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Exhortation to the Penitent

History is written by the victors.  The voices of the vanquished go to silence.  It a testament to the work of Bernardino de Sahagún that the voice of the Mexica (Aztec) has not been lost.  The prayer that follows is an acknowledgment of original sin and demonstrates a complex acknowledgement the unknowability of the ways of God.

The confessor ceases from addressing Titlacauan and turns to the penitent, saying:

O my brother, thou hast come into a place of much peril, a place of travail and fear; thou hast come to a steep chasm and a sheer rock, where if any one fall he shall never come up again; thou hast come to the very place where the snares and the nets touch one another, where they are set one upon another, in such wise that no one may pass thereby without falling into some of them, and not only snares and nets but also holes like wells. Thou hast thrown thyself down the banks of the river and among the snares and nets, whence without aid it is not possible that thou shouldst escape. These thy sins are not only snares, nets, and wells, into which thou hast fallen, but they are also wild beasts that kill and rend both body and soul. Peradventure, hast thou hidden some one or some of thy sins, weighty, huge, filthy, unsavory, hidden something now published in heaven, earth, and hades, something that now stinks to the uttermost part of the world? Thou hast now presented thyself before our most clement Lord and protector of all, whom thou didst irritate, offend, and provoke the anger of, who to-morrow, or some other day, will take thee out of this world and put thee under his feet, and send thee to the universal house of hades, where thy father is and thy mother, the god and the goddess of hell, whose mouths are always open desiring to swallow thee and as many as may be in the world. In that place shall be given thee whatsoever thou didst merit in this world, according to the divine justice, and to what thou hast earned with thy works of poverty, misery, and sickness. In divers manners thou wilt be tormented and afflicted in the extreme, and wilt be soaked in a lake of intolerable torments and miseries; but here, at this time, thou hast had pity upon thyself in speaking and communicating with our Lord, with him that sees all the secrets of every heart. Tell therefore wholly all that thou hast done, as one that flings himself into a deep place, into a well without bottom. When thou wast created and sent into the world, clean and good thou wast created and sent; thy father and thy mother Quetzalcoatl formed thee like a precious stone, and like a bead of gold of much value; when thou wast born thou wast like a rich stone and a jewel of gold very shining and very polished. But of thine own will and volition thou hast defiled and stained thyself, and rolled in filth, and in the uncleanness of the sins and evil deeds that thou hast committed and now confessed. Thou hast acted as a child without judgment or understanding, that playing and toying defiles himself with a loathsome filth; so hast thou acted in the matter of the sins that thou hast taken pleasure in, but hast now confessed and altogether discovered before our Lord, who is the protector and purifier of all sinners. This thou shalt not take for an occasion of jesting, for verily thou hast come to the fountain of mercy, which is like very clear water, with which filthinesses of the soul are washed away by our Lord God, the protector and favorer of all that turn to him. Thou hast snatched thyself from hades, and hast returned again to come to life in this world, as one that comes from another. Now thou hast been born anew, thou hast begun to live anew, and our Lord God gives thee light and a new sun. Now once more thou beginnest to radiate and to shine anew like a very precious and clear stone, issuing from the belly of the matrix in which it was created. Since this is thus, see that thou live with much circumspection and very advisedly now and henceforward, all the time that thou mayest live in this world under the power and lordship of our Lord God, most clement, beneficent, and munificent. Weep, be sad, walk humbly, with submission, with the head low and bowed down, praying to God. Look that pride find no place within thee, otherwise thou wilt displease our Lord, who sees the hearts and the thoughts of all mortals. In what dost thou esteem thyself? At how much dost thou hold thyself? What is thy foundation and root? On what dost thou support thyself? It is clear that thou art nothing, canst do nothing, and art worth nothing; for our Lord will do with thee all he may desire and none shall stay his hand. Peradventure, must he show thee those things with which he torments and afflicts, so that thou mayest see them with thine eyes in this world? Nay verily, for the torments and horrible sufferings of his tortures of the other world are not visible, nor able to be seen by those that live here. Perhaps he will condemn thee to the universal house of hades; and the house where thou now livest will fall down and be destroyed, and be as a dung-hill of filthiness and uncleanness, thou having been accustomed to live therein with much satisfaction, waiting to know how he would dispose of thee, he our Lord and helper, the invisible, incorporeal and alone one. Therefore I entreat thee to stand up and strengthen thyself and to be no more henceforth as thou hast been in the past. Take to thyself a new heart and a new manner of living, and take good care not to turn again to thine old sins. Consider that thou canst not see with thine eyes our Lord God, for he is invisible and impalpable, he is Tezcatlipoca, he is Titlacaoa, he is a youth of perfect perfection and without spot. Strengthen thyself to sweep, to clean, and to arrange thy house; for if thou do not this, thou wilt reject from thy company and from thy house, and wilt offend much the very clement youth that is ever walking through our houses, and through our streets, enjoying and amusing himself—the youth that labors, seeking his friends, to comfort them and to comfort himself with them. To conclude, I tell thee to go and learn to sweep, and to get rid of the filth and sweepings of thy house, and to cleanse everything, thyself not the least. Seek out also a slave to immolate him before God; make a feast to the principal men, and let them sing the praises of our Lord. It is moreover fit that thou shouldst do penance, working a year or more in the house of God; there thou shalt bleed thyself, and prick thy body with maguey thorns; and, as a penance for the adulteries and other vilenesses that thou hast committed, thou shalt, twice every day, pass osier twigs through holes pierced in thy body, once through thy tongue, and once through thine ears. This penance shalt thou do not alone for the carnalities above mentioned, but also for the evil and injurious words with which thou hast insulted and affronted thy neighbors; as also for the ingratitude thou hast shown with reference to the gifts bestowed on thee by our Lord, and for thine inhumanity toward thy neighbors, neither making offerings of the goods that were given thee by God, nor sharing with the poor the temporal benefits given by our Lord. Thou shalt burden thyself to offer paper and copal; thou shalt give alms to the needy and the hungry, to those that have nothing to eat nor to drink nor to cover themselves with; even though thou thyself go without food to give it away and to clothe the naked: look to it, for their flesh is like thy flesh, and they are men as thou. Care most of all for the sick, they are the image of God. There remains nothing more to be said to thee; go in peace, and entreat God to aid thee to fulfill what thou art obliged to do; for he gives favor to all.

Source:  Bernardino de Sahagún, Hist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.


Categories: Aztec Aztec Hymns & Prayers Aztec Religion

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The Orly

As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.