A Source Book for Medieval Economic History

By Roy C. Cave; Herbert H. Coulson | Go to book overview

SECTION III
CHURCH COUNCILS *

Introduction

The efforts of Church Councils to mitigate the worst evils of slavery and serfdom were unremitting, though the very frequency of such legislation as is quoted in this section is adequate testimony to the ineffectiveness of the law. Violent seizure of those manumitted, sale of slaves to foreign peoples, and all manner of crimes against them, including that of murder, were the subjects of discussion at diocesan, national, and ecumenical councils down to the twelfth century at least. There was no opposition to slavery as such, merely injunctions to men not to maltreat their slaves, though some of the Fathers thought the whole institution wrong. St. Thomas Aquinas found it justifiable, quoting Aristotle and the Roman Civil Law, and approving of the doctrine first propounded by St. Augustine that slavery is just as a consequence of sin. Indeed he says that "inducing a slave to leave his master is properly an injury against the person...since the slave is his master's chattel, it is referred to as theft." Medieval churchmen therefore defended slavery as a property right and as a means to the exercise of Christian charity. Hence, we do not find its abolition being urged by Church Councils, but we do find insistence on the precept of treating one's neighbor (even though he be a slave) as one's self. At the same time the Councils took care to protect the Church from attack by refusing to ordain those who were not free lest the principle of private property be violated, and lest the lord of the ordained serf should subsequently reclaim him.


1. Council of Agde

Manumitted slaves were given as freedmen reasonable liberty and holdings sufficient for their sustenance. Freedom, once granted, was ir-

____________________
*
A distinction should be made between ecumenical or general councils and these councils which were provincial.

-280-

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A Source Book for Medieval Economic History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Part I - Agriculture, Forestry, And Extractive Industries 1
  • Section I - The Barbarians 3
  • Section II - Villa and Manorial Organization 14
  • Section III - Cultivation 37
  • Section IV - Produce 56
  • Section V - Forests 70
  • Section VI - The Extractive Industries 76
  • Part II - Commerce 87
  • Section I - Trade and Exchange 89
  • Section II - Fairs and Markets 112
  • Section III - Money and Prices 126
  • Section IV - Shipping and Inland Transportation 148
  • Section V - Loans and Usury 169
  • Section VI - Partnerships 183
  • Part III - Town Economy 191
  • Section I - Towns and Gilds 193
  • Section III - Craft Gilds and Industry 234
  • Appendix - Florentine Crafts Subject to Tax 258
  • Part IV - Slavery and Serfdom 261
  • Section I - Roman Law 263
  • Section II - Barbarian and Feudal Laws 270
  • Section III - Church Councils 280
  • Part V - Wealth and Property 303
  • Section I - Forms of Wealth 305
  • Section II - Private Property 325
  • Section III - Inheritance 334
  • Part VI - Taxation 347
  • Section I - Taxes and Feudal Dues 349
  • Section II - Tithes 377
  • 8- Fine of the Abbot of Croyland To Recover His Lands 391
  • Section IV - Tolls 398
  • Glossary 423
  • Bibliography 435
  • Index 447
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