We can come up with numerous excuses and reasons based on objective data in order to justify our wealth against so many poor, and maybe some of those excuses hold water. But what I’ve found in my readings of the early church is that there was often no gray area. It has convicted me to think of how much I say I accumulate to bless others while still keeping a wide margin for myself.
I’ve gathered seven quotes which I have found throughout the early church writings. Before that though, I want to provide a few verses on serving the poor, showing God’s heart for the poor within scripture (NKJV) first.
A poor man who oppresses the poor Is like a driving rain which leaves no food. (Prov. 28:3)
For the Lord hears the poor, And does not despise His prisoners. (Psalms 69:33)
You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute. (Ex. 23: 3)
But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:13)
1. The poor man has one plea, his want and his standing in need: do not require anything else from him; but even if he is the most wicked of all men and is at a loss for his necessary sustenance, let us free him from hunger. ~ St. John Chrysostom
2. Human beings have accumulated in their coffers gold and silver, clothes more sumptuous than useful, diamonds and other objects that are evidence of war and tyranny; then a foolish arrogance hardens their hearts; for their brothers in distress, no pity. What utter blindness! . . . Attend not to the law of the strong but to the law of the Creator. Help nature to the best of your ability, honor the freedom of creation, protect your species from dishonor, come to its aids in sickness, rescue it from poverty …. Seek to distinguish yourself from others only in your generosity. Be like gods to the poor, imitating God’s mercy. Humanity has nothing so much in common with God as the ability to do good. ~ St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On Love of the Poor
3. Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same who said, ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.’ Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls. ~ St. John Chrysostom, On the Gospel of St. Matthew, 50, iii
4. When a man really considers his neighbor as himself, he will never tolerate having more than his neighbor. If he does have more, but refuses to share things generously until he himself becomes as poor as his neighbor, then he will find that he has not fulfilled the commandment of the master. He no longer wants to give to all who ask, and instead turns away from someone who asks of him while she still has a penny or a crust of bread. He has not treated his neighbor as he would like to be treated by him. In fact, even if a man had given food and drink and clothes to all the poor, even the least, and had done everything else for them, he has only to despise or neglect a single one and it will be reckoned as if he had passed by Christ and God and He was hungry and thirsty. ~ St. Simeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters
5. I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich but the rapacious. Wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish. ~ St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Fall of Eutropius
6. Therefore fight against every worldly enticement, against every material enticement that hinders you from fulfilling Christ’s commandments, love God with all your heart, and care with all your strength for the salvation of your own soul, and the souls of others, be soul-loving. ~ St. John of Kronstadt
7. It is not so much because of need that gold has become an object of desire among men, as because of the power it gives most people to indulge in sensual pleasure. There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two.
The self-indulgent person loves wealth because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because, fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things.
There are four kinds of men who hoard wealth: the three already mentioned and the treasurer or bursar. Clearly, it is only the last who conserves it for a good purpose–namely, so as always to have the means of supplying each person’s basic needs. ~ St. Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries on Love, Third Century
Notice, most of these quotes are from St. John Chrysostom, a bishop from the fourth century, who’s homilies and commentaries are pillars of Christian doctrine. Chrysostom often spared no criticism for wealth and it’s detriment to our spiritual formation. I highly recommend reading his homilies. Many of them are for free or cheap on Kindle.