Across his corpus, Augustine strikingly and recurrently deploys the three cognate metaphors of slavery to sin, redemption from sin, and slavery to God. I argue that Augustine’s use of these theological metaphors is thoroughly contoured by the legal and social strictures governing slavery and freedom in the later Roman empire. To develop this argument, I pay close attention to the economic and legal connotations of some key terms in Augustine’s lexicon of salvation—like manumissio, redemptio, and libertas—and seek to tease out the social, legal, and economic logic they encapsulate. As I show, the concept of dominium underwrites Augustine’s description of the prelapsarian ordo naturalis as a chain of hierarchical relationships: between God and man, soul and body, male and female. The notion that human beings are enslaved to sin, subject to the condicio servitutis from birth, evokes the situation of laboring tenants (coloni) bound to the land through their origo. Moreover, the bishop of Hippo’s descriptions of captivity to the devil and liberation through the interpellation (interpellatio) of God the Redeemer are informed by the contemporary reality of barbarian captivity and liberales causae, so richly described in Augustine’s Letter 10*. Finally, Augustine’s characterization of Christian service in terms of a state of simultaneous freedom and servitude implicitly draws upon the legal norms governing the relationship of freed captives to their redeemers, as well as the obligations of obsequium and gratia which freedmen owed to their former masters.
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Research Article| October 01 2021
Slavery, Redemption, and Manumission as Structural Metaphors in Augustine’s Theology
Classical Antiquity (2021) 40 (2): 195–220.
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Joshua Benjamins; Slavery, Redemption, and Manumission as Structural Metaphors in Augustine’s Theology. Classical Antiquity 1 October 2021; 40 (2): 195–220. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2021.40.2.195
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