Two Sermons by Father Vieira

Image: João Nitsche


The Sermons of Santa Catarina and some questions of rhetoric and ideology

In this essay, the two Sermões de Santa Catarina are presented as a repository of places of ideological disputes in their most acute moments, also evaluating the reception of this dispute by the monarch, by the ideologues and by the military. The very structure of the first of the Sermons, the one preached in Lisbon, makes it possible to situate the relations of important parts of the State, the arms and the crown, that is, the king himself, in the face of ideology, particularly religious ideology, and of the producers, or conductors, religious discourse, priests or philosophers.

The way in which the king relates to religion, the impact that the symbolism of the crown has on his actions, his position in relation to religious discourse, the way in which the military receives the argument: all these aspects are brilliantly placed in both analyzed sermons. When you are in front of a classic, you are in front of a permanence that is remade in time.

I will discuss some questions from two Sermons of Saint Catherine, Virgin and Martyr (1), preached in Lisbon, and the Sermão de Santa Catarina, preached in Coimbra, in 1663 (2), from the point of view of the struggle of ideas, rhetoric and ideology in the contemporary sense, where we find many reasons for Vieira's permanence.

In the first of them, Vieira praises prudence against the wheel of fortune, and makes his Catholic analysis very close to Roman culture, where he explores fortune, and where he explores the subtleties of the Latin language and Greek myths, as if books of the bible were originally written in Latin, or came from Greek fables, but the greatest lesson is the provisional nature of what is there and the prudence that must guide man. In the face of things, including those of the State, Vieira presents a hierarchy of difficulties – it is easier to wish than to do, to resolve than to execute.

We will see that in the sermons mentioned there are important elements to discuss the paths of the struggle of ideas and the type of connection to the ideas that the chosen excerpts of the two sermons cited reveal. They show us, more than a simple metaphor, more than a founding legend of the affirmation of Christianity, the structure and the topos of the most refined ideological warfare.

Let us begin, then, with the analysis of these structuring excerpts from the aforementioned Sermons.


a) (1) VII“ There are no heads harder to penetrate and convert than crowned ones; and if the king, or tyrant, is evil and vicious inside, and hypocritical outside, these appearances of religion, with which they justify themselves, harden and obstinate them the more.”

When starting this analysis, we understand that the brilliance of certain texts can hardly be explained only by the harmony of the whole, there are always strong moments that seem to breathe life into the classics. We see, in architecture itself, certain original and beautiful landscapes, in which the parts always seem to be modest in themselves, but the whole reveals to us a totally admirable and different event.1. This type of structure is unlikely to be found in the architecture of brilliantly written texts.

The phrase that, firstly, is taken here as an excerpt to be analyzed, places us before a spectacular truth, and that experience confirms every day in politics, whether in the head crowned by the monarchical tradition or in that anointed by democratic representation in its various forms. apparitions. The explanation that makes this truth palpable, understandable from the point of view of reason, is the ideological meaning of the chief in the political context. He represents the ideology to which he is more clearly linked, and this is how he is recognized, and he places himself in the position he is in as a representative of that ideology, having the job of guarding and protecting it, his ideological carapace is an element structure of this architecture. In general, in the exercise of his trade, not being an ideologue in the strict sense of the word (which is the most common), the boss has an ideology instinct, and reacts to the new, to the unknown with the necessary care, hoping that the surrounding apparatus processes the proposition.

The sentence that is now being examined has two movements. The first is expressed by the first proposition: "There are no heads harder to penetrate and convert than crowned ones."

It is seen here in this “penetrate” and in this “convert”2 that Vieira is referring to the fact that the horizon of the crowned rarely changes, he, Vieira, is naturally aiming at changes in the horizon of the crowned, as he refers to conversion, which, beyond the concrete, religious meaning, has the its more general matrix, that is, the change in the criteria for seeing the world, is, therefore, a radical change, in this respect.

The head of the crowned appears as armored by the crown, penetrating it would mean going through its metal, altering the movement of the scepter, and here, in addition to the present signifiers, is also its meaning, the symbology of the kingdom, the ideology that it, the crown, conveys and imposes on the king, thus recognized, to defend. In fact, he, the king, does not have much space here, he is in the space of those around him, of those he represents, and the crown cannot distance itself from the class fraction to which it is linked, or, in a more free, of the class to which he is attached, under pain of putting a price on the king's own head. Convert how then?

The second part – “[…] and if the king, or tyrant, is evil and vicious inside, and hypocritical outside, these appearances of religion, with which they justify themselves, harden and obstinate them more.”– brings the case of an evil and vicious tyrant covered by the ideological carapace of religious ideology. It is worth remembering: religious ideology is an element that cannot be abstracted from Vieira's time, nor perhaps from ours.

We agree that maybe Vieira doesn't want to associate the evil and vicious tyrant with his own religious horizon, but let's admit it (and even go deeper) even if to test such a hypothesis. It has an unequivocal theoretical interest. That evil and vicious tyrant, for whom religion would be nothing more than appearances, is an unbeliever. He does not use religion spontaneously in his praxis, but uses it, according to Vieira, in a hypocritical way. This usage hardens and obstinates him even more.

Now, this hypocritical use is a conscious use, or at a higher level of consciousness, than the simple use of the sincerely religious monarch. He, the hypocritical tyrant, consciously uses the shell of religious ideology in his power protocols. He uses religious ideology not because he believes in it, but because he recognizes it as important to obtain consent to his actions, or simply to make the exercise of legal coercion easier.

It does not matter here (for the exclusive purposes of understanding the internal mechanisms of ideology) that hypocrisy is a case of the highest evil.3 The theoretical fact that should be highlighted here is that this hypocritical tyrant very consciously perceives the role of religious ideology in political discourse, and we are referring here to a discourse prior to the secularism inaugurated by the French revolution and the history of republicanism. The tyrant, therefore, knows that religion can found his political discourse, give it a consistency, thus recognized by his subjects. His speech, therefore, is religious, not because the monarch himself is religious, but because he realized that he cannot dispense with religious ideology in his actions.

Let us remember here the difference between legal imposition (coercion) and rational consent that refers to ideological matrices, in which religious ideology, according to Althusser, would be the model par excellence of the structure and functioning of ideological discourse. The believer converses with God, with the theses of religion, and by an act of consent makes them his own, he starts to use this apparatus to provide answers to the multiple problems he faces in his practice. His rationality becomes the rationality conditioned by his ideology religious. The unbelieving monarch offers this subject an explanation, conscious and highly intentional, on his own ideological level. He consciously calls the machinery of the ideological matrix with its hard and crude theses to process the fact that is offered to him.

While the sincerely religious monarch or tyrant reacts spontaneously to the new fact, even if his “spontaneous being” is leaked by his religious ideology, the hypocritical tyrant intentionally brings all the apparatus of ideology to explain the fact, to show himself inside. of ideology, as the representative, thus seen, of its orthodoxy, that is why it is harder and more obstinate.

The sincere monarch, the good king of Portugal, calls the representatives of the clergy, those regulating apparatuses, true rheostats of faith – which seem to say more faith here, more faith there – and in the face of the new facts presented, he sincerely and humbly reaps their learned and sacred judgments, process them with all the welcoming disposition, and try to incorporate them.

The hypocritical monarch, who has nothing more than the appearance of religion, calls the representatives of the Holy Church,4 who could be Vieira's Jesuits, and does not identify in his speech a religious matrix, more than a political one, more than a concentrated economic ideology. He identifies in this discourse precisely its non-religious rationality.

And covering his own political discourse with mere religious appearances, which cause so much indignation (the religious protocol of political discourse) to our determined Vieira, he clearly faces the question, for better or for worse, and seals his decision with more arguments religious, with more religious theatrics, consciously used both as theatricality proper and as religion. He seeks to legitimize his political discourse with the most intentional and most conscious use of religious ideology, thereby ensuring the widest assent to his actions among his subjects by operating precisely at the level of their ideology. He knows that he cannot impose his desacralized ideology on his credulous subjects, and thus, hypocritically, but consciously, he makes religious ideology his own.


b) (1) VIII -“The most invincible battles are those of understanding; because where wounds do not draw blood, nor weakness is seen by color, no wise man confesses defeated.”

It is true that the battles of war are clearer, even if the war is not won by winning a single battle. However, the battlefield in war is, in principle, well determined, and from the moment the adversary is finally driven from that spot, it is clear that the battle has been won. On March 27 of this year, 2016, by the way, the Syrian army retook Palmyra, a historic city and great asset, hitherto in the hands of the Islamic State. That the battle of Palmyra was won and who won there is no doubt.

Vieira, who got involved in military battles (such as those against Batavians in Bahia, or others, against the French in Maranhão) and in battles of thought, places here with undeniable depth this fundamental difference between ideological war and war itself, because his reasoning it can be expanded, without inconvenience, from battles to wars. Their controversies in the field of ideas, being more religious or ideological, have an unequivocal difference with blood battles and with those of wounds, where the vanquished either escape at full speed, if they can, or, taken prisoner, they no longer have, militarily speaking. , how to continue their war, or are still simply killed.

Vieira's sentence that is now being analyzed seems to shed light especially on philosophical, ideological or religious controversies. Materialism and idealism, religion and atheism, dualism of soul and body or uniqueness are, for example, polemics that seem not to be exhausted. In the case of the sciences, if the situation does not suddenly become as clear as in a real battle, at some point it seems to define itself. Einstein's theory of relativity prevailed with relative ease. Newton, once he appeared, also imposed himself definitively. There were the cases of Galileo and Giordano Bruno who confronted religious ideology, and found strong resistance in the clerical establishment, linked, by their authority, to Aristotle's long-lived physique.

However, if we limit ourselves, more precisely, to the space intended by Vieira in these two sermons, which are the theological quarrels in which Santa Catarina became involved, in which Christianity and paganism clashed, we will see that, in this field of pure ideology religious, it seems even more difficult to proclaim that there are winners and losers, at least from the point of view of mere argumentation. The perspectives are confronted, from different representations, from different horizons, the arguments line up, but on the irrational soil of religion, on which the rationality of the arguments or the irrationality of the arguments can always be added.

The sages of faith, in this regard, appear as guardians of the ideological matrix, and as such possess all the necessary machinery to defend the very hard core of ideology. As a squadron of the hard core, from the headquarters of the ideological matrix, they appear as an elite troop to defend it, with infinite possibilities of adding arguments to close the adversary's access to the ideological center of the system.

Indeed, when dealing with such matter, all tact is required,5 to move between ideas and arguments, symbologies or meanings, especially when different ideologies are confronted. In this regard, the metaphor of the Sermon of Saint Catherine, Virgin and Martyr, is precise and reveals to us the various levels of ideological warfare.


That is why, after the Emperor Maximinus had manifested his faith in the gods he believed in, and had denied and blasphemed Christ, Catherine won a half-victory from him, which means that there are nuances between the points scored in the ideological battles that it is not worth forgetting: c) (1), VIII “[…] after the emperor had spoken and heard, if he did not achieve the entire victory, he achieved part of it. And what was it? because not even the emperor understood it. It was that if it didn't make him a Catholic of our faith, it made him a heretic of his. It modestly and wisely reached the Saint, who between her and six philosophers publicly disputed the question of the true or false divinity of the gods”.

Here one can understand that the movements of the ideological debate, its subtleties, are not always perceptible (“because not even the emperor understood it”). Moreover, victory does not always mean the opponent's absolute conversion, but eventually just consists of detaching him in some way from his own ideological matrix: "It was that if he didn't make him a Catholic of our faith, he made him a heretic of his own. ”.

Os modi operandi of ideology are diverse and must be transmuted all the time, adjusting to the circumstances, to the audience: this is why “modestly and wisely”, that is, with all tact, the saint chose her tactic in the face of the superb Maximino. Wise, she did not face arrogance with charges and cannons, but placed herself there in line with the protocol that governs the emperor's relations with his subjects.


The victory consisted in securing the dispute on a question of faith: d ).(1), VIII “And here the cunning of the emperor failed, and the subtlety of Catherine was seen; because what is called into question and disputed is also called into question; and whoever doubts his faith, whatever he may be, is already a heretic of it”.

Being a sincere pagan, Maximino forgets that everything in his speech and in his practice is leaked by religious ideology. Thus, with her wisdom, Catarina cracked not Maximino's faith, but his relationship with her own faith. She achieved a feat incompatible with the dominant ideology with her crafty petition. With its attitude, Christianity enters the center of ideology to dispute the ideological throne with paganism, thus: “The philosophers finally appeared in a room, which was the theater of the famous dispute, no less than fifty in number, and so many each one in dress and in the same appearance, as in sects. No weapons were to be seen there, since all the universities had assigned their Achilles to that campaign. He was affronted that he had to contend in letters with a woman, but she did not faint from defeating so many men of such fame and so much presumption, that they all considered themselves bathed in the Stygian lake. Thus each considered his sect invulnerable, and impregnable to the others. In order to shorten the conflict, and not have the expectation of the bystanders suspended, all committed themselves to the wisdom of one, the oldest and most venerable, of the most celebrated opinion. But Catarina, without despising the pomp of words, nor fearing the rumble of arguments with modest and lively reasons, undid and squandered everything with such evidence that the compromised philosopher of the duel, astonished and amazed, surrendered, and convinced he threw himself at his feet. feet".

This sequence of arguments puts before Catherine the fifty pagan sects, each with its cosmos and full of itself, but she reveals that these fifty sects have a common matrix, and in their name the oldest and most venerable are elected. This is the one who was active in paganism for the longest time; he was also the most venerable, that is, he who most represented the consensus of the common matrix of paganism. And here is one more fact brought by Vieira's brilliant perspicacity: each sect is invulnerable and impregnable to the others, however, at the moment when the combat is no longer between them, but against Christianity, they naturally recognize the common background that is at war against Christian ideology.

The speech of all thus becomes the speech of one, tuned in the same voice, which speaks thus for itself and each one. Catarina therefore, once again, proves her talent. She does not despise the rhetorical protocol of the pomp of words used by the venerable heathen, she therefore accurately recognizes the audience in which she is, and the rhetorical significance of the adversary's argumentation.

Rhetorical mastery, and more, depth of thought, lies in the fact that Catherine did not use the clattering machinery of rhetoric to counteract the thunderous machinery of argument of the venerable pagan. In this field, she would not have much to gain, since they were arguments whose form the pagans were used to by their ideology and their rhetorical protocol, but she innovated with modest arguments and lively reasons, that is, reasons that make sense, that respond well to the facts, and which the scholar of paganism had difficulty processing within his own ideological framework.

She had the surprise effect, as the wise men managed the conflict within their matrix, which would not be put in doubt until the moment when Maximino consented to the ideological duel between his people and Catarina. Added to this is the fundamental fact that Christianity was already winning over the populations, and, when it reached the top level of the ideological dispute, it was carrying out its upward movement towards hegemony. Catherine thus has before her a superb but undermined paganism.

The ideological stratum is ready for conversion, for the change of criteria that Proust spoke of, even within the limits of its ideological frame, and this disposition is present even to guarantee its own survival and that of the institutions they embodied. However, the ideological stratum, faced with the division of society, fractures, it does not know which signs to follow, even because the signs are contradictory. Maximino conceded with Catarina the entrance of the ideological dispute in the theater of the famous dispute.

Was he not preparing the conversion? Was he not indicating to the ideologues the great adjustment to be made? O how contradictory are these signs? Are we really following the right winds that will guarantee our survival? Do we no longer believe what we believe? Could it be that the essence of our craft is nothing more than to offer a rhetorical protocol of religious argumentation to justify power? As discourse professionals, could we not maintain our craft by offering a protocol for a new matrix that would allow us to reproduce ourselves as ideologues of the system? And, Maximino, doesn't he seem to lean now towards Catarina, does her look also seem to welcome this strange girl's argument?

Perhaps they would identify, in the way that Althusser6 would identify many centuries later, in monotheism, even with its concessions to polytheism as the divine trinity, an ideological superiority, which would allow more unity to the Roman empire. However, Maximino, convinced of his faith, of the pagan rituals of the crown, did not convert and determined that his wise men and Catarina were killed.

The miracle of Santa Catarina resides precisely in that she converted the sages of paganism to her faith, and they would have recognized her victory. Evidently, this is a unique fact, extremely rare, but in principle feasible, or admissible, when an entire system collapses. The case under examination is still illuminating, as we see that the repressive apparatus is disconnected from the ideological apparatus itself, or rather, from one of its fractions that capitulates to the adversary.

In this case, it can be said that the monarch clearly set the limits for his ideological support as a religious ideology, and he with his crown proved once again how difficult it is to convert a crowned head. Moreover, it was evidently for him, who had responsibilities and the assent of those he represented, much more difficult to convert than those who simply produced rhetorical protocols of their religious ideology. Converting him would require the consent of his support base, or, at the very least, their difficult political restructuring.


We will already find this passage in the Sermão de Santa Catarina, preached at the University of Coimbra in 1663: and ).(2), II. “In the first place proposed the inflated philosophers, their arguments applauded and victorious from the whole theater, and only from the intrepid defender received with modest laughter. And after all had said how much they knew in the defense and authority of the dead and dumb gods, which they called immortals; then Catherine spoke on behalf of the Eternal and beginningless Divinity, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the humanity of the Word taken in time, for the world's medicine. Catalina spoke, and it was the weight of her reasons, and the subtlety of her ingenuity, and the more than human eloquence, with which she prayed and perorated, that not only easily undid the foundations or errors of the deceived philosophers, but retorted and turned against them their own arguments, confused and convinced them with such evidence, that without there being among them anyone daring to answer or dare or urge, they all confessed with one voice the infallible truth of the Christian faith and religion”.

What is worth highlighting here is that Catarina did not confront her opponents, taking the dogmas of her own Christian faith against them. She operated within the ideology of the pagan theologians, used the arguments they had used, not against Christianity, but against paganism itself, in a way that she confused them. How terrible would it not be to see our own arguments against us? In any case, Catherine effectively dialogued with the ideologues of paganism in the auditorium of Alexandria.

They recognized their own arguments there, she did not speak to them of distant things, but of what they themselves spoke, she thus defeated them in the field of discourse that, in a certain way, was theirs, even if adding her living reasons, which they should also seem alive to them. Catherine thus undermined and imploded the discourse of pagan faith, operating within its innermost foundations, even if to bring them down. She used the language of paganism, which shows more than knowledge of her own speech, knowledge of the other's speech.

Finally, Santa Catarina did not act as a preacher, but as an ideologue, realizing the gravity of the moment and the audience it would have to conquer. Pagan ideologues could not help but hear the sounds of their own music, could not help being intoxicated by their own arguments, even if placed in different directions, like a song that is sung from the end to the beginning, or with a combination changed some of its passages.

Emperor Maximino, however, remained a captive of his own crown, of his political commitments, and did not know or could not, due to the difficulties already pointed out, follow a ritual with subverted chords: “And what would Maximino, emperor, committed to this success, do with this success? is cruel? Affronted to see himself defeated in the same masters of his belief to whom he had entrusted the honor and defense of it, and enraged and beside himself, to see publicly demonstrated and known the falsehood of the vain and infamous gods to whom he attributed his empire, in instead of following the light and rational docility of the same philosophers, with a barbaric and impious sentence, he ordered either that they sacrificed to idols immediately, or that they all die in the fire”.


In the continuation of the Sermon of Santa Catarina, Virgin and Martyr, we come across the following passage that also reveals the architecture of the State, the ideas and facts that organize it: f ) (1) IX-“It is much more difficult to defeat soldiers. Soldiers are not defeated by arguments of words, but by iron syllogisms. For the most subtle of understanding, the helmet defends their head; and for the milder-willed, the mail and harness stiffen their chests. All the strength that the philosopher has consists in reason, and all the reason of the soldier consists in strength.

It is no coincidence that the excerpt cited above is found precisely in this passage referring to a moment that comes after Santa Catarina's victory over the ideologues, since this victory says nothing or almost nothing to the soldiers, with their heads closed to the arguments that come from outside. ,, and ready only to defend the system of Emperor Maximinus. If they were completely permeable, if they communicated to them the feeling of philosophers defeated and converted by Catarina, there would be nothing left for them to do in that part where they are in charge of guarding the Saint in the prison where she is.

If the soldiers were the first to fall in line, governments and systems would fall at any moment, and therefore Maximino's empire would have immediately surrendered to Christianity. Vieira's genius lies here in producing these highly significant passages for understanding the architecture of the state and his own text. It is not, nor was this the point for Vieira, to downgrade the soldiers' intellectual qualities, even because, among them, there are also the most subtle of understanding, which could accompany the subtleties of syllogisms. However, here is what is worth noting “the helmet defends their head”. The helmet here has a role similar to that of the crown, in terms of meaning, symbology and ritual. With it, the soldier is linked to a whole symbolic system of power, he reinforces the ideology necessary for the exercise of the office to which the military are destined.

The founding legend that is presented to us, therefore, by Vieira, in these two Sermons of Santa Catarina, if, in fact, it is a mere legend7, or not (this issue is not important for the purposes sought here), is – and this was what interested us – consistent from an ideological and rhetorical point of view, and shows us a Father Vieira aware of the ideological and political subtleties that command the states and the discourses that concern them. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for its permanence and relevance is here.

*José Verissimo Teixeira da Mata holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of São Paulo (USP).

Originally published in the book Revisit Vieira in the XNUMXst Century, (Coimbra University).


1 “See, in this regard, what the UNESCO page says about the architectural complex of the historic center of the city of Goiás, a city located about two kilometers from Brasília, in Brazil: “Bien que modeste, l'architecture des bâtiments publics et privés n'en présente pas moins une grande harmonie, fruit, entre autres, d'un emploi cohérent des materiaux et des techniques vernaculaires”.

2 “[…] pareille aux kaléidoscopes qui tournent de temps em temps, la societé place sucessivement de fazon différente des élements qu'on avait crus immuables et compose une autre figure.[…]. Ces dispositions nouvelles du kaléidoscope sont produites par ce qu'un philosophe appellerait un changement de critère.”Proust, 1988, 87-88.

3 “In this there is also the formal determination of falsehood which begins by affirming, for others, evil as good and which externally presents itself as good, full of pity, etc. which, in this way, is nothing more than the artifice of lying to others. Afterwards, the evil person can find in the good reasons a good justification for the evil itself, thus masking it as good.” Hegel, 1976, p.132 . In addition to this possibility, brought by Hegel in § 140 of his Principles of the Philosophy of Right, I have in mind here the case in which the tyrant, abstracting, even for a theoretical exercise, his eventual evil, only transcribes into religious discourse a discourse that it is essentially political.

4 And it is evident that Vieira wants to privilege this channel of the church with the king, in which the listener, king or noble, receives with generous and religious disposition, this speech that comes from the church:” The reason for this well-founded repair, which is very badly practiced in the courts, and therefore it is necessary that ours, with whom I speak, hear it.” Sermon of Saint Catherine, Virgin and Martyr, (1), VI.

5 The notions of tact and skill constitute indispensable tools in handling ideological material. A misfit slogan can produce disasters for a political program in the process of being implanted or even implanted. Evidently, these notions are not loose, but must be linked to the effective knowledge of the economic, political and ideological conditions of the classes in reference to the historical situation of a determined country.

6 In this case, it appears that the interpretation of individuals as subjects presupposes the “existence” of an Other Subject, Unique and Central, in whose name religious ideology interprets all individuals as subjects”. Althusser, 1999, p. 217.

  • the story(which is not the place to discuss here) of Santa Catarina has every aspect of reality and not of fiction. It seems to faithfully narrate an ideological struggle, even if colors are borrowed from this narrative. And Catarina, in addition to being a saint, with all her merits, is also an extraordinary woman in her ideas and in the courage to defend them.
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