Chrysostom On Wealth

St. John Chrysostom is perhaps the best known and most widely disseminated preacher of the Greek world.  His expression of the Christian life, theology and liturgy in his writings was so eloquent he earned the appellation “Chrysostom” (golden-mouth).  His work is the model for normative expression on these matters while standing within his received tradition at the same time.[1]  In considering his work on wealth two factors are likely influential, John’s personal call to asceticism and the corruption present in the leadership of his time.

Lazarus & the Rich Man

John Chrysostom was a monastic at heart.  He felt a strong urge towards the ascetic life early on.  Only the urging of his mother in his earlier years and his virtual conscription into ecclesial service later prevented him from pursuing life in a monastic community.  But even after he returned to the city from the monastery, he lived as if he were a monk.[2]  This orientation likely colors much of his view on wealth.

John preached as a moral reformer in Constantinople with good reason.  The clergy were extravagant.  Deacons stole from archbishop.  The Ephesus bishop embezzled funds and sold an episcopal consecration.  The Church owned much property and held luxurious banquets.  Chrysostom attacked the extravagance of these people directly.[3]  The reforms of Chrysostom in Constantinople began with his own house and court.  He reviewed spending in all quarters.  He stopped the elaborate new palace construction in progress.  He eliminated the multitude of feasts.  He reviewed the expenditures of all churches and households under his direct purview.  He found much excess and some embezzlement and expense fraud.  All of the savings he procured went to fund hospitals and works of mercy for the poor.[4]  The obvious corruption at virtually all levels of civic life in both Antioch and Constantinople made John’s discussions on wealth a burning necessity, not a mere philosophical exercise.  These pressing practical needs are front and center in much of his discussion on the topic of wealth.

In his discussions on wealth he provides a comprehensive expression of his philosophy and how this plays out in the life of the Christian.  Here we will explore these writings on wealth in three movements.  First is a brief outline of John’s philosophy of wealth.  Next is an examination of the purpose of wealth.  And finally, how wealth relates to the Christian’s salvation.


John is keen to define the meaning of wealth in the creation of God.  He explores the nature of wealth and where it fits in the schema of the world.  He wonders where the attraction of wealth and luxury comes from.  He contemplates why society attaches prestige to certain people and what role wealth has in that reckoning.


For Chrysostom God’s creation is primarily about utility in this world or the next.[5]  There is no question that all creation is good.  Despite the potential to condemn the wealthy as evil, Chrysostom will not call wealth evil in itself.  The evil in the world is the result of free will and the actions of humanity, not any part of God’s creation.[6]  Because all wealth is part of God’s good creation, all wealth belongs to God.

For Chrysostom God’s creation is primarily about utility in this world or the next.[5]  There is no question that all creation is good.  Despite the potential to condemn the wealthy as evil, Chrysostom will not call wealth evil in itself.  The evil in the world is the result of free will and the actions of humanity, not any part of God’s creation.[6]  Because all wealth is part of God’s good creation, all wealth belongs to God.

Speaking of faith, Paul says: “You are not your own,” and “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  All things, in fact, are God’s.  When then he calls and chooses to take things away from us, let us not, like ungrateful servants, flee away from him and steal our Master’s goods.  Your soul is not yours, much less are your riches your own.  How is it then that you spend on what is unnecessary the things that are not yours?  Do you not know that we will soon be on trial if we use them badly?  But since they are not ours but our Master’s, we should spend them for our fellow-servants.[7]

Homily 10.3 on First Corinthians

When the soul does not stand well before God, then, even if wealth flows abundantly, and has children, and enjoys immeasurable goods, this person will experience much faintheartedness and many cares.  Therefore, let us not seek wealth; let us not avoid poverty.  However, above all these, let each one take care of his soul and make it pursue the economy of the future life as well as cause it to depart from the present life to the next.[8]

On repentance and Prayer, Homily 4.13

Chrysostom distinguishes between luxury goods and those goods that are necessary for life.  He has no use for luxury.  And even those necessary goods are only good for us as far as they are necessary.  Necessary goods can be used or acquired to excess as well.  Utility is the real measure of object’s worth.  Nothing in the marketplace of luxury has true value.[9]  Virtue is the real measure of value.  Yet the practice of virtue has no dependence at all on wealth.

Not only is it a wonderful thing that God has made us incapable of being overcome by any treachery, but that he has fitted us for the practice of virtue.  If we be willing, there is nothing to stop us, even if we be poor, weak in body, outcasts, nameless, or slaves.  For neither poverty, nor weakness, nor bodily disability, nor slavery, nor any other such thing could be a hindrance to virtue…

Did you see some other man enjoying prosperity?  Do not envy him, for poverty is no hindrance in this case either.  Again, when it is time to pray, do so with a sober and wakeful heart, and there will be nothing here to hinder you.  Show your meekness, all the mildness of your heart, your temperance, your holiness; these require no external aids.  And this is the most important thing about virtue: it has no need of wealth, or power, or glory, or any other such thing.  If only the soul be holy, virtue seeks nothing beyond that.[10]

Montf. 2.26-28

Wealth is no help to fostering virtue.  In fact, wealth can be a hindrance in the development of virtue.

In the matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and work better than idleness, especially since wealth becomes an obstacle even for those who do not devote themselves to it.  Yet, when we must put aside our wrath, quench our envy, soften our anger, offer our prayers, and show a disposition which is reasonable, mild, kindly, and loving, how could poverty stand in our way?  For we accomplish these things not by spending money but by making the correct choice.  Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty.  The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).[11]

Montf. 2.39

Wealth is fleeting because we only hold it for a short time, then pass on.  Because wealth does not endure, wealth is not a true value compared to the values of the spirit.  Only spiritual wealth endures into the next life.[12]

These just men received the promise of visible goods but kept their desire on the spiritual; we, who have received the promise of spiritual goods, become excited about visible things and fail to hear the blessed Paul when he says: “For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”  (2 Cor. 4:18)  And again, in another place, showing what kind of blessings God has made ready for those who love Him, he says: “goods which eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man.”  (1 Cor. 2:9)

But, in spite of all this, we gape after the goods of this world, I mean wealth, the glory of this life, luxury, and the honors that men can confer.  For these seem to be the things which make the present life bright.  Seem, I said, because they are nothing but shadows and dreams.

For wealth itself often does not last till evening for those who thought to hold on to it, but, like a hard hearted runaway slave, it changes from one master to another, and sends off naked and deserted those who were so eager to treat it with all respect.[13]

Stav. 8.11-12

Even more fleeting than wealth are the petty adornments of clothing and jewelry.

Hereafter let there be no concern for external embellishments and expensive clothes, but let all your zeal be directed to making your souls comely, that they may shine forth with a brighter beauty…For even if the golden ornaments and clothes with which a woman adorns herself bring a brief delight to her who wars them, are they not worn out after a while?  Why do I say they are worn out?  Even before time wears them out they excite the eyes of the envious and turn the hands of villains to theft.  But the raiment with which Paul adorns women can neither be stolen nor does it wear out; it lasts forever, abiding with us here, going along with us hereafter; it provides us with confidence in abundance.[14]

Stav. 1.34-35

If we were to contemplate the objects of this world instead of matters of the spirit, even then wealth would fall short, in Chrysostom’s view.  Wealth provides no real utility for this life compared to the more practical matters of creation.

Therefore, let us not consider that wealth is anything great, nor that gold is any better than clay.  The value of a substance does no come from its nature but from what we think about it.  For if we were to investigate the matter carefully, iron is far more necessary than gold.  God brings nothing useful into our lives, but iron serves countless arts and supplies many of our needs.

But why do I make this comparison between gold and iron?  These ordinary stones are much more necessary than precious stones.  From gems could come nothing useful, but from these stones we can build houses, walls, and cities.  You show me what benefit could come from precious stones; rather, show me what harm could not come from them!  That you may wear a single ruby, countless poor are starved and crushed.  What defense will you find against this charge?  And what pardon?[15]

Montf. 2.40-41

In addition to providing no direct usefulness, wealth actually creates a weakness in those who possess it.

Wealth is harmful, because it renders us unprepared for the vicissitudes of life.  Let us therefore bring up our children to be such that they will be able to bear up against every trial, and not be surprised at what may come upon them…And great will be the reward that will thus be reserved for us.[16]

Homily 21.2 on Ephesians 

The goods the rich use may look finer than others but are no better for their purpose than the poor man’s goods.  All this finery succeeds in doing is making one a target for thieves.

Let us examine in detail the conditions of riches, and see whether it be not loss accompanied with trouble, and without any gain.  For tell me, what is the advantage of those stores of costly garments, what good do we gain when we are arrayed in them?  None, nay, we are only losers.  How so?  Because even the poor man, in his cheap and threadbare clothing, does not bear the scorching in time of heat and wise worse than yourself; nay, rather he bears it better, for clothes that are threadbare and worn single allow more ease to the body, but not so with those which are new made, though they be finer than the spider’s web.[17]

Homily 10 on Philippians

Wealth is a good of God’s creation but without any obvious utility for man.


Wealth is part of God’s good creation and God is the rightful owner of all the world’s wealth.  The best result in ownership would be for all goods to be held in common for the benefit of all.  This is the solution that the apostles chose.

Observe further now concerning things that are common, there is no contention, but everything is peaceful.  But as soon as someone attempts to possess himself of anything, to make it his own, then contention is introduced, as if nature itself protests against the fact that, whereas God brings us together in every way, we are eager to divide and separate ourselves by appropriating things, using those cold words “mine and yours.”  Then struggles and hatred arise.  But where this does not happen, no strife or struggles appear.[18]

Homily 12.4 on Timothy

Private property is a result of the fall.  Christians should consider that all their wealth is in fact the property of God and held by the Christian as a steward for the Lord.  When properly understood as such, the Christian will use their wealth to benefit the community instead of themselves.[19]

The man who is humble of heart will never be able to envy his neighbor’s possessions.  He will not steal, nor will he commit fraud; he will no yearn for wealth, but, while showing great compassion for his kindred, he will even forsake the wealth which he does have.[20]

Stav. 1.31

The danger of wealth is that it stimulates a desire for perishable and transient things and is thus an unnatural passion.  Desire for wealth is not natural or necessary because wealth is superfluous.  The desire for wealth makes you a captive of soulless possessions and distracts from the service of God.[21]  This desire is an evil intoxication worse than wine when abused.  But wealth is not bad.  John does not charge those with wealth to become poor only to be high-minded.  The wealthy need to value the wealth of the next world. [22]   Being wealthy makes the present world a danger. The wealthy can become too attached to the world.  The poor man is unencumbered and prepared to leave this world.  The wealthy can develop too strong ties to the material Earthly wealth can end up owning you instead of you possessing it.  In the parable of the rich young man who cannot give up his possession to follow Jesus, John asks who is the owner?  If the young man owned the possessions he could give them up.  But the possessions own him, so he cannot be released.[23]

From John’s ethical perspective there are three basic problems with the accumulation of wealth: the avarice of the wealthy, the dishonesty with which the wealth is obtained and the irrational uses to which the wealth is put.[24]

Let us now, I beseech you, cease mourning in this way, and if it is not unbecoming, let us also bewail the apathy for our brothers.  Let us not weep loudly for him who is already dead, but let us weep for the robber, the grasping, miserly, greedy man.[25]

Homily 64 on John

“With greediness,” saith he (Paul, Ephesians 4:19).  Here he has most completely taken away their excuse; for it was in their power, if at least they chose it, not to be greedy, nor to be lascivious, nor gluttonous, and yet to enjoy their desires.  It was in their power to partake in moderation of riches, and even of pleasure and of luxury; but when they indulged the thing immoderately, they destroyed all.[26]

Homily 13 On Ephesians

Avarice is a problem for John.  This can be a poor man who wants to become rich or a rich who wants more, as the desire for wealth is suspect.  The proof text is Ps 48:17-18 “Do not be afraid whenever someone gets rich, or whenever the name of his household becomes greater: upon his death, nothing will be left for him.”[27]

A covetous man is one thing, and a rich man is another thing.  The covetous man is not rich; he is in want of many things, and while he needs many things, he can never be rich.  The covetous man is a keeper, not a master, of wealth; a slave, not a lord.  For he would sooner give any one a portion of his flesh, than his buried gold.[28]

Concerning the Statues 2.14

Let us make use of the lessons of true wisdom and say that we do not forbid the seeking of riches as such, but of ill-gotten riches.  For it is lawful to be rich, but without covetousness, without rapine, without violence, and without a bad reputation before all men.  Let us first by means of arguments of true wisdom soothe those who seek riches, and for the moment not to talk to them about hell, since the sick man cannot bear as yet such discourse.  Let go to this world for all our arguments upon these matters and say: “Why do you choose to be rich through covetousness?  To hoard up gold and silver for others and innumerable curses and accusations for yourself?  The poor man whom you have defrauded is suffering anguish because of the lack of necessities of life, and is lamenting, and drawing down upon you the curses of thousands.[29]

Homily 11.5 on 1 Corinthians

But do you not see the lucky men, says one, who with little labor acquire the good things of life?  What good things?  Money, houses, so many acres of land, trains of servants, heaps of gold and silver?  Can you call these good things, and not hide your head for sham?  A man called to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom, and gaping after worldly things, and calling them “goods,” which are of no value!  If these things are good, then the possessors of them must be called good.  For is not he good, who is the possessor of what is good?  But when the possessors of these things are guilty of fraud and rapine, shall we call them good?  For if wealth is a good, but is increased by grasping, the more it is increased, the more will its possessor be considered to be good.  Is the grasping man then good?[30]

Homily 12 on Timothy

Stored-up wealth is stolen from the poor.  There is so much need so close at hand that one has no justification for hoarding wealth.  For this reason Christ came to the world poor.  And Christ can still be found among the poor today.[31]  The criticism of wealth in Chrysostom seems to rest on the assumption that the gaining of wealth was illicit.  There was manifest injustice and exploitation in the acquisition of wealth.  The ascetic ideal was held up.  The true soldier of Christ would travel light in this world.[32]

 “See the man,”  He says, “and his works: indeed this also is theft, not to share one’s possessions.”  Perhaps this statement seems surprising to you, but do not be surprised.  I shall bring you testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others’ goods but also the failure to share one’s own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation.  What is this testimony?  Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but he theft of the poor is in your houses.”  (Mal. 3:8-10)  Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor.  He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth.  And elsewhere the scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.”  (Sir. 4:1)  To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.[33]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.9

What benefit is it to a man who has other people’s possessions but does not have his own?  What benefit is it to a man who has gained money but has not gained virtue?  Why do you take others’ possessions and lose your own?  “I have,” he says, “fruitful land.”  What of it?  You do not have a fruitful soul.  “I have slaves.”  But you do not have virtue.  “I have clothing.”  But you have not obtained piety.  You have what belongs to another, but you do not have what is your own.  If someone gives you a deposit of money in trust, I cannot call you rich, can I?  No.  Why not?  Because you have another’s money.  For this is a deposit; I wish it were only a deposit, and not a sum added to your punishment.[34]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 4.25

Chrysostom sees those who practice avarice as spiritually ill.  While the world may honor them for their behavior, Christians should grieve.

So when we see people living in wealth and luxury, scented with perfumes, passing the day in drunkenness, having great power and honor, great prestige and celebrity, yet sinning, and suffering no misfortune, for this very reason we weep and mourn especially for them, because they are not punished for their sin.  Just as if you saw someone ill with dropsy or in the spleen, or having a putrid ulcer and a multitude of sores all over his body, yet in spite of all these drinking, indulging himself, and aggravating his illness, not only are you not impressed, nor think him fortunate for his luxurious life, but particularly for this very reason you are sorry for him.  You should also think in this way about the soul.  When you see a person living in wickedness and enjoying great prosperity, without suffering any misfortune, you should mourn particularly for this reason, because although he is afflicted with a very serious disease and ulcer, he aggravates his illness, making himself worse by his luxury and self-indulgence.[35]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 3.7

Wealth comes to individuals from God, either as a gift or by God’s permission.  Some obtain wealth by improper means, cheating others or theft, these acquire their wealth by the permission of God and not as his gift.  But however one acquires wealth the rich are simply stewards of this treasure.  As stewards they have a responsibility to others in the community, especially the poor.[36]  Wealth can only be justified by its proper use.  The spirit of acquisitiveness was a real moral danger.  Possessions could end up owning you instead you owning them.  The only real treasure one has is in heaven.[37]


Why do we look up to those with wealthy?  They cannot do anything for themselves.  They are helpless.  Chrysostom imagines two cities, one where all are rich and one where all are poor.  The city of the rich cannot function.  There is no one who can provide even basic goods and services.  The rich are helpless and unable to do anything useful.  The city of the poor has all that it needs.  The poor can provide for themselves and each other and perform all the needed goods and services.  All may be in want for things, but all would be possible.[38]

The large public display in the marketplace actually makes the rich prisoners of their wealth.  The common practice of appearing in public with a large entourage in order to attract attention and honor was common in Chrysostom’s time.  He points out that the wealthy voluntarily restrict their movements by participating in this practice.  The slave can go anywhere and do anything on his own whenever he desires.  But the master must wait for the entire group of slaves and clients to assemble before he can go out.  John sees this as a kind of status reversal.  By giving up the ostentatious display, you regain your freedom.[39]

As an alternative to prestige by wealth, Chrysostom describes how the Greek philosophers are honored in the marketplace with their distinctive dress and long hair.  This pagan practice recognizes the true value of a person, not their possessions, but their character and values.  The poor are no less honored than the rich of the king’s court when you consider these terms.  The Christian ascetics are the new philosophers.  The people flock to them when they come to town.  They are acknowledged for their good life and works.  Yet both these monks and philosophers are poor as the world acknowledges wealth.[40]

If you ever wish to associate with someone, make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, those in critical circumstances, those in prison, those who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation.  Put a high value on associating with these; for from them you shall receive much profit, you will be a better lover of the true wisdom, and you will do all for the glory of God.[41]

Stav. 6.12

Wilt thou that I show thee thine own riches, that thou mayest cease to count them happy that are rich in money?  Seest thou this heaven here, how beautiful, how vast it is, how it is placed on high?  This beauty he enjoyeth not more than thou, nor is it in his power to thrust thee aside and make it all his own: for as it was made for him so was it too for thee.  What too the sun, this bright and far shining star, and that gladdeneth our eyes, is not this too set out common to all? … Yea, rather, if I must speak somewhat marvelous, we poor enjoy these more than they.  For they indeed being for the most part steeped in drunkenness, and passing their time in reveling and deep sleep, do not even perceive these things, being always under cover and reared in the shade: but the poor do more than any enjoy the luxury of these elements.[42]

Homily 22.5 on Second Corinthians

Let us learn from this man not to call the rich lucky nor the poor unfortunate.  Rather, if we are to tell the truth, the rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions but the one who needs few possessions; and the poor man is not the one who has no possessions but the one who has many desires.  We ought to consider this the definition of poverty and wealth.  So if you see someone greedy for many things, you should consider him the poorest of all, even if he has acquired everyone’s money.[43]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.2

John goes to great lengths to stress the poverty of Paul during his ministry.  He puts himself at the service of the community with his labor.  He goes to bed hungry himself and serves the community.  In contrast to the standard “rags to riches” story of the Greek encomiastic literature, Paul is a “rich in rags” story.  By living in poverty one is free of the encumbrance of possessions.  John takes this stoic ideal of freedom from the possessions of the world and applies it to the Christian life.  For John Paul is the example par excellence of living out this philosophy.  John followed this path himself in his own monastic life.  Even after being elevated to the episcopate, John lived as a monk in the episcopal residence.  For John poverty allows one to become this true philosopher.[44]  The trappings of wealth are just symbols of this world.  The spiritual things are much greater and can be compared to these earthly trappings.  Chrysostom describes a poor Paul as having a finer garment than the wealthy by his spiritual gifts.

Now those who are accounted worthy of such honor by reason of some external dignity are clad in fine raiment, and have an ornament of gold about their necks, and are in every way splendid; but the apostle wears a chain instead of the gold, and what he carries is a cross; he is driven from pillar to post, he is flogged, he is half-starved.  Now, do not frown, my dear listeners.  For this apostolic array is far better and more splendid than that other, and is well pleasing to God; and for this reason Paul does not grow weary of bearing it.

This is, indeed, the remarkable thing—that with the bonds and the scourges and the marks on his body, he is still more splendid than those who wear purple raiment and crowns.  His very garments show that he is more splendid.[45]

In Praise of Paul 7th Panegyric

Chrysostom turns the societal concept of honor on its head by adopting the rival model of the philosopher for Christianity.  He calls for a focus on the higher virtues and spiritual goods rather than the wealth of the world.  This orientation is a natural consequence of his philosophy of wealth.


For Chrysostom the only purpose of wealth derived from this philosophy is almsgiving.  Two principles of human nature, solidarity and charity, further refine this purpose of wealth.  Charity comes naturally from compassion for others and our solidarity flows naturally out of the interconnections of human society.  These two principles demand a use of wealth for the benefit of all.  One’s solidarity with the community combined with one’s charity toward the needs of others allows no other conclusion.[46]

This is the rule of the most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good.  Paul himself states it when he says: “Even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).  For nothing can so make a man an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.  Indeed, even though you fast, or sleep on hard ground, or even suffer unto death, but should you take no thought for your neighbor, you have done nothing great; despite what you have done, you still stand far from this model of a perfect Christian.[47]

Homily 25.3 on First Corinthians

Wealth is not intrinsically evil but comes from God and is a good to be used for the common good.  But wealth will not serve the rich well if they hoard it or waste the resources on excess living.[48]  John sees almsgiving as the purpose for wealth.  He connects this virtue to the theology of the resurrection.

Behold the intelligence of the Apostle, how opportune his advice… For he who can philosophize about the resurrection, and can remove himself entirely to the future life, will account the present circumstances as nothing: neither wealth, nor plenty, nor gold, nor silver, nor the covering of clothes, nor luxuriousness, nor expensive tables, nor any other such thing.  And he who accounts these as nothing will more readily abound in the guardianship of the poor.[49]

On Almsgiving, Homily 10.3

John sees the fourth petition of Lord’s prayer, “give us daily bread,” as asking for the real daily food.  We are not to ask for or seek excess of our needs.[50]  God expects the Christian to participate in this by supplying the needs of others.

If none of these things hold thee, but thou breakest through all bonds, hear from Paul, that thou art “worse than an infidel;” for he having heard nothing of almsgiving, or of heavenly things, hadth overshot thee in love for man; but thou who art bidden to love thy very enemies, lookest upon thy friends as enemies, and art more careful of thy money than of their bodies.  Yet the money by being spent will sustain no injury, but thy brother if neglected will perish.  What madness then to be careful of money, and careless about one’s kindred?  Whence hat this craving for riches burst in upon us?[51]

Homily 82.4 on John

But supplying these needs is not enough.  The wealthy cannot waste any of their resources, either.  John preaches against the extravagance of the rich in a variety of ways.  He asks the purpose of the expensive homes, coaches and furnishings.  He sees the extravagant clothes and jewelry as a fraud for those who are Christian.  This is especially true of those who are in the religious life.  One cannot use the wealth or luxury or extravagance.[52]

For nothing is unclean by nature, but it becomes so through the conscience of him that partakes of it.  And what was the object of the prohibition of so many meats?  To restrain excessive luxury.  But had it been said, “eat not for the sake of luxury,” it would not have been borne.[53]

Homily 12 on Timothy

There is nothing more grievous than luxury.  Hear what Moses says about it: Jacob “grew fat, he became thick and broad.  The beloved one kicked out” (Deut. 32:15).  Moses does not say that Jacob walked out, but that the beloved one kicked out, suggesting how haughty and unbridled he had become.  And elsewhere Moses says, when you have eaten and drunk, “take heed to yourself, that you forget not the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:11).  In this way luxury often leads to forgetfulness.  As for you, my beloved, if you sit at table, remember that from the table you must go to prayer.  Fill your belly so moderately that you may not become too heavy to bend your knees and call upon your God.[54]

Lazarus and the rich man 1.10 

We are warned against intemperance not only in the new dispensation by its greater attention to right thinking, its more frequent struggles and greater effort, its many rewards and ineffable consolations.  Not even people living under the old law were permitted to indulge themselves in that way.  Even thought they were sitting in the dark dependent upon tapers and were brought forward gradually into the light, like children being weaned off milk.  Lest you think I am idly finding fault with intemperance in what I say, listen to what the prophet says: “Woe to those who fall on evil days in sleeping on beds of ivory, luxuriating on their couches, living on a diet of goats picked from the flocks and suckling calves from the herds, and drinking strained wines, anointed with precious unguents—like men treating this as a lasting city, and not seeking one to come.” (Amos 6:4-7)[55]

Homilies on Genesis 1.10

Strip off your adornment and put it in Christ’s hands through the hands of His poor.  He will guard all your riches for you against the day when He will raise up your body with great glory.  Then he will put on you a better wealth and richer adornment, since your present wealth and adornment are really paltry and ridiculous.[56]

Montf. 2.41

This distress over luxury even extends to the public arts.  John cries that they use gold to make men of stone but don’t give a second thought to the real people being turned to stone by their hardship.  John sees a duty to almsgiving as higher than artistic expression.  John outlines numerous ways that one of wealth can give.  He laments that the church is the owner of houses and lands that only benefit a clergy.[57]  The banquets of the rich show the excesses of city life in the times.  The food, entertainment music and eating and drinking to excess.  This drunkenness and immorality were taking place at banquets to honor the feast of martyrs, transferring pagan practices to a Christian purpose.[58]

Chrysostom is making these demands from a strong stream of tradition.  The Christian Church in the east had a long history of philanthropic support.[59]  This was even legislated by the councils both local and ecumenical.  The first council of Nicea’s seventieth canon mandated the establishment of hospitals by the church.  The Chalcedon council extended this to orphanages and houses for the poor and widows.[60]  When Constantine legalized the Church he also took the Church under his patronage as emperor.  He contributed to the Church directly and he followed the Church by contributing to the poor, widows and orphans as they did.  This led many wealthy in the empire to emulate the emperor as a way of currying favor.[61]

The merger of the imperial patronage system with the ecclesiastical philanthropy was complete by Chrysostom’s time.  Patronage was a system of relationships between a lesser and a greater person. Friendship is a key virtue in the culture between a patron and their client.  The greater would provide for the educated lesser ranks.  They in turn would provide service in their way to the benefactor.  Chrysostom has this system of patronage friendship in mind when he speaks of Christians becoming friends of God.  In the same way that the rich and powerful have a friend in the emperor, the Christian is a friend of God.  In the same way that a political friend intercedes for favors, the Christian can intercede in prayer before God.[62]

The proper use of wealth is in almsgiving.  At the same time, if the alms are not given in the proper attitude, then the gesture is worthless towards ones salvation.[63]

And when He (Jesus) had said, “not to do it before men,” He added, “to be seen of them.”  And thought it seems as if the same were said a second time, yet if any one give particular attention, it is not the same thing, but one is different from the other; and it hath great security, and unspeakable care and tenderness.  For it may be, both that one doing alms before men may not do it to be seen of them, and again that one not doing it before men may do it to be seen of them.  Wherefore it is not simply the thing, but the intent, which he both punishes and rewards.  And unless such exactness were employed, this would make many more backward about the giving of alms, because it is not on every occasion altogether possible to do it secretly.  For this cause, setting thee free from this restraint, He defines both the penalty and the reward not by the result of the action, but by the intention of the doer.[64]

Homily 19.2 on Matthew

Giving for the wrong reason seems to have been less of a problem than lack of charity in general.  Admonitions on the lack of charity in the congregation are much more frequent than the former warnings.[65]

Considering these things the, beloved, let us discern the truth at length though late, and let us grow sober.  For I am now ashamed of speaking of almsgiving, because that having often spoken on this  subject, I have effected nothing worth the exhortation.  For some increase indeed hath there been, but not so much as I wished.  For I see you sowing, but not with a liberal hand.  Wherefore I fear too lest ye also “reap sparingly.”  For in proof that we do sow sparingly, let us inquire, if it seem good, which are more numerous in the city, poor or rich; and which they, who are neither poor nor rich, but have a middle place.  As, for instance, a tenth part is of rich and a tenth of the poor that have nothing at all, and the rest of the middle sort.  Let us distribute then amongst the poor the whole multitude of the city, and ye will see the disgrace how great it is.  For the very rich indeed are but few, but those that come next to them are many; again, the poor are much fewer than these.  Nevertheless, although there are so many that are able to feed the hungry, many go to sleep in their hunger, not because those that have are not able with ease to succor them, but because of their great barbarity and inhumanity.[66]

Homily 66.3 on Matthew

In short, the sole purpose of wealth in God’s creation is the support of the community.  The call of charity and a connection with the community of people demand that these resources not be wasted in extravagance.


Wealth’s purpose as almsgiving has obvious practical implications for the salvation of Christians.  Chrysostom notes and applies these implications frequently in his work.  These implications begin with the Baptismal call to the just life.  John also provides an ideal of Christian living in his own chosen mode of life, monasticism.  He finds application for this mode of life for all Christians in some form.  Finally, John makes frequent reference to the punishments and rewards awaiting Christians in the next life should they misuse their wealth.


Baptism and moral behavior are intimately linked from the beginnings of Christianity.[67]  Chrysostom wrote a standard two-part set of instructions for the catechumens preparing for baptism.[68]  In these he frequently notes that the new life of the Christian must include all manner of good works, including turning away from greed.

What does being “baptized into His death” mean?  That it is with a view to our dying as He did.  For Baptism is the Cross. … after the resurrection to come had been set before us, demands of us another, even the new conversation, which is brought about in the present life by a change of habits.  When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other.  And how is it a resurrection?  Why, because sin is mortified, and righteousness hath risen again, and the old life has been made to vanish, and this new and angelic one is being lived in.[69]

Homily 10 on Romans

Three times the priest asks the candidate if they renounce Satan.  The candidate replies, “I do renounce him.”  The priest then asks three times if the candidate accepts Christ and promises to serve him.  Chrysostom explains:

Therefore, remember these words.  They are your contract with the Bridegroom.  It is necessary, before a marriage, to complete an account of the gifts and the dowry; you too must do so before this marriage.  He found you naked and a beggar, behaving in an unseemly manner, but He did not run away; you were the one who had to choose.  Instead of a dowry, contribute these words, and Christ will consider that the wealth you bring is great—if you will keep and observe these words through all your life.  For Christ finds His wealth in the salvation of our souls.  Listen to what St. Paul says: “Rich towards all and for all who call upon Him.”  (Rom. 10:12)[70]

P.K. 3.26

Later in the ritual one must strip for the immersion in the baptismal pool.  Chrysostom sees the removal of the old clothes as a putting aside the old self (Col. 3:9-10).  He goes on to use the opportunity for moral preaching as well.  He asks about the jewelry or expensive clothes lying before them.  Are these a vain display that would feed countless poor?  Do they represent the work of the flesh or the work of the spirit?[71]  He also notes that as Christians they are all now equal to each other.  There is no longer any distinction of rank.

It is certainly marvelous and contrary to expectation, but this rite does away with all difference and distinction of rank.  Even if a man happens to enjoy worldly honor, if he happens to glitter with wealth, if he boasts of high lineage or the glory which is his in this world, he stands side by side with the beggar and with him who is clothed in rags, and many a time with the blind and the lame.  Nor is he disgusted by this, because he knows that all these differences find no place in the world of the spirit, where one looks only for a soul that is well disposed.[72]

Stav. 2.13

Furthermore, when you have all entered (the church), then must you all together—for you must observe this, that all these gifts are given to all of you in common, so that the rich man may not look down on the poor man, nor the poor man consider that he has any less than the rich man; for in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, there is no Scythian, no barbarian, no Jew, no Greek; (Gal. 3:28) not only is there no difference of age or nature, but even every difference of honor is canceled out; there is one esteem for all, one gift, one brotherhood binding us together, the same grace.[73]

P.K. 3.21

This lack of distinction among Christians is a favorite theme of Chrysostom.  He makes note of this multiple times throughout the baptismal instruction homilies and in comments on First Corinthians and his Easter homily as well.  Chrysostom considers this equality a sign of nobility among Christians.[74]

P.K. 3.21

In baptism John reminds his audience of their solidarity and emphasizes the call to charity.  This Christian life that the candidate is embarking on makes claims on their wealth.  These homilies would also serve as a reminder for everyone else.


The Christian ascetic community was on the rise in the late fourth century.  People left the life in the city to live the life of the desert.  Widows and young men would swear themselves to celibacy for the purpose of service to the community.  These movements were in stark contrast to the larger Hellenistic society of the cities.  John took part in this movement himself prior to his own ordination and elevation to the episcopate.[75] 

John saw all Christians as called to a monastic style of life, even married people in the city.  They should live the monastic ideal as much as possible especially the lack of material possession.  Chrysostom sees the acquisitive nature of man as the root of all social evil.

 Let us then flee from this root of all evils, and we shall escape them all.  “The love of money,” he says, “is the root;” thus says Paul, or rather Christ by Paul, and let us see how this is.  The actual experience of the world testifies it.  For what evil is not caused by wealth, or rather not by wealth, but by the wicked will of those who know not how to use it?  For it is possible to use wealth in well doing, and even through means of it to inherit the kingdom.  But now what was given us for the relief of the poor, to make amends for our past sins, to win a good report, and to please God, this we employ against the poor and wretched, or rather against our own souls, and to the high displeasure of God.  For as for the other, a man robs him of his wealth, and reduces him to poverty, but himself to death; and him he causes to pine in penury here, but himself in that eternal punishment.  Are they equal sufferers, think you?[76]

Homily 17 on Timothy

The entire material world belongs to the Lord for the benefit of all, not to become a possession of a single person.  Chrysostom sees only one reason to possess property for practical functional use.  Any other possession is simply not justified or proper.[77]  He preached in both Antioch and Constantinople that the people could live as if they were a large monastic community.  The example of Acts of the Apostles (2:44-47) where they hold property in common was before them.  If they voluntarily renounce property and distribute based on need all would be taken care of.  But he rejects doing this by force.[78]

There was a population of rich young women who declared themselves celibate ascetics and lived the monastic life in their homes.  They used their wealth to support John’s work for the poor and provided the labor in the hospitals personally.  Their number included wealthy widows too.  Olympias, with whom John corresponded from his exile, was apparently a leader in this group.[79]


The coming judgement in the next life is ever present for John.  This present life is but a short passing shadow compared to our time in the world to come.  But our actions here will determine the reward or punishment meted out in our future.  There is no advantage of wealth in the coming judgement.

You saw him (Lazarus) then at the gate of the rich man; see him today in the bosom of Abraham.  You saw him licked by dogs; see him carried in triumph by the angels.  You saw him in poverty then; see him in luxury now.  You saw him in hunger; see him in great abundance.  You saw him striving in the contest; see him crowned with victory.  You saw his sufferings; see his recompense, both you who are rich and you who are poor: the rich, to keep you from thinking that wealth is worth anything without virtue; the poor, to keep you from thinking that poverty is any evil.  This man is presented as a teacher for you both.[80]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.1

Righteous use of wealth is rewarded too.  Heaven is the better investment for one’s money.  The spending on things of the earth will get one the approval of the crowd in the market.  Charity will get you the acclamation of Christ in heaven.  John asks where you want your treasure.  An investment in heaven is to give to the poor.[81]  For Chrysostom the sin of wealth is not in the possession, but in the misuse.  Your attitude towards wealth is the critical element.  This attitude can be discerned by how you use wealth.  Wealth can overwhelm the mind and lead to avarice.  The salvific use of wealth is in charity.  When you recognize that the world is passing, wealth has no more power over you.[82]  Chrysostom wonders how the rich will be saved.  They can start by giving up the superfluous in their lives and convert that into charity.  This will start them on the road to spiritual growth and freedom from their wealth.  Wealth is a hindrance to salvation and only careful management and use of the wealth can overcome this barrier.[83]

Chrysostom was not above using the stick of eternal punishment in berating the wealthy.  He saw human sinfulness and the coming of divine judgment as a powerful couple to set before his congregation.  And he reminded them that the work of the church in this area did not alleviate them of their responsibilities to give.[84]

How shall we be enabled to mortify those inordinate affections that mar our soul?  Only by the precious blood of Christ, if it is received with full assurance, for this will have the power to extinguish every disease; and together with this the divine Scriptures carefully heard, and almsgiving added to our hearing.  And then only shall we live; for now surely we are in no better state than the dead.  For as long as we live, those passions live within us.  But we must necessarily perish.  And unless we first mortify them here, they will be sure to kill us in the other life.[85]

Gospel of Matthew 4.17

The call to almsgiving recognizes the difficulty in changing the motivations of a person from accumulating wealth to giving it away.  Chrysostom uses threats of future punishment and rewards for the almsgiving behavior as parts of his exhortations.[86]

Paul says: “She who gives herself up to selfish indulgence, however, leads a life of living death.” (1 Tim 5:6) If this is said about widows, hear what he says about married people: “Similarly, the woman must deport themselves properly.  They should dress modestly and quietly, and not be decked out in fancy hairstyles, gold ornaments, pearls or costly clothing; rather, as becomes women who profess to be religious, their adornment should be good deeds.”  (1 Tim 2:9-10)  Here and elsewhere you can see he speaks at length against wanting these things so much.  For he says: “If we have food and clothing we have all that we need.  Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap.  They are letting themselves be captured by foolish and harmful desires which drag men down to ruin an destruction.”  (1 Tim 6:8-9)[87]

On Virginity

Now to make our denunciation of luxury more vehement and more pertinent to those who practice it, let us lead our sermon back to Lazarus.  Thus our advice and counsel will be truer and clearer, when you see those who attended to good eating chastised and punished, not in words but in actions.  For as the rich man lived in such wickedness, practiced luxury every day, and dressed himself splendidly, he was preparing for himself a more grievous punishment, building himself a greater fire, and making his penalty inexorable and his retribution inaccessible to pardon.[88]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 1.12

Nothing tends so much to disturb and scandalize the majority of people as the fact that rich people living in wickedness enjoy great good fortune while righteous people living with virtue are driven to extreme poverty and endure a multitude of other troubles even worse than poverty.  But this parable is sufficient to provide the remedies, self-control for the rich and consolation for the poor.  It teaches the former not to be conceited, while it comforts the poor for their present situation.  It persuades the rich not to boast when they do not pay the penalty of their wickedness in this life, because a grievous retribution awaits them hereafter.[89]

Lazarus and the rich man Homily 4.5

Almsgiving is such a powerful obligation that John cannot imagine true repentance in the absence of alms.

And I say these things out of concern for you, because repentance without almsgiving is a corpse and is without wings.  Repentance cannot fly high without the wing of almsgiving.  For this reason Almsgiving became a wing of piety to Cornelius, who had rightly repented.  “Your alms,” he says, “And your prayers have ascended to heaven.” (Acts 10:4)  For if his repentance did not have almsgiving as a wing, it would not have reached heaven.  Today, therefore, the marketplace of almsgiving is open, because we see the captives and the poor; we see all who walk around in the marketplace; we see those who cry out; we see those who weep; we see those who sigh.[90]

On Repentance Homily 7.21

Chrysostom is used as justification for a Christian version of communism in recent years.  But the context of his sermons make clear that he does not see an abolishing of current social orders or governments, but a voluntary call to charity among the wealthy.  He affirms the legitimacy of government and the need for government authority to keep social order in many of his homilies.  He supports the paying of taxes.[91]

Phan, 136-37

On this matter Paul discusses at length in other letters also.  He requires that slaves be subjected to their masters as well as that subjects submit themselves to their rulers.  And this he does to show that it was not for the subversion of political authority that Christ introduced his laws but for the better ordering of it, and to teach men not to undertake unnecessary and unprofitable wars.  For we have enough struggles to contend with for the truth’s sake to take on other useless ones.[92]

Homily 13.4

While his pleas for charitable sharing by Christians border on command with little option but to obey, John still structures these calls as gifts from the wealthy to the poor.  There is no demand for the rich to forego all of their wealth and turn this over to the Church.  This is certainly an option that John finds appealing, but he stops well short of making this ideal anything near a command or obligation.


Chrysostom sees prosperity as a real danger that breeds carelessness.  Having prosperity makes one fall asleep in one’s Christian duty.  To wake up the congregation to these responsibilities he led by example.  Chrysostom setup charities and hospitals under his administration.  He preached about the practice of love and charity.  His ethics were deeply rooted in this call to charity from the prosperous.[93]  Chrysostom not only preached ardently that his congregation should be generous of their wealth to the poor, but set an example himself from both his own wealth and the means of the church.  This attitude was not unique either.  A large number of his contemporaries were advocating and participating in such philanthropy throughout the Greek world.[94]

Chrysostom sees morality as a practical pastor.  In his accounting of righteousness the stress is on changed lives and almsgiving from one’s wealth is a key component of this.  Conversion and evangelization are built on this moral life of Christians.[95]  John’s concern for living the ideal Christian life couples true prayer with good works.[96]  His homilies are still relevant today “because they are so ethical, so simple and so clear-headed.”[97]  John is a first-class moralist speaking to all levels of his society with an original articulation of a profound message.[98]

Chrysostom’s philosophy of wealth provides an intellectual foundation that can yield only one purpose for riches in the world.  Likewise, this purpose for wealth informs the Christian of the natural relationship of wealth to one’s salvation.  He recognizes the injustice of the current situation and contemplates both the source and solution for this issue.  He then articulates these insights in a memorable fashion.


[1] The two volume complete biography of John Chrysostom is Chrysostomus Baur, John Chrysostom and his time: Antioch, trans. M Gonzaga, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Westminster, Md.,: Newman Press, 1959). for his career in Antioch and Chrysostomus Baur, John Chrysostom and his time: Constantinople, trans. M Gonzaga, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Westminster, Md.,: Newman Press, 1959). for John’s time in Constantinople.  These volumes include an extensive bibliography of original ancient sources on the life of Chrysostom. Short summaries of John Chrysostom’s life can be found in the following works: Kurt Aland, Saints and sinners; men and ideas in the early church (Philadelphia,: Fortress Press, 1970), 214-20.  Otto Bardenhewer, Patrology: the lives and works of the fathers of the church, trans. Thomas J. Shahan, 2nd ed., ATLA monograph preservation program (St. Louis, Mo: Herder and Herder, 1908), 323-29.    Georges Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the fourth century, trans. Catherine Edmunds, The Collected Works, vol. 7 (Vaduz, Europa: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), 240-45.  John N. Kelly, Golden mouth : the story of John Chrysostom–ascetic, preacher, bishop (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), 291-95.  An appendix in Kelly includes an extensive listing of ancient biographical material on John Chrysostom.  Eric Francis Osborn, Ethical patterns in early Christian thought (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 114-16.

[2] Osborn, 125. and Frederic M. Perthes, Life of John Chrysostom, trans. Alvah Hovey and David B Ford (Boston, MA: John P. Jewett and Co., 1854), 121-30.

[3] Hagit Amirav, Rhetoric and tradition: John Chrysostom on Noah and the flood, ed. Lucas Van Rompay, Traditio Exegetica Graeca, vol. 12 (Louvain, Belgique: Éditions Peeters, 2003).  Aland, 218-19.  Osborn, 117.  Jaroslav Pelikan, Divine rhetoric: the sermon on the mount as message and as model in Augustine, Chrysostom and Luther (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 68-69.  A specific example can be seen in the description of the two letters to the clergy in Constantinople on why they cannot have consecrated virgins living in their houses.  The second letter expands the ban to any man’s house.  Actually, the ban already in place was being ignored.  Bardenhewer, 335-36.   For a full discussion of ecclesiastical corruption in Constantinople see chapter 9 in J. Milton Vance, Beiträge zur Byzantinischen Kulturgeschichte am Ausgang des IV Jahrhunderts aus den Schriften des Joh. Chrysostomos (Jena: Universitèatsbuchdr. G. Neuenhahn, 1907).

[4] Baur, John Chrysostom and his time: Constantinople, 57-60.

[5] “Chrysostom argued that the etymology of the Greek word crhma (money) is based on the notion of use, and that money must circulate and not be idly hoarded ‘Furthermore that is why it is called crhma so that it can be used in the service of one’s fellow beings, not to be hoarded, unused. . . . You acquire money not to hide it but to share it.’  ‘That is why it is called crhma to be used where it is needed and not buried in the ground.’  Anastassios Karayiannis, “The Eastern Christian Fathers (350-400 A.D.) on the redistribution of wealth,” History of Political Economy 26, no. 1 (1994): 48.

[6] Edward Nowak, Le chrétien devant la souffrance; étude sur la pensée de Jean Chrysostome, Thâeologie historique, 19 (Paris,: Beauchesne, 1973), 82-83.

[7] Homily 10.3 on First Corinthians as translated in Peter C. Phan, Social Thought, ed. Thomas P. Halton, Message of the Fathers of the Church, vol. 20 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1984), 151-52.

[8] On repentance and Prayer, Homily 4.13 as translated in John Chrysostom and Gus George Christo, On repentance and almsgiving, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. Gus George Christo, The Fathers of the church, vol. 96 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1998), 48-49.

[9] Similar sentiments are expressed in the work of Basil the Great, Titus of Bostra and Nemesius of Emessa.  Karayiannis: 62-64.  In fact, part of the growth of Christianity as a religion early on is due to its concern with economic fairness.  This concern was unique in Greco-Roman religions.  Christians taught justice on property, money and labor issues and that wealth has a religious value.  These are good products, created by a good God for the good of all.  Igino Giordani and Alba Israel Zizzamia, The social message of the early church fathers (Paterson, N.J.,: St.Anthony guild press, 1944), 254-55.  For examples other than Chrysostom see Theophilus, Ad Aut., Liber II, passim.,  Origen In ep. Ad Rom. IV, 9, Clement Of Alexandria Paed., II, 12, Cyprian, De Op. Et eleem. XXV and Novatian, De Trinitate, I.

[10]Montf. 2.26-28 as translated in John Chrysostom and Paul W. Harkins, Baptismal instructions, ed. Johannes Quasten and Walter J. Burghardt, trans. Paul W. Harkins, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 31 (Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1963), 181.  See also Homily 2.6 on Timothy and commentary in Phan, 138-39.

[11] Montf. 2.39 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 184-85.

[12] Chrysostom was not alone among the fathers calling for this comparison of physical wealth to spiritual wealth.  The comparison of physical and visible wealth to spiritual wealth that cannot be seen is a common theme.  They point out that the value of materials is out of proportion to their actual usefulness.  That the values assigned to gold, silver and gems are purely subjective.  Karayiannis: 41-42.

[13] Stav. 8.11-12 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 124.  Similar comments are found in Homily 11.2 on Timothy in Phan, 157.  and Homily 12.5 on Matthew in Phan, 141-42. and Homily 9 on Genesis.  John Chrysostom and Robert C. Hill, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. Robert C. Hill, The fathers of the church, vol. 74 (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1985).

[14] Stav. 1.34-35 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 36-37.

[15] Montf. 2.40-41 as translated in Ibid., 185.  Similar comments are found in Homilies 3 and 14 on Genesis.

[16] Homily 21.2 on Ephesians as translated in Phan, 156.

[17] Homily 10 on Philippians as translated in John Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Gross Alexander, John A. Broadus, and Philip Schaeff, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 13 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 231-32. He goes on to disparage gold, jewelry, mansions, and art in a similar fashion.  All these get a wealthy man is attention from thieves.  They provide no value to his life and cannot provide anything useful.  These all contribute to vainglory and are a loss in the end.

[18] Homily 12.4 on Timothy as translated in Phan, 158-59.

[19] Florovsky, 251.  Osborn, 117.

[20] Stav. 1.31 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 35.

[21] Florovsky, 249.  John even disapproves of using wealth in the elaborate decoration of churches.  The house of god is not a place for piles of silver and gold.  Give all you have to the poor is the command of the gospel. Florovsky, 250.

[22] W. R. W. Stephens, Saint Chrysostom: his life and times (London: John Murray, 1872).

[23] Christopher A. Hall, Reading scripture with the church fathers, ed. Thomas Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1998), 174-75.

[24] Karayiannis: 43-47.

[25] Homily 64 on John as translated in Alberto Ferreiro and Thomas C. Oden, The Twelve Prophets. Vol. 14 Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture. Old Testament. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 185.

[26] Homily 13 On Ephesians as translated in Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 113.

[27] Amirav, 166-67.

[28] Concerning the Statues 2.14 as translated in John Chrysostom and others, Projegomena; On the priesthood; Ascetic treatises; select homilies and letters; homilies on the statutes, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. W. R. W. Stephens, R. Blackburn, and T. P. Brandram, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 348-49.

[29] Homily 11.5 on 1 Corinthians as translated in Phan, 152.

[30] Homily 12 on Timothy as translated in Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 447.

[31] Georges Florovsky, “St. John Chrysostom: the prophet of charity,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, no. 3-4 (1955): 40.

[32] Hundreds of years before Chrysostom we see this thought in Tertullian, the Didiche, the Shepherd of Hermas and Gnostic Acts of Thomas.  Carl A. Volz, Faith and practice in the early church: Foundations for contemporary theology(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), 209-10-11.  Paul sees greediness (pleonexia) as especially serious sin.  This figures in the lists of 1 Cor. twice and Rom. 1:29, col. 3:5, Eph. 5:5. Ezek. 22:27 says that this is the sin of the elders of Israel.  The Greek philosophers also equate the greedy man with a criminal.  Stanislas Lyonnet and Leopold Sabourin, Sin, redemption, and sacrifice. A biblical and patristic study, Analecta Biblica, 48 (Rome,: Biblical Institute, 1970), 50-51.

[33] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.9 as translated in John Chrysostom and Catharine P. Roth, On wealth and poverty, trans. Catharine P. Roth (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), 49. 

[34] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 4.25 as translated in Ibid., 116.

[35] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 3.7 as translated in Ibid., 64.

[36] Russell Edward Willoughby, “The use and misuse of wealth in selected homilies of John Chrysostom,” in Church divinity, ed. John H. Morgan (Bristol, Ind: Wyndham Hall Press, 1987), 3-5.

[37] Florovsky, “Prophet of Charity,” 39.

[38] Homily 34.8 on First Corinthians in John Chrysostom and Talbot Chambers, Homilies on first and second Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Talbot Chambers, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 12 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 205-6. and Homily 49.3-4 on Matthew in Phan, 142.

[39] Blake Leyerle, “John Chrysostom on almsgiving and the use of money,” Harvard Theological Review 87, no. 1 (1994): 34-35.

[40] John’s homilies on Genesis preached during the Great Fast make frequent mention of the folly of ostentatious wealth.  He notes that poverty borne with a humble spirit is a far greater treasure. Kelly, 76.  See also Homily 21 on Ephesians Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 155-56.

[41] Stav. 6.12  as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 97-98.

[42] Homily 22.5 on Second Corinthians as translated in Chrysostom and Chambers, Homilies on first and second Corinthians, 340.

[43] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.2 as translated in Chrysostom and Roth, On wealth and poverty, 40. This concept of wealth comes from ancient Greek philosophy.  See Karayiannis: 40. for a brief overview with references on this development of Platonic thought in the patristic period.

[44] Margaret M. Mitchell, The heavenly trumpet: John Chrysostom and the art of Pauline interpretation (Louisville: john Knox Press, 2002), 357-60.  Chrysostom expressed a special affinity for Paul throughout his own life and work.  John is said to have been tutored by Paul’s spirit.  Mitchell, 1-33.  For a review of how John’s tutoring under Paul plays out in the iconography and hagiography of the east see the appendix of Mitchell, 488-99.

[45] In Praise of Paul 7th Panegyric as translated in John Chrysostom and Stephen Neill, Chrysostom and his message, a selection from the sermons of St. John Chrysostom of Antioch and Constantinople, trans. Stephen Neill (New York,: Association Press, 1963), 70-71.

[46] Phan, 136.

[47] Homily 25.3 on First Corinthians as translated in Ibid., 153.

[48] Willoughby, 5.

[49] On Almsgiving, Homily 10.3 as translated in Chrysostom and Christo, On repentance and almsgiving, 132-33.

[50] Other commentators, like Augustine, spiritualize this daily bread but John sees this as real normal bread and a call to moderation.  Pelikan, 76.

[51] Homily 82.4 on John as translated in John Chrysostom, Philip Schaeff, and Frederic Gardiner, Homilies on the Gospel of John and Hebrews, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Philip Schaeff and Frederic Gardiner, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 14 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 305.

[52] Kelly, 97.  This theme is common in other fathers of the period as well.  For an summary of the condemnation of luxury in Chrysostom, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory Nazianzus see Karayiannis: 53-55.  Aime Puech, S. Jean Chrysostome et les moeurs de son temps (Paris: 1966), 141.

[53] Homily 12 on Timothy as translated in Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 446.

[54] Lazarus and the rich man 1.10 as translated in Chrysostom and Roth, On wealth and poverty, 26-27.  See also Homily 7.2 on Lazarus and the rich man in Chrysostom and Roth, On wealth and poverty, 136-37.

[55] Homilies on Genesis 1.10 as translated in Ferreiro and Oden, 105.

[56] Montf. 2.41 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 185.

[57] Stephen James Fremantle, The state of morals and of society in the Eastern Church in the time of S. Chrysostom, ATLA monograph preservation program (Oxford: E. Baxter, 1870), 37-38.

[58] Ibid., 33-35.

[59] For a complete discussion of Almsgiving in the Byzantine imperial culture see Demetrios J. Constantelos, Byzantine philanthropy and social welfare (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1968), 3-64.  The practice of this culture in ecclesiastical institutions is discussed here Constantelos, 67-110.

[60] Constantelos, 69-70.  One of Christ’s titles in Byzantine liturgical services is filanqropos ‘lover of mankind.’  This appellation is frequent in vespers and matins.  This even gave rise to a separate devotional service with this title in the post-reformation age.  For Chrysostom the terms filanqropia and agaph are interchangeable.  He uses both to refer to the feelings of love that Christ has for Christians.  But for Chrysostom this love joins with God’s justice his judgement.  They are two sides to the same coin.  God’s love is tempered with his justice and God’s justice is meted out in accordance with ones participation in that love.  This is not a simple sentimental love of God for the Christian but a love that contains and demands just action.  Constantelos, 34.

[61] Rowan A. Greer, Broken lights and mended lives: theology and common life in the early Church (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986), 131.

[62] Michael Sherwin, “Friends at the table of the Lord: friendship with God and the transformation of patronage in the thought of John Chrysostom,” New Blackfriars 85, no. 998 (2004): 387-88. For a more complete description of the classical patronage scenario see David Konstan, “Patrons and friends,” Classical Philology 90 (1995): 329-30.

[63] Willoughby, 7-10.

[64] Homily 19.2 on Matthew as translated by John Chrysostom, George Prevost, and M. B. Riddle, Homilies on St. Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 131. Chrysostom has an affinity for Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount material for moral lessons on wealth.  This is a common theme in Christian preaching seeing Jesus as a great moral leader building on Old Testament themes in these passages.  Wayne A. Meeks, The moral world of the first Christians, Library of early Christianity ; 6 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 138-40.

[65] Fremantle, 38.

[66] Homily 66.3 on Matthew as translated in Chrysostom, Prevost, and Riddle, Homilies on St. Matthew, 407.

[67] The instructions before baptism and the questions of the people presented make sure they are of good moral character.  Volz, 103-5.

[68] Wayne A. Meeks, The origins of Christian morality: the first two centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 92-95.  The fathers preached preparatory homilies prior to baptism and explanatory homilies after.  The traditional time of Baptism was Holy Saturday. When we see homilies preached during the Great Fast (Lent) these are preparatory to Baptism, those preached after Pascha (Easter) are to explain the “mysteries” or liturgical practices of the Church.  Catechumens were not permitted to remain in church for the mystery of the Eucharist before they were baptised.  The mystery of the Eucharist is not explained until after baptism.  These explanations are call mustagogi.  Cyril of Jerusalem is the classic example of this genre.  Cyril has two sets of instructions, Baptismal Catechesis preached prior to baptism as instructions in the Christian life and Mystagogical Catechesis or mustagogi for those neofwtistou” (newly enlighted) teaching on the sacramental mysteries.  These are preached after baptism so that the “newly enlightened” come to understand the liturgical mystery of the Church.  Chrysostom follows this pattern in his own sermons before and after baptism.  Theodore of Mopsuestia preaches Syrian examples in sixteen sermons.  Mopsuestia is a satellite of Antioch, where John is originally from.  In the west, Ambrose picks up the literary genre for a series of sermons titled De Mysteriis.  Most see Ambrose’s work as a rhetorical device rather than an actual example of preaching to the “newly enlightened.”  All of these examples from 385-430 AD, contemporary with Chrysostom. Earlier works connecting the moral life to Christian initiation includes, Aristides Apol. 15.3-7 giving an extensive list of good works that Christians are responsible for as an apology against persecutions.  Justin Martyr 2 Apol. 12 explaining that the moral character of Christians is what prompted his own conversion.  Hippolytus in “Apostolic Traditions” outlines the elaborate process for admission to baptism by the end of the second century.  This includes the requirement for testimony on their moral character.

[69] Homily 10 on Romans as translated in John Chrysostom and others, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the epistle to the Romans, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. Walker, J. Sheppard, and H. Browne, A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church, vol. 11 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 405-6.  This pericope is the standard liturgical reading for all baptisms in the Byzantine lectionary, Romans 6:3-11.

[70] P.K. 3.26 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 168-69.

[71] Chrysostom’s Baptismal Instructions Strav. 1.24-28 and Strav. 4.12 cf Hugh M. Riley, Christian initiation; a comparative study of the interpretation of the baptismal liturgy in the mystagogical writings of Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Ambrose of Milan (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), 165-70.  The spiritual meaning of the baptismal anointing at this point is preparation to be a solider in the war against the devil.  Having stripped off the old self in the clothes, the anointing is given as a shield against the devil.  Riley, 199-201.  Stav. 2.24 in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 52.  P.K. 3.27 in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 169. Letter to Theodore 2.1 Chrysostom and others, Projegomena; On the priesthood; Ascetic treatises; select homilies and letters; homilies on the statutes, 111-12. and On the Devil 2.2 in Chrysostom and others, Projegomena; On the priesthood; Ascetic treatises; select homilies and letters; homilies on the statutes, 187-88.

[72] Stav. 2.13 as translated in Chrysostom and Harkins, Baptismal instructions, 48.

[73] P.K. 3.21 as translated in Ibid., 167.

[74] Ibid., 219-20.

[75] Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen, John Chrysostom, ed. Carol Harrison, The Early Church Fathers (New York: Routledge, 2000), 3-4.

[76] Homily 17 on Timothy as translated in Chrysostom and others, Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 469.

[77] Georges Florovsky, Christianity and culture, trans. Catherine Edmunds, The Collected Works, vol. 2 (Vaduz, Europa: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1974), 33-34.  Florovsky notes there are similar views in the writings of Basil the Great

[78] Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the fourth century, 252-53.

[79] Mayer and Allen, 49-50.

[80] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 2.1 as translated in Chrysostom and Roth, On wealth and poverty, 39.

[81] Leyerle: 37-39.

[82] Rebecca H. Weaver, “Wealth and poverty in the early church,” Interpretation 41, no. 4 (1987): 377.

[83] Hall, 175-76.

[84] Weaver: 377.

[85] Gospel of Matthew 4.17 as translated in Ferreiro and Oden, 61.

[86] This theme is common in other fathers of the period as well.  Karayiannis: 55-56.

[87] On Virginity as translated in John Chrysostom and Elizabeth A. Clark, On virginity ; Against remarriage, trans. Sally Rieger Shore, Studies in women and religion ; v. 9 (Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1983), 82.

[88] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 1.12 as translated in Chrysostom and Roth, On wealth and poverty, 28.

[89] Lazarus and the rich man Homily 4.5 as translated in Ibid., 82.

[90] On Repentance Homily 7.21  as translated in Chrysostom and Christo, On repentance and almsgiving, 103.

[91] Phan, 136-37.  Florovsky, “Prophet of Charity,” 41.

[92] Homily 13.4 on Romans as translated in Phan, 150.

[93] Florovsky, “Prophet of Charity,” 38.

[94] Detailed citations from the works of Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Anastasios Sinaites, John of Damascus, Cyril of Alexandria, Neilos of Ancyra and Athanasius the Great can also be found in Constantelos, 68.  Additional examples from Basil the Great, Anthony, Chrysostom, Timothy of Alexandria and Hypatios of Gangra are found Constantelos, 93-94.

[95] Osborn, 116.  See Homily 43.5 on Matthew in Chrysostom, Prevost, and Riddle, Homilies on St. Matthew.

[96] Puech, 217.  See Homily on Psalm 4 in John Chrysostom and Robert C. Hill, Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Robert C. Hill, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998).

[97] Hans Campenhausen, The fathers of the Greek Church (New York: Pantheon, 1959), 157.

[98] .Puech, 325.


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