Beatification of the Venerable Palafox
Bishop and governor
On Sunday, June 5th in El Burgo de Osma, Soria, Spain, Juan de Palafox will be proclaimed Blessed. It will be a day of joy, after a long process of one of the most complex Causes in the history of the Church.
Juan de Palafox y Mendoza was born in 1600 in Fitero, Navarra, Spain where he spent his childhood. He attended university at Huesca, Alcala’ and Salamanca and in 1626 entered into the service of the Monarchy. In 1629 he became a priest and in 1639 a bishop. Nominated Bishop of Puebla de los Angeles in Mexico (New Spain), Palafox had important responsibilities as viceroy and apostolic visitor. Both in Mexico and later in Soria, he distinguished himself as a zealous pastor. He died in Osma, Spain, in 1659.
Historians highlight Palafox’s intelligence, integrity, activity, intellectual preparation and will, defining him as “one of the most brilliant men of his generation…probably the most interesting and maybe the most important figure in the whole history of 17th century Mexico.” (J.I. Israel). Palafox was bishop, political thinker, viceroy and envoy to New Spain, reformer, prolific writer, poet, editor and commentator of St. Teresa, patron of art and music, protector of the Indians, legislator and ascetic and a man of deep spirituality.
His public life began in the Spain of Philip III and Philip IV, who nominated him for important government roles, as a loyal and trustworthy man. In 1640, when Palafox left for the lands of New Spain, Spain was experiencing the decadence of power both inside and outside the country. They were years in which cultural, scientific, economic and political hegemony was moving from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe. Years of crisis, war, and plague, to which Palafox was no stranger.
In a recent visit to Puebla de los Angeles, where Palafox spent the best years of his life in not-so-easy circumstances, I witnessed first-hand that his memory is still very much alive for citizens there. His cathedral, the Palafox Library and other monuments are testament to the fecundity of his work. Bishop Palafox continues to be a reference point for the protection he offered to those most in need, in particular to the indigenous people of that land.
The loyalty of Palafox is one of his most evident qualities, together with a concern for justice and the role of the judicial system. In one of his famous sentences, he declared, “Laws that are not kept are dead bodies, which block the roads, and on which magistrates stumble and subjects fall.” This profound sense of justice was innate to his person and his activities. For his entire life he showed himself to be profoundly sensitive towards injustice, given his conviction that “distorted justice is not justice.” Prudence, rectitude and the capacity for observation, together with loyalty and justice marked out this bishop and viceroy.
Palafox was not just a great pastor, man of government and reformer, but he also wrote and developed his political thought. Professor Ernesto de la Torre Villar, the illustrious Mexican historian, recently deceased, called him a “zoon politikon”, a man in a cassock who carried out highly important political roles, as governor of the richest and most vast vice-realm in the New World, without ever ceasing to be above all a profoundly spiritual man.
Palafox’s writings began with an analysis of Sacred Scripture, of secure and unequivocal precepts to order and sustain the Spanish Christian monarchy, opposing the theories of Machiavelli and Bodin. In the rich content of his Historia Real Sagrada, the questions of the role of the Church and of civil and political power, stand out. He established the conditions for good governance, argued for the need for peace, and analyzed the responsibilities of politicians. He speaks of the virtues of justice, prudence and strength, without forgetting the humane treatment of subjects, without offense or abuse.
In 1649, Palafox was recalled to Spain by Philip IV and served in the Council of Aragon until 1654, when he went to the diocese of Osma, against the advice of many. He died there in 1659, in the odor of sanctity, after a brief but fertile period as an exemplary pastor for his flock and for his own spiritual edification. In the chapel of the cathedral which King Carlos III built in his name, the remains of one of the most esteemed priests of the Church lie in repose.
In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII signed the introduction to his Cause, in 1758, Benedict XIV opened the way for the approval of his writings and in 2009, Benedict XVI approved the Decree of Heroic Virtue and in 2010 the Decree of a miracle.
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