compulsory rate, and the administration of statutory relief naturally devolved on the central government—the only vigorous administrative body left in the country. The government might indeed have adopted the alternative of letting the industrial difficulties of the country work themselves out, but they had inherited a policy of minute legislative control, and they continued it. Revising previous statutes, they enacted the Poor Law, which still remains on the statute book. It could be no remedy for social offences against charity and the community. But in part at least it was successful. It helped to conceal the failure to find a remedy.
Part VI.—After the Reformation
During the Reformation, which extended, it should be understood, from the middle of the 14th century to the reign of James I., the groundwork of the theory of charity was being recast. The old system and the narrow theory on which it had come to depend were discredited.The Reformation theory of charity. The recoil is startling. To a very large extent charitable administration had been in the hands of men and women who, as an indispensable condition to their participation in it, took the vows of obedience, chastity and “wilful” poverty. Now this was all entirely set aside. It was felt (see Homilies on Faith and Good Works, &c., A.D. 1547) that socially and morally the method had been a failure. The vow of obedience, it was argued, led to a general disregard of the duties of civic and family life. Those who bound themselves by it were outside the state and did not serve it. In regard to chastity the Homily states the common opinion: “How the profession of chastity was kept, it is more honesty to pass over in silence and let the world judge of what is well known.” As to wilful poverty, the regulars, it is urged, were not poor, but rich, for they were in possession of much wealth. Their property, it is true, was held in communi, and not personally, but nevertheless it was practically theirs, and they used it for their personal enjoyment; and “for all their riches they might never help father nor mother, nor others that were indeed very needy and poor, without the license of their father abbot” or other head. This was the negative position. The positive was found in the doctrine of justification—the central point in the discussions of the time, a plant from the garden of St Augustine. Justification was the personal conviction of a lively (or living) faith, and was defined as “a true trust and confidence of the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a stedfast hope of all good things to be received at His hands.” Without this justification there could be no good works. They were the signs of a lively faith and grew out of it. Apart from it, what seemed to be “good works” were of the nature of sin, phantom acts productive of nothing, “birds that were lost, unreal.” So were the works of pagans and heretics. The relation of almsgiving to religion was thus entirely altered. The personal reward here or hereafter to the actor was eliminated. The deed was good only in the same sense in which the doer was good; it had in itself no merit. This was a great gain, quite apart from any question as to the sufficiency or insufficiency of the Protestant scheme of salvation. The deed, it was realized, was only the outcome of the doer, the expression of himself, what he was as a whole, neither better nor worse. Logically this led to the discipline of the intelligence and the emotions, and undoubtedly “justification” to very many was only consistent with such discipline and implied it. Thus under a new guise the old position of charity reasserted itself. But there were other differences.
The relation of charity to prayer, fasting, almsgiving and penance was altsred. The prayerful contemplation of the Christ was preserved in the mysticism of Protestantism; but it was dissociated from the “historic Christ,” from the fervent idealization of whom St Francis drew his inspiration and his active charitable impulse. The tradition did not die out, however. It remained with many, notably with George Herbert, of whom it made, not unlike St Francis, a poet as well as a practical parish priest; but the absence of it indicated in much post-Reformation endeavour a want, if not of devotion, yet of intensity of feeling which may in part account for the fact that sectarianism in relief has since proved itself stronger than charity, instead of yielding to charity as its superior and its organizer. Fasting was parted from prayer and almsgiving. It was “a thing not of its own proper nature good as the love of father or mother or neighbour, but according to its end.” Almsgiving also as a “work” disappeared and with it a whole series of inducements that from the standpoint of the pecuniary and material supply of relief had long been active. It was no wonder that the preachers advocated it in vain, and reproached their hearers with their diminished bounty to the poor; the old personal incentive had gone, and could only gradually be superseded by the spontaneous activity of personal religion very slowly wedding itself to true views of social duty and purpose. Penance, once so closely related to almsgiving, passed out of sight. Charity, the love of God and our neighbour, had two offices, it was said, “to cherish good and harmless men” and “to correct and punish vice without regard to persons.” Correction as a means of discipline takes the place of penance, and it becomes judicial, regulating and controlling church membership by the authority of the church, a congregation, minister or elder; or dealing with laziness or ill-doing through the municipality or state, in connexion with what now first appear, not prisons, but houses of correction.
The religious life was to be democratic—not in religious bodies, but in the whole people; and in a new sense—in relation to family and social life—it was to be moral. That was the significance of the Reformation for charity.
Consistently with this movement of religious activity towards a complete fulfilment of the duties of civic life, the older classical social theory, fostered by the Renaissance, assumed a new influence—the great conception of the state as a community bound together byThe organization of municipal relief. charity and friendship, “We be not born to ourselves,” it was said, “but partly to the use of our country, of our parents, of our kinsfolk, and partly of our friends and neighbours; and therefore all good virtues are grafted on us naturally, whose effects be to do good to others, when it showeth forth the image of God in man, whose property is ever to do good to others” (Lamond, p. 14). Economic theory also changed. Instead of the medieval opinion of the “theologian or social preacher,” that “trade could only be defended on the ground that honestly conducted it made no profit” (Green, ii. 71), we have a recognition of the advantages resulting from exchange, and individual interests, it is argued, are not necessarily inconsistent with those of the state, but are, on the contrary, a source of solid good to the whole community.
Municipal laws for the suppression of the mendicity of the able-bodied and the organization of relief on behalf of the infirm were common in England and on the continent (Colmar, 1362; Nuremberg, 1478; Strassburg, 1523; London, 1514). Vives (Ehrle, Beitrage zur Geschichte und Reform der Armenpflege, p. 26), a Spaniard, who had been at the court of Henry VIII., in a book translated into several languages and widely read, seems to have summed up the thought of the time in regard to the management of the poor. He divided them into three classes: those in hospitals and poor-houses, the public homeless beggars and the poor at home. He would have a census taken of the number of each class in the town, and information obtained as to the causes of their distress. Then he would establish a central organization of relief under the magistrates. Work was to be supplied for all, while begging was strictly forbidden. Non-settled poor who were able-bodied were to be sent to their homes. Able-bodied settled poor who knew no craft were to be put on some public work—the undeserving being set to hard labour. For others work was to be found, or they were to be assisted to become self-supporting. The hospitals provided with medical advice and necessaries were to be classified to meet the needs of the sick, the blind and lunatics. The poor living at home were to work with a view to their self-support. What they earned, if insufficient, might be supplemented. If a citizen found a case of distress he was not to help it, but to send it for inquiry to the magistrate. Children were to be taught. Private relief was to be obtained from the rich. The funds of endowed charities were to be the chief source of income; if more was wanted, bequests and church collections would suffice. The scheme was put in force in Yprès in 1524. The Sorbonne approved it, and similar plans were adopted in Paris and elsewhere. It is in outline the scheme of London municipal charity promoted by Edward VI., by which the poor were classified, St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas’s hospitals appropriated for the sick, Christ’s hospital for the children of the poor, and Bridewell for the correction of the able-bodied. Less the institutional arrangements and plus the compulsory rate, the methods are those of the Poor Relief Act of Queen Elizabeth of 1601. At first the attempt had been made to introduce state relief in reliance on voluntary alms (1 Mary 13, 5 Eliz. 3, 1562–1563), subject to the right of assessment if alms were refused. But the position was anomalous. Charity is voluntary, and spontaneously meets the demands of distress. Such demands have always a tendency to increase with the supply. Hence the very