While researching Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, I ran across a pretty interesting piece of information. Have you all ever heard the two words “Dum Diversas”, “Romanus Pontifex”, or “Inter Caetera”? I haven’t. For those that don’t know, the modern-day slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese, not the Spanish, the Dutch, nor the English. Even our great colonizer, Christopher Columbus had some dealings with Portuguese slavery in Angola before he took his famous journey to the new world. But what made the rest of Christian Europe eventually join in the slave trade? Also, what religion did all these old-world nations share in common?
It all starts with King Alfonso V of Portugal. Alfonso’s grandfather, John I had previously claimed the city of Ceuta that lay between Europe and Africa for Portugal. This land was previously a part of Morrocco, a Muslim African nation. This was considered the first successful invasion of Africa by a european nation. John I’s was able to claim Ceuta for Portugal under the guise that it was the result of a religious crusade to free the Saracen (Muslim) grasp in Africa and introduce Gods religion, Christianity. Back in those days, the most popular branch of Christianity was Catholicism. The head of the Catholic Church was the Pope (the closest human to God), as is today, and in those times, religious wars were called Crusades, as to ensure that most, if not all lands remained under the Christian faith. Alfonso V wanted to keep the legacy of his grandfather going with more campaigns into Africa. After, successfully capturing more lands in Morocco for Portugal he inherited nicknames such as “The African” or “The Africano”.
At this time the Ottoman Empire (Turks) had their eyes set on invading Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire; the last remaining part of the once world-dominating Roman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was Muslim, the Byzantine Empire was Catholic. The leader of the Byzantine Empire wrote to Pope Nicholas V for help with defense to avoid possible invasion. Back in those days, the Pope had more political power than in today’s modern world and had power to call upon other Catholic nations in times of need. No other leader came to the Byzantine leader’s help except for Alfonso V who used the Byzantine leader’s plea for help as a way to gain support for his capture of territory in Africa. Alfonso V was able to convince Pope Nicholas V to support his campaign into Africa to weaken the Muslim world by claiming Muslim held land for Christianity. Also not to mention, Portugal would be able to take advantage of ivory and gold resources in Africa. This lead to the first papal bull (public decree) made by the Pope to support Alfonso V’s cause in North Africa.
On June 18th, 1452, the Dum Diversas papal bull was declared by Pope Nicholas V. This bull specifically supported invasion and legitimized the use of slavery in the land that Alfonso was able to conquer for the Christian World. It granted unlimited dominion to Alfonso V who would rid the Muslim influence in captured lands. It is as follows:
“We grant you (Alfonso V) by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, countries, principalities and other property . . . and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude”
Three years later the same Pope issued the Romanus Pontifex papal bull on January 5, 1455, which declared the following:
“We weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso – to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens (Muslims) and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit – by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors”.
This decree extended the original decree to convert captives to Christianity. It also declared that all possessions and resources become property of Portugal.
Four years later, on May 4th, 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus had “discovered” the New World, Pope Alexander VI reinforced the original two papal bulls, issuing the final bull, Inter Caetera, which extended the Catholic Church’s support to Spain and Portugal in their endeavors in the New World and Africa. The Inter Caetera papal bull stated the following:
“Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction. Among other works well-pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself…. as witnessed in these times with so much glory to the Divine Name in your recovery of the kingdom of Granada from the yoke of the Saracens – we, therefore, are rightly led, and hold it as our duty, to grant you even of our own accord and in your favor those things whereby with effort each day more hearty you may be enabled for the honor of God himself and the spread of the Christian rule to carry forward your holy and praiseworthy purpose so pleasing to immortal God. Moreover, as your aforesaid envoys are of opinion, these very peoples living in the said islands and countries believe in one God, the Creator in heaven, and seem sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals. And it is hoped that were they instructed, the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, would easily be introduced into the said countries and islands…In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities.”
Can you believe that I shortened that? It was a lot of words that basically stated that Catholic nations were given the blessing from the church to conquer, enslave, convert, and exploit the land in which these Catholic nations “discovered”.
So there you have it, folks. Proof that the origin of the conquer and exploitation of the New World and the start of modern-day slave trade was not only in the hands of the monarchs of Europe but also too in the hands of the leader of the biggest church at the time, the Pope. The Catholic Church granted permission which allowed leaders to take over and plunder nations, not under the Christian faith in the name of power and greed. The Christian faith was used as a tool to convert natives to assimilate into the European structure and it was also used as a vessel to further the manifest destiny of Europeans to find a new land with natural resources and its inhabitants to work their lands to establish an enterprise that made the old world more richer than it could ever be on its own.
Next is to find out why the Muslims invaded Europe first? Was it just because they wanted to spread their Muslim faith or was it too for power and greed – which the Europeans then just switched on them as a somewhat karma? Stay tuned.