PovertyStudies:  Linking Religious Scholarship with Community Action


This page was for a guest lecture in 2005 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Guest lecturer: Dr. Susan Holman
Topic: "Reading Poverty and Wealth in Early Christian Social History"

Gregory of Nazianzus
giving to the poor
detail of 12th century illuminated manuscript
introducing his Or. 14, "On the Love of the Poor"



    Professor Kroeger has copies of the following required readings, which she will make available to you in whatever is your usual fashion:

1. Gregory of Nazianzus, "Oration 14: On the Love of the Poor," translation by Martha Vinson, in: St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Selected Orations (Fathers of the Church: A New Translation; Washington, DC: Catholic University America Press, 2003), pp. 39-71.

2. Basil of Caesarea, "Homily 6: On the text 'I will tear down my barns'" translation by M.F. Toal in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. Chicago: Regnery, 1959, 3.325–32.

3. Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology; NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 1 (=pages 31-63), "Leitourgia and the Poor in the Early Christian World" [note: if you are unable to read this in any other way, I have a .pdf file I can send you on email request (povertystudies-[at]-aol.com) before December 6]

4. Brian E. Daley, S.J., "Building a New City: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Rhetoric of Philanthropy," Journal of Early Christian Studies 7 (1999):431-461.

If you can't read all of this before class, please be sure to read the first two, the sermons by Gregory and Basil.

To pursue your own interests in this topic further, you may find the "Bibliographies" section of this website helpful.

B. QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Please come to class with your thoughts on at least 2 of the following:

1. Which aspects of these sermons seem very "modern" to you? Which aspects seem very strange, and why? What questions do you have about these texts?

2, The texts discussed in the lecture and readings are only a sample of many available sources. Which groups or voices did you miss? Who seem to be under-represented (or completely missing)? Why do you think they may be missing?

3. The poor in early Christianity were most often identified with "redemptive almsgiving" (where the donor gave in order to be sure his/her goods would be accumulating in a heavenly bank account) or with the "Christ-poor" of Matthew 25 (where they are "stand-ins" for Christ). Does this make these Christian texts unhelpful for ecumenical dialogue or secular relief ideologies? How might these views influence their application, then and now?

4. Think about your own social background; do you come from a setting that identifies more with the rich or the poor? How might this influence the way you view Christian responses to poverty and social welfare issues? Are you, or have you in the past, worked with a relief organization or other ministry where thinking about a religious response was important to you? How would understanding this area in the past be relevant or helpful to your personal or vocational goals? How would you use them, and why?