Christianity and Poverty: Two Views (Overviews)

As noted in the introduction to this series, I’m blogging on two short works on Poverty, the first is Ched Myers The Biblical View of Sabbath Economics and the second is the 14th oration by St. Gregory of Nazianzus entitled “On Love for the Poor” (note I misquoted the title in the prior essay as well as Mr Myers first name). In this short essay, I’m going to attempt to precis the basic thrust of the two works. The current plan is follow this short summary with some critical assessments of the two works

Mr Myers takes a radical approach to Biblical hermeneutics. He sees the primary message of Scripture (Old and New) as being primarily to understood in terms of economics. Sabbath (a day of rest from work) and Jubilee (a debt forgiveness practice) are seen as a primary message of the Gospels and Scripture in general. Mr Myers takes this beyond a common call to charity for those around us but as well a radical restructuring of society centered around a rejection of consumption as the primary emphasis of life. Charity, poverty, and a rejection of “capitalism” should rightly be the primary emphasis and a center in the life of every Christian, according to Mr Myers. Note, I put “capitalism” in scare quotes because his descriptions of capitalism badly caricatured.

The format of St. Gregory’s oration takes the following structure. First he lays out there are a number of “narrow” paths to salvation. But that one of the “widest” is charity. Then he contrasts the plight of the poor in their surroundings with the comforts of the wealthy. The concerns drawing the wealthy are not so far removed from the excesses of our society … so in that regard his oration has bite. The poor are decisively not as badly off as those he describes today, especially in our midst unless you happen to be poor in the context of third world (that is be regarded as poor within the third world). St. Gregory however, doesn’t go so far as to suggest a restructuring of society. He does leave a strident call to give to the poor and to the church so that it might help the poor.

It should also be noted, that during this time in the Roman (Eastern) Empire the church was rising up as the first structural safe-haven for the poor. The services of medical aid, food, and assistance that might be received by the poor from the church was coming into play in these first years when the Church was not persecuted. An secular account of Byzantine history that I’ve read, notes that it was in orations and homilies like that of St. Gregory that narratives and descriptions of the poor and their plight were first recorded being entered into the record. That is to say, this is the first time the poor had a voice speaking for them and their plight within society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *