Latter-Day Beggars

A Lesson in Apocalyptic Economics From the City on Seven Hills

“He hath made us kings . . . ”

—Revelation 1:6

Roman beggars, like Roman gypsies and Roman cats, not to mention Roman prostitutes warming themselves by their little winter chestnut fires, are the bearers of an ancient tradition, peculiar to the City of the Seven Hills, the caput mundi, which even her membership in the European Union has not yet abolished.  One fine mendicant in particular comes to mind, who, in the early 90’s, would plant himself at the top of the steep Salita del Grillo and ask for cinquecento lire for an espresso from the clerical students going in and out of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.  If the student gave him more than the price of a coffee, he would catch him passing by the next day and, in cheerful earnest, give back the difference.  “Ti do il resto” (“Here’s your change”), he would say.  At slight risk of a merely material irreverence, I borrow the words of John the Divine: “And I saw these things, and heard them . . . and let him that is athirst, come” (Revelation 22:8, 17).

“So low lies Rome . . . that virtue goes begging.  Blind to the meaning of virtue, man perverts wisdom by turning it to usurious gain.”  So wrote a mendicant of a different kind, a Blackfriar...

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