St Chrysostom on Wealth

St John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom (d. 407)

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, Collected in “On Living Simply” by Robert van der Weyer, Sermon XLIII.  Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Hat-tip, The Handmaid. See also “Chrysostom on the Poor” at the Acton Institute Power Blog, where this passage is quoted with additional comments.

Tagged Conservatism.