St. John Chrysostom's Obsession with the Poor: Part I
by Thomas Katsampes

September 28, 2007

I may have to ask Fr. Rick about this excerpt from an article by Bradley Nassif on St. John Chrysostom:
The source of John's vision of the gospel was his love for Scripture. Jesus taught that treasures are to be stored in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19-20). The apostle Paul wrote, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). Thus John concluded, "A love for wealth is abnormal." He feared that possessions kept for selfish purposes were, in a sense, stolen from the poor. One cannot be rich without keeping others poor. "So destructive a passion is avarice that to grow rich without injustice is impossible," John argued; "The root and origin of riches must have been injustice."
"To grow rich without injustice is impossible." - Wow. That's a leap. I don't see that in the pages of the Bible at all. I don't even see that inferred by St. Paul's teaching. Yes it is true that the love of money (there is nothing inherently evil about money itself) is the root of many - certainly not all - evils, but to argue that any person with wealth commits an injustice by the very fact of that wealth? That's very difficult for me to accept.

"One cannot be rich without keeping others poor." - This is factually wrong. Perhaps St. John could not have known this (due to the relatively recent advent of modern economics and statistical methods), but we know today that wealth is not a zero-sum game where the poor are so only because others are rich. Rather, the wealthier a society as a whole becomes, the wealthier ALL become (a rising tide lifts all boats). The premise of the "rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer" is largely exaggerated, in that this is not a causal relationship. The political left divides the world between rich and poor, black and white, and other artificial class divisions. Is this the way God divides the world? God forbid. I don't think Scripture supports that. God divides the world between those who do good (the righteous) and those who do evil (the wicked). How does God say we should act toward the the rich (or mighty) versus the poor? The Lord says
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. -Leviticus 19:15
Along with Micah 6:8, this is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. God demands that we treat one another decently, regardless of whether one is rich or poor, or somewhere in between. "The root and origin of riches must have been injustice" - Then why did God bless King Solomon with more riches than any king before him, or any king that would come after him? And if the root of riches is injustice, is the root of poverty, justice? In other words that it is just and right to be poor? God forbid. What is just is to execute justice. What is right is to do good.
For this reason, he envisioned a just society based on equality for all. Because all people are made in the image of God, John sought to defend human dignity regardless of social status. No private property should exist. Everything belongs to God and is given to us for our common use. Material things are not inherently evil. But injustice occurs when some people use material things for profit while others are starving.
"Equality for all." In the 20th century tens of millions of people were murdered in the name of "equality for all," that is, the ideology of Communism.

"No private property should exist." How does St. John go from defending human dignity, with which I totally agree, to the abolition of private property? Private property is the bedrock of freedom. Without private property how can a man even build a church to worship God as he sees fit?

"Injustice occurs when some people...profit while others are starving" - Actual injustice occurs when a man's property or wealth are forcibly taken from him by the state (or sometimes even by the church) for the purposes of redistribution to the "poor." The Lord Jesus said to the rich man, "Go, sell all that you have, take up your cross and follow Me." The rich man went away sorry, for he had many possessions. What we conveniently leave out is that the Lord Jesus did not then command the rich man to follow Him. Nor did He forcibly confiscate his possessions (though He certainly could have done so) and distribute them to His disciples to hand out to the poor. With so much deference given to the poor, it almost seems that the poor man who does evil is as worthy in God's sight as the rich man who does good. Again, God forbid. Let's face it. The poor are just like anyone else. Yes, to the extent we can it is certainly a moral good to help the poor voluntarily. But for goodness' sake, let's not idolize the poor, as if poverty were in and of itself a moral good. There is nothing morally good (or bad) about being poor. Just as there is nothing morally good (or bad) about being rich.