On the day that the apostolic twelve were to depart from Spain to the Americas, the Franciscan Friars received orders from Francisco de Los Angeles. The orders instructed to evangelize to all, however as they evangelized, an importance to maintaining respect and continuing peaceful Spanish values was raised. Regardless, the Friars’ instructions became law to the natives in the New World. And so, on the Franciscan Friars arrival to the New World, the Spaniards spread their religion. This was a path they believed created martyrdom where missionaries worked for God and in every activity they participated they let God do His will. In spiritual war, the Spaniards viewed the devil as a palpable power that destroys the world, thus the Franciscans were ordered to be the soldiers fighting against what they truly believed to be the devil and its powers. This absolute belief allowed the Spaniards to extrapolate that native people were an unintelligent group of nonbelievers, yearning for salvation, trapped in a barbaric state of ignorance. (MT&G, 2002)
The New World in the Spaniard’s perspective conflicted with their own intentions to influence the world through material possession and myths which they held. Therefore, tension resulted since the different peoples of their respective empires could not hold to their original rule of austerity. The Spaniards maintained their authority by remunerating people, native or otherwise, as they autocratically deemed just. They managed this by ensuring that people who have been falsely treated get justice. For instance, his majesty rewarded Francesco and the 4 caravel that left for war. He rewarded them by punishing their captives as well as accepting Francesco and his team into the palace. The Spaniard quest to insert greater influence to the New World led to the breakout of several branches of philosophy since some held to the mission of evangelizing whereas others maintained the desire to influence their power and authority in the New World via material superiority. Due to these differences, there was a fall out in these arrivals of newcomers. Attempts to remedy the division between the observant and the conventuals did not succeed. Papal intervention did not help since the division had grown so much. The separation of the observant Franciscan and the conventual intensified in the late 16th century (MT&G, 2002). Many conventuals decided to join the more numerous and influential observants in this time. The observant union which was tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of their duties and concerns was also not successful. Consequently, they divided into groups: Capuchins, Recollects, and the Discalced. After spreading the gospel, the Spaniards believed that they could reach out more and ensure their influence in accordance with their myths through the establishment of a kingdom with one ruler and everyone, natives included, under the subject of the Kingship, a replica of God’s Kingdom. However this was against the views of La Casas who believed that natives should have a choice in joining the Christian faith, but should not be forced. This is because according to him, all Indians and natives were also humans and subjecting them under rules and authorities that are against their desires was not human (MT&G, 2002).
The Spaniards believed God holds his thrown in Heaven, so they should also insert a throne on earth and rule from the earth throne. With this they believed they could do wonders and the work of their hands would be revealed to the masses. This is why Gimenez (1971, p. 120) stated that “for the saints said that the king is set upon earth in the place of God to fulfill justice and to give to each one his due, and therefore they called him the heart and soul of the people”. They believed that the soul of man creates his heart, so should the kingdom be established to reside on earth and through the king justice is obtained. They believed that just like the heart supports many functions in the body, and supporting life, the kingdom would as well. But in a kingdom, there is only one ruler who is above all subjects and must support the life of all people in his domain. According to Aristotle, the people must also accept to unite as one and follow the king in everything that he wants to be done. This statement was echoed by Sepulveda (1547) when he established that the Amerindians could not rule themselves because they were naturally slaves, thus the king is the true head of the kingdom. In that role, philosophers established that all perceptions and directions must be followed by his order, the king, who is the head. Therefore bringing the throne to the earth was the best way of achieving justice because the kingship rule was to consider all people under the territory as subjects under governance.
Many reformers disagreed with the Spaniards intention of bringing the crown unto the New World. Instead, they believed the Spanish did not intend to achieve justice but simply to justify their actions of evangelizing and conquering, holding to their own myths and beliefs. The Spaniards believed the myth that they were superior and that their conquest was due to a strong cultural superiority, an idea which they managed to manifest themselves. After deciding the kingship, they used their subjects to continue their quest for material gain. They managed this by reinforcing their belief in the myth of native desolation. This myth convinced them that all the natives of the Americas must resign to their fate, a myth they brutally enforced. They controlled the natives in search and conquer for land and they made them believe that their pay is taking the danger on behalf of the subjects in pursuit for justice and “higher morality.” (Restall, 2003)
The dissenters and reformers of the emperor were the theologians whose works led to the development of reformation. They noted that it is wrong and it is contrary and hypocritical to the teachings of the crown above to force Christianity and its values on individuals. They specifically noted that it is wrong to subject pagans to the rule of Christians and then preaching unto them. The argument here was that after subjugating the nonbelievers to Christian rules and then preaching to them, they will be convinced rather than given the opportunity to believe and have faith solely in the preacher’s arguments. On the other hand, the dissenters and reformers had agreed that it is not easy to convert or to make a pagan willingly believe and acknowledge the values and rules held by Christians. On this basis, they saw the need for war to bring people to “understand” Christianity. However, as they thought war was the most opportune way of convincing and making the natives believe, the argument on the consequences of war could not be avoided. In the debate, they all agreed that war brings animosity—it inherently leads to bloodshed and indeed many lost lives. Encouraging the misfortunes of war to thousands of innocent people did provide a basis for questioning the morality of religious warfare itself.
As noted in Bartolome de Las Casas (ND., p. 162), “a rational creature has a natural capacity for being moved, directed and drawn to any good gently because of his freedom of choice”, it is appropriate to give every person the freedom to choose. With this understanding, the pagans should be allowed to willingly accept and acknowledge Christian values and rules. In other words, because man is rational, he should be given the chance to hear the truth of faith and should not be forced to accept it. This is where the crown disagreed. They believed that they understood the natives’ intentions well, or not, and convinced themselves through this [mis]communication that their actions were justified as warring was the only way to guarantee the spreading of their religion and empire. (Restall, 2003)
The arguments by Sepulveda can today be termed as racists because he believed that Christianity should be forced into natives unlike Las Casas who saw the natives as humans, thus considered Christianity as a religious option. La Casas noted that as much as Christianity brought by Spaniards was a necessity to deliver native people from the pagan state, the way the Spaniards carried themselves was not acceptable. However, Sepulveda believed in force to instill Christianity into the natives. He indicated that, “you will not expect me to make a long argument about the intelligence of the Spaniards. Who does not know the other virtues of our people, the strength, the humanity, the justice and the righteousness?” (Sepulveda 1547, p. 39). However, as much as Sepulveda acknowledges these strengths, he still accepts the spreading of Spanish subjugation unto the New World as quoted, “and if they refuse our rule, they can be compelled by arms to accept it and the justice of this war appears all the more obvious if one considers that the high pontiff, representing Christ, has authorized it” (Graham, Taylor and Mills, 2002, p. 121). This states that Christianity had enabled the Spanish to lead with frugality and sobriety but also with absolution given pontifical support. He noted that there is no other country like Spain in the entirety of Europe, who after battle showed concern for the defeated. They bring trade and wealth with them, and without detest or racism, they fully interact with subjects under their throne with love and friendship. Sepulveda sees this as a positive that cannot be rejected. (Sepulveda, 1547)
These debates of just conquest are based on a number of issues but are solely surrounded by the notion of religion. The Spaniards believed that it was their duty to convert natives into Christians—to acknowledge and accept faith and God. In the myth of completion, the Spaniards believed that the natives were under their control and that they had the powers to direct them as they wished, including converting them to Christianity. They wanted people to gain knowledge and understanding of their religion and any means to this end was a justification in it of itself. Additionally hypocritical was the encomienda system where natives were handed over to the Spaniards. This was baseless enslavement since it lacked sovereignty and hindered the independence of the natives. The reasoning and foundation of the Spanish conquest were selfish, hypocritical and colonial as they believed their justice was justification in it of itself given the spread of their religion—never based on the arguably absolute Christian value of loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. La Casas believed that Christianity was the best religion for the natives and he appreciated the efforts of the Spaniards to ensure that all the natives are converted. However forceful conversion was not the best way because it impeded on the natives choice. Therefore La Casas noted that the best way of bringing justice was by giving the people an option to choose Christianity as a religion but not by being forced. By doing this, Las Casas believed that the colonial abuse was going to be stopped. However, Sepulveda believed in forceful conversion of the natives, because he never valued the human right issues of the natives. He considered all natives as people who can’t make choice of their own and must naturally be governed. In fact today, Sepulveda’s thoughts can be considered extremely racist (Tiernay, 1997).
Bartolomé de Las Casas, “The only Method of Converting the Indians,” A ‘Very Brief Account of
Spanish Cruelty,” “Abolish the Encomienda!” and “A Defense of Human Sacrifice [All
The Races of the World are Men]”
Giménez F. M (1971). “Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas: A Biographical Sketch”. In Friede, Juan; . Bartolomé de las Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and his Work. Collection spéciale: CER. DeKalb: . pp. 67–126.
Graham, S. L., Taylor, W. B., & Mills, K. R. (2002). Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Restall, M. (2003). Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. Oxford University Press.
Sepulveda, G. J. (1547). Just War in the Indies. In Early Modern Spain.
Tierney, B. (1997). The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law and Church Law 1150–1625. Scholar’s Press for Emory University. pp. 272–274.