Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Our Lords the Poor

THE EARTH AND ITS FRUITS were made for men, and not for any one man. It is for this reason that all goods--even those legitimately and morally possessed by individual men through the institution of private property--have a "universal destination," one which orders them to the common good.

Christianity redeems and saves man entire, not just man in part. It therefore frees man from not only from his need, but also in his plenitude. This means that it redeems him with respect to his possessions. A Christian will possess his goods in a manner differently from other men, and a Christian society will view property differently from a non-Christian society.

There is, first and foremost, an awareness by spiritual writers that money and property present an intrinsic danger in that man's love of them may be disordered, inordinate, cupidinous. "For the love of money [φιλαργυρια, cupiditas] is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith." (1 Tim. 6:10) "Evil is seen in the immoderate attachment to riches and the desire to hoard." (Compendium, No. 329)

Though money and property are, in themselves good, they must be held and used in a manner that is fitting with the common good, with love of neighbor, and sub specie aeternitatis, under the light of eternity. Witness, for example, the warning of Pope St. Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule:

They, therefore, that make haste to an inheritance in the beginning cut off from themselves the lot of blessing in the end; since, while they crave to be increased in goods here through the iniquity of avarice, they become disinherited there of their eternal patrimony. When they either solicit very much, or succeed in obtaining all that they have solicited, let them hear what is written. What is a man profited, if he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?

St. Gregory the Great, Liber Regulae Pastoralis, Lib. III, Ad. 21, Cap. 20

St. Nicholas distributing alms to the poor

That the rich man's possession of goods is a channel for him to practice proper stewardship and charity towards his less fortunate neighbor is a central theme in Christian practice from its inception. "'How could we ever do good to our neighbor,' asks St. Clement of Alexandria, 'if none of possessed anything?'" (Compendium, No. 329).* St. Basil the Great reminds the rich in his flock to open the doors of their storehouses so that their "riches reach the homes of the poor."** In his Pastoral Rule, Pope St. Gregory the Great, admonishes those who inordinately hold on to their goods and ignore the plight of the poor:
Those who neither desire what belongs to others nor bestow what is their own are to be admonished to consider carefully that the earth out of which they are taken is common to all men, and therefore brings forth nourishment for all in common. Vainly, then, do those suppose themselves innocent, who claim to their own private use the common gift of God; those who, in not imparting what they have received, walk in the midst of the slaughter of their neighbors; since they almost daily slay so many persons as there are dying poor whose subsidies they keep close in their own possession. For, when we administer necessaries of any kind to the indigent, we do not bestow our own, but render them what is theirs; we rather pay a debt of justice than accomplish works of mercy.
St. Gregory the Great, Liber Regulae Pastoralis Lib. III, Ad. 22, Cap. 21

So the Old Testament prophets, the teachings of Christ, and the call of the Church Fathers all seem to coalesce into the same message: wealth is a great good, but presents an ever-present temptation to those who are in possession of it. It profits nothing for a man to have the whole world, and lose his soul. Wealth must be used in a manner that is properly ordered, underneath the auspices of the great and good God, the wise dispenser of all things. Above all, wealth in a rich man is a means for the practice of virtue, including that most sublime virtue of the poor for the love of God, of charity.

The wealthy Christian will view the poor in the manner of Blessed Fra' Gerard, founder of the Knights of Malta. The poor are our Lords. Domini nostri pauperes. With his wealth he will serve them.
*Citing St. Clement's Homily "What Rich Man Will Be Saved?" 13 PG 19, 618.
**Compendium No. 329 (quoting St. Basil, Homilia in Illud Lucae, Destruam Horrea Mea, 5 PG 31, 271).

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