Chrysostom on “The Lazy Poor”

We are accustomed to hearing among conservatives 2 Thess. 3:10 cited as essentially the only Biblical passage relevant to economics: “If a man does not work, let him not eat.”  This is the problem with welfare or even with too much voluntary charity, we are told.  Most people are poor because they are lazy, and we mustn’t reinforce this laziness.  There is nothing new under the sun, and so it turns out that this claim is not the result of the great discoveries of capitalism, but is an age-old excuse, which the Church Fathers had to deal with 1600 years ago.  In a paper on property rights, John Medaille of the Distributist Review quotes this passage from Chrysostom’s Homilies on Hebrews:

“For why does he not work (you say)? And why is he to be maintained in idleness? But (tell me) is it by working that thou hast what thou hast, didst thou not receive it as an inheritance from thy fathers? And even if thou dost work, is this a reason why thou shouldest reproach another? Hearest thou not what Paul saith? For after saying, “He that worketh not, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. iii. 10), he says, “But ye be not weary in well doing.” (2 Thess. Iii. 13.)…Are all poor through idleness? Is no one so from shipwreck? None from lawsuits? None from being robbed? None from dangers? None from illness? None from any other difficulties?”

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