gracious and finely ordered charity, moving like the natural world in a constant harmonious development towards a definite end. The mysticism was intense, but it was practical because it was intense. In that lay the strength of the movement of the true Franciscans, and in those orders that, whether called heretical or not, followed them—Lollards and others. Religion thus became a personal and original possession. It became individual. It was inspired by a social endeavour, and for the world at large it made of charity a new thing.
St Thomas Aquinas took up St Bernard’s position. Renunciation of property, voluntary poverty, was in his view also a necessary means of reaching the perfect life; and the feeling that was akin to this renunciation and prompted it was charity. “All perfection of the Christian life was to be attained according to charity,” and charity united us to God.
In the system elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas two lines of thought are wrought into a kind of harmony. The one stands for Aristotle and nature, the other for Christian tradition and theology. We have thus a duplicate theory of thought and action throughout, both rational and theologic virtues, and a duplicate beatitude or state of happiness correspondent to each. On the one hand it is argued that the good act is an act which, in relation to its object, wholly serves its purpose; and thus the measure of goodness (Prima Secundae Summae Theolog. Q. xviii. 2) is the proportion between action and effect. On the other hand, the act has to satisfy the twofold law, human reason and eternal reason. From the point of view of the former the cardinal factor is desire, which, made proportionate to an end, is love (amor); and, seeking the good of others, it loses its quality of concupiscence and becomes friendly love (amor amicitiae). But this rational love (amor) and charity (caritas), the theologic virtue, may meet. All virtue or goodness is a degree of love (amor), if by virtue we mean the cardinal virtues and refer to the rule of reason only. But there are also theologic virtues, which are on one side “essential,” on the other side participative. As wood ignited participates in the natural fire, so does the individual in these virtues (II. II.ae lxii. l). Charity is a kind of friendship towards God. It is received per infusionem spiritus sancti, and is the chief and root of the theologic virtues of faith and hope, and on it the rational virtues depend. They are not degrees of charity as they are of (amor) love, but charity gives purpose, order and quality to them all. In this sense the word is applied to the rational virtues—as, for instance, beneficence. The counterpart of charity in social life is pity (misericordia), the compassion that moves us to supply another’s want (summa religionis Christianae in misericordia consistit quantum ad exteriora opera). It is, however, an emotion, not a virtue, and must be regulated like any other emotion (... passio est et non virtus. Hic autem motus potest esse secundum rationem regulatus, II. II.ae xxx. 3). Thus we pass to alms, which are the instrument of pity—an act of charity done through the intervention of pity. The act is not done in order to purchase spiritual good by a corporal means, but to merit a spiritual good (per effectum caritatis) through being in a state of charity; and from that point of view its effect is tested by the recipient being moved to pray for his benefactor. The claim of others on our beneficence is relative, according to consanguinity and other bonds (II. II.ae xxxi. 3), subject to the condition that the common good of many is a holier obligation (divinius) than that of one. Obedience and obligation to parents may be crossed by other obligations, as, for instance, duty to the church. To give alms is a command. Alms should consist of the superfluous—that is, of all that the individual possesses after he has reserved what is necessary. What is necessary the donor should fix in due relation to the claims of his family and dependants, his position in life (dignitas), and the sustenance of his body. On the other hand, his gift should meet the actual necessities of the recipient and no more. More than this will lead to excess on the recipient’s part (ut inde luxurietur) or to want of spirit and apathy (ut aliis remissio et refrigerium sit), though allowance must be made for different requirements in different conditions of life. It were better to distribute alms to many persons than to give more than is necessary to one. In individual cases there remains the further question of correction—the removing of some evil or sin from another; and this, too, is an act of charity.
It will be seen that though St Thomas bases his argument on a duplicate theory of thought, action and happiness, part natural, part theologic, and states fully the conditions of good action, he does not bring the two into unison. Logically the argument should follow that alms that fail in social benefit (produce remissionem et refrigerium, for instance) fail also in spiritual good, for the two cannot be inconsistent. But in regard to the former he does not press the importance of purpose, and, in spite of his Aristotle, he misses the point on which Aristotle, as a close observer of social conditions, insists, that gifts without purpose and reciprocity foster the dependence they are designed to meet. The proverb of the “pierced cask” is as applicable to ecclesiastical as to political almsgiving, as has often been proved by the event. The distribution of all “superfluous” income in the form of alms would have the effect of a huge endowment, and would stereotype “the poor” as a permanent and unprogressive class. The proposal suggests that St Thomas contemplated the adoption of a method of relief which would be like a voluntary poor-law; and it is noteworthy that his phrase “necessary relief” forms the defining words of the Elizabethan poor-law, while he also lays stress on the importance of “correction,” which, on the decline and disappearance of the penitential system, assumed at the Reformation a prominent position in administration in relation not only to “sin,” but also to offences against society, such as idleness, &c.
On this foundation was built up the classification of acts of charity, which in one shape or another has a long social tradition, and which St Thomas quotes in an elaborated form—the seven spiritual acts (consule, carpe, doce, solare, remitte, fer, ora), counsel, sustain, teach, console, save, pardon, pray; and the seven corporal (vestio, poto, cibo, redimo, tego, colligo, condo) I clothe, I give drink to, I feed, I free from prison, I shelter, I assist in sickness, I bury (II. II.ae xxxii. 2). These in subsequent thought became “good works,” and availed for the after-life, bringing with them definite boons. Thus charity was linked to the system of indulgences. The bias of the act of charity is made to favour the actor. Primarily the benefit reverts to him. He becomes conscious of an ultimate reward accruing to himself. The simplicity of the deed, the spontaneity from which, as in a well-practised art, its freshness springs and its good effects result, is falsified at the outset. The thought that should be wholly concerned in the fulfilment of a definite purpose is diverted from it. The deed itself, apart from the outcome of the deed, is highly considered. An extreme inducement is placed on giving, counselling, and the like, but none on the personal or social utility of the gift or counsel. Yet the value of these lies in their end. No policy or science of charity can grow out of such a system. It can produce innumerable isolated acts, which may or may not be beneficent, but it cannot enkindle the “ordered charity.” This charity is, strictly speaking, by its very nature alike intellectual and emotional. Otherwise it would inevitably fail of its purpose, for though emotion might stimulate it, intelligence would not guide it.
There are, then, these three lines of thought. That of St Bernard, who invigorated the monastic movement, and helped to make the monastery or hospital the centre of charitable relief. That of St Francis, who, passing by regular and secular clergy alike, revived and reinvigorated the conception of charity and gave it once more the reality of a social force, knowing that it would find a freer scope and larger usefulness in the life of the people than in the religious aristocracy of monasteries. And that of St Thomas Aquinas, who, analysing the problem of charity and almsgiving, and associating it with definite groups of works, led to its taking, in the common thought, certain stereotyped forms, so that its social aim and purpose were ignored and its power for good was neutralized.
We have now to turn to the conditions of social life in which these thoughts fermented and took practical shape. The population of England from the Conquest to the 14th century is estimated at between 1½ and 2½ Charity and social conditions in England. millions. London, it is believed, had a population of about 40,000. Other towns were small. Two or three of the larger had 4000 or 5000 inhabitants. The only substantial building in a village, apart perhaps from the manor-house, was the church, used for many secular as well as religious purposes. In the towns the mud or wood-paved huts sheltered a people who, accepting a common poverty, traded in little more than the necessaries of life (Green, Town Life in the 15th Century, i. 13). The population was stationary. Famine and pestilence were of frequent occurrence (Creighton, Epidemics in Britain, p. 19), and for the careless there was waste at harvest-time and want in winter. Hunger was the drill-sergeant of society. Owing to the hardship and penury of life infant mortality was probably very great (Blashill, Sutton in Holdernesse, p. 123). The 15th century was, however, “the golden age of the labourer.” Our problem is to ascertain what was the service of charity to this people till the end of that century. In order to estimate this we have to apply tests similar to those we