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Pope Alexander vi, Slavery and Voluntary Subjection: ‘Ineffabilis et Summi Patris’ in Context



‘Ineffabilis et summi patris’ (1 June 1497), a little-known letter from Alexander VI to Manuel i, king of Portugal (1495–1521), plays an important role in Joel Panzer's The popes and slavery (1996). For Panzer, ‘Ineffabilis’ clarifies the voluntary nature of submission by newly-encountered peoples to Iberian monarchs. A new and complete translation of ‘Ineffabilis’ shows that it is part of a legal tradition wherein voluntary subjection was one mode of enslavement. ‘Ineffabilis’ also reflects Manuel's broader attempt to gain an advantage over Spain in light of Vasco da Gama's impending voyage to India in July 1497.



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1 The literature on the papacy and slavery is enormous. Important studies recommended include Noonan, John T., A Church that can and cannot change: the development of Catholic moral teaching, Notre Dame, In 2005; Brett, Stephen F., Slavery and the Catholic tradition: rights in the balance, New York 1994; Rivera, Luis N., A violent evangelism: the political and religious conquest of the Americas, Louisville 1992; and Maxwell, John Francis, Slavery and the Catholic Church: the history of Catholic teaching concerning the moral legitimacy of the institution of slavery, London 1975.

2 For a review of the Alexandrine bulls from different perspectives see the special issue devoted to them in Anuario mexicano de historia del derecho v (1993). Older but still useful studies include de Bernardis, Lazzaro María, ‘Le bolle Alessandrine, San Roberto Bellarmino, e la “potestas indirecta temporalibus”’, Atti del III convegnio internazionale di studi colombiani, 1977, Genoa 1979, 547–64; Gallo, A. Garcia, Las bulas de Alejandro VI y el ordenamiento juridico de la expansión portuguesa y castellana en Africa y Indias, Madrid 1958; Weckmann, Luis, Las bulas alejandrinas de 1493 y la teoría política del papado medieval: estudio de las supremacía papal sobre islas, 1091–1493, Mexico City 1949; and Vander Linden, H., ‘Alexander vi and the demarcation of the maritime and colonial domains of Spain and Portugal, 1493–1494’, American Historical Review xxii (1916), 120. A comprehensive survey of papal bulls related to Portugal's expansion may be found in Charles-Martial, de Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales et l'expansion portugaise au xve siècle,’ Revue d'histoire ecclesiastique xlviii (1953), 683718; xlix (1954), 438–61; li (1956), 413–53, 809–36; liii (1958), 5–46, 443–71. Unless otherwise noted all references to de Witte are from the final article in that series.

3 Panzer, Joel S., The popes and slavery, New York 1996, 1314. Panzer adds (p. 14 n. 20) that the more imperialistic interpretation of Alexander vi by Maxwell (Slavery and the Catholic Church, 55–6) is flawed ‘because he is apparently unaware of the existence of Ineffabilis et Summi Patris’. For another critique of Panzer's reading of Ineffabilis and other papal bulls (for example, Sublimis deus) see Avalos, Hector, Slavery, abolitionism and the ethics of biblical scholarship, Sheffield 2011, 183–98.

4 von Pastor, Ludwig, A history of the popes, trans. Antrobus, Frederick Ignatius, London 1901, v. 161–2. For criticisms of Pastor's interpretation of Ineffabilis see Vander Linden, ‘Alexander vi and the demarcation’, 2–3 n. 5.

5 Colección de bulas, breves y otros documentos relativos a la Iglesia de America y las Filipinas, ed. Francisco Javier Hernaez, Vaduz 1964, ii. 836–7.

6 H. Thurston, ‘Bulls and briefs’, in Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: According to Frances G. Davenport's translation the papal bull Eximiae describes Alexander's bulls as follows: ‘Apostolic letters …. sealed in the form of his true bull, with a leaden seal hanging on a red and yellow cord of silk in the manner of the Roman court, written on parchment and in the Latin tongue…’/ ‘licteras apostolicas … in forma ejus vere bulle sigilli plumbei in cordula sirici rubei croceique coloris, more Romane curie, pendentis bullatas, im pergameno et lingua Latina scriptas’: European treaties bearing on the history of the United States and its dependencies to 1648, ed. Davenport, Frances G., Washington, DC 1917, 68/Latin at p. 65.

7 Vander Linden argues that Inter caetera and Eximiae should properly be called brevia bullata, especially since Inter caetera (3 May) is called a breve in papal correspondence: ‘Alexander vi and the demarcation’, 11.

8 Ibid. esp. p. 20.

9 For example, Castañeda, Paulino, ‘La interpretación teocrática de las bulas alejandrinas’, Anuario mexicano de historia del derecho v (1993), 1959.

10 ‘cum expeditionem hujusmodi omnino prosequi et assumere prona mente orthodoxe fidei zelo intendatis, populos in hujusmodi insulis et terris degentes ad Christianam religionem suscipiendam inducere velitis et debeatis … omnes insulas et terras firmas inventas et inveniendas, detectas et detegendas versus occidentem et meridiem … auctoritate Omnipotentis Dei nobis in beato Petro concessa, ac vicariatus Jhesu Christi, qua fungimur in terris, cum omnibus illarum dominiis, civitatibus, castris, locis et villis, juribusque et jurisdictionibus ac pertinentiis universis, vobis heredibusque et successoribus vestris, Castelle et Legionis regibus, in perpetuum tenore presentium donamus, concedimus, et assignamus … nulli Christiano principi, qui actualiter prefatas insulas aut terras firmas possederit usque ad predictum diem Nativitatis Dominis nostri Jhesu Cristi’: European treaties, 77/Latin at p. 74.

11 Panzer, The popes and slavery, 13 (author's italics).

12 European treaties, 74.

13 ‘hizo donacion destas Islas y Tierra Firme del mar Oceano a los dichos Rey y Reyna…y a sus sucesores’: Zavala, Silvio, Las instituciones jurídicas en la conquista de América, Mexico City 1971, 216 (my translation). See also Bella, Ismael Sánchez, ‘Las bulas de 1493 en el derecho indiano’, Anuario mexicano de historia del derecho v (1993), 374: ‘hizo donacion de estas islas y Tierra Firme del mar Oceano a los Catolicos Reyes de España … y a sus sucesores’. For a study of the Requerimiento in the context of other similar approaches to conquest see Seed, Patricia, Ceremonies of possession in Europe's conquest of the New World, 1492–1640, Cambridge 1995, esp. pp. 6999.

14 European treaties, 74.

15 ‘pro mercibus habendis vel quavis alia de causa’: ibid. 77/Latin at p. 75 (my italics).

16 ‘per alium regem aut principem Christianum non fuerint actualiter possesse usque ad diem nativitatis domini nostri Jhesu Christi promixe preteritum a quo incipit annus presens millesimus quadringentesimus nonagesimus tertius’: ibid. 74.

17 For a basic biography see Oliveira e Costa, J. Paulo, D. Manuel I, 1469–1521: um principe do Renascimento, Rio de Mouro 2005, and Sanceau, Elaine, The reign of the Fortunate King, 1495–1521, Hamden, Ct 1970.

18 A basic biography of da Gama may be found in Coelho, J. M. Latino, Vasco da Gama, Lisbon 2007. For an assessment of the global impact of da Gama's voyages see Disney, Anthony and Booth, Emily (eds), Vasco da Gama and the linking of Europe and Asia, Melbourne 1997, and Newitt, M. D. D., A history of Portuguese overseas expansion, 1400–1688, London 2005. For a study of the impact of da Gama's voyages on Muslim-Christian relations see Cliff, Nigel, Holy war: how Vasco da Gama's epic voyages turned the tide in centuries-old clash of civilizations, New York 2011.

19 Colección de bulas, ii. 836–7.

20 Pastor, History of the popes, vi. 162.

21 Madrid, Patrick, Pope fiction: answers to 30 myths about the pope and misconceptions about the papacy, Rancho Santa Fe, Ca 1999, 197–8.

22 European treaties, 76/Latin at p. 73. Vander Linden also criticises Pastor for overlooking these references to conquest in Ineffabilis: ‘Alexander vi and demarcation’, 2–3 n. 5. For the use of barbarae nationes as a references to Muslims see Loutshiskaja, S., ‘Barbarae nationes: les peuples musulmans dans les chroniques de la première croisade’, in Balard, Michel (ed.), Autour de la première croisade, Paris 1996, 99107.

23 European treaties, 108.

24 Panzer, The popes and slavery, 13.

25 Ibid. 13 n. 19.

26 On a more technical level Panzer has confused the papal letter's exposition, wherein a question or problem is explained, with the disposition, the part where the directives are issued to address that question or problem.

27 Pastor, History of the popes, vi. 162. Pastor's discussion seems to be referring to Dudum siquidem (26 Sept. 1493), though he gives the date as 28 September.

28 Saunders, A. C. de C. M., A social history of black slaves and freedmen in Portugal, 1441–1555, Cambridge 1982, 36, 189 n. 5; ‘Potest denique rex christianus in certis casibus bellum gerere, videlicet pro defensione fidei christianae et ejus cultum ampliando contra infideles et barbaras nationes quae blasphemant nomen Domini Christi’: Rebelo, Diogo Lopes, Do governo pelo rei, ed. Moreira de Sá, A., Lisbon 1951, 142.

29 Saunders, Social history, 37. ‘Sarracenos, paganos, infideles, et Christi inimicos…invadendi, conquerendi, expugnandi, et subjugandi, illorunque personas in perpetuam servitutem redigendi’: European treaties, 17 n. 37.

30 For this allusion to Jeremiah i.10 see also de Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 451.

31 Panzer, The popes and slavery, 14 (author's italics).

32 On Ineffabilis of 1495 see Soyer, François, The persecution of the Jews and Muslims of Portugal, Leiden 2007, 277, and de Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 451.

33 For the Latin text of Ineffabilis (1495) see the continuation by Olderico Rinaldi, in Baronio, Cesare, Annales ecclesiastici, Bar-le-Duc 1864–83, xxx. 226.

34 ‘Et son tres maneras de siervos: la primera es la de los que cativan en tiempo de Guerra seyendo enemigos de la fe; la segunda es que de los que nascen de las siervas; la tercera es cuando alguno que es libre se dexa vender’: Las siete partidas del rey Don Alfonso el sabio cotejada con varios codices antiguos por la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid 1807, iii. 117.

35 de Vitoria, Francisco cites Institutiones i. 40 of the Corpus iuris civilis: relectio de indis o libertad de los indios, ed. Pereña, L. and Perez Prendes, J. M., Madrid 1967, 73. See also Maxwell, Slavery and the Catholic Church, 45.

36 For some of the details of these conflicts see O'Callaghan, J. F., ‘Castile, Portugal and the Canary Islands: claims and counterclaims, 1344–1479’, Viator xxiv (1993), 287309, and European treaties, 33–4.

37 European treaties, 34. See also Armesto, Felipe Fernández, Before Columbus: exploration and colonization from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 1229–1492, Philadelphia 1987, 175–92.

38 European treaties, 71.

39 ‘per alium regem aut principem Christianum non fuerint actualiter possesse usque ad diem nativitatis domini nostri Jhesu Christi promixe preteritum a quo incipit annus presens millesimus quadringentesimus nonagesimus tertius’: ibid. 77/Latin at p. 74.

40 ‘Cum autem contingere posset quod nuntii et capitanei aut vassalli vestri, versus occidentem aut meridiem navigantes, ad partes orientales applicarent, ac insulas et terras firmas que Indie fuissent vel essent’: ibid. 82/Latin at p. 80.

41 Proprio motu, though properly signifying a bull issued on the sole initiative of the pope, may be purely formulaic here: see Zavala, Instituciones jurídicas, 348. For a more specialised study see Grat, Felix, Étude su le motu proprio: des origins au debut du XVIe siècle, Melun 1945.

42 ‘So el qual dicho juramento juraron de no pedir absoluçion ni rrelaxaçion del a nuestro muy Santo Padre, ni a otro ningund legado ni prelado que gela pueda dar, e aun que propio motu gela den, no usaran della, antes por esta presente capitulaçion suplican en el dicho nonbre a nuestro muy Santo Padre, que a Su Santidad plega confirmar e aprovar esta dicha capitulaçion, segund en ella se contiene e mandando expedir sobre ello sus bullas a las partes, o a qualquier dellas que las pidieren; e mandando encorporar en ellas el tenor desta capitulaçion, poniendo sus çensuras a los que contra ella fueren o pasaren en qualquier tienpo que sea o ser pueda’: European treaties, 99/Spanish at p. 92.

43 Vander Linden, ‘Bulls of demarcation’, 19; Zavala, Instituciones jurídicas, 347.

44 Vander Linden, ‘Bulls of demarcation’, 19.

45 Ibid. 10.

46 Cliff, Holy war, 166, 470. Cliff, is citing Asia de Joao de Barros: dos feitos que os Portuguezes fizeram no descobrimento e conquista dos mares e terras do Oriente, ed. Cidade, Hernani and Múrias, Manuel, 6th edn, Lisbon 1945–6, i. 131. He translates the Portuguese ‘barbaros’ as ‘infidels’.

47 A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497–1499, ed. E. G. Ravenstein (1898), Cambridge 2010, 116–17.

48 Ibid. 115 n. 3.

49 ‘Bulla de Alexandre vi. Ineffabilis et summi. A Rl–Rei D. Manuel[.] Attendendo a suas supplicas, permitte Sua Santidade que elle e os reis seus successores possuam as terras conquistadas aos infieis, sem perjuizo dos principes christaos, que tiverem direito a ellas e prohibe a mesmo tempo a todos os reis, que nao estejam n'esse que o molestem, perturbem, ilhem façam Guerra ou o estorvem de qualquer maneira’: Alguns documentos do archivo nacional da torre do tombo acerca das navegaçoes e conquistas portuguezas, Lisbon 1892, 90.

50 Soyer, Persecution, 277.

51 See ibid. 165. See also Paulo Oliveira e Costa, D. Manuel I, 75.

52 De Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 452.

53 ‘adversus infideles Affricae illorumque depressionem omnino bellum movere et personaliter cum validu exercitu ad partes illas transfetare’: Annales ecclesiastici xxx.258–9. See also de Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 450 n. 1, and Soyer, Persecution, 166 n. 71.

54 De Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 450.

55 See further Goldenberg, David M., The curse of Ham: race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Princeton 2003, and Whitford, David M., The curse of Ham in the early modern era: the Bible and the justifications for slavery, Burlington, Vt 2009.

56 de Zurara, Gomes Eanes, The chronicle of the discovery and conquest of Guinea, ed. Beazley, Raymond and Prestage, Edgar (1896), Charleston 2010, i. 54.

57 Saunders, Social history, 38.

58 Oliveira devoted part of his treatise, A arte da guerra do mar (1555), to denouncing wars against infidels by Christian powers, but those who shared Oliveira's opinions during the reign of Manuel are not much in evidence. For a recent assessment of Oliveira's contributions to the theory of slavery and just war see da Silva, Thiago Rodrigo, ‘Oliveira, Fernando. A arte da guerra do mar. Lisboa. Ediçoes 70, 2008’, Antíteses ii (2009), 1127–33, on-line journal at:, and Blackburn, Robin, The making of New World slavery: from the baroque to the modern, 1492–1800, London 1997, 120.

59 Soyer, Persecution, 278. On Ineffabilis of 1495 see de Witte, ‘Les Bulles pontificales’, 448, 451.

60 Soyer, Persecution, 278.

61 ‘Cum sicut nobis nuper exponi fecisti tu ex pia erga religionem christiana[m] ac catholicae fidei exaltationem, devotione desideres adversus expugnationem Affrice pro viribus intendere’: Monumenta missionaria africana, ed. António Brásio, Lisbon 1952–60, i. 179.

62 For comments on Vitoria see Panzer, The popes and slavery, 25–7. See also Capizzi, Joseph E., ‘The children of God: natural slavery in the thought of Aquinas and Vitoria’, Theological Studies lxiii (2002), 3152.

63 ‘Restat alius titulus … electionem voluntariam. Hispani enim cum ad barbaros perveniunt, significant eis quemadmodum rex Hispaniea mittit eo pro commodis eorum, ad admonent eos in illum pro domino et rege recipiant [et acceptent], et illi retulerunt placere sibi. Et “nihil tam naturale est quam voluntatem domini volentis rem suam in alium transferre ratam haberi”’: Vitoria, Relectio de Indis, 73 (author's translation).

64 ‘nec iste titulus est idoneus. Patet primo, quia deberet abesse metus et ignorantia quae vitiant omnem electionem. Sed haec interveniunt in illis electionibus [et acceptationibus]. Nesciunt enim barbari quid faciunt, immo forte non intelligunt quid petunt hispani. Item hoc petunt circumstantes armati ab imbelli turba [et meticulosa]’: ibid.

65 Rivera, A violent evangelism, 82.

66 See Zavala, Instituciones jurídicas, 42–3, and, more recently, Fernández, Rafael Diego, ‘Reflexiones en torno a la bula Inter caetera a la luz de la experiencia Novohispana (Vasco de Quiroga, Bartolomé de las Casas y Alonso de la Veracruz)’, Anuario mexicano de historia del derecho v (1993), 93127.

67 ‘Alexandro, a imitacion de Adriano, exhorto a los Reyes de España a que atacasen a los bárbaros, los sometiesen a su dominio y protegesen el camino para la predicación evangélica’: de Sepulveda, Juan Ginés, Democrates segundo o de las justas causas de la guerra contra los indios, ed. Losada, Angel, Madrid 1951, 67. That Sepulveda was referring to these bulls is attested by the date (1493) that he mentions (at p. 80).

68 ‘¿…cómo serán enviados sin previamente los bárbaros no han sido sojuzgados?’: ibid. 67.

69 Panzer, The popes and slavery, 12 n. 17. For the conflict between Sepulveda and Las Casas see de las Casas, Bartolomé, In defense of the Indians, trans. Poole, Stafford, DeKalb, Il 1992, and Hanke, Lewis, The Spanish struggle for justice in the conquest of America, Boston 1965.

70 Panzer, The popes and slavery, 12 n. 17. Panzer actually takes this quotation from the English edition of Gutierrez, Gustavo, Las Casas: in search of the poor of Jesus Christ, trans. Barr, Robert R., Maryknoll, NY 1995, 489n. 8.

71 ‘La primera, que los indios son segun paresce por las conclusiones que los teologos é juristas, ayuntados en esta villa el año de treze, por mandado del Rey Católico, dieron todos juntos, e ansi le concluyeron, vista la Bula de la concesion, fecha á los Reyes de Castila é de Léon por el papa Alexandro vi, de las dichas Indias é Tierra Firme, é mirando tambien una cláusula del testamento de la Serenísima Reina, de buena memoria, en que encomienda al Catolico Rey, su marido, é mando á sus subcesores que los dichos indios é sus haciendas sean bien tratados, como de personas libres, para los atraer á nuestra santa fe católica’: Colección de documentos ineditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organizacion de las antiguas posesiones españolas de America y Oceania sacados de los archivos del reino y muy especialmente del de las Indias, ed. Luis Torres de Mendoza, Madrid 1869, xii. 107 (my translation). On the clause in the testament of Isabella see Zavala, Instituciones jurídicas, 357.

72 See Rivera, A violent evangelism, 32–41, and Sanchéz Bella, ‘Las bulas de 1493 en el derecho indiano’, 374–5, An older, but still useful, study is Hanke, Lewis, ‘The Requerimiento and its interpreters’, Revista de historia de America i (1938), 2534.

73 ‘para que de todos los hombres del mundo fuese señor e superior, a quien todos obedeciesen y fuese cabeza de todo el linaje humano’: Zavala, Instituciones jurídicas, 216 (my translation).

74 ‘Si así lo hicierdes, hareís bien, y aquello a que sois tenidos y obligados, y Sus Altezas, y yo en su nombre, vos recibirán con todo amor y caridad, y vos dejarán vuestras mujeres, hijos y haciendas libres sin servidumbre para que dellas y de vosotros hagais libremente todo lo que quisiderdes e por bien tuvierdes y no vos compelerán a que vos, torneís cristianos, salvo si vosotros, informados de la verdad os quisierdes convertir a nuestra santa fe católica como lo han hecho casi todos los vecinos de las otras islas’: ibid. 216–17.

75 ‘Si no lo hicierdes, o en ello dilación maliciosamente pusierdes, certificos que con el ayuda de Dios yo entraré poderosamente contra vosotros y vos haré guerra por todas las partes y maneras que yo pudiere, y vos sujetaré al yugo y obediencia de la Iglesia y de Sus Altezas y tomaré vuestras personas y de vuestras mujeres e hijos y los haré esclavos’: ibid. 217.

76 Zurara, Chronicle, i. 51. For the roots in Stoicism of the concept of inner and outer freedom see Inwood, Brad, Ethics and human action in early Stoicism, New York 1985.

77 Las Casas, In defense of the Indians, 304.

78 On the importance of treaties with newly-discovered peoples in establishing claims see García, Ana María Barrero, ‘Problemas en torno a la aplicación de la línea de demarcación: la cuestión de las Molucas’, Anuario mexicano de historia del derecho v (1993), 6191.


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