« EdellinenJatka »
of the poor. Those ecclesiastics who consumed the revenues of their cures on other than necessary and fitting purposes were declared to be "defrauders of the rights of God's poor," and "thieves of Christian alms intended for them;" whilst the English canonists and legal professors who glossed these provisions of the Church law gravely discussed the ways in which the poor of a parish could vindicate their right to their share in the ecclesiastical revenues of the Church.
This "jus pauperum," which is set forth in such a textbook of English Law as Lyndwood's Provinciale, is naturally put forth more clearly and forcibly in a work intended for popular instruction such as Dives et Pauper. "To them that have the benefices and goods of Holy Church," writes the author, " it belonged principally to give alms and to have the cure of poor people." To him who squanders the alms of the altar on luxury and useless show, the poor may justly point and say: "It is ours that you so spend in pomp and vanity! . . . That thou keepest for thyself of the altar passing the honest needful living, it is raveny, it is theft, it is sacrilege." From the earliest days of English Christianity the care of the helpless poor was regarded as an obligation incumbent on all; and in 1342, Archbishop Stratford, dealing with appropriations, or the assignment of ecclesiastical revenues to the support of some religious house or college, ordered that a portion of the tithe should always be set apart for the relief of the poor, because, as Bishop Stubbs has pointed out, in England, from the days of King Ethelred, " a third part of the tithe" which belonged to the Church was the acknowledged birthright of the poorer members of Christ's flock.
That there was social inequality is as certain as it was inevitable, for that is in the very constitution of human society. But this, as M. Luce has pointed out in regard to France, and Professor Janssens in regard to Germany, in no way detracted from the frank and full acknowledgment of the Christian brotherhood. Again and again in the sermons of the fifteenth century this truth, with all its practical applications, was enforced by the priest at the altar, where both poor and rich alike met on a common footing—" all, poor and rich, high and low, noble and simple, have sprung from a common stock and are children of a common father, Adam:" "God did not create a golden Adam from whom the nobles are descended, nor a silver Adam from whom have come the rich, and another, a clay Adam, from whom are the poor; but all, nobles, rich and poor, have one common father, made out of the dust of the earth." These and similar lessons were constantly repeated by the religious teachers of the pre-Reformation English Church.
Equally definite is the author of the book of popular instruction, Dives et Pauper, above referred to. The sympathy of the writer is with the poor, as indeed is that of every ecclesiastical writer of the period. In fact, it is abundantly clear that the Church of England in Catholic days, as a pia mater, was ever ready to open wide her heart to aid and protect the poorer members of Christ's mystical body. This is how Pauper in the tract in question states the true Christian teaching as to the duties of riches, and impresses upon his readers the view that the owners of worldly wealth are but stewards of the Lord: "All that the rich man hath, passing his honest living after the degree of his dispensation, it is other men's, not his, and he shall give full hard reckoning thereof at the day of doom, when God shall say to him, ' Yield account of your bailywick,' For rich men and lords in this world are God's bailiffs and God's reeves, to ordain for the poor folk and to sustain them." Most strongly does the same writer insist that no property gives any one the right to say "this is mine " and that is "thine," for property, so far as it is of God, is of the nature of governance and dispensation, by which those who, by God's Providence "have," act as His stewards and the dispensers of His gifts to such as "have not."'
It would, of course, be affectation to suggest that poverty and great hardness of life were not to be found in pre-Reformation days, but what did not exist was pauperism, which, as distinguished from poverty, certainly sprung up plentifully amid the ruins of Catholic institutions, overthrown as a consequence—perhaps as a necessary and useful consequence—of the religious changes in the sixteenth century. Bishop Stubbs, speaking of the condition of the poor in the Middle Ages, declares that "there is very little evidence to show that our forefathers in the middle ranks of life desired to set any impassable boundary between class and class. . . . Even the villein, by learning a craft, might set his foot on the ladder of promotion. The most certain way to rise was furnished by education, and by the law of the land, 'every man or woman, of what state or condition that he be, shall be free to set their son or daughter to take learning at any school that pleaseth him within the realm.'" Mr. Thorold Rogers, than whom no one has ever worked so diligently at the economic history of England, and whom none can suspect of undue admiration of the Catholic Church, has also left it on record that during the century and a half which preceded the era of the Reformation the mass of English labourers were thriving under their guilds and trade unions, the peasants were gradually acquiring their lands and becoming small freeholders, the artisans rising to the position of small contractors and working with their own hands at structures which their native genius and experience had planned. In a word, according to this high authority, the last years of undivided Catholic England formed "the golden age" of the Englishman who was ready and willing to work.
1 The words of Pope Leo XIII. as to the Catholic teaching, most accurately describe the practical doctrine of the English pre-Reformation Church on this matter: "The chiefest and most excellent rule for the right use of money," he says, "rests on the principle that it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money and another to have the right to use money as one pleases. ... If the question be asked, How must one's possessions be used? the Church replies, without hesitation, in the words of the same holy doctor (St. Thomas), Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without difficulty when others are in need. When necessity has been supplied and one's position fairly considered, it is a duty to give to the indigent out of that which is over. It is a duty, not of justice (except in extreme cases) but of Christian charity . . . (and) to sum up what has been said, Whoever has received from the Divine bounty a large share of blessings . . . has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the minister of God's Providence, for the benefit of others."
"In the age which I have attempted to describe," writes the same authority, "and in describing which I have accumulated and condensed a vast amount of unquestionable facts, the rate of production was small, the conditions of health unsatisfactory, and the duration of life short. But, on the whole, there were none of those extremes of poverty and wealth which have excited the astonishment of philanthropists and are exciting the indignation of workmen. The age, it is true, had its discontents, and these discontents were expressed forcibly and in a startling manner. But of poverty which perishes unheeded, of a willingness to do honest work and a lack of opportunity there was little or none. The essence of life in England during the days of the Plantagenets and Tudors was that every one knew his neighbour, and that every one was his brother's keeper."'
In regard to the general care of the poorer brethren of a parish in pre-Reformation England, Bishop Hobhouse, after a careful examination of the available sources of information, writes as follows: "I can only suppose that the brotherhood tie was so strongly realised by the com1 The Economic Interpretation of History, p. 63.
munity that the weaker ones were succoured by the stronger, as out of a family store. The brotherhood tie was, no doubt, very much stronger then, when the village community was from generation to generation so unalloyed by anything foreign, when all were knit together by one faith and one worship and close kindred; but, further than this, the guild fellowships must have enhanced all the other bonds in drawing men to share their worldly goods as a common stock. Covertly, if not overtly, the guildsman bound himself to help his needy brother in sickness and age, as he expected his fellow-guildsman to do for him in his turn of need, and these bonds, added to a far stronger sense of the duty of children towards aged parents than is now found, did, I conceive, suffice for the relief of the poor, aided only by the direct almsgiving which flowed from the parsonage house, or in favoured localities from the doles or broken meat of a monastery."1
To relieve the Reformation from the odious charge that it was responsible for the poor-laws, many authors have declared that not only did poverty largely exist before, say, the dissolution of the monastic houses, but that it would not long have been possible for the ancient methods of relieving the distressed to cope with the increase in their numbers under the changed circumstances of the sixteenth century. It is of course possible to deal with broad assertions only by the production of a mass of details, which is, under the present circumstances, out of the question, or by assertions equally broad, and I remark that there is no evidence of any change of circumstances, so far as such changes appear in history, which could not have been fully met by the application of the old principles, and met in a way which would never have induced the degree of distressing pauperism which, in fact, was produced by the application of the social principles adopted at the Reformation. The underlying idea of these latter was property in
1 Churchwardens' Accounts (Somerset Record Soc.), p. xxiv.