Dum Diversas or The Vatican’s Authorization of Slavery

Slaves on board a ship

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

Pope Nicholas V

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.

Dum Diversas_1
Papal bull from Nicholas V (Source: © Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisboa, Portugal) – Uhem-Mesut.com)
Dum Diversas_2
Papal bull from Nicholas V p. 2 (Source: © Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisboa, Portugal) – Uhem-Mesut.com)
Dum Diversas_3
Papal bull from Nicholas V p. 3 (Source: © Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisboa, Portugal) – Uhem-Mesut.com)

21 thoughts on “Dum Diversas or The Vatican’s Authorization of Slavery

  1. This is just so saddening. I was aware about some papal bulls in regards to subjugating Africans and Native Americans, but I didn’t know about this. It sickens me how people can colonize and act on genocidal impulses all in the name of God. You can even trace that to Leopold just a few centuries later since he was a self-identifying Catholic, but even the Protestants were in on the slave trade and subjugation as well (see the British empire). Shoot, the first slave ship to capture Africans was called Jesus of Lubeck AKA the Good Ship Jesus captained by John Hawkins of England.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe

      That was not the first slave ship. The Portuguese royal chronicler, Azurara, recounted an historical narrative of the first commercial slaving voyages along the West Coast of Africa a century before John Hawkins in a work entitled The Chronicle of Discovery and Conquest of Guinea.


  2. Greg

    And, you wonder why England, Spain, Portugal and Italy are being hit hard by the virus ? Re-read the part where it says, someone had the authority to enslave Israelites. Gather your troops (1 million strong), because Michael the Archangel is on his way..


  3. Pingback: Notes to Grandchildren (George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks) | jcfunk

  4. Pingback: 15th century papal edicts authorized the African slave trade, Indigenous land seizures |

  5. Donald Lawson

    I am living out the last chapter of my life (going on eighty). I have been an atheist for most of my life. My grandmother was a devout Crown so I plated along, but took my leave from Xfinity at about age eight. The bible never seemed real to me. but the hypocrisy of the alleged believers was clear even to the eyes of a child. The sanctioning of slavery by the catholic church and all of its pedophiles has proven to me that I made the right choice those many decades past. The papal bull of 1452 activated my gag reflex. DAMN RELIGION!!!


    1. Ola

      You may want to give Christianity another chance because it’s not Christianity that is bad, but the actions of the supposed adherents of the faith that give Christianity a bad name. Obviously, those supposed adherents, described in the article above, were not following Jesus because Jesus was never an oppressor but was always found on the side of the oppressed and down trodden. As the saying goes, not to throw the baby away with the bath water. Just as the fact that citizens of a certain country continue to cheat, disobey traffic rules or murder etc does not make the law giving authority of that country bad or the laws against those actions bad, it is the human beings flouting those laws that should be addressed. Peace.


  6. Donald Lawson

    That was meant to read Christian not crown. Xfinity was meant to read: Christianity. I didn’t plate along, I played along.


    1. Thank you Donald for your comment and for visiting the blog. Yes.. there is so much history that we do not know… so many things have been hidden from us under the cover of religion, and many others…


    2. Yahudah@1959

      Africans, were not the target of such policies. All Hebrews, and their lands, resources, women, and everything else they could find was the real target. Especially, in the Americas..


  7. Rocq

    Do you know why it’s called “Dum Diversas?” Is that speak to the bill taking effect until a new papal bull dictates something different?


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