I for one, fail to apprehend the distinction between secular and 'religious' implied here. The Church Fathers clearly do not make that distinction. Our use of the material things in our lives, as well as our attitude towards money, success and stewardship have everything to do with our spiritual health. Here is a post I wrote concerning money in which I gather Patristic quotes from different sources;
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."Luke 16:13
“Surely every man walks about as a phantom; Surely they make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them. Psalm 39:6 NASB
It is commonly believed that being successful means having acquired wealth. Even the dictionary defines the adjective as such. Social standing is directly proportional to one's wealth. The poor, of course, rank very low in this system of values. Their poverty is considered the result of incompetence or character flaws.
Contempt for the poor is worn as a batch of honor, their poverty a highly contagious disease. The individual is at the very center of all things. The common good and the well-being of the community is taken into consideration if, and only if, it does not interfere with the individual's self-centered pursuit of wealth.
So, I wonder, is Orthodox Christianity in agreement with this state of affairs? What do the Church Fathers have to say about this? We must follow in the steps of the saints and the Fathers, the well trodden path of those who shed their blood for the Faith once delivered to the saints.
When I read the selections posted below for the first time, I was stunned! I was surprised that the Church Fathers have spoken with such clarity and with such detail even on the subjects of wealth and the common good.
Most of the quotes here are taken from the work of a great Patristic scholar, Dr Jean Claude Larchet, who in chapter 5 of Vol. 2 of Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, provides a comprehensive look at the way of life and belief of the Fathers and saints, and shows how far, has modern man gone astray from the path that leads to true spiritual and material riches, health, and success.
Love of Money and Greed are Preeminently Sinful Dispositions of The Soul Towards God and Others
"Generally speaking, love of money (φιλαργυρία) means an attachment to money and the diverse forms of material wealth. This attachment is manifested in the delight experienced in its possession, the care in keeping it, the difficulty experienced in separating oneself from it, and the pain felt when one makes a gift of it."(1) See Notes below
Greed (πλεονεξία) is the will to acquire new goods, the desire to possess more. Greed and love of money are two different passions but both proceed from the same attachment to material goods. and often in reality go hand in hand...
"The cause of these passions is neither money nor material goods themselves but rather man's perverse attitude towards them. The end goal of money and material goods is to be used by man so as to satisfy his needs relative to his subsistence. The greedy and avaricious confer upon (material goods) 'an intrinsic rather than utilitarian value and delight not in their use but in their possession'(2)
The pathological character of greed and the love of money is constituted by the misuse of the desiderative faculty (of the soul), as well as all the other faculties implicated by these passions. But this misuse is not only defined in relation to material goods; more fundamentally, it is defined in relation to God, implicating in addition the relationships of man to himself and to his neighbor.
Although man in his original state placed all his desire for God and endeavored to conserve the spiritual riches received from Him..., in the case of these passions (love of money and greed), he turns his desire away from this normal end goal in order to turn it towards material goods alone."
Dr Larchet goes on to explain that since love of God, and love of money have their seat in the soul in the same desiderative power of the soul, they are incompatible with each other and mutually exclusive, "As Christ Himself teaches, 'No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon", Luke 16:13 Man distances himself all the more from God because he becomes attached to money...
St Nicetas Stethatos writes, 'greed impels men to love money more than they love Christ, to esteem what is material more highly than God, to worship creation rather than the Creator'. If you aspire to friendship with Christ, you will hate money and the gluttonous love of money, for money lures towards itself the mind of whoever loves it, and diverts it from love for Jesus' (3).
Thus money and the diverse forms of wealth occupy the place due to God in the life of the greedy and avaricious man, becoming idols for him. St Paul affirms that covetousness is idolatry and one who is covetous is an idolater. Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5.
Even if love of money and greed are not sufficiently developed so as to exclude God totally, they reveal a lack of faith and hope in Him...'he puts his trust in money more than in God' (4). He has an illusory impression of independence and of absolute mastery over his existence. Thus he cuts himself off from God.
Subject to these two passions, he lacks the most basic love with regards to himself; he prefers money and material riches to his own soul...Man cannot develop his spiritual potentialities and effect the blossoming of his nature, and thus he keeps himself enclosed within the limits of the fallen world...
Although he thinks to find happiness in the pleasure he experiences in acquiring and possessing, he condemns himself to dissatisfaction and finally to misfortune, since this pleasure is unstable, imperfect, transitory, and ends sooner or later. Above all, it takes the place of spiritual delights which are incomparably superior and alone capable of fully satisfying man... man in many ways becomes 'his own enemy' as St John Chrysostom says (5).
Man's relationship with his neighbor is also seriously disturbed by the passions of greed and love of money.
According to the Church Fathers, the acquisition of riches is always to the detriment of others (6) St John Chrysostom proclaims that 'the rich and the greedy are thieves of a certain kind (7).
All men are indeed equal; they all have the same nature, they are all made in the image of God, and they are all saved by Christ. Without any exception, God has given the goods of this world as an endowment to all men, that they might delight in them in equal fashion (8).
The fact that some acquire and possess more than others contradicts the equality willed by God in the distribution of goods, and institutes an abnormal and non-natural state. Such a state did not exist in the beginning (9); it has appeared as a consequence of the ancestral sin and has been maintained and developed due to the passions, in particular those of love of money and greed.
In truth, things belong to all as regards their use and delight, but they 'belong to no one as regards property' (10). One must use wealth as a steward, not as a sensualist, writes St Basil (11).
The Fathers emphasize that wealth is meant to be shared and divided up equitably (12). For this reason the Fathers never cease to invite the rich to share their wealth (13). The greedy and miserly show contempt for this end goal - the one by seeking and accumulating goods with only his own personal pleasure in mind, the other by egoistically holding on to his money. Both of these 'exceed the limit of what is lawful (14), in doing so for they think more of themselves than of their neighbor and contradict the basic precept of charity: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'.' Mark 12:30-31
The greedy and the miserly, always aiming at an egoistic pleasure, no longer look toward their neighbor; they cease to regard him as an equal and brother. They reject him who shares their nature, notes St Ambrose (15). They exclude and deprive their neighbor of the dignity conferred upon him by God, refusing to rank him among their companions, as St John Chrysostom observes (16).
Love of money and greed give birth to an aversion of other men (17), and even make the one they possess pitiless and cruel (18).
These passions constantly provoke arguments and disputes (19). St John Climacus writes in the Ladder, step 17.14, that love of money produces hatred, thefts, envy, separations, storms, remembrance of wrongs, hard-hardheartedness, and murders. This passion is even the 'source of wars', writes St Basil.
Love of money and greed constitute a true illness of the soul. It is practically incurable if one allows it to develop and take root within oneself. St John Chrysostom warns, 'If we do not stop this passion from the beginning, once it has entered it strikes us with an illness that can no longer be healed (20). In similar manner, the Fathers do not hesitate to see in these two passions forms of madness(21).
Love of money and greed are the bulimia of the soul, 'The bulimia of the soul is avarice; the more it gorges in food, the more it desires. It always stretches out beyond what it possesses' (22).
This insatiability reveals the tyrannical character of love of money and greed, which turn man into a 'slave of the things he has', writes St John Chrysostom. They enslave him to the devil more than all other passions (23). St John Chrysostom in his Commentary on the Psalms, writes that for those affected by love of money and greed, 'there is never tranquility, never security for the soul,,,neither day nor night brings them any appeasement...Rather they are tormented everywhere'.
Added to this anxiety is another basic pathological effect: sadness, the depressive state of the soul. This state most often results from the thwarting of the desire to possess more...St John Chrysostom writes, 'Where is the pleasure and rest of the spirit that one finds in wealth? I avow that I see there nothing but subjects of affliction and misery...and a sorrow which gives no respite whatsoever...The attachment that lovers of money have to their riches is not proof of the satisfaction they find in them, but rather of the sickness and disorder of their mind (24). These can be translated into somatic and mental illness! (See the episode recounted by Leontius of Neapolis, The Life of St John of Cyprus XXVII.
Love of money and greed engender other disorders which affect man's vision of reality and his relationship to it. They darken the nous (25) as St Hesychius the priest explains in 'Watchfulness and Holiness 57. Avarice is a terrible scourge; it closes the eyes, and shuts the ears of him who is possessed by it. The avaricious regard others as objects. They do not give attention or consideration to anyone at all.
The incoherent character of the avaricious man's perceptions of reality is revealed in how he regards the objects of wealth themselves...paying more attention to them than they really deserve. The Fathers often recall that gold or precious stones, for example, are in fact nothing but simple stones, earth (26). The avaricious man accords them an absolute value, considering them long-lasting, even eternal, although they are all perishable and destructible.
The avaricious man thus appears as swapping the present for eternity, the perishable for the immortal, the visible for the invisible, the true goods of the kingdom - the heavenly treasure - for illusory goods, the false riches of this world, writes St John Chrysostom.
Following St Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10, the Fathers affirm that love of money is the root and mother of all evils.
The therapy of love of money and greed is non-possessiveness and alms-giving.
First, St John Cassian writes in his Institutes that, we must know the illnesses of greed and love of money, their manifestation in the soul and in our behavior, and their consequences, as described in depth by the preceding paragraphs.
Second, we must be aware of the vanity of the objects these passions pursue. As St Symeon the New Theologian states, "that all is a shadow and everything is passing". in Catecheses 19.130-143.
Third, we must be "content with what we have" Hebrews 13:5
Fourth, we must acquire a firm Faith in God. St John Climacus writes that "Unwavering faith cuts off cares" in The Ladder, step 17.12
Fifth, man must put all his hope and trust in God who is the Provider of what we need for our subsistence, and also the source of spiritual riches.
Sixth, man can observe that the more he attaches himself to spiritual goods, the more he acquires, with regards to sensual goods, one of the opposing virtues to love of money and greed: detachment. St John Climacus writes, 'He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below'. Ladder, step 17.6.
Man can attain to this experience only when he stops living an utterly carnal life and unites himself to God through love and the practice of the commandments. Let us remember that the aim of healing love of money and greed is to permit man to unite himself to God, and to love Him with all mind, all his soul, and all his might.
...Man's entire spiritual condition and destiny depend on the type of riches he desires to acquire and to which he is attached...'for where your treasure is', says Christ, 'there will your heart be also' Matthew 6:21
How is one healed of love of money and greed? St John Chrysostom says, "You will accomplish this if you substitute for this love[of money] the desire for the things of heaven" (27).
Non possessiveness and non-acquisitiveness are the virtues opposing love of money and greed. These signify the voluntary refusal to possess or acquire anything, save what it is strictly necessary for existence (28). It is utterly essential that such non-possessiveness be an internal disposition and spiritual attitude regarding material goods. This virtue does not consist merely on not having things. One may have things without being attached to them. The perfection of this virtue is described by Christ when He said, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. Gospel of Matthew 19:21
Non-possessiveness is manifested interiorly by the absence of preoccupation with material goods.
It would be useless to be without money if we retained the intention of possessing it; for it is possible for someone who owns no money to be still in no way free from avarice, and for poverty to be of no use to him at all, if he has been unable to eliminate the vice of desire (29).
The Therapy of Almsgiving
Abbah Isaiah counsels: "Let us exercise our love in charity towards the poor, that it might save us from love of money" (30)
The virtue of almsgiving (ελεημοσύνη) - recommended several times by Christ (31), and evoked many times in St Paul's Epistles (32), and in the Acts of the Apostles (33) - consists in sharing one's goods (34), giving one's superfluity to those in need (35) and even what is necessary for oneself to those who lack (36).
St John Chrysostom in his Commentary to the Gospel of John states that, Whoever gives of what he needs is naturally closer to the perfection of this virtue than someone who gives from his abundance, and all the more so than someone who only gives a portion of this overabundance. Whoever gives from what he needs exercises great mercy'.
[St Gregory Palamas in Homily 4 calls us to repentance saying, "But let us change direction, repent and agree together to supply the needs of the poor brethren among us by whatever means we have. If we prefer not to empty out all we possess for the love of God, let us at least not hold on callously to everything for ourselves. Let us do something, then humble ourselves before God and obtain forgiveness from Him for what we have failed to do."]
The Greek word ελεημοσύνη does not only mean almsgiving, but also mercy and compassion, again emphasizing one's inner disposition, an act of love.
St John Chrysostom says, "It is much less for the assuagement of indigence that God has ordained almsgiving than for the advantage to those who give alms (37).
It is not the material size of the alms that determines their value, it is only necessary that they be proportionate to the means of the giver (38).
St John Chrysostom never ceases to reassure those of meager means by underlining that God has in view first of all the goodwill they manifest and the purity of their intention. (Homilies to the Hebrews 1.4)
In order to have spiritual value, almsgiving must be done in a disinterested manner, i.e., the donor must not expect any profit of any kind, especially that which derives from self satisfaction, as the Lord said, "Freely you received, freely give" Matthew 10:8
As St Nikolai Velimirovich writes, "One should not give alms with pride but rather with humility, considering the one to whom the alms are given to be better than oneself. Did not the Lord Himself say: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me? (Matthew 25:40)
Theophanes the Confessor possessed a mind illumined by the light of Christ, even as a child. Once, while walking along the street, he saw a naked child freezing. He quickly removed his clothes, clothed the child and thus warmed him and brought him back to life. He then returned home naked.
His startled parents asked him: ``Where are your clothes?'' To this Theophanes replied: ``I clothed Christ.'' This is why he was given the grace of Christ, and was later a great ascetic, a sufferer for the Christian Faith and a miracle-worker.
Often, when we give alms, either in someone else's name or in our own name, we cannot avoid pride which, as soon as it appears in the heart, destroys all the good deeds performed. When we give to the beggar as to a beggar and not as to Christ, we cannot avoid pride or disdain. What value is there in performing an act of mercy, while taking pride in ourselves and disdaining the man? Virtue is not a virtue when it is mixed with sin, just as milk is not milk when it is mixed with gasoline or vinegar." St Nikolai Velimirovich in The Prologue from Ochrid. Reading for September 9th.
We must also keep in mind Christ warning when He said. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:2-4
For much more on this subject of love of money, and its cure, non-possessiveness and almsgiving please read,
Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses by Dr. Jean-Claude Larchetis available from St Tikhon's Monastery Press and Bookstore
Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses by Dr Jean Claude-Larchet,Translated by Fr Kilian Sprecher, 3 volume boxed set
Copyright @2012 Alexander Press, Montreal, Quebec,Canada
ISBN - 1-896800-39-4
1. Cf. Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries
On Charity III.17-18
2. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 83a, and St Basil the Great, Against the Rich 7.2
3. St Nicetas Stethatos, Centuries II.55
4. St Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries on Charity III.18
5. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 70.4
6. St Ambrose of Milan, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Great, St John Chrysostome and St Symeon the New Theologian, etc.
7. St John Chrysostom, On Lazarus 1. Cf. Homilies on 1 Corinthians 29.8
8. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 42. St Ambrose of Milan, Naboth the Poor 2.St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14. St Symeon the New Theologian, Catecheses 9.93.
9. St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14.
10. St Symeon the New Theologian, Catecheses 9.95-97
11. St Basil, Against the Rich 7.3 Cf. St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 26.11
12. St John Chrysostome, Homilies on Genesis 35.5.
13. See for example, St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14.26. St Gregory of Nyssa, On Love of the Poor 1.7. St Basil the Great, Against the Rich 7.3. St
Mark the Ascetic, On Repentance 5.
14. St Basil the Great, Short Riules 48.
15. St Ambrose, Naboth the Poor 2
16. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 42.
17. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 83.2
18. St Nicetas Stethatos, Letters 4.6
19. St John Climacus, Ladder 17.11
20. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 9.4
21. St John Chrysostom, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Theodoret of Cyrus, St Andrew of Crete, St Basil the Great.
22. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Timothy 7.2
23. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 13.4
24. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 38.3
25. The word 'intellect' (nous) as used by St Hesychius the Priest in this text, does not refer to reason, discursive thinking or logical thinking, but to the organ of the soul by which the soul can 'know', that is directly apprehend, spiritual realities; not by drawing conclusions, but directly under the inspiration of divine Grace. The Greek language makes a distinction between nous (translated as 'intellect' here) which is the spiritual organ of knowledge of the soul; and diania or 'reason'
the organ of knowledge of the brain through the senses and discourse. Orthodox Christian anthropology affirms that man has both organs of knowledge. Thoughts, reason and the senses can interact with the nous, both in a positive and in a negative manner, and in that way affect the
heart, the spiritual center of man.
26. St Ambrose of Milan, Naboth the Poor 26.
27. Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 9.6
28. St John Cassian in Institutes VII.21,29 and St Isaac the Syrian in the Ascetical Homilies 33.
29. St John Cassian, Institutes VII.21
30. Asketikon 16.
31. Mt 5:42, 6:2, 10:18, 19:21; Luke 3:11, 6:30,38, 12:33; Mk 10:21
32. Rom 12:8, 1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8:3-15, 9:8; Gal 2:10
33. Acts 3:26, 4:35, 10:2-4, 20:35
34. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 45.2, 53.2
35. Luke 3.11; 2 Cor 8:13-15; St Isaac the Syrian , Ascetical Homilies 33, St John Chrysostom, Homilies on this text, 'There Must be Divisions' 9; Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews 1.4, 53.2
36. Mk 12:43-44.
37. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Almsgiving 4
38. 2 Cor 8:3-11; Mk 12:43-44; and St John Chrysostom in several of his homilies, on Acts21.5; on Romans 19.7; on Colossians1.6; on Hebrews 1.4
Edited by David Robles, 17 February 2015 - 11:16 PM.