The Church Shaped Most Of Medieval Life

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The Church Shaped Most of Medieval Life

The Church Shaped Most of Medieval Life


Because of the church's dual mission, its antipoverty activities have been both material and hortatory. On the material side, the church has founded and managed many charitable programs around the world, often serving as an intermediary for donations from its parishioners to the poor. Many orders (organizations) of priests and nuns throughout history have devoted themselves to aiding the poor by providing them with food, shelter, money, and spiritual guidance. This paper discusses how the church shaped most of medieval life in a concise and comprehensive way.

The Church Shaped Most of Medieval Life

Usually members of these orders take vows of personal poverty, renouncing worldly goods for themselves so that they can focus their resources on helping the needy. If such vows have at times been followed imperfectly, the church would say it was a foreseeable result of imperfections in human nature (Peter, 1998): imperfections shared no less by the clergy than by the lay population. That we cannot perform these tasks flawlessly does not release us from the obligation of doing what we can.

From early in its history, and even earlier, Christianity and the teachings of Jesus appealed to the poor and powerless in society. In the Roman Empire, Christians were persecuted until the emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. In 360, Constantine's successor Julian (“the Apostate”) tried to restore the empire's pagan religion and stamp out Christianity. His attempt failed, at least in part because of the church's untiring efforts to help the poor (Peter, 1998), which are described by T. Bokenkotter: “One of the most potent reasons for the appeal of the church to the masses was its magnificent system of charity, which aroused the admiration even of Julian the Apostate. Eventually, it broadened out to include a whole organism of institutions, including orphanages, hospitals, inns for travelers, foundling homes, and old-age homes—so much so that as the state became increasingly unable to cope with the immense burden of social distress brought about by the barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries, it relied more and more on the church” (Peter, 1998).

Julian's successors gave official authority over poor relief and social welfare to the bishop of Rome (the pope), who ate his meals with the poor every day. Church law also required bishops to spend a portion of their region's revenues on help for the poor. Usually, they did this by founding a hospitium, which means a home for the poor.

One of the earliest sources of the church's view of social and personal duties to the poor is in the Hebrew Bible, which Christianity shares with Judaism and Islam, but sometimes interprets in different ways. In the Book of Deuteronomy (derived from the book's Greek title and meaning “second law,” though the book's Hebrew title is Devarim, meaning “words,” and is derived from the first sentence in the book), Moses told the Israelites, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your ...
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