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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

Gregory Nyssen

Theological Arguments against the Institution of Slavery

(p.172) 5 Gregory Nyssen
Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli

Oxford University Press

This chapter concentrates on Gregory Nyssen’s theological arguments against slavery and argues that he urged all masters to emancipate all their slaves. He described slave ownership as evil, and slavery as death, within what I call his ‘theology of freedom’. This, it is argued, connects freedom, virtue, and assimilation to God, against the backdrop of the Platonic Christianized notion of ἀδέσποτον‎ (‘without master’). Gregory’s first theological argument against slavery is based on the ‘theology of the image’, the second on the ‘social analogy’ between humanity and the Trinity. From the equality of the divine Persons Gregory deduces the equality of all human persons. For Gregory, the ultimate end is ethically normative already now—and in the end there will be no slavery, as there was no slavery at the beginning, before sin. Gregory’s Christian theological arguments against slavery as impious are demonstrated to be more than a reiteration of Stoic commonplaces.

Keywords:   Nyssen’s theological arguments against slavery, emancipation of slaves, slave ownership as evil, slavery as death, Nyssen’s theology of freedom, ἀδέσποτον (‘without master’), freedom as assimilation to God, argument of equality from the ‘social analogy’, Nyssen’s arguments far beyond Stoicism

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