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VATICAN POPE LEO XIII — 1888 “IN PLURIMIS” — ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY

VATICAN POPE LEO XIII — 1888 “IN PLURIMIS” — ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
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To the Bish­ops of Brazil.

Amid the many and great demon­stra­tions of affec­tion which from almost all the peo­ples of the earth have come to Us, and are still com­ing to Us, in con­grat­u­la­tion upon the hap­py attain­ment of the fifti­eth anniver­sary of Our priest­hood, there is one which moves Us in a quite spe­cial way. We mean one which comes from Brazil, where, upon the occa­sion of this hap­py event, large num­bers of those who in that vast empire groan beneath the yoke of slav­ery, have been legal­ly set free. And this work, so full of the spir­it of Chris­t­ian mer­cy, has been offered up in coop­er­a­tion with the cler­gy, by char­i­ta­ble mem­bers of the laity of both sex­es, to God, the Author and Giv­er of all good things, in tes­ti­mo­ny of their grat­i­tude for the favor of the health and the years which have been grant­ed to Us. But this was spe­cial­ly accept­able and sweet to Us because it lent con­fir­ma­tion to the belief, which is so wel­come to Us, that the great major­i­ty of the peo­ple of Brazil desire to see the cru­el­ty of slav­ery end­ed, and root­ed out from the land. This pop­u­lar feel­ing has been strong­ly sec­ond­ed by the emper­or and his august daugh­ter, and also by the min­is­ters, by means of var­i­ous laws which, with this end in view, have been intro­duced and sanc­tioned. We told the Brazil­ian ambas­sador last Jan­u­ary what a con­so­la­tion these things were to Us, and We also assured him that We would address let­ters to the bish­ops of Brazil in behalf of these unhap­py slaves.

2. We, indeed, to all men are the Vic­ar of Christ, the Son of God, who so loved the human race that not only did He not refuse, tak­ing our nature to Him­self, to live among men, but delight­ed in bear­ing the name of the Son of Man, open­ly pro­claim­ing that He had come upon earth “to preach deliv­er­ance to the captives”(1) in order that, res­cu­ing mankind from the worst slav­ery, which is the slav­ery of sin, “he might re-estab­lish all things that are in heav­en and on earth,”(2) and so bring back all the chil­dren of Adam from the depths of the ruin of the com­mon fall to their orig­i­nal dig­ni­ty. The words of St. Gre­go­ry the Great are very applic­a­ble here: “Since our Redeemer, the Author of all life, deigned to take human flesh, that by the pow­er of His God­hood the chains by which we were held in bondage being bro­ken, He might restore us to our first state of lib­er­ty, it is most fit­ting that men by the con­ces­sion of man­u­mis­sion should restore to the free­dom in which they were born those whom nature sent free into the world, but who have been con­demned to the yoke of slav­ery by the law of nations.”(3) It is right, there­fore, and obvi­ous­ly in keep­ing with Our apos­tolic office, that We should favor and advance by every means in Our pow­er what­ev­er helps to secure for men, whether as indi­vid­u­als or as com­mu­ni­ties, safe­guards against the many mis­eries, which, like the fruits of an evil tree, have sprung from the sin of our first par­ents; and such safe­guards, of what­ev­er kind they may be, help not only to pro­mote civ­i­liza­tion and the ameni­ties of life, but lead on to that uni­ver­sal resti­tu­tion of all things which our Redeemer Jesus Christ con­tem­plat­ed and desired.

3. In the pres­ence of so much suf­fer­ing, the con­di­tion of slav­ery, in which a con­sid­er­able part of the great human fam­i­ly has been sunk in squalor and afflic­tion now for many cen­turies, is deeply to be deplored; for the sys­tem is one which is whol­ly opposed to that which was orig­i­nal­ly ordained by God and by nature. The Supreme Author of all things so decreed that man should exer­cise a sort of roy­al domin­ion over beasts and cat­tle and fish and fowl, but nev­er that men should exer­cise a like domin­ion over their fel­low men. As St. Augus­tine puts it: “Hav­ing cre­at­ed man a rea­son­able being, and after His own like­ness, God wished that he should rule only over the brute cre­ation; that he should be the mas­ter, not of men, but of beasts.” From this it fol­lows that “the state of slav­ery is right­ly regard­ed as a penal­ty upon the sin­ner; thus, the word slave does not occur in the Bible until the just man Noe brand­ed with it the sin of his son. It was sin, there­fore, which deserved this name; it was not natural.”(4)

4. From the first sin came all evils, and spe­cial­ly this per­ver­si­ty that there were men who, for­get­ful of the orig­i­nal broth­er­hood of the race, instead of seek­ing, as they should nat­u­ral­ly have done, to pro­mote mutu­al kind­ness and mutu­al respect, fol­low­ing their evil desires began to think of oth­er men as their infe­ri­ors, and to hold them as cat­tle born for the yoke. In this way, through an absolute for­get­ful­ness of our com­mon nature, and of human dig­ni­ty, and the like­ness of God stamped upon us all, it came to pass that in the con­tentions and wars which then broke out, those who were the stronger reduced the con­quered into slav­ery; so that mankind, though of the same race, became divid­ed into two sec­tions, the con­quered slaves and their vic­to­ri­ous mas­ters. The his­to­ry of the ancient world presents us with this mis­er­able spec­ta­cle down to the time of the com­ing of our Lord, when the calami­ty of slav­ery had fall­en heav­i­ly upon all the peo­ples, and the num­ber of freemen had become so reduced that the poet was able to put this atro­cious phrase into the mouth of Cae­sar: “The human race exists for the sake of a few.”(5)

5. The sys­tem flour­ished even among the most civ­i­lized peo­ples, among the Greeks and among the Romans, with whom the few imposed their will upon the many; and this pow­er was exer­cised so unjust­ly and with such haugh­ti­ness that a crowd of slaves was regard­ed mere­ly as so many chat­tels-not as per­sons, but as things. They were held to be out­side the sphere of law, and with­out even the claim to retain and enjoy life. “Slaves are in the pow­er of their mas­ters, and this pow­er is derived from the law of nations; for we find that among all nations mas­ters have the pow­er of life and death over their slaves, and what­ev­er a slave earns belongs to his master.”(6) Owing to this state of moral con­fu­sion it became law­ful for men to sell their slaves, to give them in exchange, to dis­pose of them by will, to beat them, to kill them, to abuse them by forc­ing them to serve for the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of evil pas­sions and cru­el super­sti­tions; these things could be done, legal­ly, with impuni­ty, and in the light of heav­en. Even those who were wis­est in the pagan world, illus­tri­ous philoso­phers and learned juriscon­sults, out­rag­ing the com­mon feel­ing of mankind, suc­ceed­ed in per­suad­ing them­selves and oth­ers that slav­ery was sim­ply a nec­es­sary con­di­tion of nature. Nor did they hes­i­tate to assert that the slave class was very infe­ri­or to the freemen both in intel­li­gence and per­fec­tion of bod­i­ly devel­op­ment, and there­fore that slaves, as things want­i­ng in rea­son and sense, ought in all things to be the instru­ments of the will, how­ev­er rash and unwor­thy, of their mas­ters. Such inhu­man and wicked doc­trines are to be spe­cial­ly detest­ed; for, when once they are accept­ed, there is no form of oppres­sion so wicked but that it will defend itself beneath some col­or of legal­i­ty and jus­tice. His­to­ry is full of exam­ples show­ing what a seedbed of crime, what a pest and calami­ty, this sys­tem has been for states. Hatreds are excit­ed in the breasts of the slaves, and the mas­ters are kept in a state of sus­pi­cion and per­pet­u­al dread; the slaves pre­pare to avenge them­selves with the torch­es of the incen­di­ary, and the mas­ters con­tin­ue the task of oppres­sion with greater cru­el­ty. States are dis­turbed alter­nate­ly by the num­ber of the slaves and by the vio­lence of the mas­ters, and so are eas­i­ly over­thrown; hence, in a word, come riots and sedi­tions, pil­lage and fire.

6. The greater part of human­i­ty were toil­ing in this abyss of mis­ery, and were the more to be pitied because they were sunk in the dark­ness of super­sti­tion, when in the full­ness of time and by the designs of God, light shone down upon the world, and the mer­its of Christ the Redeemer were poured out upon mankind. By that means they were lift­ed out of the Slough and the dis­tress of slav­ery, and recalled and brought back from the ter­ri­ble bondage of sin to their high dig­ni­ty as the sons of God. Thus, the Apos­tles, in the ear­ly days of the Church, among oth­er pre­cepts for a devout life taught and laid down the doc­trine which more than once occurs in the Epis­tles of St. Paul addressed to those new­ly bap­tized: “For you are all the chil­dren of God by faith, in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as have been bap­tized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is nei­ther Jew, nor Greek; there is nei­ther bond, nor free; there is nei­ther male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(7) “Where there is nei­ther Gen­tile nor Jew, cir­cum­ci­sion nor uncir­cum­ci­sion, bar­bar­ian nor Scythi­an, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all.”(8) “For in one Spir­it were we all bap­tized into one body, whether Jews or Gen­tiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spir­it we have all been made to drink.”(9) Gold­en words, indeed, noble and whole­some lessons, where­by its old dig­ni­ty is giv­en back and with increase to the human race, and men of what­ev­er land or tongue of class are bound togeth­er and joined in the strong bonds of broth­er­ly kin­ship. Those things St. Paul, with that Chris­t­ian char­i­ty with which he was filled, learned from the very heart of Him who, with much sur­pass­ing good­ness, gave Him­self to be the broth­er of us all, and in His own per­son, with­out omit­ting or except­ing any one, so enno­bled men that they might become par­tic­i­pa­tors in the divine nature. Through this Chris­t­ian char­i­ty the var­i­ous races of men were drawn togeth­er under the divine guid­ance in such a won­der­ful way that they blos­somed into a new state of hope and pub­lic hap­pi­ness; as with the progress of time and events and the con­stant labor of the Church the var­i­ous nations were able to gath­er togeth­er, Chris­t­ian and free, orga­nized anew after the man­ner of a family.

7. From the begin­ning the Church spared no pains to make the Chris­t­ian peo­ple, in a mat­ter of such high impor­tance, accept and firm­ly hold the true teach­ings of Christ and the Apos­tles. And now through the new Adam, who is Christ, there is estab­lished a broth­er­ly union between man and man, and peo­ple and peo­ple; just as in the order of nature they all have a com­mon ori­gin, so in the order which is above nature they all have one and the same ori­gin in sal­va­tion and faith; all alike are called to be the adopt­ed sons of God and the Father, who has paid the self same ran­som for us all; we are all mem­bers of the same body, all are allowed to par­take of the same divine ban­quet, and offered to us all are the bless­ings of divine grace and of eter­nal life. Hav­ing estab­lished these prin­ci­ples as begin­nings and foun­da­tions, the Church, like a ten­der moth­er, went on to try to find some alle­vi­a­tion for the sor­rows and the dis­grace of the life of the slave; with this end in view she clear­ly defined and strong­ly enforced the rights and mutu­al duties of mas­ters and slaves as they are laid down in the let­ters of the Apos­tles. It was in these words that the Princes of the Apos­tles admon­ished the slaves they had admit­ted to the fold of Christ. “Ser­vants, be sub­ject to your mas­ters with all fear, not only to the good and gen­tle, but also to the forward.”(10) “Ser­vants, be obe­di­ent to them that are your lords accord­ing to the flesh, with fear and trem­bling in the sim­plic­i­ty of your heart, as to Christ. Not serv­ing to the eye, but as the ser­vants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With a good will serv­ing as to the Lord, and nor to men. Know­ing that what­so­ev­er good thing any man shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”(11) St. Paul says the same to Tim­o­thy: “Whoso­ev­er are ser­vants under the yoke, let them count their mas­ters wor­thy of all hon­or; lest the name of the Lord and his doc­trine be blas­phemed. But they that have believ­ing mas­ters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but serve them the rather, because they are faith­ful and beloved, who are par­tak­ers of the ben­e­fit. These things teach and exhort.”(12) In like man­ner he com­mand­ed Titus to teach ser­vants “to be obe­di­ent to their mas­ters, in all things pleas­ing, not gain­say­ing. Not defraud­ing, but in all things show­ing good fideli­ty, that they may adorn the doc­trine of God our Sav­iour in all things.”(13)

8. Those first dis­ci­ples of the Chris­t­ian faith very well under­stood that this broth­er­ly equal­i­ty of all men in Christ ought in no way to dimin­ish or detract from the respect, hon­or, faith­ful­ness, and oth­er duties due to those placed above them. From this many good results fol­lowed, so that duties became at once more cer­tain of being per­formed, and lighter and pleas­an­ter to do, and at the same time more fruit­ful in obtain­ing the glo­ry of heav­en. Thus, they treat­ed their mas­ters with rev­er­ence and hon­or as men clothed in the author­i­ty of Him from whom comes all pow­er. Among these dis­ci­ples the motive of action was not the fear of pun­ish­ment or any enlight­ened pru­dence or the prompt­ings of util­i­ty, but a con­scious­ness of duty and the force of char­i­ty. On the oth­er hand, mas­ters were wise­ly coun­seled by the Apos­tle to treat their slaves with con­sid­er­a­tion in return for their ser­vices: “And you, mas­ters, do the same things unto them, for­bear­ing threat­en­ings; know­ing that the Lord both of them and you is in heav­en, and there is not respect of per­sons with Him.”(14) They were also told to remem­ber that the slave had no rea­son to regret his lot, see­ing that he is “the free­man of the Lord,” nor the free­man, see­ing that he is “the bond­man of Christ,”(15) to feel proud, and to give his com­mands with haugh­ti­ness. It was impressed upon mas­ters that they ought to rec­og­nize in their slaves their fel­low men, and respect them accord­ing­ly, rec­og­niz­ing that by nature they were not dif­fer­ent from them­selves, that by reli­gion and in rela­tion to the majesty of their com­mon Lord all were equal. These pre­cepts, so well cal­cu­lat­ed to intro­duce har­mo­ny among the var­i­ous parts of domes­tic soci­ety, were prac­tised by the Apos­tles them­selves. Spe­cial­ly remark­able is the case of St. Paul when he exert­ed him­self in behalf of Ones­imus, the fugi­tive of Phile­mon, with whom, when he returned him to his mas­ter, he sent this lov­ing rec­om­men­da­tion: “And do thou receive him as my own bow­els, not now as a ser­vant, but instead of a ser­vant a most dear broth­er… And if he have wronged thee in any­thing, or is in thy debt, put that to my account.”(16)

9. Who­ev­er com­pare the pagan and the Chris­t­ian atti­tude toward slav­ery will eas­i­ly come to the con­clu­sion that the one was marked by great cru­el­ty and wicked­ness, and the oth­er by great gen­tle­ness and human­i­ty, nor will it be pos­si­ble to deprive the Church of the cred­it due to her as the instru­ment of this hap­py change. And this becomes still more appar­ent when we con­sid­er care­ful­ly how ten­der­ly and with what pru­dence the Church has cut out and destroyed this dread­ful curse of slav­ery. She has dep­re­cat­ed any pre­cip­i­tate action in secur­ing the man­u­mis­sion and lib­er­a­tion of the slaves, because that would have entailed tumults and wrought injury, as well to the slaves them­selves as to the com­mon­wealth, but with sin­gu­lar wis­dom she has seen that the minds of the slaves should be instruct­ed through her dis­ci­pline in the Chris­t­ian faith, and with bap­tism should acquire habits suit­able to the Chris­t­ian life. There­fore, when, amid the slave mul­ti­tude whom she has num­bered among her chil­dren, some, led astray by some hope of lib­er­ty, have had recourse to vio­lence and sedi­tion, the Church has always con­demned these unlaw­ful efforts and opposed them, and through her min­is­ters has applied the rem­e­dy of patience. She taught the slaves to feel that, by virtue of the light of holy faith, and the char­ac­ter they received from Christ, they enjoyed a dig­ni­ty which placed them above their hea­then lords, but that they were bound the more strict­ly by the Author and Founder of their faith Him­self nev­er to set them­selves against these, or even to be want­i­ng in the rev­er­ence and obe­di­ence due to them. Know­ing them­selves as the cho­sen ones of the King­dom of God, and endowed with the free­dom of His chil­dren, and called to the good things that are not of this life, they were able to work on with­out being cast down by the sor­rows and trou­bles of this pass­ing world, but with eyes and hearts turned to heav­en were con­soled and strength­ened in their holy res­o­lu­tions. St. Peter was address­ing him­self spe­cial­ly to slaves when he wrote: “For this is thankswor­thy, if for con­science towards God a man endure sor­rows, suf­fer­ing wrong­ful­ly. For unto this you are called; because Christ also suf­fered for us, leav­ing you an exam­ple that you should fol­low his steps.”(17)

10. The cred­it for this solic­i­tude joined with mod­er­a­tion, which in such a won­der­ful way adorns the divine pow­ers of the Church, is increased by the mar­vel­lous and uncon­quer­able courage with which she was able to inspire and sus­tain so many poor slaves. It was a won­der­ful sight to behold those who, in their obe­di­ence and the patience with which they sub­mit­ted to every task, were such an exam­ple to their mas­ters, refus­ing to let them­selves be per­suad­ed to pre­fer the wicked com­mands of those above them to the holy law of God, and even giv­ing up their lives in the most cru­el tor­tures with uncon­quered hearts and uncloud­ed brows. The pages of Euse­bius keep alive for us the mem­o­ry of the unshak­en con­stan­cy of the vir­gin Potami­ana, who, rather than con­sent to grat­i­fy the lusts of her mas­ter, fear­less­ly accept­ed death, and sealed her faith­ful­ness to Jesus Christ with her blood. Many oth­er admirable exam­ples abound of slaves, who, for their souls’ sake and to keep their faith with God, have resist­ed their mas­ters to the death. His­to­ry has no case to show of Chris­t­ian slaves for any oth­er cause set­ting them­selves in oppo­si­tion to their mas­ters of join­ing in con­spir­a­cies against the State. Thence, peace and qui­et times hav­ing been restored to the Church, the holy Fathers made a wise and admirable expo­si­tion of the apos­tolic pre­cepts con­cern­ing the fra­ter­nal una­nim­i­ty which should exist between Chris­tians, and with a like char­i­ty extend­ed it to the advan­tage of slaves, striv­ing to point out that the rights of mas­ters extend­ed law­ful­ly indeed over the works of their slaves, but that their pow­er did not extend to using hor­ri­ble cru­el­ties against their per­sons. St. Chrysos­tom stands pre-emi­nent among the Greeks, who often treats of this sub­ject, and affirms with exult­ing mind and tongue that slav­ery, in the old mean­ing of the word, had at that time dis­ap­peared through the benef­i­cence of the Chris­t­ian faith, so that it both seemed, and was, a word with­out any mean­ing among the dis­ci­ples of the Lord. For Christ indeed (so he sums up his argu­ment), when in His great mer­cy to us He wiped away the sin con­tract­ed by our birth, at the same time healed the man­i­fold cor­rup­tions of human soci­ety; so that, as death itself by His means has laid aside its ter­rors and become a peace­ful pass­ing away to a hap­py life, so also has slav­ery been ban­ished. Do not, then, call any Chris­t­ian man a slave, unless, indeed, he is in bondage again to sin; they are alto­geth­er brethren who are born again and received in Christ Jesus. Our advan­tages flow from the new birth and adop­tion into the house­hold of God, not from the emi­nence of our race; our dig­ni­ty aris­es from the praise of our truth, not of our blood. But in order that that kind of evan­gel­i­cal broth­er­hood may have more fruit, it is nec­es­sary that in the actions of our ordi­nary life there should appear a will­ing inter­change of kind­ness­es and good of fices, so that slaves should be esteemed of near­ly equal account with the rest of our house­hold and friends, and that the mas­ter of the house should sup­ply them, not only with what is nec­es­sary for their life and food, but also all nec­es­sary safe­guards of reli­gious train­ing. Final­ly, from the marked address of Paul to Phile­mon, bid­ding grace and peace “to the church which is in thy house,”(18) the pre­cept should be held in respect equal­ly by Chris­t­ian mas­ters and ser­vants, that they who have an inter­com­mu­nion of faith should also have an inter­com­mu­nion of charity.(19)

11. Of the Latin authors, we worthi­ly and just­ly call to mind St. Ambrose, who so earnest­ly inquired into all that was nec­es­sary in this cause, and so clear­ly ascribes what is due to each kind of man accord­ing to the laws of Chris­tian­i­ty, that no one has ever achieved it bet­ter, whose sen­ti­ments, it is unnec­es­sary to say, ful­ly and per­fect­ly coin­cide with those of St. Chrysostom.(20) These things were, as is evi­dent, most just­ly and use­ful­ly laid down; but more, the chief point is that they have been observed whol­ly and reli­gious­ly from the ear­li­est times wher­ev­er the pro­fes­sion of the Chris­t­ian faith has flour­ished. Unless this had been the case, that excel­lent defend­er of reli­gion, Lac­tan­tius, could not have main­tained it so con­fi­dent­ly, as though a wit­ness of it. “Should any one say: Are there not among you some poor, some rich, some slaves, some who are mas­ters; is there no dif­fer­ence between dif­fer­ent per­sons? I answer: There is none, nor is there any oth­er cause why we call each oth­er by the name of broth­er than that we con­sid­er our­selves to be equals; first, when we mea­sure all human things, not by the body but by the spir­it, although their cor­po­ral con­di­tion may be dif­fer­ent from ours, yet in spir­it they are not slaves to us, but we esteem and call them brethren, fel­low work­ers in religion.”(21)

12. The care of the Church extend­ed to the pro­tec­tion of slaves, and with­out inter­rup­tion tend­ed care­ful­ly to one object, that they should final­ly be restored to free­dom, which would great­ly con­duce to their eter­nal wel­fare. That the event hap­pi­ly respond­ed to these efforts, the annals of sacred antiq­ui­ty afford abun­dant proof. Noble matrons, ren­dered illus­tri­ous by the prais­es of St. Jerome, them­selves afford­ed great aid in car­ry­ing this mat­ter into effect; so that as Sal­vian relates, in Chris­t­ian fam­i­lies, even though not very rich, it often hap­pened that the slaves were freed by a gen­er­ous man­u­mis­sion. But, also, St. Clement long before praised that excel­lent work of char­i­ty by which some Chris­tians became slaves, by an exchange of per­sons, because they could in no oth­er way lib­er­ate those who were in bondage. Where­fore, in addi­tion to the fact that the act of man­u­mis­sion began to take place in church­es as an act of piety, the Church ordered it to be pro­posed to the faith­ful when about to make their wills, as a work very pleas­ing to God and of great mer­it and val­ue with Him. There­fore, those pre­cepts of man­u­mis­sion to the heir were intro­duced with the words, “for the love of God, for the wel­fare or ben­e­fit of my soul.”(22) Nei­ther was any­thing grudged as the price of the cap­tives, gifts ded­i­cat­ed to God were sold, con­se­crat­ed gold and sil­ver melt­ed down, the orna­ments and gifts of the basil­i­cas alien­at­ed, as, indeed, was done more than once by Ambrose, Augus­tine, Hilary, Eligius, Patrick, and many oth­er holy men.

13. More­over, the Roman Pon­tif­fs, who have always act­ed, as his­to­ry tru­ly relates, as the pro­tec­tors of the weak and helpers of the oppressed, have done their best for slaves. St. Gre­go­ry him­self set at lib­er­ty as many as pos­si­ble, and in the Roman Coun­cil of 597 desired those to receive their free­dom who were anx­ious to enter the monas­tic state. Hadri­an I main­tained that slaves could freely enter into mat­ri­mo­ny even with­out their mas­ters’ con­sent. It was clear­ly ordered by Alexan­der III in the year 1167 to the Moor­ish King of Valen­cia that he should not make a slave of any Chris­t­ian, because no one was a slave by the law of nature, all men hav­ing been made free by God. Inno­cent III, in the year 1190, at the prayer of its founders, John de Matha and Felix of Val­ois, approved and estab­lished the Order of the Most Holy Trin­i­ty for Redeem­ing Chris­tians who had fall­en into the pow­er of the Turks. At a lat­er date, Hon­o­rius III, and, after­wards, Gre­go­ry IX, duly approved the Order of St. Mary of Help, found­ed for a sim­i­lar pur­pose, which Peter Nolas­co had estab­lished, and which includ­ed the severe rule that its reli­gious should give them­selves up as slaves in the place of Chris­tians tak­en cap­tive by tyrants, if it should be nec­es­sary in order to redeem them. The same St. Gre­go­ry passed a decree, which was a far greater sup­port of lib­er­ty, that it was unlaw­ful to sell slaves to the Church, and he fur­ther added an exhor­ta­tion to the faith­ful that, as a pun­ish­ment for their faults, they should give their slaves to God and His saints as an act of expiation.

14. There are also many oth­er good deeds of the Church in the same behalf. For she, indeed, was accus­tomed by severe penal­ties to defend slaves from the sav­age anger and cru­el injuries of their mas­ters. To those upon whom the hand of vio­lence had rest­ed, she was accus­tomed to open her sacred tem­ples as places of refuge to receive the free men into her good faith, and to restrain those by cen­sure who dared by evil induce­ments to lead a man back again into slav­ery. In the same way she was still more favor­able to the free­dom of the slaves whom, by any means she held as her own, accord­ing to times and places; when she laid down either that those should be released by the bish­ops from every bond of slav­ery who had shown them­selves dur­ing a cer­tain time of tri­al of praise­wor­thy hon­esty of life, or when she eas­i­ly per­mit­ted the bish­ops of their own will to declare those belong­ing to them free. It must also be ascribed to the com­pas­sion and virtue of the Church that some­what of the pres­sure of civ­il law upon slaves was remit­ted, and, as far as it was brought about, that the milder alle­vi­a­tions of Gre­go­ry the Great, hav­ing been incor­po­rat­ed in the writ­ten law of nations, became of force. That, how­ev­er, was done prin­ci­pal­ly by the agency of Charle­magne, who includ­ed them in his Capit­u­lar­ia, as Gra­t­ian after­wards did in his Decretum.(23) Final­ly, mon­u­ments, laws, insti­tu­tions, through a con­tin­u­ous series of ages, teach and splen­did­ly demon­strate the great love of the Church toward slaves, whose mis­er­able con­di­tion she nev­er left des­ti­tute of pro­tec­tion, and always to the best of her pow­er alle­vi­at­ed. There­fore, suf­fi­cient praise or thanks can nev­er be returned to the Catholic Church, the ban­ish­er of slav­ery and causer of true lib­er­ty, fra­ter­ni­ty, and equal­i­ty among men, since she has mer­it­ed it by the pros­per­i­ty of nations, through the very great benef­i­cence of Christ our Redeemer.

15. Toward the end of the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry, at which time the base stain of slav­ery hav­ing been near­ly blot­ted out from among Chris­t­ian nations, States were anx­ious to stand firm­ly in evan­gel­i­cal lib­er­ty, and also to increase their empire, this apos­tolic see took the great­est care that the evil germs of such deprav­i­ty should nowhere revive. She there­fore direct­ed her prov­i­dent vig­i­lance to the new­ly dis­cov­ered regions of Africa, Asia, and Amer­i­ca; for a report had reached her that the lead­ers of those expe­di­tions, Chris­tians though they were, were wicked­ly snaking use of their arms and inge­nu­ity for estab­lish­ing and impos­ing slav­ery on these inno­cent nations. Indeed, since the crude nature of the soil which they had to over­come, nor less the wealth of met­als which had to be extract­ed by dig­ging, required very hard work, unjust and inhu­man plans were entered into. For a cer­tain traf­fic was begun, slaves being trans­port­ed for that pur­pose from Ethiopia, which, at that time, under the name of La trat­ta dei Negri, too much occu­pied those colonies. An oppres­sion of the indige­nous inhab­i­tants (who are col­lec­tive­ly called Indi­ans), much the same as slav­ery, fol­lowed with a like maltreatment.

16. When Pius II had become assured of these mat­ters with­out delay, on Octo­ber 7, 1462, he gave a let­ter to the bish­op of the place in which he reproved and con­demned such wicked­ness. Some time after­wards, Leo X lent, as far as he could, his good offices and author­i­ty to the kings of both Por­tu­gal and Spain, who took care to rad­i­cal­ly extir­pate that abuse, opposed alike to reli­gion, human­i­ty, and jus­tice. Nev­er­the­less, that evil hav­ing grown strong, remained there, its impure cause, the unquench­able desire of gain, remain­ing. Then Paul III, anx­ious with a father­ly love as to the con­di­tion of the Indi­ans and of the Moor­ish slaves, came to this last deter­mi­na­tion, that in open day, and, as it were, in the sight of all nations, he declared that they all had a just and nat­ur­al right of a three­fold char­ac­ter, name­ly, that each one of them was mas­ter of his own per­son, that they could live togeth­er under their own laws, and that they could acquire and hold prop­er­ty for them­selves. More than this, hav­ing sent let­ters to the Car­di­nal Arch­bish­op of Tole­do, he prou­nounced an inter­dict and depri­val of sacra­ments against those who act­ed con­trary to the afore­said decree, reserv­ing to the Roman Pon­tiff the pow­er of absolv­ing them.(24)

17. With the same fore­thought and con­stan­cy, oth­er Pon­tif­fs at a lat­er peri­od, as Urban VIII, Bene­dict XIV, and Pius VII, showed them­selves strong assert­ers of lib­er­ty for the Indi­ans and Moors and those who were even as yet not instruct­ed in the Chris­t­ian faith. The last, more­over, at the Coun­cil of the con­fed­er­at­ed Princes of Europe, held at Vien­na, called their atten­tion in com­mon to this point, that that traf­fic in Negroes, of which We have spo­ken before, and which had now ceased in many places, should be thor­ough­ly root­ed out. Gre­go­ry XVI also severe­ly cen­sured those neglect­ing the duties of human­i­ty and the laws, and restored the decrees and statu­to­ry penal­ties of the apos­tolic see, and left no means untried that for­eign nations, also, fol­low­ing the kind­li­ness of the Euro­peans, should cease from and abhor the dis­grace and bru­tal­i­ty of slavery.(25) But it has turned out most for­tu­nate­ly for Us that We have received the con­grat­u­la­tions of the chief princes and rulers of pub­lic affairs for hav­ing obtained, thanks to Our con­stant plead­ings, some sat­is­fac­tion for the long-con­tin­ued and most just com­plaints of nature and religion.

18. We have, how­ev­er, in Our mind, in a mat­ter of the same kind, anoth­er care which gives Us no light anx­i­ety and press­es upon Our solic­i­tude. This shame­ful trad­ing in men has, indeed, ceased to take place by sea, but on land is car­ried on to too great an extent and too bar­barous­ly, and that espe­cial­ly in some parts of Africa. For, it hav­ing been per­verse­ly laid down by the Mohammedans that Ethiopi­ans and men of sim­i­lar nations are very lit­tle supe­ri­or to brute beasts, it is easy to see and shud­der at the per­fidy and cru­el­ty of man. Sud­den­ly, like plun­der­ers mak­ing an attack, they invade the tribes of Ethiopi­ans, fear­ing no such thing; they rush into their vil­lages, hous­es, and huts; they lay waste, destroy, and seize every­thing; they lead away from thence the men, women, and chil­dren, eas­i­ly cap­tured and bound, so that they may drag them away by force for their shame­ful traf­fic. These hate­ful expe­di­tions are made into Egypt, Zanz­ibar, and part­ly also into the Soudan, as though so many sta­tions. Men, bound with chains are forced to take long jour­neys, ill sup­plied with food, under the fre­quent use of the lash; those who are too weak to under­go this are killed; those who are strong enough go like a flock with a crowd of oth­ers to be sold and to be passed over to a bru­tal and shame­less pur­chas­er. But who­ev­er is thus sold and giv­en up is exposed to what is a mis­er­able rend­ing asun­der of wives, chil­dren, and par­ents, and is dri­ven by him into whose pow­er he falls into a hard and inde­scrib­able slav­ery; nor can he refuse to con­form to the reli­gious rites of Mahomet. These things We have received not long since with the great­est bit­ter­ness of feel­ing from some who have been eye­wit­ness­es, though tear­ful ones, of that kind of infamy and mis­ery; with these, more­over, what has been relat­ed late­ly by the explor­ers in equa­to­r­i­al Africa entire­ly coin­cides. It is indeed man­i­fest, by their tes­ti­mo­ny and word, that each year 400,000 Africans are usu­al­ly thus sold like cat­tle, about half of whom, wea­ried out by the rough­ness of the tracks, fall down and per­ish there, so that, sad to relate, those trav­el­ing through such places see the path­way strewn with the remains of bones.

19. Who would not be moved by the thought of such mis­eries. We, indeed, who are hold­ing the place of Christ, the lov­ing Lib­er­a­tor and Redeemer of all mankind, and who so rejoice in the many and glo­ri­ous good deeds of the Church to all who are afflict­ed, can scarce­ly express how great is Our com­mis­er­a­tion for those unhap­py nations, with what full­ness of char­i­ty We open Our arms to them, how ardent­ly We desire to be able to afford them every alle­vi­a­tion and sup­port, with the hope, that, hav­ing cast off the slav­ery of super­sti­tion as well as the slav­ery of man, they may at length serve the one true God under the gen­tle yoke of Christ, par­tak­ers with Us of the divine inher­i­tance. Would that all who hold high posi­tions in author­i­ty and pow­er, or who desire the rights of nations and of human­i­ty to be held sacred, or who earnest­ly devote them­selves to the inter­ests of the Catholic reli­gion, would all, every­where act­ing on Our exhor­ta­tions and wish­es, strive togeth­er to repress, for­bid, and put an end to that kind of traf­fic, than which noth­ing is more base and wicked.

20. In the mean­time, while by a more stren­u­ous appli­ca­tion of inge­nu­ity and labor new roads are being made, and new com­mer­cial enter­pris­es under­tak­en in the lands of Africa, let apos­tolic men endeav­or to find out how they can best secure the safe­ty and lib­er­ty of slaves. They will obtain suc­cess in this mat­ter in no oth­er way than if, strength­ened by divine grace, they give them­selves up to spread­ing our most holy faith and dai­ly car­ing for it, whose dis­tin­guish­ing fruit is that it won­der­ful­ly fla­vors and devel­ops the lib­er­ty “with which Christ made us free.”(26) We there­fore advise them to look, as if into a mir­ror of apos­tolic virtue, at the life and works of St. Peter Claver, to whom We have late­ly added a crown of glory.(27) Let them look at him who for ful­ly forty years gave him­self up to min­is­ter with the great­est con­stan­cy in his labors, to a most mis­er­able assem­bly of Moor­ish slaves; tru­ly he ought to be called the apos­tle of those whose con­stant ser­vant he pro­fessed him­self and gave him­self up to be. If they endeav­or to take to them­selves and reflect the char­i­ty and patience of such a man, they will shine indeed as wor­thy min­is­ters of sal­va­tion, authors of con­so­la­tion, mes­sen­gers of peace, who, by God’s help, may turn solic­i­tude, des­o­la­tion, and fierce­ness into the most joy­ful fer­til­i­ty of reli­gion and civilization.

21. And now, ven­er­a­ble brethren, Our thoughts and let­ters desire to turn to you that We may again announce to you and again share with you the exceed­ing joy which We feel on account of the deter­mi­na­tions which have been pub­licly entered into in that empire with regard to slav­ery. If, indeed, it seemed to Us a good, hap­py, and pro­pi­tious event, that it was pro­vid­ed and insist­ed upon by law that who­ev­er were still in the con­di­tion of slaves ought to be admit­ted to the sta­tus and rights of free men, so also it con­forms and increas­es Our hope of future acts which will be the cause of joy, both in civ­il and reli­gious mat­ters. Thus the name of the Empire of Brazil will be just­ly held in hon­or and praise among the most civ­i­lized nations, and the name of its august emper­or will like­wise be esteemed, whose excel­lent speech is on record, that he desired noth­ing more ardent­ly than that every ves­tige of slav­ery should be speed­i­ly oblit­er­at­ed from his ter­ri­to­ries. But, tru­ly, until those pre­cepts of the laws are car­ried into effect, earnest­ly endeav­or, We beseech you, by all means, and press on as much as pos­si­ble the accom­plish­ment of this affair, which no light dif­fi­cul­ties hin­der. Through your means let it be brought to pass that mas­ters and slaves may mutu­al­ly agree with the high­est good­will and best good faith, nor let there be any trans­gres­sion of clemen­cy or jus­tice, but, what­ev­er things have to be car­ried out, let all be done law­ful­ly, tem­per­ate­ly, and in a Chris­t­ian man­ner. Is is, how­ev­er, chiefly to be wished that this may be pros­per­ous­ly accom­plished, which all desire, that slav­ery may be ban­ished and blot­ted out with­out any injury to divine or human rights, with no polit­i­cal agi­ta­tion, and so with the sol­id ben­e­fit of the slaves them­selves, for whose sake it is undertaken.

22. To each one of these, whether they have already been made free or are about to become so, We address with a pas­toral inten­tion and father­ly mind a few salu­tary cau­tions culled from the words of the great Apos­tle of the Gen­tiles. Let them, then, endeav­or pious­ly and con­stant­ly to retain grate­ful mem­o­ry and feel­ing towards those by whose coun­cil and exer­tion they were set at lib­er­ty. Let them nev­er show them­selves unwor­thy of so great a gift nor ever con­found lib­er­ty with licence; but let them use it as becomes well ordered cit­i­zens for the indus­try of an active life, for the ben­e­fit and advan­tage both of their fam­i­ly and of the State. To respect and increase the dig­ni­ty of their princes, to obey the mag­is­trates, to be obe­di­ent to the laws, these and sim­i­lar duties let them dili­gent­ly ful­fill, under the influ­ence, not so much of fear as of reli­gion; let them also restrain and keep in sub­jec­tion envy of anoth­er’s wealth or posi­tion, which unfor­tu­nate­ly dai­ly dis­tress­es so many of those in infe­ri­or posi­tions, and present so many incite­ments of rebel­lion against secu­ri­ty of order and peace. Con­tent with their state and lot, let them think noth­ing dear­er, let them desire noth­ing more ardent­ly than the good things of the heav­en­ly king­dom by whose grace they have been brought to the light and redeemed by Christ; let them feel pious­ly towards God who is their Lord and Lib­er­a­tor; let them love Him, with all their pow­er; let them keep His com­mand­ments with all their might; let them rejoice in being sons of His spouse, the Holy Church; let them labor to be as good as pos­si­ble, and as much as they can let them care­ful­ly return His love. Do you also, Ven­er­a­ble Brethren, be con­stant in show­ing and urg­ing on the freed­men these same doc­trines; that, that which is Our chief prayer, and at the same time ought to be yours and that of all good peo­ple, reli­gion, amongst the first, may ever feel that she has gained the most ample fruits of that lib­er­ty which has been obtained wher­ev­er that empire extends.

23. But that that may hap­pi­ly take place, We beg and implore the full grace of God and moth­er­ly aid of the Immac­u­late Vir­gin. As a fore­taste of heav­en­ly gifts and wit­ness of Our father­ly good will towards you, Ven­er­a­ble Brethren, your cler­gy, and all your peo­ple, We lov­ing­ly impart the apos­tolic blessing.

Giv­en at St. Peter’s, in Rome, the fifth day of May, 1888, the eleventh of Our pontificate.

LEO XIII


REFERENCES:

1. Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:19.

2. Eph. 1:10.

3. Epist., lib. 6, ep. 12 (PL 77, 803C-804A). 102

4. De civ. Dei, 19, 15 (PL 41, 643).

5. Lucan, Phars. 5, 343.

6. Jus­tin­ian, Inst., lib. 1, tit. 8, n. 1; in Cor­pus juris civilis (4thed., Berlin, Wei­d­mann, 1886) Vol. 1, p. 3.

7. Ga1.3:26–28.

8. Col. 3:11.

9. 1 Cor. 12:13.

10. I Peter 2:18.

11. Eph.6:5–8.

12. I Tim. 6:1‑Z.

13. Titus 2:9–10.

14. Eph. 6:9.

15. I Cor. 7:22.

16. Phile­mon 12, 18.

17. I Peter 2:19–21.

18. Phile­mon 2.

19. John Chrysos­tom, Hom. in Lazar. (PG 58, 1039); Hom. XIX in ep. 1 ad Cor. (PG 61,157–158); Hom. I in ep. ad Phil. (PG 62, 705).

20. De Jacob et de vita bea­ta, cap. 3 (PL 14, 633A-636A); De patr. Joseph, cap. 4 (PL 16, 680C-682B); Exhort. Vir­gin., cap. 1. (PL 16, 351A-352B).

21. Divin. Instil., lib. 5, cap. 16 (PL 6, 599A-600A).

22. Clement of Rome, I Ep. ad Cor., cap. 55 (PG 1, 319A).

23. Gra­t­ian, Decre­tum, Part I, dirt. 54; ed. E. Fried­berg, Vol.I, cols. 206–214.

24. Paul III (1534–49), Ver­i­tas ipsa (June 2, 1559).

25. Gre­go­ry XVI (18316), In Supre­mo Apos­to­la­tus Fasti­gio (Dec. 3, 1837).

26. Gal. 4:31.

27. St. Peter Claver (1551–1654), joined the Soci­ety of Jesus in 1602; in 1610, he went to Carta­ge­na, then the main slave mar­ket of the New World, and for forty-four years devot­ed him­self to mis­sion­ary work. He had declared his inten­tion to remain “the slave of the Negroes” for his entire life and, in point of fact, is said to have bap­tized over 300,000 of them. He was can­on­ized by Pope Leo XIII on Jan­u­ary 15, 1888.

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