An excerpt from Bill Bennett’s new book, “America: The Last Best Hope”, touches on the oft-quoted claim that has become almost dogma among the intelligentsia: that Catholicism in the New World was to enslave and subjugate the natives. In fact, Bennett posits, the problem wasn’t too much Catholicism, but not enough.
Bartolome de Las Casas became the leading Spanish cleric opposing harsh measures against the Indians. He even went so far, in his famous Confesionario, to advise priests to deny absolution to any settlers who owned or abused aboriginal peoples.
Las Casas engaged in a lengthy debate with the leading scholar of his day, Aristotle scholar Juan Gines de Sepulveda of Vallodolid. Sepulveda argued that the Indians were what the great philosopher had termed “slaves by nature.” Las Casas disputed this and argued that the Indians, because they had been denied access to the Scriptures, were not fully morally culpable for the horrors of cannibalism and human sacrifice. For his unwavering advocacy of the cause of the Indians, Las Casas was called defensor de los indios.
... Speculation about the nature of the Indians—were they fully human?—led such Spanish thinkers as the Dominican friar Francisco de Vitoria to write extensively on the nature of human rights. He deserves to be ranked along with Suarez and Grotius as founders of modern international law. Among Vitoria’s firm principles were these:
Every Indian is a man and thus capable of attaining salvation or damnation.
The Indians may not be deprived of their goods or power on account of their social backwardness.
Every man has the right to the truth, to education . . .
By natural law, every man has the right to his own life and to physical and mental integrity.
The Indians have the right not to be baptized and not to be forced to convert against their will.
Bennett goes on to acknowledge that critics point that these principles were rarely honored in Latin America. That may be true, but the fact is that many Catholics, many clerics, were attempting to have them honored. Thus, as Bennett says, “might the criticism of Spanish conduct in Latin America be not that it was too Catholic, but that it was not Catholic enough?”
Technorati Tags:books, history, Latin America, Spanish conquest
bk_keywords:William J. Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope.