Thursday, May 23, 2013

April 7, 1541 - Francis Xavier Vows an Eternal Portuguese Empire

On April 7, 1506, Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta was born in the Kingdom of Navarre at the Castle of Xavier, from which he would later take his surname.  He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso, an adviser to the king, and wealthy heiress Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznárez.  When Francis was six, Spain invaded Navarre.  After his father’s death, Francis's older brothers worked alongside French conspirators hoping to repel the Spanish invaders.  When the plot failed, the family was stripped of its land holdings and their castle was reduced to a residence with all of its battlements destroyed.

With civil war raging around the impoverished family, his mother determined to save Francis by sending him to live with her relative Martin de Azpilcueta in 1518.  Rather than growing up in a city under the thumb of Spanish rule in a country that would eventually be cut in half with the southern end ceded to the invaders, Francis joined a world of academics.  Martin completed his doctorate in canon law at Toulouse and brought Francis with him to the University of Salamanca.  There, Martin contributed to the revolutionary doctrines of the School of Salamanca, where Francisco de Vitoria and others who reinvented natural law, argued for human rights even among aborigines, and promoted free will alongside liberty.  Martin himself, earning the nickname “Doctor Navarrus,” determined the time value of money, introducing the first notions of finance theory and principles of investment.

The ideas were formative to young Francis's thinking, and he was considered a promising genius when he began studies at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris.  There he met men such as Ignatius of Loyola and Pierre Favre who would later found the Society of Jesus (Jesuit) monastic order.  While Francis agreed with much of the men's thinking, they eventually parted ways as Francis considered himself more of a humanist, replying to Ignatius of Loyola's Biblical rhetorical question, "What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" with "The world, for a time," treating it as a cost-benefit analysis.

Francis could not be satisfied with the theories of academia and wished for action.  He left his teaching position at Beauvais college to apply himself to the growing field of economics and banking.  He caught the attention of Martim Afonso de Sousa, an adventurer who began the colonization of Brazil and furthered Portuguese expansion in India.  When de Sousa was to be dispatched to India in 1541 as the new viceroy, he brought Francis along with him.  Their ship, the Santiago, also carried Jesuits whom King John III had asked to help restore the characters of Portuguese men stationed in the east as they had fallen toward the pagan ways.  Francis and the Jesuits again compared philosophies, and again Francis sought to build up the world’s condition rather than attempt to alleviate it.

Arriving in India, Francis was appalled alongside the Jesuits of the imperialists' treatment of locals.  He argued for the Indians' natural rights and gained favor from both sides with the encouragement of economic investment to improve the region.  While Jesuits aided the poor and spread the Word, Francis worked to build banks and fair courts in addition to the factories and fortresses set up by de Sousa.  Portuguese soldiers and administrators there were fraught with ambition, which Francis fostered, as well as corruption, against which Francis worked with the establishment of stiff penalties and economic blacklisting.  He refused to allow slavery and instead argued for fair wages to Indians and Portuguese alike.

The formula worked well.  The local economy flourished, and soon the native populace was eager to attend the Jesuits’ schools to learn Portuguese.  As soon as Francis built up a bank in one port, he used the excess funds to expand banking to the next.  India came under Portuguese rule with military power linked to economic success: any rebellion or invasion by other European power would cripple the wealth and was thus opposed by locals.

By 1545, Francis began expansion of his planned trading empire eastward to what were known as the Spice Islands.  Again using the Jesuits as a method to inspire confidence among the locals, he was able to communicate his economic principles and investment strategies.  In 1548 he met with a Christian Japanese man, Anjiro, later called Paulo de Santa Fe, who had fled to the Jesuits seeking a better life.  He gave lengthy details of his homeland, which inspired Francis to travel there.  The Japanese proved unfriendly with no port agreeing to take in his ship until he met with the daimyo of Satsuma.  The Japanese aristocracy resisted Jesuits who had come with Francis and outlawed Christianity.  Rather than give up his business, Francis changed his formula and worked almost exclusively with the merchant class, boosting imports, encouraging factories, and gradually making the culturally outcast profession into a noble one.

In 1552, Francis set sail for a new market, arguably the greatest yet:  China.  While waiting during an attempt to get cheaper passage and entry into China, he died of a fever on the island of Shangchuan.  Although his economic principles did not reach China during his lifetime, they had established an enormous stronghold for Portuguese power in the East.  Later colonizers would battle over China with the English eventually wresting control of the empire away from the French.

With such a monopoly, the Portuguese attracted eager allies as well as enemies among the rest of Europe.  Portuguese became the international language of banking, and Portugal state banks were found even in colonies of other nations.  Naval warfare through the eighteenth century weakened Portugal’s hold, and eventually their colonies would gain political independence.  Even today, however, Lisbon rivals London and Zurich as a banking hub and international markets are centered on Portuguese-based trading in economic capitals like Goa, Malacca, and Nagasaki.


In reality, Francis Xavier grew up close to his family in worn-torn Navarre.  Arguably due to his experience in suffering, he left the world of academia to join Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits.  He worked tirelessly to bring Christianity to the Orient and has become a patron saint of missionaries alongside the biblical Saint Paul.

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