Father of international law

Francisco de Vitoria (1486?–1546)
Relectiones theologicae tredecim partibus per varias sectiones in duos libros diuisae / Authore R.P.F. Francisco a Victoria Ordinis Praedicatorum S.S. theologiae Salmanticensis Academiae in primaria quondam cathedra professore eximio & incomparabili. Opus omni eruditione & pietate refertum, nouissimè iuxta Ingolstadiensem editionem castigatum & repurgatum. Relectionum seriem sequens pagella indicabit. Accessit copiosus materiarium index
Lugduni: Expensis Petri Landry, M. D. L.XXXVI (1586)
Q*.6.37(F), title page

Francisco de Vitoria studied in Burgos and Paris, before teaching in the latter university from 1516 to 1523. He rejected the arguments of leading nominalist philosophers, but defended the writings of the Dutch humanist Erasmus. After a brief period at Valladolid, Vitoria was appointed to a Theology chair at Salamanca in 1526, where he replaced the Sentences of Peter Lombard with the Summa Theologiae of Aquinas as the major textbook for study. His annual lectures to the Faculty, known as Relectiones, were opportunities to discuss major issues of contemporary affairs.

In 1539 Vitoria delivered two relectionesOn the American Indians (De Indis) and On the law of war (De iure belli). The first lecture argued that the indigenous people of the Americas had natural rights to self-governance and the ownership of goods and land, including sovereign territory. Vitoria rejected the principal ground upon which the Spanish expeditions in the New World had so far been justified: the Pope’s 1493 grant of jurisdiction in the New World to the Spanish crown. Spaniards might fight only if their rights were disregarded by the Indians. The second treatise set strict limits to lawful warfare, when war might be declared, and how war was to be waged. Vitoria was one of four theologians who approved in 1542 a treatise by the Franciscan theologian at Salamanca, Alfonso de Castro, On whether the indigenous people of the New World should be educated in sacred theology and the liberal arts. Castro argued in favour of the Indians being given this higher education. In the meantime, another major Dominican theologian, Thomas de Vio, better known as Cajetan, had published in 1540 his Commentary on the Summa Theologiae of Aquinas. He, too, taught that neither king nor Pope could wage war on unbelievers for the sake of seizing land or property, nor for their disbelief in the Gospel.

The 1586 edition of Vitoria’s Relectiones contains thirteen such lectures delivered by Vitoria at Salamanca. He gave only two others (his first and last) which are now lost. Each lecture amounted to a concise treatise on a matter of public interest. Six of the thirteen tackled central issues concerning the exercise of power and the nature of lawful authority, such as On civil power (De potestate civili) in 1528.

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