European Catholic values promoted justice and international law in America


Antonio de Montesinos (? -1545), condemned the Castilian imperial policy in the conquest of America. His sermons in the presence of the authorities «were meant to shock and cause terror among the hearers.» And so it must have occurred

The consciousness that the natives of the New World were to be treated with humanity lay in important sectors of the population of Catholic Europe, philosophers and theologians, in the sixteenth century.

It was through this philosophical reflection that the Spanish theologians achieved something very substantial: the birth of modern international law. Controversies surrounding the natives of America provided them with an opportunity to elucidate the general principles that states are morally obliged to observe in their mutual relations

Until then, the laws governing these relations were vague and had never been articulated in a clear way. And it was the discovery of the New World that led them to study and profile them. Scholars of international law frequently turn to the sixteenth century to find the sources of this discipline. Here again, the Catholic Church gave rise to a clearly European concept.


Sculpture of the Mexican Antonio Castellanos Basich

I went up to this pulpit to uncover your sins against the Indies; I am a voice of Christ crying out in the desert of this island, and therefore you must listen to me, not with little attention, but with all your heart and senses; for it will be the strangest voice you have ever heard, the rougher, the most terrible, and the most audacious you ever expected. This voice says that you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, by the cruelty and tyranny with which you treat this people innocent. Tell me with what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel state, in an obnoxious war against this people who dwelt quietly and peacefully in their own land? Why do you oppress them and make them toil to the uttermost, and give them not enough to eat, nor care for them in their infirmities in horrible bondage?
[…] Are they not men? Do not you have rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Be assured that in such a situation you can not be saved.

A voice in the desert. Sermon by António de Montesinos

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