DONATIONS to the Church

From the peace of Constantine, imperial donations were a significant source of property for the church: land, Roman buildings, confiscated pagan temples, judicial fines given to the church to help the poor, etc. In the 5th c., however, esp. in West, as the public treasury gradually emptied, this relationship became rarer. The church was thus forced to rely on private generosity, which took various forms, esp. manual offerings in money or in kind during liturgical assemblies. Here we will deal only with donations in life A and donations in death B. A. Donations in life consisted of sums of money or real estate intended for worship or charitable purposes, and could be immediate or with right of usufruct. A constitution of Zeno ca. 470, valid for the eastern part of the empire, established that donations had to be made according to legal forms approved by the imperial chancellery; this both bound the promiser and obliged the beneficiary, the church, to respect the resulting burdens, and esp. to observe scrupulously the allocation of donations: CI 1,12,15. Endowment dos was a particular form of donation: the allotted sum had to yield an income in support of a pious work, ordinarily a church building, in this way guaranteeing religious services and the chaplain’s needs.

Pope Gelasius introduced strict control over foundations in territories where his authority extended; to avoid the inconveniences rising from the systems adopted by private churches, he prescribed that the founder should renounce, for himself and his descendants, any special claims over the new church and over receipt of the income of the endowment Ep. XIV: Thiel, 364. B. From 312313 Constantine had recognized the right of Christian communities to own property. In 321 he accorded private citizens the right to make provision for the church at their death CTh 16,2,4. The church itself encouraged this type of donation, esp. from bishops and clergy see Reg. Ecc. Carth. ca. 81. In a sermon, Augustine invites the faithful to include God’s part among their successors, counting the church as one of their heirs Serm. 355; cf. Ambr., Expl. evang. sec. Luc. 8,77. Basil too suggests leaving half of one’s inheritance to the church.

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