23) Slavery and Expansion

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Papal Endorsement
Pope Nicholas V
Pope Nicholas V
In 1452, forty years before Columbus set sail for the New World, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull "Dum Diversas". In this papal directive, the head of the western, now "Catholic", Church granted Afonso V of Portugal the right to induct all "Saracens, pagans and other unbelievers" into hereditary slavery. Later, in 1488, Pope Innocent VIII accepted a gift of 100 slaves from Columbus' future sponsor, Ferdinand II of Aragon. To further galvanize the Church's position of human bondage, Pope Urban VIII purchased additional slaves captured by the Knights Hospitaller.

A Shift from Surfdom 

This string of papal events set in motion a major precedent for western society, which officially opened the door to heredity chattel slavery. The events also aided in establishing the slave trade of indigenous peoples in the New World as a form of commerce.

Historically, Europe had a low instance of slavery. There had been slaves taken by Vikings during coastal raids and a considerable amount of indentured (bonded) serfdom, but instances of enforced lifelong servitude or hereditary chattel slavery were unknown. The wholesale ownership of human beings and their decedents, as permanent sub-human servants without liberties, was a relatively new concept outside of Asia.

Chattel Bondage
Chattel Bondage

Europe's introduction to Chattel Bondage (owning another human) was the result of eastern influences resulting from centuries of ongoing Crusades (both Muslim and Byzantine influences). In the Eastern Crusades of the Holy Land (1095-1291), captured crusaders who escaped execution were forced into slavery, where death was the only escape. Similarly, in the Western Crusade of the Iberian Peninsula or the "Reconquista" (711-1492), the Moors had indentured community members throughout Spain and Portugal who refused conversation to Islam. In retrospect, Arabs and Moors were only doing what the Romans, Greeks and Chinese had done before them. In some instances, a Muslim might emancipate a slave after conversion. There had also been instances where a Muslim owner would release a slave as an act of penance, as per the Quran.

Religious Arguments
Christ's Social Policies
Christ's Social Policies
From a purely religious viewpoint, both Christians and Muslims had strayed from their spiritual roots with its adoption of cruel and heretical slavery. According to what survives today of early scriptures, Christ employed slavery narratives to illustrate points, which the pro slavery movement interpreted as approval. However, Christ's social policies towards the poor and the infirm would certainly weaken any such arguments. After all, Christ himself refused all possessions and persuaded his followers to do likewise [Matthew 19:21].

Likewise, Muhammad was tolerant of slavery and even owned slaves of his own [Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:512]. However, The Prophet Muhammad freed 63 slaves. In fact, many of his initial followers were former slaves. Muhammad was also known to take a slave (Safiyya bint Huyayy) as a wife and adopted another (Zayd ibn Harithah) as a son. Moreover, Muhammad's influences for Islam were Abrahamic (including the Jewish Talmud), where domestic slaves were treated humanly as indentured servants, even family members.

This was centuries before the Crusades forever altered Christian/Judaic/Islamic relations. Muhammad and early Caliphs would provide enemies an opportunity to convert from polytheistic beliefs as an alternative to death or enslavement. Some even became companions to Muhammad, who was even known to pray alongside Jews and Christians. Overall, Islamic law required for proper treatment of prisons. By comparison, the Crusaders were known to slaughter their captives (Siege of Acre (1189–1191). When captives were taken by the Crusaders, they were allowed to convert but freedom was never forthcoming. Crusaders provided no consideration towards Islamic beliefs.

Peter (Simon) the Apostle
Peter (Simon) the Apostle
Peter "The Rock"
However, it was Peter "The Rock", one of Christ original followers (apostles) who was most outspoken in all of antiquity on both slavery and all of human rights. In Galatians [3:28] he is quoted as saying "There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus".

No language even remotely aspiring to Apostle Peter's position of equality would occur again until the 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson (another slave owner) would pen the Declaration of Independence, a non-sectarian document. That testament, during the Age of Enlightenment, would eventually lead to the eradication of slavery in the United States.

Indigenous Slave Trade

Enslavement of Native Population
Enslavement of Native Population
Historically, most slavery had been the result of conquest. Slave trading had always been present to some extent. However, during explorations of Africa and the New World, where Europeans arms and mobility were so far superior to the natives, resistance usually proved futile. Consequently, Europeans judged indigenous populations of the New World to be inferior, even sub-human and soon incorporated them into forced labor.

My contrast, educated Moorish slaves acquired during the final days of the Reconquista (i.e. Esteban the Moor) accompanying the explorers, were quickly elevated to servants, traveling companions and even explorers, while the indigenous tribes of the New World were employed in less humane tasks.

Seal for the Tribunal in Spain
Seal for the Tribunal in Spain
The Inquisition Factor
Factor in the prevalent mentality of the Spanish Inquisition and its ongoing forced conversions (or alternates of expulsion and capital punishments) and you have an army of well-armed Conquistadors with over-zealous Franciscan friars involved in some early form of Manifest Destiny. Spanning the North and South American continents, they often dominated local authority, implementing their own unique brand of slavery, blessed by the Pope himself.

The early Spanish settlers were initially shocked by the scant, to no clothing and simple living conditions of the natives, whom they considered animal-like and savage. Soon, they would consider native religious rights to be heretical to those of the Church, even though heresy was a relatively new concept to these Euro-naïve peoples. Priests were initially overjoyed, then horrified when native tribes were eager to accept Christ, but then only as one of their many gods. All the missionary priests considered it their duty and even their "cross in life" to attempt conversion of these savages, so different were they from Europeans. Subsequently, little consideration was given to native culture or religion. Consequently, when European visitors would trespass on sacred grounds or unwittingly cause insult, native warriors would retaliate. These occasional, spontaneous responses would eventually lead to harsh reprisals by the occupying priests and soldiers, setting the stage for centuries of hostilities.

The term "Catholic" was derived from Greek phrase "καθόλου" or "katholou", meaning " universal or the whole". The term was first used in the second century by Ignatius of Antioch, even before The Council of Nicaea and the founding of the Eastern Byzantine Church. Ignatius explains the use of the term in his letter to the Smyrnaeans [8:2-110 CE], "...just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church".

Spanish Colonial Possessions in the New World
Spanish Colonial Possessions in the New World
Well, from a Native American standpoint, the Catholics did indeed appear to be everywhere between the 15th and 16th centuries. Spain's New World colonies extended from what is today South America, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and United States, on up until Canada. Europe's curiosity of the New World had exploded into "The Age of Discovery", yet those involved in the exploration were in many ways expounding the most medieval thinking to date.

By now, the Catholic Church was no longer tethered to the Eastern Greek Church nor the Emperor (by then overrun by Muslim forces). It had crowned emperors of its own as well as kings, and by then governed the territories of the Papal States. Through the rule of heresy, anyone opposing the Church could be censured, imprisoned and even eliminated through a variety of loathsome procedures (flaying, hanging, dismemberment, burning, etc.), all in the name of Jesus (?).

However, the purpose for Spain's presence would soon turn from discovery to a quest for gold, overflowing both royal and papal treasuries. Misguided wars of oppression and disease would blanket the new found lands and its native inhabitants, whose greatly reduced numbers would be interpreted as the work of God by the conquerors. The harvest of territory and wealth would prove a simple task; so simple, Spain would quickly over extend herself.

Go to: Chapter 24) Intellectual Heresies

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