as the central word of the Christian life, and life as a participation in a higher existence—the “body of Christ.”
To mark the line of development, we could compare—1. The family among the Jews and in the early Christian church; 2. The sources of relief and the tithe, the treatment of the poor and their aid, and the assistance of special classes of poor; 3. The care of strangers; and, lastly, we would consider the theory of almsgiving, friendship or love, and charity.
1. As elsewhere, property is the basis of the family. Wife and children are the property of the father. But the wife is held in high respect. In the post-exilian period the virtuous wife is represented as laborious as a Roman matron, a “lady bountiful” to the poor, and to her husband wife and friend alike. Monogamy without concubinage is now the rule—is taken for granted as right. There is no “exposure of children.” The slaves are kindly treated, as servants rather than slaves—though in Roman times and afterwards the Jews were great slave-traders. The household is not allowed to eat the bread of idleness. “Six days,” it was said, “must [not mayest] thou work.” “Labour, if poor; but find work, if rich.” “Whoever does not teach his son business or work, teaches him robbery.” In Job xxxi., a chapter which has been called “an inventory of late Old Testament morality,” we find the family life developed side by side with the life of charity. In turn are mentioned the relief of the widow, the fatherless and the stranger—the classification of dependents in the Christian church; and the whole chapter is a justification of the homely charities of a good family. “The Jewish religion, more especially in the old and orthodox form, is essentially a family religion” (C. G. Montefiore, Religion of Ancient Hebrews).
In the early documents of the Church the fifth commandment is made the basis of family life (cf. Eph. vi. 1; Apost. Const. ii. 32, iv. 11—if we take the first six books of the Apost. Const. as a composite production before A.D. 300, representing Judaeo-Christian or Eastern church thought). But two points are prominent. Duties are insisted on as reciprocal (cf. especially St Paul’s Epistles), as, e.g. between husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant. Charity is mutual; the family is a circle of reciprocal duties and charities. This implies a principle of the greatest importance in relation to the social utility of charity. Further reference will be made to it later. Next the “thou shalt love thy neighbour” is translated from its position as one among many sayings to the chief place as a rule of life. In the Didachē or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Jewish-Christian, c. 90–120 A.D.) the first commandment in “the way of life” is adapted from St Matthew’s Gospel thus: “First, thou shalt love God who made thee; secondly, thy neighbour as thyself; and all things whatsoever thou wouldst not have done to thee, neither do thou to another.” A principle is thus applied which touches all social relations in which the “self” can be made the standard of judgment. Of this also later. To touch on other points of comparison: the earlier documents seem to ring with a reiterated cry for a purer family life (cf. the second, the negative, group of commandments in the Didachē, and the judgment of the apocalyptic writings, such as the Revelations of Peter, &c.); and, sharing the Jewish feeling, the riper conscience of the Christian community formulates and accepts the injunction to preserve infant life at every stage. It advocates, indeed, the Jewish purity of family life with a missionary fervour, and it makes of it a condition of church membership. The Jewish rule of labour is enforced (Ap. Const. ii. 63). If a stranger settle (Didachē, xii. 3) among the brotherhood, “let him work and eat.” And the father (Constit. iv. 11) is to teach the children “such trades as are agreeable and suitable to their need.” And the charities to the widow, the fatherless, are organized on Jewish lines.
2. The sources of relief among the Jews were the three gifts of corn: (1) the corners of the field (cf. Lev. xix. &c.), amounting to a sixtieth part of it; (2) the gleanings, a definite minimum dropped in the process of reaping (Maimonides, Laws of the Hebrews relating to the Poor, iv. 1); (3) corn overlooked and left behind. So it was with the grapes and with all crops that were harvested, as opposed, e.g. to figs, that were gathered from time to time. These gifts were divisible three times in the day, so as to suit the convenience of the poor (Maim. ii. 17), and the poor had a right to them. They are indeed a poor-rate paid in kind such as in early times would naturally spring up among an agricultural people. Another gift “out of the seed of the earth,” is the tithe. In the post-exilian period the septenniad was in force. Each year a fiftieth part of the produce (Maim. vi. 2, and Deut. xviii. 4) was given to the priest (the class which in the Jewish state was supported by the community). Of the remainder one-tenth went to the Levite, and one-tenth in three years of the septennium was retained for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in two given to the poor. In the seventh year “all things were in common.” Supplementing these gifts were alms to all who asked; “and he who gave less than a tenth of his means was a man of evil eye” (Maim. vii. 5). All were to give alms, even the poor themselves who were in receipt of relief. Refusal might be punished with stripes at the hand of the Sanhedrim. At the Temple alms for distribution to the worthy poor were placed by worshippers in the cell of silence; and it is said that in Palestine at meal times the table was open to all comers. As the synagogues extended, and possibly after the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), the collections of alms was further systematized. There were two collections. In each city alms of the box or chest (kupha) were collected for the poor of the city on each Sabbath eve (later, monthly or thrice a year), and distributed in money or food for seven days. Two collected, three distributed. Three others gathered and distributed daily alms of the basket (tamchui). These were for strangers and wayfarers—casual relief “for the poor of the whole world.” In the Jewish synagogue community from early times the president (parnass) and treasurer were elected annually with seven heads of the congregation (see Abraham’s Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, p. 54), and sometimes special officers for the care of the poor. A staff of almoners was thus forthcoming. In addition to these collections were the pruta given to the poor before prayers (Maim. x. 15), and moneys gathered to help particular cases (cf. Jewish Life, p. 322) by circular letter. There were also gifts at marriages and funerals; and fines imposed for breach of the communal ordinances were reserved for the poor. The distinctive feature of the Jewish charity was the belief that “the poor would not cease out of the land,” and that therefore on charitable grounds a permanent provision should be made for them—a poor-rate, in fact, subject to stripes and distraint, if necessary (Maim. vii. 10; and generally cf. articles on “Alms” and “Charity” in the Jewish Encyclopaedia).
If we compare this with the early church we find the following sources of relief: (1) The Eucharistic offerings, some consumed at the time, some carried home, some reserved for the absent (see Hatch, Early Church, p. 40). The ministration, like the Eucharist, was connected with the love feast, and was at first daily (Acts ii. 42, vi. 1, and the Didachē). (2) Freewill offerings and first-fruits and voluntary tithes (Ap. Con. ii. 25) brought to the bishop and used for the poor—orphans, widows, the afflicted and strangers in distress, and for the clergy, deaconesses, &c. (3) Collections in churches on Sundays and week-days, alms-boxes and gifts to the poor by worshippers as they entered church; also collections for special purposes (cf. for Christians at Jerusalem). Apart from “the corners,” &c., the sources of relief in the Christian and Jewish churches are the same. The separate Jewish tithe for the poor, which (Maim. vi. II, 13) might be used in part by the donor as personal charity, disappears. A voluntary tithe remains, in part used for the poor. We do not hear of stripes and distraint, but in both bodies there is a penitential system and excommunication (cf. Jewish Life, p. 52), and in both a settlement of disputes within the body (Clem. Hov. iii. 67). In both, too, there is the abundant alms provided in the belief of the permanence of poverty and the duty of giving to all who ask. As to administration in the early church (Acts vi. 3), we find seven deacons, the number of the local Jewish council; and later there were in Rome seven ecclesiastical relief districts, each in charge of a deacon. The deacon acted as the minister of the bishop (Ep. Clem, to Jam. xii.), reporting to him and giving as he dictated (Ap. Con. ii. 30, 31). He at first combined disciplinary powers with charitable. The presbyters also (Polycarp, Ad Phil. 6, A.D. 69–155), forming (Hatch, p. 69) a kind of bishop’s council, visited the sick, &c. The bishop was president and treasurer. The bishop was thus the trustee of the poor. By reason of the churches’ care of orphans, responsibilities of trusteeship also