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Modern discomfort with charity makes "the historian sit up and take notice," leading to this short history of how St Augustine prevailed upon Romans to take up almsgiving.

"When Augustine became bishop of Hippo, he took the task of preaching on the relations between rich and poor. His audience may not always have included large numbers of the poor, but his preaching left those who heard him in no doubt as to their duties toward the poor. He also attempted to answer, if in a studiously cautious manner, some of the many questions that Christians had pondered about wealth since the early days of the church. His insistence that the giving of alms was intimately related to the expiation of sins would become dominant in future centuries....

"Despite many assertions in conventional accounts of the fall of Rome, there is little evidence that the later empire passed through a marked crisis of poverty in the course of the fourth century. Nor, alas, is there any evidence that Christians were suddenly engulfed in a wave of spontaneous compassion for the poor. What we are dealing with is a far more charged and interesting situation. An entire society found itself wrestling with its self-image. As a result, the division between rich and poor, and the insistence on the duties of the rich to the poor, took on an imaginative charge that had been lacking in any earlier period of the ancient world." -- Peter Brown, Lapham's Quarterly

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