On the Kruse Kronicle, there is a few noteworthy paragraphs from Saint John regarding charity and its character in a post impishly named “John Chrysostom was a Tea Party Republican.” From Sermon XLIII, translated and presented anew in a selection of Saint John’s writings titled On Living Simply, we read:
Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person’s gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing, and do much harm.
Those who combined both cruel hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again. Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first — and then they will joyfully share their wealth.
It is funny how the mind of the Church is present in the people. I remember Andrew’s schooling me on these very points about a decade ago. It just makes sense given the Christian paradigm. That being said, it is clear that a good deal of what may be generously called “contemporary Christian thought” springs from other, more horizontal concerns.
In Kruse’s post and in one by John Couretas, Chrysostom on the Poor, there are some other excellent passages from Saint John that emphasize the communal reality of human life. We are not atoms in a social void. Rather, we are members of a larger body. This is true of man naturally, and that natural unity takes on a transcendent character in the life of Christ.
Whenever I read the fathers in general and Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil of Caesarea in particular, who wrote so much on Christian society, I am reminded of Alexander Schmemann’s description of modern -isms as Christian heresies. The revolutionary and socialist doctrines of the Left are indeed bastardized and disfigured Christian teaching. I had a professor once who mused how the French philosophes could dare propose liberté, égalité, fraternité when they had thrown out the Paternité on whom those ideas rest. The consequences of a horizontal, godless society is not the social utopia imagined by Condorcet but the hellish state of nature where there can be no such thing as a commonwealth—an endless Hobbesian dytopia. For the common good, and adherence thereto, ultimately rests on transcendent truth and man’s allegiance to it (for further musings on this topic, go here).