Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

2011 Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Poverty

  • Virpi Mäkinen
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_415

Abstract

Poverty was a relative matter in the Middle Ages, as it is nowadays. There were different modes of poverty: voluntary poverty for the religious, the simulated poverty of hypocrites, and the involuntary poverty of mendicants forced to beg in order to survive. Since mendicancy was a serious problem throughout the Middle Ages, the church and, later on, society were forced to create and develop forms of poor relief. The church recommended benevolence toward the poor who did not have means of sustenance, mainly encouraging people to give alms. The common opinion was that one should give alms from one’s surplus and take care of oneself and those closest to one first. The recipient should be in need. However, two natural law principles, the maxims of necessitas non habet legem and of communis omnium possessio founded on canon law, ordered the almsgiving. From the thirteenth century onward scholastics emphasized that property was necessary for functioning in the public sphere, both in the state and in the church. They promoted the idea of limited wealth needed to support life and that a person’s moral responsibility involved having property. The Franciscan ideal of poverty as the renunciation of all modes of rights was criticized as being against the natural duty of subsistence. There was also an important discussion on individual rights and actions, which led to the doctrine of natural rights in the late Middle Ages. Poverty was also seen as one central theme in late medieval political theory concerning the relationship between ownership and political rule. Various concepts marked a contrast between the inferiority of the pauper and the superiority of the person who possessed power (potestas) or civic liberty (civis, burgensis), or wealth (dives).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virpi Mäkinen
    • 1
  1. 1.Helsinki Collegium for Advanced StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland