I knew that the Catholic Church via the Pope had authorized slavery in the 1400s, but I didn’t know that they had authorized the eradication, subjugation, etc, of African people. Somehow I never connected the two.
The bull, Pope Nicholas V‘s decree, of 1452 was addressed to Afonso V and conceded Portugal’s right to attack, conquer and subjugate Saracens and pagans; this is also known as Dum Diversas. A papal bull is a document through which a pope of the Roman Catholic Church issues an important public decree, letters patent, or charter.
“We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.”
These clearly refers to the lands along the coast of West Africa. By these decree, Pope Nicholas V conceded to the King of Portugal Afonso V and Prince Henry and all their successors, all their conquests of Africa, and reduction to perpetual servitude of all people deemed non-believers and enemies of Christ, and all their properties.
A significant subsequent concession given by Nicholas V in a brief issued to King Alfonso in 1454 extended the rights granted to existing territories to all those that might be taken in the future. Together with a second reference to some who have already been enslaved, this has been used to suggest that Nicholas sanctioned the purchase of black slaves from “the infidel”: “… many Guineamen and other negroes, taken by force, and some by barter of unprohibited articles, or by other lawful contract of purchase, have been … converted to the Catholic faith, and it is hoped, by the help of divine mercy, that if such progress be continued with them, either those peoples will be converted to the faith or at least the souls of many of them will be gained for Christ.”
This bull is currently conserved at the Institute of the National Archives of Torre do Tomba in Lisboa, Portugal, under the reference PT/TT/BUL/0007/29 and is fully translated to French in the book “le Péché du pape contre l’Afrique” (The Sin of the Pope against Africa) (éd. Al qalam, Paris, 2002) de Assani Fassassi, P. 10 – 21.
Please find below the Papal bull by Pope Nicholas V.