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Today we remember the message and witness of the first Dominicans of Española who spoke out against the abuses of the Taíno Indians. After arriving to the island in 1510, Antón Montesinos, Pedro de Córdoba, and Bernardo de Santo Domingo spent the better part of the next year discerning what action to take in the face of gross violations of human dignity perpetrated by the “Christian” Spaniards. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent in 1511, Montesinos, with his intimidating stature and skill in preaching, stood before the church community and proclaimed:

I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island. It would be wise of you to pay attention and to listen with your whole heart and with every fabric of your being… You are all in mortal sin. You live in it, you die in it. All because of the cruel tyranny you exercise against these innocent peoples. Tell me, by what right and with what justice do you so violently enslave these Indians? By what authority do you wage such hideous wars against these people who peacefully inhabit their lands, killing them by unspeakable means? How can you oppress them giving neither food nor medicine and by working them to death all for your insatiable thirst for gold? And what care are you providing them spiritually in teaching them about their God and creator, so they are baptized, hear mass, and keep holy days? Are they not human beings? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand or feel this?

Needless to say, their message was not well received. Diego Columbus, the son of the Admiral and governor of the island, joined a mob of angry Spaniards as they banged on the door of the Dominican house. They wanted to see Montesinos. Fray Córdoba opened the door and informed the crowd that the message was unanimous yet he managed to calm them down for the moment. The Dominicans came back the next week and preached a message even more uncompromising: whoever did not free their Indian slaves would be denied absolution in confession.

This radical discplinary measure of excommunication as a spiritual strategy for reforming souls and rectifying injustice was precisely what changed the direction of Bartolomé de las Casas’ life. Las Casas had been a slave-owner himself. It began when his father brought back a Taíno from one of the early voyages with Christopher Columbus. Las Casas likely brought the slave with him to Salamanca as a teenager when he studied canon law.

As an adult, Las Casas continued this practice until his conscience was awakened by the preaching of the Dominicans. While he prepared to offer Mass for the feast of Pentecost in 1514, he read the divinely-inspired words of Sirach 34 with an open heart:

Ill-gotten goods offered in sacrifice are blemished. Gifts from the lawless do not win God’s favor. The Most High approves not the gifts of the godless, nor for their many sacrifices does he forgive their sins. Like the man who slays a son in his father’s presence is he who offers sacrifice from the possessions of the poor. The bread of charity is life itself for the needy; he who withholds it is a man of blood. To take away another’s living is to commit murder; to deny a laborer wages is to shed blood.

Las Casas eventually freed his slaves thereafter and devoted his entire life singularly to the cause of the Indians. On the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption that same year, he preached a similar message as the one proclaimed by the first Dominicans in 1511. No one believed. When he wrote volume three of his history of the early Spanish conquests, he echoed the first Dominicans: “By what right and justice” do the Spaniards declare against and threaten the natives? (c. 58) Las Casas concluded that all the wars waged by the Indians against the Spaniards and Christians were just.

The legacy of the first Dominicans returned back to Spain to inspire the university where they received much of their theological training. At the University of Salamanca in the 1530s, Francisco de Vitoria reports in a letter to Miguel de Arcos that he does not understand the justice of the war waged by Pizarro against the Incas. According to the testimony of Dominican eyewitnesses like Vicente de Valverde and Bernardino de Minaya, the Inca Atahualpa and his people never committed the slightest injury against the Spaniards.

While Vitoria never fundamentally questioned a possible claim for Spanish conquest, Domingo de Soto did in his Relectio de Dominio given in 1535. Soto, in the words of David Lupher, offered “a bold challenge to the legitimacy of Spanish dominion in the Indies.” And it was boldly asserted in his question, “By what right do we maintain rule in the lands being discovered across the Atlantic?” Then, his answer: “In truth, I do not know (ego nescio).”

The courage to question Crown policy regarding war and to fundamentally reject the institution of forced Indian labor was a direct legacy of the first Dominicans in the New World. They inaugurated what we might call a discourse on rights rooted in a committment to love of God and neighbor. The Indians, in their eyes, were persecuted neighbors made in the image of God. Let us remember and honor their unprecedented contribution to the Church and to humanity exactly five hundred years ago.

 

Exactly five hundred years ago, Antón Montesinos preached the unforgettable sermon as a voice crying in the desert of the Caribbean against the Spanish abuses of the Taínos on Española. I was relieved to see that a collaborative effort to commemorate this paradigmatic event on the Fourth Sunday of Advent in 1511 is very much underway. The conference is scheduled for December 2-4, 2011, in Washington, D.C. If all goes according to plan, the conference, which focuses on the legacy of Montesinos and the sixteenth-century Spanish Dominicans for human rights, should be a monumental achievement setting the stage for a new era of inquiry focusing on these incredible figures. At this point, George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University are linked to the conference. The deadline for paper proposals or panels is October 15. See more details here: http://humanrights500.org/.

I am also pleased to report that José Cardenas, David Orique, O.P., Larry Clayton, and myself are organizing a panel on Las Casas. So, if you can make it to this important conference, I hope to see you in Washington. Ego vox clamantis in deserto!

The History of the Indies, written over the course of Bartolomé de las Casas’ life as a Dominican, is an incredible work with so many richly detailed narratives that span the fifteenth-century Iberian conquests and the conquest of Mexico in the 1520s. One amazing story that is worth relating comes from Book III, ch. 99, where we find Las Casas, following his failed stint with the Hieronymite friars on Española, back in Spain defending the cause of the Indians to the royal council of the new monarch Carlos V. Under the request of fray Reginald de Montesinos, the brother of the famous Antonio, a junta at Salamanca was summoned by the prior of San Esteban, Juan Hurtado de Mendoza.

Las Casas tells us that thirteen theologians and jurists from the university and convent signed a document that contained four or five conclusions regarding the rational capacity of the Indians and their freedom to receive the Gospel. One can only assume by peaceful means. The conclusions were proposed at the very height of Spanish debates regarding the encomienda institution on the islands across the Atlantic and the doctrine of quasi-natural slavery used to support it. The signatories agreed that anyone who rejected these conclusions should be subject to punishment as a heretic.

Unfortunately, the charter was stolen from Las Casas during one of his journeys after he had received it from Hurtado and translated it. In the words of historian Lawrence Clayton who has written a new biography of Las Casas, the charter, which preceded the papal bull of Paul III by two decades, remains “a major building block in the history of human rights.” I concur. Where is Dr. Jones when you need him?

I am thrilled to announce that José Alejandro Cárdenas Bunsen’s much-anticipated book on Las Casas is just about here! Well, not quite in the US yet. Its release date should be very soon. Cárdenas, who now teaches at Bucknell University, completed his dissertation a few years ago under the direction of Rolena Adorno at Yale. Taking up her suggestions, as well as Lewis Hanke, Brian Tierney, and Kenneth Pennington, that Las Casas was in fact deeply versed and knowledgeable of canon law, Cárdenas investigates the juristic categories and concepts underlying Las Casas’ writings. Furthermore, he identifies the influence of Las Casas on certain figures in the School of Salamanca. The book is entitled, Escritura y Derecho Canónico en la obra de fray Bartolomé de las Casas. If you belong to a university community, I heartily recommend you place a library order for it upon its release. I am not sure whether or not there will be an English edition to come out soon. Below I attach a copy of his dissertation abstract that appears to be the structure of his book:

My dissertation takes up the unexamined problem of the extent of the evidence of the canon law tradition in the works of Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566). I have sought to determine whether the relationship among his works can be charted on the basis of canon law (instead of civil law or theology, for example) as his disciplinary foundation. I have studied the body of canon law, the canonists’ commentaries that issued from it over the centuries, and major and minor works of the vast corpus of Las Casas’s works, which range over a fifty-year period (roughly, 1516-1566). I focus on Las Casas’s Historia de las Indias (1527-1561), his Apologética historia sumaria (1560), and the eight short treatises that he published in Seville in 1552. In chapter 1, I have recovered the implicit canonical categories that underlie Las Casas’ early memoriales and I have shown how they reveal the development of his ideas from the 1510s to the early 1540s. In chapter 2, I analyze his eight treatises from the viewpoint of jurisprudence and show how he supported his conclusions, and stressed their binding nature, by reference to the canon-law concepts of tyranny, war, slavery, possessio malae fidei , and restitution. I also identify the genre of the juridical gloss as the rhetorical and stylistic device upon which Las Casas conceptualized and organized the writing of his prose. In chapter 3, I demonstrate that Las Casas analyzed the events of history in relation to the precepts of the canon law tradition. In chapter 4 I link the Apologética historia sumaria to the juridical principles laid out in his Latin Apologia (1551) and indicate how the Apologética ‘s meditation on idolatry provides a major shift in the understanding of the legal consequences of this religious phenomenon. In the final chapter I examine the influence of Las Casas’ ideas on the works of sixteenth-century theologians and canon lawyers (Melchor Cano, Domingo de Soto, Bartolomé Carranza de Miranda and Juan de la Peña), who regularly, but often without attribution, incorporated Las Casas’s juridical proposals into their own works. Thus I demonstrate how Las Casas’ ideas, based on canon law principles, contributed to the formation of the communis opinio among Spanish intellectuals of his and the subsequent generation on the hotly contested affairs of the Indies.

A new era of Las Casas studies has arrived!

The project of human rights and its enforcement through particular states and/or international criminal courts rests on claims of universal jurisdiction in the effort to protect individuals and peoples from gross violations of human dignity. From the Nuremberg trials to the Guatemalan civil war, crimes against humanity such as torture, war crimes, terrorism, and genocide have been the target of universally enforceable laws. In the last fifty years, Spain has emerged as one of the major European states supporting this project with its most high-profile case being the indictment and trial of ex-Chilean president and general, Augusto Pinochet.

On May 31st, 2011, judge Eloy Velasco of the Audencia Nacional  in Spain issued an order to process twenty Salvadoran soldiers (two of whom were defense ministers) for the terrorist assassinations of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her fifteen year old daughter. Among those murdered at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) during the civil war of El Salvador in 1989 was Ignacio Ellacuría, the Spanish liberation theologian and president of UCA who was deeply inspired by the life of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero. The social concerns of Ellacuría, the priests, and the university at large were targeted because of their attempted negotiations between the government and leftist groups.

Although Spain’s use of the universal jurisdiction claim is rare, it has strong precedent in the nation’s long history. For better or for worse, it remains a legacy of Spanish legal tradition. Cases of humanitarian intervention in defending innocent civilians among foreign peoples were among those cited by Franscisco de Vitoria as falling under the jursidiction of the law of nations (ius gentium). Imperial Spain also employed universal jurisdiction through papal authority, which conceded the Spanish monarchs the territories of infidels in the New World for the purpose of preaching the Gospel.

It remains to be seen whether or not the current case of Ellacuría will be enforced by the Salvadoran government. According to a Wikileaks source from San Salvador in 2008, opponents to Spain’s exercise of universal jurisdiction come from the political right and left. The opinion at UCA, on the other hand, defends Spain’s intervention on the basis of national impunity.  Justice, on earth as it is in heaven, is the only thing that can satisfy thirsty victims.

In the post-Shoah world that we inhabit that has documented and witnessed cases of genocide targeting countless members of different ethnicities, tribes, and religions, the subject of mass violence is implacable to moral reflection. Most accounts of twentieth-century political violence explain such unspeakable crimes in terms of an absence of human empathy as the principal culprit. The emergence of a modern techno-bureaucratic rationality that partitions public morality from a private one and separates means from ends belongs to the insidious background of these atrocities. Human beings become instruments stripped of any kernal of dignity. They are less than human, and therefore, disposable.

I am persuaded by much in this interpretation. Jonathan Glover’s Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century provides such a narrative. Even though his version of secular humanism is normatively thin, his diagnosis of the problem seems so right in many ways. When the Nazis shifted their anti-semitism from zealous hatred to a cool, calculated machinery of killing (e.g. “the night of broken glass”), we see the monstrous realization of an iron cage ethics.

When turning to the violent practices and institutions exported to the New World under Catholic Spain, however, such interpretations do not apply so well. The encomienda, for example, was an institution that forced Amerindians to work, often against their will, for the benefit of the Spaniards. But it also had the explicit aim under the Crown of protecting and instructing Amerindians in the faith.  One observes a more paternalistic model of violent relations in this case that contrasts with a model of extermination as a final solution. There was, it seems, a distinctively “Christian” vice operative in the sixteenth century under the guise of love.

Surely, there were numerous cases of outbursts of violence against innocent natives. But these were radically  inconsistent with public policy. Conversion to the faith requires one’s subjects to be living, not dead. The Spanish government established Audiencias or royal courts as a strategy for controlling the unchecked whims of conquistadores and encomenderos  by protecting the claims of Indians who were, according to the Spanish King, his vassals.

The project of genocide so characteristic of modern social darwinisms should not be confused with the colonialist project aimed at paternal care of “meek, simple and unarmed” subjects. For lack of a better term, it seems more accurate to understand the Indians as puerilized (or imagined as children unable to govern themselves) rather than dehumanized in this process. Some historians and ethicists may argue that the two concepts are mutually reinforcing and virtually indistinguishable when it came to actual practices. I beg to differ, even though such dehumanizing rhetoric was both strong and did instigate violence in certain cases. There was something similar to this going on the Middle Ages toward the Jews and Muslims during the Crusades as well.

I think  Russell Jacoby’s Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present (see an overview by author) might get at this point from another angle. Jacoby tries to disabuse his readers of the perception that violence throughout history has always been elicited by the encounter with the stranger. He focuses on the form of violence that results from people in close proximity who struggle over subtle but definitive aspects of identity. Based on reviews of the book, he seems to overstate his case. Nevertheless, the practice of paternalistic or fraternal violence should be highlighted as something distinct and painfully closer to home.

As moderns we seem to think it is the procedure of making less than human that makes us more prone to violence neglecting the fact that the oldest and most frequent form of violence has not been toward those deemed less than human, but those closest to us–our family. It is this phenomenon of domestic violence and physical abuse that helps us to understand the nature of medieval society, the early modern wars of religion in Europe, and Amerindian violence in the New World.

Domestic violence sometimes begins with an attempt to impose a kind of discipline that degenerates into harmful misconduct. That is what was at stake in the arguments of Las Casas, Soto, and Cano, and others at Salamanca. They needed to demonstrate that Amerindians not only had the right to their own lands and possessions (dominium rerum), but were also endowed with the right to govern themselves (dominium iurisdictionis). Whether they lived in less stratigraphic societies like the Tainos or highly-complex ones like the Incas, the natives were not children running around in William Golding-like fashion. Those who differed in their outlook, most especially Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, wanted to view the Indians as heretics like children gone astray and hence deserving of its form of punishment–enslavement and the dispossession of  lands and goods.

Of course, Sepúlveda went so far as to call the Amerindians “homonculi” (or ‘sub-human’). The Catholic Kings never did; but they also never tried to repress such rhetoric or condemn it as heresy, as far as I know.



Las Casas in Madrid?

During my visit to Madrid, I made it a point to visit the basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Most historians believe that this was the final resting place of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas before his death in 1566. When I arrived to the basilica with my family, I was pleased to be greeted by the following plaque:

Yet as we made our way into the basilica, I began to have the sneaking suspicion that there would not be much more devoted to Las Casas. The receptionist at the front desk confirmed this. I asked her if they had a tomb or shrine for Las Casas and she informed me that they did not. She said that the original basilica had been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and the only remaining structure of it was the bell tower that was now part of the adjoining school. The new basilica was built in 1951. Some people were not even sure if Las Casas was even buried at the original site but have argued that his body may have been laid to rest in Valladolid. This was disheartening, especially for someone shaped by Catholic spirituality; no statues, no stained glass image, not even a painting commemorating the “Apostle of the Indies” (from what I could see). I left the basilica feeling quite dissatisfied and with more questions than answers regarding his death.

A few days later, however, I experienced something that has now given me concrete evidence that Las Casas is not only in Madrid, but alive and well! Just outside the Plaza Mayor, I caught glimpse of someone in front of a market speaking with a group of friends who looked strikingly familiar. I stopped my wife and we stared for a minute or so. Then it dawned on me, that guy looks just like Carlos Santos, the actor who plays Las Casas in “También la lluvia.” My wife finally persuaded me to go see if it was really him since I was too embarrassed at first to approach him. As I made my way up to the group and they saw me, they opened up the conversation. I apologized for interrupting and asked the familiar-looking guy if he was an actor. He nodded. I then asked if he was Las Casas in the recent Spanish film. Again, he smiled and nodded. With a big smile on my face, I told him that I was writing my dissertation on Las Casas at which point he opened his arms and greeted me as if we had been friends for years. He then proceeded to tell me, quite proudly, that everything the movie says about Las Casas and his conversion was true. I agreed and thanked him for contributing to such a remarkable and moving film. 

In Madrid with Carlos Santos

Carlos Santos was very amicable and gracious. He  had no idea how much this strange occurrence would mean to a Ph.D. candidate who is also a lover of good films. I could now leave Madrid feeling much more pleased about the fate of Las Casas. Providence really does have a sense of humor.

Francisco de Vitoria is arguably considered a pioneer in the formation of modern international law (see, for example, Georg Cavallar’s The Rights of Strangers). His Renaissance retrieval of the concept of ius gentium served as a basis for the following claim: “Amongst all nations it is considered inhuman to treat strangers and travelers badly without some special cause. On the contrary, it is humane and dutiful to behave hospitably to strangers.” (De Indis, q.3, 1; cf. Cicero De Officiis, 3.11) The law of hospitality, as Cicero once wrote and Vitoria echoes, demands that a city requires strangers to enter into it and be provided for within its walls. Critics here generally attack what Vitoria called the right of communication and travel (ius peregrinandi) as a pretext for invading foreign lands and justfying conquest through “worldwide consensus,” or, in other words, European Ibero-Catholic consciousness. Yet these critiques have the tendency to exaggerate Vitoria’s project by dehistoricizing him and unjustly viewing him as a mouthpiece for conquest (I am thinking here especially of The American Indian in Western Legal Thought by Robert Williams).

While it is not my intention to give Vitoria a fair reading at this juncture, it is worth noting that strong critics of Vitoria and the School of Salamanca tend to see him as stuck in a medieval worldview whereby religion (i.e., the Church) has a formative and constitutive role in the shaping of culture. This is really an historical question about the meaning and definition of Christendom. What is assumed by the strong critics (oftentimes liberal but even postcolonial perspectives) is the dogma that nothing prior to the seventeenth century, or the Radical Enlightenment, or the UN, or the Second Vatican Council (or ever), could understand and defend rights in a universal sense, irrespective of creed and culture. In other words, nothing premodern in the West –whether it is the Spanish Vitoria or the medieval world that preceded him — can be tied to a legitimate concept of universal rights because of the oppressive form of religiosity characeteristic of the Latin West. It was, after all, “a persecuting society” as R.I. Moore says.

It is on this score that I find the speech delivered by Pope John Paul II to the UN in New York City in 1995 especially noteworthy:

In reality the problem of the full recognition of the rights of peoples and nations has presented itself repeatedly to the conscience of humanity, and has also given rise to considerable ethical and juridical reflection. I am reminded of the debate which took place at the Council of Constance in the fifteenth century, when the representatives of the Academy of Krakow, headed by Pawel Wlodkowic, courageously defended the right of certain European peoples to existence and independence. Still better known is the discussion which went on in that same period at the University of Salamanca with regard to the peoples of the New World.

Although this is a blog on the School of Salamanca, it is only fitting to give credit to that earlier Polish school of thought JPII mentioned. The figure referred to here, Paulus Vladimiri, was a canon lawyer chosen to represent Poland at the Council of Constance (1414-1418) in its struggle against the claims of the Teutonic Order regarding the just treatment of the infidel peoples of Lithuania. The Teutonic Knights had little patience and tolerance for the Polish recognition of dominium (self-rule and possessions) among unbelievers. The Grand Master claimed the Order had a special grant from the papacy to conquer and subjugate the pagans of Lithuania for the purpose of making them true Christians. Sadly, they did. However, this did not prevent the passionate Polish lawyer for making his case against unjust papal concessions. The pope simply cannot give away something (in this case, the territory of infidels) that is not within his power to do so. Combining medieval canon law thinking (esp. Innocent IV) and the scholasthic theology of Aquinas, Vladimiri devoted much of his professional life to this social crisis by incontrovertibly defending the rights of infidel peoples. For this reason, JPII was right to locate him in the Western narrative of the development of international law.

Make no mistake though, Vladimiri was not a “modern” thinker like Vitoria or Soto (this point has been disputed by Carl Schmitt who viewed Vitoria as premodern). The School of Salamanca began with the presupposition that the pope was not the lord of the world and had no temporal power whatsoever over infidels. As a canonist shaped by the medieval tradition of papal monarchy, Vladimiri followed Innocent IV and most other canon lawyers in recognizing the papal fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) claims characteristic of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. His biblical proof for this claim came from Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (10:16) With this interpretation, Vladimiri understood the pope as the single representative on earth having universal jurisdiction over everyone.

Of course, in facing the violent Knights, Vladimiri clearly understood how easily papal power could be used and abused to dispossess and conquer those most vulnerable. In order to address this limit in the existing canon legal thought, he argued that the only role of the pope when intervening in pagan nations was to protect, not to cause injury by depriving them of their dominium. The rhetorical evidence for this can be found in his frequent critiques of Roman imperialism and conquest. To make this case in the Lithuanian example, he applied the just war criteria of Innocent IV with rigorous clarity to argue, against the Knights, that war was in no way acceptable. He went so far as to claim that normal judicial process was demanded of any nation accused of violating natural law or the law of nations to the detriment of other peoples.

Premodern, undoubtedly. But Vladimiri’s theory was no less universal in scope than the claims of international law today. The fractured narratives of modern liberals can’t bear the continuity with the heritage of the Latin West. It is clearly there even amidst the stark differences regarding institutional frameworks for implementing the force of law. One way to begin to tease this out is Harold Berman’s classic Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. Ironically, there are plenty of Christians (students of Strauss or Villey or Fortin) who reinforce this division between classical and modern, objective rights and subjective rights, in order to favor the ancient regime of law over the new. And yet they still want religious freedom in its characteristically modern, American mode. I think JPII had a deeper insight here that offered an alternative outlook by recalling the claims of conscience made historically on behalf of strangers. That desire is a universal one and yet Vladimiri is noteworthy in that he defended those outside his religious community by struggling against those within it. Jesus and Paul did it before him and Vitoria and Las Casas did it after.

Ever since Pope John Paul II’s 1987 social encyclical, Sollicitudo rei socialis (On Social Concern), the term “solidarity” has become a key principle of Catholic social doctrine. In paragraph 40, the pope writes:

“Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue… In light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness, and reconciliation. One’s neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One’s neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person’s sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one’s life for the brethren (cf. 1 John 3:16).”

There is nothing new to the pope’s teaching on solidarity whereby one offers his or her life for the sake of another or for one’s community. When the Babylonian Jews turned to the God of Israel, they were told: “Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.” (Jeremiah 29:7) Jesus makes it a central message of his preaching and passion to extend this desire especially towards his enemies. St. Paul beautifully highlights the continuity and difference between the old and the new, the God of the philosophers and the God of Israel, when he teaches: “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find the courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)

In the context of modern human rights discussions, this teaching provides a theological vision of rights that goes beyond mere restitution and justice as the guiding principles for securing rights for everyone to include the higher principles and virtues of solidarity and love. Much of the literature on rights, when it is not overly abstract, focuses on addressing the structural and institutional dimensions of the question. This is certainly a necessary component. John Paul II speaks about this in terms of “structures of sin” and “evil mechanisms.” However, the personal or individual dimension of the question should not be overlooked in the effort to rectify political and social arrangements. In fact, the personal dimension is the foundation to the discussion from a Christian perspective because it begins with the real event of conversion from sin. This is why the attitude or virtue of solidarity is so important to the discussion; it is indicative of a heart being turned from stone to flesh that “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortuntes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and preserving determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we really are all really responsible for all.” (par. 38)

The conversion leading to solidarity turns away from the desire for profit and power by seeking “the good of one’s neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to “lose oneself” for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to “serve him” instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage.” The late pope goes so far as to say that the influential and wealthy have a duty to the weaker in society in that they should “be ready to share with them all they possess.” This last claim is clearly an illustration of what a Christian vision of human rights looks like. It entails sacrifice.

"It is better to renounce one's own right than to violate another."

It is no surprise then that this same teaching appears on the walls of the cloister at the Dominican priory of San Esteban in Salamanca.  The great theologians who first began a serious discussion of natural rights for all persons, regardless of creed, did so from a thoroughly Christian perspective. In the case of those engaged in a licit war, which should always be constrained by Christian values, Vitoria writes: “They must always be prepared to forego some part of their rights rather than risk trespassing on some unlawful thing, and always direct their plans to the benefit of the barbarians rather than their own profit, bearing constantly in mind the saying of St. Paul: ‘all things are lawful  unto me, but all things are not expedient’ (1 Cor. 6:12).” (Relectio de Indis q.3, 2)

Vitoria presents this teaching under his second possible legitimate title for waging war–the spreading of the Christian religion. What is significant is that he departs here from a long-standing tradition within Latin Christendom that legitimated the right of preaching over and against that which obstructed it; namely, the idolatry and rites of unbelievers. In a reflexive move, Vitoria turns the issue back to Christians by stating that “it may happen that the resulting war, with its massacres and pillage, obstructs the conversion of the barbarians instead of encouraging it.” There is no doubt that Francisco Pizzaro’s conquest of Peru would have been fresh on his mind here as an example of such an obstruction.

Unfortunately, Vitoria did not go far enough in his implementation of the solidarity principle with regard to the right of preaching. His recognition of the rights of natives to receive the Gospel freely was not absolute but conditional. Earlier in that same discussion, he says that the Spaniards “may preach and work for the conversion of that people even against their will.” On this point, disciples of Vitoria such as Domingo de Soto, Melchor Cano, and Bartolomé de Carranza were not in agreement. Instead, they followed Las Casas in recognizing that every single right of Christians, even the most important one given by Christ to preach, should be renounced if it entails violating the rights of another. Of course, this teaching came from Christ himself when he commissioned the twelve: “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words–go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Matt. 10:14) Who better to teach perfect solidarity than the Lord himself by showing his disciples in word and deed that the greatest right of all may need to be renounced, even for the sake of one’s enemies.

The other day in Madrid I had the chance to drop by the bookstore of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas near the Prado museum. A division of Spain’s government, the CSIC has an excellent record of publishing Spanish translations of original Latin works pertaining to Spanish debates concerning the New World. Among the older generation of titles, some of which are still in publication, are the books belonging to the Corpus Hispanorum de Pace series. Important writings of Vitoria, Las Casas, Peña, José de Acosta, and Alonso de la Vera Cruz on the questions of just war, evangelization, political authority, and Amerindian religion all belong to this series. Each of these books contains helpful essays authored by late scholars such as Luciano Pereña Vicente and Vidal Abril Castelló, who situate these writings in the sixteenth-century historical context and official crown policy.

The CSIC also publishes stand-alone works written by contemporary scholars on this period. One that immediately grabbed my attention was Llamado a la misión pacífica: la dimensión religiosa de la libertad en Bartolomé de las Casas (Called to Peaceful Evanglization: The Religious Dimension of Freedom in Bartolomé de las Casas) written by Ramón Valdivia Giménez. It was released in 2010 and is published in conjunction with the University of Sevilla. The author is a priest from Sevilla who wrote this work as an extension of his dissertation. As far as I know, it is the first major Spanish publication on Las Casas to make full use of the release of his Obras completas published by Alianza Editorial. The book follows in the footsteps of two previous studies on Las Casas, Ramón Queraltó Moreno’s El pensamiento filosófico-politico en Bartolomé de las Casas and Gustavo Gutiérrez’s En busca de los pobres de Jesucristo, by focusing on the philosophical and theological arguments of both his defense of the Amerindians and the religious right of Christians to proselytize while remaining distinct and novel in its analysis.

The book has nine chapters that are organized into three different sections. I have provided an outline of the book below:

Part One - Foundations of the Religious Dimension of Freedom in Las Casas                         

Chapter One. Basic Principles (This chapter offers a brief bio of Las Casas’ life and highlights the philosophical, theological, and juristic genres of discourse he employs in his writings. It concludes with  an overview of the trends of twentieth-century Las Casas scholarship)             

Chapter Two. Philosophical and theological sources (This chapter considers the major philosophical and theological sources of Las Casas’ thought that includes Aristotle, Cicero, Scripture, Augustine, Aquinas, Renaissance humanism, and the School of Salamanca)

Chapter Three. Legal sources (This chapter, which is far too brief, considers some of the legal terminology that Las Casas employs in his articulation of the religious dimension of freedom)                      

Part Two – The Heretical Violation of Christian Freedom

Chapter Four. From fantasy to the human person: Lascasian anthropology (This chapter situates Las Casas’ anthropology alongside that of his greatest opponent who rejected the political and religious freedom of the Amerindians, Sepúlveda. It also offers important reflection on John Mair’s discussion of enslavement and the question of African slavery in Las Casas)

Chapter Five. From oppression to self-government: Lascasian politics (This chapter is a deeper engagement and Las Casas’ critique of the secularization of power in Sepúlveda’s humanist politics that claims the Spanish authority of the Amerindians on the basis of moral and religious superiority)

Chapter Six. From coercion to freedom: the philosophy of mission in Las Casas (This chapter begins with the contrary methods of evangelization presented between Las Casas and the Franciscan Toribio Motolinía and later Sepúlveda. The primary aim of this chapter ties together the point of the second part of the book: that Las Casas’ ethic of evangelization and toleration of Amerindian religious practices is neither an argument for cultural relativism nor religious indifferentism, but a strong commitment to the necessity of preaching the Gospel)

Part Three – Conscience, Freedom, and Alterity: Trajectories of Lascasian Mission

Chapter Seven. The irruption of conscience (This chapter engages more of the contemporary scholarship on the historical question of Spanish conquest by examining to what extent histories, like Tzvetan Todorov’s, have been exaggerated to make the conquest appear as a genocide. The author seeks a more balanced approach that recognizes the Crown’s attempt to wrestle with its own conscience and the role of the Dominicans, beginning with Montesinos, in this process. One of the central issues of this call of conscience had to do with the freedom to accept baptism as a basis for peaceful evangelization. The author shows precisely how the position of the Spanish Dominicans informed, albeit in a limited way, both ecclesiastical and imperial policy)

Chapter Eight. The recognition of freedom (This chapter, similar to Gutiérrez’s book, presents a historical overview of the ecclesiastical position on freedom in religious matters by charting a development from the idea of freedom of the Church to religious toleration to religious freedom. Rather than working anachronistically, the author speaks of Las Casas’s position not in terms of religious freedom but as his thesis suggests–an advocate of the religious dimension of freedom. Nevertheless, the author places Las Casas in the context of twentieth-century discussions of religious freedom from both secular and Christian perspectives thereby highlighting his lasting contribution to this issue)

Chapter Nine. The acceptance of otherness (This chapter concludes the work by focusing on what is definitive of Las Casas’s approach to the issues of freedom and evangelization. That is, his ability to defend the freedom of Amerindians as well as the freedom to preach, all the while he performs a reflexive critique of violent religious practices of both the indigeneous and the Spanish. The chapter beautifully highlights the task of inculturation in Las Casas that is so often spoken of these days by showing what Enrique Dussel has referred to as the “trans-modern” dimension of his thinking and action)

That does it for the outline. This book, which needs to be translated into English eventually, marks the beginning of a new generation of Las Casas studies that, I believe, has learned from the past century to move beyond the Las Casas versus School of Salamanca impasse. On the eve of commemorating five hundred years since his conversion, the coming century looks bright for relating this hopeful story that belongs to all Christians as it does to all humanity.

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