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CHARITY AND CHARITIES

according to this theory friendship, love and charity represent the mood from which spring social acts, the value of which will depend on the knowledge, deliberation and purpose with which they are done, and accordingly as they acquire value on this account will they give lasting satisfaction to both parties.

St Paul’s position is different. He seems at first sight to ignore the state and social life. He lays stress on motive force rather than on purpose. He speaks as an outsider to the state, though technically a citizen. His mind assumes towards it the external Judaic position, as though he belonged to a society of settlers (πάροικοι). Also, as he expects the millennium, social life and its needs are not uppermost in his thoughts. He considers charity in relation to a community of fellow-believers—drawn together in congregations. His theory springs from this social base, though it over-arches life itself. He is intent on creating a spiritual association. He conceives of the spirit (πνεῦμα) as “an immaterial personality.” It transcends the soul (ψυχή), and is the Christ life, the ideal and spiritual life. Christians participate in it, and they thus become part of “the body of Christ,” which exists by virtue of love—love akin to the ideal life, ἀγάπη. The word represents the love that is instinct with reverence, and not love φιλία which may have in it some quality of passion. This love is the life of “the body of Christ.” Therefore no act done without it is a living act—but, on the contrary, must be dead—an act in which no part of the ideal life is blended. On the individual act or the purpose no stress is laid. It is assumed that love, because it is of this intense and exalted type, will find the true purpose in the particular act. And, when the expectation of the millennium passed away, the theory of this ideal charity remained as a motive force available for whatever new conditions, spiritual or social, might arise. Nevertheless, no sooner does this charity touch social conditions, than the necessity asserts itself of submitting to the limitations which knowledge, deliberation and purpose impose. This view had been depreciated or ignored by Christians, who have been content to rely upon the strength of their motives, or perhaps have not realized what the Greeks understood, that society was a natural organism (Arist. Pol. 1253A), which develops, fails or prospers in accordance with definite laws. Hence endless failure in spite of some success. For love, whether we idealize it as ἀγάπη or consider it a social instinct as φιλία, cannot be love at all unless it quickens the intelligence as much as it animates the will. It cannot, except by some confusion of thought, be held to justify the indulgence of emotion irrespective of moral and social results. Yet, though this fatal error may have dominated thought for a long time, it is hardly possible to attribute it to St Paul’s theory of charity when the very practical nature of Judaism and early Christianity is considered. In his view the misunderstanding could not arise. And to create a world or “body” of men and women linked together by love, even though it be outside the normal life of the community, was to create a new form of religious organization, and to achieve for it (so far as it was achieved) what, mutatis mutandis, Aristotle held to be the indispensable condition of social life, friendship (φιλία), “the greatest good of states,” for “Socrates and all the world declare,” he wrote, that “the unity of the state” is “created by friendship” (Arist. Pol. ii. 1262 b).

It should, however, be considered to what extent charity in the Christian church was devoid of social purpose, (1) The Jewish conceptions of charity passed, one might almost say, in their completeness into the Christian church. Prayer, the petition and the purging of the mind, fasting, the humiliation of the body, and alms, as part of the same discipline, the submissive renunciation of possessions—all these formed part of the discipline that was to create the religious mood. Alms henceforth become a definite part of the religious discipline and service. Humility and poverty hereafter appear as yoked virtues, and many problems of charity are raised in regard to them. The non-Christian no less than the Christian world appreciated more and more the need of self-discipline (ἄσκησις); and it seems as though in the first two centuries A.D. those who may have thought of reinvigorating society searched for the remedy rather in the preaching and practice of temperance than in the application of ideas that were the outcome of the observation of social or economic conditions. Having no object of this kind as its mark, almsgiving took the place of charity, and, as Christianity triumphed, the family life, instead of reviving, continued to decay, while the virtues of the discipline of the body, considered apart from social life, became an end in themselves, and it was desired rather to annihilate instinct than to control it. Possibly this was a necessary phase in a movement of progress, but however that be, charity, as St Paul understood it, had in it no part. (2) But the evil went farther. Jewish religious philosophy is not elaborated as a consistent whole by any one writer. It is rather a miscellany of maxims; and again and again, as in much religious thought, side issues assume the principal place. The direct effect of the charitable act, or almsgiving, is ignored. Many thoughts and motives are blended. The Jews spoke of the poor as the means of the rich man’s salvation. St Chrysostom emphasizes this: “If there were no poor, the greater part of your sins would not be removed: they are the healers of your wounds” (Hom. xiv., Timothy, &c., St Cyprian on works and alms). Alms are the medicine of sin. And the same thought is worked into the penitential system. Augustine speaks of “penance such as fasting, almsgiving and prayer for breaches of the Decalogue” (Reichel, Manual of Canon Law, p. 23); and many other references might be cited. “Pecuniary penances (Ib. 154), in so far as they were relaxations of, or substitutes for, bodily penances, were permitted because of the greater good thereby accruing to others” (and in this case they were—A.D. 1284—legally enforceable under English statute law). The penitential system takes for granted that the almsgiving is good for others and puts a premium on it, even though in fact it were done, not with any definite object, but really for the good of the penitent. Thus almsgiving becomes detached from charity on the one side and from social good on the other. Still further is it vulgarized by another confusion of thought. It is considered that the alms are paid to the credit of the giver, and are realized as such by him in the after-world; or even that by alms present prosperity may be obtained, or at least evil accident avoided. Thus motives were blended, as indeed they now are, with the result that the gift assumed a greater importance than the charity, by which alone the gift should have been sanctified, and its actual effect was habitually overlooked or treated as only partially relevant.

(3) The Christian maxim of “loving (ἀγάπη) one’s neighbour as one’s self” sets a standard of charity. Its relations are idealized according as the “self” is understood; and thus the good self becomes the measure of charity. In this sense, the nobler the self the completer the charity; and the charity of the best men, men who love and understand their neighbours best, having regard to their chief good, is the best, the most effectual charity. Further, if in what we consider “best” we give but a lesser place to social purpose or even allow it no place at all, our “self” will have no sufficient social aim and our charity little or no social result. For this “self,” however, religion has substituted not St Paul’s conception of the spirit (πνεῦμα), but a soul, conceived as endowed with a substantial nature, able to enjoy and suffer quasi-material rewards and punishments in the after-life; and in so far as the safeguard of this soul by good deeds or almsgiving has become a paramount object, the purpose of charitable action has been translated from the actual world to another sphere. Thus, as we have seen, the aid of the poor has been considered not an object in itself, but as a means by which the almsgiver effects his own ulterior purpose and “makes God his debtor.” The problem thus handled raises the question of reward and also of punishment. Properly, from the point of view of charity, both are excluded. We may indeed act from a complexity of motives and expect a complexity of rewards, and undoubtedly a good act does refresh the “self,” and may as a result, though not as a reward, win approval. But in reality reward, if the word be used at all, is according to purpose; and the only reward of a deed lies in the fulfilment of its purpose. In the theory of almsgiving which we are discussing, however, act and reward are on different planes. The reward is on that of a future life; the act related to a distressed person here and now. The interest in the act on the doer’s part lies in its post-mortal consequences to himself, and not either wholly or chiefly in the act itself. Nor, as the interest ends with the act—the giving—can the intelligence be quickened by it. The questions “How? by whom? with what object? on what plan? with what result?” receive no detailed consideration at all. Two general results follow. In so far as it is thus practised, almsgiving is out of sympathy with social progress. It is indeed alien to it. Next also the self-contained, self-sustained poverty that will have no relief and does without it, is outside the range of its thought and understanding. On the other hand, this almsgiving is equally incapable of influencing the weak and the vicious; and those who are suffering from illness or trouble it has not the width of vision to understand nor the moral energy to support so that they shall not fall out of the ranks of the self-supporting. It believes that “the poor” will not cease out of the land. And indeed, however great might be the economic progress of the people, it is not likely that the poor will cease, if the alms given in this spirit be large enough in amount to affect social conditions seriously one way or the other. When we measure the effects of charity, this inheritance of divided thought and inconsistent counsels must be given its full weight.

The sub-apostolic church was a congregation, like a synagogue, the centre of a system of voluntary and personal relief, connected