« PreviousContinue »
vide for their sick and infirm members. The very frequent reference to mendicancy in the Latin writers shows that beggars, and therefore those who relieved beggars, were numerous. The duty of hospitality was also strongly enjoined, and was placed under the special protection of the supreme Deity. But the active, habitual, and detailed charity of private persons, which is so conspicuous a feature in all Christian societies, was scarcely known in antiquity, and there are not more than two or three moralists who have even noticed it. Of these, the chief rank belongs to Cicero, who devoted two very judicious but somewhat cold chapters to the subject. Nothing, he said, is more suitable to the nature of man than beneficence or liberality, but there are many cautions to be urged in practising it. We must take care that our bounty is a real blessing to the person we relieve ; that it does not exceed our own means; that it is not, as was the case with Sylla and Cæsar, derived from the spoliation of others; that it springs from the heart and not from ostentation ; that the claims of gratitude are preferred to the mere impulses of compassion, and that due regard is paid both to the character and to the wants of the recipient.?
Christianity for the first time made charity a rudimentary virtue, giving it a leading place in the moral type, and in the exhortations of its teachers. Besides its general influence in stimulating the affections, it effected a complete revolution in this sphere, by regarding the poor as the special representatives of the Christian Founder, and thus making the love of Christ, rather than the love of man, the principle of charity. Even in the days of persecution, collections for the relief of the poor were made at the Sunday meetings. The agapæ or feasts of love were intended mainly for the poor, and food that was saved by the fasts was devoted to their benefit. A vast organisation of charity, presided ove
1 See Pliny, Ep. x. 94, and the remarks of Naudet, pp. 38, 39. 2 De Offic. i. 14, 15.
by the bishops, and actively directed by the deacons, soon ramified over Christendom, till the bond of charity became the bond of unity, and the most distant sections of the Christian Church corresponded by the interchange of mercy. Long before the era of Constantine, it was observed that the charities of the Christians were so extensive-it may, perhaps, be said so excessive—that they drew very many impostors to the Church ;' and when the victory of Christianity was achieved, the enthusiasm for charity displayed itself in the erection of numerous institutions that were altogether unknown to the Pagan world. A Roman lady, named Fabiola, in the fourth century, founded at Rome, as an act of penance, the first public hospital, and the charity planted by that woman's hand overspread the world, and will alleviate, to the end of time, the darkest anguish of humanity. Another hospital was soon after founded by St. Pammachus; another of great celebrity by St. Basil, at Cæsarea. St. Basil also erected at Cæsarea what was probably the first asylum for lepers. Xenodochia, or refuges for strangers, speedily rose, especially along the paths of the pilgrims. St. Pammachus founded one at Ostia ; Paula and Melania founded others at Jerusalem. The Council of Nice ordered that one should be erected in every city. In the time of St. Chrysostom the church of Antioch supported 3,000 widows and virgins, besides strangers and sick. Legacies for the poor became common; and it was not unfrequent for men and women who desired to live a life of peculiar sanctity, and especially for priests who attained the episcopacy
· Lucian describes this in his sects, and had amassed a famous picture of Peregrinus; and siderable fortune by the gifts he Julian, much later, accused the received on those occasions. He Christians of drawing men into was at last miraculously detected the Church by their charities. by the Novatian bishop Paul. Socrates (Hist. Eccl. vii. 17) tells There are several instances in the a story of a Jew who, pretending Lives of the Saints of judgments to be a convert to Christianity, falling on those who duped benehad been often baptised in different volent Christians.
to bestow their entire properties in charity. Even the early Oriental monks, who for the most part were extremely removed from the active and social virtues, supplied many noble examples of charity. St. Ephrem, in a time of pestilence, emerged from his solitude to found and superintend a hospital at Edessa. A monk named Thalasius collected blind beggars in an asylum on the banks of the Euphrates. A merchant named Apollonius founded on Mount Nitria a gratuitous dispensary for the monks. The monks often assisted by their labours provinces that were suffering from pestilence or famine. We may trace the remains of the pure socialism that marked the first phase of the Christian community, in the emphatic language with which some of the Fathers proclaimed charity to be a matter not of mercy
but of justice, maintaining that all property is based on usurpation, that the earth by right is common to all men, and that no man can claim a superabundant supply of its goods except as an administrator for others. A Christian, it was maintained, should devote at least one-tenth of his profits to the poor.
The enthusiasm of charity, thus manifested in the Church, speedily attracted the attention of the Pagans. The ridicule of Lucian, and the vain efforts of Julian to produce a rival system of charity within the limits of Paganism, emphatically attested both its pre-eminence and its catholicity. During
See on this subject Chastel, histories, Neander's Ecclesiastical Études historiques sur la Charité History, and Private Life of the (Paris, 1853); Martin Doisy, Hist. Early Christians, and to Migne's de la Charité pendant les quatre Encyclopédie. premiers siècles (Paris, 1848); 2 See the famous epistle of Champagny, Charité chrétienne ; Julian to Arsacius, where he Tollemer, Origines de la Charité declares that it is shameful that catholique (Paris, 1863); Ryan, “the Galileans' should support History of the Effects of Religion not only their own, but also the upon Mankind (Dublin, 1820); heathen poor; and also the comand the works of Bingham and of ments of Sozomen, Hist. eccl. v. Cave. I am also indebted, in this 16. part of my subject, to Dean Milman's
the pestilences that desolated Carthage in A.D. 326, and Alexandria in the reigns of Gallienus and of Maximian, while the Pagans fled panic-stricken from the contagion, the Christians extorted the admiration of their fellow-countrymen by the courage with which they rallied around their bishops, consoled the last hours of the sufferers, and buried the abandoned dead. In the rapid increase of pauperism arising from the emancipation of numerous slaves, their charity found free scope for action, and its resources were soon taxed to the utmost by the horrors of the barbarian invasions. The conquest of Africa by Genseric deprived Italy of the supply of corn upon which it almost wholly depended, arrested the gratuitous distribution by which the Roman poor were mainly supported, and produced all over the land the most appalling calamities. The history of Italy became one monotonous tale of famine and pestilence, of starving populations and ruined cities. But everywhere amid this chaos of dissolution we may detect the majestic form of the Christian priest mediating between the hostile forces, straining every nerve to lighten the calamities around him. When the Imperial city was captured and plundered by the hosts of Alaric, a Christian church remained a secure sanctuary, which neither the passions nor the avarice of the Goths transgressed. When a fiercer than Alaric had marked out Rome for his prey, the Pope St. Leo, arrayed in his sacerdotal robes, confronted the victorious Hun, as the ambas
1 The conduct of the Christians, Theodoric afterwards made some on the first of these occasions, is efforts to re-establish the distridescribed by Pontius, Vit. Cypriani, bution, but it never regained its ix. 19. St. Cyprian organised former proportions. The pictures their efforts. On the Alexandrian of the starvation and depopulation famines and pestilences, see Euse- of Italy at this time are appalling. bius, H. E. vii. 22 ; ix. 8.
Some fearful facts on the subject 2 The effects of this conquest are collected by Gibbon, Decline have been well described by Sis- and Fall,ch.xxxvi.; Chateaubriand, mondi, Hist. de la Chute de l’Empire vime Disc, 2de partie. Romain, tome i. pp. 258–260.
sador of his fellow-countrymen, and Attila, overpowered by religious awe, turned aside in his course. When, two years later, Rome lay at the mercy of Genseric, the same Pope interposed with the Vandal conqueror, and obtained from him a partial cessation of the massacre. The Archdeacon Pelagius interceded with similar humanity and similar success, when Rome had been captured by Totila. In Gaul, Troyes is said to have been saved from destruction by the influence of St. Lupus, and Orleans by the influence of St. Agnan. In Britain an invasion of the Picts was averted by St. Germain of Auxerre. The relations of rulers to their subjects, and of tribunals to the poor, were modified by the same intervention. When Antioch was threatened with destruction on account of its rebellion against Theodosius, the anchorites poured forth from the neighbouring deserts to intercede with the ministers of the emperor, while the Archbishop Flavian went himself as a suppliant to Constantinople. St. Ambrose imposed public penance on Theodosius, on account of the massacre of Thessalonica. Synesius excommunicated for his oppressions a governor named Andronicus; and two French Councils, in the sixth century, imposed the same penalty on all great men who arbitrarily ejected the poor. Special laws were found necessary to restrain the turbulent charity of some priests and monks, who impeded the course of justice, and even snatched criminals from the hands of the law. St. Abraham, St. Epiphanius, and St. Basil are all said to have obtained the remission or reduction of oppressive imposts. To provide for the interests of widows and orphans was part of the official ecclesiastical duty, and a Council of Macon anathematised any ruler who brought them to trial without first apprising the bishop of the diocese. A Council of Toledo, in the fifth century, threatened with excommunication all who robbed priests, monks, or poor
Cod. Theod. ix. xl. 15-16. by Theodosius, A.D. 392; the second The first of these laws was made by Honorius, A.D. 398.