Philanthropy and Human Flourishing in Patristic Theology
Material things exist to assist with life; surely they were not given as a provision for wickedness? They constitute a ransom for the soul; surely they were not provided as an occasion for your own destruction?—Basil the Great, Hom. 7.7
2.1. Creation, Philanthropia, and Human Flourishing1
God created our race for sharing (koinonia) beginning by giving out what belonged to God, God’s own Word (logos), making it common (koinos) to all humans, and creating all things for all. Therefore all things are common (koina)…To say therefore, ‘I have more than I need, why not enjoy?’ is neither human nor proper to sharing (koinōnikon)…For I know quite well that God has given us the power to use; but only to the limit of that which is necessary; and that God also willed that the use be in common.(Paed. 2.13.120; trans. Gonzalez)
“Give to the man who begs from you; do not turn your back on the man who borrows from you” (Matt 5.42). This saying of our Lord invites us to share (koinōkos) and love one another, in natural kinship (tēi fusei oikeion). Human, indeed, is a civic and social animal (sunagelastikon ho anthrōpos). Now, in social relations and in common life (koinē politeia), a certain disposition to share one’s goods is necessary in order to assist the needy.(para. 1)8
Give to the blind, the sick, the lame and the destitute: if you don’t, they die. Men may have no use for them, but God has: he keeps them alive, gives them breath and honours them with light. Cherish them as much as you can, and sustain their souls with humanity so that they do not die. Anyone who can help a dying man but doesn’t is his murderer.(6.11.18–19)11
2.2. Providence, Redistribution, and Human Flourishing
2.3. Salvation, Virtue (Self-Care), and Wealth and Poverty20
2.3.1. Detachment, Greed (Love of Wealth), and Luxury
They seize what belongs to all and claim the right of possession to monopolize it…Who is a covetous one? One for whom sufficiency is not enough! Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are you not covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution?(Hom. 6.7)48
2.3.2. Detachment, Almsgiving, and Salvation
What splendid trading! What divine business! You buy incorruption with money. You give the perishing things of the world and receive in exchange for them an eternal abode in heaven…Spare not dangers or toils, that here you may buy a heavenly kingdom.(32)
Nor would the infirmity and weakness of human frailty have any resource, unless the divine mercy, coming once more in aid, should open some way of securing salvation by pointing out works of justice and mercy (iustitiae et misericordiae operibus), so that by almsgiving we may wash away whatever foulness we subsequently contract (ut sordes postmodum quascumque contrahimus eleemosynis abluamus).(Eleem. 1; italics added)
2.4. The Institutionalized Philanthropy in the (Post-) Constantinian Era
Conflicts of Interest
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A major exception is an anonymous Pelagian treatise, De divitiis (“On Riches”), which was deemed heretical. A few patristic authors such as Ambrose and John Chrysostom, while acknowledging private ownership in practice, wrestle with affirming its legitimacy (e.g., Ambrose, De Nab. 1, 2; De off. 1.28.132; Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Tim. 12.4). See the discussion on John Chrysostom on pp. 5–6.
This was passed on as the common good, “universal destination of goods”, and “social mortgage” in Catholic Social Teachings; cf. Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), p. 84; Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961), pp. 78–80; John XXIII¸ Pacem in Terris (1963), pp. 53–59; John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (1991), p. 30; Catholic Catechism #2420ff.; D. A. Hicks (2010, p. 74).
Clement’s understanding of natural or proper wealth based on its “use” and “necessity” in contrast to unnatural or irrational wealth, i.e., superfluity with illiberality (non-use) or luxury (misuse), is very much like Middle Platonist Plutarch’s line of argument in his On Love of Wealth, who in turn follows that of classical authors.
Cf. See Lactantius’s vision and Gregory of Nazianzus below.
Cf. Peter of Alexandria, On Riches 14: “He [God] did not give it [wealth] to you [a rich man] for you to revel in it with worthless men and frivolous people or mocking theater performers. Nor did he give it to you so you could hide it in the earth, nor did he give it to you so you could spend it on large houses beyond the standard of life of the men of old. But he has given it to you so you (could) eat and give to the poor with it and those who are in need”.
Hom. 6.5; also Cyprian, Eleem. 25.
Basil’s text used in this paper is my translation unless it is noted otherwise.
See also John Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Tim. 12.4: “common sharing is more convenient and more agreeable to our nature”.
On Lactantius’s vision of social transformation (through Constantine), see (Hughson 2011, pp. 185–205, especially 193–98).
Translation comes Divine Institutes (tr. and intro. A. Bowen and P. Garnsey; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003).
Cf. John Chrysostom, Hom. Ion 15.3; Theodoret of Cyrus, Prov. 6.25.
Translation of Gregory’s text in this paragraph is mine.
See also Basil Hom. 6.7.
Cf. Basil, Hom. 8.7.
Translations used in this paragraph are mine. Cf. Ambrose, De Nab. 1, 2: “Earth at its beginning was for all in common, it was meant for rich and poor alike; what right do you have to monopolize the soil? Nature knows nothing of the rich; all are poor when she brings them forth” (my translation); also, De off. 1.28.132.
Cf. Anonymous Pelagian author, De divitiis 8.1–4.
See Clement, Quis div. 26; Augustine, Serm. 367.3; 61.9.10; 14.8.
For a recent study on wealth and poverty in Theodoret, see (Gotsis and Merianos 2007, pp. 11–48).
Parts of this section on Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian are revised from (Rhee 2012, pp. 77–82, 96–97, 99–100).
E.g., Tertuallian, Praescr. 3.6; Clement of Alexandria, Quis div.1-2; John Chrysostom, Hom. Matt. 12; Hom. 1 Tim. 11; 12; Augustine, Ep. 130, 157; En. in Ps. 38.
Paen. 7.10. Cf. other contemporary Christian understandings of baptism, e.g., Hermas, Vis. 3.3; Sim. 8.2.2; Mand. 4.3; Sim. 9.13; Justin, Ap. 1.61; Theophilus, Autol. 2.16; Origen, Hom. Lev. 2.4.5; Acts Paul 25; Acts Thom. 121.
Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 6.105.1; 6.71.3–72.1; Quis. div. 3, 40; Origen, Hom. Josh. 1.6; Or. 29.13.
E.g., Tertullian, Paen. 7.10; Pud. 1.10.
Cf. (Maier 1994, p. 728).
Cf. (Maier 1994, p. 734).
Cf. Strom. 188.8.131.52.
Cf. Augustine, Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana (NBA), 31/1, 104.
Augustine closely follows Clement in spiritualizing wealth and poverty, and the rich and the poor in Serm. 114B; 346A; En. In Ps. 48; Serm. 1.3; 53A.
Cf. Strom. 2.131.5; 2.97.1.
Cf. Strom. 2.326.3ff.
Cf. Col 3.5; Tertullian, Idol. 11.1.
Demetr. 12, 17.
It would have been so especially if the authorities used a census roll with registered property (for tax)—however haphazardly. Probability of the use of Caracalla’s citizenship census (Constitutio Antoniniana, 212 CE) for taxation purpose is strongly suggested by A. Brent (2010, pp. 197–247), and W. H. C. Frend (1986, p. 408). Contra G. W. Clarke (1969, pp. 48–73); idem, The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage (ACW; Vol. 1; New York: Newman, 1984), pp. 26–28.
Cf. Cyprian, Ep. 55.13.2; Laps, pp. 27–28.
Cf. Cyprian, Ep. 30.3.1; 55.14.1.
Cyprian treated the certified more sympathetically in Ep. 55.14.1–2; on the problem of the certified in the Roman church, see Ep. 30.3.1.
On Basil’s principle of detachment from private property in Homily 6, see (Matz 2011, pp. 161–84).
On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (tr. and intro. C. Paul Schroeder. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), p. 28.
See Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2.3.38-39; Paed. 3.3.21.
See also Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2.3, 8, 11-13; Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 14.16–17.
Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 3.7.37: “Love of wealth displaces a man from the right mode of life, and induces him to cease from feeling shame at what is shameful”.
Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 3.6.34-36; 2.13.120, respectively.
Serm. 1; 346A; En. in Ps. 85.3; 132.5; Ep. 157.23-24.
Civ. Dei 14.13; Gn. litt. 11.15.19. Cf. Basil, Hom. 6; Hom. 7.
Ep. 130; Serm. 72.4; 61.2; 301A; cf. 48.8.
This understanding of Christ in the poor, based on Matt. 25.31–46, would be a key common element especially in the post-Constantinian exhortations to almsgiving with a universal application to all poor, including the lepers (not just the Christian poor). See the last paragraph of the main body. Cf. B. Ramsey (Ramsey 1982, pp. 226–59). On the close relationship between the care of the poor and the doctrine of the Incarnation, see (Holman 2009, pp. 25–26, 41).
On this topic, see (Downs 2016, pp. 275–77).
Cf. Paed. 3.6.34–36.
On Tertullian’s interpretation of Luke 17.21 and of almsgiving as God’s commandment leading to the kingdom/eternal life in the story of a rich ruler in Luke 18, see (Michaels 1998, pp. 479–83).
Compare “all that you have” [quaecunque habes] in 4.36.4 with “what you have” [quae habes] in 4.36.7.
For the most recent study on almsgiving in this work, see (Downs 2016, pp. 256–70).
Mort. 17. Cf. Sage (1975, p. 273). Although the early church generally opposed voluntary martyrdom, it made an exception for the lapsed Christians who needed to “wash away their former fault” (apostasy) through offering themselves up for martyrdom and Cyprian himself attested to its occurrence (Ep. 24); see also Ep.19.2.3; Laps. 36.
Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Quis div. 37.
Cyprian later changed (at least clarified) his position on the validity of baptism received in a schismatic church (the Novatian church) during his baptismal controversy with Stephen of Rome. Cyprian insisted on “rebaptism” of the schismatic upon their readmission to the Catholic church since they forfeited the Holy Spirit due to their schism; but Stephen recognized validity of schismatic baptism and required only reconciliation with laying on of hands, since baptism should not be repeated.
Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Quis div. 32.
This economic or transactional notion of almsgiving would be a standard theme for later church fathers. See, for example, Basil of Caesarea, Hom. 8.8;14.5; Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 14.20, 22; Augustine, Serm. 107A.2; 42.2; 86.3.3; 239.5; En. in Ps. 38.7.12.
The subsequent paragraphs are modified from (Rhee 2017, pp. 128–31).
See (Miller 1997, p. 79); Epiphanius, Panarion 75.1.
Basil, Ep. 94; Gregory, Or. 43.63; Sozomen, HE 6.34.
Basil, Ep. 94; Gregory, Or. 43.63.
Basil, Regulae brevius tractatae 155.
E.g., Gregory of Nyssa, De oratione dominica 4; Basil, Regulae fusius tractate 55.
E.g., Basil, Regulae fusius tractate 55.
See (Caner 2015).
See (Crislip 2005, pp. 113–14).
Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 14.39–40; Gregory of Nyssa, Paup. 1, respectively.
See (Holman 2001, p. 161).
See Ibid., 161–62, quoting John Chrysostom, ‘Sixth Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man/On the Earthquake’, in Catherine P. Roth (ed. and tr.), Saint John Chrysostom: On Wealth and Poverty (Crestwood, NY, 1984), 108.
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Rhee, H. Philanthropy and Human Flourishing in Patristic Theology. Religions 2018, 9, 362. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110362
Rhee H. Philanthropy and Human Flourishing in Patristic Theology. Religions. 2018; 9(11):362. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110362Chicago/Turabian Style
Rhee, Helen. 2018. "Philanthropy and Human Flourishing in Patristic Theology" Religions 9, no. 11: 362. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110362