Intra Arcana and Pope Clement VII: Converting Native Americans By Force

I have a historical conundrum here, and I hope at least a few people here have more knowledge than I, or are at least ready to dig in I’ve done a lot of searching for this, and have not found a real answer. A brief overview of what this is, as searches on the Internet don’t turn up too much…

This Papal Bull (encyclical? not quite clear) titled Intra Arcana (loosely translated to “Within Secrets”) is attributed to Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), and is apparently addressed to Charles V of Spain, saying the following regarding the Native Americans:
“We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom.”**

This is posted on Clement VII’s Wikipedia page HERE.
It also has it’s own, very short Wikipedia page HERE.
In addition, it appears on Wikipedia’s list of papal bulls HERE.

What makes me suspicious, is that nowhere else on the web, do we see a full English translation, or any other quote for that matter, except for the above. I did find the quote in a couple books, which you can see via Google Books HERE and HERE. The first book was printed in 2005, and the second in 1971.

Now note that the second book, erroneously lists the Pope that gave the Bull (orencyclical, I’m not clear on what the document exactly is) was Clement VI (THE SIXTH). This makes me scratch my head. In addition to that, it would seem that all translations of the quote I posted, including the translation from Wikipedia, are identical to the translation found in this 1971 book. The author, Wilcomb E Washburn, in turn cites a theological review written by a Harvard student, Lewis U. Hanke. All this information, I was able to find via a very helpful thread on Google Groups, which you can see HERE. The citation also includes the original Latin of the section I posted. It reads as follows:

“Confidimus te, quoad in humanis degeris barbaras nationes ad rerum omnium
opificem et conditorem deum cognoscendum non solum edictis
admonitionibusque, sed etiam armis et viribus (si opus fuerit) ut earum
animae caelestis regni fiant participes compulsurum.”

Now we’ve gone pretty far down the rabbit hole, as you can see from what I posted, and what is posted on this Google Groups page. The people on this Group page seemed to hit a stumbling block, until one person found the following, a copy of a book with the section in question, in Latin. You can find the section six lines up from the foot of the page, HERE.

Now here is the crux of all this, and I would really appreciate the help here. This is all stemming from a discussion on Pope Paul III’s encyclical SUBLIMUS DEI, in which he stressed that the Native Americans were “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.” I was then told that his predecessor, Clement VII said the exact opposite by saying that force should be used in conversion. Therefore the Church is completely contradictory.

So it would appear that what I posted above is the original Latin of this document that is ascribed to Clement VII. Now my question is, was this really a Papal Bull written by Clemnt VII, and was it binding on all Catholics, or is the entire thing much too dubious to be taken seriously? I say dubious as we have no full translation of the text from Latin in any language, information on it is scarce, and the same damning line was repeated over and over from the same source. I can’t even tell what exactly this book is even about; I can’t figure out what the subject matter is.

I cannot read Latin. I don’t even know what the title of the book means, it says “Privilegia nominationvm Lovaniensivm”. It appears that the actual entry where the original selection I posted begins witht the header, “Copia Indulti Nominandi”. I don’t know what this means either. What I want to know, and I think we should all want to know so the record on this papal bull can be set straight and fully understood, is if the text was truly written from Clement VII, and what the context is. Is this a private letter to Emperor Charles V, where Clement VII is not speaking in any church capacity? Is this an official church document? What is the context of the rest of the document, as the entry appears to be pretty long. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity surrounding this text. I really hope we can get to the bottom of this, and I hope the introduction I gave here was clear enough to let the digging and translating begin. Thank you for your time.

Sorry, I don’t know Latin so I can’t help with the translation but I would like to offer my two cents. When it says that the barbarian nations should be compelled, by force if necessary, to come to a knowledge of God, it simply means the barbarian nations should be subject to compulsory religious instruction. It says nothing about forcing anyone to convert.

Thanks Todd, but the problem still remains that the text is condoning violence, and even calling for arms. So I don’t know if that precludes actual conversions by force, or if they’re trying to stop apostasy by using force.

If written to a King about national issues it’s definitively a “Bull”… not sure about the authenticity… however, it’s regarding politics, so what’s the conundrum? He may have been a terrible violent Pope, or it could be a fake attribution or a fake text, or maybe he meant it in one specific context - who knows?

The book is called something like:

"Privileges of nominations [ie, naming people to offices] of Louvain by the Supreme Pontifex Sixtus IV, as well as by his Successors Leo X, Adrian VI, and by Clement VII, Gregory XIII, and Paul V, with those things added by the Princes of the Belgians, and in what way concordats have been conceded, extended, restricted, and altered in diverse fashions.

"To which, for greater elucidation, have been joined some titles of the concordats of the Kingdom of France, and German concordats; and not a few other various nomination indults for benefices and dignities to Charles V, Emperor of the Romans, etc. of glorious memory; and to his son Philip V, King of Spain; and to the Princes of the Belgians; bestowed by the Supreme Pontifexes.

“One with many others for observing this matter; of which one Elenchus is exhibited at the end.”

(Louvain is a city also called Leuven, Belgium).

If the quoted portion of the Bull is accurate, it is not talking about forced conversion to the Catholic faith, but rather to the knowledge of God as the creator of all things.

The knowledge of God is not faith, but falls within the realm of natural reason (see CCC 36). Likewise, acknowledging God as the Creator of all things is a natural virtue (the virtue of religion) that falls under justice (and has various contrary vices, like idolatry and atheism)–it is not a theological virtue (see CCC 1897).

While faith cannot be compelled, justice can be–we have no problem with our laws punishing various vices so that people act virtuously (unless there is a greater good to be had by tolerating such vices).

Archbishop Von Ketteler explained this in his essay defending the Church’s doctrine on religious freedom (the whole thing is a good read, but my link is to Part II–links to the rest appear at the bottom of the linked page):

[quote=Archbishop Von Ketteler]5. On the other hand, religious freedom has its own natural limits as dictated by reason, by natural morality, and by the natural order of things. No reasonable moral freedom can go so far as to destroy moral order to which everyone has a right. Therefore, Christians as well as non-Christian rulers and those who hold temporal authority are obliged to oppose religious teachings and practices which are in latent violation of the laws of reason and morality. For this reason, Christian rulers may not tolerate, for example, the worship of idols by their subjects, if they are able to prevent it. As Suarez said, “Reason and the natural law demand of human society that it worships the true God. Therefore it must possess the power to require people to honor the true God and to prevent the honoring of false gods. Aside from this, it is the goal of temporal authority to preserve peace and justice in society, but it cannot accomplish this without requiring virtuous conduct among its subjects. But the latter cannot live according to natural morality and virtue unless they have religion and serve the one, true God. Thus, temporal authority is justified and obligated to tolerated only the worship of the true God and to suppress the worship of false gods as unreasonable and immoral.” (Suarez, op. cit. 18 s. IV. n. 7)

See also CCC 2109 which briefly discusses the limits to religious freedom (including the objective moral order, to which justice towards God belongs).

All that being said, there is then the issue of prudence and whether there is a greater good to be had by not compelling such acknowledgment (the link above deals with this as well) or by using milder means to do so. I think the prudence of Pope Clement’s Bull is certainly within the scope of criticism–but the letter of it does not seem to per se violate Catholic doctrine. Personally, given the make up of pluralistic societies today, I think such compulsion would only do harm and likely would in most cases in other times and circumstances as well.

The conundrum, SyroMalankara, is the speculation you’ve given: is it a fake, and what is the context of the bull? Were Papal Bulls in this time in history strictly political and not binding on the faithful? I’m not sure how political it can be since what is said is that the natives should be forced to convert by arms. However, it seems like Mintska has shed some light on this… It does seem to be a political book from his translation he just posted.

But instead of saying who knows what it is, let’s find out. The text is right there. What is the context of the quote I posted in my initial post, and was it actually written by Pope Clement VII, or was it written by a nuncio or another bishop that worked closely alongside Clement VII? All I have is speculation since I can’t translate, but it seems the answer is right in front of us.

The person I’m talking to is hanging this charge, that the Church is contradictory between Clement VII’s and Paul III’s statement, over my head since these are both supposedly papal pronouncements. I just think it’d be nice to really clear this up, especially since I see this same quote on other anti-Catholic websites.

Here’s a partial translation that will give you some context. I just made it, but it seems more accurate if more awkward than the translation in the book.


Clement, Servant of the Servants of God,

To Our dearest son in Christ, Charles, King of the Romans and the Spanish, elected as the Emperor:

Health and the Apostolic Blessing.

Among the secrets of Our heart and mind for a long time since, going back over many things –

For that, and for the greatly renowned memory of Ferdinand the Catholic King, your maternal grandfather; for the guardianship and exaltation of the Catholic Faith; and for the propagation of the Christian Religion against the Moors and other enemies of Christ’s Name;

On behalf of this Holy See which governs it, upon which We preside by the Divine Kindness; hoping you (who adhere to the same Royal King in the Spains and the Sicilies, on this side [of the ocean] and beyond it, and prove to be the Advocate of our Church the Bride) will be supported by it in His footsteps; and his renowned works will be supported; and for greater growth of the said Faith by the excelling of the terrestrial army and the maritime fleet,

Inasmuch as it is so that the dwellers on those islands vulgarly named the Spannolas, which were discovered under this King Ferdinand, may be led back to the knowledge of the Faith; but also beyond that, for [the dwellers on] each one of the other islands in the Indian Ocean which were absolutely unknown until now; which [islands] may not unmeritedly be called “the New World;” which you have placed under your leadership and your auspices by your authority;

And the peoples of them having found nothing of the Christian Religion; you have managed recognizing and watching over the recognition for them with all care and diligence, thus far;

And following on this, we entrust the barbarous nations to you, until you take them to the Workman of all things, and they be recognized by God the Creator; driven along not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by arms and forces (if only so the work will [be able to] exist); so that with all care of bringing it about, their souls may become partakers of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Wherefore we deservedly introduce this [document], to grant it to you with the most eager soul, through which the honor of Your Highness may increase and your pleasing regard; and receiving to yourself suitable Ecclesiastical persons for Ecclesiastical benefices, may you be able to provide for them.

The motu proprio is not on account of your earnestness, or that of another for you about this offered petition, but simply out of Our Own liberality; so that by Our authority, from precisely whatever experienced bishops and archbishops will be chosen; for the Ecclesiastical persons; and also whosoever and howmanysoever and whatsoever kind of Ecclesiastical benefices with an office or a boundary of an office, you will name them for this through yourself;

Also We wish them to have any Apostolic dispensations obtained and awaited whatsoever; the kinds and values of these benefices; and the courses of these kinds of dispensations for pronouncement, and on these persons and each one of them, to whatever excommunications, suspensions, and interdictions, or other Ecclesiastical sentences, censures and punishments exist by law, or by any human occasion or broad case;

If in whatever way they are knotted up by those from the effect of validity, We absolve them from these grave matters, following the making of the nomination to them; and We wish them to be absolved; and We announce it in each cathedral (except Liege, in which Our dear son Erardus, titular Cardinal Priest of St. Chrysogonos, is in charge) and in each
college church which has been conferred Canons and prebends by the Apostolic Privilege on the towns, lands, and villages in your patrimony of Flanders which remain subject to you;

[And it goes on from there, as the Pope basically gives the king authority to run a recruiting drive for getting clergy to come to the New World. Pretty much anybody clerical is encouraged to come, and in return they get absolved of everything. So it’s sorta like the Crusades or the Wild West.]

This isn’t a teaching document; it’s a grant of permissions and privileges to one particular person and his kingdom, for the purpose of promoting missionary work and keeping “the work” safe.

Also, it seems that “compulsurum” has a big spread of meanings besides driving sheep or compelling people; it can also mean “persuade” in a strong way.

2nd Maccabees 11:14 –

And he promised that he would agree to all things that are just, and that he would persuade the king to be their friend.

Promisitque se consensurum omnibus quae justa sunt, et regem compulsurum amicum fieri.

Of course, if you’re persuading people with edicts and armed forces, you are dealing in compulsion. But the word’s got a range of meanings.

Also, it’s pretty clear that we’re primarily talking about Muslims attacking missionaries and the King’s men defending them. Since Europe was constantly under attack by Muslim raiders, they weren’t too happy to run into them in the Indian Ocean islands, either. Any application to Indians was sort of beside the point.

Similar and more detailed instructions on this matter of compulsory religious instruction were given by the Council at Basel (1434), Session 19, which says in part:

[Decree on Jews and neophytes]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. This holy synod following in the footsteps of our saviour Jesus Christ, desires in deepest charity that all may acknowledge the truth of the gospel and thereafter abide in it faithfully. By these salutary instructions it desires to provide measures whereby Jews and other infidels may be converted to the orthodox faith and converts may remain steadfastly in it. It therefore decrees that all diocesan bishops should depute persons well trained in scripture, several times a year, in the places where Jews and other infidels live, to preach and expound the truth of the catholic faith in such a way that the infidels who hear it can recognise their errors. They should compel infidels of both sexes who have reached the age of discretion, to attend these sermons under pain both of being excluded from business dealings with the faithful and of other apposite penalties. But the bishops and the preachers should behave towards them with such charity as to gain them for Christ not only by the manifestation of the truth but also by other kindnesses. The synod decrees that Christians of whatever rank or status who in any way impede the attendance of Jews at these sermons, or who forbid it, automatically incur the stigma of being supporters of unbelief. (source)

That Basel Council edict is a rather unusual one. It’s basically obligatory RCIA classes.

Obviously this is not a good thing, because compulsion.

However, until recently the US government compelled all kids to go to certain schools for nine months out of the year, and compelled them to learn about government and about government skills. Even now, with homeschooling, there are certain basic curricula that all kids have to take. It doesn’t matter if they’re sick in the hospital or what; and it’s equally illegal for adults to keep kids from either going to school or participating in homeschooling.

A lot of late medieval towns had events with obligatory attendance, or feastdays with obligatory rest (and you could get arrested for doing regular work on those days). And that was ordinary Catholics, or ordinary Protestants, being told to do this by town governments of the same religion as themselves. The closer you get to modern times, the more compulsory religion activities.

The other side of the coin is that Basel had been the location of a terrible crime just 50 years before. Terrified Catholic townspeople decided that the Jewish townspeople were responsible for the Black Death, and over 600 were lynched. The townspeople then forcibly converted any surviving Jewish little kids, and decreed that nobody Jewish would be allowed to live in town for at least 200 years…

…And Basel’s economy collapsed, because nobody wants to come trade in a town that lynches 600 people. So the City Fathers (who hadn’t actually done any of the lynching) invited the Jews back, and the crazy populace hopefully had learned a valuable lesson.

So this sounds like a measure designed to protect Jews from forcible evangelization, and possibly an excuse to have the Jews guarded and in legal sanctuary (ie, close to a church) during times of year when the crazy people tried to kill Jews. Of course, I could be wrong about this.

But forced sermons probably beat forced corvee labor for your lord or your town, or forced service in the lord’s army or the town militia. Or any number of other forced activities.

A Papal Bull is a disciplinary document as opposed to an Encyclical which is a teaching document. Since a Papal Bull will not carry the weight of infallibility, contradictions are to be expected.

That’s usually the case, but on a few occasions they have been used for teaching, even for definitively condemning heresies or defining truths. In this case, this one is a disciplinary document, and not even one universally applicable at that.

Even if it is a disciplinary document, the discipline may contradict or supercede other disciplines, but they shouldn’t contradict the truth of the faith–in other words, the discipline shouldn’t command something that is a sin. That being said, when the Pope’s command is not universal in scope, like this, it is possible for it to do so.

I think the key thing to remember with papal infallibility is that it is the same infallibility God wills for the whole Church. God does not promise that certain portions of the Church may fall away, but only that the entire Church will not. That’s why papal infallibility only applies to those definitive and binding acts which concern the whole Church.

Thank you, Mintaka, for your partial translation.

Billy15, assuming Mintaka’s translation is correct, it seems to vary essentially from the one cited on Wikipedia. The bulk of the letter seems to address two things: Spain’s control over territory in the New World, and bringing people to God.

Let me repeat that and give evidence for it. The bull is discussing two things:

(1) Spain’s control over territory in the New World: “you have placed [certain islands] under your leadership and your auspices by your authority.” And: "[these islands] were absolutely unknown until now…[and may] be called ‘the New World.’ "

(2) bringing people to God: “the dwellers on those islands…[should] be led back to the knowledge of the Faith.” And: “for greater growth of the [Catholic] Faith.”

Thus, we can see that the document discusses both of these things.

Now, in the section where the pope mentions the use of arms and force, the context mentions both of these things together: “[1] we entrust the barbarous nations to you…[2] [so that] their souls may become partakers of the Heavenly Kingdom.”

Now, assuming that translation is correct, I think the document is perfectly defensible, and does not at all imply that conversions can be forced.

Let me illustrate why: leave out for a moment one of the purposes of the bull, we’ll bring it back in in a minute. But for a minute, suppose the bull didn’t mention bringing people to God. Suppose it merely talked about Spain’s control over some territory in the New World. Now, every nation must use compulsion in order to enforce its laws. If a people is not compelled to obey laws, they cease to be a nation and become an anarchy. Therefore, the bull would be perfectly defensible if it merely said that Spain had a right to use arms and forces within its own territory.

Okay, now we can bring back in the other purpose mentioned by the bull: bringing people to God. Well, that happens to be a principle purpose of Christian government. They do not exist merely for this life. The purpose of a Christian government is to make things peaceable precisely in order that people may focus more easily on the attainment of eternal life.

This interpretation is actually explicitly mentioned by the section in question: “the barbarous nations…[should be] driven along not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by arms and forces (if only so the work will [be able to] exist).”

Of course these nations should be driven along by edicts, admonitions, arms, and forces. If they were not, they would not be nations. But does it say that this should be done in order to force them to believe? No, it only says that the ultimate goal of all these edicts, admonitions, arms, and forces, is so that these nations may enter heaven, and so that “the work” (i.e. the missionary outreach) “will exist.”

Therefore, it seems to me that Wikipedia and the other documents you mention are ripping this document out of context. It says that Charles V had a right to use force and arms, not in order to force people to believe, but in order to govern his territory; and it is within that context that the document mentions that a missionary work should be at least exist “[so that] their souls may become partakers of the Heavenly Kingdom.”

I hope this helps. Please let me know.

Thank you so much for your analysis. Thee writings of Von Ketteler seem wonderful, and I’m going to dive into the entire article you posted here, as the selection young gave was great, and really helped me. As a big devotee of St. Thomas, it’s great to read the theology of another Thomist.

This is great Mintaka, thank you very, very much for doing this. I believe this is actually the first English translation on the web, or in print, since at least the 1930’s. Thanks for taking the time to do this to help us clear up this issue.

Dmar, this really does help, thank you. I wish I had this last night when I was writing my reply to this person! This is a well written explanation. This was really getting to me for a little bit, but I have a great faith in Christ and His Church, so I knew there must be an answer. Thanks for posting this The one thing I want to be clear on is this. If we take Mintaka’s translation is accurate, then it would seem the one quoted on Wikipedia is inaccurate, right? Because Mintaka’s translation doesn’t sound nearly as bad as “you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God…by force and arms, if needful”, and thus your explanation of the letter totally makes sense. Also, can we definitively say this is NOT a papal bull, or is that one particular still a little ambiguous?

Also, Dmar, would you happen to be the author of the History and Apologetics website in your signature? If so, I’d like to send you an e-mail on the address that you have listed in the about me section. I’d like to make a post concerning all this on my blog, and I’d like to quote your post here if you don’t mind, crediting you and linking to your blog.

Thanks again everyone for the help in figuring this out. I’m hoping that very soon, I can make an edit to the Wikipedia pages and put the proper context.

That’s how it seems to me.

Also, can we definitively say this is NOT a papal bull, or is that one particular still a little ambiguous?

I am not familiar enough with the various categories to know for sure which kind of papal document this is. For me, “papal document” gives it sufficient weight.

Also, Dmar, would you happen to be the author of the History and Apologetics website in your signature? If so, I’d like to send you an e-mail on the address that you have listed in the about me section. I’d like to make a post concerning all this on my blog, and I’d like to quote your post here if you don’t mind, crediting you and linking to your blog.

I am the author of that site and you may quote me and/or email me at that email address. The one thing I ask is that I may review the post I am quoted in before you post it.

Also: Gosh, thanks! Quoting me?? That’s very flattering. :o

Hey everyone, I wanted to give everyone that was following this thread an update.

About a month and a half has passed, and a few things have happened since I posted my original question.

  1. The Wiki pages for Intra Arcana, the list of Papal Bulls, and Clement VII have been changed to more accurately reflect the bull. The edit on Clement VII’s page was slightly altered again, so we’ll see if that gets rectified again i the future.

  2. I wrote an essay detailing everything about the bull over on my blog, with the help of Dmar as he allowed me to post his quote here. You can find that essay HERE.

And you can also compare and contrast what the Wikipedia pages looked like before and after the edits here.

  1. Mintaka has kindly translated even more of the bull, and the context has become even more clear. She says:

As I get farther along, it seems that the point wasn’t even a recruiting drive. It was a quid pro quo – in exchange for Charles V’s hard work in the New World and the Indian Ocean mission areas, he was being rewarded with the privilege of being able to appoint anybody he named to any church post in Flanders (except the ones at the cathedral parish of St. Chrysogonus in Liege, apparently).

Read her full blog post and explanation HERE.

So thanks again to everyone involved for helping us set the record straight. Hopefully if people in the future have questions regarding this as I did, our original research found here will answer the question. Couldn’t have gotten to such a concrete understanding if it wasn’t for everyone that posted in this thread with great insight.

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