July 18: Bartolomé de las Casas, Friar and Missionary to the Indies, 1566

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About this commemoration

Las Casas was born in Seville in 1484. He studied both theology and
law at the University of Salamanca.

As a reward for his participation in various expeditions, Las Casas left
for Hispaniola in 1502. He was given an encomienda, a royal land
grant populated with native peoples of the Indies. He soon began to
evangelize them; he was ordained priest in 1510 at Santo Domingo.
On December of 1511, the Dominican Antonio de Montesinos
preached a fiery sermon implicating the colonists in the genocide of
the native Indians. Las Casas gave up his rights to the encomienda
and in his own preaching urged other Spanish colonists should do
likewise. Continuing his demand for change, he returned to Spain in
1515 to plead for justice from the Spanish government. The powerful
archbishop of Toledo, who named him “Protector of the Indies,” took
up his cause.

His passionate defense of the Indians before the Spanish Parliament
persuaded the emperor, Charles V, to accept Las Casas’s project of
founding “towns of free Indians”: communities of both Spaniards
and Indians who would jointly create a new civilization in America.
The location selected for the new colony was in the northern part of
present-day Venezuela. Although the initial attempts were a bitter
failure, Las Casas’s work seemed to be crowned with success when
Charles V signed the so-called New Laws (1542), that required the
Spanish colonists to set free the Indians after the span of a single
generation. Las Casas renounced his bishopric of Chiapas, Mexico,
returned to Spain in 1547, and became a prolific writer. His A
Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552), exposes the
oppression inflicted upon the peoples of the Indies. Although filled
with inaccuracies, it is his most famous work.

Las Casas lived his convictions with such zeal that he often seemed
intolerant of others, but is remembered as a tireless advocate for
justice for those oppressed by colonialism. Las Casas died in Madrid
on July 18, 1566.


I Eternal God, we offer thanks for the witness of Bartolomé
de las Casas, whose deep love for thy people caused him to
refuse absolution to those who would not free their Indian
slaves. Help us, inspired by his example, to work and
pray for the freeing of all enslaved people of our world,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

II Eternal God, we give you thanks for the witness of
Bartolomé de las Casas, whose deep love for your people
caused him to refuse absolution to those who would not
free their Indian slaves. Help us, inspired by his example,
to work and pray for the freeing of all enslaved people of
our world, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 59:14–20
Philemon 8–16
Matthew 10:26–31

Psalm 52

Preface of Baptism

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


Links related to Bartolomé de las Casas

Website dedicated to information about las Casas


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

If you’d like to participate in the official online trial use survey, click here. For more information about the survey, click here.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

15 thoughts on “July 18: Bartolomé de las Casas, Friar and Missionary to the Indies, 1566

  1. Bio: Though his book is entitled “A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies”. the repeated reference to the ‘people of the Indies’ begs the whole question of what to call the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere that I mentioned in an earlier commemoration. Obviously we are in the West Indies, not the East Indies for starters. Might all references, other than his book, refer to the West Indies (including the title)?

    And, the native people (sic) he defends (paragraph 4) are only called Indians because they live in the Indies. Surely there is a better title for these indigenous people than Indians.

    Paragraph 4: ‘create a new civilization in America’ North America? South America? Central America? But America? And, it abruptly mentions that he was a bishop (of Chiapas). That’s it? No details?

    The first paragraph needs a first statement of who he was, and why he is important to remember.

    Collect: the word Indian has to be substituted with something else. It is just too confusing and inappropriate.

  2. Question: I don’t see de las Casas’ commemoration on the website for the Lectionary (Satucket) that I use–is that because today is a Sunday? Also: it would be good to know if las Casas was in LFF 2006. In any event, the facts of his life certainly indicate that he should be on our calendar. –The Roman Catholic Church began a beatification process in 2000. There must be much current interest in his life; the Wikipedia article I read was last updated July 12, 2010. –Interesting that his feast day is so close to that of others who worked for just treatment of indigenous peoples and whom we are honoring, such as Conrad Weiser ( Samuel Occom (himself an indigenous person, converted to Christianity by a European); Jan Hus’s followers, the Moravians, could be included in this list. I did not know that the convictions of these 18th century workers for justice were pre-dated by more than two centuries through the witness and work of people like Las Casas. I was interested in reading that Las Casas probably influenced Michel de la Montaigne (1533-1592), a contemporary of Henri IV of France; both men were Christians, but also “humanists” in that they believed in religious tolerance (Henri IV promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which allowed protestants to practice their religion; Louis XIV revoked it around a century later, forcing many Huguenots to leave France). — It is very sad that the plantation economies developing in the Caribbean, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia made the plantation owners of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries reliant on slave labor, mostly African, in order to make a profit; this subverted their own humanity and their reason, which they falsely used to invent justification for serving their economic interest on the grounds of supposed “racial” inferiority.

    • Bartolomé de las Casas is a proposed addition to the church calendar of the Episcopal Church of the United States. So he does not appear in LFF 2006.

      The celebration of the Lord’s Day always takes precedence over any “black letter” saint’s day. Sunday always takes precedence over any other holy day with the exception of Chirstmas, Epiphany, Holy Name, Presentation at the Temple, Ascension, Transfiguration, and All Saints’ Day and those holy days which always occur on Sunday: Easter, Pentecost. The rules for precedence for in the front of the Book of Common Prayer.

      Suzanne Sauter

    • You can tell the new names in HWHM by the square brackets around the (new) titles. Those finally approved in LFF have no square brackets. I think I saw at least one in HWHM where part of the title was already final (and without brackets in LFF) but someone new was added to the group in HWHM (so the new name appears in HWHM with square brackets around the addition only).

      One General Convention votes on admitting a name on a trial basis, so for three years they get the brackets in LFF. The following General Convention votes to keep or discontinue them, so the “keepers” lose the square brackets in that Convention’s revised LFF.

      What I don’t know is if HWHM’s proposed names went through General Convention at all, or if GC waived that procedure this time. If it waived it, I don’t know if the new ones then need approval from 1 or 2 upcoming GCs before becoming permanent and losing the brackets. But for now you can tell if it’s new simply by looking for brackets in the title in HWHM.

      • There were/are no waivers. The brackets you correctly identified indicate proposals concurred by the General Convention of 2009, and will be up again in 2012. I believe that the hybrid to which you refer is Berkeley/Butler. Greg Howe

  3. BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS BIOGRAPHY: There are too many missing connections, details, or explanations to make it a satisfactory biography.

    1. 3rd paragraph: “On December of 1511….” ON December? December WHAT? Otherwise, “in December of 1511.”

    2. The Collect refers to his refusing absolution, but the biography fails to mention it at all!

    3. 2nd paragraph says “as a reward for his participation in various expeditions, Las Casas left for Hispaniola in 1502.” Was his encomienda a plantation with slaves?

    4. Also 2nd paragraph, the upper case L in his name is different here from the lower case L in the facing page’s heading. Should it be upper or lower case?
    Second, what kind of expeditions (commercial, missionary, military, slave gathering) had he gone on, to get rewarded that way?
    Third, what capacity on the expeditions would entitle him to the encomienda? It must have been something more exalted than employee of the month.
    Fourth, shouldn’t the leaving for Hispaniola come AFTER we know about the expeditions and the reward, instead of beginning the paragraph with “As a reward for” (…something we know nothing about)? Or is it FIRST he left, THEN he was given a reward? (Doesn’t seem likely.)

    5. The title on the facing page doesn’t list him as a Bishop, which is usual, and the bio has nothing about his see, his consecration, how long he served, why he was chosen, whether he stunk or excelled as a bishop, or why he renounced it — only that he renounced it, returned to Spain, and became an author of things filled with inaccuracies. (I may sound picky, but this is getting curious-er and curious-er. ) Were those omissions matters of oversight (no pun), or was there a reason NOT to list him as such, and tell about it? And, if he went to Hispaniola as a layman to oversee his plantation, can you credit that as “missionary” work (if not, what specifically was his missionary work? What about as a FRIAR? Where does the bio say a word about Friar? Do people automataically know “friar” and “Franciscan” go together?

    6. I can’t tell if his going to Spain to “plead for justice” was an extension of his urging Spanish colonists to give up encomiendas, or of his preaching that they free their slaves (if the two do not amount to the same thing), or if it possibly extended to yet further matters of justice (such as “genocide”). What is the content of this use of “justice” here?

    7. When the “New Laws (1542)” were passed, was that the result of Parliament persuading Charles V to accept Las Casas’s project of founding “towns of free Indians”? Did Las Casas return to those towns in any capacity, or did he simply advocate on their behalf, in Spain? When the bio says “the initial attempts were a bitter failure,” does that mean Las Casas’ work in Spain met with poor results at first (but eventually he overcame that bad response in Spain), or does it mean “the new colony … in the northern part of present-day Venezuela” itself met with poor results? The bio is ambiguous.

    THE COLLECT: Regardless of the bio, I feel refusing to give absolution, while perhaps justified, is not something that should be selected for highlighting in a collect. I also see the petition (once again) as asking everyone to do WHAT the commemoration person did, rather than have their Christian life inspired and infused by “that manifestation” of dedication, conscience, justice, etc. [I just don’t think it’s reasonable, or good spiritual direction, to give 365 different job descriptions to anyone – never mind everyone!] As far as the opening address to God, I don’t see why “Eternal” is relevant as the aspect of God’s being that we should highlight – especially when there are scriptural precedents about “freeing from slavery” – and various sorts of slavery. “Eternal God” (here) is almost as formulaic as “God…or Current Occupant.”

    PSALM 52: I can see what the attraction here is (cursing the opposition for cursing the protagonist, as it does), but I’d personally prefer 42, or 41:1-7 (with emphasis on longing for justice and righteousness; advocating ongoing trust in God’s grace).

    GOSPEL : Affirms the value of every person – a fair choice. However, the argument “from the lesser to the greater” may sound, in today’s rhetorical atmosphere, as if it minimizes the value of those who are being spoken for, but that’s unfortunately the opposite intent of the original rhetorical device. (E.g., the old joke, “they said you weren’t fit to sleep with pigs, but I stuck up for you and told them there’s nobody more fit than you.”) Matthew 18:23-35 (unmerciful servant) strikes me as preferable, with its message that we’ve all been forgiven (set free?) which in turn carries implications about how we regard and treat others (including inequitable practices such as slavery).

    EPISTLE: (Philemon 8-16) This is perfect. It deals with slavery, and yet honors the Christian morality we look for in Jesus and Paul. Unlike….

    OLD TESTAMENT: …THE DIVINE WARRIOR! There is no doubt the “Divine Warrior” motif is a bona fide part of the scriptures, and a part I like to read for the sheer action and exaggeration in which it presents God. But is it appropriate here? And if not, what is? I’d look for something from the parts of the OT that deal with God’s releasing from the darkness of exile – or freeing the Hebrew Peoples from slavery in Egypt. Equipping them with garments of vengeance and robes of fury (or automatic weapons and explosive devices) would not be my first preference. (“18 According to their deeds, so will he repay; wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render requital.) Seriously, [and I believe it’s extremely serious!] this is “eye for eye” thinking [as is the selected cursing psalm, 52, see especially verse 5, BCP] Jesus specifically denounced this brand of reasoning about “justice” (Mt. 5:38-42) I think it’s more than a mistake to use this passage here; here, it’s a moral issue.

    PREFACE OF BAPTISM: A good choice.

  4. Most of us “Gringos” know little or nothing about the Church in Latin America which was significant enough to have a council in Peru in 1549. De las Casas was indeed a holy man and is worth including. The lessons seem fine. I’m not so sure about the collect. Refusing absolution to Spaniards holding Indian slave was in the 16th century context a courageous and holy thing to do, but it may not be seen that way by some “modern” priests who might start withholding absolution from parishioners who disagree with them,..

  5. I agree with the reservations about the phrase “whose deep love for your people caused him to refuse absolution….” He did much more than that for the enslaved peoples. Not sure why that particular action (which only a Roman Catholic priest could follow, although in some cases there are optional individual confessions in the Episcopal Church) was singled out.

  6. I must confess that I found the biograghy very confusing. I do hope that it is substantially rewritten

    I am not sure how to write this without it coming out wrong. I am not sure why Bartolome de las Casas was proposed for the list of “saints.” I think I understand the guideslines as published (historicity, Christian discipleship, significance, memorability, range of inclusion, local observance, perspecitve, levels of commemoration and combined commemorations). Jonathan Daniel Myrick is already of the calendar (August 14). There are also others on the lists who fought against prejudice, slavery, and the failure ot truly give all humans their humanity. I am not sure what makes de las Casas so specialy except that he was Roman Catholic and a Spanish European male.

    Suzanne Sauter

  7. Maybe it’s because Las Casas was doing those things in the 16th century? I was amazed that someone was making such a strong witness against those things so soon after the Europeans were in this hemisphere. I knew there were North Americans who warned against future mistreatment of indigenous peoples very early on, before William Penn, but I didn’t know there were any Spaniards who did. Shows my prejudice. I’ve read since hearing about las Casas that English competitors with Spain used prejudice against Spain quite a bit (that the Spanish were more cruel than the English) in their competition for territory and influence. –I do see that at least one Spanish woman, Teresa of Avila (d. 1582, same century as las Casas) has been on our calendar for some time. I wonder if she knew about las Casas (d. 1566).

    • Interesting question, Celinda.
      I found his collect hard to pray, did you? That of the many worthy things he did, what we were pointed toward was his refusal of absolution to persistent sinners – not inappropriate on his part, but somehow not the best thing to lift up in our prayers. After the first line, I was already to start thinking of a next line – ‘may we after his example also refuse absolution to those whose repentance is slow or lacking’ – yikes! Not what I want to be praying for or about. I would rather ask that we be tireless in pursuing the liberty and good of those around us. What do you think?

  8. I was uncomfortable with his withholding of absolution being so front and center, too. I hope that will be changed. –I am very glad he’s on the calendar; I’m surprised this is the first I’ve heard of him. I’d like to read more about his debate with Sepulveda; he argued that the Indians were human beings with souls, could be taught, should not be enslaved, etc. –while Sepulveda argued that they were inferior, hence suitable to be used as slaves. This 16th century public debate went on for some time. –I found out from a friend who is a professional translator (and her husband is head of the Spanish dep’t at our local university–they are both Quakers) that the piece las Casas wrote criticizing what the conquistadores had done was deliberately mistranslated to make their actions worse than they were. That piece of writing was called the “Black Legend” and the English used it effectively as propaganda against the Spanish.

  9. March 11, 2011: Tonight, I watched “Even the Rain,” a recent film about the making of a film about Christopher Columbus’ arrival in Bolivia. Of course, Bartolomeo was right in the middle of the fight to protect the Indians in the screenplay. Many words of Bartolomeo’s are spoken passionately by the actor portraying the actor portraying the padre. A further complication is that, during the filming of the film-within-a-film, the indigenous people of Bolivia are fighting to keep their water rights, which the Bolivian government sold to Germany about 5 years ago. “Water is life,” says one of the Indians, hired as an extra for $2 per diem to play a rebellious Indian in the 1500s, but who also insists on leading demonstrations in the town to regain the water rights. No one in the production company misses the point that the Indians are still being treated like disposable tissues. The film is a little preachy, but Jesus’ name is lifted throughout both films (also the F word, sigh). “Even the Rain” stars, among others, Gael Garcia Bernal (what is Spanish for “hubba hubba”?).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s