SCSC Report: Bomba on Las Casas

Everyone knows about Las Casas’ Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies. Few realize that it was originally published with a confessor’s manual by Las Casas, one that envisioned a way to have a Spanish empire in the Americas without coercion. Nicholas Bomba, at the 2010 Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Montreal, gave a paper entitled, “Policing the Conscience:  The Confessional Manual of Bartolomé de Las Casas and the Battle for the Spanish Soul,” in which he argued that the document was not really intended to be used by confessors, but instead was a brief aimed at the Spanish king pointing at the communal guilt that Spain, and  its sovereign, shared over the iniquities of the Spanish empire. Motolinía, for one, didn’t like the coercive role that the fictional priest played in Las Casas’ manual, forcing the dying penitent to free his slaves and make reparations to the Indians of his encomienda or forgo the sacraments. Other critics pointed out that the oppression of the native Americans should be dealt with as individual, not collective sins, deflecting the blame from the king. In short, there was an interesting argument about whether, in order to create a just empire, the institutions of empire needed to be reformed, or whether punishing abusive individuals was the correct approach.


About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.


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