Church Fathers and slavery


From Wikipedia:

“In regards to the Catholic Church, the early Church had nothing to say about the slavery that was part of the prevailing culture in Ancient Rome. The most influential of the Catholic Fathers for a thousand years, St. Augustine (354-430), wrote in City of God (19:15) that slavery “is no crime in the eyes of God,” since slavery is part of God’s punishment for sin. Pope Leo I (440-461) forbade admitting slaves (servi) into the clergy “because of the vileness vilitas] of their condition,” which he maintained, would “pollute” the sacred profession. Pope Gregory I (590-604), whose Church owned more than 1,500 square miles of land cultivated by slaves, repeated this prohibition and also (in “Epistles” 7:1) the prohibition of a slave marrying a free Christian.”

Why would they do something like this? I can only shake my head in amazement. How come these men didn’t believe accordingly?


Many of the first Christians and first Popes were slaves. The relationship of the Church to slavery is well summarized in the following link from the Catholic Encyclopedia:


Remember, anybody can edit Wikipedia.

Also remember that the Church was the first to speak out against chattel slavery, a couple of hundred years before the ‘western’ nations began to do so.

Chattel slavery, ‘owning’ another human being, is wrong. But not all slavery is wrong. Read St. Louis De Montfort’s “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin”. Those of us who have consecrated ourselves are slaves of Jesus in Mary. And there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. I admit it does take some time to get over the ‘gulp’ factor, the knee-jerk response of ‘slavery–oh my God, how could anybody defend this’–until you realize that like so many other words and concepts, ‘slavery’ in itself is not evil when applied to the proper source, but it can be made evil by applying improperly–as chattel slavery is always evil. Since we did not make ourselves, we can never defend owning ‘a person’. Since God made us, we already ‘belong to Him’; He has made us no longer slaves but sons and daughters, but we can choose to offer ourselves freely to His service, ourselves alone, as slaves. We do not cease to be His children by doing so. Just as the prodigal son did not cease to be his own father’s son, but on recognition of his sinfulness asked to be treated as a hired hand, and (since he had already spent his 'share) probably spent the remainder of his life working for his father as a worker instead of a son, yet was still biologically ‘son’, we De Montfortian slaves offer in reparation for our sins and the sins of others every thing about ourselves for use of the Blessed Mother to give to her son as SHE wills, because HER will is perfectly and always in tune with HIS will.


Industrial workers can strike, whilst agricultural workers cannot. Think about it for a minute.
That has a profound effect on human social organisation. There is no clear line between a slave, a serf, a servant and an employee. In British history it is impossible to point to a single event in which the transition took place. Even today there are still a very few servants left, though the vast majority of the population are employees.
It is not true that the Christian Church had nothing to say about slavery. St Paul mentions it in his epistles, as does Jesus in the gospels. They reject the pagan notion that the gods favour the successful, rich and powerful, but they also have no interest in modern “liberation struggle” morality. To say that “no-one shall henceforth put in back-breaking hours in the fields” would have been to pronounce against reality. You can’t change the material basis of your economy without some technical innovation in the means of production.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit