Two days ago we addressed what I consider to be major religious news—the repudiation by Pope Francis of the three papal bulls of the late fifteenth century known as “The Doctrine of Discovery.” 

“Vatican officially repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery,” APTN News on YouTube

These Declarations effectively gave Portuguese and Hispanic royals the right to make slaves of African and indigenous peoples in the soon to be encountered Turtle Island or America.  A very shameful chapter in Western religion indeed.

The Bubonic plague of the 14th century effectively killed the tradition of creation spirituality in the West, a tradition that begins not with the human and therefore not with the question of “Am I saved?” but with the sacredness and goodness of creation. Teachings we find in the very first page of the Bible (Genesis 1) and elsewhere in the Jewish tradition including the wisdom tradition of Israel from which Jesus of Nazareth emanated.

“A mass grave being dug for frozen bodies from the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, in which the U.S. Army killed 150 Lakota people.” There have been at least 27 documented cases of massacres of 100-1000 Native Americans each. Wounded Knee is just one of them. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Unfortunately, when European explorers and military with clergy in tow landed on the shores of Turtle Island they were out of touch with creation as the primary issue in their faith tradition and were solely preaching redemption. This distorted religious consciousness and the diseases the invaders brought with them from Europe did not have a happy ending for the inhabitants of Turtle Island.  Genocide followed. As many as 90 million Indians disappeared.

Forgotten too was the deeper meaning of salvation named by Thomas Aquinas: “The first and primary meaning of salvation is this: To preserve things in the good.”  No word about hell and damnation for non-Christian peoples.  But a big word about the goodness of creation and our responsibility to keep it good.

The primal goodness of nature. Photo by harun asrori on Unsplash

Aquinas backs this up with talk about “original goodness,” “primal goodness” and “original freshness.”  And this: “All nature is good….All things are good because they flow from the fountain of goodness.  We can praise God through all things”  And this, “Blessedness is grounded on nature.  There is no thing that does not share in goodness and beauty.” Words echoed by Julian of Norwich when she declares that “God is the true Father and Mother of Nature” and “the first good thing is the goodness of nature” and “God is the very essence of nature.”

What a different history we would have inherited had the original invaders of Turtle Island known and practiced the earliest tradition in the Bible: That of creation spirituality.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 45-51.  

And Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 101f., xxxviii, 114ff.

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

Banner image: The colonization of the world was precipitated by the Doctrine of Discovery. South Africa’s colonization began with “the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in Table BaySouth Africa in 1652.” Painting by Charles Davidson Bell (1813–1882) in Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Queries for Contemplation

Take the teachings of Julian of Norwich in the second to last paragraph above and read them deeply as lectio divina.  Now apply them to Native American teachings.  Do the same with Aquinas’s teachings above also.

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.

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

8 thoughts on “Ending the Doctrine of Discovery, continued”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for your daily Meditations. They are balm for my spirit and food for action. I particularly enjoyed this sharing about the doctrine of papal fallibility. Reminds of an insight I discovered early in my life (I’m now 82) which I called the “grace of finitude,” of fallibility, I.e. we are human.
    In this vein and with a little jest, I suggest referring to people as “non- Christian” is not appropriate. Rather, I prefer the term “other than Christian” so as not to make Christian the norm and imply that the rest of creation is less. Of course, I know you don’t mean this but….

    Again, please keep doing these daily offerings. Your words, your smile, your presence is gift.
    Joe Iannone

  2. Avatar

    I am not disputing atrocities being carried out by Europeans against the Indigenous but when I read “Genocide followed. As many as 90 million Indians disappeared”, the number appeared to be outside of an expected range. So my very limited research below merely enquired of the total Indigenous population in numbers.

    Question: what was the estimated population of north america just before the arrival of the European explorers.

    Answer: Before the arrival of European explorers in the late 15th century, the population of North America is estimated to have been between 2 million and 18 million people. This wide range is due to the limited historical data available and the varying methodologies used by researchers to estimate population sizes. It’s important to note that these numbers are approximate and subject to debate among historians and anthropologists.

    Indigenous populations across North America were diverse and included a variety of cultures and languages. The arrival of European explorers and settlers led to significant changes in these populations, including the introduction of new diseases, conflicts, and other factors that contributed to a dramatic decline in the indigenous population.

  3. Avatar

    As Mother Earth has been polluted and destroyed by Western “civilization” and capitalism, especially the last two centuries, humanity has now been paying the consequences of our planet and environment suffering extreme environmental and weather changes that have been destroying thousands of nature’s species, destroying the natural healthy balance of our environment by ongoing toxic pollution, and even threatening our own human survival as a species since we live in interconnectedness and interdependence with Mother Nature/Earth.
    In the fifteenth century, the long history of destructive unbalanced patriarchal values, including social institutions such as the church (the Doctrine of Discovery being a prime and symbolic example), began the colonial powers’ greed, power, and destructive conquest of Indigenous people and their cultures around the world to the present day. Now what many of us in humanity who are sensitive, intelligent, and truthful are realizing is that the wisdom and spirituality of Indigenous people knew all along that the earth and its’ creatures are sacred, and as human beings we were also meant to live gracefully in Mother Nature’s graceful abundance as children of our Living Mother~Father Creator within the Sacred Loving Diverse Cosmic Oneness and Presence, as our ancestors have in the past, and still Present in Spirit….

  4. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Salt of the Earth

    Before time and place
    In the deep void of silence
    The Great Spirit gave voice
    To a mysterious vision.

    A sweetness spread forth
    The fragrant permanence
    Giving witness, testifying to
    The origins of all existence.

    Each creation valued, honored
    As inherently beautiful and good
    Sanctified in a sacred relationship
    Of holiness, wholeness and oneness.

    All creatures given the gift of
    Perceiving through the senses
    The blessedness to be nurtured
    In all that which exists.

    All creation, sharing the same destiny
    To preserve, keep safe and alive the
    Everlasting original state of beingness,
    Securing this essence present within all.

  5. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew again and again. Your perspective continually helps to broaden my thought and ground my own experiences and observations. The papal statement is a huge step, benefiting from your deep and sincere commentary. Thank you ??

  6. Avatar

    How beautiful we all are as we express how each human being, creature, plant, organ…everything…belongs here. This belonging is the longing in my soul, I feel every day. How good it would be if we could nurture this belonging and see ourselves and each other this way. This belonging maybe is an expression of holiness, wholeness and sacredness. I imagine there has always been evil and ignorance in human beings as Able, Jesus, and the indigenous people experienced it, and as we do now. I think we all struggle to come to terms with how we confront and deal with it in our own lives, in our culture and the world. I am always astounded and perplexed when I see how Jesus dealt with it. How can adhering to love, to this natural sense that we belong with the Creator and with creation overcome such evil and ignorance in those who will do harm? The only thing I have to fall back on is Love.
    A belief that Love is my cause and perhaps the cause of our Creator. It terrifies me because I know love will not save me.
    Yet how else do I defend myself or others or our Earth? The closer I get to the Creator, to Love , the more I know and the more I love.
    Thank you Matthew and all contributors for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us. Helps me open my eyes and feel that somehow in the hearts of humans beings there is a sense that we do all belong here.
    For me, belonging is a sense of being free,
    Regarding and respecting each other without trying to possess or own them.

  7. Avatar

    Speaking as a Protestant, I have always thought it a supreme irony that the Pope has been considered infallible in certain pronouncements, when the bible makes it clear over and over again that Peter was weak and cowardly and missed the point so often that Jesus had to rebuke him more than once. Peter was just like us. To raise up anyone as infallible also misses the point, it seems to me. God writes straight with a crooked pen, for sure, as we are useable even in our weaknesses and mistakes. That said, I honor this Pope for all the good that he has done in repudiating evil doctrines and in reminding us all the Creation is sacred. Since he is a human being, as Matthew points out, he has made mistakes also, and a really big mistake in canonizing Serra. I see him as a spiritual leader, not as the head of a hierarchy. I just wish that he could make some inroads against the power of Opus Dei.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: