Revoke the Inter Caetera Papal Bull of
By Tony Castanha, Ph.D.
Influences of the Concept of Discovery on
Contemporary Globalization Policies
kakou and guatiao. I would first like to note that this
paper is a work in progress. It is sort of a profound
intellectual exercise, but the subject matter has also
had some dire historical and contemporary consequences
for society as a whole. It is the result of about
fourteen years of experience, back to 1997, when I first
learned that the 1493 INTER CAETERA papal bull was
directed against my Carib or Jibaro ancestors in the
Caribbean. So this exercise has been importantly a
personal journey of understanding, too.
Before I talk about contemporary globalization policies,
it's important to provide some historical and
theoretical background to show how so-called
"discovery," in a defacto sense, has been very
influential over time until today. I should add that I
certainly do not adhere to the idea that the discovery
principle forms the legal basis of the international
system, most importantly because our ancestors rejected
and disagreed with these laws and the subsequent actions
that were ushered in.
In his book Eurocentrism, Samir Amin
writes that the European colonization of the world
beginning in 1492 marked a decisive break in world
Up until that time, a capitalist system had not fully
formed and certainly not on a global scale. This does
not take place until "Europe becomes conscious of the
universalist scope of its civilization, henceforth
capable of conquering the world." The European encounter
in Africa, the Americas, parts of Asia, and origin of
the transatlantic slave trade
marked the dawn of the global economic or globalization
system as we know it today. It was capitalist and
fifteen century Western concept of discovery, as viewed
through Christian European eyes, provided both the legal
and moral framework for the system to flourish. Despite
the utter impossibility of a European "discovery," the
sheer absurdity of the concept, as articulated over time
by some international scholars like Vitoria and Grotius,
and the native
rejection and resistance to the bulls of Alexander VI,
the large majority of European scholars, jurists and
monarchs upheld that they had a "god given" right to
establish legal title to non-Christian lands and convert
the local populations they came into contact with.
Indeed, this sentiment and enactment had been passed
down since the eleventh to thirteenth century medieval
Crusades era whose discourse, as Robert Williams, Jr.
has alluded to, "unquestioningly asserted that
normatively divergent non-Christian peoples could
rightfully be conquered and their lands could
lawfully be confiscated by Christian Europeans enforcing
their peculiar vision of a universally binding natural
law." Of course that "binding natural law," or the Law
of Nations as understood up until that time, was
grounded in a Eurocentric vision of the world based on
The non-Christian way of life then became qualified by
what Christendom deemed as essential to the spiritual
well being of humanity.
Christian dominion based on the discovery principle was
the dominant ideological and legal discourse exercised
BY EUROPE until at least the 1648 Peace of Westphalia,
thus seen as the basis of so-called "international" law.
This is clearly documented in Davenport's listing of the
many treaties and agreements between European powers
based on the papal bulls and the language of discovery.
Yet, the peace or treaties signed at Westphalia were
first and foremost about creating a sustainable peace
process to end the Thirty Years' War in Europe.
it has often been said that Westphalia became the basis
of the modern state system and international law, these
peace treaties did not revoke or annul previously
established treaties and they certainly did not revoke
the many papal decrees that had been passed down over
time. Indeed, although ultimately denied, Pope Innocent
X swiftly issued a papal bull condemning the Peace of
Westphalia as utterly obnoxious. The "secularization" of
the system had much to do with granting Protestant
rights to worship, something the Roman Catholic Church
had vehemently denied.
Christendom still reigned supreme.
The treaty signed at Munster in 1648 begins with the
words, "In the name of the most holy and individual
Trinity" and is addressed, in part, to the "Benefit of
the Christian World." The first article starts by
"That there shall be a Christian and Universal Peace."
In the post-Westphalian treaties documented, references
to lands outside of Europe do not get their colonial
authority from Westphalia but inevitably revert back to
discovery. Westphalia allowed for Christian European
nations to establish a process of peace among themselves
with their marauding and genocidal ways against
indigenous lands and peoples globally for the next two
hundred and fifty hundred years.
While the language of Christian dominion became
increasingly deemphasized in international law, the
discovery principle continued to be invoked when
necessary. In the "enlightened" Swiss scholar E. de
Vattel's mid-eighteenth century Law of Nations, the
"voyages of discovery" justified the taking of so-called
"uninhabited lands" in North America.
Of the indigenous inhabitants, he also wrote that their
"uncertain occupancy of these vast regions can not be
held as a real and lawful taking of possession; and when
the Nations of Europe, which are too confined at home,
come upon lands which the savages have no special need
of and are making no present and continuous use of, they
may lawfully take possession of them and establish
colonies in them." In addition, we all know of U.S.
Chief Justice John Marshall's blatant use of the
"Doctrine of Discovery" in the Johnson and Cherokee
decisions, as he noted that the "exclusion of all other
Europeans necessarily gave to the nation making the
discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the
natives, and establishing settlements upon it." Thus,
despite the many important gains that North American
native peoples have made in recent decades, U.S. federal
Indian today remains grounded in the thought of superior
Christendom. The papal grant was further used at the
beginning of the nineteenth century to discredit the
Latin American independence movement, and the discovery
concept still spoke at the turn of the twentieth century
as Venezuela's claim against Guiana [in 1894-1899] was
made by virtue of the "great importance" of the 1493
Finally, despite the Vatican's ruling in 2001 that INTER
CAETERA is "no longer juridically valid," they continue
to refuse to revoke it. If it is no longer valid under
their law, what do they have to fear?
At this point, it is obvious to express that what was
taking place five hundred years ago, in terms of the
Christian domination of the planet, is not the standard
today. Yet, it can be said to be a much more subtle
undertaking as "discovery" can manifest itself in
various ways. It is both subtle and overt, represented
as an ingrained attitude just as much as a physical tool
of domination. It can be seen as an attitude as
expressed in Roman law, where "everything in this world
can be owned," including intellectual property and one's
DNA. It is an attitude of arrogance, egoism, and extreme
material and spiritual greed as displayed through the
continued exploitation of world resources and
maintenance in the conversion of souls. Thus, there is
an important link to be made between the past and
present. It is one that has been articulated by Immanuel
Wallerstein when he wrote that monotheism as the origin
as an ideology of our present historical system" and the
ideology of universalism as "appropriate to a capitalist
world-economy" are not necessarily contradictory ideas.
The two have influenced each other for the past five
centuries in terms of universalist ideologies and the
exercise of power. Christian colonial ideology of the
past is interwoven
into and now blatantly performed through certain
So while Christian dominion was the order of the past,
corporate dominion is the order of today and, as we
know, indigenous peoples and peoples of the global South
often bear the brunt of such policies.
There are many links that can be made between the two
periods and ideologies. For example on January 1, 1994,
the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
went into effect, members of the Zapatista National
Liberation Army (Zapatistas) "lashed out against the
poverty and injustice that each year kills thousands in
Chiapas and grinds tens of thousands more into landless
dependency" by capturing several towns in the
southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas. This was merely a
continuation of the resistance to the policies first
implemented under the Spanish ENCOMIENDA system and
later by the policies of the state of Mico. The crack
down was brutal as testimonies of "summary executions,
torture, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and
indiscriminate bombings of civilian communities" were
collected by a network of human rights organizations.
One might guess that this governmental oppression was of
the sixteenth century Spanish atrocities but, "no," it's
The thirst for profits and material greed as sacralized
during the sixteenth century mining of gold and silver
remain vital processes and dominant attitudes driving
the current world economy. Recent modern-day massacres
in Guatemala, El Salvador, Rwanda, Bosnia and East
Timor, and the many subtle genocides taking place such
as the continued relocation of the Dine [in Arizona]
onto toxic radioactive lands to make way for [coal and
uranium] mining, in addition to the spread of disease
among the Yanomami in Brazil by government-backed
GARIMPEIROS (gold miners), are clear indicators that
cultural violence and genocide are still strikingly
prevalent when it comes to the "money god."
Of course, the desecration of native sacred sites and
excavation of ancestral remains are of utmost
sensitivity to indigenous peoples. Even with the
occasional victory, our modern society as a whole still
looks down on and disrespects that which is perceived to
be "ancient" and of a spiritually different dimension.
In Hawai'i, it happens every day. Whether it's the
building of a Wal-Mart, or a private home on top of a
Kanaka Maoli grave site, or even the profound case of a
Hawaiian Christian church excavating, in addition to
traditional burials, a primarily Hawaiian CHRISTIAN
cemetery to make way for a multi-million dollar
recreational center, unimpeded development will trump
native concerns as you can just tell the public that our
beloved ancestors are in "heaven," as the head priest of
Kawaiaha'o Church recently did. When corporations like
Wal-Mart can take control of lands and build their
structures over native cemeteries, the ancients are
viewed as less than human, just as non-Christians were,
and therefore expendable.
In my native homeland of Boriken (Puerto Rico), it's the
same. In 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
indiscriminately shipped off about seventy five boxes of
skeletal remains, artifacts, ceramics and rocks via
Federal Express to the state of Georgia for study. This
took place after a major indigenous site had been
uncovered at Jacana near Ponce in the building of a dam.
A native elder expressed to me that if Christ had come
down at that moment and witnessed this desecration,
there would have been big trouble.
She also said that if she took someone out of a
Christian cemetery, she'd go to jail. A final example
can be drawn from the use of telescopes on native sacred
lands. Whether it's Mauna Kea or Haleakala in Hawai'i or
Bear Butte or Mount Graham here in Turtle Island, sacred
science usually gets its way when it comes to the
cosmos. However, as Henrietta Mann has written, it would
be sacrilege for biblical sites to even be considered
for development. The Vatican's construction of one of
the telescopes on Mount Graham is also a curious thing.
The observatory's deputy director, Father Chris Corbally,
was quoted saying: "If civilization were to be found on
other planets and if it were feasible to communicate,
then we would want to send missionaries to save them,
just as we did in the past when new lands were
discovered." So there we have it - the discovery
"mentality" continues to live on.
To conclude, Amin noted that "it is believed that
Christianity carried the seeds of capitalist advancement
within it from the beginning" because, as compared to
other religions, it strongly favored the individual and
had the ability to dominate nature. Therefore, both the
concepts of "discovery" and "globalization" are
ideologies resulting in the domination, exploitation and
subjugation of peoples, cultures and the natural
environment. Both concepts are Western based and span a
mere five hundred year gap within the modern system.
Globalization influenced by the policies of many
multinational corporations and intergovernmental
organizations, like the IMF, operates under an
international system of law grounded in the same
mentality as the Christian Law of Nations.
While there are of course positives, globalization today
contributes to the extreme disparity of wealth among
nation-states, particularly the global divide between
north and south where half the planet lives in poverty.
Thus, Christianity's role in the advancement of
capitalism is assured and not a contradictory idea. Used
as an ingrained attitude of dominion and as a tool of
physical domination, Christian ideology heavily informs
contemporary global policies in a real and practical
What "solutions" do I have to such an enormous issue?
Not many as I did say that this presentation was
importantly an intellectual exercise of understanding.
However, I do think that we need to continue to press
for the revocation of the INTER CAETERA papal bull. It's
a curious thing that the Vatican refuses to revoke it
when at the same time saying it's invalid in law. If
they fear that the house of cards is going to fall, then
I guess that would provide us with the answer as to what
this system is really about. But I think they would have
to revoke the bull for us to really find out.
- Revoking the Papal Bull of 1493
- Doctrine of Discovery - Two Kinds of Beings
- Will others follow Episcopal Church's lead?
- Celebrate Columbus Day?