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Papal Influence in the Conversion of Infidels:  Alexander VI's Inter caetera

by Melissa Morris

Background and Introduction

(1)    The topic of papal influence in the conversion of infidels is a necessary and important issue to consider when evaluating the role of Europeans in the colonization of the Americas.  The idea to research and examine the Catholic popes of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries originated in a class at Lehigh University.  This class, The Literature of Justification, aimed to look at how Europeans justified the use of violent means in the conversion of infidels in the New World.  In order to better understand how these nations, such as Spain, Portugal, England, and others rationalized violent tactics and the denial of infidel rights, it is mandatory that the role of the Roman Catholic Church is introduced.

 (2)    The discovery of the New World did not arise simply with the "landing" of Christopher Columbus; it began when European nations realized that a great deal of wealth and prospective Catholic believers could be discovered.  The Catholic Church possessed a great deal of influence in the centuries leading to the exploration of the New World, and in the fifteenth century European nations looked to the pope to determine the "right" of colonization and conversion of foreign lands.  Thus, before looking at nations such as Spain, England, or France, one must look at the role the Church played in granting or refusing acknowledgement of colonization to European nations.

(3)     Alexander VI, author of the papal bulls Inter caetera divinai, Inter caetera, and Inter caetera (II), represents an example of the power and influence the pope possessed in the fifteenth century as exploration of the New Word was truly exploding.  The following research reflects the history of and building of the papal influence that Alexander VI possessed; the actual wording and effect of Alexander's third bull on Spanish colonization, Inter caetera (II); how his bulls become the justification Spain wanted and needed to make a presence in the New World; and the precedence Alexander VI created in the partitioning of foreign lands by popes.

Importance of Papal Influence in the Conversion of Infidels

(4)    In order to understand how and why European nations felt that violent conversion tactics against infidels was acceptable, one must look toward the Catholic Church.  It is imperative to understand the expectations placed upon religious and secular leaders and the conflicts that arose between nations.  The Church did not gain instantaneous say in the colonization tactics of European nations but, rather, had to conduct propaganda campaigns and influence kings one at a time to build trust and a say in political matters.  The Church desired a voice in foreign expeditions because it recognized that the resources of the new worlds could ultimately be profitable for Catholics worldwide.
(5)    Examining the Church's history of religious and economic growth in the New World necessitates looking at just how the Church justified the treatment of non-believers in foreign lands.  As its opinion of justifiable violence changed throughout history, one can begin to see and understand the discourse in which the Church was able to influence and have an effect upon the conquering nations.  It is the Church that sets the standards for what types of conversion tactics will be accepted.  When looking at the religious and secular history of a nation, one can view the means of defense and justification in regard to the time and society in which those tactics were directed at infidels.

(6)    When studying the discovery of the New Worlds by Europeans in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries, few might consider the impact of the Roman Catholic Church.   After the blessing of St. Peter as the first pope in 33 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church propagated and invested in a conquest of conversion to help educate all individuals in the ways of the Lord.  The means of converting, colonizing, and conquering nonbelievers were manipulated depending upon the time period and influence of the pope over Christian kings.  Papal influence is important because in their attempt to reign in all matters, religious and secular, popes and the Catholic Church created the standards and expectations by which European explorers were to treat New World infidels.  While trying to expand, unify, and solidify the boundaries of the Catholic Church, papal leaders, kings, and explorers lost sight of the need to gently convert nonbelievers.  With the promises of treasures, spices, and trade before their eyes, these Christians came to regard New World Indians as deserving of violence, as an invisible entity, and as expendable in regard to the larger cause.  Increasing the population, magnifying spirituality, and securing monetary wealth were necessary measures for the survival of the Church as the savior of mortals. Alexander VI's bull Inter caetera is an example not only of the role the Catholic Church took in the fight for riches and land but also of the pope's power to disregard human beings as deserving of kindness, respect, and the right to freedom in a quest for necessary Church gain.

Inter caetera:  Opening up a Whole New World for Europeans

(7)    One of the most influential popes, Alexander VI, created a set of three papal bulls in May of 1493, Inter caetera divinai, Inter caetera, and Inter caetera (II)Inter caetera II, the main text discussed here, fully demonstrates the power of the papal throne and the influence it had amassed over European nations in the late fifteenth century.  Written as the final say on Spanish colonization of the Americas, Alexander created Inter caetera II with favoritism directed toward the Spanish crown, to help the Church expand its boundaries.  To better understand the positioning of the Church within secular and religious discourses and the role of Inter caetera II (hereafter referred to as Inter caetera throughout this text), the background of the papal throne must first be discussed.

(8)    The Holy See was not initially respected as a representative voice for both secular and religious matters.  Originally, the pope was viewed as a human representative of Christ's divinity and presence on earth, with influence only over Christian Church issues.  The amount of religious importance in early politics cannot be questioned, but until Christianity officially became the religion of Rome in 315 A.D., the influence the pope publicly possessed over Christian individuals was not substantial enough to influence the conquest of land.  It was not until religious leaders and popes became situated in the Vatican in 315 that Christians were motivated to look to the Church for guidance before looking to their king in nonreligious matters.  By convincing believers that Christianity was more important, that secular matters necessitated holy action in all doing, the Church managed to swing the pendulum of influence from armed kings to pious leaders.  Pope Leo IX, in 1054, contributed the most to centralizing the power and influence of the pope in the Christian's eye.  Leo IX set the tone and standards for future popes to seek the recognition and support of Christians by reinforcing the Catholic belief that without the approval of Christ's chosen son, kingdoms were unholy.  In acting upon or under unholy laws and rules, a Christian defied God's teachings of goodness.
(9)     Initially, Christian kings violently opposed any claim to papal power and influence over their subjects for fear of losing material wealth.  With arguments that the pope had no right to dally in the secular realm of politics, many kings and princes denied that religion should influence life outside of the Church.  These leaders, "most of whom maintained that monarchial authority was independent of the church, on the grounds that God delegated power directly to both pope and temporal ruler, each in his own proper sphere […] the lay princes were not concerned with the destruction of papal authority, but rather with its limitations" (Green 146).  Kings and princes were afraid that once the pope had influence over all matters, kingdoms would be unable to profit grossly or unchecked.  This fear was ultimately overcome as popes demonstrated a tendency to desire land, gold, and riches and made allies with secular leaders.  Popes did not take over kingdoms but, rather, made alliances with kings and were able to add input as kings increasingly turned to the Church for advice and financial aid.  Kings traded authority with the knowledge that the growing number of Christian believers would be guided to obey secular law by religious teachers.

(10)    With this faith that popes held the same ultimate profit goals as did kings and kingdoms, Catholics unwittingly allowed the Church to create a cloak or shield for the brutal conversion of nonbelievers.  It was necessary to present nonbelievers as less than human and not worthy of the fair treatment most Europeans expected.  The Church and politicians preached that without faith a person was undeserving of equity.  New World individuals were viewed as heathens and as sub-human, and the "West's religion, civilization, and knowledge [were viewed as] superior to the religions, civilizations, and knowledge of non-Western peoples.  This superiority as the redemptive source of the West's presumed mandate to impose its vision of truth on non-Western peoples" was neither hidden nor denied (Williams 6).  Such a disavowal of the Native's right to freedom and personal belief helped to convince kings and commoners that heathen lands and the New World had to be "tamed" in order to obtain the riches and followers of God.

(11)     It is this standard that helped Urban II, in 1088, to recruit Catholics to push the boundaries of the Christian world further than had ever been attempted in history:

Europeans, as Christians, had a duty to spread the word of the gospel and a right to  engage in trade and to cultivate unoccupied land without interference.  Conversely, the  peoples of the New World had an obligation to receive the ambassadors of the pope, the  trade expeditions and the colonists, and any resistance or hostility to the European  presence could be met with force of arms. (Dickason ix)

The need for more prestige, power, and land became an addictive and recurring process for the Catholic Church, and as more land was acquired and foreign conquests met with success, more eyes turned favorably toward the Holy See.  Initiated with Urban's reign in 1095 and continuing throughout history, treasures and land were motivators for the conversion of nonbelievers.  The spreading of Catholicism was used as propaganda for recruiting crusaders and colonizers; "religious motivation had never been the sole hallmark of medieval expansion […] The crusades, like the American frontier in the nineteenth century, were to be a safety valve, drawing off those who were too aggressive for peaceful life at home" (Muldoon 5).  Ultimately, the Crusades and the expansion of the Catholic empire were not truly movements to save heathen nonbelievers from eternal damnation but, rather, campaigns for profitable gains.

(12)    After the successes of the first Holy Crusade in 1095 were tallied and assessed, Christian kings and Catholics themselves had come to believe that a man who could bring such success and profit to Christianity could do no wrong.  With the faith of kings and commoners thus sealed, "The pope held unquestioned universal jurisdictional authority on earth over all the Church's subjects, real and potential.  Resistance to that authority constituted resistance to God's law.  The papacy possessed the power not only to punish the deluded pagans but also to assume the rule over their territories, which rightly belonged to Rome in the first place" (Williams 41).  Urban's ability, and that of the popes following him, to convince knights and kings to go to war, commoners to contribute funds to the Crusades, and expand the population and land wealth of the Catholic states granted the pope more power than ever historically allotted to the Holy See.  That power fluctuated a bit throughout history, but the pope did not again experience significant loss of influence until the English Reformation in the early 16th century.

(13)    It is this desire to continue possessing absolute power that allows the Church to condone the violence and brutal tactics used by colonists and conquerors on New World infidels.  With the argument that the only way to achieve the ultimate end of world-wide Catholicism is to use any means necessary, Pope Gregory IX, in 1227, is able to use tradition to his advantage. Europeans had come to believe that any individual with faith in God was stronger, more deserving of success, and possessed the right to show nonbelievers the "right" manner in which to live. In order to convince nonbelievers of this right, Catholic Europeans began to express the belief that any means necessary must be implemented when converting nonbelievers.  In an explanation that mimics that of "survival of the fittest," he explains the application of aggression and hostility toward others in the conquest of land as acceptable:  "Who does not know that kings and princes derive their origin from men ignorant of God who raised themselves above their fellow men by pride, plunder, treachery, murder—in short, by every kind of crime—at the instigation of the Devil, the prince of this world, men blind with greed and intolerable in their audacity" (Williams 25).  Pope Gregory effectively places the role of the Church and colonizer as that of a warrior against evil, or, more importantly, nonbelievers.  It is this mindset that resonates throughout history.  With the refusal to change the traditions of conversion, the Catholic Church continued to abuse infidels and disregard the actual beginning words of Christ.  Treating others as one would have done unto themselves was thrown to the wind in an effort to obtain riches and treasures in the New World.

Religious Texts and Inter caetera

(14)     With an understanding of how popes such as Alexander VI came to possess influence over kings, it is necessary to examine how that influence was conveyed through words.  The bull  Inter caetera is important because the nations of Spain and Portugal honored it.  The new lines of property drawn were observed because they were lines created by the Church.  Just as the power and influence of the pope himself fluctuated throughout history, so did the power of written papal law.  As popes fought to gain a foothold in the realm of politics, the written word became an effective means of communicating and persuading Christian kings worldwide to defer decisions to religion.  Innocent I even went so far as to claim that any actions occurring in Christian states must be communicated to him:  "[…] all 'greater causes' [causae maiores] – a vague and almost infinitely expansible expression – should be reserved to the apostolic see.  'Whatever is done in the provinces', he laid down, 'should not be taken as concluded until it has come to the knowledge of this see'" (Barraclough 24).  Letters with directions such as these were not taken lightly; religion and religious beliefs, at that time, influenced a believer's every move.  If a man of God claimed that no action would be deemed holy without consent of the Church, fear of damnation and the eternal unknown forced believers to seek religious authority.

(15)     Pope Gregory VII, in 1076, used such power to his advantage and was influential in the realm of public speech and propaganda.  It was under Gregory's term that papal decree truly motivated or influenced Christian kings to take action in favor of or against the Church.  As the first pope who "deliberately set out to cultivate new fields, outside and beyond the control of the Roman Empire, and thus to lessen the dependence of the papacy on the imperial government," Gregory VII needed to ensure that his plans and wishes were able to reach a large audience (Barraclough 31).  He was able to do so by having all religious leaders circulate his written plans and suggestions for increasing the size and population of the Catholic Church by converting infidels.  Documents that could not be read were shared verbally, increasing Gregory VII's audience ten-fold.

(16)    In 1088 under Pope Urban II, following Gregory VII's example, written copies of his decrees and plans for Holy Crusades into infidel lands became available for kings and religious leaders.  Such widespread publication of and promotion of a "holy war" helped to ensure that religious leaders across Europe were able to spread the word and influence both the nobility and the common man.  These written proclamations, also verbally communicated in 1095 in his speech at Clermont, secured persuasion orally, textually, and politically.  Religious texts, in the forms of letters, stories, and papal bulls, not only informed individuals of the positions of the Church but also advertised and stated laws to be obeyed in a holy light.  Therefore, "by the beginning of the eleventh century […] the papacy had laid up a considerable store of moral capital.  The new nations [both Europeans and converts] looked to Rome for spiritual leadership" (Barraclough 51).  Popes and religious leaders, throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries, had set out and successfully exercised one of the most influential propaganda schemes in history.  Not only had they convinced secular leaders that the pope was the source of all knowledge and approval, they had convinced believers to go to war to win land, riches, and new believers for the Church:  "It set the pope, in place of the emperor, at the head of Europe, and assured the papacy a moral leadership  (Barraclough 91).  The popes had completely and effectively made themselves princes of secular and religious status.

(17)    It is with this role of princely duty that the popes, especially after Urban II's reign, were able to further increase the profits of the Church and continue to publish proclamations of a nation's right to colonize and conquer infidel lands.  "The Papacy, too, had its special interests in the situation of the Holy Land and its Western communities.  […] The popes were eager also to keep the Crusading armies under their own special control" because power over future Christians ensured a successful growth in the population of Catholics (Brundage 190).  Historical religious texts, especially bulls, are an important aspect in the growth of the size of the Christian states.  Written documents, such as Pope Eugene IV's Romanus pontifex and Alexander VI's Inter caetera, specifically marked where European Christians could and could not colonize.  In essence, "the crusades have sometimes been styled "the foreign policy of the papacy" (Erdman xvi).  Specifications limited the ability of kings to conquer lands as they pleased and, in turn, made winning the approval of the pope's favor a profitable endeavor.

(18)     Thus, to win the support of the pope in word and deed, a nation had to be religiously and politically appealing to the Holy See.  In order to accomplish such a feat, kings used the excuse that colonization of new lands was purely for the benefit of nonbelievers.  The "connection between church and state was accompanied by […] the idea that the defense of the church against pagans and robbers was a good deed particularly encouraged by God and the saints" (Erdman 26).  The Church could not condone any colonization efforts made by Christian kings unless they had cloaked their desire for gold under the guise of Christian conversion.  "As long as the wars against pagans were truly defensive, religious motives were intermingled with the consciousness of fighting for hearth and home," but Christian kings merely had to suggest that their intentions abroad were of a religious nature in order to obtain papal approval (Erdman 96). Though some kings did have intentions of converting infidels into Catholics, and many might have had the natives' best interests first in mind, far too many leaders allowed the promise of land and gold to come before the needs and rights of nonbelievers.

(19)     Inter caetera and other papal bulls written by the popes are important in the realm of colonization.  Ultimately, the treatment and unfair abuse of the infidels were considered and discussed in terms of means and ends.  Though "Innocent III had questioned the propriety of the exercise of power by non-Christians over Christians, but had not denied its legitimacy," the simple fact that he pondered infidel rights in Quod super his, written in 1199, was enough to begin a public discourse concerning what power the papal see should or should not have in regard to infidel rights (Green 149).   Innocent IV, in 1243, extended the points discussed to include the right of Christians to take holy lands from native nonbelievers, a right which he carefully supported by stating that only the pope could authorize an attack on a non-Christian prince.  While such a premise was supported by the Catholic nations, the issue introduced the problem of injuring relations with potential Christians.  Ultimately, Innocent IV, reflecting on Innocent III's discourses, publicly decided that Christians not only had the right but also a duty to reconquer holy lands for Christians, and the obligation to follow religious decrees, even if infidels were hurt in the process.  Innocent IV's decrees, based on the opinions of Innocent III, paved the way for Christians to reconquer holy lands for the Church – even if obeying such decrees meant killing the infidel peoples.

(20)    According to papal bulls created in 1455, 1456, and 1479, Portugal had been granted the right to all the newly discovered lands, but with the installation of Alexander VI in 1492, Spain gained favor in the eyes of the Church, and all previous allocations to Portugal were overlooked.  Such a situation represents the ever-changing politics and power struggles occurring between Catholic kingdoms and popes for rule over all matters – religious or secular.    In order to show his dedication to and approval of Spanish exploration of Africa and the New World, Alexander VI, a native of Valencia, created three bulls dated May 3 and 4, 1493, to redraw the lines of Portuguese authority.  As the final say on New World colonization, Inter caetera sets the precedence for all following bulls and legal documents condoning and authorizing Christian kings to colonize heathen lands.  Though it did not completely disregard the Portuguese lands, it did not publicly recognize the king or his conquests of African and South American lands, which hinted at the lack of power the Portuguese king held at the changing of papal authority.

(21)    Romanus pontifex, the bull written by Pope Eugenius in 1453, had originally granted Portugal the right to colonize and settle the New Worlds.  This bull set the structure by which Alexander VI wrote and published his Inter caetera in regard to the colonization status of Spain.  The bulls by Alexander VI and Eugenius are examples of how important and necessary papal approval of colonization had become in the conquest of new lands and riches.  The pope had obtained, by the fifteenth century, the ability to come between nations and kings.  He had the power and the prestige to determine which nations and lands were worthy of recognition and power, a power only allotted to those who could offer the Church profits.  Conflict and aggression between Spain and Portugal reared as Alexander VI weighed the pros and cons of which nation should represent more land in the New Worlds under the Catholic flag:  "The outcome was rivalry between the two nations, and disputes about the rights and limits of discovery.  Both crowns, Portuguese and Spanish, appealed to the Pope, who accepted the task of arbitrator.  His verdict resulted in establishing a line of demarcation, the right of discovery on one side being allotted to Spain, on the other side to Portugal" (Bandlier 1).  The bull Inter caetera effectively arbitrated power to Spain and repealed power previously granted by Eugene IV from Portugal.

(22)     As a document that approves, endorses, and manipulates New World colonization and the conquest of nonbelievers, Alexander VI's Inter caetera demonstrates the amount of influence and power the pope exercised over nations competing for land in North and South America.  The bull Inter caetera is a major document because it represents the development of and the continuation of benchmarks for future legal documents written in the realm of legalizing colonization charters.  Alexander VI was approached by Spain and Portugal because both disputed what rights the other had in the New World.  Because of the historical precedence and prestige of the Holy See, both kings viewed the pope as an ultimate umpire and provider of closure.  Alexander VI, sensing that having the final say in who should ultimately obtain greater plots of land in the New World would benefit the Church, graciously accepted the role of arbitrator in the dispute.  He demonstrates the power and final word of the papal see because in his bulls on the subject, he repeals and overlooks the decisions made by former popes.  Popes Adrian IV, Innocent III, Gregory IX, Innocent IV, and Eugene IV had all written documents and issued papal bulls in regard to the rights and obligations of Christians who attempted to conquer heathen lands.  Alexander VI ignores the words of former popes, merely hints toward the Portuguese presence granted by Eugene IV in Romanus pontifex, and reallocates territory in the New World in favor of Spain.

(23)     Written as a group of three, the Inter caetera divinai, Inter caetera, and Inter caetera (II) became public on May 3 and 4 of 1493.  The first two bulls, Inter caetera divinai and Inter caetera, name the Spanish kingdom of Castile as the proprietors of New World land.  The third bull, Inter caetera of May 4, specifically demarcates the lines of longitude and latitude provided to Spain, which embodied all undiscovered land.  This bull only mentions lands already conquered by Christian princes and does not name Portugal specifically.  Alexander VI's bulls embody all of the papal struggles to obtain influence and power over Christian kings, and their ultimate ability to go back on previous proclamations while maintaining power.  The third bull, viewed as the final say of the pope, gave the kingdom of Castile the exclusive rights to territory, trade, and the development of the lands in the New World.  Conquest could begin west of the meridian one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands.  The creation of this bull further intensified the unstable relations occurring between the kingdoms of Castile and Portugal and further spurred the race to discover new lands, but it also solidified the need to seek the pope's ultimate say in colonization matters.

Inter caetera:  Papal Allowance of Colonization

 (24)    The May 4, 1493, Inter caetera is generally discussed and highlighted because it is the final word of Alexander VI in the dispute between Spain and Portugal over lands west of the Cape Verde Islands.  It discusses the lands to be granted to Spain, reassures that the Catholic religion will be spread, gives Spain the right to rule for future generations, denies previous papal decrees in favor of Portugal, and permits Spain to use any means necessary against nonbelievers.  Often referred to as Inter caetera II, it closed the door on further discussion concerning Portugal's right to all the lands of the New World supposedly first discovered by Christopher Columbus.  Alexander VI effectively placed the power in Spain's hands as a favor to his homeland and as an investment in future land for the Church:  "all the lands discovered by or to be discovered in the name of the Spanish Crown in the region belonged legally to Ferdinand and Isabella" (Williams 80).  Alexander VI took into account the manpower, military force, and political prowess of the Spanish crown, especially in relation to the limited powers of the Portuguese kingdoms, and assumed that Spain would have better chances of colonizing and gaining Catholic power in New World lands.

(25)     Thus, his final Spanish bull, "Inter caetera II began with a recounting of Spain's victory at Granada and other Spanish actions that had enlarged and expanded the Catholic Church to the delight of the pope" and affirmed the Church's desire to expand its boundaries  (Williams 80-81).  To ensure that the Church was not approached and accused of conquest merely for profits, Alexander VI made certain to include guidelines for the conversion of heathen peoples.  The usurpation of infidel lands was to come only in terms of conversion, with land, gold, and treasures as secondary rewards.  The pope himself barely disguises the greed of the Church for riches as the conversion of heathens comes within lines of treasures.  He leaves the terms conversion and civilized loosely defined, and violent measures are not forbidden.  Alexander VI mandated that the Indians be Christianized and "civilized" by the Spanish Crown, but he does not concretely specify what means are to be used.

(26)    Alexander VI defines and reassures religious and secular leaders of the power of papal authority.  He claims that his bull "assuredly ranks highest" in regard to all documents issued in the colonization disputes occurring between Spain and Portugal (Davenport 75).  He recognizes the need to remind the Christian leaders of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, of their duty to always put the Church first in political actions.  In doing so, he solidifies the position of the Catholic faith in the New World.  Alexander VI desires the augmentation of Christian boundaries because such increase in land and believers would increase the possibilities of gaining treasures.  In his warning to the Spanish, Alexander VI makes it clear that the ultimate goal of colonizing new lands is the complete usurpation of power in favor of spreading Catholicism: "barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself" (Davenport 75).  He expects that the Spanish will meet conquering nonbelievers with success, and he also expects that the Spanish kingdom will stop at nothing in the name of the Church.  Without expressing or providing any support for the Spanish crown beside the approval of conquest, Alexander VI explains that the Spanish will endure hardships on their own: "with every effort, zeal, and diligence, without regard to hardships, expenses, dangers, with the shedding even of your blood."  Pain is necessary in the conquest of nonbelievers (Davenport 75).  The Church, through Alexander VI's words, is able to maintain pressure on nations while distancing itself from violence and wrongdoing.

(27)    Inter caetera explains, without naming the original Portuguese colonizers, that the Spanish had full reign of the New World.  Alexander's words allow the Spanish to "make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through the sea" (Davenport 76).  Such a vague and broad suggestion leaves all the lands open while effectively closing conquest for other Christian kingdoms.  He acknowledges that there are people who believe in a Creator and who are not heathens in the new lands; infidels who could "embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals" (Davenport 76).  Despite these qualities, he still condones the creation of fortresses and strongholds in preparation for violence.  Alexander VI does not try to hide or deny the European belief that all nonbelievers ultimately need violent measures to ensure conversion and to obtain the "gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities" (Davenport 76).  Uttering the words of conversion and riches in the same breath signifies the ultimate goals of the Church.

(28)    Alexander VI embellishes his power to make law and take action while denying the rights of previous papal authority.  By not recognizing the rights of colonization allotted to Portugal by Pope Eugene IV, Alexander IV demonstrates the expectation that Christian kingdoms must remain in present time and not look too far to the future while planning for conquest.  Alexander VI uses words such as "forever" and "all rights" to describe the power granted to Spain in discovering more land; he knowingly uses the same words previously allotted to Portugal.  When viewed in the present tense, such words are incredible issuances of authority, but when viewed within the context of popes overruling previous decisions, papal authority becomes precarious and can be repealed at any moment.  Therefore, text such as "any of said islands have been found […] kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together […] all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands, and mainlands found and to be found" provide kingdoms with the assumption that New World lands will forever be theirs, but there is always the chance that such allocations can be overturned (Davenport 76).  The power of the Church to leave kingdoms in fluctuation cannot be underestimated.

(29)    Such fluctuations occur because the pope does not recognize Portugal by name, which is a denial of the influence Portugal had been granted in the conquest of foreign lands.  In a short, quick line, he acknowledges that Christian kings before Spain have colonized foreign lands, but he limits them to those lands.  Portugal and other Catholic kingdoms have no right to cross past the Azores or Cape Verde Islands: "none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line toward the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian kings" (Davenport 76).  The important emphasis of his text is the word "actual" possession.  Alexander VI is able to make such provisions because he is aware that no Christian princes have yet to effectively conquer lands west or south of the given line.  He does not mention the peoples of these lands, only the land itself.

(30)    Ultimately, Alexander VI creates a loophole to deny that the Church condoned violence because he emphasizes land and not humanity.  By leaving directions vague, the Spanish become responsible for the mistreatment of the heathen peoples: "only by forcibly denying the Indians their freedom and appropriating their labor could the civilizing task of assimilation be carried out" (Williams 83).  The Church, by the fifteenth century, had gained enough political power to be able to draw lines and limitations for colonizing nations.  By providing the power to nations for conquests of foreign lands but maintaining a documented distance from the actual actions of the conquerors, the Church was able to effectively maintain an air of moral righteousness over the very same nations they goaded into violence for survival.  Alexander instructs the Spanish king and queen to simply "instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals" without forbidding violence or aggressive behaviors (Davenport 77).  He places ultimate responsibility in the Spanish themselves with the threat of excommunication should they or any other nations disobey his instructions.  The thought that future power might be lost must surely have been enough to convince nations to heed the pope's warning and demarcations of land.

Inter caetera:  The Grand-Pappy of Colonization

(31)    Alexander VI's Inter caetera not only reinforces the ability of popes to deny proclamations issued before their decisions but also created precedence for future charters and approval of New World land.   Papal rule and influence had historically motivated Christians to war, and the bull Inter caetera laid the foundations for Spanish conquest and a pope's ability to determine who and what could be ruled by Christian kings.  Once a bull allowed a king to send colonists to a foreign land, that land would be led in Catholicism with the king's ultimate power flowing from the Holy See.  Heathens were not considered deserving of land or power, and "at no time were they considered as the owners of their land or as being entitled to any role in connection with its disposition" (Dickason 38-39).  Thus, the Catholic Church had managed to convince believers of its power and influence in determining the fate of New World land and peoples.  Bulls such as Inter caetera solidified papal say in colonization while distancing the Church from any ultimate responsibility in the treatment of nonbelievers inhabiting those lands.  For the centuries following, the holy precedent of legal charters and grants became an everyday occurrence and a natural part of political life.

Works Cited

Bandlier, AD. F.  America.  2003.  Catholic Encyclopedia.  15 Sept. 2003.   <>

Barraclough, Geoffrey.  The Medieval Papacy.  London: Thames and Hudson, 1968.
Brundage, James A.  The Crusades: A Documentary Survey.  Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1976.

Davenport, Frances G, ed.  European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648.  Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917.

Green, L.C., and Olive P. Dickason.  The Law of Nations and the New World.  Alberta: U of  Alberta P, 1989.

Erdman, Carl.  The Origin of the Idea of Crusade.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.  Translated from Die Entstehung des Kreuzzegsgedankens by W. Kohlhammer Verlag.  Stuggart, 1935.

Muldoon, James, ed.  The Expansion of Europe: The First Phase.  Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1977.

Williams, Robert A., Jr.  The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest.  New York: Oxford UP, 1990.