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Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, [1901], at


Bartolomé Las Casas.

Born 1474; died 1566.

"One of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century" [128: 206]. "Las Casas was the brightest star of this small constellation [the early Spanish-Americans]. With the eye of a seer he saw, and, in the words of a prophet, he foretold the judgment that would fall on Spain for the horrors perpetrated on the wretched aborigines" [119: 706] .

"Bartolomé de las Casas was born in Seville in 1474. His family, one of the noblest in Spain, was of French origin, descended from the Viscounts of Limoges. They were already in Spain before the thirteenth century, and played a distinguished part in the conquest of Seville from the Moors by Ferdinand III of Castile, in 1252. From that time forward members of the family were to be found in positions of trust, and among their marked traits of character were invincible courage and spotless integrity. By birth and training Bartolomé was an aristocrat to the very tips of his fingers" [89: 437].

Las Casas went to Hispaniola and settled on an estate in that island in 1502.

Little is known of his first occupation there, except that he seems to have been more or less concerned in money-making, like all the other settlers. About 1510 he was ordained as a priest. He fulfilled three or four vocations, being an eager man of business, a laborious and accurate historian, a great reformer, a great philanthropist and a vigorous ecclesiastic [98:2].

He was eloquent, acute, truthful, bold, self-sacrificing, pious [98:3].

His was one of the lives that are beyond biography, and require a history to

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be written in order to illustrate them. His career affords, perhaps, a solitary instance of a man who, being neither a conqueror, a discoverer nor an inventor, has, by the pure force of benevolence, become so notable a figure that large portions of history cannot be written, or at least cannot be understood, without the narrative of his deeds and efforts being made one of the principal threads upon which the history is strung. In early American history Las Casas is, undoubtedly, the principal figure. He has been justly called "the Great Apostle of the Indies" [98:289].

He was a person of such immense ability and strength of character that in whatever age of the world he had lived he would undoubtedly have been one of its foremost men. As a man of business he had rare executive power. He was a great diplomatist and an eloquent preacher, a man of titanic energy, ardent but self-controlled, of unconquerable tenacity, warm-hearted and tender, calm in his judgments, shrewdly humorous, absolutely fearless and absolutely true. He made many and bitter enemies, and some of them were unscrupulous enough; but I believe no one has ever accused him of any worse sin than extreme fervor of temperament. His wrath would rise to a white heat and indeed there was occasion enough for it. He was also very apt to call a spade a spade, and to proclaim unpleasant truths with pungent emphasis [89:439].

By the year 1510 the slavery of the Indians, under the names repartimentos and encomiendas, had become deplorably cruel. An Indian's life was counted of no value. It was cheaper to work an Indian to death and get another than to take care of him, and accordingly the slaves were worked to death without mercy. From time to time they rose in rebellion, then they were "slaughtered by the hundreds, burned alive, impaled on sharp stakes, torn to pieces by bloodhounds" [89:443].

Las Casas was by natural endowment a many-sided man, who looked at human affairs from various points of view. Under other circumstances he need not necessarily have developed into a philanthropist, though any career into which he might have been drawn could not have failed to be honorable and noble. At first he seems to have been what one might call worldly-minded. But the most interesting thing about him we shall find to be his steady intellectual and spiritual development; from year to year he rose to higher and higher planes of thought and feeling. He was at first a slave-owner, like the rest, and had seen no harm in it. But from the first his kindly, sympathetic nature asserted itself, and his treatment of his slaves was such that they loved him. He was a man of striking and easily distinguishable aspect, and the Indians in. general, who fled from the sight of a white man, came soon to recognize him as a friend who could always be trusted [89: 448].

About 1512–13 Velasquez conquered Cuba, reducing the natives to slavery. Las Casas presently followed him into the island, and received from him a half interest in a large village of Indians. He entered into possession as a mere matter of course, and settled down in the island.

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We come now to the definite fact which, if it can be relied upon as having happened as told, proves (along with the facts of his life) that Las Casas was a case of Cosmic Consciousness. Not only so, but it would seem—from his supreme physical and mental vigor, prolonged to a great age, from his splendid moral nature, from his intellect, said to be proved by his writings to be first-class, from his personal magnetism and from his high spiritual endowments—that this man stands among the supreme examples of those who have been endowed with this splendid faculty.

It was the duty of Las Casas to say mass, and now and then to preach, and in thinking of his sermon for Pentecost, 1514, he opened his Bible, and his eyes alighted upon these verses, in the thirty-fourth chapter of Ecclesiasticus:

"The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the wicked; neither is he pacified for sin by the multitude of sacrifices.

"The bread of the needy is their life; he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood.

"He that taketh away his neighbor's living slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the laborer of his hire is a shedder of blood."

As he read these words a light from heaven seemed to shine upon Las Casas. The scales fell from his eyes. He saw that the system of slavery was wrong in principle [89:450].

At this time Las Casas was forty years of age. Fiske goes on to tell how for fifty-two more years he lived one of the most active, beautiful and beneficent of lives, dying at last "in Madrid, after a few days' illness, at the age of ninety-two. In all this long and arduous life—except for a moment, perhaps, on the crushing news of the destruction of his colony upon the Pearl Coast—we find no record of work interrupted by sickness, and to the very last his sight was not dim nor his natural force abated" [89: 481].

Fiske concludes:

In contemplating such a life as that of Las Casas all words of eulogy seem weak and frivolous. The historian can only bow in reverent awe before a figure which is in some respects the most beautiful and sublime in the annals of Christianity since the apostolic age. When now and then in the course of the centuries God's providence brings such a life into this world, the memory of it must be cherished by mankind as one of its most precious and sacred possessions. For the thoughts, the words, the deeds of such a man, there is no death. The sphere of their influence goes on widening forever. They bud, they blossom, they bear fruit, from age to age [89: 482].

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As Las Casas wrote, evidence more or less decisive on the point here raised should be found under his own hand. But most of his compositions were short and were occupied with special and current topics; the work in which (if at all) he may have touched upon the supposed event in his personal history is his "Historia General de las Indias," and this, unfortunately, has never been printed.

At his death he left it to the convent of San Gregorio, at Valladolid, with directions that it should not be printed for forty years, nor be seen during that time by any layman or member of the fraternity. . .. The Royal Academy of History revised the first volume some years since with a view to the publication of the whole work; but the indiscreet and imaginative style of the composition, according to Navarrete, and the consideration that its most important facts were already known through other channels, induced that body to abandon the design. With deference to their judgment, it seems to me a mistake. Las Casas, with every deduction, is one of the great writers of the nation—great from the important truths which he discerned when none else could see them, and with the courage with which he proclaimed them to the world. They are scattered over his history as well as his other writings. They are not, however, the passages transcribed by Herrara [128:212].

It is a fair inference, from the above remarks, that the writings of Las Casas have the qualities usually found in those which proceed from Cosmic Consciousness, such as boldness, originality, unconventionality, keen insight, sympathy, courage. And over and above these it is quite possible that were they examined they would be found to contain proof, by direct statement, that their author possessed the Cosmic Sense.

To sum up: Las Casas was presumably possessed of Cosmic Consciousness, because:

a. Of his unusual health and strength; for this great faculty commonly occurs in exceptional physical organizations.

b. Of his "striking aspect" and of the affection felt for him by the Indians and others.

c. Of his mental growth after the age at which the intellectual and moral stature is usually complete.

d. Of the sudden and immense change that took place in him

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at the age of forty, when he was past the period of moral evolution within the compass of the ordinary, self conscious man.

e. Because of the intellectual, but especially of the moral, stature attained by him-higher (it may be safely said) than is ever attained within the limits of mere self consciousness.

f. And because of (if it can be depended upon, and it seems so likely that it is easy to believe it) the subjective light said to have been experienced by him about Pentecost, 1514. If this could be shown to be of the same character as the light that shone within Paul, Mohammed and others, then it would be certain that Las Casas possessed the Cosmic Sense. Even as the case stands there is little doubt of it. It must not be forgotten that the (supposed) subjective light was the immediate forerunner of Las Casas’ spiritual new birth, nor that this latter occurred at the characteristic time of year—while he was thinking of his sermon for Pentecost—therefore towards the end of May or early in June.

Next: Chapter 8. John Yepes (Called St. John of the Cross)