ALMS ALMSGIVING Almsgiving expresses an active compassion for the poor, both in body and soul. The root of compassion is in the heart, and the Bible strengthens the reasons for it, considering every person as made in the image of God. Almsgiving, fasting and prayer are the three works requested of the Israelite, taken up again by the Sermon on the Mount Mt 6. The book of Acts provides two examples: Cornelius for the pagans, Tabitha for the Christians. In the first Christian centuries freewill offerings were taken up esp. at the Sunday Eucharist see Justin, Apol. 67,6, but the faithful were exhorted to help the poor whenever there was a need. The Didache recommends almsgiving, as it says in the Lord’s gospel 15,4, and suggests it as a practical means for the sharing of goods 1,5-6; see also the Sherherd of Hermas, Mand. 2,4; Cyprian, De opere et elem. 25; Basil, De avaritia hom. VI,7-8. Almsgiving is linked to prayer in 2 Clem. 16,4. Jesus’ saying is often cited: There is more joy in giving than in receiving Acts 20:35 = 1 Clem. 2; Epiphanius, Haer. 74,5; Const. Ap. V,3,1. The Shepherd of Hermas invites Christians to help one another and to share the things of creation with the poor Vis. 3,9,2, comparing the interdependence between rich and poor to that between the vine and the elm Sim. 2. The Latins transliterated the Greek term see Tertullian, De virg. vel. 13; Ad ux. 2,8; De pat. 7; it is also found in epigraphs. The community in Carthage took up a monthly collection, and a common fund was set up to assist the indigent Tertullian, Apol. 39,5-6. Cyprian dedicates a whole treatise to almsgiving: De opere et eleemosynis, stressing that it is obligatory, meritorious and a principle of sanctification; he himself made solicitation for the purpose of charity see Ep. 5,1; 7,1. In the 4th c. the development of communities rendered inadequate the rudimentary forms of assistance of the first centuries. Moreover, deterioration of the economic and social situation, the disproportionate distribution of property and wealth, and the absence or inadequacy of governmental structures moved the Greek and Latin fathers to accentuate the importance of almsgiving, to reawaken the Christian conscience so as to discover the duty to share and to perform charitable social works. Basil of Caesarea founded a city for the poor and the sick, Basileiad see the eulogy of Gregory of Naz., Hom 43 in laudem Basilii, 63, and in his homilies denounced the unjust exploitation of the poor, the immoral enrichment of the well-to-do and the causes of poverty. Basil, John Chrysostom and Ambrose put the whole in the light of theology: almsgiving regulates the gifts that come from God and is a duty of justice. The earth has been given to all, rich and poor, says Ambrose De Nab. 1,2. The rich person is only an administrator of goods and must give an account of them to God. The excess of the rich is destined for the aid of the poor see Basil, Sermo de elem. 3, PG 32, 1158. Poverty is an insult to divine munificence. Almsgiving is a victory over greed, i.e., over the root of all evil; it remits sins Maximus of Turin, Sermo 22A, brings progress in the spiritual life Basil, Gregory Nyssa and disposes the Judge to clemency John Chrysostom. The theme recurs continually in St. Augustine’s preaching PL 46, 272-274: s.v. eleemosyna. The poor person is identified with Christ: Serve the poor and you have served Christ Ambrose, Vid. 9,54; see also Chromatius, Serm. 11,5; Peter Chrysologus, Serm. 8,4; the famous text of Sulpicius Severus, Vita Mart. 3,3: the poor man to whom Martin gave half his cloak is Christ. Almsgiving brings people together, making them feel as brothers Gregory Nyssa, De paup. amand. 1 and should be given to all without distinction Chrysostom, In Eph. hom. 10,4 but must be the fruit of honest work Id., In Mat. hom. 85,3. Almsgiving is a duty for all. The poor person should often fast so as to be able to give, according to St. Leo’s advice A. Guillaume. Monks too are bound to give alms: they must provide for their own needs through work and give to the poor the alms they receive A. Hamman, Vie liturgique, 129-131, 292-295. The fathers of the church, without demonizing the possession of riches, encouraged interventions of solidarity on behalf of the poor, not to enhance one’s prestige or as an individual act of public philanthropy, but because of the common baptismal and creaturely vocation. The ecclesiastical economy of almsgiving fulfilled a democratic’ function that was absolutely foreign to the economy of the fiscal State S. Mazzarino, L’impero romano, II, Rome-Bari 1973, 168. I. Seipel, Die wirtschaftsethischen Lehren der Kirchenv¤ter, Vienna 1907, 209-244; art. Almosen: RAC 1, 301ff.; art. Diakonie: RAC 3, 909-917; H. Rondet, RAM 30 1954 193-231 Augustine; A. Guillaume, Je»ne et charit, Paris 1954; A. Hamman, Riches et pauvres dans l’‰glise ancienne, Paris 1962 patristic dossier; Id., Vie liturgique et vie sociale, Paris 1968; S. Zincone, Ricchezza e povert nelle omelie di Giovanni Crisostomo, L’Aquila 1973, 101-118 on alms; B. Ramsey, Almsgiving in the Latin Church: The Latin 4th and Early 5th Centuries: Theological Studies 43 1982 226-249; A. Fitzgerald, Almsgiving in the Works of Saint Augustine, in Signum Pietatis. Festgabe f¼r C.P. Mayer, W¼rzburg 1989, 445-459; B. Leylerle, John Chrysostom on Almsgiving and the Use of Money: HTR 87 1994 29-47; R. Garrison, Redemptive Almsgiving in Early Christianity, Sheffield 1993; G.G. Christo, John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, Eng. tr., FC, Washington D.C. 1998; S.L. Bridge, To Give or Not to Give? Deciphering the Saying of the Didache 1.6: JECS 5 1997 555-568; C. Corsato, I volti della carit nell’esperienza dei Padri, Padua 1997; Partage avec le pauvre: Cyprien, Augustin, intr. and tr. by A.-G. Hamman, Turnhout 1998; M.G. Mara, Nota sulle ragioni della carit nell’antichit cristiana: Augustinianum 40 2000 5-19.
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