Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians. Foundational elements of the Doctrine of Discovery can be found in a series of papal bulls, or decrees, beginning in the 1100s, which included sanctions, enforcements, authorizations, expulsions, admonishments, excommunications, denunciations, and expressions of territorial sovereignty for Christian monarchs supported by the Catholic Church. Two papal bulls, in particular, stand out: (1) Pope Nicholas V issued “Romanus Pontifex” in 1455, granting the Portuguese a monopoly of trade with Africa and authorizing the enslavement of local people; (2) Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” in 1493 to justify Christian European explorers’ claims on land and waterways they allegedly discovered, and promote Christian domination and superiority, and has been applied in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.

From a stamp engraved on copper by Th. de Bry, 1590: “Discovery of America, 12 May, 1492, Christopher Columbus erects the cross and baptizes the Isle of Guanahani by the Christian Name of St. Salvador.”

Following an inquiry by a subscriber to the UCFORUM we have, with the generous help of Rev Dr John Squires, found this information about the UCA response:

At the 2015 Assembly in Perth

15.22.03.  Doctrine of Discovery

  1. a) repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples; and
  2. b) affirm the World Council of Churches “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery Impact on Indigenous Peoples”, and encourage its consideration in the Church and, in particular, in theological colleges. (Agreement)

And see also

And see Uncle Ray Minniecon’s paper

Rev Dr John Squires, Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing Canberra Region Presbytery, Uniting Church in Australia  
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’ at
Acknowledging the people of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, Ngarigo, Yuin, and Gundungurra peoples, custodians from time immemorial of the lands on which the people of the Presbytery worship, serve, and witness.



2 thoughts on “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

  1. Neville Price

    I live in New Zealand, and the idea of this doctrine is new to me.
    In New Zealand, in colonial times, many settlers or settler groups (including the Crown) bought land from Maori, and many of these purchases have had to be revisited as inadequate or unauthorised or involved cheating Maori. There is also no doubt that in some instances the land was just occupied without being bought.
    I see the World Council of Churches statement was issued in 2012.
    Has any faith community in New Zealand renounced or repudiated this doctrine?

  2. Paul Inglis Post author

    Thanks for this. I have in all my years, never heard of the Doctrine of Discovery! I wonder if I am the only one. Wally Stratford.

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