The Catholic Church during the Middle Ages played an all encompassing role over the lives of the people and the government.
As the Dark Ages came to a close the ideas of the Renaissance started to take hold, and the church’s power gradually began to wain. The monarchies of Europe also began to grow replacing the church’s power. Monarchies, at the close of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance, did not so much seek the guidance of the church as much as it sought their approval. However, the Church during the Age of Discovery was still a major influence.
The discovery of the New World and its previously unknown inhabitants presented new problems in the Catholic Church in the late 14th and early 15th century. When Spain’s rulers and emissaries decided to physically conquer and populate the New World, and not just trade with it, the transplantation of Christian institutions followed. The church established contact with the New World, and made it a goal to establish the Catholic doctrines among the native population there. The Catholic Church and the Spanish monarch, however, looked upon the native population in the New World as souls to be saved.
They did not consider or treat the Indians as equals. The implanting of Christianity in the New World, and the treatment of the native population by the missionaries and christian conquerors was detrimental to New World. Through men such as Cortez and Las Casas accounts of the conversions have been recorded. One of the reasons for this was the alliance of the Catholic Church with the Spanish monarchy.
The status of the Indians was disregarded as the Christian conquers and missionaries who wanted to convert them subjected them to violence and reduced them to a laboring population. The Indians, however did not always respond in a negative way to the work of the church. The Catholic Church arrived in the New World immediately after Christopher Columbus laid claim to it for Spain. After Columbus’s discovery of the new lands he wrote a series of treatise as to what the European purpose there was.
Columbus, in his writings, said that the purpose of the New World was two fold. He said that the gospel message of the church should be spread globally beginning with his discoveries in the New World. Second, he stated that the riches discovered in the New World should be dedicated to the recapture of Jerusalem from the Moslems. Columbus saw the discovery of the New World as a prophesy coming true.
He saw the Indians that lived there as a labor source that should be christianized and used for the greater good of the church. Two papal bulls were issued in the year of 1493 that established the Spanish position in the New World. They also established the role that the church was going to play in the New World. The first bull was issued on May 3 and it was called Inter Caetera.
It said that the lands discovered by Spanish envoys not previously under a christian owner could be claimed by Spain. The bull also gave the Spanish monarch the power to send men to convert the natives to the Catholic faith and instruct them in Catholic morals. The second papal bull issued that year expanded on the meaning of the first. The bull fixed a boundary for Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence in the New World.
This boundary heavily favored Spain futher showing the alliance between Spain and the Church. The history of the Catholic Church in the New World began in the year after Columbus’ first voyage. The Spanish monarchy sent the first missionaries to establish Christianity there. The number of missions sent to the New World accelerated in tempo until the final decade of the 16th century.
The crown paid for the sending of missionaries, and its officials kept track of the many “shiploads” of religious personnel sent and of the expenses they incurred. The records show that the Spanish dispatched missionaries to more than 65 destinations, ranging from Florida and California to Chile and the Strait of Magellan. (Van Oss 5) Between 1493, when the first mission left