Domingo de Soto

Domingo de Soto

Domingo de Soto was a Dominican friar and theologian, member of the School of Salamanca. He lived in the 16th century. He came to occupy the position of confessor to the king and emperor Carlos I. He studied at the University of Alcalá and taught theology at the University of Salamanca. He became interested in physics, logic and economics, fields in which he made interesting contributions.

Domingo de Soto was born in Segovia in 1494. His original name was Francisco, but when he joined the Dominicans, he took that of the founder of the order. He developed his studies at two major European universities. First at the University of Alcalá, where he entered the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Then at the University of Paris. After that, he returned to the first of them, in order to occupy the chair of Metaphysics, in 1520. Twelve years later, in 1532, he would move to the University of Salamanca, to occupy his chair of theology. From this moment he joined the School of Salamanca. Between 1540 and 1542 he was prior of the Convent of San Esteban.

The Dominican participated in the Council of Trent, as an imperial theologian, at the request of Carlos I. Later, in 1548, he participated as a Catholic theologian in the drafting of the Interim of the Diet of Augsburg.

He was also part of the Junta de Valladolid (1550-1551), where the treatment of the American Indians was discussed. The Segovian defended the equality of the natives with the conquerors and the need to recognize their rights, along the lines of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.

Thanks to the prestige that he acquired and the trust achieved, Carlos I offered him the bishopric of Segovia. However, he rejected it, as he preferred to continue linked with the academic world.

Domingo de Soto died in Salamanca in the year 1560.

The thought of Domingo de Soto

The Dominican made multiple contributions in different fields. He was a notable theologian and was interested in science and economics. As was common in the School of Salamanca, he reflected on the moral dimension of the economy.

Social concerns and relief to those in need

His reflections revolve around philosophical-political problems of the time, so knowing the context is key to understanding it. It is possible to know his thought thanks to the publication of some of his reviews and his works. Underlying all of them is the defense of the dignity and freedom of all human beings.

His stage as prior coincided with severe famines, a severe economic crisis and a delicate situation of social conflict. The city of Salamanca was especially affected, so it lived very close. In response, the public powers legislated a series of measures aimed at ending begging. Domingo de Soto considered that some were excessively rigid and violated the rights of the poor. Among them, they were obliged to possess a certificate that justified the situation of poverty, it was forbidden to beg outside their region of origin or they required the observance of certain religious practices.

In this context, in 1545, he wrote his Deliberation in the cause of the poor . In it, he criticized the imposition of these requirements that, in his opinion, violated his dignity and freedom. He claimed that the laws serve to help the poor, and not to examine his personal life.

This predisposition in favor of the excluded led him to also defend Native Americans and their rights. In the Junta of Valladolid, Domingo de Soto remained firm in his position that the evangelization of the New World should be peaceful. In his opinion, nothing justified violence against those people who, as he defended, had their rights and dignity.

Freedom of commerce, private property and attacks on usury

In a context of inflation due to the arrival of precious metals, he inquired about the legitimacy of banking operations. His reflections were based on the apparent contradiction between the doctrine of the Church and the search for profit on the part of banks and moneylenders. His opinion was similar to that of other members of the School of Salamanca. On the one hand, he defended the freedom to operate and obtain benefits. But, on the other hand, he criticized those practices that could be classified as usurious.

Another axis of his reflections was private property. In his opinion, collective or communal property promoted vagrancy and laziness. He pointed out this type of property harmed the honest and hardworking, while rewarding the rogues. Despite the defense, he pointed out that although an economic system based on this type of property would be the most apt to promote peace and general welfare, its establishment would not mean the end of sin and immoral practices, since the ability to sin nested in the deepest interior of the human being.