It no longer matters what the intent of Inter Cateara are, those debates are relegated to history, the results have been disastrous.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
Inter Cateara is still on the books as an official stance of the Roman Catholic Church, the Papal Bull was first issued in 1493 as the Pope’s attempt to mitigate land disputes between Portugal and Spain in the New World. What the Pope meant to do is hotly debated by historians, but we are living with its effects because of the broad interpretation applied by the Spanish government. What matters though is that it is from Inter Cateara that we get what is classically called “The Discovery Doctrine” which is the basis for Colonial “Dominion Theology” and “Manifest Destiny” in both the New World and the continent of Africa. The Discovery Doctrine taught that whoever planted their flag first had the right of discovery and any indigenous people become the subjects of that group and either had to convert to Christianity or perish, many were sold into the brutal chattel slavery of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, still hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more died of diseases and wars (the exact death toll likely cannot be known). The Discovery Doctrine listed native persons as “Barbarians” or “Savages” who were uncivilized and needed the church to “civilize them.” Inter Cateara allowed the Europeans to feel superior to those whose land they were taking over, their weapons may have been more sophisticated, and yes, superior, but their barbarity makes one wonder. It laid the groundwork for the White Supremacy that took root in Europe under the Nazi’s. With Hitler used similar language to the colonists in his screeds against the Jews and his detractors. It is also the basis for modern White Supremacist groups like “Proud Boys” and others, thinking anyone who disagrees with you is less than human, anyone who looks different then you, is less than human. But this is where we are, and it is still validated by a Papal Bull from 1493 that is, still on the books.
There is trend you can follow in Church History if you look close enough, a trend related to Missions that is still alive and well today. If you look at Missions on the continent of Africa specifically, where the Missionaries applied the dictates of the Discovery Doctrine, assume cultural superiority, their missions always failed, usually ending poorly for the missionaries. Where the cross came draped in the flag of a conquering country, it also almost always ended in blood shed. It was only when the Missionaries entered the region, learned the language and customs of the people that Missions were successful. The same continues to be true today with one Ugandan Christian commenting that: “The missionaries that live in the house on the hill with the air-conditioning and only come out to minister during the day, who expect us to learn their language and never learn ours, they are the ones who wonder why they are ineffective.” As the West has become less Christian and the rest of the world has seen an explosion of Christianity we now find ourselves and Europe as the Missions field.
Whether we realize it or not, these same ideas were baked into the American Constitution in the form of the “3/5th Compromise” which said that a slave was only “3/5th of a person.” Many of the arguments in favor of Slavery advanced by the Stone-Campbell Churches employed the language of the discovery doctrine to describe enslaved Blacks: “They are brutes, savages, slavery is a grace of God to save them” claimed Henry Thornwell. The bible was even used to justify the brutality of the American Slave Trade, even while Christians fought against it both in England and in the United States. Of course, the Abolitionists were little better in their language, as Fredrick Douglas points out, which hindered their cause, more than it helped. During the Jim Crow era the lie that African Americans were “less than human” persisted and provoked the Klu Klux Klan to violence against Blacks and their White allies. This of course is only scratching the surface of the history that Inter Cateara has wrought on our society and on the world. I could mention The Trail of Tears, Red-Lining, Black Wall Street, etc. It was also cited by a U.S Supreme Court Ruling in the 19th and 20th centuries making it official U.S Policy. Sins we refuse to acknowledge because: “We did not participate in them personally” even though we are living with the collective trauma these events caused and lament would be a course to healing.
The fact is, White Supremacy is a sin and it is a sin of Blaspheme.
Why? Because in Genesis, right off the bat, mankind is made in the image of God, we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, every skin color, every culture, every subtle different all come from the same source. As John Perkins and Tony Evans have said there is truly only one human race made in the image of God for His good pleasure and in the Church, those distinctives are not to be dividing lines, but embraced in unity. Philip Schaff notes that: “Christianity, awakening in a specific historical context, did not seek to destroy that culture, but to infuse it with its transformative power.” Which it did until it entered the halls of power and became complacent. Christianity was originally a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, North African religion which did not become a Northern European faith with its fair skinned Celts and Anglos (who are referred to in scripture as “Barbarians” (Col 3) until the 8th century (though there is evidence the Celts adopted Christianity as early as the 2nd). Even then, it was not the dominate European Faith until the 9th or perhaps even the 11th century. To claim, as the Pope did with Inter Cateara, that all these places in Africa were “uncivilized and unchristian” when they were the seed bed of Christian Faith is to ignore the history of the church in general, to make the same claim a in America today is to do the same. We would not have Christianity in Europe without Christianity in Africa, Asian Minor and so on and so forth, yet these are the places we think of as “unchristian” even as they surpass, and rocket away from us in persons identifying as Christians. 2 Billion Christians in the world and only 10% of them live in the United States and Europe.
White Supremacy requires us to ignore that history of Image Bearers, to divide humanity in ways that God never intended us to be divided. This is, again, sin, to look down on anyone, to think of one as superior to anyone for any reason is to violate what God has declared. If one thinks otherwise, they are guilty of blaspheming God. I am sorry, but I see no way around this scripturally, maybe the secular world with its emphatic insistence on its own destruction can get away with it, but it should have never been justified by the Church and should be both rejected and condemned, and yet….Inter Cateara is still on the books?
There is a lot more that could be said but let me leave you with no doubt. White Supremacy is a sin, a heresy. It should be condemned from my house to the White House to the halls of the Vatican and yet we continue to see people within the church justify it, even promote it when they should be repenting from and condemning it.
Charles, Mark. 2019. Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery . Downers Grove : Intervaristy Press .
Evans, Tony. 2011. Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom and how we are stronger together. Chicago , IL: Moody Press .
Lampe, Armando. 2001. Christianity in the Caribbean: Essays on Church History, . Kingston Jamaica : The University of the West Indies Press .
Ondina E. Gonzales, Justo L. Gonzalex, . 2008. Christianity in Latin America . New York : Cambridge University Press .
Perkins, John. 2018. One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love . Chicago : Moody Press.
Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.
Sanneh, Lamin. 1983. West African Christianity: The Religious Impact . Mary Knoll NY : Orbis Books .
Tisby, Jemar. 2019. The Color of Compromise: The Truth About The American Churches Complicity in Racism . Grand Rapids : Zondervan .
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center