An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 233 pages of information about An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching.

[Footnote 1:  Roscher, op. cit., p. 6.]


Before we pass from the subject of property, we must deal with a particular kind of property right, namely, that of one human being over another.  At the present day the idea of one man being owned by another is repugnant to all enlightened public opinion, but this general repugnance is of very recent growth, and did not exist in mediaeval Europe.  In dealing with the scholastic attitude towards slavery, we shall indicate, as we did with regard to its attitude towards property in general, the fundamental harmony between the teaching of the primitive and the mediaeval Church on the subject.  No apology is needed for this apparent digression, as a comparison of the teaching of the Church at the two periods of its development helps us to understand precisely what the later doctrine was; and, moreover, the close analogy which, as we shall see, existed between the Church’s view of property and slavery, throws much light on the true nature of both institutions.

Although in practice Christianity had done a very great deal to mitigate the hardships of the slavery of ancient times, and had in a large degree abolished slavery by its encouragement of emancipation,[1] it did not, in theory, object to the institution itself.  There is no necessity to labour a point so universally admitted by all students of the Gospels as that Christ and His Apostles did not set out to abolish the slavery which they found everywhere around them, but rather aimed, by preaching charity to the master and patience to the slave, at the same time to lighten the burden of servitude, and to render its acceptance a merit rather than a disgrace.  ‘What, in fact,’ says Janet, ’is the teaching of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Apostles in general?  It is, in the first place, that in Christ there are no slaves, and that all men are free and equal; and, in the second place, that the slave must obey his master, and the master must be gentle to his slave.[2] Thus, although there are no slaves in Christ, St. Paul and the Apostles do not deny that there may be on earth.  I am far from reproaching the Apostles for not having proclaimed the immediate necessity of the emancipation of slaves.  But I say that the question was discussed in precisely the same terms by the ancient philosophers of the same period.  Seneca, it is true, proclaimed not the civil, but the moral equality of men; but St. Paul does not speak of anything more than their equality in Christ.  Seneca instructs the master to treat the slave as he would like to be treated himself.[3] Is not this what St. Peter and St. Paul say when they recommended the master to be gentle and good?  The superiority of Christianity over Stoicism in this question arises altogether from the very superiority of the Christian spirit....’[4] The article on ‘Slavery’ in the Catholic Encyclopaedia

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