96. The Doctrine of Discovery: ‘Dum Diversas’
96. The Doctrine of Discovery: ‘Dum Diversas’

96. The Doctrine of Discovery: ‘Dum Diversas’

Last week’s post introduced the argument that Christian expansion strategy in the past somewhat corresponds to the Muslim’s. The core of this argument is the Doctrine of Discovery, that is, the papal documents issued to European colonialists as they explored and exploited new territories in North America and Africa.

While examining these documents, I will adopt more of a descriptive rather than an analytic method. Hence, there will be very long quotations of the documents. Today’s post examines one of these documents, Dum Diversas.

Pope Nicholas V issued Dum Diversas on 18 June 1452, which he addressed to King Afonso V of Portugal. The king had earlier appealed to Pope Nicholas V for the Church’s moral authority in expanding his foreign territories, trade dealings, and fight against non-Christians, particularly the Muslim expansion. “Dum Diversas” means ‘until different’. The letter came during the time of Portuguese influence and trade around the world. The ‘Saracens’ in the text are the ‘Muslims’.

The document reads:

As we indeed understand from your pious and Christian desire, you intend to subjugate the enemies of Christ, namely the Saracens, and bring [them] back, with powerful arm, to the faith of Christ, if the authority of Apostolic See supported you in this. Therefore we consider, that those rising against the Catholic faith and struggling to extinguish Christian Religion must be resisted by the faithful of Christ with courage and firmness, so that the faithful themselves, inflamed by the ardor of faith and armed with courage to be able to hate their intention, not only to go against the intention, if they prevent unjust attempts of force, but with the help of God whose soldiers they are, they stop the endeavors of the faithless, we, fortified with divine love, summoned by the charity of Christians and bound by the duty of our pastoral office, which concerns the integrity and spread of faith for which Christ our God shed his blood, wishing to encourage the vigor of the faithful and Your Royal Majesty in the most sacred intention of this kind” (n. 1)

The Pope now grants him authority, which is the document’s most important part.

“we grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same Saracens, Pagans, infidels, and the enemies of Christ, also realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps, possessions of the king or prince or of the kings or princes, and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, possessions and goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors the Kings of Portugal.” (n. 1)

Although this was the period of the Crusades when Christians fought Muslims to reclaim lost Christian territories, the Pope did not restrict his letter to defending Christianity against Muslim invasion. However, he extended it to all other existing religions in the new territories that the king could conquer. The bull also granted remission for sins for those who die fighting for this cause.

And nevertheless, if it should happen that you or others of those accompanying you against the Saracens and other infidels of this kind, on the way there, staying there, or on the way back, departed from this world, we restore you and those accompanying you, remaining in sincerity and unity, through the present letter, to pure innocence in which you and they existed after baptism.” (n.3)

This is analogous to some Muslim traditions that God (Allah) will reward men who die fighting against the enemies of Islam with seventy-two virgins to enjoy in blissful ecstasy.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


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