Last week’s post examined Dum Diversas. Today’s post examines another papal, Romanus Pontifex, which Pope Nicholas V issued on 8 January 1455, two years after he issued Dum Diversas. The bull came when several European kingdoms battled for control and possession of territories along the African coast. The major kingdoms were Portugal and Castille (modern Spain). As noted last week, the doctrine of discovery came in the context of the fight against Islamic expansion, although the European kings had further intentions other than promoting Christianity. They sought papal authority to bolster their claims to new territories.
‘Romanus Pontifex’ means the ‘Roman Pontiff’. The document speaks directly about the intention to recover territories and prevent Islam from capturing more.
“Moreover, since, some time ago, it had come to the knowledge of the said infante that never, or at least not within the memory of men, had it been customary to sail on this ocean sea toward the southern and eastern shores, and that it was so unknown to us westerners that we had no certain knowledge of the peoples of those parts, believing that he would best perform his duty to God in this matter, if by his effort and industry that sea might become navigable as far as to the Indians who are said to worship the name of Christ, and that thus he might be able to enter into relation with them, and to incite them to aid the Christians against the Saracens and other such enemies of the faith, and might also be able forthwith to subdue certain gentile or pagan peoples, living between, who are entirely free from infection by the sect of the most impious Mahomet, and to preach and cause to be preached to them the unknown but most sacred name of Christ.”
The document refers to converting enslaved Africans.
“And so it came to pass that when a number of ships of this kind had explored and taken possession of very many harbors, islands, and seas…Thence also many Guineamen and other negroes, taken by force, and some by barter of unprohibited articles, or by other lawful contract of purchase, have been sent to the said kingdoms. A large number of these have been converted to the Catholic faith, and it is hoped, by the help of divine mercy, that if such progress be continued with them, either those peoples will be converted to the faith or at least the souls of many of them will be gained for Christ.”
The pope now grants the king the authority to subdue territories to perpetual slavery, citing his former bull.
The pope grants the Portuguese king, Alfonso, control of Ceuta (Presently a Spanish territory in northern mainland Africa).
“we, being very fully informed of all and singular the premises, do, motu proprio, not at the instance of King Alfonso or the infante, or on the petition of any other offered to us on their behalf in respect to this matter, and after mature deliberation, by apostolic authority, and from certain knowledge, in the fullness of apostolic power, by the tenor of these presents decree and declare that the aforesaid letters of faculty…are extended to Ceuta and to the aforesaid and all other acquisitions whatsoever, even those acquired before the date of the said letters of faculty, and to all those provinces, islands, harbors, and seas whatsoever, which hereafter, in the name of the said King Alfonso and of his successors and of the infante, in those parts and the adjoining, and in the more distant and remote parts, can be acquired from the hands of infidels or pagans, and that they are comprehended under the said letters of faculty”.
The document gives the king the right to conquer the cape of Bojador (Now part of Western Sahara, in the African mainland).
“We also by the tenor of these presents decree and declare that King Alfonso and his successors and the infante aforesaid might and may, now and henceforth, freely and lawfully, in these [acquisitions] and concerning them make any prohibitions, statutes, and decrees whatsoever, even penal ones, and with imposition of any tribute, and dispose and ordain concerning them as concerning their own property and their other dominions. And in order to confer a more effectual right and assurance we do by these presents forever give, grant, and appropriate to the aforesaid King Alfonso and his successors, kings of the said kingdoms, and to the infante, the provinces, islands, harbors, places, and seas whatsoever, how many soever, and of what sort soever they shall be, that have already been acquired and that shall hereafter come to be acquired, and the right of conquest also from the capes of Bojador and of Não aforesaid.”
The pope stipulates penalties for those who interfere with Portuguese control.
“By [these] apostolic writings we enjoin our venerable brothers, the archbishop of Lisbon, and the bishops of Silves and Ceuta, that they, or two or one of them, by himself, or another or others, as often as they or any of them shall be required on the part of the aforesaid King Alfonso and his successors and the infante or any one of them, on Sundays, and other festival days, in the churches, while a large multitude of people shall assemble there for divine worship, do declare and denounce by apostolic authority that those persons who have been proved to have incurred such sentences of excommunication and interdict, are excommunicated and interdicted, and have been and are involved in the other punishments aforesaid. And we decree that they shall also cause them to be denounced by others, and to be strictly avoided by all, till they shall have made satisfaction for or compromised their transgressions as aforesaid. Offenders are to be held in check by ecclesiastical censure, without regard to appeal, the apostolic constitutions and ordinances and all other things whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding”.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾