Poor, Christian Care of The

Poor, Christian Care Of The.

In the early Church great regard was had for those in want. As duly as the Lord's day returned, and as soon as they had brought their sacred duties to a close, the lists of orphans, widows, aged, and poor were produced for consideration, and forthwith a donation was ordered out of the funds of the Church. No heart-stirring appeal was necessary to touch the sympathies of the people of God and no cold calculations of prudence regulated the distribution of alms: wherever there was an object of misery, or a proved necessity, there the treasures of the Church were expended. When the poor in any place were numerous, and the brethren in that place were unable to afford them adequate support, application was made to some richer Church in the neighborhood; and never was it known that the application was fruitlessly received. After the more complete organization of the Church, the poor had one fourth part in the distribution of the revenues, the other three parts going respectively to the bishop, the clergy, and the maintenance of the edifice. In Antioch, in the time of Chrysostom, three thousand poor people were thus provided for, and half that number were similarly supported at Rome in the days of Cornelius. In times of famine the plate of the church was sometimes melted down to support the poor. How pointedly Ambrose replies to the charge of sacrilege brought against him on this account by the Arians: "Is it not better that the bishop should melt the plate to sustain the poor, when other sustenance cannot be had, than that some sacrilegious enemy should carry it off by spoil and plunder? Will not our Lord expostulate with us on this account? 'Why did you suffer so many helpless persons to die with famine when you had gold to provide them sustenance? Why were so many captives carried away and sold without redemption? Why were so many suffered to be slain by the enemy? It had been better to have preserved the vessels of living men than lifeless metals.' What answer can be returned to this? For what shall a man say ? I was afraid lest the temple of God should want its ornaments. But Christ will answer, 'My sacraments, which are not bought with gold, do not require gold, nor please me the more for being ministered in gold; the ornament of my sacraments is the redemption of captives; and those are truly precious vessels which redeem souls from death.'" The very poor were often placed in the portico of the church to ask alms. Severe censure was also directed against those who permitted the poor to starve, or defrauded the Church of those dues which were set apart to maintain them. Many instances are recorded where churches in the early ages of Christianity, after providing for their own poor, gave to neighboring and foreign churches in distant parts. On intelligence of any pressing necessity, ministers and people would hasten with their treasures to the relief of those whom they had never seen, but with whom they were united by the strong ties of the same faith and hope. Thus when a multitude of Christian men and women in Numidia had been taken captive by a horde of neighboring barbarians, and when the churches to which they belonged were unable to raise the sum demanded for their ransom, they sent deputies to the Church in the metropolis of North Africa, and no sooner had Cyprian, who was at the head of it, heard the statement of distress than he commenced a collection in behalf of the unfortunate slaves, and never relaxed his exertions till he had obtained a sum equivalent to about £1000, which he forwarded to the Numidian churches, together with a letter full of Christian sympathy and tenderness.

"In the Roman Catholic states of Europe at the present day, the Church still remains, to a great extent, the public almoner. In Rome, a Commission of Aids has the general direction and administration of the principal public charities. It is composed of a cardinal-president and fifteen members, among whom is the pope's chaplain. The city is divided into twelve districts, over each of which a member of the central council presides. Each parish is represented by its curd and two deputies-a layman and a dame de charlit, named for three years— and has a secretary and a steward or treasurer, who are paid. The alms are given in money, tools, and clothes. Requests for assistance are addressed to the parochial body, from which they are sent to the district, and thence to the central council. The more urgent cases are referred to the cardinal-president, or the curd of the parish. Three brotherhoods search out cases of hidden poverty; and not only do all the religious associations, convents, and monasteries distribute relief, but there is hardly a noble or wealthy house which does not take a regular part in the assistance of the poor.

"In Spain, the state supports several asylums for lunatics, the blind, and the deaf and dumb. It also distributes a large sum annually among the provinces for the relief of the poor— each province being bound to raise double the amount received from the state. The state also steps in for the relief of great calamities, and devotes a certain sum annually for the assistance of unfortunate Spaniards abroad. A general directory of the charitable and sanitary services superintends the parochial bodies charged with the distribution of assistance to the poor.

"In Austria, each commune is charged with the relief of its poor. All who have legal domicile, or, being unable to prove their domicile, are resident in the commune, are entitled to relief out of the general assessment. There is no special rate, and the administration is strictly municipal. In many provinces private charity is associated with public assistance, administered by the cure, a few chosen inhabitants, who are called 'Fathers of the Poor.' and an officer accountable to the commune. This system is called the 'Poor's Institutes;' and their funds are principally derived from private sources; but they receive a third part of the property of ecclesiastics who die intestate, and certain fines, etc. Applicants are subjected to minute inquiry as to the cause of poverty, and a weekly allowance is made on a scale according to age and necessity. The infirm poor, who have no relatives to reside with, are taken into hospitals established in almost every commune, where they receive, besides lodging, fire and light, clothing, medical care, and a small allowance in money to provide for their food and other wants. Children are either provided for in the homes of their parents, put into asylums, or boarded with people of probity, who receive a monthly payment, as in Scotland. The welfare of these children is superintended by the cures, the mayors, and the sanitary officers of the commune. Foundlings, lunatics, the blind, the deaf-and-dumb, are provided for by the state. Vagrancy is punished, and parents permitting children under fourteen to beg are liable to three months' imprisonment. Able-bodied vagrants are sent to houses of correction, and kept to work. Pawnbroking is a charitable institution in Austria, under government control; and many pawnbroking establishments rest on endowments, and lend without interest. The trade is forbidden to private persons.

"In France, the relief of the poor is not compulsory. in so far as its distributors may, after making inquiry, refuse relief, except in the case of foundlings and lunatics. The minister of the interior has a general superintendence of the machinery of relief, as well as the immediate administration of many large hospitals and refuges. He also assists a great number of private charities. The other ministers of state give assistance on the occurrence of great calamities. The departmental funds are called upon for the compulsory relief, but the commune is the main source of public assistance. Its duty is to see that no real suffering remains unrelieved, and that the nature of the relief is such as can most easily be discontinued when the necessity ceases. The commune encourages and stimulates voluntary charities, and receives gifts for the benefit of the poor's funds. Except in Paris, the administration of the hospitals, and of the relief given at the homes of the poor, are under different management, the communes only interfering to supplement the funds of the hospitals, when these are insufficient. The mayor is president both of the administration of the hospitals and of the body for giving out-door relief (the bureau de bienfaisance). During industrial calamities the poor are sometimes employed in workshops supported by the public, and in public works. In Paris, since 1849, there has been a responsible director set over all the charities of the city. He manages the out-door relief through the medium of the committees of assistance, formerly called bureatux de bienfaisance, in each arrondissement. He is under the inspection of a council, composed as follows: the prefect of the Seine (president), the prefect of police, two members of the Municipal Council, two maires or deputy-maires, two members of the committees of assistance, one councilor of state or a master of requests, one physician and one surgeon practicing at the hospitals, one professor of medicine, one member of the Chamber of Commerce, one member of the Council of Prud'hommes and five members taken from other classes than those above mentioned. Begging is forbidden, and punished, wherever there are establishments for the relief of the poor." The poor-law of England, and recently of Scotland, too, is a civil enactment. Formerly, in Scotland, many shifts were tried. Beggary was often resorted to, and as often condemned by statute. In Scotland, at the end of the 17th century, Fletcher says, there were 200,000 beggars-more on account of national distress at that time than at other times-but never less, he affirms, than 100,000. Various severe acts had been passed from time to time, and cruel punishments threatened-such as scourging and branding with a hot iron. The famous act of 1579, in enumerating the various classes of beggars condemned, has the following: "All minstrelles, sangsters, and tale-tellers, not avowed in special service, by some of the lords of Parliament or great burrowes, or by the head burrowes and cities, for their common minstrelles; all commoun labourers, being persones abill in bodie, living idle, and fleeing labour; all counterfaicters of licences to beg, or using the same, knowing them to be counterfaicted; all vagabound schollers of the universities of Saint Andrewes, Glasgow, and Abirdene, not licensed by the rector and deane of facultie of the universitie to ask almes; all schipmen and mariners, alledging themselves to be schiipbroken, without they have sufficient testimonials." The fines levied for ecclesiastical offences were often given to the poor, as may be seen in the notes to principal Lee's second volume of Church History. Ins 1643, 1644, and 1645, the general session of Edinburgh gives the following to the poor: "1643. Feb. 10 — Penalties and gifts for the use of the poor: Given by Dr. Polurt as a volluntary gift… 100 merks. Penalty for Neill Turner and his partie…16 merks.

Feb. 15. — Given in by Geo. Stuart, advocat, for not coming to the ile… 20 merks. Given by Col. Hume's lady for private marriage with young Craigie…20 merks. Given by Sir John Smytt as a yearlie voluntary gift…100 merks. Given by Mr. Robt. Sinyth for private marriage…20 merks.


The six sessions ordain the ordinar poor enrolled to be threatened if they learn not the grounds of religion, and to be deprived of their weeklie penssione if they cannot answer to the Cathechise.

May 9. — By Mr. Luis Stuart and Isbell Gerldes, for fornication…21 lib. 6s. 8d. By Robert Martin, for his private marriage… 20 merks, 1645.

March 13. — Given for Wm. Salinond, relapse in fornication… 531. 6s. Sd."


In the United States, the poor who are members of any ecclesiastical organization are usually provided for by that body. Besides, the churches voluntarily assume very frequently the care of non-believers. In the Protestant Episcopal and in the Methodist Episcopal churches collections for the poor are taken on communion Sundays. Many churches make it the practice to take the poor collection every first Sabbath in the month.

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