Catholic Church Orders Conquest and Slavery

It’s common knowledge that the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are perfectly OK with slavery. But did you know that the Catholic Church actively encouraged the enslavement of non-Christians?

Dum Diversas is a papal bull issued on 18 June 1452 by Pope Nicholas V. It authorized Afonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and consign them to “perpetual servitude”.

Let’s read it:

Bishop Nicholas

Servant of the Servants of God. For the perpetual memory of this act:

To the dearest son in Christ Alfonse, illustrious King of Portugal and the Algarbians, Greetings and Apostolic Blessing

While we turn over in our mind the diverse concerns of the office of Apostolic service entrusted to us (although we do not deserve it) by celestial Providence, concerns by which we are every day urgently pressed, we are also moved by a persistent encouragement: we chiefly carry in our heart that the well-known anxiety, that the rage of the enemies of the name of Christ, always aggressive in contempt of the orthodox faith, could be restrained by the faithful of Christ and be subjugated to the Christian religion. To this purpose also, when the occasion of the matter demands it, we laboriously expend our free [desire/eagerness/devotion], and indeed remember to follow with fatherly affection all the faithful of Christ, especially dearest sons in Christ, illustrious Kings, professing Christ’s faith, who, for the glory of the Eternal King, eagerly defend the faith itself and with powerful arm fight its enemies. We also look attentively to labor at the defense and growing of the said Religion and all things pertaining to this healing work, should proceed from our undeserved provision, we invite, with spiritual duties and grace, the faithful of Christ and also individuals to rouse their [positions/duties?] in help/support of the faith.

1. As we indeed understand from your pious and Christian desire, you intend to subjugate the enemies of Christ, namely the Saracens, and bring [them] back, with powerful arm, to the faith of Christ, if the authority of Apostolic See supported you in this. Therefore we consider, that those rising against the Catholic faith and struggling to extinguish Christian Religion must be resisted by the faithful of Christ with courage and firmness, so that the faithful themselves, inflamed by the ardor of faith and armed with courage to be able to hate their intention, not only to go against the intention, if they prevent unjust attempts of force, but with the help of God whose soldiers they are, they stop the endeavors of the faithless, we, fortified with divine love, summoned by the charity of Christians and bound by the duty of our pastoral office, which concerns the integrity and spread of faith for which Christ our God shed his blood, wishing to encourage the vigor of the faithful and Your Royal Majesty in the most sacred intention of this kind, we grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens [Muslims] and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same Saracens, Pagans, infidels, and the enemies of Christ, also realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps, possessions of the king or prince or of the kings or princes, and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, possessions and goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors the Kings of Portugal.

We carefully ask, require, and encourage your same Royal Majesty, girded by the sword of virtue and fortified with strong courage, for the increase of the divine name and for the exaltation of faith and for the salvation of your soul, having God before your eyes, may you increase in this undertaking the power of your virtue so that the Catholic faith may, through your Royal Majesty, against the enemies of Christ, bring back triumph and that you earn more fully the crown of eternal glory, for which you must fight in lands, and which God promised to those who love Him, and our benediction of the See and grace.

2. For we, by the dignity of your sacrifice, grant that you undertake this work with more courage and fervent zeal, together with chosen sons, noblemen, dukes, princes, barons, soldiers, and other faithful of Christ, accompanying your Royal Serenity in this fight of faith, or contributing with their means, and that they undertake or contribute from their possession, or send, as said before, from which you and they hope to be able to pursue the salvation of their souls, and they hope, by the mercy of omnipotent God, and his apostles the blessed Peter and Paul, entrusted with authority, to you and indeed all individual faithful of Christ of either sex accompanying your Majesty in this work of faith. Indeed to those who did not want to accompany you personally, but will send help according to their means or exigency of allegiance, or they will reasonably contribute from those possessions assigned by God, we grant, by the power of your sacrifice, a plenary forgiveness of all and individual sins, crimes, trespasses, and digressions which you and they have confessed with contrite heart and by mouth, to you and to those who accompany you, as often as you and they happen to go into any war against the mentioned infidels, and indeed to those who do not accompany you but are sending and contributing, as mentioned before, to those who persist in sincerity of faith, in the unity of the Holy Roman Church, by our obedience and devotion and of our successors Roman Pontiffs entering canonically, to the remaining a suitable confessor whom you and anyone of them selected can forgive merely once at the moment of death. Thus, however, the confessor sees to matters in which there is an obligation to a third party and that you, those who accompany you, who send and contribute fulfill it if you and they survive or your heirs and their heirs if you and they perish, as mentioned before.

3. And nevertheless, if it should happen that you or others of those accompanying you against the Saracens and other infidels of this kind, on the way there, staying there, or on the way back, departed from this world, we restore you and those accompanying you, remaining in sincerity and unity, through the present letter, to pure innocence in which you and they existed after baptism..

4. But we demand that all and each thing which the faithful of Christ, who do not accompany you, contributed for your support to carry out this undertaking, be taken by the noblemen of individual places in which these contributions were given and as time permits at once be repaid and given to you through secure messengers, or letters of the bank, without any reduction, expenses, and salaries, merely reasonably reserved for those working in this undertaking, and that they are transmitted under authentic sum-total, and that if the noblemen themselves, or anybody else deducted, or transferred or seized for his own use from the sum sent for support of this undertaking anything except expenses and salaries, or if they allowed or conspired for money to be either fraudulently or deceitfully subtracted, transferred or seized, that they incur eo ipso the sentence of excommunication, from which they cannot be absolved except by the office of the Roman Pontificate if they are in articulo mortis (at the moment of death).

5. For the rest, since it would be difficult to carry this present letter to individual places where perhaps it would be doubted about its credibility, we want and decree with authority that to its transfer signed by the hand of Notary public and provided with seal of a bishop or High Court, same credibility is shown, as if the original letter were presented or shown.

6. Consequently, it is not allowed to any person to infringe this sheet of our granting, pardon, will, indulgence, and decree, or dare to oppose it rashly. If, however, anyone tried to tamper with it, he would incur the indignation of the Omnipotent God, and of blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome at St. Peter, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 1452 on June 18th, in the sixth year of our Pontificate.

Just three years later, the same pope wrote the bull Romanus Pontifex on January 1455 to the same Alfonso as a follow-up to the Dum Diversas. The bull extended to the Catholic nations of Europe dominion over discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Along with sanctifying the seizure of non-Christian lands, it encouraged the enslavement of native, non-Christian peoples in Africa and the New World.

Here is an excerpt from the Romanus Pontifex:

We [therefore] 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 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, nor without special license from King Alfonso and his successors themselves has any other even of the faithful of Christ been entitled hitherto, nor is he by any means now entitled lawfully to meddle therewith – in order that King Alfonso himself and his successors and the infante may be able the more zealously to pursue and may pursue this most pious and noble work, and most worthy of perpetual remembrance (which, since the salvation of souls, increase of the faith, and overthrow of its enemies may be procured thereby, we regard as a work wherein the glory of God, and faith in Him, and His commonwealth, the Universal Church, are concerned) in proportion as they, having been relieved of all the greater obstacles, shall find themselves supported by us and by the Apostolic See with favors and graces,

In the wake of Columbus’s landing in the New World, Pope Alexander VI was asked by the Spanish monarchy to confirm their ownership of these newly found lands.

Inter Caetera – Division of the undiscovered world between Spain and Portugal, Pope Alexander VI – 1493:

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.

Wherefore inasmuch as by the favor of divine clemency, we, though of insufficient merits, have been called to this Holy See of Peter, recognizing that as true Catholic kings and princes, such as we have known you always to be, and as your illustrious deeds already known to almost the whole world declare, you not only eagerly desire but with every effort, zeal, and diligence, without regard to hardships, expenses, dangers, with the shed­ ding even of your blood, are laboring to that end; recognizing also that you have long since dedicated to this purpose your whole soul and all your en­deavors — 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.

We have indeed learned that you, who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and main­ lands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others, to the end that you might bring to the worship of our Redeemer and the profession of the Catholic faith their residents and inhabitants, having been up to the present time greatly engaged in the siege and recovery of the kingdom itself of Granada were unable to accomplish this holy and praiseworthy purpose; but the said kingdom having at length been regained, as was pleasing to the Lord, you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christo­pher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great all undertaking, whom you furnished with ships and men equipped for like designs, not without the greatest hardships, dangers, and expenses, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown main­ lands and islands through the sea, where hitherto no one had sailed; and they at length, with divine aid and with the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh. 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.

Also, on one of the chief of these aforesaid islands the said Christo­pher has already caused to be put together and built a fortress fairly equipped, wherein he has stationed as garrison certain Christians, companions of his, who are to make search for other remote and unknown islands and mainlands. In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said main­ lands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. Hence, heartily commending in the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the Lord and by your reception of holy baptism, whereby you are bound to our apostolic commands, and by the bowels of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoin strictly, that inasmuch as with eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and despatch this expedition, you purpose also, as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Al­ mighty God will further your undertakings. And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with the benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, …

Together, the Dum Diversas, the Romanus Pontifex and the Inter Caetera came to serve as the basis and justification for the Doctrine of Discovery, the global slave-trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Age of Imperialism.

Thanks for reading,


Dum Diversas (Latin Original)

Romanus Pontifex full text in English

Bull Inter Caetera

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