Historic resolution and history recorded

April 6, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Strangely, one of the biggest news stories of the year, at least, came out last week and, yet, has received remarkably little coverage: “Vatican Rescinds the Doctrine of Discovery.”

We learned some informatio≈n about it as a result of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada, specifically to visit Indigenous communities, bringing apologies for the abuse Indigenous children suffered while being forced to attend residential schools run by the Catholic church. The people he visited called him to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery as they had when an Indigenous delegation travelled to Rome to meet Pope Francis last year.

Those sins were bad enough, but the unreasonable justification for them came from that centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery signed as Papal Bull Inter Caetera by Pope Alexander VI in May 1493.

This was the time in history of the massive expansion of Europe in Africa and, in particular, the Spanish invasion of Central and South America. The Doctrine gave full licence and grace to the abuse, debasement, enslavement and, indeed, any kind of horror on whomever voyagers discovered in foreign lands. All peoples not converted to Christianity were deemed subhuman and deserving of such abuses.

And so the influence of this decree spread and was in reference for whatever Europe imposed on the lands its travellers came across or, as they pompously would say and still say, that they “discovered” America and, I guess, Africa – but by the way, there were already people living there. So, it was nothing new to them.

The horrors the newcomers brought with them were new enough. It is unlikely the inhabitants of these “new worlds” being brutalized ever understood that their oppressors had been given permission, nay, indeed blessed on their adventures, to inflict the terrors they did.

The Year 1493 is 530 years ago, and here’s the rub: it has been the law of the lands, including Canada, until last Thursday, symbolically at least. The Papal Bull Inter Caetera has been overtly, yet insidiously, the law in Europe and the Americas all that time. Intrinsically, it contributed to how harshly Indigenous children were treated, how their culture was torn from them, and how they were regarded as less human, deserving even of whatever licentious and cruel treatment they received.

Right up until the last residential school closed in 1996.

Imagine that. 

All the racism of those five hundred years of hauling Africans as slaves from Africa to Europe and the Americas, all the backwash from the face of slavery that still troubles us, still drags us through the mud of bigotry, so deeply, so intensely ingrained, that rising from it is taking generations. Rising up from that racism, that bigotry, we must not wait for the next few generations to sort it out.

Resistant for a long time to make this historic move of the Vatican’s rescinding the Doctrine of Discovery follows a line of logic from the Vatican to say they “do not rescind” because a Pope is infallible and nothing decreed can ever be acknowledged as “wrong.” The alternative offer has been “we teach new lessons to counter old lessons.”

However, with such pressure coming from so many directions, this rescinding is the exception and is very big news.

We do suffer from historical memory. Attitudes, likes and dislikes that were felt and thought about by our families, our societies go decades – centuries – are part of the fabric of who we are, and this is a real problem. 

That the old books include attitudes of racism does not mean they should be removed, though. Classical literature preserves history and the attitudes of the times they portray provides good conversations about how we must grow away from the harms of the past while keeping the history, the stories and the very fine writing.

Burning history can never make it go away, can never stop it from repeating.

Having said that, a plethora of new writing is emerging. Writers like Angela Davies, Patrisse Cullors, Brandi Morin, Trevor Noah all tell stories from the other side of racism. We have to learn to turn the tide that the Doctrine of Discovery first flooded into our psyches.

On to another discovery this week is a BBC interview about a concert the Beatles performed in 1963 at Stowe School in England, a school for boys 13 to 18 years. A 15-year-old student wrote to Brian Epstein inviting the band to play at the school. In spite of how busy they were nearly every day, Epstein agreed, and the soon-to-be very-famous band came and played.

Remarkably, the student managed to record the show as the first and oldest recording of the Beatles playing live and the only recording of them singing certain songs. Their young voices and the flow of comments between them are such fun to hear. 

The student who “booked” the Beatles is a man in his 70s now. He and the interviewer have a terrific time with this moment of time travel. So do we, the listeners.

In the link below is the whole story, a truly charming and fascinating interview from the British show Front Row. Copy, paste and enjoy for you truly Beatles aficionados.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.