It was one of the bleakest times in the history of Christianity. In the name of Christ, thousands were slaughtered, millions enslaved, entire civilizations wiped out.

When the first Europeans settled in Hispaniola, there were some 100,000 native inhabitants on the island. Half a century later, there were scarcely 500. In Mexico, in seventy-five years the population declined from more than 23 million to 1.4 million; in Peru, in fifty years, from 9 million to 1.3 million. Military conquest, new diseases, wanton slaughter, forced labor, poor nutrition, and mass suicides contributed to these gruesome statistics. Behind all of it, as ultimate justification for the enterprise, stood the name of Christ.

In the name of Christ, natives were dispossessed of their lands by means of the Requerimiento. This document informed the native owners and rulers of these lands that Christ’s vicar on earth had granted these lands to the crown of Castile. They could accept and submit to this, or be declared rebel subjects and destroyed by force of arms.

In the name of Christ, the natives were dispossessed of their freedom by means of the encomiendas. The crown entrusted natives—sometimes hundreds of them—to a Spanish conquistador to be taught the rudiments of the Christian faith. In exchange, the natives were to work for the conquistador—the encomendero. The system soon became a veiled form of slavery. Even worse, some encomenderos left the natives underfed and overworked to the point of death.

It was also in the name of Christ that native women were baptized before being raped or taken as concubines against their will. After all, Saint Paul had clearly said, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

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