The Great Debate
The discovery of the Americas presented some difficult problems for the Christian Europeans: the people who lived in the Americas, often called Indians, did not appear in either their sacred books nor in the writings of the Greek historians. Initially, there was a great debate over whether or not American Indians were human. In order to be considered human, from a Christian European perspective, the Indians had to have the ability to reason and a soul which could be saved from eternal damnation through conversion to Christianity. Once the Pope had declared that Indians were human, the Spanish, unlike some of the other European powers, took seriously the humanity of native people. They saw them as a part of the community of God. They recognized that they had certain rights. During the 16th century the Spanish engaged in a number of intellectual debates about the Indians which culminated in the 1550-1551 debate in Valladolid.