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Medieval thinkers who grappled with the idea of poverty faced a difficult incongruity. On one hand, most of these thinkers came from religious traditions that taught, in some sense, the concept of social equality. On the other hand, most of them also lived within societies that were openly stratified and that justified this social stratification by appealing to the idea that the ruling class had been chosen by divine forces. Conventional wisdom would suggest that medieval thinkers focused on ironing out these inconsistencies, providing rationales to justify the social stratification that led to poverty, but the best-remembered among them did not. Medieval thinkers were united in their assessment of poverty as an undesirable phenomenon that could be mitigated, or even eliminated entirely, under the right ...

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