Salamanca, School of

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SALAMANCA, SCHOOL OF. A group of sixteenth-century Spanish moral theologians, also sometimes called the Neoscholastics, centered at the universities of Salamanca and Alcalá de Henares. Largely members of the two most powerful religious orders, the Dominicans and the Jesuits, they were concerned with political rule, tyranny, morals, law, economics, and the justice of war and conquest. Their writings, though steeped in Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas of Aquinas, engaged directly with the imperial, political, and economic challenges of the sixteenth century. The outstanding Neoscholastics were the Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria (14921546), Domingo de Soto (14951560), and Melchor Cano (15091560), followed a few decades later by the Jesuits Luis de Molina (15351600), Francisco Suárez (15481617), and Juan de Mariana (1535?1624). Several of the movement's leading figures represented Spain at the Council of Trent.

The tension between the Gospel and the flow of silver and gold from America was important to the Dominicans, a mendicant order. Commerce seemed to be replacing land as the source of wealth, which some called ultimately impossible, and others called simply pernicious. The Dominicans believed economics was a human activity whose objective must be to satisfy needs without sacrificing morality. They were concerned not with how well the economy was running but with how fair it was, and some of their fiercest debates concerned price ceilings and the just price. Buying and selling, in short, were matters of justice and equality.

Vitoria, who taught in Paris, Valladolid, and Salamanca, is often considered to have established the foundations of international law, which later would be elaborated upon by Hugo Grotius (15831645). Vitoria's starting point was the conquest of America, a testing ground for dominium. In 1539, in lectures entitled De Indis and strongly influenced by Aristotle, Vitoria argued that the Indians were rational, and therefore the crown had no right of sovereignty or property rights over them. Vitoria further rejected the notion that Indians were what Aristotle called slaves by nature. A public debate on the matter with one of his contemporaries, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (Charles V's tutor and his generation's supreme authority on Aristotle), was held in Valladolid in 15501551. It was also attended by the Indians' great defender, Bartolomé de las Casas (14841566), who proclaimed the Indians' innocence and their eagerness to become Christians.

In the political realm, the Neoscholastics elaborated upon natural law theory, building upon Aquinas and Aristotle to construct a plausible and moral basis for human law. In particular, Soto, in his six-volume De la justicia y del derecho (1556), offered guidelines for ensuring that justice and the common good were the ultimate arbiters of rule. All the Salamanca thinkers believed a king was bound by the rule of law, and at one time or another considered such controversial issues as tyrannicide and popular representation.

The Jesuits were less bound than the Dominicans to the teachings of Aquinas, and the two orders sometimes clashed on theological issues, particularly about metaphysics, predestination, and will. Both Molina's work on grace (1588) and Suárez's Disputationes metaphysicae (1597) were highly influential throughout Europe.

See also Grotius, Hugo ; Las Casas, Bartolomé de ; Sepúlveda, Juan Ginés de ; Trent, Council of .


Fernández-Santamaría, J. A. The State, War and Peace: Spanish Political Thought in the Renaissance. Cambridge, U.K., 1977.

Grice-Hutchinson, Marjorie. The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory. Oxford, 1952.

Hamilton, Bernice. Political Thought in Sixteenth-Century Spain: A Study of the Political Ideas of Vitoria, De Soto, Suárez, and Molina. Oxford, 1963.

Hanke, Louis. Aristotle and the American Indians. Bloomington, Ind., 1959.

Pagden, Anthony. Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination. New Haven, 1990.

Ruth MacKay