Domingo Betanzos (died September 1549 at Valladolid) was a Spanish
Dominican missionary to New Spain, who participated in the "Spiritual
Conquest", evangelizing the indigenous.
A native of León in Spain, he first studied jurisprudence at
Salamanca, then became a
Benedictine and lived as a hermit on the
Ponza for five years. He then joined the Dominicans, who had
established themselves on
Hispaniola (Santo Domingo) in 1510. Betanzos
went there four years later. At the time he went to Mexico in 1526, he
was over 45 years old.
In 1516 he, with several other Dominicans, wrote a letter to Las Casas
on the rapid disappearance of the Indians of the Antilles, concerning
the numbers of the aboriginal population, and the excesses thought to
have been committed by the Spaniards. In 1526, Betanzos went to
Mexico, one of the first Dominicans; and he is considered the founder
the Dominican province of Santiago de México. According to
Franciscan fray Gerónimo de Mendieta, Betanzos did not know any
native language and had little to do with Indians, his time being
absorbed by administrative duties.
Tomás de Berlanga
Tomás de Berlanga almost immediately claimed that it belonged to his
newly founded province of Santa Cruz with the provincial seat at Santo
Domingo. Betanzos went to Spain in 1531 and obtained from the Holy See
the independence of his foundation. He also established the Dominican
Province of Guatemala.
As Provincial of Mexico in 1535, he organized missions among three
Indigenous groups stocks: the Nahua people, the Mixtec people, and the
Zapotec people. He returned to Spain in 1549, and died in September of
the same year at Valladolid. The Bishopric of
Guatemala was tendered
to Betanzos, but he declined it.
In his classic work on the evangelization of Mexico, French scholar
Robert Ricard called Betanzos zealous, "an impetuous character, not
well balanced, but not without intelligence" with a passionate
A portrait of Betanzos on amatl (maguey paper) was held in the church
of Tlazcantla, Tepetlaostoc (Mexico).
In his letter of 1516, he acquiesced in the views of his brethren of
the order on the question of Indian policy. In the "Opinion" (Parecer)
given by him in 1541, and approximately repeated in 1542, just as the
New Laws limiting the encomienda in the Indies were to be promulgated
under the influence of Las Casas, he took an entirely different
attitude. He quietly gave his opinion in a sense diametrically opposed
to the measures
Las Casas pressed upon the Government.
Betanzos was an intimate friend of distinguished Franciscans of Mexico
– Archbishop of Mexico Fray Juan de Zumárraga, Fray Toribio de
Benavente Motolinia, and others, who did not harmonize with Las Casas.
When the Franciscans established the Colegio de Santa Cruz de
Tlatelolco to educate elite Nahua men for the Christian priesthood,
Betanzos objected to the Council of the Indies, calling into question
the rationality of the Indians. Betanzos had questioned the ability
of the Indians to understand doctrine sufficiently even to be
baptized, which obviously would preclude their being trained for
the priesthood. Betanzos argued that training an indigenous priesthood
was a thoroughly bad idea because Indians would lack understanding and
authority to preach and to teach and would spread heresy; and pulling
out all the stops, he argued that teaching Indians Latin would allow
them to expose the ignorance of [European] priests.
Betanzos's theological doubt about Indians' rationality was music to
the ears of Spanish settlers wishing to exploit them. The Franciscan
supporters of the establishment of a colegio to train Indian men for
the priesthood pushed back against the Dominican's doubts.
Betanzos was in accord with the other mendicant orders (Franciscans
and Augustinians) that they were not interested in reaping material
benefit from the Indians, and did not require the payment of tithes
(usually a ten percent tax on agriculture); Betanzos declined four
Indian towns offered to the order.
He is credited with the authorship of an addition to the "Doctrina" of
Pedro de Córdoba which appeared in 1544, in collaboration with
Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga.
^ Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico. Translated by
Lesley Byrd Simpson. Berkeley: University of California Press 1966, p.
^ Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico p. 22.
^ cited in Ricard, Spiritual Conquest, p. 53.
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest. Translated by Lesley Byrd Simpson.
Berkeley: University of California Press 1966, p. 90
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest p. 215. Ricard's work was originally
published in 1933, so whether the information is still current is not
^ Georges Baudot, Utopia and History in Mexico: The First Chronicles
of Mexican Civilization, 1520-1569. Translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de
Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Boulder: University of
Colorado Press 1995, p.107-08.
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest, p. 90
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest p. 226 citing Joaquín García
Icazbalceta, ed. Códice Franciscano, Nueva colección de documentos
para la historia de México. Mexico, 1886-1892, vol. 2, p. 71.
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest p. 130.
^ Ricard, Spiritual Conquest p. 105
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Fray Domingo
Betanzos". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. The
Ycazbalceta, Coleccion de Documentos para la Historia de Mexico
(Mexico, 1866), I;
Domingo de Betanzos, Parecer;
Documentos ineditos de Indias, VII;
Carta a Bartolome de las Casas;
Mendieta, Historia ecclesiastica Indiana, 1599 (Mexico, 1870);
Davila Padilla, Historia de la fundacion y discurso de la provincia de
Santiago de Mexico (2d ed., Brussels, 1625);
Beristain, Biblioteca Hispano-americana setentrional (Mexico, 1816),
Remesal, Historia de la Provincia de San Vicente de Chyapa y Guatemala
de la Orden de Santo Domingo (Madrid, 1619); the same book is also
known as, Historia general de las Indias Occidentales y particular de
la gobernacion de Chiapas y GuatemalaTeatro ecclesiastico de la
primitiva Iglesia de las Indias occidentales (Madrid, 1649);
Diccionario de Historia y Geografia (Madri