converting together (Acts 10:44-8; 16:15, 31-4; 1 Cor 1:16), it seems that slaves could usually make their own decisions about faith. This was generally already true before and outside the onset of Christianity, for we know that slaves were members of private religions and other kinds of private associations. The Apostolic tradition attributed to Hippolytus in the early third century gives a list of occupations forbidden to those who would like to become catechumens, then specifies that a slave concubine who has been faithful to her owner/husband and raised her children well can be accepted without change. Her marital status would be considered irregular, but there was really nothing she could do about it. A slave of a Christian owner who wished to become a catechumen had to have permission and an attestation of virtue from his or her owner. In the case of a slave not of a believer, no such permission or attestation would be sought, but the slave must simply be admonished to virtues proper to slave status (Trad. ap. 15-16). Here it is clear that the personal initiative of each slave is the basis for seeking baptism and membership in the church. The requirement of permission from a Christian owner shows that it was not expected that their slaves would necessarily convert.
Was there anything different about the practice of slavery by Christians? The idea that real slavery is not the legal kind but enslavement to passion, which can happen in and out of legal slavery, was commonplace. The discussions of household management written throughout the Hellenistic period recognise that brutal treatment of slaves is inefficient, and encourage enlightened, though definitely authoritative, management. Encouragement will produce better results than punishment; good material treatment, including competitive incentives, will turn out better work than maltreatment.
Christian slave owners were firmly taught that abuse and uneven treatment of slaves are not to be tolerated, since slaves are their brothers and sisters in Christ, and because the slave owners themselves are slaves of God. Because something is taught, however, does not mean that it is universally observed. 1 Peter 2:18-25 does not specify that abusive owners would not be Christians, so it leaves open the possibility of mistreatment even by believers. Abusive slave owners were heartily disapproved of, but the texts sound as if slave owners were even more frightened of slaves who might adopt 'an attitude' that might compromise their authority on the basis of a common baptism. Ignatius' warning to Polycarp to avoid any kind of mutual arrogance between owner and slave may be a hint that all was not always right in these relationships. By incorporating slavery into the theological and pastoral framework of Christian life, church teaching actually reinforced the institution of slavery.
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