Sublimus Dei

Sublimus Dei (also seen as Sublimus Deus and Sublimis Deus) is a papal bull promulgated by Pope Paul III on June 2, 1537, which forbids the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (called Indians of the West and the South) and all other people. It follows the decree issued by Charles V of Spain in 1530 in which the King prohibited the enslavement of Indians. There is still some controversy about how this bull is related to the documents known as Veritas Ipsa, Unigenitus Deus, and Pastorale Officium (May 29, 1537). Alberto de la Hera (see footnote 1) believes that Veritas ipsa and Unigenitus Deus are simply other versions of Sublimis Dei, and not separate bulls. Joel Panzer (The Popes and Slavery p. 17) sees Veritas Ipsa as an earlier draft of Sublimis Deus. While some scholars see Sublimis Dei as a primary example of Papal advocacy of Indian rights, others see it as part of an inconsistent and politically convenient stance by Paul III, who later rescinded Sublimis Dei or the Pastorale in 1538.

In Sublimis Deus, Paul III unequivocally declares the indigenous peoples of the Americas to be rational beings with souls, denouncing any idea to the contrary as directly inspired by the "enemy of the human race" (Satan). He goes on to condemn their reduction to slavery in the strongest terms, declaring it null and void for as well as for any people known or that could be discovered in the future, entitles their right to liberty and property, and concludes with a call for their evangelization.

The bull had a strong impact on the Valladolid debate, and its principles eventually became the official position of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, although it was often ignored by the colonists and conquistadores themselves. The executing brief for the bull ("Pastorale Officium") was annulled by Paul in 1537 at the request of the Spanish who had rescinded the decree previously issued by Charles. The bull is cited at times as evidence of a strong condemnation by the church of slavery in general, but scholars point out that Paul sanctioned slavery elsewhere after the issuing of Sublimus Dei.

Read more about Sublimus Dei:  Background, Content, Pastorale Officium, See Also, References

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