Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Leo XIII's In Plurimis: Natural Law and Slavery, Part 1

LEO XIII ADDRESSED THE ISSUE OF chattel slavery in his encyclical In plurimis dated May 5, 1888. The occasion for the encyclical was the abolition of slavery by Brazil. Brazil was the last nation in the Western World to abolish slavery, an act which was accomplished by the passage of the Lei Áurea (Portuguese for "Golden Law"), adopted on May 13, 1888.* The Lei Áurea is remarkable for its simplicity, as it had only two articles:
Article 1: From this date, slavery is declared abolished in Brazil.
Article 2: All dispositions to the contrary are revoked.
The Lei Áurea was sponsored by the Brazilian Senator Rodrigo A. da Silva. It passed both houses of the National Assembly (Assembléia Geral), and received official sanction by the Princess Imperial of Brazil, Isabel (1846–1921), acting as regent for her father, Emperor Dom Pedro II, who was then in Europe. Ironically, the uproar the law caused among Brazilian slave owners and upper classes to rebel against the monarchy, resulting in a military coup in 1889, the toppling of the monarchy, and the eventual establishing of a republic.

The Lei Áurea

Pope Leo XIII was clearly elated by the Brazilian emancipation of slaves, as he saw the institution of chattel slavery as one that arose as a result of sin, was against the law of God and the natural law, and was against the original intent of God:
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

Jamvero tot inter miserias, graviter deplorandum videtur de servitute, cui pars non exigua humanae familiae abhinc multis saeculis est obnoxia, in squalore jacens est sordibus, idque omnino contra quam a Deo et natura erat primitus institutum. Sic enim ille rerum conditor summus decreverat, ut homo in bestiis et agrestibus et natantibus et volucribus regium quemdam dominatum teneret, non item ut in similes sui homines dominaretur.
IP, 3.

The human inheritance of slavery is the result of sin, a sin that blinded man to the fundamental equality among men, an equality arising from their common nature, their common dignity, and the common image of God in which they share. It is a tendency that is altogether prevalent, but for all that not less to be deplored, where some men believe that other men exist for others.
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."**

Ex primi contagione peccati et cetera mala omnia et ista erupit monstruosa perversitas, ut homines fuerint, qui memoria fraternae ab origine conjunctionis rejecta, non jam duce natura mutuam inter se benevolentiam mutuamque observantiam colerent, sed cupiditatibus obedientes suis, homines alios infra se putare coeperint, et perinde habere ac nata jugo jumenta. Hoc modo, nulla ratione habita neque communis naturae, neque dignitatis humanae, neque divinae expressae similitudinis, consecutum est ut, per certationes et bella quae deinde exarserunt, qui vi existerent superiores, ii victos sibi subjicerent, atque ita multitudo ejusdem generis individua sensim in duasabscesserit partes, sub victoribus dominis vieta mancipia. Cujus rei luctuosum quasi theatrum memoria priscorum temporum explicat, ad tempora usque Domini servatoris, quum calamitas servitutis populos omnes late pervaserat, rariorque erat numerus ingenuorum, ut Caesarem poeta ille atrociter dicentem induxerit: «Humanum paucis vivit genus».
IP, 4.

The institution of slavery persisted not only among the primitive peoples, but it flourished even among the civilized Greeks and Romans, where slaves were regarded "as so many chattels--not as persons, but as things," quam bona, non personae sed res." IP, 5. Carved to be outside the pale of the law by a perverse positive law, blinding philosophers and jurists alike, the abuse that infected slavery went far beyond the evil of the institution itself, which was evil enough. The institution itself engendered moral confusion, moral perturbation, which allowed "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." IP, 5. And the justifications raised to justify this moral enormity--that slavery was a natural institution because of its prevalence, that slaves were naturally inferior to their owners, that they were things without reason, etc.--were abhorrent. The institution is dehumanizing to both the slave and the master:
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.

Ejusmodi delestanda maxime tum inhumanitas tum iniquitas; qua semel accepta, nulla jam sit oppressio hominum barbara et nefanda, quae non sese in legis quadam jurisve specie impudentissime tueatur.
IP, 5.


*The entire text (in Portuguese) is as follows:
Declara extinta a escravidão no Brasil:
A Princesa Imperial Regente, em nome de Sua Majestade o Imperador, o Senhor D. Pedro II, faz saber a todos os súditos do Império que a Assembleia Geral decretou e ela sancionou a lei seguinte:

Art. 1.º: É declarada extinta desde a data desta lei a escravidão no Brasil.
Art. 2.º: Revogam-se as disposições em contrário.

Manda, portanto, a todas as autoridades, a quem o conhecimento e execução da referida Lei pertencer, que a cumpram, e façam cumprir e guardar tão inteiramente como nela se contém.

O secretário de Estado dos Negócios da Agricultura, Comércio e Obras Públicas e interino dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Bacharel Rodrigo Augusto da Silva, do Conselho de Sua Majestade o Imperador, o faça imprimir, publicar e correr.
Dada no Palácio do Rio de Janeiro, em 13 de maio de 1888, 67.º da Independência e do Império.

Princesa Imperial Regente.
Rodrigo Augusto da Silva

Carta de lei, pela qual Vossa Alteza Imperial manda executar o Decreto da Assembleia Geral, que houve por bem sancionar, declarando extinta a escravidão no Brasil, como nela se declara. Para Vossa Alteza Imperial ver. Chancelaria-mor do Império - Antônio Ferreira Viana.

Transitou em 13 de maio de 1888.- José Júlio de Albuquerque.

**The quotation--humanum paucis vivit genus--is to Lucan's
Pharsalia V.343 (also known as the De bello civili (On the Civil War)). It is a Roman epic poem by the Roman poet Lucan about the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great and the Battle of Pharsalus.


  1. Ever served in the military?

    Ever worked on a farm?

    I bet the answer to these questions would be a big fat no.

    I'm sorry but the Pope doesn't know what he is talking about. All men are not equal. Aristotle said, "All things are either in Authority or in subjection". All things. And that includes some men.

    I don't know what "natural law" the pope is quoting but it is NOT the real original natural law found in nature. This is total bunk. The Bible does not condemn chattel slavery nor does the real original natural law.

    Furthermore, I think that you fail to investigate the nature of de Silva. Was he a Mason? Was not Freemasonry, and Humanism big in Italy and in Brazil? What about the queen, was she influenced by the Hermetic tradition? Was she orthodox or an imbiber of the radical tradition in Europe?

    I think you also seem to forget to check the origin of this idea.

    The Pope is in error. The "magesterium" is wrong.

  2. Pope Leo XIII's teaching does not seem to be based upon equality, but rather commonality. He says that slavery arises from "an absolute forgetfulness of our common nature, and of human dignity, and the likeness of God stamped upon us all." While men and women are very arguably not equal in all things and in all measures, and so an argument based on absolute equality is untenable, you surely you do not suggest that there are some men that do not participate in "common nature" with others, in "human dignity" with others, or in "likeness of God."

    Some cattle are better than other cattle, but we may have dominion over them all.

    Some men are better than other men, but we may not have dominion, in the sense of chattle slavery, over those based on that inequality. Why? Not because we are equal, but because we have a common nature, a common nature that gives rise to a common dignity, a common nature that is made in the image of God.

    Subjection is different from chattel slavery. I do not think that the Pope has taught than no man ought to be subject to another. The issue is whether that subjection should be so extreme as that the one in subjection loses his humanity or personhood and becomes, de factor if not even de jure, a thing. That is what is unacceptable.

    I know you enough to know that you do not believe that human beings can be treated as things.

    I would probably agree that the Bible does not expressly condemn slavery. Nor, however, does it enjoin it as a good or even morally licit practice. Certainly, the teaching that chattel slavery of men is intrinsically evil does not contradict scripture, and there may be arguments that may be built supporting it based upon scriptural principles.

    But the teaching is that the natural law and the original design of God did not allow for slavery, but that it entered our institutions and practice through sin.

    I am not an expert on Empress Isabel, but I do not think she was a Mason, but a pious Catholic. Pope Leo XIII awarded the prestigious Golden Rose to her as a token of his appreciation. From what I have seen, she was accused of being just the opposite, a pawn of the Jesuits and the Pope, and (according to the New York Times, Sept. 29, 1875) a tool of "Ultramontate Rule."

  3. Human beings are not "things". They are human beings.

    There are several errors.

    First off, an ecumenical council authorized the canons of another provincial council that protected the institution of slavery. It goes against the constant teaching of the church.

    Second, It was not condemned in ancient times, nor did Jesus Christ say anything about it. See, the Pope's declaration is not just a "forward" document, but it goes back into history! That is a huge point. I could accept it if there was a qualifier, like "from here on". OR Yes it is alright, but we just condone it in these times. His statement goes back into time and condemns something that was natural.

    Third, slavery is not a product of sin. We were thrown out of the garden because of sin ----into a harsh, hostile environment. Cicero could not have accomplished his works without the slaves freeing him from manual labor. It is because of the necessity of a hard life that is nature, the cosmos, that slavery is necessary. In antiquity, you could not "pay" people to do your work. Nobody could. Reality and the basics of economics was not there to pay free people to do the manual labor of the household.

    Abuses are not to be confused with essence of an institution.

    This "dignity of man" sounds a lot like the "rights of man". This all had roots in the Hermetic tradition of Humanist Renaissance Italy. How do you know the Popes were not themselves influenced by humanism, the Hermetic tradition, and the kabbalah. Even Averoes influenced St. Thomas Aquinas.

    We live here in this world, guided and ruled by the Laws of Nature, not by the Garden of Eden. There are some aspects of this that I consider gnostic. Yes, we may find chattel slavery noxious, or grating, but that doesn't change it as a necessary function due to the Laws of Nature.

    I've been in the military. It is "indentured servanthood". If chattel slavery is wrong, then indentured servanthood is wrong. Time does not change the essence of a thing. Short-time slavery or long-time slavery is of no difference.

    Second, I lived at bare-bones agrarianism. I did only one task. It is impossible, impossible, to perform all tasks required on a farm. And to make a buck, more impossible. Yes, there is a mystery here. Slavery is NOT due to sin but to a necessity in nature!

  4. Great post LEX CHRISTIANORUM. I would like to add that Rodrigo Silva came from a Catholic family. His grandfather, father and uncle were among the board members of many Catholic brotherhoods in Sao Paulo, including the Santa Casa of Misericordia and were also protectors of the Third Order of Carmelites. His father-in-law on the other hand was one of the highest ranking masons in the nation, he was called Eusebio de Queiros (he was responsible for the law that forbade the slave trade in 1850).

    Rodrigo Silva mentioned the Church as one of the main reasons that slavery should be abolished, he mentioned the "holy word of the clergy" as one of the main reasons during his speech to approve the law in parliament.

    Isabel received the golden rose from the pope, she was attacked for this by the way. One of the reasons she lost the throne was because the political elite believed she was a radical Catholic.

    Rodrigo was knighted by the Vatican in 1888.

    The Catholic Church certainly played a central role in the abolition of slavery in Brazil. A prelate of the Pope called Dom Jose da Silva Barros (Bishop of Rio de Janeiro and later Archbishop of Darnis) preached against slavery for decades before the final act. Dom Jose was very close to the royal family, he was the royal private chaplain. For his fight against slavery Dom Pedro II created the title of Count of Saint Augustine, he declined the honor, however it was bestowed upon him without the regular expenses since Dom Jose had donated his inheritance to build a girl's college and hospital. Dom Jose was later arrested by the Republican government after the coup in Brazil. He was arrested for protesting against the use of a positivist phrase in the Brazilian flag(Order and Progress).

  5. Thanks for your comments Anonymous and valuable insights on Rodrigo Silva and the role of the Catholic Church in Brazil, particularly Dom Jose.