Alfonso de Castro

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Fr. Alfonso de Castro

Alfonso de Castro (1495 in Zamora, Spain – 11 February 1558 in Brussels, Belgium), known also as Alphonsus a Castro, was a Franciscan theologian and jurist. He belongs to the group of theologian-jurists known as the School of Salamanca (otherwise identified as Spanish Late Scholasticism).


Alfonso de Castro entered, at the age of 15, the Franciscan Order and quickly became known as a good preacher. After his studies of theology and philosophy at the University of Alcalá which was established in these years, he became professor at the famous University of Salamanca, where, next to Luis Carvajal and Francisco de Vitoria, he founded the "Renaissance of Theology". According to his commitment in Bruges in 1532 against the doctrine of the Lutherans, he became counselor of emperor Charles V and of the Spanish king Philip II. As he took part in the Council of Trent in 1545-47 and again in 1551-52 he appeared to advocate both the Spanish-imperial interests and the Catholic faith. Philip II, whom Castro accompanied in 1553 and 1554 to his marriage in England, nominated him in 1557 as Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, but Castro did not assume that office. In his last years, Castro acted as a preacher in Antwerp.


In his works Castro attended himself, basically, to the defense of "true faith" through criminal law. He gave enormous systematic impulses to the criminal law, so that in Spanish literature he was called the "father and founder of criminal law" - padre y fundador del Derecho Penal. Outside of Spain, however, Castro remains nearly unknown.

His first work, Adversus omnes haereses libri XIV (Paris 1534, Antwerp 1556), an alphabetical encyclopedia of heresy, collocates more than 400 species of this crime. This became one of the foundations of persecution of heretics in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was translated into the French language in 1712.

Castro's second opus, De iusta hereticorum punitione libri III (Salamanca 1547), dedicated to emperor Charles V, made him renowned as "flagellum of heretics" (azote de herejes). With theological and juristic principles therein he tried to define the golden mean between Pharisaic damnation and craven sufferance of heresy, the form of reversal to "true faith", the punishment of obstinacy and the socio-religious causes of heresy.

The equalisation of heresy and magics is the subject of Castro's short commentary on the "Malleus Maleficarum" with the title De impia sortilegarum, Maleficarum, & Lamiarum haeresi, earumque punitione Opvscvlvm (Lyon 1568). He held that magics as a sort of heresy should be punished by death by fire. The pact with the demons, which is against Catholic faith, should clearly be explored.

Castro's chief work in criminal law, however, may be his last publication, De potestate legis poenalis libri duo (Salamanca 1550, Reprint Madrid 1961). This work in detail deals with the notion of the criminal laws (in the meaning of "lex"), with nature and purpose of penalty and with the relations of delict and penalty. Castro therein presents not only the prescription of analogy and the principle of restrictive interpretation in criminal law, but, with his own radicalness, he acuminates the notion of penalty (poena) completely to the penalty for guilt, and, accordingly and for the first time in history, fits penalty with moral blame. His notion of penalty survives through the canonists Martin de Azpilcueta and Diego de Covarubias y Leyva in secular criminal law.

After his death the collected works were published in Paris 1565 in four volumes.


  • Eloy Bullón y Fernández, Alfonso de Castro y la ciencia penal, Madrid 1900.
  • Santiago Castillo Hernández, Alfonso de Castro y el problema de las leyes penales, o, la obligatoriedad moral de las leyes humanas, Salamanca 1941.
  • Manuel de Castro, Fr. Alfonso de Castro, O.F.M. (1495-1558), consejero de Carlos V y Felipe II, in: Salmanticensis 6 (1958), p. 281-322.
  • Odilo Gómez Parente, Hacia el cuarto centenario de Fray Alfonso de Castro, fundador del derecho penal (1558-1958). Conferencia pronunciada el 26 de Marzuo de 1957, en la casa de Zamora de Madrid, Madrid 1958.
  • Harald Maihold, Strafe für fremde Schuld? Die Systematisierung des Strafbegriffs in der Spanischen Spätscholastik und Naturrechtslehre. Köln u.a. 2005.
  • Harald Maihold, Systematiker der Häresien – Erinnerung an Alphonso de Castro (1492-1558), in: Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte, Kan. Abt. 118 (2001), p. 523ff.
  • Andres de la Mañaricua Neure: La obligatoriedad de la ley penal en Alfonso de Castro, in: Revista Española de Derecho Canónico 4 (1949), p. 35ff.
  • Daniela Müller, Ketzerei und Ketzerbestrafung im Werk des Alfonso de Castro, in: Frank Grunert und Kurt Seelmann (Hrsg.), Die Ordnung der Praxis. Neue Studien zur Spanischen Spätscholastik, Tübingen 2001, S. 333ff.
  • José María Navarrete Urieta: Alfonso de Castro y la ley penal, in: Revista de la Escuela de Estudios Penitenciarios 141 (Madrid 1959), p. 1405ff.
  • Teodoro Olarte: Alfonso de Castro (1495-1558). Su vida, su tiempo y sus ideas filosóficas-juridicas, San José, Costa Rica, 1946.
  • Marcelino Rodríguez Molinero: Origen español de la ciencia del Derecho penal, Alfonso de Castro y su sistema penal, Madrid 1959.
  • Domingo Savall: Fray Alfonso de Castro (1495-1558). La orientación voluntarista de su Derecho Penal in: Archivo Ibero-Americano 38 (1935), p. 240ff.
  • Alfonso de Castro, Against All Heresies (Camillus, Dolorosa Press, 2021).
  • Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo-Americana, Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona 1905-30, tom. XII, p. 877.

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