When Charity was Administered by the Church Not the State

CharityThe modern welfare state has its origins in the breakdown of traditional structures that normally took care of those suffering from misfortune. This was especially true of the Church’s institutions of charity that were ideally suited to carrying out this arduous task.

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England was one of the first to use state intervention. In the fifteenth century, Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, confiscated and plundered the monasteries, and squandered Church riches. Shortly after, Elizabeth I saw how important the monasteries were to general wellbeing of the nation. Without the charity of the monks, the poor were left without aid in time of need; their numbers proliferated. The state stepped in to fill the gap by instituting poor laws and establishing poor houses. The cold bureaucratic “charity” often made the problem worse by turning alms into entitlements.

398px-Índice_de_Biografías_-_Esteban_Murillo_-_Santo_Tomás_de_Villanueva_dando_limosnaIt is noteworthy that nineteenth century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli recognized the great good done by those abnegated monks who administered charity in the name of Christ. How contrary were their actions to the modern bureaucratic welfare state!

Disraeli affirms: “The monks were, in short, in every district a point of refuge for all who needed succor, counsel and protection; a body of individuals having no cares of their own, with wisdom to guide the inexperienced, with wealth to relieve the suffering, and often with power to protect the oppressed.” (As quoted in Harry C. Veryster, It Didn’t Have to Be This Way: Why Boom and Bust is Unnecessary—and How the Austrian School of Economics Breaks the Cycle, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Wilmington, Del., 2013, p. 171.)