Racism and Slavery

What is the Church’s official position on slavery and racism?
Doesn’t the Bible talk about slavery?
And I have a family member who is from the American south and claims to be Catholic and yet is somewhat racist and even says that the Church forbids inter-racial marriages because it causes political uproar in society. I was a little upset when they told me that because nearly half of the Catholic marriages I’ve seen are inter-racial. And I personally feel that God created all men of all the same blood and all of the same qualities. The Bible said it’s a sin to worship another god besides Him, to fornicate, to murder, etc. It never said that it’s a sin to be black, elderly, crippled, retarded, left-handed, female, overweight, short, etc.

CCC #1935 (quoting Gaudium et spes):

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design

From the glossary:

“RACISM: Unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race; a violation of human dignity, and a sin against justice.”

The Church has always condemned racism and has never taught against inter-racial marriage. You can find Catholic teaching against slavery going back hundreds of years. That does not mean that there are not Catholic racists and those who refuse to accept the Church’s teaching. Pray for them.

Depending on the society being examined, ancient slavery was rarely based entirely on race as it was in the Americas. Modern racism seems to have developed mostly for economic reasons, and later out of a sense of nationalism.

That is, American Indians and Africans were enslaved first to provide cheap labor in the sparsely populated New World; this slavery was later justified by claims that these people were less civilized or even inherently less capable of governing themselves than those who ruled over them. The masters being Europeans, the separation of “white” and “black” came into play in the Americas.

Later, racism developed along ethnic lines as an outgrowth of nationalism. For example, the Germans looked down on Eastern Europeans as being lower forms of life because of the threat those people posed to the German identity. Thus, in the USA, racism developed in response against immigrants from Italy, Russia, etc, who were seen as being too different from the culture that was already in place.

There are exceptions, of course. But racism, in the sense we think of it now, came about primarily because of economics and nationalist pride.

Many people wrongly assume that Africans were enslaved because white people hated blacks. It had more to do with their inability to defend themselves. Actually, it was other African tribes that handed weaker tribes over to be slaves. Slavery is not a white institution. In the Roman Empire, it was common for wealthy blacks to own white slaves. Obviously, recent slavery involved whites owning blacks.

The Church has never forbidden or discouraged inter-racial marriage. What the Church has forbidden and discouraged is Catholics marrying non-Catholics no matter what color they might be.

Let’s not mince words. Nazi Germany didn’t just “look down” on the Jews, but wanted them exterminated and managed to exterminate 6 million of them in the most horrific and barbaric ways imaginable. As for the other “eastern europeans” the nazis clearly believed that only pure Aryan Germans had the right to exist. That had nothing to do with racism. It was/is pure evil.

It had everything to do with racism. The anti-semitism of the Middle Ages developed an intense hatred among Germans, and other Europeans, for the Jews. It was later supplemented by the development of scientific racism during the second half of the 19th century.

“The Church therefore has no fault to find with race culture as such. Rather does she encourage it. But she wishes it carried out on right lines.”

-Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org/cathen/16038b.htm

Since that article was written in the 1913 edition of the encyclopedia it follows that likely the eugenic schemes it was talking about were at least partly racial in nature.

In any case the Church has condemned unjust discrimination based on race and not just discrimination based on race. If you were to argue that the condemnation meant that all unjust discrimination is discrimination per se, then this would just be circular logic and you would need more support for that. As it stands IMO, the Church is not against reasonable “racism” (is it still racism when it is reasonable?) but unreasonable racism a.k.a. bigotry.

Plus Catholicism uses a lot of Aristotle’s writings and I am morally certain it has never put his political theories on the Index. Therefore I think it would be morally safe to conclude that the Church would accept such concepts as natural slavery.

Sorry I just feel compelled to defend the opposite thesis that society accepts regarding race, simply out of a need to address a subject that I think is faith based instead of research based.

The Arabs were slave traders too along with whites.

The fact is that whites kept blacks as slaves however they got to them.

What is “just discrimination based on race”? How can discrimination based on race be “just”?

Plus Catholicism uses a lot of Aristotle’s writings and I am morally certain it has never put his political theories on the Index. Therefore I think it would be morally safe to conclude that the Church would accept such concepts as natural slavery.



Paul was pro-slavery, for example. So in essence, the Bible is pro-slavery.

While many early Christians were against it and while several Popes spoke out about it… for the most part, the Church looked the other way for centuries while a crueler, more dangerous system of chattel slavery developed right under their eyes.

So it depends on how you look at it. You can say the Church was pro-slavery due to Paul, anti-slavery because of Papal condemnations but the reality is that the Christian/Catholic message could not defeat slavery for centuries, and in the America’s, Christianity was actually used as a justification for slavery. On this issue the history of Christianity/Catholicism is lacking severely and is borderline morally bankrupt.

What you’re saying is largely true, IMO. Race comes in as a factor insofar as the institution needed to perpetuate itself. Race was a handy excuse to justify chattel slavery in the Americas. Also, many people forget this but in the early days of the colonization of the West, Native Americans were used as slaves. That didn’t quite work out for several reasons, and many of them died due to disease. Eventually they began resorting to black people more and more often.

If it should be true for instance, that some races are not as intelligent or as brave, or as calm, tall, etc. as others then it would make sense to generally keep some such people out of positions requiring such habits or traits. As such, it would not be unjust to call a stupid person stupid or a short person short. Of course there is more to life than race but the point still holds.

True, but even if that is the case, then it would still not be true across the board. So for example, even though there is a stereotype that says Asian people are good at math, it would not make sense to hire an accountant on that basis even if it is more often true than not.

What is recorded in the Bible is indentured servitude, not chattel slavery. Chattel slavery is condemned in Exodus 21:16

Servants had:

*]Right of marriage (Exodus 10 - 11, Exodus 21: 4)

*]Maintained kinship rights (Exodus 21: 3, 9; Leviticus 25:41, 47 - 49, 54)

*]Access liberty and freedom of movement (Deuteronomy 15:1, 12; 23:15 says for foreign or Hebrew servants; Leviticus 25:40-45, 48, 54 for Hebrew intendured servants; Exodus 21:8, 11 for a Hebrew daughter in a marriage)

*]Legal personal rights related to protection for breach of contract and physical protection (Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27 for foreign or Hebrew servants; Exodus 21:8 for a Hebrew daughter in a marriage; Leviticus 25:39-41 for Hebrew servants

*]All servants maintained their rights unless voluntarily relinquished (Deuteronomy 15:16-17 and Exodus 21:5-6)

*]Law of Moses said servants should have at less 1 day free from lavour, participating in the Sabbath with other free servants (Deuteronomy 5: 14, Exodus 20: 10)

*]Servants were to be included in community feast (Deuteronomy 12: 12, Festival of Temporary Shelters Deuteronomy 16: 13 and festival of Weeks Deuteronomy 16: 10)

*]Under the law of Moses only income Priests recieved was from some offerings made under the sacrificial code and from the tithe. Uusally the offerings of food were only to be eaten by Priests because it had been ritually sancktified and could not be eaten by a non priest. According to Leviticus 22: 10 a priest could not offer it to lodger, hired work or guest but Leviticus 22: 11 makes clear that a Priest could share the food with a servant

*]The person who had a servant was accountable to the law for their treatment towards a servant, whether theservants were foreigners or Hebrews (Exodus 21: 20 - 21, 26 - 27)

*]Death of a servant caused by a domestic anial had to be compensated (Exodus 21:32), though unless the animal was previously known to be danger if a non servant dies because of a domestic animal it did not have to be compensated (Exodus 21:28 - 29)

*]Any servant who ran away automatically were allowed to go and live as they chose. It would be illegal to oppress the servant or return them to who they worked for (Deuteronomy 23: 15)

*]Under the Law of Moses you could purchases women and men who voluntarily sold themselves into indentured servitude but yo ucould not sell them (Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:39, 42, 45, Deuteronomy 15:12). Enslaving against will or selling people into slavery was forbidden (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7)

*]Law of Moses protect the Hebrew indentured servants from permanent debt and if the servant was released in the year of debt cancellation the person who the servant worked for had to give them generous supplies from his own (Deuteronomy 15:13 - 15)

*]If the person that had the servant, struck the servant and knocked his tooth or eye out he had to let the servant go free (Exodus 21:26 - 27)

*]If a servant is murdered (Exodus 21: 20):

1st century AD commentry on Exodus 21:20 by Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Mishpatim says

‘And when a man smiteth his servant or his handmaid with a staff, and he die under his hand, condemned he shall be condemned’

‘And when a man hath smitten his Kenaanite man‑servant or maid‑servant with a staff, and he die the same day under his hand, he shall be judged with the judgment of death by the sword.

Source: Nahum M Sarna, Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary Series: Exodus’, 1991, quoted by Glenn Miller, ‘Does God condone slavery in the Bible?’

‘He must be avenged The master is criminally liable and faces execution, in keeping with the law of verse…The verb n-k-m is popularly taken to signify “revenge.” Actually, it means “to avenge,” that is, to vindicate, or redress, the imbalance of justice. Its use in the Bible is overwhelmingly with God as the subject, and in such cases it always serves the ends of justice. It is employed in particular in situations in which normal judicial procedures are not effective or cannot be implemented’

Source: Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament’, 1992, on Exodus 21:20, quoted by Glenn Miller, ‘Does God condone slavery in the Bible?’

“The second case involved a master striking his slave, male or female. Since the slave did not die immediately as a result of this act of using the rod (not a lethal weapon, however) but tarried for “a day or two” (v. 21), the master was given the benefit of the doubt; he was judged to have struck the slave with disciplinary and not homicidal intentions. This law is unprecedented in the ancient world where a master could treat his slave as he pleased.

When this law is considered alongside the law in vv. 26-27, which acted to control brutality against slaves at the point where it hurt the master, viz., his pocketbook, a whole new statement of the value and worth of the personhood of the slave is introduced. Thus if the master struck a slave severely enough only to injure one of his members, he lost his total investment immediately in that the slave won total freedom; or if he struck severely enough to kill the slave immediately, he was tried for capital punishment (vv. 18-19). The aim of this law was not to place the slave at the master’s mercy but to restrict the master’s power over him (cf. similar laws in the Code of Hammurabi 196-97, 200).’

In the 1st to 2nd century AD Ignatuius and Polycarp freed their slaves

Source: Pages 28,29 Slavery Illegality in All Ages and Nations, Letter III by Edward C Rogers

2nd century Saint Ovidius emancipated 5000 slaves

In the 3rd century, Bishop of Carthage, Cypran wrote a letter denouncing slavery to a slaveholder

You, man of a day, expect from your slave obedience. Is he less a man than you? By birth he is your equal. He is endowed with the same organs, with the same reasoning soul, called to the same hopes, subject to the same laws of life in this and in the world to come. You subject him to your dominion. If he, as a man, disregard or forget your claim, what miseries you heap upon him. Impious master, pitiless despot! You spare neither blows nor whips, nor privations; you chastise him with hunger and thirst, you load him with chains, you incarcerate him within black walls; miserable man! While you thus maintain your despotism over a man, you are not willing to recognize the Master and Lord of all men


4th century AD, Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, said Church property had to be sold to but slaves and then free them

The Lord will say to us, ‘why are so many unfortunate beings subject to slavery, even death, for want of being redeemed? Men are better worth preserving than metals.’

What have you to reply? Must we deprive the temples of their ornaments? But the Lord will say—’It is not necessary that the sacred things be clothed in gold


Gregory of Nyssea said in a sermon at Lent

God’s greatest gift to us is the perfect liberty vouchsafed us by Christ’s saving action in time, and since God’s gifts are entirely irrevocable, it lies not even in God’s power to enslave men and women

Source - Atheist Delusions, pages 178, 179, Hart

Chrysostom preached

In Christ Jesus there is no slave. Therefore it is not necessary to have a slave. Buy them, and after you have taught them some skill by which they can maintain themselves, set them free

Source - John Chrysostom, Commentary on Ephesians, 6:9; and Epistle addressed to the Ephesians, Homily 22:2

He who has immoral relations with the wife of a slave is as culpable as he who has the like relations with the wife of the prince: both are adulterers, for it is not the condition of the parties that makes the crime

Source - John Chrysostom, In I Thessalonians, Homily 5:2; In II Thessalonians, Homily 3:2

Augustine encouraged freeing slaves and that it was a virtue; that treating humans as property forbade Christian law. Many Bishops freed their slaves. Augustine said Christians used their money to recently redeem 120 slaves who were put on to ships by the Galatians and the Christians freed them, and reeemed many kidnapped victims

Source - Slavery and Society at Rome by Keith Bradley

Saint Remigius wrote to King of France, Clovis

Let the gate of your palace be open to all, that every one may have recourse to you for justice. Employ your great revenues in redeeming slaves

Patrick of Ireland wrote a latter to Coritcus, dencouncing ensalavent of massacre and enslaving Irish Christians

15 For Scripture says: Weep with them that weep; and again: If one member be grieved, let all members grieve with it. Hence the Church mourns and laments her sons and daughters whom the sword has not yet slain, but who were removed and carried off to faraway lands, where sin abounds openly, grossly, impudently. There people who were freeborn have been sold, Christians made slaves, and that, too, in the service of the
abominable, wicked, and apostate Picts!..19 Where, then, will Coroticus with his criminals, rebels against Christ, where will they see themselves, they who distribute baptised women as prizes-for a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment? As a cloud or smoke that is dispersed by the wind, so shall the deceitful wicked perish at the presence of the Lord; but the just shall feast with great constancy
with Christ, they shall judge nations, and rule over wicked kings for ever and ever. Amen

Source - Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, pages 15, 19, 3 Patrick

Council of Epaone said there would be 2 years excommunication for killing a slave. Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore gace 7 years excommunication a mistress who killed her slave

Source - Slavery and Social Death, page 192 by Orlando Patterson

For the last 40 years of his life, Bishop of Arles, Caesarius, took away the untesils and silver plates from his Church to buy Christians and set the mfree who had been enslaved in wars. He said

Our Lord celebrated his last supper in mean earthen dishes, not in [silver] plate, and we need not scruple to part with his vessels to ransom those he has redeemed with his life

Patriarch of Alexandra, Johannes Eleemosynarius, who is honoured in the Catholic Church told a slaveholder

Tell me what price can man pay to purchase a man, who was created in the image of God? Hast thou a different soul? Is he not in all things thy equal? There is neither bond nor free; all are one in Christ. We are all equal before Christ. What then is the gold you have paid for a child of God?

Bishop of Rome, Gregory the Great sanctioned the slavery of pagans but said slavery was ‘a great crime,’ ‘a cruel evil,’ that any Bishop in his disoce who permits it should be punished. He encouraged Church money to be used to obtain freedom for slaves and said those who had been freed with this money would not need to pay it back

He said

A good and salutary thing is done when men, whom nature from the beginnng created free, and whom the customs of nations had subjected to the yoke of servitude, are presented again with the freedom in which they were born

Since our Redeemer, the Creator of all creatures, wished to assume human flesh, so that by the grace of His divinity He might restore us to our pristine liberty, which has been taken away from us so that we are thereby held captive under the yoke of servitude, it is done wisely if those whom nature brought forth as free men in the beginning, and whom the law of nations placed under the yoke of servitude, are returned in freedom to that state of nature in which they were born by the benefits of manumission. So, moved by consideration of this and by feelings of piety, we make you, Montana and Thomas, serfs of the Holy Roman Church, over which with the help of God we rule, free and Roman citizens from this day, and we free all property held by you in serfdom. The statutes of the holy canons and lawful authority permit that the goods of Holy Church may be used for the redemption of captives. And so because we were taught by you, before we reached the age of eighteen, that a certain holy man named Fabius, Bishop of the church of Firman, used eleven pounds of silver from that same church for your redemption and for the redemption of your father Passivus, your brother and co-bishop, a priest at that time, and also of your mother, from the enemy, and on account of this fact you are obsessed by the fear that what was paid will be required of you after a certain interval of time, we wish to see your fear allayed by this command, that you and your heirs suffer no molestation at any time by reason of any demand for this money, nor shall you be harassed by any questioning, for the spirit of charity demands that what pious zeal expends ought not to be imposed as a burden or affliction on the redeemed

Maximus the Confessor wrote

Humankind has brought into being from itself the three greatest, primordial evils, and (to speak simply) the begetters of all vice: ignorance,…self-love and tyranny, each of which are interdependent and established through one another…God [however]…healed humanity when it was sick…[by emptying] himself, taking the form of a slave (Phil.2:7)…[thus fulfilling] the power of love,…in refashioning the human

Source - Maximus the Confessor, Epistle 2, to John the Cubicularius and Race: A Theological Account, pages 343, 369 by J Kameron Carter

Bishop of Noyan, Eligus, used Church money to free many slaves. He said

Religious men from all parts came to him, foreigners also and monks, and in whatever way he could serve he would either give them the money or share the price of the captives; for he had the greatest enthusiasm for this kind of work. Indeed, whenever he understood that a slave was being offered for sale, he hastened with the utmost speed in his mercy and immediately gave the price and freed the captive. Occasionally he redeemed from captivity at the same time as many as twenty, thirty, or even fifty; sometimes even the whole body of slaves up to a hundred souls, coming from various peoples, and of both sexes, he would free as they left the ship; there were Romans, Gauls, and Britons also, and men of Marseilles, but they were chiefly men of Saxony, who at that time in large numbers like flocks were expelled from their own lands and scattered in different countries

Source - Monumenta Germaniae Historiae, Scriptores (Hanover, 1902), Tome IV, p. 677; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pages 292, 293, editor Bruno Krusch

650 AD - Council of Châlon-sur-Saône forbade sales of slaves outside Frankish kingdom

663 AD 4th Council of Toledo permitted free slaves to take holy orders; required slaves freed by Church to stay Christians; forbade Jews to keep Christian slaves and that all Christian slaves had to be freed from Jewish slave owners

733AD, Pope Gregory ll forbade Christians to be sold to pagans, that it should be punished as equal to homocide

  1. Among other crimes committed in those parts you have mentioned this, that certain of the faithful sell their slaves to the pagans for sacrifices. Which thing, brother, we think should be corrected, and we do not think you should allow it to proceed further; for it is a disgrace and an impiety. To those therefore who have done these things you should mete out the same punishment as for homicide


755 AD - Archbishop of Mainz, Lullo, wrote to Pope about a priest who sold Church serfs in to slavery

But let your Holiness judge what is right and just about these things and not only of these but of all which he did perversely during his life and which are here made clear. For he took the goods and serfs of the church committed to his care, Faegenolph our serf, and his two sons Raegenolph and Amanolph, and his wife Leobthruthe, and her daughter Amalthruthe, and he took them to Saxony and exchanged them there against a horse belonging to a man named Huelp. But Willefrid sent Raegenolph beyond the sea with Enred and gave him together with his mother into slavery

Theodorus Studitan said

Not to employ those beings, created in the image of God, as slaves

Archbishop of Lyons, Agobard, opposed slavery in Frankish Empire

Abbot Smaragda of Saint-Mihiel wrote to Charlemagne

Most merciful king, forbid that there should be any slave in your kingdom. Soon, no one doubted that slavery in itself was against divine law

Source -Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages (University of California Press: Berkeley), page 11 by Marc Bloch

876 AD - German Council of Worms said masters who without knowledge of judges’ on an offence legally punished by death who killed their slaves should be given penance for 2 years or excommunicated

Pope John VIII ( to the princes of Sardinia) said in 837 AD

There is one thing about which we should give you a paternal admonition, and unless you emend, you incur a great sin, and for this reason, you will not increase gain, as you hope, but guilt . . . . many in your area, being taken captive by pagans, are sold and are bought by your people and held under the yoke of slavery. It is evident that it is religious duty and holy, as becomes Christians, that when your people have bought them from the Greeks themselves, for the love of Christ they set them free, and receive gain not from men, but from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Hence we exhort you and in fatherly love command that when you redeem some captives from them, for the salvation of your soul, you let them go free

1120 AD - In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Council of Nablus forbade sexual relations between female slaves who were Muslims and their crusaders in the Holy land who were Muslims. If a man raped someone else’s slaves he would be exiled from the kingdom and castrated. If he raped his own slave he would be castrated

1171 AD - Christian synod at Amargh in Ireland ordered all English slaves to be freed and condemned Irish trade of English slaves

Read more on slavery here where I got a lot of this info from

The enslavement of the Canary Islanders by the Spanish was condemned by Pope Eugene IV (1431-1437). He threatened the enslavers with excommunication

Slavery in the Canary Islands was also condemned by Pope Pius II (1458-1464). Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) issued a proclamation reiterating the same position

Pope Paul III (1534-1549) denounced colonial slavery in the New World.

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

Papal condemnation of slavery persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pope Gregory XVI’s 1839 bull, In Supremo, for instance, reiterated 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

Source: catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0006.html

I have never heard of anti-semitism referred to as racism. Jews are not a racial group as far as I know. And, what the heck is scientific racism???

I don’t think there is a group of any kind of people who have not been enslaved somewhere in the history of the world.

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