Subproject Antiquity

Contributor: Nadine Breitbarth

Executive Summary

Strictly detail-oriented approaches have thus far characterized the research concerning the truly multi-faceted relationship between Christianity and slavery during antiquity. This is particularly true regarding the classification of Christian reflection on slavery as a part of a broader theological-historical context. Even though Richard Klein and Heike Grieser already have pre-eminently addressed the question of a Christian “theory of slavery” in their publications with selected examples, this field of research remains far from being fully understood, especially considering that several authors have been virtually entirely disregarded.

Great insight into the theological interpretation of slavery promises a comprehensive evaluation of all statements of Christian authors, who, in a broader sense, deal with the emergence of various hierarchical relationships and whose assessments substantially vary from punishment or potential probation to positive assistance. Contrary to such ‘normative’ (“stabilisierenden”) judgements, the ancient Christian authors nevertheless praised the liberation of slaves as a work of compassion and, therefore, demonstrated an awareness of the problems concerning the prevailing institution of slavery.

Within a consideration of historical notions of salvation one must furthermore question apocalyptic notions that reflect future abolition of existing inequalities. Such an approach could potentially be useful in dealing with prevailing circumstances.

Selectively supplemented, the theme includes patristic interpretations of the relevant New Testament statements on slavery. Other potentially fundamental features include the Old Testament and early Jewish sources and, primarily, the nature and scope of the reception of Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic ideas. To what extent did Roman legal categories such as ius naturale, ius gentium, and ius civile additionally influence Christian ideas?

Finally, the project demonstrates a differentiated comparison of the positions of Western and Eastern Christian authors on slavery.