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Social Justice and the Legitimacy of SlaveryThe Role of Philosophical Asceticism from Ancient Judaism to Late Antiquity$
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Ilaria L.E. Ramelli

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198777274

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198777274.001.0001

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Patristic Contrasts

Patristic Contrasts

Augustine and Theodoret, Basil and John Chrysostom

(p.152) 4 Patristic Contrasts
Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli

Oxford University Press

This chapter analyses patristic authors who discussed juridical slavery, examining the endorsement of slavery by Augustine and Theodoret (and Theodore of Mopsuestia) and the more critical positions of Basil and John Chrysostom. These thinkers’ views concerning legal slavery are compared with their ideas on social justice, and with their behaviour regarding slave ownership and wealth. For Augustine, slavery is God’s right punishment for sins; it is not evil, but just, and must not be abolished before the end of time. Augustine did not fight for the termination of slavery or social injustice (just recommending almsgiving and donations as a means of saving one’s soul). Nor, significantly, did he embrace or advocate strict asceticism. Chrysostom recommended keeping very few slaves, out of philanthropy and self-sufficiency. He suggested buying slaves, teaching them a job, and emancipating them. John praised his teacher Diodore for his ascetic poverty; he did not own slaves either.

Keywords:   Augustine of Hippo, Theodoret, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, slave ownership, self-sufficiency, asceticism, poverty and renunciation of slave ownership

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