BARTOLOME de Las CASAS, OP
BARTOLOMÉ de LAS CASAS, OP (1474-1566). Spanish missionary to the New World, sometimes known as ‘The Apostle of the Indies’. Originally a lawyer, he accompanied the Spanish governor, Ovando, to Hispaniola (Haiti) in 1502. Having been ordained, prob. on a visit to Rome in 1507, he delayed his first Mass until he could celebrate it in Hispaniola in 1510, the first time any priest said his first Mass in the New World. From 1514 he devoted himself to the interests of the Indians by opposing, both in America and at the court of Spain, the cruel methods of exploitation of the Spanish settlers. These activities were strongly resented by his countrymen, and in 1515 he went back to Spain, where he successfully presented the cause of the Indians to Ferdinand V and Charles V.
He returned to America with far-reaching powers; but though supported by his fellow-clergy and many settlers, his projects of colonization miscarried owing to a revolt of the Indians in 1522. In the same year (1522) Las Casas joined the Dominicans. He continued to labor for the Indians and put together many lurid reports on the abuses of the settlers, notably his famous Destrucción des las Indias (pub. 1552), in which he roundly condemned the horrors perpetrated by the colonists. He was the instigator of the famous ‘New Laws of the Indies’.
In 1543 he became Bishop of Chiapa in Mexico, but he left his diocese in 1547 to return to Spain, where he spent the rest of his life championing the rights of the Indians at court and in numerous publications. He was in favour of limited importation of negro slaves into America to help the enfeebled Indians, but he was completely opposed to the ‘slave-trade’ and mass importation which benefited merchants. At the time of his death he was mainly occupied in trying to resolve the problems of the Peruvian natives with Philip II.Selected works ed. J. Pérez de Tudela Buesca (Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, 95, 96, 105, 106 and 110; 1957–8). Crit. edn. of his complete works, ed. P. Castañeda Delgado (14 vols. in 15, Madrid, 1988–98). Eng. tr. of De Unico Vocationis (a treatise first pub. in 1942 but incl. in later edns. of his works) by P. F. Sullivan, SJ, The Only Way (New York and Mahwah, NJ ), with introd. by H. R. Parish. There is much biog. material in A. Dávila Padilla, Historia de la fundación y discurso de la provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (Madrid, 1596) and in A. de Remesal, OP, Historia de la Provincia de S. Vicente de Chýapa ý Guatemala de la Orden de … Sancto Domingo (ibid., 1619). The basic modern work is I. Pérez Fernández, OP, Inventario documentado de los ecritos de Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Bayamón, Puerto Rico, 1981); id., Cronología documentada de los viajes, estancias y actuaciones de Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (ibid., 1984). L. U. Hanke, Bartolomé de Las Casas: Bookman, Scholar and Propagandist (Rosenbach Lectures; Philadelphia, 1952), and other works of this author. M. Bataillon, Études sur Bartolomé de las Casas (1965). Estudios lascasianos: IV Centenario de la Muerte de Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (1566–1966) (Publicaciones de la Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos de Sevilla, 175; 1966). H. R. Wagner, The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas (posthumously ed. H. R. Parish, Albuquerque, NM, 1967). J. Friede and B. Keen (eds.), Bartholomé de la Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and his Work (Dekalb, Ill. ). P. I. André-Vincent, Bartolomé de la Casas, Prophète du Nouveau Monde (1980); M. Mahn-Lot, Bartolomé de las Casas et le droit des Indiens (1982), with list of modern edns. and trs. G. Gutiérrez, En Busca de los Pobres de Jesucristo (Lima, 1992; Eng. tr., Las Casas: In search of the poor of Jesus Christ, Maryknoll, NY ). C. Gillen, Bartolomé de Las Casas: Une esquisse biographique (Paris, 1995). I. Pérez Fernández, Bartolomé de Las Casas, viajero por dos mundos (Cuzco, Peru ). There is also an important introd. by I. Pérez Fernández to his edn. of Las Casas’ Brevisima relación de la destruccion de Africa (part of his Historia de las Indias, Salamanca, 1989), pp. 11–190.
Protection of the Indians became the single idea of Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), son of one of the conquistadores, who became a Dominican priest about 1510. This zealous reformer, however, in his impetuous desire to change everything at once and to treat the Indians on a basis of absolute equality, provoked opposition by rash, bitter, and exaggerated denunciations. While his idealism was a badly needed tonic, his lack of tact led to his recall. In 1515 he obtained from Cardinal Ximénes an ordinance requiring that Indians be grouped in villages and their exploitation in mines be mitigated. Abuses recurred, however, and Las Casas demanded abolition of the whole system of serfdom. Pope Paul III, indeed, condemned Indian enslavement in 1537, and Emperor Charles V in 1542 incorporated the best of the reform proposals into his “New Laws.” These regulations replaced a feudal serfdom with a governmental protectorate. As legal vassals of the Spanish crown, the Indians paid an annual tribute for their protection, but under the new system were allowed to own land, not only collectively, but individually. The courageous protests of the missionaries, therefore, saved the Indian race in Latin America from the worst instincts of the conquistadores and secured their survival under a humane, if extremely paternalistic, regime.
This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 1990