Countering the traditional view that colonial coercion was the driving force behind the religious conversion of the native population in sixteenth-century Mexico, The Origins of Mexican Catholicism shows how Spanish missionaries in fact drew on existing native ceremonies in order to make Christianity more accessible to the Nahua population they were trying to convert. Osvaldo F. Pardo illustrates the complex negotiations that took place in the process of making the Christian sacraments available to the native peoples and that, at the same time, forced the missionaries to reexamine the meanings of their sacraments through the eyes of an alien culture.
For Spanish missionaries, ritual not only became a focus of evangelical concern but also opened a window to the social world of the Nahuas. Missionaries were able to delve into the Nahuas' notions of self, emotions, and social and cosmic order. By better understanding the sociological aspects of Nahua culture, Christians learned ways to adequately convey their religion through mutual understanding instead of merely by oppression.