and administrators, and disciplined the will of strong men. It had no power to stay the social evils of the day. Unlike the friars, at their best the monks were a class apart, not a class mixed up with the people. So were their charities. The belief in poverty as a fixed condition—irretrievable and ever to be alleviated without any regard to science or observation, subjected charity to a perpetual stagnation. Charity requires belief in growth, in the sharing of life, in the utility and nobility of what is done here and now for the hereafter of this present world. Monasticism had no thought of this. It was based on a belief in the evil of matter; and from that root could spring no social charity. Economic difficulties also fostered monasticism. Gold was appreciated in value, and necessaries were expensive, and the cost of maintaining a family was great. It was an economy to force a son or a brother into the church. The population was decreasing; and in spite of church feeling Marjorian (A.D. 461) had to forbid women from taking the veil before forty, and to require the remarriage of widows, subject to a large forfeit of property (Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, ii. 420). Monasticism was inconsistent with the social good. As to the family—like the moderns who depreciate thrift and are careless of the life of the family, the monks, believing that marriage was a lower form of morality, if not indeed, as would at times appear, hardly moral at all, could feel but little enthusiasm for what is socially a chief source of health to the community and a well-spring of spontaneous charitable feeling. By the sacerdotal-monastic movement the moralizing force of Christianity was denaturalized. Among the secular clergy the falsity of the position as between men and women revealed itself in relations which being unhallowed and unrecognized became also degrading. But worse than all, it pushed charity from its pivot. For this no monasteries or institutions, no domination of religious belief, could atone. The church that with so fine an intensity of purpose had fostered chastity and marriage was betraying its trust. It was out of touch with the primal unit of social life, the child-school of dawning habits and the loving economy of the home. It produced no treatise on economy in the older Greek sense of the word. The home and its associations no longer retained their pre-eminence. In the extreme advocacy of the celibate state, the honourable development of the married life and its duties were depreciated and sometimes, one would think, quite forgotten.
We may ask, then, What were the results of charity at the close of the period which ends with St Gregory and the founding of the medieval church?—for if the charity is reflected in the social good the results should be manifest. Economic and social conditions were adverse. With lessened trade the middle class was decaying (Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, p. 204) and a selfish aristocracy rising up. Municipal responsibility had been taxed to extinction. The public service was corrupt. The rich evaded taxation, the poor were oppressed by it. There were laws upon laws, endeavours to underpin the framework of a decaying society. Society was bankrupt of skill—and the skill of a generation has a close bearing on its charitable administration. While hospitals increased, medicine was unprogressive. There were miserable years of famine and pestilence, and constant wars. The care of the poorer classes, and ultimately of the people, was the charge of the church. The church strengthened the feeling of kindness for those in want, widows, orphans and the sick. It lessened the degradation of the “actresses,” and, co-operating with Stoic opinion, abolished the slaughter of the gladiatorial shows. It created a popular “dogmatic system and moral discipline,” which paganism failed to do; but it produced no prophet of charity, such as enlarged the moral imagination of the Jews. It ransomed slaves, as did paganism also, but it did not abolish slavery. Large economic causes produced that great reform. The serf attached to the soil took the place of the slave. The almsgiving of the church by degrees took the place of annona and sportula, and it may have created pauperism. But dependence on almsgiving was at least an advance on dependence founded on a civic and hereditary right to relief. As the colonus stood higher than the slave, so did the pauper, socially at any rate, free to support himself, exceed the colonus. Bad economic conditions and traditions, and a bad system of almsgiving, might enthral him. But the way, at least, was open; and thus it became possible that charity, working in alliance with good economic traditions, should in the end accomplish the self-support of society, the independence of the whole people.
Part V.—Medieval Charity and its Development
It remains to trace the history of thought and administration in relation to (1) the development of charitable responsibility in the parish, and the use of tithe and church property for poor relief; and (2) the revision of the theory of charity, with which are associated the names of St Augustine (354–430), St Benedict (480–542), St Bernard (1091–1153), St Francis (1182–1226), and St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). (3) There follows, in reference chiefly to England, a sketch of the dependence of the poor under feudalism, the charities of the parish, the monastery and the hospital—the medieval system of endowed charity; the rise of gild and municipal charities; the decadence at the close of the 15th century, and the statutory endeavours to cope with economic difficulties which, in the 16th century, led to the establishment of statutory serfdom and the poor-laws. New elements affect the problem of charity in the 17th and 18th centuries; but it is not too much to say that almost all these headings represent phases of thought or institutions which in later forms are interwoven with the charitable thought and endeavours of the present day.
Naturally, two methods of relief have usually been prominent: relief administered locally, chiefly to residents in their own homes, and relief administered in an institution. At the time of Charlemagne (742–814) the system ofThe parish and charitable relief. relief was parochial, consisting principally of assistance at the home. After that time, except probably in England, the institutional method appears to have predominated, and the monastery or hospital in one form or another gradually encroached on the parish.
The system of parochial charity was the outcome, apparently, of three conditions: the position and influence of the bishop, the eleemosynary nature of the church funds, and the need of some responsible organization of relief. It resulted in what might almost be called an ecclesiastical poor-law. The affairs of a local church or congregation were superintended by a bishop. To deal with the outlying districts he detached priests for religious work and, as in Rome and (774) Strassburg, deacons also for the administration of relief. Originally all the income of the church or congregation was paid into one fund only, of which the bishop had charge, and this fund was available primarily for charitable purposes. Church property was the patrimony of the poor. In the 4th century (IV. Council of Carthage, 398) the names of the clergy were entered on a list (matricula or canon), as were also the names of the poor, and both received from the church their daily portion (cf. Ratzinger, Geschichte der kirchlichen Armenpflege, p. 117). There were no expenses for building. Before the reign of Constantine (306) very few churches were built (Ratzinger, p. 120). Thus the early church as has been said, was chiefly a charitable society. By degrees the property of the church was very largely increased by gifts and bequests, and in the West before St Gregory’s time the division of it for four separate purposes—the support of the bishop, of the clergy, and of the poor, and for church buildings—still further promoted decentralization. Apart from any special gifts, there was thus created a separate fund for almsgiving, supervised by the bishop, consisting of a fourth of the church property, the oblations (mostly used for the poor), and the tithe, which at first was used for the poor solely. The organization of the church was gradually extended. The church once established in the chief city of a district would become in turn the mother church of other neighbourhoods, and the bishop or priest of the mother church would come to exercise supervision over them and their parishes.
In France, which may serve as a good illustration, in the 4th century (Ratzinger, p. 181) the civic organization was utilized for a further change. The Roman provinces were divided into large areas, civitales, and these were adopted by the church as bishop’s parishes or, as we should call them, dioceses; and the chief city became the cathedral city. The bishop thus became responsible in Charlemagne’s time both for his own parish—that of the mother church—and for the supervision of the parishes in the civitas, and so for the sick and needy of the diocese generally. He had to take charge of the poor in his own parish personally, keep the list of the poor, and houses for the homeless. The other parishes were at first, or in some measure, supported from his funds, but they acquired by degrees tithe and property of their own and were endowed by Charlemagne, who gave one or more manses or lots of land (cf. Fustel de Coulanges, Hist, des institutions politiques de l’ancienne France, p. 360) for the support of each parish priest. The priests were required to relieve their own poor so that they should not stray into other cities (II. Counc. Tours, 567), and to provide food and lodging for strangers. The method was indeed elaborated and became, like the Jewish, that contradiction in terms—a compulsory system of charitable relief. The payment of tithe was enforced by Charlemagne, and it became a legal due (Counc. Frankfort, 794; Arelat. 794). At the same time two other conditions were enforced. Each person (unusquisque fidelium nostrorum or omnes cives) was to keep his own family, i.e. all dependent on him—all, that is, upon his freehold estate (allodium), and no one was to presume to give