Spanish Colonization of America

Conquistadors pray before entering Tenochtitlan
Conquistadors pray before entering Tenochtitlan

Acts like the destruction, toppling and decapitation of Saint Junipero Serra statues show very clearly that there are still those who believe in a false history, which historians have debunked and call the “Black Legend” against the Catholic Church and against Spain, a series of fabrications and falsifications of historic events and processes spread by their adversaries.

We covered on this website an example of that in the Flat Earth Myth, the fictional claim, invented by a few Protestant writers, that the Church until Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America believed the Earth to be flat.

Despite their absurdity, ideas like these, if they have people with enough power and money to disseminate them, can influence many minds who don’t try to ascertain facts.

What is frequent in persecutors of all times is that they want the victims of their physical or non-physical aggression appear hateful or holding back the progress of humanity, in the hope that this will justify their own attacks in the eyes of society.

Since we are here talking about spreading lies about Christians, one of the clearest examples of this behaviour, described by historian Tacitus in his Annales, is how Roman Emperor Nero, willing to sacrifice Christian Protomartyrs, accused them of burning down the city of Rome, which was in fact his own doing, and represented them as abominable evildoers and enemies of the entire mankind.

That’s, in a nutshell, the reason behind the Black Legend: like Nero, the people and groups who fabricated it wanted to blame the Church for something she didn’t do, in the desire to make her appear despicable and thus more easily attack her.

The country of Spain has a truly unique history. It is the only nation that has managed to regain freedom from Muslim domination after nearly eight hundred years of it, and who managed to do so by virtue of the heroism of its faith.

Isabella, the Queen of Castile who financed Colombus’ voyage of discovery in 1492, died in 1504.

In her will Isabella orders her heiress Joanna: “I recommend and command” to have evangelization as the main purpose, and to evangelize in the respect of the freedom and property of the Indians so that “they receive no harm in their persons or goods, but on the contrary they are well and justly treated, and if they receive any damage it must be remedied”.

When the religious, present from the beginning in all expeditions, inform the Queen of Columbus’ involvement in slavery, Isabella decrees the death penalty for those who trade in slaves, and takes over the government of the Indies by dictating a series of detailed instructions: if it is “necessary to inform the Indians about our faith, so that they get to know it”, it is necessary to do so “without exercising any constriction on them”.

In her will, Isabella precedes by 33 years two important documents by Pope Paul III.

The first, Pastorale officium, is a May 29, 1537 Apostolic Brief or letter to the Cardinal of Toledo and Primate of Spain Juan Pardo de Tavera, in which Paul III excommunicated “All those who enslave the Indians or strip them of their possessions” (in Latin: “praefatos Indos quomodo libet in servitutem redigere aut eos bonis suis spoliare”)

The second, Veritas Ipsa (also known as Sublimis Deus or Excelsus Deus), is a Bull of Paul III of June 2, 1537, in which Pope Paul III, clashing with the secular authorities, swept away all the desires to enslave the populations of the New World, proclaiming that “Indios veros homine esse” (Indios are true men) and reiterating the excommunication for all enslavers and despoilers of indigenous people.

“With apostolic authority” the Pope condemned racist ideas, recognized the dignity of a human person to Indians, whether Christian or not, and put forward the prohibition of reducing them to slavery. Paul III described settlers as “violent”, bearers of powerful colonial interests, and even “devotees of Satan, eager to satisfy their greed, and to compel the western and southern Indians and other peoples, who have come to know us in recent times, to serve them as if they were brute animals, under the pretext that they have no faith.

Historians believe that the bull had a strong impact on the “Valladolid debate” and that these principles became the official position of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Spain.

Spanish Queen Isabella’s husband Ferdinand II of Aragon will remain faithful to his wife’s will and so will his nephew Charles V, his great-grandson Philip II and all the kings of Spain. This is the context in which in 1512-13 and again in 1542 the Spanish crown enacts a series of laws to ensure as much
possible the defense of the freedom and property of the Indians.

It is the “Controversy of the Indies”, in which Catholic Spain questions the legitimacy of its conquest: and here again Spain has a unique history because no other colonizing nation will do the same. Such  Controversy ends with the theorization of international law by the Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria.

REFERENCES
La Conquista delle Americhe, di Vittorio Messori
Confutando Mieli: riecco la leggenda nera sui Conquistadores, di Angela Pellicciari

PHOTO CREDITS
The Conquistadors pray before entering Tenochtitlan Public Domain