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Rivas, Manuel Antonio de

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(circa 1707-?   ) Mexican Franciscan friar and author of one Proto SF short story. In his time, his surname could also be written Ribas. The only biographical information Rivas appears in depositions opened against him by the Inquisition of New Spain (see Mexico) between 1773 and 1778. It seems probable that he was born in New Spain at the beginning of the eighteenth century, because in a 1777 letter he declared himself a septuagenarian. He arrived at the Yucatan peninsula in 1742, where he was cloistered in different monasteries, among them those of Tekax, Motul and Merida. Around 1769, he was assigned to the monastery of Saint Francis of Merida, where he made enemies through his practice of denouncing other friars for not being men of the cloth – in order, as it seems, to achieve a promotion inside the Franciscan order. He was "definidor" or joint governor of the province of Yucatan at the time he was denounced to the Inquisition. Rivas seems to have been a collector and avid reader of forbidden books by the Church, especially those from the French Enlightenment. The first charges made against him reveal that he was an enlightened rationalist: denying life after death and the transubstantiation of the body of Christ; preaching against the worship of Church images; mocking exorcisms; neither celebrating nor hearing mass; not taking confession; and, above all, disobeying friar Lara y Franco.

There was only one Inquisition court in New Spain, so that all judicial procedures were determined in Mexico City. During his preventive confinement, Rivas entertained himself writing literary amusements, but he also began to write and send letters to the Inquisition denouncing Lara y Franco and other enemies inside the Franciscan order, charging them of bad management of the monastery, drunkenness, gambling, living with women and having children. Different authorities in the Yucatan peninsula, civil and from the Church, also declared and confirmed to the Inquisition as to the decline of the Franciscan order in the province. The Inquisition was soon persuaded that the origin of the accusations was the internal conflict between the Franciscan friars: it recommended that the local authorities fix their problems without distracting their attention.

While awaiting for the slow resolutions of the judicial procedures, Rivas had also written, inside an astronomical almanac for the year 1775, the short story of a scientific voyage to the Moon, "Sizigias y cuadraturas lunares ajustadas al meridiano de Mérida de Yucatán por un anctítona o habitador de la luna, y dirigidas al bachiller don Ambrosio de Echeverría, entonador de kyries funerales en la parroquia del Jesús de dicha ciudad, y al presente profesor de logarítmica en el pueblo de Mama de la península de Yucatán, para el año del Señor de 1775" ["Syzygies and Quadratures of the Moon Arranged to Merida of Yucatan's Meridian by An Anctitone Or Moon Inhabitant, and Addressed to Bachelor Ambrosio De Echeverría, Deacon of Funeral Kyries at the Parish of Jesus of Said City, and at Present Professor of Logarithms in the Village of Mama on the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Year of Our Lord of 1775"].

Clearly located inside the tradition of Lucian's Fantastic Voyages, and particularly under the influence of Voltaire's Micromegas (in Le Micromégas de Mr. de Voltaire ..., coll 1752; trans anon 1753), Rivas's short story was a device conceived to display his scientific knowledge and to make astronomic observations, engage in mathematical calculus and scientific digressions, and also to use fiction to subtly insult friar Lara y Franco (?   -?   ), Rivas's worst enemy, through a scene where the characters are interrupted by a legion of flying demons taking to the Sun the soul of someone who matches Lara y Franco's description.

"Syzygies and Quadratures of the Moon" is the Proto SF short story of the correspondence between a pair of terrestrial scientists, one resident in Yucatan, Mexico, and the wise men of the Moon, with a lower standard of knowledge than Earth's. For that reason they record the great surprise they received from the arrival of a French scientist in a flying machine who also generously informed them of scientific progress on Earth in exchange for information of the best places for a scientist to visit on the Moon.

Rivas's enemies sent this manuscript to the Inquisition, where it was examined by two "calificadores" or expert theologians in the censorship of books and propositions of interest to the Inquisition. They found evidence of some heresies and other passages worthy of censorship. Realizing the severity of their preliminary report, the Inquisition authorities asked for a second examination of the manuscript, this time under the eyes of a very experienced "calificador", friar Diego Marín de Moya. Though he had condemned the Copernican system in earlier inquiries, in this case he justified Rivas' witticisms, saying that his short story was only a fable or apologue, a resource from which it was possible to find many examples even in the Bible. In accordance with Marín's report, the Inquisition declared on 14 July 1777 that friar Rivas's short story need not be censored.

Friar Rivas's subsequent fate is unknown. Among his last letters he asked to be transferred to Spain, but it is not known if his wish was fulfilled. The manuscript of "Syzygies and Quadratures of the Moon" was discovered in the Mexican National Archive in 1958 by Pablo González Casanova, who wrote a brief description from it. For critical editions of the text, see Checklist. [MAFD]

Manuel Antonio de Rivas

born ?New Spain [now Mexico]: circa 1707


  • Ana María Morales. "Un viaje novohispano a la Luna (ca. 1772), de fray Manuel Antonio de Rivas, franciscano" (1994 Literatura Mexicana 5.2) [pp555-668: mag/]
  • "Sizigias y cuadraturas lunares": Manuel Antonio de Rivas (Mexico City, Mexico: Goliardos, 2001) [edited with paleographic reconstruction by Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado: binding unknown/]

about the author

further reading

  • Dziubinskyj, Aaron. "The birth of science fiction in Spanish America" (2003 Science Fiction Studies 30.1) [pp21-32: mag/]
  • Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado. "Cuando el Santo Oficio realmente fue santo" (2011 Zanzalá, The Brazilian Journal for Science Fiction Studies 2.1) [see links below: mag/]


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