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NPNF-212. Leo the Great, Gregory the Great
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Chapter XX.

How to be admonished are those who give away what is their own, and those who seize what belongs to others.

(Admonition 21.)  Differently to be admonished are those who already give compassionately of their own, and those who still would fain seize even what belongs to others.  For those who already give compassionately of their own are to be admonished not to lift themselves up in swelling thought above those to whom they impart earthly things; not to esteem themselves better than others because they see others to be supported by them.  For the Lord of an earthly household, in distributing the ranks and ministries of his servants, appoints some to rule, but some to be ruled by others.  Those he orders to supply to the rest what is necessary, these to take what they receive from others.  And yet it is for the most part those that rule who offend, while those that are ruled remain in favour with the good man of the house.  Those who are dispensers incur wrath; those who subsist by the dispensation of others continue without offence.  Those, then, who already give compassionately of the things which they possess are to be admonished to acknowledge themselves to be placed by the heavenly Lord as dispensers of temporal supplies, and to impart the same all the more humbly from their understanding that the things which they dispense are not their own.  And, when they consider that they are appointed for the service of those to whom they impart what they have received, by no means let vain glory elate their minds, but let fear depress them.  Whence also it is needful for them to take anxious thought lest they distribute what has been committed to them unworthily; lest they bestow something on those on whom they ought to have spent nothing, or nothing on those on whom they ought to have spent something, or much on those on whom they ought to have spent little, or little on those on whom they ought to have spent much; lest by precipitancy they scatter unprofitably what they give; lest by tardiness they mischievously torment petitioners; lest the thought of receiving a favour in return creep in; lest craving for transitory praise extinguish the light of giving; lest accompanying moroseness beset an offered gift; lest in case of a gift that has been well offered the mind be exhilarated more than is fit; lest, when they have fulfilled all aright, they give something to themselves, and so at once lose all after they have accomplished all.  For, that they may not attribute to themselves the virtue of their liberality, let them hear what is written, If any man administer, let him do it as of the ability which God administereth (1 Pet. iv. 11).  That they may not rejoice immoderately in benefits bestowed, let them hear what is written, When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke xvii. 10).  That moroseness may not spoil liberality, let them hear what is written, God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Cor. ix. 7).  That they may not seek transitory praise for a gift bestowed, let them hear what is written, Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matth. vi. 3).  That is, let not the glory of the present life mix itself with the largesses of piety, nor let desire of favour know anything of the work of rectitude.  That they may not require a return for benefits bestowed, let them hear what is written, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. but, when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:  and thou shalt be blessed; for they have not whereof to recompense thee (Luke xiv. 12 seq.).  That they may not supply too late what should be supplied at once, let them hear what is written, Say not unto thy friend, go and come again, and to-morrow I will give, when thou mightest give immediately (Prov. iii. 28).  Lest, under pretence of liberality, they should scatter what they possess unprofitably, let them hear what is written, Let thine alms sweat in thine hand.  Lest, when much is necessary, little be given, let them hear what is written, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly (2 Cor. ix. 6).  Lest, when they ought to give little, they give too much, and afterwards, badly enduring want themselves, break out into impatience, let them hear what is written, Not that other men be eased, and ye burdened, but by an equality, that your abundance may supply their want, and that their abundance may be a supply to your want (Ibid. viii. 13, 14).  For, when the soul of the giver knows not how to endure want, then, in withdrawing much from himself, he seeks out against himself occasion of impatience.  For the mind should first be prepared for patience, and then either much or all be bestowed in bounty, lest, the inroad of want being borne with but little equanimity, both the reward of previous bounty be lost, and subsequent murmuring bring worse ruin on the soul.  Lest they should give nothing at all to those on whom they ought to bestow something, let them hear what is written, Give to every man that asketh of thee (Luke vi. 30).  Lest they should give something, however little to those on whom they ought to bestow nothing at all, let them hear what is written, Give to the good man, and receive not a sinner:  do well to him that is lowly, and give not to the ungodly (Ecclus. xii. 4).  And again, Set out thy bread and wine on the burial of the just, but eat and drink not thereof with sinners (Tobit iv. 17).

For he gives his bread and wine to sinners who gives assistance to the wicked for that they are wicked.  For which cause also some of the rich of this world nourish players with profuse bounties, while the poor of Christ are tormented with hunger.  He, however, who gives his bread to one that is indigent, though he be a sinner, not because he is a sinner, but because he is a man, does not in truth nourish a sinner, but a poor righteous man, because what he loves in him is not his sin, but his nature.

Those who already distribute compassionately what they possess are to be admonished also that they study to keep careful guard, lest, when they redeem by alms the sins they have committed, they commit others which will still require redemption; lest they suppose the righteousness of God to be saleable, thinking that if they take care to give money for their sins, they can sin with impunity.  For, The soul is more than meat, and the body than raiment (Matth. vi. 25; Luke xii. 23).  He, therefore, who bestows meat or raiment on the poor, and yet is polluted by iniquity of soul or body, has offered the lesser thing to righteousness, and the greater thing to sin; for he has given his possessions to God, and himself to the devil.

But, on the other hand, those who still would fain seize what belongs to others are to be admonished to give anxious heed to what the Lord says when He comes to judgment.  For He says, I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in:  naked, and ye clothed Me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not (Matth. xxv. 42, 43).  And these he previously addresses saying, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into eternal fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels (Ibid. 41).  Lo, they are in no wise told that they have committed robberies or any other acts of violence, and yet they are given over to the eternal fires of Gehenna.  Hence, then, it is to be gathered with how great damnation those will be visited who seize what is not their own, if those who have indiscreetly kept their own are smitten with so great punishment.  Let them consider in what guilt the seizing of goods must bind them, if not parting with them subjects to such a penalty.  Let them consider what injustice inflicted must deserve, if kindness not bestowed is worthy of so great a chastisement.

When they are intent on seizing what is not their own, let them hear what is written, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!  How long doth he heap up against himself thick clay (Hab. ii. 6)?  For, indeed, for a covetous man to heap up against him thick clay is to pile up earthly gains into a load of sin.  When they desire to enlarge greatly the spaces of their habitation, let them hear what is written, Woe unto you that join house to house and lay field to field, even till there be no place left.  What, will ye dwell alone in the midst of the earth (Isai. v. 8)?  As if to say plainly, How far do ye stretch yourselves, ye that cannot bear to have comrades in a common world?  Those that are joined to you ye keep down, and ever find some against whom ye may have power to stretch yourselves.  When they are intent on increasing money, let them hear what is written, The covetous man is not filled with money; and he that loveth riches shall not reap fruit thereof (Eccles. v. 9).  For indeed he would reap fruit of them, were he minded, not loving them, to disperse them well.  But whoso in his affection for them retains them, shall surely leave them behind him here without fruit.  When they burn to be filled at once with all manner of wealth, let them hear what is written, He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent (Prov. xxviii. 20):  for certainly he who goes about to increase wealth is negligent in avoiding sin; and, being caught after the manner of birds, while looking greedily at the bait of earthly things, he is not aware in what a noose of sin he is being strangled.  When they desire any gains of the present world, and are ignorant of the losses they will suffer in the world to come, let them hear what is written, An inheritance to which haste is made in the beginning in the last end shall lack blessing (Prov. xx. 21).  For indeed we derive our beginning from this life, that we may come in the end to the lot of blessing.  They, therefore, that make haste to an inheritance in the beginning cut off from themselves the lot of blessing in the end; since, while they crave to be increased in goods here through the iniquity of avarice, they become disinherited there of their eternal patrimony.  When they either solicit very much, or succeed in obtaining all that they have solicited, let them hear what is written. What is a man profited, if he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul (Matth. xvi. 26)?  As if the Truth said plainly, What is a man profited, though he gather together all that is outside himself, if this very thing only which is himself he damns?  But for the most part the covetousness of spoilers is the sooner corrected, if it be shewn by the words of such as admonish them how fleeting is the present life; if mention be made of those who have long endeavoured to grow rich in this world, and yet have been unable to remain long among their acquired riches; from whom hasty death has taken away suddenly and all at once whatever, neither all at once nor suddenly, they have gathered together; who have not only left here what they had seized, but have carried with them to the judgment arraignments for seizure.  Let them, therefore, be told of examples of such as these, whom they would, doubtless, even themselves, in words condemn; so that, when after their words they come back to their own heart, they may blush at any rate to imitate those whom they judge.

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