Information about my new book. This is something that has been very important to me for several years and for which I have a great passion. Thank you Wipf & Stock for taking a chance on me as a new author.
Urban poverty in the developed world is an ever-present problem, and Christian approaches to poverty throughout history have much to teach us. The practice of almsgiving, which is the consistent practice of giving and sharing resources to meet the needs of the poor, is a sadly neglected part of this Christian heritage. This book explores the Christian lifestyle of almsgiving through the study of John Chrysostom.
The sermons and writings of John Chrysostom (c.347-407 CE), pastor in Antioch and archbishop of Constantinople, contain perhaps the greatest concentration of teaching on almsgiving in all of Christian literature. John’s teaching on almsgiving was both biblical and practical, and his ministry helped strengthen care for the poor throughout the Roman Empire of late antiquity. John preached his sermons to congregations filled with people who lived very comfortable lives. From his perspective, the churches of Antioch and Constantinople had grown complacent regarding poverty, when in fact God had called them to become a harbor for the poor.
“Rich in both biblical and patristic reflection, this book is a call for evangelicals to reclaim the ancient Christian practice of almsgiving. The word sounds quaint these days, but Eric Costanzo challenges us to learn again a pattern of life and love that is central to following Jesus Christ. This is a book that admonishes as well as informs.”
—Timothy George, Founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School
“Eric Costanzo presents a significantly new analysis of John Chrysostom’s teachings on and approach to almsgiving, an aspect central to his theology.”
—From the Foreword by Wendy Mayer
“Costanzo and Chrysostom remind us the poor are not our enemy. Instead, the poor are the agents through which we have the opportunity to embrace Christ’s command to love ‘the least of these.’ John Chrysostom’s words echo through history, and Costanzo has amplified them for the modern ear.”
—Deron Spoo, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma
“Harbor for the Poor highlights the missional character of almsgiving in John Chrysostom’s writings with theological sensitivity, ecclesial vision, and pastoral spirit.”
—Helen Rhee, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College
The biblical practice of almsgiving, as modeled by John Chrysostom and the ministry of his churches in Antioch, has significant implications for the Christian mission in the developed world of the twenty-first century. A renewed emphasis in social justice and ministry to the poor has all but ignored important aspects of this practice as it has been modeled throughout Christian history. Almsgiving is a matter of obedience to divine command as given in the Torah, reaffirmed by Jesus, and continued by the writers of the New Testament. Almsgiving, as an act of virtue, is more than moral action. Almsgiving is an illustration of God’s mercy toward humankind that, when practiced correctly, is a highly effective form of missional living, and an essential element of the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ in a world full of suffering. (24)
As the fourth century came to a close, the influence of Christian leaders such as John Chrysostom helped the poor to develop a new identity in urban society. The church, through its continued mission to the poor, brought the multifaceted needs of the impoverished to the front of the public sphere. This included the πὲνητες [working poor], πτωχοί [beggars], and also many widows, orphans, travelers, and sick who were taken in by churches. (37)
From a practical standpoint, John asserted the relative ease of the actions which Jesus venerates in Matthew 25. Jesus did not ask to be set free from prison or healed from sickness. He only asked that someone might visit him. Jesus did not demand an expensive table with a lavish meal, only necessary food such as bread. He did not ask for expensive clothing, but maintained willingness to be clothed only with supplication. (73)
Almsgiving was also a necessary part of repentance and training in righteousness. John compared almsgiving to a salve that one applies to a wound. If the wound is caused by coveting, almsgiving relieves the desire for accumulation. In the same way, one should apply the remedy of chastity to sexual immorality and kindness to a vicious tongue. Almsgiving, according to John, is the greatest remedy of all. It surpasses asceticism and fasting. When one practices almsgiving, vices such as pride, jealousy, and anger will evaporate and be replaced by a sober mind. Just as a physician contemplates the fragility of life while tending to a dying person, so the almsgiver is humbled and made wise by interactions with the poor. The almsgiver will develop a new sense of thankfulness when considering his or her own situation. He or she will also gain a greater understanding of the pointless nature of avarice, and a growing desire for eternal blessings. (105)
According to John, ‘the greatness of the charity is not shown by the measure of what is given, but by the disposition of the giver.’ (125)
John urged members of the clergy… to err on the side of generosity when faced with a person who appeared destitute. (132)
Christian almsgiving is the act of conveying the gospel message from the hands of senders to receivers in the form of generous giving. A renewal of the biblical practice of almsgiving will bring about new opportunities to engage, evaluate, and evangelize the needy in urban settings. Alms are a visible expression of the good news of Jesus Christ which brings hope to even the most desperate situations. (147)