Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sir Thomas Browne on the motives for almsgiving


This generall and indifferent temper of mine, doth more neerely dispose mee to this noble vertue.

It is a happinesse to be borne and framed unto vertue, and to grow up from the seeds of nature, rather than the inoculation and forced graffes of education;

yet if we are directed only by our particular Natures, and regulate our inclinations by no higher rule than that of our reasons, we are but Moralists; Divinity will still call us Heathens.


Therfore this great worke of charity, must have other motives, ends, and impulsions: I give no almes to satisfie the hunger of my Brother, but to fulfill and accomplish the Will and Command of my God;

I draw not my purse for his sake that demands it, but his that enjoyned it; 

I relieve no man upon the Rhetorick of his miseries, nor to content mine own commiserating disposition, for this is still but morall charity, and an act that oweth more to passion than reason.


Hee that relieves another upon the bare suggestion and bowels of pity, doth not this so much for his sake as for his own: for by compassion we make anothers misery our own, and so by relieving them, we relieve our selves also.


It is as erroneous a conceite to redresse other mens misfortunes upon the common considerations of mercifull natures, that it may bee one day our owne case, for this is a sinister and politick kind of charity, wherby we seem to bespeak the pities of men, in the like occasions...


From Religio Medici -

Emphasis added and re-paragraphed.


Browne is clarifying that, from a Christian perspective, it is not valid to give alms because a person needs resources, nor is almsgiving Christianly valid from reasons of compassion, nor is it valid to give alms on the basis that 'there but for the grace of God go I' - nor that we may ourselves be in the same condition at some time and would then want our sufferings to be alleviated.

I think Browne is right.

And this means that many Churches often uses illegitimate means to persuade people into charitable-giving.


1 comment:


Sir T.B. as ever is the astute theologian cutting through the Gordian knot. Almost every field of knowledge represented in his Library, especially theological. Plenty of virtue's and view-points remain worthy of imitation in his religion of a physician.