for abused slaves who must suffer without having done anything wrong (i Pet 2:i8-25). Unlike the next section addressed to wives, who by their reverent submission may win over unbelieving husbands, here there is no mention that the abuse comes from unbelieving slave owners. We must therefore assume that the abuse could come from either believing or unbelieving owners, a frank admission perhaps that the admonitions to slave owners as put forth in Colossians and Ephesians were not always effective.i7 The positive side of the analogy of the suffering Christ here is that another kind of christological typology is at work, as in Ephesians 5. There the reverent and submissive wife is cast as the type of the church and thus as a model for all believers. Here the abused slave is typecast as representative of Christ, a powerful image that participates in the wider mystery of the cross with its reversal of worldly expectations of honour and status.

As Christianity developed, the same kinds of exhortations continued. The Didache, after teaching the need to discipline sons and daughters, instructs the slave owner not to command a male or female slave in the heat of negative emotion (literally, 'in your bitterness'), lest it weaken their faith in God. The owner is reminded that God is also over him or her. The passage concludes, however, with the usual exhortation to slaves to obey their owners as a type or image of God (4.9-n). But there must eventually have been some presumption in favour of manumission, and an expectation that for those slaves who needed to buy their freedom, church funds would be allocated for this purpose. Ignatius, writing to Polycarp in the first decade of the second century, advises against this practice (Ign. Pol. 4.3). After first exhorting the young bishop Polycarp that he should not behave with arrogance towards slaves, he turns the advice around to ensure that slaves do not get puffed up with a sense of their own importance because they are members of the community, but serve even better as slaves of God. Ignatius adds at the end that they should not expect to be freed from the common fund 'lest they become slaves of desire' (epithymia) - a rather patronising excuse that adapts the Stoic adage that true slavery may begin at the moment of legal freedom, as the new freedperson becomes haughty and acquisitive and thus enslaved to one's own passions.

Throughout the literature of early Christianity, well into the fifth century, there are continued references to slavery practised by Christians. Contrary to the images we are given by the New Testament narratives of whole households i7 The apparent innocuousness of certain images of slavery should not blunt our awareness of its viciousness. For further discussion, see Glancy, Slavery in early Christianity.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment