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  • Vitoria, Humanism, and the School of Salamanca in Early Sixteenth-Century Spain:A Heuristic Overview
  • Luis Valenzuela-Vermehren (bio)

Much has been written in Spain that, for reasons pointing to what is ostensibly the development of divergent intellectual traditions separating Iberian and Northern European cultures, has gone wholly unnoticed. This is obviously the case when one refers to that vast array of theoretical speculation characteristic of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish political thought. It is true that much of the intellectual activity characteristic of that era was of theological import; but from this domain the pursuits of the Spanish theologians were translated into a significant number of notable treatises on law, ethics, and politics, many of which cannot be found on the shelves of American or British libraries.1 While contemporary Spanish scholarship has amassed an enormous number of studies addressing this rich intellectual heritage, it is equally the case that few of these have made their way into the scholarly circles of Northern Europe or the United States, the subject matter of which has proven to be of comparatively marginal concern and influence within the Anglo-Saxon intellectual milieu. Thus, Machiavelli's The Prince (1513) and Bodin's The Six Bookes of a Commonweale (1576), or Kant's Project for a Perpetual Peace (1796) and Hegel's Philosophy [End Page 99] of Right (1821) are far more familiar to the English-speaking world than Francisco de Vitoria's Relectiones Theologicae (1557),2 Domingo de Soto's De Iustitia et Iure (1554), or Francisco Suárez's De Legibus (1612). The range and scope of their accomplishments and concerns were far reaching as theology, considered the "mother of sciences" by the theologians, stretched its gaze onto the entire plane of social and political life. Their keynote achievement, as Pagden has rightly noted in his introduction to a recent English-language edition of Vitoria's Political Writings, lay in the fields of jurisprudence and moral philosophy; and it had been Francisco de Vitoria to whom sixteenth-century Spain could attribute the initial authorship of that venture.3 Their intellectual output came about as a response to two fundamental changes in politics and society. The first was the inception and development of the Renaissance state under the shadow of the fracturing unity of Latin Christendom. That political transformation of Christianity, the outward expression of the religious challenge fostered by Lutheran and Christian humanist ideas, had paved the road leading to the wars of religion and culminating in an international order governed by the new doctrine of sovereignty, cujus regio ejus religio, in the Westphalian settlement of 1648. That new, developing structure of politico-religious freedom forged a second, parallel change: the introduction of the new morality of the Machiavellian state. Reason of state soon became the new doctrine of the inter-state order and found extra-European expression in the aims and methods of the Spanish empire in its quest for wealth abroad and its bid for hegemony in Europe.

Such a state of affairs served to portray, in the minds of a number of Spanish thinkers, an environment fraught with moral conundrums and theological crises. They had condemned the Lutheran and Christian humanist notions on religion and the role of the Church, but they had also rebuked the heretical and relentless voice of the Italian ragione di stato. Here, the Spanish Thomists saw a point of convergence in Lutheranism and Machiavellism "both of [which] were equally concerned, for their own very different reasons, to reject [End Page 100] the law of nature as an appropriate moral basis for political life."4 The sense of crisis imbuing the theory and practice of politics called for a "reconstruction" of the theoretical bases of the social order. Central to that reconstruction was the revival of Thomism in the sixteenth century. Skinner has aptly described Francisco de Vitoria as a central figure in that revival that began with the Dominicans during the first half of the sixteenth century and later taken up by the Jesuit order (e.g., Francisco Suárez).5 It is, thus, in this context that the "School of Salamanca" (La Escuela de Salamanca) emerges in the early sixteenth century as both...


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