Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

expressing the apostolic thought,says that God has not come to call men according to their condition as master or slave (Bp. ch. 19, p, 52). No one is a slave by nature. Clement of Alexandria and Basil affirm. (Clem Alex. Poedag, 1. iii, ch. 12, t.

> 1, p. 307. Basil de Spir, c. 21, t. iii, p. 42i. Chrysostom, examining the origin of slavery, ascends even to the

. origin of the human race, and recalls the fact that God who created the two first human beings free and equal, did not create slaves to serve them. (Horn 22. in Fphi. Theslave, he says elsewhere, has the same natural nobility as the master, the same soul, and the same spiritual graces. Augustin likewise proclaims that master and slave are only different names, and that those who bear these names are equal in birth and nature. lEnarr. in Ps. 124, § 7. t. iv. p. 10581. The two Fathers last named have indeed wished to prove that slavery is a consequence of the fall of man, and a punishment for the bad use he made of his liberty. But this opinion was exposed to ii very great objection. If slavery is a penalty deserved by reason of original sin, why has God punished only a part of the human race, and exempted free men from the curse? Chrysostom ventures to meet this objection by maintaining that the masters are no less slaves than their attendants, since they are enslaved by their passions and their vices. This argument does not, however, carry much force, since it would follow in any case that the masters are favoured; they have to bear only one yoke, whilst their slaves have to endure the double burden of their slavery aud of the sin which they share with their masters.

The opinion of the Fathers is only true in a sense—if they had limited themselves to refer slavery with all the other iniquities of the old world to the fall of man, as a consequence of sin, without desiring to view it as a punishment inflicted on one class of man specially, we should then have refrained from criticising a doctrine which would, to us, have been incontestable.

Along with this slightly confused notion that slavery is to be regarded as a punishment, another idea is urged by the Fathers which is sounder and more historically accurate, viz.: that the division between masters and slaves is the work of tyranny and of human selfishness. Augustin himself declares that the reason of slavery is to be found in the injustice of the masters and the misfortune of the slaves; from this external degradation the soul indeed can be free, it is only the body which is enthralled. The doctors of the Church speak like the Stoics of the slavery of the body and the liberty of the soul; for whilst it is true that the philosophers borrowed from them, unconsciously perhaps, some Christian ideas, they, in their turn, used the reasoning and the language of the philosophers; but in applying them to Christianity they give them a truer and profounder sense.

Ambrose says, in language analogous to that of Epictetus,—" It is not nature, but the want of wisdom, that really makes a man a slave, so that a man becomes free, not by manumission, but by instruction. He alone is truly free who is free in himself—in his soul. He is called free whom nothing prevents from following his will. The wise man therefore is free, for there is no obstacle to his will which he needs fear." Christianity raises thctheory of human liberty to a loftier height than philosophy, by showing that it is not one single vice or another, which enthrals a man. but that all men are equally and universally the slaves of sin. There is no other servile work than sin. That is the only real and universal slavery, common to master and servant; civil liberty does not exempt from it, and emancipation cannot deliver from it. In this sense the slave, if he has conquered sin, will be freer than his master. Here Chrysostom grandly says. "I call the slave a noble and lord, though he be covered by chains, if I Bee a noble life. I call him base and infamous who in the midst of honours keeps a servile soul." But how can we attain this deliverance from sin V who can deliver, from it? Ji sus Christ alone! To enjoy this true freedom we must acknowledge that we are the bondsmen of sin, we must humble ourselves in the consciousness of our misery, and enter into the service of Jesus Christ, who alone is our Liberator, Protector, and Lord. It is in this way that external slavery itself is destroyed in its essential nature by Jesus Christ, when He takes away the consequences of sin, He, the Lord, has taken the form of a servant, in order that the servant may be lifted up and exalted to the dignity of the master. Freed by Rita, men are equal in Him: for in Him there is no difference between the master and the slave.

In the Church, accordingly, slavery exists no longer save in name. It is merely an external, accidental condition of life, which has no influence upon the moral worth of a man. A Christian could not be a slave in the old sense of the word. Those whom the world separates and subjects one to the other, are brought near and united in the fellowship of brethren. There is no longer any shame attached to the position of a slave; it is not even a disgrace to serve under a bad master. The Christian endures servitude without murmuring just as if free; he makes his freedom no cause of boasting. And more than this is revealed in the kingdom of God. Not only is service no longer a dishonour, it is the highest form of charity. It is in this principle, that we see the couipletest overthrow of ancient ideas. If the pagan was confounded to hear Christians proclaim that work was honourable, how much more surprised he must have been to hear them speak of the dignity of service and of a servant's lot! All men, being finite creatures, are equally dependent upon God; no one therefore is absolutely free, all subserve the end of God, who being alone free,is their universal master, having a supreme right over them. Their destiny and their glory consists in acknowledging this dependence and accepting their true condition of serving God, not with constraint or without conscious intention, but with

willing love and a full consciousness of what they do. This free submission to God, which is the crown of human perfection, has been manifested by Jesus Christ, who gave the example of perfect obedience. "He thus lifts up those that are bowed down," at the same time that He shows that the greatest love consists in serving God, by consecrating ourselves freely to the service of men. Nothing perhaps has contributed more to the elevation of the slave than this idea, so profoundly and exclusively Christian, that charity consists in serving others, an idea which was personified in a manner, in the life and death of Jesus Christ (est sapienti et servire libertus). Tertullian, indeed, has boldly said that the world denatured and changed the meaning of the words, by giving the name of liberty to a state which is tantamount to slavery, and by calling the state of true freedom service. Accordingly, the names of servant and slave, so despised in pagan society, have become the most honourable titles for the Christian: they desire to have no other name than that of "servant" of God and of Jesus Christ '*

Those who held the first rank, because of their office in the Church, took this title to themselves by preference, adding that they were at the same time the servants of the family of Christ—which was His Church.}

For to serve men as Jesus Christ had done was the noblest way of serving Him: it was a gift of God's grace, and Christians should covet

* It has been thought that this title (servant or slave) designated only priests and monks, but this is an error. Hermes calls all Christians strvi Dei (I. l,ch. 2. p. 70). Tertullian,inspeakiogof theChristian wife of a pagan calls her ancilla Dei (ad. ux. 1. ii, ch. 6, p. 170), and Christians in general are called by him tervi Dei (tie sped. ch. i, p. 72). The Christians of Vienne and of Lyon, writing to those of Asia, call themselves lovXoi Xptarov (liucb. Hist, not., 1. v, ch. 1, p. 154). They gave children and women the same name—see the inscriptions in Muratori, ). iv. p. 180), No. 102.)

t Note. This custom was introduced in the fourth century. (See Augustin ep. 155, 220).

the honour of naming themselves the servants of all men for the sake of Jesus Christ.

In presence of these principles which we have exhibited, it is no longer surprising that the first Christians did not demand the immediate abolition of slavery. In a society when all men are equal by nature, and in Jesus Christ, and where free service is the highest act of love, slavery is nothing more than an accident, in a sense infinitely more true than the stoics had conceived. The accident itself must indeed disappear, for it is the result of an injustice, of a want of respect and love for man; but the Church can leave to all-conquering charity the task of abolishing one day an institution so incompatible with the kingdom of God.

The gentle influence of this charity was felt by the slaves and the masters alike. If the first Christians continued to have servants, we need not accuse them of contradicting their faith by their conduct: that contradiction was effaced by charity. The external distinction remained, but this was, so to speak, only an effect of custom; in fact, the love of the master for his slave, and of the slave for his master, would annul it —they would consider themselves as both brothers in spirit, and equally the servants of Christ. Faithful to the apostolic precept, that every man, in whatever state he is, should be content therein, and full of the thought that spiritual liberty is more precious than all worldly advantages; the first fathers even did not wish Christian slaves peremptorily to demand their emancipation, in order that they might not appear to be the slaves of their own desires. "Let them continue to serve," writes Ignatius, "and God will give them a better liberty than that of men." Some centuries later, the synod of Gangra in Paphlaginia pronounced anathema against those who taught slaves, under pretext of piety, to seek to liberate themselves, and not to serve their masters any longer with respectful devotion. Doubtless there were many occasions on

which Christian slaves exclaimed against both the severity of their masters and slavery in general. There were some who pretended, that having acknowledged their true Lord they should have no other: but they were recalled to obedience by the strongest considerations. Is the slave in the house of a Christian master, he will love him as a father; he will be doubly attached to him, by his bond of service for time, and by the spiritual bond of charity for eternity. Is the master a pagan, and thus, perhaps, severer towards his slaves than Christians, the duty of obedience still remains the same, save where the master would compel them to act contrary to their consciences or to their faith. In general, slaves were exhorted to gentleness and submission; they were to show by their conduct, how different the virtue inspired by Christianity was from that of philosophers. They were recommended to endure their servitude in this world of exile, where no creature is free, and beyond which the Christian receives deliverance and celestial glory. In addition to these exhortations, which were not always heard amidst the anarchy of the later ages of the Empire, prolubitions were enforced which prove how Christianity was able to combine a regard for prescriptive rights with its doctrines of spiritual freedom. Thus the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, forbad convents to receive slaves without the consent of their masters, " in order that the name of God might not be dishonoured ;" that is to say,—in order that Christianity might not be accused of favouring disobedience. Not, indeed, that the Fathers of the Church did not acknowledge the hardship and sorrow of the lot of the slaves. It is a hard lot, says Hilaire of Poitiers: and Augustine declares that all servitude is full of bitterness: but they taught the slaves to emancipate his spirit, to humble himself by overcoming his anxiety for liberty, and to raise himself thus above his outward condition, which in itself is not opprobrious, so as to attain the true freedom and nobleness of the soul, for they said, the slavery of the soul is infinitely more cruel and miserable than that of the body.

We might be tempted to believe that Christianity, because of these exhortations to obedience, could not have gained many adherents among the slaves. However, it was quite the reverse. We know that, from the second century, numerous slaves of great families had received the Gospel. These slaves, freed by Jesus Christ, yet not seeking violently to break their yoke, remaining slaves upon earth, because they knew they were citizens of the Kingdom of God, present, by the side of the heathen corruptions of their time, a most touching spectacle of one of the noblest effects of Christianity. One fact belonging to this first epoch reveals to us the sentiments with which faith inspired the slave. Euelpistus, a slave of the imperial palace, when led with Justin and others before the tribunal of the Prefect Rusticus, and examined by him as to his condition, cried out: "I am a slave of the emperor, but I am a Christian, and it is from Jesus Christ that I have received my liberty. By His grace I have the same hope as my brothers" (acta Mart. Just. 1. c.) The stoical resignation of Epictetus is admirable, but the freedom of spirit of this Christian slave is far nobler, for it is holy. The despised race of slaves, which antiquity believed to be incapable of any manly virtue, has furnished the Church with some of its most glorious martyrs. Preferring death rather than consent to the infamous desires of their masters, or renounce their faith, Pontamiiena. Eutyches, Victoria, Maro, Nerea, Vital, and many others, have thus given the most splendid witness of the enfranchisement of their soul by Jesus Christ, and of their love for their Divine Liberator.

The Church did not, however, only give counsels of patience to the slaves, she had also precepts of humanity and gentleness for the masters. If she was unable to tell the one class to free themselves by force, neither has she demanded

of the other class to summarily dismiss their slaves. To make use of the expressions of the learned historian of slavery, "It was not the slave whom the Church appeared anxious to take from his master; it was the master whom she felt it necessary, first of all, to detach from the practice of slavery, by proclaiming the sentiment of the dignity of man" (M. Wallon. vol. III. p. 318); and we may add, by awakening the sentiment of charity towards the slave, who was to be respected both as a man, and as a member of the Kingdom of God. Let no one imagine, it was said, that we may despise the slave (Ignat. ad Poly. ch. iv.), and treat him as a beast of burden (Clem. Alex. Predag, vol. Ill., ch. ii. p. 293| ; "or that we may refuse him the rights of justice." Chrysostom exclaims,—' Do not imagine that what is done to slaves will be pardoned, as though it were a matter of indifference because done to slaves. The laws of the world acknowledge the difference of two races, but the common law of God ignores it." (Horn. 22 in Eph.) Masters were to recollect that they are slaves quite as much as their servants; that though free civilly, they endure none the less the yoke of sin: that they are redeemed from it by Jesus Christ, only in order to enter His service; and that this Divine Redeemer humbled Himself to serve man, that He might give them an example to copy. Against those masters who. deaf to her counsels, disregarded the principles of the Gospel, the Church took measures as severe as against those slaves who refused to do their duty. She declared them unworthy of being her members; she refused the offering of a master who maltreated his servants by blows, starvation, or by excessive work. A woman who, in her rage, beat her servant so as to cause her death, was cut off from the communion of the faithful.

The Church purposed to found, in a true sense, the family which ancient Rome had sought to realize by the rigorous subordination of all its members to the power of the Father and of the Chief; for in the Church the family was to be bound together by the ties of reciprocal love. The master, says Ambrose, is called the Father of his family iu order that he may govern his slaves if they were sons (Cone, of Elvira, 305, canon 5). August in demands that the slaves live in the house of their master as sons, save so far as regards the rights of inheritance. From this principle, duties devolved upon the owners of slaves wliicli antiquity never conceived. It only knew of the duties of the slave, without imposing any on the master. Henceforth, however, the slave being the brother of the master, the master must have a care of his soul; he is made responsible, in a measure, for his salvation; he must, therefore, wuteh over him and correct him, and especially show him the example of a faithful, grave, modest, sympathetic life. In the first ages of the Church there were many homes where masters and slaves formed only one family in the Christum sense of the word (see the classical work of M. Wallon, HiUoire de VEschiviuje dans I'Antitjuite, vol. Ill p. and the inscriptions which he cites). When Theclu was cited before the tribunal, fifty of her slaves, impelled by gratitude, hastened to give their testimony on her behalf. Paulla, the descendant of Paulus Emilius, Lea, Fubiola, are said to have been rather the servants than the mistresses of their slaves.

There remained, however, another step to take. Civil emancipation was to be given. So the Fathers do not confine themselves to recommend humanity and mercy to the masters, they neglect no means of convincing them that slavery is contrary to the nature of man and of the kingdom of God, and so to induce them to enfrancliise their slaves. It is by the force of persuasion that they desire to gain this result. Emancipation must be a free act of love, a result of the honour set upon man by Christianity. If the doctors of the Church insist so much upon the duty of masters to educate and train their slaves religiously, it is because

in their eyes the surest- method of preparing for their emancipation was to make them worthy of it. Gregory of Nazianzum represents to masters that the emancipation of their slaves was simply the reestablislunent of the order of nature. Chrysostom especially, employs all the resources of liis eloquence to enforce this great object, despite the murmurs of some members of his Church. He recommends that only those slaves who ore quite indispensable to the household should be retained; that all the others should be liberated after being taught useful trades, and that other slaves should be bought only in order that they may be instructed in like manner, and then in their turn restored to liberty. He expresses the desire that slavery might disappear because of the mutual services which believers rendered to one another in love, and that the Christian community should thus be a family of brethren, equally free, and equally the servants of each other. "Let there bo," he exclaims, "a mutual interchange of services, and there will then be no more slavery; let not one rank among the free and another among the slaves: it were better that masters and slaves should serve one another, such servitude would be preferable to any other liberty (Horn, in Eph., j 5, &c.)

These ideas did not remain without effect. Early—long, indeed, before Chrysostom had raised his voice in favour of the slaves—there had been glorious examples of Christian masters emancipating their households. The first instance that is known is that of Hermes, Prefect of Rome, under Trajan, who embraced Christianity with his wife, his children, and his household of 1,250 slaves. On the Easter Friday, the day of their baptism, Hermes gave to all these their liberty, and abundance of means to enable them to establish themselves in trade. Shortly afterwards he suffered martyrdom with the Bishop Alexander, who had instructed him in the Cliristian faith. Another prefect of Rome, under Diocletian, Chroinatius, who

« ElőzőTovább »