Syllabus: "Wealth and Poverty in Christian Tradition"



This course is offered as Ethics 7005 at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Massachusetts, fall 2004; Professor: Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis; posted here with permission.


The multiple and complex understandings of wealth and poverty in Christian tradition will be critically examined in their historical and socio-economic cultural settings. Particular attention will be given to the human dignity and solidarity that the biblical and patristic tradition espouses as constitutive elements of Christian discipleship. The Seminar will also examine the ethical and redemptive nature of almsgiving, and how wealth and poverty fits into God's providential love for the world.


  • The participants in this seminar are obligated to study the assigned readings and actively participate in class discussions.
  • Students will take turns to write short 5-page reports (no more than two) on the assigned readings with the purpose of addressing and discussing with all the participants theological issues that arise from the assigned readings.
  • A short research paper (no more than 15 pages) on issues of wealth and poverty that we have addressed in this class

Required Readings

  • Martin Hengel, Property and Riches in the Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974)
  • Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2002)
  • Justo L. Gonzalez, Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money (San Francisco: Harper and Rowe Publishers, 1990)
  • Roman Garrison, Redemptive Almsgiving in Early Christianity, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 77, 1993
  • Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Class Sessions with Reading Assignments

1. The Greco-Roman Views of Wealth and Poverty

  • Gonzalez, pp. 1-68; Holman, pp. 1-63

2. The Biblical Views on Wealth and Poverty

  • Hengel (entire); Michael D. Guinan (ed.), Gospel Poverty: Essays in Biblical Theology (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977), pp. 1-120

3. Poverty and Wealth in the Early Christian Fathers

  • J.A. McGuckin, "The Vine and the Elm Tree: The Patristic Interpretation of Jesus' Teaching on Wealth," in W.J. Sheils and Diana Wood (eds.), The Church and Wealth: Papers Read at the 1986 Summer Meeting and the 1987 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), pp. 1-14;
  • Garrison (entire);
  • Patristic Readings: the I and II Epistles of Clement; Shepherd of Hermas; Clement of Alexandria's On the Rich Man's Salvation

4. The Bishops and the Poor

  • Brown (entire)

5. The Church and Economic Practice

  • Angeliki E. Liaou, "The Church, Economic Thought and Economic Practice," in Robert F. Taft (ed), Christian East: Its Institutions and Its Thought: A Critical Reflection (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 1996), pp. 435-464;
  • St. Basil, Homily on Ps. 14b, English trans in Sister Agnes Clare Way (ed/trans), St. Basil: Exegetic Homilies, Fathers of the Church 46 (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1963), pp. 181-191
  • St. Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Usuarios, English trans in Casimir McCambley, "Against Those Who Practice Usury," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 36 (1991), pp. 287-302

6. The Poor in Cappadocia

  • Brian E. Daley, "Building a New City: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Rhetoric of Philanthropy, Journal of Early Christian Studies 7 (1999), pp. 431-461
  • Holman, pp. 64-167

7. Patristic Sermons on Poverty, Wealth and Almsgiving

  • St. Basil, Hom. 6 (=homilia in illud: destruam horrea meai), English trans in M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1959), vol. 3, pp. 325-332
  • St. Basil, Hom 8 ("In time of famine and drought"), English trans in Holman, pp. 183-192
  • Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 14 (=de pauperum amore), English trans in M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1963), vol. 4, pp. 43-64.
  • Gregory of Nyssa, "On the love of the poor" 1 (=de beneficentia) and "On the love of the poor" 2 (=in illud: quatenus uni ex his fecistis mihi fecistis = "On the saying, 'Whoever has done it to one of these has done it to me"), English trans in Holman, pp. 193-206

8. St. John Chrysostom

  • Peter C. Phan (ed), Social Thought. Messages of the Fathers of the Church 20 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1984), pp. 135-160

9. Latin Patristic Literature

  • Boniface Ramsey, "Almsgiving in the Latin Church: The Late Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries," Theological Studies 43 (1982), pp. 226-259
  • Phan, pp. 161-267

10. Contemporary Christian Views on poverty and Wealth

  • Norbert Greinacher and Alois Muller (eds), The Poor and the Church (NY: Seabury Press, 1977)
  • John C. Haughey (ed.), The Faith that Does Justice: Examining the Christian Sources for Social Changes. Woodstock series 2 (NY: Paulist Press, 1977)
  • Michael Taylor, Not Angels but Agencies: The Ecumenical Response to Poverty—A Primer (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995
  • Commission on the Churches' Participation in Development, Separation without hope? Essays on the Relation between the Church and the Poor During the Industrial Revolution and the Western Colonial Expansion (Geneva: WCC, 1978)