BLESSED are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Today is the feast of St Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome (+461). In this extract from a sermon on the Beatitudes, he explains Jesus’s words for us.
WHEN He says “blessed are the poor in spirit,” He shows that the kingdom of heaven must be assigned to those who are recommended by the humility of their spirits rather than by the smallness of their means.
Yet it cannot be doubted that this possession of humility is more easily acquired by the poor than the rich: for submissiveness is the companion of those that want, while loftiness of mind dwells with riches.
Notwithstanding, even in many of the rich is found that spirit which uses its abundance not for the increasing of its pride but on works of kindness, and counts that for the greatest gain which it expends in the relief of others’ hardships.
It is given to every kind and rank of men to share in this virtue, because men may be equal in will, though unequal in fortune: and it does not matter how different they are in earthly means, who are found equal in spiritual possessions.
Blessed, therefore, is poverty which is not possessed with a love of temporal things, and does not seek to be increased with the riches of the world, but is eager to amass heavenly possessions.
Sermon XCV (“On the Beatitudes”) §2. Translation at CCEL.
See also St John Chrysostom on why this relief of hardships must come from the rich voluntarily, and not by compulsory state redistribution of wealth.
THE truth of your actions proclaimed you to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of meekness and a teacher of self-control; and so you gained through humility the things on high, through poverty riches, Father and high priest Leo; intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
For the feast of St Leo. Translation from Anastasis.