Chrysostom on Rich and Poor


Two Forms of Robbery

The rich usually imagine that, if they do not physi­cally rob the poor, they are committing no sin. But the sin of the rich consists in not sharing their wealth with the poor. In fact, the rich person who keeps all his wealth for himself is committing a form of robbery. The reason is that in truth all wealth comes from God, and so belongs to everyone equally. The proof of this is all around us. Look at the succulent fruits which the trees and bushes produce. Look at the fertile soil which yields each year such an abundant harvest. Look at the sweet grapes on the vines, which give us wine to drink. The rich may claim that they own many fields in which fruits and grain grow; but it is God who causes seeds to sprout and mature. The duty of the rich is to share the harvest of their fields with all who work in them and with all in need. – Saint John Chrysostom

~ From, On Living Simply


  1. I like this quote. It seems like it fits with the spirit of America. Unfortunately, the heart is not where the spirit is. The nature of reformed and radical reformed theologies promotes individualism to an extreme that breeds greed and isolationism. The secular backlash of this was the progressive movement where the government tried to correct for this particular American attitude. The saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right”, comes to my mind here. What would St. John Chrysostom say about the robbery of the rich by the government because the government believes that the rich are too rich? Where does “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” turn into theft? Or, what would he say about the economic enslavement of the poor by the US government?

    Forgive me for a short journey into fantasy here. Wouldn’t it be something if America had been formed with its foundation in the Holy Orthodox Church? Would we have such a gap between the rich and the poor? Would communism have even survived its infancy if the US and Czarist Russia had the church as a common denominator?

  2. Toby, Chrysostom was a “monarchist,” meaning, he framed his theology and praxis around the notion of a Christian Empire (but not so much as to compromise, hence his excommunication in his last days). I think he would tell us to stop bickering about Republican Vs. Democrat and start speaking about why we do not have an Empire, or at least the understanding of such a concept. Orthodoxy is not just good ceremony, it is good culture. The Byzantine Empire shows this to us. We need to pick up where Nicholas II, the last Byzantine monarch (Russia d. 1917 by the Bolsheviks) left off. The monarchy protected the Church, doctrinally and practically. The monarchy caused grief with the Church also, but this is a part of the world in which we live in. I believe that the monarch (Constantine to Nicholas) was ordained by God, and is referred in 2 Thes. as the “restrainer.” I am not certain that we should let down everything to bring the monarchy back, but I do think that we should be considering for what reason it was here, what reason it is gone, and what reason that we should not press on and do the things that it helped us to do: philanthropy, councils, etc.

  3. Toby, if I am not mistaken, I believe that selection 43 from “On Living Simply” addresses your question “What would St. John Chrysostom say about the robbery of the rich….?”

    “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 from 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.”

    St. John Chrysostom

    “On Living Simply” paperback

    “On Living Simply” Kindle edition

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