The World Cup is upon us, and so of course we need a quick refresher course in Global Domination! But we’re not talking about team rankings, Messi versus Neymar, or the sinister mind of Sepp Blatter. We’re talking about…the awesome power…of the Inter caetera.
Let’s return to the early 1400’s, when Europe is on its knees. The Crusades have failed; the Black Plague has wiped out half the population; Muslims control the trade routes to the East; half of Spain has been lost to the Moors and the Turks have besieged Constantinople. Out of this desperation, a Portuguese noble known as “Prince Henry the Navigator” comes up with a crazy idea: if you can’t beat ’em, just sail around ’em. He sends ships down the west coast of Africa in search of new resources and new markets. In 1427, Portugal discovers the Azores, and sets up a base for their navy. By 1444, they’ve colonized Africa as far south as modern Senegal. Then, in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias reaches the Cape of Good Hope, rounds Africa, and proves that the riches of the Orient could be reached by water. This is an info-bomb of the highest order. Portugal is suddenly positioned to become the most powerful nation on Earth, other European nations start scrambling to build fleets of their own, and all of Christendom turns its hungry eyes…to the East.
But God has a wicked sense of timing. Just five years later, in 1493, completely unannounced and unlooked for, a ship limps into Lisbon harbor. It’s a beat-up, storm-tossed caravel, flying the colors of Portugal’s hated rival Spain. Its captain is a rather odd Genoan who calls himself Cristoforo Colombo, and who explains he had been blown off course on his way home to Madrid. And then he proceeds to tell a mad tale that he has just returned from across the Atlantic! And then he claims that he has found a new world!! And that it is an entire continent, defended only by natives in loin cloths. It is just waiting to be taken!!! All one has to do is sail…to the West.
Dios Mio. Before Columbus even reports back to Madrid, the news has spread throughout Europe, and the race for discovery is on. With so much potential both East and West, hard questions need answering. Which way should nations send their ships? What will happen when their navies collide? Who will arbitrate the ownership of new discoveries? King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain proactively declare sovereignty over not just their discovery, but everything “out there.” King Manuel of Portugal protests. Tempers flare, threats are made. The already bad relationship between Spain and Portugal starts coming apart. So they turn to the only person who can mediate: the Pope.
Unfortunately for Portugal, Pope Alexander VI isn’t what you would call impartial. He is a Spaniard, born and raised in Valencia, and a personal friend of King Ferdinand. He reasons that Portugal has discovered the route to the East, so they should go that way. Spain has discovered the New World, so whatever is out there belongs to them. (As for the other nations of Europe, they aren’t Catholic, so they don’t count.) And so, in perhaps the most egregious display of hubris and arrogance in the history of mankind, the Pope draws a vertical line down through the Atlantic Ocean, and splits the world in two. The papal bull of 1493 entitled Inter caetera declares that everything yet to be discovered to the West belongs to Spain, and that Portugal had to stay to the East. Since Portugal already owned the Azores, the line of demarcation would be 100 leagues to the west of those islands. And just like that, Portugal was locked out of the New World.
Ah, the Good Lord taketh, but the Good Lord also sometimes giveth back. In 1500, a Portuguese fleet under Pedro Cabral, sailing from the Azores and bound for Africa, gets blown off course far to the West, and runs into some land. With a little exploration, Cabral realizes this is a rather BIG piece of land, perhaps even a continent. And with a little further investigation, Cabral realizes this land is much further East than what Columbus had discovered. It is so far East, in fact, that it is on the Portuguese side of the Inter caetera line! It therefore belongs – Graças a Deus – to Portugal. Cabral unloads his ships and starts exploring…
Skip forward 500 years, and come back to where we started, at this year’s World Cup. At the place we now know as Brazil, you can witness the effects of a massive idiosyncrasy in play. Messi will be shouting in one language, while Neymar will be shouting in another. Fans of Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Honduras will be screaming in Spanish. But the home crowd will be roaring in Portuguese.
And all because of a mistake. Made with the stroke of a pen.