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date: 12 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

For many years Brazil was a mission land, a space for evangelization mostly occupied by non-Christian peoples and targets of the conversion work of Catholic missionaries. Furthermore, the slowness of the colonizing—and missionary—advance toward the vast sertões of Portuguese America meant that a large part of the territory remained outside the principal organizing institutions of the colonial space, among which was the diocesan church. However, by confusing the space effectively occupied by colonization with what would eventually form the extension of the territorial possessions of the Portuguese monarchy, the field was opened to mistaken perceptions about the presence and importance of the diocesan Church in colonial Brazil. Since 2000, the proliferation of studies about the episcopacy and different aspects of the structures and actions related to episcopal power has contributed to a change in the understanding of its role and relevance in the development of the Church and the Luso-American colony. Contemporary historians, more attentive to documentary sources related to diocesan administration, have sought to show that the diocesan geography of Portuguese America had greater complexity and importance than has been attributed to it by incautious researchers convinced they were aware of the limitations of the role played by secular clergy in the construction of the Church and Catholicism. Emerging out of recent 21st-century studies is a better knowledge of diocesan structures—bishoprics, ecclesiastic administrations, parishes, chapels—and the functioning of the mechanisms of pastoral vigilance and the punishment of deviants, whether they were clerics or simple believers. This demystifies the idea that the royal Padroado was a nefarious obstacle to the development of the diocesan church in Brazil and shows the importance of the study of diocesan geography not only for the understanding of the history of the Church and Catholicism but also for the development of colonial society.

Keywords: diocese, ecclesiastic administration, ecclesiastic divisions, Padroado, parishes, episcopate, secular clergy, colonial Brazil

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