Supreme Court Holds That the Second Amendment Applies to the States

Monday, June 28, AD 2010

In the case of McDonald v. the City of Chicago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Second Amendment applies to the states.  Read the decision here.  The decision was 5-4 which is absolutely stunning since I think that there was no intellectually respectable argument to be made that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states.

The bill of rights applies to the States due to the Fourteenth Amendment.   In the opinions written by the majority justices, emphasis is given to the importance that the drafters of the Amendment placed upon the rights of freed slaves after the Civil War to keep and bear arms for their defense.  A good day for the Constitution at the Supreme Court.

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16 Responses to Supreme Court Holds That the Second Amendment Applies to the States

  • Apropos of our discussion a few weeks ago regarding Justice Scalia’s view that “tradition” should inform the Court’s “substantive due process” jurisprudence, note that this was key to the Court’s decision. (See also Justice Scalia’s concurrence, in which he masterfully dissects Justice Stevens’ dissent.)

    I think Justice Thomas’ privileges or immunities clause analyisis is the better argument from both an originalist and textualist standpoint. But, given that that ship has already sailed, and given the need to limit the Court’s “substantive due process” jurisprudence to those rights that actually have some grounding in the text of the Constitution and the history and tradition of our nation, I can’t say that I blame the majority for relying on the due process clause rather than privileges or immunities, and using this case as a vehicle for defining the limits of “substantive due process”.

  • One gets the feeling that, should a case that hinges upon the question “Does the Constitution require that there be a House and Senate?” make its way to the SCOTUS, the vote would come down five votes to four. Sadly, no one seems able to predict whether the five would be for or against.

    Those of you who think “we are a nation of laws” will find yourselves confounded by the caprice of five untouchables in black robes.

  • I agree. The vote should have been 9 – 0.

    One, “the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” Can the four dissenting read?

    Two, I bet “dollars to donuts” that the four dissenting (plus Kagan) will affirmatively vote (hallucinating) that the constitution gives a woman the RIGHT to have taxpayers pay a medico to exterminate her unborn babies.

  • Incorporation through the 14th has been piecemeal. The court had never adopted a blanket doctrine of incorporation. But I agree that if we’re going to incorporate at all, the 2nd amendment has to be included.

  • I’m with restrainedradical. The incorporation doctrine is hardly an obvious feature of our constitution, but there is no coherent basis for excluding the 2d amendment from its ambit once it has been applied to the other enumerated rights.

  • T. Shaw, I think the four dissenters are right in insisting that the clause you quote–“the right of the people to bear…”–is qualified, and rendered more precise in its intent, by the prior clause, establishing the need for militias. On an originalist reading of this text, the right to bear arms for, eg. the purposes of hunting or personal protection, simply does not exist.

  • WJ,

    That issue was decided and rejected in the Heller case. They had already lost on that. And don’t pretend that your argument is originalist. Calling it such doesn’t make it so.

  • wj:

    I think the four dissenters do not believe we the people should be free people. I doubt they believe in individual liberty.

    You may read the commentaries, minutes, and statements of the “state” conventions, and all the drafters/founders. At no time was the right of US citizens to individually keep and bear arms questioned until around the time the federal government instituted the income tax (they needed to amend the Constitution) and Federal Reserve System.

    But, you’re right. Once the Obama regime packs the court. [I’m ‘chanelling’ Thomas Jefferson here] We’re likely to devolve into slaves to the state.

  • wj:
    Your is a common argument. The problem is that it does not withstand the scrutiny:

    Van Alstyne is one of the leading con law scholars of our time. Although a liberal to the core, he is ruthlessly principled in his constitutional reasoning. for instance he is pro choice as a policy matter, but believes Roe was a terrible decision.

  • I’m aware of van alstyne and heller etc and disagree with the findings of both. You can disagree with heller precisely on originalist grounds; which is not to say you must–just that you can as a matter of interpretation. Both heller and van alstyne perform any number of impressive exegetical contortions to escape what to my mind is the clear intent of the sentence in question. But maybe you’re right that the four dissenters are motivated less by interpretive scruple and more by policy preference.

  • Fair enough, Wj. For what it is worth I have no great interest in gun regulation as a policy matter, and really don’t care if guns are outlawed. But I find Van Alstyne’s exegesis if the 2d Amendment air tight. Moreover, I have known Bill for almost 30 years; he is immune to exegetical contortion. I have no opinion on the motivations of the four dissenters. I just don’t think there exists a reasonable argument for sparing the 2d Amendment from the incorporation doctrine.

  • Way too much education wasted here on a rather simple issue. Where in the Constitution is any branch of the federal government given authority to disarm either the states or the people? The ninth amendment applies. The critical issue here, and the reason many oppposed incorporation of “the Bill”, is that the amendment did not create the right, though it is now treated as if it had; it only acknowledges the right. No one ever would have written the second amendment as it was written to make sure that states allowed their militia to keep arms at their homes (the point of mobilization). To say they would have is simply dishonest. So it comes down to this; you are either for, or against the Constitution. There are no nuances here that merit consideration.

  • I’ve heard estimates that 90,000,000 Americans own firearms.

    “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.” Thomas Jefferson

    “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…such laws make things worse for the assaulted; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Thomas Jefferson 1764

    “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Thomas Jefferson proposed Virginia constitution 1776

    “The Constitution preserves ‘the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.'” The Federalist #46

    “…arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property…Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived the use of them.” Thomas Paine Thoughts on Defensive War 1775 – proof positive in all the states that infringe the Second Amendment.

    “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” Samuel Adams 1788: During Massachusetts’ Constitution ratification convention.

    “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.” Patrick Henry: during Virginia’s ratification convention (1788)

    “Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion…in private self-defense.” John Adams 1788

    “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms…To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people possess arms.” Richard Henry Lee Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer 53 (1788)

    “I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people…To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason: Virginia’s US Constitution ratification convention (1788)

    “To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” US Constitution

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force; like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington, Farewell Address

  • That Washington quote has to be the best. Seems our Presidents went downhill from there.

  • Kevin, nobody reads the 9th Amendment as you do because it would be ridiculous to do so. The 9th was intended merely to clarify that the Bill of Rights shouldn’t be interpreted to prohibit all other rights. It doesn’t ensure any rights. It only ensures that absent a law prohibiting it, you have the right to do it.

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Social Contract and Morality

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

Kyle Cupp has a brief post describing the dehumanizing moral effects of seeing human dignity and rights as springing entirely from a social contract (implied or explicit):

This reduction occurs when we understand and act upon our moral obligations to one another only within the framework of a social contract–when we limit our obligations to those who have entered into such contracts and consider ourselves obligated only to those who share our citizenship, have signed a treaty we have signed, or participate with us in some other contractual arrangement. I make this reduction when I don’t care about torturing terrorists because they’re not signers of the Geneva Conventions, when I wish to alienate the immigrant who enters my country against my country’s laws, when I ignore my obligations to those not yet born because the laws of the land do not recognize their personhood, or when I insist that others shouldn’t be given Constitutional rights when the rights I wish to withhold from them are basic human rights.

I think that he’s right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that his point that basic human rights and duties are inherent to humanity (rather than assumed via some sort of contract/relationship) is actually the point usually at dispute in our society. Rather, what seems often to be disputed is what the extent of basic human rights are — and which “rights” are merely agreed civic rights which we grant explicitly via the social contract.

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15 Responses to Social Contract and Morality

  • Of course what are called “human rights” today are almost entirely the product of Western societies since the Sixteenth Century, much of it from Great Britain and America in origin. Much of what we call “human rights” today would have been denounced as pernicious and/or dangerous throughout most of human history by most cultures. To say that “human rights” arise simply due to inherent moral obligations that exist between people, we are confronted with the difficulty that most cultures for most of human history would vigorously disagree.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Darwin. I’m pretty sure that I agree with the points you make, particularly in your last paragraph. To clarify my post, let me say that when the reduction is made, it isn’t usually (if ever) made flat out in a way that covers a person’s entire morality; it’s rather applied here and there inconsistently.

  • Donald,

    You raise a good point about the history of rights language. It is a recent invention. I tend to call rights a useful fiction, myself.

  • I do agree with what Kyle said. But, from other discussions I know that I don’t agree with how Kyle applies his generic or all inclusive definition of basic human rights to all persons of all types of backgrounds, since his definition doesn’t seem to take into consideration ( or very little consideration) certain circumstances and/or the consequences that one must face when committing a crime or an act of war. This is applicable with regards to both illegal immigrants and terrorists.

    While I do believe that enhanced interrogation techniques are justified in very extreme, life saving circumstances, I do think that the Bush administration allowed the use of them too frequently. But, then again, one needs to realize the atmosphere after 9/11, and no person wanted anything like this to ever happen again. I don’t support the three items on your list. They are in violation of basic human rights. With regards to immigration, I am all for legal immigration but am against illegal immigration. One would think that having secure borders would be a good thing, especially for our safety, but certain people deride people who advocate for secure borders and call us other vile names just because we want immigrants to follow our laws and immigrate here via the proper channels.

  • My only issue is that I don’t ever recall Morning’s Minion, whom Kyle is supposedly defending with his post, demonstrating an accurate understanding of classical social contract theory, nor providing and concrete examples of this bad sort of “contract thinking” in our society.

    There is nothing wrong with the social contract. It defines clearly the parameters of government. The alternative is arbitrary authority. We as Catholics can be proud that the resistance to absolute, arbitrary authority probably began in the Salamanca school.

  • Yes, clearly those who support enhanced interrogation do so on the basis that:

    (a.) It is not a violation of basic human rights;

    (b.) Strictures against using such techniques in the civilian criminal and civil code apply only in the civilian criminal and civil code, because they arise from the social contract;

    (c.) Strictures against using such techniques against prisoners of war also arise, not from a fundamental right, but from a contractual obligation; namely, treaty obligations regarding lawful combatants. These do not apply to persons whose status is “unlawful combatant.”

    Of course, (b.) and (c.) depend on first establishing (a.). If in fact everyone does have a basic human right, intrinsic to their dignity as a human person, not to be waterboarded, why then the presence or absence of a contract doesn’t matter a whit. Only if (a.) is true, does anyone even bother with (b.) and (c.).

    So, what about (a.)?

    To repeat, (a.) asserts that enhanced interrogation is not a violation of the basic human rights intrinsic to the dignity of human persons.

    Now it sounds absurd on the face of it to say this. Obviously we know we shouldn’t go grabbing random persons and waterboarding them, so, in obedience to this moral intuition, we conclude that it must be “a violation of their basic human rights” to do so, right? And if it’s a violation of the basic human rights of any random person, it must likewise be a violation of the basic human rights of a war criminal like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right?

    Well, not so fast. One mustn’t go around waterboarding random persons. One mustn’t go around locking up random persons, either. Does it follow that locking up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a violation of his basic human rights?

    Why, no. It would only be a violation if he were innocent of wrongdoing. As he is a particularly nasty terrorist and about as far from innocent as it is possible to be, it’s perfectly okay to violate his basic human right of liberty, which is intrinsic to his dignity as a human being, by locking him up.

    Actually, I said that incorrectly. It’s not okay to violate his basic human right…but locking him up is no violation, because getting locked up is a freely-chosen consequence on his part. He chose, even asked, to be treated that way just by doing what he did. If he wasn’t willing to do the time, he shouldn’t have done the war-crime.

    But that raises a problem. Why can we not likewise argue that, while of course persons in general have a right to not be waterboarded, KSM voluntarily renounced that right by choosing to orchestrate terror plots to kill thousands of innocent people. Why can we not argue that, by doing this, he “chose, even asked,” to be waterboarded?

    Is there some qualitative or categorical difference between the right to freedom from imprisonment and the right to freedom from waterboarding, such that the former right can be voluntarily renounced by evil deeds, but the latter cannot?

    So the question is this:

    Given that people voluntarily renounce certain of their rights (at minimum, their liberty and/or property) when they commit heinous crimes by committing those crimes, it is reasonable, and not a violation of their rights, to forcibly deprive them of the benefits of the rights they have renounced.

    Yet, even before we read Church teachings on the matter, we recognize that the Moral Law forbids us to treat these persons as if they had, by committing whatever evil deed, renounced all of the rights intrinsic to the human dignity. We may lock them up; so, crimes are clearly capable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to liberty. We may not hang them from a mechanized hook and lower them an inch at a time, screaming, into an industrial shredding machine; so, crimes are clearly incapable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to not be shredded alive.

    How then, can one distinguish between the two categories of rights? Which ones may be renounced by crimes of sufficient magnitude, and which may not, no matter how horrific the crime?

    The Right to Not Be Waterboarded seems, according to Church teaching and most thinking Catholic opinion, to fall in the category of rights which are never, ever renounced. Even if one were, say, to personally rape and slowly murder fifty thousand innocent children while enjoying the whole process, one would have, by doing so, renounced one’s rights to both life and liberty, but not one’s right to avoid waterboarding.

    Why so?

    I am perfectly content agreeing that there is a line to be drawn; I am perfectly content saying that that is where the line is drawn; but I am confused about whether it was drawn there arbitrarily and could have been placed elsewhere, or if it was drawn there according to some unalterable moral principle which, when understood, allows us to see that the line could only ever be drawn in that way.

    Does anyone want to propose a principle which explains the positioning of the line? Or is it arbitrary, after all?

  • Joe,

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with the social contract per se. My concern is with the social contract used as a metaphorical framework for moral thought and action. I’m critical of thinking of moral obligations too much in terms of a social contract, moral thought that relies too heavily on the metaphor, that at times fails to account for obligations that exist beyond its boundaries. When someone denies another a basic human right because that other is not a “signer” of the social contract, he has treated a personal moral obligation as if it were an obligation under a social contract.

  • And as others have pointed out, we have to distinguish between civil and “basic human rights.” Who decides what a basic human right is?

    For instance, I believe an illegal immigrant has a basic human right to have their immediate needs met – if they are hungry, feed them, if they are naked, clothe them, if they are sick, care for them, contract or no contract. That is the basic Christian obligation.

    But when it comes to say, access to social services such as medical care beyond the emergency level, or education, or food stamps, etc. – then the public authorities, whose charge is to maintain the common good, have every right to regulate and restrict who has access to these services on the basis of what is fiscally and socially sustainable.

    This used to be understood in Catholic social thought. Now I’m not so sure it is. Now “common good” has come to mean services and spending without limit, in the name of satisfying “basic human rights.” That is to say, more and more things are falling under the umbrella of “basic human rights”, all of which the state is obliged to tax and pay for.

    But unsustainable policies cannot benefit the common good. If society collapses under the weight of entitlements, benefits, and a greatly expanded understanding of “basic human rights”, then I would say a much greater moral harm is done a great many more people. Some may call that “consequentialism”, but I don’t think it is an intrinsic evil for states to set boundaries and limits in order to ensure basic functionality.

  • Who decides what a basic human right is?

    Spoken like a good anti-Christian nihilist!

  • I wasn’t going to allow or respond to this childish nonsense, but for the sake of clarity I will indulge:

    My intention was not to say that it is impossible to decide what a basic human right is, but that in politics, there are many competing claims that demand recognition.

    I am neither anti-Christian nor a “nihilist” (another one of the pet words). I will rephrase the question: who decides which claims to basic human rights are endorsed by the state? Why is it that many more things are considered “basic human rights” than were 100 years ago? I don’t say that there are no basic human rights, but that in the current political climate, the concept continues to expand without limit, without regard for realistic limitations, and in doing so, putting ALL human rights in jeopardy.

  • Joe, don’t let Karlson get under your skin. That’s just how he reacts when he can’t control the discussion and drop the comments that he doesn’t see as advancing his pet agenda. He becomes unhinged and resorts to desperate ad hominems. It’s his tell – like when someone who doesn’t have any good cards tries to bluff his way through a poker hand but doesn’t realize that when he does his unconscious “rub-his-nose-with-his-index-finger-and smile” routine he is telegraphing the fact that he’s got nothing to every skilled player at the table. Pity him.

  • Yeah, sorry, Joe. I didn’t see Henry’s comment while it was still sitting in moderation, or I probably would have just deleted it as the non-comment it is.

    Pity is probably the right move here.

  • Eh. Maybe I should have let you, but it’s good to clear the air. People should see what we’re dealing with too.

  • My understanding, with regard to whether a terrorist or criminal forfeits the right not to be tortured, lies in the distinction between torture and other types of violence. War is inherently violent, and if it is unjust it is a travesty, but if it is just it is permitted (notice I don’t say noble, however, though personal acts of courage that are genuinely noble certainly occur even in unjust wars). Torture is not merely violence, but violence ordered toward a particular end: getting information out of the subject. So, where punishment or defense merits “violation” of the right an aggressor forfeits, the same may not be true of merely getting information from them by force that damages the body or the mind. (That’s my definition of torture in concrete terms, also.) I would suggest that while punishment is oriented directly toward dealing with the action it punishes and defense likewise, torture is on the other hand oriented directly toward information and therefore not, in the moral order, an immediate necessity and justified response to forfeiture of rights (which is a very limited forfeiture even where it does occur, by the way; it’s almost as if the criminal forces his rights out of the picture, although I do not mean by that a necessity argument which is a nicer way of saying a utilitarian argument). I would further argue that we have historically viewed torture as wrong regardless of any contract — things such as the Geneva Convention were put together largely after and in response to the great war crimes of the twentieth century that we prosecuted anyway (waterboarding by the Axis forces in WW2, for example). Finally, I would note that the Church appears (I say appears because the Catechism has been unclear in the past, inasmuch as stating as if it were required what is still technically only pious opinion is technically unclear) to teach that torture, that violence ordered toward extraction of information rather than either punishment or direct defense, is intrinsically evil.

    Thus, while I’m not totally closed to being corrected if I’m mistaken as to any of those moral standpoints, those are the well developed points that would need to be addressed to even begin suggesting torture is permissible on those who forfeit the bulk of their rights.

    Also, if one does argue that torture is permissible on war criminals because they’ve forfeited rights, one has to demonstrate the forfeiture of rights before one can act on it — and in terms of law, that generally means convict the war criminal first and interrogate after — which entirely robs the “necessity” argument of any urgency factor, the way it takes time to convict. One could argue also that an active combatant proves his status by that action, as these are whom one may shoot in a war without any trial or other formal process; however, one may not generally shoot an enemy who is captured and deprived of ability to combat because you’ve removed them from the very situation of immediate combat that both allows and necessitates said immediate judgement, so it’d be questionable whether such a parallel would even make torture of captured foes legitimate or rather prove it illegitimate.

  • I should also note regarding my definition of torture that damage need not be permanent. Also, I’m not sure I shouldn’t include direct infliction of pain in there, but one could argue pain as passing mental damage (since it impairs one’s immediate ability to think clearly)… but it’s the direct infliction, not the result of damage, that makes the difference — not that the classical notion of the direct object of an act means anything to the vast majority even of Catholics today, who would probably fail to realize that that _is_ drawing the line between mere discomfort (which is different from pain in kind, not just degree) or poor living conditions or anything like that and actual inflicting of pain. Let’s see, anything else… Risk. I’d probably count anything that risks such things just as sure as anything that obviously does it, simply because morality doesn’t play loose with possibilities and doubts (even where it acknowledges the _subjective_ effects of doubt, which, mind, can worsen the moral content if one is guilty of allowing the doubt to stay and especially to stay in a thing one knows one will act in).

    There’s a lot of temptation these days to call definitions unclear because we can equivocate around them, as if a clear definition would be immune to equivocation — and yet actually, that’s in the definition of equivocation: when something’s not clear in the first place, there isn’t a good meaning #1 for which to misconstrue with meaning #2, now is there? So anyway… yeah, I felt the need to try to add further qualification. Not sure I succeeded.

    And of course, one can also say all this is my “armchair theologian” pontification, but then, I don’t have to be stolen from to tell you we should criminalize theft either.

Using Religion To Defend Slavery

Friday, April 16, AD 2010

My second post using clips from the Birth of Freedom video produced by the Acton Institute.  As historian Susan Wise Bauer, justly popular in home schooling circles for her superb The History of the Ancient World  and The History of the Medieval World, indicates in the video above, defenses of slavery based upon the Bible often confused descriptive passages of the Bible, written in ages where slavery was as common as complex machines are in ours, with prescriptive commands that slavery was right and just.   Additionally, defenders of slavery using the Bible did not work out fully the logical implications of their position.  For example, if Saint Paul’s comments regarding slavery meant that slavery was just, would absolute monarchies also be just based upon Paul’s statements to obey the authority of the Roman Empire?   If slavery was good based upon Saint Paul’s statements, did that mean that enslavement of whites was good since the vast majority of slaves Saint Paul would have had contact with would have been white?  Using the Bible to defend slavery leads to endless questions of this type as the abolitionists at the time pointed out.

Perhaps one of the more elaborate defenses of slavery using religion was that of Richard Furman in a letter to the Governor of South Carolina, John Lyde Wilson, in 1822.  A Baptist pastor, Furman was born in Esopus, New York in 1755.  A preacher of unusual power, he was appointed as the Baptist pastor of the High Hills of Santee Baptist Church in South Carolina at the age of 19.  An ardent patriot during the Revolution, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston in 1787.

A strong believer in education, he founded literary societies, academies, literacy campaigns and local Bible and tract societies.  With his leadership, Baptists in South Carolina founded Columbian College in 1821, now known as George Washington University.

Furman began his career viewing slavery as an undoubted evil.  By the end of his career he owned slaves and had enlisted the Bible in defense of the “peculiar institution”. 

It would be easy to simply view Furman as a hypocrite and a monster.  However, such is not the case.  He was a highly educated man and a convinced Christian, and his life contained many charitable works, some of which were for blacks, slave and free alike.  The truly depressing fact while reading the very well written defense of slavery below, is the recognition that Furman in many ways was a very good man working very hard to defend the indefensible.  The attempted slave insurrection of Denmark Versey prompted Furman to write the letter.  Furman’s letter to the Governor of South Carolina: 

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17 Responses to Using Religion To Defend Slavery

  • Obviously I missed the recent headline describing any living person who can spell both words “moral” and “compass,” let alone put them together, actually defending slavery.

    Perhaps you intend to dissect the reverend’s presumably learned discourse? I’ll need the cliffnotes, or some other reason to waste my time on the concept of slavery as a moral undertaking. Does this apply to moral instruction needed by anyone?

  • Catholicism’s place in slavery was not the one of Catholic quick internet written versions and not the list (which they are based on) of anti slavery bulls that Pope Leo XIII and another Pope gave in the 19th century… with simply Catholic laity disobeying and Popes objecting.
    John T. Noonan dispels that myth in “A Church That Can and Cannot Change”/ Nortre Dame/ 2005. What Pope Leo XIII left out of his list of anti slavery bulls was the late 15th century Popes who gave perpetual slavery as a right to Spain and Portugal when new natives resisted them in the new world. One can clearly see the beginning of this turbo charge of imperialism online in “Romanus Pontifex” 1453 by Pope Nicholas V (a follow up to his “Dum Diversas” which it is referring to) in the middle of the 4th large paragraph…see words in caps for essence:

    “We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to REDUCE THEIR PERSONS TO PERPETUAL SLAVERY, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit…(then at the end of the bull a fateful voiding of future bulls for the Portuguese crown)…And if anyone, by whatever authority, shall, wittingly or unwittingly, attempt anything inconsistent with these orders we decree that his act shall be null and void…Therefore let no one infringe or with rash boldness contravene this our declaration, constitution, gift, grant, appropriation, decree, supplication, exhortation, injunction, inhibition, mandate, and will. But if anyone should presume to do so, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.”

    Noonan points out that three subsequent Popes in the latter part of the 15th century confirmed the above for Portugal after Pope Nicholas V passed on and Pope Alexander VI in 1593 repeated the same rights for Spain as that bull divided the world between Spain and Portugal. You will remember that Alexander VI was in some ways the worst Pope we ever had in terms of scandal.
    In the Catholic Universities, theologians had a number of just causes for slavery and unforetunately one was already in the decretals (born to a slave mother) and was mentioned by Aquinas in the Supplement to the ST on Marriage (of a slave):

    “children follow the mother in freedom and bondage; whereas in matters pertaining to dignity as proceeding from a thing’s form, they follow the father, for instance in honors, franchise, inheritance and so forth. The canons are in agreement with this (cap. Liberi, 32, qu. iv, in gloss.: cap. Inducens, De natis ex libero ventre) as also the law of Moses (Exodus 21).”
    Supplement to the Summa Theologica
    Question 52 article 4 (“I answer that” section).

    Religious orders had slaves as England was in the process of stopping slavery.

    Noonan: “In 1792, six French Sulpicians arrived in Maryland, and one of them,
    Ambrose Marechal, leased a former Jesuit parish in Bohemia, where among other business in 1793 he sold ?Philis and her infant 3 weeks old for 35 pounds, and a month later sold Clara, Philis other child, 4 years old for five pounds. Marechal thought the proceeds belonged to the Sulpicians as profits of the estate, like the crops, the increase of stock, and firewood not fit for building. The Jesuits (organized as regular clergy since their suppression by the Pope in 1773) objected: like timber the Negroes belonged to the landlord. No objection was registered as to the sales, not even that separating Philis and Clara.” …A Church That Can and Cannot Change?/ pages 91-92/ John T. Noonan Jr.

    Noonan goes on to note that Marechal later became archbishop of Baltimore and argued with the Jesuits over property and Marechal reported to the Vatican pertaining to the dispute that concerning the wealth of the Jesuits: “They have about 500 African men bound in slavery to them, of whom the mean price is about 200 scudi.” And he goes on to note in the next sentence the large number of animals they also own. He is saying all this to get Rome to side with his contention that the Jesuits have property that rightly belongs to the Diocese since the Jesuits at that time were not an order (suspended) but were in the interim regular clergy.

  • I’ll grant you, this day after Tax Day, that Obama is doing his best to make slaves of us all. Other than than, I fail to comprehend the value in the discussion.
    And given the decidedly autocratic, politically tone-deaf bent to our national legislature of late, I am not sure I want anyone reminded that at one time reasonable men could reach different conclusions about the matter of chattel slavery and still be considered reasonable!

  • Cardinal Dulles had a review of Noonan’s book in 2005 in First Things. Here is the portion of the review which dealt with slavery:

    “More than half of the book deals with slavery, a subject that Noonan has researched in considerable detail. Slavery was practiced by almost every known society until modern times. Throughout the biblical era, Noonan shows, slavery was taken as a given, although the Israelites practiced rather mild forms of slavery and did not permanently enslave their compatriots. Jesus, though he repeatedly denounced sin as a kind of moral slavery, said not a word against slavery as a social institution. Nor did the writers of the New Testament. Peter and Paul exhort slaves to be obedient to their masters. Paul urges Philemon to treat his converted slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. While discreetly suggesting that he manumit Onesimus, he does not say that Philemon is morally obliged to free Onesimus and any other slaves he may have had.

    For many centuries the Church was part of a slave-holding society. The popes themselves held slaves, including at times hundreds of Muslim captives to man their galleys. Throughout Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages, theologians generally followed St. Augustine in holding that although slavery was not written into the natural moral law it was not absolutely forbidden by that law. St. Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin were all Augustinian on this point. Although the subjection of one person to another (servitus) was not part of the primary intention of the natural law, St. Thomas taught, it was appropriate and socially useful in a world impaired by original sin.

    The leaven of the gospel gradually alleviated the evils of slavery, at least in medieval Europe. Serfdom did not involve the humiliation and brutality people today ordinarily associate with slavery. Moral theologians recognized that slaves, unlike mere chattels, had certain rights even against their masters, who no longer had over them the power of life and death, as had been the case in pagan antiquity.

    For St. Thomas, slaves (servi) had the right to food, sleep, marriage, and the rearing of their children. Provision had also to be made for them to fulfill their religious duties, and they were to be treated with benevolence. With the conquest of the New World and the enslavement of whole populations of Indians and Africans, theologians such as Bartolomé de Las Casas and Cajetan began to object to the injustices of subjecting conquered peoples and of engaging in the lucrative slave trade. Some prominent Catholics of the early nineteenth century, including J.M. Sailer, Daniel O’Connell, and the Comte de Montalembert, together with many Protestants, pressed for the total abolition of slavery.

    Throughout this period the popes were far from silent. As soon as the enslavement of native populations by European colonists started, they began to protest, although Noonan gives only a few isolated examples. Eugene IV in 1435 condemned the enslavement of the peoples of the newly colonized Canary Islands and, under pain of excommunication, ordered all such slaves to be immediately set free. Pius II and Sixtus IV emphatically repeated these prohibitions. In a bull addressed to all the faithful of the Christian world Paul III in 1537 condemned the enslavement of Indians in North and South America. Gregory XIV in 1591 ordered the freeing of all the Filipino slaves held by Spaniards. Urban VIII in 1639 issued a bull applying the principles of Paul III to Portuguese colonies in South America and requiring the liberation of all Indian slaves.

    In 1781 Benedict XIV renewed the call of previous popes to free the Indian slaves of South America. Thus it was no break with previous teaching when Gregory XVI in 1839 issued a general condemnation of the enslavement of Indians and Blacks. In particular, he condemned the importation of Negro slaves from Africa. Leo XIII followed along the path set by Gregory XVI.

    Although the popes condemned the enslavement of innocent populations and the iniquitous slave trade, they did not teach that all slaves everywhere should immediately be emancipated. At the time of the Civil War, very few Catholics in the United States felt that papal teaching required them to become abolitionists.

    Bishop John England stood with the tradition in holding that there could be just titles to slavery. Bishop Francis P. Kenrick held that slavery did not necessarily violate the natural law. Archbishop John Hughes contended that slavery was an evil but not an absolute evil. Orestes Brownson, while denying that slavery was malum in se, came around to favor emancipation as a matter of policy.

    In 1863 John Henry Newman penned some fascinating reflections on slavery. A fellow Catholic, William T. Allies, asked him to comment on a lecture he was planning to give, asserting that slavery was intrinsically evil. Newman replied that, although he would like to see slavery eliminated, he could not go so far as to condemn it as intrinsically evil. For if it were, St. Paul would have had to order Philemon, “liberate all your slaves at once.” Newman, as I see it, stood with the whole Catholic tradition. In 1866 the Holy Office, in response to an inquiry from Africa, ruled that although slavery (servitus) was undesirable, it was not per se opposed to natural or divine law. This ruling pertained to the kind of servitude that was customary in certain parts of Africa at the time.

    No Father or Doctor of the Church, so far as I can judge, was an unqualified abolitionist. No pope or council ever made a sweeping condemnation of slavery as such. But they constantly sought to alleviate the evils of slavery and repeatedly denounced the mass enslavement of conquered populations and the infamous slave trade, thereby undermining slavery at its sources.”

  • Donald
    Dulles does a neat trick which is to again leave out the late 15th century Popes and secondly Dulles studiously does not notice if the anti slavery Popes followed up with interdict when Catholic countries ignored them.
    I read that Dulles piece long ago in First Things and it is not good reviewing when you seem not to have read what Noonan wrote. Dulles simply copied from Leo XIII or a drivative thereof which was the problem all along. It is as though Dulles skimmed the Noonan book…missed the central point of the late 15th century and thus skipped from Aquinas to Las Casas who was early 16th century… and then went to Leo’s encyclical and took on the reviewing assignment thinking no one would really read the Noonan book with close attention.

    Dulles fails to mention and Noonan does mention that the Canary Island case was a Pope objecting to slavery on Canary islands because the people in question were baptized. You can see that from the document itself online. That same Pope,EugeneIV,later gave Portugal the right to conquer those Canary islands which were infidel in 1436 in a separate “Romanus Pontifex” from Nicholas’ fateful one of 1453.

    Dulles goes on to tell of Pope Paul III issuing a bull against slaving in 1537 in the new world but he fails to mention why it was necessary (the late 15th century Popes had given carte blanche to enslave if the gospel was resisted) and further Dulles misses (which Noonan had documented) that ten years later, that same Paul III praised domestic slavery within Italy.

    Read the Noonan book and you will have done more than Dulles did. You can see from my piece above that Noonan documented the sale of a woman away from her child by the Sulpicians with the Jesuits taking that conduct for granted while Dulles goes on in cover up style about how the gospel alleviated the details of slavery. Please read Noonan, a Federal judge…one used to evidence and not used to making things look better than they were. What we did on sexual abuse was not new. We have done it with history on topics like slavery.

  • Bill, in the ongoing struggle against Islam it was commonplace for both sides to enslave captives taken in war until they were redeemed through the payment of a ransom. I think that is different from perpetual chattel slavery based upon race. One feature of the enslavement of muslim captives is that they normally had to be freed if they converted to Christianity. Romanus Pontifex was part of Nicholas V’s attempts to launch a crusade as the Ottoman Turks were finishing off Constantinople.

    There are many passages in Romanus Pontifex that indicate that the war against the Saracens, muslims, was the prime concern of the Pope:

    “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, strengthened, however, always by the royal authority, he has not ceased for twenty-five years past to send almost yearly an army of the peoples of the said kingdoms with the greatest labor, danger, and expense, in very swift ships called caravels, to explore the sea and coast lands toward the south and the Antarctic pole.”

    Removing the bull from its historical context distorts what the Pope was trying to accomplish: destroy Islamic power in Africa and Asia and convert the populations to Christianity.

  • Donald,
    You paint a prettier picture but you didn’t get it from Romanus Pontifex which is the cat’s meow on what Romnaus Pontifex was about.
    Giving it an exclusive purpose concerning Islam which makes it seem more religious is distortive when the text does not support that is what is happening? Imperialistic converting of all foreign peoples is what is happening by force of arms….something Vatican II now forbids in the strictest terms.

    Pope Nicholas discerned three groups as the document progresses and only one of those groups was the Saracens. He obviously saw slaves in person by that time and discerned that Blacks from lower Africa had zero to do with Saracens.

    The text shows that Pope Nicholas distinquishes between the Saracens and the people of lower Africa and…and… a group living between who also are not Islamists (third paragraph) and all are to be conquered even lower Africa which had no record of attacking Iberia as the Moors did so the self defense thing is not relevant with them.

    You will recurringly see a couplet…”Saracens and other infidels”…”enemies and infidels” and no where does Nicholas restrict slavery to male soldiers…prior to his reign, the decretals…Church law… as I showed above in Aquinas allowed for the slavery of women and their children who would then follow them in slavery.
    Throughout the centuries, this would be the loophole whereby slavery perdured…a canon law that said children followed the mother if she was a slave. The other just titles for slavery were capture in a just war/ selling one’s children to feed one’s other children (Tomas Sanchez)/ self selling of self to pay debt as with endentured servants. The loophole Portugal used was to buy blacks that were captured in a presumably just war in the interior of Africa.
    The sellers said the war was just. Your mutual fund tells you they never trade in and out of Playboy Enterprises; you are allowed to take their word for it.

    Romanus Pontifex first paragraph:

    “not only restrain the savage excesses of the SARACENS AND OF OTHER INFIDELS, enemies of the Christian name, but also for the defense and increase of the faith vanquish them and their kingdoms and habitations, though situated in the remotest parts unknown to us, and subject them to their own temporal dominion..”

    second paragraph:

    “also to bring into the bosom of his faith the perfidious enemies of him and of the life-giving Cross by which we have been redeemed, namely the SARACENS AND ALL OTHER INFIDELS WHATSOEVER, [and how] after the city of Ceuta, situated in Africa, had been subdued by the said King John to his dominion, and after many wars had been waged, sometimes in person, by the said infante, although in the name of the said King John, against the enemies and infidels aforesaid

    Thrid paragraph which now talks of conquering three distinct groups which will be repeated near the ending:

    “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…he has not ceased for twenty-five years past to send almost yearly an army of the peoples of the said kingdoms with the greatest labor, danger, and expense, in very swift ships called caravels, to explore the sea and coast lands toward the south and the Antarctic pole”

    paragraph 4…future undiscovered lands perhaps motivated by the very remoteness of Antartica mentioned mention of Saracens…just infidels and pagans:

    “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.”

    Next to the last paragraph then mentions the three groups while forbidding non Portuguese to bring things to those three groups:

    “that they do not by any means presume to carry arms, iron, wood for construction, and other things prohibited by law from being in any way carried to the Saracens, to any of the provinces, islands, harbors, seas, and places whatsoever, acquired or possessed in the name of King Alfonso, or situated in this conquest or elsewhere, to the SARACENS, INFIDELS, OR PAGANS…”

  • Bill, I think the document is clear that crusade is what the Pope had in mind. Of course it also helps to have some knowledge of the period and of the pontificate of Nicholas V. The encroaching threat of Islam consumed the pontificate of Nicholas V as it did the pontificates of most of the Popes of this time. Nicholas V viewed the explorations being undertaken by the Portugese as a prime opportunity to spread Christianity and make an end run around Islam. To attempt to read this bull as the Pope giving permission to found a slave trade or a slave empire is ahistoric. The Pope was attempting to encourage the Portugese in their endeavors, and hence that is why he granted them a monopoly in these territories.

    How Nicholas V would have dealt with long term slavery based on race is suggested by his bull in 1449 overturning statutes of the city of Toledo discriminating against Conversos, Catholics of Jewish Ancestry, on the grounds that “all Catholics are one in body according to the teaching of our faith.”

  • Donald,
    I’ll end briefly too. Were Pope Nicholas only about crusade, he would not have promised all the lands and assets of conquered countries to the Portuguese with the conquered people being perpetual slaves…unless there is a new definition of crusade that I never saw. And you then in your paradigm have the conquered males being slaves and the women and chidren as free as you and me. That is an odd picture of a conquered country with two classes of people…free women and enslave males. Sounds like the beginning of women’s lib. Romanus Pontifex said “perpetual slavery” not slavery til ransom as you said way above as you tried to subsume it under war practices.
    Pope Nicholas did not envision what the slave trade would become just as Henry Ford did not picture the New Jersey Turnpike and people being maimed in accidents… but he was responsible in great measure for giving slavery it’s license from Heaven prior to Protestantism and its justifications of slavery. And you are ignoring the text of Romanus Pontifex and its listing of two groups at first and its eventual listing of three groups of which Islamists were only one.

    A previous bull of “Unam Sanctam” mistook the two swords the disciples told Christ they had in the gospel… as saying that the Pope had both a secular sword and a relgious sword….power over the Church and power over the world. In the actual text of the gospel, scholars now feel Christ was exasperated with the two disciples taking His reference to swords as literal and so Christ says “Enough”. “Unam Sanctam” said Christ was saying that the “enough” meant that the two swords for the Pope are sufficient in the sense of over the Church and one over the world…the most dire misinterpretation of Christ that perhaps ever occurred.

    Pope Nicholas was the next step for the two swords; he actually carried that two fold purpose out with a nation. He saw himself capable of giving the world to Portugal due to his dominion over the secular sword and that they must convert others during that conquest as an integral part of conquest. Soon after Nicholas, in 1493, a Spanish Pope who had more children as Cardinal than the average NFP person today…Alexander VI… divided that entire world between Spain and Portugal each getting half of the world and that Pope gave the longitude they were to go by which oddly resulted in Brazil being Portuguese and the rest of South America being Spanish. It had nothing to do with Islam whatsoever. He was Spanish himself and was making sure the Portuguese did not get the whole world thanks to Nicholas. And the same rights of invasion and dominance and perpetual slavery were given Spain as were in Romanus Pontifex for the Portuguese (Noonan)…including the right of taking assets of those who resisted the gospel which Niall Ferguson of Harvard and Oxford in his recent best seller, “The Ascent of Money”, notes allowed a priest accompanying the conquistadors to hand a Bible to the leader of those natives in Peru as constituting preaching the gospel and see if he resisted the gospel; the leader did not open the bible…perhaps he could not read Latin and it was very lengthy. Anecdotes say that he threw it on the ground and that constituted resisting the gospel. Spain was subsequently to take that kingdom and all their silver for over 200 years from that area…at first with paid labor and later with local slaves and then after that black slaves….all of whom were easily maimed from falling stones in that type of mining and that silver and Mexico’s were 44 percent of Spain’s budget by the end of the 16th century and thus of the Inquisition’s budget…and Spain still waned before Britain due to her European wars. Ferguson quotes an Augustinian monk, Fray Antonio de la Calancha writing in 1638 AD: ” Every peso coin minted in Potosi(Peru)has cost the life of ten Indians who have died in the depths of the mines.”

    Historical context? Romanus Pontifex must be seen as the logical outgrowth of the mistake within Unam Sanctam…that the Pope literally owns the world in the name of Christ and so can give it to a nation that will conquer and convert under the threat of arms. That is how Filipinos and their country came to be named not after one of their heroes… but in honor of Phillip II of Spain who conquered them… much as Islam still threatens to conquer for God. God’s Providence removed throughout history land from the papacy… perhaps precisely in order to correct those several bulls.

  • Presuming to know God’s providence is a tricky business Bill. But for the actions of the Popes in sponsoring crusades across the centuries I have little doubt but that Islam would have conquered Europe. Perhaps God had the Popes assume secular authority during those centuries in order to prevent this. The answer to these type of questions will be in the next world.

    In regard to my point about Nicholas V and his overturning of the decrees against Conversos, I would note that in 1462 Pius II condemned the enslavement of baptized natives in the Canary Islands, calling slavery itself a great crime. Sublimus Dei of 1537 can thus be considered an application of the teaching regarding baptized natives and applying it to the non-baptized. Since readers of this thread might be unfamiliar with the text of Sublimus Dei I quote it in full:

    “To all faithful Christians to whom this writing may come, health in Christ our Lord and the apostolic benediction.

    The sublime God so loved the human race that He created man in such wise that he might participate, not only in the good that other creatures enjoy, but endowed him with capacity to attain to the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good and behold it face to face; and since man, according to the testimony of the sacred scriptures, has been created to enjoy eternal life and happiness, which none may obtain save through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary that he should possess the nature and faculties enabling him to receive that faith; and that whoever is thus endowed should be capable of receiving that same faith. Nor is it credible that any one should possess so little understanding as to desire the faith and yet be destitute of the most necessary faculty to enable him to receive it. Hence Christ, who is the Truth itself, that has never failed and can never fail, said to the preachers of the faith whom He chose for that office ‘Go ye and teach all nations.’ He said all, without exception, for all are capable of receiving the doctrines of the faith.

    The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

    We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

    By virtue of Our apostolic authority We define and declare by these present letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, which shall thus command the same obedience as the originals, that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.”

  • Donald
    Paul III whom you quoted above was not quite as consistent as you would like. He did not want enslavement based on conquering as the previous Popes did (see below). Yet Noonan found a later motu proprio of the same Pope Paul III “Statutorum almae urbis Romae libri quinque (Liber bullarum 19 v.)1548…11 years later than 1537 which stated: “from a multitude of slaves,inheritances are augmented.” Remember that Catholic moral theology until 1960 (Tommaso Iorio,S.J….Theologia Moralis…5th printing 1960)still contained several just titles for slavery in general and I actually regret that but accept it and that Leviticus 25 does mean at minimum that in some eras of debilitated economy and political structure, it can be existent morally and that John Paul II erred in calling it “intrinsic evil” in section 80 of “Splendor of the Truth” (the ordinary magisterium can err in morals…see Ludwig Ott/ end paragraph of section 8 of the intro to Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith) (see section 40 of Evangelium Vitae for John Paul’s rather unconventional estimation of the severe within the OT as not coming from God).
    The Jesuit Salvatore Brandi centuries later in 1903 said that Paul III in the above motu proprio praising slavery was referring to mild slavery but as Noonan noted…he offered no proof.

    And I would urge intelligent readers to look at that one sentence within the piece that Donald presented just above:

    “notwithstanding [[whatever may have been]] or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty”.

    Pope Paul III is referring in the double bracketed words above to a series of 5 Popes minimum at the end of the 15th century whom Leo XIII left out of his encyclicals on the papal history with slavery and which Dulles left out of his First Things piece.

    And it was not just Pope Nicholas V and Alexander VI but included Pope Calixtus III who incorporated Romanus Pnotifex and its “perpetual slavery” (not temporary) into his own Inter Caetera 1456 as did Sixtus IV 1481 and then Pope Leo X confirmed Romanus Pontifex in writing for the Portuguese in 1514.

    We…Leo XIII and Cardinal Dulles… leave that out much as we tried leaving out many things in modern times related to the present revived scandal in the media. Opacity is over for us and for Goldman Sachs and Toyota and for everyone. But it works as long as people do not read micro history.
    But that is what the media specializes in making people read.

    Gone for real. Slavery topics kill weekends.

  • Paul III in 1545 abrograted the ancient privilege of slaves claiming freedom under a certain statue in Rome. From what I can glean online this abrogation had much to do with his desire to reduce the number of vagrants and homeless who had flocked to Rome. In 1548 he allowed the use of Muslim slaves, recall the whole crusade idea, in the Papal states.

  • “in the ongoing struggle against Islam it was commonplace for both sides to enslave captives taken in war until they were redeemed through the payment of a ransom. I think that is different from perpetual chattel slavery based upon race.”

    Bingo! Are we really supposed to be all torn up about this?

    It’s a commonplace that classical and chattel slavery were two different institutions, and that the sort of slavery resulting from war between Christendom and Islam was far more representative of the former than the latter.

    This obsession, moreover, with “INFIDELS AND PAGANS” has nothing to do with black slavery. Infidels meant Muslims. Pagans could have meant any number of non-Muslim ENEMIES of the Church.

    None of the people of Africa or the Americas were thought of in such a way, as is made obvious by the long series of Papal bulls that were for some reason summarily dismissed at the beginning of this discussion.

    The Church wouldn’t have condemned chattel slavery in the New World over and over again if she didn’t see a difference. There’s no “contradiction” and there’s no “mistake.” The mistake is on the part of those who fail to understand the difference between what an “enemy of the Church” is, and what they aren’t.

    The “mistake” is on the part of liberals and others with a political agenda attempting to re-open old wounds by judging the past by modern standards – modern standards which are hardly any better, given the 40 million plus innocent children this country has seen legally murdered since 1973.

  • Joe
    Read detail before you post on detail. Saracens, infidels, and pagans are separated by commas in e.g. the last paragraph of Romanus Pontifex and could not therefore be identical and below Pope Paul III will name them (“Indians of the West and the South”) within that generation as he corrects the earlier bulls.

    Secondly it is the Pope, Paul III, who contradicted the five above mentioned Popes during the same time in history (Paul III was the brother of Pope Alexander VI’s mistress, Giulia Farnese)and that presents a difficulty for theories like yours of that time having different standards.
    Paul III had different standards than the Popes who just preceded him immediately which means that at that time, there were two standards as to perpetually enslaving conquered blacks and native Americans if they resisted the gospel.
    So there is not one standard of enslaving in 1536 and prior; that is why Paul III wrote his bull in 1537. There were 265 Popes throughout history and relatively few took a stand against slavery and bulls in some centuries meant little beyond the immediate Pope unless they were backed up with interdict for those countries who ignored them and Paul III even did not interdict Spain or Portugal in their ignoring of him. Popes for centuries needed Kings just to have the papal territories survive and that made political bulls weak. Venice and its Bishops and priests totally ignored a papal interdict during that time of the Renaissance. That is why Pio Nono did not condemn France in the 19th century for the 2nd Opium war in China; he needed her to defend the papal territory which she did but then it was soon lost again anyway and France as papal rep within China in the second opium war both opened China to missionaries at the end of a gun but also forced the British opium trade on China simultaneously. Current Popes speak bravely against wars because current Popes get nothing from modern nations…ancien regime Popes were always dependent on nations and rarely backed up bulls with interdict so that a bull was permanent only if nations gained from what it said as in the case of Portugal and Spain who were not about to listen to an Italian Pope after a Spanish one had given them conquering rights and enslavement rights.

    And it is Paul III who further refutes your no blacks involved theory in Paul III’s own words regarding who the previous Popes gave permission to enslave. Here are the words of Paul III in 1537:

    ” The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.”

  • Pope Nicholas V by the way gave the right to perpetually enslave those who resisted the gospel. He did not say that natives were incapable of receiving the gospel so that Paul is also dealing with a further lower level of evil which had crept in since Nicholas…ie that natives were incapable of receiving the gospel. Apparently Spanish and Portuguese were running into an unforeseen problem:
    if natives accepted the gospel according to Nicholas, they were not to be enslaved and that meant that believers would interfere for example in Iberia taking specific land en masse since there existed believing natives on that land. Apparently the solution was to say that natives were too dumb to believe and thus the conquistadors were actually probably trying to undo even Nicholas V caveat that implied that natives accepting the gospel could not be enslaved or stolen from.
    Paul III did not issue an interdict to back up his words but he did issue a brief, Pastorale Officium, of excommunication mentioning the King of Castile and Aragon ….but Spain protested and so he rescinded it.

  • Bill,

    Ok. I’m going to try and be nice about this, because I admit, I could have some reading comprehension deficiency that isn’t allowing me to see your point.

    I would ask you to follow your own advice, and read the bloody details before you criticize others for not having read them.

    This is what you quote:

    “We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it.”

    First of all, what is the evil being done here? The evil is that there men – probably the Conquistadors and others, were trying to use the supposed idiocy of the natives to justify their enslavement. The whole purpose of this bull is to REFUTE THAT IDEA. He goes on to say:

    “Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters… that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.”

    Is there something about this that is unclear to you?




    Someone here has severe reading comprehension deficiencies. It could be me. But I think it’s you. And I don’t know if you are motivated by anti-Catholic bigotry or you really just don’t understand the plain and simple meaning of words. You work that out for yourself.

  • Joe

    Your first post criticized my reading of words from not Paul III who you cite immediately above but from “Romanus Pontifex” by Pope Nicholas V and the words were: “Saracens, infidels and pagans” which you sought to conflate into “muslims” only. I responded to that.

    Now your above and second post is talking about an entirely different bull by an entirely different Pope as though that is one you were writing about in the first post as to the detail problem that I alleged as to those words and it was not. Your first post was about the words “infidels and pagans” within the 1453 bull not the 1537 bull by another Pope.

    You now are quoting Pope Paul III in 1537 who was opposing two of the Popes and one of the conquistadors: A. the error of the Popes prior to him who gave the right of perpetual slavery IF..IF…IF… natives resisted the faith….and B. error two (the one you mention) of those (probably conquistadors)who even wanted to go beyond what Pope Nicholas V had given them: which was the right to enslave those who resisted the gospel. They wanted to also enslave simply all natives who seemed to them too dumb to accept the gospel.
    Why did the conquistadors want to go further than enslaving perpetually those who resisted the gospel?? Probably because too many natives with clergy help were not resisting the gospel which meant that according to Pope Nicholas V who gave them the right to enslave those who resisted…it meant that they could not enslave all natives and that would leave them with land distribution problems because historically the conquistadors took vast areas for themselves and their descendants…the best land tracts; and therefore allowing some natives to hold onto their homes because they did not resist the gospel would get in the way of that land system which was later referred to as the “encomienda” system and that system is the reason there is so much poverty in South America today according to some authors like Trevor-Roper I believe it was.

Obama The Theologian

Friday, September 4, AD 2009

It’s interesting that during a Ramadan dinner at the White House President Obama mentioned that Islam is a great religion.

Since when is he qualified to make such theological statements when questions of this magnitude are above his pay grade?

Did President Obama mean how the followers of Islam subjugated the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa, Anatolia, the Balkans, and Spain?

Enslaved millions of black Africans in the slave trade to Europeans?

Not to mention defiling the Hagia Sophia, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and many, many more Christian shrines and churches.

President Obama you have no idea what you’re talking about.


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12 Responses to Obama The Theologian

  • by Pope John Paul II in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”

    A very different discussion, obviously, is the one that leads us to the synagogues and mosques, where those who worship the One God assemble. Yes, certainly it is a different case when we come to these great monotheistic religions, beginning with Islam. In the Declaration Nostra Aetate we read: “The Church also has a high regard for the Muslims, who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and omnipotent, the Creator of heaven and earth” (Nostra Aetate 3). As a result of their monotheism, believers in Allah are particularly close to us.

    I remember an event from my youth. In the convent of the Church of Saint Mark in Florence, we were looking at the frescoes by Fra Angelico. At a certain point a man joined us who, after sharing his admiration for the work of this great religious artist, immediately added: “But nothing can compare to our magnificent Muslim monotheism.” His statement did not prevent us from continuing the visit and the conversation in a friendly tone. It was on that occasion that I got a kind of first taste of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, which we have tried to develop systematically in the post-conciliar period.

    Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.

    Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.

    Nevertheless, the religiosity of Muslims deserves respect. It is impossible not to admire, for example, their fidelity to prayer. The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all.

    The Council has also called for the Church to have a dialogue with followers of the “Prophet,” and the Church has proceeded to do so. We read in Nostra Aetate: “Even if over the course of centuries Christians and Muslims have had more than a few dissensions and quarrels, this sacred Council now urges all to forget the past and to work toward mutual understanding as well as toward the preservation and promotion of social justice, moral welfare, peace, and freedom for the benefit of all mankind” (Nostra Aetate 3).

    From this point of view, as I have already mentioned, the meetings for prayer held at Assisi (especially that for peace in Bosnia, in 1993), certainly played a significant role. Also worthwhile were my meetings with the followers of Islam during my numerous apostolic trips to Africa and Asia, where sometimes, in a given country, the majority of the citizens were Muslims. Despite this, the Pope was welcomed with great hospitality and was listened to with similar graciousness.

    The trip I made to Morocco at the invitation of King Hassan II can certainly be defined as a historic event. It was not simply a courtesy visit, but an event of a truly pastoral nature. The encounter with the young people at Casablanca Stadium (1985) was unforgettable. The openness of the young people to the Pope’s words was striking when he spoke of faith in the one God. It was certainly an unprecedented event.

    Nevertheless, concrete difficulties are not lacking. In countries where fundamentalist movements come to power, human rights and the principle of religious freedom are unfortunately interpreted in a very one-sided way-religious freedom comes to mean freedom to impose on all citizens the “true religion.” In these countries the situation of Christians is sometimes terribly disturbing. Fundamentalist attitudes of this nature make reciprocal contacts very difficult. All the same, the Church remains always open to dialogue and cooperation.

  • Now, Tito, just as it is not right to say Catholicism did X, Y, and Z because of what some of its followers did, it is not right to say X, Y, and Z are from “Islam” unless you can show how it is universal Islamic teaching.

    The Fall of Constantinople is very interesting to bring up. First, we all know Catholics before Muslims sacked the city and indeed, destroyed religious relics and holy sites (though it was not Catholicism which did this). The sacking of Constantinople was a great defiling and it was Western Christians that did it. By this fact, Constantinople was weakened enough to be taken centuries later. Second, in the taking of the city, many Christians were in the army of the Turk (indeed, a great number) — we are talking about empires, not religions.

    Now saying this, it is true to say a lot of followers of Islam have done evil things, just like followers of Christ have done evil things. But let’s not use that to define Islam, just as we don’t use the abuses of the Spanish Inquisition to define Catholicism.

  • Did President Obama mean how the followers of Islam subjugated the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa, Anatolia, the Balkans, and Spain? Enslaved millions of black Africans in the slave trade to Europeans? Not to mention defiling the Hagia Sophia, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and many, many more Christian shrines and churches.

    I think this is an unnecessarily uncharitable reading of the President’s remarks. If President Obama had said that Christianity was a great religion, I certainly would not have understood him to be praising the Spanish Inquisition. As with Christianity, so with Islam.

    Additionally, ‘great’ has multiple meanings, for instance ‘most significant’, ‘influential’, ‘extensive in time or distance,’ which strike me as at least as plausible in this context. It seems unlikely (to me) that President Obama was praising Muslim theology, per se. Moreover, even if he was praising Muslim theology in general terms, there are certainly enough points of agreement between Islam and Christianity that this should not necessarily offend Christians; it’s not like President Obama was praising Sharia law or commenting on the divinity of Christ.

    great (gr?t)
    adj. great·er, great·est

    1. Very large in size.
    2. Larger in size than others of the same kind.
    3. Large in quantity or number: A great throng awaited us. See Synonyms at large.
    4. Extensive in time or distance: a great delay.
    5. Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree, or extent: a great crisis.
    6. Of outstanding significance or importance: a great work of art.
    7. Chief or principal: the great house on the estate.
    8. Superior in quality or character; noble: “For he was great, ere fortune made him so” (John Dryden).
    9. Powerful; influential: one of the great nations of the West.
    10. Eminent; distinguished: a great leader.
    11. Grand; aristocratic.
    12. Informal Enthusiastic: a great lover of music.
    13. Informal Very skillful: great at algebra.
    14. Informal Very good; first-rate: We had a great time at the dance.
    15. Being one generation removed from the relative specified. Often used in combination: a great-granddaughter.

  • Whoops, just noticed Henry had already used the Spanish Inquisition…should have come up with another example. ‘Nobody expects…’

  • Henry K. & John H.,

    Excellent points all the way around.

    Without getting into any nitpicking which I want to avoid, President Obama would never have said anything about Islam the way Pope John Paul II has so eloquently stated.

    His was more of a political statement to the appeasement of his liberal sensibilities that all religions are the basically the same.

    Which isn’t true at all.

    His comparison of Islam to Wicca, Buddhism, and Christianity shows his lack of depth on the subject of religion.

    This coming from a man who didn’t know that Jeremiah Wright was a racist while attending his ‘church’ for 20 years.

    …I like the quotes pulled from Pope JP2. He is one of the major reasons why I am a Catholic today.

  • Catholic Anarchist,

    You are now banned from all of my postings.

    Enjoy purgatory!

  • “His was more of a political statement to the appeasement of his liberal sensibilities that all religions are the basically the same.”

    Actually that is also not what he said, and that is the problem. As the Church has consistently pointed out, we do not reject that which is true in other religions; to say that (which is what his quote from Ali is about) is not to say they are all equal.

    I thank God St Thomas Aquinas found much truth through Muslims!

  • I have to say, I think this particular broadcast went a bit too far.

    Obama’s use of the word “great” did not need to be subjected to such hair-splitting analysis.

    I certainly believe we have a right and a duty to criticize the president when he says or does something morally objectionable, but I have little respect for people who are simply looking for any reason they can find to lay into him.

  • Of course, to say what a specific Muslim does is not “Islam” is a fair statement. But then you can look to the founder and founding texts. In those texts, there is a much closer relationship between Islam and violence than between the Inquisition and Catholicism.

    But, all in all, I doubt the O was making any great theological statement on Islam – he was just being cordial. No point in antagonizing where there is no need to.

  • c matt,

    Of course, to say what a specific Muslim does is not “Islam” is a fair statement. But then you can look to the founder and founding texts. In those texts, there is a much closer relationship between Islam and violence than between the Inquisition and Catholicism.

    nailed it.

    But, all in all, I doubt the O was making any great theological statement on Islam – he was just being cordial. No point in antagonizing where there is no need to.

    No, he wasn’t making a grand theological statement, since he’s an avowed secularist, and likely an atheist at his core, how could he? He was making a value judgment, suggesting that all religions are equally good and can be used to further his agenda. WHich is why he refused to participate in the national day of prayer, but hosts a Ramadan feast in the White House. Appeasing the Islamo-fascists is in his agenda, appeasing true Christians is not.

  • Henry K.,

    We only accept what is true in other religions.

    Joe Hargrave,

    He is the president of the United States, we should expect only the best from our president. This man accomplished so much that by the age of 35 he wrote TWO memoirs!


  • I certainly believe we have a right and a duty to criticize the president when he says or does something morally objectionable, but I have little respect for people who are simply looking for any reason they can find to lay into him.

    During the previous Republican administrations, where exactly was this seemingly virtuous stand that so bravely confronts the underhanded pettiness on the part of the president’s cruel critics?

    Or is it the case that the president need be a democrat, or better yet, a Pro-abort democrat, for that matter, or simply Obama, in order to deserve this kind of just treatment and defense?

Marse Robert

Friday, February 13, AD 2009

Some of our readers south of the Mason-Dixon line no doubt have perhaps felt left out in my many posts regarding Abraham Lincoln.  I am fully aware that great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.

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8 Responses to Marse Robert

  • Don,

    As a Union loving Yankee, let me second your praise for Lee. It was a man (Lee) going up against boys for most of the war until Grant was finally given total command.

  • “He repeatedly expelled white students from Washington University, of which he was President after the war, who engaged in attacks on blacks.”

    Now of course Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. A beautiful town and campus. You can still see Lee’s office as it was on the day he died. A nice museum in the basement of the Chapel.

    Also located in Lexington is VMI where Stonewall Jackson taught prior to the War.

  • Lexington is worth a trip for any history buff. Also of note is that Sam Houston was born there. Just outside of town is Natural Bridge, once owned by Mr. Jefferson. The initials of George Washington can be seen carved into the rock of the Natural Bridge … grafitti from his youthful days as a surveyor of the Virginia wilderness.

  • Lee was a great man and a great general, and were it not for the depletion of good corps and brigade commanders by 1864, as well as the sheer weight of troop numbers, Lee would certainly have bested Grant, who if I remember right, as much as conceded the point. Grant’s genius lay in the observation that if he remained engaged continuously with Lee, constantly reinforced his troop levels, attrition would eventually force Lee back to Richmond and ultimately to surrender. Thus Grant was willing to suffer horrific casualty counts in the Overland campaign from Wilderness to Petersburg. He was vilified by the northern press as a butcher, but Lincoln loved him because he was not afraid to remain engaged with Lee’s army, something that many lesser federal generals never dared.

    In perfect hindsight, it’s almost too bad Lee was such a great commander, because by all rights, the North should have won the war as early as 1862, which would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

    One thing Lincoln deserves credit for is that he had a very good strategic military mind, all the more remarkable since he was not a professional soldier. He recognized the weaknesses of the Confederate military situation, but could not find agressive, smart generals to exploit those weaknesses, until Grant.

  • Hey, Tom and I agree on something regarding the Civil War. 🙂

    Seriously, Tom is exactly right on Grant’s genius. It’s amazing that it took, what, six Union commanders before there was one who realized, “Hey, we have a lot more guys than the other side.” Reading the history of the war is an exercise in frustration because you want to slap the Union generals upside the head for their complete inability and/or unwillingness to act.

  • Wonderful way to cap off the week, Don. Gen. Lee was truly a great American. Making the best of of an untenable situation in the southern states regarding the inhumanity of slavery. Conducting himself as a true Christian gentleman even in engineering battles. Continuing a life of service well into the winter of his years. Just as I marvel at the Revolutionary era- that world class giants like Washington, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson were active simultaneously- so how wonderful God gave Lincoln and Lee to our torn and abused nation during its most fundamental trauma. He has been better to us than we to Him. Or ourselves.

  • Henry Halleck, who was a pretty bad general himself, once told Sherman that it was “little better than murder” to give command to such men as Benjamin Butler, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel, George McClellan, and Lewis Wallace. The Union had decent division and corp commanders in the east throughout the war, but the Army command level was truly pathetic until Grant arrived. McClellan wasn’t bad as a strategist, but as a battlefield commander, he was worse than having no one in command. Burnside deserved a place of dishonor on Halleck’s list. Pope was almost at Burnsides’ level of ineptness. Hooker, a good corp commander, not a bad strategist, but fell apart facing Lee. Meade lucked into a defensive victory at Gettysburg. His Mine Run campaign indictated how poorly he would have performed if Grant hadn’t come East to effectively make him a field chief of staff.

  • Marse Bob is a favourite of mine too. One of the highlights of a 1991 trip to North Carolina was a visit on the return home to Lexington, VA, home of Washington and Lee Univ. as well as VMI. My husband and I spent time at Stonewall Jackson’s house, then enjoyed a short walk to the University campus, down the road to VMI, then to the hall where the Lee Family crypt is located. The office of President of Washington University, which Lee occupied at the time of his death, is kept as it was during his term of office. My father was also an admirer of Gen. Lee, and I thought much of Dad while on the visit. An added treat was locating the grave of Traveller, Lee’s beloved horse, in the grounds adjacent to the Chapel. Marse Robert was the true Southern Gentleman; a worthy adversary and a loyal friend.