“Golden-tongued” John Chrysostom preached often to his church at Constantinople on the duties of rich Christians to care for the poor. He takes up the theme in this homily, excerpted here, on Acts 4:32–37, challenging his listeners to imagine themselves living as the first Christians had lived, just three-and-a-half centuries earlier.

“And great grace,” it says, “was upon them all; for neither was there any among them that lacked.” Grace was among them, since nobody suffered want, that is, since they gave so willingly that no one remained poor. For they did not give a part, keeping another part for themselves; they gave everything in their possession. They did away with inequality and lived in great abundance; and this they did in the most praiseworthy fashion. They did not dare to put their offering into the hands of the needy, nor give it with lofty condescension. but they laid it at the feet of the apostles and made them the masters and distributors of the gifts. What a man needed was then taken from the treasure of the community, not from the private property of individuals. Thereby the givers did not become arrogant.


Should we do so much today, we should all live much more happily, rich as well as poor; and the poor would not be more the gainers than the rich. And if you please, let us now for a while depict it in words, and derive at least this pleasure from it, since you have no mind for it in your actions. For at any rate this is evident, even from the facts which took place then, that by selling their possessions they did not come to be in need.

Let us imagine things as happening in this way: All give all that they have into a common fund. No one would have to concern himself about it, neither the rich nor the poor. ...

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