In an article which provides two historical examples of how the Christian practice of charity is rooted in the rich theological tradition of the early church, Kimberly Baker emphasizes the importance of understanding the relationship between giver and receiver. Here is the article’s abstract:
In their preaching on care for the poor, Basil and Augustine call for a transformation of one’s relationships. While the Roman patronage system rested on relationships of privilege and dependency, Basil and Augustine cultivate a different type of relationship between the giver and receiver of charity, a relationship based not on status and need but on a shared life and identity. For Basil, that relationship is rooted in the common humanity of all people, regardless of economic or social status. Giving is natural in Basil’s worldview because humanity shares in a common human nature and thus holds all goods in common. Those who fail to share with others risk cutting themselves off from their human nature. Basil’s call to care for the poor is a call to recognize that to be human is to share in what is κοινός, held in common. And for Augustine, the relationship of giver and receiver is grounded in Christ. In loving others, Christians come to discover Christ not only present in them, by virtue of their baptism, but also present in those they serve, wherever there is human need, as promised in Matthew 25. Augustine draws the attention of Christians to those in need, including those outside the usual ties of kinship and citizenship, and even church membership, and teaches them to see in the poor, people of dignity, defined not by dependency but by Christ’s loving solidarity. In laying claim to a common bond between giver and receiver, Basil and Augustine offer a counter-cultural social vision in which giver and receiver are defined not by power or need, but by mutuality and love.
The article’s citation:
“Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor.” In Studia Patristica XCV: Papers Presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2015, vol. 21, edited by Markus Vinzent, 251-259. Leuven: Peeters, 2017.