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Suffering, Compassion, And The Care Of The Poor

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Chapter Summary

The human compassion and mercy that were the ideals of social justice influenced not only the formation of ecclesiastical law and the application of discipline, but also the way in which the church interacted with the world. That the poor should be cared for was the practical result of an ideological change in the notion of justice. Long before Christianity became the state religion, Graeco-Roman society had devised various means by which to ameliorate human suffering. Food shortages were regularly addressed by private benefactors, who sometimes served as government officials charged with administering the grain supply. A system of patronage also operated throughout the Graeco-Roman world, as Garnsey has remarked, in order to provide clients with "basic subsistence and physical protection." Caring for the poor, sick, and otherwise needy required a steady source of funds, which was provided by the wealth of the church.

Keywords: basic subsistence; caring; church; ecclesiastical law; Graeco-Roman society; human compassion; human suffering; mercy; poor; social justice

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