A prophetic denunciation, 1511

Five hundred years ago today, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, a Dominican friar mounted the pulpit of the church in Santo Domingo, Hispañola (now the Dominican Republic), and preached a fiery sermon denounced slavery and the system that enslaved the native peoples of the Americas.  Fray Antonio de Montesinos, O.P., did not speak for himself alone but for the whole community of Dominican friars. The reaction was fierce, but the word had been spoken.

“You are all in mortal sin! You live in it and you die in it!

“Why? Because of the cruelty and tyranny you use with these innocent people. Tell me, with what right, with what justice, do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars on these people, in their mild, peaceful lands, where you have consumed such infinitudes of them, wreaking upon them this death and unheard-of havoc? How is it that you hold them so crushed and exhausted, giving them nothing to eat, nor any treatment of their diseases, which you cause them to be infected with through the surfeit of their toils. so that they ‘die on you’ [as you day] — you mean. you kill them — mining gold for you day after day? And what care do you take that anyone catechize them, so that they may come to know their God and Creator, be baptized, hear Mass, observe Sundays and holy Days? Are they not human beings? Have they no rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand this? Do you not grasp this? How is it that you sleep so soundly, so lethargically? Know for a certainty that in the state in which you are you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who have not, nor wish to have, the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Would that we had more Christians like him who speak out boldly against injustice and oppression!

*****

I have seen some reports that the sermon was delivered on December 5, 1511. But Bartolomé de Las Casas wrote that it was the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 1511. Las Casa also noted that  the Gospel reading  was John 1: 19-28, what the Dominican Rite Missal used on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

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