The Papal Bulls’ Infamous Legacy: “Doctrine of Discovery”

This article by Rev Dr Nancy Ash was originally published in The Sovereign Voice magazine – Issue 4 (pp. 72-81)

In association with the Committee to Support the ITNJ




By Reverend Dr. Nancy Ash, DD, PhD


[Note from the author:  This article is not a broad stroke denunciation of Roman Catholicism — far from it. There are many fine Catholics, good people with big hearts. However, we must be aware that there are dark — very dark — moments in the Vatican’s history when it certainly did not live up to its own high moral standards. The following exposes pure truth in an honest, resolute look at shadowy timelines in world history known as the Papal Bulls and their subsequent 500-year doctrine, a ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’]


Bull — the word has connotations, yes?

For your consideration in this brief article, we shall explore the legal fiction principle ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ providing an initial eye-opening history and evolutionary root of Bulla Pontificum, the Papal Bull: a highest proclamation document issued by a Roman Pontiff (pope).



The Papal Bull is a formal statement, decree, charter, edict or order that is legally binding as a command or decision entered on the papal court record (as if entered by a court or judge). Still issued today by the pope, each and every Papal Bull is deliberate and conscious, considered by the Vatican to be absolute original law for all eternity. These include statutory decrees, dogmatic pronouncements, canonizations of saints, conferring titles to bishops, episcopal appointments, dispensations, excommunications, apostolic constitutions, convocations, etc.

A Papal Bull was (and is) delivered ‘open’ with a seal attached to the bottom of a single sheet of parchment (written on only one side). In terms of context vs. content, let’s say that a Papal Bull is the presentation, format or context for delivering the content or formal decree from any pope. They’ve been in use since the fourth century CE, though not formally legitimized until the twelfth century when designated as a ‘valid’ letter from the pope carrying a distinctive bulla – a round metal seal usually made of lead, though on rare and solemn occasions (Byzantine imperial deeds) it was made of gold. Papal Bulls were usually written in antiquated characters known as curialis script and then traditionally sealed with the bulla, known as a Great Seal of the Papacy. Looking like an ancient coin, the round bulla depicted heads of the founders of the Church of Rome, apostles Peter and Paul, with their images separated by a cross on one side, with the issuing pope’s signature on the reverse side.

By the thirteenth century, Papal Bull referred to all important documents issued by the Pontiff; and it morphed to a tersely principal papal record in the fifteenth century when an office of the papal chancery was named, ‘registrar of the bulls’ (registrum bullarum). Old seals still exist from the eleventh century (none in their entirety before 819 CE), with original leaden bulls remaining from the sixth century CE. There are some preserved apart from the document to which they were once attached. 

Earliest specimens simply bear the issuing pope’s name (on one side) and the word papae on the reversed side. Also, investigation into ‘letters’ known as Papal Decretals reveal that these were a foundation to the issuance of the bolder, Papal Bulls. Letters were always dated; for further research, one may look to the pontificate of Siricius (384-399 CE) for surviving copies.1,2

Please be forewarned! Gruesome discoveries reveal a depraved, sickening use of human skin as a base-material (parchment) for the bulls’ official issuance.  And, to further dreadful horror of this methodology, it was usually the skin of a sacrificed child or some famous heretic.

With Latin roots, the word ‘parchment’ generally means ‘a mind or soul bound to the fate of death.’  Historic origin behind the use of parchment for Papal Bulls (human skin as a writing medium) dates back to occult black magic rituals in honor of ‘Lord Baal.’ These demonic practices occurred in Tarsus and Ur at the time of Menesheh High Priest Saul (Paul), who was purported to have the largest black magic library with 20,000 books covered with human skin.³  Lesser mediums began to be used to affix the seal including cured skin of a slain calf, goat (kid), or sheepskin, all employed to hide an earlier ghastly use of human skin. The shocking ritual of murdering children for using their skin under bulls was first outlined in the thirteenth century infamous Grimoire of Roman Pope Honorius III. In this occult book of dark magic spells, instead of plainly using the words ‘human child’ the word ‘kid’ was used. (We know the word kid officially means a young goat.) And of course, today many use the word ‘kids’ informally for children (possibly rooted in the German word, kinder.) In any case, the same ritual ‘instructions’ for the production of parchment through human sacrifice were standardized by this Pontiff. Astonishingly, this has remained for eight centuries as the ‘official’ method by which leading cult members have sacrificed and murdered children — skinning them to create parchment and thus ‘bind the soul to the fate of death.’ This standard procedure appeared in subsequent Grimoires of black magic. For more information see Arthur Edward Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic, however please beware of this introduction to the deranged specifics of rituals used.



The fifteenth century Papal Bulls Romanus Pontifex, decreed by Pope Nicholas V, and Inter Caetera, ordered by Pope Alexander VI, were fundamental declarations that comprise the term known today as the Christian ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’ This doctrine’s religious philosophy encoded a hierarchy of humanity that European, Christian nations (Christendom) were more powerful and consequently, could (and would) conquer any other. Therefore, these ‘laws’ vested moral and spiritual authority to Christian colonial powers as a perpetual monopoly to brutally and violently conquer any non-Christian lands, thereby facilitating colonization throughout the world. Excerpts from Romanus Pontifex to King Alfonso:

“… We (therefore) weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso – to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit – by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors… Therefore let no one infringe or with rash boldness contravene this our declaration, constitution, gift, grant, appropriation, decree, supplication, exhortation, injunction, inhibition, mandate, and will. But if anyone should presume to do so, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul….” 4

They sanctioned and endorsed worldwide enslavement, slaughter, and theft wherever no other Christian nation had already laid their claim to land. To reiterate simply, the discovery principle from these bulls meant that the Vatican controlled the world. It decreed that man was able to control another. Basic, decent human rights were subject to the beliefs of Holy Roman Church.

When engaged in the multi-faceted studies of the ‘discovery doctrine’ one thing is for sure: the subject’s scope is vast. Ramifications of these Papal Bulls (and others) have indeed changed the course of world history, affecting untold amounts of people – especially indigenous societies – with devastating impact on their culture and the wellbeing of our entire earth. Quite frankly, there is such a broad historical narrative that this article is only able to scratch the surface of Christendom with its theological papal-franchise patterning. Research points – at all corners – to stunning revelations of severe oppression to our fellow sisters and brothers.

These genocidal, unnatural ‘laws’ provided an ethical and legal justification for all Christian explorers to confiscate any land and possessions from the inhabitants of ‘barbarous nations’ known as non-Christians. This caused the barbaric killing or displacement of Indigenous peoples, while their sacred lands were raped and pillaged for the accumulation of wealth — and thereby, power — to the ‘holy’ Roman Catholic Church. Papal decrees evolved into the discovery doctrine, which has become the basis for our modern ideology of international law. The doctrine’s dimensional philosophy continues to negatively affect millions of Indigenous Peoples.

In 1823, the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ was actually adopted into U.S. law by its Supreme Court in a notable landmark case, Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S.

(8 Wheat.) 543. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed ‘ultimate dominion’ over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that – upon ‘discovery’ – the Indians had lost ‘their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,’ and only retained a right of ‘occupancy’ in their lands. In essence, that means a European power has gained radical title (sovereignty) to any land it ‘discovers.’

This highly influential case became the standard for first-year students’ curriculum in most U.S. law schools, solidifying the discovery doctrine’s place in clarifying contemporary property law. It was an articulation that redacted and consolidated imperial protocol into colonial discovery. So, Marshall’s decision was a final codification of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery. Subsequently for almost two centuries, citation to this case’s prominent outcome has been primary for federal and state cases associated with Native American land-title disputes.

In other words, per United States property law in use today, Native American nations are still subject to this ultimate authority of the ‘first nation of Christendom’ (based on the issuance of old Papal Bulls) to claim possession of a given expanse of ‘discovered’ American lands. This means that they don’t hold title to their own ‘discovered’ territory. Therefore, indigenous people are still declared as only tenants ‘occupying’ their beloved ancestral homeland — bull!  The widespread use of the antiquated, false Doctrine of Discovery in American law means that the U.S. is a vassal of the Vatican. Therefore, the Vatican actually controls corporate entities such as the United States, via Roman Curia law (the administrative apparatus of the Holy See). This is an outdated religious-cultural judiciary logic that has provided a framework for influencing contemporary legal, social, intellectual, and major policy decisions. Think about it realistically — cases are still being decided based on the norms codified in early nineteenth century considerations of doctrinal discovery.

This is evident as recently as in 2005, during a U.S. case, City of Sherill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York. The court ruled that “under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation…and later the original States and the United States.” 5 

For the last ten years indigenous organizations and natural law advocates have been working diligently and passionately, requesting the pope revoke the Papal Bull-based Doctrine of crime against humanity. According to the Romero Institute, some religions have even joined in this campaign of repudiation against the Doctrine of Discovery: The Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Association, Christian Church, World Council of Churches, New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, and the United Methodist Church. Several associations have called for reversal, including thirteen Catholic groups started by the Loretto Community. 6

Continuing from Ms. Jacques’ article in The Sovereign Voice, Issue 3, an esteemed group of worldwide elders has been seeking an audience with Pope Francis to deliver a major missive that the Papal Bulls behind the Roman Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery must be officially rescinded. The Long March to Rome gathering took place from 30 April to 4 May, 2016 in Florence, Italy, and culminated in a delegation of eleven indigenous elders meeting with Pope Francis to request that these three Papal Bulls be revoked, and issuing a joint statement to Pope Francis and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Steven Newcomb, a member of the delegation, shared more of the journey leading up to this historic request.  

To further assist the scope of understanding, it’s convenient to divide our subject into time-periods, while listing a few Papal Bulls. Some may not directly correlate to this fictional Christian ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ although I’ve chosen to include earlier ones (prior to the sixteenth century) to help portray an overall historic milieu. The Roman Catholic Church’s egoist claims on territory are criminal, a violation of natural law and sovereignty. And the cruelty proclaimed from the Vatican perpetrated on innocent people is also simply, criminal.

We turn now to history… looking back centuries to glean an underpinning for the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ rife with dire repercussions as a legacy of injustice seeded by the Papal Bulls:


Early Phase of the Papal Bull

(367 CE)  Pope Damasus I deliberately and consciously usurped the natural principles of fair justice through a Papal Bull declaring it heresy to question the nature of Christ and other doctrinal points as decreed at Nicea. This implied that heretics (including their family) could have their lands seized and be sacrificed through torture and death.

(650 CE)  Pope Martin I issued a Papal Bull stating that anyone telling a slave to rebuff his master or leave from his service will be excommunicated as a heretic, liable to forfeit of all property with eventual death by burning.

(1095 CE)  Pope Urban II published a Papal Bull granting general amnesty for all convicts (robbers and thieves), so they would join an army to conquer Muslim lands. Pope Urban, in releasing this law, told an assembled mass of criminals: “Let those who have hitherto been robbers now become soldiers.” Additionally, he granted legal permission (to all crusade participants) to the lawful theft of two-thirds of the property of Muslims with one-third being paid to the church. In 1096, Pope Urban II also granted permission to hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, and former peasants (who heard about a ‘fabulous crusade for personal wealth’) to follow the army of the first crusade because the bull’s division-of-riches also applied to them.

(1113 CE)  Pope Paschall II established a new enterprise (military organization) known as the Sovereign Order of Saint John. This monastic order (Knights Hospitaller) was founded following the First Crusade.


Papal Bulls Develop

(1136 CE)  Though already in use, Pope Innocence I purportedly ‘invented’ the first Papal Bull, Omne Datum Optimum or ‘Every Perfect Gift.’

(1146 CE)  The Papal Bull of Pope Eugenius III authorized the Second Crusade against all Muslims at Edessa.

(1155 CE)  Pope Adrian IV issued Papal Bull Laudabiliter giving the English King Henry II lordship over Ireland. Thus, Pope Adrian IV falsely claimed ownership to Ireland. “There is indeed no doubt, as thy Highness doth also acknowledge, that Ireland and all other islands which Christ the Sun of Righteousness has illumined, and which have received the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the jurisdiction of St. Peter and of the holy Roman Church.” Henry invaded Ireland using the authority of this Papal Bull to claim sovereignty over the island, forcing the Cambro-Norman warlords and some Gaelic Irish rulers to accept him as their overlord.

(1187-92 CE)  Pope Gregory VIII endorsed the Third Crusade through a Papal Bull, declaring holy war on Muslims in Jerusalem, and pagan Cathars and Jews in Europe. As a result, approximately 1,000,000 lives were lost.


Papal Bulls Harden

(1198 CE)  Pope Innocent III issued a Papal Bull declaring “anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” Regarding humanity, this action so fundamentally goes against all principles of the basic rights and dignities of being human that it represents one of the lowest and darkest marks of history.

(1200 CE)  Two years later Pope Innocent III published another Papal Bull granting church ownership of all wealth and property belonging to individuals convicted of heresy. This represents the birth of the all-powerful Arch-Bishops (Cardinals) of the Roman Catholic Church, who robbed Kings, Queens, and Princes to gain astonishing wealth.

(1212 CE)  Pope Innocent III devised an inexcusable strategy by issuing a Papal Bull authorizing children to launch their own crusade against Muslims. Parents released 200,000 children; one-third died from the journey and one-third were taken by the Catholic Church for ritual satanic sacrifices – the remaining were sold to slave traders for profit. Because the Papal Bull absolves the Roman Catholic Church from all liability, neither the parents nor sovereign nations can say or do anything about the dreadful act.

(1231 CE)  Gregory IX formally issued a Papal Bull decreeing the burning of heretics and other church enemies as ‘standard penalty.’ This document represents the first time in human history that the satanic practice of burning people alive is made an official law. Pope Gregory IX inserted into the papal registers…the death penalty for heresy…and issued a constitution in which he codified earlier papal legislation on the subject.

Six Vatican councils have certified the issuance of official Extermination Decrees against innocent
human beings — these calculations are documented in bulls, all signed by popes.

(1252 CE)  Pope Innocent IV was far from innocent when issuing Ad exstirpanda Papal Bull on May 15, 1252. It explicitly authorized the use of torture for eliciting confessions from heretics during the Inquisition. He unequivocally condoned the practice of executing heretics by burning them alive. The bull conceded to the State portions of property to be confiscated from convicted heretics. The State, in return, assumed the burden of carrying out the penalty to the ‘crime.’ This was one of the clearest corruptions revealing the true dynastic nature of the Vatican — dedicated to despicable deception and cruelty.

(1272 CE)  Pope Gregory X issued a Papal Bull banning the discussion of any theological matter outside the church, under the penalty of extreme torture and death by being burnt alive. This supremely malicious Roman Catholic Church law has never been officially repealed.

(1302 CE)  November 18th Pope Boniface VIII issued a false statement in the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam when he wrote: “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.” This declared that there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.

(1307 CE)  Pope Clement V issued a Papal Bull Pastoralis praeminentiæ on 22 November, ordering that Knights Templar be arrested in Europe, including the confiscation of their possessions. Also, services provided by the Templars involving hospital assistance (with medicine and genuine aid to the poor) could be shut down or destroyed.

(1308 CE)  Pope Clement V decreed a further Papal Bull Fasciens misericordiam, which summarized the ghastly, inhuman and unholy conditions by which the Vatican authorized the unspeakable torture and murder of the Knights Templar.

(1343 CE)  Pope Clement VI published a bull declaring that in observation of the shortness of human life, he had reduced the Jubilee’s span from 100 to 50 years; and in June 1346 he issued another bizarre bull asserting that he had complete control and, indeed, power over ‘future life’ (heresy of the entire Catholic doctrine). Additionally in this hubric Papal Bull he affirmed that he “could order the angels of heaven to liberate from purgatory the souls of any of them who might die on the road to Rome.”


The Papal Bulls’ Conquest with Slave Trade

(1400 CE)  Pope Benedict XIII decreed in a bull that it is a mortal sin not to leave (in a will) at least ten percent of an entire estate to the Roman Catholic Church.

(1430 CE)  Pope Martin V granted by Papal Bull rights to trade slaves in exchange for fees to King John II of Castile, which pioneered a legal framework for establishing one of the most profitable enterprises of the Roman Catholic Church: international slave trade. 

(1435 CE)  Pope Eugenius IV, deliberately through the Papal Bull(s) of Sicut Dudum, established the enterprise of international ‘legal’ slave trade (commencing in Africa). He created a ‘lawful’ framework for the international trade of slaves establishing a formal license-system giving authority to both territories and numbers of slaves abducted, with a schedule of fees paid to the Roman Catholic Church.

(1442)  Pope Felix V issued the Papal Bull Illius Qui endorsing Portugal to engage in slave trade for non-Christians in the Canary Islands, in exchange for fees paid to the Vatican (per slave successfully delivered alive). Slave traders did not have to pay royalty fees to the Roman Catholic Church for ‘damaged cargo’ when slaves died en route to their destination.


Sealing a ‘Doctrine of Discovery’

(1452 CE)  Pope Nicholas V issued on 18th of June, to King Alfonso V of Portugal, the Papal Bull Dum Diversas, authorizing the King to diminish Muslims and pagans into perpetual slavery, setting into motion the Portuguese slave trade from West Africa.

(1454 CE)  Then, Pope Nicholas V also issued to King Alfonso V, the crucial Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex (mentioned earlier in this article). As a follow-up to Dum Diversas, this is an example of the Papacy’s claim to supreme lordship of the whole world, as it declared war against all non-Christians everywhere, explicitly sanctioning and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories during an Age of Discovery.

In numerous creeds articulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith and therefore, less than human.  Accordingly in this decree, Pope Nicholas V directed King Alfonso to “…capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.”

This reveals the philosophical root of a ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ especially concerning Christopher Columbus’ ‘finding’ America almost forty years later in 1492. The explorer felt completely justified and authorized to ‘take possession of the land’ based on this prior, deceptive religious proclamation to conquer and ‘own’ what was ‘discovered’ in the name of Christendom.

(1484 CE)  Pope Innocent VIII deliberately and deceptively issued the Papal Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus reinforcing the standing church law of allowing marriage annulment and seizure of assets of any person (almost exclusively women) found to be a heretic. His false legal arguments were used by many to justify the suppression of women’s rights, starting witch-hunts that lasted 300 years. (This pope created weird fictitious claims to justify the reality of witches including appalling proclamations that witches can fly, change shape, and have intercourse with the Devil.)

(1486 CE)  Pope Innocent VIII subsequently published Papal Bull Malleus Maleficarum claiming that belief in witchcraft is heresy and that women are more likely to become witches than men “...because the female sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men.” This false and unholy determination supported suppression of women’s rights up until the 20th Century. Even today the Roman Catholic Church continues to repress women’s spiritual equality.

(1493 CE)  Upon explorer Christopher Columbus’ return to Europe having made “great discovery of new land,” Pope Alexander VI issued the next significant Papal Bulls in this quest for power. Inter Caetera of May 3 and 4, 1493, ‘granted’ to Spain (at the request of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) the right to conquer the lands which Columbus had already discovered, as well as any territory that Spain may ‘discover’ in the future. Months later, Bull Dudum siquidem dated September 25, 1493, declared the Roman Catholic Church (‘under’ King Ferdinand) was entitled to all land in South America: “If the Indians refuse, he may quite legally fight them, kill them, and enslave them, just as Joshua enslaved the inhabitants of Canaan.”

Thus, we’ve surveyed the foundation for five centuries of false ownership of lands and violent injustices to all the indigenous peoples of the world. Papal Bulls: Romanus Pontifex and Inter Caetera have set the stage for total domination of all non-Christian lands, and have served as the legal foundation for slavery and genocide. These Bulls are the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church’s ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ – and it’s time to abolish them, setting into motion a complete restoration of the land and all of her people into a new earth.

Many of us are calling for revocation of these fifteenth century Papal Bulls to spark worldwide dialogue for Indigenous advocates, policy-makers, and all denizens of this planet to address the Doctrine’s unnatural policies toward sacred ancestral lands and their people. Let us envisage this beneficial breakthrough for the sake of all sentient beings. May all be happy!  So be it!




1 Pope Siricius online

2 Papal Letters in the Early Middle Ages, Detlev Jasper and Horst Fuhrman, The Catholic University of America Press, 2001


4 Romanus Pontifex, as published in European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, Frances Gardiner Davenport, editor, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917, Washington, D.C., at pp. 20-26. Original Latin text is in the same volume, at pp.13-20.

5 City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. 197 (2005)

6 The Romero Institute



English translation of Romanus Pontifex, as published in European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, Frances Gardiner Davenport, editor, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917, Washington, D.C., at pp. 20-26.  The original text in Latin is in the same volume, at pp. 13-20.

Catholic Encyclopedia. Bulls and Briefs

Papal Encyclicals Online

Native Web

Johnson and Graham’s Lessee V McIntosh 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543, 5 L.Ed. 681(1823).

Huna, Ludwig.  The Bulls of Rome.  Kessinger Publishing, 2005.  ISBN 978-1419123061

Signorotto, Gianvittorio, and Visceglia, Maria Antonietta (Eds.). Court and Politics in Papal Rome. Cambridge University, 2002. ISBN 978-0521641463 encyclopediap-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0521641462&adid=0NQQZXQ96PDAJGB1J8XS

Was the ‘Discovery’ of America a ‘Holy and Praiseworthy’ Christian Mission?” David J. MacKinnon and Sandra J.T.M. Evers, published in Indian Country Today, May 3, 2015.

Waite, Arthur Edward. Papal Bulls. Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Blueprint for Conquest by David J. MacKinnon.

1231 Gregory IX. The Popes, A Concise Biographical History, Burns and Oates, Publishers to the Holy See, London, 1964.

Newcomb, Steve. “Five Hundred Years of Injustice.” Shaman’s Drum, Fall 1992.


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