-like fury, and tore it up without communicating it to anyone, not even to the Bishop of Tucuman, Don Melchior Maldonado. This was not strange, as he had counted on this Bishop to consecrate him.
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