The Major Role The Catholic Church Played in Slavery

The Catholic Church played a vital role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, according to historians and several published thesiis on the topic.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was introduced by the coming of the Europeans who came with the Bible in the same manner that Arab raiders and traders from the Middle East and North Africa introduced Islam through the Trans-Saharan slave trade, according to AfricaW.com, a premiere informational website available throughout the continent.

“In fact, the Church was the backbone of the slave trade,” the authors wrote. “In other words, most of the slave traders and slave ship captains were very ‘good’ Christians.”

For example, Sir John Hawkins, the first slave-ship captain to bring African slaves to the Americas, was a religious man who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love one another.” His ship, ironically called “The Good Ship Jesus,” left the shores of his native England for Africa in October 1562. Some historians argue that if churches had used their power, the Atlantic slave trade might have never occurred.

By the same logic, others argue that the Catholic church and Catholic missionaries could have also helped to prevent the colonization and brutality of colonialism in Africa. However, according to a 2015 Global Black History report, the Catholic church did not oppose the institution of slavery until the practice had already become infamous in most parts of the world.

In most cases, the churches and church leaders did not condemn slavery until the 17th century.

The five major countries that dominated slavery and the slave trade in the New World were either Catholic, or still retained strong Catholic influences including: Spain, Portugal, France, and England, and the Netherlands.

“Persons who considered themselves to be Christian played a major role in upholding and justifying the enslavement of Africans,” said Dr. Jonathan Chism, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown.

“Many European ‘Christian’ slavers perceived the Africans they encountered as irreligious and uncivilized persons. They justified slavery by rationalizing that they were Christianizing and civilizing their African captors. They were driven by missionary motives and impulses,” Chism said.

Further, many Anglo-Christians defended slavery using the Bible. For example, white Christian apologists for slavery argued that the curse of Ham in Genesis Chapter 9 and verses 20 to 25 provided a biblical rationale for the enslavement of Blacks, Chism said.

In this passage, Noah cursed Canaan and his descendants arguing that Ham would be “the lowest of slaves among his brothers” because he saw the nakedness of his father. A further understanding of the passage also revealed that while some have attempted to justify their prejudice by claiming that God cursed the black race, no such curse is recorded in the Bible.

That oft-cited verse says nothing whatsoever about skin color.

Also, it should be noted that Black race evidently descended from a brother of Canaan named Cush. Canaan’s descendants were evidently light-skinned – not black. “Truly nothing in the biblical account identifies Ham, the descendant of Canaan, with Africans. Yet, Christian apologists determined that Africans were the descents of Ham,” Chism said.