The rise & fall of Christian charity

"The rise & fall of Christian charity" Continued...

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

Over time, Uhlhorn shows, church leaders "despaired of the moral transformation of the people in general" and placed more "claims upon those who desired to be perfect Christians. As the universal priesthood of all Christians was replaced by the hierarchical priesthood of the few, so was the holiness of all by that of some few saints." Soon arose "a double ethic, a distinction between perfect and imperfect Christians. . . . Living an avowedly Christian life was now a demand made only of monks or of those who lived a monkish life. Others were indeed Christians, but Christians of a lower grade. Christians properly so called, were only those who had renounced the world-widows, virgins, those who had taken vows of chastity, monks, ecclesiastics. . . . A separation of this kind must have had a destructive effect upon Church life. A Church life like that of the first centuries became thereby impossible."

Why should we care what happened so long ago? Uhlhorn's conclusion is important for modern Christians: "A healthy charity is only possible where healthy moral views of work and property prevail. . . . A healthy charity can neither be attained to where there is an over-estimation of property, where wealth is regarded as the supreme good, poverty as the greatest evil, nor where property is undervalued and wealth looked upon as no real good, poverty as no real evil. For in the former case no one can feel bound to sacrifice his earthly good, for the sake of a higher good, for the service of his neighbor, and the gifts and alms will fail. In the latter these will not indeed be wanting; on the contrary, almsgiving will be enormous, but its right application will fail."

In WORLD we try to emphasize effective compassion, that which helps a person to come out of poverty. Uhlhorn shows the mindset to be fought: "If to be poor is no evil, if, on the contrary, it denotes a higher moral condition than to be rich, the task of charity cannot consist in opposing and alleviating poverty. Almsgiving then becomes a good work in itself, a good work complete in the act of giving and the renunciation of property therein involved, without regard to the application of the gift and the end attained thereby."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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