St. Basil the Great (330-379) was bishop of Caesarea (central Turkey) and the father of Western monasticism. As one of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil was a prolific theologian who shaped orthodox Christology. Born into a rich, landowning family, Basil spend most of his inheritance on establishing the Basiliad, a large charitable facility where the poor could receive food, shelter, and medical care free of charge. Some claim his foundation was the first modern “hospital.”
Basil often spoke about social justice, care for the poor, and humanitarian aid. I recently read four of Basil’s homilies on wealth and justice (published as On Social Justice). His messages were truly amazing—convicting, insightful, and timeless. At several points, Basil appeals to honor and shame to redefine true wealth and motivate generosity. Here are nine quotes.
Of what have you (rich people) been deprived? Of the glory that derives from wealth? Had you not sought glory from the dirt, you would have discovered the true glory like a shining beacon leading you to the Kingdom of Heaven. Nonetheless, having wealth is dear to you, though you gain from it no advantage whatsoever. (To the Rich, 2)
Why then do you go to so much trouble, why do you wear your self out, seeking to secure your wealth with bricks and mortar? After all, “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” If it is the honor that derives from wealth that attracts you, just think how much more glory you will gain by having a multitude of children call you “father” then by having a multitude of gold coins jingling in your purse. You must leave your money behind in the end whether you will or not, but the honor that proceeds from good works will escort you to the Master. All the people will surround you when you stand before the Judge of all, calling you “father” and “benefactor” and all the other titles that pertain to those who show philanthropy. …Your glory will be eternal; you will inherit the crown of righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven. All these things will be your reward for your stewardship of perishable things but you do not even consider them, forgetting about things hoped for in your concern for the things of the present. Come now, distribute your wealth lavishly becoming honorable and glorious in your expenditures for the needy. (I Will Tear Down My Barns, 3)
Why then are you wealthy while another is poor? Why else, but so that you might receive the reward of benevolence and faithful stewardship, while the poor are honored for patient endurance in their struggles. (I Will Tear Down My Barns, 6)
Repentance and Judgment
The king of Nineveh [in Jonah] himself turned his glory and splendor into shame. He put aside his crown and poured dust on his head; he cast off his royal garment and put on sackcloth. He left his high and exalted throne and crawled pitifully upon the ground. (In Time of Famine and Drought, 3)
[At the judgment seat of Christ] Without friends, without helpers, without supporters, without even a word in your own defense, you will be lead forth in disgrace, with bowed head and downcast eyes, utterly forsaken and ashamed. … Then everlasting shame will be the portion of sinners. (To the Rich, 6)
Being Grateful to God
From God comes everything beneficial…but human beings respond with a bitter disposition, misanthropy, and an unwillingness to share. Such characteristics are what this man offered back to his Benefactor. (I Will Tear Down My Barns, 1)
O mortal, recognize your Benefactor! Consider yourself, who you are, what resources have been entrusted to you, from whom you received them, and why you received more than others! (I Will Tear Down My Barns, 2)
How much gratitude you ought to have shown to your Benefactor, how joyful and radiant you ought to have been that you are not one of those who crowd in at others’ doors, but rather others are knocking at your door. But now you lower your eyes and quicken your step, lest anyone pry some small coin from your grasp. (I Will Tear Down My Barns, 6)
For the faithful, the grace of God …returns double for what is given. Lend, you who lack, to the rich God. He is a trustworthy guarantor, since He has the treasures of land and sea at His disposal. …With God it is a matter of honor to give a generous return. (In Time of Famine and Drought, 6)
To learn more around honor-shame in historical theology, see these posts.