From the Archives: Grace and Blessing

“GOLDEN-TONGUED” John Chrysostom preached often to his church at Constantinople on the duties of rich Christians to care for the poor. He takes up the theme in this homily, excerpted here, on Acts 4:32–37, challenging his listeners to imagine themselves living as the first Christians had lived, just three-and-a-half centuries earlier.

“And great grace,” it says, “was upon them all; for neither was there any among them that lacked.” Grace was among them, since nobody suffered want, that is, since they gave so willingly that no one remained poor. For they did not give a part, keeping another part for themselves; they gave everything in their possession. They did away with inequality and lived in great abundance; and this they did in the most praiseworthy fashion. They did not dare to put their offering into the hands of the needy, nor give it with lofty condescension. but they laid it at the feet of the apostles and made them the masters and distributors of the gifts. What a man needed was then taken from the treasure of the community, not from the private property of individuals. Thereby the givers did not become arrogant.

Should we do so much today, we should all live much more happily, rich as well as poor; and the poor would not be more the gainers than the rich. And if you please, let us now for a while depict it in words, and derive at least this pleasure from it, since you have no mind for it in your actions. For at any rate this is evident, even from the facts which took place then, that by selling their possessions they did not come to be in need.

Let us imagine things as happening in this way: All give all that they have into a common fund. No one would have to concern himself about it, neither the rich nor the poor. How much money do you think would be collected? I infer—for it cannot be said with certainty—that if every individual contributed all his money, his lands, his estates, his houses (I will not speak of slaves, for the first Christians had none, probably giving them their freedom), then a million pounds of gold would be obtained, and most likely two or three times that amount. Then tell me how many people our city (Constantinople) contains? How many Christians? Will it not come to a hundred thousand? And how many pagans and Jews! How many thousands of pounds of gold would be gathered in! And how many of the poor do we have? I doubt that there are more than 50,000. How much would be required to feed them daily? If they all ate at a common table, the cost could not be very great. What could we not undertake with our huge treasure! Do you believe it could ever be exhausted?

And will not the blessing of God pour down on us a thousand-fold richer? Will we not make a heaven on earth? Would not the grace of God be indeed richly poured out?

If this turned out so brilliantly for three or five thousand (the first Christians) and none of them was in want, how much more would this be so with such a great quantity? Will not each newcomer add something more? The dispersion of property is the cause of greater expenditure and so of poverty. Consider a household with husband and wife and ten children. She does weaving and he goes to the market to make a living; will they need more if they live in a single house or when they live separately? Clearly, when they live separately. If the ten sons each go his own way, they need ten houses, ten tables, ten servants and everything else in proportion. And how of the mass of slaves? Are these not fed at a single table, in order to save money? Dispersion regularly leads to waste, bringing together leads to economy.

This is how people now live in monasteries and how the faithful once lived. Who died of hunger then? Who was not fully satisfied?

And yet people are more afraid of this way of life than of a leap into the endless sea. If only we made the attempt and took bold hold of the situation! How great a blessing there would be as a result! For if at that time, when there were so few faithful, only three to five thousand, if at that time when the whole world was hostile to us and there was no comfort anywhere, our predecessors were so resolute in this, how much more confidence should we have today, when by God’s grace the faithful are everywhere! Who would still remain a heathen? Nobody, I believe. Everyone would come to us and be friendly.

But yet if we do but make fair progress, I trust in God that even this shall be realized. Only do as I say, and let us successfully achieve things in their regular order; if God grant life, I trust that we shall soon be progressing to this way of life.

By John Chrysostom

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #14 in 1987]

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