Thursday, 5 February 2015

Kimberly Baker: Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor

This paper examines the theological roots of charity in the preaching of Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo.  Both Basil and Augustine took seriously their responsibility as bishops for care for the poor, coordinating charitable works and giving the works of mercy a central place in their preaching.  Where they could seem to differ is in their view of the poor themselves.  In preaching, Basil offers vivid descriptions of the poor that emphasize their humanity held in common with all people as bearers of the image of God.  Augustine, on the other hand, could seem to depersonalize the poor by putting his focus on the ones giving alms and the forgiveness they can receive as a result.  For Augustine, though, the goal is conversion of heart, thus care for the poor is love for the poor who cannot be reduced to a means to an end.  This love grows as Christians discover a common identity with the poor, that of Christ who identified with the poor in the Incarnation and who shares his life and identity with Christians in baptism.  Thus, while his imagery and focus differ from Basil’s, Augustine too shapes an awareness of the common bond between the giver and receiver of alms.  Both Basil’s focus on a common humanity and Augustine’s focus on a shared identity in Christ affirm the dignity of those who are poor and call for love expressed in charitable deeds from Christians.

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