Pope Eugene IV Against the Enslaving of Black Natives from the Canary Islands.
On January 13, 1435, Eugene IV issued from Florence this bull. Sent to Bishop Ferdinand, located at Rubicon on the island of Lanzarote, this bull condemned the enslavement of the black natives of the newly colonized Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The Pope stated that after being converted to the faith or promised baptism, many of the inhabitants were taken from their homes and enslaved. The Bull is fairly short and is a good reference document.
“To our venerable brothers, peace and apostolic benediction, etcetera.
1. Not long ago, we learned from our brother Ferdinand, bishop at Rubicon and representative of the faithful who are residents of the Canary Islands, and from messengers sent by them to the Apostolic See, and from other trustworthy informers, the following facts: in the said islands—some called Lanzarote—and other nearby islands, the inhabitants, imitating the natural law alone, and not having known previously any sect of apostates or heretics, have a short time since been led into the Orthodox Catholic Faith with the aid of God’s mercy. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, it has happened that in some of the said islands, because of a lack of suitable governors and defenders to direct those who live there to a proper observance of the Faith in things spiritual and temporal, and to protect valiantly their property and goods, some Christians (we speak of this with sorrow), with fictitious reasoning and seizing and opportunity, have approached said islands by ship, and with armed forces taken captive and even carried off to lands overseas very many persons of both sexes, taking advantage of their simplicity. ”
4. And no less do We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands, and made captives since the time of their capture, and who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free, and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of money. If this is not done when the fifteen days have passed, they incur the sentence of excommunication by the act itself, from which they cannot be absolved, except at the point of death, even by the Holy See, or by any Spanish bishop, or by the aforementioned Ferdinand, unless they have first given freedom to these captive persons and restored their goods. We will that like sentence of excommunication be incurred by one and all who attempt to capture, sell, or subject to slavery, baptized residents of the Canary Islands, or those who are freely seeking Baptism, from which excommunication cannot be absolved except as was stated above.”
The date of this Bull, 1435, is very significant. Nearly 60 years before the Europeans were to find the New World, we already had the papal condemnation of slavery as soon as this crime was discovered in one of the first of the Portuguese geographical discoveries.
Eugene IV was clear in his intentions both to condemn the enslavement of the residents of the Canary Islands, and to demand correction of the injustice within 15 days. Those who did not restore the enslaved to their liberty in that time were to incur the sentence of excommunication ipso facto.
Pope Eugene was clearly intending to condemn the enslavement of the people of the Canaries and, in no uncertain terms, to inform the faithful that what was being condemned was what we would classify as gravely wrong. Thus, the unjust slavery that had begun in the newly found territories was condemned, condemned as soon as it was discovered, and condemned in the strongest of terms. The automatic Excommunication of Catholics from the Church upon all those who supported slavery and worked in any way to promote and foster slavery was very serious indeed. This is further evidence why the War for Southern Independence was not based on Slavery and one of the smaller issues for the Confederacy.
In the 1800’s the majority of people and society as a whole were God fearing, God loving, folks and took Excommunication from the Catholic Church as a grave matter. The fact that every Southern Bishop stood with the Confederacy, the fact that there were over 20 Catholic Generals and thousands of Officers and soldiers in the CSA and many other items of evidence, shows that from the Southern perspective slavery was a small piece of the puzzle for independence.
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