Calvin and Chrysostom on the blasphemous idea of ‘the undeserving poor’

Calvin and Chrysostom on the blasphemous idea of ‘the undeserving poor’ April 12, 2012

From John Calvin, to Marilynne Robinson, to Martin Marty, to here, this is the theologian and reformer on what we owe to all the poor:

The Lord commands us to “do good to all men,” universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving; but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates that we must not regard the intrinsic merit of men, but must consider the images of God in them, to which we owe all possible honor and love.

Calvin never earned the nickname “golden tongue,” but he gets his point across there: the obligation to do good is universal and cannot be “estimated according to their own merits.”

Now for a bit of the old golden tongue himself, which I’ve posted before, and will likely keep posting until it seems that even mega-church pastors from Orange County understand.

This is from John Chrysostom’s 21st homily on 1 Corinthians:

It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.

Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word? Indeed, forgive me, but I almost burst from anger.

Only see, you are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?

… On the other hand, you question very closely the poor and the miserable, who are scarcely better off in this respect than the dead: and you do not fear the dreadful and the terrible judgment seat of Christ. If the beggar lies, he lies from necessity, because your hardheartedness and merciless inhumanity force him to such cheating. … If we would give our alms gladly and willingly, the poor would never have fallen to such depths.

… But for him, who prays and calls on God, and beseeches you humbly and modestly, to him you will vouchsafe neither an answer or a glance, but at the most, you will give him a reproach and say: “Why does such a one have to live and breathe and see the light of the sun?” And while God says to you “Give alms and I will give thee the Kingdom of Heaven,” you hear it not.

… Indeed, for your charioteers in the circus, you are ready to sacrifice your own children, and for your actors you would deliver up your own soul, but for the hungering Christ, the smallest piece of money is too large for you to give. And if you do sacrifice a penny for once, it is as if you were giving away your whole property. Truly, I am ashamed when I see rich people riding about on horses decorated with gold and with servants clad in gold coming along behind them. They have silver beds and multitudes of other luxuries. But, if they have to give something to a poor man, suddenly they themselves are the poorest of the poor!


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