Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bartolome de Las Casas

O.P. (August 24, 1484 – July 17, 1566), was a 16th century Spanish Dominican priest, missionary to Native Americans and the first resident Bishop of Chiapas.

Las Casas became well-known for his advocacy of the rights of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, whose cultures he described with care. His descriptions of the caciques (chiefs or princes), bohiques (shamans or clerics), ni-taínos (noblemen), and naborias (common folk) in the Caribbean clearly showed a feudal structure. He was a mentor of Taíno rebel Enriquillo in his early age, being later a conciliator between him and the conquistadors. His book A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (original title in Spanish: Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias), published in 1552, gave a vivid description of the atrocities committed by the conquistadors in the Americas – most particularly, the Caribbean, Central America, and what is now Mexico – including many events to which he was a witness, as well as some events he reprints from others' eyewitness accounts.

Las Casas' "Doctrine of Self Determination" maintained that all power derives from the people; power is delegated to rulers in order that they may serve their people; and all important governmental acts require popular consultation and approval. “No state, king, or emperor can alienate territories, or change their political system, without the express approval of their inhabitants,” he wrote. This doctrine had an obvious influence on later thinkers including those of the enlightenment and the Founding Fathers.

In one of his last works, De thesauris in Peru, he vigorously defended the rights of the natives of Peru against enslavement by the early Spanish Conquest. The work also questioned Spain's right to take the treasures derived from Atahualpa ransom during the Inca Conquest, as well as those valuables found and taken from the burial sites of the Indian population.

The book was dedicated to King Philip II of Spain. Las Casas explained that he had supported the Spanish conquest when he first arrived in the New World, but that he soon became convinced that it would eventually lead to the collapse of Spain itself in an act of Divine retribution. According to Las Casas, it was the responsibility of the Spanish to convert the Indians, who would then be loyal subjects of Spain, rather than to kill them. To address the labor needs of the Spanish colonists, Las Casas proposed that Africans be brought to America instead, though he later changed his mind about this when he saw the effects of slavery on Africans. Largely due to his efforts, New Laws were adopted in 1542 to protect American Indians in the colonies.

Las Casas also wrote Historia de las Indias and was the editor of Christopher Columbus' published journal. He was instrumental, on his repeated return trips to Spain, in gaining the temporary repeal of the encomienda regulations that established virtual slave labor gangs in Spanish America. In 1547, De Las Casas initiated theological debates with the priest Sepulveda en Salamanca. Las Casas returned to Spain and was eventually able to bring about the great debate of 1550 in Valladolid between himself and the advocate for the settlers, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Though the encomienda system triumphed, championed by the colonial Spanish classes who were profiting from it, the writings of Las Casas were translated and republished across Europe. His published accounts are important primary sources on Spanish colonial atrocities. They influenced the essayist Montaigne's views of the New World.

Propers for Bartolome de Las Casas - Missionary, Teacher, Bishop and Humanitarian

The Collect.

Let thy continual mercy, O Lord, enkindle in thy Church the never-failing gift of charity, that, following the example of thy servant Bartolome de Las Casas, we may have grace to defend the children of the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Epistle - Philippians 3:7-15.

The Gospel - St. John 17:18-23.

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