Throughout most of human history, slavery has been practiced and accepted by many cultures and religions around the world. From antiquity into the Early Medieval period, the Catholic Church accepted non-racial slavery as a social consequence current human condition, teaching that slaves should be treated humanely and justly.
Throughout Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages, theologians generally followed St. Augustine in holding that although slavery was not written into the natural moral law it was not absolutely forbidden by that law. Between the 6th and 12th century there was a growing sentiment that slavery was not compatible with Catholic Christian conceptions of charity and justice; some Catholics such as Saint Bathilde, Saint Anskar, Saint Wulfstan and Saint Anselm campaigned against slavery and the slave trade. The Middle Ages witnessed the emergence of orders of monks such as the Mercedarians who were founded for the purpose of freeing slaves. By the end of the Medieval period, enslavement of Christians had been largely abolished throughout Europe although enslavement of non-Christians remained permissible.
Although Catholic clergy, religious orders and even some popes owned slaves, Catholic teaching began to turn towards the abolition of slavery beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537. On the other hand, several earlier popes were former slaves. A number of Popes issued papal bulls condemning enslavement and mistreatment of Native Americans by Spanish and Portuguese colonials; however, these were largely ignored despite the threat of excommunication. Nonetheless, Catholic missionaries such as the Jesuits worked to alleviate the suffering of Native American slaves in the New World. In spite of a resounding condemnation of slavery by Pope Gregory XVI in his bull In Supremo Apostolatus issued in 1839, some American bishops continued to support slaveholding interests until the abolition of slavery.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1994 sets out the official position:
The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that .... lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother .... both in the flesh and in the Lord."
Since the Middle Ages, the Christian understanding of slavery has seen significant internal conflict and endured dramatic change. Nearly all Christian leaders before the late 17th century regarded slavery as consistent with Christian theology. Today, nearly all Christians are united in the condemnation of modern slavery as wrong and contrary to God's will. However, there are many who reject the assertion that the Church's teaching regarding slavery has ever changed. Instead, they argue that the Church has always distinguished between just servitude which is deemed acceptable and unjust servitude which is considered wrong. The concept of slavery as private property is condemned by the Church, which classifies it as the stealing of a person's human rights.
In discussions of Church teaching, “slavery” is defined as the condition of involuntary servitude in which a human being is regarded as no more than the property of another, as being without basic human rights; in other words, as a thing rather than a person. Under this definition, slavery is intrinsically evil, since no person may legitimately be regarded or treated as a mere thing or object. This form of slavery can be called “chattel slavery.”
Under "chattel slavery" - the slave ceases to be [or never was] a legal person and so has no rights as a person. Historically such slaves tended to be involved in large scale industrial or agricultural work. They cannot legally marry and may be sold away from their home and relatives. This is the kind of slavery that existed under Roman law and in the antebellum Southern United States.
The Church draws a distinction between just and unjust forms of servitude. The Magisterium condemned unjust enslavement early on, but it also recognized what is known as “just title slavery” which includes forced servitude of prisoners of war and criminals, and voluntary servitude of indentured servants.
Vic Biorseth defines just servitude as follows:
Just servitude involved slaves/servants who came into their condition, most usually, due to having been defeated in war. As we will see below, the conditions of slavery were considerably different for slaves of Jews or Christians than they were for slaves of pagans. This POW form of slavery gradually died out on its own in Western culture over the centuries. Sometime during the decline of the Roman Empire, victorious armies no longer marched home driving huge parades of slaves.
Non-Christians still dealt in slaves, but permanent or war slavery gradually died out in Christian nations. But there were other forms of so-called just servitude. A man could sell himself (or be sold) into a period of servitude to settle a just debt. A man could sell a misbehaving son into a period of servitude to avoid disgrace or dishonor of the family name, or, he could sell a more favored son into apprenticeship to a craftsman to learn a trade as an apprentice. All of these forms of contractual slavery had a period certain, and when it expired the slave was free; the usual period was seven years.
Whether Church teaching on slavery has changed
Father Joel Panzer writes:
The development of [the Church's teaching regarding slavery] over the span of nearly five centuries was occasioned by the unique and illicit form of servitude that accompanied the Age of Discovery. The just titles to servitude were not rejected by the Church, but rather were tolerated for many reasons. This in no way invalidates the clear and consistent teaching against the unjust slavery that came to prevail in Africa and the Western Hemisphere, first in Central and South America and then in the United States, for approximately four centuries.
Although some authors argue that there has been a shift in Church teaching over the last two millennia from acceptance and toleration of slavery to opposition, orthodox Catholic writers reject this claim, insisting that there has been no such change in the Magisterium. One reason for this insistence is that authors who argue that the Magisterium has changed have pointed to this purported shift in teaching as setting a precedent that Church teaching can and should change to be compatible with changes in social mores and morality. As a result, historical interpretation of the Church's teaching on slavery over the last two millennia has become a battleground between those who would change the Church's teaching in other areas and those who resist such changes— in effect, a debate between those who hold to the Church's doctrine of indefectibility and those that reject the Church's claims.
Avery Cardinal Dulles makes the following observations about the Catholic Church and the institution of slavery
- For many centuries the Church was part of a slave-holding society.
- The popes themselves held slaves, including at times hundreds of Muslim captives to man their galleys.
- Throughout Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages, theologians generally followed St. Augustine in holding that although slavery was not written into the natural moral law it was not absolutely forbidden by that law.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin were all Augustinian on this point. Although the subjection of one person to another (servitus) was not part of the primary intention of the natural law, St. Thomas taught, it was appropriate and socially useful in a world impaired by original sin.
- No Father or Doctor of the Church was an unqualified abolitionist.
- No pope or council ever made a sweeping condemnation of slavery as such.
- But they constantly sought to alleviate the evils of slavery and repeatedly denounced the mass enslavement of conquered populations and the infamous slave trade, thereby undermining slavery at its sources.
Theologian Laennec Hurbon asserted that no Pope before 1890 condemned slavery, asserting that, ". .. one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See-those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV-for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery."
In his 1975 work on slavery, John F. Maxwell wrote that the Church did not correct its teaching on the moral legitimacy of slavery until 1965, with the publication, from the Second Vatican Council, of Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).
Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. has argued that slavery is one of the areas in which the Church has changed its moral teaching to suit the times, and that this change did not take place until 1890 when, he asserted, the Church finally condemned the institution of slavery, lagging behind laws which had already been enacted to outlaw the practice.
Avery Cardinal Dulles characterizes Noonan's thesis as being that "social change makes it possible for Christians to overcome the blindness that had previously afflicted their moral vision". According to Cardinal Dulles, Noonan finds that the Church has changed its doctrine, in many cases, effecting "an about-face, repudiating the erroneous past teaching of the magisterium itself." However, Cardinal Dulles asserts that Noonan "fails to establish that the Church has reversed her teaching in any of the four areas he examines".
Vic Biorseth argues that "In all of recorded history, there is no such thing as a matter of faith and morals on which the Holy Roman Catholic Church has ever changed its teaching." Rodney Stark presents evidence to refute the allegations that the Catholic Church did not oppose slavery until relatively recently.
Slavery in Hebrew society
In the book of Genesis, Noah condemns Ham and his descendents to perpetual servitude: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gn 9:25). T. David Curp notes that this episode has been used to justify racialized slavery, since "Christians and even some Muslims eventually identified Ham's descendents as black Africans".
The Bible uses the Hebrew term ebed to refer to slavery; however, ebed has a much wider meaning than the English term slavery, and in several circumstances it is more accurately translated into English as servant or hired worker. Slavery was customary in ancient times, and some forms are condoned by the Torah. In the Bible, Hebrews are forbidden to injure or kill slaves, force a slave to work on the Sabbath, return an escaped slave, or to slander a slave. It is common for a person to voluntarily sell oneself into slavery for a fixed period of time either to pay off debts or to get food and shelter. It was seen as legitimate to enslave captives obtained through warfare, but not through kidnapping for the purpose of enslaving them. Children could also be sold into debt bondage, which was sometimes ordered by a court of law.
The Bible does set minimum rules for the conditions under which slaves were to be kept. Slaves were to be treated as part of an extended family; they were allowed to celebrate the Sukkot festival, and expected to honor Shabbat. Israelite slaves could not to be compelled to work with rigor, and debtors who sold themselves as slaves to their creditors had to be treated the same as a hired servant. If a master harmed a slave in one of the ways covered by the lex talionis, the slave was to be compensated by manumission; if the slave died within 24 to 48 hours, it was to be avenged (whether this refers to the death penalty or not is uncertain).
Israelite slaves were automatically manumitted after six years of work, and/or at the next Jubilee (occurring either every 49 or every 50 years, depending on interpretation), although the latter would not apply if the slave was owned by an Israelite and wasn't in debt bondage. Slaves released automatically in their 7th year of service, which did not include female slaves, or did, were to be given livestock, grain, and wine, as a parting gift (possibly hung round their necks). This 7th-year manumission could be voluntarily renounced, which would be signified, as in other Ancient Near Eastern nations, by the slave gaining a ritual ear piercing; after such renunciation, the individual was enslaved forever (and not released at the Jubilee). Non-Israelite slaves could be enslaved indefinitely and were to be treated as inheritable property.
Slavery in the New Testament
Avery Cardinal Dulles points out that "Jesus, though he repeatedly denounced sin as a kind of moral slavery, said not a word against slavery as a social institution." Dulles adds that the writers of the New Testament did not oppose slavery either.
Cardinal Dulles also points out that "Peter and Paul exhort slaves to be obedient to their masters."
In several Pauline epistles, and the First Epistle of Peter, slaves are admonished to obey their masters, as to the Lord, and not to men; however Masters were told to serve their slaves "in the same way" and "even better" as "brothers", to not threaten them as God is their Master as well. Slaves who are treated wrongly and unjustly are likened to the wrongs that Christ unjustly suffered, and Masters are told that God "shows no favoritism" and that "anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong."
The Epistle to Philemon has become an important text in regard to slavery; it was used by pro-slavery advocates as well as by abolitionists. In the epistle, Paul writes that he is returning Onesimus, a fugitive slave, back to his master Philemon; however, Paul also entreats Philemon to regard Onesimus as a beloved brother in Christ, rather than as a slave. Cardinal Dulles points out that, "while discreetly suggesting that he manumit Onesimus, [Paul] does not say that Philemon is morally obliged to free Onesimus and any other slaves he may have had."
According to tradition, Philemon did free Onesimus, and both were eventually recognized as saints by the Church. T. David Curp asserts that, "Given that the Church received Philemon as inspired Scripture, Paul's ambiguity effectively blocked the early Fathers of the Church from denouncing slavery outright." As an example, Curp points out that St. John Chrysostom, in his sermon on Philemon, considers Paul's sending Onesimus back to his master a sign that slavery should not be abolished.
Early Christian thought exhibited some signs of kindness towards slaves. Christianity recognised marriage of sorts among slaves, freeing slaves was regarded as an act of charity, and when slaves were buried in Christian cemeteries, the grave seldom included any indication that the person buried had been a slave.
Nevertheless, early Christianity rarely criticised the actual institution of slavery. Though the Pentateuch gave protection to fugitive slaves, the Roman church often condemned with anathema slaves who fled from their masters, and refused them Eucharistic communion.
In 340 the Synod of Gangra in Armenia, condemned certain Manicheans for a list of twenty practices including forbidding marriage, not eating meat, urging that slaves should liberate themselves, abandoning their families, ascetism and reviling married priests. The later Council of Chalcedon, declared that the canons of the Synod of Gangra were ecumenical (in other words, they were viewed as conclusively representative of the wider church).
Several prominent early church fathers advocated slavery, either directly or indirectly. Augustine of Hippo, who renounced his former Manicheanism, argued that slavery was part of the mechanism to preserve the natural order of things. John Chrysostom, regarded as a saint by Roman Catholicism, argued that slaves should be resigned to their fate, as by obeying his master he is obeying God. Chrysostom preaching on in a sermon entitled, "Should we not make it a heaven on earth?", stated, "I will not speak of slaves, since at that time there was no such thing, but doubtless such as were slaves they set at liberty...
However, Saint Patrick (415-493), himself a former slave, argued for the abolition of slavery.
Augustine of Hippo taught that slavery is never a “natural” condition but one that has arisen as the result of sin. He argued that the institution of slavery derives from God and is beneficial to slaves and masters. However, he also characterized the granting of freedom to slaves as a great virtue.
Augustine described slavery and private property not as the creations of God but of sin. Christianity could not save Rome, he wrote, because those with power, including Christian emperors, could not erase the taint of humanity's sin.
Augustine asserted that the practice among the Jews of freeing slaves after they had served for six years does not apply to the case of Christian slaves as the Apostle Paul's admonition makes clear.
Thomas Aquinas taught that, although the subjection of one person to another (servitus) was not part of the primary intention of the natural law, it was appropriate and socially useful in a world impaired by original sin.
Aquinas explicitly rejected the notion that slavery is justified by natural law, since he held that all men are equal by nature. For Aquinas, slavery only arises through positive law. Aquinas placed slavery in opposition to natural law, deducing that all "rational creatures" are entitled to justice. Hence he found no natural basis for the enslavement of one person rather than another, "thus removing any possible justification for slavery based on race or religion." Right reason, not coercion, is the moral basis of authority, for "one man is not by nature ordained to another as an end."
Aquinas defended slavery as instituted by God in punishment for sin, and justified as being part of the ‘right of nations’ and natural law. He held that slavery could be consistent with natural law if it is imposed by positive law as punishment for crimes, and if such slavery did not violate the slave's rights to food, sleep, marriage (or celibacy), raising of their children, and religious worship (and anything else that pertains to natural law). Aquinas asserted that the children of a slave mother were rightly enslaved even though they themselves had not committed personal sin. He further argued that anyone who persuades a slave to escape is guilty of theft, because a slave is property.
Aquinas distinguished two forms of "subjection" or authority, just and unjust. The former exists when leaders work for the advantage and benefit of their subjects. The unjust form of subjection "is that of slavery, in which the ruler manages the subject for his own [the ruler's] advantage."
"St Thomas Aquinas in mid-thirteenth century accepted the new Aristotelian view of slavery as well as the titles of slave ownership derived from Roman civil law, and attempted - without complete success - to reconcile them with Christian patristic tradition. He takes the patristic theme... that slavery exists is a consequence of original sin and says that it exists according to the "second intention" of nature; it would not have existed in the state of original innocence according to the "first intention" of nature; in this way he can explain the Aristotelian teaching that some people are slaves "by nature" like inanimate instruments, because of their personal sins; for since the slave cannot work for his own benefit slavery is necessarily a punishment. He accepts the symbiotic master-slave relationship as being mutually beneficial. There should be no punishment without some crime, so slavery as a penalty is a matter of positive law. St Thomas' explanation continued to be expounded at least until the end of the 18th century."
In the bull Sublimis Deus (1537)Pope Paul III described enslavers as allies of the devil and declared attempts to justify slavery “null and void.” 
In the 17th century, Nicholas Leander, a Roman Catholic theologian, wrote:
It is certainly a matter of faith that this sort of slavery in which a man serves his master as his slave, is altogether lawful. This is proved from Holy Scripture...It is also proved from reason for it is not unreasonable that just as things which are captured in a just war pass into the power and ownership of the victors, so persons captured in war pass into the ownership of the captors... All theologians are unanimous on this.
In a sermon, John Henry Newman asserted that slavery is "a condition of life ordained by God in the same sense that other conditions of life are".
Pope Gregory XVI’s 1839 bull, In Supremo, stated papal opposition to enslaving “Indians, blacks, or other such people” and forbade “any ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse.” In 1888 and again in 1890, Pope Leo XIII forcefully condemned slavery and sought its elimination where it persisted in parts of South America and Africa. 
Second Vatican Council
The Vatican II document "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" stated: "Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torture...whatever insults human dignity, subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery ... the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed ... they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator." </blockquote>
"Primitive Christianity did not attack slavery directly; but it acted as though slavery did not exist..... To reproach the Church of the first ages with not having condemned slavery in principle, and with having tolerated it in fact, is to blame it for not having let loose a frightful revolution, in which, perhaps, all civilization would have perished with Roman society."
Mark Brumley makes the following points regarding early Christianity and slavery:
- First, while Paul told slaves to obey their masters, he made no general defense of slavery, anymore than he made a general defense of the pagan government of Rome, which Christians were also instructed to obey despite its injustices (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). He seems simply to have regarded slavery as an intractable part of the social order, an order that he may well have thought would pass away shortly (1 Cor. 7:29-31).
- Second, Paul told masters to treat their slaves justly and kindly (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1), implying that slaves are not mere property for masters to do with as they please.
- Third, Paul implied that the brotherhood shared by Christians is ultimately incompatible with chattel slavery. In the case of the runaway slave Onesimus, Paul wrote to Philemon, the slave’s master, instructing him to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother” (Philem. 6). With respect to salvation in Christ, Paul insisted that “there is neither slave nor free ... you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28).
- Fourth, the Christian principles of charity (“love your neighbor as yourself) and the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you”) espoused by the New Testament writers are ultimately incompatible with chattel slavery, even if, because of its deeply established role as a social institution, this point was not clearly understood by all at the time.
- Fifth, while the Christian Empire didn’t immediately outlaw slavery, some Church fathers (such as Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom) strongly denounced it. But then, the state has often failed to enact a just social order in accordance with Church teachings.
- Sixth, some early Christians liberated their slaves, while some churches redeemed slaves using the congregation’s common means. Other Christians even sacrificially sold themselves into slavery to emancipate others.
- Seventh, even where slavery was not altogether repudiated, slaves and free men had equal access to the sacraments, and many clerics were from slave backgrounds, including two popes (Pius I and Callistus). This implies a fundamental equality incompatible with slavery.
- Eighth, the Church ameliorated the harsher aspects of slavery in the Empire, even trying to protect slaves by law, until slavery all but disappeared in the West. It was, of course, to re-emerge during the Renaissance, as Europeans encountered Muslim slave traders and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Council of Gangra
Manichean Christians had been inciting slaves of the Roman Empire to take charge of their destiny and emancipate themselves. In response, the Synod of Gangra issued a statement anathematized those who did so:
"If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man's slave to despise his master and to withdraw from his service, and not serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema."
By the end of the Medieval period, enslavement of Christians had been largely abolished throughout Europe although enslavement of non-Christians remained permissible. Serfdom largely replaced agricultural slavery, and serfs were regarded as human beings with rights. Chattel slavery continued on the fringes of Christendom, and had a revival in the late Middle Ages.
During this period, many popes condemned the enslavement by Muslims of Christians. Several religious orders were formed to ransom such enslaved Christians. However, there was no condemnation of slavery or tied servitude in general
In 655 the Ninth Council of Toledo, in an attempt to persuade priests to remain celibate, ruled that all children of clerics were to be automatically enslaved. This ruling was later incorporated into the canon law of the church.
Between the 6th and 12th centuries, there was a growing sentiment that slavery was not compatible with Christian conceptions of charity and justice. Some Catholics such as Saint Bathilde, Saint Anskar, Saint Wulfstan and Saint Anselm campaigned against slavery and the slave trade.
In the 7th century, Pope Martin I condemned unjust slavery, but in doing so implicitly suggested that he believed a just slavery to exist.
The seventh century Saint Eloi used his vast wealth to purchase British and Saxon slaves in groups of 50 and 100 in order to set them free. Orders of monks such as the Mercedarians were founded for the purpose of freeing Christian slaves.
Slavery in early medieval Europe was so common that the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly prohibited it — or at least the export of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands was prohibited at e.g. the Council of Koblenz in 922, the Council of London (1102), and the Council of Armagh (1171).
In 1089, Pope Urban II ruled at the Synod of Melfi that the wives of priests were to be enslaved. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
.... disabilities of all kinds were enacted and as far as possible enforced against the wives and children of ecclesiastics. Their offspring were declared to be of servile condition .... The earliest decree in which the children were declared to be slaves, the property of the Church, and never to be enfranchised, seems to have been a canon of the Synod of Pavia in 1018. Similar penalties were promulgated later on against the wives and concubines (see the Synod of Melfi, 1189, can. xii), who by the very fact of their unlawful connection with a subdeacon or clerk of higher rank became liable to be seized as slaves ...
In 1179, The Third Lateran Council imposed slavery on those helping the Saracens.
Wars against Muslims
According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
As a consequence of the wars against the Mussulmans and the commerce maintained with the East, the European countries bordering on the Mediterranean, particularly Spain and Italy, once more had slaves: Turkish prisoners and also, unfortunately, captives imported by conscienceless traders .... this revival of slavery, lasting until the seventeenth century, is a blot on Christian civilization.
Many Medieval popes condemned the enslavement by Muslims of Christians. Several religious orders were organized to redeem such enslaved Christians. There was, however, never any general condemnation of slavery or tied servitude,
Slavery incorporated into Canon Law
In the early thirteenth century, official support for slavery and the slave trade was incorporated into Canon Law (Corpus Iuris Canonici), by Pope Gregory IX,. Canon law provided for four just titles for holding slaves: slaves captured in war, persons condemned to slavery for a crime; persons selling themselves into slavery, including a father selling his child; children of a mother who is a slave.
Slavery was imposed as an ecclesiastical penalty by General Councils and local Church councils and Popes, 1179-1535...
(a) The crime of assisting the Saracens 1179-1450.....
(b) The crime of selling Christian slaves to the Saracens 1425. Pope Martin V issued two constitutions. Traffic in Christian slaves was not forbidden, but only their sale to non Christian masters.
(c) The crime of brigandage in the Pyrenees mountainous districts, 1179.
(d)Unjust aggression or other crimes, 1309-1535. The penalty of capture and enslavement for Christian families or cities or states was enacted several times by Popes. Those sentenced included Venetians in 1309.
During the course of the 15th century sentiment in Europe increasingly turned against the enslavement of Christians and the Church denounced such practices, but this did not extend to unbelievers. According to Burton, Pope Martin V authorized a crusade against Africa in 1418 and this coupled with a later bull (1441) sanctioned the Portuguese trade in African slaves. In March 1425 a bull was issued that threatened excommunication for any Christian slave dealers and ordered Jews to wear a "badge of infamy" to deter, in part, the buying of Christians. In June 1425 Martin anathematized those who sold Christian slaves to Muslims. Traffic in Christian slaves was not banned, purely the sale to non-Christian owners. The papal bull of excommunication issued to the Genoese merchants of Caffa related to the buying and selling of Christians but has been considered ineffectual as prior injunctions against the Viennese, including the Laws of Gazaria, made allowances for the sale of both Christian and Muslim slaves. Ten black African slaves were presented to Martin in 1441 by Prince Henry of Portugal. Martin supported colonial expansion. Davidson (1961) argues that Martin's injunction against slavery was not a condemnation of slavery itself but rather it was driven through fear of "infidel power".
In contrast to its efforts to abolish slavery of European Christians, the Catholic Church encouraged enslavement of non-Christians, beginning from the mid 15th century. The papacy endorsed Portuguese—and eventually Spanish—slave-taking. Popes Eugenius IV and a later successor, Sixtus IV, both condemned Portuguese raids in the Canary Islands in the mid-15th century in places where Christians already lived. However, these condemnations came within the broader context of papal support for a Portuguese crusade in Africa that did include slave-taking. The papal pronouncements against slavery in the 15th and 16th centuries sought to regulate particular abuses, but they did not deny Spain and Portugal the right to engage in the trade itself. Thus, although the Church mitigated the effects of slavery in Latin America, it also legitimized it both at the beginning and for hundreds of years afterwards.
Unlike the chattel slavery in the antebellum southern United States, where slaves were often considered less than human, the law in Latin American countries gave slaves legal rights. The Church also treated them as fully human with respect to the sacraments; for example, they could marry and even receive holy orders.[Note 1]
In 1435 Pope Eugene IV condemned slavery, of other Christians, in Sicut Dudum; furthermore, he explicitly forbade the enslavement of the indigenous inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Under threat of excommunication, the pope ordered everyone involved fifteen days from receipt of his bull "to restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands... These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money. Pope Pius II (1458 to 1464) and Pope Sixtus IV (1471 to 1484) followed with additional bulls condemning enslavement of the Canary Islanders. Rodney Stark comments that the fact that slavery continued on the Canary Islands despite the issuance of Sicut dudum is more evidence of "the weakness of papal authority" at the time rather than an indication of "indifference of the Church to the sin of slavery".
The Portuguese sought confirmation that they could enslave infidels in a crusade. In 1452 Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas to King Alfonso V of Portugal which included the following words: "we grant to you...full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ...to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery". In 1454 Pope Nicholas explicitly confirmed the rights granted to King Alfonso V in Dum Diversas in Romanus Pontifex by which he granted to Alfonso "...the rights of conquest and permissions previously granted not only to the territories already acquired but also those that might be acquired in the future".
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 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...
In 1456, Pope Calixtus III confirmed these grants to the Kings of Portugal and they were renewed by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481; and finally in 1514 Pope Leo repeated verbatim all these documents and approved, renewed and confirmed them.
After the discovery of America in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella saw that, if Spain did not receive from the Pope in regard to the American "Indies" the same authority and permissions which Portugal had received in regard of West Africa, then Spain would be at a disadvantage in making use of her newly discovered territories. Accordingly Pope Alexander VI was approached and already on May 3, 1493 he issued two bulls on the same day in both of which he extended the identical favours, permissions, etc. granted to the Monarchy of Portugal in respect of West Africa to the Monarchy of Spain in respect of America.....and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery...wherever they may be.
The 1510 Requerimiento, in relation to the Spanish invasion of South America, demanded that the local populations convert to Roman Catholicism, on pain of slavery or death. Slavery was part of the local population's culture before the arrival of the conquistadors. Christian missionaries provided existing slaves with an opportunity to escape their situation by seeking out the protection of the missions.
Slavery in Rome
Papal decrees concerning the institution of slavery in the city of Rome 1535-1566
- ...[re the rights of slaves who fled to Capital hill and claimed freedom from the magistrates] Pope Paul III, a year before his death...revoked the privilege of the conservatori in this matter, and declared the lawfulness of slave trading and slave holding, including the holding of Christian slaves in Rome.
In the bull Sublimus Dei (1537), Pope Paul III forbade the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (called Indians of the West and the South) and all other people. Paul characterized enslavers as allies of the devil and declared attempts to justify such slavery "null and void."
...The exalted God loved the human race so much that He created man in such a condition that he was not only a sharer in good as are other creatures, but also that he would be able to reach and see face to face the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good... Seeing this and envying it, the enemy of the human race, who always opposes all good men so that the race may perish, has thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving word of God from being preached to the nations. He (Satan) has stirred up some of his allies who, desiring to satisfy their own avarice, are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians...be reduced to our service like brute animals, under the pretext that they are lacking the Catholic faith. And they reduce them to slavery, treating them with afflictions they would scarcely use with brute animals... by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples - even though they are outside the faith - ...should not be deprived of their liberty... Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly, and are not to be reduced to slavery...
Accompanying the bull was another document, Pastorale Officium, which attached a latae sententiae excommunication remittable only by the pope himself for those who attempted to enslave the Indians or steal their goods.
Pope Paul not only condemned the slavery of Indians but also "all other peoples." In his phrase "unheard of before now", he seems to see a difference between this new form of slavery (i.e. racial slavery) and the ancient forms of just-title slavery. A few days before, he also issued a Brief, entitled Pastorale Officium to Cardinal Juan de Tavera of Toledo, which warned the Catholic faithful of excommunication for participating in slavery. Unfortunately Pope Paul made reference to the King of Castile and Aragon in this Brief. Under political pressure, the Pope later retracted this Brief but did not annul the Bull. It is interesting to note that even though he retracted his Brief, Popes Gregory XIV, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV still recognized and confirmed its authority against slavery and the slave trade.
In 1537, Pope Paul III attributed the slavery of the West Indian and South American natives to Satan in Sublimis Deus and excommunicated those who enslaved the Indians of America and confiscated their property.
Papal involvement in the use of Muslim galley slaves in the galleys of the Pontifical squadrann, 1629-1788.
- There are records which show that from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries some of the Popes were personally involved in the purchase and use of galley-slaves for the Pontifical squadran...In general galley slaves could be convicted criminals condemned to a life sentence...captured non-Christian prisoner of war who cold be ransomed..."volunteers", who through indigence had sold themselves into slavery...[Father Maxwell then describes several transactions of slaves involving Popes]
When Europeans began enslaving Africans as a cheap source of labor, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was asked about the morality of enslaving innocent blacks (Response of the Congregation of the Holy Office, 230, March 20, 1686). The practice was rejected, as was trading such slaves. Slaveholders, the Holy Office declared, were obliged to emancipate and even compensate blacks unjustly enslaved.
Congress of Vienna
Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, the suppression of the slave trade.
In Supremo Apostolatus
In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI issued a Bull, entitled In Supremo Apostolatus in which he condemned all forms of colonial slavery and the slave trade, calling it "inhumanum illud commercium." While its primary target was slave trading, the bull also clearly condemned racial slavery:
"We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort... that no one in the future dare to bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery Indians, Blacks or other such peoples... We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in these Apostolic Letters" (In Supremo Apostolatus, 1839).
Until the 1820s, Catholicism was present primarily in the Southern states; the largest concentrations of Catholics being in Maryland, Kentucky and Louisiana. Two slaveholding states, Maryland and Louisiana, had large contingents of Catholic residents. Archbishop of Baltimore, John Carroll, had two black servants - one free and one a slave. In 1820, the Jesuits had nearly 400 slaves on their Maryland plantations. The Society of Jesus owned a large number of slaves who worked on the community's farms. Realizing that their properties were more profitable if rented out to tenant farmers rather that worked by slaves, the Jesuits began selling off their slaves in 1837.
Despite the issuance of In Supremo Apostolatus, the American church continued in deeds, if not in public discourse, to support slaveholding interests. Some American bishops interpreted In Supremo as condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself. Bishop John England of Charleston actually wrote several letters to the Secretary of State under President Van Buren explaining that the Pope, in In Supremo, did not condemn slavery but only the slave trade.
The prevalent attitude of the American Catholic hierarchy, with some notable exceptions, was that many aspects of slavery were evil, but that to change the law would be, practically speaking, a greater evil. Some put forth strong arguments in favor of the institution of slavery; for example, Bishop John England of Charleston, who believed it to be among the accepted practices of the early Church: "The right of the master, the duty of the slave, the lawfulness of continuing the relations, and the benevolence of religion in mitigating the sufferings ... are the results exhibited by our view of the laws and facts during the first four centuries of Christianity."
In In Supremo Apostolatus, Gregory admonished and adjured "all believers in Christ, of whatsoever condition, that no one hereafter may dare unjustly to molest Indians, Negroes, or other men of this sort;...or to reduce them to slavery...". Catholic bishops in the Southern U.S. focused on the word "unjustly". They argued that the Pope did not condemn slavery if the slaves had been captured justly—that is, they were either criminals or prisoners of war. The bishops determined that this prohibition did not apply to slavery in the U.S.
Answering the charge that Catholics were widely supporting the abolitionist movement, England noted that Gregory XVI was condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself, especially as it existed in the United States. To prove his opinion, England had In Supremo translated and published in his diocesan newspaper, The United States Catholic Miscellany, and even went so far as to write a series of 18 extensive letters to John Forsyth, the Secretary of State under President Martin Van Buren, to explain how he and most of the other American bishops interpreted In Supremo Apostolatus.
Daniel O'Connell, the Roman Catholic leader of the Irish in Ireland, supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in America. Garrison recruited him to the cause of American abolitionism. O'Connell, the black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond, and the temperance priest Theobold Mayhew organized a petition with 60,000 signatures urging the Irish of the United States to support abolition. O'Connell also spoke in the United States for abolition. The Bishop of New York denounced O'Connell's petition as a forgery, and if genuine, an unwarranted foreign interference. The Bishop of Charleston declared that, while Catholic tradition opposed slave trading, it had nothing against slavery.
One outspoken critic of slavery was Archbishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati, Ohio. In an 1863 Catholic Telegraph editorial Purcell wrote:
- "When the slave power predominates, religion is nominal. There is no life in it. It is the hard-working laboring man who builds the church, the school house, the orphan asylum, not the slaveholder, as a general rule. Religion flourishes in a slave state only in proportion to its intimacy with a free state, or as it is adjacent to it."
During the Civil War, American bishops continued to allow slave-owners to take communion. During the Civil War, Pope Pius IX made no secret of his affinity for the Confederacy, and the American hierarchy was so fearful of local schisms that the bishops were reluctant to speak out on behalf of abolition.
In 1866 the Holy Office issued an Instruction in reply to questions from a Vicar Apostolic..."Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons...it is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or donated.
Some commentators suggest that the statement was triggered by the passage of the 13th Amendment in the U.S. Others claim that the document referred only to a "particular situation in Africa to have slaves under certain conditions," and not necessarily to the situation in the U.S.
In a letter to the bishops of Brazil (May 5, 1888), Pope Leo XIII recalled the Church's unceasing efforts in the course of centuries to get rid of colonial slavery and the slave trade and expressed his satisfaction that Brazil had at last abolished it. Pope Leo XIII wrote, "In the presence of so much suffering, the condition of slavery, in which a considerable part of the great human family has been sunk in squalor and affliction now for many centuries, is deeply to be deplored; for the system is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature"
In 1917, the new Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope Benedict XV condemned the "selling a human being into slavery or for any other evil purpose".
Speaking in 1992 at the infamous “House of Slaves” on the Island of Gorée in Senegal, John Paul II declared: “It is fitting to confess in all truth and humility this sin of man against man, this sin of man against God.”
In 1993, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II took, from Vatican II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, a long list of social evils: “homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide ... mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonments, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons.” Where Vatican II had called these practices “shameful” (probra), John Paul II calls them “intrinsically evil.” In the same encyclical the pope teaches that intrinsically evil acts are prohibited always and everywhere, without any exception.
- History of slavery
- Islam and slavery
- Slavery in ancient Greece
- Slavery in ancient Rome
- Slavery in antiquity
- Slavery in medieval Europe
- The Bible and slavery
- Judaism and slavery
- ↑ However, such priests could not act as priest to Europeans, but only when they returned to their "homeland", nor were they allowed to control a beniface or ecclesiastic property. Such rights were reserved to white Portuguese.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stark, Rodney (2003-07-01). "The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery". Christianity Today.
- ↑ Catechism of the Catholic Church #2414
- ↑ Paragraph number 2401–2463 (1994). "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. http://www.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm. Retrieved 27 December 2008.
- ↑ Schreck, p. 317
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Borseth, Vic. "Roman Catholic Church Teaching on Slavery". http://www.thinking-catholic-strategic-center.com/slavery.html. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Panzer, Joel S.. "Defending the Faith - The Popes and Slavery: Setting the Record Straight". http://www.cfpeople.org/Apologetics/page51a003.html. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Cardinal Dulles, Avery (October 2005). "Development or Reversal?". First Things. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/development-or-reversal-37.
- ↑ John T. Noonan, Jr.. A Church That Can and Cannot Change.
- ↑ "Roman Catholic Church Teaching on Slavery". http://www.thinking-catholic-strategic-center.com/slavery.html. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 Curp, T. David (2009-02-07). "A Necessary Bondage? When the Church Endorsed Slavery". http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5378&Itemid=48. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- ↑ Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Slaves and Slavery
- ↑ Exodus 21:20, 26-27
- ↑ Exodus 23:12
- ↑ Deuteronomy 23:15
- ↑ Proverbs 30:10
- ↑ Leviticus 25:35
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 24.2 Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Slaves and Slavery
- ↑ 25.0 25.1
- ↑ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah
- ↑ Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Avenger of Blood
- ↑ Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Law, Codification of
- ↑ Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on Exodus 21:2-11
- ↑ 40.0 40.1 Thomas Kelly Cheyne and John Sutherland Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903), article on Slavery
- ↑ Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery, by John R. McKivigan, Mitchell Snay
- ↑ God Against Slavery, p. 140, by Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D
- ↑ 1 Timothy 1:10
- ↑ Goodell, The American Slave Code. Pt. I Ch. VII
- ↑ "Slavery in the Middle Ages". http://historymedren.about.com/library/weekly/aa012698.htm.
- ↑ Luis M. Bermejo, S.J., Infallibility on Trial, 1992, Christian Classics, Inc., ISBN 0-87061-190-9, p. 313.
- ↑ Catholic Encyclopedia, , Accessed 10.9.2009.
- ↑ Augustine of Hippo, City of God
- ↑ Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (1988), page 114
- ↑ Henri Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade (1957), page 263
- ↑ "Augustine influences Christianity". http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch25.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-20.
- ↑ Thomas Aquinas Q94, A5 In this sense, "the possession of all things in common and universal freedom" are said to be of the natural law, because, to wit, the distinction of possessions and slavery were not brought in by nature, but devised by human reason for the benefit of human life.
- ↑ Maxwell p. 47
- ↑ Maxwell p. 84
- ↑ Jarrett, Bede. Social theories of the Middle Ages 1200-1500. p. 97. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Z0Z8hKPPcsYC&pg=PA97&dq=aquinas+slavery&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=aquinas%20slavery&f=false.
- ↑ Herbert, Gary. A Philosophical History of Rights. p. 62. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=sfytrGYF-1cC&pg=PA62&dq=aquinas+slavery&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=aquinas%20slavery&f=false.
- ↑ http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0006.html
- ↑ Nicholas Leander: Quaestiones Morales Theologicae, Lyons 1668 - 1692, Tome VIII, De Quarto Decalogi Praecepto, Tract. IV, Disp. I, Q. 3.
- ↑ http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0006.html
- ↑ Gaudium et spes 27; cf. no 29
- ↑ 75.0 75.1 75.2 Catholic Encyclopaedia
- ↑ Brumley, Mark. "Let My People Go: The Catholic Church and Slavery". http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0006.html.
- ↑ M. Fiedler & L. Rabben, ed (1998). Rome has spoken...A guide to forgotten Papal statements and how they have changed through the centuries. Crossroad. p. 81.
- ↑ Rowling, Marjorie. Life in Medieval Times.
- ↑ "Domesday Book Slave". http://www.domesdaybook.net/helpfiles/hs2970.htm.
- ↑ Slavery, serfdom, and indenture through the Middle Ages
- ↑ Steven Epstein, Wage Labour & Guilds in Mediaeval Europe (1995), page 226
- ↑ Ambe J. Njoh, Tradition, culture and development in Africa (2006), page 31
- ↑ Maxwell p. 48-49
- ↑ The Encyclopedia Americana
- ↑ Burton, p. 197
- ↑ "The problem of slavery in Western culture, P. 100"
- ↑ "The Papacy and the Levant", p. 46
- ↑ "Slavery and the Catholic Church", John Francis Maxwell, p. 49, Barry Rose Publishers, 1975
- ↑ "The African Slave Trade", p. 41, Basil Davidson, James Currey Publishers, 1961, ISBN 0852557981
- ↑ C. E. Semmes citing V.B. Thompson 1987
- ↑ "A history of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990", p. 144
- ↑ Davidson 1961, P. 100 fn 8
- ↑ Falola, Toyin; Warnock, Amanda (2007). Encyclopedia of the Middle Passage. Greenwood Publishing. p. 153. ISBN 9780313088292.
- ↑ Saunders, A.C. de C.M. (1982). A Social History of Black Slaves and Freedmen in Portugal 1441-1555.
- ↑ http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Eugene04/eugene04sicut.htm
- ↑ Romanus Pontifex
- ↑ Maxwell p. 54
- ↑ 98.0 98.1 Allard, Paul (1912). "Slavery and Christianity". Catholic Encyclopedia. XIV. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14036a.htm. Retrieved 4 February 2006.
- ↑ Luis M. Bermejo, S.J. (1992). Infallibility on Trial. Christian Classics, Inc.. p. 315. ISBN 0-87061-190-9.
- ↑ Maxwell p. 55
- ↑ Maxwell p. 74-75
- ↑ Sublimis Deus, 1537
- ↑ Luis M. Bermejo, S.J., Infallibility on Trial, 1992, Christian Classics, Inc., ISBN 0-87061-190-9, p. 316.
- ↑ Maxwell p. 76-78
- ↑ Panzer, Joel (1996). The Popes and Slavery. Alba House.
- ↑ Holy Office, Instruction 20, June 1866
- ↑ Maxwell p. 78
- ↑ Leonard Kennedy, " 'The Popes and Slavery' — book review," Catholic Educator's Resource Center," at: http://catholiceducation.org/
- ↑ On the Abolition of Slavery, 1888
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- Henderson, Lawrence W (1979), Angola: five centuries of conflict, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, ISBN 080141271
- Noll, Mark (2006), The Civil War as a theological crisis, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0807830123
- Thomas, Hugh (1997), The Slave Trade: the story of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440–1870, New York: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0684810638