Tuesday, June 02, 2020

“White Privilege” and “Dum Diversas” – the Papal Bull that Authorized the African Slave Trade

I posted this article more than a year ago, but with race violence fairly prevalent right now, this seems like a useful bit of information that can help us get our bearings with respect to race issues in the western world.

The left-wing popular culture wants to attribute racism and slavery to “white European males”, and in fact there is now a whole derogatory category called “white privilege” that exists and that seeks to castigate every white person for the evils of racism and slavery by positing an ongoing “systemic racism” that still exists today, sort of like a headwind to “people of color” but a tail wind to those of white European descent.

But they ignore the fact that human slavery is as old as the human race itself, and that the Black African slave trade within that continent long pre-dated the arrival of “white European males”. It was, in fact, a concerted effort by more than a few “white European males” (for the most part, Protestant Christians) that ended the slave trade and eventually abolished slavery in the Western world (but not in the Muslim world). A little discernment will go a long way toward modifying and even dismantling the left’s narrative on this topic.

At this point, I don’t believe that too much qualification or explanation is needed to define “the political left” in the US. There is a stark and quite evident divide on the political spectrum. One qualification that is needed is to distinguish what I’ll call “classical liberalism” from “the political left”. “The political left” seems to have very little concern for “classical liberal” ideals such as “advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press [and speech], and international peace based on free trade.” If anyone has any questions about this, I’ll be happy to comment further on it.

I myself am for the most part a second-generation American. My parents were born in the US, but three of my four grandparents were born in eastern Europe and migrated to the US prior to World War I. My maternal grandmother, who was born in the US, was the third child of grandparents who had their first child in Slovakia. More, this part of the world knew nothing of enslaving people, but it knew all about being enslaved, primarily by Muslim invaders of the Ottoman empire, who historically had made a number of incursions into that part of Europe.

My hope here is to try to provide some broader context for some of those fires that continue to rage on in our day.


A Brief History of the African Slave Trade


The “African slave trade”, as manifested by “white European males”, began, as we know it, in 1434, when a Portuguese sailor named Antonio Gonzales “landed on this coast” (Guinea, Africa), and carried away with him some negro boys, whom he sold to one or two Moorish families in the south of Spain” (from “The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern”, by William O . Blake, H. Miller Publisher, 1860, pg. 95).

It wasn’t long afterward, 1452, that the Portuguese king Alfonso, petitioned a pope, and obtained authorization for this type of enterprise, “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.” The target was largely to be Muslims (Saracens), but the Portuguese encountered an already existing slavery in Africa that was largely dealing in Black Africans as slaves.

Blake described in some detail how the slave trade came about, beginning with slavery in the Greek and Roman empires, then how it expanded under Muslim domination. The European slave trade as we know it had its beginnings first within Africa itself, then among the Portuguese and the Spanish, and finally (with papal sanction, long before the Reformation), in the Americas.

In the selections that follow, I’ll use the language that Blake used in 1860. No racial slur is intended. My desire is merely to provide an accurate report of his account. Blake himself fought bitterly against slavery in the US.

Blake himself was stridently anti-slavery. He noted in a preface that “The parliamentary history of the African slave-trade has been made to occupy considerable space [in this book] … we have [also] devoted a space to the abominations of the old legalized slave traffic, and to the increased horrors of the trade after it had been declared piracy by Christian nations. It is a fearful chapter of wrong, violence and crime” (Blake, pg xvi)”.

The book is available at Archive.org:
The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern:
The nations and tribes of negroes in Africa, who thus ultimately became the universal prey of Europeans, were themselves equally guilty in subjecting men to perpetual bondage. In the most remote times, every Ethiopian man of consequence had his slaves, just as a Greek or Roman master had. Savage as he was, he at least resembled the citizen of a civilized state in this. He possessed his domestic slaves, or bondmen, hereditary on his property; and besides these, he was always acquiring slaves by whatever means he could, whether by purchase from slave-dealers, or by war with neighboring tribes.

The slaves of a negro master in this case would be his own countrymen, or at least men of his own race and color; some of them born on the same spot with himself, some of them captives who had been brought from a distance of a thousand miles. Of course, the farther a captive was taken from his home, the more valuable he would be, as having less chance of escape; and therefore it would be a more common practice to sell a slave taken in war with a neighboring tribe, than to retain him as a laborer so near his home. And just as in the cities of the civilized countries, we find the slave population often outnumbering the free, so in the villages of the interior of Africa the negro slaves were often more numerous than the negro masters (Blake, 94).

Papal Sanction for the African Slave Trade


It was not long afterward that a pope endorsed this new slave trade, in a papal bull issued in 1452 (prior to the Reformation), “ Dum Diversas”, about which the Encyclopedia Britannica tersely says:

In 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull entitled Dum Diversas, which authorized Afonso V of Portugal to conquer “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans” in a disputed territory in Africa and consign them to “perpetual servitude.” It has been argued that this and the subsequent bull (Romanus Pontifex), issued by Nicholas in 1455, gave the Portuguese the rights to acquire slaves along the African coast by force or trade. The edicts are thus seen as having facilitated the Portuguese slave trade from West Africa and as having legitimized the European colonization of the African continent.

There were actually several follow-up papal documents affirming the legitimacy of this one, all dated prior to the Reformation. From the Dum Diversas document:

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 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.

There seems to be only one translation of this document online. The translation was provided on the blog “Unam Sanctam Catholicam”, (an individual named “Boniface”, the proprietor, who says at the link, “Last summer I came across the Latin text of Dum Diversas of Pope Nicholas V (1452) in a book entitled Bullarium Patronatus Portugalliae Regum which I found in the rare documents depository at the University of Michigan. Since this encyclical is somewhat controversial, having been accused by some of ushering in the entire West African slave trade …, I thought it would be helpful to get this document translated into English and posted on the blog, especially since there are no other extant English translations. So, I turned it over to [Dr. Olga Izzo, retired Professor of Latin from Calgary University and formerly of Ave Maria University], a distinguished professor of Latin with decades of experience, and asked her to translate it for me. … The Bull was issued to King Alfonso of Portugal in 1452 authorizing an expedition against the Saracens of North Africa and granted a plenary indulgence to all who went on the campaign.”

Quite naturally, Roman Catholics want to explain this away … that somehow (in some Augustinian sense), a good thing (“If not for the Catholic Popes rallying the Christian Kings out of their petty infighting to defend Christendom all of it would have fallen.”)

A more serious Roman Catholic treatment concludes “even if the circumstances mitigate some of the guilt of Rome’s involvement in slavery, it’s a scandal nonetheless.”

Slave Trade Prior to the Discovery of the Americas


Continuing with Blake’s account:

The Portuguese were the first to set the example of stealing negroes; they were the first to become acquainted with Africa. Till the fifteenth century, no part of Africa was known except the chain of countries on the coast of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, beginning with Morocco, and ending with Abyssinia (the northern portion of the Ethiopian empire) and the adjoining desert.

The Arabs and Moors [a term variously applied the name to Arabs, North African Berbers, and Muslim Europeans], indeed, traversing the latter, knew something about Ethiopia, or the land of the negroes, but what knowledge they had was confined to themselves; and to the Europeans the whole of the continent to the south of the desert was an unknown and unexplored land. There were traditions of two ancient circumnavigations of the continent by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, one down the Red Sea, and round the Cape of Good Hope from the east, the other through the Straits of Gibraltar, and round the same cape from the west; but these traditions were vague and questionable.

They were sufficient, however, to set the brains of modern navigators a-working; and now that they were possessed of the mariner's compass, they might hope to repeat the Carthaginian feat of circumnavigating Africa; if, indeed, Africa were circumnavigable. In the year 1412, therefore, a series of attempts was begun by the Portuguese, at the instigation of Prince Henry, to sail southward along the western coast. In every succeeding attempt, the bold navigators got farther and farther south, past the Canaries, past the Cape Verds, along the coast of Guinea, through the Bight of Biafra, down that long unnamed extent of coast south of the equator, until at last the perseverance of three generations succeeded, and the brave Vasco de Gama, \n 1497, rounded the great cape itself, turned his prow northward, sailed through the Mozambique Channel, and then, as if protesting that he had done with Africa all that navigator could, steered through the open ocean right for the shores of India.

The third or fourth of these attempts brought the Portuguese into contact with the negroes. Before the year 1470, the whole of the Guinea [east African] coast had been explored. As early as 1434, Antonio Gonzales, a Portuguese captain, landed on this coast, and carried away with him some negro boys, whom he sold to one or two Moorish families in the south of Spain. The act seems to have provoked some criticism at the time. But from that day, it became customary for the captains of vessels landing on the Gold Coast, or other parts of the coast of Guinea, to carry away a few young negroes of both sexes. The labor of these negroes, whether on board the ships which carried them away, or in the ports to which the ships belonged, being found valuable, the practice soon grew into a traffic ; and negroes, instead of being carried away in twos and threes as curiosities, came to form a part of the cargo, as well as gold, ivory, and gum. The ships no longer went on voyages of discovery, they went for profitable cargoes; and the inhabitants of the negro villages along the coast, delighted with the beads, and knives, and bright cloths which they got in exchange for gold, ivory, and slaves, took care to have these articles ready for any ship that might land. Thus the slave-trade, properly so called, began. The Spaniards were the first nation to become parties with the Portuguese in this infamous traffic.

At first, the deportation of slaves from Africa was conducted on a limited scale; but about seventy years after Gonzales had carried away the first negro boys from the Guinea coast, an opening was all at once made for negro labor, which made it necessary to carry away blacks, not by occasional ship-loads, but by thousands annually (pgs 94-95.

If there is a more up-to-date account of this process, I’d be interested to see it. As it is, I see those who initiated and expanded the practice (those within the African continent itself, who started the practice, as well as the “devout” Roman Catholics, including several popes) as being far more culpable for evils, than those who later maintained the practice.

Northern and eastern Europeans seemed to have no involvement at all in the practice, whereas even many white Europeans from England and within the US (to which the practice was carried) sought to end slavery by every means possible, even giving their lives to end a practice that was much more widespread and pernicious than “the American South”.

These aspects need to become widespread and well known in our day and age.

10 comments:

  1. What about the Papal bull "Sicut Dudum" that was promulgated in 1435? How would you understand that bull in contrast to Dum Diversas?

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    1. What about it? That "forbade the enslavement of local natives in the Canary Islands who had converted or were converting to Christianity". Evidently, "Sicut Dudum" was meant to reinforce "Creator Omnium", issued the previous year, condemning Portuguese slave raids in the Canary Islands (from Wikipedia). Blake does mention that what Gonzales did, "seems to have provoked some criticism at the time". Perhaps this is what he was referring to. Popes do contradict each other. That is what "papal infallibility" was all about. Rome didn't want popes undoing each others' "infallible dogmas".

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    2. I was merely anticipating what a possible response would be from a Roman Catholic. It's very clear that popes have contradicted each other, and I also believe that it's clear that the Papal Infallibility dogma is useless. I was curious if there had been any arguments for Sicut Dudum when Dum Diversas was made.

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    3. Nothing that I’ve seen.

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  2. The order of the Jesuits has a secular history, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, of slave trade.

    http://features.thehoya.com/beyond-the-272-sold-in-1838-plotting-the-national-diaspora-of-jesuit-owned-slaves

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  3. i am a Spanish apologist. By the way, Draper and Andrew Dickson White are a mine of information about anti-clerical stupidities; I am writing chapters on certain black legends, as I enjoy refuting the grotesque lies of Draper and White regarding obstetric anesthesia, smallpox vaccine, lightning rod and cadaver dissection ...
    Obviusly, i have studied the supposed link between slavery and Cristianity. In my opinion you have good refutation in this links (in Spanish)
    : http://www.africafundacion.org/africaI+D2009/documentos/Voces.pdf
    http://tadurraca.blogspot.com.es/2016/02/la-semana-pasada-al-hablar-de-la.html
    Los Capuchinos y la esclavitud negra en los siglos XVII y XVIII ...
    www.academia.edu/.../Los_Capuchinos_y_la_esclavitud_negra_en_los_siglos_XVII_...

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  4. Pius VII said this in a letter addressed to the King of France on September 20, 1814:
    Pius VII: "We forbid any ecclesiastical or secular to support as legitimate, under any pretext, this trade of blacks, or to teach in public or in private in any way something contrary to this apostolic letter."
    Shortly afterwards, in 1823, he again insisted on a letter addressed to the King of Portugal "that the ignominious black trade for the good of religion and the human race be finally removed"
    In the previous century, in 1741, Pope Benedict XIV had addressed to the King of Portugal the immense Apostolic Constitution, condemning the slavery of the Indians. And later, in 1758, a copy of it was sent to the Capuchins of Congo, understanding that this same doctrine would apply also to the blacks. To clarify this topic and understand the efforts of capuchins and others against slavery I strongly recommend reading this link:http://www.africafundacion.org/africaI+D2009/documentos/Voces.pdf

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  5. Fray Gatti wrote this condemnation of slavery at the request of the Congregation of the Index and with the approval of Pope Pius IX. Therefore it is not a personal opinion but an official document of the Magisterium. Http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=8314521
    900 years before these abolitionist efforts we have this epistle: "Letter of Pope John VIII, dated September 873 and addressed to the Princes of Sardinia:

    -There is one thing we want to admonish in a fatherly tone; If you do not thoroughly amend, commit a great sin, and instead of the gain you expect, you will see your problems multiplied. In fact - by Institution of Greeks, many men taken captive by the pagans in their lands were sold and bought for their citizens who keep them in slavery. Now it seems to be pious and holy, as befits Christians, that once purchased, these slaves are released by the love of Christ - to those who do, the reward will not be given by men but by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, exhort and send you paternal love of some pagan captives and let them go for the good of their souls (Denzinger-Sch'anmetzer, Enchiridion of Symbols and Definitions No. 668) ". Also, the pope Zacharias (from 741 to 752) interjected himself in the slave trade of the Venetian merchants, when he bought the slaves who were brought to Rome for resale to the Saracens in Africa, ban the sell of slaves in the city of Roma.

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  6. Fray Gatti wrote this condemnation of slavery at the request of the Congregation of the Index and with the approval of Pope Pius IX. Therefore it is not a personal opinion but an official document of the Magisterium. Http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=8314521
    900 years before these abolitionist efforts we have this epistle: "Letter of Pope John VIII, dated September 873 and addressed to the Princes of Sardinia:

    -There is one thing we want to admonish in a fatherly tone; If you do not thoroughly amend, commit a great sin, and instead of the gain you expect, you will see your problems multiplied. In fact - by Institution of Greeks, many men taken captive by the pagans in their lands were sold and bought for their citizens who keep them in slavery. Now it seems to be pious and holy, as befits Christians, that once purchased, these slaves are released by the love of Christ - to those who do, the reward will not be given by men but by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, exhort and send you paternal love of some pagan captives and let them go for the good of their souls (Denzinger-Sch'anmetzer, Enchiridion of Symbols and Definitions No. 668) ". Also, the pope Zacharias (from 741 to 752) interjected himself in the slave trade of the Venetian merchants, when he bought the slaves who were brought to Rome for resale to the Saracens in Africa, ban the sell of slaves in the city of Roma.

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    1. You are missing the point. At a key moment in history — a pope, or rather, a series of popes — “the papacy” — your infallible papacy — gave sanction to a practice that was not only reprehensible at the moment, but it led to further spread of the reprehensibleness, into a whole other side of the world, and that reprehensibleness has led to ramifications that exist in this country to this day.

      There is anothe dimension that you seem not to understand, and that is the current American political environment. It is that environment to which I was speaking here. My hope is that very many people will see this, and they will understand the origins of a situation which is very little understood here in the US, but which needs to be understood by all.

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