the Middle Ages From Mr John Kearney SIR Whereas it was true that in the early Church during Roman times there was, as Quentin de la Bedoyere wrote (Feature, March 23), an acceptance of slavery mainly because it was endemic and those who worked as household slaves were most well treated the Church had come to a realisation of how wrong it was certainly before the ninth century.
In 873 AD Pope John VII wrote to the Princes of Sardinia: "There is one thing about which we should give you a paternal admonition, and unless you emend, you incur a great sin, and for this reason, you will not increase gain, as you hope, but guilt ... many in your area, being taken captive by pagans, are sold and are bought by your people and held under the yoke of slavery. It is evident that it is religious duty and holy, as becomes Christians, that when your people have bought them from the Greeks themselves, for the love of Christ they set them free, and receive gain not from men, but from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Hence we exhort you and in fatherly love command that when you redeem some captives from them, for the salvation of your soul, you let them go free." There is no ambiguity here but straightforward, infallible Church teaching.
In 1537 the Holy Roman Emperor had spoken out against those who were enslaving western and southern Indians. In supporting him, Pope Paul III wrote to the Archbishop of Toledo: "We give orders that... to each one of any dignity whatsoever... you give strict orders under penalty of automatic excommunication... presume to reduce the Indians we mention into slavery."
Pope Gregory XVI, in a Bull in 1831, clarified the position of the Church, quoting John III, Urban VIII, and Benedict XIV. I am afraid that Count de la Bedoyere should have done a little more homework on the case of Pope Nicholas V. No letter or documents exist, but the matter was about the treatment of Saracens prisoners only: what should we do with these cruel invaders? Nicholas probably recommended slavery rather than mass murder.
Even today the Pope does not have total control over the bishops. and I am sure that plenty corrupt bishops existed then. But the Church was firmly opposed to slavery during the Middle Ages and much earlier.
Yours faithfully, JOHN KEARNEY Basingstoke, Hants