Montesinos Sermon

The first missionaries in the Indies where primarily the members of the old religious orders; Minims, Augustinians, Mercedarians, Carmelites, and above all, Dominicans and Franciscans. In the XVI century, missionaries from the order of Santo Domingo tried arduously to remedy the conditions of the indigenous people while at the same time preaching the gospel not only in villages, but also in the interior of the island, moving "on foot, eating root bread and drinking very cold water from the streams, tired, sleeping on the ground in the countryside under their capes."23

Simply frustrated that the evangelism was forever bound by the events of colonization, they became the primary defenders of the indigenous people's fate, undertaking their first official denouncement during a sermon on a First Sunday of Advent of 1511. This sermon, redacted by order of friar Pedro de Cordoba, vicar of the order, and signed by all the friars, was dedicated to the highest members of the colonial government, who were specially invited to attend that Sunday. Cordoba assigned friar Anton de Montesinos, principal preacher with the gift of preaching, who delivered masterfully his historic task confronting the attendees as they walked in: "You are all in mortal sin. You live in it, you die in it. All because of the cruel tyranny you exercise against these innocent peoples. Tell me, by what right and with what justice do you so violently enslave these Indians? By what authority do you wage such hideous wars against these people who peacefully inhabit their lands, killing them by unspeakable means? How can you oppress them giving neither food nor medicine and by working them to death all for your insatiable thirst for gold? And what care are you providing them spiritually in teaching them about their God and creator, so they are baptized, hear mass, and keep holy days? Are they not human beings? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand or feel this?"24

Afterward, the same friar Montesinos traveled to Spain to inform the King what was really happening in the island.

Through pressure from the religious orders and after many meetings and discussions, a new conscience started emerging of the danger that the total disappearance of the American aborigines represented to the future of the colonization. The Crown issued recommendations and orders in 1513 for the governing of the Indians, known as the Law of Burgos. These laws maintained the same system demanding, when possible, preventative measures to decrease the high mortality rates. But, although the Spanish Crown was the only one that established early within their colonial rule the human and legal rights of the Indians, the Laws of Burgo would not be enforced in Santo Domingo until the end of 1516 when it was already too late to change the fate of the indigenous people of Hispaniola.