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Christian-Jewish Relations: Fourth Council of Toledo: On the Keeping of Slaves

(633 CE)

The Council of Toledo in the Visigothic kingdom in Spain took the place of the Witenagemot among the English and was dominated by the clergy. Among other provisions for the year 633 it decreed that Jews might not possess Christian slaves, that freedmen under Church patronage might not withdraw from it, that the children of freedmen might not lose their status, and that qualified freedom might prevent ordination.

66. By the decree of the most glorious prince this sacred council ordered that Jews should not be allowed to have Christian slaves nor to buy Christian slaves, nor to obtain them by the kindness of any one; for it is not right that the members of Christ should serve the ministers of Anti-Christ. But if henceforward Jews presume to have Christian slaves or handmaidens they shall be taken from their domination and shall go free.

70. Men freed by the Church (since the one who freed them will never die) must never withdraw from the Church's patronage. Neither, indeed, must their posterity, according to the decrees of former canons. But lest perchance their freedom should not be apparent in their children, and lest their posterity should struggle against their natural state of being free, and remove themselves from the patronage of the Church, it is necessary that these same freedmen as well as their children should make a profession before their bishop, by which they acknowledge that from being slaves of the Church they have been made freedmen. And they must never leave the patronage of the Church, but let them rather, according to its value render submission or obedience to this patronage or protection.

73. Those who have been so freed by their masters, that the patron requires absolutely no submission from them-those, if they be free from all crime, may freely take clerical orders; for it is known that they are absolved by direct manumission. Those who are manumitted, yet owe some submission to their patron, for the reason that they are held subject by the patron in servitude, are positively not to be promoted to the ecclesiastical order, lest when the master so wishes slaves should be made from clerics.

74. Concerning the slaves of the Church, it is allowed to make them priests and deacons in parishes; nevertheless, let right living and honest habits commend them; also for that reason let them be previously manumitted and receive the full liberty of their new status, and at length let them succeed to ecclesiastical honors; for it is contrary to religion for those to remain subject to serfdom, who have received the dignity of holy orders. But whatever has been granted to such men through their freedom, or whatever has been theirs by right of inheritance, or conferred by anyone in any manner whatsoever, they may not transfer to other people in any way; but all their goods ought to belong after their death to the Church by which they were manumitted. Moreover, all opportunity is forbidden them, just as to the other freedmen of the Church, of accusing or testifying against the Church; but if they aspire to this, not only shall they lose the benefit of liberty but also the promotion they have deserved, not by the worthiness of their nature but from the necessity of the times.

Sources: J. D. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, (Paris: H. Welter, 1901), Vol. X, pp. 635-637; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 283-284. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg. Medieval Sourcebook