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The empire of the senses

Research reveals how the political dimension of prophecies helped Portugal to create its identity

“On the twenty first day of the month of July of 1663 in Coimbra in the house of the oratory of the Holy Inquisition, being there at the morning hearing, the Lord Inquisitor Alexandre da Silva ordered to come before him Father Antônio Vieira mentioned in these papers, and, being present, was given the oath of the Holy Gospels, on which he placed his hand, under which he was ordered to tell the truth and to maintain secrecy, which he promises to comply with. And he said he was fifty five years of age, born in the city of Lisbon, a professed religious member of the Company of Jesus and an assistant at the college in that city.”

Father Antônio Vieira (1608-1697) was being judged, amongst other reasons, for interpreting the heterodox prophecies of Bandarra, prophesies in dreams, which, for him, showed that Portugal was to conquer the world and convert it into a Christian empire. During the interrogations, many were the accusations of the inquisitors, and, as usual, amongst them were charges of Judaism and of heresy. But Vieira was also accused of being the author of a book, never written, in which the prophecies referring to the Fifth Empire were to be set forth.

The researcher from the Jaime Cortesão Chair at the University of São Paulo (USP), Luís Filipe Silvério Lima, in his doctoral project, has been studying this time in Portugal. While poring over modern times, Silvério Lima realized that the prophetic-political movements and beliefs, such as Sebastianism, were founded on dreams. “The basis or the sources that justify these hopes and projects, the dreams, were described or present, in the majority of times, in the form of a dream”, the researcher explains. Dreams that would begin, for example, in the Bible, with the vision of Nabuchodonosor about the five empires, interpreted by the prophet Daniel, in which the Fifth Empire would be the last, preceded by the Roman, Greek, Persian and Chaldean empires.

“The fifth and last empire, as in the vision of a monumental statue, a symbol of the four empires mentioned, made up of a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, feet of iron and clay, crushed by a gigantic stone, which occupied the place of the statue”, says Silvério Lima. For the father of the Company of Jesus Antônio Vieira, there was no doubt that Portugal, under the reign of King John IV, would live through the Fifth Empire.

Vieira began to give a definitive shape to his theories about the heroic future of Portugal during the process of the Inquisition. Answering the arguments of the inquisitors, he saw himself obliged to piece together his prophetic project and to give it an organized shape. To defend his propositions, the Jesuit wrote the Apology of the things that were prophesized and the two Representations that comprised his defense before the court of the Holy Office. Together with the Apology, he began to draft the History of the future, of which he had an outline for 40 years. And after the process, he set about writing Clavis prophetarum.

“In these texts”, says researcher Silvério Lima, “Vieira pieced together the dreams of Bandarra, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Ezra, Joseph, Xavier and the Miracle of Ourique to show the foundations of the Fifth Empire, which, until then, was a proposal driven more by the restorationist cause than by a construction of its own.” The Restoration, in 1640, brought to a close the Union of the Iberian Crowns, with the enthronement of a Portuguese king. The Bragantine dynasty was sustained by the restorationist movement, whose ideology was founded on prophetic conceptions of empire. The researcher goes on to analyze the interpretation that Vieira made of the dreams of St. Francisco Xavier in the three sermons intitled Xavier sleeping (1694).

For each one of these dreams, Vieira dealt with a dream. The first one showed Xavier fighting against “a gigantic and extremely robust Indian, who was crushing him between his arms and almost killed him by asphyxia. The oneiric dimension was so real that Xavier really did end up asphyxiated. Afterwards, in the same dream, Xavier carried the immense Indian on his shoulders. In the same way, on waking, he was aching and tired. This Indian was the Asia that Xavier was to convert. In the second, was sleeping in a hospital in Rome, and was crying in the middle of the night: “More, more, more”. God had revealed to Xavier, by means of a dream, the adversities that the saint “had to suffer for his love for God”.

And as Xavier’s love for Christ was so great, “and for being so great, so excessive, so innumerous, so great was Xavier’s spirit, and the thirst for suffering for Christ so fervent, so ardent, so insatiable, that nothing would intimidate him, nothing would satisfy him, nothing would satiate him, everything would seem little to him (the adversities, the labors, the diseases, the persecutions, the combats); and so he would ask for more”. In the last dream, the Devil, seeing Xavier tired, thought that the saint might be neglectful. So he showed him a “representation less decent than his virginal purity would permit him”, and so fervent were Xavier’s sentiments of repudiation that his veins burst and he “woke up with his face bathed in blood”. This was how, according to Silvério Lima, Vieira introduced two subjects essential for understanding his time: prophecy and cautions.

Fifth Empire
The works written Antônio Vieira during the inquisitorial process remained unfinished, but they circulated in incomplete manuscript versions or were printed in pieces, as writings that justified Portugal’s hopes for being the Fifth Empire. “It is interesting to perceive how the inquisitorial action, may have, ironically, made the Jesuit, in the last stage of his life, begin the construction of the ‘lofty palaces’ of the Fifth Empire”. For Vieira, the Fifth Empire was Portugal and it would start in 1666. Its temporal leader would be John IV, while Christ would reign in the spiritual sphere. The Fifth Empire would represent the unification of the world, with the redemption of the Hebrew people, the conversion of the indigenous Americans, the annihilation of the Moors and Protestants. It would be, finally, a universal Catholic empire, united under “one flock only, one shepherd only”.

Silvério Lima began his doctoral project when studying, for a master’s degree, the question of the dreams in the work of Father Antônio Vieira. The work has now been published by the Humanitas publishing house, under the title “Padre Vieira: sonhos proféticos, profecias oníricas [Father Vieira: prophetic dreams, oneiric prophecies]”. The research ended up taking on much greater proportions. Silvério Lima perceived that in the rest of Europe as well, in those days, dreams were behind messianic-millenarist movements, as well as political considerations. Father Vieira, then, was not alone in trying to understand politically his prophetic dreams.

The researcher lists examples like the case of Lucrecia de Leon, whose dreams involving Phillip II of Spain and the defeat of the Invincible Armada moved several sectors of society and the Spanish Court, and ended up with the condemnation of the maid from Castile by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. “Or then we can analyze the question of revolutionary and puritan England with the ‘Fifth Monarchy men’ and their ideas of a new church, drawn up following an interpretation of the vision of the dream of Daniel’s beasts.” In Holland, the rabbi of Amsterdam, Menasseh Ben Israel, interpreted the dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s statute foreseeing the coming of the Messias and the installation of the Fifth Monarchy, also for the emblematic year of 1666. In France, Louis XIV announced in a gazette that he would reward anyone who interpreted a dream, like Nebuchadnezzar. “We may even think of some political treatises, in which the advice to the princes was not to despise completely prodigies, prognostics and even dreams ‘as God reveals what is about to happen by these means’. ”

The documentation discovered by the researcher includes about 130 sources, many of which enrolled during the months of research in the archives of Lisbon. Amongst the papers listed are the narrative of the Miracle of Ourique, which, since the Oath of Afonso Henriques was divulged in 1597, was the principal proof of the legitimacy of the Portuguese kingdom and its election as an empire. “With the addition of a dream that confirms the specular structure of the vision, the narrative of the miracle was crystallized and established at the turn of the 16th century into the 17th in various texts, which have in common the fact of using Ourique to explain the past, the present and the future of the Portuguese monarchy.” Accordingly, it is in the appropriation of the dreams, present in the sources found during the research, that the political projects that explain and justify the Portuguese kingdom were outlined.

Silvério Lima says that these episodes point to attention and a more general concern in relation to dreams as prophetic political phenomena. The prophetic dreams were transformed into one of the foundations for explaining and justifying Portuguese specificity before the Christian nations. “That is why it is interesting to note how, in modern days, the idea of Portugal was conceived from dreams”, he says. In the rest of Europe, the interpretation of dreams could even have political dimensions, but it did not include such a clear project of national monarchy as in Portugal. “And that is something unique”, the researcher reckons.

The project
Prophetic dreams in Portugal (1580-1750): oneiric narratives, Sebastianism and Bragança Messianism (nº 01/07210-3);  Modality Doctoral Scholarship; Supervisor José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy – FFLCH/USP; Researcher Luís Filipe Silvério Lima – FFLCH/USP