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Almsgiving in the Later Roman EmpireChristian Promotion and Practice 313-450$
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Richard Finn OP

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199283606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199283606.001.0001

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The Meanings of Christian Almsgiving

The Meanings of Christian Almsgiving

(p.176) 5 The Meanings of Christian Almsgiving
Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire

Richard Finn Op

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the chief meanings given to almsgiving through Christian discourse. Almsgiving featured in an exchange of material for spiritual gifts whereby the food or money given by the rich were reciprocated by the prayers of the poor. Redescription of the poor presented them in terms which centred upon their need or status as fellow members of the Christian community, rather than on their low social status. These two rhetorical moves enabled the poor to enter into honourable relations with donors whose gifts could thus be characterized as virtuous, generous benefactions. Inscriptions provide evidence that a discourse generated largely by clerics was generally accepted within the churches. Almsgiving was one way in which different members of the urban community entered into competition for leadership.

Keywords:   competition, discourse, exchange, generosity, inscription, leadership, meaning, redescription

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