The subjection of a human being to another as a captive of war, descent from such captive, or by purchase. As an institution it would seem to have existed from the earliest times. Mosaic legislation placed certain limitations on it which were generally observed. Even in pagan Greece and Rome the slave was often treated humanely, never so badly as the slaves under Moslem masters, and never worse than slaves under reputed Christian masters in modern times. As an institution it has now practically disappeared from the earth, though conditions similar to those of slavery prevail in many civilized countries owing to industrial tyranny, especially when women and children are concerned.

In the beginning the Church had to recognize slavery as something with which she could not abruptly interfere without creating disorders which would result in anarchy. To have attempted to bring about the release of all the slaves in the Roman Empire would mean throwing on the world millions of human beings without means of support and without any understanding of civic life. It took Saint Melania many years to release the slaves on her many estates who numbered over a hundred thousand. The Church, however, succeeded gradually in helping to abolish slavery as a system.

There was not in earlier times the same disgrace attached to slavery as in its last days. Saint Patrick had been a slave in Ireland before he returned there to Christianize the country. Even in early modern days many a distinguished Catholic priest and layman became a slave to the Moslems in order to ransom some poor captive whose faith was in danger. Saint Vincent de Paul spent some time in slavery for this purpose.

New Catholic Dictionary

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