St. Gregory Palamas: Three Kinds of Poverty

“The first [kind of poverty] is to lack life’s necessities and [it] depends on one’s [lack of] income and resources. It stands as the opposite extreme to wealth…. Then there is physical poverty, when the body withers away because of an extremely frugal diet or lack of food [or mental or bodily sickness]…. Another type of poverty is the soul’s moderation and restraint. This is our soul’s spiritual humility, the opposite of which is pride…. The first two types of poverty, financial and physical, are both worthily regarded as blessed, if they are accompanied by a humble attitude in the soul. If, on the other hand, they are divorced from humility and linked with pride, they are truly full of wretchedness. A person can be needy or in a poor bodily state either voluntarily or against his will. If he is involuntarily poor, he lacks humility, that good disposition which repentance brings to the soul, and [that person] does not bear with courage the deprivation that has befallen him against his will. He complains against God and attacks His perfectly just providence as unfair….That is why the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ referring to those who, on account of their inner humility of soul, embrace the poverty that results from physical self-control, and count freedom from possessions as more desirable than all riches. If such people involuntarily suffer some lack, through patience and thanksgiving they voluntarily turn it to their advantage. To such as these, then, is the kingdom of heaven. Let us strive, brethren, after this kind of poverty, that we may gain the heavenly kingdom. And if we prefer not to become poor in this way, let us at least share in the poverty of others by giving alms and contributing some of our possessions. Let us make friends by the mammon of unrighteousness, through what we have over and above our needs, while in this present life, that when we depart hence they may receive us into everlasting habitations (cf. Luke 16:9).”

One comment:

  1. You should mention this is from homily 31. Also, This quote is deceptive by having an ellipsis here that skips very necessary meaning. “His perfectly just providence as unfair….That is why the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ referring to those who, on account of their inner humility of soul, embrace the poverty that results from physical self-control, and count freedom from possessions as more desirable than all riches. ”
    He never praises the involuntarily poor in the passage. It says the voluntarily poor who use physical self control are blessed. Then in paragraph 11, it says that others should give possessions to those being voluntarily poor. Later, he says that it is very rare for someone to be involuntarily poor and humble at the same time as the blind man in paragraph 15, ” those who suffer to God’s glory, like the man born blind, whom the Lord healed are few (John 9:3)”. So it seems that the involuntarily poor according to him must humble themselves and “earn his living with manual labor” in paragraph 9 (also ommitted). This sounds very capitalistic, bootstrap talk.

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