Major religious news came through on Thursday, March 30.  The Vatican has finally put distance between itself and the three treacherous papal bulls of the 15th century promulgated by two popes that in effect granted carte blanche permission for “Christian nations” to rape indigenous cultures with impunity because they were not Christian.  A horrible chapter in church and religious history, finally disowned.

Indigenous Protest at the Vatican eight months ago. “Doctrine of Discovery: What is it and why is Pope Francis being asked to denounce it?” Global News on YouTube

Some of the awakening in the Vatican occurred when Pope Francis made his trip to Canada this past year and met with some indigenous leaders who brought up the topic with him.

I have brought it up in many of my writings including my recent book on Julian of Norwich.  The Doctrine of Discovery after all was premised on the theology of fall and redemption that ignores a theology of the goodness of creation such as Julian espoused.  Thus, in my book on her, I pose the question this way:

“Highlights of Pope Francis’ meeting with Indigenous leaders in Canada.” @catholicnewsagency on YouTube

What if, instead of demanding redemption of non-Christian peoples in Africa and the Americas, the European explorers had put the goodness of creation at the forefront of their spirituality?  How different would history have been if Julian’s religious vision which leads with the goodness of creation prompted the encounters between Europe and indigenous peoples the worldover? 

And I present a challenge to the theology behind the Doctrine of Discovery. 

Let’s be blunt. Though Augustine laid the groundwork for it in the fourth century with his misbegotten, unbiblical, and un-Jewish concept of original sin, the ascendency of the related doctrines of the fall and redemption in Western Christianity took flight with the bubonic plague. (The East rejected original sin outright.) This version of Christianity was a religion of fear, not trust; of anthropocentrism, not creation; of dominance, not love and compassion. These “doctrines” gave power to Christian kings and queens to confiscate lands and enslave peoples in Africa and the “New World” soon called the Americas. A fall/redemption theology was at the heart of this imperial conquest by “Christian” potentates.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas in the USA (2010 census) and Canada (2016 census).” Creative Commons

Like a wildfire, with heat and high winds fanning the blaze, the doctrine of discovery spread over the next century with the Protestant reformers and the egotistical and “neurotic” (Stendahl) and introverted question “Am I saved?” that Protestantism preached and Roman Catholicism sold.  This religion took western Christianity far off track—a detour away from love of creation and recognizing nature as a source of revelation and the divine, which Hildegard, Francis, Aquinas, Eckhart, and Julian espouse.  

To be continued

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. xxxviii, 114ff.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: “A Metis family poses with their Red River carts in a field in western North Dakota. (1883) “
The Metis were among the indigenous groups who met with the Pope in 2022. Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Queries for Contemplation

How are you going to celebrate this awakening by the Vatican to the rights and dignity of indigenous peoples everywhere and its admission of bad religious teachings?

Recommended Reading

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

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7 thoughts on “Finally! Vatican Repudiates Doctrine of Discovery”

  1. Avatar

    Celebration is in the ‘eyes of the beholder’, is it not? If one wears the garments of the Vatican, they would be looking at themselves in the mirror with a ‘crisp, dry cleaned’ version on now. Others would consider it is good that they ‘caught up’ with Christ’s love in certain and particular regards. We are all deceived are we not when we look for others to ‘convert’ to our way of thinking, acting and believing. There are no true followers of Christ that have not come forth without ‘a change of heart’. Otherwise the ‘masses of followers’ are no more than slaves to beliefs rather than manifestations of a loving and living God and Spirit. — BB.

    PS – may God’s blessings follow Richard R-K in all endeavours.

    1. Avatar

      Just a comment. We are all part of an interconnected web. Changes of heart are now coming in more like loving waves…of states of mind. The age of the Marlboro Man is changing. Better to have a “change of heart” that is surrounded by a positive environment than a negative one. Allows for an environment where the individual can be more curious and feel safer about exploring past beliefs…

      1. Avatar

        Not sure what the inference to Marlboro man is meant to be. If you have something to say, then just plainly say it. Further, a ‘change of heart’ to be an enduring ‘change of heart’ must weather the storms and cannot just quietly sit in ‘the good weather’ undisturbed.

  2. Avatar
    Sister Rosemarie

    To celebrate I have added a band of native American design at the bottom of my “sari” habit which stands for non violence and demilitarization like Gandhi…now adding the element of honoring the earth and indigenous sovereignty over their lands and culture.

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The papal bulls linked with the Doctrine of Discovery, were made through the union of leaders within the Empire and Religion at that time in human history, and it’s misuse and abuse of power, authority and position over the Indigenious People. To truly heal and reconcile emerged from this; the Government and the Vatican must work together with the Indigenious Leaders in order to proceed.

    Both PM Justin Trudeau and now Pope Francis, have made sincere steps towards healing and reconciliation with regards to the Indigenious Peoples and the wrongs they have suffered. Both have repudiated, aknowledging the untrue and unjust treatment of Indigenious Peoples regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and what followed from this.

    However, both have not yet rescinded the Land Treaty Rights that are lawfully entwined within the other papal agreements linked to the Doctrine of Discovery itself. There is still a long way to go in the process of healing and reconciliation regarding the relationships between the Governing Political Leaders, the Religious Leaders of the Vatican, and the Spiritual Leaders of the Indigenous Peoples, in this country once called Kanata.

    I too have oftened wondered how things might have been different if the Vatican had only embraced the true and just teachings of its Creation Centered Spirituality, which the mystics knew of, but we’re silenced in sharing, which are now coming out in the open. Perhaps it’s not too late for this!

  4. Avatar

    All of us Matthew, who love Indigenous people around the world and Mother Nature, are celebrating in our hearts for the Church finally (after at least 800yrs) repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery as your DM sensitively reminds us of its historically destructive influence on humanity and nature. You have helped us become aware of the un-Christian theological foundations of the insidious Doctrine of Discovery for many years in your studies and books of the mystics about the more wholistic Creation Spirituality.
    In a way the Doctrine is symbolic of the many destructive and racist patriarchal values and unjust actions in human history of social institutions and interpersonally, including religious institutions and especially by men, against humanity (especially against women), up to the present day. The wheels of Justice and the evolution of our eternal human souls are slowly in human historical time slowly rolling along. Fortunately, our Faith informs us that in God’s eternal time and deeper spiritual dimensions, God’s Spirit of Divine Love~Light~Life is Always within, through, among Us in the evolution of our eternal souls, not only in our sacred Mother Nature/earth and universe, but in All our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos within God’s Loving Evolving Diverse Oneness….

  5. Avatar

    Let us hope that governments and the church can also find ways to seek restitution
    to the Indigenous cultures that were the object of the hateful Doctrine of Discovery.
    Reclaiming Indigenous wisdom may be one of our most important acts in preserving
    the planet.

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