The Fathers, Wealth, and Pious Opinions

The Fathers, Wealth, and Pious Opinions
by pragerfan

New Year's Eve, 2016

I was going to send this to a friend of mine at church, but as his email bounced, I was not able to. So I'm posting it here in hopes that it will edify others.

Well I really wanted to continue our conversation yesterday, but we didn't get a chance. So anyway on the fathers, I just want to understand where we differ and make sure I understand what you're saying. I think you're saying that we follow the fathers regardless of what the fathers actually say. So would you assert that the writings of Chrysostom are on the same level as Holy Scripture? Because it seems to me that's where you're heading.

Way back in 2007, when I was first getting back into Orthodoxy, I read what Chrysostom had to say about wealth. St. Chrysostom is quoted by Bradley Nassif — for whom I have great respect — as saying,

  • "To grow rich without injustice is impossible."
  • "One cannot be rich without keeping others poor."
  • "No private property should exist."
  • "Injustice occurs when some people use material things for profit while others are starving."

    Statements like these, while they may be a do-gooder's dream, are not supported by Holy Scripture and are inconsistent with maintaining a free and open society. I'm not going to go into detail on why these statements are suspect, because others have done so far more articulately than I. But there is nothing in Orthodoxy that requires as a condition of salvation or of partaking of the chalice that I personally agree with St. John's statements. The statements are regarded, like many other statements outside of Scripture, as pious opinions. Agreement with these statements is not compulsory solely because Chrysostom is a church father — there must be more to the story than that, and in this case, there isn't.

    There is much that is laudatory in Chrysostom's and other saints' writings. But I don't go to St. John as an authority on economics, finance, or the inherent justice (or injustice) of political systems, the right to private property, and so on. I go to the Saints when I want to understand the divine: the relationship of the dual natures of Christ, the Persons of the Trinity, and so forth. People go to priests, rabbis, pastors, and religious people when they want to understand what God wants from us, what does it mean to lead an ethical life, etc. But we're not going to chuck away private property rights because St. John claims private property shouldn't exist.

    On the contrary, the right to private property is in fact supported by Scripture. Is it not written that one may lawfully do what one wills with his own (Matthew 20:15)? For those who cite Ananias and Saphira as "proof" that God is "against" private property, their sin consisted not in holding or witholding wealth or property, but attempting to deceive God about it. Consider also St. Paul's truism that he who does not work does not eat, St. Paul's claim to the right to earn a living as a tentmaker, and so forth. But earning a living is impossible without private property.

    Upon the bedrock of private property rests many other rights, including the right to free exercise of religion.

    Take away private property, and we become the church of holy grifters, living off the charity of others — we're not meant to do this.

  • pragerfan