Juan Luis Vives: On Assistance to the Poor

(From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Juan Luis Vives was born in Valencia, Spain on March 6, 1493 (not 1492, as is often found in the literature on him). His parents were Jewish cloth merchants who had converted to Catholicism and who strove to live with the insecurities of their precarious situation. His father, Luis Vives Valeriola (1453–1524), had been prosecuted in 1477 for secretly practicing Judaism. A second trial took place in 1522 and ended two years later when he was burned at the stake. His mother, Blanquina March (1473–1508), became a Christian in 1491, one year before the decree expelling Jews from Spain. She died in 1508 of the plague. Twenty years after her death, she was charged with having visited a clandestine synagogue. Her remains were exhumed and publicly burned.

In his youth, Vives attended the Estudio General of his hometown. In 1509, he moved to Paris and enrolled as a freshman in the faculty of arts. He was never to return to Spain. Vives began his studies at the Collège de Lisieux, where Juan Dolz had just started a triennial course, but soon moved to the Collège de Beauvais, where he attended the lectures of Jan Dullaert (d.1513). From the fall of 1512, Vives started to attend the course of the Aragonese Gaspar Lax (1487–1560) at the Collège de Montaigu. Through Nicolas Bérault (c.1470–c.1545), who was an associate of Guillaume Budé (1467–1540) and taught at various colleges in Paris, Vives also came into contact with the Parisian humanist circle.

In 1514, Vives left Paris without having taken any formal academic degree and moved to the Low Countries. He settled in Bruges, where he would spend most of his life. About this time, he was introduced to Erasmus and appointed as tutor to the Flemish nobleman William of Croy. From 1517 until Croy’s premature death in 1521, Vives lived in Louvain and taught at the Collegium Trilingue, a humanist foundation based on Erasmian educational principles. In this period he wrote ‘Fabula de homine’ (‘A Fable about Man,’ 1518), an early version of his views on the nature and purpose of mankind; De initiis, sectis et laudibus philosophiae (On the Origins, Schools and Merits of Philosophy, 1518), a short essay on the history of philosophy; In pseudodialecticos (Against the Pseudo-Dialecticians, 1519), a lively and trenchant attack on scholastic logic; as well as a critical edition, with an extensive commentary, of Augustine’s De civitate Dei (City of God, 1522), which was commissioned by Erasmus.

From 1523 to 1528, Vives divided his time between England, which he visited on six occasions, and Bruges, where he married Margarita Valldaura in 1524. In England he attended the court of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and was tutor to their daughter, Mary. He also held a lectureship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and associated with English humanists such as Thomas More and Thomas Linacre. During these years he published De institutione feminae Christianae (The Education of a Christian Woman, 1524), in which he set out pedagogical principles for the instruction of women; the extremely popular Introductio ad sapientiam (Introduction to Wisdom, 1524), a short handbook of ethics, blending Stoicism and Christianity; and De subventione pauperum (On Assistance to the Poor, 1526), a program for the organization of public relief, which he dedicated to the magistrates of Bruges. In 1528 he lost the favor of Henry VIII by siding with his fellow countrywoman Catherine of Aragon in the matter of the divorce. He was placed under house arrest for a time, before being allowed to return to Bruges.

The last twelve years of Vives’ life were his most productive, and it was in this period that he published several of the works for which he is best known today. These include De concordia et discordia in humano genere (On Concord and Discord in Humankind, 1529), a piece of social criticism emphasizing the value of peace and the absurdity of war; De disciplinis (On the Disciplines, 1531), an encyclopedic treatise providing an extensive critique of the foundations of contemporary education, as well as a program for its renewal; and De anima et vita (On the Soul and Life, 1538), a study of the soul and its interaction with the body, which also contains a penetrating analysis of the emotions. De veritate fidei Christianae (On the Truth of the Christian Faith), the most thorough discussion of his religious views, was published posthumously in 1543. He died in Bruges on May 6, 1540.

During the Middle Ages, poor relief was usually the responsibility of the Church and individuals through almsgiving. As society became more advanced, these efforts became inadequate. In 1525, the Dutch city of Bruges requested Vives to suggest means to address the issue of relief for the poor. He set out his views in his essay De Subventione Pauperum Sive de Humanis Necessitatibus (On Assistance To The Poor). Vives argued that the state had a responsibility to provide some level of financial relief for the poor, as well as craft training for the unskilled poor. The city of Bruges  implemented Vives’s suggestions in 1557, and his proposals influenced social relief legislation enacted in England and the German Empire during the 1530s.

On Assistance to the Poor

Bruges, 6 January 1526

Juan Luis Vives to the Councilors and the Senate of Bruges:

Cicero says that it is a duty of travelers and visitors to avoid overcuriosity when abroad in a foreign state. He is right, for prying into the affairs of others can be despicable. However, concern and friendly advice will probably not be rejected because the law of nature holds that anything human is not extraneous to man, simply because it is human. Further, the grace of Christ, like a cohesive glue, has cemented all men to each other.

Although I am to a certain degree an alien here myself, I am as truly bound to this city as I am to my own Valencia. I do not call Bruges anything other than homeland, for I have lived here for fourteen years (even if not continuously), and I always return here as to my very home. I delight in your administrative system, the education and civility of your citizens, the extraordinary tranquility and justice which pervade the city and are renowned throughout the world.

For these reasons I married here. I deeply desire your well-being. I am determined to remain in this city and no other for whatever length of my life Christ may graciously grant to me. I consider myself a citizen of this city, and toward its residents I have the same mind as toward my own brothers.

The extreme poverty of so many of them compels me to write how I think they might be assisted. Actually, I had been asked to do this some time ago, when I was in England, by Lord Praet, your burgomaster, who deliberates deeply and often—as, indeed, he ought—concerning the public welfare of the city.

I dedicate this work to you, first, because you are completely committed to benevolence and to the relief of the poor, as confirmed by the crowds of poor who surge to you as to a refuge already prepared for them; secondly, because cities originate where, relief being given and received, love takes root in mutual assistance and strengthens itself through the fellowship of men. There, administrators of the city strive to insure that each man assists others, that no one is oppressed, that no one is wronged by an unjust condemnation, and that the strong assist the weak. Thus, the peace of an entire and united citizenry grows in love each day and endures.

Just as it is disgraceful for the head of a household to allow any member to suffer the lack of food or the embarrassment of wandering in rags, so it follows that, in a wealthy city, its magistrates would not permit its citizens-even a few-to be pressed down by undue hunger and misery.

May it please you to read this. If it does not please you, at least consider the matter most carefully, just as you would investigate with great diligence the litigation of a private person in which a large sum of money is disputed.

May all prosperity and good fortune attend you and this city!

Bruges, January 6, 1526


My references here are to the state and the administrator, who is to the former as a soul is to the body. The soul quickens and animates not merely this or that part, but the entire body; thus, the magistrate may never disregard a portion of his governance.

Those who fancy only the wealthy and despise the poor are like doctors who are not concerned about healing the hands or the feet because they are at some distance from the heart. Just as this treatment would bring injury to the whole man, so in the state the weak may not be neglected without danger to the strong. The poor will rob when they are pressed through necessity; yet the judge does not think it important to pay attention to the cause, a small matter to him. These poor envy the rich, and are angered and resentful that the wealthy have so much money to lavish on jesters, dogs, harlots, asses, packhorses, and elephants. In the meantime, the poor themselves do not have the means to feed their starving children. The former proudfully and insolently flaunt their wealth, which has been wrung from these destitute and others like them.

One would hardly believe how many civil insurrections such voices of the poor have incited throughout the nations, wars in which the mobs—wrathful and burning with hate—take out their vengeance first of all upon the wealthy. The Gracchi suggest no other reason, nor did Lucius Catiline, for the anarchy which the mobs aroused; nor is it much less with the riots in our own times and regions. It will not be inappropriate to insert here a passage from Isocrates’ speech, The Areopagiticus, which refers to the customs of the Athenians. He states:

Similarly, they acted in their relations to each other. For there was not only consensus in public matters; but in private affairs they showed the consideration of one another as is appropriate for men of common sense, members of the same homeland. Far from poor citizens envying the richer, they were as concerned about the homes of the wealthy as they were about their own, judging the prosperity of the rich as an advantage to themselves.

The affluent did not despise the poor, but considered it a reflection upon themselves that there should be poverty in the city. They underwrote the necessities of the poor, leasing plots of land to some at a moderate rental, sending others out as their business agents or negotiators, advancing to others the capital for business opportunities. They did not fear losing their investments in these measures, or worry about being despoiled of them in whole or in part. On the contrary, they felt as confident about their money as if it had been under guard at home.

A mutual danger imperils the commonwealth from the contagion of disease. It happens too often that one man has brought into the community some serious and dreadful disease, such as the plague, or syphilis, or the like, causing others to perish. What sort of situation is this, when in every church—especially at the solemn and most heavily attended feasts—one is obliged to enter into the church proper between two rows or squadrons of the sick, the vomiting, the ulcerous, the diseased with ills whose very names cannot be mentioned. And more, this is the only entrance for boys and girls, the aged and the pregnant! Do you think these are made of such iron that, fasting as they are, they are not revolted by this spectacle—especially since ulcers of this sort are not only forced upon the eyes but upon the nose as well, the mouth, and almost on the hands and body as they pass through? How shameless such begging! 1will not even discuss the fact that some who have just left the side of one dead of the plague mingle with the crowd.

These two matters—how diseases may be cured and how their contagion to others can be suppressed—must not be neglected by administrators of the state. Further, a wise government, solicitous for the common good, will not leave so large a part of the citizenry in a condition of uselessness, harmful to themselves and to others. When the general funds have been expended, those without means of subsistence are driven to robbery in the city and on the highways; others commit theft stealthily; women of eligible years put modesty aside and, no longer holding to chastity, put it on sale for a bagatelle (and then, can never be persuaded to abandon this detestable practice); old women take up regular pandering and then sorcery, which promotes procuring. Children of the needy receive a deplorable upbringing. Together with their brood, the poor are cast out of the churches and wander over the land; they do not receive the sacraments and they hear no sermons. We do not know by what law they live, nor what their practices or beliefs. Actually, the discipline of the church has collapsed so completely that no ministrations are offered without an attendant charge. Clerics scorn the reference to selling, yet they force the people into recompense. Even the bishop of a diocese does not consider such shorn sheep as belonging to his fold and pasture.

So, there is no one to see that these beggars go to confession or receive communion with others at the Lord’s Supper. Since they never hear instructions, they inevitably judge things by false standards and lead most disorderly lives. If it happens in some way that they come into money, they are intolerable because of their base and discreditable upbringing. So it follows that those vices (which I cited earlier) are not so much the fault of the poor as of the administrators who do not provide adequate regulations for the good government of the people. Rather, they consider themselves chosen to preside exclusively over legal suits concerning money or to pass sentences on crimes.

On the contrary, it is much more important for magistrates to work on ways of producing good citizens than on punishing or restraining evil-doers. How much less need there would be of punishment if these matters were attended to in the first place! The Romans of ancient times provided in such manner for their citizens that no one needed to beg; hence begging was forbidden in the Twelve Tables. The Athenians took the same preventive measures for their populace. Again, the Lord gave to the Jewish people a peculiar law, hard and intractable, such as became a people of similar temperament; yet in Deuter­ onomy He commands them to such precautions that, so far as it was within their power, there was to be no indigent or beggar among them, especially in that year of rest so acceptable to the Lord. In such manner are all people to live; for them the Lord Jesus was buried-with the Old Law and ceremonials and the “old man’ -and rose again in a regeneration of life and spirit. Unquestionably, it is a scandal and disgrace that we Christians confront everywhere in our cities so many poor and indigent, we to whom no injunction has been more explicitly commanded than charity (I might say, the only one).

Wherever you turn, you encounter poverty and want, always along with those who are obliged to hold out their hands for a dole. In a state, anything ravaged or ruined by time or fortune is renewed, such as walls, ditches, ramparts, streams, institutions, customs, laws themselves; so it would be equally reasonable to reform that method of poor relief which in various ways in the passage of time has become outmoded. The most eminent men, and others interested in the welfare of the city, have devised some salutary measures: taxes have been eased; public lands have been turned over to the poor for cultivation; certain surplus funds have been distributed by the state—things which we have seen even in our own day. However, measures of this sort require specific conditions which appear only too rarely in our times. Recourse must be made, therefore, to other more appropriate and more enduring solutions.


Someone may ask me: “How do you propose to relieve such numbers?” If true charity dwelt in us, if it were truly a law (though compulsion is not necessary for one who loves), it would hold all things in common. One man would regard another’s distress as though it were his own. As it is, however, no one extends his concern beyond his own home, and sometimes not even beyond his own room or himself personally. Too many are not sufficiently concerned about their own parents or children or brothers or wife. Therefore, since human countermeasures must be employed-especially among those for whom divine commands are ineffective-I suggest the following plan.

Some of the poor live in places usually called “hospitals”—the Greek word is Ptochotrophia, but I will use the more familiar word-and others beg in public; still others endure their afflictions as best they can in their own places. I define a hospital as any place where the sick are fed and nursed, where a given number of indigent persons are supported, boys and girls educated, abandoned infants nourished, the insane confined, and the blind allowed to spend their days. Rulers of states must understand that these institutions are part of their responsibilities.

No one may circumvent the founders’ stipulations in setting up these institutions; these must remain inviolable. With these one should interpret not merely the words but attend primarily to their jurisdiction (as in deeds of trust) and intent (as in wills). On this point, no doubt it was the donors’ desire that the funds left by them should be distributed to the best possible purposes and used in the worthiest places; they were not so much concerned by whom this should be done, or how, as that it should be done.

In the next place, there is nothing so free in the state that it could not be subject to inquiry by those who administer the government. Liberty is found in yielding obedience to the magistrates of the community rather than in that encouragement to violence or in the opportunity for widespread license in whatever direction caprice may lead. No one can remove his property from the custody and control of the state unless he gives up his citizenship. Even more, he may not even give up his life, which is of more importance and value than property. Indeed, everyone has acquired his property with the help of the state, as if it were a gift, and can keep and hold his wealth only through the state.

Therefore, going in two’s and with a secretary, the Senators should visit each of these institutions and inspect it. They should write a full account of its condition, of the number of inmates, their names, who supports them there, and the reason for each person’s being there. These results should be reported to the Councilors and the Senate in assembly.

Those who suffer poverty at home should be registered also, along with their family, by two Senators for each parish, their needs ascertained, their manner of living up until then, and the reason for their decline into poverty. It will be easy to discover from their neighbors what kind of individuals they are, how they live, and what their habits are. However, the testimony of one pauper should not be taken too seriously concerning another pauper, for the one would not be free from jealousy of the other. The Councilors and Senate should be informed of all these things. If someone suddenly becomes destitute, he should notify them through one of the Senators; then his situation can be judged adequately, on the basis of his condition and circumstances.

Beggars in good health who wander about with no fixed dwelling-place should submit their names, and state the reason for their mendicancy to the Senate-however, in some open place or vacant lot, so that their filth may not pollute the Senate chamber. Beggars who are ill should do likewise in the presence of two or four Senators apart, along with a doctor, so that the eyes of the entire Senate may be spared. Witnesses should be sought out by both classes of paupers to testify in regard to their manner of life.

The Senators appointed to make these examinations and perform these duties should be given authority to coerce and compel obedience, even to the point of imprisonment, so that the Senate will be aware of the recalcitrant.


From the outset this principle must be accepted which the Lord imposed on the human race as a punishment for its many sins-that each man should eat the bread which is the fruit of his labor. When I use the word “eat” or “nourish” or “support,” I do not intend to suggest food alone, but clothes, shelter, fuel, and light; in a word, everything that is related to the sustenance of the body.

None among the poor should be idle, provided, of course, that he is fit for work by his age and health. As the Apostle writes to the Thessalonians:

For even when we were with you, we commanded that if anyone will not work, then let him not eat. For we hear that some who walk among you in disorderly manner do not work at all, but are mere busybodies. Now, those who are like that we denounce, and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ that they work in silence and eat their own bread.

And the Psalmist promises a double joy, both in this life and in the next, to him who has eaten out of the labor of his own hands. Therefore, no one must be permitted to live indolently in the state; rather, as in a well-ordered home, everyone has his own role and its related tasks to perform. As the saying goes, “By doing nothing, men learn to do evil.”

Breakdowns in health and age must be taken into consideration. However, in order that a pretense of sickness or infirmity may not be foisted on you—which happens quite frequently-the opinion of physicians must be consulted. Impostors are to be penalized. Of the able-bodied vagrants, those who are aliens should be returned to their own country-as is provided for, according to Imperial law-but they should be supplied with money for the journey. It would be inhuman to send a destitute man on a journey with no provision for the trip; otherwise such a person might question, What is this measure other than commanding him to pillage on the way? If they are from areas ravaged by war, then the teaching of Paul must be borne in mind: that among those who have been baptized in the blood of Christ, there is neither Greek nor pagan, neither Frenchman nor Lowlander, but a new and elevated creature. Hence, these should be treated as though they were native-born.

Should the native-born poor be asked whether they have learned a trade? Yes, and those who have not-if they are of suitable age-should be taught the one to which they are most strongly attracted, provided that it is practical, or else a similar or related occupation. For example, if it is not possible for him to sew clothing, he could sew what they call caligas (soldiers’ boots). If a craft is too difficult, or if he is too slow in learning, another and easier task should be assigned to him, all the way down to one in which he could be sufficiently instructed in a very short time, such as digging, drawing water, carrying loads, pushing a wheelbarrow, serving magistrates, running errands, carrying letters or mail packets, or driving the scheduled horses.

Even those who have dissipated their fortunes in dissolute living-through gaming, harlots, excessive luxury, gluttony, and gambling-should be given food, for no one should die of hunger. However, smaller rations and more irksome tasks should be assigned to them so that they may be an example to others. Perhaps they would come to repent of their prior life and not relapse as easily into the same vices, restrained as they are by the lack of food and the duress of their tasks. They must not die of hunger, but they must feel its pangs.

Many workshops could provide them employment. The woolweavers of Armentium-indeed, craftsmen in almost all the shops-complain of the scarcity of workmen. The silkweavers of Bruges would be glad to hire almost anybody for turning the little wheels of their looms; they would pay a fairly good wage each day, including board, to such workers. Even so, they cannot find boys as apprentices because their parents say that the children bring home more from begging.

Public authority should authorize a certain number of laborers who cannot find work by themselves to be assigned to one director of a workshop. When such a worker has progressed far enough in his craft, he should open his own workshop. To these, as well as to those to whom the magistrates had assigned apprentices, contracts should be given for manufacturing the numerous items which the state uses for public purposes, such as portraits, statues, robes, sewers, ditches, buildings, and supplies required by the hospitals.

Since funds for such measures of support were originally given for the poor, they should be spent on the poor. I would like to remind bishops, theologians, and abbots of this, but will write for them elsewhere. I would hope that they would do these things spontaneously, without being urged on by me.

As for those not yet assigned to a specific work or master-artisan, they should be maintained in some place by alms for the time being; but they should not remain idle in the meantime or learn slothfulness through inactivity. In places of this sort, breakfast or dinner should be given to healthy vagrants along with enough money for travel to take them to the next city which lies on their way.

The able-bodied who remain in the hospitals like drones, living by the sweat of others, should leave and be put to work. However, some must be allowed to remain because of a given estate-such as the law of gentility—or the prerogative willed by a generous benefactor or because of having made over their property to the institution. Even in these cases, they should be obliged to work in the hospital so that the result of their labors may be shared by all. If anyone healthy and robust ask to be allowed to remain because of his love for the home and for his companions, he could be granted this favor, but on the same condition.

No one should be attracted by the money that was contributed earlier for pious works. This warning is not without foundation. For there are those who, from servants, have become masters. Ladies living delicately in splendor and luxury were originally admitted to perform works of piety; but now, having thrust out the poor or else keeping them grudgingly, they have become haughty mistresses. This office of ministration must be taken from them so that they will not grow fat from the pennies of the starving poor; so let them perform the duty which they came there to do. They should be intent upon ministering to the sick, like those widows of the early church who were so highly praised by the Apostles. In the balance of their time, they could pray, read, spin, weave, or occupy themselves in some good and honest labor-all of which Jerome advises for even the richest and most aristocratic matrons.

The blind should not be allowed to sit idle or wander about aimlessly. There are many occupations in which they might be employed. Some are suited for academic training; these should be allowed to study since their aptitude for letters is no small thing. Others are suited to the art of music; they could sing, pluck the lute, or play the flute. Others might turn weavers’ wheels, work treadmills, tread winepresses, or blow bellows in the smithies. Still other blind are particularly skilled in making little boxes and chests, fruit-baskets and cages. Women who are blind could spin and wind yarn. Since it is easy enough to find employment for them, none of the blind should be willing to sit idle or avoid work. Laziness and a love of ease are the reasons for pretending they cannot do things, not physical defect.

The infirm and the aged, too, should have lighter tasks assigned them suited to their age and strength. No one is so feeble or lacking in strength that he can do nothing. It follows that the evil thoughts and affections likely in the minds of the idle will be controlled by those who are employed and intent upon work.

Then, when all the leeches have been eliminated from the hospitals, the resources of each institution should be examined, taking into account its regular expenses, annual revenues, and the money on hand. Treasure rooms and superfluous trappings should be eliminated, since they are only toys for children or misers, useless in a life of piety. Then, assign to each of the hospitals as many of the sick poor as it will seem proper, taking care that the food is not so scanty that their hunger will not be easily satisfied. This is one of the essentials in the care of those who are sick in body or mind, for invalids often grow worse from an inadequate diet. On the other hand, there should be no luxury by which they might easily fall into bad practices.

Now let us refer to the insane. Since there is nothing in the world more excellent than man, and nothing more excellent in man than his mind, particular care should be given to its welfare. It should be considered the highest of ministries to restore the mind of others to sanity, or to keep them sane and rational. Therefore, when a man of disturbed mental faculties is brought to the hospital, first of all, it must be determined whether his insanity is congenital or has resulted from some environmental cause, and whether there is hope for health or whether the case is completely hopeless. One ought to feel a compassion before such a great disaster to this noblest of human faculties. He who has suffered so should be treated with such care and delicacy that the cure will not enlarge or increase the condition, such as would result from mocking, exciting, or irritating him, approving and applauding the foolish things which he says or does, and inciting him to act more ridiculously, applying a stimulus, as it were, to his absurdity and stupidity. What could be more inhuman than to drive a man to insanity just for the sake of laughing at him and entertaining oneself with such a misfortune!

Remedies suited to the individual patient should be prescribed. Some need care and attention to their mode of living. Others need mild and gentle treatment so that, like wild animals, they may gradually grow less violent. Some require education. Some may need force and chains, but these should be used in such a way that the patients will not become the more violent because of them. Above all, as far as it is possible, tranquillity must be introduced into their minds, for it is through this that reason and mental health return.

If the hospitals cannot accommodate all the diseased beggars, one or more homes should be built, as many as are necessary, where they can be treated separately. A doctor, a pharmacist, and male and female nurses should be hired. Doing this is what nature (as well as a builder of ships) does, locating the repugnant in one place so that it may not offend the rest of the body. Likewise, those afflicted with a loathsome or contagious disease should sleep and eat their food in a place apart so that their repulsive condition, or the infection itself, may not creep over the rest of the population—or else there will never be an end to disease.

When a patient recovers, he should be treated in the same manner as the rest who are healthy. He should be sent out to work unless, out of compassion, he would prefer to remain serving in the hospital with his particular skills.

For the poor who live at home, work should be furnished by the public officials, by the hospitals, or by private citizens. If their work is not enough to supply their needs, whatever seems adequate should be added to their earnings.

Investigators into the needs of the poor should perform their task humanely and kindly. While nothing should be given if the judgment on their needs is unfavorable, still intimidation should never be applied unless deemed necessary in dealing with the refractory or the rebels against public authority.

This one law should be inviolable: “If anyone request money or exert influence in favor of a person supposedly in need, he should not receive it; instead, there should be a penalty according as the Senate sees fit.” It should always be permissible to inform the Senate of the needs of others. The administrators of charities—or whoever may be appointed by the Senate—should find the balance, and give alms in proportion to the need. This is to guard against the situation in the future when wealthy men, preserving their own moneys, might demand that money which belongs to the destitute should be expended on their own servants, domestics, relatives, and friends. Such favoritism steals from those who need it so much more, as we have already seen happen in the hospitals.


A hospital must be established for abandoned children where they may be reared. If mothers are known, they should nurture the infants until the sixth year. After this age, all such children would enter a publicly supported school where they would be educated in letters and morals, and be maintained.

As far as possible, this school should be in charge of men who are trustworthy and who have a solid and broad education themselves, so that they may pour out their culture into this basic school with their own example. No greater danger for the sons of the poor exists than a cheap, inferior, and demoralizing education. In order to secure teachers of this upright character, magistrates should spare no expense. At relatively small cost, the latter will thus perform a great service to the state over which they preside.

The students should learn to live frugally, but neatly and clean, and to be, content with little. They should be protected from all forms of dissipation. They must not develop habits of intemperance and gluttony, becoming slaves of the belly. Otherwise, when they are deprived of something that their appetite calls for, they will shamelessly take up begging, as we have seen some do the moment they do not get, not just the food, but even their condiments such as mustard, sauce, or some such trifle.

They should be taught not only reading and writing but, above all, the duty of a Christian and right attitudes toward things.

I suggest a similar school for girls, in which they can be taught the fundamentals of literacy. If one girl is particularly qualified for studies and is inclined to them, she should be permitted to progress farther, provided that the courses coincide with the development of her character. In addition to spinning, sewing, weaving, embroidery, cooking, and home management, all girls should be taught a virtuous perspective and morality as well as modesty, frugality, gentleness, good manners, and, primarily, chastity (convinced, as they ought to be, of the excellence of this virtue in women).

Any of the boys who are particularly skilled at letters should be retained by the school to become teachers themselves; later on, they might become candidates for the priesthood. The others should learn the trades in which they are most interested.


Two supervisors should be appointed every year from among the members of the Senate, eminent individuals of obvious integrity, to become acquainted with the way of life of the poor, of boys, youths, and old men alike. With regard to boys, inquiry should be made concerning their occupations, the progress they are making, the sort of lives they lead, the talents they possess, the promise they show, and, if any one of them is in trouble, who is to blame. From these, corrections can be made.

In regard to young adults and old men, the supervisors should inquire if they are living according to the laws governing them. Such investigators should also inquire most carefully concerning old women, who are master-hands at pandering and sorcery. Further, they should study whether all of these persons lead a frugal and sober life. Those who frequent gaming places and wine and beer taverns should be penalized. If reprimands have no effect, such persons should be punished severely.

A system of penalties should be devised in each state, asjudged applicable by its wisest and most prestigious citizens. The same measures do not apply equally to all places and times; some men are influenced by some things, and others, by other things. In any case, the fraud of idle, lazy men must be guarded against so that deception has no profit.

I would also suggest that the supervisors investigate as well the youth who are the sons of the wealthy. It could be very valuable to the well-being of the state if they were to oblige such young men to render an account to the magistrates (as though to fathers) concerning their use of time, and what activities and occupations they follow. This could prove a greater alms than that which is distributed to the poor.

In ancient times, this service was provided by the office of Questor, or Censor, among the Romans, and among the Athenians in the court of Areopagus. When the old practices had deteriorated, they were revived by the Emperor Justinian in codifying the duties of the Questor. These included the injunction to survey all persons—both ecclesiastical and secular, of whatever rank and fortune-asking who they were, from whence they came, and for what reason they were there. That same law allowed no one to live in idleness.


The above plan sounds wonderful, someone will say, but where are we to get the funds for all these projects? As I see it, not only will funds not be lacking but-I believe with complete assurance-they will abound. They will be available not only for the basic necessities of life but for extraordinary needs as well, of the sort that inevitably occur to people everywhere.

In another era when the life of Christ was still vital, all believers cast their wealth at the feet of the Apostles to be distributed by them to everyone according to need. In time, the Apostles relinquished this responsibility as not becoming for them. In truth, it was more appropriate for them to teach the community and to preach the Gospel than to spend their time in soliciting and distributing money; therefore, this duty was given to deacons. These latter did not retain it very long, for so great was their zeal for teaching and spreading Christian living that they hurried on through a blessed death to everlasting bliss. Consequently, lay persons supplied the needs of the poor. The number of Christians increased, many persons of questionable probity were admitted, and the administration of moneys began to be managed dishonestly by some of them. Out of love for the poor, bishops and priests once again assumed the responsibility for the funds collected for charity. At that time, there was nothing that men would not entrust to bishops, who were persons of tried and universally recognized integrity and fidelity, a fact mentioned by John Chrysostom.

However, as the ardor for the blood of Christ increasingly abated and the
Spirit of the Lord was communicated to fewer, the Church began to copy the world and to rival it in pomp, pride, and luxury. Jerome complained that the governors of the provinces dined more sumptuously in the monastery than in the palace. This extravagance required large sums of money, and so the bishops and priests diverted to this purpose money that belonged to the poor. If only the Spirit of God would touch them and recall to their minds whence they had received it, who had given it, and for what reason! If only they would remember that out of the substance of the poor they had become powerful!

It is the obligation of bishops not only to teach, console, and correct in concerns of the souls of men but also to heal their bodies, succoring the poor from their own substance (even if that is extremely small). They would do this to their great advantage and their peace of mind if their faith in Christ were as great as they wish the faith of others to be. Of course, this is a common failing: all of us mercilessly demand in another the virtue which we do not ourselves possess.

In a word, bishops should follow the example of Paul, to be absolutely perfect in charity that they might be all things to all men, neither deferring to the mighty nor despising the lowly, but placing themselves on the same level with all men in order to help them and edify them, according to the word of Christ. Bishops, abbots, and other officials of the Church (if only they wished it) could relieve a very large portion of the existing poverty out of their large incomes; if they do not do so, Christ will avenge it!

Turmoil and civil disorder must always be avoided because this is a greater evil than the misappropriation of the funds for the poor. However vast wealth may be, it should never be so highly revered that men would take up arms on its account. Above all, respect must be had for the general peace, as Christ taught, and also Paul, restating his master. Nor should the poor yearn for any disorder in the state whereby they would profit. Rather, it is proper for them to be unconcerned about the times, devoting themselves day and night to meditation upon the end of this life’s journey to that haven and fatherland where they will hear, “Lazarus once suffered in his lifetime; now, therefore, he will be comforted and refreshed.”

The annual revenue of hospitals should be calculated as a whole. I have no doubt that, when work has been assigned to those able to do it, not only will the income be sufficient to care for those who live there; it will be enough to care for those who live on the outside as well. I am told that the wealth of hospitals in any town you can name is so great that, if it were properly administered, there would be more than enough for supplying all the ordinary as well as unforeseen and extraordinary needs of the citizens.

Wealthy institutions should share their superfluous income with the poorer and if the poorer are not desperate, the surplus should go to those suffering in secret. Let Christian charity diffuse itself thus not only throughout the whole state making, as it were, one harmonious household, with common interests among them all, each a friend to all—but spread out and enclose the whole Christian world. Let it come to pass, as we read it was among the Apostles:

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul. No one of them said that anything he possessed was his own. Rather, they held all things in common … neither was there among them any who lacked for anything.

So it follows that wealthy hospitals and rich men will send their contributions to neighboring places when there are none in their own city who need help, or even to distant places where there are greater needs. This is true Christian action.

For each hospital the Senate should appoint by vote two overseers, who are respected, God-fearing men. They should render a yearly account of their administration. If their performance is satisfactory, they could continue in office; if not, new officers should be selected.

Many a man at his death wills something to the poor, according to his means. He should be encouraged to stipulate that money for the poor be deducted from the pomp of his funeral. If this were so, such a funeral would be more acceptable to God and would still not lack honor among men. Those about to depart this life should have no concern for praise and glory except from God. At the funeral, meat would then be distributed, and bread, as well as money or supplies. This should be at the discretion of those who have charge of the decedent’s estate, both on the occasion of the funeral and on the anniversary of his death.

In the next place, if money is willed for the poor, the overseers should investigate in what manner it is dispensed, so that it may not be given to those not in need of it.

If all these sources of money are not sufficient, then little boxes should be placed in three or four of the principal churches of the town where attendance is laigest. Into these boxes everyone would be able to deposit as much as his devotion would suggest. There would not be a devout person who would not prefer to place a large sum therein than give a small sum directly into the hands of wandering beggars. The boxes would not be set out every week but only when need demanded it. Two honest and trustworthy men would be in charge of them, men chosen by the Senate not so much for wealth as for a mind free from greed and selfishness, a qualification of highest importance for such a position.

The policy should be to collect not as much as possible but, generally, only enough to suffice from week to week (perhaps a little more) lest the collectors become accustomed to handling large sums of money, and the same thing happen to them as to those in charge of the hospitals. What the practice in this state is, I do not know-nor do I seek to know, since I am intent on my studies. However, I have heard that in Spain the elders of a family would enrich their own houses greatly from the wealth of hospitals, feeding themselves and their families instead of the poor, keeping these homes filled with relatives, so that the hospitals actually have few paupers. These things are the result of easy access to so much ready money.

In a similar vein, no lands for farming (which would offset the difficulties of the poor) should be purchased. This furnishes a pretext to the directors of the hospitals to retain the money given them while the full sum is being collected for the investment and being kept until it is proper to buy. In the meantime, the pauper wastes away from hunger and want, and dies.

If there is a large sum of money in the hands of those who have charge of public finances, it should be circulated, as I said before, and sent to needier localities. For a large sum of money magnifies the desire for it to such a degree that those who handle it are more reluctant to withdraw something from it than they would be from a small amount. Whatever is strictly necessary should be kept in the hands of the Senate under oath and protected by bans and threats, so that it will not be diverted to any other use. It should be expended at the first opportunity so that it will not become customary to keep any of it undisclosed. There will never be a lack of persons who need aid, as Our Lord predicted, “The poor you have always with you.”

Care should be exercised that the priests, under cover of their prayers and masses, do not turn the money to their own pockets. They are adequately cared for and need nothing more.

If it happens that voluntary contributions do not suffice, wealthy men should be approached by the overseers and asked to aid the poor whom God has committed to the latter’s zealous care. At least the hospital could borrow what is needed; if the wealthy insist on it, this loan could be repaid later in good faith when alms are more plentiful.

Besides this, the state itself should deduct something from public expenses, such as from funds for solemn feasts, gifts to honored guests, state-financed entertainments for foreign ambassadors, and the largesse of money which is distributed to the people on special occasions, annual games, and processions. All these contribute only to a waste of time, to pride, and to ambition. I do not doubt that a prince would be just as well pleased, if not more so, if he were welcomed with less display, provided he knew for what good purpose the money, customarily poured out at his coming, was being spent. If he did not take to this well, he would indeed be childishly conceited and stupidly ambitious. However, if the state did not want to do this, then at least it could lend what it might later recoup at a time more promising for alms.

Almsgiving should always be voluntary, as Paul said, “Each man… according as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or from obligation.” No one should be forced to do good, otherwise the very concept of doing good is lost. I do not doubt that by these means there will be sufficient and even more. However, in so holy a business, we should not measure ourselves solely by human strength, but place our reliance primarily on God. He will bless righteous undertakings, increasing for the rich the sources of their charity, as well as the alms of the poor who modestly ask, gratefully receive, and prudently spend. The Lord provides for all: “His is the earth and the fullness thereof.” He created all things abundantly for our use, asking in return only a ready and genuine good will, and a grateful love for so many immeasurable blessings.

Many examples prove that when a holy work has been undertaken by men with some anxiety and even hopelessness on their part lest the funds for it should not be sufficient, as the work progressed it has been so blessed that even those who have charge of it are forced to wonder by what hidden ways resources have opened. You will remember one experience, typical of many, in your own school for poor boys which you established ten years ago with such minimum funds that not more than eighteen boys could be maintained there. You were concerned that you would not be able to maintain the institution. Now, more or less one hundred boys are supported there, and the funds have grown so large that even more could be assisted. When extra boys arrive, there is always something for them to eat.

Undoubtedly it is by the universal bounty of God that everything is maintained and augmented, lives and grows, not by wealth and private resources or human counsels. Hence, in pious undertakings, it would be impious to gloat over your own talents; rather, rejoice in the confidence you have in Him to Whom all things are possible.

As for the unemployed poor themselves, they should learn not to make provisions for the distant future, for this increases their sense of human security and lessens their dependence on God. They should not rely on human assistance but on Christ alone, Who has exhorted us to relinquish all concerns for our sustenance to Him and His Father Who feeds and clothes those creatures that neither sow nor reap, weave or spin. The poor should lead an angelic life, so to speak, intent on prayer first for themselves and then for the weal of those by whom they have been assisted, so that the Lord Jesus might consider them worthy to receive recompense a hundredfold in everlasting blessings.


Relief should be given not only to the poor who are without day-to-day necessities of life, but also to those on whom some sudden calamity has fallen, such as captivity in war, imprisonment for debt, fire, shipwreck, floods, all kinds of sicknesses, or any of those numerous catastrophes that bring disaster to ordinary homes. To these unfortunate individuals may be added young girls whom poverty has driven to prostitution. It is intolerable in any state-I will not say Christian, nor even heathen, only provided one live in a community where men live as humans that, where some of the citizens so give themselves to extravagances as to squander huge sums on a sepulchre, palace, useless building, banquets, or public offices, for lack of a few pennies the chastity of a virgin is tempted, the health and life of an honest man is threatened, or a husband is forced to desert his wife and children.

Captives must be ransomed, an action mentioned by the ancient philosophers (Aristotle, Cicero, and others) as one of the noblest acts of benevolence. First attention should be given to those who suffer a cruel servitude among enemies, such as the Christians who are in the power of the Turks and are daily in peril of renouncing their faith. Similar consideration should be taken for the business­ men and noncombatants who have fallen into the hands of the enemy. Armed combatants who have been captured deserve the least pity since they are the cause of the ills of others.

Of those in prisons, the first to consider are those who have fallen into poverty and bankruptcy through misfortune rather than their own fault; and then attention should be given to those who have been imprisoned for a long time. The man who has been precipitated from his once happy circumstances into misery through no fault of his own is to be greatly pitied, whether because he represents the mutual fate of humanity and stands as a symbol of the experiences of all men, or because he suffers the most acutely through a vestigial recollection of former happiness.

Men of breeding should not have to wait until they disclose their needs themselves. They should be diligently sought out and assisted secretly, such as Arcesilaus did, and many others similar, who placed a large sum of money under the pillow of a sleeping friend, a man both poor and ill, who concealed both facts from a feeling of shame. Then when the troubled individual awoke, he found relief without any injury to his honest pride. For as a principle in assisting, through public charity, a man who has been reared in gentility, care should be exercised not to wound his pride, which he may value more than the relief, however acceptable and useful that may be.

The same men to whom we assigned the supervision of the parishes should also investigate concealed needs of this sort and report them to the Senate and to men of wealth, at the same time withholding the names of the deprived and the amount of assistance needed. On the other hand, it might be better if even those poor would accept charity openly so that they can know whom to thank; further, there would be no suspicion on either side as, for instance, that those through whom it is given have funneled off some of the money. This openness would not do if the rank of the destitute man is so high that he ought not to be exposed to the embarrassment.

“But,” someone will object, “if men of that class are to be assisted too, where will be the end of giving?” Indeed, what more ideal situation can be imagined than the boundlessness of charity? You have said something extremely petty—1 was hoping that you would deplore the fact that at some future time there would be none left on whom to bestow compassion. Indeed, you ought to wish, for the sake of your neighbor, that there would come a time when none would need the wealth of others; for your own sake, you should hope that you would never lack the opportunity of such great profit to yourself, securing eternal blessings in exchange for things liable to varying fortunes and passing fancies.

It seems to me, in the present state of things, that these suggestions should be implemented. It may not be expedient in every city and in every circumstance to institute everything I have prescribed. Wise men in every nation will perceive this, and will consult the best interests of their own states. Still, the overall aim, intention, and goal that I have outlined will, I believe, be expedient and necessary always and in every place. If it is not possible for all these matters to be carried out at once-perhaps because traditional practices run contrary to innovation-it should be feasible with ingenuity to introduce the more moderate reforms first, and after that gradually those considered more extreme.


Although virtue is most beautiful and desirable in itself, it nevertheless has many enemies who are exceedingly irritated by the very notion of it and its excellence, as well as by its attacks—fierce and uncompromising-upon their dissipated lives. The world, past and present, fights against the law of Christ whose brightness neither the darkness of sinners nor the vitiated eyes of evil men can withstand or endure.

So in the matter being discussed; although everything refers to the provision for the needs of man and the relief of the poverty-stricken (as anyone can easily judge, provided he is a fair, unbiased critic), still there will be no lack of persons to misinterpret and object, even though the thrust toward humaneness is made. For example, when certain individuals hear that this proposes nothing else than the elimination of the poor, they assume that paupers will be banished in person and cry out against the inhumanity of thus evicting those miserable individuals. As if we would desire to drive them out, or do anything to make them more miserable! This is not our purpose; rather, it is to free them from their distress, their struggles, and their perpetual misfortunes so that they may live more humanly and be treated with compassion.

There are some who would like to be thought of as theologians who cite a passage from the Gospel, without reference to the context in which it is located, where Christ our Lord and God prophesied, “The poor you will always have with you.” What of that? Did He not predict future scandals? And Paul-that there would be heresies? Shall we therefore not assist the poor, or live unoffensively or resist heresies, for fear that we might prove the prophecies false? God forbid! Christ did not predict that the poor would always be with us because this is what He desired, or that scandals would eventuate because this is what He hoped for. In fact, He recommends nothing to us more explicitly than the relief of the poor, condemning those who cause this deplorable condition.

For He knows the weakness through which we fall into poverty, and lie knows our malice through which we are reluctant to raise up a fallen man, preferring him to remain lying almost dead, and wasted. For this reason Me says that we shall always have the poor with us; the same thing can be said in regard to the prophecy of sin.

Concerning heresies, Paul maintained that they would come because of the corrupted nature of man, defiled as it is with many vices. Yet he wished them to be resisted when they arose, as he said to Titus: “The bishop should exhort with sound doctrine and confound the dissidents.” So in these predictions Christ does not command us to act in that manner, but sees that we will. In the same line of thinking, these proposals of mine will not eliminate poverty but will relieve it; they will not prevent a man from becoming a pauper but will preclude his remaining one for long by a prompt offer of a hand to help him to his feet.

I wish we were able to eliminate poverty completely in this city. I do not worry that Christ’s words will be judged false. There would be so many remaining who would be poor in other respects. It is not only those without money who are poor but those who lack bodily vitality, physical well-being, and mental health and sanity, as was explained at the beginning of this work.

Moreover, he must be called poor, even if he has money, to whom—whether in a hospital or in his own home-delicate food is supplied which has not been obtained by his own industry and labor but through the kindness of another. Tell me, who act more humanly-those who leave the poor to rot in their filth, squalor, vice, crime, shamelessness, immodesty, ignorance, madness, misfortune, and misery?-or those who devise a way by which they may rescue them from that life and lead them into a mode of living, more social, cleaner, and wiser, clearly salvaging so many men who were formerly lost and useless? We are acting here in the same manner as the medical profession who cannot eradicate diseases completely from the population but bend every effort to cure them.

If only the law of Christ were more deeply rooted in our minds and hearts, that it might be more effective than medical knowledge! Then it might happen that there would be no paupers among us, as there were none in the early Church, according to the account of Luke in the Acts of the Apostles-nor scandals or heresies. However, our sins encumber us; men continue to profess the name of Christian not so much in their heart and by the action of their lives as by their mouths; hence, there will always be paupers and scandals and heresies.

In addition, perhaps there will be some men, as is likely in public office, who-in order to be judged wise so as to acquire influence for that reason-approve of nothing except what they have proposed. Surely these men have an erroneous concept not only of men but of God, if they believe-and wish others to be so persuaded that God has been ineffective in all His other acts of creation, but has poured out upon these “thinkers” all the mental power of ingenuity, judgment, and wisdom. In this matter, Job said sarcastically, “Are you then the only man, and shall wisdom die with you?” I would not deny that there are some men who have such initiative, skill, and keenness of judgment that, in thinking and in deliberating, they generate more ideas than the rest of mankind. But even for that reason, to judge that which has been conceived by one’s self as best is to become a man of arrogance without experience, as Terrence says of administrators “who judge nothing of value except what they do themselves.”

Specifically, I anticipate two classes of men to be hostile to these plans: first, the very ones whom this philanthropy is intended to benefit; and, second, those who will be ousted from the management of funds. In the first case, some have grown so accustomed to their squalor and filth and misery that they resent being raised out of it. Captivated as they are by a certain sweetness of inertia and idleness, they think activity, labor, industry, and frugality more painful than death. How difficult, then, the task of doing good among these, since their depravity interprets kindness as injury! How odious of them to receive charity haughtily, as if offended, and to interpret it as an insult! This invidious attitude is very like that of the Jews who persecuted with death the Author of life because He showed them kindness, helped them, and brought them health, salvation, and light. They heaped insults on Him in return for the charity poured out on all who would accept it. Immersed in pride, arrogance, ambition, and avarice, they judged it an affront to be liberated from those demanding masters. In the same way, these poor, buried in squalor, filth, shame, idleness, and crime, think they are being dragged into slavery if their condition is ameliorated. We could imitate the true Christ Himself Who was not diverted from doing good by the ingratitude of those who received His advantages.

Consideration should be given not so much to what a man would like, as to what is good for him to have, not what pleases him but what is expedient for him. In time, they will recognize this value when they return to a more positive mind and will say, “The Senate of Bruges saved us against our will.” But should you indulge them and follow along with their desires—if even for a moment they recover sight and reason-undoubtedly they will say, ‘The Senate ruined us with love.” This is the complaint which every son, indulged in too freely, makes of his father. The poor so indulged will despise those by whom they have been assisted to their destruction.

In order that this may not occur, let us treat them as experienced physicians treat delirious patients—or wise fathers, their rebellious children—seeking their true good, no matter the resistance and the clamor. In a word, it is the duty of the ruler of the state not to be disturbed by what this one or that one or a given few think about the laws and administration, so long as he has consulted with the common good of the entire state. For laws are of benefit even to the law-breakers themselves by correcting and checking them in their wrongdoing.

Those who have been handling the funds for the poor will be annoyed at being removed from office. They will search out an eloquent vocabulary with which to exaggerate the enormity of the proposal: “This, these matters should be left alone… What has been confirmed by years of approval should not be interfered with. . . . It is dangerous to introduce new practices… The stipula­ tions of founders should not be changed… Everything is close to ruin.”

To these we reply: “First, will not good practices weaken that which has been rooted in evil customs?” They will not dare to descend into that argument. Then: “Which is better?—what we are attempting to introduce, or what they wish to retain?” More: “If nothing is to be changed, why have they themselves gradually altered the first regulations established by the founders of an institution to such a degree that those in force today run counter to the original?”

Let the records be opened, let the memories of old men be questioned. It will be discovered how much the present administration differs from that when the institution was new, and while the founder was still alive or only recently deceased. Here we have caught them on a crucial matter. We do not wish to change the original organization; we will not tolerate the violation of the founder’s intent, for in every will this is the first—or, rather, the only—issue. The original intent can be discovered from records and the memory of many individuals. As for the will of the founder, who does not understand that these men left their money and endowments, not that the rich might be sated but that the poor might be supported, even as they pray for their deceased benefactors that they might be forgiven their sins and be received by God into His heavenly dwelling?

Now if these objectors raise too much opposition, they will certainly make it clear to all that they are looking out for their own interests instead of that of the poor. We undertake a responsibility for the poor, and yet they oppose it—what do they have in view? If it is for their own interests, they stand convicted of avarice, and make it clear that they have managed things for their own advantage and not for the poor. Such avarice is not only ignoble but is absolutely pernicious and detestable. Since it is a crime to steal anything from a wealthy man, how much more scandalous is it to rob the poor! From the rich man, it is money which is stolen; from the poor, it is life.

If, however, it is the poor for whom they are concerned, the Senate wishes the poor to be supported even more generously. Is it any concern of these individuals by whom poor relief is provided, so long as it is done, and done as well as possible?—as by the Senate in whom confidence has been placed with good reason in the past. As St. Paul said, “That Christ may be preached—in what manner, I do not care, provided only that He is preached.”

However, they wish to run the work themselves. If they have respect for God, they will joyfully concede; but if for men, their ambition has been found out. Further, would they dare to complain because you do not offer yourselves as ministers of their ambitions and avarice? Indeed, if you remain silent, are you not abetting them? I will pass over things which might be said on this matter if their long-term administration were to be examined, I will not be mired in this bog; I will not stir up this mud. But in truth, they would have no small honor-if they did not oppose these measures, and if they did not hold on to the money entrusted to them or deposited in their keeping-if they advanced the interests of the poor, devoted themselves to promoting the harmony of the state, and proved themselves such friends of the public good that they consider it their personal possession.


The most eloquent comments have been made by classical writers on every sort of virtue, while their acts were of highest import and dignity. Yet they never conducted themselves with such constancy, courage, and worthiness as when loyalty to their country and love of their fellow citizens, implanted in their hearts, caused them to endure misrepresentations, unjust accusations, curses, and insults with undisturbed and resolute minds. They did not deviate a hair’s breadth for that reason from their determination to aid their nation, even when the very ones who would be most helpful censured and condemned their actions.

Prominent among the number of such men are Miltiades, Themistocles, Scipio, and above all Epaminandos the Theban and Quintus Fabius Maximus of Rome. The latter knew that Hannibal could be defeated not by force but by delay, and therefore he prolonged the war with stalling actions, convinced that this was the only hope for victory. Many idle and craftily argumentative men complained of these tactics, saying that Fabius was doing this by agreement with Hannibal, or from ambition—that he might remain longer in power as the chief officer of the state—or from cowardice and fear, that they would abrogate his power.

As a matter of fact, Minucius, the Master of Horse, was made equal to the Dictator himself by popular vote, which had never been heard of before. The old man was undaunted by the calumny and folly of his fellow citizens and persisted in his plans, bringing his people to victory. Undoubtedly, Hannibal would have conquered the land if the strategy of Fabius had not thwarted him. The event declared how great a mind that hero possessed, what insight he had, what love for his country and his fellowmen.

These little verses about him have been universally popular, ancient and crude though they are, but eloquent and enthusiastic in their praise:

One man with his delaying restored
everything to us;
Nor did he place common opinion
above the common good;
Therefore, more and more men now
enlarge his glory.

Others of similar mind performed noble deeds even though they did not know God (since, for them, the sun of Christianity had not arisen). They were merely acting as they had been taught, or were seeking honor and fame for their country.

How much greater and nobler should our actions be! We have witnessed the one Christ despise—indeed, disdain and score human power. For us, that most glorious sun has dawned, and we have been reared in the true faith. To us charity has been commended and commanded, with a heavy penalty if we neglect the command and a great reward if we execute it. The reward will be amplified according to the suffering we endure for the grace of God.

Therefore, this plan must not merely be approved; it must be adopted and put into operation. It is not enough to have good intentions unless you also put your hand to the work when occasion arises. It is not appropriate that those who are urged and spurred on by divine commands should be held back by human obstacles, especially since material and spiritual benefits accrue to both the state and the individual.


  1. Tremendous honor adheres in the state in which no beggar is seen, for a great multitude of paupers argues malice and apathy in the citizenry and neglect of the public good by the magistrates.
  2. Fewer thefts, acts of violence, robberies, murders, and capital offenses will be committed. Pandering and sorcery will be less frequent. This follows because the poverty will be mitigated which drives men first into vices and bad habits and then encourages and provokes crimes like the above.
  3. Greater peace will prevail where everyone is provided for.
  4. Greater concord will prevail. The poor will not envy the wealthy, but will esteem them as benefactors; the rich will not turn away from the destitute in suspicion, but will esteem them as the reason for their bounty and the objects of their rightful charity. Nature demands that we love those to whom we give support; thus, love begets love.
  5. It will be safer, healthier, and pleasanter to attend churches and to dwell in the city. The hideousness of ulcers and diseases will no longer be imposed on the general viewing, eliminating a spectacle revolting to nature and even to the most humane and compassionate mind. Those of small means will not be forced to give alms through pressure. If a man is inclined to give, he will not be deterred either by the great multitude of beggars or by the fear of giving to someone unworthy.
  6. The state will gain enormously. More citizens will become more virtuous, more law-abiding, and more useful to the nation. Everyone will hold the state dearer in which-or by means of which-they are sustained. Nor will they participate in revolution or sedition. Women will withdraw from their pernicious practices, young women from dangers to their modesty, old women from their evil designs. Boys and girls will be taught letters, religion, temperance, and self-support, all of which form the basis of an upright, honest, pious life. Finally, everyone will exercise judgment, sensitivity, and piety. They will live among men as educated and disciplined persons, observing human laws. They will hold back their hands from violence, serving God truly and in good faith. They will be men. They will be what they are called, Christians. What else is this, I ask, than restoring many thousands of men to themselves and winning them for Christ! That is heaven’s profit, for innumerable souls will be liberated through religion.

Some know that they ought to discharge the duties of charity, yet they do not perform what has been commanded; others are repelled by the unworthiness of the applicants; others withdraw because their good intention is embarrassed by the great number, and they are drawn in the opposite direction, as it were, uncertain where first or most effectively to bestow their money. They see so many oppressed by want that in a sort of despair they succor no one, feeling that whatever is given is too little, like sprinkling a drop of water here and there on raging flames of fire.

However, if our plan is adopted, those who have means will give them generously, delighted that things are so carefully and exactingly managed. In being sure that their contributions are well placed, they will help mankind, according to the commands of Christ, and win His generous favor. Undoubtedly, many wealthy men of other cities—who have not in similar fashion made the affairs of the poor their concern—will send generous contributions here, where they know funds are wisely spent and aid given to those most in need. Added to this, God will protect as His own a people who are compassionate, and make them truly blessed.

Listen to the kind of nation properly termed blessed according to the testimony, not of an ordinary man but of a prophet:

From the peril of sword save me;
rescue me from the power of aliens
who tell nothing but lies,
who are prepared to swear to falsehood!
May our sons be like plants
growing strong from their earliest days,
our daughters like corner-statues, carvings fit for a palace;
may our barns overflow with every possible crop;
may the sheep in our fields be counted
in their thousands and tens of thousands;
may our cattle be stout and strong;
and may there be an end of raids and exile, and of panic in our streets.
Happy the nation of whom this is true,
happy the nation whose God is Yahweh!

Nor will temporal blessings be lacking, as it was written of the widow who gave food to Elias. Also, the Psalmist sings of that nation in which the Lord dwells:

I will bless her provisions with riches, I will satisfy her with bread.

And in another place he says, speaking to the same nation:

He has granted you peace on your frontiers, He has fed you on the finest wheat.

Seriously, an increase of mutual love is beyond all things because it dispenses charity near and far, honestly and joyfully, without suspicion of unworthiness. Hereafter, we shall obtain that celestial reward which we have shown is prepared for the man of charity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.