Monday, April 10, 2006

Deus Caritas Est - The Historical Actions of Ecclesial Charity

The love of neighbour, because of the fact that it is rooted in our love of God, is thus a responsibility of the whole of the Church's faithful, thus enveloping the entire ecclesial aspect of the Church. It is a universal action, and is thus a result of our communion with each other in God, which makes one see the importance yet again of the Eucharist. The Eucharist brings the faithful together in that communion of love which is founded in God, and that common love of God is the basis for our communion with each other. This is typical Pope Benedict, who throughout his career has always emphasized the meaning of the Church in the idea of communion.

This universal ecclesial action is made present to us throughout the history of the Church. This is made present to us in Acts 2:44-2:45 where it states that “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:42 states that fidelity to the “teaching of the apostles, communion, the breaking of bread, and prayer” are all necessary for the community of believers. Again, that communion is made known to us through the sharing of possessions with each other in order to live a dignified life.

As the Church was growing, the Apostles were being stretched very thin, and needed to institute an office in order to help with a certain aspect of their office. Thus, they instituted the office of Deacon, in which the Deacon is there to serve the poor. This continues to be a distinction, where as it is the role of the Bishop to lead and teach the faithful, it is the role of the Deacon to serve the poor. This is why the treasury of the faithful was always held by the Deacon. As someone was in need, they would approach the Deacon and would distribute wealth in accordance to the person's need. This is exemplified to us most concretely in the story of St Lawrence, who was in charge of the wealth of the Church of Rome. He distributed all that the Church had to the faithful who hid it in their homes. When the Roman soldiers found him, they asked him where the wealth of the Church was, because it was his duty to look after the wealth. He then stated, pointing to the faithful gathered around him, that the people were the wealth of the Church. He was, as we all know, cooked alive on a grill and to this day is one of the more famous early Church Christians.

The, Church, amidst persecutions, continued to grow, and thus the common wealth of the Church was no longer deemed possible. The administration charity was and still is one of the central activities of the Church, along with the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Gospel. However, because of the growing popularity of Christianity, the Church began to find different ways to serve both the spiritually and materially poor.

This administration of charity was so essential that Julian the Apostate, who was the only Roman Emperor after Constantine who was a pagan, attempted to reform paganism so that it could be prominent again by incorporating charitable activities. However, he was not successful in reestablishing paganism and God triumphed as Christianity grew leaps and bounds.
Over the years, the Church's charitable activity was always at work. The Church instituted the hospitals, universities, and was always there to serve the spiritually and materially poor in the orders, one cannot help but think of the Dominicans and Franciscans especially. Thus, the social aspect of the Church is no mere coincidence, it is not a mere response to modern demands of social responsibility, but it has always been a central aspect of the Church as an expression and encounter of the Trinitarian God, who lavishes us with His infinite fount of love and mercy.

No comments: