The Early Church Fathers On The Distribution of Wealth

Aristides of Athens

A friend of mine recently posted a series of quotes from the early church Fathers about the distribution of wealth. I encourage you all to read through these quotes and mediate on their means as they all steam from the Holy Scriptures.

Sadly, however, the church in general has allowed hyper-commercialism and hyper-individualism to dictate what is means to be a follower of Jesus.

“You are not making a gift of your possession to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”Ambrose of Milan, 340-397.

“The property of the wealthy holds them in chains . . . which shackle their courage and choke their faith and hamper their judgment and throttle their souls. They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.” Cyprian, 300 A.D.

“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help.”Basil of Caesarea, 330-370 A.D.

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.”John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD

“Instead of the tithes which the law commanded, the Lord said to divide everything we have with the poor. And he said to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies, and to be givers and sharers not only with the good but also to be liberal givers toward those who take away our possessions.”Irenaeus, 130-200 AD

“The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.” – John Chrysostom, 347-407

“Share everything with your brother. Do not say, “It is private property.” If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.”The Didache

“Let the strong take care of the weak; let the weak respect the strong. Let the rich man minister to the poor man; let the poor man give thanks to God that he gave him one through whom his need might be satisfied.”Clement of Rome, 1st Century

“Christians love one another. They do not overlook the widow, and they save the orphan. The one who has ministers ungrudgingly to the one who does not have. When they see a stranger, they take him under their own roof and rejoice over him as a true brother, for they do not call themselves brothers according to the flesh but according to the soul.”Aristides of Athens, early 2nd century

“How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping?”Basil of Caesarea, 330-370 A.D.

When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.” John Chrysostom, 347-407

7 thoughts on “The Early Church Fathers On The Distribution of Wealth”

  1. These quotes are powerful, Josh. I think the thing that comes to my mind is how our society today (both Democrats & Republicans) have turned to “the government” as being the focal point in these conversations over re-distribution. As I see it, the early church fathers were seeing the church as the answer. Today we seem to think that its the government’s responsibility to provide for the poor. Gosh, how great could it be if Christians and other godly people in America became generous enough to be the primary source for the poor in local settings, and we’d get the big, inefficient government back into doing only those things governments can do well…like protecting us from our enemies, protecting our liberties, and keeping taxes low enough so generous people can freely give alms and offerings to the poor in our midst. Make sense?

    1. I’m with you to a point… While I defiantly believe that followers of Jesus should be leading the way in helping the poor, I also think that the government must also be involved in the issue. A government that is not concerned with the welfare of its people is not a government worth having. Add to the fact that we live in a secular nation with thousands of religious faiths, and, well, there is a need for non-Christian help (besides caring for the poor is something a lot of religions hold dear).

      I guess that I’m saying is that the problem is big enough for multiple players – and we need everyone to join up. Yet, out of everyone at the table, I am confident that the only person with the full answer is Jesus. He is the only one who can bring healing to the spirit, emotions, and physical body. This is why His Bride, i.e. the global church, must have a heart for the poor. This heart, to me, means going beyond simply working with the poor – it means supporting governmental policies that favor the poor and not the rich. Like John Chrysostom said, “The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.”

  2. Without a doubt, with as many folks as we have in America, the government must be a major player. My biggest problem with it is the dang inefficiency and the many senseless ways the government operates the programs. At times it seems to be more of an encouragement to stay on welfare than get off it. I think a fairer way to help folks is build it in such a way so that as people get back on their feet, the aid is not dropped as income increases. We have folks on welfare at our church, for example, who are subsidized and then penalized by taking away money if they make more money than the system allows. It encourages folks to not work, because if they do, they lose their government help. crazy stuff.

    1. I can agree with that. Inefficiency is a major drag on all help in this country world. sigh..sure wish Jesus would hurry up and restore things… =/

  3. I think more people would be willing to see the government be the safety net for so many people if the damned inefficiency would be addressed. Yet this is a fallen world so it might not change. But I do agree with you that many conservatives in this nation fail to see the great need of so many people. It’s easy to write off the poor if we keep our eyes closed and stay focused on building our own wealth. These quotes are powerful reminders!

  4. These are great quotes. Thanks for doing the work 🙂 I once was not so compassionate for “the have-nots”. I had been dealt quite the difficult hand, a few cards short and what I was left with was damaged. Yet, I made it! …According to the worlds standards. So I had an attitude that the “have-nots” just were lazy or felt entitled. Eventually divorce, lay-off, and disability taught me compassion and humility. The system traps those that simply need a “hand up”. It penalizes those that help themselves and most of all it de-humanizes. Now no matter what I have, or how much I have, it is nothing. Nothing worth having if it can be a “hand up” to another.

    There is no system or government that could work the way God intends unless God Himself is the head. Until then we must walk His walk (with His guidance and power) until His return.

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