the Deacon, continued
At that time, Rome's fortunes were turning and poverty was a growing problem in the empire. Wealthy Romans of previous generations had given generously to the lower classes -- partly, no doubt, to keep them in line -- but by the middle of the 3rd century, as wars and political instability increased, many of the rich anxiously sheltered their wealth. Charitable giving declined drastically, and the gap between rich and poor widened. Aid to the poor by the government also declined as it spent large funds on its military, in order to stop attacks on its frontiers.
During Valerian's reign (253-260), Gothic tribes probed and breached Roman lines along the Rhine River, and a powerful Persian army invaded in the east. The costs of war were heavy, and as a result, the empire's poor were hardest hit.
The Church Reaches Out
At this critical time, the Christian church, still relatively small in number, gained new respect for its generous care of the needy. Without temples or properties of its own, except for cemeteries, it offered help quickly to victims of famine or plague or poverty. Increasingly, the church was perceived as an honest agent helping the poor, and Romans of good will gave generously to the small community. (right: Fra Angelico's painting of Lawrence giving alms)
By the year 250, in Rome alone, the church regularly supported 1500 poor people and widows. It also sent large sums to Africa and Asia Minor to ransom captives held by invading armies. Lawrence, the deacon, was largely responsible for this extraordinary Christian effort inspired by the gospel of Jesus.