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 Slavery in Christianity 
Israel's bondage/slavery in Egypt before its Exodus is not to be compared to slavery in Christian history.
The Jews in Egypt, though required to provided forced labour, were not individually bought and sold on slave markets.
They had their own flocks and herds and their own communal life in Egypt, before their national deliverance under Moses as a consequence of God's plagues on Egypt.
Slavery
in Christian history was unspeakably far worse.
 
 
A slave did not own his own body or his children. A slave was simply material property, an object to be dispensed as pleased the owner.
Yet original
Christianity, as founded by the death and resurrection of the Christ of God, did not lead to a rebellion against slavery, either slavery as an institution, or even the practice of slave-owning by its followers and adherents. Instead, to these early Christians, many of whom were slaves at the time of their conversion to Christianity, it was clearly stated –
 
  "Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it.
(But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)"
Slavery was not an issue
1 Corinthians 7:21 ESV.
This
approach, and more, concerning slavery is illustrated to us in Apostle Paul's letter to Philemon which was incorporated into our New Testament as one of the founding documents of Christianity.
 
 
Philemon, whose family home was the meeting place of a local congregation of Christians, had slaves working in that house, one of whom (Onesimus) we know directly from Paul's letter to his owner. In addition, commentator Adam Clarke deduces that Philemon's son, Archippus, was the pastor of this church which met in their slave-owning family home. So here was a special opportunity to show a new social structure as would characterise Christianity – if there was any such idea.
 
Instead, the Apostle Paul, who gave us most of Christianity's founding documents, says it straight –  
  "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ,
doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."
Ephesians 6:5-8
 
Christianity did not need a new social structure to grow.
It neither expressed itself in social structure nor based its communal character on social structure. Its essence was rooted in individually changed persons whose attitudes and behaviour expressed the values of God's heart through them toward others.
Christianity could thus grow in slave-quarters as freely as it could grow in the market place of public debate.
 
But
even more importantly, the New Testament taught believers that the wide social distinction existing between slaves and free persons in the society of which they were a part was to be utterly disregarded – within the caring-love relationships of the Christian community. All social distinctions of class were simply not to be regarded/recognised by Christianity. Class distinctions had no relevance whatsoever within the relationships between Christians.
 
  "For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord.
Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ."
1 Corinthians 7:22,
see also
Colossians 3:11.
There
was to be absolute social equality within Christianity!
In this
world of early Christianity, the vast population of slaves, which was constantly replenished simultaneously by war-captives, slave-trade and natural procreation, was a very significant factor in social distinction. For instance, in law this social differentiation expressed itself in the differing value of individuals for compensation payments in the case of assault –
differences in value which were expressly banned within the fellowship of the Christian community.
 
 
"For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Galatians 3:27-28 ESV.
For
this reason, Paul therefore instructs the slave-owning-Christian Philemon to accept back his run-away slave, no longer as a slave but as his own brother. He writes –
 
 
"For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me,
but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord."
Philemon 1:15-16 ESV.
But
in following centuries, as Christianity's primitive impetus slowed into that of a respectable religion, the freeing of one's slaves became simply seen as a pious act (going the 'extra-mile') rather than as a moral obligation. The Church Council of Gangra in 340, in response to the Manichean/Eustathian heresy decreed that –
"If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man's slave to despise his master, and to withdraw from his service, and not to serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema [cursed]." (Canon 3. C.J.C. Decreti Gratiani, II, CXVII, Q,IV, c.37).
 
This
decree became a canon of the Catholic Church and continued to be quoted for more than a thousand years. Arising from this attitude, St Basil required in his monastic rule (c.370 AD) that runaway slaves be sent back to their masters and that in such circumstances the slave should not be freed but learn submission to seek the master's forgiveness, except in the case of a tyrannical master who breaks the moral law. In this St Basil uses Paul instruction to Philemon whilst
ignoring the clear instruction concerning the change of Philemon's relationship to Onesimus to that of a brother in the flesh.
 
St
John Chrysostom follows Basil's ideas and defers this change in relation between Master and slave to after death in Heaven.
 
St
Augustine around the year 400 took this further, and in clear contradiction of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:21 (quoted above), instructs Christian slaves not to seek 'manumission'/freedom (Enarratio in Ps.CXXIV, n.7. Migne Patr. Lat. 37, 1653-4.)
"So
for the sake of your tradition
you have made void
the Word of God
."
(Matthew 15:6).
Yet strangely
today, some Christian denominations, such the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox, hold that in addition to the New Testament teachings which contradicted this practice, the patristic tradition of these early centuries constitutes an 'authoritative' basis for Christian practice. (Slavery itself fell away within these denominations more from changes in the thinking of the world around them than from the character of Christianity).
 
This setting of norms from patristic tradition is much the same as many Jewish religious leaders in the time of Jesus exalting a supposed oral-law as authoritative in interpreting, and so subverting, the written Word of God. This adherence to tradition was a constant hindrance to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it has also been to the work of His Holy Spirit throughout the 'Christian centuries'. So, slavery continued as an institution within the Church.
For
instance, in 572 the Bishop of Le Mans bequeathed ten persons as his assets to his church: being – a couple with a small child; four menservants; two maidservants; and a boy who cared for a herd of horses (Duby 1974:31). Slaves were variously described in Latin as servi, ancillae and by the neuter noun mancipia, which more vividly expressed their status as 'objects' rather than persons. In this so-called 'Christian' Europe of the sixth to eighth centuries,
there was no aristocratic household, either secular or religious which did not possess persons as slaves.
 
The
rationalisation in the thinking of Christianity at this time, concerning the patent conflict between its New Testament principles and its practical disregard of these in its conduct, produced a number of influential statements by Christian leaders. This corruption of New Testament teaching is expressed by such leading figures as –
 
 
Pope Gregory I: 
All men are equal by nature but that a hidden dispensation of Providence has arranged a hierarchy of merit and ruler-ship, in that the differences between classes of men have arisen as a result of sin and are ordained by divine justice. (Expositio in librum B. Job. L.XXI. c.15, MPL 76, 203-4, emphasis mine).
St. Isidore of Seville: 
Those whom God perceived were not fit for freedom, He more mercifully inflicted with slavery. A slave's capacity for doing wrong must needs be restrained by his master's power. To be submissive as a slave is better than to be proud as a free man. (Sententiae, L.III, c.47, MPL 83, 717, emphasis mine).
St. Agobard of Lyon: 
God created men equal, but by a hidden and just dispensation, as a result of sins, some are masters and others are slaves...(Epist. ad Proceres Palatii. MPL 104, 176-7).
9th Council of Toledo: 
The penalty of permanent enslavement to the Church is imposed on the children of priests who had violated the vow of celibacy. This decree is incorporated into the Western Church's collections of canons. (655 AD, emphasis mine. This injustice is also enacted in 1012 AD by the Church Council of Pavia).
Pope Urban II: 
At the Synod of Melfi, In 1089 AD, celibacy of the clergy is enforced by granting to secular princess the power to reduce the wives of clergy to slavery. (Canons 3& 4; Mansi 19. 353 and 355, emphasis mine).
Etc:  And so on...  ...
 
More
than this rationalisation, this St Isidore of Seville even insisted that any bishop who frees a slave of the Church must make compensation to the Church (4th Council of Orleans), and that if such a bishop has presumed to do so without compensating the Church, his successor may recall the freed persons and enslave them again to the Church.
This ruling is incorporated into the canons of the Church.
 
In
Milan in 775 a Frankish boy could be bought for twelve solidi, whereas the cost of a horse was fifteen solidi (Duby 1974:31); but there were glimmerings of light. At the Synod of Chelsea in Saxon England in 816 it was decreed that at the death of every bishop all his English slaves were to be freed, and each bishop and abbot who attended his funeral had to emancipate three slaves and give each one three solidi (Canon 10. Mansi 14, 359). And then, at the Council of Armagh in 1117, the Irish bishops ordered that in every part of Ireland the English slaves should be freed (Mansi 22, 123-4).
 
Duby
comments on these centuries as they progressed that –
"The existence within society of a substantial number of individuals subject to servicium (gratuitous performance of undefined labour service), whose offspring and savings would remain at the discretion of others, marks a fundamental characteristic of the economic structure of the period. This is true despite the fact that, from a long term point of view, slow undercurrents were already preparing the way for the integration of the servile ranks with the free peasantry and tending radically to alter the economic significance of slavery" (1974:32, emphasis mine).
 
 
Christianity's social effect was to be dimly seen in the gradual recognition of the family rights of slaves, but the real change came about primarily through economic factors.
 
 
During the seventh century it became more profitable to owners of large estates to marry off some of their slaves, settle them on a smallholding which they would be responsible for cultivating, feeding their families, and raising their children until they then became of working age. They were still slaves, but this semi-independent system was often more economically sustainable. The system relieved the master of the costs of slave maintenance, and generated more enthusiasm for work among a servile labour-force, thus increasing productivity and ensuring labour replacement as their children grew to working age.
 
Arising
from this then, and from the sale of slaves on the markets of the southern and eastern Mediterranean of those acquired from war in Europe, slaves became increasingly rare on European markets and their price increased accordingly. This further strengthened the incentive for European slave owners to raise their own slaves locally. A growing strictness in the Catholic Church against the enslavement of Christians may also have aided this trend toward scarcity.
 
 
This smallholding-process eventually led to a decrease in the amount of land available for direct exploitation, an increase in the number of tenants, and subsequently a softening in the sharp divisions between slave and free persons. However, as the last elements of slavery began to fade, the increasing number of peasants became more exploited by an aristocratic class which validated its lordship from their ability to protect their peasants who thus owed them labour-service.
 
But
slavery still continued as a legal penalty in areas of Christian influence.
"The disciplinary decrees of Church Councils made use of penal enslavement for 900 years, from 633 to 1535 AD
...though these decrees were no longer effective after about the mid-fifteenth century" (Maxwell 1975:10ff).
At the same time, the moral legitimacy of slavery from birth from a slave-mother continued to be accepted and defended, even though the slave-offspring was guilty of no personal sin.
 
 
Apart from economic factors then, it must need wait for a process of spiritual recovery in the history of Christianity for the issue of slavery to begin to be dealt with.
 
As
a consequence of various spiritual renewal movements in Britain, from at least 1727 English 'Quakers' (Society of Friends) had begun to express their official disapproval of the slave trade and promote reforms. An informal group of six Quakers pioneered the British abolitionist movement in 1783 when the London Society of Friends' yearly meeting presented its petition against the slave trade to the English parliament, signed by over 300 Quakers.
 
On
the evangelical wing of the Anglican church, William Wilberforce, who was part of this continuing intensely personal spiritual renewal, writes in his private journal in 1787 that –
"God Almighty has set before me two great objects,
 the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [public ethical/moral values]". 
In 1791, Wilberforce introduced the first Bill in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade, but it was easily defeated by entrenched interests. Subsequently, almost every year Wilberforce introduced a parliamentary motion in favour of abolition. In 1807 the British Parliament voted to abolish the trade in slaves (not slavery itself) and enforce this through its maritime power.
 
 
The end of slavery itself followed slowly, as agreements were concluded by the British Colonial Office and the various semi-autonomous colonial governments. After further British parliamentary legislation, slaves in all of Britain's colonies were emancipated in 1838. But –
slavery continued on a large scale in America until the South was defeated in the American Civil War in 1865.
 
But, beyond legal reform in society, the founding ethic of Christianity remains as cited above, in which –  
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female [in differentiated status] – for you are all one in Christ Jesus"
 
is yet to be fully realised within Christian practice and so remains, not a structural problem of society, but an issue of the direct transmission of the love of God which is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us (Romans 5:5) –
 
 
 "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." 
 
Bibliography
Duby, Georges. 1974  The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century. New York, US: Cornell University Press.
Maxwell, John F. 1975  Slavery and the Catholic Church: The History of Catholic Teaching Concerning the Moral Legitimacy of the Institution of Slavery. London, UK: Barry Rose.

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