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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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Gregory Nyssen’s Family and Origen

Gregory Nyssen’s Family and Origen

Rejection of Slavery and of Social Injustice

(p.190) 6 Gregory Nyssen’s Family and Origen
Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli

Oxford University Press

This chapter compares Gregory’s theory with his and his own family’s practice. He praised Macrina, Naucratius, and others for embracing voluntary poverty and service, and renouncing slave ownership. The theological arguments underpinning Nyssen’s condemnation of slavery, it is argued, are the same as buttress his condemnation of social injustice and usury. Nyssen deemed slavery and social injustice impious. Wealth was regarded as tantamount to theft by Nyssen, Origen, Evagrius, and Chrysostom. Gregory urged even non-ascetics to give away at least one-third of their goods as a moral duty. Possessions become illegitimate if they exceed one’s needs; owning humans is never admissible. For Gregory, spiritual asceticism is a matter of justice—abstinence from oppressing others and ‘robbing the poor with injustice’. Nyssen’s condemnation of slavery and injustice is understandable only in light of his eschatology, to be read against the backdrop of Origen, the main inspirer of Gregory’s theology of freedom.

Keywords:   Nyssen, Origen, Evagrius, John Chrysostom, Macrina, Naucratius, condemnation of slavery, spiritual asceticism, Nyssen and Origen’s eschatological positions

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