Sie sind auf Seite 1von 25

Pauline Allen, Bronwen Neil, Wendy Mayer

Preaching Poverty in Late Antiquity

Arbeiten zur Kirchen- und Theologiegeschichte
Begrndet von Helmar Junghans, Kurt Nowak und Gnther Wartenberg
Herausgegeben von Klaus Fitschen, Wolfram Kinzig und Volker Leppin
Band 28
Pauline Allen, Bronwen Neil, Wendy Mayer
Preaching Poverty in
Late Antiquity
Perceptions and Realities
Bibliogransche Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der
Deutschen Nationalbibliograe; detaillierte bibliograsche Daten sind
im Internet ber <> abrufbar.
2009 by Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH Leipzig
Printed in Germany H 7325
Alle Rechte vorbehalten
Gedruckt auf alterungsbestndigem Papier
Satz: Dinah Joesoef, Brisbane, Australia
Druck und Binden: Hubert & Co., Gttingen
ISBN 978-3-374-02728-6
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements 9
Abbreviations 11
Chapter 1: Introduction 15
1. Problems in approaching poverty 21
1.1. Definitions and terminology 22
1.2. Philosophical and religious frameworks 23
1.3. Modern interpretations of poverty 25
2. A new approach to poverty 28
3. Layout of the book 30
Bibliography 31
Chapter 2: Reading the texts: a methodology of approach to genre 35
1. Homilies as a source the problematic 36
1.1. The homily (what is missing?) 36
1.2. Poverty: rhetoric and reality in the late-antique homily 40
2. The late-antique letter as sermo cum absentibus 44
2.1. The epistolographical genre: nature, function, and length of
2.2. The public/private dichotomy of the letter 46
2.3. Compilation of letter-collections 47
2.4. When is a letter not a letter, and does it make a difference? 50
3. Using hagiography as a witness to episcopal efforts on behalf of
the poor 53
3.1. Late-antique bishops Vitae: philosophers, martyrs, or monks? 53
Postscript 63
Bibliography 64
Chapter 3: John Chrysostom on poverty 69
Introduction 69
1. Economic context 71
1.1. Antioch 71
1.2. Constantinople 74
2. Background to the sources 76
3. Models 78
3.1. Ascetic models 78
3.2. Philosophical models 80
4. Discourse on poverty and almsgiving 82
4.1. Socio-economic poverty 82
4.2. Spiritual poverty 94
5. Johns attitude to voluntary poverty 96
6. Johns social vision 100
7. Rhetoric versus reality 104
Conclusion 110
Bibliography 112
Chapter 4: Augustine on poverty 119
Introduction 119
1. Economic context 120
1.1. Meaning of the poor in the sources 122
2. Background to the sources 122
3. Models 125
3.1. Flesh-and-blood models 125
3.2. Philosophical and theological models 127
4. Discourse on poverty and almsgiving 130
4.1. Dont sit on your gold like a hen on eggs 130
4.2. Direct or indirect giving 136
4.3. Support of clergy 138
4.4. Discriminate or indiscriminate giving 139
4.5. Material and spiritual almsgiving: a proper fusion 141
4.6. Uti/frui, the poor and the correct order of love 143
4.7. Dispositional thinking about poverty 144
5. Augustines attitude to voluntary poverty 146
6. Augustines social vision 147
7. Rhetoric versus reality 150
7.1. Augustines rhetoric on poverty and material almsgiving 151
7.2. Evidence considered: are the poor real or rhetorical constructs? 161
Conclusion 163
Bibliography 165
Chapter 5: Leo I on poverty 171
Introduction 171
1. Economic context 171
2. Background to the sources 176
2.1. Sermons 176
2.2. Letters 176
2.3. Liber Pontificalis 178
2.4. De vera humilitate 178
3. Models 179
3.1. Leos evergetical models 179
3.2. Theological and philosophical models of caritative giving 186
4. Discourse on poverty and almsgiving 188
4.1. Self-interested almsgiving 188
4.2. Divine stewardship 192
4.3. Deserving versus undeserving poor 193
5. Leos attitude to voluntary poverty 195
6. Leos social vision 197
7. Rhetoric versus reality 198
Conclusion 202
Bibliography 204
Chapter 6: Conclusions 209
1. Limitations of the sources 210
2. The economic importance of citizenship 212
3. A different understanding of virtue? 215
4. The late-antique gift ideal 218
5. Adaptation of evergetical and caritative models 219
6. Justice for the poor: myth or reality? 224
7. The bishops court 226
8. Social vision and social inertia 227
Bibliography 229
1. Biblical citations 232
2. Ancient works 233
3. Modern authors 240
4. General (people and places, themes) 244
Contributors 252
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Australian Research Council, in
the form of a Discovery Project grant, on the theme of Poverty and Welfare in Late
Antiquity (2006 to mid-2009). Australian Catholic University supported the project
through a Return-to-work award for Neil in 2008, and through International
Conference Grants over three-and-a-half years. Mayer held a research fellowship in
Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, in 2006/2007. The Alexander
von Humboldt-Stiftung sponsored Neil on a research fellowship for established
scholars at Universitt Bonn, Germany, for six months in 2008. We are grateful to
Prof. Wolfram Kinzig for suggesting the inclusion of our volume in the AKThG series.
We are pleased to acknowledge the contributions of four senior research associates
who undertook work on the project at various stages: Geoffrey Dunn, Silke Sitzler,
Anna Silvas, and Edward Morgan. David Luckensmeyer and Dinah Joesoef of the
Centre for Early Christian Studies provided valuable assistance with the preparation of
camera-ready copy. The fifth international conference Prayer and Spirituality in the
Early Church on Poverty and Riches (January 2008) afforded us with a valuable forum
for our ideas.
One of the unexpected pleasures of this project was collaboration with colleagues
in Japan, South Korea, South Africa, and Belgium, who were engaged in similar
research. Our research benefited greatly from the exchange of ideas with these
scholars, and we look forward to continued collaboration with them. In particular we
thank those who attended a seminar on late-antique poverty in Brisbane in September
2008: Kazuhiko Demura, Miyako Demura, Naoki Kamimura, and Wonmo Suh.
The librarians of McAuley campus, Australian Catholic University, proved both
resourceful and tenacious in tracking down the many bibliographical items required.
We are as ever indebted to them.
Finally to our friends and families all of whom will be glad to see this project
finished we owe our sincere thanks.
Brisbane, 19 August 2009 Pauline Allen
Bronwen Neil
Wendy Mayer
ACO Schwartz. E. et al. (eds), Acta Conciliorum Oecu-
menicorum (Strasbourg, 1914; Berlin and Leipzig
1924 )
ACW Ancient Christian Writers (Westminster MD 1946)
Atkins and Osborne,
Poverty in the Roman World
Atkins M. and Osborne, R. (eds), Poverty in the
Roman World (Cambridge 2006)
Bolkestein, Wohlttigkeit Bolkestein, H., Wohlttigkeit und Armenpflege im
vorchristlichen Altertum (Utrecht 1939)
Brown, Poverty and Leadership Brown, P. R. L., Poverty and Leadership in the
Later Roman Empire, The Menahem Stern
Jerusalem Lectures (Hanover and London 2002)
Wandering, Begging Monks
Caner, D., Wandering, Begging Monks. Spiritual
Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in
Late Antiquity (Berkeley, CA 2002)
C.J., in Krueger Corpus iuris civilis volumen secundum. Codex
Justinianus, in Krueger P. (ed.), (Hildesheim 1989)
C.Th., in Krueger, Mommsen,
and Meyer
Codex Theodosianus, in Krueger, P., Mommsen,
Th., and Meyer, P. M. (eds), 3 vols (Hildesheim
CCSL Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (Turnhout
1953 )
CPG Geerard, M. (ed.), Clavis Patrum Graecorum, vols
15, Corpus Christianorum (Turnhout 19741987);
Geerard, M. and Noret, J. (eds), Clavis Patrum
Graecorum. Supplementum, Corpus Christianorum
(Turnhout 1998)
CPL Dekkers, E. (ed.), Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 3rd
edn, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (Turnhout
CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
(Vienna 1866 )
De officiis, Davidson Davidson, I. J. (ed. and trans.), De officiis,
Ambrose, 2 vols, Oxford Early Christian Studies
(Oxford 2001)
DeVinne, Advocacy DeVinne, M. J., The Advocacy of Empty Bellies.
Episcopal Representation of the Poor in the Late
Roman Empire, unpub. PhD Diss. (Stanford, CA
Dodaro and Lawless,
Augustine and His Critics
Dodaro, R. and Lawless, G. (eds), Augustine and
His Critics. Essays in Honour of Gerald Bonner
(London and New York 2000)
Ep. Epistula
Epp. Epistulae
Finn, Almsgiving Finn, R. D., Almsgiving in the Later Roman
Empire. Christian Promotion and Practice (313
450) (Oxford 2006)
Finn, Portraying the poor Finn, R. D., Portraying the poor: descriptions of
poverty in Christian texts from the late Roman
empire, in Atkins and Osborne, Poverty in the
Roman World, 130161
Augustine through the Ages
Fitzgerald, A. D. (ed.), Augustine through the Ages.
An Encyclopaedia (Grand Rapids, MI 1999)
FOTC Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC 1947 )
Redemptive Almsgiving
Garrison, R., Redemptive Almsgiving in Early
Christianity, Journal for the Study of the New Tes-
tament Supplement Series 77 (Sheffield 1993)
GCS NF Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller NF
(1995 )
GNO Gregorii Nysseni Opera (Leiden 1960 )
Freu, Les Figures du pauvre Freu, C., Les Figures du pauvre dans les sources
italiennes de lantiquit tardive, tudes darcho-
logie et dhistoire ancienne (Paris 2007)
Holman, The Hungry Are Dying Holman, S. R., The Hungry Are Dying. Beggars
and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Oxford 2001)
Historia Ecclesiastica
Diehl, E. (ed.), Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae
Veteres, 2nd edn, 3 vols (Berlin 1961)
LP Duchesne, L. and Vogel, C. (eds), Le Liber Pontifi-
calis, 2nd edn, 3 vols (Paris 19551957)
LP, Davis Davis, R. (trans.), The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pon-
tificalis). The Ancient Biographies of the First
Ninety Roman Bishops to AD 715, 2nd edn, Trans-
lated Texts for Historians 6 (Liverpool 2000)
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Berlin 1826 )
NBA Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, Opere di Sant-
Agostino (Rome 1965 )
Neri, I marginali Neri, V., I marginali nelloccidente tardoantico.
Poveri, infames e criminali nella nascente
societ cristiana, MUNERA. Studi storici sulla
Tarda Antichit 12 (Bari 1998)
NF Neue Folge
NPNF ser. 2 Schaff, P. and Wace, H. (eds), Nicene and Post-
Nicene Fathers. A Select Library of the Christian
Church, second series, American edn, 14 vols (Pea-
body, MA 1994)
NS New Series
NT New Testament
OT Old Testament
Parkin, Poverty in the Early
Roman Empire
Parkin, A. R., Poverty in the Early Roman Empire.
Ancient and Modern Conceptions and Constructs,
PhD Diss. (Cambridge 2001)
Parkin, You do him no service Parkin, A. R., You do him no service: an
exploration of pagan almsgiving, in Atkins and
Osborne, Poverty in the Roman World 6082
Patlagean, Pauvret conomique Patlagean, E., Pauvret conomique et pauvret
sociale Byzance, 4
sicles (Paris 1977)
Patlagean, The poor Patlagean, E., The poor, in G. Cavallo (ed.), The
Byzantines (Chicago and London 1997) 1542
PG Migne, J. -P. (ed.), Patrologiae cursus completus.
Series Graeca, 161 vols (Paris 18571866)
PL Migne, J. -P. (ed.), Patrologiae cursus completus.
Series Latina, 221 vols (Paris 18441864)
PLRE 2 Jones, A. H. M., Martindale, J. R., and Morris, J.
(eds), The Prosopography of the Later Roman Em-
pire 2, AD 395527 (Cambridge 1980)
Prayer and Spirituality 5 Dunn, G. D., Luckensmeyer, D., and Cross, L.
(eds), Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church
5. Poverty and Riches (Strathfield 2009)
Ramsey, Almsgiving Ramsey, B., Almsgiving in the Latin church: the
late fourth and early fifth centuries, Theological
Studies 43 (1982) 226259
Rebillard and Sotinel,
Lvque dans la cit
Rebillard, ., and Sotinel, C. (eds), Lvque dans
la cit du IV
au V
sicle. Image et autorit. Actes
de la table ronde organise par lIstituto patristico
Augustinianum et lcole franais de Rome, Rome,
1 et 2 dcembre 1995 (Rome 1998)
Rouche, La Matricule Rouche, M., La Matricule des pauvres. volution
dune institution de charit du Bas Empire jusqu
la fin du Haut Moyen ge, in M. Mollat (ed.),
tudes sur lHistoire de la Pauvret (Moyen ge-
sicle), vol. 1, Publications de la Sorbonne,
Srie tudes 8, 1, 11 (Paris 1974) 83110
SC Sources chrtiennes (1941)
StP Studia Patristica (1957 )
TDST Silva-Tarouca, C. (ed.), S. Leonis Magni Epistulae,
Textus et Documenta Studia Theologica 9, 15, 20, 2
and 3 (Rome 19321937)
VC Vigiliae Christianae (1947 )
Veyne, Bread and Circuses Veyne, P., Le Pain et le cirque. Sociologie histor-
ique dun pluralisme politique (Paris 1976); trans.
B. Pearce, Bread and Circuses. Historical Socio-
logy and Political Pluralism (London 1992)
Wickham, Framing Wickham, C., Framing the Early Middle Ages.
Europe and the Mediterranean 400800 (Oxford
WSA The Works of Saint Augustine. A Translation for
the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY 1990 )
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
Poverty and the poor in the ancient world have received increasing interest from
scholars in recent years. A corpus of work is now available which considers the plight
of the poor and responses to them from the early Roman empire through to late
antiquity and Byzantium.
This present work seeks to add one more study to the
For example, see in chronological order: Bolkestein, Wohlttigkeit (1939); O. Plassmann, Das
Almosen bei Johannes Chysostomus (Mnster 1961); A. R. Hands, Charities and Social Aid in
Greece and Rome (London 1968) 48; S. Zincone, Ricchezza e povert nelle omelie di Giovanni
Crisostomo (LAquila 1973); Rouche, La Matricule, vol. 1 (1974) 83110; R. J. Rowland, The
very poor and the grain dole at Rome and Oxyrynchus, Zeitschrift fr Papyrologie und Epigraphik
21 (1976) 6972; Veyne, Le Pain et le cirque politique (1976) (= Veyne, Bread and Circuses, 1990);
Patlagean, Pauvret conomique (1977); F. Young, Christian attitudes to finance in the first four
centuries, Epworth Review 4.3 (1977) 7886; Ramsey, Almsgiving (1982); C. Pietri, Les Pauvres
et la pauvret dans lItalie de lEmpire chrtien, Miscellanea Historiae Ecclesiasticae 6,
Bibliothque de la Revue dhistoire ecclsiastique 67 (Brussels 1983) 267300; W. Klingshirn,
Charity and power: Caesarius of Arles and the ransoming of captives in sub-Roman Gaul, Journal
of Roman Studies 75 (1985) 183203; G. Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine. First
Three Centuries C.E. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford 1990); J. Herrin, Ideals of charity,
realities of welfare: the philanthropic activity of the Byzantine church, in R. Morris (ed.), Church
and People in Byzantium (Birmingham 1990) 151164; G. Woolf, Food, poverty and patronage: the
significance of the epigraphy of the Roman alimentary schemes in early imperial Italy, Papers of the
British School at Rome 58 (1990) 197228; P. R. L. Brown, Poverty and power, in Power and
Persuasion in Late Antiquity. Towards a Christian Empire (Madison, WI 1992) 71117; Garrison,
Redemptive Alms-giving (1993); C. R. Whittaker, The poor, in A. Giardina (ed.), The Romans
(Chicago 1993) 272299; Garrison, Redemptive Almsgiving (1993); B. Leyerle, John Chrysostom on
almsgiving and the use of money, Harvard Theological Review 87 (1994) 2947; DeVinne,
Advocacy, 1995; Patlagean, The poor, 1997; M. Prell, Sozialkonomische Untersuchungen zur
Armut in antiken Rom (Stuttgart 1997); P. Horden and R. Smith (eds), The Locus of Care. Families,
Communities, Institutions and the Provision of Welfare since Antiquity (London and New York
1998); R. P. Saller, Poverty, honor and obligation in imperial Rome, Criterion (Spring/Summer
1998) 1220; M. Sheather, Pronouncements of the Cappadocians on poverty and wealth, in P.
Allen, R. Canning, and L. Cross (eds), Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church 1 (Everton Park
1998) 375393; S. R. Holman, The hungry body: famine, poverty, and identity in Basils Hom. 8,
Journal of Early Christian Studies 7 (1999) 337363; P. Veyne, La Plbe moyenne sous le haut-
empire romain, Annales 6 (2000) 11691199; S. R. Holman, The entitled poor. Human rights
language in the Cappadocians, Doctores Ecclesiae in Pro Ecclesia 9 (2000) 476489; Parkin,
Poverty in the Early Roman Empire (2001); Holman, The Hungry are Dying (2001); Brown,
Poverty and Leadership (2002); Finn, Almsgiving (2006); Atkins and Osborne, Poverty in the Roman
World (2006); Parkin, You do him no service (2006); G. N. Gotsis and G. A. Merianos, Wealth
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
growing corpus, uniquely comparing and contrasting three significant figures of the
early church and their identification of, and responses to, the poor in the fourth and
fifth centuries of the common era. In studying the homilies of John Chrysostom,
Augustine, and Leo I, this study both supports some of the assertions and assumptions
that have been made in relation to poverty and the poor in the late-antique world, while
questioning others.
From the nineteenth century onwards, studies of poverty in Christian antiquity
displayed a largely Christian and theological bias, with significant non-theological,
social, and economic studies on poverty appearing a century later.
Influential amongst
these works were those of Bolkestein,
and Patlagean.
These three scholars
approached the issue using economic and political perspectives, and argued that there
was a fundamental shift in the conceptualisation of, and response to, poverty between
the classical and early mediaeval worlds. Though the exact period of change is disputed
(ranging from the first century to the sixth),
they posited that there was a shift in the
social imagination from a civic to an economic model of community that impacted on
the focus of philanthropy (evergetism).
With regard to pagan attitudes to poverty, the classic work remains that of Hands,
who stresses the reciprocity of giving in ancient Rome and the lure of honour which lay
behind it.
Giving was a discriminate exercise, he argues, because the emphasis lay on
the donors giving not to the penniless, but to the morally good person, who almost
inevitably belonged to the same elite educated class as the donor.
More recently two
incisive studies by Parkin
and a number of papers in the Atkins and Osborne volume
have continued the work of Hands. For the purpose of this overview we shall take as
representative Parkins study, You do him no service, which is an exploration of
pagan almsgiving. As its starting-point, it accepts Bolkesteins dictum that Christian
and poverty in Theodoret of Cyrrhus On providence, Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 59
(2007) 1148; Freu, Les Figures du pauvre (2007); S. R. Holman (ed.), Wealth and Poverty in Early
Church and Society, Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History (Grand Rapids, MI, and
Brookline, MA 2008).
See Finns literature review, especially on the nineteenth century (Almsgiving, 2633, esp. 2628).
Bolkestein, Wohlttigkeit.
Veyne, Bread and Circuses.
Patlagean, Pauvret conomique. A rare critique of Patlagean is offered by M. Mazza, Poveri e
povert nel mondo bizantino (IVVII secolo), Studi Storici 23 (1982) 283315.
For instance, Patlagean locates it in the late-antique period, while Bolkestein argues for the first
century. On this see especially R. Osborne, Introduction, in Atkins and Osborne, Poverty in the
Roman World, 23.
By evergetism we refer to classical pagan or civic models of giving; to distinguish specifically
Christian models we use the word caritative. In general we use the term pagan to refer to
classical Graeco-Roman antecedents which continued to have currency in late antiquity.
Hands, Charities and Social Aid, 48.
Hands, Charities and Social Aid, 74.
Poverty in the Early Roman Empire and You do him no service.
charity did not evolve from pagan munificence.
Echoing Hands, Parkin remarks that
the pagan writers whose works survive to us were not interested in the desperately poor
or marginalised in their societies, but mostly in the respectable citizens who had fallen
on hard times or who could repay a favour which would redound to the honour of the
She makes the point that while patronage of the poor became visible only in
late antiquity as a manifestation of Christian ideology and politics, previous pagan
almsgiving was indeed practised, but by non-elite donors towards the destitute, and
probably the almsgiving was in small amounts.
We shall need to consider these pagan
approaches to evergetism in what follows as we try to determine whether Christian
attitudes to the poor came to dominate, and if so, how and when.
In his chapter Poverty and power in Power and Persuasion and his monograph
Poverty and Leadership Brown attempts to account for the late-antique shift to the
visible care of the poor as a class.
He accepts the premise that there was a change in
the social conception and response to poverty, noticeable in a new model of evergetism
that included societys marginalised (citizen and non-citizen). Brown proposes that
Christianity played a greater and more influential role in the process than previously
prescribed, locating this change in the fourth to the sixth centuries.
Arguing that the
Christian bishops (and Christianity) were not merely carried along with this change in
social imagination, but that Christian bishops were actually the agents of the change,
he states: to put it bluntly: in a sense, it was the Christian bishops who invented the
For Brown it is in the Christian discourse of late antiquity that a heightened
visibility and acknowledgement of the poor is evident.
He writes that poverty in late
antiquity was not dissimilar from what it had always been:
But we now look at it with the sharper eyes of Christians, for whom it was both a
moral challenge and a spur to action; and, above all, we look at poverty with the eyes
of Christian leaders (the bishops) for whom the existence of the poor offered, for the
first time in the history of the Greco-Roman world, an opportunity to highlight their
role in a new, post-classical society.
You do him no service, 61.
You do him no service, 61, 62, and 65.
You do him no service, 6870.
Sheather, Pronouncements of the Cappadocians, would agree with the idea that it was Christ-
ianity that first classified the poor.
It should be noted that this sentiment was already touted by Av. Cameron in her 1980 review of
Patlageans work, Late antiquity the total view, Past and Present 88 (1980) 129135, at 135.
Patlagean also pays more attention to the role of Christianity in her chapter, The poor, esp. 1617.
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 8.
Indeed Brown goes so far as to say that suddenly there are poor everywhere (Poverty and
Leadership, 11).
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 16. In support, consider Garnsey and Woolfs statement on the
poor in antiquity: The poor were ubiquitous but are more or less invisible.: P. Garnsey and G.
Woolf, Patronage of the rural poor in the Roman world, in A. Wallace-Hadrill (ed.), Patronage in
Ancient Society (London and New York 1989) 153170, at 153.
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
Thus he proposes that the increasing power-base of the Christian bishop in this period
can be associated with the poor. The bishop was now entrusted with funds and
authority from a variety of sources, including Christian, secular, and imperial, in order
to nourish, protect, care for, and provide justice for the poor.
This increased authority
and power, emanating from an evolving Christian social model and a religious
discourse influenced by ancient near-eastern models, he claims,
ultimately promoted
and presented the Christian bishop as the guardian and lover of the poor, and marked
Christianity as significant in the shifting social imagination towards the poor and
evergetism. Emphasising the role of the bishop as preacher in the putative
transformation of the social imagination, from a civic to an economic model of social
relations, Brown maintains:
All over the empire, Christian bishops, clergymen and monks fostered a nonclassical
image of society by the simple process of speaking as if society were, indeed, divided
primarily between the rich and the poor, the weak and the powerful, according to a
Biblical, Near Eastern model.

This shift in the conceptualisation of the poor, Brown argues further, relied partly
on a christological foundation because [b]y becoming a human being, Christ, the
emperor of heaven, had joined himself to the destitute poverty of human flesh.
From this line of reasoning it follows that the Christian emperor and his subjects
became closely connected because of Christs act of synkatabasis or condescension in
the incarnation, and their common faith. Brown ventures the opinion that the sense of
unbridgeable separateness between God and man, similar to that between an emperor
and his subjects, hovered over the thought of Nestorius,
resulting in the ultimate
failure of Nestorius christological position and the triumph of Cyril of Alexandria.
In one quarter Poverty and Leadership was met with stern criticism for its grand
notions and poor scholarly underpinning, as well as its propensity to extrapolate from
one period or geographical area to the whole Roman empire.
Another reviewer
criticised it for its rash excursus into the realm of christology in order to explain the
rapport between the emperor and his people, and by extension the bishop and his
people. Furthermore, the same reviewer took Brown to task for his imprecise language,
particularly his use of the expression middling classes.
This included imperial funds for the dispersing of grain, or Christian almsgiving in order to protect
widows and orphans (Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 3132, 58, 6772).
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 111.
Poverty and Leadership, 80.
Poverty and Leadership, 93.
Poverty and Leadership, 101.
G. Osborn in Journal of Roman Studies 93 (2003) 414415.
C. Sotinel in Antiquit Tardive: revue internationale dhistoire et darchologie (IV
s.) 11
(2003) 359363.
Nonetheless, in general Browns work met with acquiescence,
and it has since
had a noticeable impact on studies of late-antique poverty, as can be seen in the work
of DeVinne and Finn. DeVinne in his unpublished thesis, Advocacy, expands on
Browns exposition of the emerging visibility of the poor in Christian discourse,
arguing that although the poor are everywhere in the pre-Constantinian era, they are not
seen. It is the church Fathers, such as Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, who make
the poor visible and shift the Christian gaze towards them. This is most obvious in their
vivid and expansive imagery of the body, and their portrayals of the poor using the
language of the arena, entertainment, and soldiery.
Furthermore DeVinne argues that
the bishops, in making the poor seen, are also shaping their discourse on charity
within the framework of urban patronage and evergetism, constructing the evergetists
as praiseworthy and the poor as their worthy clients.
DeVinnes thesis lends support
to Browns position on the prevalent role of the bishop in changing attitudes and
behaviours to the poor, perhaps best seen in the statement of the former:
Through their rhetoric and their activities, bishops not only lead others to see these
formerly unrecognized urbanities and acknowledge their claim to citizenship; they
also forge a strong, durable, personal link between themselves and the new citizens
they have created. The poor are indebted uniquely to their bishops.
In contrast, in his book Almsgiving Finn responds to Browns thesis by challenging the
latters main argument for the influence of Christianity on evergetism. Finn argues that
episcopal authority evolved not simply from patronage of the poor in its discourse on
almsgiving, but involved a variety of factors that made its construction considerably
more complex. He writes: Competition between almsgivers, the co-operative dimen-
sion of episcopal almsgiving, and the continuing vitality of classical euergetism, should
be seen as a significant limit on the ability of generous almsgiving to elevate bishops to
civic leadership as supreme patrons.
Thus the importance of almsgiving for status
and leadership outside of the patron-client paradigm (such as competition for
almsgiving between monks and bishops, as well as pagan and Christian notables, and
A representative example of positive reviews is: B. Shaw, Loving the poor in The New York
Review of Books 49.18 (2002) 4245; J. Harries in Classical Review NS 53 (2003) 167168; P.
Maraval in Revue dhistoire ecclsiastique 98 (2003) 328329; W. Brueggemann, How the early
church practiced charity, The Christian Century (June 14, 2003) 3031; C. Tiersch in Historische
Zeitschrift 276 (2003) 732734; G. A. Cecconi in Prometheus 30 (2004) 286287; C. Corbo in Studia
et documenta historiae et iuris 70 (Rome 2004) 545550; R. De Acutis in Rivista di archeologia
cristiana 81 (2005) 312314.
The poor are made visible in the church, though they are not physically there. For example, on John
Chrysostom, DeVinne, Advocacy, 20, writes: As he elucidates this elective vision, the rent, the
rupture bodies of the poor, though now physically concealed by the walls of the church, become
compelling present. We note here, however, that rendering the poor visible is less noticeable in
western texts, as will become clearer in our studies on Augustine and Leo, below.
DeVinne, Advocacy, 9599.
DeVinne, Advocacy, 118.
Finn, Almsgiving, 266.
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
the glory of benefaction),
in addition to continued support for games, public
buildings, and amenities, are relevant issues that weaken Browns argument for
almsgiving as a significant factor of increased episcopal power.
Further support for Finns argument can be found in the earlier work of Garnsey
and Woolf on poverty and patronage, in which they argue that patronage (and they are
not referring here to Christian episcopal patronage, but traditional patronage networks)
offered one source of assistance, but it coexisted with charity, evergetism, and family
or community support. Indeed, Any study of patronage as is conceded by specialists
in the field, runs the risk that it will overrate the significance of that one institution.
Patronage is a way of doing things, amongst others.
Finn again responds to Browns work, and also DeVinnes, in his article
Portraying the poor. In this study Finn challenges their thesis that Christian discourse
increased and enhanced the visibility of the poor. He writes: It is now taken for
granted that in their promotion of almsgiving Christian preachers of the late fourth and
fifth centuries gave a new visibility through and in their texts to the poor and the very
Examining the extent of this heightened visibility through a comparison of
sermons with hagiographies, particularly using Augustines Enarrationes in Psalmos,
Mark the Deacons Vita Porphyrii episcopi Gazensis, and Callinicus Vita sancti
Hypatii, Finn concludes that what is evident at most is a disguised visibility, that is a
visibility of an indefinite poor. This, he asserts, is because visibility of the actual
destitute could negatively impact upon almsgiving and/or limit a bishops liberty in
distributing almsgiving.
by not presenting the listener with specific groups, with named or otherwise
delineated individuals, from a given social stratum, the promoter of almsgiving
removes or mutes a traditional interpretative frame which taints the very poor with
that contempt due to inferiors, while avoiding the question of whether any particular
individual is a worthy recipient of alms.
Holmans The Hungry are Dying,
though more geographically, chronologically, and
theologically focused, is a study which derives conclusions similar to Browns
regarding the influence of Christianity on the emerging visibility and awareness of the
poor. Through an examination of the poor in the sermons of the Cappadocians
Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen Holman concludes that in the fourth
century a new Christian discourse about politics and poverty emerges. Considering the
themes of (1) leitourgia and the gift economy, (2) paideia and power dynamics, and (3)
in a more limited way, an emerging theology of incarnation as related to constructed
meanings of the poor body, Holman argues that the poor become visible in Christian
Finn, Almsgiving, 33 and 258268.
Garnsey and Woolf, Patronage of the rural poor, 154.
Finn, Portraying the poor, 130.
Finn, Portraying the poor, 135 and 144.
Finn, Portraying the poor, 134.
See also Holman, The hungry body.
texts by being located in Gods creation-order and entering both the civic and religious
She proposes that:
Through their rhetoric in these sermons, Basil and the Gregories give meaning to the
poor by placing them within the liturgical concepts of emerging Christian culture.
Building their construct of the poor on patronage ideals and an economics ruled by
gift exchange, operating with the rhetorical finesse of the ideal citizen trained in
paideia, the sermons weave together an image that is at its most basic essence a
theological identity.
The main arguments of these scholars revolve around the increased acknowledgement
and reception of the poor in Christian discourse and consequently the impact of this
discourse on practice. While the relatively prevalent appearance of the poor and
poverty in Christian rhetoric between the fourth and sixth centuries can be little
disputed, the purpose and manner of the representations can well be questioned. Thus,
for example, while DeVinne argues that the church Fathers portrayals increase the
visibility of the actual poor, Finn argues on the contrary that the portrayals represent an
objectified poor distanced from the reality of contemporary poverty. How such
portrayals subsequently influence action is also disputable. While Brown persuasively
argues for the poor as a catalyst for increasing episcopal power based largely on
changing patterns of patronage, Finn offers a strong argument for the flaws of seeing
the patronage framework as an isolated function for the accession of power. The issues
and arguments raised by these scholars are valid and lend themselves to further careful
inquiry, which is the aim of this book.
In all studies of history there are inevitable problems of anachronism and particularism
as well as the ambiguity and exclusivity of sources. The study of late-antique poverty is
no exception. When dealing with the primary sources and their contexts there are
problems of both modern and ancient interpretation with which we must contend when
attempting to understand the influential variables and concepts of poverty in the
Graeco-Roman world. Such problems of interpretation include antique definitions of
poverty, ambiguities and flexibility in the terms used, social understandings of class,
status, kinship, education, honour, and shame, as well as the philosophical and
rhetorical frameworks underlying our antique sources. In addition, modern analyses
can risk paying too little or too much attention to these factors, potentially resulting in
skewed or anachronistic interpretations.
Holman, The Hungry are Dying, 178182.
Holman, The Hungry are Dying, 182.
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
1.1. Definitions and terminology
Perhaps the place where all investigation should begin is in a search for a unified and
accessible definition or understanding of the topic at hand. In the case of antique
poverty, when seeking a definition or some understanding of ancient definitions from
sources such as those used in this study, namely John Chrysostom, Augustine and Leo
I, we are faced with a variety of terms mostly offering contextual definitions that may
not be valid beyond the document in use. For instance, the Latin terms for the states
and emotions related to poverty and wealth used by Augustine and Leo include:
avaritia, cupiditas, debitum, divitiae, egestas, fames, indigens, inopes, merces, pauper,
pecunia, possessio, sitiens, and utens. The inventory of words is likewise significant in
the Greek homilies of John Chrysostom and includes: o0iov, oxtjoouvj, ovorjpo,
orcppicvoi, oropetcpo, oi ococvoi, ccciv, cppicvou, cuxotopovjtou,
ccjoouvev, j rcvio, ie, oi croitouvtc, oi rcivevtc, oi rcvipoi, to oixtcipjo,
opovo, rcvovtc, rteo, tou tooirepou, ootcyo, tev rpoooitouvtev, tev poxio
rcpicjcvev, jpo, and a variety of related terms. The fluid and contextualised
meanings of these words indicate that seeking a few definitive terms to represent the
entire subject can lead to misinterpretations of our sources.
Nevertheless, scholars have sought to isolate terms for the representative mean-
ings, with mixed results. For instance, Patlagean notes that among both Christian and
non-Christian authors in the Greek-speaking East a poor person had traditionally been
described as rteo (having an insecure and unsatisfactory living), rcvj (being
passively impoverished and dependent on others), and ococvo (being needy,
reflecting a lack).
Finn comments on Augustines general use of pauperes for the
poor and very poor, with little or no further specification on their situation.
confirms a similar general use of pauperes in Leo I, noting the important exceptions
which expand on categories of destitution.
The reason for such vagueness in
terminology is seen by Neil as a rhetorical ploy to distance audiences from the realities
(and visibilities) of poverty, while Finn interprets it as a deliberate strategy for
foreclosing social distance between the potential giver and recipient.
Other studies
offer little more precision in definitions and terminology. Humfress, for instance,
investigates the increased references to the poor per se in legislation from the early
fourth to mid-sixth centuries, and concludes that individual cases reveal that poverty is
determined by individual judges on the merits of each case, hence once again there is
no general or constant definition of poverty, rather the tacit recognition that the poor
would include those lacking all property.
Grodzynski likewise seeks to determine
Patlagean, The poor, 15. See also ead., Pauvret conomique, 2528, and the discussion in B.
Neil, Blessed are the rich: Leo the Great and the fifth-century Roman poor, StP, forthcoming.
Finn, Portraying the poor, 135.
Neil, Blessed are the rich.
Neil, Blessed are the rich; Finn, Portraying the poor, 134.
C. Humfress, Poverty and Roman law, in Atkins and Osborne, Poverty in the Roman World,
183202, at 202.
whether words did take on specific meanings and inferences in the legislation of the C.
and finds that there is only faint interest in the economic poor shown in
legislation, with terms generally subsumed under the use of the word paupertas.
It is not surprising that a search for one or more embracing and definitive term(s)
for the poor and poverty seems somewhat elusive. If we consider, for instance, that
scholars still dispute when the poor and poverty came into the mindset of Graeco-
Roman society at large, then their clear and definitive existence in contemporary
vocabulary can only be problematic, for if the poor never clearly existed in the cultural
mindset, then lucid and consistent terminology in their regard cannot be expected.
Therefore in any study of antique poverty the extant evidence, both literary and
material, must be read in context in order to gauge how the poor and poverty are
incorporated into the rhetoric and reality of the antique world.
Consequently, in order to contextualise and understand poverty we need to
consider late-antique social understandings of class, status, kinship, education, honour
and shame, as well as the economic, imperial, and environmental issues that affected
Graeco-Roman society and more particularly specific communities within the Roman
empire. For instance, the elite position of our literary sources must be taken into
account when we consider poverty, as their backgrounds inevitably affected both their
view and interpretation of the poor and poverty, both in social and economic terms.
Would, for instance, elite and privileged members of Graeco-Roman society include
the destitute and/or real poor in their rhetoric, regardless of religious influences and
directives? Furthermore, if their audiences are largely of a similarly prosperous
background, would they not be working on a similar understanding? Can the beggar,
for instance, particularly the socially-shunned, shameful, undeserving, idle beggar, ever
be incorporated in charity and welfare programmes beyond the speech of a church
1.2. Philosophical and religious frameworks
Also important are the inherited philosophical and religious frameworks of the authors
we are studying. Jewish models of caritative activity illuminate much of our Christian
materials on the topic from late antiquity.
For Jews, as for Christians, almsgiving was
compulsory and could be defined under four headings: redemptive almsgiving,
anonymous giving, indiscriminate giving, and justice for the poor. The notion of
D. Grodzynski, Pauvres et indigents, vils et plebeians (Une tude terminologique sur le vo-
cabulaire des petites gens dans le Code Thodosien), Studia et documenta historiae et iuris (Rome
1987) 140218.
Grodzynski, Pauvres et indigents.
Considered, for instance, by S. Sitzler, Deviance and destitution: social poverty in the homilies of
John Chrysostom, paper presented at the Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies,
August 2007.
See in detail on this subject B. Neil, Models of gift giving in the preaching of Leo the Great,
Journal of Early Christian Studies, forthcoming.
Pauline Allen and Silke Sitzler
redemptive almsgiving in early Christian texts came directly from Jewish Scriptures,
particularly Psalms, Proverbs, Tobit, and Isaiah.
Late-antique rabbinic teaching
focused on self-interested almsgiving as a means of salvation which gave the donor
advocacy before God, and on the necessity of poor and rich for each others
Almsgiving had to be conducted anonymously and was to be
indiscriminate as long as the recipients were Jews.
Justice for the poor included the
acknowledgement of the poor persons right to human dignity.
All these ideas can be
found in our three authors in this book, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Leo I.
We have already considered pagan almsgiving, which, while not the direct
precursor of Christian caritative activity, co-existed with it for a considerable time and
exercised great influence on it. The Stoic rationale for almsgiving, for example, based
on the dignity of all human beings,
was a useful one for church Fathers in promoting
the concept of the body of Christ, that is, his church. By extension, because the poor
share the humanity of Christ, giving to them is the same as giving to Christ. However,
the Stoic motivation for assisting the needy stern justice rather than compassion

had to be reworked by Christians to incorporate the notion of mercy as found pre-
eminently in Matthew 5:7 (Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy).
The Stoic notion that all sins are equal was also moderated, particularly by
in turn leading to a hierarchy of almsgiving according to the gravity of the
sin committed.
The Greek writings of the Egyptian philosopher Plotinus (c. 204270 CE),
regarded as the founder of neo-Platonism, had great currency in both East and West in
late antiquity. In their Latin version they were digested by Ambrose and others,
including the young Augustine, in Milan. Neo-Platonic concepts like the ascent of the
soul, the contemplation of the truth, the importance of ones inner disposition,
detachment, and the moral neutrality of material goods can be found over and over
again in late-antique Christian preachers on poverty. The spiritualising of poverty,
particularly in pastors like Augustine and Leo, and the concept of almsgiving as an
eschatological tool for ascending to God also have their roots in neo-Platonism.
In the East in John Chrysostom we find predominantly Stoic and Cynic
frameworks, but also perceptible are Platonic, Aristotelian, and Epicurean elements, in
the main little different from those of his pagan counterparts who had been educated in
the same philosophical schools.
In sum, the eclecticism of the philosophical and religious approaches used by
church Fathers in their discourses on poverty must be reckoned with, not to mention
See further Garrison, Redemptive Almsgiving, 5253.
See Neil, Models.
See Neil, Models.
See Holman, The Hungry are Dying, 43.
See further Parkin, You do him no service, 6082. For a more detailed discussion see ead.,
Poverty in the Early Roman Empire, 115155.
See further Holman, The entitled poor, 478479.
See further Chapter 4.3.2 below.
the fact that the bulk of their observations occurs in homilies, a genre which does not
readily admit systematic exposition of philosophical theories.
The point to be made at this stage is that the words of our late-antique authors can
never be read at face value. Their numerous frameworks and lenses require lengthier
and more detailed attention than can be offered in this chapter. In particular their use of
rhetoric needs a study in its own right, which will be provided in Chapter 2, where we
consider how we read through the rhetoric of various literary genres when trying to
identify the reality of poverty.
1.3. Modern interpretations of poverty
Not only is the ancient understanding of poverty at issue here, but also modern
interpretations of poverty and the poor which, when not applied with care, obscure
rather than enhance our view of the ancient world. This is particularly the case when
the analysis is tainted by anachronistic views that have taken little or no account of the
different social, cultural, and economic contexts and mindsets of our antique subjects.
Thus, for instance, the use of non-specific terms which carry with them modern
meanings and their own particular social inferences automatically impose on the
antique evidence various assumptions about social understandings, groupings, and
constructions which may be inapplicable. Such labels as middling population
even the notion of the slippery slope,
with no explanation or definitive statement of
their meaning, provide some examples, for they only allow the reader to place modern
understandings on their use and consequently categorise ancient material according to
modern conceptions. This offers a subjective reading of history, particularly when one
considers how the concept of middling classes can vary between regions and coun-
tries in the modern world. Thus no two modern readers need read a modern analysis
using such vague terminology with the same understanding.
Similar criticism can also be levelled at the application of modern concepts such as
standard of living to studies of ancient poverty. While such concepts hold
considerable relevance to some modern societies, their applicability to the Graeco-
Roman world must be questioned. Scheidel proposes that poverty in the Roman world
should be investigated with a regard not only for income and asset distribution, but also
for quality of life or human development.
Again, a concept like quality of life is
subjective and both regionally and culturally specific in the modern world, dependent
not only on financial position but also on social and environmental conditions and
understandings. However, one must also question whether the sense of self, of the
individual, to which quality of life is inexorably linked, can be identified within
the Graeco-Roman world. Certainly it has been well argued that the Graeco-Roman
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 14, and R. Scheidel, Stratification, deprivation and quality of
life, in Atkins and Osborne, Poverty in the Roman World, 4059.
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 4950, and Scheidel, Stratification.
Scheidel, Stratification, 40.