Monday, August 08, 2011

A Wish on the Feast Day of St. Dominic

In 1494, shortly after Columbus "discovered" the new world, Pope Alexander VI divided up the new discoved lands between Spain and Portugal. The Church itself had a vested interest in the new lands; they were converting by the sword and extending their influence beyond Rome and Europe. Antonio de Montesinos, a Dominican Friar from Spain, attempted to free the Indians from the slavery to which the Spanish -- both military and clerical -- had reduced them. He preached an incendiary sermon which incurred the wrath of many Spanish Catholics -- incendiary in the sense that his soul was on fire, ignited by truth. For his efforts he became an object of Spanish persecution.

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St. Dominic de Guzman

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. In order to make your sins known to you I have mounted this pulpit, I who am the voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island; and therefore it behooves you to listen to me, not with indifference but with all your heart and senses; for this voice will be the strangest, the harshest and hardest, the most terrifying that you ever heard or expected to hear…This voice declares that you are in mortal sin, and live and die therein by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and desolations? Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them, not giving them enough to eat or caring for them when they fall ill from excessive labors, so that they die or rather are slain by you, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day? And what care do you take that they receive religious instruction and come to know their God and creator, or that they be baptized, hear mass, or observe holidays and Sundays? Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? How can you lie in such profound and lethargic slumber? Be sure that in your present state you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who do not have and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.

His sermon provoked great resentment among the Spanish Conquistadors, much as the anti-war, anti-corporate rhetoric of the Christian "left" incites resentment among the modern, global Conquistador class. Montesinos was accused of preaching heresy by a church hierarchy tainted by Spanish gold. Yes, the church and the elite of society, who controlled the wealth and profited from the exploitation of the weak, called Montesino's sermon, which called for justice based on the inherent equality of the immortal soul, "heretical."
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
However, after hearing Montesinos preach, a Spanish priest by the name of Bartolomeo de Las Casas had a conversion experience. He saw the truth in Montesinos's words. In 1514, he became a Dominican Friar, freed his Indian slaves, and began a quest to ban slavery and bring justice to the Americas. He condemned the use of torture and coercion in the evangelization of the people of the new world. Las Casas helped to draft laws which banned slavery. Until the end of his life, Las Casas continued to speak out but he had few supporters.
I'm not surprised. Do not expect people to rally around you when you are speaking the truth about their -- and your -- common human imperfections. No one wants to hear they're doing the wrong thing. No one wants to think that God is NOT on their side. Montesinos and Las Casas were prophets, as Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet, and Oscar Romero was a prophet. And prophets don't live long. To paraphrase Leo Rosten, conservatives make heroes out of prophets only after they've martyred them.
Today is the feastday of Dominic de Guzman, the founder of this preaching order with a history of fighting heresies.Today's heresies include inequality, injustice, exploitation and the ascendancy of an omnipotent self-interest over the common good.
Wanna fight?

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1 comment:

Katharine said...

Peter, I'm not surprised by your commitment to truth. May the truth always be your ally.