What is the official status and view on Inter Caetera (aka the Doctrine of Discovery)?

What is the official status and view on Inter Caetera (aka the Doctrine of Discovery)?

I’ve been told I can try this thread again… Here are two links for background:
Wikipedia (for a synopsis)
A site about it (in depth)

This series of papal bulls allowed the conquest and enslavement of the native peoples of the Americas. The questions is whether they have been formally revoked, and if not, what the status is.

I could be wrong, but I’m not convinced that it actually authorized the enslavement of native peoples. Queen Isabella, afterall, famously forbid the enslavement of natives, presumably acting according to her Catholic conscience, but Spanish authorities in the Americas simply ignored her. History tells us that there were often tensions between Spanish civil authorities who wishes to increase their wealth and power and Spanish missionaries / clergy who wanted to protect their native flocks.

Regardless, it’s not a doctrinal bull, nor are its contents part of current canon law… So I dont see how it has any relevance to the modern Church other than being a historic curiosity. Certainly Church authorities, including Pope St John Paul II, have issued various apologies for the role Churchmen played in past tragedies. That is a lovely gesture, but I think it is very unfair to lay blame or responsibility at the feet of 21st century Catholics… We can’t control what our spiritual ancestors may or may not have done many centuries ago. No more than modern Spaniards are responsible for what the Spaniards of 1493 did.

What is the official status and view on Inter Caetera (aka the Doctrine of Discovery)?

As far as status, I think that anyone would tell you that these writings have had only historical significance for centuries now. There are a wide variety of interpretations that we could give Alexander VI’s actions.

This series of papal bulls allowed the conquest and enslavement of the native peoples of the Americas.

Revisionism. These writings were about territory, not slavery. We must remember the context, the ongoing wars with the Ottomans, the reunification of Spain, the rivalry between Spain and Portugal.

Could we throw a little sense, reason, and reality into the mix?.. do you actually think that the whole world was at the beck and call of the Church?

The Church does what the Church has always done: attempt to bring reason and peace amongst the feuding agencies:

It remains unclear to the present whether the pope was issuing a “donation” of sovereignty or a feudal infeodation or investiture. Differing interpretations have been argued since the bull was issued, with some arguing that it was only meant to transform the possession and occupation of land into lawful sovereignty. Others, including the Spanish crown and the conquistadors, interpreted it in the widest possible sense, deducing that it gave Spain full political sovereignty. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter_caetera)

Where there is no accountability there’s usually rampant abuse, exploitation, oppression, terrorism, and murder (in some instances even infanticide and genocide). Do you truly think that a population of 842 could hold such dominion over the world’s military powers and that they would surrender to Church’s whims?:

Vatican City (Listeni/ˈvætᵻkən ˈsɪti/; Italian: Città del Vaticano [tʃitˈta ddel vatiˈkaːno]; Latin: Civitas Vaticana),[d] officially Vatican City State or the State of Vatican City (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano;[e] Latin: Status Civitatis Vaticanae),[f] is a walled enclave within the city of Rome. With an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of 842,[3] it is the smallest state in the world by both area and population. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican_City#Demographics)

Conquest and occupation was part of the world–how do you think the US got started (remember the King had divested the Church of all power in England, so there’s no Church did it here!)?

The Church has always fought for the poor and oppressed–the Papal bulls were created not to facilitate slavery and the such but to halt the oppression and abuse and the various escalations (racial, political, financial, and military) of infringement upon human dignity.

Up until recent history the idea of colonization had not ceased in the world:

During this period, Europe’s powers added nearly 8,880,000 square miles (23,000,000 km²) to their overseas colonial possessions. As it was mostly unoccupied by the Western powers as late as the 1880s, Africa became the primary target of the “new” imperialist expansion (known as the Scramble for Africa), although conquest took place also in other areas — notably south-east Asia and the East Asian seaboard, where Japan joined the European powers’ scramble for territory. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_colonialism)

…and the UN did not come into existence till the middle of the twentieth century:

In 1945, the United Nations (UN) was founded when 50 nations signed the UN Charter, which included a statement of its basis in the respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_colonialism)

There was no unity of mind when these bulls were introduced; the powers both cooperated with each other and fought each other for supremacy–sadly, those in the fringes of society would take the heaviest tolls… the Church sought to bring reason into the quarrels of the nations.

Maran atha!


I know little more than that there were these bulls and that there are these allegations about them. I don’t know if they have been rescinded, or if that is even possible, or out of date or still technically in force. I do know that some First Nations people are still very angry about their continued (?) existence. If they have been officially revoked I can mention that, which would put the Catholic Church in a better light. That is about the limit of my interest.

I was hoping someone around here would know. I don’t want to get in an argument about it. I simply want a question answered.

Hopefully a canon lawyer or learned priest will join the thread, but as they concerned the specific rights and duties of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, entities that no longer exist, I think it is a moot point?

It is not moot if it has been used as a basis to justify later oppression, exploitation, extermination and enslavement of the native peoples, including what happened to the tribes in the US and even how some governments are treating their people now. People - some descended from those aforementioned peoples - are pointing to it for that reason. And I don’t really want to get into an argument. I am trying to find out if the thing(s) has/have been revoked. I don’t know.

I guess I don’t understand how that connection makes sense. I don’t deny that it’s been used as a justification, but I don’t get it. For one, even if the principle were “in force”, Protestant American colonists who butchered Indians certainly had no intention of spreading the Catholic faith nor in any way recognized papal authority.

Here’s the problem with that…
Do you actually believe that the president of the US or any member of the UN or any member of any other nation would subjugate their nations to the “command” of the Vatican (less than 900 people in total)?

Rather, take a look at the events when these bulls where pronounced.

The Church has always acted to curb violence–she is blamed for the fall of Rome because she worked to curb the savagery that was part of its culture (murder for entertainment, slavery, oppression of the weak, suppression of the “lower class,” etc.)–yet, in reality, Rome’s undoing came from the very practices that it engaged in (suppression, exploitation, oppression, mindless ravenous appetites…); the Church, though it had no military power (yeah, some Bishops did have their family’s support financially, politically and even militarily) to cause any nation/clan to capitulate, used reason to seek peace.

The bulls, as the idea of gaining power through marriage instead of conquest, were meant to keep the fighting to its minimum–also, it was the Church who introduced the “just war” principle (not that any war is “just,” but that nations/clans should not battle just to satisfy vendettas or to gain wealth/territory/power from others–war, as a last resort, should be “just,” as in the case of a nation/clan engaging war to keep from being taken over by other nations/clans).

These efforts have worked pretty much because monarchs and clans leaders chose to look to reason and accept the principles that were introduced. Yet, we know from the two WW, the various occupations, the numerous genocidal campaigns, and the multitude of extremists’ terror/murder/enslavement incursions, that the further we get from those principles the worse it gets for the poor and powerless.

Yet, the blame continues to be placed on the Church!

Maran atha!



Thank you for the laugh!

Reason fails now-a-days!

Maran atha!


Again… the Church can only pronounce on matters that pertain to Faith and hold her members responsible for the acceptance of rejection of her pronouncements.

If I begin to teach heresy the Church can excommunicate me.

If I begin a campaign of terror and conquest, do you think that anything pronounced by the Pope or all of the Church’s Bishops, and Priests, and Religious will matter to me? I will do as I please.

It is the same for monarchs and others–they would abide by what benefits them most, not what the Church would recomend.

In North America’s recent past the US went to war with Iraq --there were people denouncing Church’s involvement ('the Church has no right to interfere…" they claimed); after the war there were people blaming the Pope for not “commanding” that the US President not declare war on Iraq: both agitators, er, enlightened peace seekers, failed to understand that: a) it is the Church’s Mission to seek peace on earth, and b) the Church can only counsel against war (and other atrocities) but not command any nation/clan to do her bidding.

Maran atha!


To reiterate, I am looking for primary sources on the revocation, not statements that the Church would or would not do this or that.

Did you see my Post #8? I am still not sure how it applies to Protestants colonizing / killing natives in America…Protestants who rejected papal authority. Yes, I see that certain legal cases have sighted it as a precedent…but I am fuzzy on the basis of that. We need someone with more scholarly background on this particular issue.

Yet, by seeking those (revocation) without concern for actual truth are you not simply supporting the claims and accusations… it would be grand to find perfection in the world… but sincerity is something that’s very lacking so Truth is not held up for its value (Christ) but rather for what it can condemn, when seen in an askew manner.

You want to find “revocation” of things done by the Church–I don’t know if you understand that to denounce something is to reject it; how can the Church reject something not done out of malice?

How can the Church reject the action of some of her members before they commit them?

How can the Church be held responsible for what people who reject her Authority, Doctrine, and Teachings elect to do?

Maran atha!


…rather, a more sensible approach… what people do in the name of God is not what is taught by religions (unless the particular doctrine of the religious group/sect actually calls for say: killing, enslaving, torturing…). The Catholic Church has never prescribed what is being claimed.

Hindsight is said to always be 20/20–yet, only due to selectiveness and revisions; you have put forth the argument of the US which was founded through English colonization and England had revolted against the Church and claimed self-governance as the church in England became the state’s church… yet, this pertinent fact is overlooked and the accusation continues to be pressed against the Catholic Church–all reason and common sense is thrown out for the sake of “truth,” …really? :banghead::banghead::banghead:

Maran atha!


The basic question here is not some “Doctrine of Discovery.” It’s the right of nations to fight wars, to conquer other countries, and to rule by right of conquest. (Subject to just war doctrine and international law.)

So this has nothing to do with the race of the people involved. It had something to do with whether the people involved were pagan, but that’s about it.

The Bible did not condemn the Roman Empire for its conquests, or the Persian Empire either. We’re told that King Darius was given his conquests by God.

And here’s Second Maccabees on the Roman Republic:

"Now Judah [Maccabee] heard of the fame of the Romans, that they are powerful and strong, and willingly agree to all things that are requested of them: and that whosoever have come to them, they have made amity with them, and that they are mighty in power.

"And they heard of their battles, and their noble acts, which they had done in Galatia, how they conquered them, and brought them under tribute. And how they had done great things in the land of Spain, and that they had brought under their power the mines of silver and of gold that are there, and had gotten possession of all the place by their counsel and patience. And had conquered places that were very far off from them, and kings that came against them from the ends of the earth, and had overthrown them with great slaughter: and the rest pay them tribute every year. And that they had defeated in battle Philip, and Perses the king of the Ceteans, and the rest that had borne arms against them, and had conquered them. And how Antiochus the great king of Asia, who went to fight against them, having a hundred and twenty elephants, with horsemen, and chariots, and a very great army, was routed by them. And how they took him alive, and appointed to him, that both he and they that should reign after him, should pay a great tribute, and that he should give hostages, and that which was agreed upon. And the country of the Indians, and of the Medes, and of the Lydians, some of their best provinces: and those which they had taken from them they gave to king Eumenes. And that they who were in Greece had a mind to go and to destroy them: and they had knowledge thereof. And they sent a general against them, and fought with them, and many of them were slain, and they carried away their wives and their children captives, and spoiled them, and took possession of their land, and threw down their walls, and brought them to be their servants unto this day.

“And the other kingdoms, and islands, that at any time had resisted them, they had destroyed and brought under their power. But with their friends, and such as relied upon them, they kept amity, and had conquered kingdoms that were near, and that were far off: for all that heard their name, were afraid of them. That whom they had a mind to help to a kingdom, those reigned: and whom they would, they deposed from a kingdom: and they were greatly exalted.”

Now, you can say various things about the accuracy of what Judah Maccabee heard. But the point is that he didn’t think badly of the Romans because they did a lot of conquering of their fellow Caucasians. He didn’t sit there going, “Oh, if only the Romans were conquering unknown peoples with funny skin colors, because that would be so much more just.” Oh, heck no.

In the ancient and medieval world, and for most of the lives of the Spanish and Portuguese before they got ships heading for America or Africa, war was something you waged against your neighbors and cousins who looked just like you; and conquest was when you got lucky enough to make a war stick.

Now, sadly, warring against your neighbors and against the Moorish kingdoms (who, thanks to intermarriage with captives, were a very blond and blue-eyed bunch) and the Basques – that was not exactly the way to teach people to war nicely and treat captives kindly. Civil war and treachery among cousins gets very nasty very fast.

The reason the Portuguese wanted the African slave trade was because the Muslims had been making money with it for more than a thousand years (except with Muslims it was also the “white people of the Mediterranean and Atlantic basin” slave trade, and it continued into the 1800’s, including such illustrious victims as St. Vincent de Paul; their black slave trade continues to this day in places like Sudan, and King Saud brought one of his favorite black slaves to the League of Nations talks). The Spanish tried to do the same thing with Native Americans, but it didn’t work so well. Obviously both the Spanish and Portuguese should have known better; but unlike most of the rest of Europe, they regarded slavery as something you commonly did to people who lost wars.

But the kind of stuff that the Spanish and Portuguese got up to, against indigenous natives of the New World, was exactly the kind of thing that people also did in the Old World wherever the Church didn’t have much sway – except that in the Old World things were sometimes worse. You do realize that 17th and 18th century England openly condemned Scottish, Irish, and English political prisoners to slavery in Jamaica, right? That wasn’t about race or even religion (although it happened to Catholics more often); it was about the power of the state. Similarly, when Romanian lords forcibly settled Romany people and turned them into serfs or outright slaves, that wasn’t about evangelization or anything else but grabbiness.

Medieval times were usually marked by a gradual expansion of rights for common people. After the Reformation, there’s an expansion of grabbiness and authoritarianism, by everyone who found it convenient to reject natural law. The Church generally tried to rein in the madness, but didn’t always succeed.

I posed the basic question in the OP. Don’t tell me what the basic question is.

This is getting annoying. You all just seem hopelessly out of touch.

Here are some recent links:

Either do the research if you don’t know, or stay off the thread. PLEASE.

Yes, I’ve looked at some of your links. Still don’t get it. How does papal authority give Protestants (who openly condemned the Pope as the antichrist) the right to seize lands from natives in the US? Still don’t understand that argument. The US was never a Catholic country. Rome and the Spanish crown forbid the enslavement of native peoples. That’s a matter of historic record. The Spaniards in the Americas ignored them. None of these links are scholarly peer reviewed sources. As I said earlier it doesn’t make sense to me, but I can’t speak with authority on this issue. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a professional historian learned in this matter to respond if we’re going to get any real resolution.

I know nothing. :shrug:

Here is an article. Does it sound credible? aptn.ca/news/2016/06/01/church-considering-request-to-rescind-doctrine-of-discovery/

Is there Catholic confirmation that this is happening? I mean, I could write an article saying the Pope hates blue cheese and is looking into making it a mortal sin to go within 500 feet of it, and a lot of people would believe it.

I read these articles. I hear from some Native Americans that Christianity is wrong and native belief ok because of all the depraved acts of the Christians, as shown in the DoD. This seemingly was a heavy-hitting set of bulls, affecting countries as far as the Philippines. Alexander VI was in many ways one of the worst popes ever, and his name is on it. But the DOD allegedly goes back in history some more.

If you discuss Christianity with Native Americans this issue will come up.

Since you have asked me to exclude myself from your thread, I will. But first I will emphatically assure you that blanket accusations are void of value; I cannot condemn all persons who believe that Luther was actually a beneficial element to the Body of Christ by referencing the thousands (over three hundred thousand) who died in direct or indirect result of his revolt… it would be mute for me to insist that protestants are all evil because of what transpired when Luther revolted and became the catalyst for myriads of splintering of the Mythical Body of Christ.

Mohamad Gandhi was said to have expressed that Christianity would have been a religion that he would have accepted/converted to if not for the violence of Christians–he was speaking of the colonization of India (and other nations) under the British–a non-Catholic nation (which till recent history was actually an anti-Catholic nation).

Reading meaning into something and making inflammatory blanket accusation is grandstanding, at best!

May the Holy Spirit Guide you and enlighten you!

Maran atha!


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