Reflecting the Mind of the
Vatican Since 1850

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Church and Slavery, Yesterday and Today
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A look at history shows us that, for many centuries, Christianity accepted slavery as a social and economic reality proper to most societies. Christian thought accepted slavery under certain circumstances, and when the Atlantic slave trade developed, the effort of theologians and jurists was to delimit the occasions involving legitimate loss of freedom. This was the case in the 16th century with thinkers such as Luis de Molina and Tomás de Mercado.

As Pope Francis writes, morality and law determined “who was born free and who was born into slavery, as well as the conditions whereby a freeborn person could lose his or her freedom or regain it. In other words, the law itself admitted that some people were able or required to be considered the property of other people, at their free disposition.”

During the period of European expansion and, in particular, with their arrival in the Americas in the late 15th century, the Church defended the freedom of Amerindian peoples. Examples include Pope Paul III with the 1537 bull Sublimis Deus, and pastors and missionaries such as Dominicans Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de Las Casas in Spanish America, and Jesuits Manuel da Nóbrega and António Vieira in Portuguese America.
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