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Philanthropy - Early Modern Refinements

private religious charity catholic

Both the rise of the state and intensified religious conflict in early modern times contributed to critical redefinitions of philanthropy. This was especially true if kings meddled in religious affairs, as when King Henry VIII of England organized a new English Episcopal Church in the 1530s while systematically destroying Catholic institutions of worship and charity within his realm. These royal actions promoting the English Reformation first made it imperative for Tudor rulers to create a tax-supported poor-relief program to replace vanished Catholic charities. Then statesmen became determined to increase the efficiency of all remaining private philanthropic organizations so as to spare the state from unnecessary subventions of the needy. The result was the famous Elizabethan Statute of Charitable Uses (1601) that defined in passing legally acceptable charities. But this legislation far more amply encouraged private citizens and government officers to investigate and to sue surviving philanthropies and their private trustees for any suspected mismanagement of endowments now deemed vital to maintenance of public order.

The Reformations became a manifold gift crisis as Europeans questioned God's bounty to man, what humans could offer the divine, and what they owed to one another. With Protestants facing off against Catholics, the integrity of Christian charity collapsed as giving became more sectarian. Surviving benevolent organizations competed fiercely for the smaller pools of total gift capital rival faiths could muster. Charity officials turned to perpetual fundraising campaigns and creatively diversified their funding sources, enhancing tactics of resource management vital to capitalism's success. Churchmen on all sides complained that impetuous philanthropy would be not only wasteful, but also a boon to heresy if it wrongly benefited religious opponents. Agents of police, including clerics, denounced the poor as disruptively irreligious and denied them any legitimate right to aide from the rich. These conditions sanctioned a reconceptualization of philanthropy as a riskier matter of choice and optional capital investment that should produce demonstrable returns in accord with the sacred and secular beliefs of donors. The current vogue for "entrepreneurial philanthropy" has ample precedents in early modern history.

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