Son or Slave?

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Clement long before praised that excellent work of charity by which some Christians became slaves, by an exchange of persons, because they could in no other way liberate those who were in bondage. Wherefore, in addition to the fact that the act of manumission began to take place in churches as an act of piety, the Church ordered it to be proposed to the faithful when about to make their wills, as a work very pleasing to God and of great merit and value with Him. Therefore, those precepts of manumission to the heir were introduced with the words, "for the love of God, for the welfare or benefit of my soul.

Moreover, the Roman Pontiffs, who have always acted, as history truly relates, as the protectors of the weak and helpers of the oppressed, have done their best for slaves. Gregory himself set at liberty as many as possible, and in the Roman Council of desired those to receive their freedom who were anxious to enter the monastic state.

Hadrian I maintained that slaves could freely enter into matrimony even without their masters' consent. It was clearly ordered by Alexander III in the year to the Moorish King of Valencia that he should not make a slave of any Christian, because no one was a slave by the law of nature, all men having been made free by God. Mary of Help, founded for a similar purpose, which Peter Nolasco had established, and which included the severe rule that its religious should give themselves up as slaves in the place of Christians taken captive by tyrants, if it should be necessary in order to redeem them.

The same St. Gregory passed a decree, which was a far greater support of liberty, that it was unlawful to sell slaves to the Church, and he further added an exhortation to the faithful that, as a punishment for their faults, they should give their slaves to God and His saints as an act of expiation.

There are also many other good deeds of the Church in the same behalf.


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For she, indeed, was accustomed by severe penalties to defend slaves from the savage anger and cruel injuries of their masters. To those upon whom the hand of violence had rested, she was accustomed to open her sacred temples as places of refuge to receive the free men into her good faith, and to restrain those by censure who dared by evil inducements to lead a man back again into slavery. In the same way she was still more favorable to the freedom of the slaves whom, by any means she held as her own, according to times and places; when she laid down either that those should be released by the bishops from every bond of slavery who had shown themselves during a certain time of trial of praiseworthy honesty of life, or when she easily permitted the bishops of their own will to declare those belonging to them free.

It must also be ascribed to the compassion and virtue of the Church that somewhat of the pressure of civil law upon slaves was remitted, and, as far as it was brought about, that the milder alleviations of Gregory the Great, having been incorporated in the written law of nations, became of force. That, however, was done principally by the agency of Charlemagne, who included them in his Capitularia, as Gratian afterwards did in his Decretum. Therefore, sufficient praise or thanks can never be returned to the Catholic Church, the banisher of slavery and causer of true liberty, fraternity, and equality among men, since she has merited it by the prosperity of nations, through the very great beneficence of Christ our Redeemer.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, at which time the base stain of slavery having been nearly blotted out from among Christian nations, States were anxious to stand firmly in evangelical liberty, and also to increase their empire, this apostolic see took the greatest care that the evil germs of such depravity should nowhere revive. She therefore directed her provident vigilance to the newly discovered regions of Africa, Asia, and America; for a report had reached her that the leaders of those expeditions, Christians though they were, were wickedly snaking use of their arms and ingenuity for establishing and imposing slavery on these innocent nations.

Indeed, since the crude nature of the soil which they had to overcome, nor less the wealth of metals which had to be extracted by digging, required very hard work, unjust and inhuman plans were entered into. For a certain traffic was begun, slaves being transported for that purpose from Ethiopia, which, at that time, under the name of La tratta dei Negri, too much occupied those colonies.

An oppression of the indigenous inhabitants who are collectively called Indians , much the same as slavery, followed with a like maltreatment. When Pius II had become assured of these matters without delay, on October 7, , he gave a letter to the bishop of the place in which he reproved and condemned such wickedness.

Some time afterwards, Leo X lent, as far as he could, his good offices and authority to the kings of both Portugal and Spain, who took care to radically extirpate that abuse, opposed alike to religion, humanity, and justice.

Living as Sons and Daughters, Not Slaves

Nevertheless, that evil having grown strong, remained there, its impure cause, the unquenchable desire of gain, remaining. Then Paul III, anxious with a fatherly love as to the condition of the Indians and of the Moorish slaves, came to this last determination, that in open day, and, as it were, in the sight of all nations, he declared that they all had a just and natural right of a threefold character, namely, that each one of them was master of his own person, that they could live together under their own laws, and that they could acquire and hold property for themselves. More than this, having sent letters to the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, he prounounced an interdict and deprival of sacraments against those who acted contrary to the aforesaid decree, reserving to the Roman Pontiff the power of absolving them.

The last, moreover, at the Council of the confederated Princes of Europe, held at Vienna, called their attention in common to this point, that that traffic in Negroes, of which We have spoken before, and which had now ceased in many places, should be thoroughly rooted out. Gregory XVI also severely censured those neglecting the duties of humanity and the laws, and restored the decrees and statutory penalties of the apostolic see, and left no means untried that foreign nations, also, following the kindliness of the Europeans, should cease from and abhor the disgrace and brutality of slavery.

We have, however, in Our mind, in a matter of the same kind, another care which gives Us no light anxiety and presses upon Our solicitude. This shameful trading in men has, indeed, ceased to take place by sea, but on land is carried on to too great an extent and too barbarously, and that especially in some parts of Africa. For, it having been perversely laid down by the Mohammedans that Ethiopians and men of similar nations are very little superior to brute beasts, it is easy to see and shudder at the perfidy and cruelty of man.

Suddenly, like plunderers making an attack, they invade the tribes of Ethiopians, fearing no such thing; they rush into their villages, houses, and huts; they lay waste, destroy, and seize everything; they lead away from thence the men, women, and children, easily captured and bound, so that they may drag them away by force for their shameful traffic.

These hateful expeditions are made into Egypt, Zanzibar, and partly also into the Soudan, as though so many stations. Men, bound with chains are forced to take long journeys, ill supplied with food, under the frequent use of the lash; those who are too weak to undergo this are killed; those who are strong enough go like a flock with a crowd of others to be sold and to be passed over to a brutal and shameless purchaser. But whoever is thus sold and given up is exposed to what is a miserable rending asunder of wives, children, and parents, and is driven by him into whose power he falls into a hard and indescribable slavery; nor can he refuse to conform to the religious rites of Mahomet.


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These things We have received not long since with the greatest bitterness of feeling from some who have been eyewitnesses, though tearful ones, of that kind of infamy and misery; with these, moreover, what has been related lately by the explorers in equatorial Africa entirely coincides. It is indeed manifest, by their testimony and word, that each year , Africans are usually thus sold like cattle, about half of whom, wearied out by the roughness of the tracks, fall down and perish there, so that, sad to relate, those traveling through such places see the pathway strewn with the remains of bones.

Who would not be moved by the thought of such miseries. We, indeed, who are holding the place of Christ, the loving Liberator and Redeemer of all mankind, and who so rejoice in the many and glorious good deeds of the Church to all who are afflicted, can scarcely express how great is Our commiseration for those unhappy nations, with what fullness of charity We open Our arms to them, how ardently We desire to be able to afford them every alleviation and support, with the hope, that, having cast off the slavery of superstition as well as the slavery of man, they may at length serve the one true God under the gentle yoke of Christ, partakers with Us of the divine inheritance.

Would that all who hold high positions in authority and power, or who desire the rights of nations and of humanity to be held sacred, or who earnestly devote themselves to the interests of the Catholic religion, would all, everywhere acting on Our exhortations and wishes, strive together to repress, forbid, and put an end to that kind of traffic, than which nothing is more base and wicked. In the meantime, while by a more strenuous application of ingenuity and labor new roads are being made, and new commercial enterprises undertaken in the lands of Africa, let apostolic men endeavor to find out how they can best secure the safety and liberty of slaves.

They will obtain success in this matter in no other way than if, strengthened by divine grace, they give themselves up to spreading our most holy faith and daily caring for it, whose distinguishing fruit is that it wonderfully flavors and develops the liberty "with which Christ made us free. Peter Claver, to whom We have lately added a crown of glory. If they endeavor to take to themselves and reflect the charity and patience of such a man, they will shine indeed as worthy ministers of salvation, authors of consolation, messengers of peace, who, by God's help, may turn solicitude, desolation, and fierceness into the most joyful fertility of religion and civilization.

And now, venerable brethren, Our thoughts and letters desire to turn to you that We may again announce to you and again share with you the exceeding joy which We feel on account of the determinations which have been publicly entered into in that empire with regard to slavery. If, indeed, it seemed to Us a good, happy, and propitious event, that it was provided and insisted upon by law that whoever were still in the condition of slaves ought to be admitted to the status and rights of free men, so also it conforms and increases Our hope of future acts which will be the cause of joy, both in civil and religious matters.

Thus the name of the Empire of Brazil will be justly held in honor and praise among the most civilized nations, and the name of its august emperor will likewise be esteemed, whose excellent speech is on record, that he desired nothing more ardently than that every vestige of slavery should be speedily obliterated from his territories.

Galatians 4:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

But, truly, until those precepts of the laws are carried into effect, earnestly endeavor, We beseech you, by all means, and press on as much as possible the accomplishment of this affair, which no light difficulties hinder. Through your means let it be brought to pass that masters and slaves may mutually agree with the highest goodwill and best good faith, nor let there be any transgression of clemency or justice, but, whatever things have to be carried out, let all be done lawfully, temperately, and in a Christian manner.

Is is, however, chiefly to be wished that this may be prosperously accomplished, which all desire, that slavery may be banished and blotted out without any injury to divine or human rights, with no political agitation, and so with the solid benefit of the slaves themselves, for whose sake it is undertaken. To each one of these, whether they have already been made free or are about to become so, We address with a pastoral intention and fatherly mind a few salutary cautions culled from the words of the great Apostle of the Gentiles.

Let them, then, endeavor piously and constantly to retain grateful memory and feeling towards those by whose council and exertion they were set at liberty. Let them never show themselves unworthy of so great a gift nor ever confound liberty with licence; but let them use it as becomes well ordered citizens for the industry of an active life, for the benefit and advantage both of their family and of the State.

To respect and increase the dignity of their princes, to obey the magistrates, to be obedient to the laws, these and similar duties let them diligently fulfill, under the influence, not so much of fear as of religion; let them also restrain and keep in subjection envy of another's wealth or position, which unfortunately daily distresses so many of those in inferior positions, and present so many incitements of rebellion against security of order and peace. Content with their state and lot, let them think nothing dearer, let them desire nothing more ardently than the good things of the heavenly kingdom by whose grace they have been brought to the light and redeemed by Christ; let them feel piously towards God who is their Lord and Liberator; let them love Him, with all their power; let them keep His commandments with all their might; let them rejoice in being sons of His spouse, the Holy Church; let them labor to be as good as possible, and as much as they can let them carefully return His love.

Do you also, Venerable Brethren, be constant in showing and urging on the freedmen these same doctrines; that, that which is Our chief prayer, and at the same time ought to be yours and that of all good people, religion, amongst the first, may ever feel that she has gained the most ample fruits of that liberty which has been obtained wherever that empire extends. But that that may happily take place, We beg and implore the full grace of God and motherly aid of the Immaculate Virgin.

As a foretaste of heavenly gifts and witness of Our fatherly good will towards you, Venerable Brethren, your clergy, and all your people, We lovingly impart the apostolic blessing.

Given at St. Peter's, in Rome, the fifth day of May, , the eleventh of Our pontificate. Justinian, Inst. John Chrysostom, Hom. PG 58, ; Hom. XIX in ep.

Living as Sons and Daughters, Not Slaves

PG 61, ; Hom. I in ep. PG 62, De Jacob et de vita beata, cap. Joseph, cap. PL 16, AB. Gratian, Decretum , Part I, dirt. Friedberg, Vol. I, cols. Peter Claver , joined the Society of Jesus in ; in , he went to Cartagena, then the main slave market of the New World, and for forty-four years devoted himself to missionary work. He had declared his intention to remain "the slave of the Negroes" for his entire life and, in point of fact, is said to have baptized over , of them.

De civ. Dei, 19, 15 PL 41, Lucan, Phars. I Peter I Tim. Titus I Cor. Philemon 12, Philemon 2.

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