Bartolome’ de Las Casas and universal Human Rights

Bartolome' de Las CasasAmerican Minute with Bill Federer

Apostle of the Indies, Bartolome’ de Las Casas, died JULY 17, 1566.

In 1502, he left Spain for the West Indies, where he became a hacendado and slave owner.

He participated in slave raids and military expeditions against the native populations of Hispaniola and Cuba.

But his life began to change in 1511, when he heard Dominican Father Antonio de Montesinos speak on the verse: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Las Casas became the first priest ordained in the New World.

In 1514, while preparing a Pentecost Sunday sermon, Las Casas read from the Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 34:18-22, that if one offers as a sacrifice an animal that they have obtained dishonestly, it is unacceptable, and it is as murder to deprive someone of his means of making a living.

Convicted in his heart, Bartolome’ de Las Casas dedicated the rest of his life to stopping the enslavement of Indians.

He became Bishop of Chiapas and was officially appointed “Protector of the Indians.”

In 1515, two years before Martin Luther started the Reformation, Las Casas and Dominican Father Antonio de Montesinos went back to Spain where he met with King Ferdinand on Christmas Eve, but before the King could do anything, he died a month later.

Las Casas then petitioned the new King Charles V to end military conquest and use peaceful means to convert Indians.

In 1520, Las Casas founded three Christian Indian towns in Venezuela, but Spanish encomiendas (plantation) owners stirred the natives up to destroy them.

In 1531, on Tepeyac Hill outside of the former Aztec capitol of Mexico City, the story of Indian Juan Diego and “Our Lady of Guadalupe” resulted in an estimate 15 million Indians being baptized in the next 20 years in what many consider the largest mass conversion in history.

In 1536, Las Casas criticized Franciscan friar Motolinia for baptizing thousands of Indians before they had received adequate instruction in the faith.

Las Casas wrote a treatise, titled: “Concerning the Only Way of Drawing All Peoples to the True Religion.”

Las Casas became hated by those profiting off of slavery.

In 1550, he even had to defend that Indians were indeed fully human in a debate against Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who tried to argue that they were less than human and therefore justifiably enslaved.

Two threads run through history: GREED and the GOSPEL. Those motivated by GREED took advantage of natives, while those motivated by the GOSPEL tried to help them, as Bartolome’ de Las Casas did.

Las Casas is considered one of the first advocates for universal Human Rights.

He declared in his tract “Confesionario” that any Spaniard who refused to release his Indians would be denied forgiveness of sins.

Las Casas wrote “A brief report on the Destruction of the Indians” and “Apologetica historia de las Indias.”

When these were translated and spread around Europe, an outrage arose pressuring Spain to enact New Laws ending the enslavement of Indians.

Unfortunately, Spanish plantation owners then began to bring slaves over from Africa.

Las Casas wrote:

“The main goal of divine Providence in the discovery of these tribes…is…the conversion and well-being of souls, and to this goal everything temporal must necessarily be directed.”


Bill FedererThe Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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