Essay: Legal status of non-Christians

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How did conceptions of human nature influence the ways in which medieval canonists and theologians defined the legal status of non-Christians?

Conceptions of human nature were ever-present in medieval discourse from the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas to the canonistic commentaries of the school of Bologna. The legal, broadly understood here as the ordering of licit actions and relations amongst men through lex, ius, and iustitia, was often related to conceptions grounded in God’s nature and natural law. Accordingly, the appropriate legal status of infidels was often conceived of in terms of the natural qualities of human beings, and how they should behave and interact. In a broader sense, this essay takes inspiration from J.P. Canning’s assertion that the rediscovery of Aristotle ‘injected a new conception of nature into medieval philosophy’ by providing a ‘systematic naturalistic view of the world, the heavens, and man’s life and purpose.’ However, it also seeks to give nuance to this assertion by emphasising the importance of developments in medieval understandings of natural rights. These themes are highlighted by an exploration of two separate discourses which emerged from medieval thought: the canonistic analyses centring upon the commentaries of Innocent IV, and the theology of the early School of Salamanca, which combined a later medieval discourse of dominium-ius with the Thomist-Aristotelian revival of the early sixteenth century. The focus here upon Innocent IV and Francisco de Vitoria reflects the availability of source materials, but also highlights the importance of these writers in their respective contexts. Ultimately, despite differences in their uses of human nature, such conceptions always interacted with a complex matrix in which theology, eschatology, nature, and law were interwoven.

In his commentary on the decretal of Innocent III, Quod Super His, Innocent IV utilised non-Aristotelian conceptions of nature to construct a legal status for the infidel. The twelfth century had been not only an age of revival in the arts and law, but also biblical studies, and Innocent supported his legal thought primarily through naturalistic readings of Holy Scripture: ‘God himself subjected all…things to the lordship of the rational creature, for whose sake he made all things, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis’. From Genesis, Innocent and his fellow canonists also found that man was a creature of reason made ‘in our own (i.e. the divine) image and likeness…let him have dominium.’ Innocent combined this conception of the rational nature of pre- and post-diluvial man with passages from Matthew c.5, 6, and the Roman law Institutes (1.5) to provide a foundation for Christian-infidel relations in natural law and the law of nations. It is because the God has ensured that ‘all people are free’ by ‘the law of nature’, and ‘makes his sun to rise on the just and the wicked’ equally that Innocent defines the Christian position vis-à-vis the infidels as one of natural equity bound by a common and universal natural law.

Thus despite Robert Williams’s suggestion that Innocent’s naturalistic thought was derived from ‘the Aristotelian revolution’, the context in which Innocent formulated his arguments reveals a different picture. The translation of the Aristotelian corpus between the 1120s and 1270s was a slow process: the Nichomachean Ethics of Ibn Rushd was circulated from the 1220s, but this translation was used at this stage by those interested in physics and metaphysics. Aristotelian studies at Paris and Oxford only flourished with the circulation of Latin translations of the Ethics and Politics from Greek completed by Robert of Grosseteste in c.1246-7 and then William of Moerbeke in 1270. Innocent’s thought was not fashioned by the study of arts at Paris and Oxford, but canon law at Bologna and Parma, and he makes no explicit reference to Aristotle as a source of his naturalistic ideas in his commentary, written in c.1251 as a part of his analysis of the Liber Extra. The conceptualisation of man as a being with reason and will invoked by Innocent from Genesis could have been buttressed from sources as various as Cicero, Plato, Augustine, and the Corpus iuris civilis. Gratian’s Decretum, a work that Innocent had read extensively as a canonist and which he references in his commentary Quod super his, had defined the ius naturale as ‘what is received everywhere by natural (human) instinct’. While Innocent’s successors, especially Paulus Vladimiri, were increasingly aware of Thomist-Aristotelian naturalism, the naturalistic conceptions which influenced his legal thought were derived from a creative combination of scripture, the Decretum, and Roman Law.

This triangulation of different conceptions of nature and ius naturale resulted in two important legal corollaries: licit infidel possession of dominium and freedom of religious choice. The legality of infidel dominium was related to the fact that God had made it ‘natural for common property to be neglected’ and that ‘lordship, possession and jurisdiction…were made not only for the faithful but for every rational creature’, meaning that infidels enjoyed equality in this respect under human law. Panormitanus, in his own commentary on Quod super his in the fifteenth century, concurred with Innocent that ‘infidels acquire dominium licitly’ along with all rational creatures. The non-believer within Europe couldn’t have his property despoiled simply due to the fact of his unbelief, just as infidel princes couldn’t be deposed of their dominia, even if they had Christian subjects. Such rights accompanied the assertion that, by the law of nature, ‘all men are free’ to provide non-Christians with freedom of choice in their religion. Thus non-Christians also enjoyed a degree of legal toleration, for ‘all men should be left to use their free will and only the grace of God has any effect in this’. Even in the Consilia of Oldradus de Ponte, a Hostiensian, the general belief that ‘no one is forced into even the Catholic faith’ is drawn from Gratian’s statement that man is created by God with freedom of choice (liberi arbitrii). The freedom of choice ingrained in natural creation and present in legal form in the ius gentium was necessarily translated onto and upheld in human law.

It seems likely that Innocent IV’s discussion of the legal relationships between Christians and infidels was also influenced by concepts encountered in his canon law studies. Innocent might be linked to subjective understanding of natural ius which Brian Tierney has traced amongst the glossators of Gratian’s Decretum from the twelfth century onwards, and in particular amongst the Decretists in Bologna. The early Bolognese glossators, whom Innocent would have read, defined natural ius as conduct that was both ‘licit and approved’ in language similar to Innocent’s statement that infidels naturally held ‘possessions and jurisdictions licitly and without sin.’ In the works of Rufinus, Simon of Bisignano, Huguccio, and Ricardus Anglicus there emerged an application of the idea of ius as a rightful power or ‘a natural force of the soul’ in line with the ius naturale and associated with natural reason. Such conceptions were perhaps strengthened by Innocent’s interest in the questions of property and dominium raised by the early Franciscan poverty controversy, signified by his issuing of the bull Ordinem vestrum in 1245. Bonaventure’s defence, tying free nature, free judgment (liberum arbitrium), and reason to the exercise of dominium over actions might have influenced Innocent. Innocent didn’t use the idea of natural ius as a ‘power’ or ‘force’ which some Decretists and Bonaventure saw accompanying human nature. But in the ‘free will’ and ‘licit possession’ of infidels by virtue of them being rational creatures asserted by Innocent, the more individualistic themes of ius naturale as both a facultas and a sphere of free choice were present, even if they still remained within a juridical understanding of ius and lex which was otherwise essentially objective and ad alteram.

However, a focus upon human nature in linear interaction with the infidel’s legal status is misleading: in reality distinctions between human nature and divine law broke down. By examining Innocent’s letters to the Great Khan of the Mongols, it is possible to see how he saw rational nature and divine agency interacting: he wrote of ‘human nature being endowed with reason’ which ‘was meant to be nourished on eternal truth as its choicest food’ so that man may come ‘to understand the invisible things’ of transcendental truth. For Innocent the natural reason with which man was bestowed meant that he must be guided in accordance with Christian eschatology and revelation. This is why Innocent conflated the spiritual role of the pope as Christ’s vicar to all men, faithful and infidels, with interventions in infidel society based upon natural law. He didn’t always maintain a clear distinction between nature and divine law: infidels were punished ‘if they worship idols, because it is natural to worship the one and only God the creator rather than creatures.’ Innocent thus conjured situations in which his de iure spiritual jurisdiction over infidels, sanctioned by John 21:17, and natural law could be used to subject non-Christians to the de facto jurisdiction of Christian princes under papal sanction. Because sins against nature, such as fornication and idolatry, were aberrations of created nature which offended God and jeopardized the salvation of non-Christians, the papacy, argued Innocent and then Johannes de Legnano, could convert de iure guidance of non-Christians into de facto legal subjection.

The boundaries between nature and theology were fluid in the writings of Oldradus whose naturalistic conceptions enjoined with stigmas based upon scripture, thereby lapsing into statements of the inferior nature of his paradigmatic Saracens of Spain. Oldradus labeled them as the sons of Hagar, the slave wife of Abraham and her son Ishmael, and therefore slaves themselves by the ius gentium. For Oldradus, peace with the Saracen was impossible because they were corrupted by a bestial and violent nature which caused them to lead an uncivilised way of life in which they were constantly violating the law of nature and always in a position where rightful Christians could punish them. The legal subjection and expulsion of the non-Christian ‘Saracens’ could be founded upon their natural behaviour as men ‘who, like beasts deprived of all reason, desert the true God and worship idols.’ Oldradus is an extreme case in a particular context, but his work illustrates that the use of nature in canonist discourse lacked systematic conceptual clarity, and could collapse into a ‘binary classification of humanity’ between believer and infidel.

Furthermore, in the multi-layered matrix influencing canonists’ articulations of the infidel’s legal status, the religious status of the infidel under often took precedence over human nature. For Hostiensis, in his own commentary on Quod super his, it wasn’t nature which prevented infidels from possessing dominium but the Incarnation, after which ‘every honour and principate and all lordship and jurisdiction, de iure and with just cause…was taken from the infidel and transferred to the faithful.’ It is from this theological springboard that he ‘adamantly’ defines the infidel as ‘de iure…subject to the faithful’ in line with the Decretales 5.61, c.2, and c.13 so that any ‘possessions’ and ‘jurisdiction’ they have are a ‘privilege’ held by the tolerance of the Church. Oldradus, in his eighty-seventh consilium, applied the tradition of the Servitus Judaeorum laid down at the Third Lateran Council to the Muslims incorporated into Spanish dominium from the thirteenth century: ultimately, infidel possessions were held as a ‘peculium’, what a lord might give a slave. These were theories of pious and expedient toleration similar to those of Aquinas and Giles of Rome rather than naturalistic understandings of dominium.

Divine law also offered a basis for confiscating infidel dominium: both Innocent and Hostiensis believed that when infidel princes ‘molest Christians who are under their jurisdiction’ or ‘if they do not admit preachers’ then the pope may ‘exempt them from their jurisdiction and lordship entirely’. In such circumstances divine law also placed Christians and non-Christians in legal asymmetry as Innocent and Hostiensis unequivocally stated that those preaching the law of Mohammed weren’t to be allowed within Christendom. In a consultation for Eugenius IV over the Portuguese conquest of the Canary Islands in the fifteenth century, Antonio Roselli articulated this position as the diuinum dominium, a mechanism by which the pope’s responsibility for the souls of all men could override the naturalistic bases of property and dominium. The paramount importance of the divine mission meant that non-Christians impeding its progress could be legally subjected, a theme which also illustrates continuity between the canonists and the School of Salamanca. Vitoria’s just title ‘for the spreading of the Christian religion’ wasn’t only founded upon his ius communicandi, but Mark 15:15: while the American Indians (Amerindians) weren’t obliged to accept the faith to possess dominium under natural and human law, the Spanish might ‘lawfully conquer their territories…deposing of their old masters and setting up new ones…to remove’ obstacles to the ‘free propagation of the Gospel’. Even Bartolomé de Las Casas argued in his Doce Dudas that the jurisdiction and liberty of King Tito and his people in Peru should be ‘limited according to what would seem to be appropriate to the preaching of the faith’.

The similarities between canonists and the early Salamancans didn’t stop at the concept of the diuinum dominium. However, continuities traced by John Muldoon and Kenneth Pennington between them can be overplayed: the Salamancans drew upon jurists, but juristic debates weren’t their main point of reference. Canonists hadn’t provided comprehensive explorations of human nature because this wasn’t what their works were intended to be: Innocent’s commentary on the Liber Extra was a statement of legal-theological principles for a hierocratic papacy operating in a period of papal-imperial struggle, and diplomacy with Saracen and Mongol princes. Oldradus’s Consilia weren’t a coherent treatise upon Christian-infidel relations but a collation of legal cases he had addressed while advising John XXII at Avignon, some of which raised questions regarding the position under human lex of Muslims brought within Christian dominium by the Reconquista: of the 333 extant, only 8 deal with non-Christians. By contrast, Vitoria’s relections were intended as discussions addressing questions raised in his lecture series on Aquinas’ IIaIIae, thus involving an application of theoretical conceptualisations of nature, law and justice to practical problems. In De Indis Vitoria stated that he was using his ‘theological’ background to enact a ‘demonstrative’ exegesis of the just status of the Amerindian in the natural world of divine creation. Distancing himself from canonists and lawyers, Vitoria declared that such ‘affairs cannot be judged by human statutes (leges humanae), but only by divine ones, in which jurists are not sufficiently versed to form an opinion of their own.’ Domingo de Soto echoed such sentiments: ‘it does not belong to lawyers to weigh up the law of nature.’ Vitoria and Soto weren’t furnishing pre-existing canonist discourse with a Thomist underpinning; they were using reflections upon theology to fashion their own statuses for the Amerindian from natural law. Therefore, the absence of clear and extended outlines of naturalistic thinking from canonists exterior to highly specific and short concilia or commentaries on decretals limits the extent to which it is possible to identify how preconceived ideas of nature influenced their legal formulations. The nature of Soto and Vitoria’s vocations makes it possible to trace how conceptions from earlier reflections were imported into their works on the Amerindians, and how these conceptions were morphed and adapted in that process.

The precise ways in which Vitoria and Soto approached nature owed much to their academic backgrounds. As a Thomist theologian educated under the Dominican Pierre Crockaert at the Collège de Saint Jacques in Paris, Vitoria’s conceptions of human nature were constructed in the milieu of the Thomist-Aristotelian revival there against the moral theology of Gerson, Almain and Mair. Here he had access to the rich and eclectic theories of natural dominium-ius which had arisen from the Franciscan poverty controversy, the moral theology surrounding the casuistry of restitution, and Crockaert’s lectures on the IIaIIae of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, which Vitoria helped to prepare in 1512. His colleague, Soto, made a similar journey, exploring Aristotelian physics, ethics and politics in his arts studies in Alcala before moving to Saint Jacques in 1516. Accordingly, the discursive language with which these Salamancans discussed non-Christians was unique to this eclectic tradition: the canonists had used terms such as ‘licit possession’ and ‘free judgment’, but they had not assimilated ius to dominium as a subjective right, nor employed a concept of ius as a ‘power or faculty in accordance with the appropriate laws.’ Consequently, they had not applied explicit conceptions of human reason bestowing capacities for natural faculties and powers in personam and dominium rights in re to the legal status of non-Christians. Vitoria and Soto did so because they had access to a discursive-linguistic arsenal unavailable to the canonists. From studies of Aristotle, Aquinas, and dominium-ius they constructed systematic conceptions of human nature which they imported into discussions of the legal status of Amerindians.

The centrality of conceptions of subjective natural ius for Vitoria, Soto and Las Casas can be seen in how they used them to define the fundamental status of Amerindians. Using his lectures upon justice in Aquinas’s IIaIIae, Vitoria reasoned in De Indis that ‘dominium est ius’, a legal right held by all rational creatures ‘formed in the image of God’ who possessed ‘mastery over their own actions (dominium sui actus)’, will, and reason. Vitoria made clear that, judged by such conceptions, ‘the barbarians undoubtedly possessed as true dominium, both public and private, as any Christians.’ The Amerindians weren’t madmen (amentes) or irrationals (insensati) and manifestly did have ‘some order in their affairs’, and couldn’t simply be subjected to Christians by natural or human law. Combining Aristotelian ‘order’ with Aquinas’s analysis of restitution and homicide, Vitoria argued that the Amerindian possessed a rational human nature which moved itself, rather than being moved by instinct: ‘they could not be robbed of their property, either as private citizens or as princes, on the grounds that they were not true masters (ueri domini).’ Soto and Las Casas developed their own idiosyncratic notions of the relationships between dominium, ius and liberty; but both used naturalistic foundations derived from fusing Aquinas’s objective discussion of commutative justice with a subjective conception of ius inhering within individuals under natural law. Crucially, individual possession of natural ius and the capacity to possess dominium (Soto, Las Casas) and dominium-ius (Vitoria) made the Amerindians eligible to be victims of iniuria, and therefore require restitution from Christians, a conception overlooked by Anthony Anghie’s post-colonialist reappraisal.

This application of natural reason with the capacity to hold natural rights to the Amerindians had important consequences for their legal status vis-à-vis European rulers. Neither the pope nor the emperor could lay claim to an original universalist legal jurisdiction over them because they could only possess such dominium through free election uncorrupted by violence. For Vitoria every ‘commonwealth’ utilises a ‘natural right to defend itself’ and transfer its authority to a prince, derived from the formal consensus of those possessing ius as potestas. Soto, analysing the concept of dominus mundi, spoke of ‘legal lordship’ with coercive power arising from ‘natural lordship’ only ‘by the authority and grant of the commonwealth.’ Las Casas, weaving together juristic potestas and Thomist naturalism, went furthest: Alexander VI’s 1493 bulls of donation hadn’t deprived the Amerindians of their dominia because these ‘belong to them by the law of nature and of nations’. For ‘liberty is a natural faculty…it most greatly belongs to consent or not to consent to an alien king or lordship.’ In short, simply plundering the Amerindians imposed ‘servitude against nature and reason’ and bound the Spaniards to restitution for iniuria. Collective and individual natural rights with foundations in human reason thus provided the basis for legal relations between Christian princes and non-Christian societies. Such conceptions countered the early Lutherans’ radical narrowing of the scope of natural reason and the cynical coercion of will in the raison d’état of humanisti such as Machiavelli. They also formed a riposte to natural slave theorists, such as jurist Juan Lopéz de Palacios Rubios, the apologist for the 1513 Laws of Burgos and the Requerimiento, who had argued that the Amerindians’ lack of reason justified their legal subjugation their natural masters, the Spanish Christians.

While refuting these challenges, Vitoria also paved the way for the legal subjection of the Amerindians by different routes. Because the Amerindians were fully human they could be legally punished for breaking the natural right of their fellow men. Applying the right of self-preservation (ius se conservandi) as an inalienable ius in personam, developed in his commentary on the IIaIIae of Aquinas, Vitoria defined ‘anthropophagy’ and ‘human sacrifice’ as causes for the waging of just wars against non-Christians. In the words of Vitoria: ‘the reason why the barbarians can be conquered is not that their anthropophagy and human sacrifices are against natural law, but because they involve injustice (iniuria) to other men.’ As Annabel Brett has highlighted, self-preservation was an obligatory right ‘in the Almanian sense’, distinct from Vitoria’s other formulations of a freely employed licit power. Man’s right to life, over which only God was master, was ‘a matter where he cannot renounce his rights’. Soto concurred in De iustitia et iure that the ius se conservandi was most ‘innate’ and trumped all others. Therefore, iniuria in this case conferred not only a licit power upon the Christian prince to intervene under the laws of war, but a natural obligation to do so until restitution was achieved. Anthony Pagden’s identification of a ‘responsibility to protect’ against human sacrifice and cannibalism solely by the ius gentium fails to appreciate the natural right and commutative justice underpinning Vitoria’s argument. It was when injury was brought upon the fundamental inalienable natural right of self-preservation that all other natural rights could be made alienable in pursuit of restitution.

However, Vitoria’s use of nature to construct a legal status for the Amerindian was also influenced by the wider historical context in which he wrote. The sixteenth century was a time of great change both within and outside Europe: when Vitoria delivered his Relectio De Indis at Salamanca in 1539, he and his successors were confronted by peoples and places which had been unknown to Christians before Columbus’s voyage of 1492. Instead of focusing upon familiar non-Christians such as Muslims and Jews, the Salamancans were addressing a situation of unprecedented novelty. Furthermore, as Marti Koskenniemi has argued, the discovery of the Amerindians coincided with the emergence of new forms of commercial exchange and transatlantic trading networks. The opening of trade routes introduced vast quantities of gold and silver into European markets, stimulating the development of financial systems across Europe in Seville, Antwerp, and Venice. Both Vitoria in his commentary to questions 77-78 of Aquinas’s Summa in 1535-6 and Soto in De Iustitia had taken interest in the ethics of commerce and the role of the cambistas, professional money exchangers providing capital for the chartering of ships to the Indies in joint commercial ventures. This situation was in turn located alongside attempts to restate the unity of humanity under God against spiritual schism and Reformation from 1517. What was required was a reapplication of scholastic concepts for a context in which territorial expansion, innovative commerce, and confessionalisation had emerged as pressing questions of moral-theological import. The ways Vitoria constructed nature to define the legal status of the Amerindians thus interacted with a European world in transformation, yielding creative results.

In this context, Vitoria fashioned a controversial conception of the ius gentium as a legal framework ‘among all nations’ (inter omnes gentes) which ‘either is, or is derived, from natural law’. As Brett has identified, Vitoria’s concept intersected the natural right of human association with the original common dominium of all mankind over the surface of the globe. This was supported by a further intersection between the individual natural right-obligation to self-preservation and the common dominium over the earth and its creatures. Vitoria wrote that ‘amongst all nations it is considered inhuman to treat strangers and travellers badly’ and ‘the Spaniards have the right to travel and dwell in those countries, so long as they do no harm to the barbarians, and cannot be prevented from doing so.’ The obligation ‘by natural law to love the Spaniards’ was linked to a legitimation of commercial activity: ‘the Spaniards may lawfully trade among the barbarians’ since ‘the ius gentium is clearly that travellers may carry on trade so long as they do no harm to the citizens’. This ius gentium was flexible, extending from the rights of ‘ambassadors’ and rights to the sea, harbours, rivers, and deposits of precious metals as common property, embracing the ius communicandi, ius pergrinandi, and ius negotiandi. Vitoria therefore fashioned from natural ius and dominium a universal legal framework which proscribed how it was just for human beings to interact with one another in inter-personal relations and the natural world, and one that could be applied to Spanish commercial and political hegemony in the New World.

By seeing the Spaniards as ‘ambassadors of Christendom…inviolable in the law of nations’, Vitoria envisioned situations in which Amerindians striving to destroy them could be justly subjected and enslaved.

Vitoria also manipulated Aristotelian conceptions of natural life within the civitas to advance the possibility of legal guardianship over the Amerindian. Pagden’s interpretation of De Indis as a comparative ethnological text is anachronistic; nonetheless, it is correct to highlight Vitoria’s Thomist-Aristotelian naturalism alongside his understandings of dominium-ius, as Tierney has done. Vitoria invoked Aquinas’s Aristotelian statement that ‘man is a civil animal’ when examining the Amerindians’ formation of civil life for the cultivation of natural reason and virtue. Based upon Aristotelian topoi, the Amerindians possessed features of the civitas, but they were so crude that ‘they have neither appropriate laws nor magistrates fitted to the task…hence their lack of letters, of arts and crafts…of systemic agriculture, or manufacture, and of many other things…indispensible, for human use.’ They did ‘have some order in their affairs’, but they were insufficiently cultivated to realise the Thomist-Aristotelian teleology of earthly existence – virtue and happiness in the civitas – leaving them ‘unsuited to setting up or administering a commonwealth both legitimate and ordered in human terms.’ Therefore, by reformulating Aristotle’s natural slave as ‘a civil and legal condition, to which no man can belong by nature’ and which didn’t disqualify possession of ‘true dominium’, Vitoria reshaped it to fit his purposes. Redefining it as a free, but ‘foolish and slow-witted’, man who required guidance enabled its use in commuted form to legitimate a Spanish presence as benevolent domini of the Amerindians. Through this conception of uncultivated nature Vitoria crafted a status no less contractual than the natural slave of Palacios Rubios. Spanish legal superiority was the duty of the cultivated towards the uncultivated: Christian ‘princes would be bound to take charge of them as if they were simply children’ for ‘the benefit and good of the barbarians’ until they were themselves capable of realising the telos of worldly human existence.

Vitoria’s use of nature also illustrates the importance of the preconception that ‘God and nature do not fail for a great part of a species in what is necessary…the special quality of man is reason, and potency which is not actualised in vain’. This was a topos repeated in Domingo de Las Cuevas’s De insulanis and Soto’s De iustitia et iure. For the Salamancans, justification for a form of Spanish presence as domini of the Amerindians had to be found without conceding to fully-fledged natural slavery, and with it the failure of God’s providence and creation. Hence, Vitoria wrote to Miguel de Arcos in 1534 that although he had serious reservations about the justice of the conquest, ‘I do not dispute the emperor’s right to conquer the Indies, which I presuppose he may, most strictly’. Vitoria’s reformulation of Aristotle’s natural slave, a concept he hadn’t articulated before De Indis, makes sense as a reformulation of his preconceptions of human nature to meet the challenges posed to his naturalism and theology by the Spanish conquests: infusing the concept with natural dominium-ius divested it of its challenge to perfect creation. Continuity in naturalistic language thus obscures the ways in which conceptions of human nature were creatively reconceived to meet the demands of context, pre-existing legal situations and their theological implications.

Therefore, conceptions of human nature were influential in canonists’ and theologians’ attempts to define legal statuses for non-Christians, but they didn’t exert an unmediated influence upon thought. The precise ways in which naturalistic concepts interacted with legal status were highly varied: there were not only numerous texts from which concepts could be constructed, there were many contexts in which perspectives upon human nature and non-Christians could emerge. The canonists and theologians analysed here were differentiated not only by how they conceived of nature within divine creation, but also through their uses of these conceptions in discussing the status of non-Christians. The legal statuses outlined by the canonists, including Innocent IV, for Jews, Saracens, and pagans were influenced by conceptually crude entanglements of divine law, eschatology, and natural man: human nature, itself understood from Genesis, frequently collapsed into the overriding obligations of spiritual salvation. Their placing of legality relative to nature seems less proximate than in the writings of the Salamancans, for whom natural law and human agency were intimately bound within networks of commutative justice. The Salamancans’ desire to spread the Gospel was no less urgent, yet the influence of naturalistic conceptions in their works was more profound because they drew upon developed frameworks derived from Aquinas, Aristotle, and discourses of dominium-ius. They possessed peculiarly Thomist understandings of how legal status was derived, ordered and defined from an abstract world of natural right. When Vitoria, Soto, and Las Casas, whatever their idiosyncrasies, defined legal statuses for Amerindians they were influenced by a systematic conception of rational humanity operating with subjective natural rights within a teleological natural world as an earthly dimension of theology.

The attainment of worldly virtue within the civitas was as influential in this matter as the higher telos of divine salvation. The Salamancans thus looked backwards to several medieval discourses, but the creative application of their conceptions to the Amerindian, New World expansion, and transatlantic commerce also looks forward to the discussions of natural law and human society of Hobbes, Grotius, and Wolff.

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