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By the seventh century, the churchmen had made the doctrine of natural liberty one of the tenets of the Church. Gregory the Great writes: "Since our Redeemer, Creator of all creatures, deigned to put on human form, in order by His divine grace to break the bonds of the servitude by which we were held as captives, that He might restore us to our ancient liberty, it is fitting and advantageous that those whom Nature has made free, and whom the law of nations has made subject to the yoke of servitude, should be restored, by enfranchisement, to that liberty in which they were born."[1] This passage became authoritative for the Middle Ages, as well for the point of view of the doctrine and the sanction of it, as for its substance. It is a familiar fact that the current reason then alleged for enfranchisements was one's soul's health in the realization of a high Christian ideal. About 825 Bishop Jonas, of Orleans, asks: "Why are not master and slave, rich and poor, equal by nature, since they have one Lord in heaven, who is not a respecter of persons? ... The powerful and rich, taught by these (church fathers), recognize their slaves and the poor as equal to themselves by nature."[2] In the twelfth century Bishop Ivo writes: "If we consult the institutes of God, and the law of nature, in which there is neither bond nor free," etc.[3] In the thirteenth century the doctrine appears in Bracton.[4] When describing the classes of men as free, villains, serfs, etc., he says: "Before God, there is no acceptance of men as free, or of men as slaves." Here we see the doctrine, such as the churchmen had been elaborating it, with its scriptural warrant, pass into the English common law.

  1. Epistles, book vi, ep. 12; 77 Migne, 803.
  2. "De Instit. Laic.," ii, 22; 106 Migne, 213. He quotes Coloss. iv, 1.
  3. Epist. 221; 162 Migne, 226.
  4. Book i, ch. 8, ed. Twiss, 1878.