Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the arrow of time 1

At the age of eighteen, Bartolome de las Casas first witnesses the genocide of the natives of America. It’s not known whether this experience led him to the faith, but he would soon become a lay cleric and devote all his life defending the rights of these people. Like Paul, he is struck down—not by the voice of God, but of the text, specifically Ecclesiasticus: “The bread of the needy is their life, and he who defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood.” Outraged by the atrocities, he predicts that God would punish Spain for the suffering of the Americas. At fifty, he publishes the massive History of the Indies detailing the horrors of the conquest. But he himself forbids the printing of the manuscript until forty years after his death, and only if it served the interests of both the Americas and Spain. At that time, Spain, besieged by the Protestants and the Turks, would not tolerate anything remotely disloyal to the empire. De las Casas’ history would not see print until 1875—more than three centuries later. Less than two decades after that, with the secession of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, the last fragments of the empire would disappear. The ineffable power of the text has been released; de las Casas’ 300-year old prediction has finally come true.

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