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Authors born between 1450 and 1500 CE

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Our Obligations to the Poor

Regard Another’s Distress as One’s Own

Institutions for the Poor are State Responsibilities

We Must Make an Survey of the Poor

Provide Work for the Able Poor

The Poor Should have a Trade

Even the Dissipated Should be Given Food

Craftsmen Should be Trained to Run Workshops

Ensure Existing Institutions are not Corrupt

Care of the Insane

Prevent Misuse of Funds for the Poor

Advantages of Relieving Poverty

Act Humanly to the Poor

The Nature of Wisdom

Necessities are Few

Love All Men

On Education






Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540 CE) was born in Valencia, Spain. He came from a Jewish family that was forced by the Spanish Inquisition to convert to Christianity. Vives had Valencian and Spanish as native languages and subsequently became a master of  Latin, the intellectual language of his day. He also was familiar with English, Flemish, French, Greek, and Italian. Vives attended the University of Valencia and the Faculty of Arts in Paris. His low opinion of education at the latter may have spurred his later commitment to reforms in education. In 1519, Vives was a professor at the University of Louvain.


Vives became a friend of Erasmus and gained acquaintance with the Netherlands circle and its humanistic philosophy. He traveled to England in 1523, lecturing at Oxford University on Cicero, Horace, Ovid, and Virgil. He became a friend of Thomas More, the English humanist, who was executed for his opposition to the divorce of Queen Catherine by Henry VIII. As Vives also opposed the divorce he was forced to leave England, returning to Louvain.


The influence of More showed in the emphasis that Vives subsequently gave to humanism in social policy and education, as well as in moral philosophy. He was an activist, writing letters to heads of state, including Pope Adrian VI and Henry VIII, urging a search for peace and avoidance of war. To the latter he wrote,

There is no war so advantageous as to be preferable to peace, however disastrous . . .How many have repented the starting of a war even under the must auspicious circumstances! And nobody has regretted peace though secured at a cost!

Vives spent much effort on plans for the reform of education. He emphasized the importance of training excellent teachers so that they would not only possess the necessary skills but would also set an example of flawless conduct. Vives also advocated life-long learning, arguing that humanists "will always thirst for knowledge and it will never occur to them that they have come to the end of the learning. Seneca put it in strikingly accurate terms when he said that many could easily attain knowledge had they not convinced themselves of having already attained it."


On social matters, Vives had a clear conviction that society should seek to eliminate poverty. On and off, he lived some 14 years in Bruges and always returned there as if to home. The extreme poverty of many of its citizens, and a request for his help from the burgomaster, led him to write on how he thought their poverty might be relieved. Extracts from this advice and from other works of Vives are given below.



Our Obligations to the Poor


Wherever you turn, you encounter poverty and want, always along with those who are obliged to hold out their hands for a dole. In a state, anything ravaged or ruined by time or fortune is renewed, such as walls, ditches, ramparts, streams, institutions, customs, laws themselves; so it would be equally reasonable to reform that method of poor relief which in various ways in the passage of time has become outmoded. The most eminent men, and others interested in the welfare of the city, have devised some salutary measures: taxes have been eased; public lands have been turned over to the poor for cultivation; certain surplus funds have been distributed by the state—things which we have seen even in our own day. However, measures of this sort require specific conditions which appear only too rarely in our times. Recourse must be made, therefore, to other more appropriate and more enduring solutions.



Regard Another’s Distress as One’s Own


Someone may ask me: "How do you propose to relieve such numbers?" If true charity dwelt in us, if it were truly a law (though compulsion is not necessary for one who loves), it would hold all things in common. One man would regard another's distress as though it were his own. As it is, however, no one extends his concern beyond his own home, and sometimes not even beyond his own room or himself personally. Too many are not sufficiently concerned about their own parents or children or brothers or wife. Therefore, since humane countermeasures must be employed—especially among those for whom divine commands are ineffective—I suggest the following plan.



Institutions for the Poor are State Responsibilities


Some of the poor live in places usually called "hospitals"—the Greek word is Ptochotrophia, but I will use the more familiar word—and others beg in public; still others endure their afflictions as best they can in their own places. I define a hospital as any place where the sick are fed and nursed, where a given number of indigent persons are supported, boys and girls educated, abandoned infants nourished, the insane confined, and the blind allowed to spend their days. Rulers of states must understand that these institutions are part of their responsibilities.



We Must Make an Survey of the Poor


Therefore, going in two's and with a secretary, the Senators should visit each of these institutions and inspect it. They should write a full account of its condition, of the number of inmates, their names, who supports them there, and the reason for each person's being there. These results should be reported to the Councilors and the Senate in assembly.

Those who suffer poverty at home should be registered also, along with their family, by two Senators for each parish, their needs ascertained, their manner of living up until then, and the reason for their decline into poverty. It will be easy to discover from their neighbors what kind of individuals they are, how they live, and what their habits are. However, the testimony of one pauper should not be taken too seriously concerning another pauper, for the one would not be free from jealousy of the other.



Provide Work for the Able Poor


None among the poor should be idle, provided, of course, that he is fit for work by his age and health. . . .Therefore, no one must be permitted to live indolently in the state; rather, as in a well-ordered home, everyone has his own role and its related tasks to perform. As the saying goes, "By doing nothing, men learn to do evil."

    Breakdowns in health and age must be taken into consideration. However, in order that a pretense of sickness or infirmity may not be foisted on you—which happens quite frequently—the opinion of physicians must be consulted. Impostors are to be penalized. Of the able-bodied vagrants, those who are aliens should be returned to their own country—as is provided for, according to Imperial law—but they should be supplied with money for the journey. It would be inhumane to send a destitute man on a journey with no provision for the trip; otherwise such a person might ask what is this measure other than a command to pillage on the way? If they are from areas ravaged by war . . . these should be treated as though they were native-born.



The Poor Should have a Trade


Should the native-born poor be asked whether they have learned a trade? Yes, and those who have not—if they are of suitable age—should be taught the one to which they are most strongly attracted, provided that it is practical; or else a similar or related occupation. For example, if it is not possible for him to sew clothing, he could sew what they call caligas (soldiers' boots). If a craft is too difficult, or if he is too slow in learning, another and easier task should be assigned to him, all the way down to one in which he could be sufficiently instructed in a very short time, such as digging, drawing water, carrying loads, pushing a wheelbarrow, serving magistrates, running errands, carrying letters or mail packets, or driving the scheduled horses.



Even the Dissipated Should be Given Food


Even those who have dissipated their fortunes in dissolute living—through gaming, harlots, excessive luxury, gluttony, and gambling—should be given food, for no one should die of hunger. However, smaller rations and more irksome tasks should be assigned to them so that they may be an example to others. . .They must not die of hunger, but they must feel its pangs.



Craftsmen Should be Trained to Run Workshops


Public authority should authorize a certain number of laborers who cannot find work by themselves to be assigned to one director of a workshop. When such a worker has progressed far enough in his craft, he should open his own workshop. To these, as well as to those to whom the magistrates had assigned apprentices, contracts should be given for manufacturing the numerous items which the state uses for public purposes, such as portraits, statues, robes, sewers, ditches, buildings, and supplies required by the hospitals.

    Since funds for such measures of support were originally given for the poor, they should be spent on the poor. I would like to remind bishops, theologians, and abbots of this, but will write for them elsewhere. I would hope that they would do these things spontaneously, without being urged on by me.



Ensure Existing Institutions are not Corrupt


No one should be attracted by the money that was contributed earlier for pious works. This warning is not without foundation. For there are those who, from servants, have become masters. Ladies living delicately in splendor and luxury were originally admitted to perform works of piety; but now, having thrust out the poor or else keeping them grudgingly, they have become haughty mistresses. This office of ministration must be taken from them so that they will not grow fat from the pennies of the starving poor; so let them perform the duty which they came there to do. . .

    Then, when all the leeches have been eliminated from the hospitals, the resources of each institution should be examined, taking into account its regular expenses, annual revenues, and the money on hand. Treasure rooms and superfluous trappings should be eliminated, since they are only toys for children or misers, useless in a life of piety. Then, assign to each of the hospitals as many of the sick poor as it will seem proper, taking care that the food is not so scanty that their hunger will not be easily satisfied. This is one of the essentials in the care of those who are sick in body or mind, for invalids often grow worse from an inadequate diet. On the other hand, there should be no luxury by which they might easily fall into bad practices.



10  Care of the Insane

Now let us refer to the insane. Since there is nothing in the world more excellent than man, and nothing more excellent in man than his mind, particular care should be given to its welfare. It should be considered the highest of ministries to restore the mind of others to sanity, or to keep them sane and rational. . .One ought to feel a compassion before such a great disaster to this noblest of human faculties. He who has suffered so should be treated with such care and delicacy that the cure will not enlarge or increase the condition, such as would result from mocking, exciting, or irritating him, approving and applauding the foolish things which he says or does, and inciting him to act more ridiculously, applying a stimulus, as it were, to his absurdity and stupidity. What could be more inhumane than to drive a man to insanity just for the sake of laughing at him and entertaining oneself with such a misfortune!



11  Prevent Misuse of Funds for the Poor


Investigators into the needs of the poor should perform their task humanely and kindly. While nothing should be given if the judgment on their needs is unfavorable, still intimidation should never be applied unless deemed necessary in dealing with the refractory or the rebels against public authority.

    This one law should be inviolable: "If anyone request money or exert influence in favor of a person supposedly in need, he should not receive it; instead, there should be a penalty according as the Senate sees fit." It should always be permissible to inform the Senate of the needs of others. The administrators of charities—or whoever may be appointed by the Senate—should find the balance, and give alms in proportion to the need. This is to guard against the situation in the future when wealthy men, preserving their own moneys, might demand that money which belongs to the destitute should be expended on their own servants, domestics, relatives, and friends. Such favoritism steals from those who need it so much more, as we have already seen happen in the hospitals.



12  Advantages Of Relieving Poverty


One:  Tremendous honor adheres in the state in which no beggar is seen, for a great multitude of paupers argues malice and apathy in the citizenry and neglect of the public good by the magistrates.

Two:  Fewer thefts, acts of violence, robberies, murders, and capital offenses will be committed. Pandering and sorcery will be less frequent. This follows because the poverty will be mitigated which drives men first into vices and bad habits and then encourages and provokes crimes like the above.

Three:  Greater peace will prevail where everyone is provided for.

Four:  Greater concord will prevail. The poor will not envy the wealthy, but will esteem them as benefactors; the rich will not turn away from the destitute in suspicion, but will esteem them as the reason for their bounty and the objects of their rightful charity. Nature demands that we love those to whom we give support; thus, love begets love.

Five:  It will be safer, healthier, and pleasanter to attend churches and to dwell in the city. The hideousness of ulcers and diseases will no longer be imposed on the general viewing, eliminating a spectacle revolting to nature and even to the most humane and compassionate mind. Those of small means will not be forced to give alms through pressure. If a man is inclined to give, he will not be deterred either by the great multitude of beggars or by the fear of giving to someone unworthy.

Six:  The state will gain enormously. More citizens will become more virtuous, more law-abiding, and more useful to the nation. Everyone will hold the state dearer in which—or by means of which—they are sustained.



13  Act Humanly to the Poor


Tell me, who act more humanely—those who leave the poor to rot in their filth, squalor, vice, crime, shamelessness, immodesty, ignorance, madness, misfortune, and misery?—or those who devise a way by which they may rescue them from that life and lead them into a mode of living, more social, cleaner, and wiser, clearly salvaging so many men who were formerly lost and useless? We are acting here in the same manner as the medical profession who cannot eradicate diseases completely from the population but bend every effort to cure them.



14  The Nature of Wisdom


Lay aside the opinions of the common people. Do not consider the greatest evil to be poverty, low status, imprisonment, nakedness, ignominy, deformity of body, sickness, and mental debility. Instead, consider defects of mind as the greater evil, such as ineptness, incapacity for knowledge, dull stupidity, and stark madness.

    Give more value to the judgment of your own conscience than to all the voices of the great multitude; for this latter is both unskilled and foolish, yet dares to approve and condemn matters it does not understand.

    True wisdom is to judge a thing correctly and to identify it for what it actually is. Wisdom neither covets the cheap as though it were precious, nor rejects the precious as though it were worthless; neither criticizes matters deserving of commendation, nor commends things deserving of censure.

    From such foolishness springs every error of men's minds. For nothing is more destructive in human life than a corrupt judgment which renders to no object its proper estimate.

    Health is a disposition of the body which gives dominance to the mind.

    Beauty is seen in those lineaments of the body which declare an inner splendor.

    For what purpose does strength of body serve when the greatest and most appropriate human values are not gained by strength of body but by gifts of the mind?

    Our strength, be it ever so great, can in no way equal the strength of a bull or an elephant. It is reason, it is intelligence, it is virtue wherein we surpass them.



15  Necessities are Few


As it is in a journey, so is it in a man's life: the lighter and less overstuffed his baggage, the easier and pleasanter his travels.

    Moreover, the nature of the human body is so ordained that it needs very few things. Thus, if a man would consider the matter closely, he would doubtless judge insane those who greedily and anxiously accumulate goods upon goods when so little suffices. Someone expressed the essence of riches astutely by thus analyzing them: "They are long-lasting provisions for our brief life."

    Most riches—elaborate buildings, numerous and opulent household furnishings, precious stones, gold, silver, and every genus of ornaments—are designed and exhibited as a brag and a spectacle in other men's eyes, rather than for the use of those who possess them.

    How can dignities be called dignities, or honors, when they accrue to most unworthy men and are acquired by deceit, ambition, avarice, and evil machinations? How much worse when they are conferred by the capricious will of a mob, that beast of many heads which does nothing according to reason and right judgment.



16  Love All Men


At the honor which others give you, do not begrudge returning an equal honor. It is a great rudeness not to salute him who salutes you; a point of extreme barbarism, not to wish well to him who wishes well to you. What small things and of what slight cost are salutations, gentle speech, kindness, and reverence! What great friendship do they engender if they are manifest; or dissolve, if omitted. What ignorance of what is right for us, not to wish to gain the good will of many men with such a small trifle costing so little. The more refined a man is, the higher his education, the more humbly and courteously he behaves himself; the lower his background, the more disdainful and curt he is, sometimes from ignorance—hence, learning in the gracious arts is called "humanities."

    You must love all men. So behave yourself toward strangers that even they whom you do not know may perceive you to be a friend universally to all mankind, wishing well to all.

    And yet, you should not be as a white line upon a white stone, showing yourself alike to all men. Some you should admit to counsel; to some, be obedient; some you shall reverence with honor; and to some you should render thanks, if you have received any benefits at their hands or, more importantly, if you have profited from their diligent and faithful service.

    A man's good will is to be judged by his deeds. A man wanting, and trying, to do well is but one step lower than he who actually did well.

    He who has received a benefit is no less bound to pay back or recompense solicitously than one who has borrowed money.

    He would be considered of no less good will who has given of his thoughtfulness, than he who gives his money. Even more than the preceding, it is only logical that the body is judged dearer to a man than any thing extrinsic. Do not wait until your friend tells you of his needs, but smell them out yourself, succoring him of your own accord. Meet an honest request beforehand—before it is asked, answer it.



17  On Education


We fashion erudition by these three instruments: intelligence, memory, and diligence, which latter is also called study.

    Intelligence is refined and made subtle with practice.

    Memory is enlarged by exercise.

    Delicate handling enervates them both; good health confirms them in strength; idleness and daily slackening put them to flight; exercise sets them to hand and keeps them in readiness.

    Whether you read, or whether you listen, do it with attention. Do not let your mind wander, but constrain it to be present and to do that thing which is here, and no other.

    . . . exercise all diligence to cultivate the mind, and to adorn it with the knowledge of things by the knowledge and exercise of virtue. Otherwise, a man is not a man but as cattle. . . show yourself obedient to parents, serve them, minister to them and, as each one has power, be good and useful to them. . . honor and love the teacher even as the parent, not of our body but (what is greater) of our mind. . . stand up before the old, uncovering our heads, and attentively listen to them, from whom, through their long experience of life, wisdom may be gathered. . . honor magistrates, and when they order anything we should listen to what they say . . look for, admire, honor, and wish all good to, men of great ability, of great learning, and to honest men, and seek the friendship and intimacy of those from whom so great fruits can be obtained . . . attend to it especially that we turn out like them. And finally . . . reverence is due to those who are in places of dignity, and therefore it should be given freely and gladly.





On Assistance to the Poor by Juan Luis Vives, translated with an introduction by Alice Tobriner, S.N.J.M. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, in association with the Renaissance Society of America, 1999. Reprinted from "A Sixteenth Century Urban Report, Part II, Translation of On Assistance to the Poor by Juan Luis Vives", University of Chicago, 1971.


Vives’ Introduction to Wisdom, edited with an introduction by Marian Leona Tobriner, S.N.J.M. Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, 1968.


Tudor School-boy Life, The Dialogues of Juan Luis Vives, translated into English with an introduction by Foster Watson. Published by Frank Cass and Co Ltd by arrangement with J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. First edition 1908. New Impression 1970.


Introduction, Selection and Adaptation © Rex Pay 2003