Excerpted from Las Casas, Alonso de Sandoval and the defence of black slavery Juliana Beatriz Almeida de Souza file:///home/chronos/uac0c0363090d33986a8cf3970ac761b1840a9d21/MyFiles/Downloads/scs_a04.pdf
Before you read about the life of the Dominican Bartolomé da Las Casas, I want to highlight my opinion that power, fame, and fortune, are the three entities that Jesus rebuked at his great temptation in the desert after his baptism by John the Baptist. It was then, according to the gospel story, that he was told by God that he was God’s “beloved Son.” For most people, this would be an affirmation that could lead one to think highly of oneself thus allowing one to acquiesce easily to power, fame, and fortune. Such entities might also cloud one’s thoughts and beliefs about race, religion, and even God. Again, I stress, Jesus rebuked these! Consider what role they play in the following excerpt from the biographies of Bartolomé da Las Casas and Alonso de Sandoval, two men ordained as priest missionaries to the Americas.
“According to many historical authors, the Dominican Bartolomé da Las Casas, in the 16th century, and the Jesuit Alonso de Sandoval, in the 17th century, contributed to discussions about the slave trade and black slavery in the Spanish Americas. Let’s uncover some of their reasoning and motives for such conversations.”
First, Las Casas and the blindness of Christians
“Bartolomé de Las Casas was one of the best-known missionaries in Spanish America. He was born in Seville in 1484. When he was still young he received from his father, upon the latter’s return to Spain after accompanying Columbus on his second journey to America, an Indian slave as a present. A short while later, however, he had to return the Indian by order of Queen Isabel. He got a degree in Law and he participated in the suppression of a rebellion of Moors in Granada in 1500. Two years later, he went with Nicolás de Ovando to the New World for the first time. Not yet a priest, he took part in the fighting against the Tainos in Santo Domingo. From the island of Hispaniola, he was called to the island of Cuba by Governor Diego Velásquez to provide legal services. Las Casas received an encomienda , close to Xagua, which he divided with Pedro de Rentería6 and kept for around a decade. An encomienda is a grant by the Spanish Crown to a colonist in America conferring the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the Indian inhabitants of an area.”
“At the beginning of the sixteenth century, possibly in 1507, he was ordained a priest in Rome . He returned to Santo Domingo in 1509. Later he contacted the Dominicans who arrived in America in September 1510.”
(Power, Fame, and Fortune had taken hold of Las Casas)
On 21 December 1511, ordained and still an encomendero, Las Casas heard in Santo Domingo a sermon by the Dominican Antonio de Montesinos against the abuses in the exploitation of indigenous labour that profoundly affected him. The friar in his homily, according to Las Casas’ own report, asked with what right were the Indians kept in such cruel slavery. With what authority were wars made against these people who were peacefully and tranquilly living on their lands? The same year he went to Cuba on Pánfilo Narvaez’s expedition as the chaplain of the fleet and saw close up the mistreatment of the Indians by the encomenderos. Later he would write: “ while I was in Cuba, 7,000 children died in three months. Some mothers actually drowned their children out of despair, while others finding themselves pregnant caused themselves to miscarry by using certain herbs”. He was also the witness of the Caonao massacre, when the Spanish attacked the Indians without any apparent reason, apart from, as Las Casas himself suggested, seeing how sharp their swords were On 15 August 1514, the Feast of the Assumption, he renounced his encomienda in a sermon, converting himself to the indigenous cause and started to preach against the cruelty of the Spanish to the Amerindians.
(His conscience becomes sensitive to injustice, cruelty, and evil)
He also began a series of journeys between Spain and America seeking to convert the Spanish Crown to the idea of a peaceful colonisation, as was attempted in Cumaná, in the north of Venezuela, in which clerics and peasant-colonisers substituted soldiers. The experience was a total failure, however, when the Indians rebelled in 1521, killing the missionaries.
It was also at this time that the argued that he argued that it would be advantageous for the Crown to substitute the Indians with “ blacks or other slaves from the mines”. He believed that much more gold could be obtained using blacks than with Indians. At the beginning of 1516 he met Cardinal Cisneros and was able to influence him in regard to colonial policy, ensuring that Hieronymite monks were chosen to study and reform conditions in America. Las Casas is said to have prepared the instructions given by Cardinal Cisneros to the three monks which permitted the entrance of black slaves to America. The following June the three monks in a letter approved and recommended the introduction of black slavery. In a memorandum from the same year, Las Casas proposed to Carlos V that all colonists have black slaves: two men and two women.
(The Power, Fame, and Fortune of Royalty and Clericalism, the State and the Church influence Las Casas’s judgment about racial superiority.)
September 1517, Las Casas was nominated procurador dos índios (advocate of the Indians) with an annual salary of one hundred pesos. In 1518 in Santo Domingo, the judge Alonso de Zuazo, who had been appointed visiting judge the previous year highlighted the convenience of substituting Indians with blacks. Whether or not Las Casas wrote the 1516 instruction is still a cause of disagreement among authors. But irrespective of this, he was neither the original nor isolated representative of the idea of bringing black slaves to America. This belief combined his defense of the Indians with a type of juridical and religious concept that regarded the subjection of infidels to slavery as legitimate, who as slaves would benefit from the wardship of Christian lords.
(Rationalization is a terrible side effect of Power, Fame, and Fortune)
Back in Santo Domingo in 1521, Las Casas took refuge in the Dominican Convent there and at the end of the following year he joined the Order of Preachers. He started there a new stage of theological studies, expanding his knowledge and building up a collection of manuscripts, which he would use in his future works. It was probably in the 1520s that he began to write his History of the Indies and Apologética histórica (Apologetic history), a text that arose out of his desire to describe the wonders of the New World and goodness of its inhabitants in the first book of the History of the Indies. The subject turned out to be so vast that he decided to dedicate a separate book to it. In 1530 he went to Spain to interview Carlos V and obtain from him some help for the Indians.
Back in America he applied himself to the study of theology in Guatemala and Mexico. From there he moved to Peru to organise the Dominican Order in the province with the friars that were there, but was unsuccessful and returned to Vera Cruz. His treatise The only way to attract everyone to the true religion dates from this time and was possibly written in Oaxaca in 1536. In this work he expresses his vision of evangelisation, not dealing just with the concrete case of America, but also moving into the realm of ideas. According to Las Casas the only way to attract people to the true religion is by following what is taught in Christ’s doctrine: the preaching of the Gospel by missionaries without weapons.
Rational beings could only be influenced by the persuasion of understanding that would subtly touch the heart and gradually sensitise the will. Listeners would understand that preachers did not want to obtain any dominion over them, nor did they want any sort of wealth. In turn, preachers should be benign with those they taught, no matter how resistant they were. Therefore, the gentiles should be attracted by sweet words, humility, affability and the exemplary life of preachers. These in turn should burn with the same love for humanity that moved Saint Paul. It can be said that Las Casas had this type of love for the Indians. The love of charity, sister of serenity, patience and goodness.
Thus, evangelisation that presupposed submission by force, through war, was contrary to the teachings of Christ. Thinking that through war one could destroy the obstacles to preaching the faith was something disproved by reason and in contradiction of biblical texts and the Church’s tradition. Through war only resentment could be caused and any conversions obtained were false and caused by the fear of greater damage and worse losses. The war against gentiles was for him futile and those involved in it sinned mortally. If The Only Way really was written in 1536, it was a year before the Papal Bull Sublimis Deus, issued in 1537 by Pope Paul III, and despite the fact that we do not know whether the pontiff was aware of this work, it is interesting to think that Las Casas’ teachings might have had some impact in Rome. The bull declared Indians to be “ true men”, free and capable of understanding the Christian faith.
Furthermore, the “ Indians and all other people” who might come to be discovered by Christians, even though they lived “ outside the faith of Christ”, were not to and should not “ be deprived of their liberty and their ownership of goods”. Thus, indigenous slavery was prohibited and conversion through the word and good example was insisted on. Carlos V prohibited the application of the Bull, for reasons of defence of ecclesiastical patronage, but nevertheless, it had an influence in America.
(In other words, the good intentions and desires of the heart and conscience, can inadvertently lead one to succumb to the Power, Fame, and Fortune of those around us and thus lead us to justify behavior that we might regret. Las Casas would be a prime example of how one’s “Mea Culpa” was still the opening of a door to the 400 or more years of slavery and white supremacy of the Americas and the United States of America. The Catholic Church played a role then but is it also playing a role in the current political crisis of the United States?)
Part II- Alonso de Sandoval to follow.