Pope Paul III: Sublimus dei(1537)
By the early sixteenth century, European nations, including Spain and Portugal, had established empires in North America, South America, and the islands of the Caribbean. Throughout the process of empire building, they had attempted to enslave the native population. On June 2, 1537, Pope Paul III issued his bull Sublimus dei (Latin for “from God on high”). A bull is an official proclamation from the pope, usually setting forth a decision to which all Roman Catholics must adhere.
Sublimus dei forbade the enslavement of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The key reason given by Pope Paul III is that native peoples are as much human beings as Europeans. As such, they have souls in need of the church’s salvation and also possess the ability to accept that salvation. To treat these native peoples as less than humans (“dumb brutes created for our service”) would prohibit their salvation. Pope Paul III asserts that the attitude of superiority toward the natives is the...
Medal of Pope Paul III (Yale University Art Gallery)View Full Size