Liberate Your Wealth: Basil the Great
Fling wide your doors! Give your wealth free passage everywhere! As a great river flows by a thousand channels through fertile country, so let your wealth run through many conduits to the homes of the poor. Wells that are drawn from flow the better; left unused, they go foul.…Money kept standing idle is worthless, but moving and changing hands it benefits the community and brings increase.
“I am wronging no one,” you say, “I am merely holding on to what is mine.” What is yours? Who gave it to you so that you could bring it into life with you? Why, you are like a man who pinches a seat at the theater at the expense of latecomers, claiming ownership of what was for common use. That’s what the rich are like; having seized what belongs to all they claim it as their own on the basis of having got there first. Whereas if everyone took for himself enough to meet his immediate needs and released the rest for those in need of it, there would be no rich and no poor.
When a man strips another of his clothes, he is called a thief. Should not a man who has the power to clothe the naked but does not do so be called the same? The bread in your larder belongs to the hungry. The cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked. The shoes you allow to rot belong to the barefoot. The money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. You do injustice to every person whom you could help but do not.
I ask, “Why do you have all this wealth?” For the care of the poor consumes wealth. When each one receives a little for one’s needs, and when all owners distribute their means simultaneously for the care of the needy, no one will possess more than one’s neighbor. Yet it is plain that you have much land. Where did it come from? Undoubtedly you have subordinated the relief and comfort of many to your convenience. And so, the more you abound in your riches, the more you want in love.
Basil the Great (ca. ad 330–379), bishop of Caesarea (now Kayseri, Turkey), gave away all he owned and urged wealthy Christians to do the same. He founded a hospital and other social services for the city’s poor.