Monday, October 03, 2011

Abolition of Slavery: The Early Years

"Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

"Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!"

-- Lepanto, G. K. Chesterton

(Note: latest edit, August 2022)

A year ago, I wrote a response to Dr. Hector Avalos' critique of a passage in The Truth Behind the New Atheism where I talked about the role Christianity played in liberating slaves.  At the end of a fairly long rebuttal (actually two), I appended a timeline of key events in the Christian anti-slave movement, for the past two thousand years. (But ending where most such records begin -- about the year 1800.) 

I did not claim that Christians have everywhere and always liberated slaves.  We haven't, of course.  Christians have also sinned against God and man by enslaving many millions of human beings, over the centuries.  Popes have justified slavery, and even owned slaves.  The Council of (unholy) Toledo decreed that the children of priests be enslaved.  This is a story that one could also tell, and it is shameful. 

But I did want to make the point that the modern abolitionist movement, led by zealous believers like William Wilberforce, was no fluke. There is, in the genome of Scripture, something that pushes towards liberty, that eventually emerged in a big way. 

This timeline was buried at the end of those articles.  I'd like to give it due prominence by featuring it as the key item in this blog. 

Not every item on this list is, strictly speaking, about "abolition" in the full sense.  But these are important markers in that general direction. 

I've also added some "key events" that I have learned about since, including one from the 1830s that was so interesting, I just ignored the time-line's end date.  As I learn of more such stories, I'll add them to the list.   

Timeline of the Christian Abolitionist Movement

50s AD: Paul writes, “In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free.” The full implications have been debated ever since; certainly it precludes treating slaves as less than human.

60s: Paul writes a letter to his fellow Christian, Philemon, asking that he take back Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but as a brother.” His meaning has been debated ever since.

300s: Ambrose, bishop of Milan, melts down communion vessels to redeem captives: “The ornament of my sacrament is the redemption of captives; and those alone are precious vessels, that redeem souls from death.”

354-431: Paulinus, bishop of Nola, (whom Avalos criticizes for alleged racism) liberates his own slaves, spends his considerable wealth redeeming citizens of Campania, and then, (allegedly, will need to look into this further), goes into slavery to redeem one captive.

4th Century: Gregory of Nyssa critiques slavery in the light of Christian theology:

"'I obtained servants and maidens.' What are you saying? You condemn man who is free and autonomous to servitude, and you contradict God by perverting the natural law. Man, who was created as lord over the earth, you have put under the yoke of servitude as a transgressor and rebel against the divine precept. You have forgotten the limit of your authority which consists in jurisdiction over brutish animals . . . “

"God has said, 'Let us make man according to our image and likeness' [Gen 1.26]. Since we are made according to God's likeness and are appointed to rule over the entire earth, tell me, who is the person who sells and buys? . . . How can we properly estimate the earth in its entirety as well as its contents? If these things are inestimable, tell me, how much greater is man's value who is over them . . . ? "

Meliana the Younger (383-429 AD) inherited “immense estates,” apparently in Africa, and with her husband Pinian, who would become a bishop, “distributed that immense territory to their slaves (more than a thousand).” Pernoud, 24 (Note: a French Catholic medieval historian, in Women in the Days of the Cathedrals, translated and adaopted by Anne Cote-Harriss (Ignatius: 1989)).
“Church councils never ceased to enact measures to make the fate of slaves more human and gradually to have them recognized as human beings. Thus we can measure progress between the Council of Elvira in 305, which imposed seven year’s penance on anyone who had killed his slave, until the Council of Orleans (511), where the right of asylum in churches was proclaimed for freeing slaves, and the Council of Eauze (551), which automatically emancipated a slave whose master forced him to work on Sundays..” Pernoud, 25
5th Century, St. Caesarius, blamed for paying for the emancipation of slaves, “I would like to know what those who criticize me would say if they were in the place of the captives I am redeeming. God, who gave himself as the price of man’s redemption, will not reproach me for redeeming captives with the money from his altar.” Pernoud, 26

400-425: Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary historian, tells how Acacius, Bishop of Amida in modern Turkey, talked his priests into melting down holy vessels in order to redeem 7,000 Persian captives and send them home. He explains:

“Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for he neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised we may be able to redeem the prisoners and also supply them with food.”

410s: St. Augustine argues that, while slavery occurs as punishment for sins, and might be a just substitute for killing soldiers on the losing side of a just war, it was not part of God's plan for humanity:

"This relationship is prescribed by the order of nature, and it is in this situation that God created man. For he says, 'Let him have lordship over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky . . . and all the reptiles that crawl on the earth.'  He did not wish the rational being, made in his own image, to have dominion over any but irrational creatures, not man over man, but man over the beasts . . . The origins of the Latin word for slave, servus, is believed to be derived from the fact that those who by the laws of war could rightly be put to death by the conquerors, became servi, slaves, when they were preserved . . . But even this enslavement could not have happened, if it were not for the deserts of sin . . . "

"The first cause of servitude, therefore, is sin, by which man was placed under man in a condition of bondage: a condition which can come about only by the judgment of God, in Whom there is no injustice."

Augustine continues:

"By nature, then, in the condition in which God first created man, no man is the slave either of another man or of sin. But it is also true that servitude itself is ordained as a punishment by that law which enjoins the preservation of the order of nature, and forbids its disruption . . . The apostle therefore admonishes servants to be obedient to their masters, and to serve them loyally and with a good will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they can at least make their own slavery to some extent free . . ." (City of God, Book 19, chapter 15)

Doug also brings to my attention a letter from Augustine to his friend Alypius (who he writes about in the Confessions; by this time bishop of the nearby city of Tagaste).  In the letter, apparently written in 428 AD, he writes sadly that in Africa "there is now an enormous crowd of what are called mangones" (slave-traders), who were "draining the population" of North Africa.  Slave-traders inhabit wild places to waylay travelers, and break into peoples' homes to snatch children.  (One of whom, having been liberated, he describes interviewing.)  He recounts how, in one incident, the Christians of Hippo liberated more than a hundred slaves:

"Let me give you just one example, and you can estimate from it the total extent of their activity throughout Africa and along its coasts. About four months before I wrote this letter, a crowd of people collected from different regions, but particularly from Numidia, were brought here by Galatian merchants to be transported from the shores of Hippo (It is only, or at least mainly, the Galatians who are so eager to engage in this form of commerce). However, a faithful Christian was at hand, who was aware of our practice of performing acts of mercy in such cases; and he brought the news to the church. Immediately, about 120 people were set free by us (though I was absent at the time), some from the ship which they had to board, others from a place where they had been hidden before being put on board. We discovered that barely five or six of these had been sold by their parents. On hearing about the misfortunes that had led the rest of them to the Galatians, via their abductors and kidnappers, hardly one of us could restrain their tears."
400s: St. Patrick rebukes Coroticus for enslaving Christians and threatens him with damnation:

“I do not know what to lament more: those who have been slain, or those whom they have taken captive, or those whom the devil has mightily ensnared. Together with him they will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment; for who commits sin is a slave and will be called a son of the devil.”

The assumption here, which has NT precedent, is that slave-trading is a “sin,” and a particularly nasty one, showing that the sinner is “mightily ensnared” by the devil. Patrick’s rant continues:

“Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots . . .They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder . . . This is the custom of the Roman Christians of Gaul: they send holy and able men to the Franks and other heathen with so many thousand solidi to ransom baptized captives. You prefer to kill and sell them to a foreign nation that has no knowledge of God. You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel. What hope have you in God, or anyone who thinks as you do, or converses with you in words of flattery? God will judge.”

500s: An anonymous Christian believer in Egypt makes a legal declaration that a woman dependant on his family named Martha is not a slave, as she says, but free. After she certified that she was in fact of slave status, “fearing the judgment of God, and mindful of the Savior’s love of mankind, I groaned aloud.” He warned that anyone who tried to enslave the woman and her children would be subject to God’s judgment.

610: Isidore of Seville, one of the great intellectual leaders of his age, insists that "God . . . has made no difference between the soul of the slave and that of the freedman."  He also writes, "I can hardly credit that a friend of Christ, who has experienced that grace, which bestowed freedom on all, would still own slaves."

781: Jing Jing, in Chang An, the Chinese capital, writing an authoritative summary of the history and characteristics of the Church of the East:

“They do not keep slaves, but make the noble and humble equal. (不畜臧獲。均貴賤於人). They do not amass wealth, but put their stock in common.” (Note: the first Chinese phrase here is an unusual classical expression, used similarly by the Han historian Si Maqian, among other places.)

972: Counsel of Koblenz

1008: Wulfston, Archbishop of York, writes legislation banning the export of slaves from England.  Several years later, in the "Sermon of the Wolf to the English," Wulfston lambasted the English for many social evils, including restricting the rights of slaves, and sex slave trade:

"And poor men are grieviously betrayed and cruelly deceived and widely sold out of this land into the possession of strangers even when perfectly innocent.  And widely throughout this nation children in the cradle are enslaved for minor theft through savage injustice.  And the rights of free men are taken away, the rights of slaves are pared away . . . and to put it briefly, God's laws are hated, and His councils despised."

"Too many Christian people have been sold out of this country.  All this is hateful to God, believe it who will." 

"These people club together and buy a woman for themselves out of the common fund . . . taking turns like dogs . . . And then for the right price they sell God's creature . . . out of the country into the hands of enemies."

Wulfston makes it clear that God was judging the English people through disease, "rapacious taxes," storms, and most of all, the ravages of the Vikings, for such sins. 

 Slaves seem to have constituted either about 2 or 10% of inhabitants of England.

1000-1150 Iceland: ¨Christian influences were also one reason why slavery declined and disappeared in the 11th and early 12th centuries.¨ Jon Hjalmarsson (a history teacher in Iceland and regional administrator of education), History of Iceland, 34

1102: Under the leadership of Anselm, philosopher and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Council of Westminster condemned the slave trade: “Let no one here after presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals.”

1198: Founding of Trinitarians, who are credited with freeing almost a million (Christian) slaves over following centuries, among other acts of charity.

1200s: Founding of Mercedarian Order, also dedicated to freeing Christian slaves.

1256: The city of Bologna decided to place all bonded servants under eccelesiastical jurisdiction, then to grant them liberty.  According to David Hart, "The municipal government reached this decision explicitly on Christian grounds." (Atheist Delusions, 181) 

1300s: Louis X allows slaves to buy their freedom, as Avalos notes, to swell his coffers; actually his rationalization extended beyond that. In any case, France remained mostly slave-free, which did not need to happen.

1335: Magnus IV outlaws slavery (for Christians, anyway) in most of Scandinavia.

1416: The Republic of Ragusa (in modern Croatia) abolishes slavery and slave-trading.

1404 /1435: Spain colonized the Canary Islands and enslaved its inhabitants. In 1435 Pope Eugene IV wrote a bull entitled "Sicut Dudum." In it, he commanded that all enslaved Christians who were inhabitants of the Canary Islands be freed. This was no real step forward in doctrine.  But it marked the opening shot in a long struggle between colonists and a church that often tried to ammeliorate or reverse the oppressive acts the colonists took against "heathen natives." 

1508: Thomas Hunt, one of John Smith's lieutenants (see Pocahontas for the Disney version!), kidnaps an American Indian named Tisquantum (Squanto) and attempts to sell him as a slave in Europe. Friars educate him, he is freed and returns to North America. While he is gone, everyone in his village died in an epidemic. Settlers at Plymouth are surprised to meet an Indian who speaks English. He teaches them how to fish, fertilize vegetables, and talk with other local tribes, enabling the colony to survive.

1537: Pope Paul III wrote (Sublimis Deus) about the enslavement of the natives of the West and South Indies. Satan, the "enemy of the human race," had:

"... thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving Word of God. ... Satan has stirred up some of his allies ... who are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians be reduced to our service like brute animals. And they reduce them to slavery, treating them with afflictions we would scarcely use with brute animals. ... Rather, we decree that these same Indians should not be deprived of their liberty・and are not to be reduced to slavery."

The Pope did, however, allow that non-Christian soldiers captured in a just war could be enslaved.  (One cannot, after all, simply set them free, and have them rejoin their units.  James Herriot tells, in one of his books, how German prisoners-of-war often rather cheerfully helped farmers in Yorkshire in World War II: no doubt it beat a POW camp.) 

1588: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth abolishes slavery.

1772: The Somersett’s case essentially ruled against the (already rare) institution of slavery in England.

1777: The Republic of Vermont adopted a Constitution outlawing slavery: "no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent."

1778: Slavery is outlawed in Scotland.

1780: Pennsylvania passes an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery; other northern states follow with similar laws in 1783, 1784, 1799, and 1804.

1783: Slavery is ruled illegal in Massachusetts.

1780-1803: Other new laws are adopted against slavery in various parts of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

c 1790  “Although the Catholic Church did not forbid it, Koreans also seem to have understood that the Christian gospel precluded slave-holding. Yun Gun-myeong of Chungcheong province liberated all his bondservants after he was baptized (Dallet 1874: 271), and when Hwang Il-gwang – a butcher and therefore an outcaste – became a Christian, he was received on the same footing as other believers . . . “ Kim and Kim, A History of Korean Christianity, 26
(Note: not all early Korean Catholics seem to have recognized this principle either, but there was already a long such history in the Catholic church.)
1804: Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery.

1825: American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson buys a Karen slave and mass-murderer, Thah Byu. He teaches him Christianity and baptizes him.  Thah Byu is the first Karen Christian, and spends the rest of his life preaching the Gospel, helping found a Karen church that now exceeds a million believers. 

1881: Griffith John, Leading the Family in the Right Way (Yinjia Guidao, 1881) (note: John was a famous and effective Protestant missionary to China), covers Christian doctrines, and deals with ancestor worship, the Sabbath, etc. “It also treats social themes such as child slavery and education for girls, almsgiving and polygamy, footbinding and work ethics, equal rights that should exist between men and women, and marriage between Christians and non-Christians.” Oak (B &L Christianity in Korea), 84
1884: Ernest Faber, Zixi Cudong, Evangelical Missionary Society of Basel, 1884 book. Confucianism should be ally to Christianity. “Grafting.” Includes discussing of peace-making, humane treatment of animals, honest admin, street improvements, “and of prohibiting the slave trade and female infanticide.” Oak, 88
c. 1908: "You see, in those days foreigners were afraid we would take their heads. But that didn't stop Mr. Young Man (Watkin Roberts, a Welsh missionary to eastern India.) Why, once when he heard that a dying Lushai chief was having his slaves buried with him, he traveled day and night to save them. The slaves were already buried to their waist when he arrived. He ordered his native helpers to dig them out, and nobody laid a hand on him." (James and Marti Hefley, God's Tribesman: The Rochunga Pudaite Story, 19)

After 1800, and with this precedent, evangelicals (and Quakers) led what became the moral crusade against slavery, first in the English world, then extending around the world to this day. (I myself was privileged to play a small role in the continuing struggle.)

But not being a slave myself, I think I'll end here. A more proactive argument for the influence Christianity had and continues to have in ameliorating and ending slavery is probably needed to join all these little dots; maybe I’ll find time to write such a paper, or book, later.  


Jason Pratt said...

I can add a bit of further Pauline anti-slavery testimony, although I don't know how influential it was: in the list of mortal sins from 1 Tim 1:10 (setting aside whether the epistle was written or modified after Paul's death), {andrapodiste_s} or man-footers are regarded as ungodly sinners.

That's a term for slave raiders, people who capture and sell other men into slavery.


David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Jason. I see in my Greek vocab that the word means "slave-dealer" or "kidnapper," and is only used once in the NT.

But analyzing what the Bible says about slavery would take at least a book, if not a very long blog . . . Someone else has probably done it already, but it would be a lot of fun to do that study for oneself.

Jason Pratt said...

Correct, used only once in the NT. (While I have access to an LXX online, I don't have a concordance and its search tools are weak.)

And yes, not everything said about slavery in the Bible is very convenient for us as apologists after the fact.


David B Marshall said...

No, of course not! That's part of what makes it fun. Another part would be teasing out implications.

Jason Pratt said...

Quite true, although I don't think many people (pro or con) appreciate the "fun" aspect. {g}


Someone who actually knows some history said...

I've spotted numerous problems with your list of “abolition” but here is the most absurd example. St. Augustine DID NOT argue for the abolition of slavery. Your cognitive dissonance must be enormous to have misread him so poorly. St. Augustine was arguing how slavery did seem unjust but because of sin man must be content with his place in society. This hierarchical society is punishment for our inherited sin and “forbids its disruption.” He isn't arguing for the end of slavery at all.

David B Marshall said...

Someone: Here's what I actually said, since you seem to have missed it the first time around:

"There is, in the genome of Scripture, SOMETHING THAT PUSHES TOWARDS LIBERTY, that eventually emerged in a big way . . . NOT every item on this list is, strictly speaking, about
"abolition" in the full sense. But these are important MARKERS in that GENERAL DIRECTION."

Next time, please make it harder, by carefully reading the claims you suppose yourself to be refuting, first. If this blunder is not warning enough, see two posts past, on the intellectual laziness of the New Atheism, and do try not to resemble those remarks.

Someone who actually knows some history said...

Have you provided any evidence that these views led to the abolition of slavery? Nope. You have also switched your position. I’ve read your back and forth with Hector Avalos and your original position was not that these Christian views “eventually” lead to abolition but that Christianity had a direct impact on slavery and Christianity lead to the ending of slavery. You’ve softened your position since your previous arguments have been so badly exposed. That’s very dishonest of you since you know your arguments are full of it.

(I also think you ought to follow your own advice...)

Anonymous said...

your original position was not that these Christian views “eventually” lead to abolition but that Christianity had a direct impact on slavery and Christianity lead to the ending of slavery.

Do you realize that "Christianity had a direct impact on slavery and led to the ending of slavery" and "this was not an immediate outcome" are compatible? And do you realize that Mr. Marshall responded to you, and you immediately changed the subject in light of his correction of your error?

And yes, evidence has been provided that Christian views led to the abolition of slavery. You need only read the list, and understand what impact they would have if followed. Has a complete causal argument been given? No, but this is history, not physics - the evidence doesn't work that way.

Don't be upset at Avalos getting smoked on this question. He reacts frantically, and as a result usually poorly, when it comes to Christian questions.

David B Marshall said...

Quite right, Anon.

Typical Gnu. Comes blustering in here claiming to be "someone who actually knows something about history," implying that other people don't. Doesn't give his / her name, say hi, or admit learning anything new, which I think most people could. (I did, making the list.) Claims I'm suffering from "cognitive dissonance" because I "misread" Augustine so badly.

Unfortunately, it turns out the actual misreading was his own. Should we ascribe that to "cognitive dissonance" on his part? Maybe so.

No apology. No, "Well, I guess you sorta got a point." Typical Gnu strategy: when caught talking error, up the ante and crank out the ad hom. Now I'm not just wrong (about what?) I'm being "very dishonest," somehow.

If you come back, Somebody, please comment like an adult, like one grownup to another. This is not a video arcade.

Someone who actually knows some history said...

Anon & David,

I did not change my position. I pointed out David's misuse of St. Augustine's quote, showing that it does not support the abolition (or even manumission) of slavery, but is PRO SLAVERY. He argued that he claimed these views led to the abolition of slavery but provided not a shred of evidence for this. I also pointed out that during the discussion with Avalos it was David's view that Christianity ended slavery and that it had a mostly anti-slavery message. Now, his view is that Christians did support slavery but by some form of magic these PRO SLAVERY arguments SOMEHOW ended slavery. Huh??? What?! That doesn't make any sense.

Typical Gnu? That slur sounds more like something from some punk kid than an adult. Judging by your bad manners I'd say you act more like a punk kid at an arcade than any atheist I've witnessed.

David, please provide your evidence that these PRO SLAVERY statements led to the abolition of slavery.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Do you realize that "Gnu" was a name the Cult of Gnu appropriated for themselves? Then again you're talking about "punk kids in an arcade" so you're apparently not very clear on current events. Maybe you mean a greaser at a sock-hop? And if you think calling someone a "typical gnu" is acting "more like a punk than any atheist I've witnessed", then really - you're either utterly ignorant of atheism, particular atheism on the internet, or deluded. Maybe a bit of both.

David's Augustine quote was: "St. Augustine argues that, while slavery occurs as punishment for sins, and might be a just substitute for killing soldiers on the losing side of a just war, it was not part of God's plan for humanity:"

In other words, he acknowledged Augustine's views on slavery, but pointed out the trajectory of that view given God's plan. Nor is David's argument that "Christians did support slavery" - again, just read the examples he provided to see the trajectory of Christian thought and its undermining of slavery, and the logical conclusions inherent in recognizing that slavery was not part of God's original plan, that all are equal in the eyes of God, the criticisms of slavery given by the Christians he quoted.

No "magic" is required. Just reading and comprehending. Though that may seem like magic to a gnu. ;)

Someone who actually knows some history said...


He provided no "trajectory." Almost all the quotes he provides are pro slavery. Just where did God mention abolishing slavery in the bible? It's news to me. The bible is a pro slavery book. If anyone is deluded it's you since it's clear you know nothing of history.

David B Marshall said...

Somebody: "Pro-slavery" is a term of limited meaning in the context of a world in which there is little or no debate about it. Aristotle said some are slaves by nature. Augustine said no, slavery is not part of God's plan at all, though given warfare and sin, it might be better than the alternative sometimes. (Like killing defeated foes, as was the usual alternative in the ancient world.) Augustine's recognize that slavery is fundamentally wrong, that human beings should not have that much control over one another, shows, as Anon put it, the beginnings of a useful trajectory. It is not the end of line, but the train is finally starting to go in the right direction.

It should be obvious that there is a real and critical difference between saying slavery is natural, and saying it is an unnatural consequence of sin.

My OP was intellectually modest. I admitted, at the end:

"A more proactive argument for the influence Christianity had and continues to have in ameliorating and ending slavery is probably needed to join all these little dots; maybe I’ll find time to write such a paper, or book, later."

To gloss Augustine as "pro-slavery" is lacking in nuance and fairness. And to gloss my manners as worse than your own, let alone "any atheist I've met," is absurd. I have not, best I recall, cursed you, relasped into pornographic Anglo-Saxon, described sexual tortures I wish you would undergo, wished you to hell, or spoken wistfully of your death by anaconda, as I have found is the habit of many atheists on popular websites when their views are contradicted.

I do think some of your comments have been rather childish. Prove me wrong not by saying, in essence, "Oh yeah? But what about you?;" but by dealing with the actual argument (such as it is) in a mature and fair way.

Someone who actually knows some history said...

If Augustine thought slavery was wrong he should have ignored Christian dogma and railed against slavery, but no. He did not do that. He justified it. That's a far cry from being against it. I'd agree it's not quite as bad as viewing it as "natural" but it's not much better.

You continue to neglect my request for facts about exactly how these views helped to end slavery since many of them are not even against it.

Childish? How so? Because I'm actually asking you to back up your assertions? Because I'm challenging your supposed all-powerful knowlege of all things? There is nothing wrong with asking someone to back up something they've said. That's not childish, it's a sign of maturity and critical thinking. It's healthy to ask questions, and the fact that you're short on answers says alot.

So I repeat. Please quit with the name calling and just answer my question. How did the quotes you cited help to end slavery?

Someone who actually knows some history said...

One more thing. Those are some pretty serious accusations about some atheists. Do you have any proof that atheists said these things to you? Sexual tortures?! I find that hard to believe. Can I see the emails or websites where these things supposedly occured?

David B Marshall said...

Somebody: Again, if you want to challenge my argument, you're free to do that, but you need to start by getting it right. Your series of posts here have been like the first 5 steps Wiley Coyote takes after he runs off the cliff chasing the roadrunner. Gravity, i.e. the reality of what I am actually arguing, just doesn't seem to kick in, right away.

Again. I do not claim Augustine was an abolitionist. If I wanted to say that, I would have edited out the words you quote, which I left in because it would have been "dishonest" to do otherwise.

All right, you admit a difference between Augustine and Aristotle. That's a step forward.

Few of the people on this list are minor characters. Many of them were the leading Christian thinkers of their eras and civilizations. So while I don't claim this is the whole story, given the fact that slavery was the norm in most ancient civilizations, this is a very significant story.

It is also important because great reforms seldom arise instantaneously. These, I believe, are the roots of one of the greatest reforms of modern times.

Yes, it would take more to show that the Christian Scriptures inspired these and later reforms, as I believe they did. As I said at the end of the OP, to make that case would take a lot more than a short timeline in a blog.

I'd love to tell this story, and make this case, at book-length, and maybe I will some time. But if you read my OP carefully, it is clear that you really haven't challenged anything in it yet, except maybe the deliberately anachronistic (and rhetorical) use of the word "abolition."

David B Marshall said...

Somebody: No, I'm not going to look up and link to sites where Gnus have let loose with said hate speech. Feel free to tell yourself, "It can't be so!" if you like. If you've managed to avoid even seeing that kind of thing, so much the better for you. And for me, too.

NickM said...

'Tis not as simple as this post makes out. Let's consider what happened in the 1800s:


"The pro-slavery South could point to slaveholding by the godly patriarch Abraham (Gen 12:5; 14:14; 24:35-36; 26:13-14), a practice that was later incorporated into Israelite national law (Lev 25:44-46). It was never denounced by Jesus, who made slavery a model of discipleship (Mk 10:44). The Apostle Paul supported slavery, counseling obedience to earthly masters (Eph 6:5-9; Col 3:22-25) as a duty in agreement with "the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness" (1 Tim 6:3). Because slaves were to remain in their present state unless they could win their freedom (1 Cor 7:20-24), he sent the fugitive slave Onesimus back to his owner Philemon (Phlm 10-20). The abolitionist north had a difficult time matching the pro-slavery south passage for passage. [...] Professor Eugene Genovese, who has studied these biblical debates over slavery in minute detail, concludes that the pro-slavery faction clearly emerged victorious over the abolitionists except for one specious argument based on the so-called Curse of Ham (Gen 9:18-27). For our purposes, it is important to realize that the South won this crucial contest with the North by using the prevailing hermeneutic, or method of interpretation, on which both sides agreed. So decisive was its triumph that the South mounted a vigorous counterattack on the abolitionists as infidels who had abandoned the plain words of Scripture for the secular ideology of the Enlightenment."

(Noll, Mark A. (2002). The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South. Oxford University Press. p. 640.)

David B Marshall said...

Nick: I don't want to debate Wikipedia. Anyway, that cite is not directly relevant to the points in my OP -- the timeline here ENDS long before the events it refers to. In fact, I deliberately avoid interpretting "what the Bible says about slavery," not because I think it would undermine my argument, but because it's a whole nuther subject, and a big, complex one, too.

As to Noll's HISTORICAL point, no doubt both sides convinced themselves they "won" the debate -- if not, it was unique in the history of such debates. And of course the South had every financial and psychological motive to convince itself of that.

His apparent THEOLOGICAL point strikes me as bull, frankly. But that is tangential to the point I am making here, and would be too much to deal with in this post. Maybe I'll challenge what I see as Noll's manifest error in a later post.

Doug said...

Here's another item for the list from the Wikipedia entry on "Bologna" (the Italian city):

In 1256, Bologna promulgated the Legge del Paradiso ("Paradise Law"), which abolished feudal serfdom and freed the slaves, using public money.

The weight of the evidence isn't particularly weakened by deweighting Augustine...

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Doug. If I can find a more detailed citation, I'll add it to the list.

Doug said...

A more detailed mention is in David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions, which comes highly recommended, btw.

David B Marshall said...

Yes, I see. Turns out I highlighted the passage in blue, on page 181:

"In 1256 the city of Bologna decided to place all bonded servants within the city under eccelesiastical jurisdiction and then to grant them liberty; and the municipal government reached this decision explicitly on Christian grounds."

Hart cites John Noonan, A Church That Can and Cannot Change.

I see there are several other such important episodes cited in that chapter as well. When I get time, I'll have to look into them and supplement the list.

Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

Gregory of Nyssa's writings (pre-Augustine, and incontrovertibly abolitionist) should have been enough to give "someone" pause...

NickM said...

Mark Noll isn't just some guy on wikipedia, I believe he is supposed to be the leading historical of evangelicalism in the U.S., and himself an evangelical professor at Wheaton for most of his career.

Why do you think the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches split into Northern and Southern denominations in the decades before the Civil War? If the Bible and Christian tradition were so clear on this issue, presumably the most conservative, most Biblical Americans would have led the charge against slavery. But it appears that the leaders in the fight against American slavery were, well, liberal, Enlightenment-influenced Christians.

David B Marshall said...

Nick: Sorry if I was a bit gruff this morning. I know who Mark Noll is. I've just never been that great a fan.

I'm not claiming the Bible is crystal clear. But slave-owners obviously had strong financial and psychological incentives to come to pro-slave conclusions. The North had incentives both ways, but the abolitionist movement was more purely a spiritually-inspired movement than the desire of slave-owners to get rich off the sweat of those they owned.

Lots of evangelicals have sex outside of marriage, too, but that doesn't mean the issue isn't pretty clear, in the NT. Follow the money; cherchez la femme.

Doug said...

Just a bit of perspective: those "liberal, enlightenment-influenced Christians" Nick speaks of leading the fight against American slavery would be would (and should!) be considered remarkably conservative today. Quakers and Mennonites! (Anthony Benezet and John Woolman were considerably more influential in the movement than Thomas Paine or Benjamin Franklin, the relative celebrity of the latter two notwithstanding).

David B Marshall said...

Yes, and the point of this thread is, here was the trend BEFORE the "Enlightenment." To the extent is was real and good, the Enlightenment was I think largely an effect of Christian reformist thinking, not mainly the cause -- though Voltaire did say some good and helpful things. But Stark shows that Enlightenment thinkers weren't usually much help on this issue; some of them owned or slaves, themselves.

David B Marshall said...

Addendum: Reading this thread over, I see I made at least one misleading statement. In fact, the person who wished (me) death by anaconda, was not I think an atheist, just a radical critic of ID who didn't like my very partial defense of same. All in all, I rather admired the creativity of his insults, though I was not entirely sure of his sanity.

David B Marshall said...

Doug: Thanks for bringing that letter of Augustine's to my attention! Sorry, I mistakenly deleted your post. But I've looked up the letter, and incorporated the information, in the main post above. If you come across anything else like that, please do let us know!

Ken said...

A bit late to this discussion, but couldn't the whole Exodus narrative be theological ammunition for abolitionism?

David B Marshall said...

Ken: Yes, it was, and very important. But if the question is whether or not the Bible supports slavery in general, it's less important because the Israelis subsequently enslaved non-Jews, appparently with God's approval. So you can appropriate it for abolitionist causes, but more carefully interpreted, it might only imply liberating Jewish or Christian slaves -- a big step already, however, and crucial in the liberation of pre-modern Europe from slavery.