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The Global Christian Mission: The Maritime Global Expansion

Impressed by the Jesuits, John III, ruler of Portugal, petitioned the Jesuits to function within the growing Portuguese empire. Xavier chose to work within that sphere. Xavier left Rome in March of 1540. Two years later on May 6, 1542, arrived at the port of Goa, India, where he ministered among the poor. Over a period of seven years, his missionary endeavors covered not only southern India but extended into Ceylon (today known now as Sri Lanka), the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, and the Malay Peninsula.

In 1549, Xavier boarded a Portuguese ship which eventually took him to Kagoshima, Japan, and adapted to the local Nipponese culture. There he arranged for the translation of Christian writings, enabling him to reach more converts in the eighteen months he spent in Japan.

In 1552, Xavier left the Japanese islands and traveled to Shangchuan island, near Canton. He was unable to proceed into mainland China as the borders were closed to foreigners. He also suffered an illness which would bring about his death at the age of 46, on December 3, 1552. By 1540, Pope Paul III, officially recognized the Order of the Jesuits, and by the time of Xavier’s death, it was estimated that Xavier had baptized 30,000 individuals over his lifetime.

Johannes Oecolampadius as depicted by Hans Asper.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Simultaneously, changes were taking place in Europe between 1517 and 1552. The Mediterranean world was fast becoming a Moslem lake with the Turks taking control in much of Northern Africa and some of the Mediterranean islands as Cyprus and threatening the Slavic lands. This created a stir throughout Europe, particularly in the Austro-Hungarian lands. The impact on Europe was great and shifted the center of economic activity northwestward toward northern France, northern Germany, Denmark, and into the Netherlands, England, and

Scotland, away from the former commercial powerhouses. This shift also strengthened the outreach of Protestant churches as it was in central and northern Europe that the Reformation initiated by Luther and furthered by Calvin, Zwingli, and Oecolampadius gained considerable strength. Before the Ottoman Turkic conquest, international commerce had been dominated by Florence, Genoa, and Venice along the Italian coast of the Adriatic.

The three cities of Florence, Genoa, and Venice, nonetheless, retained their prominence while withstanding the incursion of the Ottoman ships upon the waters of the Mediterranean. They strengthened their position by shifting their sights toward the development of Europe, particularly inland Europe. The many princedoms of Germany benefitted as did the newly formed nation of Spain, forged by the merger of Castile and Navarre, as well as France, and northwestern Europe all the way to the Baltic. The same circumstances sent Cristobal Columbo of Genoa to France and from there to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain. Giovanni Caboto, also an Italian, found his way to England and offered his services to the English.

The story of Columbus is familiar; the impact of Caboto, better known by the English rendition of his name as John Cabot, was also of signal importance. By his service to the English crown, his maritime venture across the north Atlantic brought him to the shores of Newfoundland and New England. The opening voyage of John Cabot opened the way to North America not only for commerce but for the movement of peoples from northern Europe to the new found lands. The countries at the forefront of this movement, beside that of England and Scotland, were France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Baltic countries. More important was the growth of population in western and northern Europe and the increase of demand for goods and food. The population growth had much to do with migration in response to the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Eastern Europe and central Mediterranean. By 1540, northern France, England, and the Netherlands had forged a triangle of commerce with hundreds of Dutch ships sailing eastward through the Danish straits carrying altar pieces carved in Antwerp, tapestries, and other high value products, bringing back west amber, wax, grains from the Vistula river country, timber and wax.

These new hubs of trade were directly affected by the Protestant Reformation erupting in Central Europe. Northern France and the Netherlands were greatly influenced by the reformers John Calvin and Menno Simons, as much as Germany and Denmark were affected by Martin Luther. These sea-side countries also felt the effects of the Portuguese and Spanish ventures into the Atlantic and the Pacific and the flood of goods coming back from the Indian and Pacific Oceans and from the Caribbean.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2020

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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