VITORIA, Francisco de

(c. 1483-1546)
A Dominican theologian and the founder of modern international law, Fran­cisco de Vitoria constructed a theory of international society and of sovereign, independent nation-states. Vitoria also outlined the rights and responsibilities of the Spanish Empire in its governance of the conquered peoples of the Americas. When he assumed the principal chair of theology at the University of Salamanca in 1526, Vitoria introduced the use of Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologica,a text that dominated Catholic theological education into the twentieth century.
Vitoria addressed important political and legal issues of his day over a twenty-year period at the beginning of each academic year. In De potestate civili Vitoria examined the scope of power of the rising nation-states. He maintained that civil societies must be complete within themselves, with their own laws and authority, and that citizens should be free to choose the form of government and the leaders of their society.
The rights of the Spanish Crown to colonize the newly conquered lands of the Americas and the question of its dealings with its peoples were hotly debated topics. In De Indis Vitoria argued for the property rights of the native Ameri­cans. However, he also admitted that the Spanish state might be justified in conquering backward peoples as long as it was in their interests and not prin­cipally for the benefit of the Spaniards.
De Indis also dealt with the relationship of sovereign nations to each other, thus defining principles of international law for the first time. Vitoria envisioned the creation of a world organization that would govern the international com­munity and have the authority to impose its will. Vitoria anticipated the thinking that led to the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations.
L. Getino, El maestro fray Francisco de Vitoria: Su vida, su doctrina e influencia, 1930.
Evelyn Toft

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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