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Church and Slavery, Yesterday and Today

The awareness of the troubled history of slavery continues to be part of many peoples’ memories
 An image shows a hand extended towards chains hanging in the air.

An image shows a hand extended towards chains hanging in the air. (Photo supplied)

Published: November 03, 2023 10:04 AM GMT

A look at history shows us that, for many centuries, Christianity accepted slavery as a social and economic reality proper to most societies.

Christian thought accepted slavery under certain circumstances, and when the Atlantic slave trade developed, the effort of theologians and jurists was to delimit the occasions involving legitimate loss of freedom.

This was the case in the 16th century with thinkers such as Luis de Molina and Tomás de Mercado.

As Pope Francis writes, morality and law determined “who was born free and who was born into slavery, as well as the conditions whereby a freeborn person could lose his or her freedom or regain it. In other words, the law itself admitted that some people were able or required to be considered the property of other people, at their free disposition.”

During the period of European expansion and, in particular, with their arrival in the Americas in the late 15th century, the Church defended the freedom of Amerindian peoples.

Examples include Pope Paul III with the 1537 bull Sublimis Deus, and pastors and missionaries such as Dominicans Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de Las Casas in Spanish America, and Jesuits Manuel da Nóbrega and António Vieira in Portuguese America.

As for the enslavement of Africans, the Church more readily accepted it, limiting its response to demanding respect for the law and morality of the time, insisting on pastoral care and the need for decent living conditions.

Among the causes of this acceptance, on a par with the legal and moral arguments, is the observation that slavery existed in Africa before the arrival of Europeans, as well as slaves being trafficked to the Arab world.

However, it must be clearly recognized that the arrival of Europeans and the Atlantic trade, which supplied America with labor, multiplied the demand for slaves and, consequently, their supply, arranged at strategic points on the African littoral.

Read the complete article here.

This article is brought to you by UCA News in association with "La Civiltà Cattolica." 

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