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The Papal Bulls as Pertaining to the Americas
The historical introduction below is taken from Paul Gottschalk, "The Earliest Diplomatic Documents on America: The Papal Bulls of 1493 and the Treaty of Tordesillas Reproduced and Translated," Berlin, 1927.
The introduction and bull "Inter Caetera" of May 4, 1493 are provided by Frances Gardiner
Davenport, ed., "European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648," Washington, D.C., 1917.
Returning from his first voyage, Columbus landed on the Portuguese coast and was at once invited to Court. He reached Lisbon March 4, 1493, upon the invitation of the King of Portugal. On hearing his report, King John II claimed the newly discovered lands for Portugal by virtue of the Treaty of Alcacovas of 1479, sanctioned by the Bulls of Pope Sixtus IV, dated June 21, 1481. The text of the Treaty and the Bull contain some slight variations and thereby allow of different interpretations.
It is difficult to decide, therefore, whether this claim of the Portuguese King was justified. Contemporary as well as modern historians have always differed widely in their opinions. It is generally believed that, with his famous message on his discoveries, Columbus dispatched to the Spanish Kings, who were at Barcelona, a report on the difficulties raised by the Portuguese King, but it is questioned whether this was sent from Lisbon by land or from Palos after having reached the latter port, March 14, 1493.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain reported the great news at once to Pope Alexander VI. It is again doubtful whether this was done by a special messenger or by a courier sent to Cardinal Bernardin de Carvajal and to Ruiz de Medina, then Spanish ambassadors at the Holy See, and whether this was done in consequence of the Portuguese claims or according to a general custom of that period.
Pope Alexander VI, himself a Spaniard, granted the request to confer the lately discovered lands on the Crown of Spain by three Bulls issued on May 3 and May 4 1493 (all much in favor of Spain, and depriving Portugal of nearly all privileges bestowed upon it by the Bulls of 1452 and 1454, issued bu Nicholas V, and by that of 1481 of Sixtus IV and one of 1484 of Innocentius VIII). Some months later, on September 26, 1493, a fourth Bull was issued granting to Spain almost unlimited rights. But this act remained without consequence; for in the meantime, at the suggestion of the King of Spain, it was agreed that, to avoid complications already threatening, a conference should be held.
Portuguese ambassadors were sent to Barcelona and, after many negotiations and some interruptions, a settlement was finally reached at the small Spanish town of Tordesillas and a treaty was signed on June 7, 1494.
Obviously inspired by the corresponding passage in the second Bull "Inter caetera", but not referring to this or any other bulls or treaties, it was provided that there should be drawn a line running from North to South, 370 leagues west from Cape Verde Islands, and that everything west of this line should belong to Spain, everything east of it to Portugal. The sanction, which by the terms of the Treaty was to be asked, was never given by Alexander VI and not before the 24th of January, 1506, was a Bull to such effect issued by Pope Julius II.
Although much disputed and verydifferently interpreted, this Treaty remained in force until January 13, 1750, when the Treaty of Madrid annulled the boundary line. It would seem, however, that this boundary line, first provided for in the second Bull "Inter caetera" and later corrected in the Treaty of Tordesillas, decided what parts of the western hemisphere as well as which regions of the eastern hemisphere were discovered, possessed and civilized by Spain and by Portugal respectively, and which still speak the language and show the influence of the culture of their first dis- coverers.
Introduction to the Bull Inter Caetera - May 4, 1493
Like the bull "Eximiae devotionis" of May 3, the bull "Inter caetera" of May 4 is a restatement of part of the bull "Inter caetera" of May 3. Taken together the two later bulls cover the same ground as the bull "Inter caetera" of May 3, for which they form a substitute. The changes introduced into the bull "Inter caetera" of May 4, are, however, of great importance, and highly favorable to Spain. Instead of merely granting to Castile the lands discovered by her envoys, and not under Christian rule, the revised bull draws a line of demarcation one hundred leagues west of any of the Azores or Cape Verde Islands, and assigns to Castile the exclusive right to acquire territorial possessions and to trade in all lands west of that line, which at Christmas, 1492, were not in the possession of any Christian prince.
The general safeguard to the possible conflicting rights of Portugal is lacking. All persons are forbidden to approach the lands west of the line without special license from the rulers of Castile.
It is not probable that by this bull Alexander VI intended to secure to Portugal an eastern route to the Indies, as some writers have maintained. In the bulls of May 3, the earlier papal grants to Portugal are said to have given her rights in the region of Guinea and the Gold Mine, but the Indies are not mentioned.
The bull of May 4 does not name Portugal and refers to her only in the clause which excepts from the donation any lands west of the demarcation line, which at Christmas, 1492, might be in the possession of any Christian prince.
The Bull Inter Caetera (Alexander VI.) May 4, 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 shedding 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 mainlands 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 an 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 mainlands 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 mainlands 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, enjoy 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 Almighty God will further your undertakings.
And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but out 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, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde.
With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred ninety three begins. And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however, that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be in actual possession of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taking away.
Moreover we command you in virtue of holy obedience that, employing all due diligence in the premises, as you also promise--nor do we doubt your compliance therein in accordance with your loyalty and royal greatness of spirit--you should appoint to the aforesaid mainlands and islands worthy, God-fearing, learned, skilled, and experienced men, in order to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals.
Furthermore, under penalty of excommunication "late sententie" to be incurred "ipso facto," should anyone thus contravene, we strictly forbid all persons of whatsoever rank, even imperial and royal, or of whatsoever estate, degree, order, or condition, to dare without your special permit or that of your aforesaid heirs and successors, to go for the purpose of trade or any other reason to the islands or mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole to the Antarctic pole, no matter whether themainlands and islands, found and to be found, lie in the direction of India or toward any other quarter whatsoever, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south, as is aforesaid, from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde; apostolic constitutions and ordinances and other decrees whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding.
We trust in Him from whom empires and governments and all good things proceed, that, should you, with the Lord's guidance, pursue this holy and praiseworthy undertaking, in a short while your hardships and endeavors will attain the most felicitious result, to the happiness and glory of all Christendom.
But inasmuch as it would be difficult to have these present letters sent to all places where desirable, we wish, and with similar accord and knowledge do decree, that to? copies of them, signed by the hand of a public notary commissioned therefor, and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical officer or ecclesiastical court, the same respect is to be shown in court and outside as well as anywhere else as would be given to these presents should they thus be exhibited or shown.
Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation, decree, mandate, prohibition, and will. Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord one thousand four hundred and ninety-three, the fourth of May, and the first year of our pontificate.
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