Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casas, 1484-1566. A Readertranslated by Francis Patrick Sullivan, S.J. (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 85, Number 1, January 1999
- pp. 132-133
- View Citation
- Additional Information
132BOOK reviews Latin American Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casas, 1484-1566. A Reader. Translations and Notes by Francis Patrick Sullivan, SJ. (Kansas City, Missouri: Sheed &Ward. 1995. Pp. iv, 371. $24.95 paperback.) The late Frank Sullivan put together this fascinating collection of excerpts, mostly from his unpublished Las Casas translations, when the Angel of Death was hovering too close. A prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and essays, he was losing a long battle with cancer, and this reviewer was unable to recheck and make suggestions for what was to have been a great anthology. The resulting full-size paperback, almost four hundred pages, is a good bargain for the price. So I heartily recommend it, with reservations, as a classroom aid for teachers in the early Spanish colonial field and for persons interested in the Discovery and Conquest. Indian Freedom fits into a current new approach: Las Casas as literature. Thus, a recent monograph describes the supposed fictional form used by Bartolomé for a biographical sketch of a character in Sullivan 's "Rogues' Gallery"—"Hojeda the Furious" (pp. 108-118). Also, the fourpart arrangement of the pieces in this book is ingenious and thoughtful: I. The Destructive Pattern (Columbus and the first conquistadors in Hispaniola and the Spanish Main); II. The Rise of Conscience (partly focused on Las Casas himself ); HI· Making Pro-Indian Law (from his tracts for the New Laws); and IV Defending Pro-Indian Law (The "Rules for Confessors" after revocation ofthe main law, the two defenses against Sepúlveda, and a defense of Indian sovereignty in Peru). And the choices reveal the great variety of styles in the dozen volumes of Las Casas' Complete Works—powerful or pithy narrative (pp. 17-129); scholastic disputation (Anti-Slavery Tract, pp. 255-277, with its deliberately overloaded citations); and persuasive numbered argument (pp. 240-241, and especially 313-323). Further, the collection contains some unusual novelties. See, for example , a summary of the reconstructed version of The Only Way (Paulist, 1992) and choice items from Las Casas' neglected Peruvian period (pp. 201-221 and 312-352). But I must make one serious caution, which paradoxically leads into the real contribution of Indian Freedom. Because of the persistent large gaps in Las Casas' life story—the definitive biography should be available at last for the Bimillennium—twentieth-century writers and scholars have interpreted Bartolomé according to their own background and viewpoint. Sullivan, as a theologian-poet, is no exception. In his brief introduction, prenotes, and the selections themselves, he ignores Las Casas' many brilliant practical ideas and achievements: creation offree Indian towns under the Crown, the alternative to brutal encomiendas; promotion of peaceful peasant emigration, and profitable Indian agribusiness; repatriation and relocation of freed slaves; naming of a spokesman for Indians at each Audiencia (High Court) in the Indies; the forging of ecclesiastical tools for future generations of reformist bishops; abolition of lethal personal services; and, finally, appointment of a General Indian Advocate book reviews133 at court (he held the post himself for thirteen years) to watch over the Council of the Indies, recommend appointments to the New World, appeal individual cases, and correct continuing and new abuses. Likewise, Sullivan is unaware of Las Casas' importance as a seminal thinker; The Limits of Royal Power, abstracted without explanation (pp. 324-327), actually reveals Bartolomé as a precursor of democracy. Instead of any such holistic approach, Sullivan's last book concentrates on a single moving aspect of Las Casas' fifty-year struggle on behalf of the native Americans. It uses Bartolomé's very words to paint his vivid and accurate picture of the Indians' sufferings under Spanish conquest and oppression, their essential humanity, and his own heartbreaking and unrealized plea for their total freedom. Coincidentally, Indian Freedom is probably the last and surely the most eloquent personal view of Bartolomé de las Casas. Helen Rand Parish Bancroft Library University ofCalifornia-Berkeley Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640-1750. By Kenneth Mills. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1997. Pp. xv, 337. $55.00.) In this well-researched work, Mills continues an inquiry into mid-colonial religious life begun in his earlier publications includingAn EvilLost to...