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On Social Justice - St Basil the Great
C. Paul Schroeder
Popular Patristics Series vol 38
Introduction & translation by C. Paul Schroeder
St Basil’s homilies on the subject of wealth and poverty, although delivered in the fourth century, remain utterly fresh and contemporary. Whether you possess great wealth or have modest means, at the heart of Basil’s message stands the maxim: Simplify your life, so you have something to share with others. While some patristic texts relate to obscure and highly philosophical questions, Basil’s teachings on social issues are immediately understood and applicable. At a time when vast income disparity and overuse of limited environmental resources are becoming matters of increasing concern, Basil’s message is more relevant now than ever before.
There is no way to describe the power, simplicity, wisdom, and freedom of his words…you will think they were written yesterday—not 1600 years ago! … precisely he describes our modern struggle with material wealth, our responsibility to our fellow man, and how to live a life in balance.
—Gregory P. Yova, from the Foreword
Father Paul Schroeder is an independent scholar and translator of early patristic texts. He resides in Portland, Oregon and is the Proistamenos of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Portland Oregon.
To the Rich
I Will Tear Down My Barns
In Time of Famine and Drought
Against Those Who Lend at Interest
Appendix: The Pseudo-Basilian Homily On Mercy and Justice
Excerpt: [St Basil] describes these lenders as predators in the truest sense, “rushing like a hound to the hunt,” while the debtors “quail like quarry at the pursuit”; he urges the prospective borrower, “do not allow yourself to be tracked and hunted down like some kind of prey.” Basil warns the poor to live within their constrained means so as not to become trapped in the downward spiral of debt, vividly describing the miserable life of the debtor who lives in terror of meeting the creditor. But he concludes with stern words for the lenders who oppress them: “Listen, you rich, to the kind of counsel I am giving to the poor on account of your inhumanity: to remain in dreadful circumstances, rather than accepting the assistance covered by loans at interest.” He urges these lenders to convert their loans into gifts, entrusting to the poor the portion of their money that lies idle and unused, in confidence that God will serve as guarantor on these “loans,” providing a rich return on their investment.