If we would estimate the benefits conferred by the medieval Church upon the society in which she lived, we must take into account her labour in a field which is now described by such phrases as ‘public assistance’ and ‘social security’. Here she stood practically alone. The State as such, whether described as empire, kingdom, or republic, did not consider itself bound by any duty toward its subjects even though they were helpless, destitute, or sick. By the end of the period in question only very few municipal or royal hospitals had come into existence, and these were administered by religious. The Church, however, taught her children that each one is answerable for all.

There you have one of the paradoxes of the Middle Ages: a society which was, on the whole, more violent and more indifferent to suffering than that of western Europe in the twentieth century, could behave with extraordinary generosity and refinement, working the constant miracle of Christ’s charity. It is astonishing that, with no official organization and no help fro the Government, Christian generosity sufficed to run welfare institutions upon a scale which would have done credit to ourselves.

Henri Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade: Studies of the Medieval Church (1050-1350) 


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