No. 5 (2020): Maximum Illud

A national mission in the times of Maximum Illud: The Holy See and Portugal's missionary policies in Africa

Hugo Gonçalves Dores
Center for the History of Society and Culture – University of Coimbra

Published 2022-04-25

How to Cite

Dores, H. G. (2022). A national mission in the times of Maximum Illud: The Holy See and Portugal’s missionary policies in Africa. Orientis Aura: Macau Perspectives in Religious Studies, (5), 23–42. Retrieved from


The First World War had devastating consequences for Christian missionary activities, with thousands of missionaries deployed to the front or arrested due to their nationalities. The war’s nationalistic frictions did not spare the religious field. As before, Christian missionaries were seen as representatives of their own countries rather than messengers of their religious denominations. In a way, Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum Illud responded to those national (and imperialistic) dissensions in the Catholic missionary world by fostering a more supranational consciousness in missionaries’ minds. This supranational and Papal-directly-supervised mission was far from complying with Portugal’s old and persisting understandings of a mission submitted to and working on behalf of the imperial state. The Catholic missions remained a nationalising tool despite Portuguese laic policies towards the Catholic Church (namely the Separation regime). This concept disputed the Holy See’s insights on the goals of missionary work. Although pontifical officials held assertive judgements regarding Portuguese missionary policies, Rome sought a less confrontational relationship with Lisbon even after the publication of Maximum Illud. The Holy See understood how the Catholic missions were indispensable to Portugal and in which way a passive collaboration would ultimately benefit Catholic evangelisation in Portuguese Africa.

Keywords: Catholic Mission; Holy See; Maximum Illud; Portuguese Empire