Finances and the fathers

edited October 2019 in Faith Issues
Is it just me or is that in a lot of Coptic Churches in the West we are basically teaching a watered down version of the prosperity gospel in place of patristic tradition?

I often hear sentiment along the lines of there is nothing wrong with having money or buying an expensive car. In a lot of patristic lay preaching from figures that gave considerable time to the question of money such as St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great would have huge issues with that sort of teaching.

This could simply be an ignorance of patristic teaching but what is said in its place is downright dangerous. Patristic consensus on material things would emphasise that acquisition is a sin and we have a duty to share what we have with our brothers and sisters. There are are whole dimensions of practical teaching on finances that are either distorted or downright ignored in our parishes.

I find the situation highly concerning because our love of ease and money is such that even the best of us refuse correction and guidance.


  • Interesting point of view Coptic Soldier.

    Curious to see your thoughts expanded. How does one define a line between what can be owned and what not? If a person has 750 million dollars, should he give 749 million of his earnings and live off of 100k a year?

    With those 100k/year left. Can he buy whatever he wants? Or just fruits, vegetables and bread?

    Can he buy meat? Which type of meat? Some are more expensive than others. Only the type that will fill him ? Salmon is more expensive than some meat. Is he not allowed to have salmon because it’s a higher luxury? Funny enough though, the Lord’s main meal was fish! (That was however a different time and the poor man’s meal if I understood correctly).

    In my opinion, love of money and spending money are two different things. God gives all of us gifts and talents. Nothing wrong to accept the gift. There is wrong in relying on the gift. Love of money is not defined on how you spend, but how you spend, and how you earn. Each can place that judgement on their own. We can also keep in mind that Abraham was rich, his sons were rich, King David was rich. They didn’t appear to overdo their richness. At least not from my readings, but I may be wrong. King Solomon however, approached his richness with the wrong spirit and he speaks about it in Ecclesiastes.

    In the end, pray for those that are rich, to enjoy their gift in humility, while remembering that charity and love of tithe is the healing to depending and loving on money. Only they can be the judge of themselves on those.
  • I do hope (if my training serves me well) that I am not reflecting my own thoughts, apart from when I speak about modern life.  I am earnestly seeking to finish my masters in ancient christianity next year if my thesis goes as planned (God willing).

    There are a lot of things you've raised and to save this from becoming quite over-bloated I wish to take one thought - money is a gift from God - and see what sort of spiritual contemplations the fathers might have related to that idea.

    "Now, you are obviously very far from having observed one commandment at least, and you falsely swore that you had kept it, namely, that you’ve loved your neighbor as yourself. For see: the Lord’s commandment proves you to be utterly lacking in real love. For if what you’ve claimed were true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love, and have given to each person as much as to yourself, how has it come to you, this abundance of money? For it takes wealth to care for the needy: a little paid out for the necessity of each person you take on, and all at once everything gets parceled out, and is spent upon them. Thus, the man who loves his neighbor as himself will have acquired no more than what his neighbor has; whereas you, visibly, have acquired a lot. Where has this come from? Or is it not clear, that it comes from making your private enjoyment more important than helping other people? Therefore, however much you exceed in wealth, so much so do you fall short in love: else long since you’d have taken care to be divorced from your money, if you had loved your neighbor. But now your money sticks to you closer than the limbs of your body, and he who would separate you from it grieves you more than someone who would cut off your vital parts. For if you had clothed the naked, if you had given your bread to the hungry, if you had opened your doors to every stranger, if you’d become a father to orphans, if you had suffered together with all the powerless, what possessions would now be causing you despondency? Why should you now be upset to put aside what’s left, when you’d long since have taken care to distribute these things to the needy? Now, on a market day, no one is sorry to barter his goods and get in return such things as he has need of; but to the extent that he purchases things of greater value with what is cheaper, he rejoices, having gotten a better deal than his trading-partner. But you, by contrast, mourn, in giving gold, and silver, and goods — that is, offering stones and dust — in order to obtain the blessed life." St Basil the Great - to the Rich

    "But those who disagree might say: "Some have already proven worthy of high positions, honors and riches by using prayer for this purpose. They have been seen as beloved of God on account of their good fortune. How then would you keep us from offering supplications to God about these things?" To be sure, all things are dependent on the divine will. The present life is ordered from above. This is obvious to all and no one can contradict it. However, as we have come to know, success in such material things through prayer has other causes. God in no way dispenses these things as good gifts to those who ask, but rather grants them as means of strengthening the faith of the more shallow. Thus engaged with the smallest requests and learning by experience that God hears our supplications, God wants us to rise to the desire for the gifts which are both higher and worthy of Him.

    This is also what we observe in our own children. So long as they cling to the maternal breast, they seek from their mother as much as their nature can hold. But when the child grows strong and acquires the power of speech, it disdains the breast and asks for whatever the eye of children find delightful, such as a head piece, or garment, or something like these. When it becomes of age and the mind has grown together with the body, then it leaves aside childish desires and asks the parents for whatever is proper to adult life.

    In the same way God uses all things to accustom a person to look to Him. Therefore He is often not deaf even to the smallest requests in order, through His kindness in small things, to call the recipient of His grace to the desire for higher gifts. So now you must comprehend the aim for which, according to divine providence, a person rises from obscurity to become both renowned and admired, or acquires anything else, such as high position, or wealth, or reputation, which are sought after in this life. God's loving care shown in these matters provides you with proof of His great power in order that, because you may have received such childish toys, you may present requests to the Father for greater and more perfect gifts. The latter are the gifts that accrue profit to the soul.

    Indeed, it would be utterly foolish for one to approach God and ask the Eternal for transient things, the Heavenly for earthly benefits, the Highest for trifles, the One who grants the Kingdom of Heaven for earthly good fortune deserving of contempt. To do so would mean that from the One who gives abiding blessings we would ask for the fleeting use of things foreign to our eternal destiny. Indeed the enjoyment of earthly goods is temporary and their use risky, while in the end they must necessarily be taken away." St Gregory of Nyssa - On the Lord's prayer homily 1

    "Anyone who contemplates heaven and its beauty and sees all creation with the soul's eye has the ability to grasp what we have related concerning our fatherland. Yet instead of the fatherland, we now have a community which we have colonized from that more lofty life because we have forsaken this transitory world. We should consider this community, its city, beauty, rule and the happiness which belongs to its inhabitants. For if these manifestations of creation surpass praise, why should we consider what transcends it which no eye can grasp nor can be judged by hearing or the mind [1Cor 2.9]? The divine law of praise excludes by reason of spiritual praise those attributes as nonsense and judges those persons as disgraceful who are so honored because they belong to the earth [cf. Is 11.3 & Jn 7.24, 8.15]. If any worldly person is fascinated by material happiness, let him get his praise from individuals who possess either cattle, are greedy with an abundance of fish or who pile one stone on top of another to construct a lovely edifice. But for anyone contemplating the life above, wealth consists in purity of soul where poverty is wealth, the fatherland is virtue and the city is the kingdom of God which holds earthy honors in contempt. We therefore reject such reverence and do not attribute these praises to the fatherland which belongs to the great Gregory. Neither do we claim that they belong to our forefathers knowing that they have no part in such praise. However, we add that what is indeed permanent can never be taken away. " St Gregory of Nyssa - Life of St Gregory the Wonderworker
  • lovely quotes, i haven't read these before.
  • My dear mabsoota, you have no idea how much it gives me cheer to hear this from you. For the longest time, I've tried to teach people about money from the fathers and I've seen dear friends mourn when I do. Very rarely do I hear anything resembling appreciation.

    I have many more things to share if there is a willing audience here. Like I said, we have a sort of distorted picture when it comes to preaching about money. I fear it resembles the prosperity gospel more than it does right teaching. Telling people God blesses us with material rewards is very misleading. In a generation like ours with rampant consumerism and materialism I can think of few things more spiritually harmful.
  • Dear @CopticSoldier,
    Now that @mabsoota has commented I'd also like to say that I was impressed with this thread. I just didn't want to comment earlier as I have nothing to say but I commend you for carrying on teaching me the right forefathers' teaching. Oh how ruthless they were when it came to bodily and earthly desires..
    Ⲟⲩϫⲁⲓ ϧⲉⲛ Ⲡϭⲥ
  • Not only that but these standards seem impossibly high, yet if we look closely we can see the saint didn't just achieve them, they often did more than they were asked.

    For example Paul did more than was asked when he used to work to support his own evangelical work rather than depending on others for his sustinence. The commandments allow him as a coworker with Christ to be supported by his churches but as a loving pastor he didn't want to be a burden to those new to the faith so he supported himself.

    However for us, who are so much weaker than these angels among men, there is solace found in the Didache. Its instruction about following the gospel was if we could not keep it all, to at least do the very best we could. The bar is very high but God is merciful and honours the little effort we do make towards being perfect as He is.
  • edited October 2019
    God bless you CopticSoldier! May God bless your studies and endeavors to live an honest and just life. Your quotes indeed are great. I'd love to hear your honest interpretations and applications of your quotes. I am unsure if its patristic to say it is sinful to be rich and have money. But would wholeheartedly agree that it is sinful to rely on money and not give honestly to the needy. Giving to the needy comes in many fashions. I have encountered a man with a multi billion dollar company, employing many of those looking for jobs. 

    The prosperity gospel teaching of course is incorrect. The last quote below by Origen almost implies it, but there is a balance with all the quote you provided which renders somewhat of a middle way. I personally believe having money isn't sinful but it is how you use it that makes the difference. The person who has money must be excessively careful to be aware of this danger, for truly it is hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Not impossible. But the rich man is most definitely called to learn from Abraham and Job. I doubt you disagree. 

    Some quotes of the fathers on Abraham and Job:

    "The text reads: “Now, Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and gold. He journeyed to where he had come from, into the desert as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had formerly been, between Bethel and Haggai, to the place of the altar which he had made there in the beginning. [307] Then Abram called on the name of the Lord God.” Let us not rush idly by this reading, but rather recognize clearly the precision of Sacred Scripture in recounting nothing to us as of no importance. “Now, Abram was very rich,” the text says. Consider first of all this very fact that its habit had been to convey nothing idly or to no purpose, nor in this case is it without reason that it calls him rich: nowhere else had it made mention of his being rich—this was the first time. Why, and to what purpose? For you to learn the inventiveness of God’s wisdom and providence displayed in favor of the good man, as well as his boundless and extraordinary power. The man who had gone into exile in Egypt under the pressure of famine, unable to sustain the privations of Canaan, suddenly became rich—and not just rich but very rich, not only in cattle but also in silver and gold.
    (5) Do you see the extent of God’s providence? Abram left to find relief from famine, and came back not simply enjoying relief from famine but invested with great wealth and untold reputation, his identity well-known to everyone: now the inhabitants of Canaan gained a more precise idea of the good man’s virtue by seeing this sudden transformation that had taken place—the stranger who had gone down into Egypt as a refugee and vagabond now flush with so much wealth. Notice how he had not become less resolute or devoted under the influence of great prosperity or the abundance of wealth, but rather he pressed on once more to that place where he had formerly been before going down into Egypt. “He went into the desert,” the text says, “to the place where his tent had formerly been, to the place of the altar which he had made there in the beginning. He called on the name of the Lord God.” Consider, I ask you, how he was a lover of peace and quiet, and was constantly attentive to divine worship. The text says, remember, that he went down to that place where he had previously built the altar; by calling on the name of God he already right from the very beginning fulfilled in anticipation that saying of David, “I would rather be of no account in the house of my God than take up residence in sinners’ dwellings.” In other words, solitude turned out to be preferred by him for invoking the name of God, instead of the cities. "

    - John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 18–45, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 82, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), 278–279.

    Scripture says: “Take his pound and give it to him who has ten pounds.”
    So, therefore, we appear at least to engage in business for the Lord, but the profits of the business go to us. And we appear to offer victims to the Lord, but the things we offer are given back to us. For God needs nothing, but he wishes us to be rich, he desires our progress through each individual thing.
    This figure is shown to us also in these things which happened to Job. For he too, although he was rich, lost everything because of God. But he bore well the struggles with patience and was magnanimous in everything which he suffered and said: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased the Lord so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Because of this, behold what finally is written about him: “He received back twice as much,” Scripture says, “as he had lost.”71
    Do you see what it means to lose something for God? It means to receive it back multiplied. But the Gospels promise you something even more, “a hundred-fold” is offered you, besides also “life eternal” in Christ Jesus our Lord “to whom belongs glory and sovereignty forever and ever. Amen.” 
    - Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 71, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 147.
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