Syllabus: "Poverty and Wealth in Christian Traditions"


About this Course: "Poverty and Wealth in Christian Traditions" was a once-weekly 3-hour continuing education lecture course at Providence College (Providence, Rhode Island) in the fall of 1997, taught by Susan R. Holman. Students were graded on class participation (10%), three in-class exams (20% each), and the oral and written presentation of a research paper (30%). Because most students were adults working full-time not easily able to visit the college library, primary source readings were provided in class. Posted here with permission.

Course description

This course offers a historical treatment of wealth, poverty, social status, charity and benevolence in selected periods throughout Christian history. The course will look at the sayings of Jesus, the early church, the middle ages in the west, the Byzantine period and the modern world to address two questions. First: What has Christianity taught about wealth as a problem and poverty as a virtue? Second: How has it responded--in ideals and social action--to the needs of the destitute poor? Each student will do a research project on a related issue of interest which is not covered in the classroom lectures and will present her/his paper in a seminar session during the final two weeks of class.


Julio de Santa Ana, Good News to the Poor (Orbis 1977)
Bronislau Geremek, Poverty: A History (Blackwell 1997)
John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1984)
L. Boff and C. Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology (Orbis 1987)

Week 1: Introduction

I. The Early Church

Week 2: Poverty: The world and sayings of Jesus

  • Readings: de Santa Ana, pp. 1-53; New Testament: Mk 2:13-17; 10:17-31; 12:41-44; Mt 5:1-12; 6:1-4, 19-24; 25:31-46; Lk 4:16-21; 6:20-26; 8:1-3; 12:13-34; 14:7-24; 16:19-31; 19:1-10; optional: Tobit (entire)

Week 3: The early church and the poor, part 1 (pre-Constantine)

  • Readings: de Santa Ana, pp 54-64; Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-5:11; James 1:27-2:18; 5:1-6; 1 Cor 4:9-13; 1 Tim 6:1-21; Heb 13:1-6; selections from the Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and First Letter of Clement (handout)

Week 4: Exam 1

II. Byzantium and the West into the Middle Ages

Week 5: The early church and the poor, part 2

  • Readings: de Santa Ana, pp. 65-80; Chrysostom On Wealth and Poverty sermons 1 and 2 (opt: 6); readings from sermons on the poor by Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea (handout)

Week 6: Monasticism and holy poverty

  • Readings: de Santa Ana, pp 81-94; Geremek, pp. 15-36; selections from "The Man of God" (handout), and Athanasius' "Life of St. Antony"; turn in brief description of planned paper topic by today.

Week 7: Debt, poverty and social disintegration

  • Readings: Geremek, pp. 36-119, 178-205

Week 8: Almshouses and hospitals

  • Readings: Geremek, pp. 206-229; selected historical texts (handout)

Week 9: Exam 2

III. Christianity and Poverty in the Modern World

Week 10: The global context; Film: "The Great Religions and the Poor" (available from Films for the Humanities and Sciences, FFH 5742); and discussion. May also begin seminar presentations during second half of this class

  • Readings: de Santa Ana, pp. 95-109; Geremek, pp. 230-247

Week 11: Modern approaches to poverty: An introduction to liberation theology / In-class seminar presentations

  • Readings: Boff & Boff, pp. 1-65

Week 12: In-class seminar presentations

  • Readings: Boff & Boff, pp. 66-95

Week 13: Conclusions and further resources for involvement / Papers due

Week 14: Exam 3

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