Raphtalia and the Slaves of Love

JeskaiAngel recently wrote a post about slavery in Rise of the Shield Hero. I don’t intend to cover the same topics, in part because J-Angel clocked in at over 4,500 words, so there’s just not a whole lot left to say!

What I’d like to focus on here is the scene where Raphtalia receives a slave curse mark for the second time. The first time is of course when the Shield Hero purchases her and the slave-trader forces the mark upon her. Later on, the mark is removed by force. Finally, she freely chooses to have the mark re-inscribed.

Why? Why choose to be a slave once more?

Louis de Montfort, a French priest of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, wrote that there are in fact different types of slaves:

Now there are three kinds of slavery; natural slavery, enforced slavery, and voluntary slavery. All creatures are slaves of God in the first sense, for “the earth and its fullness belong to the Lord”. The devils and the damned are slaves in the second sense. The saints in heaven and the just on earth are slaves in the third sense. [True Devotion paragraph 70]

What is intriguing about all of these is that the only slave master in this picture is God. Everything and everyone created is God’s slave, though in different ways (e.g. force or love). Slavery in our usual sense would be the second of these: enforced. I don’t need (I hope!) to explain why enforced slavery of living people is wrong; de Montfort exposes its true horror, though. To enslave another human (or demi-human!) is to treat them as one damned in Hell.

Conversely, de Montfort presents the third form of slavery as something good: Voluntary slavery. There’s a double paradox here: How can “slavery” be good, and how can it be voluntary? Isn’t slavery by definition bad and involuntary? Is there perhaps a different word we can use to avoid confusion?

Perhaps there is, and today I would prefer to use words like “devotion” or “consecration”, terms which also appear in de Montfort’s writings, to refer to this instead of “slavery”. There is a history of meaning attached to the word that didn’t yet exist in the popular discourse of his day. Nonetheless, de Montfort uses “slavery” deliberately to make an important distinction:

There is a world of difference between a servant and a slave.

  1. A servant does not give his employer all he is, all he has, and all he can acquire by himself or through others. A slave, however, gives himself to his master completely and exclusively with all he has and all he can acquire.
  1. A servant demands wages for the services rendered to his employer. A slave, on the other hand, can expect nothing, no matter what skill, attention or energy he may have put into his work.
  1. A servant can leave his employer whenever he pleases, or at least when the term of his service expires, whereas the slave has no such right.
  1. An employer has no right of life and death over a servant. Were he to kill him as he would a beast of burden, he would commit murder. But the master of a slave has by law the right of life and death over him, so that he can sell him to anyone he chooses or if you will pardon the comparison – kill him as he would kill his horse.
  1. Finally, a servant is in his employer’s service only for a time; a slave for always.

No other human state involves belonging more completely to another than slavery. [True Devotion 71-72]

As the Bible songs, the Lord’s is the Earth and its fullness. All that is created by nature belongs to God, which means that humans are by nature His slaves. However, God does not desire merely obedience: He also wants our love. And love by definition can’t be forced: Think of Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, who rejects returning to Heaven and submitting once more to God, because it would entail “forced Hosannas”. Heaven, the perfection of love, stands against all force.

So we have the choice, then, of being slaves voluntarily or involuntarily, by love or by force. de Montfort claims,

Our Lord himself gave us the example of this when out of love for us he “took the form of a slave”. … Granting this, I say that we must belong to Jesus and serve him not just as hired servants but as willing slaves who, moved by generous love, commit themselves to his service after the manner of slaves for the honour of belonging to him. [True Devotion 72-73]

To be honest, at its most basic level, Raphtalia’s slavery bothers me (and I think it should bother us). But it also serves as a reminder of our call to love God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength.

7 thoughts on “Raphtalia and the Slaves of Love

  1. I really like this Biblical take on slavery in Shield Hero. To truly devote ourselves to God, we must sacrifice the other things that previously took priority in our lives and be subject to God’s plans before our own. It is the ultimate expression of faith and love to willingly become as a slave. It would be very risky for Raphtalia to do this for Naofumi (although as an anime I’d imagine it will turn out well for them) but to God it’s the only reasonable thing to do.
    I also appreciate the Milton reference.

    1. Thank you, TB. Did you know what “devote” originally meant? It comes from the Latin word “Votum” meaning “vow”. If a military commander believed that his men were about to be wiped out, he would vow himself to the gods, beg them to save his soldiers, and ride out and impale himself on the enemy’s weapons. Literally self-sacrifice.

      Talk about devotion!

  2. Excellent.

    “No other human state involves belonging more completely to another than slavery.”

    I wonder. I guess in a legal sense it’s true… In the Bible, there’s another relationship that is heavily emphasized in terms of one person belonging to another: marriage. The Song of Songs is filled with possessive language. Paul uses it in 1 Cor. 7. Even the way Hebrew and Greek talk about married people points to a sense of possession. Neither language had distinct words for “married man” and “married woman” the way English does (i.e., “husband” and “wife”). They just used the ordinary words for man and woman and indicated marital status in terms of belonging to another – so Sarah would have been “Abraham’s woman,” or Nabal would have been “Abigail’s man,” for example. (This occasionally results in controversy over translations when it’s somewhat ambiguous whether the text should be rendered “men/women” or “husbands/wives.”) Of course, a major difference between slavery and marriage is that the ownership is mutual – that’s Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 7.4. Or we could look at the Song 2.16, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” Slavery, on the other hand, is a one-way street. But assuming two people are doing marriage the way God intends, it seems to me that there might be an even deeper kind of belonging than slavery (despite lacking the legally enforced absolute power of slavery). I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the relationship between God and his people is repeatedly compared to that of a husband and wife throughout the Bible.

  3. Hmmmm I would argue that God no longer calls us slaves, nor did He ever. In the book of Romans, Paul talks about being a “slave to sin or a slave to righteousness”. Those of us who have trusted in Christ as our Lord and accept His forgiveness for our sin, are called friends instead of servants or slaves:

    John 15:14-17 New International Version (NIV)
    14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

    Verse 15 is where Jesus really hit it. “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends”.

    So Christ said we are all friends of God, not servants anymore. He chose us, like the verse that says “He loved us before we loved Him”. God has always loved everyone, we just chose to reject him.

    But yeah, just wanted to point out those verses and to spur discussion 🙂

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