Historical injustices

Essay by ekkorirCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 2014

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Attitudes towards and response to the poor

During the mid-15th century to the early 18th century almost half of Europe's total population could be considered poor and destitute. The attitudes of the clergy and the attitudes of the socially elite toward these people varied from pity to disgust, and their proposed solution to these problems differed. Some suggested helping all of the poor by giving them alms, some warned others to be careful of whom the money was given to and some people believed that being poor was a voluntary decision and if they wanted to get out of that situation, they do so without the help of others. In particular the clergy supported alms giving, government officials and the nobility advocated controlled giving, and some of the middle class were suspicious and judgmental and wanted the poor to work. Many of the clergy practiced the giving of alms, for this type of behavior was encouraged by the Bible.

During the 15th century, priests would preach on giving to the poor and a good deed during one's life. But if the money is given after death it isn't as valued (Doc. 1). Many people felt sorry for the poor people and raised money for shelters to let them reside in. Some people portrayed those who gave to the poor as "good Samarians" such as in Rembrandt's painting "Alms at the Poor House", where the man giving the money has an injured arm but is still giving happily to the family of poor peasants (Doc. 9) . Vincent de Paul, another Catholic priest, rebuked people who were all talk and no action. He said that to truly alleviate the situation of the needy, one must not only tell them about the Lord, but they must help them out by giving...