Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/729

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.



founding of the mediaeval 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 was unable to draw a new strength out of the patriotism of the Roman. 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 one 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 selfsupport of society, the independence of the whole people. Part V.—Mediaeval 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 mediaeval system of endowed charity; the rise of guild 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 The parish fheir °wn homes, and relief administered in and an institution. At the time of Charlemagne charitable (742-814) the system of relief was parochial, consisting principally of assistance at the home. After that time, except probably in England, the institu-


673 tional 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 outlying districts he detached priests for religious work and, as in Rome and (774) Strasburg, 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 ox canon), as were also the names of the poor, and both received from the church their daily portion (cf. Ratzinger, Geschichte der Kirchhchen 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 W est 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 cathedral city, or civitas, became the parish of the mother church—the bishop’s parish ; and there he attended to the poor personally. Around grew up neighbour parishes, of which the bishop had the supervision, and which were at first, or in some measure, supported from his funds, but which acquired by degrees tithe and property of their own. These parishes were endowed by Charlemagne. The priests were required to relieve the poor; and their “manses” were, as the word shows, halting-places where they had 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. Francfort, 794 ; Arelat. 794). On the other hand, on the cathedral city {civitas) and the neighbouring priests {vicani presbyteri) was placed the obligation of relieving their own poor, so that they should not stray into other cities (II. Counc. Tours, 567). At the same time two other conditions were enforced. Each person {unusquisque Jidelium 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 all beggars were to be set to work. No one was to presume to give them relief (Charlem. Capit. v. 10). Thus we find here the germ of a poor-law system. As in the times of the annona civica, slavery, feudalism, or statutory serfdom, the burthen of the maintenance of the poor fell only in part on charity. Only those who could not be maintained as members of some “family” were properly entitled to relief—and in these circumstances the officially recognized clients of the Church consisted of the gradually decreasing number of free poor and those who were tenants of Church lands. Since 817 there has been no universally binding decision of the Church respecting the care of the poor (Ratzinger, p. 236). So long ago did laicization commence in charity. In the wars and confusion of the 9th and 10th centuries the poorer freemen lapsed still further into slavery, or became coloni or bond servants ; and later they passed under the feudal rule. Thus the Church’s duty to relieve them became the masters’ obligation to maintain them. Simultaneously the activity of the clergy, regular and secular alike, dwindled. They were exhorted to increase their alms. The revenues and property of “the poor” were largely turned to private or partly ecclesiastical purposes, or secularized. Legacies went wholly to the clergy, but only the tithe of the produce of their own lands was used for relief; and of the general tithe, only a third or fourth part was so applied. Eventually to a large extent, but more elsewhere than in England (Ratzinger, pp. 246, 269) the tithe itself was appropriated by nobles or even by the monasteries ; and thus during and after the 10th century a new organization of charity wras created on non-parochial methods of relief. Alms, with prayer and fasting, had always been connected with penance. But the character of the penitential system had altered. By the 7 th century private penance had superseded the public and congregational penance of the earlier Church {Diet. Christian Antiquities, art. Penitence). To the penalties of exclusion from the sacraments or from the services of the Church or from its communion was coupled, with other penitential discipline, an elaborate S. II. — 85