Roman Catholic Church
Opposition to Slavery

A significant number of Biblical principles ban, proscribe and/or forbid slavery. U.S. abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, Key (1851), pp 115-120, detailed a number of them.

"To the credit of Roman Catholics, it must be said [despite being in the midst of a pro-slavery nation, the U.S.A.], that they maintain no arrangements of caste founded in color, in their Churches," said Rev. William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle In Both Hemispheres; With A View of The Slavery Question In The United States (New York: William Harned Pub, 1852), p 201.

Slavers and their accessories often pretended that the Hebrew Bible allowed slavery among the Israelites. Not so:

  • “the term slavery should never be used to designate the [Israelites'] servitude [employment] under the Mosaic economy [system].”—Rev. John G. Fee, An Anti-Slavery Manual (New York: William Harned, 1851), p 63, and “the Mosaic servitude had none of the characteristics of modern slavery,” p 17. God had enabled the Hebrews to have fled slavery themselves, p 66. His divine Bible law made man-stealing a death penalty offense, p 46, citing Exodus 21:16, and Deuteronomy 24:7. Slavery violated God's original grant, original intent, p 116. Slavery is extortion, p 10, citing, e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:10. Slavery is listed as an offense like murder and perjury, 1 Timothy 1:10-11.

  • “In reality, the [so-called] Hebrew slave is a hireling [employee; job-holder].”—Henry J. Grimmelsman, Professor of Old Testament Exegesis, Mt. St. Mary Seminary of the West, Cincinnati, The Book of Exodus (Norwood, Cincinnati, Ohio: The Seminary Book Store, 1927), p 144.

  • “There never was such a thing as slavery among the Hebrews, nor ever any such thing as slave-legislation; they had no word in the language to signify a slave, nor did God ever permit any such word to be brought in . . . [the] legislation [was instead] absolutely and entirely against it . . . in abhorrence of it . . . condemning and forbidding it under penalty of death”—Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D., Iniquity of the Extension of Slavery (1856), pp 19-20.

  • And “perpetual slavery was not permitted by the Jewish law. . . . perpetual slavery was unknown among the Jews.”—Bishop Samuel Horsley, D.D., "Speech" (24 June 1806)

  • “There was never, at any time, in the Jewish [Bible] statutes, or authorized by them, any such thing as slavery in the Hebrew nation; never any claim of property in man.”—Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D., God Against Slavery (Cincinnati: American Reform Tract and Book Society, 1857), p 97.

  • “Involuntary servitude was forbidden by the divine law, and the service appointed by the constitution of the Jewish state was a free [voluntary, employee] service.”—Cheever, p 72.

  • “The [Hebrew] legislation commenced by making the great and common source of slavery—kidnapping—a capital crime.”—Harriet Beecher Stowe, Key (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co, 1853), p 117.

  • “The word slave is used but once in the New Testament, and then, not to translate *@\8@H, but @T:" (soma.) Rev. xviii. 13. And those who would see in prospective the awful calamity of those who enslave, may turn to that chapter, and read the suffering of her, "the smoke of whose torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.”—Fee, Antislavery Manual, p 76.

  • Pope Gregory XVI's 3 Dec 1839 In Supremo Apostolatus “condemned slavery and the slave trade and forbad all Catholics from propounding views contrary to this.” [Excerpt]. All Christians agree. (As abolitionists showed, those who do not, are not Christian.)

    "Slavery and Christianity could not co-exist . . . , and the doom of slavery became certain [when this was realized]," says Rev. William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle In Both Hemispheres; With A View of The Slavery Question In The United States (New York: William Harned Pub, 1852), p 368. "Christianity had abolished slavery throughout the Roman Empire. . . . The feudal system had been displaced in modern Europe . . .," p 370.

  • Rev. John G. Fee, Sinfulness of Slavery (1851), p 34, praised taking such strong stand, and cited slavery as major sin, pp 33-34.

  • See also the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), vol. 4, p 383-391, at 390, showing that the Biblical Palestinian economy was built on free, meaning voluntary, labor. Re the word "buy," the modern term "hire" is the meaning. This was true during the entire Bible events era, including the record of events from Abraham through Christ.
  • The Twelve Tribes of Israel were to be agrarians. Work for yourself, on your own plot of land. Your land, your family farm, was guaranteed by law, the Jubilee law (Leviticus 25:10), to remain in the family forever. Having everyone self-employed on their own family farm as an agrarian, means essentially no unemployment, no homelessness, no crime, no poverty, and certainly no slavery—indeed, near Utopia. Abandoning your family farm, to go somewhere else, to go "get a job" working for somebody else, NOT.   (The agrarian contempt for 'jobs' has been forgotten in this post-agrarian, industrialized world.)   Wherefore, there is no Bible record of anyone ever abandoning his family farm, to go work for someone else (to "get a job")!     The Bible concept of slavery includes the full range of working-for-others from the mildest form (jobs) to the full-force type of slavery (kidnapping, genocide, rape). All are included under the Biblical pro-agrarian rebuke, contempt, derision, disdain. Anyone so crazy was to abandon his farm, and "want a job," has a hole in his head! Exodus 21:6, Deuteronomy 15:17, i.e., in modern terms, is "crazy." The Bible has no record of anyone ever being so out of his mind as to abandon his farm and "get a job," i.e., to work for hire, sell himself, be bought.

    Keep this context, this agrarian atitude, in mind. For background, see Rev. Theodore D. Weld, The Bible Against Slavery (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1837).

    There were no slaves in Israel at the time of Christ. Consequently, He never met any slaveholders or slaves there, says Rev. Fee, supra, pp 79-81. The Jews, indeed, insisted they were free, always free, and had never had slavery, nor had anyone ever been made slaves in Israel. John 8:33. Slavery would have violated many Bible principles, including those against extortion, says Fee, supra, pp 119-121.

    At one time, for one ultra-short period, Judah (only one of the twelve [12] tribes of Israel), did try to commit the sin of slavery! The divine reaction/penalty was swift, Jeremiah 34:17, the prompt wiping out of the nation by terrorists and Ancient Babylon, says Rev. George B. Cheever, God Against Slavery (1857), pp 72-81 and 107-115. That ended that!
    God and the Bible are ultra anti-slavery, providing the death penalty for even attempting it (modern term, kidnapping).
    Even in the depths of Southern slavery, one pro-slavery activist, Thomas F. Marshall, had "too much respect for . . . God, to" [accuse His Word of having pro-slavery words].
    Pro-slavery clergymen lacked such respect. They “had simply no moral sense,” said Kentucky clergyman Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge, p 9. Their scandalous behavior was the “acmé of piratical turpitude,” says Lewis Tappan, Address (1843), p 19.
    Instead of respect, U.S. clergy, says Rev. Stephen S. Foster in Thieves (1843), were as described by a pro-slavery clergyman, Rev. Smylie, three-fourths of them “of the devil” (pp 14-15). No doubt, in view of slavery's purpose, p 57, including selling women into prostitution, p 41, and advocating lynching of anti-slavery activists, p 46.
    For more examples of wicked U.S. clergymen, see the list of vile pro-slavery clergy.
    In short, most U.S. clergy lacked the respect that slaver Marshall professed to have for God. Rev. Fee saw that “ninety-nine hundredths of the Christian ministry in our land claim that it [slavery] is at least tolerated by the Bible” (Sinfulness of Slavery, 1851), p 3.
    Note 1 Kings 18:19, citing at Elijah's time, an 850:1 ratio of honest vs lying clergy, sadly a continuing dilemma, 1 Corinthians 10:6 and 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
    Shamefully, many alleged Christian clergy, expositors, translators, and commentators even today, lack even Marshall's "respect for God" on the slavery subject, and despite the vast evidence against it, still falsely accuse the Bible of being pro-slavery. Recognize them for what they are, hard-core dedicated militant God-hating atheists, intending to make God out as a contradictory crazed old fool, condemning slavery in some chapters and verses, supporting it in others!

    Then comes the New Testament era. Indeed, long before the U.S. experience, the Roman Catholic Church was an anti-slavery leader, and essentially ended slavery in Europe "before the middle of the fourteenth century," says Francis Hargrave [1721-1841], in Somerset v Stewart, 20 Howell's State Trials 1; 98 Eng Rep 499 (KB, 1772), pp 33-34 (1772). See also the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Slavery and Christianity."

    A number of church anti-slavery documents in Latin were reprinted by Dr. Jaime Luciano Balmes (1810-1848), El Protestantismo Comparado Con El Catolicismo (Barcelona, Spain: Brusi, 1842, 1844, 1849, 1857; through a 13th edition, Barcelona: Editorial Araluce, 1934). His book was also translated into
  • Italian, as Il Protestantismo Paragonato col Cattolicismo nelle sue Relizione con la Civiltà Éuropea (Roma: G.B. Zampi, 1845, 1846)
  • French, as Le Protestantisme Comparé au Catholicisme dans ses Rapports avec la Civilisation Européene, 8th éd., rev. et cor. avec soin, et augm. d'une introduction par A. de Blanche-Raffin (Paris, 1870)
  • English, by C. J. Hanford and Robert Kershaw, as European Civilization: Protestantism and Catholicity Compared (Baltimore: Murphy & Co, 1850, 1874).
  • Balme's purpose was to show that Protestantism had a poorer anti-slavery record than Catholicism. Examples that Dr. Jaime L. Balmes cited include data from the following years:
    • 441 A.D. (censuring slavers)
    • 549 A.D. (church buildings as refuges for escaping slaves)
    • 566 A.D. (excommunication-of-slavers proviso)
    • 583 A.D. (church issuance of freedom papers)
    • 585 A.D. (use church property to free slaves)
    • 595 A.D. (freeing entrants to monastic life)
    • 616 A.D. (liberty restoration proviso)
    • 625 A.D. (ban new slaves, use church property to free current slaves)
    • 666 A.D. (ban shaving slaves)
    • 844 A.D. (use church property to free slaves)
    • 922 A.D. (defines slave-trade as homicide)
    • 1102 A.D. (ban slave trade)

    Dr. Jaime L. Balmes cited
  • Pope Adrian I (771-795): "According to the words of the apostle, as in Jesus Christ we ought not to deprive either slaves or freemen of the sacraments of the chuch, so it is not allowed in any way to prevent the marriage of slaves; and if their marriages have been contracted in spite of the opposition and repugnance of their masters, nevertheless they ought not to be dissolved," and

  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1225/7 - 1274) with respect to marriage: "slaves are not obliged to obey their masters." And: "Human law is law only in virtue of its accordance with right reason: and thus it is manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; in such case it is no law at all, but rather a species of violence." Source: "Summa Theologica," I-II, Q.93, Art. 3 ad 2.

  •           ". . . the Church, from the beginning, regarded [the slave trade] as immoral . . . In 873, John VIII wrote to the rulers of Sardinia . . . ordering them to restore freedom to slaves bought from the Greeks. . . . ["on Oct. 7, 1462" "Pius II" issued a "condemnation" of the "slave trade."] [See also Biography of Pius II.]

    St. John Chrysostom [345 A.D. - 407 A.D.], Patriarch of Constantinople, said "Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of extravagance, of insatiable greediness" in his Epist. ad Ephes., Homil. XXII. 2.

    Pope Eugene IV condemned slavery in the Canary Islands in 1435 and ordered immediate manumission (within 15 days): “All and each of the faithful of each sex, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of the Canary Islands … who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money.”

    Other Popes condemning slavery included Gregory XIV (1591); Innocent XI (1686); Benedict XIV (1741), and Pius VII (1815).

    And see The Catholic Church and Slavery, by Lane Core, Jr. Core says that Pope Paul III in 1537explicitly attributed slavery to "the enemy of the human race, Satan." He excommunicated slavers. His declaration, Sublimus Dei, stated that: “the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.” Click here for the full text (29 May 1537).

    In 1838, Gregory XVI condemned all forms of colonial slavery and the slave trade, calling it inhumanum illud commercium."

    "In a letter to the bishops of Brazil (May 5, 1888), Leo XIII recalled the Church's unceasing efforts in the course of centuries to get rid of colonial slavery and the slave trade and expressed his satisfaction that Brazil had at last abolished it."

    "From the 15th century Catholic missionaries, theologians, and statesmen never ceased to strive for the abolition of ignominious traffic in human beings."

    "During the French Revolution, at the instigation of a Catholic priest, the Abbé [Henri] Grégoire [1750-1831], the National Assemby in 1794 decreed the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in all French colonies. In 1890, Cardinal Lavigerie (1825-1892) founded the antislave league of France for combatting of slavery and the slave trade on an international basis."—New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 13 (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1967), "Slavery and Christianity," pp 282, 284.

    Vol 6, pp 786-787, adds that Gregory XVI's 3 Dec 1839 In supremo "condemned slavery and the slave trade and forbade all Catholics to propound views contrary to this."

    This was not new doctrine, as the record shows. For example, in "1102 a council held in London saw fit to decree: 'Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals.'"—New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 13 (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1967), p 284.

    Shortly before, in 1095, Pope Urban II had condemned not merely stealing (slavery is man-stealing) but also the abuse by the rich of the poor (slavery involves people with money buying other people): "'Therefore we must consider especially how severely punished will be he who steals from another, if [since] he is infernally damned for [merely] not being generous with his own possessions.' For so it happend to the rich man in the familiar [rich man and Lazarus] Gospel story (Luc. 16:19-31). He [the rich man] was not punished for stealing from another, but because having received wealth, he used it badly." Source: Prof. Patrick J. Geary, ed., Readings in Medieval History (Orchard Park, New York: Broadview Press, 1989), p 423.

    King Alfred

    King Alfred the Great (871-899) had faced the issue earlier; "when Alfred the Great made laws for his English subjects he . . . turned . . . to the Old Testament. . . . his . . . law . . . opened with a recital of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] and proceeded with a recital of much of the Mosaic legislation contained in Exodus. The buyer of a Christian slave must free him without payment."—Claude G. Montefiore and Herbert M. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938), p 638.

    Clearly, just like other sins, the sin of slavery kept recurring.

    The Byzantine Emperor Justinian [527 A.D. - 565 A.D.] said this about slavery: "Captivity and servitude are both contrary to the law of nature; for by that law all men are born free." (Institutes, 21 November 533 A.D.) (This was 1,243 years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence said likewise!) And Justinian was repeating what was already then established.

    Roman jurists had already developed the maxim that any doubts in cases of freedom or slavery, should be resolved in favor of liberty.—William E. H. Lecky (1838-1903), The Substance of History of European Morals (from Augustus to Charlemagne), 2 vols, ed. Clement Wood (New York: Vanguard Press, 1926), I, p 295.

    For example, Roman jurist Domitius Ulpianus (c. 160 A.D. - 228 A.D.) had said, "by the law of nature all men are equal."—Digest, L, 17.32; and "natural law regards all men as equal"—On Sabinus, Book XLIII.

    This concept was foreshadowed in the Bible: "In reality, the Hebrew slave is a hireling [employee]," says Henry J. Grimmelsman, Professor of Old Testament Exegesis, Mt. St. Mary Seminary of the West, Cincinnati, The Book of Exodus (Norwood, Cincinnati, Ohio: The Seminary Book Store, 1927), p 144.

    The word "slave" was never used in the Hebrew Bible except Jeremiah 2:14 in criticism context. Instead, terms such as "made . . . to serve with rigor" and "hard bondage" (Exodus 1:13-14) were used to describe the forbidden thing (forbidden by Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7). Naturally, as Prof. Grimmelsman writes, the Hebrews had employees only, no slaves; and had received national punishment when, after several hundred years of freedom, under Judah's last king, an attempt was made to establish slavery, says Rev. George Cheever, God Against Slavery, supra, pp 107-115.

    You can refute slavers' false claims that the Bible repeatedly says 'slavery is ok.' Simply call attention to the fact is that the word 'slavery' is not even in the Bible; nor the word 'slaves,' not until Rev. 18:13, listing examples of evils Christ destroys on His return.

    Popes Urban VIII (1639); Leo XIII (1888); and Gregory XVI denounced slavery, the latter "in a papal brief, In supremo (1839)."—Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II (San Francisco: Harper, 1997), pp. 303, 339, 350.

    Pursuant to English and U.S. constitutional and criminal law, slavery was illegal and unconstitutional. Protestant abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison also opposed slavery. In 1854, Stowe published a list of anti-slavery Biblical principles, copied extensively from even earlier works.

    One of their colleagues, Rev. Parker Pillsbury, a survivor into the 1880's, wrote a book citing the following incident: In 1829, outgoing Pope Leo XII (1823-1829) or incoming Pope Pius VIII (1829-1830) told Mexico to abolish slavery "for the glory of God and to distinguish mankind from the brute creation."—Parker Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Concord, N.H., 1883), pages 67, 81, and 381. (Pillsbury did not cite which Pope it was).

    Rev. Pillsbury had earlier cited Catholic anti-slavery action, in his 1847 book, Forlorn Hope, p 94.

    Abolitionists knew this otherwise unknown Roman Catholic Church activity and were citing the fact even six decades later as the 1883 Pillsbury book shows.

    Catholic church history of actions against slavery was also cited by Harriet Beecher Stowe, in her Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co, 1853), pp 237-240, and specifically citing Dr. Jaime Luciano Balmes' church history.

    As we see, Mexico followed Church teaching to end slavery. By law, Mexico banned slavery. In retaliation, the United States invaded Mexican territory. Sadly, Protestant churches became cheer-leaders for the U.S. war of aggression. See Rev. Pillsbury, Forlon Hope, supra, pp 58-68. The majority of "Bible-Belt" clergy and Protestants were in fact heathens, p 21.

    For general background on the U.S. War of Aggression against Mexico, see Rev. William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery, supra, three chapters, pp 272-305.

    Slavery was primarily operated by tobacco pushers. Tobacco pushers are aggressive, expansionist. The War against Mexico was part of their expansionist goals. In a moral sense, therefore, Mainstream U.S. Protestant Churches were promoting slavers' causing atrocities and deaths, instead of the Gospel. See also Rev. Foster's identifying a more sinister motive, in Brotherhood of Thieves (1843), pp 71-73 (concubines for themselves).

    The Roman Catholic Church, by being anti-slavery, was thus continuing its former opposition to the tobacco lobby and its immorality (1493, arrested smoker from Columbus ship; 1642, condemning tobacco use and setting an excommunication penalty, says Julien L. Van Lancker, M.D.,"Smoking and Disease," pp 231, 235, in the US DHEW NIDA book, Research on Smoking Behavior (Dec 1977).

    Per 2 Corinthians 10:12-13, comparing with others is unwise. The correct comparison is with Bible Laws. When Adam was charged with sin, his carnal mind automatically sought to evade the Bible Law, by comparing, by finger-pointing at, changing the subject onto, others' errors, e.g., Eve's. Eve in turn compared with, finger-pointed at, changed the subject onto, the serpent's flaws. Genesis 3:11-13.

    Likewise, when slavers' sin was raised, they carnally responded by comparing, finger-pointing, subject-changing, e.g., the evils of Yankees in ill-treating their employees, the slave-trade, the tariff, certain hypocrisies, etc. As comparing, finger-pointing, subject-changing is the reaction of the carnal mind, note that yourself, on this subject (and others), among alleged/professed Christians.

    Wherefore, it is clear why the above-cited Pope, Gregory XVI, told Catholics to not defend slavery. Not only is it sin, but the defense involves oneself in the carnal unrepentant practice of subject-changing, comparing with, finger-pointing at, others. The only correct response to notification of one's Bible-Law violation is David's, to confess and stop sinning, 2 Samuel 12:13.

    Per Matthew 7:21, only the obedient are deemed Christian; the disobedient to Bible Law are heathens, mere self-proclaimed Christians, but not so in reality. Recall this: Northern slavers had obeyed the Bible Laws, had stopped their slaving ways without a war to force them. Southern slavers refused to repent, refused to do likewise. Civil War thereafter came about.

    Related Writings by Other Authors
    Rev. T. Weld's 1839
    Slavery Conditions

    J. Birney's 1840 Churches:
    Bulwarks of Slavery

    Rev. S. Foster's 1843
    Brotherhood of Thieves

    B. Shaw's 1846
    Unconstitutionality of Slavery

    Rev. P. Pillsbury's 1847
    Churches: Forlorn Hope

    J. Tiffany's 1849
    Unconstitutionality of Slavery

    Rev. J. Fee's 1851
    Anti-Slavery Manual

    H. B. Stowe's 1853
    Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

    A. Lincoln's 1854
    Anti-Slavery Peoria Speech

    E. C. Rogers' 1855
    Slavery Illegality In All Ages

    Rev. G. Cheever's 1857
    God Against Slavery

    Rev. P. Pillsbury's 1883 Acts
    of the Anti-Slavery Apostles


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    General Information
    "How to Escape Slavery" (One Method)
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    New York Memorial Action
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    University of California - Davis Site
    Women Abolitionists
    "A Necessary Bondage? When The Church Endorsed Slavery" by T. David Curp (Crisis, September 2005).
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