Las Casas and the Law of Love

I’ve spent the last week immersed in the Confesario, an instruction that Bartolome’ de las Casas wrote c. 1547 instructing the confessors in his bishopric in the way to handle confession of conquistadores, encomenderos, and merchants involved in the arms trade that fed the Conquest. Based on a radical understanding of Jesus’ law of love, las Casas calls on his confessors to grant absolution to such individuals if they are willing to free the indigenous slaves in their charge, allegedly for instruction in the faith. Not only must they free these people (and he does recognize their humanity and their agency, as many of his contemporaries did not), but they must also go to the communities from these indigenous people came to make restitution. In doing so, he is attempting to abolish the system of encomienda and the abuses that accompanied it, enforcing the New Laws that the church and the Crown had begun to overturn. Essentially, he and the confessors that follow his instruction are committing acts of civil and ecclesial disobedience in the interest of following the greater Law of Love.

Part of what is so compelling to me about his example is his understanding of love, in the private and public sense. His writings suggest that love of neighbor is deeper than simple kindness to her; it wants all that is best for her in the broadest sense. True love necessitates justice. And if that justice is not found, work for justice follows. It’s a logic that defies the way we think about the church and the world and the false boundaries we often draw between them.

To what kind of love are we called today? To what kind of justice does that love push us to understand and to enact? Of what kind of change are we to be prophets in contemporary church and society? These are the kinds of questions this research raises for me, the kind I hope to discuss as work on this project moves forward.

En paz y esperanza,

Jen

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