Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Vitoria's Ideas of Supernatural and Natural Sovereignty: Adam and Eve's Marriage, the Uncivil Amerindians, and the Global Christian Nation

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Vitoria's Ideas of Supernatural and Natural Sovereignty: Adam and Eve's Marriage, the Uncivil Amerindians, and the Global Christian Nation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Francisco de Vitoria was born in Spain ca. 1485, a few years before the momentous year of 1492, when the powerful monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella not only sponsored Columbus's first voyage, but expelled the Moors from Granada and issued the Edict of Expulsion against the Jews. Vitoria, a Dominican friar, held the chair of Prime Professor of Theology at Salamanca from 1526 until his death in 1546. Vitoria's duties included a three-year repeating cycle of lectures, in which he replaced Peter Lombard's The Sentences with Aquinas's Summa theologiae, particularly the Secunda pars, just as his teacher Peter Crockaert had done in Paris.1 By one estimate, 5000 pupils attended Vitoria's courses, the most famous being Domingo de Soto, Melchior Cano, and Fernando Vázquez.2 He also delivered annual relections or re-readings addressing specific theological issues arising from his lectures or current events, thirteen of which survive.3 Vitoria's relections concerning sovereignty form the basis of the present inquiry,4 along with his commentaries on Aquinas and two other relections, Power of Pope and Council and Marriage, which address Church government and Henry VIII's marital annulment.5

Vitoria's Spain may have achieved Catholic hegemony at home, as well as an international presence guaranteed by Alexander VFs bulls dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal, but Spain faced the global challenges of Luther's Reformation, growing European competition, and questions about Amerindian sovereignty. Amidst these challenges, Vitoria developed his ideas of sovereignty or legitimate civil authority.

Participating early in the debates over Amerindian sovereignty and Spain's conquest, Vitoria influenced subsequent controversies over ownership of the seas through Hugo Grotius's references to him.6 Through Juan de Solórzano y Pereira's influential Disputatio de indiarum iure, Vitoria's ideas were accessible to nineteenth-century Spain.7 Scholars such as Quentin Skinner, Daniel Deckers, Brian Tierney, Annabel Brett, and Anthony Pagden have acknowledged Vitoria's contribution to the development of modern constitutionalism, subjective rights, and imperialistic discourse.8 However, because they view sovereignty in Vitoria through the secular Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment lenses of individual rights and constituted nation-states, they find inconsistencies. For instance, Skinner, Tierney, Brett, Pagden, and others note Vitoria's apparently contradictory endorsement of both the lex regia-whereby secular sovereignty is established by the people's transfer of authority (auctoritas) to the ruler-and the Pauline-Augustinian principle that all power (potestas) is from God.9 These two positions, I suggest, are resolved by the theocratic basis of Vitoria's constitutional order within his late medieval framework of thought. Among others, Skinner, Tierney, and Brett have recognized the medieval foundations of Vitoria's thinking.10 Vitoria conjoined a Thomist hierarchy of laws with a neo-Augustinian outlook shaped by the Fall, sacramental marriage, and scriptural origins of human order.

As will be argued, sovereignty in Vitoria depends as much upon the communal body's sovereignty as the sovereign head's authority. For example, under the ius gentium, or law of nations, Vitoria conceded that the Amerindians were true masters (veri domini) of their property with "rights of ownership over their own bodies and possessions [dominium sui et rerum]" as either "private citizens" or "princes."11 Nevertheless, within Amerindian lands, under the Ferae bestiae principle of unclaimed goods, "if any gold in the ground or pearls in the sea . . . has not been appropriated, they will belong by the law of nations to the first taker, just like the little fishes of the sea."12 Although Amerindian princes were conceded individual property ownership, they were denied sovereignty over communal property "within Amerindian lands." This paradox suggests that a people's sovereignty may be separable from the legal dominium of rulers, and that, for Vitoria, the origins of sovereignty might involve a fourth sense of dominium, different from his three widely recognized senses of dominium: the ruler's dominium; individual property ownership; and dominium-ius, from which Brett and Tierney derive individual subjective right. …

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