4.2 —Read “The History of the Indies” Selection
- Read the selection from The History of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas giving an account of the 1511 sermon of Antonio Montesinos.
- Write an essay or discuss with your instructor the following questions: How, specifically, is his rhetoric and imagery powerful? What is he trying to communicate to the hardened Spaniards?
SELECTION: From The History of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas.
When Sunday and the hour to preach arrived…Father Fray Antonio de Montesinos ascended the pulpit and took as the text and foundation of his sermon, which he carried written out and signed by the other friars: “I am the voice of one crying in the desert.” After he completed his introduction and said something concerning the subject of Advent, he began to emphasize the aridity in the desert of Spanish consciences in this island, and the ignorance in which they lived; also, in what danger of eternal damnation they were, from taking no notice of the grave sins in which, with such apathy, they were immersed and dying.
Then he returned to his text, speaking thus: “I have ascended here to cause you to know those sins, I who am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island. Therefore it is fitting that you listen to this voice, not with careless attention, but with all your heart and senses. For this voice will be the strangest you ever heard, the harshest and hardest, most fearful and most dangerous you ever thought to hear.”
This voice cried out for some time, with very combative and terrible words, so that it made their flesh tremble, and they seemed already standing before the divine judgment. Then, in a grand manner, the voice…declared what it was, or what that divine inspiration consisted of: “This voice,” he said, “declares that you are all in mortal sin, and live and die in it, because of the cruelty and tyranny you practice among these innocent peoples.
“Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these peoples, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own land? Wars in which you have destroyed such infinite numbers of them by homicides and slaughters never before heard of?
Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather, you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day?
“And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion, so that they may know their God and creator, may be baptized, may hear Mass, and may keep Sundays and feast days? Are these not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? Don’t you understand this? Don’t you feel this. Why are you sleeping in such a profound and lethargic slumber? Be assured that in your present state you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks, who lack the faith of Jesus Christ and do not desire it.”
In brief, the voice explained what it had emphasized before in such a way that it left them astonished—many numb as if without feeling. others more hardened than before, some somewhat penitent, but none, as I afterward understood, converted.
When the sermon was concluded, Antonio de Montesinos descended from the pulpit with his head not at all low, for he was not a man who would want to show fear—as he felt none—if he displeased his hearers by doing and saying what seemed fitting to him, according to God. With his companion he goes to his thatch house where perhaps, they had nothing to eat but cabbage broth without olive oil, as sometimes happened. But after he departed, the church remains full of murmurs so that, as I believe, they scarcely permitted the mass to be finished….