Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Disfigured Face: The War of the Philosophers: Sepúlveda v. Las Casas

IN A FAIR FIGHT, JUDGED BY MEN OF GOOD WILL, the natural law will win over error. So it would appear is the verdict of history of the famous "Juntas de Valladolid," the debate between fellow Dominicans Fray Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1489–1573) and Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566). Were the Amerindians, as a result of their lack of Christian faith, capable of self-government, self-determination? What right, if any, did the Spanish kings have to conquer the Amerindians for violations of the natural law, such as their human sacrifices or their pagan customs? Were the Amerindians "natural slaves" referred to by Aristotle, or were they human beings of equal dignity with their Spanish masters? These were the sorts of matters that were debated between these two redoubtable opponents.

Sepúlveda was a formidable adversary. Born in the town of Pozoblanco, near the city of Córdoba, Sepúlveda received his education at the University of Alcalá, and then later in Bologna, Italy. He was a famous commentator and translator of Aristotle, and a correspondent with the famous Erasmus of Rotterdam. At the age of forty-five, he became chaplain and chronicler to the emperor Charles V (as a result writing a thirty volume work on the emperor's doings, the de rebus gestis Caroli Quinti). Sepúlveda fashioned distinct ideas regarding the Amerindians and the Spanish right of conquest under the doctrine of just war. These arguments were gathered into a volume entitled Democrates, secundus sive de justus belli causis, and a subsequent revision, entitled Democrates alter de justis belli causis apud Indios.

From a scholarly perspective, Las Casas may not have had the laurels of Sepúlveda. But what he lacked in intellect, he made up for in heart and in zeal. Born in Seville, Las Casas's life straddled the discovery of the New World. He witnessed Christopher Columbus's return to Seville after the latter's first voyage. Las Casas's father, Pedro, accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, bringing his son a native Taíno native boy named Juanico. Las Casas spent much of his life in the New World and witnessed the brutal treatment of the native American population. All his life, it seems, he was the advocate of the native Americans against the Spanish colonists. He was the first resident bishop of Chiapas, Mexico. Witnessing first-hand the abuse of the natives by the Spanish colonists, he took it upon himself to intercede on their behalf to Charles V. At first, he sought to ameliorate the plight of the Indians by importation of black slaves from Africa; but he soon recanted this position, and became an advocate for the Africans as well. His natural solicitude for the plight of the Indians reached a climax and resolution after he heard the preaching of Fray Antonio de Montesinos. He resolved to divest himself of any holdings that relied on slave labor and gave up his own slaves. Convinced that the Spaniards had committed an act of great injustice against the native people of the Americas, he pushed for, and obtained in limited fashion, laws and institutional reforms. Since these views were not popular, particular with the rich and influential colonists, Las Casas required tremendous courage and persistence.

The debate at Valladolid was inconclusive at the time, but the passage of time has allowed the conventions of the time to change, and from our vantage point and the vantage point of history, it is now plain that Las Casas was the white knight, Sepúlveda the advocatus diaboli.
Neither man was ever proclaimed the winner at Valladolid, but if history is any indication fo the outcome, Las Casas was the clear winner and Sepúlveda a miserable failure.
Cortest, 36.

Las Casas's views were deeply influenced by his personal experience, his missionary spirit, and the preaching of Montesinos. Yet the Thomistic doctrines of the School of Salamanca were also deep influences on him. Cortest, 36. In his work advancing his views, the Democrates alter, Sepúlveda writes in the form a dialogue between Leopoldo (the interrogator) and Democrates (who advances Sepúlveda's position). Leopold asks Democrates:
Leopoldo: Do you realldy believe that anyone could be condemned by nature to live in slavery? . . . Do you think that the jurists, who (so many times) follow the rule of reason, are speaking in jest when they proclaim that all men are born free and that slavery was introduced afterwards by law?

Democrates: On the contrary, I believe that the jurists speak and act seriously and state their teachings with great prudence . . .
(quoted in Cortest, 33). The jurists and canonists referred to by Sepúlveda are those of the School of Salamanca, among them Francisco Vitoria, Domingo de Soto, and Las Casas.

One may here turn Domingo de Soto's De iustitia et iure, specifically book 4, question 2, article 2:
No law can repeal the law of nature: by natural law all men are born free . . . .slavery is that by which someone is subjected to the rule of another against nature . . . . Slavery is contrary to nature, that is to say, contrary to the firt intention of nature, which would desire that all men live zealously in accord with reason. But when this first intention is lost, punishment follows, in accord with corrupted nature. And one form of punishment is legal slavery.

Nullum ius potest naturalis derogare: naturali autem omnes homines nascuntur liberi . . . servitus sit qua quis dominio alieno contra naturam subiicitur . . . . Servitutem esse contra naturam: nempe contra primam naturae intentionem, qua cupit omnes homines secundum rationem studiosos esse. At tamen ailla deficiente intentione, ex culpa subsequuta est poena, quae est conformis naturae corruptae. Atque inter poenarum genera unum est legalis servitus.
Cortest, 35. The prevalence of slavery and its seeming naturalness, then, was a result of the Fall and the result of personal and communal sin. Under the natural law, under the law of reason, it cannot be justified. It is only blindness that makes us adopt it. It is indeed a form of punishment. If Plato is to be followed (Gorgias, 469b), since slavery involves such injustice, at least in the moral dimension, it is a worse punishment for the slave owner than the slave, who suffers physical evil but is innocent of the moral evil. (One would think, by a sort of analogy, that the prevalence of contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage [serial polygamy], and abortion in our country might likewise be forms of punishment for our personal and social sins. Certainly, none of these are signs of authentic human flourishing.)

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