Vitoria, Francisco de

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Dominican theologian and international jurist; b. Vitoria, Old Castile, c. 1483; d. Salamanca, Aug. 12, 1546. While still very young he entered the Order of Preachers at the convent of St. Paul in Burgos. After completing his novitiate and the required course of philosophy and theology, he was assigned for further study to the convent of Saint-Jacques in Paris, then the principal house of studies in the order. He remained there, first as a student and then as a professor, for 18 years, during which time he became acquainted with Erasmus of Rotterdam, Juan Luis Vives, and other leading humanists of the period.

Vitoria's success at Paris prompted his superiors to appoint him regent of studies and professor of theology at the College of San Gregorio in Valladolid, a post he filled for three years. In 1526 the principal chair of theology at the University of Salamanca became vacant, and in accordance with the custom of the period it had to be filled by election. Vitoria was chosen by the students, who cast their votes after attending for some time the lectures of the various candidates. The University of Salamanca was at the time chief seat of learning in Spain and, after the Reformation, was the theological center of Catholic Europe. Here Vitoria introduced the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas as a classroom text supplanting the Sententiae of Peter Lombard, and thus gave impetus to the practice that later became general.

Among the students of Vitoria during his professor-ship at Salamanca were Melchior cano, Pedro de soto, Bartolomé de medina, and Domingo bÁÑez, whose division of the history of Spanish theology into two epochs, before and after Vitoria, is evidence of the esteem in which he was held by his students. He was frequently consulted by Charles V on delicate matters of state. Charles sought his opinion on the validity of the arguments of Henry VIII of England in the latter's attempt to secure the nullification of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who was the Emperor's aunt.

The Relectiones. For 20 years, at the beginning of each formal opening of the university, Vitoria delivered a public address in which he discussed important current world problems. Although he did not publish these lectures himself, the notes of 12 of them were subsequently published and several have become famous. It is particularly upon the basis of the two relectiones, as they were called, De Indis and De jure belli Hispanorum in barbaros, that Vitoria was later acclaimed as founder of modern international law. These lectures were occasioned by the discovery of the New World and the consequent discussions among leaders on the rights of the Spaniards to colonize the new lands and to trade with and Christianize the natives.

Vitoria justified his consideration of these matters, which as legal problems seemed to be outside his field of competence, on the grounds that no argument, no discussion, no text is unrelated to theology. The law was to be respected and observed, but the law also must be evaluated in terms of morality.

In De Indis he considered the true and false titles the Spaniards might advance to justify their domination in the New World. De jure belli was supplementary to De Indis, but the two taken together constitute the first treatise of the law of peace and war. A third lecture, De potestate civili, set forth his theory of the state and of civil power. This work too was complemented by another, De potestate ecclesiae. His political philosophy was further elaborated in his commentaries on the Prima secundae and the Secunda secundae of the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas. Some of these commentaries have yet to be edited.

The State. In Vitoria's day the unity of Christendom was being challenged by new and powerful forces of nationalism. Consequently the whole question of civil government, the authority of the ruler and the origin of sovereignty, was contested between popes and emperors in the dispute about investiture. It was vigorously debated in academic circles and among religious and civil leaders.

For Vitoria, the state (respublica ) alone is the juridically perfect civil society, because the state alone is capable of fulfilling all the necessities of life. He accepted the Aristotelian concept that man as a social and political animal must live in an organized society. Only in society could the individual achieve the fullness of his nature. The perfect state must be intrinsically complete in itself, that is, not part of another state. It must be self-sufficient, have its own laws, its own councils, and its own magistrates. The state was the natural outgrowth of society; it was essential to it. Since God alone is the Author of the natural law, He alone is the immediate efficient cause of public power. But once the political community is constituted, power (potestas ) is immediately inherent in that society. The mode of the regime and the particular individuals who exercise authority are left to the free determination of the people. The primacy of the common good is the dominant note in Vitoria's political philosophy.

His doctrine of citizenship was far ahead of his time. He has been called a prophet in the matter of nationality, for his ideas on the subject have been put into practice by every country of the Western world. He held that citizenship was dependent primarily upon place of origin rather than upon nationality of parents; in technical terms, he held for jus soli rather than jus sanguinis. He admitted, however, the possibility of expatriation and the right of adopted citizenship, or naturalization, by statute. This was to be the same for all peoples, and those who accepted the privilege were also to share equally in the burdens of the state.

International Theories. In the De Indis Vitoria considered the rights of the Spaniards with regard to the recently discovered lands of the New World and their relationship with the aborigines. He asked: (1) by what right the native peoples had come under Spanish domination; (2) what rights the Spanish sovereigns obtained over them in temporal and civil matters; and (3) what rights the Spanish civil authorities or the Church obtained over them in spiritual matters.

Vitoria was a stanch advocate of the rights of the native peoples. He maintained that they had been in peaceful possession of their property, both publicly and privately, and that they must be considered as possessing true ownership, except in cases in which the contrary was evident. He admitted in one passage that the government of backward peoples, such as the native peoples appeared to be, might be taken over by a more enlightened state, in this case the Spaniards, provided it was for the welfare and in the interests of the former and not merely for the profit of the latter. This was the principle of the system of mandates that was established after World War I.

It was in this same relectio that Vitoria first defined international law. He stated its source and the way in which it was enlarged to meet the world's changing condition and how it bound every state of the international community and the individuals who, taken together, composed the states of the world.

In discussing the rights of the Spaniards in the New World he based these rights on the "law of nations that is natural law and derived from natural law." Then taking a statement of Gaius as given in the Institutes of Justinian, he substituted the word "nations" (nationes ) for the word "peoples" (gentes ) and declared: "What natural reason has established among all nations is called the law of nations."

Vitoria not only defined international law, but he also stated the relationship of states to one another. He visualized an international society constituting one integral political order. His contribution was twofold: (1) he applied the principles of Thomas Aquinas to the concept of the new national, sovereign, independent states; (2) he built a theory of international society on the basis of Thomistic social and political principles by preserving the thoroughly objective and theological character of society, and authority, and law. It is too much to expect that Vitoria, a pioneer in the field of international relations, living at the beginning of the modern era, should have elaborated a complete and detailed doctrine of international society; yet he did give in principle an outline of world organization based on the equality of states.

In Vitoria's mind, humanity constitutes a universal society, and it needed a law by which to be governed. This law was the law of nations. In De potestate civili, Vitoria wrote: "International law has not only the force of a pact and agreement among men, but also the force of a law; for the world as a whole, being in some sense a single state, has the power to create laws that are just and fitting for all persons, as are rules of international law." He held that the world could create an organ of authority to govern the international community. "Just as the majority of the members of a state may set up a king over the whole state, although other members are unwilling, so the majority of Christians could, in spite of the opposition of some, lawfully create a monarch whom all princes and provinces would be under obligation to obey." He thus envisioned a community of nations endowed with greater power and authority than that of the League of Nations after World War I or the United Nations after World War II.

Vitoria's doctrine on the law of war can be found under the heading of Origins of the Just War Theory in the article war, morality of.

Bibliography: f. de vitoria, Relectiones theologicae (Lyons 1587); Relecciones teológicos del Maestro Fray Francisco de Vitoria, ed. l. g. alonso getino, 3 v. (Madrid 193336), critical ed.; Comentarios a la Secunda secundae de Santo Tomás, ed. v. beltran de heredia, 5 v. (Salamanca 193235); De Indis et de iure bello relectiones, ed. and tr. e. nys et al., v. 7 of Classics of International Law, ed. j. b. scott (Washington 1917), text and tr. j. t. delos, La Societé internationale et les principes du droit public (Paris 1929); "Christian Principles and International Relations," tr. m. langford, in International Relations from a Catholic Standpoint, ed. s. j. brown (Dublin 1932); "Political Causes of International Disorder," in The Foundations of International Order (Catholic Congress on International Peace; Oxford 1938). j. b. scott, The Spanish Origin of International Law (Washington 1928); The Spanish Origin of International Law: Francisco de Vitoria and His Law of Nations (Oxford 1934). c. h. mckenna, "Francisco de Vitoria: Father of International Law," Studies 21 (1932) 635648. g. f. benkert, The Thomistic Conception of an International Society (Washington 1942). s. j. reidy, Civil Authority according to Francis de Vitoria (River Forest, Ill. 1959). h. mÚnoz, "The International Community according to Francisco de Vitoria," Thomist 10 (1947) 155. h. f. wright, Catholic Founders of Modern International Law (Washington 1934). e. nys, Les Origines de droit international (Brussels 1894). y. de la briÈre, La Conception du droit international chez les théologiens catholiques (Paris 1930).

[c. h. mckenna]

Francisco de Vitoria

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Francisco de Vitoria

The Spanish theologian and political theorist Francisco de Vitoria (ca. 1483-1546) was the first great theorist of modern international law. He provided an updated, if uneasy, justification for Spain's conquests in the New World.

Little is known of the early life of Francisco de Vitoria. He studied at Burgos and taught at the universities of Valladolid (1523-1526) and of Salamanca. At the latter institution, in 1539, he delivered his famous lectures on law, war, and the New World, eventually published as De Indis et de jure belli relectiones (On the Indians and the Law of War).

As a Dominican friar, Vitoria was deeply involved with the teachings on theology and politics of his great predecessor St. Thomas Aquinas. Yet there were worlds of difference between the Mediterranean-centered civilization of the 13th-century Angelic Doctor and the ocean-spanning Hapsburg Empire of Vitoria's day. Vitoria and his colleagues at Salamanca undertook to reconcile these differences with established doctrine. Their success produced a body of theoretical legal principles for the age of European imperialism and the nation-state.

By 1539 Spain (then part of the Hapsburg Empire) was well entrenched in the Americas—but old doubts about its exercise of sovereignty persisted. Vitoria, in effect, revised the medieval doctrines (derived in part from Roman law) on the laws of God, nature, and nations. In brief, these doctrines stated that God's law, known only in full to Him, could be apprehended by humanity, in part, through divine revelation and through right reason. By means of the latter, men could discover those practices that were universally just. They were then gradually incorporated into customary law or framed by the just ruler as positive law. The law of nations allowed different peoples to live together under the same ruler; it also retained what was left of the spontaneous, natural law relations between individuals after they had passed out of the "state of nature" into political life.

Vitoria adapted the doctrine of the law of nature to the new conditions. The law of nature became a public law that regulated relations between territorial states, which, because of their sovereign status, resembled the sovereign individuals of the prepolitical "state of nature." The law of nature regulated their relations, irrespective of their religious or political convictions; and this law, now called international law, applied to the conduct of and grounds for war as well. Although the pope continued to exercise a spiritual dominion over Christendom, Christendom was no longer the whole world—which was now seen to be divided among legally independent states. With this formula, Vitoria laid to rest the political universalism of the Middle Ages; and he denied the superior right of Christian princes to conquer and rule over remote heathen peoples by virtue of the latters' religious "errors."

Vitoria, however, upheld the pope's authority to entrust one Christian power with the task of converting the heathen. He also included among the rights of nations the right to enter into trade relations and to export missionaries for peaceful evangelical work. Moreover, if the state to which these benign and pacific agents were dispatched forcefully repelled or mistreated them in any way, these measures could constitute grounds for just war, conquest, and subsequent administration of the offending state. Finally, said Vitoria, such administration should take the form of a guardianship concerned with the material—and, above all, spiritual—welfare of the conquered peoples.

Initial hostility to Vitoria's views eventually gave way to recognition of their utility and to their partial incorporation into Spanish imperial law. Vitoria died in Salamanca on Aug. 12, 1546.

Further Reading

Vitoria's Latin texts appear as volume 7 of the series Classics of International Law (1917). Three books by J. H. Parry provide the intellectual and historical setting: The Spanish Theory of Empire (1940), The Age of Reconnaissance (1963), and The Spanish Seaborne Empire (1966). Vitoria's place in the history of Spanish and European thought is evaluated in Friedrich Heer, The Intellectual History of Europe, vol. 2 (1968), and in Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 3, pt. 2 (1963). □

Vitoria, Francisco de

views updated Jun 08 2018


Francisco de Vitoria was a Spanish theologian, teacher, and defender of the rights of the Native Americans who inhabited the newly discovered continents of North and South America.

Vitoria was born circa 1483 in Vitoria, Álava, Spain. He taught at the University of Valladolid from 1523 until 1526. In that year, he moved to Salamanca, Spain, where he taught theology for the next twenty years.

Vitoria's campaign for the rights of native peoples started in 1532, when he began a series of lectures on that subject. He incorporated the substance of these lectures into a treatise entitled Relecciones De Indis et De iure belli [Readings on the Indians and on the Law of War]. The work not only advocated the case for the Native Americans but also presented basic precepts on the law of nations.

"[Jus gentium] is what natural reason has established among nations."
Francisco de Vitoria

In his fight for freedom for Native Americans, Vitoria asserted that they owned the territories

they inhabited and opposed their compulsory conversion to Christianity. He believed that the Spanish government should establish a ruling system that would benefit, not injure, the native people.

Vitoria believed that an ideal government would receive its authority from the people and would rely on the tenets of natural law and reason to enact laws beneficial to all.

further readings

Anghie, Antony. 1996. "Francisco de Vitoria and the Colonial Origins of International Law." Social & Legal Studies 5 (September).

Hernandez, Ramon. 1992. "The Internationalization of Francisco de Vitoria and Domingo de Soto." Fordham International Law Journal 15 (summer).

Kennedy, David. 1986. "Primitive Legal Scholarship." Harvard International Law Journal 27 (winter).

Scott, James Brown. 1934. The Spanish Origin of International Law: Francisco de Vitoria and His Law of Nations. Reprint, 2000. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange.


Native American Rights.

Vitoria, Francisco de

views updated Jun 11 2018


VITORIA, FRANCISCO DE (d. 1592), Marrano prelate. He was the son of the New Christian Duarte Nuñes, and two of his brothers lived as Jews in Safed and Tripoli respectively, under the names of Abraham and Jacob Curiel. Many other members of his immediate family also reverted to Judaism, while Isaac de Mattathias *Aboab was his great nephew. Entering holy orders, Francisco became bishop of Tucumán (now in Argentina) in 1583 and was later nominated archbishop of Mexico. He aroused great enmity, however, and was recalled for investigation to Madrid, charges both of corruption and of Judaizing being involved. He died before the inquiry was concluded.


Révah, in: Boletim Internacional Lusco-Brasileiro, 2 (1961), 297–9; J. Caro Baroja, Los Judios en la España Moderna…, 2 (1962), 243–4; I. da Costa, Noble Families Among the Sephardic Jews (1936), index, s.v.Curiel.

[Cecil Roth]

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