Francisco De Vitoria Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1615 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … Life of Francisco de Vitoria [...] his influence and role in the history of the Catholic Church. Francisco de Vitoria was extremely influential in the Catholic Church as a jurist and for his "just war theory," which questioned the inhumane treatment of natives in North and South America after Columbus' discovery of the New World. Educator, philosopher, and theologian, Francisco de Vitoria is known as the "father of international and natural law" (Doyle 13), and his importance and influence over the Catholic Church was great and quite varied during the first half of the sixteenth century.

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Francisco de Vitoria was born around 1480 in the Spanish area of Old Castile, although many experts believe he could have been born as late as 1492. His family was Basque, and there is speculation his mother's family may have been Jewish many generations in the past (Doyle 11). His family moved to Burgos when he was young, and he attended school in that city, and became a Dominican there. In 1509 the Dominicans sent him to Paris to study arts and theology, and he stayed in Paris until around 1523 (Doyle 11). Many biographers believe his teachers at the University had much influence over his later theology and beliefs. He received a doctorate from the University and began publishing prefaces and editing works while he went to school there. (However, he never published his own writings; they were all published after his death.) He returned to Spain to teach, and in 1524, he was elected principal chair of theology at the University of Salamanca (Doyle 12). His influence over the Church grew from his work at Salamanca and his unusual approach to study there. He continued to teach and work at the University while he developed his ideas on international law and justice. He consistently advised each Pope and Church leaders on international matters and matters of theology until his death in 1546.

Term Paper on Francisco De Vitoria Assignment

Vitoria's influence was felt throughout the Catholic world during his lifetime and far beyond. When he attended the University of Paris, several of his professors subscribed to the theology of Thomas of Aquinas, and Vitoria began to support these ideas, as well. In fact, some historians have called him one of the leading experts in the theories of Aquinas (Capizzi 31). One of his main teaching tools at the University of Salamanca was the Theology of Aquinas, and he used a technique of speaking extremely slowly so his students could copy down every word of his lectures, as well. This led to many of his most popular lectures being copied down word for word, preserving his thoughts and teaching methods for generations to come. Many of his lectures explained or refuted some of the teachings of Aquinas, and many of these were transcribed after his death to explain his beliefs and keep them for posterity.

His teaching methods and innovations helped bring scholastic theology back into theological education, and then helped it spread to many other Spanish and European universities. At the time, scholasticism had fallen out of favor in many European theological schools, but Vitoria helped bring it back into vogue (Schroeder). This is one of the reasons Vitoria is hailed as such an influential and valuable theologian and educator. In fact, he remained as the head of the University of Salamanca until his death, and was responsible not only for the fine reputation of the school, but the founding of the international law school there as well.

As Vitoria spread the work and ideals of St. Thomas Aquinas, he became more and more interested in current events of the time. One of the most important recent events was Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World in 1492, which became an important colonial empire for Spain. After this discovery, Hernandez Cortez and his Conquistadors traveled to the New World, moved on to Mexico, and conquered the Aztec Empire for Spain. This led to Vitoria's great interest in international politics and law, and eventually he created his own policy and theories regarding the treatment of the Indians during the conquest and after. While he never published these ideas, his students taking notes during his lectures captured his thoughts and words, and they were transcribed and published after his death. These ideas, which he shared with the Catholic Church and his students, led to his title the "father of international law."

At the time, he felt the Conquistadors had mistreated the Indians in the name of converting them to Christianity. After great study and contemplation of Aristotle, Aquinas, and many others, he came to the conclusion that Spain and other nations had the right to explore the world, (particularly the Americas), the right to settle there, and the right to join in commerce with the native peoples. He referred to this as "natural law" or the law of nations, and this would evolve into some of the first international laws that would guide the world as more exploration and settlement took place (Scott 163).

However, he did not feel Spain had the right to enslave the Indians, even though many saw them as "sinful" because they were pagans. Vitoria maintained they still held dominion over their lands, even if they were "sinners," and because of that, they could not simply be disposed by the Spanish. He felt their dominion "is founded on the image of God; but man is God's image by nature, that is, by his reasoning powers; therefore dominion is not lost by mortal sin'" (Capizzi 31). This was directly opposite of the beliefs and theories of much of the world. While many religious and political leaders agreed with Vitoria's ideas, essentially, they were ignored in the New World, and the natives were overrun, enslaved, and eventually removed or killed.

While Vitoria's ideas did not always match Catholic philosophy, he consistently remained in favor with the Popes in power. They often asked for his guidance and ideas on thorny topics, from suicide to law governing the conquest of foreign lands. His biographer and translator, John P. Doyle notes, "Indeed, his favor with the emperor was an important factor in the positive reception of that condemnation and the adoption in 1542 of 'The New Laws of the Indies,' which has been called the 'most Christian code ever promulgated in a colonial situation'" (Doyle 13). Thus, while sometimes his theories did not match those of the Church, he still gained the respect and admiration of Church leaders, so much so that he was often consulted in theological and spiritual matters. In fact, Emperor Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556 asked Vitoria to represent Spain at the Council of Trent that had been commissioned by Pope Paul VI in 1545. However, Vitoria could not attend the momentous Council, as he was in very poor health and died the following year.

Vitoria did advise the Church leaders on many other matters. For example, he was one of the first theologians to write of suicide and advise the Catholic Church on this sin. He lectured at the University "On Homicide," and maintained no matter what the reason, it was always a sin to take one's own life, mainly because it goes against God's own teachings and creation of life. He firmly believes the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" applied to all life, even one's own (Doyle 16). In addition, believed this extended to capital punishment and murder, as well. No man has the right to take the life of another in Vitoria's teachings.

It is clear Vitoria influenced Church leaders in many ways, and much of the Church's theology is still based on his conclusions. For example, the Church still does not condone capital punishment, and the Church still holds great influence over most areas of Latin America.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Francisco De Vitoria.  (2007, January 17).  Retrieved September 25, 2020, from

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"Francisco De Vitoria."  January 17, 2007.  Accessed September 25, 2020.