Piety, poverty and politics : the dynamics of Vincentian charity in modern Belgium (1840-1945)
The act of voluntary giving to those in need has been an enduring facet of human history. In the Catholic tradition, benevolence is intrinsically associated with the virtue of charity, prescribing not only the dispensation of alms but also the internalization of love for the other out of love for God within the believer’s disposition. Charity moreover served as an important source of social assistance for those facing poverty, preserving this function well into the nineteenth century, particularly in regions strongly influenced by Catholicism and with limited public sources of assistance, such as Belgium. In Belgium, a country ‘created’ in 1830, Catholics and the Church played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s identity and culture, as well as its social sphere, notably within the fields of social assistance and education. In this context, charity fulfilled multiple functions, serving as a means for believers to practice their faith, a resource for social assistance, and a mechanism to affirm the enduring societal relevance of religion in modernity, which became increasingly contested as time progressed. Charitable organizations like the Ladies of Charity and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, which constitute the main focus of this study, were able to flourish in this environment, persisting as primary outlets for the social engagement of the Catholic lay elites. Focusing on these ‘Vincentian’ charities for lay women and men, this study explores the intricate relationship between the spiritual and social objectives of charity in Belgium. Spanning from the early 1840s to the tumultuous era of the Second World War, the investigation traces the Vincentian organization's development amid societal transformations. This period witnessed a dynamic interplay of conservation and renewal in Vincentian charity, closely connected to broader socio-economic, political, and cultural developments in Belgium. The unique Belgian context significantly influenced these outcomes, at the same time fostering Catholic social engagement and inciting intense contestation surrounding the influence of Catholicism and the Church in society. The study unfolds how the Vincentians continuously sought to reconcile temporal and transcendent objectives, ensuring the enduring relevance and legitimacy of their charitable work. These endeavors found expression in shaping the organizational image, defining personal identities, conceptualizing poverty, engaging with 'the poor,' and self-historicizing – all within the framework of the Catholic mission to establish a modern society rooted in the Christian worldview.
Antwerp : University of Antwerp & KULeuven , 2023
xiv, 334 p.
Supervisor: De Munck, Bert [Supervisor]
Supervisor: Wils, Kaat [Supervisor]
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Creation 22.01.2024
Last edited 13.02.2024
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